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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps I may respond quickly. To be honest, that is the most extraordinary answer ever given. Last week Mr. Nilsen was refused permission to have his poems published. Now it has been granted. So to say he has been given permission for nothing is not worthy of the eminent Lord.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is worthy that I tell the House the true position. What has happened is that Nilsen, who is serving life sentences for many cruel and wicked murders, has been given the relevant information and told that he may submit his request.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords. Judging literary merit, apart from the content of noble Lords' questions, is not one of my functions. This is a very serious matter. We are talking about a balance which it is almost impossible to draw. There are rights given under existing Prison Service standing orders, and there is no one I know in your Lordships' House who will not be affected by the prospect of further grief and distress caused to the loved ones of those whom Nilsen cruelly murdered. It may assist your Lordships, and I hope others, that I can say that the Prison Service intends to review standing orders because there is public concern about the publication of material by prisoners. Moreover, we are also approaching the date of 2nd October of next year for the implementation of the Human Rights Act. Therefore, this is an opportune time to carry out such scrutiny.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I appreciate the Minister's reply and I agree with it. However, does he agree that there are a number of prisoners who are writers in residence and who try to develop the literacy and poetic skills of the inmates in prison, not all of whom are mass murderers? Indeed, some of them are fairly short-term prisoners. Therefore, would it not be better if such standing orders were brought to the attention not only of the prison authorities but also of the inmates, including writers in residence, so that good work could actually be published and appreciated by others?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I repeat my earlier assurance that Mr Nilsen had the relevant standing orders brought to his attention. The noble Lord is quite right. There are many of us in this House who have welcomed the work of the Koestler Awards over the years. In the nature of things, that means the opportunity to produce artwork or literary work for fairly modest prizes. That is why I said earlier--and I do not think I can escape this--that it is a very difficult, if not impossible, balance to draw. One has to bear all these delicate susceptibilities in mind.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I must make it quite plain that it was suggested from the beginning that the money should not go to Nilsen. When I wrote to the Minister previously making it plain that any money received would not go to Nilsen, the application was declined. The decision has now been reversed. So let us get that clear.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I almost said, "I hope for the last time", but even I am not that optimistic. Nilsen has been told that he can apply. I agree with the noble Earl that it is very important where the money goes. However, many relatives say that that is not their main concern; it is the resurrection of memories that they hoped had been calmed. I think they have a legitimate interest that should at least be taken into account.
Lord McNally: My Lords, on that very point, the Minister will recall that when the Mary Bell issue was debated in this House he promised an internal review by the Home Office of the wider issue of convicted criminals--and not just those still in prison--writing their memoirs. Can the noble Lord tell us what stage that review has reached and when we can hope to have the findings?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the review is still continuing. The noble Lord is quite right. It is a different matter because, in Mary Bell's case, she had long since served her sentence. Again, there are exceptionally difficult legal and moral problems to be grappled with; indeed, they are not at all easy, as I have discovered to my cost.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Mr Vollebaek, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Chairman-in-Office, and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group continue their efforts to facilitate a resolution to the dispute in line with the Lisbon Summit principles. Their current focus is on urging the parties to resume direct negotiations. However, I regret that I can report no recent progress. Mr Vollebaek plans to visit the region, and the OSCE to open regional offices in Baku and Yerevan, later this year.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her encouraging reply. However, can she give the House the Government's present assessment of the "common state" proposals? Does she agree that those proposals are inimical both to the interests and the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan? Further, can the Minister say what Her Majesty's Government will do to improve the position of the 1 million dispersed Azeris to enable them to return to their natural homes in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government continue to support the principles laid out at the Lisbon Summit in December 1996. Those principles include the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan and that those should be preserved; that the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be defined in an agreement on self-determination to the highest degree possible; and that the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population should be guaranteed, including by mutual obligations, to ensure
The noble Earl also asked what more can be done. A great deal of aid--some £10 million--has gone to both countries and is being dispersed for displaced people through reputable agencies. Of course, Her Majesty's Government will go on considering what more it is possible to do.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have made very serious efforts to be conciliatory in abandoning their demands for sovereignty and in considering and wishing to discuss the transfer of populations? I hope that that might mean that they will be encouraged further in that way. Does the noble Baroness also agree that if Azerbaijan continues to wish to bring the Turkey factor, if I may call it that, into the equation and to encourage the Turks to play a bigger part, we are likely to have considerable instability in a region where we can ill afford it?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can agree with a great deal of what the noble Baroness has said. As she may know, there have been some more unfortunate outbreaks of skirmishing within the past week or so, and the OSCE has delivered a further statement encouraging both parties to attend some sort of bilateral discussions. We have been enormously encouraged by recent meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Of course, most recently, those were held in Washington around the NATO Summit in April. We urge them to continue that dialogue and we are looking forward tomorrow to a meeting of all three trans-Caucasian presidents, which is due to take place in the margins of the GAC in Luxembourg. So, as the noble Baroness said, there are some encouraging signs; but, equally, we have to watch the situation on the ground very closely, where, unfortunately, we have seen rather more skirmishing during the past week or 10 days than is altogether comfortable.
The Earl of Shannon: My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the British-Armenian all-party parliamentary group. Can the Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government fully realise that we are dealing with a situation exactly similar to that in Kosovo? When the Azeri troops first entered and invaded the Karabakh, their president stated that it was his intention they should kill every single Armenian there. That was a first-class statement of ethnic cleansing. The attendant horrors that went with it were exactly the same as those that took place in Kosovo. For all its high-falutin principles, the Lisbon Summit ignored one thing; namely, that you cannot ask people to sign their own death warrant. You cannot expect the Armenians in the Karabakh to submit to any form of suzerainty by Azerbaijan; that is quite out of the question.
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