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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can point only to what has happened in the CSR. On this occasion actions speak louder than words. I echo what my noble friend said. The British Council is of enormous benefit to Britain in the public diplomacy field as our principal agency for cultural relations abroad; and the BBC World Service is an excellent organisation, keeping some 42 foreign languages in service and broadcasting in English as well.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will the Minister repeat the sums of money for the BBC World Service? Unless my hearing has gone, I believe she said that the figures were £175 million for the first year, then £174 million, and then £177 million. If so, do those figures give comfort to the BBC World Service in planning ahead? I do not have a calculator with me but it does not seem to be a real increase.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, perhaps I may explain. The noble Baroness is right. The figures I gave were £175.5 million; £174 million; and then £177.7 million. The increase is somewhat lumpy--if I may put it that way--because we are investing in a new transmitter in Oman. It is important to have that capital investment up front. As the noble Baroness may
Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I warmly endorse the praise expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, of the British Council and the BBC World Service. However, can the Minister assure the House that any increase in the grant in aid for either the British Council or the World Service will not be at the expense of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's activities in what I believe is now known as the field of public diplomacy?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wright, that his successor in the Foreign Office, Sir John Kerr, is as assiduous an accounting officer as the noble Lord was in his day. If I know Sir John at all, I assure the noble Lord that he will be very active in ensuring that money is not siphoned out of other parts of the FCO budget either into the BBC World Service or the British Council.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I praise the BBC World Service for the marvellous way in which it is bringing on online services and training journalists, for example in the Indonesian elections. Can any additional training which may fall either to the British Council or the BBC World Service in relation to the Balkans and Kosovo be considered as falling under the proposed reconstruction funds rather than the moneys currently available to those two outstanding services?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an apposite point. The BBC World Service has expanded its services into the Balkans, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows, especially in its Albanian and Serbian services.
The matter is under review. As the noble Baroness will appreciate, a number of parties are extremely interested in how it is to be financed. I assure the noble Baroness that all care will be taken on the matter.
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, the Minister will remember that about five years ago the then Prime Minister, John Major, called a three-day conference in London entitled Britain and the World at which a number of eminent people, including most members of the Cabinet, spoke. The clear outcome of the conference was that the BBC World Service and the British Council represented the greatest value for money in the area of British diplomacy. Three months later both budgets were cut.
Will the Minister confirm that instead of considering increases of 1, 2 or 3 per cent over the next five years in the budgets for the BBC World Service and the British Council, the Government will look at the priorities of foreign policy and consider a double digit increase?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point about the previous administration. It was in order to bring some certainty to the budgetary planning of the BBC World Service
The money available for the British Council appears in percentage terms to be less than that for the World Service because the British Council is able to raise money from a variety of other sources. However, it is important to ensure that while the aspirations of many may not be met, the functioning of both organisations is properly secured. The Government believe that to be the case.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, pursuant to the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and my noble friend, what specific action do the Government intend to take in view of the strongly worded conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee in its report, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Resources that,
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in that case I expect that the FAC is glad that it is dealing with this Government and not the previous government because we have put in a great deal more money. I know that the noble Lord has great difficulty with the maths. We have had many discussions on the figures in the past. I can again go over the figures with him quietly later. I am sure that we shall have the opportunity again of convincing him, as I believe it is easy to do, that his sums are wrong.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, our Armed Forces complied strictly with the laws of armed conflict, and in particular with the Geneva conventions and the first additional protocol to the conventions. Of course we regret any civilian casualties. Questions of possible compensation could arise only if unlawful action had been taken. We are satisfied that our action was lawful.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, she will not be surprised that I find it somewhat disappointing. She said yet again that accidents happen in the shape of injuries
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I know that my noble friend is motivated by the best humanitarian principles. However, there cannot be a question of compensation. That would arise only if unlawful action had been taken.
NATO forces were very careful in their choice of targets. Of course anything that went wrong because of human error is very much to be regretted. But the fact remains that we are convinced that our action was lawful. We are convinced of the legality of our targeting and that our armed forces complied very strictly with the laws of armed conflict. In that case, I am afraid that there cannot be a question of compensation on this issue.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the Minister will recognise that humanitarian aid will assist those who have been mutilated or otherwise seriously handicapped as a result of casualties. However, perhaps I may widen slightly the question to ask about compensation not for civilians in Kosovo but for our immediate allies. As the Minister is aware, the blocking of the Danube is now putting tremendous strain on already relatively fragile countries, such as Albania and Bulgaria, with the after effects of refugees on Macedonia and Albania.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, these matters have to be discussed in a number of different fora, not least of which is the Stability Pact Summit which, as the noble Baroness may know, is due to take place in Sarajevo on 30th July. It will not only discuss the issues on compensation but also the rebuilding of that part of the world.
The noble Baroness raises an important issue about the Danube because, as she knows, there is no question of giving aid directly to Serbia while Mr Milosevic is in power. The situation in the Danube affects many other Balkan countries and I assure the noble Baroness that we are well seized of the difficulty. A good deal of thought is going into how the circle can be squared and one of the major opportunities to debate that in detail will be on 30th July.
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