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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, it was perhaps a little disingenuous of the noble Lord, Lord Howie, not to quote the next passage in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I too remember it with the utmost pleasure. Having made the points particularly about Lord Nuffield and Lord Lindsay of Birker, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, went on to say at the end of his speech (again at col. 351 of Hansard for 19th July 1995):


Therefore, I must confess that it was with some disappointment that I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, had tabled the amendments. Those who were present at the Second Reading will remember that we had a splendid debate. Several former vice- chancellors of the University of London and other universities spoke eloquently in support of the Bill. I received a message today from the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, that he too assures me of his fullest support.

However, since then the Bill has been painstakingly examined by a Select Committee of this House. I am pleased to see all the members of that Select Committee present here today. They reported the Bill without amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, is perfectly right. At Second Reading he and the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, drew attention to the point on Clause 7 about the trust. They were concerned about what the effect of the Bill would be. The matter was examined painstakingly by the Select Committee and counsel for the objectors to the Bill produced a witness specifically to deal with the point. He was examined and cross-examined by counsel for the promoters, who also addressed the committee, and the committee reported this Bill to this House without amendment.

But it does not stop there. Only last week, the council of St. Bartholomew's Hospital medical college debated the issue again. It came to the conclusion that the Bill should not be amended. This amendment is not wanted; it is not required. As I said, it is not thought to be necessary by the council of St. Bart's medical college or by the chairman, Sir Anthony Dawson, and the trustees of the St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College Trust, or by the Charity Commission, which the noble Lord mentioned, or as I said by our own Select Committee.

Perhaps in view of the noble Lord's remarks, I might be permitted a sentence or two to say why the amendment is unnecessary. It is unnecessary because the trustees, who renew themselves, retain complete discretion to continue to use their assets for the support of medicine and research within Queen Mary and Westfield College. Nothing in Clause 7 of the Bill constrains the trustees in any way whatever. It would, of course, be another matter if the Bill were to require them to give support to non-medical matters; or if the power to appoint new trustees passed away from the

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trustees either to the college or to some other body. But that is not the case. Indeed, the promoters of the Bill obtained counsel's opinion to the effect that the trust's powers are not widened in the way that was supposed or assumed. I believe that that is what lies behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howie. Queen Mary and Westfield College agreed with the trust that it will use its best endeavours to ensure that the trust continues to support matters relating to medicine, surgery and dentistry. A number of courses are open to it, including approaches first to the Charity Commissioners and to the courts.

I am also advised—although I entirely take the point that when laymen come to draft amendments it is not always very easy—that the amendment on the Marshalled List is defective. The noble Lord was offered discussions with the principal of the college, who wrote to him last July. He did not take up that offer. So far as I am aware, he has not discussed the matter with any of those who represent the promoters of the Bill. The fact is that the amendment moved by the noble Lord would have the effect of narrowing the powers of the trust, and the provisions would then conflict with and override to some extent the wishes of the donors who originally endowed the trust. I hope therefore that, having reflected on my remarks, on the very wide support that the Bill received at Second Reading, and on the fact that the committee examined this very point and reported the Bill without amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, will not press his amendment to a Division.

Lord Annan: My Lords, since my name was invoked by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, I apologise for not having observed the very wise dictum, first stated, I believe, by St. Thomas Aquinas, about being economical with the truth. I did, as it were, give hostages to fortune by indicating that there were occasions in universities when the wishes of donors were not observed. However, the wish of a donor in giving a gift is a very different matter from the solemn obligations that trustees take upon themselves. That is why I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, for his very detailed reply to my remarks. I must make it clear that my intention was not to oppose the Bill, as he perhaps hinted, but merely to amend it. I also sought, as I believed, to strengthen it. The noble Lord suggested that my amendment was defective in a technical sense. The noble Lord may very well be right. That happens in this House from time to time, even when parliamentary draftsmen, and not laymen, draw up amendments.

However, in view of the fact that the debates as reported in Hansard are widely read and have greater legal strength now than once they had, and in view of the noble Lord's explanation, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

On Question, Bill passed.

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Charities (Amendment) Bill

3.35 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down for this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Baroness Rawlings.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Atomic Energy Authority Bill

Read a third time.

Clause 3 [Supplementary provisions as to the Authority's powers]:

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 3, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) The Authority shall not have the power to dispose of any undertaking unless provided for by a transfer scheme.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope to speak very briefly to this amendment. On reflection, I should probably have raised it at the Bill's previous stage in this House, but did not feel that I wanted to do so at that time. It looks rather odd to raise the point now, but as this is my only opportunity to deal with the matter, I shall do so.

My concern is that, almost separately from this Bill, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority also seems to be selling off other parts of itself. I find that in any case rather odd, but I gather that all kinds of bits of it are available for sale within what is called the government division. Typically, the sections being sold are small. The numbers of people involved range from one in something called the book drying group (I have not yet discovered what it is) through to the Dounreay engineering squad, which involves 90 people.

It seems to me that there is a serious point of principle here. First, it is not clear on what basis UKAEA is able to divest itself of these bits of its own business without a transfer scheme and in a sense without any further consideration by its ultimate owners. Secondly, there are certainly safety reasons behind my concern about parts of the business being sold off. If possible, will the Minister comment on that?

I am also worried about a matter that arose when we first debated this whole subject; namely, fragmenting the business and selling off bits and pieces. Assuming that the business as a whole is worth more than the simple sum of its parts, selling it in this fragmented way will not achieve the maximum gain for the taxpayer. I should certainly therefore like the Minister, if possible, to say a word or two on the taxpayers' interest in the commercial side of the selling off.

Finally—again I reveal my normal ignorance of these matters—I am not very clear what the process of selling off is or will be. Will it be a matter for competitive

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tender, therefore guaranteeing that the very best price is achieved; or will it be by negotiation, in which case the best price is not necessarily achieved? I apologise again for delaying your Lordships by raising these matters, but I believe they are worth some ministerial comment.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has raised an important issue. One of the main points raised during earlier stages of the Bill was that AEA Technology, with which the Bill is mainly concerned, should be sold off as a whole. It now appears that some parts of AEA Technology as well as the government division may be disposed of otherwise. It would be most helpful to have some elucidation of this issue.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, when a comparable amendment was moved in Committee I hoped that I had provided a sufficiently full and satisfactory response. But perhaps I may take a moment now to go over some of the ground and clarify matters further.

A transfer scheme is the most effective and economical way of dealing with the many varied and complex issues involved in separating out AEA Technology from the authority. Most disposals by the authority, however, involve the sale of small operational units with few assets and a handful of staff. In those cases, sale by normal commercial contract is all that is required. As I advised the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, in Committee, using a transfer scheme to give effect to such sales as this amendment would require would be to make something of a mountain out of a molehill. It would not prevent such disposals being made but would unnecessarily increase the administrative cost of making them. I can confirm that all sales in these matters will be on a competitive basis.

So far as AEA Technology is concerned, the divestments which have taken place or which are envisaged contain only a handful of employees. The areas involved are clearly outside the core activities of AEA Technology. It is not true that their sale would in a sense damage the synergy of the sale value of AEA Technology. I do not depart from anything that I said at an earlier stage of the Bill.

I suspect that what lies behind this concern is that, while AEA Technology is being sold off in the way that I described earlier, there are other small parts that are being disposed of that are not part of the core. But if the noble Lord is concerned to ensure that the Secretary of State should retain control over other disposals by the authority, perhaps he will be satisfied when I tell him that the Secretary of State already has extensive powers of control over the authority, including the power, under Section 3(2) of the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954, to issue directions. Disposals by the authority are already subject to control under such a direction which restricts disposal without approval of the Secretary of State.

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We do not seek to operate a completely different system but those early disposals—maybe future disposals—which were made fall rather differently out of the core of the AEA Technology business which, as I indicated last time, we intend to sell off in a single sale.


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