Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I first answered this Question on 19th November 2002, secondly on 7th January 2003 and thirdly today. If people keep asking about whether the costs have increased when the legal process is continuing the

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1475

answer is likely to be in the affirmative. The question is whether allegations of this kind should be investigated. When the Prime Minister announced the inquiry, Mr Hague gave general support. Perhaps the theme underlying the Question of the noble Lord is that we should stop the inquiry now.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, with hindsight—governments are supposed to have foresight as well—does the Minister agree that Nelson Mandela's truth and reconciliation approach would have been a much more economical and sensible approach? Does he agree that already the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has achieved far more than this nonsensical Saville inquiry, which I suspect will achieve nothing? When it was set up I said that it would achieve nothing but bitterness and it has created more and more bitterness. Does he agree that Nelson Mandela's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has achieved exactly the reverse?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been an extraordinary achievement of the human spirit and the generosity of the human heart. Your Lordships will remember that to gain the benefits of the commission one has to admit one's liability. Is it suggested that any of those against whom the grave charges have been brought in the Bloody Sunday inquiry would be willing to do that?

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, do the Government have any views on the remark made by the chief constable that he can see no profit coming from the Saville inquiry one way or the other?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to repeat that the chief constable has made it plain that he was misrepresented and misreported. He had the decency, which I respectfully commend, to talk to the relatives of those who were killed to say that he very much regretted the hurt that had been caused by the fact that he had been misreported in the newspaper.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I did not hear the noble and learned Leader of the House correctly, but I did not hear him answer the Question about the cost to date of the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Perhaps he could remind me of the cost. Can he also tell the House when the inquiry is likely to complete its work?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, I gave the figure of £104.5 million, which is divided into £81.5 million in respect of the families' representation generally and £23 million for the MoD representation generally. As I have said on two previous occasions in answering the same Question—I am sorry that my answer has to be the same—it is expected that the report will be concluded in the year 2004.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1476

Chechnya: Referendum

3.4 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What discussions they have had with the Russian Government on the implications for the global alliance against terrorism of the referendum planned for 23rd March in the Chechen Republic on a new constitution.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we discussed the planned constitutional referendum in Chechnya within the framework of our dialogue with the Russian Government on human rights. In that context we also discussed terrorism. We have made it clear that we recognise the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and the right of the Russian Government to defend their citizens from terrorism. We do not believe that the conflict in Chechnya can be resolved by military means alone and therefore have urged the Russian authorities to seek a political solution.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Does she agree that one of the difficulties about the conflict in Chechnya is that while there are fighters who are close to Al'Qaeda and who have no interest in what any of us would recognise as a political settlement, there are others who, however misguided, have turned to fighting for recognisable political objectives? Such people have to be won back into a political process. By impatiently steaming ahead with a referendum on 23rd March on a proposed constitution that has been forged without a political process, there is a danger of counterproductivity and of people unnecessarily being driven into the arms of the extremists. Does she agree that in the end the battle against terrorism has to be won by hearts and minds and that we must persuade the Russians that that has to become a priority?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that part of the battle against terrorism has to be won by hearts and minds, but I am afraid that there are times when the use of force is also necessary, as we sadly know. This is a volatile and highly explosive situation. The conflict is now in its fourth year. My noble friend is right to refer to the Al'Qaeda links that some of the militant groups appear to have. It is worth remembering that some of the groups have struck at the Moscow-appointed civil administration. The latest attack was in December last year when 80 were killed and 150 were injured. My noble friend is right to imply that sometimes Russian troops use violence and brutality in the spiral of violence that he has identified. Since the theatre siege, the Russians have realised that it is important to try to find a means by which to resolve the conflict other than violence, hence consideration of the new constitution. The constitutional referendum is on 23rd March and I am sure that we all hope for a peaceful outcome.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the whole House will want to recognise the perseverance of the noble Lord, Lord

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1477

Judd, on behalf of the Council of Europe in this difficult matter. Do the Government agree that daily murder and repression continue? Is it considered that the constitution is sufficiently well known to the potential electors to have a meaningful answer? Does she also accept that some members of the Russian Duma have argued for a postponement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I too pay tribute to the work that my noble friend has done on this issue. Of course, the cycle of violence is on both sides. I have attempted to illustrate to your Lordships that there have been some appalling suicide attacks that have injured innocent civilians, and in those circumstances naturally the Russian authorities respond.

The Russian authorities have said that the referendum will take place on 23rd March. Six months after that there is due to be a presidential election and parliamentary elections three months after that. The process is about establishing a new constitution in Chechnya and a knowledge of that will lie at the heart of the referendum.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is not the noble Lord, Lord Judd, right in telling us that this tragedy involves separatism as well as terrorism? If, as the noble Lord advises—and he should certainly know—this referendum is premature, can the Minister at least assure us that when President Putin actively seeks close co-operation with international organisations and his friends, including this country, on how to handle this appalling matter, we will respond very positively?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we respond very positively. The noble Lord is right that it is not just about terrorism; it is about separatism. But I hope that the noble Lord heard my Answer that we have made clear that we recognise the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. The constitutional reforms do not involve a separate state for Chechnya but a degree of autonomy within Chechnya itself.

Of course we shall try to give what help we can. I regret that the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya has been unable to extend its mandate; however, the OSCE presidency is currently exploring with the Russian Government how the work can be continued. We are hopeful of a positive outcome on that.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is clear that the conflict in Chechnya has spilled out over national boundaries. It has contributed to the continuing destabilisation of Georgia. What action are the British Government and their colleagues in the European Union now taking to help to stabilise Georgia and to protect Georgians from cross-border, often Russian-supported, destabilisation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord any specific information about Georgia. I shall research that further and write to him. The European Union hopes to agree a

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1478

balanced consensus statement on the situation in Chechnya at this year's United Nations Commission on Human Rights. So the European Union is taking a forward position on the matter. But I shall write to the noble Lord on the specific issue of Georgia.

Lord Rea: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the proposed referendum is likely to be a travesty of democracy in view of the fact that a large proportion of the citizens of Chechnya are refugees outside the country, and members of the Russian armed forces will be allowed to vote in this election? Surely that is hardly the way towards a political solution rather than a military one. Will Her Majesty's Government press the Russians to start a dialogue with the elected President of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, who is no terrorist?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page