(HANSARD) in the third session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of




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Monday, 20th March 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the


Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Winter Fuel Payments

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I declare an interest in a winter fuel payment.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect that all those entitled to winter fuel payments will have received them.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, perhaps I may discourage the rest of your Lordships from making similar declarations of interest. This winter (1999-2000) for the first time all winter fuel payments were made before Christmas. We plan that that should happen again next winter.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is it not the case that although the Government have made winter fuel payments to a number of people who are not on low incomes, by the end of the winter they will not have made similar payments to a number of men aged between 60 and 65 who may well be on low incomes? First, did no one in the department realise that the European Court was likely to make a ruling which would result in men aged between 60 and 65 being entitled to payments? If so, why were no contingency plans made? Secondly, the Government make winter fuel payments without a means test but last Session

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used their majority in the Commons to force through a major long-term contributory benefit for disabled people on a means-tested basis. On what principle do the Government now decide whether a particular benefit should be means tested?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, immediately the European Court gave its judgment the Secretary of State announced that the Government would respond to it in the spirit in which the Court intended. As the noble Lord will be aware, the original proposal was that winter fuel payments were to be awarded to pensioners over the age of 65 in the case of men and over the age of 60 in the case of women. The judgment in Taylor insists that men should get the payments on the same terms as women. It is worth emphasising that by 2020 women's retirement age will match that of men. Therefore, at that stage men and women alike will receive winter fuel payments at age 65, on the presumption that they still exist. The matter is complicated. Well over 50 per cent of the new recipients are in work, and as a result we do not have easy access to their records. The details of the delivery arrangements, including the claims process, will be announced shortly. We plan that both back-dated payments and payments to the newly eligible should be made by Christmas.

Kosovo: Civic Reconstruction

2.38 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What machinery has been established by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to assess its experience in reconstructing civil society in Kosovo, and to reform and reduce the bureaucratic delays that have damaged its effectiveness.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Kosovo is doing a vital job under difficult circumstances as part of the United Nations-led international effort to lay the foundations for democratic stability. Management of the mission is primarily the responsibility of its head, who provides weekly reports to member states and regularly reports in person to the Permanent Council of the Organisation. However, participating states routinely feed in comments and advice gathered in particular from their offices in Pristina and from senior officials who visit the mission to review its work and operations. The combined effort has helped to ensure that the mission continues to make a vital contribution to the efforts of the international community in Kosovo, particularly in the area of human rights, preparing for elections, police training and establishing an effective judicial system.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the Minister has my sympathy for what is an extraordinarily difficult operation. Does the noble Baroness accept that the relative slowness of the establishment of the civilian mission meant that the PBTK, the political wing of the KLA, was able to establish itself in a great many parts of the local administration in Kosovo? First, can the Minister inform the House whether the lessons learnt at the Istanbul Summit about the need for rapid reaction forces in the civilian as well as military spheres is being taken on board? Secondly, will the OSCE now work more closely with local NGOs, local women's groups and others so that the people of Kosovo feel that they themselves own the process of democratisation and that it has not been largely brought in from outside?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that, the Istanbul Summit having agreed with the OSCE that a civilian rapid response mechanism known as Rapid Expert Assistance and Co-operation Teams should be developed, the point has been taken on board. Those teams will be operational by 1st July and will link an operations centre in Vienna with matched national databases.

The noble Baroness is right to say that the OSCE has faced a huge challenge in the work that it has undertaken. The systems in place have had to be modified as time has gone on to try to meet the changes in the situation. The matter has been taken very seriously to try to ensure that the process is as smooth and seamless as possible, but we are challenged and those challenges are being met.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is unfortunate, to say the least, that this situation has occurred? Does it not strengthen the developing view that the entire NATO operation against Serbia was a mistake?

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it does not. Kosovo creates huge difficulties for all of us. I do not need to remind noble Lords that for 10 years Kosovar Albanians lived in fear under the menace of Serb repression. They lost their jobs, institutions and, in many cases, their lives. In 1998 and 1999 innocent civilians were subject to systematic violence reminiscent of Europe in the 1940s. The international community had a choice: to intervene or turn away. Both were difficult; either would have led to controversy or criticism; and neither would have avoided further violence. There was no simple solution which we chose to overlook. Notwithstanding the challenges that Kosovo made us all face, we could not but have done what we did. Otherwise all of us would have been covered with shame.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that effective policing is an important part of civil society? Has the UN contributed only 2,000 of the promised 6,000 policemen? Do many of them speak neither the local language nor English? Since it will take time to train local policemen, what is being done to fill that gap?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have responded to the request regarding provision of police officers. Another 60 police officers are likely to go from the MoD. Twenty police officers will be helping. Your Lordships will know that 40 are already training. Training of the police service is essential. We are putting a huge amount of energy into ensuring that we make an effective and proper contribution.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, the Minister says that we had a choice of turning away or intervening. That is accepted by, I think, all noble Lords. The next question is: how do we do that? Does the noble Baroness agree with the implication of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that what we did might have been done rather better?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot agree with that. Noble Lords in this House will know how keenly all the issues were considered during the period. The reaction and response undertaken by Her Majesty's Government, together with our partners, were cogent and sound. We did that which was necessary to meet the needs of the circumstances as they then appeared. It is too easy to forget that what we did was in fact successful. Milosevic did withdraw.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that not everyone will agree with her version of the history of intervention in Kosovo. However, is not the problem at present that the KLA is determined that it will have an independent Kosovo, possibly attached to Albania as a single country? Because of that, it is increasing the violence against its Serb neighbours in the hope that NATO will once again come to its rescue and fight the Serbs to ensure that the KLA achieves its objective--an independent Kosovo?

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