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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord is right about the last IMF loan having been spent on a continuation of the war. I know, however, that conditionality is applicable only if it can be applied directly. The 10.5 billion dollar loan to Russia from the IMF is to support economic and political reform in Russia as a whole. I genuinely believe that it would be counter-productive to the many areas of Russia seeking to reform by means of macro-economic stabilisation if the IMF programmes were to be halted. We have to continue using the OSCE and the Council of Europe influence we now have with Russia to bring an end to the Chechen problem and to
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, did not the Question originally raised by the Minister's noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton ask specifically what was being done through the Council of Europe? The Minister touched upon that only marginally in her last reply. In view of the fact that we are members of the Council of Europe, together with a number of our colleagues and the Soviet Union, is there any particular reason why representations should not be made through that avenue which is open to us? Does the Minister intend to use those contacts within the context mentioned by the noble Lord in his Question?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's question is yes. We must understand that Russia became a member of the Council of Europe only on 28th February last. The United Kingdom has been very active in the Council of Europe in respect of this matter. The Parliamentary Assembly and the member states' governments are to monitor the progress of Russia's compliance with her commitments. I learnt this morning that a visit is to take place to Chechnya in May. That is the next step for which we were looking but about which I was unable to respond to my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth last night. Progress is being made. We expect Russia to respect the conditions imposed by the Parliamentary Assembly, which it agreed, concerning its terms of entry to the Council of Europe.
Lord Finsberg: My Lords, would it help the Minister to know that the Council of Europe has established a working group to deal with Chechnya and that next week the group is meeting the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe, one of whose members is Mr. Zyuganov?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, that is most welcome news. The working group will be extremely valuable in backing up all that governments do and the OSCE mission tries to do. The situation is a good deal better than when I last answered questions on the matter in this House. There is now an assistance group which I hope will work with the Council of Europe working group so that talks may be brokered as soon as possible between all parties.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I believe that I heard the same report as my noble friend. I know that President Yeltsin wanted to nominate someone to meet Dudayev. I understand that that is still a matter of hope but that a meeting has not yet taken place.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the peace plan announced by President Yeltsin earlier this month. Do the British Government support the terms of that plan? Are any representatives of the
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in saying that on this occasion the Chechen side broke the ceasefire. However, on other occasions the Russians have broken the apparent ceasefire. Therefore, I do not believe that one can attribute blame more to one side than the other. The conflict is a tragedy and has claimed thousands of lives. That was why we were glad to see President Yeltsin's proposals for finding a peaceful solution. However, in order to attain that peaceful solution there must be an end to the fighting, a withdrawal of troops, a complete ceasefire--no little pockets of troops suddenly stirring up trouble in the outskirts of Chechnya--and working towards elections. Only in that way will the Chechen people be able to have their say on the future of Chechnya. We urge all sides to support the efforts to find a negotiated solution. When they show that willingness, the international community will be able to help to a greater degree.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, after the debate on fish stock conservation and management, my noble friend Lord Lindsay will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the agricultural aspects of BSE.
Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Finance Bill to be taken through its remaining stages on Friday 26th April.--(Viscount Cranborne.)
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, why do the Government wish to rush through what is in many ways the most important Bill of the Session? Is it not a fact that experience has shown that the Second Reading of the Finance Bill is a good opportunity for a full dress, high level economic debate, while the later stages of the Bill can furnish a good opportunity for raising specific points which your Lordships' House may wish to discuss and feel that another place can consider in the light of that discussion? In other words, why is the Finance Bill, which some of us regard as the most important measure of the Session, to be rushed in this way?
I was not wholly surprised by the nature of my noble friend's intervention. He is as aware as any of your Lordships that the Finance Bill is a supply Bill. Your Lordships may pass or reject supply Bills but they may not amend any part of them. As my noble friend knows, that is the financial privilege of another place. I believe that he will agree that that privilege is jealously guarded by another place. As a result, your Lordships' Committee stage on supply Bills is invariably negatived.
I understand that amendments have not been tabled to supply Bills in your Lordships' House during the course of this century. Therefore, as regards the precedence, while I yield to no one in my desire that your Lordships should be able to go back to the conditions which obtained in the 19th century, I wonder how practical it is at this late stage of the present century to do so. My natural conservatism must yield to considerations of practicality, and therefore I suggest that my noble friend considers the advantages of that.
I agree that the Second Reading of the Finance Bill provides an opportunity for a general debate on economic affairs and I am sure that your Lordships will welcome that. However, perhaps I may point out that recently your Lordships have had a number of opportunities for economic debates, including a Motion on the tax and benefits system tabled by our noble friend Lord Skidelsky as recently as 27th March; a Motion on the Government's economic strategy tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, on 20th March; a Motion on wealth creation tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, on 21st February; and a Motion on inward investment tabled by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird on 31st January. I hope that my noble friend will consider that we have had a fair run on economic questions during the past few weeks.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that answer, but will he answer the point that I raised? Why is it thought right to rush through the Finance Bill in one day when it would be perfectly feasible to take the Second Reading on one day and the remaining stages on another day? What is the hurry?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I have not been in your Lordships' House nearly as long as my noble friend. However, my clear understanding is that for some decades it has been the habit of this House to pursue that device. If my noble friend wishes to change the habit of your Lordships' House, perhaps I may suggest that he submits one of his pithily argued memoranda to the Procedure Committee, which I am sure will be prepared to consider it.