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Lord Rix: My Lords, as the president of Mencap I would also like to welcome the appointment of Bert Massie as the chairman of the commission.

Can the Minister say whether or not a person with a learning disability, with suitable advocacy support, will also become a member of that commission, as has been indicated in the past?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that the Act itself requires that more than half of the commissioners are disabled people or people who have a disability. Of course we recognise the value of direct personal experience of disability.

Much can be expected of a commission of 10 to 15 people, but they could never between them have personal experience of every type of disability. What is important is that collectively they represent the interests of all disabled people and the commission's other key stakeholders, such as employers and service providers.

Having said that, I am happy to tell the noble Lord, with his, if I may say so, distinguished record in this field, that candidates short-listed for interview for commissioner posts include a number of people with learning disabilities.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, first of all perhaps I may congratulate the noble Lord on the way in which he is answering this Question, welcome him to the Dispatch Box and say how much we look forward to hearing more from him in the future. I also welcome the fact that he quickly corrected himself and did not use the awful, ugly word “chair" but the more acceptable form, “chairman".

Will the noble Lord tell the House when the commission is expected to be fully up and running?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the compliment from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am told that such compliments do not come frequently, so I will value it for a short period of time.

I will pass over the use of the words “chair" or “chairman" until a future occasion.

The commission will be up and running by April 2000. That is not to say that every service which it will provide will be provided by April 2000. By that month the following will be done by the commission: the provision of advice to those making inquiries; the handling of casework; policy work; and handling the media.

Lord Addington: My Lords, while I congratulate the noble Lord on the appointment of Bert Massie to this post, will the Government assure us that the new

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commission and its chairman will be fully consulted in the implementation of the Disability Rights Task Force recommendations?

Lord Bach: My Lords, Mr Massie has been a member of that task force, as the noble Lord will know. Now that he is in post it will be much easier to get on with what has to be done. Mr Massie will obviously play an important part in the consideration of the views of the task force which, as I understand it, are to be known by November of this year.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that, given the establishment of the disability rights commission, it will take on board the broader implications of the Lawrence report?

Lord Bach: My Lords, in answer to my noble friend, we are aware of the recommendations, which of course apply to the department, and are looking at them very seriously.

I find it hard to believe that the commission, when it is set up, will not look very carefully at the serious recommendations that were made in the Lawrence report.

Sudan: Peace Process

3.15 p.m.

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they have done in the past six months to take forward the internal or external peace process in Sudan, and what is the current state of Sudanese-British relations following the recent meeting between the two Foreign Ministers.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) : My Lords, may I take a moment of your Lordships' time. Yesterday I was so overtaken by my new position that I failed to thank noble Lords for the warmth of my welcome. I feel equally in need of it today.

To answer the noble Lord's Question, I hope that your Lordships will be pleased to know that we have worked hard to revitalise the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace process, pledging funds to establish a secretariat that can maintain negotiation between the two sides. We have encouraged all parties to work alongside IGAD and we have pressed, successfully, for the resumption of a critical dialogue between the EU and Sudan.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his Sudanese counterpart, Mustafa Osman Ismail, agreed to rename ambassadors in New York on 23rd September. Our embassy will soon be in a position to be more effective in our efforts in helping to achieve peace for all the Sudanese.

Lord McNair: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that very encouraging reply. Would she

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agree that the main sticking point to resuming meaningful negotiations under the IGAD umbrella is Mr Garang and the SPLA?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot agree that. The issues are very widespread, as the noble Lord will know. There are rights on both sides of the argument, as it is seen by the participants, not necessarily by others. It is incumbent upon all those who genuinely want to see peace in this region to exhort those involved to follow the IGAD process in relation to negotiation.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, while congratulating the Government on their contribution to strengthening the IGAD peace process, may I ask the Minister if she is aware that the National Islamic Front regime has repeatedly broken the ceasefire, bombing hospitals and feeding centres; dropping bombs which have caused symptoms consistent with poisoning by the arsenical compound Lewisite, and that craters caused by those bombs contain liquid and are entirely different from craters caused by conventional weapons--as these photographs, which I will place in your Lordships' Library, show?

I have written to the Minister about this and I would appreciate it if the Minister could give an assurance this afternoon that the Government will support a full investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons by the NIF regime.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, your Lordships will know that as far back as 25th May this year Her Majesty's Government pressed for the Sudanese Government to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which they did on that date. That now allows requested investigations through the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That is the vehicle which will undoubtedly have to be used for this purpose.

In further answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we are aware that bombs were dropped on villages on Friday 23rd July, but those matters too will be dealt with under the aegis of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Sudanese Government are currently seeking to evict the Episcopal Church from their long-standing headquarters at the diocese of Khartoum at Omdurman, and that, while public assurances have been given that this will not take place, the promised legal documents have not been forthcoming--at least at 10 a.m. today--and the eviction date is Saturday of this week?

Is she also aware that two Roman Catholic priests have been under arrest for quite a long time, under charges of terrorism?

Would she agree that this situation is extremely unfortunate, at a time when efforts are being made to improve relations, and will she speedily make contact

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with the Sudanese Government to seek to resolve the matter, especially bearing in mind the eviction date of Saturday?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the British Embassy in Khartoum has kept in close contact with all the churches and has taken up concerns such as the matters referred to by the right reverend Prelate. These issues have been raised with the leader of the National Islamic Front and others. We are aware that all religions are suffering in this area. This is a matter of deep concern that we shall continue to highlight and it demonstrates the importance of the IGAD peace process. We enjoin all those concerned--the Church has been very helpful in this regard--to join forces with Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the peace efforts are successful.

Greater London Authority Bill

3.20 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.--(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Henley: My Lords, I rise to complain about the handling of the Report stage of this very important piece of legislation. I have given the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip notice of my intention to do so. This House is the main revising Chamber of Parliament and has a very important function under our constitution. It is entitled to be treated with respect. Government departments have a duty to assist this House in performing its revising function properly. I hope that no government will ever expect this Chamber to be a mere rubber stamp that endorses government Bills with little discussion and less notice. I do not believe that that is necessarily the intention of noble Lords opposite. However, the way that this House has been treated in recent days is not a good sign.

Yesterday, the House considered the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill. We had some 170 late government amendments to a Bill which it had been agreed would be given two days on Report. As a result, as I and the Government Chief Whip will be aware, we sat until 2.30 this morning. Given the large number of (dare I say) older Members on both sides of the House involved in that Bill, that was most unsatisfactory. Today, we have received of the order of 300 late amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill. My colleagues on the Front Bench did not see those amendments until last Friday. I understand that four more amendments have been tabled today, and there are rumours that up to 200 further amendments to the Bill will be tabled during the course of Report stage.

The House went into recess in July. Since then, over nine weeks have elapsed before this mass of amendments has poured onto our heads. I must ask: why did so long a time elapse? Why were at least some

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of the amendments not published somewhat earlier? Will there be any more government amendments to these and other Bills coming before the House at Report stage? If so, how many, and when will they be made available to the House and my colleagues on the Front Bench? Who took the decision that this House should be treated in this way? Was the Government Chief Whip warned or consulted on the matter; if not, why not? I very much hope that the noble Lord will communicate these points to the respective Secretaries of State and Permanent Secretaries in the departments concerned. I believe that both Ministers and officials should be made fully aware that Parliament and this House do not take kindly to being treated in this way. In making these particular points I am sure that I speak for all Members of this House with an interest in these important Bills.

The Greater London Authority Bill was some eight days in Committee. None of those days was a full day in that we were interrupted by Statements. My noble friends on the Front Bench co-operated as far as they could in ensuring that the Committee stage was completed before we rose in the summer, as the Government wished. I believe that it is right to ask whether it is reasonable to expect the House to sit quite so late on Report to consider a host of very late government amendments to meet a timetable which was accepted in good faith without knowledge of the weight of this business. I make that point particularly in light of the fact that the Bill was virtually rewritten in the Commons before it came here. The noble Lord put that point to me as an argument for having a shorter Committee stage than that which occurred.

I hope that the Government Chief Whip will not close his mind absolutely to giving the House sufficient time to consider this important Bill, and others, and the issues raised by them and to enabling us to do so with reasonable notice of all the amendments. I hope also that we shall debate them at a reasonable hour, not at 2.30 in the morning. There are limits to how long this House is prepared to sit, particularly when the extra time that we are being asked to sit is the result of the Government's incompetence in this matter.

As the noble Lord will be aware, we have in the past, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor put it, insisted on downing tools at a late hour. We hope that we shall not have to insist on downing tools in future and that the Government Chief Whip will make a conciliatory reply which will at least allow us to respond and consider these Bills in the appropriate manner and with the appropriate amount of time.

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