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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, for her kind remarks. The question of whether the spraying of tents was a contributory factor is one of the matters that the research is exploring.

Bangladesh: Bihari Refugees

3.16 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, our bilateral aid programme to Bangladesh is our second largest, at £45 million per year, with poverty reduction a major priority. We hope that the Biharis will increasingly benefit from general development programmes not exclusively targeted at themselves. Since 1990 we have provided some £770,000 specifically for primary education and reproductive health projects within the Bihari community.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cause of the Biharis in Bangladesh was espoused in this House for many years by the late Lord Ennals, one of my predecessors as international secretary of the Labour Party? It has been espoused in another place by Mike Gapes, one of my successors. Was the noble Baroness as astounded as I was to learn that 200,000 people are trapped in refugee camps 25 years after a war has come to an end? Does she not agree that the October Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference gives a great opportunity for the countries concerned--Bangladesh, Pakistan and India--perhaps with the good offices of Her Majesty's Government, to bring an end to the suffering of these people, as that is achievable?

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I was astonished to learn that, as I understand it, there are 250,000 Bihari people in Bangladesh in 66 camps at the moment. As the noble Lord will know, there is already a full agenda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. If the two governments concerned wish to use the occasion to discuss the problem and seek the good offices of the United Kingdom Government, we shall of course consider the matter with the Commonwealth secretariat.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the non-governmental organisations in Bangladesh have, rightly, one of the best reputations in the aid world? Does she further agree that the previous Administration recognised this and supported Bangladesh as a special case within the aid programme? Can she guarantee to do the same?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have already indicated that we have given and are giving substantial bilateral aid to Bangladesh. The most substantial contribution has been a £600,000 joint funding scheme grant to the international NGO concerned. That supported the provision of primary education.

As part of the Government's fourth population and health project, we provided further grants of £160,000 to £170,000 for maternal and child health, family planning, nutrition and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases for application in the largest Bihari camps in Dhaka.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in view of the proposed visit to Bangladesh later this year of the Secretary of State for International Development, will the Minister ensure that the Government build on the warm relations which exist between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh as a result of the policies of poverty reduction and human resource development pioneered by my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey and the ODA in partnership with non-governmental organisations for the Biharis?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would wish to acknowledge the sterling work done by the noble Baroness in the alleviation of poverty wherever she found it in the world.

I understand that the plans for later in the year of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development have not yet been confirmed. However, I am sure that she will wish to continue the warm relations of which the noble Lord speaks.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, if the Secretary of State for International Development visits Bangladesh, will she also ask to visit the Chittagong Hill Tracts, from which 68,000 Jumma refugees fled from Bangladesh into the state of Tripura in India? Will she ask the Bangladeshi authorities whether they will accept

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international assistance regarding the current programme of repatriation of a large number of those people to their original homes?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend will wish to acquaint herself first hand with all the areas of difficulty. Acknowledged abuses in the past have led to the flows of refugees and the security problems in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We welcome the peace talks being conducted by the Government of Bangladesh and representatives of the refugees. We believe that these indicate that the Government of Bangladesh are keen to resolve this long-standing problem by negotiation, and to repatriate those who still remain in the refugee camps across the border in India.

Devolution: Publication of White Paper

3.22 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the White Paper on devolution for Scotland and Wales.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, it is proposed that the White Paper will be published before the House rises for the Summer Recess and in good time for the people of Scotland and Wales to have a proper opportunity to assess, debate and judge our proposals before being asked to vote on them.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. I know that he is notorious for the excellence of his memory. I ask, therefore, whether he remembers an intervention by the Deputy Chief Whip of the present Government on 11th November 1996, when he said that codes of practice should be published in time for us to take amendments at Committee stage. Since the White Paper is clearly the equivalent of a code of practice for this extremely important Bill, does the Leader of the House think that the same principle should apply in this case and that the White Paper should be published in time for us to take amendments at Committee stage in the light of what it states?

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Viscount's memory is much better than mine. I have no recollection of what the Deputy Chief Whip said on 11th November 1996. But, the comment having been drawn to my attention, I shall look it up.

No, I do not think that the suggestion of the noble Viscount makes sense. It has always been our intention that the referendum Bill should achieve its passage through both Houses of Parliament, that a White Paper should then be published and that on the basis of that White Paper the people of Scotland and Wales should then vote in the referendum.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is one reason for the delay in producing this White Paper some

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disagreement within the Government? For example, the right honourable gentleman Mr. Robin Cook, now Foreign Secretary, strongly opposed a similar devolution scheme. Speaking in another place in 1977, he said that he hoped that the whole issue would be killed and buried for all time. Has he now performed a sensational U-turn?

Lord Richard: My Lords, by definition there is never disagreement internally within governments. However, the answer to the noble Lord's question is no.

Earl Russell: My Lords, as one who remembers the occasion on 11th November last to which the noble Viscount referred, does the Lord Privy Seal agree that there is a significant difference? We could not amend the code of practice before it came into force, but we shall be able to amend the Bill before it comes into force. The cases are not on all fours.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I admire the noble Earl's memory; and I agree with what he said.

Lord Renton: My Lords, does the Leader of the House remember that on the rare occasions when we have been asked previously to approve referenda, the exact nature of the matters upon which the people would have to vote in those referenda had been made known in advance to Parliament? The noble Lord was in Parliament at the time, so he will remember. I refer to the referendum on joining the European Economic Community, as it then was. All the circumstances were well known to the people then. The Bills for the referenda on Scotland and Wales contained proposals on which the people were asked to express their views. Bearing in mind previous practice, is it not unconstitutional to be asked to approve referenda without being told exactly what the referenda will be about?

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord makes heavy weather of this, as indeed does the party opposite. The position is perfectly clear. The Labour Government were elected on the basis of a manifesto which contained a clear commitment for devolution in Scotland and Wales and for the holding of referendums before that devolution took place. In the referendum Bill we propose the mechanism for the referendums which will take place. The proposals upon which the people of Scotland and Wales will be asked to vote will be contained in the White Paper which will be published before the House rises for the Summer Recess. I should have thought that that gave the people of Scotland and Wales ample opportunity to consider those proposals before they vote.

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