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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, given that impressive list of constitutional changes, will my noble and learned friend reflect perhaps a little further on the Human Rights Act and give his view on whether it is settling down or has produced the chaos in the courts that many of its opponents foresaw?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, those who opposed the Human Rights Act as some kind of alien intrusion from Europe predicted, as my noble friend correctly said, chaos in the courts and suggested that they would become clogged up with worthless cases making centuries-old English traditions illegal. The prophets of doom have had their day in the media but have been comprehensively proved wrong, as we knew they would be. The courts and Whitehall were well prepared. Our decision to allow for a long pause between passage of the Act and implementation to ensure preparation has been vindicated. Hopeless cases are being rejected; the most important cases are being fast-tracked and sensible decisions are being handed down. Our institutions and practices have been shown to be substantially convention-compliant; where they are not, the Act signals a new partnership between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary to make them more compliant.

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Lord McNally: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that the impressive list that he read out was all part of the Cook-Maclennan agreement between our two parties prior to the last election and that we therefore share pleasure in the progress made during this Parliament? Does the noble and learned Lord believe that an early and radical reform of this Chamber, devolution to the English regions and fair votes for another place would make a good menu for another reforming Parliament?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, we welcome support from all quarters, including the Liberal Democrat Party. That is undoubtedly an attractive menu, but it is one to which I cannot commit the Government.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, have the Government none the less not learnt some lessons from the creation of a London mayor, which has led to disputes and confusion over transport plans, of a Scottish Executive, which is now in the process of decimating the Scottish fishing industry, and of a Cabinet committee, shared with the Liberal Democrats, although the Government still do not know from day to day whether the Liberal Democrats will be with them or against them?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is of the nature of all forms of devolution that diversity is promoted. It is not necessarily the case that the Government will like every decision of the Welsh Assembly or, indeed, every decision of the Scottish Parliament or Executive. But the function of devolution is to promote diversity, in which we should rejoice.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, in the light of the increased proportion of appointed Peers since the reform, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the appointed Peers make an important contribution to the House because of the experience in medicine, social work, politics and other fields that they bring? Does he share the observation that appointed Peers, especially those who serve for a long time in your Lordships' House, suffer from mysterious bouts of amnesia when they forget those who have appointed them?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am not sure about the noble Earl's latter point because I am sure that every Peer, whether appointed or otherwise, values his or her independence. We are sometimes asked whether the House is now more legitimate. It is in the sense that it now has a predominance of life Peers, who have been individually selected, and it may be that that does make the House more legitimate. However, the Government remain committed to the primacy of the House of Commons, the elected Chamber, as expressed in the Parliament Acts.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that the great problem with constitutional reform is that most people find it economically irrelevant? What the regions want is

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more investment from outside and more migration from inside. The trouble with constitutional reform of this kind is that it is entirely irrelevant and makes more difficult those two important economic problems.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I doubt whether there are many in the House who would agree with that. It is of the highest importance to recharge and reinvigorate our institutions and to bring them closer to the people they serve.


2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they can take to provide humanitarian aid inside Afghanistan.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, Afghanistan is currently suffering from its worst drought in 30 years. This financial year the Department for International Development has provided over 10.5 million of humanitarian assistance to Afghans through UN agencies, the Red Cross and NGOs. As well as drought relief assistance, that includes a longer-term programme of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan population, both in Afghanistan itself and to Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. She will be aware that the British NGOs working inside Afghanistan have been severely hampered over the past two years by her department's funding policy on reasonable grounds of security risk. Will she now confirm that that policy has been abandoned and that DfID will be supporting those NGOs which work in situations of grave risk but on their own behalf? Can she say whether the UN sanctions will pose even more problems for the humanitarian work of those organisations?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the department's policy on Afghanistan has been reviewed relatively recently. Perhaps it would be helpful to the House if I explained that under the previous policy we would not fund NGOs that sent expatriates into Afghanistan against the advice of their own government. As the House may recall, the background to that was the attacks on UN personnel in Afghanistan in 1998. However, we continue to provide humanitarian assistance through UN agencies, the Red Cross and local and international NGOs. The threat still remains, but there have been no serious security incidents for some time. We are now willing to consider funding for agencies that send UK nationals into Afghanistan so long as they are able to assure us about the security mechanisms that they put in place. With respect to sanctions, I do not accept the argument that sanctions

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have caused the crisis in Afghanistan. The current problem has been the result of drought, conflict and unusually cold weather.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for what she has just said about reviewing the policy. We have been pressing for that for some time. I should declare an interest as patron of the Rokha health clinic in the Panjshir Valley. Does the Minister agree with the UN in recognising President Rabbani and the Northern Alliance Government as the true governing body in Afghanistan and not Taliban representatives in Kabul? Does she agree, too, with the military leader in the north, Ahmed Shah Maoud, who states correctly,

    "that the Afghan people, with considerable self sacrifice, played an important role in the defeat of Communism",

and that the religious, fanatical Islamic posture of Taliban is as great a threat to the world as communism was? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage Pakistan to withdraw ISI and regular army support from the Kabul regime?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the concerns expressed previously by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, with respect to our policy on funding NGOs. I am pleased that she welcomes the new initiative. The noble Baroness will be aware that we do not consider there to be an effective national government in Afghanistan with whom we can conduct government-to-government business. The noble Baroness asked about Pakistan. She will be aware that we are constantly engaged in discussions with the countries surrounding Afghanistan, including Pakistan, in order to try to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the recent actions of the Taliban in destroying the poppy crop in Afghanistan will have a major impact on the prevalence of heroin on the world market and over the next year will lead to a decrease in the amount of heroin available. Does DfID have a role in helping those farmers who have had their crops destroyed to diversify into other areas?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, Afghanistan is the source of 95 per cent of the heroin that reaches the UK and western Europe. Last year the Taliban issued a decree denouncing poppy cultivation and ordered that all poppy crops be destroyed. There are mixed reports on the effectiveness of that decree. There is undoubtedly less cultivation, but we do not know whether that is as a result of the drought or the decree. We are already providing humanitarian assistance that benefits farmers who have lost their livelihoods.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, can my noble friend say what action the Government have taken following the closure of the BBC office in Kabul, which is very much to be regretted?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government have raised the closure of the BBC office with the Taliban

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mission in Islamabad. In doing so, we have underlined our commitment to press freedom and to the BBC's record for impartiality and independence.

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