|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we have made it clear to the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that we expect them to meet their international obligations in a spirit of partnership with the international community. This includes co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia. We call on all states in the former Yugoslavia to arrest and transfer tribunal indictees in the territory.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of a publication this morning by the International Crisis Group listing all those responsible, or alleged to be responsible, for war crimes, including some indicted by the tribunal. First, will the whole House congratulate the UK forces in their section of the SFOR project in the south-west on having to their credit by far the highest number of arrests of alleged war criminals? Can representations be made to the governments of the United States and France to follow their excellent example?
Secondly, will the United Kingdom Government make representations to the OSCE to the effect that people should not be appointed to responsible positions as police officers or to other significant public posts if they have been indicted for war crimes by the criminal tribunal?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I warmly agree with the noble Baroness in her expression of congratulations. I thank her for those sentiments. It is obviously of great importance for all our partners to do what they can to catch war criminals and we exhort them to do so.
I reassure the noble Baroness that it is the view of Her Majesty's Government that there is no place for indicted war criminals in public life in either Bosnia or Herzegovina. For that reason, the OSCE election regulations bar all those who are known to have been
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the newly elected government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia wish to ensure that war criminals are prosecuted where there is sufficient evidence, but that they wish to set up their own independent judicial system and are anxious to receive and consider applications for extradition? At the same, is it correct that they are against what they would term NATO's "snatch squads" in what they now regard as an independent democratic republic?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that that is what the newly elected government have said. We sincerely hope that they can be relied on to deliver on that aspiration. Obviously, the preferable course would be for the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to discharge their obligations to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I hear what is said about "snatch squads". We recognise that the new government in Belgrade will find it difficult to do this swiftly; however, we expect them to tackle the issue in the way the new government of Croatia have done since January 2000. It is all part of their progress towards meeting the normal European standards of behaviour. We certainly wish them the best of luck in carrying out that task, and we hope that we can rely on them to do so vigorously.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, in the estimation of the Minister and her department, if international pressure forces the new government of the Republic of Serbia to hand over war criminals to the international tribunal, might not that have a destabilising influence, for patriotic or chauvinistic reasons, on the new government in Yugoslavia? If so, would the strictures suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, do more harm than good?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have been encouraged by the statements made by Mr Kostunica. He has said that he recognises that offences have been committed and that he also recognises the need to bring to book those who are responsible. Those are encouraging signs. However, we recognise the sensitivity of his position. It is necessary to exhort him to deliver on his commitment while understanding that there may need to be a little time to enable him to do so.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, following on the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, will my noble friend indicate specifically the assistance that the Government have given to the war crimes tribunal in the former Republic of Yugoslavia?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, now that Yugoslavia has regained its position in the United Nations, and now that Mr Kostunica is releasing political detainees--the so-called terrorists who were detained under the previous regime--is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House totally associate ourselves with all efforts to bring to justice in the way that is supported by the Government those who have committed atrocities?
Does the Minister accept that, in this whole process of war indictments and branding war criminals, the approach should be one of great care and caution if the agonies of some of these divided societies--I am speaking more generally--are not to be prolonged? There is a danger that rushing this process of indictment could actually delay the process of reconciliation, which must be the basis for peace in the Balkans.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments in relation to the unity of view on these issues. I also understand the comments he made as regards the need for caution and care. I hope that all that I have said from this Dispatch Box about the position of Her Majesty's Government reflects the need for the caution and care of which the noble Lord speaks. Taking that factor into account, it is still necessary to say that the ICTY has a very profound job to do. In order for justice to be seen to be done, those who have been responsible for really quite atrocious war crimes need to be brought to book so that that reconciliation can be complete.
"Since the protests, a large number of meetings with outside bodies have been held by Ministers across government to discuss the concerns over fuel prices, in particular as they impact on the farming and haulage industries, which are already facing major structural problems. Indeed, prior to the protests, there were many such meetings. In the March Budget, as well as ending the fuel duty escalator, in place since 1993, the Chancellor of the Exchequer cut VED for the haulage industry and for smaller vehicles.
"In the past few weeks Ministers in various departments have held numerous meetings with organisations campaigning about the high cost of fuel. These include the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association, the Fuel Forum, the People's Fuel Lobby, Farmers for Action and the Disabled Drivers' Association. In addition to setting up the Fuel Task Force, we have also held a number of meetings with oil company representatives, the trades unions and representatives of the food and other industries affected by the protests. Ministers have also visited all the main fuel refineries and depots to talk at first hand to the tanker drivers, company managers, police and others about the lessons to be learned from the protests.
"As a result, I think that no one can fairly say that we have not made every effort to listen to people's concerns, and of course in the days that remain before the Chancellor's Statement we shall continue to do so.
"The United Kingdom now has the fourth largest economy in the world. Employment is at record levels and inflation is the lowest in Europe. But, like all modern economies, fundamental changes in the way in which we live and work, and all the just-in-time arrangements, increase our vulnerability to those determined to cause disruption.
"The British Chamber of Commerce has published details of the effect of the disruption on the commercial activities of its members. For example, in St Helens, it reported that more than a quarter of businesses lost orders, 6 per cent laid off staff and a third predicted a long-term impact on sales. In Peterborough, almost four in 10 firms suffered lost sales and 16 per cent had to close temporarily. Many other companies suffered financial problems and lost orders. The British
'severe damage to many firms from which some would not have recovered'.
"But there are literally millions of people who perform functions without which the health and other essential services would grind to a halt--from nurses, doctors, hospital receptionists and cleaners to volunteers delivering meals-on-wheels, cooks and telephone operators and of course the patients themselves. They all need fuel, yet their needs were barely recognised by those at the terminal gates.
"It is therefore not from any desire whatever for confrontation, which we still seek to avoid, but because of our responsibilities as a government to the country as a whole that we must now make preparations to minimise the risk of this happening again.
"So following the September events, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister asked me to chair a Fuel Task Force to help ensure that government, industry and others were better prepared to ensure the continuity for the future.
"The task force included Ministers and representatives from the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, the police, the oil industry, trade unions and others. It has met on four occasions. Its members first agreed a memorandum of understanding, which committed all concerned to work together to ensure continuity of oil supplies. The arrangements include plans to direct fuel supplies to a limited number of designated filling stations and to give priority to essential users. We have upgraded arrangements to ensure that local authorities and other priority users are better prepared for any future disruption.
"As I told the House in a written Statement last week and as my right honourable friend the Armed Forces Minister repeated on Monday, we have asked the Ministry of Defence to train military drivers to help drive tankers should such assistance prove necessary; but this would be very much as a last resort.
"There has of course been a lot of debate as to whether intimidation of drivers took place. It could well be that some drivers were sympathetic to the aims of the protesters. Many of those involved in the protests were intent on acting lawfully and
"Along with ministerial colleagues, I have spoken to a large number of the tanker drivers involved. Those I met told me of a real sense of fear that they felt about driving in the face of threats of intimidation and physical attack. I am placing in the Library of the House a detailed log of 180 incidents of intimidation prepared by the oil companies, amended only to avoid identifying publicly the drivers involved. This picture of intimidation is confirmed by the Transport and General Workers' Union, whose members form a substantial majority of the drivers concerned.
"The police and the oil companies have, therefore, drawn up detailed plans better to safeguard tanker drivers from the threat of intimidation and better to ensure that the tankers can move freely on to and along the highway. Tanker drivers have the right to go about their daily business in security and safety. Ensuring that is a central aim of our preparations.
"Perhaps I may repeat again that the last thing this Government want is confrontation. There will always be people who hold strong and opposing views on many issues--including, today, what to do about oil prices, the problems affecting farmers, or the difficulties facing the road haulage industry. Peaceful protest can and does play an important role in drawing such concerns to the attention of government and Parliament. It is then for we in government and Parliament to make choices.
"But I hope that the whole House will join me in saying that no one has the right to instigate the kind of disruption that we saw in September, and still less to threaten the disruption now being prepared. We have already heard public threats to blockade not only the fuel supply, but also food distribution depots. The consequences of such disruption are obvious, and they would hit the weakest and most vulnerable first. There can be no justification for such action. It is opposed by every employers' organisation and trade union, and by established hauliers and farmers' representatives.
"The measures I have outlined today should ensure that the Government, industry and our health and other public services will be better prepared to cope with the sort of direct action we witnessed in September. But real risks will remain if people persist in protesting in an extreme and irresponsible way. Those now seeking further disruption must understand that the demands they
"Whatever the supposed Budget surplus--some figures being mooted are wildly exaggerated--government action is necessarily limited in three ways: it must be consistent with keeping interest rates and so mortgages at their present low; it must not prevent us taking action to support pensioners who also need help; and it must not change the absolutely essential programme of investment in key public services--schools, hospitals, transport and police--which the Chancellor announced in July.
"The right to argue, to complain and to protest is an essential feature of a democratic society; preventing law-abiding people from going about their business, and threatening the well-being of the country is not. I hope that the whole House will join in support of the measures and the approach which I have outlined today".
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Home Secretary. However, it said little, and as far as I could detect nothing new, about what measures the Government propose to take in the event of further disruption. Instead it was full of bluster and argument, a lot of which is not controversial between all sides of your Lordships' House.
I confirm that we believe that the Government should take measures to protect essential supplies if there are further problems of the kind we witnessed in September. I also confirm that we thoroughly deplore unlawful or dangerous protests or intimidation. We shall, of course, study the evidence to be put in the Library on the extent of the intimidation that occurred in September. However, did the Minister see the statement of the Transport and General Workers' Union official at one depot at the time:
The impression I get is that Ministers--who were quite rightly politically intimidated by the scale of the protests--are now attacking the protesters. Do the Government now realise that if you dumb down and bypass Parliament people will find other outlets, however much we may deplore that? Do they realise that it is Statements such as this one which build up a crisis atmosphere, when the Government should seek to address the reasons why so many ordinary citizens feel the need to protest against the highest motoring and transport taxes in Europe?
Lord McNally: My Lords, first, I make it clear that we on these Benches do not consider the Statement belligerent but prudent. Whether it is an unnamed TGWU official talking about a people's protest or the Leader of the Opposition talking about fine upstanding Englishmen, we disown those kind of statements associated with this extra-parliamentary activity. I assure the Minister that the Government have the unequivocal support--I am not sure we have heard that from the Official Opposition--of these Benches for the Statement today.
On a point of clarification, the Statement was made in the other place by the Home Secretary as chairman of the Fuel Task Force and repeated in this Chamber by the Minister of State for Transport. Can we be assured that this is real joined-up government? Which department is taking responsibility for these matters? Will the Government embark on a public information campaign to explain their priorities in terms of availability? I suggest that that is a good job for Dr John Reid, who appeared to be the only Minister to keep his nerve during the previous disruption.
Is the Co-operative Movement fully involved in guaranteeing food supplies? I understand that in September it was not initially consulted about that. Are there plans to call in the oil company heads before the planned disruption to make it clear that certain things are expected of them in terms of leadership should the planned disruption take place?
Will the Government also educate the public on the need for us to face up to the problems caused by over- consumption of energy in the western world? Such a campaign makes sense economically and environmentally. However, it is not a matter of the Prime Minister dipping his toe in and then dropping the issue again. It must be a sustained campaign and commitment. Is the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions the right size and shape for the job? Do not we need a department shaped to the nation's needs rather than to the size of the Deputy Prime Minister's ego? That department is sprawling and showing signs of sprawl. In shaping policy will the Government have due regard to the needs of the rural economy? Will the Home Secretary use his full range of powers against intimidation and exploitation?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for our efforts to protect essential services and for his condemnation, as far as it went, of the protest and the motivations behind it. However, I too found some of his quotations a little selective and unconvincing. I do not know the representative of the Transport and General Workers' Union whom he quoted. However, I know that the TGWU put up 25 solid instances of intimidation which it received from the drivers. Like my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, I, too, have been visiting terminals, talking to scores of drivers and hearing their stories about varying degrees of intimidation.
Sir John Evans served with us during the days of the worst effects of the protests. At the time there were small-scale incidents. Subsequently, those have been collated in a more methodical way by the oil companies interviewing the drivers. That is why we reach the total of 180, despite the fact that the police took an understandably low-key approach which limited the number of arrests to a couple, as far as I remember. That police approach was typically British. They did not go in in a provocative way. They let matters develop and hoped that they would take the normal course: that people would make their point and then go home before they did any serious damage to the country or their fellow citizens. It became apparent towards the end of that week that some dangers were inherent in that assumption.
However, I do not believe that what we have said today is in any way belligerent. I went out of my way to stress the fact that we have been listening. I think that the country would expect no less of any government than that they would make these preparations. Indeed, it is prudent of companies and the public services to ensure that they can keep running as long as possible should there be any recurrence of the situation.
From the Liberal Democrats, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, gave welcome and unequivocal support. I should explain that the task force is made up of Ministers from a number of departments. The Home Secretary is the chairman of the task force. I am there as Transport Minister, with the Secretary of State for
I have found the fact that my department covers environment, transport and the regions very useful with the joined-up government that that affords. The government offices across the regions help to co-ordinate the local authority and police efforts. Transport was vitally important--not only as regards the roads but also on our railways and bus and aviation services.
Yes, there is, too, the environmental aspect of which the noble Lord spoke. I think that the Deputy Prime Minister was referred to in unfairly disparaging terms. The Deputy Prime Minister drew attention just this week to the related environmentally created problems which so concern the noble Lord.
While the police are operationally independent, as ever, noble Lords may be assured that they have made it clear that they intend to use what powers they have, while guaranteeing people's right to peaceful protest. We shall govern with the strength required as events may recur. For the country's sake, let us hope that they do not recur. However, I assure your Lordships that we shall govern for all the people. We shall never be intimidated by those who shout the loudest or push the hardest.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, should not the Minister address the disease rather than the symptoms of the disease? Despite the penal levels of taxation on fuel, is there not little evidence of consumption being reduced? To present this as an environmental measure is, frankly, dishonest. Is it not extraordinary to see a Labour Government, supported by their friends in the Liberal Party, defending a highly regressive form of taxation which damages people on fixed incomes, those living in rural areas and the elderly? Should not the Minister address that aspect and reduce the burden of taxation on fuel in our country?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page