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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am glad to hear that measure of support from around your Lordships' House. He is indeed a worthy candidate.

A number of points were raised on the WEU by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who I see is not in his place at the moment, and therefore I shall deal with those points in correspondence. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister launched the debate on European defence at the Poertschach meeting a few weeks ago when he said that he wanted European foreign policy to be more effective. The important thing for us to concentrate on here is that this is an issue that concerns policies and not institutions. Furthermore, I assure the House, as indeed did my noble friend Lord Gilbert, that my right honourable friend made it clear that NATO will continue to remain the cornerstone of our collective security.

Many noble Lords--too many to mention--referred to Iraq. I must say something about that. On 14th November Iraq gave an unconditional undertaking to resume full co-operation with UNSCOM and the IAEA. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that we now expect Iraq to fulfil this undertaking. We are prepared to take military action if Iraq does not. Iraq has refused to hand over certain documents requested by UNSCOM. This is a bad start as the Security Council assesses Iraq's behaviour. While they are there the monitors are reporting back. The provision of information, including these documents which have been requested by UNSCOM and the IAEA, is an important part of the demonstration of Iraq's commitment to the undertakings made on 14th November. The Government of course share international concern at the suffering of the people of Iraq. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that sanctions were hurting the poor more than they hurt Saddam Hussein. It is Saddam Hussein who is hurting the poor in his country. That is not rhetoric. It is, alas, a demonstrable fact. As the UN special rapporteur has said, Iraq holds the primary responsibility for the precarious food and health situation in that unhappy country.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, asked about support for the opposition. Her Majesty's Government would shed no tears if Saddam Hussein were no longer the

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leader of Iraq. No doubt Iraq would be better off without him. However, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, that the position remains that Her Majesty's Government believe that it is up to Iraq who its leader should be. We have consistently supported the Iraqi opposition since the end of the Gulf War. It is important that the people of Iraq and indeed the rest of the world hear an alternative voice from Iraq. I am sure that the noble Lord did not mean to be a little mischievous. I advise him that there was no contradiction between what I said and what my right honourable friend said in another place. I was dealing with the objective of military action, or potential military action, in Iraq. I said then--

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I was present when she made that reply. I recognise that she was answering a specific question--it was a perfectly good answer to the question--but I respectfully suggest that it conflicts with what her right honourable friend said.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, time is getting short and I do not want to waste your Lordships' time with what I believe is a fairly tangential point. I was answering a point then about the objectives of military action, but I reiterate that nobody would be sad to see the end of that regime.

Questions were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, about the Middle East peace process. The UK position on settlements is well known. We regard the settlements as illegal under international law. However, I believe that we should concentrate on the important point raised by the noble Lord, that the Wye River Memorandum, signed in Washington on 23rd October, offers the best prospect for peace. The UK, both bilaterally and through the EU, will do everything in its power to ensure that we facilitate implementation of that very important agreement.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, I apologise for intervening at this late stage. Before the noble Baroness leaves the question of Iraq, as she is clearly not able to answer my question on the marsh lands of Iraq and the conditions for lifting sanctions, will she agree to grant me a meeting to consider that case, given that there are no marsh people outside the Gulf to put the case themselves?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that I am always delighted to see her. I cannot give her any undertakings. I expect she realises that this issue is outside my immediate ministerial remit, but I should be delighted to see her and to talk through the important points that she raised.

Many noble Lords raised the issue of Kosovo. The agreements reached in October following the negotiations between US Ambassador Holbrooke and President Milosevic have created a new climate in Kosovo. There is now a real opportunity for a peaceful settlement offering the people of Kosovo genuine self-administration including, crucially, control of local police.

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I assure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we fully support the continuing efforts of Chris Hill and Wolfgang Petritsch, the US and EU Special Envoys, to mediate a political settlement.

To answer the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about the negotiating track, we believe that it is vital that the cease- fire is observed. The record over recent weeks has been worryingly patchy, with faults on both sides. We have called on both sides for compliance and the utmost restraint to avoid provocations.

We have committed £3 million to the international aid effort in Kosovo. The EU has separately committed over £13 million. The OSCE Kosovo verification mission is now gearing up and will soon be fully operational. I am pleased to tell noble Lords that the first 50 British monitors are already in Kosovo. We expect the deployment to approach full strength over the next few weeks. I hope that that answers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.

We welcome the significant improvement in the humanitarian situation, particularly the return to shelter, if not yet in all cases to their homes, of those displaced by the conflict. We fully support the continuing efforts of the UNHCR and others who are bringing much needed relief to those affected. We have called on both sides to co-operate fully with the humanitarian relief effort and to allow displaced people to return home in conditions of safety.

I turn to some of the important questions asked about Russia. We will remain engaged with Russia and with the Russian Government. It is in our interests that Russia continues to support reform. We are ready to give help when that can support real reform in Russia. Parliamentary contacts are very important. Russia must do its bit, however, including having sensible economic policies.

We recognise that there will be localised food and medicine shortages in Russia, but we do not believe that there is likely to be any famine. We have given extra humanitarian assistance and we are considering food aid further with our EU partners. That aid has to be well targeted. It must not damage market structures in Russia or indeed among Russia's neighbours. And it certainly must not create any sort of dependency culture.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised important questions about military conscription. As part of a programme of reform currently in progress, Russia aims to move to a more professionalised army by the year 2000. But the programme is behind schedule, not least because of the acute economic and budgetary difficulties in the country. The UK is assisting with various aspects of Russia's military reform through the MoD's excellent diplomacy programme. The MoD programme retrains 2,000 redundant officers each year and helps in finding civilian work.

The noble Lord also raised a question about warhead swaps for what might be called aid and debt forgiveness. Using loans, debt forgiveness or aid to buy warheads would cut across our efforts to link assistance to economic reform. It would play to Russian suspicions that we want a nuclear advantage. Together with our

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G7 partners, we are looking at how we might alleviate Russia's debt burden. We are also contributing to an EU programme to provide technical assistance. With our EU partners we are considering providing the food to which I referred. We have of course already provided a certain amount of assistance.

Perhaps I may also say before I depart from this question on Russia that we share the outrage expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, as I am sure all noble Lords do, about the assassination of Mrs. Starovoitova last week.

Many noble Lords raised questions about the position in Africa. In the Great Lakes region Britain is working hard for peace, actively encouraging all regional states to pursue a negotiated settlement based on acceptance by all parties of sovereignty and territorial integrity, particularly in the very troubled area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are taking into account the security concerns of neighbouring states and the right of all sections of the Congolese people. The UK has already committed approximately £500,000 in emergency assistance to relieve humanitarian suffering. We are ready to look at further United Nations appeals.

The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised particular questions about what is happening in Sierra Leone. The aid to which he referred, the £6½ million grant for rehabilitation, is not yet disbursed. We await the appointment of an agent to manage the financial and procurement unit, and that agent will be responsible for the accounting of those funds.

My noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside raised the issue of Angola. We remain concerned by the impasse in the peace process and the deteriorating security situation in that country. As my noble friend pointed out, UNITA, under the leadership of Savimbi, must take responsibility for the present crisis. Only unconditional implementation of its obligations under the Lusaka principle, in particular full demilitarisation and the extension of state administration, can resurrect the peace process.

My noble friend raised other questions relating to Angola and some relating to South Africa. I hope he will be satisfied if I write to him on those matters.

I now turn to questions raised in relation to a completely different part of the world by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I assure the noble Baroness that my right honourable and honourable friends and I have supported the arguments of our friends in the Caribbean in relation to bananas at every possible turn. We do so in Europe and, importantly, we do so in America. I discussed the matter most recently in Jamaica, and in this country with members of the United States Administration. I am acutely conscious of the possibility of diversification of those fragile economies in the Caribbean into exactly the kind of trade mentioned by the noble Baroness in relation to drugs trading and money laundering. We lose no opportunity to make those points to our friends in the American Administration.

As for Cuba, the noble Baroness rightly referred to my visit which was, I think, the first visit of a Foreign Office Minister since the Cuban revolution. It was

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followed by the visit of my honourable friend the Minister for Trade and Industry. We are discussing the important issues which the noble Baroness raised in relation to debt. I hope that we shall be able to follow through those points and I thank her for the positive contribution she has made, particularly in relation to commercial debt with regard to Cuba.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, is not in her usual place, but is nonetheless welcome in the Chair. She raised questions about the Sudan. We continue to stress to the Government of Sudan and to opposition groups our concern to see a negotiated end to the civil war. We want a negotiated end that respects the right of all Sudanese people. A peace settlement is the only long-term solution to that humanitarian crisis. We are working to strengthen Operation Lifeline Sudan in order to give it a more powerful voice and to ensure access to areas where there are acute humanitarian needs. I hope that that answers the point made by the noble Baroness about access.

The noble Baroness also raised issues in regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. We fully support the efforts of the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk group, the United States, Russia and France, to seek a just and lasting settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We are concerned at the lack of progress to date. We urge all parties to show their good will. The noble Baroness is also right that there is a proposal for the 1999 OSCE ministerial meeting to be held in Turkey. We have discussed the issues with the Government of Armenia who have announced today that they will raise no objection to the meeting taking place in Istanbul. I hope that to a certain extent that will calm some of the fears raised by the noble Baroness in relation to Armenia.

I have trespassed on your Lordships' time for longer than I had intended, but I have tried to cover the waterfront without doing too much of a travelogue

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round the globe. Noble Lords raised important and interesting points and I hope I have been able to deal with most of them at least to your Lordships' satisfaction.

The Government intend to show leadership in the international community and in international organisations serving that community. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, felt it necessary to be a little derisory, a little sneering, about the Government's efforts to make British foreign policy count. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told the United Nations General Assembly in September, we believe in the United Nations. We believe in a modernised United Nations. The Government will build on the success of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year as well in regard to our relationship with the Commonwealth.

I hope that I have been able to cover most of the important points raised in your Lordships' House today. I hope too that I have been able to describe to the House how we are putting into action the Government's commitments, the commitments we made in our manifesto and the commitments we made in the FCO mission statement which my right honourable friend made after taking up office. I am proud of this Government's record, a record of real achievement, a record that we shall continue throughout this parliamentary Session.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blackstone, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until Monday next.

Moved, That the debate be adjourned until Monday next.--[Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.]

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until Monday next.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before ten o'clock.

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