|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Plainly matters are moving very quickly. It is impossible at this stage, and it would be imprudent, to come to absolute conclusions about what our troops will be doing in what circumstances because any prudent commander will weigh up changing circumstances. There is no doubt at all that the United Nations will play a critical role. I repeat one sentence from the Statement:
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that gratitude to him for repeating the Statement is bound to be somewhat tempered by the fact that most of the facts and figures, including the identity of the units concerned, was available on the BBC and in the morning papers? Would it not be nice if sometimes Parliament were the first to hear about these things?
May I ask the noble and learned Lord a perhaps more practical question? Will the earmarking of substantial numbers of British troops to be available for employment in Afghanistan, possibly for some time, have any impact on the earmarking of forces for the European Rapid Reaction Force?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am always sorry if material gets into the public domain before Parliament is aware of it. But I do not believe that anyone could reasonably say that the Prime Minister in the other place, and I as his messenger here, have not been diligent in keeping the Houses fully informed as soon as possible. After all, we invited Parliament to be recalled on three occasions and quite rightly. I do not know how the material got into the public domain. People talk sometimes and when decisions are made not all military men necessarily vow themselves to silence. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has had experience of such matters in the past. There was certainly no discourtesy intended to Parliament. I hope that the Statement which I read to the House was full and sensibly consistent with the occasion.
I cannot give a definitive answer on the European Rapid Reaction Force. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was just gently floating a little fly across this particular trout knowing that the trout could not really nibble at it this early.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, in view of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan and the fact that the war is clearly now switching more to ground level activity, would it not be possible to scale down the bombing campaign? It has been that campaign, with its inevitable civilian casualties, which has caused opposition among various groupings, and in particular among Muslims, in the past.
Lord Judd: My Lords, perhaps I may associate the Back Benches on this side of the House with the tributes that have been paid to the Prime Minister for his leadership, to the British Armed Forces and I hope also to the humanitarian workers who now have a vast task ahead of them because the race against the winter is going to be very tough indeed.
Further to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Richard, can my noble and learned friend clarify one point? I am sure that we all take great heart from the emphasis which is being put on the role of the United Nations and the work with it. Can we be assured that the deployment of British troops pending the arrival of a UN presence in any form is itself authorised specifically by the United Nations and the action that the Security Council has taken?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, within the bounds of international law, we are entitled legitimately to carry out the action that we have taken in Afghanistan. As I have said on previous occasionsI hope that I shall not bore the House too muchArticle 51 gives the right to self-defence and there is also Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Indeed, two specific United Nations resolutions were passed post 11th September. But I want to reassure my noble friend by referring again to the words of the Statement. It states:
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, are all right to warn against premature euphoria. I remember that Napoleon thought that he had beaten the Russians when they evacuated Moscow. The Russians later defeated him because of his immensely extended lines of communication and a very severe winter. The difference in this case is the enormous lifting power of air forces.
Every time the Prime Minister has made a major pronouncement on these affairs, he has rightly drawn attention to the necessity to adjust the world order after these events in order to see that they do not recur. I heartily agree with that. But it is not necessary to await the end of the campaign which may continue for some time yet in Afghanistan in order to start planning the nature of that re-ordering and the means of achieving it. I wonder whether the Leader of the House
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful. There are a number of different aspects here which need to be looked at discretely. First, what can we do domestically to deal with terrorism? We have been derelict for far too long because we have not pursued resources and financial assets and we have not necessarily had the full and appropriate equipment in the criminal law. That is an aspect which is going to be dealt with in significant part, I hope, if Parliament agrees, in the anti-terrorism legislation, which will be with us very soon.
Secondly, what has the Prime Minister been able to do by influence rather than by realpolitik power; in other words, the power of argument and personality rather than the power of battalions? What has he been able to do to change the world agenda? I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it is early days, but I believe that he has made a very significant start. But one country cannot do it alone. It seems to me that the wider context must inevitably lie with the United Nations. If we want an ordered international regime there is one body which has been available for a very long time now, but perhaps has been insufficiently used. That is the third aspect to which I draw attention.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister reassure me on what may seem to be a small point? I know that the marine commandos are accustomed and equipped for winter warfare when training in Norway, but there is talk of putting 20,000 of our troops into Afghanistan in winter. Do we have the equipment for them so that they can maintain themselves in that appalling climate?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall not speculate about the risk to other people because I do not believe that is right. I shall not speculate about numbers. It is quite plain that it would not be right for any government of this country or any commanders of its Armed Forces to deploy troops who were not adequately equipped to carry out their operations in such dangerous circumstances.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, why is there secrecy about the rules of engagement? All the troops will have to know what they are, so they will soon become public knowledge. Am I right in believing that there is now a human rights dimension which controls the behaviour of individual troops? Therefore, does the noble and learned Lord agree that this aspect needs very careful scrutiny and examination?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, obviously, the rules of engagement are always scrutinised very carefully because they have to be compliant with our international legal obligations. That is a duty on the British Government. In any event, it would be unacceptably irresponsible to commit troops without clear rules of engagement which protected them and
Of course, in due time it may that the rules of engagement will filter out, but I do not believe it is my work and job to assist any potential enemy of this country by talking about matters at this stage when they should be kept a good deal more confidential.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page