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Lords Chamber

Volume 590: debated on Friday 19 June 1998

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House Of Lords

Friday, 19th June 1998.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Lord Ampthill) on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of London.

Alliance & Leicester Plc (Group Reorganisation) Bill Hl

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

For those noble Lords who have been unable to follow its progress in detail, the Bill has passed through its earlier stages outside this Chamber in accordance with the procedures for Private Bills on which Petitions have not been lodged or pressed. Indeed, the Bill has not been opposed at any stage.

I am glad today that there is an opportunity for interested Peers to speak and I am grateful to those who have indicated that they will do so. I should explain that I have a personal association with the promoters, though not a financial interest. I was a non-executive director for several years, first in the Alliance Building Society and then, after the merger, of the Alliance & Leicester Building Society, and finally, on the group board of the Alliance & Leicester Girobank. I retired seven years ago on reaching retirement age and I do not receive a pension. During the whole of that time I was also chairman of the Scottish Advisory Board. I am glad to sponsor the Bill on behalf of a successful financial institution—if I may say so, with modesty—that has grown and extended its functions in financial services as its achievements have continued.

The purpose of the Bill is to fulfil a parliamentary requirement when the kind of integration that is proposed of two subsidiaries of Alliance & Leicester plc is intended. The Bill concerns the integration of Alliance & Leicester plc; namely, Girobank Plc, and Alliance & Leicester (Personal Finance) Limited. The Alliance & Leicester, while still a building society, acquired Girobank, then a subsidiary of the Post Office, in 1990. The Alliance & Leicester established Alliance & Leicester (Personal Finance) Limited in 1988. The principal purpose of the acquisition of Girobank was to gain access to its expertise in banking services. ALPF was incorporated in order to enable Alliance & Leicester to pursue the business of unsecured lending.

In 1993 Alliance & Leicester promoted the Alliance & Leicester (Girobank) Act 1993 for the purpose of integrating the personal banking operations of Girobank into the then building society. That integration duly took place without difficulty and has proved successful. In April 1997 Alliance & Leicester converted from a building society to a public limited company listed on the Stock Exchange. The conversion was supported by a majority of 97.5 per cent. of investing members of whom over 70 per cent. voted, and by a majority of 97.7 per cent. of borrowing members of whom over 59 per cent. voted.

The restructuring that the Bill will permit is a natural progression in integrating the various remaining principal business operations of Alliance & Leicester which are still carried on outside the parent company. That is viewed as being particularly helpful in achieving closer integration with the business process, systems and culture of the group now that it is a public company. Since Alliance & Leicester is itself an authorised institution under the Banking Act 1984, it is unnecessary that it should have a separate banking subsidiary; namely, Girobank. That was not the case when Alliance & Leicester was a building society since having an authorised institution as a subsidiary was considered useful.

As regards the impact on employees, Clause 9 of the Bill provides that the existing contracts of employment with the staff of Girobank and ALPF rest in Alliance & Leicester. There are no changes to the terms and conditions of employees as a result of the implementation of the Bill. Continuity of employment is specifically preserved. Similarly, pension and other benefits are unaffected by the transfer of these undertakings. I should emphasise that both the promotion and implementation of the Bill are neutral as regards employee rights and conditions. Alliance & Leicester is aware that the Communications Workers Union (CWU) expressed concern about job security as a consequence of the Bill. However, there is nothing in it, and nothing planned as a consequence of implementation, which adversely affects the security enjoyed by employees of Girobank or ALPF. I make that clear because I know that one or two of the speakers are likely to ask questions about the conditions of employment once the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be. I should also make clear that pension entitlements and benefits for former employees of both Girobank and ALPF are unaffected by the promotion and implementation of this Bill.

I shall try to answer any points that may be raised during the debate, but I now commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Campbell of Croy).

My Lords, the Question is that this Bill be now read a third time. As many as are of that opinion will say "Content"; to the contrary "Not-content". I think the "Contents" have it—

11.13 a.m.

My Lords, I can understand the hurry. I am in a bit of a hurry myself this morning and therefore I promise that I shall not delay your Lordships for too long.

I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for placing so firmly on the record of our exchanges this morning the assurances that he has given on behalf of Alliance & Leicester that continuity of employment will be preserved once the Bill is on the statute book. I declare an interest in that for many years I have been a national honorary life member of the Communication Workers Union, and of its predecessor union, the former Union of Post Office Workers. Having said that, I think that it is worthy of note that Girobank was the brainchild of the trade union movement. It was conceived and introduced as a result of the initiative of the Union of Post Office Workers.

I have only three points. The first relates to Clause 6 (1) on the transfer of employees. The contract is regarded as having been agreed with Alliance & Leicester rather than with the transferee, Girobank. That has caused some concern in the CWU.

I turn secondly to Clause 9, about which the noble Lord has given assurances. As I said, those assurances are welcome, but I should like to hear from the noble Lord an undertaking that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations will be strictly observed by the company when the transfers take place. That has been at the heart of the concerns of the CWU.

I hope that Alliance & Leicester will not take my third point amiss as I venture, somewhat adventurously, to give the company some advice. Girobank was not created because the management ignored the trade unions; it was created and became an outstanding success because of the close co-operation between management and unions. They built Girobank between them and they made it an outstanding success. I find it sad that, as we come to the end of this century, the successful and forward-looking company that is Alliance & Leicester—I pay tribute to it and bear it no ill-will—should have seen fit to ignore—I was trying to think of a milder word than "ignore" but I cannot—the trade union movement and the negotiations that should have taken place and has instead used legislation to transfer employees' contracts from Girobank to Alliance & Leicester.

I hope that the company continues to prosper and builds on the success of Girobank, which it acquired for the knock-down price of £123 million. However, I say in all honesty that it will not build on that success if it continues to ignore the representatives of its employees who have been so successful in building up Girobank and adding to the prosperity of the company.

In wishing the company well and all who work in it, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for the absolute assurances about job continuity that have now been placed on the record. I am content with what I heard from the noble Lord as he moved the Third Reading of this private legislation.

11.17 a.m.

My Lords, I rise to support the Bill. I do not think that I have to declare an interest, although like most people who had an account with the Alliance & Leicester Building Society I got my 250 shares which were valued at £5.33 each on 21st April 1997. I have been delighted that their value has risen considerably since then.

I am speaking today because I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, intended to raise a specific issue. I refer to the question of absolute guarantees about future employment. I have served for 20 years or more on industrial tribunals and I believe that our employment law is very good. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, who is to speak after me, has done much in this House to ensure that our employment laws are very good. It would be totally unreasonable for any organisation to have to guarantee permanent employment for everyone everywhere. There would be no surer way of killing off a business. Although everyone wants as much protection as possible, there is no protection for any employee if the whole business folds simply because the pressure of retaining everyone was so great that it could not be done. There are, however, adequate redundancy packages should the need arise, but I hope that it will not. Indeed, I note what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said, but who can look ahead 10 or 20 years? No one knows what the future holds. It is worrying that the communication workers should take it upon themselves to ask the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, to speak on this issue, as presumably they have. Does it reflect upon employment law that has been changed recently to give people protection after one year instead of two years?

The noble Lord said that Alliance & Leicester should have used the trade union instead of legislation. I do not believe that one rules out the need for the other. Technically, legislation is required to do this. I should like to be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that legislation is essential to bring the organisations together in this way, and that is the whole purpose of the Bill. This is a technical procedure and logical progression from Alliance & Leicester becoming a plc and taking in these other organisations that have always been part of the group. The Bill establishes the legal right to bring them all together.

It was interesting to note that this week the President of the Board of Trade spoke about both mergers and the minimum wage. She has shown a clear understanding of the need for business to have the right to make business decisions. That is not just in the interests of shareholders but in the long-term interests of anyone who works for any organisation. If one works for any group one wishes it to continue and to be successful. Therefore, the rights of the workers, the union and the business are all closely related. No unfair pressure should be placed upon any one section of the community. I have some worry that today there is a direct union wish for all of these matters to be recorded in Hansard.

The transfer of undertakings legislation is well covered. There is such strong case law that there is no question that all employees' rights will be transferable. As I understand it, their situation will not be changed in any way by the combination of these various groups. I cannot see any harm in this Bill; rather, I can see a great deal of good in it for the future. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, wish the organisation well for the future. I support the Bill.

11.22 a.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for his explanation of this Private Bill. He is aware that both I and my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford have been briefed by the Communication Workers Union which has a large membership involvement. My noble friend Lord Ewing is a member of that union, although I am not. No doubt I have been approached by the union because I have a reputation for speaking up on employment rights.

I emphasise that the union is not opposed to the Bill in principle and certainly it has not asked me to speak in opposition to it. It has, however, expressed some concerns about the effect upon its membership and its future negotiating position. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is aware of these concerns because he said so this morning.

As I understand it, the Bill gives the directors of Alliance & Leicester the power to transfer customers from accounts with Girobank and Alliance & Leicester (Personal Finance) Ltd. to accounts with Alliance & Leicester plc. The Bill also provides for the dissolution of Girobank plc. This will save administrative and other expenses that result from the status of Girobank as an institution that is authorised to take deposits under the Banking Act. At present there is, in effect, dual regulation because Alliance & Leicester plc is also subject to regulation. As I understand it, the ending of the dual regulation would substantially reduce the regulatory burden. That arrangement would enable Alliance & Leicester to earn a higher return on its assets. I believe that all of that is entirely beneficial and the union does not object to any of it.

The problem arises because, as the union sees it, the Bill gives Alliance & Leicester plc power to transfer to it contracts of employment from Girobank. I welcome all of the assurances that have been given this morning by the noble Lord, particularly those relating to pension rights. However, my understanding is that the Bill does not contain the same protection that existed in the Lloyds TSB Bill with which I was also concerned some time ago. In that case there was a proviso that those provisions were without prejudice to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. That protection is absent from the Bill now before the House.

The union is naturally concerned that there may not be adequate protection. It is the view of the union that transfers of employment should be resolved by collective bargaining or individual agreement, not by automatic private legislation. I am sure that those matters can be resolved by negotiation but this has not happened so far because representations to the company by the union have been rejected. I also understand that a job security agreement was due to expire. I do not know the status of that agreement, but clearly it is important in view of the fact that reorganisation of this kind is bound to lead to feelings of insecurity among the staff.

I accept what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. No one can expect a job for life or to have his employment guaranteed for ever. That is not the purpose of the submissions of the union. The union is concerned to ensure that its negotiating rights continue and that it is able adequately to represent staff in the future, which is clearly important. I therefore welcome any further comment that the noble Lord is able to make in respect of the issues that I and my noble friend have raised this morning.

11.26 a.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, for his kind words about the record of Alliance & Leicester, its history of mergers, including Girobank, and his good wishes for its future prosperity. As I am no longer connected with it I can echo that thought. The noble Lord referred to Clauses 6(1) and Clause 9. He said that he was grateful for the general assurances that I had been able to give but both he and the union remained concerned about the protection of employment. I can only repeat that the Bill makes no difference to the terms and conditions of the employees and continues to recognise the trade unions and their negotiating position.

I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord suggest that Alliance & Leicester had ignored the trade unions. Having retired seven years ago, I can make no immediate comment on that, but I was much concerned as a non-executive director with the negotiations when Alliance & Leicester and Girobank merged. I was very much aware that a building society dealt with staff associations and in the past had not been accustomed to dealing with unions such as the one that has been mentioned. However, I am glad to say that the negotiations and the arrangements took place with the agreement of everyone and the building society at that time had no difficulty with the unions. I am surprised that it should appear to be ignoring the unions.

As my noble friend Lady Gardner said, the Bill is necessary for parliamentary and legal reasons and certainly is not a means of trying to avoid negotiating with the unions. The negotiating position will not be altered by the passage of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Gardner, with her great experience of industrial tribunals, pointed out that businesses cannot give assurances or make statements about what the position will be many years ahead. However, the Bill will not make any alterations or have any adverse effects on the employees.

I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for raising various matters. I am sure that the promoters of the Bill will examine carefully what has been said during the debate. If there are details to be dealt with, I am sure that they will be in touch. All those points are now clearly on the record.

I wish to thank all those who have spoken. I am glad that it has been accepted generally that this is an organisation which has for many years provided dependable and simple opportunities for savers to open and use interest-bearing accounts as investments, and has also assisted many people to become home owners, then extending into financial services and banking. I am grateful for the contributions that have been made. I commend that the Bill be now read a third time.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Pesticides Bill

11.31 a.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [ Enforcement of controls on pesticides]:

Page 3, line 5, leave out ("other than perjury").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to clarify the new powers of interrogation detailed in Clause 2 of the Bill. At Second Reading and again in Committee I sought to obtain clarification about the application of what might be called the new Clause 2(2) powers. There had been some confusion on the issue when it was debated in another place. The purpose of the power in question is the effective but fair questioning of witnesses, in particular when the witness might be an employee storing illegal pesticides on behalf of an employer who might be reluctant in normal circumstances to give information about such activity to an officer. In return for being required to answer the officer's questions, there is a kind of quid pro quo within the Bill—the recognition that information supplied by the interviewee which might incriminate either that person or his or her spouse shall not be used against that person or the spouse in any criminal proceedings other than perjury.

In answer to questions I posed at Second Reading, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, wrote two letters to me to explain further the Government's view of the operation of the Clause 2(2) powers. Unfortunately, the Government's interpretation of the Clause 2(2) powers caused me great concern. I believed that the fair treatment of the interviewee would be seriously jeopardised. I raised my concerns in some detail in Committee. They are on the record in Hansard. I shall not test the patience of noble Lords by repeating them today. I realise that that gains some agreement within the House.

Subsequently, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, kindly arranged a meeting which I attended to discuss my concerns with him, the Minister of State, Mr. Rooker, and lawyers from MAFF and the Health and Safety Executive. I thank the noble Lord for arranging that meeting and others for their co-operation. They were all able to reassure me on many points that I raised, but not on all. I have therefore tabled the amendment today which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, and the Government will be able to accept. I believe that it will resolve the core issue of the fair and effective questioning of witnesses under Clause 2(2) powers.

My amendment makes clear that information obtained from a witness during an interview conducted under the Clause 2(2) procedure cannot be used against him or his spouse in criminal proceedings in any circumstances. I believe that that will resolve the confusion to which I referred in moving my amendment in Committee. It should provide a clear and fair resolution of the difficulties which I rehearsed through previous stages of the Bill.

However, there is one remaining area of confusion which I mentioned at the meeting last week and which I believe the Government or the noble Lord, Lord Stone, may be able to resolve today by giving an explanation to the House. An amendment may not be necessary, but it merits further explanation. I refer to what may happen when an interview conducted under the Clause 2(2) procedure is aborted because the interviewee makes an admission. For example, the interviewee simply says, "Yes, I am storing illegal pesticides. I know them to be illegal but my employer told me to do so or I would be fired"—a simple, straightforward admission. At that point the officer may decide that it is necessary to prosecute the person being interviewed rather than continue with the Clause 2(2) procedure. In those circumstances the officer will halt the Clause 2(2) interview and start a new interview under the PACE procedure in England and Wales and, as I understand, the common law procedure in Scotland.

Can the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, reassure me that, first, this procedure has been in operation in other areas of the law without undue difficulty heretofore? Secondly, when the PACE procedure, or the common law procedure in Scotland, then follows, do those two procedures protect the interviewee to the extent that there is a break between the interviews during which the interviewee is told that he may consult a solicitor? If the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Stone, is able to assist me on that matter, I believe that it will resolve all issues over which I expressed concern and an amendment at Third Reading will not be necessary. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on the drafting of the amendment. I have rarely seen such clarity and economy of language. The specific issue is what happens when the person being interviewed under the Clause 2(2) powers becomes a suspect and is then interviewed under the PACE procedure in England and Wales or the common law in Scotland. The same issue arises under existing legislation which gives enforcement officers the power to require answers to questions. The obvious example is the Health and Safety at Work Act which has been on the statute book for almost a quarter of a century. So the procedure has been in operation without apparently causing undue difficulty.

Nothing in this Bill cuts across, undermines or contradicts the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or the common law procedures in Scotland. On the rare occasions when a person is required to answer questions and is then to be interviewed as a suspect, there will always be a clear break between the two interviews when that person is formally cautioned and advised that he or she does not have to say anything. The position would be as follows: in England and Wales, the PACE procedures will apply, affording full protection under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, such as requirements to caution the suspect and to give him or her the opportunity to consult privately with a solicitor. In Scotland, where PACE does not apply, the common law procedures on the questioning of suspects will apply, ensuring that the suspect is treated entirely fairly at all times. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness.

The Government have listened to the points which were put extremely clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in Committee and at subsequent meetings. She has demonstrated the complexity arising from the interactions of different legislation. As a result, the Government can support her proposed amendment to remove the three words "other than perjury". I shall not be at all surprised if my noble friend Lord Stone of Blackheath, after due consideration, also agrees to accept the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment. A major reason for seeking to introduce the power of enforcement officers to require answers to questions is that other legislation gives enforcement officers similar powers which have been found to be effective in practice. I thank my noble friend Lord Carter for addressing the noble Baroness's concerns. However, he frightened me when he left the Chamber two minutes before we were about to begin. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured.

With reference to Clause 2(2), the same issue occurs for existing legislation without causing undue difficulty in practice. The Bill will not change interview procedures either under PACE or in Scotland. However, I listened carefully to the issues raised by the noble Baroness and I have learnt much from the discussions we have had during the past few weeks. The existing text of Clause 2(2) needs clarification. I can therefore agree to her amendment to remove the three words "other than perjury".

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for the assurances he has given with regard to the situation where Clause 2(2) interview procedure halts and a PACE or common law interview in Scotland starts. They settle my concerns and I shall not be tabling an amendment on the issue at Third Reading.

I am also grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Stone of Blackheath, for accepting the amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for his congratulations on the clarity of the drafting of my amendment. I hope that the situation arises again on many occasions in this House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Fireworks Bill

Report received.

Public Interest Disclosure Bill

11.42 a.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [ Protected disclosures]:

Page 2, line 35, at end insert (", or

  • (c) to an official of an independent trade union authorised by the union to accept such disclosure.").
  • The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I believe that this is a good Bill and I have no desire to delay its passage through Parliament. However, I have tabled this amendment because it is a matter of some importance.

    It will be recalled that in Committee my noble friends Lord Wedderburn, Lord McCarthy and Lord Gladwin and I sought to amend the Bill to include a passage from the Act dealing with dispute resolution which sets out clearly precisely what is meant by a trade union within the context of that Act. Incidentally, my noble friends are sorry that they are not able to attend the House this morning, but they still support the general thrust of my amendment.

    I have come back with a much simpler amendment setting out precisely what we are after. As I have said on a number of occasions, and on Second Reading and in Committee, an employee who is concerned about wrong doing, either on a health and safety basis or because he suspects that something fraudulent is going on, is likely in the first place to go to his trade union. That is likely to happen in a situation in which there is no union recognition, just as it may happen where there is already recognition and agreed procedures. Indeed, in non-union situations it is more than likely that there will be no proper procedure in place whereby issues of that kind can first be ventilated by the employee. That has happened on previous occasions, the most famous probably being the "Piper Alpha" disaster, where employees were engaged on short-term contracts and the employers were generally hostile to union involvement and the employees were too intimidated to complain.

    The protection afforded by the Bill to someone who blows the whistle is available if the employee reports it—having tried in the first instance to go through internal procedures—to one of a number of listed agencies. We want to include an official of an independent trade union as an appropriate person to receive such disclosure.

    A number of reasons were advanced in Committee for not doing so. Among them was a reference to the need to retain confidentiality. It was apparently believed that a lawyer or an accountant was bound by the ethics of a profession to maintain confidentiality, but the same constraints did not apply as regards trade union officials. I suppose that occasionally there may be maverick lawyers or accountants and they do not always play by the book. However, I believe that noble Lords who have advanced these arguments in relation to trade unions are perhaps sometimes inclined to accept the rather angled view of the media as to the way in which unions operate. The issues which receive media attention are the occasions when there are disputes because ordinary procedures have broken down. In any event, the reporting is often not accurate since the media has its own agenda!

    I have spent much of my working life as a trade union official, latterly as a very senior one and one also with a responsibility for training younger officials. They have to be trained to appreciate that they must retain the trust and respect of people on the other side of the table. They have to do so because it is important in their members' interests to maintain a reasonable, continuous relationship.

    Break a trust, fail to honour an agreement or break your word and even though they may seem to be an immediate advantage it is short-sighted and not in the long-term interest of the members or the union generally. That means that the maintenance of confidentiality, where that is required, is very important to the union and to its future success. You do not break your word. If you do it dishonours the union and long-term relationships are damaged, perhaps forever. That is a lesson we used to teach our young officials. As a result, I believe that I can say with some justification that my union had, and still has, a very good reputation. It is not alone, it is also TUC policy.

    I come back this morning with an amendment which sets at rest our fears that unions in this important process as outlined in the Bill are being sidelined. It spells out that a union member may seek protection under the Bill by going to his union and to an official authorised by his union to accept such disclosure. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I apologise to the House for being absent during the Committee stage when I probably would have spoken on the matter we are debating today. I hope that your Lordship will forgive me if I intervene at this stage. I have considerable sympathy with the principle which the noble Baroness seeks to achieve with the amendment. It seems to me that in many cases a worker, fearing that there is something amiss in the organisation for which he or she works, would go first to a trade union official. To deny explicit protection to trade union officials in those circumstances is a demerit of the Bill.

    However, I am not persuaded that this is the right way to achieve what the noble Baroness is seeking. It would seem to me more appropriate simply to include trade union officials within the category of people who are designated under an order under Section 43F as being covered by the protection of the Bill. Furthermore, it was interesting to read that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, gave as examples of the kind of person who would be covered by Section 43F representatives of the FSA or the HSE. That demonstrated the problem of excluding union officials within the category of protected people because I suspect that many workers faced with a problem would not have the faintest idea where to find the HSE or another regulatory body. The natural course for them to take would be to use the union official as an intermediary before going on to the regulatory body for the industry.

    Therefore, it seems to me that it would be sensible to include designated trade union officials under the protection of the Act when passed. However, I believe that the most logical and sensible way to do that is to use the provisions of Section 43F. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister's thinking on that issue has developed, because in Committee I believe he said that the Government would look at the matter. It seems to me to be a straightforward principle to accept and to agree now that when regulations are made under Section 43F, trade union officials will be one of the categories of people covered by those regulations.

    My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Turner. As I said in Committee, in my 35 years' experience as a trade union official, there have been many occasions on which employees have perceived something going wrong and, in good faith, they told me or one of my officials about it.

    I wish to confirm my noble friend's view that it is not in our interests to publicise such information. It is our task to ensure a productive, effective relationship with employers. Therefore, to reveal some of the information to which we are privy would be entirely contrary to what we are there for and what our duty is. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us this morning either that he can accept the amendment or that the matter can be dealt with in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Newby.

    My Lords, my noble friend Lady Turner indeed keeps her promises and she has returned to this issue which she raised in Committee. I assure my noble friend that the Government object to her amendment not because they believe that trade unions are leaky vessels which should not be entrusted with disclosures but because the best way of resolving these difficult issues is through procedures established for the purpose.

    Of course, we know very well that trade unions handle a great deal of confidential material. They are used to dealing with it responsibly with the employer on the basis of trust. The Government are not in any way suggesting that unions are irresponsible or untrustworthy. Indeed, they have set out their support for trade unions in the Fairness at Work White Paper which will ensure unions have a voice to be heard with the employer where employees want this. Individuals will also have the right to be accompanied by their union or a work colleague in disciplinary of grievance hearings.

    However, our starting point for this Bill is to encourage co-operation between employers and employees at all levels in identifying and resolving concerns within the company. The amendment would undermine this aim, and could jeopardise the widespread support behind the Bill. It would in effect open up so-called internal disclosures, and transform them into "external" disclosures.

    The best way to resolve a problem is through the use of proper internal procedures. The Bill as drafted encourages employers to set up easily accessible procedures which will encourage employees to raise and resolve their concerns through their employer, so that the employer can take any necessary action and the employee can be reassured that the matter is being handled properly. In some cases, of course, there may be such a conflict, and the Bill provides the necessary alternative routes for disclosure. There is wide protection where disclosure is made to a prescribed person under Section 43F. More generally, protected disclosures can be made to external bodies if the individual acts reasonably under Section 43G if he has been first to the employer or has good grounds for not doing so; or under Section 43H if it is an exceptionally serious failure.

    Trade unions can have a valuable role to play in procedures, and in many cases it will be appropriate for them to have a formal role so that disclosure to them would be covered by Section 43C(2). Unions may well seek to ensure that their role is formalised in this way. However, whether or not they do so will be a matter for them to agree with the employer.

    In addition, unions can organise themselves in other ways to ensure that individuals have protection if they discuss confidential matters. I understand that at least one union has set up a "whistleblowers' legal hotline". Other unions have general inquiry points for legal advice. Disclosures made to union-based legal advisers in these ways will of course be protected under Section 43D.

    In response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, regarding the list of persons appointed by the Secretary of State, no final decision has been made about who should be prescribed. When the time comes for the order to be made, we shall consider carefully who should be included and give further thought to the representations which noble Lords have made.

    The Bill has been the subject of public consultation with a large number of organisations. It is seen, rightly, as a well-balanced measure. That is why it has attracted such overwhelming support from all sides. The Government believe that it would not be right to make the significant change in the Bill which my noble friend proposes after such a broad consensus has been achieved. The Government believe that this amendment would seriously upset that balance and may jeopardise the wide support which the Bill currently attracts.

    My Lords, this is an amendment to what will be Section 43C of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Therefore, it may be helpful to refer the House and my noble friend Lady Turner to the side note to that section which reads:

    "Disclosure to employer or other responsible person".
    Subsection (b) demonstrates that the "other responsible person" refers to the person responsible for the malpractice because it is his misconduct which is in issue or because he has a legal responsibility for the malpractice.

    This clause is absolutely at the heart of the Bill because this is the provision which will assert and help to ensure that those who are responsible for the concern or malpractice—be it crime, other kinds of illegality, danger to health or safety—are made aware of the concern and can investigate it.

    The effect is that if the concern proves well-founded and there is concern on behalf of the public interest, the employer will, in law, be accountable for the response. Your Lordships will all recall the tragic loss of life in connection with the Zeebrugge ferry. Even though the official inquiry found that on five occasions staff had voiced concerns that the ferries were sailing with their bow doors open, the company was not liable in criminal law, as the board—known in law as the controlling heart and mind of the organisation—had not been informed on those concerns and was unaware of the resultant risk.

    By contrast, when four schoolchildren were killed during a canoeing expedition at Lyme Bay, the managing director of the outward bound centre was gaoled for two years because a member of staff had written to him with a clear and graphic warning about the grave risk to life if safety standards were not dramatically and considerably improved. Unable to give good reason as to why he had ignored that warning, the managing director was the very first person in the United Kingdom to be gaoled for what is called corporate manslaughter. Therefore, what will be Section 43C of the 1996 Act signals that concerns should be raised with those who, in law, are responsible for the matter—normally the employer. However, where someone else is legally responsible, then it will be that person.

    In practical terms the clause as it stands, unamended, is right to emphasise the vital role of those who are in law accountable for the conduct or practice in question. To accept my noble friend's amendment would confuse the very principle of accountability that the Bill and its supporters, including many trade unions, wish to see developed. It would suggest that it is enough simply to tell an authorised union official and that there is no need to tell the employer or the person responsible in law for the conduct or malpractice. Knowing the very genuine support of my noble friend for the Bill, which she has repeated today, I ask her to reconsider pushing ahead with the amendment.

    Finally, I should like to offer my noble friend some reassurance about the role of unions. Both I and the Minister in Committee—and the Minister again today—have indicated that unions will play a major role in developing the new law. Where a union is recognised, my noble friend will know that those behind the Bill consider it almost inevitable that the union will be given an important role to play in the organisation's—that is, the employer's—own whistle-blowing procedures. If I may say so, I believe that that is accepted by my noble friend and those who sponsored her amendment in Committee.

    The issue which I believe has troubled my noble friend—and continues to trouble her—is what happens when the union is not part of those procedures, no doubt because it has not been recognised. Both I and government spokesmen have assured the House that disclosures in such cases to unions are capable of protection under what will be Sections 43G and 43H.

    As my noble friend is aware, if there are problems in practice, a case can be made and the Government pressed to ensure that unions might be prescribed under Section 43F. While I have sought to explain today that the amendment is inappropriate and unhelpful, I hope that I can offer my noble friend the comfort that she seeks on the substantive point.

    Where a union is not part of an organisation's whistle-blowing procedure, I ask: what help can a union easily and safely offer a member who is concerned about malpractice or misconduct? I believe that the answer is a practical one, clearly catered for in the Bill. For example, the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association offers telephoned legal advice through its national legal office. As my noble friend will recognise, disclosures in such circumstances—that is, the detailed asking for and giving of advice—are fully protected under what will be Section 43D. That simple service not only protects the worker and promotes the role of the unions; it also helps preserve the public interest within the framework of the Bill.

    The union itself has a collective as well as an individual role to play. I note that my noble friend Lord McCarthy said in Committee on 5th June (col. 627 of Hansard) that if the union thought that giving the kind of advice that we are discussing could compromise it in collective bargaining, perhaps the union would not give that advice. Of course, that is true, but it does not really help the situation because the union has an individual role through union officials to its members and also has a collective role. It will not be very helpful in the former if it suddenly has to stop and say, "Well, this might be relevant to something that we are engaged in as a union in collective bargaining". I suggest that the sort of telephone hotline that I mentioned to a union lawyer, whether or not he is employed internally or externally, would be the best and most helpful way forward to ensure that the whistle blower is fully protected. I hope that that practical solution is attractive to my noble friend and that it is something she will endorse and adopt. It should reassure her on the substantive point. I hope therefore that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment without any further misgivings.

    My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate on my amendment. Perhaps I may, first, deal with what was said by my noble friend the Minister. He believes that the best way to resolve such issues is through internal procedures; indeed, procedures established for that purpose. That point was reiterated by my noble friend Lord Borrie. Of course I agree with that, but my noble friend Lord Borrie is quite right to say that one of my major concerns is the situation which arises where there is no union recognition. I wanted to be sure that a union member in such circumstances who sought to make a report to a union official about his worries would receive adequate protection.

    The contribution of my noble friend Lord Borne has, to some extent, set those fears at rest. I thank him for what he said. It would probably have been better if I had drafted the amendment to a different part of the Bill, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I am grateful to him for his support because he clearly understands the very genuine concerns that we have expressed on this side of the House.

    I believe that I have taken the issue as far as I possibly can. Indeed, I have frequently said that I entirely support the Bill. I believe it to be a very good and progressive move and something which will be of great benefit to employees and employers. I have voiced some of the concerns that I and my noble friends have had about the role for trade unions. The debates that we have had on two occasions have, to some extent, dealt with those worries. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill

    Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

    Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill

    12.7 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 Elis-Thomas.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    House in Committee accordingly.

    [The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES ( Lord Brougham and Vaux) in the Chair.]

    Clause 1 [ Meaning of "road traffic"]:

    [ Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]

    Page 1, line 6, after ("excluding") insert ("vehicles used solely for the transport of freight and").

    The noble Lord said: Before I begin, I should point out to the Committee that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who is not able to be present today, has, I believe, one of the best excuses that I have heard in a very long time for not being here; namely, that he is getting married. I am sure that Members of the Committee will join me in congratulating him. However, he will be back on Wednesday for what I gather will be the Report stage of the Bill.

    I am pleased that we are able to have a Committee stage for the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will perhaps recall that the last road traffic reduction Bill, which went through this place during the final stages of the last Parliament, was so rushed that noble Lords were discouraged from even tabling amendments for this stage so that there would not have to be a Committee stage. Indeed, the Bill would otherwise have been lost. Therefore, I am very glad that we can have a Committee stage today to enable us to air some of the issues which were raised on Second Reading. I hope that

    the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, does not have a large "Resist" typed at the top of his notes for all the amendments but that he will be able to consider them most carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said at Second Reading,

    "Therefore this Bill will encourage the use of forms of transport other than the private car".—[Official Report, 5/6/98; col. 596]

    Clause 1 therefore excludes,

    "vehicles constructed or adapted to carry more than eight passengers in addition to the driver".

    I shall call those vehicles buses or minibuses for simplicity.

    At Second Reading I mentioned freight. I believe that there is a good case for adding vehicles carrying freight to the exemption in the Bill. The freight industry has done much to improve efficiency over recent years. Indeed in the past 10 years the number of lorries on Britain's roads has fallen by 15 per cent. while the volume of freight carried has increased. The movement of freight by rail has increased dramatically since privatisation. The rail freight industry has set ambitious targets for further increases. However, this move to rail, while most welcome of course, must be achieved by the rail freight sector continuing to make progress in offering industry a competitive, reliable and efficient service attracting new business on merit and price. Legislation such as proposed in this Bill, which would potentially seek to force freight from road to rail or to other modes of transport by the imposition of arbitrary, legal targets in respect of road freight traffic growth, would be seriously damaging to the competitiveness of British industry.

    As I said at Second Reading, freight is not carried around the country for fun. It is an essential part of a modern and prosperous economy. I therefore believe that there is just as good a case for excluding freight from these targets as there is for excluding buses. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said at Second Reading that he did not feel he could accept this amendment. I look forward to hearing his reasons, and those of the Minister, presumably, for that attitude. I shall, of course, listen carefully to his comments. I beg to move.

    The impact of the Bill would be seriously weakened if this amendment were to be accepted. Goods vehicles not only represent a significant proportion of all road traffic but also have a larger impact on the environment than cars. If Amendment No. 3 was accepted, the Bill would relate only to passenger vehicles. We do not think that this is acceptable and therefore resist this amendment.

    I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, for moving his amendment. I am pleased that we have an opportunity in this Committee stage to air these issues. I hope I can reassure the Committee on this point. I certainly do not share the view of the noble Lord that the targets are arbitrary, legal targets. I think those were his words. The targets are very much related to the reports. This Bill seeks to ensure that there is a balanced appraisal of interests.

    If we are agreed that there is to be a reduction in road traffic for all the reasons that we set out at Second Reading, I feel that the inclusion of freight transport vehicles, as a form of transport for which reduction is sought, is an essential part of the Bill. That is why I indicated at Second Reading that I would find it difficult to accept this amendment. Since that stage I have considered the noble Lord's arguments. I believe what the noble Lord wishes to do—I support him in that—is to protect the interests of business, whether that is the road freight business or commercial businesses that opt to use road freight rather than other forms of transport.

    I recognise the improvements that have been made by the freight industry. I am particularly excited—although I did not think I would be prior to the event—by the results of rail freight privatisation. EWS has expanded its freight business substantially. That has had beneficial effects for the economy of south Wales and other parts of the UK. We are moving in the right direction in terms of freight.

    The intention of the Bill is to set targets and to produce reports which will encourage the public sector, the private sector, government and business to move towards those targets in a voluntary and progressive way. There is plenty of evidence on mainland Europe of road traffic reduction policies which benefit business. They reduce the running costs of companies and increase the amount of work that can be carried out by each vehicle and driver combination. A policy to reduce road freight can, in that sense, be beneficial to industry. For all those reasons I ask the noble Lord to reconsider his amendment.

    12.15 p.m.

    I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon for moving his amendment. I declare an interest as president of the Heavy Transport Association. How does the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, view the effect of the M.4 motorway in south Wales as regards generating business? One sees businesses and factories springing up all around the motorway. How does the noble Lord view the effect of the A.55 in north Wales? Does he accept that the construction of roads and the development of good communications generate industry?

    I am not sure that I want to answer the question posed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, but I wish to make a couple of comments on the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. It is a mistake to think that the only way you can reduce transport—that includes freight transport—is by transferring it to some other mode. You can also reduce the need to move goods around. That is part of a long-term planning strategy. It is because we need to encourage these long-term strategies, either on the part of private business—as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has said—or on the part of local authorities, that we need these long-term targets to encourage a gradual shift from a less desirable to a more desirable way of moving goods around.

    Vehicles can be loaded more efficiently and goods can be packaged more efficiently too. I believe that anything between 30 and 40 per cent. of the space in a cereal packet can be void. If that space is filled, far more cereal packets can be put on the same lorry. One would therefore need fewer lorries to transport the cereal. The same can be said as regards packaging for many other goods. I believe the Minister said that heavy lorries are environmentally less friendly than cars. However, up to four or five cars will occupy the same road space as one large lorry. All those cars will spew out fumes. As regards the space taken up by a lorry with a large trailer, far more cars would occupy that same space, all spewing out environmentally unfriendly gases.

    I accept entirely the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. It was a good point. However, what concerns me is how central government can affect the decisions of industry.

    I think we all know that decisions of central government affect decisions taken by private industry and indeed by other public authorities. We have only to consider the differentials in taxation between leaded and unleaded petrol to appreciate how that affects private decisions. You have only to note the requirement that all aircraft should undergo a noise certification process to appreciate how that has reduced the noise made by aircraft. It is that sort of pressure from central government which, over time, alters people's decisions, both in business and as private individuals, and also the decisions of people operating in other public authorities.

    Perhaps I may point out one other example to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee; namely, the Government's planning policy on out-of-town shopping centres. If there are more such centres, obviously it encourages a great many more car journeys instead of people shopping in their own locality. Therefore, if the Government allow appeals by the big supermarkets to build shopping centres in rural areas, they are, ipso facto, generating a lot of additional traffic.

    I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. This amendment has attracted more attention than one might have expected on a Friday morning—especially on the first fine day that we have had for a very long time. I certainly do not intend to press this amendment to a Division. However, I reserve the right to read what has been said and possibly return with a similar provision on Report.

    My noble friend Lord Swinfen mentioned the Minister's remarks about freight vehicles having more environmental impact than motor cars. I would point out that this Bill exempts buses. The purpose of my amendment is to exempt freight vehicles as well. I remind the Committee and the noble Baroness the Minister that the most heavily polluted street in London is Oxford Street, where cars are banned. All the pollution is caused by buses and taxis. So there is an argument both ways.

    The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, rightly praised EWS for the moves it has made towards rail freight. As I said, that is very much to be encouraged. However, there is a limit to what is possible. I believe that the majority of freight journeys in this country are under 50 miles. It is simply not practical to attempt to move most of that freight onto rail. Even if we are successful in moving freight onto rail, that almost always involves a road journey, probably at both ends—though ideally at neither end.

    I completely take the point about planning strategy. However, the fact is that out-of-town shopping centres are here. Even if no more are built, the ones that we have are popular with the public.

    My noble friend Lord Swinfen mentioned that packaging could be done more efficiently in lorries. He may well be right. I regard that as a matter for the industry itself. It is not in the industry's interests to package inefficiently. It means that more lorry miles need to be travelled. Lorry miles are expensive, especially given the present price of diesel, which so dramatically increased in the recent Budget. As I said, people do not move freight around for fun; they move it around as part of the economic life of this country.

    I shall read most carefully what has been said in the debate, as I am sure will my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 1 agreed to.

    Clause 2 [ Road traffic reduction targets]:

    Page 1, line 19, leave out ("adverse").

    The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to my Amendment No. 7.

    At Second Reading I described my concerns regarding the tenor of the Bill. My amendment seeks to remedy that by deleting the word "adverse", so that Clause 2(3) would read:

    "the Secretary of State shall have regard to the impacts of road traffic, including".

    The Bill then goes on to list the matters to which he must have regard.

    Apart from overcoming the difficulty of making a semi-political statement, if I may put it that way, the amendment allows the Secretary of State to have regard to the positive social impacts provided for in subsection (3)(g). Without my amendment, he could only consider the adverse social impacts. However, I accept that other matters referred to in subsection (3) are obviously adverse impacts.

    Amendment No. 5, tabled by my noble friend Lord Brabazon achieves similar objectives but by different means. Amendment No. 4 is not affected by Amendment No. 5. However, if Amendment No. 5 were agreed to, my Amendment No. 7. to which I shall speak, would be superfluous.

    Amendment No. 7 requires the Secretary of State to have regard to,

    "the needs of business, commerce and industry".

    Without my amendment, the Bill as drafted would allow the Secretary of State to set targets without regard to the needs of business, commerce and industry. That is particularly so because of the very existence of subsection (4), which provides that the Secretary of State will have regard to persons with disabilities and to the need for adequate provision of taxis.

    The Committee will note that "business", "commerce" and "industry" are slightly different terms. However, it is important that they all appear on the face of the Bill, as they are, together, all important for the strength of the economy. That point has already been covered.

    As I implied at Second Reading, road traffic is a barometer of economic activity. One of the first sectors to feel the pinch in a recession is the road haulage sector. Similarly, if road transport is restricted, the economy will suffer.

    I hope that the Committee will accept my amendments. They are designed to make the Bill more efficient and effective. I beg to move.

    My Amendment No. 5 is grouped with this amendment. It may therefore be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to it now. I support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Attlee.

    Clause (2)(3) of the Bill lists all the things that are supposed to be wrong with road traffic. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas said (col. 610) that the Bill is not anti-car. I therefore feel that one should counter some of the disadvantages spelt out in Clause 2(3) by adding some of the advantages, so that the Secretary of State can, in the words of the Bill, have regard to those as well when setting targets.

    The four items I have proposed in Amendment No. 5 are largely self-explanatory. I have referred to the economy in the context of freight traffic, as has my noble friend Lord Attlee. The same arguments hold for the private car, including the effect on the motor manufacturing industry, which has been one of the great success stories of the past 15 years or so. Indeed, it has been particularly successful in South Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will recognise the investment that has taken place there.

    For many people, particularly rural dwellers and those who are less well off the car is often the only means of transport available to them. Visits to friends and family cannot always be arranged around the availability of buses and trains. The car has therefore become a major force in reducing social exclusion. The Committee will note sub-paragraph (b) in my amendment.

    As regards shopping centres, whether one likes it or not many major retail outlets are out of town. Desirable though it may now be to change planning laws to discourage that kind of development, the fact is that they are there, and, as I said, are very popular with the public. That, coupled with the changing pattern of life—for example, the weekly major shop—the car is, in reality, the only way to get one's shopping home.

    The last item in the amendment covers access to public transport. It is unrealistic to suppose that people can always walk or take a bus to the railway station. If people are to be encouraged to travel by train it is essential that good parking facilities are available at all stations. The same goes for park-and-ride facilities out of town to encourage people to travel into town centres by bus. Of course, we are all waiting for the much heralded and delayed White Paper on an integrated transport policy. Therefore, I do not expect that the Minister will have a lot to say today on those items. But I hope that when it comes it will not be all stick and no carrot.

    Hypothecation—a word which no doubt the Minister dreads hearing—will be essential if public attitudes to the private car are to be changed. Surveys have shown that people are willing to accept measures to tackle congestion, but the same surveys show that if those measures are fiscal ones, the overwhelming majority want to see that money put back into improving transport generally and not just syphoned off to the Treasury. I hope that when the Bill is enacted it will encourage the Government along that line.

    I give the Minister a brief. She may well be aware of what happened in Oslo not long ago when congestion-charging in the centre of the city was introduced. It was done in such a way that people started work on the improvements, with a list of improvements that would be made, before they started charging people. So people could see what they were going to get for their money. It was therefore largely accepted by the public in Oslo. That is an important point. I look forward to hearing the response to the amendments.

    12.30 p.m.

    Perhaps I may briefly speak not to the amendments but to apologise for not being here to move my earlier amendment. It was because I was attending a memorial service to my late boss, Lord Mellish, a Member of this House until recently. I hope that the Committee will accept that apology. I shall try to return to the matter at a later time.

    Perhaps I may alter the order in which we spoke last time. I wish to add my comments before anything else to those of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. We all expect a great deal from the White Paper and many of the points he looks for I also seek in the White Paper.

    I turn to the amendments. Amendment No. 4 might have a rather bizarre effect in that it might require the Secretary of State to restrict traffic, whether or not it has an adverse impact. That may not be entirely what was intended. I would be happy to be corrected on that, but it is my impression that that would be the effect of the Bill.

    Moving to Amendment No. 5 on the same part of Clause 2 put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, again it is a curious amendment. It suggests that traffic is in itself beneficial. I do not think that anyone would deny that transport can be beneficial. The whole argument is based upon an assumption that there are ways of moving goods and people around which can be made less damaging than our present considerable use of motorised transport on roads to get ourselves and our goods around. It is a curious amendment, asking us to consider the beneficial effects of traffic. Most people would be hard put to judge any effects of traffic per se as beneficial. Traffic is vehicles moving along a road, which has no beneficial effect. But it has a large number of dis-benefits. I shall not go into them because we discussed them at some length in the course of the Second Reading of the Bill.

    For those reasons, both the first two amendments which we are considering in this group are odd, to say the least, and do not quite express what the mover wished them to express.

    Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she explain how there could be traffic without transport or transport without traffic?

    I am happy to respond to that. Transport causes traffic. The question that we all face, not just in this country and not just at government level but all across Europe, at both government and local level, is how we reduce the adverse impact of traffic, which is caused by the need to transport ourselves and our goods, on the locality and the environment. That is what we are discussing. To do as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, suggests in asking us to consider the beneficial effects of traffic does not make sense, even if I desired to accept the amendment—which I do not. But it is not the right way of expressing the point that the noble Lord is trying to get across.

    Pedestrian traffic does not require any transport at all. I wish to support Amendment No. 4. The word "adverse" in line 19 is otiose as in line nine the Secretary of State has to have the aim of reducing the adverse environmental, social and economic impacts.

    I also wish to support my noble friend Lord Brabazon, in particular on paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 5 which concerns:
    "effects in reducing social exclusion".
    I am thinking of where I live, which is in the country, one-and-a-half miles from any public transport, and the difficulties that families near me would have if they were not allowed to use their own private cars on various occasions. Coming back from the shops with a load of shopping and two small children, walking one-and-a-half-miles along busy roads, would for some women be absolutely intolerable and highly dangerous.

    The purpose of the list in Clause 2(3) is to explain what is meant by the adverse impacts of traffic. So it is difficult to see the need for Amendment No. 4 which would delete the word "adverse".

    Amendment No. 5 would require the Secretary of State to consider the beneficial impact of road traffic as well as the adverse impacts listed in Clause 2(3).

    Amendment No. 7 would add the needs of business, commerce and industry to the list of needs to which the Secretary of State would have to have regard in Clause 2(4). We fully accept that in preparing our report we will need to take into account all the factors listed in Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 in one way or another. I can assure the Committee that the Government will consider all the relevant impacts of road traffic, including the impacts on industry and commerce, in considering how to comply with the requirements of the Bill.

    However, we do not think it sensible to specify all those factors on the face of the Bill. The list of factors that we may need to take into account is very large and it is neither sensible nor practicable to specify them all. In the light of this reply the Government therefore wish to resist the group of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was absolutely right when he indicated that he did not expect me to pre-empt the White Paper.

    I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for her contribution to the debate on the difference between traffic and transport. If all the people in buses on Oxford Street were to transfer to private cars, there would be even more in the way of traffic and environmental effects.

    The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to people living in the country. Of course, he is right. He brought back some of my memories of walking with small children and carrier bags in the country.

    I join in support of both amendments by my noble friend Lord Attlee. I feel that leaving out the word "adverse" would be beneficial, despite what my noble friend Lord Swinfen said about it being mentioned earlier in the Bill.

    I feel that we must not be too restrictive. Some of the impact—especially when we begin to produce yet more cleaner fuels such as diesel for freight lorries—will be beneficial. Of course, all emissions are more likely to be dirty rather than clean, but we can make them cleaner. I therefore support my noble friend Lord Attlee in the removal of the word "adverse". There is a chance that some of the matters listed will actually be less than adverse and may even be slightly beneficial. Let us therefore remove the restriction.

    Purely as a matter of drafting, the word "adverse" is required. As the Minister pointed out, it refers back to subsection (1) and merely explains the word "adverse" as it appears there. At line 19, it does not have any of the adverse effects feared by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and his supporters.

    As always, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale for coming to my rescue. I agree entirely with his definition of "adverse" and its use in the Bill.

    Perhaps I can add to the assurances clearly given by the Minister and try to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that there is no suggestion in the Bill that people should not be allowed to use private cars in the circumstances he described. I too live in a relatively rural area; I occasionally shop at Tesco and use a car which I share. The impact of the Bill relates to the framework of public transport. It is not about forcing individual choices; it is about enabling people to have a better choice. Through the procedures in the Bill clear targets are available for the private and public sectors and government in developing public transport movements.

    My noble friend Lady Thomas described the amendments as "rather odd". I do not say that they are odd, but their effect may be adverse to what is intended. For that reason, I do not feel able to accept them.

    Amendment No. 7 relates to the needs of business, commerce and industry. As Members of the Committee will recollect, I spent part of my time this week trying to persuade the Government of the importance of the needs of business, commerce and industry in relation to the Government of Wales Bill presently passing through this Chamber.

    The Bill before us, in common with government legislation, will take account of the needs of business, commerce and industry. We had a clear assurance from the Minister on those lines. It may be argued that because the provision is in this Bill and not in the Road Traffic Act 1997, to which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred, local authorities will have no need to consider the factors affecting business, commerce and industry if we are looking at the two pieces of legislation in parallel. That is not what we wish to achieve. The assurance we received from the Minister of the inclusion of the positive aspects set out in the report is certainly one that I can accept.

    I agree entirely with one aspect raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in relation to Amendment No. 5. I refer to the issue of, not hypothecation, but of the intention to spend green taxes positively so that those who are paying those taxes feel that they are receiving back benefit. A great deal of interest has been shown throughout Europe in the success of the landfill tax in the UK. Part of that is because it is clear that the revenue generated is used for environmental purposes.

    I look forward this weekend, along with other Members of this Chamber and of the other place of all parties, to attending the environmental conference in Denmark, which precurses the conference of environmental Ministers. I shall be pleased to tell them that in this Chamber, on this day, we have been progressing a piece of voluntary environmental legislation which may have a positive impact on the reduction of environmental problems caused by the expansion of road traffic. However, we are seeking to do it voluntarily, in a way that encourages the motorist to use other forms of transport and, in particular, in a way that encourages—I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said in relation to the carrot and the stick—motorists, as taxpayers paying green taxes, to do so with a willing heart. They will see the improvement taking place in other modes of transport and the general environmental improvement that arises as part of that.

    For all those convoluted reasons, without saying anything further that may be regarded as adverse to Members of the Committee opposite, I ask the noble Earl to consider withdrawing the amendment.

    12.45 p.m.

    I am grateful for the comments regarding our addition to subsection (4) in Amendment No. 7. If provision for the mobility needs of persons with disabilities and adequate taxi services is necessary in subsection (4), why is the provision for the needs of business and so forth not necessary? However, we can return to that point.

    I listened carefully to what Members of the Committee had to say in response to my amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, described a possibly unintended effect and I shall take expert advice in that regard. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Swinfen for his support but feel that the inclusion of the word "adverse" in line 9 is necessary.

    As to the comments of the Minister, surely it is obvious that most of the impacts are adverse. However, the time is not right to pursue those points further today. We may return to them at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

    Page 2, line 3, after ("disabilities.") insert—

    ("( ) the needs of parents with young children travelling on public transport.").

    The noble Baroness said: I propose this amendment because I feel that once again, rather like the reform of your Lordships' Chamber, the cart has got before the horse. The Bill asks for a reduction in road traffic without taking into account the provision of suitable alternatives. It does not co-ordinate with the policies of other departments and, in particular, I am concerned with the extra difficulties it will provide for parents—mainly women in this instance—moving about with children. I am also concerned to sustain the rural economy, to which many Members of the Committee referred.

    The Government are aiming to get single parents back to work, yet there is no way, even in the public sector, that most childcare will take place in the workplace. I doubt that many Members of the Committee have recently tried taking three small, often reluctant, children on public transport in the middle of the rush hour. I believe that there are brilliant drivers and conductors who are extremely helpful, but it would also seem that there are other drivers who are on commission from osteopaths. Everything I say in relation to parents and children applies equally to the elderly.

    That brings me to the main reason for tabling the amendment. Is it not highly dangerous to remove children from the security of seat belts and often well-constructed car seats in cars before the provision is in place to ensure that seat belts are available for them in other modes of transport? I ask, by putting the amendment where it is, that the Government should put that issue as one of their priorities because there is nothing more precious than a child's life.

    On Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said:

    "The Bill is about trying to ensure that there is a clear approach to road transport in relation to an integrated transport strategy".—[Official Report, 5/6/98; col. 593.]

    May I suggest that again this is putting the cart before the horse. Should it not refer to the "integrated people strategy"? Traffic and transport are for the people who use them. I have tried to make this simply a pragmatic amendment where people consider people and I hope it will be acceptable. I beg to move.

    This is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, raised in speaking to a previous amendment. This amendment would add the needs of parents with young children travelling on public transport to the list of needs which the Secretary of State shall have regard to in Clause 2 (4).

    Of course, I understand the difficulties, having myself travelled on public transport with three boys under the age of five. As they grew older, at least one of them would be capable, on two-door buses, of attempting to get off at one door as I was getting off at the other with the youngest. I fully appreciate the problems and I do understand that this is a group of passengers with special needs. We share the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Denton. I would therefore like to take this opportunity of assuring the Committee that the Government will consider the impact on parents with young children travelling on public transport when considering how to comply with the requirements of the Bill. However, as I said on the previous group of amendments, we do not think it sensible to specify on the face of the Bill every factor that we may need to take into account. The list is extensive and it is neither sensible nor practicable to specify all factors. I hope that with my assurance that the Government will consider this group of passengers along with others and our reasons for not producing a long list, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

    I wish to make a very brief point that the Government may not have considered. It is, I understand, a legal requirement that, for their own safety, a baby or young child travelling in a private car must be in a properly constructed seat which is properly fastened into the vehicle. However, as far as I am aware, there is no such provision for public transport. Public transport can move just as violently as private transport. It is also likely to be involved in accidents. I do not expect the Minister to produce an off-the-cuff answer today, but it is a point that should be thought about not only by the Government but by the companies providing public transport.

    I am not in a position to comment in detail. In responding to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, I would merely comment that neither is there a requirement for adults travelling on public transport, with the exception of aircraft, to have safety harnesses provided.

    I rise very briefly to support the amendment that my noble friend Lady Denton has made for all the reasons which she expressed so well. The problem with a Bill like this is that once a list is made, as in subsection (4), the temptation is to want to add to that list. I cannot for the life of me see why the two requirements listed in Clause 4 are any more or less important than the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lady Denton; or, indeed, for that matter, the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lord Attlee in Amendment No. 7 which refers to the needs of business, commerce and industry. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, when replying, could give some thought to that.

    Perhaps I could make a couple of comments based on practical experience. Having been involved in the work of a local authority which was committed to reducing road traffic and which made that commitment about seven years ago, perhaps I can explain that nowadays, when local transport planners are talking about who has particular problems, those with some sort of handicap or disability are obviously on the list; but equally obvious are those elderly persons who cannot, for example, lift their legs as high as other people, or as the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, put forward, parents with small children. I think there is a general group which you could call "mobility restricted" in some way (without meaning to be derogatory in any sense to any of the various people who make up that group) and whose needs are invariably considered when people are planning alternative transport.

    The second point I would like to make is that there is an increasing number of buses, even on the streets of London—particularly in the suburbs—which are very accessible both for people with physical disabilities and for parents pushing children in buggies or prams.

    Perhaps I could point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, that the problems of many parents with young children, including mine, were not difficulty with mobility. They were all three far too mobile.

    I can understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, tabled this amendment. A lot of fulsome words go into the care of young children. However, the Japanese have it the other way round: they look after the elderly. Should we not consider the needs of the elderly on public transport being looked after by the very young, or, conversely, those of the middle-aged being looked after by the middle-aged? These are in fact examples of the wording in subsection (4)(a):

    "the mobility needs of persons with disabilities".

    I am grateful for all the contributions made to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, asked why there are specific categories referred to in Clause 4(2)(a) and (b). The reason is precisely to deal with one of the sub themes throughout this debate, certainly in Subsection (4)(b)—the need for adequate provision in rural areas; and, indeed, in non-rural districts where there are concerns about the possibility of replacement services in specific areas. We feel that that should be specified.

    Perhaps better wording would be "The needs of persons with mobility difficulties", or "over-mobility difficulties". Different forms of either "over" or "under" mobility are also specified because clearly they are a particular category of person. We are talking about particular places and particular persons in subsection (4)(a) and (b)—that is why those are there—whereas what we have had in other amendments from noble Lords, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, were more general and specific aspects which, of course, will be featured in the report to be produced by the Secretary of State as a result of this Bill. We have again had very specific assurances on this issue as regards Amendment No. 6.

    I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, for drawing attention to the needs of parents with young children generally, and particularly with regard to the school run. I find myself in complete agreement with her integrated people strategy. I wish all parties had one. I also agree with her that we are, regrettably, debating this Bill—and I must not sound too critical of the Government because they have been rather kind to this little Bill—almost in reverse order because we were hoping that the Transport White Paper would have been with us by now. I hope it is not available for the best of all possible reasons, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, hinted; in other words, that it may contain more consideration of the precise issues that will appear in the report as set out in this Bill.

    The needs of parents and children when using public transport will be taken into account when the duties are carried out under Clause 2(1) and (2). I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for drawing attention to the safety issues. Again, I am not able to respond in specific detail but we shall certainly make sure that we find out the detail and that we respond to that point. The whole question of the safety of young persons and children on transport is a matter for transport undertakers as well as for government.

    For all those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

    1 p.m.

    I am grateful for the interest that has been shown in this amendment. I wish to express sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in having to work so much in the dark at this stage in the strategy. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, that if one moves about London in the traffic for any length of time one becomes very cynical about the relationship between planners and normal people's lives. In response to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, perhaps I may add that I did mention the elderly, but I was particularly worried about moving children around.

    I have been reassured that this matter has now been highlighted. Unfortunately, my memory is good enough to recall that when I was sitting on the government side of the House I used the listing argument too. We understand that, but it is very important that this matter should be considered. Having heard the replies, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

    Clause 2 agreed to.

    Remaining clauses agreed to.

    House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

    Deregulation (Deduction From Pay Of Union Subscriptions) Order 1998

    1.2 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th December 1997 be approved [13th Report from the Deregulation Committee].

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order is concerned with removing some of the burdens currently imposed by the law upon employers when they deduct the trade union subscriptions of their employees direct from pay—the system known as "check off". The law in question is contained in Sections 68 and 68A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 inserted by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993.

    The provisions of Section 68 and 68A of the 1992 Act have been unpopular with both employers and unions. This is because they impose a costly and pointless administrative burden. This was confirmed in the large consultation exercise we conducted last year. The overwhelming majority of the 106 responses indicated dissatisfaction with the existing law and support for the changes we propose.

    The order eases the burdens in two ways. First, it removes the requirement on employers to obtain repeat authorisations from individual workers at least every three years, confirming their wish to continue paying their trade union subscriptions by check off. Secondly, it removes the requirement on employers to notify workers at least one month in advance if the amount to be deducted by check off is to increase. As a result of this order, individuals can pay their subscriptions by check off in much the same way as they pay other regular payments; for instance, by direct debit.

    The Government are satisfied that the legislative changes contained in the order retain those aspects of the legislation on check off which provide necessary protections for workers. This includes the transitional arrangements. Employers are still obliged to obtain a written authorisation from workers before they can begin making check off deductions from their pay. Likewise, workers will remain free to withdraw from the check off at any time; and employers are still required under Section 8 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 to give every employee a regular itemised pay statement, showing the amount of any deduction. In this way employees can easily tell each week or each month what deductions have been made. This is similar to the way direct debits are recorded in bank statements. The Government consider that these requirements provide a sufficient safeguard to keep employees informed about, and in control of, any check off payments.

    The removal of the legal requirement that the employee is notified in advance of any increase in the subscription rate will not remove any necessary protection. Employees are in most cases notified of increases in advance by their union. Repeal should also produce significant cost savings to business and unions. Several million workers pay their subscriptions by check off. According to some estimates, it costs around one pound to obtain and then process a written re-authorisation.

    The proposal has completed the preliminary scrutiny procedures for deregulation orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee of your Lordships' House and the Deregulation Committee of the other place have separately assessed and reported on the proposal. Both committees have indicated that they are content with the draft order as it stands. Therefore I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th December 1997 be approved [ 13th Report from the Deregulation Committee].—( Lord Haskel.)

    My Lords, it is true that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has declared itself content with the order. I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out in some detail what the order is about and what it will mean in terms of the arrangements for employees to pay their union subscriptions. Nevertheless, the scrutiny committee had some concerns on the way and sought some assurances.

    I wish to support the noble Lord and the Government in looking at the ways of reducing costly administrative burdens, particularly on business. Some costings have been done. Although they are not precise, the view has been that the cost is considerable. However, there is a principle at stake here. If I have a standing order—and I do have some—whenever there is a change to that standing order, particularly when it is an increase—but whether it is an increase or a decrease—there is a basic principle that I should be notified of that. The scrutiny committee pointed to the fact that employees ought to know what is going on and put the obligation on the unions to inform their members that subscriptions would go up. The subscriptions on most employees are standard subscriptions. Therefore, it cannot be beyond the wit of the unions to devise ways and means of informing their members without reverting to the bureaucracy with which the order seeks to deal.

    I have in mind the trade union newsletter. All trade unions produce newsletters. Those newsletters go to their members. When they go to their members they should have in them information that from a certain date subscriptions for ordinary members of the union will increase and that that will be shown on their pay slips.

    The other point in defence of these changes was that when employees look at their payslips they will see that the deduction has changed, particularly if there is an increase. It is always open to them to cease payment, in which case the most they would lose would be one month. I would like a much stronger assurance that the trade unions have taken that on board and that they will look to every practical step that they can take which is not administratively burdensome. I have given one practical way in which that can be achieved through newsletters to members. This measure is breaking with a very important principle that when money is deducted from pay or bank accounts, it is done on the basis that if there is any variation of the amount of money which it is expected to be paid, there is a notification to that effect to the payee.

    I was impressed by the comments made about putting this measure on the Internet. I support the recommendation that the consultation that precedes orders of this kind should be put out on the Internet. With this kind of order the voices and opinions of individuals are as important as those of the institutions because it affects individuals and not institutions. Of course, it is lessening the burden on the employer.

    I looked at the 106 responses, which involved 33 individuals. The figures are impressive. Out of 106 respondents, 95 supported the proposals. Some of the concerns expressed during the consultation were addressed, and that is stated in the report. But were there any outstanding concerns that were not addressed concerning individuals rather than employers, trade unions and big organisations?

    I have made it clear that I shall not be opposing the order. Reducing the burden is a good idea, but we ought to seek reassurance that the anomalies that are left with individuals and what takes their place will be equally protective of the rights of the individual.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her very helpful comments and support for this order. I can give no assurances on behalf of trade unions, but most inform their members of increases in subscriptions in their journals or by mail. We would encourage them to do so as best practice. We try to encourage these things to be done by that method rather than by legislation. Of course, as the noble Baroness said, when workers receive their payslips they can see if there has been any change. I agree that it would be good practice for the unions to inform workers of increases before any deductions are made.

    However, we could not find any evidence of abuse. We do not want to impose any further regulation on the unions, so the matter is best left to best practice. We have received no response from individuals expressing concern about the proposals. The noble Baroness mentioned that this matter was on the Internet. One of the problems with that is that one may have a large number of "hits" but one does not know how people will respond. In the event, we did not receive any responses from individuals.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Deregulation (Methylated Spirits Sale By Retail) (Scotland) Order 1998

    1.14 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th May be approved [21st Report from the Deregulation Committee].

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order, if approved, will amend the Methylated Spirits (Sale by Retail)(Scotland) Act 1937 to remove certain requirements presently imposed on the retailers of methylated and surgical spirit in Scotland. This Act has no counterpart in England and Wales.

    The 1937 Act requires retailers of methylated spirits and surgical spirits to be registered with the local authority and for each sale to be entered in a book kept by the retailer for that purpose. There is also a requirement for all bottles or other vessels in which methylated or surgical spirits are sold to bear a label identifying the contents and specifying the name of the seller and the premises on which they are sold. The Act also places restrictions on the sale of these substances to children under 14 years of age.

    The Methylated Spirits (Sale by Retail)(Scotland) Act 1937 was introduced to address a specific social problem of the time. In the 1930s the drinking of crude spirits in Scotland was a considerable social problem. Methylated spirits in particular was seen as a cheap alternative to more expensive forms of alcohol. This problem has long since disappeared in Scotland. There has been no record of any person being proceeded against over the past 20 years where the main offence was a breach of regulations under the 1937 Act. The registration and record-keeping requirements are therefore now considered to place an unnecessary burden on retailers and local authorities.

    In keeping with the statutory requirements we consulted widely about whether to remove the perceived administrative burden. The majority response to our consultation showed that there was overwhelming support for removing the recording and registration requirements.

    However, responses to our consultation also revealed general support for the retention of the restrictions on the sale of methylated and surgical spirits to children. That is perfectly understandable at a time when we are increasingly concerned about substance misuse by our young people. We have therefore decided to retain these safeguards which prohibit the sale of such spirits to children under the age of 14 unless the seller is an authorised seller of poisons or the methylated or surgical spirits are supplied by a medical practitioner.

    Thus we have derived a proposal which strikes the right balance. It removes unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions but continues to offer protection to children from the dangers of the inflammable liquid and from the risks of ingestion.

    Your Lordships are aware of the special procedures enabling Parliament to consider the substance of proposed orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. In line with these procedures, this order has been subject to thorough public consultation and has been carefully scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which has recommended its approval. It has also been similarly considered in another place and has been approved by colleagues there. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th May be approved [ 21st Report from the Deregulation Committee].—( Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

    My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of this order. In a number of areas she has allayed any concerns that I felt prior to hearing her speak. I was particularly glad to learn that the rules as regards children under the age of 14 years have not been relaxed. There is one point on which I would like further clarification. Can she tell me whether during consultation there were any responses from alcohol misuse organisations expressing concern? From what the noble Baroness said, I understood that there were not. If she can confirm that I shall be most grateful. I support the order.

    My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl's support for this order. Out of the 43 responses received to the consultation paper, eight supported full repeal of the 1937 Act; 28 favoured partial repeal of that Act, which is being done; and seven respondents were opposed to any change. Of those seven respondents I believe that there was one from an alcohol misuse committee.

    Those respondents who were opposed to change were unable to present any evidence to suggest that removing the present restrictions would result in a return to what, as I indicated in opening, was a uniquely Scottish problem of the 1920s and 1930s. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that lifting the restrictions would result in a recurrence of the problem. Drinking crude spirits was a problem at a time when other forms of alcohol were comparatively expensive. That is no longer the case. Sadly, the problems of alcohol abuse are still with us, but they are not caused by the consumption of crude spirits. I commend the order to the House.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) Order 1998

    1.20 p.m.

    rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 2nd June be approved [36th Report from the Joint Committee].

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the draft order standing in my name on the Order Paper.

    The order seeks your Lordships' approval for an emergency order made on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ban fishing for certain types of shellfish in waters around the Orkney Isles. This emergency order came into force at 20.00 hours on 29th May 1998 and prohibits the fishing of mussels, scallops, cockles and razor clams.

    The order was made as a result of a build-up of the naturally occurring paralytic shellfish poisoning toxin, or PSP as it is known. The toxins accumulate in tissues of animals which feed on plankton. PSP has traditionally been associated with naturally occurring plankton blooms in late spring and summer. These algae bloom in the seas around the United Kingdom and are ingested by shellfish.

    PSP toxin is a potential health hazard and can cause death if taken in sufficient quantities. PSP in humans develops approximately 30 minutes after ingestion of the toxin. It is characterised by tingling, numbness and dizziness. Paralysis may follow. Gastro-intestinal symptoms may also occur, with diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Ingestion of large amounts of toxin can cause respiratory paralysis and death within two to 12 hours. It is due to the serious effects of the PSP toxin that emergency action has to be taken to ensure that public health is adequately protected, hence the need for an emergency closure order.

    Research is currently being funded by the Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department into various aspects of toxic marine algae and related topics. Recent work has included the development of new methods of detecting algal toxins in shellfish and this work is now almost completed. A final report on this work is expected in late 1999. Other research work has included a study of the occurrence of potentially toxic algae in ballast water discharged at Scottish ports. This work has now been completed and fully reported.

    In addition, a study of potentially toxic algae in sediments around the Scottish coast in areas where blooms are most frequent has also been undertaken. Further research in this area is being undertaken and will look at the role of bacteria in toxin production. A study of the metabolism of toxins in shellfish has also been commissioned. The Scottish Office has spent approximately £230,000 on research in 1997–98.

    Under the Shellfish Hygiene Directive, member states are required to have monitoring programmes in place in relation to algal toxins. These must cover the commercial production areas. This requirement is met in the UK by monitoring the water for potentially toxic algal species and by testing samples of shellfish flesh for the presence of toxins such as PSP and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP). Following changes to the European Union directives, monitoring and testing for amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP) is now included within the routine monitoring programme. The cost of the whole monitoring programme was around £250,000 for 1997–98.

    The routine PSP monitoring system carried out by the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, is based upon testing at 45 fixed sites around the Scottish coast. It is supplemented by additional test locations when rising levels of toxin require more data to establish the extent of a problem.

    The decision to make this emergency order was based on test results from the monitoring programme. PSP toxins were first detected in shellfish taken from around the Orkney Islands at the end of April, although below the agreed safe level. By 25th May, PSP toxins were detected in samples of shellfish taken from waters around the Orkney Islands at levels which exceeded the internationally agreed safety limit of 80 microgrammes of toxin per 100 grammes of flesh.

    The order was made on 29th May as a result of tests showing elevated levels of PSP toxin in a variety of species of shellfish, including a level of 787 microgrammes of toxin per 100 grammes in mussels taken from within the prohibited area. This is over nine times the agreed safety level. The species affected by the order are mussels, scallops, cockles and razor clams. In Scapa Flow we were able to use data from shore-based sites and from vessels fishing in open water.

    Over such a large area we could not be sure if the toxin was spread evenly or, perhaps more likely, occurring at random hot spots which were unpredictable. The scale of the results was too high to ignore. It would have made no real sense to close small areas around the highly affected locations that had been detected because algal blooms are not static. A piecemeal approach would have been inadequate in safeguarding public safety. Accordingly, the area prohibited by this order extends over a considerable stretch of water around the Orkney Isles which takes in the whole of Scapa Flow.

    Of course, the closed areas must be monitored. As soon as the order was made, the local authorities, fishermen's and trade organisations and Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency were alerted. The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency monitors compliance with the ban through marine surveillance operations and at ports of landing. Environmental health officers of the local authority ensure the effect of the order is understood locally and that warning notices are posted in affected areas advising the public not to gather or eat shellfish.

    When areas of open sea are closed to fishing the Scottish Office must authorise vessels to go out to take samples from the prohibited species within the banned areas for testing. Results to date still show high levels of the paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins in shellfish in this area. Samples from the closed area continue to be monitored so that we know as soon as it is safe to re-open the fisheries, which I trust will not be too far distant. It must be remembered that the toxin does not kill the shellfish which remain available for fishing when the order is lifted.

    Closures should come as no surprise to shellfish fishermen in Orkney since they have been an annual occurrence since 1990. The shellfish industry is kept informed of developments through the respective trade associations and via the Scottish Office telephone hotline. This was introduced in 1995–96 to give fishermen information on PSP and is updated each week throughout the summer period. There is always disappointment among the trade when a closure around the waters of Orkney has been made, but early action protects the good name of Scottish seafood. The trade has been kept informed of the recent continuing rise of levels of toxin in this area. However, based on the high PSP levels which are around Orkney at this time this emergency measure had to be taken in order to safeguard public health and to comply with EC requirements.

    The extent of the ban always includes the area where it is known there are high levels of PSP and includes a margin of safety. Whenever a potential closure is considered, great care is taken to try to minimise the effect on the trade in setting the boundaries of the area providing this is compatible with safeguarding public health. Results received to date still show high levels of PSP toxins in shellfish around the Orkney Isles.

    I must emphasise that our aim in taking this action is to ensure effective protection of the public from PSP toxin. The order will be revoked as soon as the results of continued sampling and medical and scientific advice indicate that it is safe to do so. I commend the order to the House.

    Moved, That the order laid before the House on 2nd June be approved [ 36th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

    My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her clear explanation of this order to deal with an all too frequent occurrence. She made no mention of compensation. Will any compensation be available to fishermen whose livelihoods have been restricted by this order? I was glad to hear that the industry was kept informed of the changing levels of toxins in the areas concerned. Can one take it that the industry is also kept informed when levels reduce so that it can make preparations to resume fishing?

    My other query relates to the trend for the making of such orders. Are they on the increase or at a fairly static level? With that, I again thank the noble Baroness and support the order.

    My Lords, I had not come prepared to speak on this matter. However, the noble Baroness has provided a clue to a personal experience that I had in mid-May in this House. I now understand that the probable reason why I was laid low was PSP. It occurred one evening during the debates at Committee stage on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I had been inclined to blame the Eurosceptics for the algae but I now understand that it was caused by PSP. The effects were devastating. If that was what I was suffering from, certainly no blame could be attached to the kitchens of this House. I began to feel unwell within about half-an-hour of eating a sea-food pasta which had only two mussels in it. Next day I could not move and was laid low for several days by a combination of what felt like flu and rheumatism. I am glad to have survived the experience. However, I am aware that the elderly or frail may not fare so well. I thoroughly support this measure.

    I add my support to the question about compensation put by the noble Earl. I feel very sorry for the shellfish fishermen of Orkney. I do not know if the noble Baroness explained whether any knowledge was available about the root cause of this algae poisoning. Is it caused by pollution? If it is a periodic occurrence perhaps it is advisable to explore the root cause.

    My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness who has just spoken will be good enough to receive the condolences of one of the Eurosceptics to whom presumably she has referred.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and hope that he takes my joke in the spirit intended.

    My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to add its sympathy to the noble Baroness. I did not expect to receive such graphic confirmation of just how deadly ingestion of this kind of poisoned shellfish could be. Whether or not it was caused by PSP, obviously it was something similar. That underlines why it is essential to move quickly and decisively when levels indicate that there are dangers.

    I turn to the question of compensation. This is not paid to fishermen. It has never been the policy of governments to compensate producers for consequential losses caused by natural events. In any case, the shellfish are not destroyed; they remain in the sea ready to be harvested when toxin levels go down and the order is removed. There is a loss of trade during the time that the ban is in force. As I have said, it has never been the policy of governments to compensate for losses caused by completely natural events. That takes me to the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. Tremendously intense research is going on into the whole question of these toxins. There is no evidence that pollution or any artificially produced substances create the toxin in the algae. It is completely naturally produced. From the papers that I have read, there is not one answer to the problem; it is due to a combination of factors. Obviously, temperature and other matters play a part in it. If there is a more specific, scientific answer I shall write to the noble Baroness.

    The noble Earl asked about the industry being informed or warned about the possible making of an order and the lifting of it. The industry is notified as soon as possible after the order has been made. That is normally done by fax within hours. Similarly, the industry is informed when it is lifted. In addition, the industry is advised on a weekly basis of sample results. It should be able to anticipate the likely placing of an order as it sees levels rising over a period. There is a helpline at the Scottish Office with a dedicated number. That is operated throughout the monitoring season and any interested person can use it.

    Finally, the noble Earl asked about the trend of these orders. There was one order in 1992; seven in 1993; three in 1994; six in 1995; and in 1996, 1997 and 1998 there has been one in each year. I do not know what trend can be read from that or whether matters are stabilising; probably not. That is the trend.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Homelessness (Decisions On Referrals) (Scotland) Order 1998

    1.36 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th May be approved [35th Report from the Joint Committee].

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, agreement is sought to the two draft orders which are before noble Lords today: the Homelessness (Decisions on Referrals) Order 1998, in respect of England and Wales, and the Homelessness (Decisions on Referrals)(Scotland) Order 1998, in respect of Scotland. The substance of both orders and their practical effect are the same in each case. They do not break any new ground or introduce any policy change but simply replace two existing orders that are out of date.

    The orders direct the arrangements that should be used to decide whether the conditions for the referral of a homeless applicant from one authority to another are met in default of agreement between the authorities themselves. The arrangements have been drawn up and agreed by all the relevant local authority associations. I commend the draft orders to noble Lords. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th May be approved [ 35th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

    My Lords, I do not want to detain the House. I do not oppose the order. I should like to put one small question. In the order relating to England and Wales there are strict time limits to ensure the appointment of a proper officer. As I understand it, that must be done within six weeks. I am puzzled that there is no time limit for the completion of the work of the appointed person to collect representations, both written and oral, to make his decision and to notify it to the parties. Is any guidance to be given to local authorities? I speak as someone who from time to time deals with people who seek to be rehoused and experience difficulties caused by long waits for such decisions. I do not seek to change the order. However, can guidance be given to local authorities on the time limits of the work of the appointed person?

    My Lords, at the moment I am not able to answer the question put by the noble Baroness. However, it is for the local authority associations to agree their own arrangements because they are so heavily involved in the process.

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Homelessness (Decisions On Referrals) Order 1998

    1.39 p.m.

    rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th May be approved [35th Report from the Joint Committee].

    The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have spoken to the order. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th May be approved [ 35th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

    On Question, Motion agreed to.

    Nato

    1.40 p.m.

    rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have considered the United States Senate's Resolution of Ratification of the accession of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to NATO, of 30th April, which imposes the following conditions on the United States Administration (which it has accepted), namely that it should reduce the United States' financial contribution to NATO every year; ensure that American taxpayers are not required to subsidise the national expenses of the three new invitees; report annually to the Senate on the "adequacy of the defense budget of each NATO member …"; develop plans for the deployment of a NATO ballistic missile defence for the entire territory of all NATO members; and confirm that the North Atlantic Council does not require the consent of the United Nations for any action pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty; and, if so, what is their reaction.

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put this Question down because the matter it raises is undiscussed in this country and even unknown, and because I have been told that the promised debates on NATO expansion in both Houses may not be held until after the Summer Recess.

    I may have a reputation for being hard on American policies, and later I shall be, so I have a couple of compliments for Mr. Clinton first: first, for his admirable speech to the World Trade Organisation; and, secondly, for his decision not to allow the uncontrolled exploitation of the seas immediately around the United Sates.

    I turn now to NATO. The American Senate constitutionally has to agree American ratification of the accession to NATO of the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary; and it has done so. But fewer than 20 senators failed to follow the advice of the chairman of their Foreign Relations Committee in imposing certain conditions which Senator Helms had laid upon the President and which the President had accepted as legally binding on him.

    I have seen it said that there are 45 conditions. Of those, six—which I have quoted more or less verbatim in my Unstarred Question—are of obvious and immediate concern to this country and the other European NATO countries, present and future. They will change the nature of NATO through and through. They are these. First, fundamental changes are required in NATO's strategic concept which has to be referred back to the US Senate twice during the present process of redrafting for its approval.

    Secondly, the President must confirm that the North Atlantic Council does not need the "consent" of the United Nations for,

    "any actions it deems necessary to defend the security interests of its members"—

    including out of area strikes—

    "to prevent … an attack",

    on NATO members.

    Thirdly, the Helms conditions will also alter the balance of burden sharing—our old demon—to the advantage of the United States. They will do so, not relatively but absolutely. The text says that the United States contributions shall be reduced annually by 1 per cent. of what it was the year before; that is by an absolute amount. Thus, supposing the world turned bad again, and the Europeans wanted a general increase, the United States would not lawfully be able to find its normal part of that increase.

    Fourthly, the Administration is to develop a plan for a NATO ballistic missile defence system. The fifth condition binds the US Executive to report to Congress annually on the deemed sufficiency or otherwise of the defence budgets and the financial contributions to NATO of all the other allies.

    Sixthly, the President must ensure that US taxpayers are not required to "subsidise the national expenses" of the three new members as they join NATO. Since the three new members are far from being able to afford their full costs of joining the European Union, let alone NATO, that means their difficulties will have to be met by the existing European members of NATO, including this country. But our Prime Minister has said that our extra contribution would be minimal; and the French Government have said that they will not contribute financially to NATO expansion.

    Lastly, let us remind ourselves that President Clinton has accepted all those conditions as legally binding on the Administration and that they are now United States commitments. The die is cast. Their likely effect on NATO as we know it has not yet been perceived by British public or parliamentary opinion, and I think not by other countries either. Certainly, when I raised these matters at a meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly three weeks ago, none—I repeat none—of the European delegates seemed to know about them although the United States delegates certainly did. Everyone else had to borrow my text to photocopy. I hope that everyone speaking today has been able to see the conditions in full.

    The obvious effects of those conditions will be these: a substantial shift in the Euro-American balance of funding—Europe will have to find more; a return to the fears and disruption of the 1980s caused by the strategic ABM programme; and the institutionalisation of US hegemonism outside the United Nations, with the connivance and support of the rest of NATO. I particularly emphasise the ABM threat. People may have forgotten that large scale strategic ABM is provocative in that it provides a shield from behind which a nuclear power can launch a first strike confident that the shield will nullify or largely nullify the expected retaliation. Strategic ABM is part of a first strike posture. Even planning for it—the technology is not yet available—will certainly drive Russia to perpetuate the present pause in its own weapons-calming programme and divert resources to rearmament, thus provoking what is politely called internal unrest, and will make permanent the present block imposed by the elected parliament on ratification of the START II Treaty.

    Russia has of course been reacting in this way—that is, with suspicion—since it discovered that it had been betrayed over the unwritten promise by Foreign Secretary Major and Secretary of State Baker not to station NATO forces on former East German territory.

    There are other wrinkles. The United States does not have a viable theatre ABM missile although Russia has. It is the Russian S-300 which the Turks do not want the Cypriots to buy. Israel has the Arrow which it has been building with US money and is developing the equally US-funded Nautilus, the first major laser weapon.

    If ABM is to work in time, within two or three minutes of the enemy missile being launched, it must be launched automatically. The incoming missile must be identified automatically, so that there can be no human input, neither civil nor even military. But since the US President is constitutionally debarred from offloading his war-making responsibility, the whole thing would presumably be unconstitutional anyway. That does not stop the money flowing towards it.

    NATO is already changing fast, even before the Helms conditions hit it. Under current leadership, NATO is turning more and more into a means of increasing US power in the world, in particular by military action and threat of military action, intending to do so without the authority of the United Nations.

    President Chirac has said that France will not accept a go anywhere-do anything NATO, and I trust that we shall not either. If one country or one military alliance can act without the approval of the world body, then all can and the world body is destroyed, and our hopes of a peaceful and decent world with it.

    On top of all that we must now consider the clamour for continuing expansion which is overwhelming in the United States, loud in eastern Europe, and distinctly audible even in western Europe. What are the arguments? The neighbours of the three new members have an equally good right to membership, have they not? How can they be denied once Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are in? And why should membership be denied to an independent democracy just because it was once actually part of the Soviet Union instead of only being militarily occupied and tyrannised by it for half a century? In what way are the Ukrainians, the Balts, the Azeris less our brothers in freedom and democracy than the Poles and the Hungarians?

    That argument has always been untenable unless it is accompanied by a reasoned case for stopping at such and such a position. If you cannot say where you would stop you cannot in common reason begin, because when you get there the Kazakh case will be as good as the Polish one has been.

    That is exactly where we are heading. Mrs. Albright spends a lot of time in central Asia. Mr. Cohen, the Defense Secretary, spends even more. The committees of the North Atlantic Assembly fan out and carry democratic cheer to the Caucasus, to the Caspian and to all the 'stans. What are they doing? In their train, sometimes in their pockets, come the oil and munitions industries of the West. But what is their vision of the future world? Where do they want to stop? Do they want to go right through the old Stadium of the Great Game? Do they want to go on until they meet Dr. Livingstone from the regional military collaboration now being energetically arranged by the US, and especially by Mr. Cohen, with Japan, Taiwan and South Korea?

    We are heading straight for an armed league of the white prosperous nations and a few hangers-on versus all the rest of humanity, and especially Islam. Why not go the whole hog? Does anyone really think that this is a good idea? If not, where do we stop?

    Moreover, Senator Helms proclaims that among the purposes of his conditions is the creation of a "firebreak" between Russia and NATO. So the principal effect of any expansion will be to turn the largest country in Europe back into a frightened and surly one, battening down the hatches, polishing the weaponry and tightening its belt as it knows so well how to do. It will be surrounded, isolated, "cordon sanitaire", and it will once again feel the whole world is against it.

    Finally, to return to western Europe, I think the European governments ought quietly to consider the possible effects of the Helms conditions on the obedience of the US military officers who are subordinate to the NATO Council in the NATO chain of command.

    These are black fantasies? I hope that they are, but I know that they are not. And until we are told where our Government intend to stop, I submit that people of goodwill and political experience should be more thoughtful and energetic in opposing any further expansion after the present ones. We should also revert to the questions: where is the common foreign and security policy of the European Union? Where is ESDI in the Western European Union? Above all, where is the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to which the United States and Russia belong?

    1.52 p.m.

    My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has given us the opportunity to debate a gravely important issue. I am concerned about the impact of enlargement on NATO for rather different but perhaps complementary reasons. I have always recognised the right of the central European countries to choose to join NATO and our need to receive some of them back into a world from which they were arbitrarily cut off by the Soviet Union at the end of a war in which Poland, many Czechs and many Balts fought long and hard as our allies.

    My quarrel is with the fact that the price of enlargement was deemed by the NATO powers to be to reassure Russia and to reconcile her to enlargement by inviting her inside NATO. The founding Act and the setting up of the NATO/Russia Joint Council gives Russia status, in the words of one witness testifying to the Defence Select Committee in another place,
    "above and beyond that available to any other partner".
    I would add that it might even be said above some other full members of NATO.

    It makes good sense to bring Russia into what is now the G8, to revise the CFE treaty to include her and to welcome her into the Council of Europe, to work with her in the OSCE and of course to create any number of useful bilateral relationships. But to buy her off, never more than temporarily, over enlargement by bringing the fox in with the geese cannot be justified, nor does it appear to have produced much in the way of dividends. If anything, it is already weakening an alliance which is meant to be military by politicising it day by day.

    In 1994, an earlier Select Committee Report on NATO stated:
    "The worst outcome for all European countries would be an extension of NATO without the means or the will to fulfil Article 5".
    NATO's Command Structure Review in December 1997 set as its objective;
    "to maintain military effectiveness and the ability to react to a wide range of contingencies; to preserve the trans-Atlantic link; and to develop the European security and defence identity".
    We could well be on the way to turning NATO into little more than a talking shop, an expensive version of the OSCE; expensive in our case not only in terms of money but in precious skilled manpower. Perhaps I may quote a recent statement by the Speaker of the Duma visiting France:
    "France also insists on NATO being a political union instead of a military political one".
    The NATO Secretary-General says that NATO and Russia increasingly listen to each other's opinion and take it into account. Rather curiously, Mr. Solana believes that NATO has restored trust between NATO countries and Russia.

    What, however, has Russia done, or will it do, to avert the almost inevitable clash between Greece and Turkey which must result in the Russian sale of the S300 PMU1 air defence system to Cyprus? What is Russia really doing to lean on President Milosovic on Kosovo? Certainly during a visit to Moscow this week, although he duly said the right things about freedom for humanitarian and diplomatic observers to enter the country in readiness to talk to the OSCE, he said that:
    "there were no grounds for the Yugoslav army not to be on the territory of Yugoslavia and that therefore any withdrawal of units of the Yugoslav army from any part of Yugoslavia was out of the question".
    He added that as terrorist activities subside the security forces will reduce their presence outside the areas of their permanent deployment. TASS reported on 15th June that Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin had talked and both believed that peace would be advanced by talks and agreed on:
    "the need to implement the provisions of the final statement of the G8 foreign ministers about the imperative of abiding by the principle of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's territorial integrity".
    As usual, the Russians linked all that with the START 2 treaty, which is still unratified, a familiar bargaining chip.

    I hope, incidentally, in the light of President Yeltsin's reported conversation with the Italian Prime Minister on 17th June, in which he stressed the need for international pressure on the leaders of the Kosovo Albanians to make them desist from terror and violence forthwith and to adopt a responsible attitude to the negotiating process, that the NATO powers will both hold the Russians and the Yugoslays to the commitments they have made and that we are raising no false hopes among the people of Kosovo that we intend to intervene militarily when it seemed clear that we cannot.

    So does having the Russians inside NATO help the non-proliferation? The answer to that is also no. A bare three weeks after the Indian nuclear tests, which owed much to the cryogenic rocket motors which Russia insisted on selling to India some four years ago, despite urgent representations from the Americans and from us, the Indian Defence Minister was in Moscow buying 40 fighter aircraft capable of delivering missiles. Russian/Iranian co-operation, too, is intensifying in the nuclear field and is flourishing, although it must be said that one Iranian arms purchasing body, Sanam, has been blacklisted. Russian sales of military hardware worldwide are being pushed hard.

    Incidentally, the Russians have a novel approach to export licences. According to the Economics Minister:
    "The new procedure for issuing licences for the export of weapons and military technology will enable interested officials to be prevented from creating any artificial delays in the process of issuing these licences".
    I cannot help thinking that that is an idea our exporters would like to see adopted here.

    I believe that enlargement has come to be regarded as a hostage to possible Russian adverse reaction and even the threat to peace. Meanwhile, we are all being assured that Russia is now a toothless tiger and that anyway the new NATO-Russian Council is working splendidly. It is not good for decisions on strategic policies such as enlargement or indeed relations with Russia to be driven by muddled thinking.

    There have been at least three major studies of the actual cost of enlargement. The Select Committee in another place seems to believe that it will work out somewhere between NATO's own optimistic estimate of 1.5 billion dollars over 10 years and the estimate of the US Department of Defense of 5 million to 6 million dollars. It certainly will be more than the NATO figure of 1.5 billion dollars which the Secretary of State originally believed would be the limit when it came. We should remember that the new members must accept a financial commitment. Alas, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, pointed out, it is a very minimal one—for Poland, 2.48 per cent., for the Czech Republic, 0.9 per cent. and for Hungary, 0.65 per cent. of the common budget.

    NATO, backed by such bodies as the IMF, which is concerned for the economic consequences, should do all it can to ensure that the aspirant members do not spend more on defence equipment than they can afford. Of the NATO 1.5 billion dollar estimate, 1.3 billion dollars would fall to the NATO Security Investment Programme which funds NATO infrastructure projects; some 200 million dollars would fall to the military budget to cover running costs associated with infrastructure. According to the MoD, costs to the civil budget, which can be attributed solely and directly to enlargement, will be very small.

    At present, we contribute net £130 million annually to the NATO common budget, £50 million to the NATO Security Investment Programme, £60 million to the military budget and £20 million to the civil budget. Our contribution to enlargement over 10 years is estimated at £110 million. As the committee notes, that, compared with, for example, the cost of a Eurofighter, offers extremely good value for money in terms of peace and stability. However, that does not prevent me from feeling an acute anxiety lest it should be at the expense of some more vital element of our own non-NATO defence costs. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that in the SDR full account has been taken of the fact that if ever there were a foreign policy led element of our defence costs, that is it. Incidentally, I must apologise from switching about from dollars to pounds instead of using the NATO accounting unit—known as the NAU. I thought that the NAU might be rather too much for your Lordships to swallow on a Friday afternoon.

    It seems to me that we cannot now withdraw from the first round of enlargement without disastrous consequences for our relations with central Europe, the United States and even the Russians because of the message of appeasement it would send them. However, we can and should put all our energy into ensuring that the strength of NATO is not diluted; that it remains an effective military security entity with the power and the will to deter—its original purpose.

    Russia has not gone away and if in some future chauvinistic mode it believed it could, for example, move back into the Baltic states with impunity, it would do so unless that power to deter remains credible. We should not forget that in using it we are also best serving the interests of the Russian people. Deterrence is the most powerful and least destructive way to keep the peace of Europe. Let us not forget that this enlargement will also help to balance growing German power. A future Germany could be far less civilised and far more expanionist, as Chancellor Kohl himself has been the first to recognise.

    Meanwhile, I urge the Government to do everything possible to maintain NATO's professional effectiveness and to leave politicking to the OSCE and the EU. We must hope that the Senate, having roared and asserted itself, may be persuaded to live with the enlargement proposed so far and to rescind its financial decisions.

    I have one last question. Were any decisions taken at the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers on 1lth and 12th June which are relevant to our debate? No doubt they considered the US Senate's latest statements. I heartily agree with the view of the chairman of the Defence Committee in another place that it is regrettable—his word was "disgraceful"—that we are largely excluded as a legislature from the ratification process when such momentous decisions as enlargement have been made and that the legislature has such a limited role. I support entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said in that regard.

    Our troops and our professionalism are indispensable to making NATO work as a clearly recognised power to deter and thus to prevent any escalation of a local crisis into war in Europe. We need to know why those decisions are being made and on what grounds.

    2.3 p.m.

    My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for introducing this debate on a Friday afternoon. As he has pointed out, the American Senate has ratified the protocols for the beginning of the accession process for three nations of central Europe—Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic—so that they can reach their historic destiny of eventually joining NATO. I should point out that the Senate voted decisively in favour by 80 votes to 19 with one abstention. That was done on 30th April 1998.

    Having listened to both the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, I am somewhere in the middle. I do not share the deep concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in relation to the United States and, although I am wary of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, I do not believe that at the moment it has the means, will or capability to advance into central Europe. I hope that I am proved right in that. However, I do not deny that in 10 or 15 years, depending on what happens in that great landmass, that riddle wrapped in an enigma, we cannot know what might happen.

    We are debating this on a Friday afternoon. If we had the power to control the Prime Minister in his negotiations as president of the Union, I wonder whether the American Senate would be debating what we had said in this House. I doubt it. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, had a copy of the document which I also have when he went, three weeks ago, to discuss those matters with the other parliamentarians of NATO. I am concerned that they did not have that document.

    I have not only looked carefully at the ratification by the Senate but I noted the 42 points and in particular the six with which the noble Lord disagrees. In conjunction with that, I have looked at the explanatory document written by Senator William Roth, the President of the North Atlantic Assembly. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, has read that document and that she has noted the several points which the Senator has made.

    As I understand and read the document, he says that the conditions imposed by the Senate do not affect the policy of NATO, so that those conditions are an internal matter for the American legislature and nation. That is an important point. When the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, winds up, I hope she will confirm that that is the case. I shall not go into the detail of those six points which the President of the North Atlantic Assembly mentions but they are certainly relevant to our debate.

    As always, I declare an interest; indeed, it is the same one. I live on the eastern point of central Europe. It is no longer a part of the Soviet Union and it is certainly not yet—at least for some time in the foreseeable future, I am saddened to say—a part of another security organisation, call it NATO or a transformed European security and defensive organisation. I refer to the northern Baltic state, Estonia.

    I am secretary of the British Estonian All-Party Parliamentary Group and I have no financial interest to declare at all. I am concerned about NATO's position in relation to the Baltic states. Perhaps I may explain this by way of an anecdote. About four years ago I went to Estonia as part of the British Council's assistance to the three Baltic states to produce a United Nations Baltic battalion—a United Nations peace-keeping battalion.

    I have studied the Baltic states since I was at university. I learnt of a gentleman called Sir John Laidoner. I call him that because until he died in 1953 (a week after Stalin) in a concentration camp 100 miles west of Vladimir, he held the distinguished title of Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, which had been given to him in 1919. At this very moment HMS "Sutherland" is going off to Tallinn to take part in Estonia's eightieth anniversary celebrations. Sir John Laidoner (General Laidoner) had a manor outside Tallinn, called Vinsi Manor. It is the equivalent of Stratfield Saye and Apsley House rolled into one.

    I approached the British Ambassador and asked: "Why don't the British, with the eightieth anniversary of Estonian independence coming up, make a contribution and hope that the Estonian museum curators might see fit to provide a room for displaying the British contribution to the liberation of the Baltic states?". His Excellency the Ambassador, whom I deeply respect, replied, "George, don't you think it might irritate the Russians and don't you think that we ought to ask the Americans first?". One has to point out that the Americans were not involved in the Estonian war of independence, though the Russians were. They wished to reconquer the Baltic states from 1918 to 1920.

    Parallel with that small story I was told by a different British ambassador as regards the expansion of NATO, "It mustn't go too fast; perhaps it mustn't happen at all. It is obvious, is it not, that these armies being reformed after 50 years of Soviet occupation must get up to the state where they can be accepted into a reformed and transformed NATO? But it is not our business". He said that the Finns and the Swedes had had a free lunch or a free ride over the past 50 years and that it was their turn to help.

    In 1995, I was, I believe, the first officer of the regular army reserve to go on an exercise—indeed, the first major exercise—with three battalions of the Estonian Army which operated in the eastern area. No one who saw that group of battalions could have failed to be impressed by how much those people had done for and by themselves. However, to borrow a few words from the Duke of Wellington, "They may indeed strike fear into the enemy, but my gosh they strike fear into me".

    The Western powers of Europe received a free lunch. Over those 50 years we did not have to fight and shed blood for the freedom of the 10 nations of Europe which were formerly under the Warsaw Pact. I believe that quite a large percentage of our dividend should go into recreating their armies in our model. That would provide the deterrence which the noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned. It would mitigate the increasing—I do not call it isolationism—lack of commitment of the United States to Europe's defence. I look on this ratification as a way of the American Senate saying, "We are Atlas. We are a giant. We have held up the globe for the past 50 years. We arrived on the shores of Normandy 54 years ago. Now perhaps, you may do a little more of it yourselves".

    What will Britain do over the next five years for the 10 nations of eastern Europe? I have read of the ASSIST programme; it replaces UKTMAS. It is for promoting human rights. That is excellent but deterrence is not just about human rights, it is about servicemen, weapons, tanks, guns, aircraft and ships. I look forward to finding out from the Minister what more we are doing to assist those nations—not just Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic but also the Baltic States; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—to take their rightful position within a European security and defence organisation.

    2.15 p.m.

    My Lords, I am sure we all want to thank my noble friend Lord Kennet for introducing this debate this afternoon. We also thank my noble friend the Minister for having made herself available so late on a Friday afternoon with all the pressures on her programme. As I have said before in this House, I remain deeply disturbed that the kind of issues which have immense strategic significance for our future, and that of our children and grandchildren, are debated as Unstarred Questions late on Friday afternoons.

    I want to make my position quite clear at the beginning. I am one of those who comes down very much in favour of the extension of NATO. However, I have always believed that the extension of NATO must be accompanied by a relentless commitment to building real, practical, substantive relationships with Russia. I think all of us also understand that it is a good thing that our Prime Minister and our Secretary of State have attached so much priority in their own approach to international affairs to the importance of good relationships with the United States. But good relationships with the United States is not the same as putting a premium on good relationships between the United Kingdom and Senator Helms.

    I, for one, welcome the pragmatism of the Government, coupled with their healthy scepticism of ideology. But all that would sit awkwardly alongside accepting the diktats of that unreconstructed ideologist of the Right, Senator Helms. Let us consider what he said in speaking of what happened in the Senate. He said of the Senate resolution that it,
    "builds impenetrable 'fire walls' in the NATO-Russia relationship, ensures that Russia will have neither a voice nor a veto in NATO decision-making and that the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council be a forum for explaining—not negotiating—NATO … decisions".
    That is an interesting contrast with the words of the NATO Secretary General who said,
    "The Founding Act has created a mechanism to … consult, coordinate and act jointly. Through the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council, it gives Russia a voice, not a veto on Alliance activities".
    I was also interested to note the words of Senator Bob Smith during the debate in the Senate. He uttered brave words with which I associate myself. He said,
    "During this debate, I listened to some of the debate of my colleagues on the other side of this issue. Very interesting. I thought for a moment that I was in a time warp, that I was hack in the 1950s and somehow privy to the debate here. I heard terms like 'Cold War'. I heard terms like 'evil empire', 'Iron Curtain', and Stalin was mentioned, as was Yalta and the Soviet Union. Unless I am missing something I don't see the same situation today".
    The NATO-Russia Founding Act, with its emphasis on the importance of relationships between NATO and Russia, is obviously something which has to be nurtured carefully. Those of us who have been watching events are a little concerned lest little progress has been made. We are even a little fearful that Russia may be losing interest.

    I turn to several themes that follow from the NATO-Russia Founding Act. It may be a little hard to expect my noble friend to answer those points in detail this afternoon. If she is able to place a fuller reply in the Library, that would be appreciated. First, what real progress has been made in the Partnership for Peace arrangements? Secondly, on the Individual Partnership Programme, what is the latest text and state of play? Where do we stand on air defence, democratic control of forces, defence research, peacekeeping, civil emergency planning, and military exercises? In relation to military exercises, are we talking about the exchange of observers, or about mutual participation'?

    Thirdly, what is really happening in the Permanent Joint Council? When are we going to see the work plan for NATO/Russia co-operation dated 15th December? Are we right or wrong in understanding that it covers 18 topics for consultations, co-operation and exchange of information, including the future security architecture of Europe, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, defence conversion, retraining of soldiers, combating international terrorism, armaments co-operation and exchange of information on nuclear doctrine, strategy and safety? If the work plan really does cover all that, it is clearly encouraging news. But why the delay in publicly announcing it? Is it related to Senator Helms' conditions as approved by the Senate?

    How do HMG propose to handle the new situation? If the role of NATO is to be constrained, shall we now see a reassertion of the potentially very significant role of the OSCE in European affairs? If that is to happen, shall we be prepared to take a lead in ensuring adequacy of resources for the OSCE role?

    There are two other issues arising from the Senate's—I believe disappointingly—restrictive approach to enlargement. First, there is the issue of costs. We all know that security is about more than simply assembling armaments. It is about the economic and social viability of the societies that are endeavouring to defend themselves. Is there a danger in the new situation that still heavier financial burdens will be placed upon Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, let alone other candidate members? What are the implications for the social and economic viability of those societies in the future?

    Then there is the relationship between NATO and the United Nations Security Council, to which Senator Helms' strictures apply. I hope my noble friend will forgive me for saying what I almost invariably say in debates of this kind, but it is a matter that goes very deep in our position in world affairs. We have inherited the role of being one of only five permanent members of the Security Council. Nobody, as I understand it, suggests that we should give up that role. We are therefore opting for the role of world stewardship through the Security Council.

    Where do the Government stand on that issue? What is the relationship between our commitment to NATO and NATO action and our commitment obligations and leadership role within the United Nations Security Council? Are we drifting into a situation in which we are saying that on occasion we shall have to act independently of Security Council authorisation? If we are saying that, as one of the current five permanent members of the Security Council, what is the lesson for the rest of the world? It is not a light matter. It is a matter that we have to consider very seriously indeed. It is not an easy issue. If we are taking it seriously, we have to examine the real implications of Senator Helms' strictures.

    I wish to raise just one other matter in the context of this debate. I should like to thank the British American Security Information Council, better known as BASIC, for having drawn the attention of some of us to this point. NATO enlargement could result in an accelerated tendency for central and eastern European countries to dump their weapons abroad. Inter-operability and modernisation as prerequisites for NATO membership states have, as I have already indicated, initiated a flood of new weapons purchases. As they buy advanced weapons from the West, they may well finance new acquisitions by exporting obsolete and non-standard weapons to other parts of the world. Conflict-ridden states and unscrupulous gun runners are likely to be the main recipients of what has been described as the resulting cascade of surplus weapons. One arms dealer, Mr. Sam Cummings was reported by Brian Freemantle in The Octopus, published by Orion Books, as saying:
    "There is enough weaponry throughout the [Eastern] Bloc to keep wars going for decades. It's scarcely worth the trouble to re-load. You might as well just pick up another gun".
    Of course, the issue stretches way beyond the former Soviet Union to too many parts of the third world, and in part, to the industrialised world itself. We all know that it is light weapons which are doing the indiscriminate killing around the world. We also know that light weapons are so often causing political destabilisation. If the Helms manifesto increases the pressures on new and candidate members of the alliance to off-load their old arms, without proper regard for the consequences, what can the Government—our Government and others—do to put right that danger.

    Will there be opportunities through the Partnership for Peace arrangements to do something or will these opportunities too become hamstrung by what Senator Helms has done?

    We all applaud—I certainly do—what has been achieved by the Government by introducing their code of conduct on arms sales to the European Union. How will those principles be more widely applied beyond the European Union itself? What are the implications for doing that inherent in what Senator Helms has done?

    2.26 p.m

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for drawing the attention of the House to the current plans for NATO enlargement. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I think it a pity that we have to discuss extremely important subjects late on Friday afternoon when many of us might prefer to be somewhere else. But that is what we so often have to do.

    My remarks will mainly concern Poland, as my wife is Polish and it is a country I visit frequently. I wondered what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was getting at when I read his Question and to some extent I wondered even more when he made his speech. We seemed to be going off to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, central Asia and goodness knows where. But so far as I know the facts contained in the noble Lord's Question are well known to the Polish Government anyway and they have accepted them. The United States, being the main contributor to NATO and undoubtedly the leading partner, has given consent to the membership of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic on certain conditions which appear in the noble Lord's Question and some others.

    My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to intervene? The facts that I was talking about may be well known to the Polish Government but they were not known to the Polish parliamentary delegation at the North Atlantic Assembly meeting.

    My Lords, all I can say is that they jolly well ought to have been known. I know that they were known to the Polish Government because I spoke to the Polish ambassador yesterday.

    Those conditions have been accepted by Poland. Given that the Polish economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe, I see no reason why Poland should not be able to meet them. So far as I know, they have also been accepted by the Czech Republic and Hungary. That is clear so far as it goes, but there is, of course, with the expansion of NATO, the question of what external threat exists to these countries. For that, recent history is more than enough.

    To recapitulate briefly, Russia, in the guise of the Soviet Union, dictated foreign and, to a large extent, internal policy in those countries until 1989. Like other noble Lords, I do not believe that the present régime in Russia poses any threat to central European security. However, knowing Russian history and knowing that we do not have a crystal ball, we cannot predict too far into the future. The whole history of Russia, both imperial and Soviet, is one of relentless expansion at the expense of her neighbours. Now Russia has returned to her heartland, basically though not entirely. But it is too early to forget the Chechen war, which only ended in 1996, less than two years ago.

    I learnt of that war from my Polish friends. It had a profound effect on Poland. Many people were made extremely nervous by the Russian action and there was a certain amount of support in Poland for the Chechen rebels, if we can call them that. The brutality of the assault on the small Chechen nation was out of all proportion to any threat it posed to Russia. The war, from the Russian point of view, was a disaster. A fact which is little known is that more Russian soldiers were killed in the initial assault on Grozny than were killed in the whole of the Afghan war. The loss of life and property of the civilian population was appalling. One must hope that some lessons have been learnt, but it is only too easy to see why Poland wishes to join NATO in self-protection.

    If Russia feels that NATO threatens her, she must consider her past history. I can say categorically that Poland seeks no territory, only to retain what she has; and that goes for the Czech Republic and Hungary also. From our point of view, a security vacuum in central Europe could be extremely dangerous. In my opinion it is important that a threat to any of those three countries should be treated as a threat to us all. That will be the case too when they are in NATO; otherwise we might just make noises, say, "How dreadful!" and do nothing, as we have done sometimes in the past. We are talking, after all, of that part of the heartland of European civilisation which came close to being lost over 50 years of war and foreign occupation. They cannot be classified at the present time—nor should they ever have been classified—as faraway countries of which we know nothing.

    With regard to the Polish application, I need hardly remind your Lordships of the Polish contribution in the Second World War in the Battle of Britain and at Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Falaise and the many other actions in which they fought side by side with us. I cannot claim much military knowledge, but I have seen their soldiers on parade in Warsaw. Their military bearing is still superb and—dare I say?—on a par with the Brigade of Guards. I should guess that we may at some time need them as much as they need us.

    2.32 p.m.

    My Lords, I was unfortunately too late to put my name down to this Unstarred Question, having just missed the deadline at six o'clock last night. With your Lordships' permission therefore I shall make just a few remarks in the gap.

    I am well aware of the real fear that the three countries concerned in the Unstarred Question feel from their large neighbour, which has oppressed them on and off for centuries. However, it is worth mentioning that Germany has been as guilty, if not more guilty, of oppressing those countries as has Russia. But Germany is a member of the European Union and of NATO and is therefore constrained in any aggressive tendencies that might re-emerge. The logic of excluding Russia from any possibility of even loosely joining or being associated with NATO in the future—if it is to exist at all in the long term—when one previous aggressor is a core member of that organisation is, to say the least, shaky.

    The remark by Senator Helms that the resolution, "builds impenetrable firewalls", has already been mentioned. He goes on to say that that will ensure,
    "that Russia will neither have a voice nor a veto in NATO decision-making, and that the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council will be a forum for explaining—not negotiating—NATO policy decision".
    I suggest that that kind of language is patronising, insulting and, far from helping to increase security, is likely to cause resentment and perpetuate rather than ease tension.

    Of course there are voices, and we have heard some this afternoon, especially from the noble Baroness, Lady Park, which say that strength is the only language the Russians understand. I suggest that that is to remain locked in a Cold War time warp. There are many voices of reason inside Russia that are struggling to make themselves heard. Of course, there are other voices to the far Right and Left who will capitalise on the widespread poverty and disillusion of the current phase of "transition" to a capitalist economy by using Russia's international humiliation (of which this resolution is a part) to gain support for rearmament and revanchism. The long delay in Russian ratification of the START treaty, mentioned by several noble Lords, may be an indication of that. It is one of their few remaining bargaining chips. I suggest that this delaying tactic is being encouraged by NATO expansion and the intransigent language of the United States Senate. I hope that Her Majesty's Government can find a formula which brings Russia back into the European family of nations, following the same line of thought as my noble friend Lord Judd, rather than pushing her dangerously into the position of a perpetual enemy or pariah state, as this Senate Resolution will tend to do, whether intentionally or otherwise.

    2.35 p.m.

    My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for initiating this debate because we have not had a debate on NATO enlargement since the decision of the Madrid Summit and, like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I hope that we will have a full debate before too long on the ratification of the accession of protocol, and indeed a full public debate on both NATO and EU enlargement. Perhaps we can only envy the power of Congress. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for helpfully guiding us to the documents.

    We on these Benches heartily welcome both the NATO enlargement decision and the decisive Senate vote. It is especially welcome that it was a bipartisan majority. I do not put the same alarming interpretation on the Senate conditions as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. As my noble friend, Lord Carlisle, pointed out, the conditions are binding on the US President and not on NATO. As Senator Roth, President of the North Atlantic Assembly, said to its political committee on 24th May that this vote,
    "represents a strong reaffirmation of US commitment to European security and to the Alliance as the cornerstone of the transatlantic community".
    But there is also, in the condition on reassurances about costs and burden-sharing, a warning to Europeans that we cannot be complacent about the American guarantee. We cannot afford to leave the impression in the United States that the European Union is content to leave the burden for security in Europe firmly on US shoulders.

    Security is a concept broader in scope than defence, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. While NATO remains, rightly, primarily a military alliance whose core mission is collective defence, it is also striking that the 1991 Strategic Concept defined one of the three main threats to NATO as social, economic and political difficulties created by potential ethnic and territorial conflicts in central and Eastern Europe.

    As a student at the London School of Economics 25 years ago, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war and suspicion of the US and all things military, I could not have imagined that in 1998 I would have listened to the Chairman of the Military Committee of NATO (as I did a few months ago) talking much less about tanks and armies and guns than about democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the dangers of ethnic cleansing; in other words, about security within societies.

    At the same time as I was a student 25 years ago Britain was entering a European Economic Community. Now the Amsterdam Treaty, building on Maastricht, defines one of the European Union's aims as the implementation,
    "of a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy which might lead to a common defence".
    What we clearly have is a convergence of the NATO and EU definitions of security and a complementarity in their roles in securing such security and stability. Only by building societies founded in democracy, non-discrimination and economic and social justice (primarily the role of the European Union) can the bedrock of peace be assured, and only by effective common defence (primarily a NATO task) can threats to stability be countered when necessary.

    NATO is acting with a new sense of purpose and speed. The decision on this first enlargement has been reached and is being implemented. It is encouraging, although it is early days yet, the way that NATO seems resolved not to let the bullying of President Milosevic succeed in Kosovo as it did for a long time in Bosnia. But the new challenge for the European Union is to be equally able to fulfil its part of the responsibility for ensuring the future security and stability of the European continent. This means, first, pushing through the process of EU enlargement—which is the other half with NATO of the process of double enlargement—and, secondly, developing a common foreign and security policy.

    I was therefore disappointed when the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, took pains to emphasise in our debates on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill that what Her Majesty's Government had ensured at the Amsterdam conference was the continuation of inter-governmental co-operation—she stressed that word—on foreign and security policy, not a common policy. It is for us on these Benches a paradox that while this Government are too inclined to look across the Atlantic rather than across the Channel for a meeting of minds, the Americans are urging us Europeans to forge a common responsibility for our own security. We need to build a common defence in Europe not as a rival to NATO but as a complement to it.

    It was President Clinton who said, addressing the Europeans in his speech to the NATO summit in 1994:
    "Ultimately, you [Europeans] will have to decide what sort of Europe you want and how hard you want to work for it … You have the most to gain from a Europe which is integrated in terms of security, in terms of economics, in terms of democracy".
    That encouragement and that warning are no less true today. I am not sure President Clinton would applaud the remark by the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in reply to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire in a debate on the NATO summit last July. He claimed—nay, he boasted—in answer to my noble friend that "we"—that is, the United Kingdom—rejected moves towards a European Union common defence. He claimed that there was no relationship between NATO and the European Union—two completely separate organisations. That can hardly be true with the relationship now between NATO, the WEU and the EU. We need to put flesh, as others have said, on the concept of European security and defence identity. It was developed within NATO to mean defence co-operation between European members of NATO but it must also now encompass links between the European Union and the WEU. WEU has become both the European pillar of NATO and the defence personality of the European Union and ESDI floats somewhere between NATO, WEU and the EU. It is time ESDI stopped floating and came down to earth and became a cohesive attempt at a common defence by the European Union and WEU acting coherently.

    On the eve of the announcement of the UK's strategic defence review it is apparent that what is needed is a European defence review to make best use of Europe's defence resources. Our strategic defence review should not take place in isolation but should be a contribution to common European security. We have the opportunity, to which the Senate's resolution is pointing, which is imposed by the convergence of financial necessity and military requirement. The most cost-effective as well as militarily effective way to maximise the European defence effort is by closer co-operation. This means greater efforts are needed for rationalisation in the arms industries, for common specification in procurement, for inter-operability, for sharing of facilities and equipment and for specialisation. As someone who has a background in local government, perhaps I may say that we need in European defence, as in local government, to pursue the concept of "best value".

    The lesson I take from the Senate vote is that the days when it seemed necessary to choose between being a good Atlanticist and a good European are well and truly over. A strong European security and defence identity is vital not only to ensure that Europe maintains a robust capability in the long term, but also to reassure our American allies that Europe is able and willing to share the burden of its own defence.

    Finally, European co-leadership within NATO will ensure that it remains primarily a regional security organisation for Europe and not one designed for the projection of US global power.

    2.45 p.m.

    My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for raising this subject as an Unstarred Question. The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, made an interesting point regarding our ability to initiate such a debate. Your Lordships will need no telling of the importance of full consideration of the merits and potential drawbacks that may arise with the expansion of NATO.

    I am also pleased that for the first time I shall be able to engage in debate with the Minister. I echo the thanks that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, gave to the Minister for making herself available for this debate. Many noble Lords will he relieved that, for the time being, she has managed to duck below the parapet and avoid the crossfire arising from the West African adventure of her honourable friend Mr. Lloyd.

    As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has identified, the US Senate has required assurances from the US President that US taxpayers will not be subsidising the expansion of NATO. Indeed, it is well known that the US spends a higher proportion of its GDP on defence than most European countries. So for that reason alone the Senate's cautious position is understandable. Consequently, in order to prevent the formation of false expectations, it should indeed be made clear to all potential members of NATO that there are costs and obligations as well as benefits that go along with NATO membership. In the light of that, what action are the Government taking to prevent the formation of false expectations by potential members regarding financial support?

    Section 2(3)(A) of the US Senate's resolution states that NATO does not require the consent of the UN or OSCE prior to taking action pursuant to the treaty. This statement should not be unexpected or surprising due to the fact that it is simply a reiteration of what is already provided for, and the Treaty of Washington is registered with the UN. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, put an interesting question to the Minister regarding the NATO-UN relationship and I look forward to hearing or reading in Hansard her answer.

    Given that NATO is vital to the security of the United Kingdom and to the rest' of the EU, it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the current stable situation in Western Europe were to be placed in jeopardy. There is concern in the US that both EU enlargement and EMU might divert attention away from defence. The United States often seeks reassurance of Europe's commitment to NATO both financially and militarily. A major concern must be that support for NATO may be withdrawn or reduced if these reassurances were not forthcoming or were diluted. Can the Minister assure the House that the strategic defence review will not send the wrong signal to the United States about our commitment to support NATO? The Minister will agree that the signal actually received and heard in Washington is as important as the foreign policy basis claimed for SDR.

    While we are on the subject of signals, your Lordships will note that they can be received slightly distorted or possibly even amplified. Does the Minister agree that Section 3(2)(C) states that it is the sense rather than a condition of the Senate that the US proposes that the share and not the absolute expenditure of NATO, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, should be reduced by 1 per cent. per annum—in other words, the signal is no increase. If I heard the noble Lord correctly, he understands it to be a condition.

    Another concern expressed by the US Senate stems from Article 5 of the Treaty of Washington which, as we know, broadly states that an attack on one is an attack against all. With each expansion of NATO, the possibility of the NATO allies becoming involved in a military conflict increases, even if only slightly. The noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, touched on that point. It will obviously be a matter of concern to certain Senators in the US. But it will not apply only to the US but also to the UK. Therefore, is the Minister confident that the people of the United Kingdom, or even their elected representatives, are fully aware of the ramifications involved in the commitment to Article 5?

    The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the attitude of the Russian Federation and to our relationship with it. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, in his short intervention, referred to the internal situation in Russia. Certainly, with the successful conclusion of the cold war, it is essential to keep the Russians on-side rather than isolated, but I think that the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is that Partnership for Peace is not enough reassurance on its own. I hope that the Minister will accept the invitation from the noble Lord to place a Partnership for Peace situation paper in the Library.

    My noble friend Lady Park explained the situation regarding Russian military exports and Russia's attitude to export licences. Does the Minister find the situation satisfactory? The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the problem of what could be described as a secondary tier of arms sales.

    The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to the Senate's requirement for the development of a plan—I repeat "a plan"—for a ballistic missile defence system. Section 3(1)(D) requires the submission of a report that requires, among other things,
    "the identification of alternative system architectures".
    I think that that US-speak means "develop a plan". I am sure that the Minister would be alarmed if there was no plan to counter an acknowledged threat. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made an interesting comment regarding command and control of such ABM systems and equipment.

    The Russian Federation must also have concerns regarding instability derived from the increased availability of more effective missiles, but can the Minister say what the implications are for the ABM treaty? Is she confident that it meets all the requirements of the new world order or does it require an overhaul? Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that ABM systems are the first part of a first-strike policy or are they just a defence against a maverick state?

    Finally, before sitting down, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and to his noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, who is unfortunately not in his place this afternoon, as they both regularly raise issues and test the validity of policies that many of us would otherwise be tempted to accept without sufficient review.

    2.52 p.m.

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
    (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

    My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for the opportunity to debate this important topic. I thank also all the other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. Your Lordships have asked many questions, which I shall, of course, do my best to answer, but if I fail to deal with any particular point, I shall write to the noble Lord concerned. Indeed, noble Lords are welcome to draw any such points to my attention after the debate.

    The Government believe that NATO should remain the foundation of our security. The UK can play a lead role in developing NATO as an organisation which reduces tension and is a force for good in the world. For the UK, this means a NATO which embodies and maintains the transatlantic security relationship; prevents renationalisation of defence in Europe; helps to maintain and to strengthen other key relationships and engages the Russians; remains an effective and flexible military instrument for dealing with future threats and challenges to our security. It also means a NATO which, through engagement with other countries in the region, spreads stability and democratic values in the way the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, suggested and acts as the allies' primary forum for consultation on all issues of security concern. Other organisations aspire to meet at least some of those objectives, but only NATO has proved itself able to meet all of them.

    The Government have made it plain that they are committed to an open-door policy on future NATO enlargement. The enlargement process will be discussed at the Washington Summit next year. Meanwhile no decision has been made about which countries will be invited to join NATO in the future or when. By enlarging NATO to the east we enable central Europe's new democracies to join NATO's collective defence instead of adopting national defence policies that may be seen as potentially threatening by neighbours and may well be more expensive.

    I assure my noble friends Lord Kennet and Lord Rea that NATO enlargement does not threaten or seek to isolate Russia. Russia has legitimate security concerns. NATO wants a real partnership with Russia. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred to the NATO/Russia Founding Act. The signature of that founding Act on 27th May 1997 established the foundation for greater co-operation between NATO and Russia in political and security matters, although Russia will have no veto over NATO decisions, including NATO enlargement. Successive meetings at all levels between NATO and Russia in the forum of the Permanent Joint Council are already helping to meet this goal.

    My noble friend Lord Kennet and other noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred to costs. Costs will be divided among the 16 existing allies and the three new members and spread over a number of years. We contribute nearly one-sixth of NATO's common budgets and the European allies together contribute some 70 per cent. of the total. Those shares will apply equally to the cost to NATO budgets of enlargement. An MoD paper was placed in the Libraries of both Houses in March which explained the cost estimates agreed at last December's NATO ministerial meeting and their relationship with the earlier higher estimates. NATO defence Ministers agreed in December that the cost to NATO budgets of admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic would be approximately 1.5 billion US dollars over 10 years.

    My noble friend Lord Judd asked specifically about the effect on those countries which joined NATO. The invited countries have agreed to pay the cost shares to NATO budgets proposed to them by the alliance: 2.48 per cent. for Poland; 0.65 per cent. for Hungary and 0.9 per cent. for the Czech Republic. The Government have welcomed the ratification by the United States Senate of the accession to NATO by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. Noble Lords will be aware that heads of state and government at their summit in Madrid last year decided unanimously to extend the invitation to these three countries to begin accession negotiations with a view to joining by the time of the Washington Summit next year. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that procedures for accession are going well.

    My noble friend Lord Kennet asked about conditions of the United States Senate as to ratification. That point was also touched upon by my noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle. I am sure noble Lords will agree that the deliberations of the United States Senate are a matter for that body and that its relationship with the US Administration is an internal matter for the United States. Decisions in NATO are taken by consensus of states parties. There is no question of the United States ordering NATO to take action without the support of all the allies.

    My noble friend Lord Kennet also referred to references to the EU in the Senate's resolution. The EU is recognised as an essential organisation for the economic, social and political integration of Europe. NATO, the OSCE and WEU all have important roles in the European security architecture.

    The WEU provides a valuable interface between NATO and the EU's common foreign and security policy. It provides Europe with a valuable crisis management tool and a military capability which the European Union can call upon to support the CFSP. The WEU is also an essential part of the development of the European Security and Defence identity in NATO able to draw on the assets and experience of NATO to run crisis management operations in which our North American allies choose not to take part. ESDI thus enables Europeans through the WEU to take an increased share of responsibility for their security in a way which is consistent with the primary role of NATO in Europe's defence. The total cost of the WEU to the United Kingdom is about £4 million per year.

    The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked specifically about the OSCE role. The OSCE's importance lies in conflict prevention, as we have seen in the expansion of its operations in the former Yugoslavia since 1995.

    On the question of the deployment of ballistic missiles, apart from long-standing capabilities of the recognised nuclear weapon states, no country currently has ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United Kingdom. The delivery of weapons of mass destruction presents formidable technical challenges and such a threat is some years away. But some of our allies are, and our deployed forces may sometimes be, closer to nations of proliferation concern. It is therefore important that the alliance is well informed about developments both in the potential threat and in defensive technology. NATO's Conference of National Armament Directives has drawn up plans for feasibility studies into the development of an alliance theatre ballistic missile defence capability, although we and our allies are not committed to the procurement phase.

    The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me, I believe, to confirm that actions pursuant to the North Atlantic Council under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty do not require the consent of the United Nations.

    My Lords, if the Minister will be so good as to allow me to intervene, I did not ask her to confirm that because I hope and believe that that is not the case. I pointed out that Senator Helms was binding the President to the interpretation that that was the case.

    My Lords, I misunderstood the question that the noble Lord asked. I made the point a few moments ago about the effect of what the Senate said on the American Government. It is of course an internal matter for the United States. An important point is that any negotiation in NATO will be a matter of consensus.

    I shall try to answer some of the specific points raised. The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, talked about NATO membership for the Baltic states. We recognise the aspirations of the Baltic states to join NATO. The Madrid Declaration of July 1997, following the NATO Summit, recognised the progress achieved towards greater stability and co-operation by the states in the Baltic region.

    The noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, raised the question of Poland. The UK Armed Forces are already using Polish training areas to exercise, with participation by Polish troops, as part of the precursor to the discussions of NATO enlargement.

    I have been asked a number of questions by noble Lords about the strategic defence review. It is important to remember the purpose of the review. We have been clear about this when talking of the messages received. The aim of the strategic defence review has been to ensure that the United Kingdom has the right defence capabilities to match the new security challenges which have sprung up since the end of the Cold War including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, aggressive nationalism, international terrorism, drugs and organised crime. It will provide a coherent and stable planning base for the year 2000 and beyond. I believe that that message is clearly understood by our allies.

    The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked specific points about NATO's relationship with Russia. Those were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. The new strategic concept will take account of NATO's new co-operative relationships with Russia, the Ukraine and other partners. NATO wants Russia as a partner in building European security and we are encouraged by the co-operation with Russia in the permanent Joint Council since the signature of the founding Act. If the noble Lord wishes to pursue more specific points I am happy to do so in correspondence.

    The enlargement of NATO agreed by members of the alliance in Madrid was, in the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister,
    "an historic decision and a step of huge importance".
    It is strongly supported by our allies, with whom we are at one in believing that it will make a major contribution to the security and stability of Europe. We also support NATO's open-door policy for future applicants. In the meantime, we intend to play a prominent part in supporting all NATO partners who wish to engage fully in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council dialogue and the opportunities for military co-operation in the Partnership for Peace.

    I can confirm what most of your Lordships have mentioned—that the Government have a commitment to give time to debating NATO enlargement fully in both Houses before formal ratification by the UK. That undertaking still stands and I hope soon to be able to make available a date for debate in this House. Therefore, if noble Lords do not feel that I have answered all their questions today they can be pursued at that time.

    House adjourned at six minutes past three o'clock.