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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have taken every opportunity to highlight to Ethiopia the real tragedy to her people and the Eritreans. The noble Lord is right to concentrate on that. The Ethiopians have pushed forward, but it has been said that it is not their intention to go as far as Asmara. They are concentrating on regaining the land which they say was inappropriately and improperly removed from them. We must do all that we can to encourage them to that end. The OAU is still a useful organ which can and will be employed to the best possible effect. The noble Lord is right in saying that the situation is difficult and that we need to focus on its future resolution.

Lord Rea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if the Ethiopian offensive continues it is likely to trigger another humanitarian disaster in a region that has already had far more than its fair share? Does she also agree that if the offensive continues for long enough there is a danger of restarting the long and bloody guerrilla war which ended only 10 years ago?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we are cognisant of that history. One of the tragedies of the development of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea is that these two peoples have fought alongside each other; Eritrean blood runs in Ethiopian veins and vice versa. It is a tragedy. We shall continue to do all we can to encourage them to recognise that that tragedy can be averted and that hostilities should be stopped in order to reach a resolution to the difficulty which will allow both to go forward.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, on a more mundane level, what might the Government do to persuade the supporters of Ethiopia and Eritrea in London to stop fighting their war in the middle of Whitehall, to allow London to get on with its business and to relieve the over-pressed resources of the Metropolitan Police?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's sentiments. For a moment, I thought that he was talking about Members of this House. There has been a deal of disruption and the police are dealing with it cogently and properly. We have seen a peaceful demonstration and are anxious that it should continue that way. We exhort all those who are engaged in it to behave in a more proportionate and reasonable manner.

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However, looking at any given point in history one sees almost a competition between Ethiopia and Eritrea as regards which can be more unreasonable than the other.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, has the Minister seen press reports to the effect that one of the objectives of the Ethiopian army is to destroy the Eritrean armed forces? Can she say whether she believes that that is an objective and, if so, how it might be possible to exert the kind of pressure mentioned by my noble friend Lord Howell?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is impossible to say whether that is their expressed aim because they do not acknowledge it to be so. The Ethiopians have been clear in their view that land was wrongfully removed from them by an act of aggression on the part of the Eritreans and that they want to reclaim that land. They have indicated that once they have done so they may stop.

We do not know whether that is true. The position on the ground is changing rapidly. It has changed dramatically in the past 36 hours. I can say only that we shall continue to assess the situation and try to persuade the Ethiopians that that would be an inappropriate and improper aspiration to fulfil.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I represented this country in Eritrea at her independence celebrations in 1992? I am concerned about two interests to this country. The first is the British Library in Asmara, which has never closed whatever conflicts have occurred, and the second is the war graves of British and Indian soldiers. Will they be cared for in the present difficult times?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not able to give the noble Baroness a specific answer. Of course the war graves are a matter of great sentimental attachment to us all, and rightly so. I can undertake to discover what is happening, but I hope that the noble Baroness will appreciate that in these difficult and troubled times it is difficult to obtain an accurate account of what is happening on the ground.

Furthermore, I have no indication that the British Library has been adversely affected. Regrettably, I am not able to confirm that that is the case, but my reply is a negative as opposed to a positive. However, I shall see whether there is specific information about it and write to the noble Baroness if there is any change in what I have said today.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, whatever the professed aims of the Ethiopians may be, would the Minister agree that on the western front their forces have occupied vast tracts of the country which were not in dispute before the war? Would she also agree that yesterday they opened up a fresh offensive on the central front near Zalambessa? Therefore, whatever they may say in public, is it not likely that their aim is to destroy the Eritrean army?

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In those circumstances, does not the Minister consider that the Security Council ought to be reconvened in order to pursue the matters raised in its previous two resolutions and to impose fresh sanctions on the Ethiopians, who have flagrantly ignored the two resolutions already passed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the situation is rapidly unfolding. The noble Lord knows that it has changed even in the past 36 hours. It may be that their aspirations will be achieved in the next 24 to 36 hours. A constant reassessment is being made. I can certainly reassure the noble Lord that the Security Council will be capable of acting swiftly, as it acted on 12th May, if those changes merit that.

Business

Lord Carter: My Lords, before we move to the Private Notice Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to the guidance in the Companion. It states that proceedings on Private Notice Questions follow the rules for Starred Questions, in particular that supplementary questions should be short and confined to not more than two points. Discussions on a Private Notice Question are expected to take no more than 10 minutes.

New Millennium Experience Company: Chairman

3.17 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given private notice; namely, to ask Her Majesty's Government what was their role in the events leading to the emergency appointment this morning of Mr David Quarmby as chairman of the New Millennium Experience Company?

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the Millennium Commission offered further funding to the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) on a number of conditions. It was for the NMEC board to determine whether to accept those conditions. The chairman of the board, Bob Ayling, decided to stand down, irrespective of the conditions laid down by the Millennium Commission. The board chose David Quarmby to succeed Bob Ayling.

While the Millennium Commission is chaired by the right honourable Chris Smith and includes among its members the right honourable Mo Mowlam, it is an independent body whose membership also includes the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Dalkeith, the right honourable Michael Heseltine, Floella Benjamin, Judith Donovan, Simon Jenkins and Heather Couper. It is an independent body which acted in accordance with its remit.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for answering

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this PNQ. However, would it not have been better if the Government had volunteered a Statement on these important developments? Does the noble and learned Lord recall the words of Oscar Wilde:


    "To lose one parent ... may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness"?

Are the events at the Dome carelessness or incompetence? First, the chief executive, Jennie Page; now the Blair-blessed chairman, Bob Ayling; who is next? Does the buck ever stop at a Minister? And is it the case that Michael Connor, the accounting officer for the Millennium Commissioners, requested a formal letter of direction from the Minister, Chris Smith, before he would agree to release the latest tranche of £29 million, and that Chris Smith ordered his Permanent Secretary, Robin Young, to write such a letter? If that is true, is it not the case that this is a fiasco which is rapidly becoming a scandal?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, first, so far as concerns the question of a Statement, a PNQ was put down, to which we agreed. That means that we are able to answer any questions that your Lordships may have. With regard to the circumstances in which Mr Bob Ayling was replaced by Mr David Quarmby, it was necessary to prepare a new business plan as a result of the original estimates of the number of visitors to the Dome being too high. It is worth pointing out that at the moment the number of visitors to the Dome is higher than for any other paying visitor attraction in this country. However, in view of the experience of the past four months, it was necessary to rejig the plans.

An application was made to the Millennium Commission, and the commission dealt with it on its merits. It is an independent body which includes, as I pointed out, noble Lords on the other side of the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who would, I believe, very much resent the suggestion that it is not an independent body. The commission reached the conclusion that the scheme was worth supporting. I have no idea about the detail of the circumstances in which the Millennium Commission came to that conclusion, save to say that it is an independent body which, I am quite sure, acted in accordance with its remit.


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