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Baroness Hamwee: In connection with the figure of 5 per cent and the Government's desire to achieve flexibility, the Minister recognised that his amendment does not quite achieve that. I shall make my point in the least adversarial way that I can perhaps other than not making it at all. There is a substantial number of government amendments to the Bill and I invite the

1 Feb 2000 : Column 149

Minister to withdraw his amendment so that we can see it in its final form at the next stage rather than doing half a job.

Lord Dixon-Smith: What the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, says merits serious consideration. This is a quite complicated Bill. We have had words across the table, so to speak, about both the volume of amendments and the detail of those amendments. I have no doubt that there will be many occasions on many amendments when we shall have to return to that matter. If the Minister could withdraw the existing amendment and return with a better one in the future, it would be most helpful to all of us.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Members of the Committee will know that I am usually accommodating in that respect. However, we are talking about a whole raft of provisions relating to the petitioning procedure and the way that it triggers a referendum in only one small respect which relates to future flexibility. I have explained clearly what such a further amendment would do. Therefore, it will come as no surprise at Report stage if I table an amendment to do precisely that. It would not be sensible to withdraw the other provisions on the understanding that I should return with what, in textual terms, would be a relatively minor amendment when I have spelt out already what that amendment would provide. It would need to do so in a form applicable to the National Assembly for Wales, which has raised some concerns on the matter, as well as the Secretary of State for England. The form of the amendment will reflect that accordingly. Apart from that minor complication, everything else before the Committee will stand. I shall therefore resist the request to withdraw at this stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gardner of Parkes): In calling Amendment No. 200, I must say that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 201.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 200:

    Page 12, leave out lines 13 to 19 and insert ("which complies with the provisions of the regulations to hold a referendum, in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the regulations, on whether the authority should operate executive arrangements involving a form of executive for which a referendum is required.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 201 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 202 to 205:

    Page 12, line 21, leave out (", in particular,").

    Page 12, line 21, leave out ("as to").

    Page 12, line 22, at beginning insert ("as to").

    Page 12, line 22, leave out ("that a petition is to take") and insert ("and content of petitions (including provision for petitions in electronic form)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 206:

    Page 12, line 22, at end insert--

("(aa) as to the minimum number of local government electors for a local authority's area who must support any petition presented to the authority during any period specified in the regulations,
(ab) for or in connection with requiring the proper officer of a local authority to publish the number of local government electors for the authority's area who must support any petition presented to the authority,
(ac) as to the way in which local government electors for a local authority's area are to support a petition (including provision enabling local government electors to support petitions by telephone or by electronic means),
(ad) as to the action which may, may not or must be taken by a local authority in connection with any petition,").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

[Amendment Nos. 206A and 206B, as amendments to Amendment No. 206, not moved.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 207 to 216:

    Page 12, line 23, at beginning insert ("as to").

    Page 12, line 23, leave out ("given") and insert ("presented").

    Page 12, line 24, at beginning insert ("as to").

    Page 12, line 25, at beginning insert ("as to").

    Page 12, line 26, at beginning insert ("as to").

    Page 12, line 26, leave out ("to") and insert ("which may, may not or must").

    Page 12, line 26, after ("before") insert ("or in connection with").

    Page 12, line 27, at beginning insert ("as to").

    Page 12, line 27, leave out ("to") and insert ("which may, may not or must").

    Page 12, line 27, at end insert (", and

( ) for or in connection with enabling the Secretary of State, in the event of any failure by a local authority to take any action permitted or required by virtue of the regulations, to take that action").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: In calling Amendment No. 217, I must say that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 219.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 217:

    Page 12, line 28, leave out subsections (3) to (5) and insert--

("(3) The provision which may be made by virtue of subsection (2) includes provision which applies or reproduces (with or without modifications) any provisions of sections 18, 19, 20 or (Operation of alternative arrangements).
(4) The number of local government electors mentioned in subsection (2)(aa) is to be calculated at such times as may be provided by regulations under this section and must not exceed 5 per cent. of the number of local government electors at any of those times.
(5) Nothing in subsection (2), (3) or (4) affects the generality of the power under subsection (1).").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 218, as an amendment to Amendment No. 217, not moved.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 219 and 220 not moved.]

Clause 22, as amended, agreed to.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage on this Bill begin again not before 8.35 p.m. I draw the attention of noble Lords taking part in the dinner hour debate to the inaccuracy in the timing originally given. In order to keep within the time limit, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in opening the debate, may speak for 10 minutes. My noble friend Lady Scotland may speak for 12 minutes. Other speakers are allowed nine minutes.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.


7.35 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the report of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on human rights in Kosovo.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the occasion of this Unstarred Question is the publication on 6th December 1999 of the report on human rights violations in Kosovo compiled by the OSCE verification mission. The report covers three periods: 1st November 1998 to 21st March 1999; 24th March 1999 to 10th June--that is, the period of bombing; and the post-bombing period until last October. In the first and third periods, monitors were in place on the ground. During the bombing period, the evidence is taken by the OSCE from Serb refugees and expellees. It is by far the most authoritative account of human rights violations in that period.

Comment on the report by the media was conspicuous by its absence. Publication was noted and a few extracts given from the executive summary. That is particularly unfortunate, since the summary failed to bring out the crucial break in trend--which is something I want to emphasise--in the level of human rights abuses between the pre-bombing period and the bombing period.

I raise the matter this evening because the factual evidence set out in the report casts serious doubt on the justification for the war consistently given by Her Majesty's Government and by the NATO alliance as a whole. The Government claim that the war was fought to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe and that it succeeded in its aim. The Prime Minister has used the words "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" to describe what the Serbs were doing before the bombing started. It has been the Government's contention that the latter was the result of a deliberate, long-matured plan by Milosevic to empty Kosovo of its Albanian population. Most people in Britain probably believe some version of that story to this day.

I do not need to remind your Lordships that truth is the first casualty of war. The OSCE report paints a different and to my mind far more plausible picture of what was going on at the time. It is perfectly true that

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fears of an impending humanitarian catastrophe were well founded in the summer of 1998. UN aid agencies reported that between 200,000 and 300,000 Albanian Kosovars had been driven from their villages into the hills in the Drenia region along the Albanian border that summer. On 23rd September 1998, Security Council Resolution 1199 demanded an immediate ceasefire and political dialogue, the scaling down of Serbian security forces and the installation of observers to verify compliance. It should be noted that Russia vetoed the use of force to support the resolution, but the NATO council nevertheless endorsed the use of aerial bombardment to do so if necessary.

Resolution 1199 led to the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement of 16th October 1998. It provided for a ceasefire, a return to their homes of the displaced Albanian villagers, a scaling back of Serb forces to their pre-1998 levels and the emplacement of 2000 international observers in Kosovo. The observers arrived at the start of November.

For the first two months everything seemed to be going well. However, a ceasefire takes two to observe, and by the end of December/early January it became apparent that the KLA had used the lull to arm and train. Fighting broke out in the north-east of the province, where the KLA had established positions athwart the supply routes from Serbia to Kosovo. There were also,

    "a number of reactive operations by the Yugoslav/Serb forces against [KLA] infiltration along the Albanian border".

The observers reported "small scale ambushes" and "individual" atrocities by both sides.

What triggered off the events which led to NATO's armed intervention was the discovery in mid-January of 45 Albanians, including some children, murdered, mostly at close range, in the village of Racak. Responsibility for that atrocity has never been established. The Serbs claimed that they were killed in fighting and their bodies arranged by the KLA to look like murder. Though that was an isolated event, in a situation otherwise characterised by low-level skirmishing and sporadic atrocities, there is no doubt at all that it had an enormous impact on world opinion. It was assumed that it was part of a systematic campaign of terror by the Yugoslav/Serb forces. As the Rambouillet conference neared breakdown in mid-March of last year, the Serbs started preparing for a war on two fronts--against NATO in front of them and against the KLA behind them. For the first time, OSCE observers were denied access to the frontier areas. The escalation of violence was a direct response to NATO's own build-up.

The break in trend between the pre-war and war period is captured by the following quotations from the report. I dwell on them because their effect is cumulative. The first quotation:

    "The level of incidents of summary and arbitrary killing escalated dramatically after the OSCE withdrew on 20 March".

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The second quotation:

    "Summary and arbitrary killing became a generalized phenomenon throughout Kosovo with the beginning of the NATO air campaign ... on the night of 24-25 March".

The third quotation:

    "Indiscriminate attacks on populated areas, sporadic prior to 24 March 1999, became a widespread occurrence after that date".

The fourth quotation:

    "The loss of life of large numbers of Kosovo Albanian civilians was one of the most characteristic features of the conflict after 24 March".

The fifth quotation:

    "Once the OSCE ... left on 20 March 1999 and particularly after the start of the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 24 March, Serbian police and/or the VJ, often accompanied by paramilitaries, went from village to village and, in the towns, from area to area, threatening and expelling the Kosovan Albanian population".

My final quotation:

    "Between March and June 1999 the FRY and Serbia forcibly expelled 863,000 Kosovo Albanians from Kosovo".

The Government want us to believe that this dramatic escalation in the level of violence and scale of expulsions had nothing to do with the withdrawal of the observers and the start of NATO's bombing. What is more they want us to believe that it was only the NATO intervention which stopped it!

    "I have no difficulty in justifying this action",

wrote the Prime Minister on 16th May.

    "We fought for an end to ethnic cleansing",

he said on 31st July. What hypocrisy! What is the evidence? There is very little in the report.

Now, my Lords, for the results. Nothing, of course, can bring back to life the hundreds and perhaps thousands of Albanian Kosovars killed by the Serbs during the period of the NATO bombing and the hundreds and perhaps thousands of Serbs killed by NATO bombs. We can at least claim to have reversed the ethnic cleansing which started after 24th March. Around 700,000 Kosovars have been returned to their homes and live in much greater security than before under the protection of the UN forces. However, under the protection of those same forces, the ethnic cleansing is now done by the other side. In a BBC interview given by the Foreign Secretary on 24th June 1999, Mr Cook said:

    "When we met the leaders of the Albanian community yesterday, including the leader of the KLA, they all said that they want to create a multi-ethnic society, open to all the people of Kosovo and indeed Hashim Thaci, leader of the KLA, did say he appealed to the Serbs to stay. Over two-thirds of them have stayed and some of them are coming back".

In the lexicon of fatuous pronouncements made by our Foreign Secretary, that surely takes the prize.

Taking an average of different estimates, it looks as if there are about 70,000 Serbs left out of a pre-bombing population of about 250,000. Milosevic expelled about half of the Albanians under war conditions. Under the eyes of the UN's 50,000 armed troops, about two-thirds of the Serbs have been expelled and many more atrocities have occurred since June.

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Perhaps I may say in conclusion that the last thing in my mind in bringing this report to the attention of the House is to whitewash Milosevic. He has brought untold damage to former Yugoslavia and to his own people in the sole interest of hanging on to power. The sooner he is removed the better. Nor would I want to deny that at some point military intervention might have become right and proper. What I do want to claim is that the reasons given for the intervention, when it occurred and in the form it took, do not stand up to serious scrutiny. I do not myself believe that the avoidance of a humanitarian disaster was uppermost in NATO's mind when it embarked on the diplomacy which made bombing inevitable. I believe that having threatened bombing back in October 1998, NATO's leaders convinced themselves that the credibility of the alliance was at stake if they did not bomb. And here I ask: credibility for what purpose? Perhaps the Minister will give us an answer.

What I mind above all is the lying. On such a basis no durable settlement for the Balkans can be built. If we live in a world in which our leaders cannot distinguish truth from falsehood, that is a dreadful omen for the future.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, my intervention will be brief. I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, for raising this issue. Taken together with his interesting contribution to the recent foreign affairs debate, it is clear that he is posing the kind of fundamentally significant questions which are altogether appropriate for a second Chamber worth having. I also believe that we should put on record our appreciation of the report produced by the OSCE mission in Kosovo. Its findings are sombre, but they are also distressing, particularly the indications that the young are being caught up in the abuse of human rights.

When I was in Kosovo last August for the Council of Europe I recall looking at the extensive damage in one urban area and finding it difficult to comprehend that this was not the result of aerial or artillery bombardment but had been wrought by the "hands on" activity of ordinary citizens against other ordinary citizens. The emotion involved had clearly been terrible. In a volatile impersonal world, people need the security of identity. We should not deny ethnicity. What matters is to encourage and support in time the leaders within ethnic groups who understand that the future of humanity depends on co-operation with those of other ethnic origins. Not to take that approach is what plays into the hands of opportunist extremists, the ethnic entrepreneurs.

Also last August, in Montenegro and Serb Yugoslavia, I met the wretched Serb victims of oppression by ethnic Albanians, and, right at the bottom of the pile, I met the Roma refugees in appalling conditions. While, as the OSCE makes plain, numerically the persecution of Serbs and Roma by ethnic Albanians does not begin to be on the same scale as the systematic, state sponsored persecution of

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ethnic Albanians by the Serbs which preceded it, it is obvious that whatever the military action by NATO achieved, it did not bring atrocities to an end.

I am convinced that that is why explicit, not implicit, UN authorisation is essential for military intervention. It makes the point that intervention is for universally applicable principles and not partial principles. Or, at least, it makes it even less credible when some try to portray intervention as partial. I believe that, with hindsight, we should accept that the language at the time of the intervention ought to have been more firmly about intervening to uphold universally valid human rights and less open to the interpretation that we were intervening for the ethnic Albanians against the Serbs. That would have given us a far stronger base from which to curb the totally unacceptable and reprehensible--albeit on a smaller scale--excesses by the ethnic Albanians.

Without political stability, human rights can never be secure. If we are to move forward in Kosovo, there has to be a steady transition from a de facto international colonial presence to genuine self-government. There have to be democratic institutions to which the police and other authorities are accountable. But, as I have argued before, for that to happen effectively time will be essential. The preparation for the elections will be as important as the elections themselves. The context in which they take place will be vital. What happens in the rehabilitation of education will be highly relevant. What happens in the development of genuinely independent media-- the lifeblood of successful democracy--will be indispensable. Election law and administration will be critically important--not least the registration of voters. That raised the whole question of the absent refugees and displaced people. It will be good to hear the Government's thinking on all this. Do they, for example, favour the idea canvassed by some of starting with municipal or local elections as a trial run for more significant major national elections?

In the meantime, the delay in bringing the external police presence up to the required strength is frankly inexcusable. For all who advocated the action which has led to the international presence, there is surely a moral imperative to will the means to achieve its logical follow-through. Anything less is feeble or, worse, cynical.

Similarly, it is extraordinary that interim arrangements for the administration of justice are still inadequate. What kind of grotesque reality have we reached if we can mobilise without question the resources needed for bombing but totally fail to generate on the necessary scale the human and financial resources to build the peace? That hardly smacks of the real commitment to human rights and democracy of which the Foreign Secretary spoke so powerfully again last week. If I may be forgiven for concluding on a colloquial note, I believe that, in respect of strengthening the international police presence and the administration of justice, we have to pull our fingers out, and fast.

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7.53 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, for making it possible.

I have always been critical of NATO intervention in Kosovo: I suppose that it cannot be called a war because there was never a declaration. Like many of my generation, I remember only too well what continuous aerial bombardment is like. I lived with my parents on the outskirts of London during the war and I have never forgotten it. Seeing news flashes on television of Belgrade burning brought it all back to me vividly. I could practically hear my mother saying, "They've got the London docks again". I have ever since regarded the bombing of urban areas as a means of terrorising a civilian population--indeed, I think that is its main objective, despite what military people may say. I thought last year, when NATO bombing was at its height, that we should not have been doing it, and that remains my view.

I do not believe that there was no alternative. Rambouillet was presented as an ultimatum--which it was unlikely that any Serbian government would have accepted. Negotiation was still an option; and the UN was marginalised. Opinions are now more frequently being voiced to the effect that military intervention was unlawful. The UN charter gives two grounds for the valid use of force: self-defence or with the sanction of the UN Security Council. Neither applied in the case of the Kosovo operation.

My noble friends on the Front Bench have repeatedly claimed that the operation was "successful". Well, it depends what the objective was. If the real intention was to create a purely Albanian ethnic state, perhaps it has been successful. But we were told that the aim was to bring about the creation of a state in which all ethnic rights were respected.

It would also appear that it was the bombing campaign which intensified the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by the Serbs, as some of us maintained at the time. Now that has been replaced by the ethnic cleansing of Serbs, brought about not only by revenge killings by Albanians but also by KLA members who are apparently determined to create an entirely Albanian state. It is not only Serbs who are being forced out but also the Roma people, Jews and even the small Croatian community. The international forces present seem powerless to prevent it. The region remains, and is likely to continue to remain, unsettled.

What is to be done now? Little information seems to be available as to the numbers of civilian deaths and injuries resulting from the NATO bombing campaign. Albanians were killed as well as Serb civilians. Many Albanians were killed and injured in the convoys which were bombed by mistake by NATO forces. Nothing seems to have been done to help the survivors or to compensate for the lives lost.

When I have asked about the possibility of compensation--at least for civilians killed and injured as a result of NATO acknowledged mistakes--I have been told that the issue of compensation does not arise

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because the NATO action in Kosovo was "lawful". So it was lawful, apparently, to use cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions on civilian areas.

There is no doubt that the bombing campaign badly damaged the civilian infrastructure, as well as rendering parts of the Danube unnavigable. Questions about this have been asked in the House, and the response has been to blame Milosevic. Apparently he is demanding that sanctions be lifted before access can be granted. I should be grateful to know whether that is still the situation.

In any event, why are sanctions being continued, since the "conflict" has been won? They seem more likely to strengthen, rather than weaken, the present Yugoslav leadership. It is not surprising that even Serbs with pro-Western sympathies feel that they are victims. The historian Alexei Djilas, the son of the best known dissident ever, made that clear in a recent television interview. Most of those who have studied the situation in the Balkans know that it is immensely complicated and the demonisation of one individual, unpleasant though he may be, does not help us to understand it. Not so very long ago Milosevic was a man with whom Richard Holbrooke could do business. He was needed in order to reach the Dayton accord. I mention that because it is too easy to come to conclusions based on the over-simplifications beloved of the media.

We were told at the time of the Kosovo venture that it heralded a new approach in international affairs. For the first time in history, oppressive leaders could no longer hide behind the doctrine of national sovereignty. If people were oppressed, they could look to the international community for assistance--perhaps even armed intervention.

But it is now clear that in the real world, where unfortunately there are many countries where human rights as we understand them are ignored, that is not a practical possibility. Fortunately, the Government now seem to have come to terms with that view. If recent reports are accurate, it would seem that the Government have been reluctant to give guarantees or assurances to the present leadership in Montenegro, should it feel inclined to push harder for complete independence. If that is the government position, it is very sensible.

Of course, the international community should always be willing to provide humanitarian assistance to those who suffer as a result of such conflicts. And of course the United Nations must be strengthened. I entirely share the view of my noble friend Lord Judd in that respect. That, it seems to me, must be the way forward. In the meantime, in Kosovo it seems that the international community has a continuing task of monitoring and supervising if lawlessness is to be overcome and human rights protected.

8 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, first I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. I do not refer to him as my noble friend in this House since we belong

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to different parties, but outside this House he is my noble friend. He and I have worked very closely together, not least in Russia, and I greatly admire and respect the work that he has done there and elsewhere in the world. I say that because during this short debate I must strongly disagree with the argument that the noble Lord has put before the House. I believe that the noble Lord is aware that I strongly disagree with him. I extend my courteous apologies to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who is also a Member of this House whose integrity and honesty I respect. I need to say that because I shall also strongly disagree with her observations.

I believe that when we look at the reports of OSCE we see a description of man's inhumanity to man on a terrifying scale. In a way, we are looking at sheer evil. As one studies page after page of the first report, which is primarily about the period up until March, and the second report, which deals with the six-month period from March to October, one feels a sense of disgust and outrage at the obscenity of what people have done to one another. But we must recognise that a crucial distinction is to be drawn. It is here that I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. It is clear from the first OSCE report that the attack by the regime of Milosevic on the Kosovar Albanians was, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said in a passing remark, state policy.

I respond to the quotations of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, with a few extracts from the OSCE report. The noble Lord said that the Kosovar Albanians had been "expelled under war conditions". The OSCE report states:

    "On the part of the Yugoslav and Serbian forces, their intent to apply mass killing as an instrument of terror, coercion or punishment against Kosovo Albanians was already in evidence in 1998",

which was a whole year before the NATO attack was loosed. It goes on to state:

    "Rape and other forms of sexual violence were applied sometimes as a weapon of war".

In 1993--six years before the period under discussion this evening--I recall making a visit to Bosnia as a follow-up to the Warburton report on the use of rape as a weapon of war. I spoke to many desperate women in the Croatian refugee camps at the time about the terrible conditions through which they had gone, including the gang rape of children as young as 12 and 13. Those children's future had been ruined, given the culture from which they came. That was not in 1998 or 1999, but exactly the same person was responsible for the use of rape as a weapon of war in Bosnia as in Kosovo later: Slobodan Milosevic.

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My third quote is perhaps the most telling:

    "The accounts of refugees also give compelling examples of the organised and systematic nature of what was being perpetrated by Yugoslav and Serbian forces, and their tolerance for and collusion in acts of extreme lawlessness by paramilitaries and armed civilians".

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