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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is early days. Does she agree that Mr Kostunica is now getting into a very difficult position, with the Milosevic camp still in control of the secret police and air traffic control and with, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has just reminded us, the government of Serbia still refusing to budge? What steps will Her Majesty's Government take to reinforce and strengthen Mr Kostunica's hand in the difficult days ahead? Are there new ways in which the message can be got to the general population of Serbia who want change that the new help and aid from outside will be conditional on getting rid of the Milosevic people and will not be just a general hand-out now that we feel that reform is under way?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the House should be confident that the new regime is well aware of the challenges it faces and of the need for reform both in financial institutions and in the way in which the country is managed. That is given. We know that those challenges are real and large. President Kostunica is looking clearly at how to manage those matters. Negotiations are going on between the president of the Serbian Parliament and the president of the republic. It really is too early to say much more than that.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Government ask NATO to consider creating a voluntary fund for the rebuilding of individual homes damaged by bombing, both in Serbia and in Kosovo? Would not that defuse a great deal of bitterness?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as the House may know, a tremendous amount of rebuilding is already going on. The programmes that are in place will very much strengthen the institutions and the provision of such aid. Those assessments are being made and I am sure that every effort will be made by the international community, working together with the new government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to address the needs of its people.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does the Minister think that it would be appropriate to congratulate a large proportion of the Serbian population on the vigour and courage of their democratic instincts in recent days; and might we not do with a little more of it here?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have congratulated the Serbian people. Noble Lords who were present in the House on Tuesday when I made a Statement will know that we expressed our joy that the peoples of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had taken an enormous step towards democracy. I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are taking every opportunity to encourage them to go even further.

12 Oct 2000 : Column 505

Employment: Equal Treatment Directive

3.25 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they expect to reach political agreement on the proposed framework directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation at the Employment and Social Affairs Council on 17th October.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, we have made clear throughout that the Government support such a framework directive in principle but remain committed to ensuring that the final text is clear, reasonable and workable in practice, allowing a sensible period for implementation. Other member states share a number of our concerns. We are still negotiating intensively to achieve that.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she remember her statement in a debate on this directive when she said that substantial amendments would be needed, especially on Article 4 regarding the position of religious institutions? Can she assure the House that no agreement will be reached that is incompatible with Section 60 of the School Standards and Framework Act and that any revised agreement will be placed in front of the House before agreement is reached? That is required under scrutiny review.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I clearly remember what I said when these matters were debated--the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, took part in that debate. I can give him some reassurance about Section 60 of the School Standards and Framework Act. We have been pressing amendments to ensure that there is no question of religious organisations not being able to recruit in ways that preserve their essential character. That is particularly pertinent to schools. We are now very close to agreement. We have secured the amendments that the noble Lord wanted to see. It is now a matter of tidying up the drafting.

The noble Lord referred to scrutiny. I am aware that it has not been possible to get another revised version of the directive to the scrutiny committee. That has happened on previous occasions. It has simply been impossible because negotiations are continuing daily and no revised version has been published.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, the only text available is in the shape of pieces of paper in the Council written in French--negotiating positions. Surely here is a case where scrutiny must be maintained and where your Lordships' House has a right to expect the Government to come back to the House and seek its approval to the major changes that have been made to the directive.

12 Oct 2000 : Column 506

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I understand that no revised text is available. One has not been produced by the Commission. In those circumstances, it is extremely difficult for the Government to come back. I know that this is an unusual situation, but I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is important that the Government continue to negotiate in order to get the directive right and to meet the needs of the UK. I understand that officials in my department have been working to keep the committee informed through the Clerk. Indeed, my right honourable friend Tessa Jowell has written to the noble Lord to try to explain the position.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, is one of the advantages that my noble friend's department is negotiating for the UK adequate time to implement this broad and important range of measures?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can confirm to my noble friend that this is an issue which is still being negotiated. The changes under discussion to the way in which we handle employment arrangements in this country are extremely important and complex. For that reason, we have asked for a rather longer period of implementation than would normally be the case with EU directives of this kind.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Minister said that these are unusual circumstances. I am sure that she will recall that the race directive was passed in similarly unusual circumstances at the last Economic and Social Affairs Council. Can she tell the House how unusual such unusual circumstances will be?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was rather happy that we were able to move ahead rapidly in the very important area of racial discrimination. I am sure that the noble Lord would not have wished to see the UK delaying that process. I should say that I cannot predict whether this will happen in the future, but the UK will certainly do all it can to ensure that, where changes of this kind take place during the process of negotiations, we are able to secure the revised text. However, that has not been possible on this occasion.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, can the noble Baroness give an absolute assurance to the House that neither the Prime Minister nor any other Minister will sign this agreement on Tuesday? The negotiations are still continuing. The agreement should not be signed at least until we in this country have had an opportunity to read it in our own language.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that the Government will not accept this directive until they have agreed with other member states the changes that they believe are important from the point of view of the UK and its particular requirements.

12 Oct 2000 : Column 507

Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill

3.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 32 [Assistance by Commission for existing registered parties]:

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 108:

    Page 20, line 8, leave out ("initially").

The noble Lord said: The representatives of small parties have their difficulties, not least in getting into the places which they have selected on the Benches in time to move their amendments.

It is true to say that the Government have been most understanding about the problems faced by small parties following the implementation of this Bill. We welcome the proposed contribution towards the start-up costs that the extra financial reporting will require. However, we think that there will probably be a need, not only for a one-off start-up grant, but for continuing grants that should run for at least a while afterwards.

I am by way of being a slight expert on the subject of the treasurers of growing parties. In my experience, I have found that, on the whole, when parties are very small their voluntary treasurers can cope with the workload. But as they become bigger the time comes--whether or not they have honorary treasurers--when the people who do the real work must be paid professionals. By observation, I notice that some of the biggest parties reach the stage where, in order to secure a treasurer, they find someone who will pay for the entire upkeep of the party for quite a period of time.

The Green Party is growing and has now reached the stage where the chairman of the executive has stated that the contribution towards the start-up costs should be extended to assist with the annual recurring costs. Currently, the treasurer of the party is a voluntary post, but the workload that will be created by this legislation--the need to collect information from 200 local parties and then collating and reporting it quarterly--will probably mean that this task can no longer be fulfilled by a volunteer. It will need to become a paid post and thus will considerably increase the party's running costs. State funding should therefore be provided for the changes which the state has ordered should take place. I beg to move.

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