HL Deb 05 July 1999 vol 603 cc580-2

2.52 p.m.

Viscount Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps are being taken to ensure that British enterprise plays an effective role in the reconstruction of Kosovo.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, at the initiative of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, a joint government/private sector taskforce has been set up to promote and co-ordinate the UK's response to the reconstruction work arising in Kosovo. All the private sector members of the taskforce are aware that they are on it as representatives of the UK business community generally, not of their own companies.

The taskforce has already met twice and a website at www.dti.gov.uk/ots/kosovo has been established. My colleague, Energy and Industry Minister John Battle, led a group of six businessmen to Kosovo on 28th and 29th June to assess the initial reconstruction opportunities. He hosted a post-visit conference on 1st July so the findings of the business mission could be disseminated more widely to UK companies.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full and helpful Answer. Does he agree that what has to date been an Anglo-American campaign has now changed to what is de facto a European protectorate? One feature of that is that British names are not to the fore as perhaps they were during the campaign. The admirable Dr. Kouchner takes over as the United Nations representative and we are likely to see General Jackson replaced by a German general. In those circumstances, how optimistic is the noble Lord that the criteria and the judgments needed to decide who does what in this massive reconstruction programme and what companies will be involved will give the British a fair crack at the whip?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not know that it is proper to draw an analogy between those who took part in the air campaign—after all, 19 countries took part in that campaign—and the opportunities for reconstruction work. This country can do what it has been doing; that is, ensuring that British companies are fully informed of the opportunities; that those who are commissioning work—the European Commission set up a reconstruction agency in Pristina to deal with European Union and World Bank aid—are fully aware of what British companies can provide. I do not accept the analogy of the noble Viscount.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, will HMG be encouraging all British enterprises and the taskforce that the Minister mentioned to co-operate with the relevant Balkan businesses by contracting out locally in the countries that not only were badly affected by the war but were also extremely supportive of the NATO cause? I refer to countries like Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the original Question concerned Kosovo and that was the Question I answered. It is well recognised that there will be reconstruction needs and therefore opportunities in other parts of the Balkans, including ultimately in Serbia and Montenegro, though that depends on political decisions which have yet to be taken. But the answer to the noble Baroness is that we aim to take an active part in reconstruction, not only in Kosovo, but also in the other Balkan countries.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, bearing in mind the international reputation of British civil engineers in bridge building, will my noble friend advise the House that the Government will take all the action they can to ensure that British civil engineering firms win the contracts to rebuild the bridges over the Danube?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the civil engineering industry is well represented on the taskforce. The membership of the taskforce was chosen by Nigel Thompson of Ove Arup who is the chairman of the taskforce. It includes a number of civil engineering companies. The priorities for the business mission which took place last week were supply contracts, project and facilities management and consultancy. The most urgent work appears to be in restoring the power and water supply systems.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I understand a French civil/military taskforce reached Kosovo before the formal end of the war? Our own taskforce may therefore need to develop a sense of urgency. Also, can the Minister say something about the involvement of the voluntary sector, particularly given the important part it can play in education in citizenship and building democratic institutions in that country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not know that we are competing entirely on dates, but the taskforce to which I referred was set up before the end of the air conflict. The noble Baroness is right that we have to involve the voluntary sector, NGOs and the DfID field office in Pristina, which is particularly concerned with relief for refugees. As regards emergency relief, it is working through NGOs.

I should also have said to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that when it comes to housing, school and civil construction work, it is anticipated that a great deal of the work will be done by local resources.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, will my noble friend go a little further and say how this essential aid is to be financed? Unless we obtain a comprehensive statement in that regard, we will find ever greater expectations that the European Union budget will pick up the cost and the people who pay for it are the accession countries which we are all seeking to welcome into the European Union.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, my Lords. There will, of course, have to be continuing and ongoing discussions about financing. That is why the reconstruction agency is bringing together the work of the European Union and the World Bank, which is responsible for aid for refugee housing and jobs. It should not be assumed that all of the money will come from the EU budget.