Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot accept that the troika mission was as great a failure as the noble Lord appears to suggest. We were able to express our concerns and sympathy with the suffering of the Algerian people. We also extended an invitation to the Algerian Foreign Minister, Mr. Attaf, to visit the United Kingdom during our presidency. He accepted that invitation in principle. As to the rapporteurs, as I informed the House when this matter was last discussed the Algerians' minds are not closed entirely. They wish to review the position at the meeting in Geneva on 16th March. We shall continue to press them in the intervening period and at that meeting to accept the presence of the special rapporteurs. I agree with the noble Lord that it is important to have an impartial view as to what is happening in Algeria.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is widespread hope that progress can be made on 16th March but that if progress is not made and the Algerian Government are not more forthcoming in their co-operation it may be necessary to consider conditionality in the context of economic and social relationships with Algeria in order to encourage them? Are such contingency plans being made? Can my noble friend assure the House that in the meantime because of the dreadful situation in that country particular care will be taken on the issue of Algerian asylum seekers in this country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we take very great care on the question of asylum seekers given the appalling position in Algeria at the moment.

9 Feb 1998 : Column 857

We know that the violence continues. Historically, that violence seems to escalate during the period of Ramadan, and it is violence that we continue to deplore. The noble Lord asks about our hopes at the meeting on 16th March. We hope that that meeting will succeed in bringing forward a resolution of this issue, but there are other opportunities. EU parliamentarians are in Algiers at the moment and no doubt they seek to persuade the Algerians on this point. A number of noble Lords will be aware that a deputation of Algerian women parliamentarians is to visit me in your Lordships' House next week. We are able to put forward a number of points of persuasion before we need to address the further questions that the noble Lord has raised.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in her Answer the Minister referred to the Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs who has stated that the scope for international action is limited and that this is an internal problem. Given the Government's ethical foreign policy, does the Minister agree with Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has said:

    "I cannot and do not consider [the situation in Algeria] to be an internal situation",

and that human rights have no borders when such violations occur and the international community has a responsibility to end such violence?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the actions of Her Majesty's Government show that we agree that this is a matter upon which all interested parties who wish for the good of Algeria must agree. That has been demonstrated not just by my honourable friend's visit when he led the troika last month but by my right honourable friend's statement after the GAC which made it clear that during our presidency we should continue to take this matter seriously, and to address it on every possible occasion, including the visits of parliamentarians of which I have already notified your Lordships.

Lord Wright or Richmond: My Lords, will my noble friend comment upon a story in yesterday's Observer, which claimed to carry an interview with a former Algerian security officer resident in London who claimed to have given the Observer details of torture facilities in Algiers? The article went on to invite the Foreign Office to contact the Observer if it wished to have further details of those claims.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government wish to know about all such allegations in detail. I hope that anyone who knows about anything approaching torture facilities in Algeria or indeed in any other part of the world will make it their business to ensure that that FCO is kept abreast of such appalling developments.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the true value of these parliamentary exchanges is not so much that they are likely to produce solutions to the present problem, which I do not believe they will,

9 Feb 1998 : Column 858

but that in the longer term they will help foster the development of democratic institutions and practices in Algeria so that those who hold strongly differing views will find democratic rather than violent means of resolving their problems.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend's suggestion. I hope that all of us who meet the women parliamentarians from Algeria next week--I understand that Members of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats are doing so--will take every opportunity to make those points to them.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham: My Lords, I hope that the Government will ignore some of the articles that have appeared in some British newspapers, which, for some reason, seem to misrepresent and malign the position taken by the Algerian Government on some of the appalling atrocities that we have seen. They imply that in some way the Algerian Government condone or stand aside and let these things happen. Nothing could be further from the truth. They also accuse Algeria of being governed by a military junta. I think that Algeria--

Noble Lords: Question!

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham: My Lords, surely that is not true. It is an elected government.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are of course aware of the allegations that the Algerian Government are somehow implicated in the killings. There is no substantive, credible evidence to confirm those allegations. However the situation would have been helped if, when the troika visited Algeria last month, it had been allowed to visit the scene of the massacres so that it could have satisfied itself on some of those important points. We must wait to see what evidence emerges. I return to the original point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury: were we to see the UN rapporteurs in Algeria, we would at least have objective advice about the extent of anyone's alleged involvement.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as the UN rapporteurs will not be allowed in, at least until after the commission has met on 16th March, and the time necessary to make the arrangements has elapsed, does the Minister agree that the rapporteurs should make an analysis of the evidence that is currently available? That includes the statements made by the former torturer who claims also to have witnessed mass murders. Could not all that evidence be brought together by the special rapporteurs so that it could be presented to the commission on 16th March to enable it better to make a decision?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The question that the noble Lord asks is essentially a matter for the UN rapporteurs. Her Majesty's Government's position remains the same. We shall encourage the Algerian

9 Feb 1998 : Column 859

Government to accept the special rapporteurs. I hope that other governments will be doing the same in Geneva on 16th March.

Missing Persons Helpline

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will provide public funding for the National Missing Persons Helpline.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Government acknowledge the excellent work carried out by the Missing Persons Helpline, particularly in supporting the families of people who go missing. Tracing missing persons, particularly those considered to be vulnerable or those who may have been victims of crime, is, however, primarily a police task. Individual forces have in place operational procedures for tracing missing persons. There is also a central information gathering and exchange facility in respect of vulnerable persons who have been missing for more than 28 days, those whose going missing merits particular attention, and unidentified corpses. This is the Police National Missing Persons Bureau and it is funded by the Home Office. Future arrangements for missing persons are being reviewed, but there are no plans at present to extend funding to the helpline.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he keep the question of public funding under review in the light of a number of factors? The first is that the free help the National Missing Persons Helpline gives to the statutory services such as the police and coroners is increasing all the time and is overstretching its already limited voluntary resources. That help is complementary to the police National Missing Persons Bureau. Secondly, police chiefs have made numerous tributes saying that work would not exist but for the helpline; and, thirdly, the work is now entering a European scale, and, as I said, is overstretching the resources. Will he keep the door open?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in respect of the European dimension, we are taking forward within the EU discussions about the setting up of or improving of national co-ordinating points dealing with missing persons and unidentified corpses. The organisation to which the Question refers received a grant of £105,091 from the lotteries board fairly recently. I agree that this is a co-operative effort. The work of the organisation is of course done in co-operation with the police to a certain extent. The future of missing persons provision is under review. Obviously we shall take into account EU proposals on the role of the helpline.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page