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23 Oct 2007 : Column GC1

Grand Committee

Tuesday, 23 October 2007.

The Committee met at half-past three.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): Before the Minister moves the first order to be considered, I remind noble Lords that in the case of each order, the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee consider the order in question. I should make it clear that the Motion to approve the order will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. I also remind noble Lords that in the event of a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Co-operation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007

3.31 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Co-operation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007.

The noble Baroness said: This order is a necessary step before the UK can ratify the EU-Tajikistan Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. UK ratification of the EU-Tajikistan Partnership and Co-operation Agreement will contribute to strengthening EU engagement with central Asia through implementation of the EU strategy for the region and the work of Pierre Morel, EU special representative. Ratification and implementation of the PCA will mark a step change in the EU's relations with Tajikistan and will help address concerns that the EU lacks profile in the region.

Our key interests in Tajikistan, which are also a focus of EU and other donor activity, are counter-narcotics and counterterrorism, given the involvement of Tajik nationals in radical Islamist movements in Afghanistan and central Asia, and the promotion of good governance, human rights and sustainable development. Since 2004, the region has seen a retreat from democracy and relations with the West. Russia, China and Iran are playing a greater role, including in Tajikistan. There is a need for greater co-operation between the five central Asian states as well as with Afghanistan and beyond. This is a focus of EU and other donor activity.

The Partnership and Co-operation Agreement—PCA—sets out the political, economic and trade relationship between the EU and Tajikistan, instituting the basis for a regular political dialogue, co-operation in a wide range of areas and trade and investment. The PCA is a mixed agreement, covering some matters falling within the competence of the European Community and others within the

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competence of the member states. It is concluded for an initial period of 10 years.

The PCA aims to promote democratic reforms, economic growth, sustainable development and action against poverty. It also includes model clauses on action against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in addition to standard clauses on human rights.

Ratifying this agreement would enable the EU to put its relations with Tajikistan into a comprehensive legal framework which will boost current co-operation, allow wider trade and economic relations and strengthen EU influence in promoting good governance and human rights in Tajikistan at a key stage in its own development. It would help the EU to compete with the growing influence of Russia, China and Iran, which are also contributing to the development of Tajikistan's infrastructure and energy sector.

Tajikistan is both the poorest country in central Asia and one of the most strategically placed, bordering Afghanistan. The Tajiks co-operate with the EU on counter-narcotics, participate in Partnership for Peace and support coalition efforts in Afghanistan. Tajikistan needs EU assistance more than most, as civil war and the drugs trade have significantly disrupted its development.

As regards UK-specific assistance, our growing DfID programme has spent more than £10 million since 2003, focused on community development, judicial reform, encouragement of the private sector and HIV/AIDS. In addition we have spent more than £2 million on helping the Tajik border forces to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border, promoting the development of civil society and democratic reform, and addressing the threat of conflicts through HMG's Global Conflict Prevention Pool.

The European Commission spends about €33 million per year in Tajikistan. From an initial focus on humanitarian aid, it has moved to a significant programme of technical support and is established as a key partner alongside Russia, China and the US. Fifteen per cent of heroin trafficked from Afghanistan transits Tajikistan to Russia. This has a profound negative effect on young people, disrupts the economy and encourages corruption. Through the EU's border management programme, HMG have supported efforts to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border and we work closely with Tajikistan's drugs control agency.

The EU strategy for central Asia, adopted in June, raises the profile of central Asia within Europe and paves the way for an expansion of our activity in the region, both bilaterally and regionally. In Tajikistan, President Rahmon has consolidated his power and is looking for support to take the country forward out of poverty and dependence. Ratification would strengthen the EU's ability to influence the direction that the president will take.

A priority for the UK and a significant part of the EU strategy for central Asia focuses on strengthening respect for human rights. We will look to the Tajik Government to work with us and the EU to implement the principles of good governance and transparency to facilitate trade, economic relations and foreign investment to strengthen stability and to

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develop the prosperity of Tajikistan. The ratification and implementation of this PCA would consolidate Tajikistan's links with Europe and enhance our efforts there. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Co-operation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007. 24th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

Lord Astor of Hever: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining the order. If passed, it will declare that the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the European Communities and member states and the Republic of Tajikistan, signed on 11 October 2004, is to be regarded as a Community treaty as defined by Section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Therefore, Members of the Committee are today undertaking the second stage of a parliamentary ratification of that agreement. Of course, it has already been agreed in another place. I should make it clear from the start that we on these Benches have no objection to the proposal in principle. However, given that we are today agreeing a treaty, it is important to ask the noble Baroness some questions about the practical implementation.

This treaty contains measures to strengthen the EU's trade, economic and political relations with Tajikistan. It also contains a number of additional measures covering human rights, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, all of which are important subjects. Tajikistan is one of the last constituent republics of the former Soviet Union to have its agreement with the EU ratified. There has already been a series of these agreements with former republics of the Soviet Union. I would not go so far as to say that they are all substantially equivalent, but there is a broad precedent in the way in which they have been laid out. There was an agreement with Ukraine in 1998; with Kazakhstan in 1999; and with Armenia in the same year. A treaty with Belarus was decided against by the EU, and in the case of Turkmenistan the agreement, which was signed in 1998, still remains to be ratified.

My honourable friend in the other place, Mark Francois, raised a number of issues which I believe were adequately addressed. However, one of the most important issues that he raised, which was not entirely addressed, was that of the dissuasion and prevention of terrorist activity in Tajikistan. Its strategic importance, bordering, as it does, Afghanistan, cannot be overstated. It is of vital importance, so I was surprised to read the Minister’s words in another place when he admitted that Tajik nationals were involved in radical Islamist groups actively involved in terrorism in the region as a whole and claimed that it did not affect this country. I remind Her Majesty's Government that we have troops in Afghanistan who have to deal with the presence of regional terrorism day to day. Can the noble Baroness give further information on what is being done to tackle fundamentalist radical Islamism in Tajikistan beyond

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the investment in a border police? The Minister in another place did not give a comprehensive answer on what is being done to encourage co-operation between our two countries to assist British, European and anti-terrorist groups currently engaged in Afghanistan, so I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to elaborate further on that today.

Generally, we support these measures and believe that it is vital to help the republics of the former Soviet Union to emerge from the scourge of communism and to form links with Europe based on trade and co-operation.

Lord Dykes: When the European Union—or European Communities, as it was then known—was developing in earlier days, the frequent cry, rightly, from both supporters and critics was always that the communities should avoid being inward looking, introspective and concerned only with their own internal matters but should look outwards and be a genuine international body as well. We therefore welcome this order, as an example of those developing relationships between the European Union and all the neighbouring or nearby geographical areas surrounding the borders of the enlarged Union of 27 countries.

This order would be a standard text in many ways, which is one of the reasons—apart from the absence of any technical mistakes or drafting errors—why, in July, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments said that there was no need formally to report. I welcomed that—I was a member of that committee and still am. The text and import of this agreement would be routine and standard, as it is with many other areas, but for the enormous number of problems that the new emerging Republic of Tajikistan is experiencing and will experience in future.

I am sure that all right-thinking citizens in the Republic of Tajikistan welcome the involvement of the European Union in trying to help them with these matters. It is that delicate balance, again, between the Union offering genuine advice from outside at the request of a Government and as a result of signing this treaty and passing this order in all the national parliaments, and not seeking to interfere and dictate how they should run their own country. That is particularly important for new countries when they are learning governance, having been a Soviet republic, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, said, for a long time—since the Second World War and, indeed, for some time before.

For those of us who do not know the particular “stans” in the area—and I confess that I am one—it is equally complicated to make the differences clear to an audience in Great Britain and other western European countries. But these countries, of which, as the Minister said, Tajikistan is the poorest, are very important, which is why the order will be vital. We welcome its passing today, following the debate on 16 October in the other place, when there was positive support for the order and a hope that it would take effect soon.

There is a long list of problems, which I would be tempted to go into but they have already been enunciated by the Minister and the noble Lord. I, too,

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request that those questions might be answered a little more. There is extreme anxiety about the heroin trade and the country’s proximity to Afghanistan means that the citizens of Tajikistan suffer grievously from the effects of that as well as from terrorism and the other things that the Minister mentioned. The European Union and the United Kingdom, as one of the leading member states anxious to continue its long tradition as an international power with relations with all parts of the world, including the third world and the developing world, will wish to play a key part. Therefore, I hope that national ambassadors in the capital city, as well as the EU representative, will get very much involved with these matters in future.

3.45 pm

If the Minister can add a few words to deal with some of those problems, I do not wish to go on longer, except to quote the remarks of my colleague, the honourable Member for Cheadle, in the debate in the Second Delegated Legislation Committee of the other place on 16 October:

we are far from reaching that point now—

That is also a severe problem in this new republic. He went on to say:

He then asked the Minister to address that issue.

Mr Murphy tried to do so, but we need more details. There are still some gaps in the information and the responses by the Government. I make no criticism; it is inevitably so at this early stage of the passing of this order and the co-operation agreement.

My colleague, Mr Hunter, went on to say:

He concluded by asking the Minister to address those concerns in his response. We need more encouragement and shows of support from this country and the Union, and more reassurance to the Tajiks that we take these matters seriously, that they are not a marginal consideration to us and that we are going to be truly helpful to what will be not only a more prosperous country in future, but a very important one in that region.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for the broad support from noble Lords opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, is correct that there is a broad precedent in relation to agreements

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with Soviet republics. This agreement is particularly important because of the country’s strategic position and its extreme poverty.

The prevention of terrorism is of the utmost importance. Tajikistan hosts a French military base that supports coalition forces in Afghanistan, which I am sure is of interest. The central Asia strategy, of which I spoke earlier, sets out the EU’s intention to step up co-operation with the central Asian states to combat international terrorism by improving the institutional capacity of law enforcement agencies, updating the legal framework, improving border management and strengthening regional co-operation against trans-national organised crime, including international terrorism. The counterterrorism activity is within the broader context of the central Asia strategy.

The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, is right that the EU is now looking outward, and this is a fine example of the way in which we are developing relationships with surrounding countries. Learning good governance is a key part of the agreement under discussion today. One of its aims is to promote democratic reforms. The UK is already working on democratic reform. Our embassy is supporting projects that develop the capacity and quality of civil society and independent media, promote good governance, particularly at local government level, and address the threat of conflicts through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool. Under the Global Conflict Prevention Pool, we are spending £98,000 on a project with the Aga Khan Foundation developing a system to mitigate conflicts over the use of water in the Khatlon region of Tajikistan. There are many other examples of the way in which we are promoting democratic reform.

The noble Lord raised the vital issue of counter-narcotics. We have made a £500,000 contribution to build the capacity of the 8th Afghan border police as part of a larger EC project of €3 million to replicate the border management central Asia programme on the Afghan side of the Tajik border. UK funds will establish mobile training teams while Germany develops regional border liaison networks. Unfortunately, this element has recently been suspended due to Tajik reluctance, for legal reasons, to set up networks. However, we are working hard on counter-narcotics and take these issues seriously. The Tajiks know that we take them seriously, and we expect our new relationship with Tajikistan to be an honest one. We will ensure that these issues are taken as seriously as they deserve.

The birth of independent Tajikistan was difficult. A civil war in the 1990s killed more than 60,000 of its people and displaced many more. It was always the poorest of the Soviet republics but the war badly damaged its infrastructure, drove many of its best professionals away and its school and health services are still well below those of Soviet times. About 57 per cent of Tajikistan’s population live in poverty, many of them shackled to cotton production in former collective farms. That 57 per cent lives on less than a dollar a day.

This discussion has confirmed the crucial role that the EU must play in winning hearts and minds in Tajikistan, both in competition with others and to

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promote reform and contribute to the development of the country. It is also strategically placed in the region for the support of our efforts in Afghanistan. The ratification and implementation of this agreement would consolidate Tajikistan’s links with Europe and enhance our efforts there.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007

3.52 pm

Baroness Crawley rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007.

The noble Baroness said: These regulations are part of a package of regulations and guidance that will put into place new procedures for parking enforcement by local authorities in England. They make no changes to the procedures used by the police and traffic wardens. They cover only England, and similar regulations for Wales will come before the House later this year.

The regulations are made under Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 and form one component of the Government’s strategy to make better use of the existing road network by improving road safety, reducing congestion and minimising the impact of road traffic on the environment. The Traffic Management Act gives local authorities a specific duty to manage their networks, and fair and effective parking enforcement has a key role to play in this. When a local authority takes over this responsibility from the police, it frees up police time to concentrate on more serious matters. It also means that parking regulations are, often for the first time, enforced throughout the area and at all appropriate times. Although this does not always please motorists, it is essential to facilitate the safe and smooth use of the highway.

There are over 28 million vehicles on the roads in England and each of them spends an average of 23 out of 24 hours parked. Managing that demand is what we ask local authorities to do. These regulations will help them to do it in a fair, transparent and effective manner with the overarching objective of keeping traffic moving safely.

The regulations before your Lordships set out the procedures for disputing a penalty charge notice, a vehicle immobilisation or a vehicle removal. Some drivers believe that a penalty charge notice or the clamping or removal of a vehicle is never merited, but it may genuinely be the case that the charge was served or the vehicle restrained or removed in error. That might be because the driver was delivering or collecting goods and had left the vehicle to do so; or a valid permit, ticket, voucher or badge may have been displayed on the vehicle at the time; or the owner who received the payment reminder was not the owner at the time of the contravention. A penalty charge

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notice, or parking ticket, is not a serious matter and does not involve endorsements on the driving licence, but it does have a financial impact that a fair society should levy only when merited.

Clamping and removal are a considerable inconvenience, even when merited. When they are not merited, far stronger language springs to mind. The measures put in place to challenge penalty charge notices, vehicle immobilisation and vehicle removal are an important part of delivering a just enforcement system.

The procedures for representations and appeals set out in these regulations largely replicate those in the Road Traffic Act 1991. That Act replaced a costly and time-consuming procedure in the magistrates’ court with a simple and streamlined independent adjudicator who dealt only with parking matters. That original vision has been changed to some extent by adding bus lane, certain moving traffic and congestion charging contraventions to the responsibilities of the adjudicators. However, we need to ensure that the procedures remain simple and easily accessible to the public, avoiding the fear that they will need costly legal or other representation to make their case properly.

We believe that the draft regulations before the Committee deliver the continuation of simple and straightforward procedures for representations to the issuing authority and appeals to the adjudicator that are easily accessible to the public. They have been subject to extensive consultation but few comments were received on the representations and appeals provisions, and the changes that have been made since the consultation largely result from reconsideration by government.

We have also had the benefit of expert and robust advice on our proposals from the entirely independent adjudicators. This reflects their expertise in dealing with many thousands of individual cases and we are grateful to them for their advice.

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