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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, both sides would press issues of the kind raised by the noble Earl. Her Majesty's Government have good relations with both sides in this dispute and a strong interest in the resolution of the conflict. One of the difficulties that has been prayed in aid of the Azeri position is that Section 907 has adversely affected their ability to restore their economic base. Surely, it is in our interests to enable security in Azerbaijan to be enhanced so that the peace process can be pursued with vigour. Although we have not exhorted the US Administration in their action we cannot but commend it.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware of reports that Azerbaijan has been allowing the passage of troops and weapons through its territory to join Islamic terrorists who are now fighting in Dagestan,

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and that those terrorists have declared their next target to be Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh? In the light of such developments, does the Minister agree that it may be inappropriate to repeal Section 907 until Azerbaijan has proved its unequivocal refusal to be involved directly or indirectly in any further military offensives against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reiterate that the United Kingdom has no locus in relation to this matter which is internal to the United States. However, we do not believe that the Azerbaijan Government are endorsing any activity of the kind referred to by the noble Baroness. The Russian Government have formed the same view. Both Prime Ministers are working very hard in conciliatory terms to resolve this issue. We exhort all those in this debate to be cautious about the language and tones that they use which do not necessarily inure to the benefit of peace. We are at a very sensitive stage in the negotiations, but there is some reason for optimism in terms of the approach that is currently being taken. We are pursuing with vigour the peaceful methods that are being adopted by both sides.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, what contribution does the Minister believe the TRACECA corridor initiative may make to the peace-making activity? Is there any possibility that Britain will become a Minsk member?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we endorse the initiative to which the noble Viscount refers. The three co-chairs are doing a splendid job in terms of the Minsk initiative. At present, we do not seek to add our name to that. We have been very active in giving as much support as we can to these initiatives. We shall continue to pursue that to the best of our ability.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh needs reassurance about its future security which has been so threatened in recent years by the conflict? Over two years ago in July 1997 the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, gave noble Lords an assurance that with their commitment to human rights the Government would ensure that the international community made this issue central to reaching an agreement. Can the Minister outline the specific ways, rather than general exhortations, in which the Government have sought to do so since then?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government have encouraged the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh matter. The noble Lord is aware that that is based on three key principles set out in the Lisbon Summit: first, the preservation of the territorial integrity of both the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan; secondly, the security of legal status for Nagorno-Karabakh, which should be defined and based on self-determination to the highest possible degree; and, thirdly, that the security of Nagorno-Karabakh and its whole population should be

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guaranteed. That includes mutual obligations and the compliance of all parties. Her Majesty's Government have provided aid to both sides, engaged in visits and direct exhortations with those involved and given practical assistance in that process which is ongoing. This is a sensitive issue which, if I may say so, is being dealt with at the moment with commendable skill.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the Government's concern with this issue is a matter for congratulation, but the Minister has said that negotiations are at a delicate stage and that we must be careful of the attitudes that we strike. Would not the removal of the restriction requested in the Question be a very partisan gesture in favour of Azerbaijan which last week shelled Armenian territory and which earlier this year was shown by Physicians for Human Rights to be engaged in the torture of Armenian prisoners and to this day is maintaining a blockade of Armenia? Surely, there needs to be some balance and if gestures are to be made in one direction they should be made in the other as well.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the balance with which Her Majesty's Government have acted has, if I may say so, been truly magnificent. We have exhorted both sides to be cautious and to use moderation. It is regrettable that when one focuses on one side of the argument the other side very quickly gives a robust riposte and lists all of the incursions made by its opponents. Her Majesty's Government have tried to introduce a balance. We have aided both sides in humanitarian terms and have tried to assist in the structure and maintenance of good governance and broker a rapprochement as best we can. To be the friend of both sides gives us an advantage. In my previous incarnation as a family lawyer I see all the benefits of Relate on the international stage.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

3.7 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the useful achievements of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, MAFF's successive annual reports detail its achievements in promoting a sustainable, efficient food chain and ensuring consumers have competitively priced food produced to high standards of safety, animal welfare and environmental care.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, such gratitude as I have for that reply is at least tinged with sympathy for the noble Baroness in her present role. Will the Minister be so kind as to assemble a group of her colleagues and advisers and take it on a tour of the

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countryside in Germany, France, Holland, and anywhere else she may choose in the Community, where it will find prosperity and confidence? If the same group returned to the UK it would find the very reverse: no prosperity and no confidence whatever. My neighbour, who is a third generation small farmer, has been forced to sell up because of rising capital costs and the disappearance of rewards. I put the following question to the noble Baroness, even in her rather embarrassing position: does that not point to a total failure of the department, which in fairness may be attributed to the split in its role representing the interests of both consumers and producers? Should that not be replaced with the farming role in preserving the environment and ensuring that the health of the countryside is fully safeguarded?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am not in the slightest bit embarrassed in answering this Question, although any prudent Minister would probably adopt the precautionary principle when dealing with questions from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, particularly those that appear to be deceptively simple.

I do not disagree with him as to the severe problems that are facing farmers and the agricultural industry in this country across a wide range of sectors. It is the difficulties in each of those sectors occurring at the same time that makes this crisis particularly deep and difficult for those involved.

Many issues are influencing the situation, not least the over-supply in commodity markets, the effects of world trade, the recession in the Far East, the collapse of the Russian economy and the fact that farmers in this country have had to deal with the beef export ban and the associated charges on the livestock industry.

We are trying to deal with all the issues involved, but there is a general understanding that there will have to be a restructuring within agriculture, not only in this country because there are areas of agriculture where equal strains are being felt internationally. We have to find ways of supporting those who are working in the industry while that restructuring occurs.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can my noble friend give an assurance that she will give the utmost support to British beef farmers following the insufferable and illegal action by the French of banning British beef, although the European Union has said that it is safe? Will she and her department be tough when negotiations are held with the EU and, if the French will not return to legality, will my noble friend advise the British people to boycott French goods?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I prefer to adopt the strategy suggested by my noble friend in the first half of his question in relation to the completely unjustified non-implementation of an EU decision about the resumption of beef exports from this country. We must ensure that the decision is properly implemented throughout the Community. I can reassure my noble friend that my right honourable friend the Minister of

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Agriculture and the Prime Minister have made quite clear within Europe and to the governments concerned, particularly to the French Government, our belief that they have no new evidence in this field and that the measures that have been approved by the EU scientific advisers after exceptionally thorough scrutiny show that British beef is safe and that they are legally obliged to implement that decision.

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