Sandip Verma, having been created Baroness Verma, of Leicester in the County of Leicestershire, for lifeWas, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Seccombe and the Baroness Morris of Bolton.
Charles Guy Rodney Leach, Esquire, having been created Baron Leach of Fairford, of Fairford in the County of Gloucestershire, for lifeWas, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Howell of Guildford and the Lord Powell of Bayswater.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, on 13 June 2006, the Prime Minister wrote to President Vujanovic and Prime Minister Djukanovic to put it on record that the United Kingdom recognises the Republic of Montenegro as an independent sovereign state. Also on 13 June, the Foreign Secretary wrote to Foreign Minister Vlahovic on similar lines and stated that we would be seeking to establish diplomatic relations with Montenegro, including the upgrading of the British office in Podgorica to an embassy.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, a nation has been reborn, and it sees its future in the European Union. Does my noble friend agree that, after what appears to be a velvet divorce, it is now important to build a new relationship between Montenegro and Serbia and indeed with the wider region? Will he say, not only as he has said that we will recognise the nation and have an ambassador, but when we will have a resident ambassador in Podgorica; and also say what we understand to be the next likely steps in the stabilisation and association agreement after the European Council decision last weekend, bearing in mind that Montenegro comes to the table with clean hands, both in respect of the Kosovo conflict and in its relationship with the war crimes tribunal?
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Lord Triesman: My Lords, I do not have a date as yet for the opening of the mission. We regard it as important. Montenegro is a relatively small country, with a population of 673,000, but it is strategically important to the Balkans. For those reasons, we want to make rapid progress. Part of that progress must be to reassert relationships with Serbia and other countries in the region to ensure that they all move forward through the process of discussions about the EU and NATO. We are actively working on those features.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, will the Minister ensure that this country, in particular, gives a very warm welcome to this new small nation as it joins the comity of nations in the world, including world institutions such as the United Nations? Is he aware that Montenegro is a small nation of low taxation and dynamic people with very high levels of education and a real determination to develop prosperity and growth, which they have been denied in the past, and that it could yet set itself up as an example to the rest of Europe on how to proceed economically and socially? We should therefore be very pleased that this nation has now joined the nations of Europe.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I share that view. It is fair to add that it developed a relationship with the West during the Milosevic era because it was prepared to look at privatisation and many of the other things that were not considered in the region. Aspects of its economy are indeed promising, and, if it is possible to develop tourism, that will become increasingly significant in generating income and foreign currency. These are promising areas for the relationship. We will work closely on the basis that the noble Lord described, working with a nation that has already taken very big steps despite its small size.
Lord Chidgey: My Lords, although the actions taken by the Government so far are to be welcomed, does the Minister agree that a vote for independence of 55 per cent is hardly overwhelming and that the tensions in the ethnic communities in Montenegro are still fierce and raw? What specific actions are the Government planning over the coming months to progress the stabilisation and association process of the EU, in the particular context of making sure that the Copenhagen criteria are maintained and highlighted throughout the coming years, not just in Montenegro but in the whole of the western Balkans?
Lord Triesman: My Lords, there are issues in the western Balkans. Montenegro, although it has separated itself reasonably successfully from most of them, still presents some of those questions. We have, in the context of stabilisation and association agreements, supported Commissioner Rehn's decision to ensure that talks take place with the EU because continued failure on the part of any of the states emerging in the region to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia would be an impediment. A range of such issues need to be overcome, but we are working on them. We have made it clear in the European Union
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that we will be an active participant. It is absolutely of a piece with our desire to see the enlargement of the EU and to see countries that have not had a conspicuously democratic past being drawn into the EU's family of democratic nations.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Network Rail is a private sector company limited by guarantee whose board is accountable to approximately 100 members drawn from railway stakeholders. Network Rail is accountable to the public interest through independent regulation by the Office of Rail Regulation. It is also accountable to its key funders, the Secretary of State for Transport and Scottish Ministers, and its freight and train operating company customers.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, Network Rail's decision to reject Merseytravel's application to maintain its own lines has meant that in effect Network Rail runs its own monopoly. Given the Government's failure to intervene in that case, do the Government have any powers to force Network Rail to allow benchmarking of its currently rather high costs and opaque systems? More important, if they have those powers, are they prepared to use them?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness has raised the Merseytravel issue before, and I repeat the point that I made on that occasion: Network Rail did not think that the economic and financial case had been made by Merseytravel. On the more general issue, as I indicated in my original Answer, Network Rail is subject to the Office of Rail Regulation, which establishes its benchmarks, and is ultimately answerable to the Secretary of State.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, even with the annual £5 billion public subsidy going into Britain's railways, the Government have at the moment banned train operating companies from putting on extra services to cope with overcrowding, by specifying the maximum number of trains that can be run on any line on a particular day. Is not such micro-management forcing people off rail and on to roads?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, in the original Question the noble Baroness was seeking extra micro-management and now the noble Lord is arguing exactly the opposite case. The Government have got it just right in between those two positions. The Government retain overall responsibility; that goes without saying. The Secretary of State for Transport is
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responsible overallas are Scottish Ministers in relation to the Scottish Parliamentbut Network Rail is responsible for the track and the train operating companies are responsible for the operation of their services. We have seen a significant improvement in rail in recent years. For instance, the punctuality of trains has gone up from 79 per cent to 86 per centthat is still far below what we aim at and want to achieve, but it is a signal improvement.
Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the factit is confirmed by my declared interestthat Network Rail is not replacing 60 year-old conductor rails with a composite alternative? That means that 8 per cent will be added to the electricity bill and an extra 46 metric tonnes of carbon will be added to the atmosphere for every kilometre travelled on third rail every year for the next 60 years. Why does the chairman of Network Rail, who is also chairman of the Carbon Trust, continue the practice, which rail companies elsewhere have long since abandoned for economic and environmental reasons? The Minister says that there are no shareholders, so to whom is the chairman of Network Rail and the Carbon Trust responsible for a company policy that is at complete variance with taxpayers' interests and the Government's declared intention of carbon emission reduction?
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