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The Lord Bishop of Sheffield: My Lords, from the Bench of Bishops I wish to add a word of gratitude and respect to Lord Listowel. We valued a colleague who, as long ago as 1931, had written a book on the values of life. He was a philosopher who was both wise and good--in the true sense of the words, a philosopher prince. He will be missed, and we are grateful for all he gave to the country and to this House in all those years.
Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge: My Lords, as I knew Billy Listowel before most people in this House were born, I wish to record one of what his father regarded as his dangerous and disagreeable Left-wing tendencies. He formed a group of people, of which I am ashamed to say I was not one, to try to live on the dole, and they did for about five years.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Are the funds available to UNHCR keeping pace with the number of refugees, especially of course those in the developing world? Is he aware that after a few years there is often a larger number of refugees to be returned than the number of those originally displaced owing to their high fertility rate, which is consequent upon the vulnerability of women in refugee
Lord Chesham: My Lords, we do not believe that the UNHCR is badly funded. In 1996 it came close to reaching its target for general programmes. It raised more than its target for nine out of its 15 major special programmes. We can only agree about the increasing number of displaced persons. Projects related to the protection and health of women refugees are now part of many UNHCR programmes. Typical projects relate to family planning and income generation. The UNHCR has guidelines on the protection of women refugees which it applies wherever it is active. Gender issues form a significant part of staff training.
Lord Renton: My Lords, could it be pointed out in discussions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that the United Kingdom has received more than its fair share of the many refugees in this world and has contributed financially as well as any other country?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I do not necessarily think that it is important for us to raise the matter. I believe that around the world what we do is generally appreciated.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I appreciate the additional contribution announced by the Minister towards the UNHCR's programme. But does the noble Lord believe that it is satisfactory, and does the UNHCR see it as satisfactory, that money has to be raised specially to meet emergencies as they arise? Is it not dangerous for the commission to have to rely on the generosity of donor nations at a time when refugee problems such as that in eastern Zaire are getting worse? Does the Minister also agree that we need to put the UNHCR's funding on a sound basis before it extends its role too far into dealing with the internally displaced, which is a huge extra burden on the resources available?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, part of the budget of the UNHCR comes from the UN budget; that is on a regular basis. However, we are never certain what catastrophes will occur and where. It is essential that, rather than saying, "Here is x amount, and that's it", everyone should always be prepared, if a particular problem arises, to be in a position to help.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the budget of the UNHCR contains any provision for preventive diplomacy aimed at stopping, in particular, the outbreak of internal conflicts and the vast displacements of population that they cause?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, that question covers quite a large area. I shall try to answer as best I can. In relation to the point about children and young boys missing, we have not received any firm evidence of these sorts of atrocities. However, we treat all such allegations very seriously. We are urging the UNHCR to investigate crimes. We have not seen any reliable reports on the abduction of boys.
So far as children generally are concerned, this month we provided a further £250,000 in support of the Save the Children Fund tracing and family reunification project within Rwanda. That is in addition to an earlier £250,000 for its emergency programme in eastern Zaire. We support those activities as we can.
As to the refugee situation more generally in eastern Zaire, there is a problem regarding the difference between the army and the rebels. We are urging all regional leaders with influence on Kabila to press him to agree to an immediate cease-fire so that corridors can be set up. At present we are not in a position to demand anything very much. We do not have an international armed force in the area. If we had such a force there, we should have to consider such proposals very seriously. We very much regret that the Zairian Government recently expelled 40 international relief workers, including several from the UNHCR. We are protesting as much as we can on that issue.
Lord Rea: My Lords, may I ask the Minister a specific question of which I gave him notice? I refer to the Atrush refugee camp in northern Iraq for Kurdish refugees from Turkey. The UNHCR ostensibly closed the camp earlier this year but apparently the refugees have refused to go home. As the Minister may be aware, I intended to go on a human rights visit to the camp. However, we have been unable to get transit permission. Does the Minister have any news about the well-being of this large group of 15,000 to 20,000 people, largely consisting of women and children?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, our latest information is that refugees are now leaving Atrush. Some have chosen to return to Turkey; several thousand have stayed in northern Iraq. The UNHCR and the World Food Programme continue to provide assistance as necessary. However, the UNHCR does not have access to the camp at Atrush and has no estimate of the number of refugees remaining there.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. On 20th January she said that guidelines would be available in the spring. I do not suggest a date when spring starts and finishes. However, I hope that she will be able to highlight in the guidelines the deplorable state of affairs between the water authorities and the side concerned with public health. The two are constantly in conflict. That was not the intention of the Water Fluoridation Act when it was put on the statute book. Can the Minister give the House any assurance that that conflict will cease following the publication of the new guidelines?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we now understand from Mr. Malone that the advice that the Department of Health is issuing is to health authorities rather than to the water companies. Is that not the wrong target? What action will the Government take to ensure that water companies, following proper consultation by health authorities and a request for fluoridation, act within the intentions of the 1985 Act?
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