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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot agree that it is a travesty of democracy. I think that the noble Lord is over-stating his case. But I agree that it is a difficult situation and that there are many imperfections. The United Kingdom Government have consistently stressed that a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya is essential. I believe that we are in a better position than we were when there was resort only to the use of violence. We welcome the plans to establish a new constitution. We have welcomed the plans for elections in Chechnya, so I cannot agree that it is a travesty of democracy. But we hope that the constitutional referendum will be the beginning of a long-term political process in which all parties will be able to renounce violence. Its success will depend on the thorough, consistent implementation of political and civil rights as set out in the new constitution.

Lord Monson: My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that Chechnya is not historically part of Russia, as the Russian Government claim, but was conquered by force less than 150 years ago, wholly against the wishes of the inhabitants?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that, historically speaking, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, must be right. If he is inviting me by implication therefore to retreat from the position of Her Majesty's Government on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, I cannot go that far. To use the analogy of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, many states would break up on that basis. The noble Lord would be in some difficulty in pursuing his analogy.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, will the Minister say something about abuses of human rights, particularly those perpetrated by the Russian forces and Chechen fighters? Are the excesses more by the Chechen fighters or by the Russian forces? Will Her Majesty's Government encourage the Russian Government to sign up to the International Criminal Court so that soldiers responsible for human rights abuses can be brought to justice?

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government encourage all governments—the noble Lord mentioned the Russian Federation; let me also mention the United States of America—to sign up to the International Court. The noble Lord asks me to adjudicate on which violence is worse. I believe that there is violence on both sides, as I have illustrated. I have said that we believe there is violence on the part of the Russian authorities. I stressed that there is violence by the militant groups. We have also stressed that the Russian authorities must respect their obligations under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and that all movements of internally displaced persons must be strictly voluntary. We last did so during our human rights discussions with the Russian MFA only last week.

Government Annual Reports

3.16 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the original intention in producing the Government's annual reports; why these ceased after three years; and whether there is any likelihood of their being resumed.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the information in the annual report was a collation of existing publicly available material, and we have decided not to continue with it. The Government will, of course, continue to report to Parliament and the public on their performance through a variety of means, such as reports, statistical bulletins, Ministerial Statements and Parliamentary Questions.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. It is not as characteristically robust as his replies to me usually are, but that is because his officials who had notice of my Question found it difficult to give him more material.

Does the noble and learned Lord agree with me that the annual reports were launched with a great fanfare of publicity and were an interesting new part of the repertoire of public accountability on the part of governments? I regret that we do not have them, because it is convenient to have between two covers all the statistics and the targets missed or otherwise. What would be the Government's attitude if, for example, a company finding itself in troubled waters, such as Monsanto or Cable & Wireless, suddenly decided that it did not wish to produce any more annual reports?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there are a number of differences, to which I shall come in a moment. The noble Lord asked me two questions originally: first, whether the reports were produced with a great fanfare, to which the answer is yes, and, secondly, whether they were desperately interesting—ahem.

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I now turn to the failing companies. Certainly I would be quite happy to be employed by any of those failing companies, because I would probably receive a pay-off of about £6 million for demonstrated failure.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, were not the annual reports intended originally to provide publicity for the Government's activities, but they ran out of material and steam, despite the efforts of spin doctors? Are they now presumably to be discontinued for the same reason?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, they were tried on three occasions. The response was not perhaps universal. The total cost was quite significant. No one could sensibly believe that there is not abundant material available—some would say too much. If the noble Lord believes that it was a waste of time and spin, he ought to rejoice, because the sinner has repented.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord have some amazing crystal ball that said it would be better to stop producing annual reports because Higgs was going to report on corporate governance and therefore the annual report would require a performance evaluation of every board member and everything that the board did?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do have a crystal ball: we are going to win the next election.

Lord McNally: My Lords, could not officials also have provided the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House with a more direct Answer—I was going to say "honest"—along the lines that it was a merry wheeze dreamt up in the early stages of the Labour Government's life to get free political advertising provided from the public purse? As the noble and learned Lord has conceded that it was an error, should not the costs be refunded to the public purse by the Labour Party?

Moreover, as that publication and others were sanctioned by somebody in government, can the Minister tell us where authority lies for judgments on whether public money should be spent on publications? Is it political or public spending? At one stage, it was considered that the buck stopped with a political appointee, Mr Alastair Campbell. Does the director of the Central Office of Information report to Mr Alastair Campbell or to a responsible Minister? Who takes responsibility for that important area of public spending, in which, as the noble and learned Lord conceded, the Government have erred in the past?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did not say that it was an error; I said that it had been tried. It was tried on three occasions: 1997–98, 1998–99 and 1999–2000. It was then discontinued, but a comprehensive report was put to the electorate in, I

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think, 2001, and they seemed to be pleased with what we had done. The reports were signed off—sanctioned, in other words—by the then Cabinet Secretary.

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord say what the cost was over each of those three years?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as it happens, I have that material to hand. The total cost in the first year was £250,000; for the second year, it was £180,000; and, in the third year—showing what an excellent, prudent Government we have—it went down to £125,000.


3.22 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a simple majority of the Security Council of the United Nations in favour of the draft resolution submitted by Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States would be sufficient justification for the United Kingdom to invade Iraq.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I told the House and as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in another place on 25th November, following the adoption of Resolution 1441, the preference of the Government, in the event of a further material breach by Iraq, is for a second Security Council resolution. Resolution 1441 warns Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations.

As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in November, we must reserve our position, in the event that the council does not live up to its responsibilities under the resolution. We have repeatedly said that we will always act in accordance with international law.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Will she confirm that Her Majesty's Government take the view that, if the resolution is not, for some reason, passed by the Security Council, that will not debar the Government from military action against Iraq for lack of proper legal authority? Can the noble Baroness reconcile that view with that of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, who said:

    "If the US and others go outside the Security Council and take unilateral action, they would not be in conformity with the charter"?

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