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Chemical Weapons Bill

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 27 February 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

6.17 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —( Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 agreed to.

After Clause I, insert the following new clause —


(". —(1) There shall be a Chemical Weapons Convention National Advisory Committee (the "National Advisory Committee"), with such membership as shall be determined by the Secretary of State.
(2) The Secretary of State shall appoint persons of relevant expertise, including scientific expertise, to serve on the National Advisory Committee and shall consult the appropriate professional bodies about its membership and role
(3) The duties of the National Advisory Committee shall include the provision of advice to the Secretary of State about all aspects of the Act and the Convention.").

The noble Lord said: Before speaking to Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 which, for the convenience of the Committee, we are taking together, perhaps I can take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his performance yesterday on a somewhat related subject, in that chemical weapons appeared to a considerable extent in the Scott Report. The Minister was probably in the Chamber even longer than I was and, unlike me, he had to make two long speeches whereas I had to make only one. I am delighted to see him in his place today. I hope that he does not feel as exhausted today as I feel.

This Bill is not controversial and the Opposition are as committed to seeing it on the statute book as are the Government and the Liberal Democrats. The amendments which stand in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale, and Lord Dainton, will improve the incorporation of the Bill into United Kingdom law. We are discussing Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 together for a technical reason; namely, that the advisory committee is also referred to in Amendment No. 5 and therefore it is easier to take the amendments together rather than separately.

I will set forth the argument as best I can. I do not intend to divide your Lordships on this matter. I am aware that as of this moment the Government are not of a mind to agree with me. My purpose is to try to persuade the Minister to think about the matter so that when we come back to it we can make a final attempt to deal with this and related topics. I feel that I have a particular duty to raise this matter in your Lordships' House. When a similar, but rather more complicated, amendment was discussed in another place it did not get quite the coverage that it ought to have received. Although the Minister in another place may have had other things on his mind, I do not believe that he dealt with the subject at anything like the length that, in my judgment, it deserved. He more or less said that he did not agree with it and that was the end of the matter.

I start with those matters on which we do not disagree. Unless I have misunderstood the matter, the Minister agrees that the Secretary of State —that is, the President of the Board of Trade —will need advice on this matter. There is nothing between us at all as to that. There will be a national advisory committee and another committee that will also act as an advisory body. I believe that the difference between us is all to do with whether or not it is statutory —unless there is a misunderstanding on my part. If I am mistaken the Minister will correct me in due course.

What is the reason for advice? First, what we are discussing here affects at least two very important communities: on the one hand, the research and academic community and, on the other hand, one of our major industries. Whatever view the President of the Board of Trade takes about how to operate the powers given to him, he will need advice, at least in part to reassure those two communities. Secondly, with no disrespect to the Minister's department, it does not have the expertise to enable it to operate without this kind of advice. That is the first step we take, and I doubt whether we disagree on that.

The second point on which I hope we can agree is that what we seek to do here is to help the President of the Board of Trade and to be facilitative rather than restrictive. One does not wish to stop him but rather to encourage him and make it easier for him to do things. That is the origin of my proposed Clause 1(2) in which I refer to,

"persons of relevant expertise, including scientific expertise"

and consultation with appropriate professional bodies. The obvious body —there can be no disguising it because so much of its work lies behind everything that I have contributed on this subject —is the Royal Society of Chemistry. That is one of our great bodies that has gone to enormous trouble to provide appropriate briefing for all of us. I would have that body in mind as the central professional body to be consulted. I also take the view, even though I am more doubtful on this point, that the industry body should be one of the bodies regarded as appropriate to be consulted. We are dealing here with an industry of immense importance.

The point that I am about to make is not central to whether or not the matter is statutory. There is no shortage of first-class people who I am convinced will be willing to serve. One obvious person is the current secretary general of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He has wide experience in this field, especially as he is a former deputy director of Porton Down. I am not anxious to put forward any specific person. I do not have the faintest idea whether such a person will be available. I merely emphasise the kind of people who may be asked to take part.

Why do we need a statutory body? First, if it is a non-statutory body it means that we do not have to have such a committee. There is a world of difference between saying that there should be such a committee and deciding not to bother to have one. There is nothing in the Bill to say that if it is non-statutory it has to be there. The point of making it a statutory committee is to ensure that we get such a body. It may sound trivial, but that is central to the question. To an extent, it underlies my puzzlement that the Minister tells us he favours such a committee but does not want it to be statutory. That will leave it entirely to the discretion of the Minister. That is my reading of Pepper v. Hart, although the Minister said that it will not count under those rules. Perhaps the Minister, who knows infinitely more than I do about the law, can tell me whether he believes that his statement that there should be such a non-statutory committee comes within the Pepper v. Hart rules.

Secondly, it is said that other committees exist, such as the advisory committee to Porton Down, and therefore there is no need for this one. I take the view that none of those committees is directed precisely to the subject at hand. Therefore, that is another reason why we need this amendment.

A point has been made about commercial confidentiality. I fail to see that argument in terms of a statutory committee. It will apply to any committee. I stand second to none in my view that commercial confidentiality must be protected, but I do not see that that has anything specifically to do with a statutory committee. The amendment as drafted by me and the other noble Lords does not restrict the Minister as to those whom he appoints, but it will help him to fulfil his role.

We may have been slightly at cross-purposes on one other point. The point of the committee is to advise the President of the Board of Trade, not to replace parliamentary accountability. On the contrary, it seems to me that it will strengthen parliamentary accountability, because the Minister will say that that statutory committee has provided advice and that is the basis on which he presents to Parliament what he has done.

It may be convenient to the Minister if I go on to deal with the relevant parts of Amendment No. 5. One of the great contributions of the Minister and his department is the acceptance that there should be an annual report. The amendment spells out what should be in that annual report. My judgment is that very little of what should be in the list that I have given is controversial. It will be immensely helpful to put this into the Bill for guidance or, if the Minister feels unable to do that, for him to say that in his judgment that is the kind of information which ought to be in the annual report. I draw the attention of the Minister to two or three paragraphs. First, paragraph (b) refers to the identities of chemicals which have been declared in accordance with obligations under Article VI. In practice, we do not know how Article VI will work. If the Minister knows, perhaps he will tell me. Therefore, partly because the Minister has himself agreed that we need to make the workings of the Bill publicly clear and known to all relevant people, it seems to me that a paragraph of this kind is vital in any report that is made.

Perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to paragraph (d). Unless I have missed something, there will be an appeal mechanism. However, can the Minister confirm that we still do not know what it will he. Perhaps he can tell me that he now does and that I soon will. For the moment we do not know.

Paragraph (i) reminds us that we have an obligation to report to The Hague under Article X.4 of the convention. However, that obligation is not set out in the Bill. I assume that the Bill can be read still to meet that obligation, but my worry is that somehow that will be left out when we come to have the report.

A point emerges under paragraph (k) on which I ask for clarification because of my lack of knowledge of science. Over time new chemical entities will be discovered, many of which are totally undreamed of. Something has to be done to make clear that this is publicly known and that we have some transparency. Paragraph (k) is therefore meant to some extent to indicate how the Bill will work and keep up to date with the advances in science.

Perhaps I may turn to paragraph (n). We have an obligation to Parliament on this matter. The easiest way for the Minister to meet that obligation to Parliament —it is why he accepted the annual report —would be through the annual report but spelling out exactly the

items under paragraphs (n), (o) or (p) rather than allowing all that to depend on being elicited by Questions. I know how devoted both Houses of Parliament are to Questions but I have never seen them as ways of getting useful information. I suppose that I am in a minority in that matter. This seems to be a way by which one might learn something of importance.

I apologise for going on for so long. I have set out the arguments which I consider to be central. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

I support the amendments. I apologise for not being present at Second Reading —many noble Lords may welcome the fact that I was not there. However, I want to prove that I read the Hansard report of Second Reading. The first amendment concerns the advisory committee. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten me on one or two points because I am rather confused. I hope he will forgive me for reading out the relevant tracts from Hansard. He said:

"Our view is that the national authority will need advice from many sources. It is doubtless a matter to which we shall return in Committee, but we think it is mistaken to believe that the authority will obtain all the advice it needs from a single committee".
He went on to say:
"We hope that a single committee will be able to provide the advice that the national authority will need on those subjects". — [Official Report, 30/1/96, cols. 1380–81.)
I hope that the Minister can provide clarification. It seems to be a way of saying that we do not need to put the provision on the face of the Bill but we shall set up the committee anyway. I hope that he will put the advisory committee on the face of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, covered the amendment on the annual report admirably. The whole point of the annual report is to provide transparency and to make sure that nothing is left unsaid. Considering that the only words we have had are "an annual report", can the Minister say exactly what will be in the annual report? Will we have a draft list of subjects that will be held in the annual report? If he refuses to accept the amendment and says that this should not go on the face of the Bill, can we be given some indication of what will be contained in the annual report?

Amendment No. 6 refers to an annual seminar. That is an excellent idea because it would give an opportunity for people to voice their concerns about developments in the field, many of which may slip past the national authority. This is such a large and diverse field that some issues could be raised at an annual seminar which might not have been thought of before. Not many years ago it was almost inconceivable that terrorists would use chemical weapons as a means of terror. Unfortunately, that has been proved wrong. I hope that the Minister will look closely at these amendments.

With what is left of my mind after last night's late sitting, I have to confess that these two amendments are very much on the lines that I recommended to your Lordships when I spoke at Second Reading. I endorse their acceptance. As the Committee may know, I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and I should declare that as an interest.

The most important of the paragraphs of Amendment No. 5 is paragraph (p) which states:
"such other information as may serve to demonstrate the United Kingdom's compliance with the Convention".
That safeguards us against any imaginary omniscience that we may be exercising tonight. I entirely support the amendment.

I support the amendments. It is clear to many Members of the Committee that when something is desirable and in the absence of any strong structural reason why it should not exist it is much better to put it in the Act than to rely on informal undertakings by this Minister or that. Ministers change and governments change. Those undertakings cannot bind Ministers' successors. Let us have both these provisions and all the subsidiary ones written on the face of the Bill where they will survive until they are reconsidered and repealed or amended. That applies both to the annual statement to Parliament and to the advisory committee.

The advisory committee will have several roles. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries ARE immensely complicated. The more complicated a scene is the harder it is to ensure that legislation, which is itself complicated, is being carried out in the day-to-day industrial processes that we are talking about. The President of the Board of Trade will need all the advice he can get, but he can also use the advisory committee as an instrument for sending messages downhill into the industry. He can also use it as a means of obtaining information from the industry that he would not be able to obtain and of sending messages which he would not be able to send without it. The reason for that is that the Civil Service, rightly or wrongly, is shrinking all the time. Moreover, if he gets the right people on the advisory committee he is more likely to learn through them than he would through routine contact with civil servants what are the inner hopes and fears of the industry.

The industries will be put to a great deal of trouble by this legislation. I do not think that they will find it difficult to evade, if that is what they want to do, and the more co-operation and good feeling that can be obtained in the industry, the better. I commend the advisory committee as one means of obtaining that. Members of that committee will learn, and will become more useful and more representative of the industry as they serve. The continuing committee, with its changing membership, could become a profoundly beneficial institution.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for his kind words when he began to move the amendment. I am grateful to him for agreeing that this amendment should be grouped with Amendment No. 5 because that helps to explain the Government's position more clearly.

In many respects, I regret that, as the noble Lord indicated, I am not prepared at present to accept either amendment. I say that I regret that because, as the noble Lord correctly recalled from Second Reading, I said then that it was indeed the intention of the Secretary of State to establish an advisory committee, albeit not on a statutory basis.

Two considerations lie at the centre of our concerns. The first is whether the advice to be received —albeit one would hope in considerable detail —would be from such a committee and whether it is appropriately the exclusive source of advice. When one couples that with Amendment No. 5, our second consideration is whether difficult issues arise about commercial confidentiality and possibly also national security.

I think that the noble Lord will have been provided with a brief by the Chemical Industries Association in preparation for this debate, as I am sure is the case with other noble Lords. The briefing states:
"We would be concerned about the possible loss of confidentiality if an Advisory Committee was given access to commercially sensitive information. If these two amendments are passed, it seems certain that a National Authority Committee would have to handle commercially sensitive information in order to make its recommendations. Our concern about the possible leakage of information about individual companies' products and processes, which is vital intellectual property in the competitive business of chemical manufacture is, therefore, heightened".
The national authority will need advice from many sources. It is mistaken to believe that it will be able to obtain all the advice it needs from a single committee, however expert it may be. This is a new regime with no clear parallels. In our view, it would be wrong to set the national authority's advisory structure in statute when flexibility is needed.

There are some areas where the national authority will need to look to a committee for advice. That is clear. As I said at Second Reading, we intend to establish an advisory committee to assist the national authority on such matters as the implementation of the convention in the UK, how the compliance monitoring arrangements of the national authority can be made more effective and on how the burden that the regulations place on business and academia might be kept to the minimum necessary.

However, the national authority will need advice in other areas where an advisory committee may not be the best. It will have to keep abreast of developments in chemical technology which may have chemical weapons applications. It will rely heavily on Porton Down for that advice, but not exclusively. It will need to maintain close contacts with both industry and academia. An advisory committee may not be the best or only way to obtain this information because research —I emphasise particularly commercial research —is subject to commercial confidentiality. However, we have not closed our minds on this and will consider the balance between advice from the committee and other channels.

Although I appreciate that there is concern to put that provision on the face of the statute, I emphasise that the Secretary of State does not need to have a statutory provision before establishing such a committee. He can do so administratively.

I turn now to the national authority's report and what it should contain. The information held by the national authority, quite properly, will be subject to national security and commercial confidentiality constraints. The Secretary of State will have to decide, within those constraints, how best he can use the information that he has to satisfy Parliament that he is undertaking his responsibilities effectively.

We are concerned that some of the information listed in the amendment could jeopardise both national security and commercial confidentiality. Perhaps I may briefly take noble Lords through this because it is important. I turn first to paragraph (b). Information on the aggregate quantities of chemicals declared could divulge commercially confidential information where there are only one or two companies in the market.

On paragraph (i), the information on defensive programmes to be declared under Article X(4) is still under discussion in the Preparatory Commission in The Hague. The divulging of any information about the UK's defensive programme must be considered carefully. It is easy to cause damage to UK interests. For example, proliferators will always be looking out for information which may lead them to promising lines of research, and any information on the scope or direction of our programme could provide clues to potential enemies on where there might be weaknesses in our defence.

On paragraph (j), information declared under Article VI(8) will include all of the UK's industrial declaration which will have obvious commercial sensitivity.

I turn to paragraph (k). Publishing a list of chemicals which recently have become of concern because of their chemical weapons potential would again be of great interest to proliferators. We should do nothing to make their task any easier.

On paragraph (n), the progress of other state parties in eliminating chemical weapons will he provided to the national authority by the international organisation in The Hague. However, it may be classified in accordance with the terms of the convention and, if so, must be protected.

Although a number of worthwhile items are included in the list, I hope that that explanation will be clear enough to bring home to noble Lords the fact that, although we are not in the business of trying to restrict information in the report in any unhelpful fashion, there are real reasons why the list that is proposed does not appear to be appropriate.

The advisory committee proposed must contain members from those affected by the Act if it is to be effective in advising on the operation of the legislation. Some members will have a commercial interest in the chemical industry or in research. Consequently, it would not be right to show the committee details of information provided by industry or research bodies for inclusion in the UK declaration. The advisory committee could not and should not act as the arbiter of which information must remain confidential. That responsibility must remain with the Secretary of State if industry, academia and research bodies are to be confident that their information will he properly protected.

It will he clear from what I have said that I have, in a curious way, a stronger resistance to Amendment No. 5 because of the difficulties that I can envisage emerging as a result of the inclusion of such detail in an annual report. However, there is a clear linkage between the amendments, and I trust that it will now be clear to noble Lords why I continue to express resistance to the proposal while accepting that an advisory committee will he desirable. While I have given that clear indication of our intention, as I understand the law, it is not a set of circumstances in which the decision in Pepper v. Hart would be applicable.

I thank the Minister for his full and cogent reply. Last week I received material from the Chemical Industries Association. To my great regret, partly for personal reasons and partly because I had to give priority to preparing for yesterday's great debate, I have had no time to talk to its representatives. However, I shall make it my business to talk to them in the next few days. I am aware of their concerns and I believe that there is more to be argued about. I stand second to none in my view that we must protect commercial confidentiality and national security.

A great deal of my thinking as regards the national security aspect arose from my reading of the Scott Report. Perhaps I may refer to paragraph (k) of my Amendment No. 5. If a bona fide company received a demand for chemicals which it had no idea were on the list where would the information lie that would protect it from doing something not too dissimilar from what we were debating yesterday? I am intrigued to know that. Is it the Minister's view that that would somehow come via export licences or that the Government would ask why a peculiar company was now demanding chemicals which no one had previously thought of demanding?

I accept entirely the point about proliferators. We do not want to alert them to the fact that there is a new chemical entity they can use to blow up the world. Equally, it is clear that the firms, perhaps small firms, which could produce the chemicals might get themselves into trouble. It is for that reason I raised the point. I can see both sides of the argument.

The Minister used an expression which I had written in my notes but which I forgot to use. It was that we must look at the costs of all this and at the benefits. This is worthwhile, particularly in terms of burdens on industry, only if there is a net benefit. I was hoping to persuade the Minister that following from this there are net benefits to the industry and, as I continue to insist, to the research community. While I accept the fact that we are treading on new ground, we must be sure that we do nothing that is calamitous for one of the great sectors of our academic community; namely, our various departments of chemistry.

Obviously, I shall not press the amendment today but I should find it helpful if I could discuss the matter with either the Minister or his officials in order to feel that I have fully clarified my mind and done my duty. Will the Minister agree that before Report stage we can have a further interchange so that I can rest assured and therefore can assure others that we have done all that we can in this area?

I wish to raise one point that my noble friend did not mention. One of the Minister's principal objections to the statutory committee, perhaps the principal objection, was that it might preclude the President of the Board of Trade or the national authority getting advice from anywhere except the advisory committee. There is nothing in the amendment which would preclude that. The existence of a permanent advisory committee cannot preclude any arm of government from seeking advice beyond it if it feels that that would be the best way forward.

I hope that the Minister is under no misapprehension —and, conversely, I hope that I am under no misapprehension —that neither the Bill nor the amendment will, in the event of the creation of a statutory advisory authority, tend to limit the Minister's advice to that source.

The noble Lord raises the interesting question of what happens once a committee is established and the terms on which it is established are declared by Parliament, namely that:

"The duties of the National Advisory Committee shall include the provision of advice to the Secretary of State about all aspects of the Act and the Convention".
There are some interesting questions about how widely he might seek advice from other sources, in particular if he had received clear advice from the committee which was in conflict with the advice he received from elsewhere.

My anxiety relates to confidentiality. Perhaps I may say with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I do not believe the issue will have as much effect on academic departments. However, when commercial research is taking place and a representative of a rival company is on the advisory committee it would act against our collective interests if those who thought that they ought to be discussing the protection of their research with the national authority refrained from doing so because they were anxious that their information might fall into the hands of commercial rivals. That is a real issue that needs to be addressed.

As the noble Lord has said repeatedly, this is not a controversial Bill. As I concluded on Second Reading, I cannot believe that any right-thinking being would wish to object to its speedy passage. In view of that, I would be more than willing to engage with the noble Lord in further discussion. Indeed, I shall be glad to participate with other noble Lords who may wish to join the discussion. Perhaps a more constructive suggestion would be that the noble Lord should discuss the matter with officials in the DTI who may be better placed to explain to him some of the complicated scientific issues which lie at the heart of the Bill. Of course, I am willing to provide that for him.

The Minister, in defending the possibility that the existence of an advisory committee would preclude the Government obtaining advice elsewhere, read out the words:

"The duties of the National Advisory Committee shall include the provision of advice to the Secretary of State about all aspects".
If the amendment had intended to provide that it should preclude the Secretary of State from obtaining advice from any other source, it would no doubt have stated that.

s: If the noble Lord reads my words in Hansard he will see that I did not seek to overstate that argument. The matter is not entirely without difficulty. My greater point is that we do not wish to cut off any routes of advice or information which come to the national authority or to the Secretary of State if the provision of a single advisory committee would in any way make people reluctant or hesitant about coming forward.

I thank the Minister for his comments. I am entirely sensitive to his point about commercial confidentiality. I would be greatly worried if I were involved in anything that could be seriously damaging to the interests of bona fide firms.

Given the fact that the Minister is busy, I shall be delighted to talk to officials so long as he guarantees that they will explain the matter simply and I can understand it. In any event, we can talk about it tomorrow morning or later in the week. Given all those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 2 to 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [ Licences]:

7 p.m.

Page 14, leave out lines 30 and 31 and insert —

("and no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: I have tabled several such amendments, which will not take up a great deal of time. Essentially this amendment is tabled partly for its own sake but partly because Clause 20(4) refers to:

"Appealing against a refusal to grant, renew or vary a licence or against a variation or revocation of a licence".

I asked the noble and learned Lord whether he had anything to tell me about the appeal procedure. Since he did not say anything, I take it that he has not anything to tell me about that. Therefore, I take this second opportunity to ask him to tell me about the appeals procedure. I will then take a view on whether whatever is to happen requires the positive or negative resolution procedure. It is as simple as that. I beg to move.

As I understand the situation, the noble Lord is not so much concerned with the issue of the resolution before each House of Parliament but he is concerned to learn more about the proposals that we have in relation to appeals.

The intention is that the President of the Board of Trade will use the order-making power in the clause to adopt the model appeals provisions which are soon to be prescribed by order under the Deregulation and Contracting-out Act 1994. That Act requires model appeal procedures to be prescribed by order so that they can be incorporated into legislation. We intend to adopt those model appeal procedures. Our intention is that the good practice which the model provisions will contain will be reflected in the procedure for appealing against a decision made under this clause. We wish to standardise appeals procedures to ensure consistency. It is particularly important where appeals are infrequent, as in this case.

An appeals committee will need to be established. Its members would be drawn from research, academic, medical and other disciplines so that it has the breadth of knowledge to judge the types and quantities of chemicals to be licensed against the intended use.

I had hoped that before we reached this stage of the Bill the draft model rules would have been out for consultation. I regret that that is not the case, but I certainly hope that before we reach the next stage of the Bill they will be available. Even if that is not the case, I have no doubt that, given the relative infrequency of appeals which are likely to result under this clause, the adoption of the model rules is the appropriate way forward.

I thank the Minister for his answer, which contained more than I expected. I very much hope that we shall see the documentation to which he refers, but we shall wait and see. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [ Identifying persons who have information]:

Page 16, line 23, leave out from ("instrument") to end of line 24 and insert —

("and no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has a different purpose. We know that the Bill gives the Government all the powers that they require to do everything to which we are committed under the convention. But of course not a great deal of what the Government will have to do is in the Bill. Those powers will be used via delegated legislation. It seems to me that that is particularly true in relation to Clause 23 and it perhaps occurs even more strongly later.

Unless the noble and learned Lord tells me that I have misunderstood the clause, I believe that we are discussing matters which may lead to criminal offences. The Bill certainly reads in that way. Therefore, I feel that I have a responsibility on behalf of all Members of the Committee —and I notice how full is the Chamber at present —to press the Minister further on anything which may lead us into matters involving the criminal law. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will clarify that matter. I beg to move.

This amendment deals with the desirability of negative resolution procedure. Perhaps I may say at the outset that I hope that I shall be able to convince the Committee that that is the right approach because it is proportionate to the purpose of the regulations.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Clause 23 must be read with Clause 22. If the noble Lord looks at Clause 22(3) he will find:
"A person who without reasonable excuse fails to comply with the notice served on him under subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of an offence",
and is liable to a number of penalties.

The effect of Clause 22(1)(a) is that the scope is restricted to those persons likely to have information needed for the purposes of the convention. It does not apply to anyone else. Thus, there is clearly a restricted class of people.

The convention is explicit about the information needed. There are four categories of chemicals —Schedules 1 to 3 and discrete organic chemicals —and declarations are required for activities beyond specified thresholds. Those must be reflected in the regulations.

However, the deregulations must reflect also detailed technical points. For example, if a chemical has been diluted, there is the question of the concentration of chemical beyond which declarations are required. That issue and others are still under discussion internationally and may well change with experience of the regimes.

This power is needed because the convention requires that all sides covered by declaration requirements must be included in the UK declaration. Inspections will take place to check declarations and the United Kingdom will be open to challenge if another state believes that it has wrongly not declared any site. Experience of other states is that industry response is poor where there is no statutory requirement to give information. For example, Australia reports that 36 per cent. failed to respond to the carefully structured convention-related survey. Therefore, it is undoubtedly right that it should be backed by those powers.

From my explanation, the noble Lord will realise that we have moved from persons to materials because, as I understand it, the way in which one defines the persons who are under an obligation to give the information is by reference to the chemicals which they hold. It is clearly a very detailed matter and this may be one of the issues on which a more detailed scientific explanation from officials would be helpful to the noble Lord. But I hope that for present purposes that response is sufficient.

Again, I thank the Minister. I think that I am now getting tired because I followed most of his explanation and then I lost him. As I say, I am sensitive about this issue because the criminal law is involved. One always feels that it is one's duty to be sure that one is not agreeing to something about which it is said at some time in the future: "Why did you agree to the negative procedure in relation to that matter?". But again, that will do for the moment, as the noble and learned Lord quite rightly says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clauses 24 to 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [ Annual reports by Secretary of State]:

Page 22. line 5, after ("Act") insert ("and the operation of the Convention,").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move the above amendment in order to take the burden off the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It is a simple amendment which, in effect, would make the annual report cover the convention and not just the Act. There may be parts of the convention which are not covered just by the Chemical Weapons Act 1995. I realise that it would actually increase the substance of the yet to be seen annual report but, considering the nature of the matter under discussion, I believe that it would be of benefit to all. I beg to move.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for making it clear to me that where the amendment refers to,

"the operation of the Convention",
it refers to the operation of the convention within the United Kingdom. My original concern was that the noble Lord wished the report to cover the operation of the convention worldwide. I believe that he will appreciate that that would be a task beyond even the very distinguished present Secretary of State.

Now that I understand what the noble Lord seeks to do, perhaps I may tell him that, notwithstanding the limitation that he has indicated, I do not believe that it would be right to put a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to provide information which he has no power to obtain under the Act or which he might be constrained from making public because of the confidentiality requirements of the convention. I hope that general information on the operation of the convention will be provided by the international organisations and that it will prove to be possible to include that in the annual report.

The Bill is about the implementation of the convention in the United Kingdom. It contains the powers needed for the UK to comply with its obligations under the convention, and we believe that it will in fact cover this country's obligations under the convention, because that is indeed the central purpose of the Bill.

I thank the Minister for his reply. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 agreed to.

[ Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

7.15 p.m.

After Clause 33, insert the following new clause —


" . —(1) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements for an annual seminar to discuss the operation of the Act and the Convention.

(2) The Secretary of State shall invite to this seminar persons with appropriate expertise from the academic, industrial and research community, together with persons from the appropriate professional bodies.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment has not actually been spoken to, although I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, may have alluded to it when he spoke earlier. The amendment is essentially my way of giving some advice to the Minister about how we can work with the convention and the Act. I say that as an academic coming to the end of his career who has always hated seminars. Whatever seminar we are talking about here it is not one that I hope to be invited to under any circumstances.

First, we all agree on something about which I am genuinely worried. I am concerned that far too few people know about the convention or about the Act; or, indeed, about how it will affect them. That is my first concern, and I have had a good deal of experience in that respect over the past few weeks simply talking to academics. As I pointed out on Second Reading, they do not have the faintest idea that their lives will change a little as a result of the legislation.

The second concern upon which we are all agreed is the fact that all this will evolve. There will be new things developing that we will learn about, and again people will need to know what is happening as it is affecting them. We are not talking about an unusual phenomenon. Certainly in the world of education Secretaries of State have proceeded along such lines, although I am not certain that I have ever seen what I am proposing —namely, putting the need for a seminar on the face of an Act of Parliament —put into effect. Therefore, if we were to achieve our aim, it would possibly be for the first time ever. But, in my judgment, that would be a very good reason for so doing.

The reasons are straightforward. The desirability of dissemination via our suggested method, with leadership given by the Secretary of State —in fact, the President of the Board of Trade —and by his officials who know about such matters would be immensely helpful. That is why I recommend the proposed new clause to the Committee. I beg to move.

s: As I have already spoken to the amendment, albeit in a somewhat mistaken manner when discussing Amendment No. 5, I should like to echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. The point that be raised is something that cannot be underestimated —that many people do not realise how much the legislation will affect their lives. It will involve a good deal of work for members of the academic profession, who are already overworked. I do not believe that many of them realise what is to take place. Having a forum for discussion would, therefore, be helpful, though I realise that such a provision will probably not reach the face of the Bill.

The Secretary of State must be clearly accountable to Parliament. We have some concern that a provision of this sort might undermine that clarity. The seminar would have no clear constitution and no clear accountability of its own. However, perhaps I may tell the noble Lord, who has expressed concerns that what is being legislated upon here may not be as widely known as we would wish, that we are more than happy to inform citizens of the work of the national authority; and, indeed, we will reply to any questions that are put. I also wish to indicate that the staff of the national authority would consider participating in any event that particular interest groups might wish to arrange. However, I am bound to say that I see no need for an annual seminar to be provided for in the statute.

What I believe in this context may not be all that important to the noble Lords opposite. But again perhaps I may refer back to the briefing provided by the Chemical Industries Association where an observation is made on the proposal. The association says:
"We shall expect to liaise closely with Government and with the National Authority" —
I compliment the association on that very responsible approach on such an important matter —
"concerning the effect of implementation of the Convention. However, the most appropriate consultation will, presumably. include a range of activities. This might not be best facilitated by a simple statutory requirement for an annual seminar".
It is on that basis —and they are perfectly reasonable observations that possibly a wider range of activities is required than a single seminar —that I resist the amendment.

The Minister clearly did not wish me to have a heart attack. I am delighted that he resisted the amendment as I am not sure how I would have coped had he accepted it. The main point concerns transparency and dissemination. Again, I hope to talk to the industry a little about the matter because I believe it has responsibilities in that respect. It would be very much in its own interest to do so. For example, if such a seminar took place at the University of Sussex in its great science policy research unit, that would be an ideal centre for a regular getting together, especially in the early stages of making the Bill work.

Were funding to come from outside and were industry funding available for such a seminar, I would hope that the department would give it a fair wind and feel able to be present at such discussions, albeit perhaps on Chatham House terms. Having said that and placed my views on the record, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 34 and 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [ Power to amend this Act):

Page 22, leave out lines 29 and 30 and insert —

("and no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I seek clarification. I confess that I did not notice the significance of Clause 36 when we were dealing with the matter at Second Reading. Having read this part of the Bill more carefully subsequently, I am somewhat intrigued by it. I have tabled the amendment to seek clarification, particularly as regards what provisions the Secretary of State has in mind under Clause 36(1) which states,

"he considers necessary or desirable to give effect to any amendment of the Convention made in pursuance of its provisions".

I notice the subsection refers to amendment of the convention rather than amendment of the Bill. Am I to understand that the purpose of this clause is to enable the convention to be changed on an international level, which would require international agreement? We would then need to incorporate those international changes —I can well imagine that changes might occur, as this area evolves —in our legislation. We would do that, essentially, by delegated legislation. If that is what the noble and learned Lord has in mind, I am pretty sure that the so-called positive procedure ought to apply in such a case, because what we are discussing is the equivalent of primary legislation. I may have misunderstood the whole of that subsection of Clause 36, but if I have not, this is the case where I am most convinced that the positive procedure would be appropriate. I beg to move.

I accept entirely that the clause requires some explanation. It is a particularly important one and therefore I shall take a moment to explain the position. I have given careful thought to the powers proposed in the clause. I have concluded that they are proportionate to the limited ways in which amendments to this Act may be required. The power to amend this Act provided for in the clause is limited to implementing amendments to the convention and may not be used to make other changes. Without a provision to amend this Act, the United Kingdom would be disadvantaged; for example, in pressing for worthwhile amendments to the convention internationally for fear of being unable to implement them domestically in a timely way.

The intention is that this Act should keep in step with agreed changes to the convention. Article XV of the convention sets out the procedures whereby amendments may be made to the convention. A simple procedure is provided for administrative and technical amendments to the Annex on Chemicals and parts of the other annexes to the convention. Such changes will enter into force 180 days after notification of the proposed amendment by the international organisation. The schedule to this Act reproduces Schedule 1 to the Annex on Chemicals to the convention and amendments to the schedule to this Act would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. As I understand the matter, and as I think the noble Lord anticipated, different chemicals may from time to time come to the attention of those who are expert in these matters which should be subjected to a degree of restriction as this Act would allow. Clearly one wants to ensure that a control is exercised over those as soon as possible. It is for that reason —as the noble Lord will have heard —that there is a limited period of 180 days.

The matter becomes even more complicated. As I understand it, the changes will come into effect after 180 days but, first of all, there are 90 days during which there may be consultation. Therefore, the effective period would be 90 days for implementation by the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, with his long experience of legislative procedure, will appreciate that that is an extremely small window for making change. I would reassure the noble Lord by informing him that other amendments to the convention —other than the class to which I have just referred —must be considered by a specially convened amendment conference of state parties. Such changes enter into force 30 days after those voting in favour have ratified the changes. Any amendments to this Act, other than to its schedule, would be subject to the positive resolution procedure. That is a somewhat complicated explanation of the convention but I hope that it is clear enough. It is certainly an important provision.

That is certainly extremely clear. I believe that the noble and learned Lord has met my concerns. Essentially he is saying that within the measures we have already basically agreed for dealing with specific chemical developments the negative procedure would apply. However, if a more fundamental matter were to arise which involved changing the convention —which would be in the nature of a new version of an international treaty —we would use the positive procedure. I believe that that is what the noble and learned Lord said, and that is what I wanted him to say. It is important to get that on the record because if it was not clear to me it might not be clear to one or two other relevant people. The explanation has been immensely helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [ Finance]:

Page 23, line 10, after ("Act") insert ("and Convention").

The noble Lord said: I realise that this is a rather clumsy vehicle in which to raise a couple of questions. If I mention those questions now the Minister may not have to address the rest of the amendment. The purpose of the amendment is twofold. First, how did the Government arrive at the figure mentioned in the explanatory memorandum of seven additional departmental staff as the number who will be needed to implement the provisions of the Bill? I may be ignorant to a great extent of the workings of the DTI. Will the provisions of the Bill necessitate an extra seven departmental staff on top of the existing staff, or is it expected that seven members of staff will enact the requirements of this piece of legislation? If that is the case, I believe that it is a particularly optimistic assessment of the situation. The word "efficiency" is often referred to; it may be that that concept has been taken to extremes with this legislation. I hope that the Minister can clarify that point. Secondly, the annual cost to business of giving information under the terms of the Bill and receiving inspections will be £8.1 million. Many academic institutions will be caught by the regulations of the Bill. Does the figure of £8.1 million include the costs incurred by those institutions, or is that the cost of monitoring the chemicals and ensuring that the convention is being properly upheld? I beg to move.

Under the amendment that the noble Lord has moved, I must say for the record that there is no legal reason to include this clause. It is there simply to satisfy rules relating to procedure. The noble Lord raised some important questions. The annual costs resulting from the Bill will amount to some £650,000. That is in addition to the United Kingdom's contribution to the international organisation to be established under the convention, which will be something like £3 million. The compliance with this new Act will not be cheap.

The seven additional staff will bring the complement of the national authority to 10. From the figures I have given, the noble Lord will appreciate it is anticipated that a considerable volume of the important work will be carried out by the authority to be established in The Hague. The noble Lord mentioned the figure of some £8 million. That is the compliance cost assessment. As far as I am aware, the compliance cost assessment includes not only the cost to industry, but also to all research establishments, be they independent or parts of a university. If I am wrong about that I shall write to the noble Lord.

He may find it encouraging that the industry estimates that the revised forms which are currently under development by the DTI could reduce compliance costs by something like £1 million.

I hope that that brief explanation of some of the costs that are anticipated is useful to the noble Lord.

I thank the Minister for that answer and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 38 agreed to.

7.30 p.m.

Clause 39 [ Commencement, extent and citation]:

Page 23, line 14, at end insert ("and no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: Clause 39(1) states that:

"This Act (except this section) shall come into force on such a day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order".

Given the trouble that we are going to and the fact that I hope that within two or three weeks the Bill will be an Act, I should like to be assured that it is the intention that the order will be laid before Parliament and the matter will be dealt with with no further delay. In other words, I take it that it is the view of the department that that resolution bringing the Act into force will be brought forward right away. I do not insist that the resolution bringing the Act Into force needs to go over all of the ground again but, essentially, I want to know that that will be done without delay. I beg to move.

Clause 39 is a commencement clause and follows the normal convention for clauses of this type. The positive resolution procedure would be a departure from that convention. However, I appreciate the reason for the noble Lord tabling the amendment. Again, on this matter, there is nothing between us.

It is our intention to ratify the convention as soon as possible. We want to ensure that the United Kingdom is a founding state party to the convention. We understand that the United States, which is clearly very important in this matter, is committed to ratifying the convention and hopes to be able to do so in the next few months. Russia is likely to follow the United States. The best way to encourage the United States and Russia to ratify the convention is to bring closer the prospect of the convention coming into force. It will do so some six months after 65 states have ratified it. As I said to noble Lords, we are at one on this because the United Kingdom's ratification will bring that very worthwhile prospect nearer.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment. House adjourned at twenty six minutes before eight o'clock.