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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I must disagree. There are more important considerations as to whether we have our own agency. The first question is whether work should be done by any of the current bodies rather than invoking new agencies.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has been subjected to the giggle-factor, which is a problem involved with this subject. Does he agree on the general principle that if nations are prepared to pay

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to preserve their civilised past for the current generation, they should be equally prepared to pay for the preservation of a civilised future for the next generation? Would not a first step in this direction be to subscribe to a national spaceguard centre as part of a European contribution to a global spaceguard programme which could benefit the future of all mankind?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I would not wish to imply in any way that this is a trivial issue. It is a serious issue because mainly, while the chances of impact are extremely small, the impact of any object more than a kilometre in length could be considerable. Therefore, we propose to work through ESA. Of all subjects which come before this House, this is one in respect of which an international effort is the key. We shall play our part in that rather than acting independently.

Kosovo: Return of Refugees

2.57 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What preparations are being made for creating conditions in Kosovo which will encourage refugees to return there once a settlement of the dispute with Yugoslavia has been achieved.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the refugees are keen to return to Kosovo as soon as their security is guaranteed. As the international security presence is established in Kosovo and as Federal Republic of Yugoslavia security forces withdraw, so we, in close collaboration with the military and UN, can begin the considerable task of providing the displaced persons and refugees with humanitarian support and assistance to rebuild their homes and essential infrastructure. The Department for International Development is currently establishing a field office in Pristina in order to better assist with this task.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. However, perhaps I may express my disappointment that this Question is not being answered by her noble friend Lady Symons who I informed yesterday that my Question would be a political one and not an aid question. I want to refer to a matter which I believe is relevant to the question of the enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm of the refugees to return to Kosovo; that is, the risk of continuing friction or disagreement between NATO and the Russians which could certainly discourage refugees returning.

Given the helpful role of Russia in securing the cease-fire and the known willingness of Russia to provide troops, is it not surprising that no role was provided for Russian troops in the military agreement? I am not justifying Russian action in relation to Pristina airport but it is important to understand why they may have taken this action.

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Blaker: My Lords, with silence, I shall come to my Question. President Yeltsin referred to the

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connection between that action and what he calls Russia being sidelined in the peace process. I raise this matter because I believe it is important. Is it not of great importance that we should continue to have good relations between Russia and NATO both in the context of Kosovo and the wider context?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, perhaps I may assure the noble Lord that when I stand at the Dispatch Box I am answering on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. There has been no noticeable lack of enthusiasm with respect to refugees wanting to return to Kosovo. In fact, one of our concerns has been that refugees may want to return too quickly, before the international security force has had an opportunity to ensure security in Kosovo.

With regard to the specific point concerning Russia, my noble friend Lady Symons addressed this point yesterday in response to a question from the noble Lord. It might be helpful if I repeat some of what she said. We welcome a Russian contribution to KFOR. We are aware that a small number of Russian troops are already in Kosovo. There is a clear understanding that there will be no further movement of Russian troops into Kosovo without prior agreement in NATO. Of course, we want to continue to have good relations with the Russian Government, not only on this issue but on other issues also.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the Question and ask my noble friend about the refugees that are held in the United Kingdom. Can she tell us about the conditions under which they are being held and their view about their aspirations to return to Kosovo?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, our aim has always been to ensure that it is safe for refugees before we propose their return to Kosovo from the UK. There are just under 3,500 refugees in the UK who have come in since the end of April. They are located in a number of refugee centres across the country. I should like to pay tribute to the work of local authorities and the voluntary sector, as well as the work of the Refugee Council which has been instrumental in ensuring a warm welcome for them. Our initial contact with the refugees indicated that the majority would like to return as soon as possible. We shall be in regular communication with them to ensure that that happens.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the enormous cost of repairing the damage done in Kosovo should be apportioned between those who took part in the campaign? What steps are being taken to see that the benefit of the work that results from those payments will be felt, as far as possible, in Kosovo and not distributed among other countries?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, noble Lords may be aware that we announced an additional £50 million yesterday for the Kosovo effort. We are working with our international partners and the international financial institutes to ensure that we look not just at the immediate rehabilitation effort but also the long-term

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reconstruction of the entire region. It is far too early to say how much that will cost. However, I am sure that question will be raised in this House on several more occasions.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one aspect of infrastructure that must be addressed with great urgency is the devastated state of the education system? Is the Minister aware that since the crisis began a couple of years ago, a thousand dons from Pristina University and tens of thousands of teachers, all of Albanian ethnic origin, have been dismissed? Must not, therefore, staffing and equipping the education system be very, very high in our priorities for re-establishing life in Kosovo?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that education is one of our key priority areas. We have been working to ensure that even in the refugee camps the children have access to education. I am sure that when a civilian administration is established in Kosovo, education will be one of the key priority areas.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 4.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Whitty will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on London Underground.

House of Lords Bill

3.6 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--


(" . The purpose of this Act is to create a more legitimate and more democratic House of Lords which will increase the independence of Parliament and enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in order to draw the attention of noble and noble and learned Lords on the Government Bench opposite to the irresistibility of Amendment No. 1, I should like to remind noble and noble and learned Lords of some of the statements they have made about its component parts.

The first is a statement made by the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister about democracy. He said:

    "Surely the democratic monstrosity is not the House of Commons deciding that one variant of the PR system is the best but the Conservative Party using its permanent in-built majority of Conservative hereditary Peers, elected by no one and accountable to no one, to overturn the democratic majority in the House. That is how the vast majority of people will see it".--[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/98; col. 935.]

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Then, in the Labour Party's election manifesto we find on page 33 the statement:

    "This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative". Still on the word "democratic" in the amendment, I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to two statements made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. On 14th October, 1998, at col. 922, the noble Baroness said:

    "Legislating to stop hereditary Peers being Members of Parliament removes a profoundly undemocratic element". She went on to say at col. 923:

    "I should emphasise that the removal of the hereditaries will, at the most recent count, still leave a Conservative majority over Labour of 22. Nonetheless, any change which produces a fairer balance--as our proposals will--must make this House more democratic".

I hope noble Lords on the Government Benches will agree with me that, on the basis of those statements, the Bill before your Lordships' House, in the Government's view, will produce a more democratic legislative Chamber.

I address now the second component of my amendment which concerns legitimacy and turn my attention to the Government's White Paper entitled Reforming the House of Lords, where we find on page three:

    "The present House of Lords suffers from a lack of legitimacy because of its anachronistic and unrepresentative composition". Then on page 6 we find:

    "But the House of Lords and the work it carries out suffer from its lack of legitimacy, because the presence of a hereditary peers creates a permanent, inbuilt majority for a single party. For its functions to be properly performed, the House of Lords needs a degree of legitimacy which it does not now enjoy". Finally, on page 7 of the White Paper we find a reference to:

    "the fundamental problems of the House--the deficiencies in its legitimacy arising from its method of selection".

I hope noble Lords on the Government Benches will again agree with me that, by their own definition, the changes proposed in the Bill will make your Lordships' House more legitimate. Then I turn to the other part of the amendment which will,

    "increase the independence of Parliament and enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account".

On 22nd February 1999 at col. 847 of the Motion to take note in the debate on the House of Lords reform, we find the noble Baroness the Leader of the House saying:

    "I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that, overall, the Government accept the broad sentiments of his amendment"-- the amendment tabled by the Opposition and not voted against by the Government--

    "Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, pointed out, the first page of the White Paper emphasises that Parliament is the central element of Britain's democracy, and that for Parliament to carry out its purpose it must act with authority and integrity. That principle is the basis for our proposals for reform of this Chamber; to improve the effectiveness and balance of the House so that it can play a full and proper role in Parliament, a role which necessarily includes a significant scrutiny of legislation and of the executive".

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I finally turn--your Lordships will be relieved to hear--to the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, made the following day on 23rd February 1999 at col. 1086, where he said,

    "The Government entirely share the view that it is essential that Parliament should be properly equipped to scrutinise legislation and to hold the executive to account. That is precisely why we wish to reform the composition of this House. In our view its present composition means that it lacks the legitimacy to do [that job] properly". In the same speech, in col. 1087, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, continues,

    "My noble friend the Leader of the House has made clear that the Government agree with the first part of it"-- that is, of the Opposition's amendment which concerned itself with scrutiny and control of the executive. He went on:

    "Who can be against an increase in the independence of Parliament and an enhancement of its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account".

There we have it. If your Lordships read Amendment No. 1 again, and the words, a "more democratic House of Lords"; "a more legitimate" House of Lords; and a,

    "House of Lords which will increase the independence of Parliament and enhance its ability to scrutinise legislation and hold the executive to account", your Lordships will see that on the Government's own terms, in the Government's own words, every ingredient of that amendment is accepted by them. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, we debated a virtually identical proposition from the official Opposition in Committee and we seem today to be quoting previous remarks. But I hope your Lordships will agree that those previous remarks on an amendment almost precisely the same as the one tabled today may be of greater relevance to the decisions as to whether or not to accept this amendment than the more broad discussion points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland.

When we debated the almost identical proposition to this one, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, described the amendments as probing amendments designed to give the Government an opportunity to explain where they stood on the issues raised by the amendments. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn explained the answer to that in some detail. Those amendments, which were debated at Committee stage, served the purpose of airing the subjects for debate. I am therefore somewhat surprised to see them reappear, especially as they are virtually identical, despite the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that if the Opposition returned to these questions at all, they would be seeking a different form of words which answered some of the criticisms made in the debate. As I understood it--I re-read the Committee stage proceedings on this matter this morning--it was not their view that they wished to reopen, as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has just done, a very general debate on some of the subjects which, as he has rightly drawn out, we debated over a

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long period on the long-term reform of this House and the impact that that might have both politically and legally.

The noble Lord drew on evidence given to the Royal Commission in developing his own theme. I say again--your Lordships must tire of hearing this--that that evidence was the Labour Party's evidence and not the Government's evidence. It sets out the principles the party believes the Royal Commission should address.

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