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House of Lords

Tuesday, 24th July 2001.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland

Valerie Georgina Howarth, OBE, having been created Baroness Howarth of Breckland, of Parson Cross in the County of South Yorkshire, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Haslam and the Baroness Scotland of Asthal.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon

The Right Honourable Sir Jeremy John Durham Ashdown, KBE, having been created Baron Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, of Norton-sub-Hamdon in the County of Somerset, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and the Lord Holme of Cheltenham.

Democratic Republic of Congo: National Reconciliation

11.18 a.m.

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress they have made in furthering national reconciliation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, with our African, EU and UN partners, we continue to support the Lusaka peace agreement as the basis for ending the conflict in the DRC, promoting national reconciliation and stability in Central Africa. We also continue to urge all parties involved in the conflict to engage in a dialogue to build confidence and remove mistrust. Our support for the inter- Congolese dialogue facilitator is a major contribution welcomed by all.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that the Congo has improved its international relations considerably during the past few months but that internally much more progress needs to be made on human rights, national reconciliation and political dialogue? Can the noble Baroness speculate as to whether the Congo will follow the South African model, which has proved so successful? What precisely will be the role of aid donors, including Belgium, which is promising aid, and the United Kingdom?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we recognise and welcome the steps taken by the Government of the

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DRC to improve, in particular, the economic situation of that country. I agree with the noble Earl that a good deal of work still needs to be done, including work in the area of political dialogue. Given the current ongoing discussions, it would be inappropriate to speculate on the future of the DRC at this point in time.

As to the noble Earl's question about the role of aid donors, he will be aware that the Belgian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Development Minister visited the DRC recently and made a commitment in terms of aid funding. We are working with our international partners, including the international financial institutions, to see what would be most appropriate in the current context.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, in March, the EU Council of Ministers agreed provisionally to grant the DRC 120 million euros--more than 100 million dollars--for spending on health, roads, education and justice. Commissioner Nielson has indicated that the release of those funds would be conditional on progress with an inter-Congolese dialogue and that some of the funds would be earmarked for the reintegration of armed groups in eastern DRC. What plans do Her Majesty's Government have for releasing funds to the DRC, and how much is being earmarked for reintegration purposes?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we provided over £3.3 million in humanitarian assistance to the DRC last year in a variety of areas, including work with refugees and child soldiers, and in the area of human rights. That budget will increase substantially this year, because we have access to more areas in the DRC. With regard to the European Union, Commissioner Nielson is to visit the DRC shortly. We are concerned to see a continuation of the inter-Congolese dialogue.

Lord Judd: My Lords, in adopting their sensibly measured approach, will the Government give priority to the strengthening of civil society and to the building up of the judicial system and the administration of justice in that country, which are so essential to making the pursuit of human rights meaningful?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in the work that we are doing in sub-Saharan Africa--not only in the Great Lakes region--focusing attention on building civil society, examining judicial systems and working with government to put in place good governance processes that will facilitate transparency and accountability continue to be a priority and will be a priority in whatever work we decide to do in the DRC in future. It is important to understand that we are at a critical and sensitive stage in terms of discussions within the DRC. Those kinds of decisions are not being made now, but they will be made in the longer term.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is not Commissioner Nielson in the DRC at the moment, and has he not sought assurances from the RCD that it will move

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towards unity as a condition of releasing the EU funds? What guarantees of unity could the RCD give; and would similar guarantees be sought from Jean-Pierre Bemba of the FLC? What liaison is there between M. Nielson and the UN Special Envoy, Roberto Garreton, who is also on a two-week mission to the DRC?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have tried to ensure good liaison between all the different parties engaged in the attempt to resolve the conflict in the DRC. We have worked hard to ensure that the European Union, the UN and individual actors in terms of countries with an interest in the DRC liaise well with each other. I am unable at this stage to set out what we shall seek from the different parties. We have supported the Lusaka peace agreement from the outset. We continue to believe that it is the only viable solution to the conflict in the DRC. We shall continue to use that process and to engage in dialogue with the different parties involved. But I cannot say at this stage what conditions the parties will want to put in place.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, when Hansard is printed, will all the initials used by the previous speaker be translated into a form that the House can understand?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we shall do our best--although I cannot guarantee that we can translate them into Australian!

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a crucial key to peace in the Congo is the ability to control the diamond trade? Have any advances been made to bring the DRC within the same kind of framework as is applied to Sierra Leone and which already exists, and is extremely successful, in Botswana?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we attach great importance to the need for international action to tackle the issue of conflict diamonds and the other resources that are used for exploitation within the DRC. As regards conflict diamonds, the Kimberley process is making real progress in devising an international scheme which we hope will address part of the problem. We look forward to further progress in agreeing the various details of the scheme at the next meeting, which will take place in London in mid-September.

Residential Homes: Spiritual Care

11.27 a.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of their commitment to the provision of spiritual care in the National Health Service, what arrangements are there for the provision of

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such care in privately run residential institutions for people who are mentally ill or have learning difficulties.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath):

My Lords, an essential principle of care homes has always been residents' rights of choice, including in matters of religion. The new national minimum standards will make residents' right to exercise choice more explicit. The draft care homes regulations include a requirement that, so far as is practicable, residents should have the opportunity to attend the religious services of their choice.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it possible for the health service or local authorities to write a requirement for the provision of spiritual care into the contracts of the private companies that provide the care?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an interesting point. I shall be glad to arrange discussions between the department and the Church authorities on the matter. My understanding is that access to spiritual care will come about because of the standards laid down by the National Care Standards Commission; the commission will then be able to monitor those standards. What is not in doubt is that we share the right reverend Prelate's concern to make sure that spiritual guidance and activities are available to such residents.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, in view of the loss of 11,000 care beds last year, with all the human tragedy that that causes, does the Minister agree that it is especially important that the mentally ill and those with learning difficulties receive spiritual care?

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