Sally Ralea Greengross, OBE, having been created Baroness Greengross, of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Pitkeathley and the Lord Evans of Watford.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government are pleased with the progress of the Stability Pact for south-east Europe. It is a relatively new process and activities are being taken forward across its three working tables on democracy, human rights and economic and security issues. However, the Stability Pact is not a funding or implementing agency. Its intended strength is as a catalysing and co-ordinating mechanism for increased regional co-operation.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I understand that there is to be a funding conference at the end of March and, indeed, that Bodo Hombach, the administrator, stated that this is very much the moment of truth for the Stability Pact. Can the Minister confirm that Her Majesty's Government will be playing an active and positive role in that funding conference and that the necessary funds for the reconstruction and development of the region will be provided?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I confirm that Her Majesty's Government will be playing a full and active part in that conference and will make their necessary contribution when it is assessed.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, is it not most important that the pact should not remain mere diplomatic words? Will the Government assist the parties to integrate their transport and energy systems and to make themselves ready to receive inward investment?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have already given some information to the House on that point. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising it. The UK also leads the pact's media task force, which is developing a charter for media freedom. We hope to see that adopted in the near future. Today, at a pact meeting in Sarajevo, in collaboration with one of the regional countries, we shall be putting forward proposals for reductions in security expenditure and greater transparency in defence budgeting.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, is the Minister aware that World Bank economists, among others, have expressed the opinion that it will prove impossible to boost the economy of south-east Europe and make progress on the Stability Pact while the "black hole" of Serbia remains in the middle of it? What action do the Government plan to take, together with other members of the pact, to overcome this central problem?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as noble Lords will know, Serbia would be in a position to take advantage of the Stability Pact if internally its systems were changed to enable it to do that. The way remains open for Serbia. The UK was pleased with the sanctions package agreed on 14th February at the General Affairs Council in line with our general policy of smarter sanctions. It is hoped that those sanctions will hurt those who should most be encouraged to change their minds but will acknowledge to the people of Serbia that we are not against them. We very much want them to become engaged and play their proper and full part in reconstruction.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, standing here, I cannot commit the EU in that regard. However, I reassure the noble Lord that the EU is committed to the stabilisation and association process. It is the principal contribution of the EU at present. It will offer stabilisation and association agreements to the Balkans once they meet EU conditions on democracy,
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some people--myself among them--wonder whether the Stability Pact is necessary? We already have NATO, the United Nations and the OSCE. Why do we need another pact? Another organisation is likely to be expensive. We should bear in mind that the Russians are suspicious of what is happening in south-east Europe. Is not the development of the Stability Pact likely to worry them even further about activities there?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we believe not. I hope I have made clear that the Stability Pact is not primarily seen as a funding agency. It is hoped that the agency will be a catalyst; a co-ordinating effort to bring together the donors and suppliers to achieve better synergy between the two. It will be a facilitating process which already has indications of success. Obviously we shall continue to work with it and hope that our aspirations will be realised to produce greater security in Europe.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister explain her understanding of the underlying long-term objectives of the Stability Pact? The Prime Minister, when in south-east Europe, spoke in terms of potential full membership of EU and NATO for the countries engaged. Is that really the long-term objective?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are very hopeful in that respect. If the arrangements and the agreements are followed through and the Copenhagen criteria can be met by the countries of the Balkans, that is obviously a way forward. We see changes taking place now in Croatia, for example, and we are hopeful that those beneficial changes can be enhanced and nurtured to bear greater fruit. It is a hopeful sign. The door is open for those who wish to take advantage of all the offers that are on the table at present.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, although I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that reply, perhaps I may point out to him that there is a widespread view that the problem is becoming more unpleasant, increasingly costly and sometimes dangerous. I shall not press my noble friend for a detailed reply this afternoon. However, when the House--as I hope it will--secures a debate on the matter, can he confirm that the Government will give a very detailed response to the problem, not least because existing arrangements and regulations are plainly inadequate?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am happy to tell my noble friend that, if he secures a debate on this matter, we can no doubt talk a lot about rubbish for some considerable time. I would certainly want to spell out the Government's overall strategy in this respect. However, as far as concerns measurements of cleanliness in authorities, I should like to record the fact that the Tidy Britain Group, which sets up an index for cleanliness in our city areas, especially urban areas, has noted an improvement rather than the reverse over recent years.
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