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House of Lords

Wednesday, 12th May 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

The Duke of Rutland --Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

The Balkans: Economic and Political Development

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the economic and political development of the Balkans.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the United Kingdom is urgently pursuing, with partners and allies, a range of ideas to promote economic and political development in the Balkan region. The Kosovo crisis has highlighted the need to stabilise the region; to accelerate our existing strategy; and to make it more inclusive.

The EU presidency has proposed a stability pact for the region, and we are working with it on this. At the same time, we are making specific proposals to give this process greater content and impetus.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I welcome the task force which has just been established between the World Bank and the European Commission with regard to the reconstruction of the Balkans.

Should we not go well beyond that in terms of the reconstruction of democratic institutions in the whole of the Balkans? Should we not involve the non-governmental organisations, and should we not seek to train the refugees now outside Kosovo to be able to help in their own reconstruction? Today we have learned of a new crisis in Russia. The scale of the need is now far beyond anything we envisaged. I remind the Minister of the Prime Minister's remark about a Marshall Plan and the Foreign Secretary of Germany's remarks about a major Balkan stability pact.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government too welcome the announcement today about the initiative begun with the World Bank and the European Commission. That follows a decision at the meeting of high-level representatives of government which took place in Washington on 27th April.

We are going further than that, both economically and politically. As well as supporting the work that is being undertaken with our partners in Europe, the Government are working on a range of possibilities to be taken

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forward with NATO, the OSCE and the international institutions. We recognise the point that the noble Baroness makes. It is not just a question of economics. It is a question of political stability too. We are in the process of working up our ideas. Meetings are taking place today and they will continue to try to put forward our ideas and discuss them with our partners as quickly as possible.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the co-ordinated and comprehensive response that has been announced today to deal with the post-conflict economic rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Balkan region may be our last chance to bring long-term stability to that historically unstable region? Does my noble friend share my view that it will not just be a last chance but will be a golden opportunity to get it right this time? While the cost will be very high indeed, we must ensure that the member states of NATO, the European Union and the international financial institutions make provision to meet those costs for, if they do not, it is certain that the region will fall back into despair and into renewed conflict.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that today's announcement presents an important opportunity. I hope that my noble friend will agree with me that there are a number of different arenas in which that important work is being pursued. The announcement today is one very important part of that but it is not the only initiative. There is that joint responsibility to co-ordinate the work and to assess the needs and mobilise the support for the Balkan regions. The Commission and the World Bank have already co-chaired meetings in relation to Bulgaria and Macedonia. Further meetings are scheduled as regards Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is extremely important work and we support that initiative. But there are other initiatives too and I ask my noble friend not to lose sight of the importance of those further initiatives.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, given the obvious importance of education and training in economic development, and recalling the speedy generosity with which our universities helped earlier generations of refugees like the Hungarians in 1956 and the Czechs in 1968, will the Government encourage the funding councils to enable our universities and further education colleges to admit relevant young people from among the refugees currently arriving from Kosovo?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, is quite right that the educational future of the young refugees is an important point if we are to ensure that there is a future, not only for those who have left Kosovo and may not see their future there, but those who wish to return. Indeed, we shall encourage them to do so if that is their wish. The work being taken forward in the United Kingdom at present is looking into a

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number of different areas, not only on the economic side. As I stressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that includes areas on the political side and areas of good governance. All those issues are being considered at present. We hope to be able to share our thinking on this with our partners within the next couple of weeks or so.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, from these Benches we strongly endorse the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. Does the Minister agree that when fighting a war it is right and proper to ensure that defence forces are fully financed, and it will be absolutely essential on this occasion, in making the peace in Kosovo, that full and generous financial support will be needed? Therefore, to what extent have the Government's plans for the post-fighting status of Kosovo, namely a mandate under a UN Security Council resolution for its interim administration, been agreed with other members of the NATO alliance, the OSCE, the European Union and the United Nations in particular?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the position after the fighting is over--let us hope that is soon--is one that has to be discussed not only with our allies in NATO but with other members of the contact group. The noble Lord will know that work is going forward on this very urgently, not only with the contact group but also in the United Nations. We very much hope that we will be able to persuade our friends in China that they can come on board over a United Nations Security Council resolution. The future will depend upon how all the interested parties see the position after the fighting. Among those interested parties will also be the Kosovo people. As we have said, as far as we are concerned, we believe it is important that the Rambouillet Accords form part of the thinking for the re-building of Kosovo after the fighting.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the first need of south-east Europe is for free trade and better transport links? Is it not desirable that there should be some kind of Benelux arrangement stretching the whole way from the Ukraine to Albania?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is sensible for us to look at the situation on the ground when the fighting is over. There is an enormous amount of political and economic uncertainty, not only in Kosovo but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly pointed out, in the whole of the Balkan region. The priorities are to end the violence in the Balkans, to increase prosperity in the region and to have partnership based on core democratic European values. We need to get those things into place and then consider the sort of detail the noble Lord urges us to do.

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Written Answers: Publication in Hansard

2.46 p.m.

Lord Chesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that it is in the interest of open government to place full Answers to Written Questions in the Library of the House, where they are not readily accessible to the public, rather than to publish them in the Official Report.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton:) My Lords, it is usual practice for departments to consult the office of the Official Report for guidance on handling when Answers to Questions from noble Lords are of significant length. In such cases, the decision to place the Answer in the Library of the House, rather than publish it in Hansard, is made for reasons of cost-effectiveness and practicality. The full text of the Answer is, of course, available to noble Lords and other inquirers on request.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, this is an increasing practice. Is it not extraordinary that the Government adopt it at a time when they are promising, again and again, a freedom of information Bill, a manifesto promise which has not yet been delivered?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we place Answers in the Library rather than publish them in the Official Report only after we have taken the advice of the Editor of the Official Report. It is not a decision for the Government, but for the authorities of this House. It is wrong to criticise the Government rather than others.

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