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Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Let me reassure him that there was no political gesture linked to the US elections. This was a military request for assistance from the US military commander in theatre, and was considered in the context of the overall military effort in Iraq and our own capabilities. The advice of the chiefs of staff was that there was clear operational justification for accepting the request, and that it was within our capabilities. That was the basis on which the decision was made.

My noble friend talks about lasting damage to the relationship between the US and the UK. If we did not agree to this and act as good coalition partners, lasting damage would be done to the future of Iraq.

Lord Biffen: My Lords, the Minister has made a very serious Statement and, very properly, seeks the general agreement of the House. I am sure we all hope that this venture will be successful. But it would be a very sad day if that obliterated anxieties and misgivings that are widely felt outside this House if not in this Chamber.

I should like to press the Minister on one point, although I understand that he does not want to go into detail. Do the 850 members of the Black Watch represent between 2 and 3 per cent of the American forces of equivalent calibre? If that is so, do we really believe that the assault on Fallujah will turn on such a narrow calculation? Although no one in this Chamber would wish to say anything which would be distressing or harmful to the military operation, at least we are entitled to take account of the quite compelling radio broadcast by the noble Lord, Lord Healey, in the past 24 hours. He cast very serious doubts on the whole capability of this enterprise, not least because of the character of the American operation.

Lord Bach: My Lords, of course the noble Lord is right in saying that there are anxieties about this step; there have been anxieties about other steps concerning Iraq and there will no doubt be anxieties in the future. The fact is, the Black Watch is exactly the sort of armoured battle group that the US request for the area in which it has asked its members to serve. The US battle group that is there now, of equivalent armour—equivalent effect—will move elsewhere in relation to the attempt to make sure that there can be free and fair elections, as much as is possible, in Iraq in January. I do not want to underplay the anxieties. I am not in a position to agree or disagree with the percentages given by the noble Lord, but we should not underrate the reputation which the Black Watch and other infantry battalions of that kind have, not just in this country but in the United States.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, if the Black Watch is to be home by Christmas, are any plans being formulated in the Ministry of Defence for a follow-up
 
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unit to take its place, or is the request from the Americans to have a British unit to fill the gap between now and Christmas?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not prepared to go into the timing of this particular disposal and how long it might last. I can say that the Scots Guards are due, in any event, to go to Iraq in the comparatively near future. As I think I said in answer to an earlier question, if this particular mission was not completed by the time the Black Watch was due to come home, the Scots Guards would be in a position to take its place.

Lord Elton: My Lords, that is an extraordinary statement to make given that we heard in the Statement, that:

My heart sank when I heard that because when governments say, "They will be home by Christmas" we all know what to expect. However, what is meant by a specified time if we cannot be told what is?

Lord Bach: My Lords, specified time means that it is a specified time. A date is known, but it is not one, I am afraid, that I am prepared to share with the House. Anyone who has had anything to do with the Armed Forces will know it would be absurd to specify the dates.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I remind the House that this war in Iraq was declared officially over by President Bush more than a year ago, but it is certainly going on and it appears to be escalating. In the Statement, reference is made to "militarily acceptable" risk to United Kingdom forces. What is that risk? Will the Minister give me some idea of how high that risk is? Will British forces be supporting an American attack on Fallujah which, if President Allawi is to be believed, will amount to collective punishment on the people of Fallujah because they refuse to hand over—they cannot apparently do it—so-called insurgents?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord asks what an acceptable level of risk is. Obviously, any operation involves a degree of risk. When planning an operation such as this, a commander will always look at the balance between the likely risks and benefits, going ahead only if the balance is right. In this case, the General Officer Commanding in MND (South East) judged that the military benefits of the operation strongly outweighed the risks. That is the message that the Statement is intended to give to the House.

As far as Fallujah is concerned, if Iraq is to move forward it is absolutely crucial that fair elections are held in that country shortly, in January. If there are to be fair elections in that country it is important that some of the towns where the murderous thugs live, practice and control must be taken over. I presume that the noble Lord is in favour of the elections.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the one bit of good news in this announcement is
 
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that it is a clear tribute to the unequalled, hard-edged combat calibre and capability of the British Army? Secondly, will the Black Watch battle group be equipped—as they must essentially be if they are to work with the Americans—with the Bowman communications system? Is he satisfied that it is fully functional? Finally, is the British contribution to the coalition force to be entirely paid for by the British taxpayer, or will countries such as France and Germany, which have equal interest in the future of Iraq, contribute towards the large contribution that we are making militarily?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord knows the answer to the last question without me stating it. I cannot guarantee that Bowman will be used in its final form on this mission. The noble Lord knows, because we talked about this on Monday, that the ISD or in-service date for Bowman has passed, but a lot of work must be done before Bowman can be finally fitted for the Armed Forces. I can say that, as the noble Lord said the other day, communications for a mission of this kind are absolutely crucial and we will do our very best to ensure that communications both between us and the Americans and between British troops and headquarters back in Basra will be as good as they possibly can be.

Civil Contingencies Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 22.

[Amendments Nos. 108 and 109 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 109A:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 110 to 127 not moved.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 128:

The noble Baroness said: Has Amendment No. 123 been debated? I apologise for being late, but I was stuck in the lift.

In moving Amendment No. 128, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 130 and 131. These are simple but important amendments. The Bill as currently drafted allows regulations to create an offence of,

or,

We on these Benches can see the necessity of this paragraph. However, we have in the back of our minds that, in an emergency the scale of which would have to be serious in order for the Bill to come into effect, the
 
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regulations being made will be done quickly and amidst confusion. Some people may not be aware of the regulations or not aware of part of them.

As we do not yet know what the content of some of them will be, it is hard for the Government to prepare people for what might happen. It is therefore not sensible to create an offence of non-compliance. There should be a let-out clause to ensure that this crime will be committed only if the person actually knows that it is an offence. It is entirely possible that they may not know what they are doing is wrong and, therefore, it is foolish to punish them. I beg to move.


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