Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Radice: My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting and important debate and I thank all noble Lords for taking part. I thank my noble friend for his comprehensive reply and, above all, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vallance of Tummel, on his splendid maiden speech. It was crisp and authoritative, really a model of how such speeches should be made. We look forward very much to hearing him in the future, particularly on the issues he addressed today with such authority.

One of the key themes of the debate has been the issue of liberalisation of trade versus—I will not be unfair and call it protectionism—a feeling that globalism and freer trade bring a lot of evils with it. That is not the view we have taken in our report, and I accept that. We did hear evidence from CAFOD, Oxfam and Christian Aid and we took their views into account, as the report shows. But we did not agree with those who argue, as did the right reverend Prelate, that further trade liberalisation undermines and is bad for developing countries.

Let me make two short points. First, in Africa, for example, a relatively small increase in trade is worth probably twice what aid and debt relief can bring with them. Secondly, who do you think will benefit by getting rid of EU export subsidies? It will be the poorer countries. So we should hesitate before we damn freer trade as being a barrier to helping the poorer countries. The contrary is true.

But we shall return to the Doha issue in future. We hope to return to it in our Select Committee as a follow-up to the report. I hope that we will have further debates—but perhaps rather sooner following the publication of our report than happened this time.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Written Statements

Thursday 2 December 2004

2 Dec 2004 : Column WS31

Equatorial Guinea

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): In his Written Answer to the Question from the right honourable Member for Devizes (Mr Michael Ancram) of 17 November (Official Report, Commons, col. 1548W), my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw) set out what Her Majesty's Government knew of reports of a planned coup in Equatorial Guinea earlier this year. This Statement informs the House more widely of the position. At all times we acted properly, promptly, and entirely in accordance with international law.

The United Kingdom has normal diplomatic relations with the Government of Equatorial Guinea, which is a former Spanish colony. We have no embassy in the country. Our High Commissioner in neighbouring Cameroon is accredited as Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea and has responsibility for relations with Equatorial Guinea. There is a British community of some hundreds, many involved in the energy sector. We have an honorary consul and a commercial attaché in the capital, Malabo.

The country has in the past suffered political instability. Rumours of upheaval and further instability are common. For example, there were reports picked up by BBC Monitoring in October 2003 of an imminent planned coup. These appeared not to be accurate; certainly, there was no coup.

On 29 January this year, the Foreign Office received an intelligence report of preparations for a possible coup in Equatorial Guinea. The report was the first intelligence we had received. It was not definitive enough for us to conclude that a coup was likely or inevitable. It was passed by another government to us on the normal condition that it not be passed on. There were, coincidentally, reports on Spanish radio, and in both El Pais and El Mundo on 30 January, making similar suggestions that a coup was being planned in Equatorial Guinea, and reporting that Spanish naval vessels were sailing towards the country.

British newspapers have this week reported that a South African national, Johann Smith, is claiming to have passed to contacts in British intelligence in December 2003 and in January 2004 a note setting out in detail plans for a coup. We have no record of this information being passed to British officials at any time before May 2004.

The Foreign Secretary received a submission (dated 30 January) from FCO officials on the weekend of 30 January/1 February which summarised both the media and intelligence reports and made recommendations to me. He considered the case and agreed that the FCO should approach an individual
2 Dec 2004 : Column WS32
formerly connected with a British private military company (mentioned in the report of 29 January), both to attempt to test the veracity of the report and to make it clear that the FCO was firmly opposed to any unconstitutional action such as coups d'état. A senior Foreign Office official did so within days. The individual concerned claimed no knowledge of the plans.

On 3 February we changed our travel advice to reflect our latest assessment. This read "visitors should expect . . . isolated incidents of political unrest" in Equatorial Guinea, particularly as "legislative elections are scheduled for the first quarter of 2004".

In anticipation of these elections our ambassador in Yaoundé was due to visit Malabo in early February. We instructed him to continue with his planned visit. He found the situation calm. But, as a precaution, our consular crisis plan for Equatorial Guinea was reviewed. Given our limited British representation, it had not been recently updated.

We did not pass the report of 29 January to the Equatorial Guinea Government. It had been passed to us on the condition that it not be passed on to any third party. But there were two considerations of substance which led us to this judgment in any event: first, because there had been media reports about preparations for a possible coup which the Equatorial Guinea government would already have seen; and, secondly, because it was not definitive enough for us to conclude that a coup was likely or inevitable. Indeed, we went back to the originating government and to another government who had also received the report to check their belief in the veracity of the report. Their responses gave no certainty. The fact that the rumours were in the public domain suggested in any event that a successful coup was growing less likely.

There have been some suggestions in the press that the British Government were under a legal obligation to act differently. We do not condone or support unconstitutional action including a coup d'état of any kind in other countries. But my understanding is that governments are under no legal obligation to pass on information which they may receive about such possible action.

On 9 March we learned that the Zimbabwean authorities had arrested a number of individuals in Harare, alleged to be on their way to effect a coup in Equatorial Guinea. A number of individuals were also arrested in Malabo in connection with the alleged coup plot. Over the following months, the names of a number of others allegedly involved appeared in the media.

On 28 August the Foreign Office press office was asked by the Observer if the Government knew before March that a coup was going to happen. It replied, correctly, that the FCO did not. As the Foreign Secretary told the right honourable Member for Devizes on 9 November he had first heard reports of possible coup planning in late January this year. And this he followed up with a fuller account for the House in his answer to the right honourable Member's question on 17 November.
2 Dec 2004 : Column WS33

Iraq: UK Forces in Multinational Division (South-East)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence (Mr Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As part of the routine management of UK forces in the Multinational Division (South-East) (MND(SE)) in Iraq, we intend to conduct a roulement of forces involving the replacement of 40 Commando Royal Marines with the 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment.

The Secretary of State for Defence announced on 17 June (Official Report, Commons, col. 48) that 40 Commando would deploy to MND(SE) during June and July, both to provide support to Iraqi security forces and to provide the capacity for some other tasks, including the protection of essential infrastructure. The general officer commanding MND(SE) has concluded that there will be a continuing requirement for these tasks beyond elections in Iraq planned for 30 January. Based on this advice, we have decided that 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment should replace 40 Commando when their six-month deployment in Iraq comes to an end in January 2005.

Since 1 November, 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment has been acting as the very high readiness reserve (VHRR), at 10 days' readiness to deploy to Iraq. In January the responsibility for VHRR will pass from 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment to the 1st Battalion the Royal Scots.

The roulement is currently planned to take place from early January 2005, with handover to 2nd Battalion the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment complete by mid January. We expect that the number of Armed Forces personnel in theatre will remain broadly the same as a result of these changes, with the other major UK units currently in Iraq unchanged. These units are as follows:

I would emphasise that these are routine adjustments to UK forces in MND(SE). We continue to consider, with our partners in the multinational force, the levels and dispositions of forces required in Iraq in the months ahead, to support the sovereign Interim Government of Iraq through the process leading to the election of an Iraqi Transitional Government and Assembly in
2 Dec 2004 : Column WS34
January 2005 and full constitutional elections in December 2005. If we judge that further changes to the UK military contribution in Iraq would be appropriate to support this process, we will of course inform the House at the earliest opportunity. At present, however, no such decision has been made.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page