HL Deb 25 June 1996 vol 573 cc760-2

2.47 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have received the report of the monitoring group on the elections in Albania and what action they propose to take through the European Union.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the criticisms contained in the OSCE/ODIHR report on the Albanian elections. The election process appears to have been seriously flawed. We shall work with our partners to establish a dialogue between the government and opposition with the aim of their agreeing steps to restore confidence in the democratic process.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply and for the rather positive posture that he took. Is he aware that nobody expects that in Albania, above all, a general election can be conducted as though it were being held in Westminster? All the reports showed that it was a particularly scandalous affair. Can he say something about the kind of influence that could be brought to bear, either by the European Union through its various assistance programmes or by Her Majesty's Government through their know-how programme, to try to improve things in Albania?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. We believe that action should be taken through the OSCE/EU rather than take an individual stance on this particular situation. The presidency has issued a number of statements that we have supported, expressing concern about the irregularities in the electoral procedure and calling on President Berisha to arrange re-runs in the affected parliamentary zones or to bring forward substantially the date of the next elections.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, even though the Albanian elections were not on the level of anything that would take place in, say, Switzerland or Britain, the Albanian tribal tradition and state of development are somewhat at variance with the rest of the continent, after the harrowing experience under Enver Hoxha? The so-called democratic opposition is a fully communist opposition, which is certainly more aggressive and cruel than most. Sali Berisha, the president, has done a remarkable job, especially in bringing about the reconciliation of the three religions. He is a Moslem himself, and the president of parliament is a Catholic and the prime minister is Orthodox. Under those conditions, does not the Minister agree that, while the Albanian elections may be criticised by those who want perfection rather than to deal with reality, in fact it was the closest one could get to democratic elections at present in Albania?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with my noble friend. The report states that 32 articles out of 79 of the election law were violated. While I appreciate the facts as the noble Baroness states them, that cannot be acceptable as a way to democracy.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the role of the Council of Europe in assisting the process of building democracy in countries such as Albania is important? Is the Minister aware that on behalf of the Council of Europe I led the delegation to observe the local elections? Can he confirm that there appears to have been a slight regression, to say the least, away from a multi-party state? Will the Government do all that they can to ensure that the sort of comment which divides the opposition into communists and the government into the only acceptable party, which is in danger of reinforcing a one-party state view, is not propagated?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her knowledge of this subject, which greatly exceeds mine. However, we agree that unhelpful comments do not achieve anything. We want to see democracy in Albania and will do what we can wherever we can, including at the Council of Europe, to try to impress upon Albania that democracy is the route to take.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, what indication is there that the Albanian Government will accept the recommendations made by the OSCE to re-run the elections in the worst affected areas?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, pressure has been applied already. As I asserted earlier, the presidency has pushed for either re-runs in certain areas or bringing forward the date of the next election. But that must be for the parties in Albania to decide. We cannot tell them how they should improve the situation or when they should do it. It must be done one way or the other, but it is up to them.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether he is convinced that there is anything like a free press in Albania?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I do not believe that there is at the moment. It is one of the pressures that is being brought to bear.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, while I am impressed by the imperial traditions being shown in the House, can my noble friend say what Her Majesty's Government can do specifically to affect the elections in Albania?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the planned Commission mandate for a new EU agreement with Albania has been put on hold. That is something which is of great concern to Albania.

Lord Richard

My Lords, may I urge upon the Minister that in relation to Albania we make absolutely certain that we are in step with our fellow members of the OSCE and that we move together on the matter and not individually?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. The OSCE takes the lead on this subject. We have also worked closely with the EU, US and other OSCE countries in Vienna.

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