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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, given the importance of taking urgent action in Burundi to prevent the kind of slaughter which took place last week in Rwanda, will the Minister elaborate a little on what she said about European Union collaboration in Burundi? For example, will she say whether the European Union is now reinforcing the deployment of OAU military observers on the ground? Will she tell the House precisely how many human rights experts the EU has now sent to Burundi? Finally, what assistance is being provided to improve the administration of justice and the police? Is the Minister satisfied that is adequate?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, perhaps I may answer the last question first. I am not yet satisfied that the measures are adequate. I believe that there are some 65 monitors in total in Burundi, some of whom were supplied by the European Union. But it is quite clear from the discussions at the Foreign Minister's meeting at Carcassone on 19th March and from the debate in the Foreign Affairs Council on 10th April that all our partners are as concerned as we are to see a resolution.

It is critical that we must help to provide both the Governments of Burundi and Rwanda, because the two really go together, with human rights experts to give them support for the administration of justice and the police. The noble Baroness will remember that Britain was the first country to provide support to the Government of Rwanda after the tragedies of last year to get the justice system started again.

Judge Goldstone will lead the investigations but more justices will be needed in both countries. Getting the system back in operation is very difficult and needs to be done on the ground. We are working at that. I hope to write to the noble Baroness shortly with more information.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, bearing in mind the very unfortunate incident which took place last Saturday and to which reference has been made, is the Minister satisfied that adequate military forces are present in both Rwanda and Burundi to prevent a recurrence of conflict between the peoples of those countries? Further, what steps have been taken to

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accept or to consider the offer that has been made by the OAU countries to provide additional forces, provided that the United Nations is willing to pay for them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I can only tell the noble Lord that I believe the incident was much more than unfortunate; indeed, I think it was a tragedy that took place in Rwanda last Saturday. However, we must keep it in perspective. We certainly do not believe that anything like some of the numbers quoted have been killed—perhaps the number is somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500. Still, every one is one too many.

However, to stop the conflict in an area full of arms, we know that one needs many people to calm down such a situation. UNAMIR has a limited mandate which falls due for renewal this June and it will be for all the members of the Security Council to consider not just having a resolution but also actually putting numbers behind it. We have already given a considerable amount of help both to the OAU and, indeed, to the UN operation in the area. We have spent nearly £91 million since April of last year to try to bring about peace, to keep people alive and to plot the way forward. But there is a great deal more to be done. I shall keep your Lordships well informed about developments.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, as the Minister referred to the deep need for national reconciliation, is she satisfied that, within the Commonwealth, the neighbouring territory of Uganda (which has experienced massacre and loss of life for more than 20 years) is sufficiently pro-actively involved to bring healing to its neighbour?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate knows that there is a problem in that respect. The Ugandans are seen by some in Rwanda and Burundi to be on one side rather than totally in favour, as I know them to be, of national reconciliation in the region. Therefore, it is most important that all the countries in the region, especially Tanzania and Zaire which have received so many refugees, are also involved alongside Uganda in promoting national reconciliation.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the problems of Burundi and Rwanda are closely related. Can the Minister now say whether a chargé d'affaires will continue to be based in Kigali, Rwanda, for the foreseeable future? In asking that question I should declare an interest as I am heavily involved in an NGO in Rwanda.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am glad to be able to tell the noble Earl that we do indeed hope to keep the chargé d'affaires in Kigali and also to have a mission in Bujumbura so that we are working on the ground as well as through the first-class, British non-governmental organisations which are already very active in both countries.

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Local Authorities: Debts

2.54 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total debt per head of the local authorities in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the total debt per head of population at 31st March 1994, the latest date for which figures are available, was as follows: Manchester, £2,955; Birmingham, £1,192; Sheffield, £1,409; and Leeds, £988.

Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that those are very large sums of money? Are we sure that the ratepayers of those great cities are getting good value for money? Moreover, are we sure that equal effort is being made to collect debts which already exist because both tasks are necessary at the same time; in other words, economy in spending and perspicacity in collecting debts with the greatest rapidity?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the level of debt in those four cities is extremely large and is of concern to the Government. Their total debts come to nearly £4 billion. To put that in perspective, it represents just over 10 per cent. of total local authority debt in England, which stands at £37 billion. Servicing that debt costs us something like £4 billion per annum across England.

The Government are extremely keen that all local authorities reduce and pay off their debts wherever possible; indeed, the lower their debts, the greater the proportion of their revenues and grants that will be available for goods and services. Therefore, we encourage local authorities both to abide by the rules that we have set for debt redemption and to take up the incentives that we have put in place to encourage debt repayment. We also encourage local authorities to collect all moneys owing in an efficient manner.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in the case of Manchester, if it had received from Mr. Heath the money for the forced sale of its waterworks by the Government—indeed, the former Secretary of State the noble Lord, Lord Rippon, suggested that that money ought to be returned to the people to whom it belonged; namely, the ratepayers of Manchester—the figure that the noble Earl quoted could probably be wiped out completely? Why do not the Government give that money back to the people of Manchester?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord implies, Manchester's record in making efforts to redeem debt is not commendable. Large authorities such as Manchester are sitting on potentially saleable assets of great value. But, despite government incentives to encourage the sale of those assets in order to redeem their debts, such authorities are reluctant to do so.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, the noble Earl has been most frank in his answers to his noble friend

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Lord Orr-Ewing. However, will he give us an undertaking that he will be equally frank as regards questions that come from this side of the House in relation, possibly, to different local authorities; or, for example, questioning the mathematics which have been used by the noble Earl in his answers? Moreover, if pertinent questions on the matter are put by Members of this side of the House, will the noble Earl confirm that the Government will not plead that the information could be provided only at a disproportionate expense?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the mathematics are very straightforward and, possibly, somewhat embarrassing to some Members of the House.

Lord Elton: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister clarify both the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, and his answer thereto? Is not the situation to which both apply that Manchester has received capital receipts for the sale of property which is was required to sell under government legislation and that it has declined to use them in the redemption of debt because it wishes to hang on to such money for other purposes? If that is not the case, what other reason is there for Manchester not paying off the debt when it is in a position to pay some of it?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, it is hard to know why cities such as Manchester do not use all their set aside funds to redeem debt. There is no other purpose to which they can put those funds. Therefore, such moneys are simply sitting there, frozen and earning interest; but they are not being used to reduce the local authority debt.

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