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Does the Minister agree that this has been an excellent example of co-operation between NATO and the EU, in the handover from NATO to the EU? Does he also agree that it has been a milestone in the development of experience for forces operating as part of the European Security and Defence Policy forces and, as such, that it gives us some confidence for the future?

I regret that my noble friend Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon is overseas and cannot be here for this Statement, but I pay tribute to his important role as high representative. Much was achieved during his time in the post. However, does the Minister agree that there is still much to be done? The Statement reflects and welcomes the unification of the military forces. The three communities—the Muslims, Serbs and Croats—still disagree over unifying the police

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forces. What progress does the Minister see in that aspect? The high representative post itself is to be extended. To what extent does that indicate continuing concerns about the robustness of the political arrangements, rather than the security ones?

In this progression from military to civil, we will presumably need to be thinking EU-wide about more support for civil society in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Statement gives some indications of what the UK has been and is doing, but do we intend to do more in the future on the civil side?

The Statement is a welcome piece of news in the context of the over-commitment of our forces globally, which we have been talking about so much over the past weeks. It presumably also brings other benefits in equipment. Can the Minister tell us whether any support helicopters will be released that we might be able to use elsewhere?

The Statement is also a reminder of the scale of other EU forces that are involved in this operation. They, too, will feel the benefit of a drawdown. Does the Minister feel that this will make it easier to get them to contribute elsewhere, where the demands are needed? We have talked in particular about Afghanistan.

I wonder whether the time is now right for the Ministry of Defence to produce a report on this operation—the history of it, the lessons learnt and the successes—as we have done with other operations. Perhaps the Minister might take that idea back to the Ministry of Defence. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, reminded us, other problems still remain in the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo and Serbia, and we will have to remain aware of what is happening there and hope that we can have similarly happy outcomes.

Finally, reflecting the Statement, I make from these Benches a tribute to those members of the British Armed Forces who have over the years served there and done a fine job, in particular those who have been injured and killed. As I said earlier in the week when reviewing our contributions in Afghanistan and Iraq, we keep saying how much we value our forces. One tangible way of showing how much we value them is through how much we reward them. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body report is still awaited; it is still overdue. Perhaps the Minister could say something about that in his reply.

2.25 pm

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords for their support of the Statement. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, is absolutely right; this is an example of the success. We believe it is an excellent example of the positive impact that a European security and defence force can make. It is a positive example of the way in which the international community can come together to be a force for good in an area of great difficulty. It is also an example of the considerable length of time that these operations can take— 15 years. As we think about our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and our experience of the Balkans and Northern Ireland, it is worth reflecting on the considerable time it can take for the people within such countries to

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take full responsibility for their own security. None the less, it also tells us that there is a need for our Armed Forces to make a contribution under the comprehensive approach to security reform, after considerable fighting has taken place.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked about the apparent difference between the political and military assessments. That reflects the assessment by the European Community that the time has now come for the emphasis really to shift to diplomatic measures. We accept that there are remnants of difficulty. He highlights the particular issue relating to war criminals and we accept this. But we and our partners do not believe that a military force is now the prime means by which these issues are addressed, and therefore the emphasis needs to go to diplomatic means. As the tripartite presidency of the country recently said, the point has been reached whereby responsibility for security can be taken by the country itself. This news is positive.

In terms of the number of troops that were asked within our contribution, we are contributing approximately 180 personnel to support the NATO KFOR and UN mission in Kosovo. With regards to the reserved force, that is to be undertaken during the next two years by other countries, although we are the standby force. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, for his contribution. There are a number of noble Lords in this House, some of whom are in their place today, who have together made considerable contributions—both in terms of foreign policy and defence—to the progress of this troubled region and to today’s happier position.

We need to continue to provide support on the civilian side—for example, by providing police expertise—and we will do so. We are looking at issues relating to equipment. I am not in a position to give specific details of helicopters, but we are looking at that issue. I will take back to the Ministry of Defence the noble Lord’s idea about a report on operations and the lessons that can be learnt. Although we cannot make a read-across from one theatre to another—the geography and the situations are completely different in Afghanistan and in the Balkans—none the less, we can see the effectiveness of the comprehensive approach and of the international community working together over a considerable time with a joined-up approach, with diplomatic efforts, and with efforts in defence, to achieve a successful outcome. I believe that can give us increased confidence that the strategy we are following in very difficult operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan will, in time, prevail. The noble Lord mentioned valuing our Armed Forces, as we do, absolutely. On the pay review, my understanding is that there will be a Written Statement on that tomorrow.

2.30 pm

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for looking back over the 15 years. It has been a long, sad and in some respects highly controversial effort, but the noble Lord dealt with that very well, for which we all thank him. Is he aware that his account of

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the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina today is notably more optimistic than others we have received? By chance, this morning I read a very detailed and authoritative report which was much more pessimistic.

I have two questions. First, which European countries will provide the remaining 2,500 troops that it has been agreed should stay there as a continuing military presence? Secondly, can he assure the House that in taking this decision, the EU took into account the dangers arising from Kosovo, where an announcement, a plan, is being made, but where there will be much argument and dissension? The Republika Srpska argues that if Kosovo is allowed to secede from Serbia, it must be allowed to secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is a dangerous and deceptive argument. Are his colleagues really sure that it will be pursued by diplomatic, political and argumentative means, as we all hope, and that there will not be a temptation to take advantage of the run-down of UN forces to try to urge that argument by violence?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to highlight that. With his deep experience of these matters, he is right to highlight that one needs to identify the tipping point; when the military effect has got to a point when the right thing to do is to draw down those forces. A balance has to be struck between defence and security reform and diplomatic efforts. That judgment has been taken very carefully by the European coalition, taking into account the dangers, recognising that there is a point when the presence of the troops is no longer the major way in which the pressures can be brought to bear and that the people can be encouraged to take responsibility for reform, allowing the diplomatic process to blossom.

The judgment is that that point has been reached and that the contribution of the Armed Forces in the region is no longer necessary. I shall write to the noble Lord and give full details of the breakdown of troops and operations by country. I also mention the presence of the reserved troops who provide a strategic overwatch. In other operational theatres, we have a clear strategy by which we move to local overwatch and then to strategic overwatch, so that, if the situation deteriorates, troops are able to go back in. The situation will be closely monitored.

An example of that relates to mine clearance—the noble Lord asked about that. The role of the forces was to teach the country’s own forces the skills of mine clearance and to support them in that. They have now got to the point when they can and should be doing that themselves. That is an example of where the time is right. It is a difficult judgment to make and it has been considered carefully, but we believe that this is the right time to make that transition.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement and for the condolences about the rifleman killed in Basra. As he was from my old regiment and indeed from my new regiment, the Rifles, I particularly appreciated his words. Although that was the first fatality suffered by that battalion—

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now 2nd Battalion Rifles—I thought that noble Lords would be interested to know that it has already had 23 other casualties in the course of its term of duty in Basra, having been there for just a few months. That gives some idea of the strength of the military activity that our troops still face in that area.

On the Statement, I am very glad that it has been found possible to withdraw troops from Bosnia. That will certainly relieve undoubted overstretch and make it easier to sustain our military effort in Afghanistan. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is an indication of how well and intelligently our forces have done their job of gradually securing the integrity of the Bosnia-Herzegovina state. Once again, they deserve to be congratulated on their performance over the years.

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I agree 100 per cent with the noble and gallant Lord in paying tribute to members of the Armed Forces who have lost their lives or who have been seriously injured on operations. He mentioned, in particular, those who have been hurt or have died in operations in Iraq. I also agree with how well and intelligently our forces have acted in that theatre over many years. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying full tribute to the contribution that they have made.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the British Army on the job that it has done in Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere in the west Balkans over many years. I echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, about the wider picture concerning Republika Srpska and so on. Serbia is feeling a little roughed up at present. The autonomy and independence of Montenegro is one factor and there is also the position in Kosovo. Some of us have been quite surprised at how robust the Dayton process has proved to be. It is very important at this stage not to allow it to be destabilised.

My other point is the wider role of the European Union, acting as a magnet—and a magnate, when one considers the funds that go there. When, in 2000, we on the European Union Select Committee took evidence, I recall that each year €5 billion were being spent on the military and €1 billion on development and reconstruction. It would have been nice if it had been the other way around. Perhaps my noble friend could comment further on the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, about how far that is now in prospect. Although the European Union is acting as a magnet, lots of development work has to go side-by-side with governance in building up the economy.

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. He recognises the essential importance of the Dayton agreement, its robustness and the way in which we must continue to pursue those ends. We have reached a tipping point in the comprehensive approach between the emphasis on military input and on diplomatic means to civilian support for the region, particularly as regards the police, where we are making a significant contribution, and as regards development and reconstruction. The emphasis needs to be on that,

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together with diplomatic efforts. It is very important that, having gone through the processes and the difficulties of the past 15 years, we do not allow the region to slip back, and that we continue to make efforts on civilian support and reconstruction that we have made throughout that time.

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, I am confident that the Welsh Guards operated with great distinction, as they normally do. Last year, it was my privilege to attend the ceremony granting them the freedom of Pembroke. Will Minister tell me what, if any, casualties they suffered?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I do not have the precise details of casualties and serious injuries among the Welsh Guards. I will write to my noble and learned friend with those details. I agree with him absolutely about the contribution made by the Welsh Guards.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I add my condolences on the sad death of Rifleman Coffey, who was a light infantryman before he became a member of the Rifles, the regiment in which I once had the privilege of serving, like the noble and gallant Lord. The striking point is that this young man, who only joined, I think, in August 2005, was already on his second tour. He had to be asked to do a second tour in Iraq. This adds considerable weight to the suspicion of my noble friend Lord Astor that the optimism expressed by the Minister in this Statement may surely, in many people’s minds, be severely coloured by the worry that it has not necessarily been made on a purely objective judgment of the situation in Bosnia, but arises from the reality of the troops’ situation and the problems of manning-level faced by our Armed Forces.

I ask the Minister, first, a question he has already partly addressed: if our hopes are disappointed, what arrangements are there for going back to restore what may be, by then, a much more difficult situation? Secondly, does this enormous reduction of forces in one go have the support of the Bosnian Government?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, yes, it has the support of the Bosnian Government. The arrangements for response by the reserved forces have been identified. We then provide a standby force behind that, to provide a strategic over-watch. I will write to the noble Lord with the full details of numbers and contribution of troops from different countries.

This Statement, as the whole House recognises, is a positive statement of progress made after a considerable period. Nevertheless, it is in the context of significant pressure on our Armed Forces in other operational theatres. The way we, with our European partners, have been able to make this decision about Bosnia-Herzegovina reduces that pressure by a small amount. However, let me make absolutely clear that in each of our operational theatres we make decisions based on conditions on the ground. To say that this decision has been taken to provide us with the ability to relieve pressure and support other theatres is just not true. We have, jointly with our European partners, taken a decision that is appropriate to the conditions as we see them. There is no intention to address issues in any other operational theatres.



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Law Reform: Murder

2.43 pm

Lord Lloyd of Berwick rose to call attention to the report of the Law Commission on reform of the law of murder including the question of mandatory life sentences; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the report that the House is now invited to take note of was published on 28 November 2006. It covers the law of murder and manslaughter in England and Wales, though not in Scotland. It is a long report and I do not suppose that any noble Lords have read every word. Nor have I. On such study as I have been able to make, I have concluded that it is by far the most complete and scholarly account of the present state of the law of murder that I have read. I cannot, in that respect, praise it too highly. I feel sure that the House will want to congratulate Mr Justice Toulson and his team, and Mr Justice Etherton, who succeeded Mr Justice Toulson, on their achievement. I do not agree with all their recommendations, but that is not surprising. On almost every subject on which they have consulted the public they have found differing views. There is one thing on which everyone is agreed: the present law of murder is a mess. It is described in paragraph 1.8 as,

I agree.

I start with the question of sentencing and, in particular, the mandatory life sentence. Until we get that right, it is difficult to create a coherent structure for the law of murder and manslaughter. That is because murder, as has been observed so often, covers an enormous range of offences—far wider than any other crime. At one end are the horrific offences which will always carry a sentence of life imprisonment, whether mandatory or not. At the other end are the offences where mitigation is so strong that one would normally be thinking of a sentence of two or three years, if that.

Yet, as the law now stands, all these offences are subject to the same mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. That is inherently unjust. It means that the trial judge cannot tailor the sentence to the crime being tried. It ties his hands. Sentencing is one of the most essential functions that a judge has to perform. I will illustrate that later.

First, it is sensible to describe how the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment has come about. When capital punishment was finally abolished in 1965 there were two alternatives. One was to give the trial judge complete discretion in sentencing, up to a maximum of life imprisonment. I favour that view, as did all the judges in 1965, led by Lord Parker, then Lord Chief Justice. He tabled an amendment to give effect to that view. It was carried in Committee in this House by two votes.

The other view was to retain the mandatory life sentence, but to give judges discretion to recommend a minimum term to be served. This second alternative won very little support in either House in 1965, but prevailed in the end—as things sometimes prevail in

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Parliament—because time was running out and the sponsors were desperate to get the Bill on to the statute book.

I must make good my claim that the mandatory sentence is inherently unjust. I start with mercy killing. We all know the kind of case that comes before the courts more often than one would like. A husband has been nursing his terminally ill wife for many years; she begs him to put her out of her pain and eventually he gives in, smothering her with a pillow. He has acted out of the purest compassion, yet he is undoubtedly guilty of murder. The judge in such a case would be thinking of a nominal sentence—three months, if that. Yet he is obliged by the law as it stands to impose a sentence of life imprisonment. Having pronounced that sentence, he adds in the same breath, “But you need only serve three months”. That is what the public find so hard to understand. The sentence, as currently pronounced in such a case, is simply a contradiction in terms. It is almost meaningless. Yet it is not meaningless in effect, because it means that he will be subject to a licence for the rest of his life. That cannot be right. As the Law Commission itself observed in paragraph 7.48, a lifelong sentence in such a case is neither necessary nor desirable.

Take another case, that of Private Clegg, the soldier serving in Northern Ireland. On the facts of that case as they first appeared—though, happily, not as they appeared after a retrial—he fired at a car that had failed to stop at a checkpoint. No doubt he thought they were terrorists, but they turned out to be joyriders, one of whom was killed. Clegg’s only possible defence was that he fired in self-defence, but that defence could not run as the car had already passed when the shot was fired. He was convicted of murder. When the case came to the House of Lords, I had the responsibility of giving the judgment. We dismissed the appeal because we had no alternative, but we made it as clear as we could that in our view the law was unjust; it could not be right to sentence such a man to life imprisonment. However, we could not put that right ourselves. That, we thought, was for Parliament, not for us.

Exactly the same point emerges in the rather similar case of police officers who fire and kill in the belief that a suspect has a gun in his hand or a knapsack that is full of explosive. The officer has to make a split-second decision. Assuming he has no defence, he is guilty of murder. How can it be right that such a man should face a sentence of life imprisonment?

Take the case of the householder who is confronted with a burglar in the middle of the night. He grabs his shotgun and fires. Let us suppose that his reaction was excessive, or even irrational; he is guilty, as the law stands, of murder. I have no doubt that such a person should serve a sentence of imprisonment—perhaps a substantial one—but a life sentence seems entirely wrong.

I could go on multiplying cases. They are all cases that could have been dealt with easily enough if only Lord Parker’s preferred solution had been adopted in 1965, as it so nearly was. They could be dealt with now under our existing law, if only we could get rid of the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.



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