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The Earl of Strafford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the amount of oil coming into Montenegro through Bar is perhaps almost irrelevant and that the

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land routes for delivering oil to Serbia are highly relevant? The main road is very narrow--in some places tankers will have to slow down to two miles an hour--and there are numerous bridges and viaducts. Does the Minister agree that the land routes would be very tempting targets and that disrupting those routes would be a logical way of solving the problem?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope I have made clear in my answers to the questions of other noble Lords on this point that it is not solely an issue of being one route or, indeed, one supplier. Her Majesty's Government are very much alive to that fact. My right honourable friend, when he was answering questions on this matter in the other place yesterday, made a point of stressing the issue of other routes and the importance of dealing with them.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there will be great concern among many people about widening the scope of the war. Is she further aware that if action is taken which is deemed to be illegal and without the support of the United Nations, then, far from gaining friends, NATO is likely to lose friends at a time when it needs many more friends?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that any decision to widen the scope of military action will be based on international law and consistent with the rules of engagement. I have given an explicit assurance to the House on that point. I should also say to the House that, as noble Lords would expect, any such decision will be consistent with the political objectives for pursuing this campaign which my right honourable friend in another place, I and my noble friends here have spelt out on a number of occasions.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have no problems with an oil embargo although, like my noble friend Lord Blaker, I wonder why it was not started weeks ago. The noble Baroness has not yet mentioned Russia. Have the Russians been involved in discussions about the oil embargo? Have they agreed? Will we stop a Russian tanker if one attempts to take oil in? Have we worked out the consequences of such action?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a fair and proper point. Of course we have no wish whatsoever to become involved in a confrontation with Russia. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that the lines of communication are open between him and his Russian counterparts. We are still looking and hoping to work with the Russians on a sustainable solution for Kosovo. NATO heads of state and the Government made clear at the weekend that we still wish to pursue a constructive path with Russia. There have been a

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number of interchanges since last weekend between Russian politicians and politicians not only from this country but throughout NATO.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the oil being imported into Serbia at the moment is in the form of crude oil? Can the noble Baroness say whether, assuming that the bombing campaign against refineries is successful, that would not be a preferable way of knocking out the supply of fuel to Serbia's military machine?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is asking. Is he asking me whether we should be bombing supplies outside Kosovo?

Lord Avebury: Refineries, my Lords.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I am sure that a number of different options will be looked at in the planning that NATO is undertaking at the moment. Indeed, a number of different options have been raised by your Lordships. The important point that we must bear in mind is that any such action must be not only legal but consistent with the political objectives already articulated by NATO in regard to the military action.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, who in the NATO Alliance was responsible for determining the original strategy for the economic prosecution of this conflict, including legally restricting fuel and power supplies? When did UK Ministers approve the original strategy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the strategies have been developing throughout the action and, indeed, before the action started. There has been interchange between all the leaders of NATO. As I have reminded the House on a number occasions, such action can only be taken by consensus within NATO. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary speaks on an almost daily basis to the US Secretary of State and to a number of other key NATO counterparts, as has my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. As the noble Lord knows, there was an opportunity for all the NATO partners to discuss these matters in depth at the weekend. The noble Lord should not think that all of these matters suddenly sprang up last weekend. There was careful planning before the action started and throughout the action there have been discussions between all key partners.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will remember that last weekend the Prime Minister laid heavy stress on this being a "just" war. One of the principles of a just war is that force should be used proportionately and moderately. Can we be assured that the imposition of the oil embargo and any further expansion in the bombing campaign--it seems to some of us that most of the suitable and justifiable targets are now being hit-- will be in line with the Prime Minister's understanding of justice in war?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree that any prosecution of a just war must

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be consistent with the objectives of that war. That is the fundamental issue put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I hope that the noble Lord agrees--as does his party, I believe--that the political objectives that Her Majesty's Government and our NATO partners have articulated can be supported. Her Majesty's Government and all our NATO partners very much regret any civilian casualties in this war. Sadly, it is one of the awful truths that war cannot be prosecuted with any certainty that such casualties will not occur. When they do occur it is very much to be regretted. I remind the noble Lord of the appalling carnage which is being wreaked among the Kosovo Albanians by the Serbian forces. I also remind him that we are attempting to be moderate and that such an injunction is more properly addressed to Mr. Milosevic.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, would my noble friend agree with me if I suggested to her that, far from extending the war, the successful and legal interruption of oil supplies to Yugoslavia is a necessary and imperative component of the strategy to bring it to a successful conclusion?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is because Her Majesty's Government and our NATO partners are in agreement that the decision was taken at the weekend to look at the planning that would make such bombing possible. I stress to my noble friend also that it is important that any such bombing is carried out on a legal basis and in a way that is entirely consistent with the objectives that we have set. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, pointed out to us only last week, it is not sensible on the one hand to risk our servicemen's lives over Serbia on a regular basis and on the other hand to leave open ways in which oil can get into Serbia when we could possibly prevent such an eventuality.

Whitsun Recess

Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Whitsun Recess at the end of business on Thursday, 27th May. The House will sit at 11 a.m. on that day. The House will return from the Whitsun Recess on Monday, 7th June.

House of Lords Bill

3.30 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Exclusion of hereditary peers]:

The Earl of Drogheda moved Amendment No. 23A:

Page 1, line 6, at end insert ("except if, on the day this section comes into force, he is such a member and he has attained the age of 75 years")

The noble Earl said: This amendment is an extremely moderate one and my reasons for putting it forward are threefold. First, your Lordships' House is not a place where age, by its very nature, is a drawback. We have been conditioned to the idea of a retirement age. Sixty-five is generally considered the norm. For people whose jobs are largely physical or repetitious, that makes sense. However, for those whose work is stimulating, a statutory retirement age is not essential. Although such an argument may be put forward in areas where mental quickness and agility are of the essence, such as at the Bar or performing in the other place, they are not prerequisites in your Lordships' House.

It may be an advantage and it is certainly a pleasure to observe the swift exchanges of wit which frequently adorn this Chamber. However, there is another area where opinions based on mature consideration and reflection may be of more lasting value, and for such opinions time and experience are a help. Age also brings with it a healthy degree of scepticism, which is surely one of the necessary ingredients of a revising Chamber. Your Lordships' House is an ideal place for such contributions to be of use. I hope that my arguments suffice in convincing your Lordships that there is no inherent drawback to age in your Lordships' House and that it may well bring its advantages.

My second reason might be described as an aesthetic one, and although I realise that such an argument tends to be anathema in this country--and I use it with some caution--I do believe it is a valid one. We are privileged to sit not just in any large room but in this magnificent Chamber where a sense of history and continuity was achieved by the genius of Barry and Pugin, all the more remarkable when we reflect that this building is less than 150 years old. It is largely thanks to their art that our proceedings achieve a convincing gravitas. As we are all aware, the most dramatic change is about to take place here. The retention of those hereditary Peers proposed in my amendment would undoubtedly soften this change and I cannot but believe that the Government would prefer the physical landscape to change more gradually than the constitutional one.

Thirdly, and finally, I make my appeal on the grounds of humanity. Why, purely for the sake of an ideology, inflict the undoubted distress and humiliation that this Bill will cause, particularly on those for whom attendance in your Lordships' House has become of such central importance to their lives and where their long experience of life can be of such value? I beg to move.

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