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House of Lords

Tuesday, 25th February 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.


The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they can help to achieve multi-party democracy and poverty reduction in Nepal as a means of confronting the threat from Maoism.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes the cease-fire agreed between the Government of Nepal and the Maoists on 29th January. We remain committed, along with the Nepalese Government and our international partners, to seeking a lasting peace in Nepal. Yesterday a special UK representative for Nepal was appointed to help to co-ordinate UK and international efforts in support of the peace process. We also aim to strengthen state and non-state organisations in Nepal to allow civil society to grow. In the past financial year, UK support for Nepal totalled over £29 million, which was mostly focused on poverty reduction. We are reviewing areas for further support.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her positive reply. But does she accept that it is the failure of successive governments of Nepal and the international community that supports them to address poverty in the rural areas of Nepal that has contributed to the rise of Maoism? In particular, are Her Majesty's Government aware of the case of the Kamaiya bonded labourers, who have been freed due to legislation but still have not had their conditions addressed by the Government as regards shelter and food? Are they doing something about it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is because we are aware of the very conditions that the noble Earl relates to the House that, at the Prime Minister's request, a group of FCO, MoD and DfID officials visited Nepal between 3rd and 7th February. I am aware of the plight of the Kamaiya. We are taking measures to assist them. The DfiD is contributing about £800,000 to a joint German development agency and World Bank programme to support the most vulnerable former Kamaiya families. The programme includes employment opportunities and training, which we hope will benefit about 7,000 families.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the Minister not feel that it is shameful that Gurkhas who serve in the British Army are not accorded the same pension rights as their British counterparts? On a wider point,

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will she tell us more about what the Government are doing to combat corruption and human rights abuses in Nepal so that aid can be delivered more effectively?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, on the first part of the noble Baroness's question, the Gurkha terms and conditions of service are linked to the Indian army terms under the 1947 tripartite agreement. Pension payments for 22,500 British Gurkhas have been doubled in recent years. The MoD has welcomed the ruling made today by Mr Justice Sullivan in respect of the judicial review brought against it. It has noted that nearly all the claims originally brought against it have been dropped by the claimants or rejected by the court. The department will study carefully Mr Justice Sullivan's ruling on married accompanied service.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will my noble friend consider a request made three years ago that DfID fund the research departments, or a research department, in the library of the Nepalese Parliament, which Nepalese Members of Parliament greatly want? They would benefit in a major way if we were to fund it.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I will certainly take note of that point and make sure that my colleagues in the Department for International Development are aware of it. As I indicated, some £29 million of aid was sent to Nepal in the past year. In addition, there have been substantial efforts to help the growth of civil society in the country; for example, help was given to the Advocacy Forum—the human rights NGO—and the National Human Rights Commission. Over £1 million was provided for police reform, which also has a strong human rights element. Money was also provided to support conflict resolution and the victims of torture. So a great deal is going on. The noble Lord has made another useful suggestion, which I will relay to my colleagues in the DfID.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain the extent and nature of the support that Her Majesty's Government provide to Nepal under the Global Conflict Prevention Pool. Given Amnesty International's allegations of serious human rights abuses, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, by the government security forces as well as the Maoist rebels, can she assure noble Lords that UK military aid will be linked only to improvements in Nepal's human rights record?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are trying hard to ensure that the human rights issues in Nepal are addressed. It is always difficult when considering those matters to find the best means of doing so. But I hope that I have been able to make clear detailed specifications of aid to Nepal, and ways in which we are trying to help the growth of civil society. It is precisely because of the problems that the noble Baroness reiterated that the Prime Minister asked for

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an inter-departmental team to go to Nepal earlier this month. They have recommended a broad-based package of support for 2003–04 for the emerging peace process, to accelerate the much-needed reforms there and to stabilise security. Those include development assistance, quick-impact service delivery and, very importantly, looking at how the security forces operate, which should be without such difficulties as the noble Baroness described.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, first, does not the noble Baroness agree that the wonderful Gurkhas are treated immensely fairly? They get exactly the same take-home pay as a British soldier in this country; if they are killed on active service, they get exactly the same pension, and their pension rights are related to the tripartite agreement and conditions in Nepal.

Secondly, does the Minister agree that, although it is wonderful to have a peace process with the Maoists, it is essential that they do not know that they can win by military means? Therefore, does she agree that it is important that the Nepalese Government can give protection to the people in the hills? Are the British Government doing all they possibly can to help the Royal Nepalese Army and the police to carry out this operation, of which we have had so much experience?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I agree with what the noble and gallant Lord says in relation to the Gurkhas. But, far more importantly, the courts—in the form of Mr Justice Sullivan—also agree with his judgment. There is one outstanding issue, which I have mentioned, of the brigade's service. The ruling on that is being looked at very carefully by the Ministry of Defence.

In relation to the issue of the military in Nepal, there have been reports of human rights' violations. The RNA recognises that. It is a professional army with a good reputation. The United Kingdom is involved in encouraging greater respect for human rights. I hope that your Lordships noticed that I have announced the appointment of Sir Jeffrey James as our special representative. We very much hope that his role will provide a strong focal point in continuing much-needed reform and in co-ordinating our response to the needs of Nepal.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am afraid we are over time.

Israelis and Palestinians

2.44 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In what ways they are assisting the non-violent majority among Israelis and Palestinians to express their views and to co-operate towards the settlement of outstanding issues.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are assisting in a number of

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ways. They include the meeting on Palestinian reform, which was held in London on 14th January; participating in meetings in London last week on the Palestinian economy; support for the Alexandria process; funding projects which bring together Israelis and Palestinians in verification and enforcement of future agreements; and contributing to the Joint Vision for Peace project in the Ben Gurion University.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I welcome what the Foreign Office has been doing, particularly over the recent London conference. I also welcome what the Prime Minister said this morning about illegal settlements. Does the Minister agree that it is remarkable that, despite terrorism and military action, there is still a majority of people on both sides who want non-violent solutions? Will the Government help them both to express their own views and to collaborate in what may be termed "people's diplomacy"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I very much thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his welcome remarks. I heard what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said about illegal settlements. They are illegal under international law. We believe that they are an obstacle to peace and that Israel should freeze all settlement activity.

The noble Lord is entirely right. There is a majority among both communities—Israelis and the Palestinians—who want to find a peaceful way forward. I hope that the five substantial examples that I laid before your Lordships of ways in which Her Majesty's Government are helping that dialogue among a non-violent majority will be of further encouragement to the noble Lord.

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