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Kosovo: Police and Courts System

2.47 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we provide 60 officers from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the international police force in Kosovo. Thirty-one British police officers are at the OSCE-run Kosovo police school, training the future local police force. Furthermore, we are increasing our contingent of police trainers to 40 officers.

The establishment of an effective justice system in Kosovo is crucial. The UN Mission in Kosovo has changed the basis of applicable law to that which applied in 1989, before Milosevic removed Kosovo's autonomy. This will help recruit local judges and prosecutors, of which 130 were appointed last month alone.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, is it true that, eight

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months after the Kosovo war, member states have provided the United Nations with less than half of the 4,000 police officers who are required? The result of that failure has been murder and disorder occurring day after day under the noses of our troops. While I understand the difficulties of language and legal codes, does the Minister agree that if we are to be involved in this in any way, we should do the job properly? Does that not mean that we should equip the UN or the European Union to provide, in these cases of failed states, police officers, magistrates and other administrators to help rebuild civil societies?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that the 4,700 estimate was a re-estimate and was not the original figure adopted. The reassessment took place because the needs of Kosovo were seen to be more acute. The international community is addressing that issue with vigour. The noble Lord is right to say that it is a matter of concern. However, the UK contribution--which, as I have just said, has been increased--is a significant one. The 60 police officers recruited from the RUC to the international police force are proving to be very sensitive and effective in their operations. Of course we appreciate that this matter needs further close attention and we are giving it just that.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that today Dr Bernard Kouchner, the head of UNMIK, the civil mission to Kosovo, said that his budget is totally bankrupt, that he is unable to pay civil servants, including those training police officers, that 102 million dollars is needed immediately, that that is less than the cost of sending one brigade to Kosovo, and that, having won the war, we are now in very grave danger of losing the peace?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course, we are aware of the difficulties with which Kosovo is faced. I believe that it is important for me to remind the House of the contribution which we have already made. As the noble Baroness will know, we have 3,500 troops in KFOR and command of the KFOR sector which covers central Kosovo. We have deployed the 60 RUC officers, whom I have just mentioned. In addition, in terms of bilateral aid, we gave over £90 million in response to the Kosovo crisis in 1999: £40 million was spent during the refugee crisis; £50 million since the conflict ended has been spent on de-mining, budgetary support for the UN mission, emergency infrastructure, power, water repair, etc; and the UK has indicated that it is prepared to spend up to £30 million this year. We have made significant contributions bilaterally. As the noble Baroness and other Members of your Lordships' House will know, we are making considerable contributions also to the EU contribution generally. We are aware that there is a need, and Europe is moving together to meet that need so that we shall, in fact, win the peace as well as the war.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the noble Baroness try to ensure that the expertise of the RUC officers whom

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she mentioned is used at the interface between one community and another, because that is an area as regards which they are very skilled? Will she seek also to have urgent investigations carried out of recent reports of trafficking in women, mostly from other eastern European countries passing through Kosovo?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand entirely the point made by the noble Lord. We are doing all that we can to address the civil issues in Kosovo. The OSCE-run police school in Kosovo is training a local police force and the students come from all ethnic backgrounds. The training is extensive and covers crime investigation, defence tactics, democratic policing, respect for the rule of law, legal affairs, police patrol duties, use of firearms and general police skills. The objective is to train and deploy police officers who understand democratic values, respect human rights, protect lives and property, and ensure delivery of effective law enforcement services within Kosovo. We are determined to help to ensure that officers on the ground have the skills to police effectively what is a very sensitive and difficult area.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I read recently of the work and contribution made by the Royal Ulster Constabulary officers who are on secondment to Kosovo. Bearing in mind the unfortunately great experience that they have in policing this type of situation, will the Minister agree that they should be commended for their contribution, taking into account that they are volunteers?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. Those officers are making a most valuable contribution, not only in the policing that they carry out, but in the assistance that they give to others. One must appreciate the sensitivity that is needed when dealing with a situation of conflict within a tight framework and on the border of a country which has always been in difficulties on cultural issues.

Asylum Applications

2.53 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, given that in 1999 the backlog of asylum seekers, excluding dependants, rose above 100,000 for the first time, they will curtail the rights of asylum seekers to enter and remain in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, this Government will continue to honour their obligation under the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees to consider all applications for asylum made in the United Kingdom or at our ports. However, we are taking tough measures to curb abuse of the asylum process. The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

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introduces fundamental changes, including measures to discourage unfounded asylum applications, while continuing to provide protection for those who need it.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and acknowledge the attempt that the Government have tried to make in order to deal with this difficult matter. However, as our enlightened asylum policy has been abused over the years by economic migrants and others, causing the backlog to be doubled during the time that this Government have been in power and causing great trouble and expense to local authorities and, indeed, to the Government, has not the time come for the Government to tell the world that we shall no longer tolerate the abuse of our asylum policy?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot possibly agree with that. That would place the United Kingdom in breach of our international obligations. Like most other European countries, we are experiencing increases in asylum applications. We are taking firm measures to deal with those and I believe that we are widely respected for having done that.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the serious problems for the county of Kent caused by persons arriving at Dover and claiming asylum? Bearing in mind that this is a national problem, should not the Government be doing more to assist the county of Kent?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have been working closely with Kent County Council. We have been working extremely closely with the Local Government Association, to which we are indebted for the steps that it has taken to arrange for a voluntary dispersal programme in advance of our legislation coming into place. When the legislation is in place in the spring of this year, the new measures that we have introduced will enable us to carry out an orderly dispersal programme across the United Kingdom. I believe that to be in everyone's best interest.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, will my noble friend provide comparable figures for all the countries of the European Union so that we can see to what degree there is a common problem? Does he agree that the suggestion made by the noble Lord in his Question will appeal very much to Herr Haider of Austria?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, those figures exist. Asylum applications in the United Kingdom last year were 71,000. I can tell the noble Lord that in Germany there were 95,000; in France, 30,000; in the Netherlands, 39,000; and in Belgium, 35,000. Our problems are shared by other countries across the European Union. Last year, in Belgium there was a 63 per cent increase in asylum applicants; in Hungary, 55 per cent; in Austria, 46 per cent; and in France, 34 per cent. I hope that that is a

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comprehensive reply which puts in context the fact that we in the United Kingdom experience problems that other countries in the EC also experience.

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