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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Although we support wholeheartedly the aims and objectives of ISAF, if in the short term no other country is found to lead the ISAF mission, can he say whether Britain will carry on in its present role of leading the mission? Furthermore, can he say whether the Government have entered negotiations with our European partners over whether they would be interested in increasing their commitment? At present, British forces comprise half the membership of ISAF and our European partners have not shown the degree of willingness required to provide soldiers for this role.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support. The handing-over of the leadership is obviously a matter of interest to the House but we are not yet in a position to make a statement on the transfer. We shall, of course, do so when we can. We hope that Turkey will become the lead nation for ISAF but, at the moment, there are still some uncertainties surrounding the transfer. Prime Minister Ecevit has told my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that he strongly supports his country taking on the role and we are working hard to tie-down the details. We are now negotiating the details of the hand-over and we do not anticipate failing.

As to the noble Lord's second question, our troops comprise 1,630 out of the 4,610 troops—a little fewer than the half mentioned by the noble Lord—and we do not accept for one moment that our European partners and others of the 17 other countries which make up ISAF are not playing their part. They are playing their part in the same way as we are.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House which countries will continue to provide troops for ISAF after April? Are the costs of the operation being shared by all participating countries? What is the Government's policy on the possible expansion of the ISAF mission beyond Kabul?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, it is too early to say who will be providing forces after 30th April. As to the question of costs, as I understand it, each country is paying its own costs in regard to ISAF. As far as extending its mission beyond Kabul—and I recognise that in my answers to the three questions posed by the noble Lord I am not being particularly informative—we have been discussing such an expansion and other issues with our partners and allies but no decisions have yet been taken. The noble Lord will know of the immense challenges involved in deploying the ISAF to Kabul. There will be challenges equally as great—if not greater—elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, if I understood the Minister correctly, he said that it is too early to say who will comprise the force on 30th April. Can that really be right? Who will notify the troops that they are going? Who will give them training before they go? Who will provide the intelligence background that they will need to undertake the task? It seems absolutely incredible that within five or six weeks of new forces being deployed or existing forces carrying on, no one has been notified of who will be there.

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is not a question of no one being notified. As the noble Lord probably knows, negotiations are advanced as to which countries will or will not be involved. A number of countries that have armed forces there at the present time will be there after 30th April—as, too, will we. I am not able to tell the House at the moment who will make up the full force of ISAF because negotiations are still continuing. However, there is no danger that ISAF will not have the forces that it needs in Kabul. As the noble Lord knows, ISAF's six-months' remit runs out on 20th June.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister say who is responsible for providing security on the internal road system of Afghanistan—for example, between Kabul and Herat or between Kabul and Kandahar? Can he say whether the phenomenon of banditry on the roads, which was hindering traffic and the movement of aid until very recently, has now been brought to an end?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as I understand it, the interim authority is responsible for the security of roads both inside and outside Kabul; it is the interim authority for the whole country. ISAF's writ does not run beyond Kabul and its surrounding area.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that this issue will be on the agenda for the Barcelona European Council next weekend? Although it is mainly concerned with economic issues, it is important that other European Union countries committed to the headline goals should be playing a larger part. The Minister said that each country is paying its own way. Is it intended that

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the Turkish troops will be paid for by their own government or will other financial arrangements be made?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as far as Turkey is concerned, it is too early to say; we shall have to wait on events. I should say for the second time that it is not fair to say that other European countries are not playing a big role in ISAF. They are—and a very important role too. For example, Germany will take over from 16 Assault Brigade and replace the second headquarters in ISAF. It has agreed to do that. There is no suggestion at all that any European country presently there will do anything other than continue to support ISAF.

Liaison: Select Committee Report

3.7 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I should explain that in the report of the Liaison Committee we make three recommendations, which I shall summarise briefly.

First, the Liaison Committee considered a proposal that the Religious Offences Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, should be committed to a Select Committee. While the Liaison Committee recognised the value of examination of this matter by a Select Committee, it was considered that it would be better to refer the subject of religious offences to an ad hoc Select Committee rather than limit the Select Committee to the terms of the noble Lord's Bill. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is supportive of that view.

This ad hoc Select Committee would, in effect, be the successor to the ad hoc Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, which has slightly overrun its time. We were worried that this would cause problems in terms of staffing, but I am pleased to say that the Clerk of the Parliaments has indicated that it will be possible to provide staff resources to enable the new Select Committee to be set up after Easter rather than await the completion of the work of the Select Committee on animals.

The Liaison Committee also considered the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, for a Select Committee on the subject of communications, which has received wide support throughout the House. It was suggested that such a Select Committee might be set up in late 2003 after the passage of the Government's proposed Communications Bill. The Liaison Committee has welcomed this proposal in principle and will make a further recommendation nearer the time. The Liaison Committee felt that in the first instance the Select Committee should be set up as an ad hoc Select Committee rather than as a permanent sessional committee. This has been done in the past. If it proves successful, it would be possible to move to a permanent sessional committee if required.

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Finally, the Liaison Committee considered a proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for a Select Committee on measures to combat international terrorism. The Liaison Committee felt that such a Select Committee would risk duplicating the work of departmental committees in another place, which we have always sought to avoid. The Liaison Committee recognised the case for more Select Committee work in the field of foreign affairs and will return to that issue later in the year, but it does not recommend the appointment of a Select Committee on measures to combat international terrorism. However, your Lordships will see from the report that the Liaison Committee proposes to return to the possibility of a Select Committee to scrutinise treaties. I beg to move.

Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 84) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

    Religious offences

    1. The Committee has considered a proposal put forward by Lord Avebury that his Religious Offences Bill [HL], which received a Second Reading on 30 January, should be committed to a select committee.

    2. This bill would create an offence of religious hatred, as proposed in a provision in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill which was deleted during its passage through the House. It would also abolish blasphemy and certain other religious offences. These are both matters which could benefit from examination by a select committee. A select committee set up to examine Lord Avebury's Bill might be unduly constrained, so we recommend the appointment, as soon as clerk resources permit, of an ad hoc select committee on the subject of religious offences.

    A select committee on communications

    3. The Committee has considered a proposal put forward by Baroness Howe of Idlicote for a select committee on communications. A letter from her to the Chairman is printed as Annex 1 to this Report.

    4. The proposed select committee would examine a subject on which the House has a great deal of expertise, and which cuts across Government departmental boundaries. We believe that it would be a good subject for a House of Lords committee.

    5. Baroness Howe's proposal is for a sessional rather than an ad hoc committee, to be appointed after the passage of the proposed Communications Bill - probably in late 2003. We would prefer the appointment of an ad hoc committee in the first instance, with a view to making it permanent if it were a success. We will return to the matter with a firm recommendation nearer the time.

    A select committee on measures to combat international terrorism

    6. The Committee has considered a proposal put forward by Lord Gilbert for a select committee on measures to combat international terrorism. A letter from him to the Chairman is printed as Annex 2 to this Report.

    7. Lord Gilbert's letter indicates that this is a matter which has been considered by three of the House of Commons' departmental committees. In our view this provides a strong argument against the proposal— Lords Committees should complement and not duplicate the work of Commons Committees. We recognise that there is a case for more select committee activity in the field of foreign affairs, and we propose later in the year to return to the proposal for a select committee to scrutinise treaties, previously postponed pending developments in the Commons. We do not, however, recommend appointment of a select committee on measures to combat international terrorism.

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