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Lord Rea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that although in the past few years some fundamentalist Islamic groups have joined the Chechen resistance, we are seeing the continuation of a colonial war that has continued on and off for the past 150 years? Will my noble friend suggest to the Russians that the only way in which they can solve the problem is to talk to the elected president of the Chechens and his government in exile?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is a difficult question. We do not believe that there can be a purely military solution; there must also be a political process. We recognise that in light of the events in Moscow the Russian Government are having great difficulty in finding a credible interlocutor. My noble friend suggests that Mr Maskhadov may be such a credible interlocutor, but I remind him that in July this year Mr Maskhadov shared a public platform, the proceedings of which were broadcast by Al-Jazeera, with Mr Basayev, who was responsible for the outrage in the Dubrovka theatre. That will not enhance

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Mr Maskhadov's standing with those who want to advance him as an interlocutor. I believe that he did his cause great damage by doing that.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the same time the Russians are forcing internally displaced people in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya and denying admission to the UN rapporteur on violence against women and the Secretary-General's special envoy on internally displaced persons? Will the Government reinforce the demand made by the previous High Commissioner for human rights that a comprehensive independent inquiry should be conducted into the abuses? Will she and her partners in the European Union try to persuade the Russians that they should comply with the special procedures of the Human Rights Commissioner and the Secretary-General?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, knows, we asked the Russian Government to issue invitations to all the relevant UN special rapporteurs, including the special rapporteur on violence against women, during the talks held in September this year. The Russian Government responded that an invitation to the rapporteur on violence against women will be issued when the security situation permits. There have been various initiatives among ourselves and our European partners. The Russian Government have taken note of the EU position, but so far the EU representatives have not succeeded in persuading the Russians to change their approach in Chechnya.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness raised the question of the behaviour of the Russian army. Will she and her colleagues, when next in dialogue with their Russian opposite numbers, say that although we have every sympathy with and support for President Putin in his battle against international terrorism, particularly after the Moscow theatre horror, it is the sheer brutality and hideousness of the incidents in which the Russian army is involved, when it seems to behave more like a rabble than a disciplined force, that are losing him the support that he needs? Would she see that he gets that message? If he wants more support he must, as the noble Lord has just said, seek to conform to the highest international standards and to involve the international community in his fight against international terrorism.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have already indicated that we have pressed the Russian Government to investigate thoroughly any allegations of human rights abuses. We have also said that we believe that those responsible for such violations should be prosecuted and, where appropriate, punished. But it is terribly important for us constantly to keep some balance in answering these questions, both publicly and in private discussions. The fact is that a number of these groupings in Chechnya have either directly or indirectly been involved with international terrorism. The latest

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outrage might have cost the lives of 800 innocent people in the Dubrovka theatre. I pause merely to make the deduction for the number of people perpetrating the violence. But there were almost 800 innocent people in that theatre who might have lost their lives.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree—I think she has already said that she does—that this second Chechnen war is not primarily a war of independence but is an Islamist-funded and inspired war with the objective of obtaining the oil from the Caspian oil field for militant Islamism? That is well documented. The intention was also to extend that war into Dagestan. The Russian response must be seen very much in that context and perspective. Indeed, as the noble Baroness has already said, the Russians themselves suffered appalling violations of human rights at the hands of the Chechnen terrorists.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness that the war is fundamentally inspired by Islamic extremists. I agree with the noble Baroness that some Islamic extremists have allied themselves with international Islamic extremists. I have mentioned Shamil Basayev who was responsible for what happened in Moscow; I could equally mention Abu Walid who leads the Mujaheddin operating in Chechnya. But there are other elements who, although they are by Russian lights behaving murderously, are not necessarily so closely linked with Islamic terrorism but who are perpetrating acts of violence still against civilian objectives in Chechnya.

Individual Learning Accounts

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the extent of fraudulent activity during the administration of individual learning accounts.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the department's Special Investigations Unit has been asked to investigate 152 learning provider organisations. Ninety-nine of those cases have been passed to the police. The total amount paid to those organisations is 70.9 million. The department is withholding 10.8 million in outstanding claims. The precise extent of fraudulent activity will not be known until the investigations are complete.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. However, does the Minister not accept any responsibility whatever for the department in this matter?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as our permanent secretary made absolutely clear when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, we

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do take responsibility. This was a brilliant scheme: 91 per cent of those who participated received a valuable learning experience. However, there is no question but that it was badly implemented.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, before their withdrawal, ILAs presented a welcome respite from the tangled web of funding available to those seeking qualifications in early years education and childcare? Given the urgent need to recruit more workers into that sector and to improve the quality of provision, how urgently will the Government replace the system with a new fraud-proof system of ILAs?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. There are key issues here in terms of the advantages to those taking up that learning. We want to have a successor scheme, and we have decided to link this very firmly to our school strategy, which will be published next June. Work has already been undertaken to produce a successor scheme, which has now been fully integrated into the programme. I look forward to putting that before your Lordships' House.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, can the Minister give the House any indication of how long it took to discover this somewhat strange problem?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Well, my Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, and as we have mentioned in your Lordships' House before, we have been examining complaints from individuals which they brought to us in the preceding months. I can give the noble Lord some figures. In September 2000, we had five complaints; by October 2001, we had 8,448 complaints, by which time the number of accounts opened had reached 2,529,000.

It is quite clear that, towards the time that we took action, we began to see systematic activity that needed to be addressed. We undertook a variety of different schemes in order to try and prevent the situation. When it became very obvious, in October of last year, that we had to do something dramatic, we did exactly that and closed the scheme.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say when we will hear the true cost of this disaster?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we know from our discussions with the police and with those investigating the matter that it could take up to two years to know the full extent. I have given some preliminary figures, but I speculate that the total figure could be up to 97 million. I am speculating only

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because I want to give your Lordships as much information as possible. It is speculation and I would not wish noble Lords to see it in any other way.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the Minister tell us what lessons the Government have learned from the poor implementation of this brilliant scheme?


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