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Private Military Companies

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Grocott: We have today published a consultation document entitled: Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation. This paper originates in a request made by the Foreign Affairs Committee in its second report on Sierra Leone. We regret very much that the Government did not meet the timetable originally promised for this document.

Over the years the House has concerned itself from time to time with the activities of freelance mercenary soldiers. There were a number of disturbing and sometimes disgraceful incidents in Africa during the 1960s and 70s. These gave rise to justifiable indignation and a strong wish to curb this unsavoury business.

The situation has changed since the 1970s. Africa's problems are different and so also is the nature of outside intervention. In some cases at least it is companies more than individuals who have been at issue there recently.

The term "private military companies" covers many different sorts of organisation. Some are respectable and well established names; some are transient and not always reputable companies. Public attention has focused most sharply on companies which have provided soldiers ready to take part in combat. There are many different opinions—some of them strongly held about such activities, an issue which is explored in the paper.

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These sort of activities attract attention and controversy but they are neither the most numerous, nor necessarily the most important part of the private military sector. A growing number of companies which would not take part directly in combat nevertheless provide important military services such as training, planning, logistics, weapons procurement and intelligence. In today's world such services can be significant force multipliers and may have a considerable impact on fighting capability. It is timely that we should consider this growing industry and look at the question of whether some form of regulation would be appropriate.

Mercenary activity is an old phenomenon but a corporate sector providing military services is relatively new. Given the professionalism and the high reputation of Britain's armed services it is not surprising that this is an area in which British companies are active. The idea of regulating this sector is also relatively new. It raises many difficult legal and practical issues. There are many different interests and points of view of which we should take account. We therefore wish to embark on a wide process of consultation before formulating a policy. Against this background the paper outlines the issues, the recent history and the current debate, and finally sets out some of the options for regulation—but does not make any specific proposals. Before doing that we would like to hear the views of those directly concerned and indeed of all interested parties.

This is a serious subject which merits careful examination. The private military sector is a growing phenomenon which could develop in a helpful or an unhelpful way. We shall be surprised if we emerge from the debate with the conclusion that the best solution is to do nothing at all.

Milne Task Force Report

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish their response to the Milne Task Force Report.[HL1000]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Milne Task Force was set up in 1999 by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the right honourable Donald Dewar. The task force was charged with examining the feasibility of a dedicated Gaelic television channel. The Government realise the importance of this subject, and proposals in response to the recommendations contained in the Milne Task Force report are currently being considered in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Scotland Office and within the Scottish Executive. The Government's response will be issued shortly.

Government Departments: Assets of Cultural Significance

Lord Freyberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a decision has been made over the future of the Privy Council silver that was withdrawn from

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    auction on 29 October 2001; and whether the silver will be presented to a public institution; and[HL2601]

    Why assets of cultural significance are included in their policy of reducing their asset holdings in order to focus public resources where they are most needed; and[HL2604]

    Whether they will consider donating assets of cultural significance to a public collection rather than allowing them to be sold into private hands, where it is deemed that a government department is not the most appropriate owner; and[HL2605]

    Which government departments are required to seek expert advice before disposing of their assets; and who is responsible for assessing the cultural significance of objects.[HL2606]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government will continue to require all departments to consider the costs of holding assets and the benefits to their objectives. One of the main advantages of resource accounting and budgeting is that it makes these costs and benefits more transparent. Government finance rules acknowledge the special significance of a wide range of heritage assets, many of which are not valued so that departments do not incur a charge for holding them.

In other cases, the cultural significance of assets is among the benefits which need to be taken into account. The Government are introducing new guidance to ensure that this is done effectively through consultation with the Cultural Property Unit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That guidance will take account of lessons learned from the offer for sale of the Treasury's silver items formerly associated with the Privy Council.

As I explained to the House on 29 October (Official Report, col. 1173), the Government concluded in the light of representations that open-market sale was not appropriate in that case. Arrangements are being made for a sale confined to institutions willing to display the items to the UK public.

Lord Freyberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will list all the assets of cultural significance that each government department has submitted for auction since October 2001. [HL2603]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: There is no central record of departments submitting assets of cultural significance for sale at auction. However, any significant disposal would be shown in the department's annual accounts. Major asset disposals since 1997 were listed in the National Assets Register, published in June 2001.

Meat Importing Companies: Controls

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to Written Answer by the Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 15 January (WA 148), how many of the nine plants affected have rectified their controls;

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    how many of those nine have resumed imports into the United Kingdom; and what special extra inspections are in place in the United Kingdom to check their output. [HL2480]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Under European Union rules the responsibility for the removal of specified risk materials (SRM) from meat before it is marketed or traded rests with the slaughterhouse of origin (with the exception of vertebral column, which may be removed later in the processing chain). None of the nine United Kingdom plants in question was responsible for the importation into the UK of meat containing SRM, and the question of their rectifying their controls does not therefore arise. Each plant remains free to import meat from other EU member states or from third countries. However, each of the nine plants remains under official supervision (by the Meat Hygiene Service in Great Britain and by the Veterinary Service of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland); and all consignments of imported carcass beef arriving at licensed premises in the UK remain subject to checks by the relevant authorities.

Landfill Sites: Health Outcomes

Lord Hanningfield asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in relation to Dr Vrijheid's letter to the Lancet on 26 January, they are doing everything they can to look into the safety of landfill sites including those containing hazardous and toxic waste; and what form of research they are conducting in this area.(HL2615)

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Government are aware of a number of research studies published in the scientific literature which investigate health outcomes in people living near landfill sites. These, including Dr Vrijheid's recently published study, have been considered by the Department of Health, which has sought advice from the independent expert advisory committee, the Committee on the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT). They felt that it was not possible to draw firm conclusions from these studies and that further research was warranted. The most recent statement by COT is available on the department's website (

The Government have commissioned the following reviews and research projects on the impacts of health on landfill sites:

    1. A review of the potential teratogenicity of substances emanating from landfill sites.

    2. A review of the known causes of congenital malformations.

    3. A study of the geographical variation in overall rates on congenital anomalies and the rates of specific anomalies.

    4. Exposure assessment of landfill sites.

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Further information on the research programme can also be found on the website. A government-funded study of birth outcomes and selected cancers in populations living near landfill sites, carried out by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit, was published in August 2001. A copy of the report is available in the Library and on the department's website.

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