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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in an endeavour to be entirely helpful, I said that the Westminster Parliament is different, not that Westminster elections are different.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am happy to have that correction. The Westminster Parliament is different--exactly. The noble Lord has said on a number of occasions at an earlier stage of the Bill that the Westminster Parliament elects a government.

The noble Lord made one other interesting point in his submission. He accused his noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney of intervening and justifying the noble Lord's position. I had understood the noble Lord to say earlier that a focus group (presumably) had said it liked simple, short ballot papers. Dare I say that the simplest and shortest ballot papers can be found in a first-past-the-post system? I believe that the noble Lord shot himself in the foot in making that point.

I accept that this is a difficult issue and clearly the House is not at one with us. We shall consider these issues and decide whether or not to return to them at the next stage of the Bill. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 12 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 13:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--

Report on alternative methods of election of MEPs

(".--(1) Within six months of the first election held under this Act, the Secretary of State shall appoint an independent commission to consider and report within two years on the relative merits of--
(a) the method of election of MEPs provided for by this Act, and
(b) a method of election of MEPs where voters may express a preference for a candidate.
(2) The commission's report shall be laid before Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 13 is brief and is predicated on the fact that we move to a European election by proportional representation, or a variation thereof, as outlined in the Bill. The amendment seeks the setting up of a commission within six months of the first election to be held under the Bill in order to report within two years on the merits of the electoral system that is proposed.

When this matter was discussed in Committee, the Minister helpfully told me (at col. 357 of the Official Report of 25th June 1998) that a group chaired by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office would be set

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up to review all of these matters after the election, as indeed it is doing right now. I congratulate the noble Lord. I do not believe that we have tussled across the Dispatch Box since he was rightly elevated to his new position. I suspect that it will not bring him the remuneration he was used to before he joined Her Majesty's Government but at least it will go some way to bridge the gap. However, even if the noble Lord were the chairman of that group, I do not believe that that would satisfy my request for an independent commission to consider these matters.

This is nothing to do with the argument about whether we approve of this or that method of proportional representation--or of proportional representation at all. However, if we are to change, it is right that an independent group should look at the results of what has happened and report to Parliament. I do not suggest that that body should have a final say over whether we keep what is proposed in the Bill or change to another system, but I believe that it would be useful to have an independent body to examine the results and to take evidence from the public who will have voted and the political parties who will have operated the new system.

I do not believe that the assurance given earlier about an internal group organised by the Home Office is sufficient. An independent commission is a better approach. I am aware that noble Lords are keen to get to the next very important business and I shall therefore say no more about the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I hope that, in responding, the Minister can be a little more sympathetic to this proposal. It may be that the amendment moved by the noble Lord is a little tight and prescriptive. On the other hand, as noble Lords have acknowledged during the debate this afternoon, we are going into unknown territory in respect of the European Parliament elections and other elections. There will be a need to look at how these various systems are working, at which ones are effective, at whether my optimism about bringing out the vote is justified and at whether amendments can be made to it. The kernel of the amendment is a very good idea which I do not believe the Government should be hasty to reject.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the points made by the noble Lords who have spoken are important. The elections in 1999 will be important developments. Perhaps I may firm up the assurances that I gave at an earlier stage. The working group is chaired by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office who has general responsibility for electoral matters within that department. His remit is to review all aspects of electoral procedure in the light of last year's general election here. I am happy to give noble Lords the assurance that we shall review the conduct and operation of the new system following its use in June 1999. The results of that review will be placed before Parliament. In addition, the present review--I hope that this is an earnest of the way that we want to look at it--has on it representatives of all political parties, including the Conservative Party, as well as electoral administrators. That review is making good progress. The representatives of the Conservative Party have not suggested that that body does not have proper status or independence.

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I hope that on those bases--first, that there will definitely be a review of the 1999 elections; secondly, my undertaking that that review will be presented to Parliament; and, thirdly, that representatives of all parties participate in the review--noble Lords' concerns will be reasonably allayed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful for the support that I have received from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, despite our tussles earlier this afternoon. I believe that he is absolutely right. His standpoint is that PR is a good thing; I do not believe that it is. Whatever the outcome, there are so many variations of PR that it is right to have a review. I shall read what the noble Lord has said. By way of assurance, it probably meets my concern about the independence of any body that is to be set up. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Commencement]:

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Schedule 1 [New Schedule 2 to the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978]:

[Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 not moved.]

In the Title:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]


7 p.m.

Baroness Ludford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action by the European Union and its international partners they are seeking in order to secure peace and justice in Kosovo.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am grateful for this long-arranged debate which turns out to be extremely timely. I shall ask the Minister today to tell us how Security Council Resolution 1199 is to be enforced in the short term to secure peace and safety for the people of Kosovo and in the longer term to secure justice and democracy. I shall also ask what conclusions the Government draw about the role of the European Union in promoting security on the European continent.

In the past seven months we have learnt that President Milosevic is engaged not only in brutal repression of his own citizens but also in indiscriminate violence amounting to ethnic cleansing. A thousand people have died and UNHCR estimates that 300,000 have been displaced. War crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Kosovo, principally by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police but also by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

We have the press to thank for shaking the West out of its inaction and complacent appeasement of President Milosevic. We have for too long seen him as part of the solution when in fact he is the problem. The sad fact is that all this comes against a background of a decade of human rights violations against the ethnic Albanian population who make up 90 per cent. of Kosovo's population. They have had to endure discrimination amounting to apartheid-style rule by Serbia since 1989 when Kosovo was forcibly stripped of autonomy and

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the Albanian language was banned in schools and universities while we in Europe and the West generally turned a blind eye.

It is relevant to a long-term political solution to recall the history of Kosovo's status within Yugoslavia from 1946 until 1989. It was an autonomous region and frequent alterations to the constitution gave Kosovo more and more administrative autonomy. That culminated in the 1974 constitution's upgrading of Kosovo to an autonomous province. It not only had its own assembly, banking system, courts and education system but also its own seat in the federal parliament, the constitutional court and the federal presidency. Indeed, it exercised virtually all the powers that a full republic had.

In 1992 western governments judged that only the six previous full republics were the constituent entities of the old federal Yugoslavia which had the right to independence. But that was a political decision rather than a legal analysis. We need to remember when talking about the degree of self-government Kosovars can hope to get in future that the reality of Kosovo's status in the past was far more than that normally conveyed by the term "autonomy".

Last Friday the contact group unanimously decided that President Milosevic had not complied with Security Council Resolution 1199, and US envoy Richard Holbrooke was despatched to tell him that he must comply with its terms--for a verifiable pull out of forces, humanitarian relief and political talks--or face military action. But can the Minister confirm that what is going on, and will continue further, in Belgrade will secure full and lasting compliance, and not let Milosevic get away literally with more murder?

Can the Minister cast any light on the terms of the prospective deal based on the Holbrooke plan? If, as reported, that may require withdrawal of forces only to their March 1998 level, how does that satisfy the demand in Resolution 1199 for withdrawal of "security units used for civilian repression", which presumably means all such units? It is important to gain guarantees for effective international monitoring and full, unimpeded access for humanitarian organisations.

Is it not the case that diplomatic or human rights monitors alone would not have enough enforcement power to ensure a durable ceasefire and civilian safety and the respect of any interim agreement? Will there not still need to be some international forces on the ground for peace implementation? And would it not be desirable in principle for the Russians to be involved?

Can the Minister give an assurance that any interim agreement returns Kosovo to its pre-1989 autonomous status, which is surely the minimum that Kosovars can be expected to accept now? In short, how can we assure the ethnic Albanians that this is not a sell-out allowing President Milosevic once again to get off the hook, with our threats of enforcement turning out to be no more than bluff and bluster?

Should military intervention in the absence of agreement still be required, I assume that legal justification is sufficiently conferred by the terms of Security Council Resolution 1199 based on Chapter 7

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of the UN Charter, on the need to avert a threat to regional peace and security, and on the overriding humanitarian needs of the 50,000 people stranded without adequate food or shelter with winter setting in.

Will the Minister confirm that if air strikes take place they will not be a gesture of punishment or revenge, but part of a credible and thought-through military and political strategy? They would have to be followed through by action on the ground to secure relief for refugees, prevent further killings, ensure political talks take place, and help build civil society in Kosovo.

Will the Minister enlarge as far as possible on contingency plans for deployment of a NATO force of ground troops and confirm whether British forces would participate? Do the Government agree that it would be irresponsible to use air power if there were to be no follow-through since that would leave the Albanian population and Serb critics of Milosevic in an even more perilous position?

Turning to the framework for political negotiations on a long term settlement, I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that the talks will be unconditional. Surely it is unjustifiable and unrealistic for the West to impose a permanent ceiling of autonomy within Serbia on Kosovan ambitions by saying that independence even in the long term must be ruled out. I clearly do not suggest that there would be any question of using the West's military power to impose independence; of course there would not. But I question whether it is up to any outside party to prescribe the outcome of negotiations between the Serb authorities and ethnic Albanians, except perhaps to seek guarantees for the Serb minority.

It is sometimes said that allowing independence for Kosovo even to be on the agenda would potentially destabilise Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia and open up claims to redrawing borders for Greater Serbia, Greater Albania, Greater Greece or Greater Bulgaria. However, is it not possible that ruling out Kosovan independence for ever not only allows Milosevic disproportionate leverage and opportunity for blackmail but creates a greater source of instability than allowing independence, however inconceivable in the next few years, to remain a long-term possibility?

How are we going to hasten what we hope will be the political demise of President Milosevic? Can the Minister report on the latest developments towards indictment for crimes in Kosovo before the International War Crimes Tribunal? Is it not the case that unlike in Bosnia where President Milosevic claimed he had no direct responsibility for war crimes, in Kosovo he is, as president, commander of the armed forces and bears ultimate and personal responsibility for those crimes? Therefore, irrespective of the guilt of more junior perpetrators, he surely deserves to be indicted personally.

Cannot more be done to cut off President Milosevic's funds which prop up him and his party and their despotic and corrupt grip on power in Serbia? Why cannot we use international police and banking co-operation to track down and freeze his assets? It is said that much of his personal wealth is in bank accounts

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in Cyprus. Would it not be inappropriate for Cyprus to join the European Union while its banking system allows such shady activities?

In their conclusions a week ago, EU Foreign Ministers declared their determination,

    "to further increase the effectiveness of the EU sanctions regime".

Can the Minister explain what is envisaged? Will all flights, not just those by JAL, be banned if there is not sufficient compliance? It is to be hoped that it would take less than 12 months for such a ban to come into effect.

Finally, perhaps I may ask the Minister what conclusions the Government draw about the need to strengthen European Union capacity for effective action on security, including civil security through policing and democracy building. Does it not seem that the weight of our responsibilities is greater than our power of decision making? The spectacle of Europe playing second fiddle to the United States in an area which is on our doorstep is deeply concerning. After all, if troops are deployed in Kosovo, they will be mainly, if not exclusively, European not American troops.

Have the Government reconsidered their attachment to what the Minister a few months ago in the Amsterdam Treaty debate called "the safeguard" of unanimity for EU policy decisions? Are press reports accurate when they state that Government are preparing a new blueprint on Europe, envisaging a defence capability for the European Union to underpin their foreign policy role?

In conclusion, surely if we meant anything 50 years ago when we said "never again", we must not only act with resolve now to stop human rights abuses and killings in Kosovo, but also be much bolder in our willingness for European capabilities to live up to Europe's security challenges.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, the noble Baroness has spoken mainly about the political future of Serbia. I shall speak mainly about the immediate military confrontation. Is this NATO operation intended to be under UN authority? If so, which Security Council resolution confers it? One reads through Resolution 1199, which is the most recent one about Kosovo, and it tells both Milosevic and the Kosovar Albanians what they must do. We turn to the last paragraph to see what the sanction is and find that the Security Council will,

    "consider further action and additional measures to maintain or restore peace and stability in the region and remain seized of the matter".

There is no authority in that resolution to bomb.

But I read in the press today that "senior officials" have found a "legal basis" for the attack and wonder whether it would help the debate if the Minister were to intervene now in order to state briefly what that basis may be?

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