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Lord Dubs rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government, following the implementation of the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996 (S.I. 1996/30), to ensure that a person who submits a claim for asylum after entry into the United Kingdom, who has dependent children living with him or her and lacks the means to support those children, is eligible for a discretionary hardship payment sufficient to care for and maintain those children.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be extremely brief. To judge by the Minister's argument in the debate, the Government feel that every asylum seeker ought to claim asylum at the port of entry. We know that not all of them will do so, despite the new proposals that the Government adopt. Therefore, families with children will inevitably suffer hardship. My Motion seeks to address that point. I do not believe that to use the Children Act and to place the responsibility on local authorities is satisfactory. I believe that throughout the House there is a sense of unease at what may happen to children. For that reason, I have today put down this Motion, which I hope will command wide support. I beg to move.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
I beg to move that the Chemical Weapons Bill be now read a second time. The Bill will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention which seeks to rid the world of chemical weapons. United Kingdom ratification will help to bring forward the date on which the convention will enter into effect. This is a measure which I am confident is supported by all political parties and by all noble Lords.
Chemical weapons are not weapons of the past. They are weapons of mass destruction and they still pose an awful threat. Nerve agents many times more deadly than the chemicals used in the First World War are held by some countries and are sought by others to add to their arsenals. It is a threat that we must seek to eliminate. The Chemical Weapons Convention offers the promise to prohibit chemical weapons globally and to stop proliferation. This legislation would enable the United Kingdom to become one of the founding state parties to the convention.
The convention, which the United Kingdom signed on 13th January 1993, is the fruit of some 20 years of difficult negotiation. It is the first treaty to provide for a verifiable worldwide ban on an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. The United Kingdom, which no longer possesses any offensive chemical weapons, has played an active and major part in support of the treaty throughout the negotiations. This is a good treaty and is one we support fully; 160 states have signed the convention and I hope that others will sign in due course.
The convention prohibits the acquisition, development, production, stockpiling, retention, transfer and use of chemical weapons and requires their destruction. It bans military preparations for the use of chemical weapons and assisting others to do those things. A key element of the convention is that it requires all existing stocks of chemical weapons to be destroyed together with the facilities used to produce them. Each country must forbid its citizens from undertaking any activity which is prohibited by the convention. The convention rightly addresses not just actual chemical munitions and prepared agents, but also the chemicals used in their manufacture.
To check that states are complying with the terms of the convention, and to provide mutual assurance that there is no longer a threat from chemical weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention provides a powerful verification regime. It is unprecedented in its extent. Its effective operation will provide assurance that the threat from chemical weapons has been removed.
The verification regime contains three key elements: declarations, inspections and trade controls. Declarations are required by each country periodically in relation to companies and others using chemicals of concern. Requirements are graded according to the threat the chemicals pose. Chemicals listed in the three
Inspections will be undertaken by an international inspectorate based in the Hague. There will be two main types of inspection: routine inspections will check accuracy of the declarations; and "challenge inspections" which will be undertaken at short notice, 12 hours, at any site where there are grounds for suspecting it is in breach of the convention. Challenge inspections can be requested by any state party.
Trade controls will be imposed progressively. Initially, trade in the most toxic chemicals--those in Schedule 1--will be controlled, and Schedule 2 chemicals will be controlled after three years. Existing trade controls cover many of the trade control requirements of the convention. Others can be implemented using existing legislation and there is no need for them to be implemented through the Chemical Weapons Bill.
Clearly, the declaration and destruction of existing stocks of chemical weapons and of chemical weapons production facilities must be verified. In addition, the convention provides for controls on chemicals which can be used for chemical weapons purposes and on their precursor chemicals in order to prevent the reintroduction of chemical weapons.
A new international body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will be set up when the convention enters into force to undertake its implementation. In particular, its Technical Secretariat will provide the inspectors responsible for carrying out the verification activities which I have described.
The convention will come into force six months after 65 signatory countries have ratified it. So far, 47 have done so; 28 of those ratified during the course of 1995. We estimate that the convention is likely to enter into force towards the end of this year. As yet the key signatories of the United States and the Russian Federation have not ratified. I need hardly say that it is vitally important that they do so as between them they hold some 90 per cent. of the world stockpile of chemical weapons. I am pleased to be able to inform your Lordships that both are committed to destroying their stockpiles and intend to become full members of the convention. The UK will play its part in encouraging them to ratify the convention quickly.
In the meantime, a preparatory commission is working in the Hague to develop the many detailed arrangements for implementation so that the time before entry into force is not lost. We are playing an active part in that work.
Each state party to the convention is required to establish a "national authority" to act as the focal point for the operation of the convention in that state. In the UK, the national authority will be the Department of Trade and Industry.
In preparing the legislation now before the House, the Government have undertaken extensive consultation with industry, academia, and research bodies. I am pleased to say that industry has been involved through all the stages of implementing the convention and during its negotiation. Further, industry supports the convention.
My department issued a discussion document last January. A Bill was subsequently issued in draft in July for consultation. The purpose of that consultation was to explain to those affected, not just those in the chemicals industry, the requirements of the convention and to help them to prepare for its implementation; secondly, to seek industry's views on points in relation to declaration procedures; and thirdly, to seek views on our planned approach to implementation in the United Kingdom.
The key messages in response to the consultation were that unavoidable burdens must be minimised; that industry and others need help in dealing with declarations and inspections; that strict measures are needed to preserve commercial confidentiality; and that the operation of the DTI national authority must be seen to be effective.
We have sought to address the concerns expressed during that consultation. In some cases this has resulted in provisions in the Bill. In other cases, concerns have been addressed in other ways. For example, commercial confidentiality is protected through strict rules laid down in the convention for the handling of sensitive information by national authorities and the international organisation. We shall insist that the rules are strictly maintained. The DTI has a good record of protecting commercial secrets, but to address concerns about protection of commercial proprietary information the Bill makes provision for giving statutory protection to information collected as a result of the Act or the convention.
A second example is that the Bill provides that the DTI national authority will issue an annual report about its activities and the operation of the Act. This will help to make its work more transparent and enhance proper parliamentary scrutiny. Thirdly, my department is committed to making the declarations process as easy as possible and will provide assistance to sites being inspected.
Perhaps I may make it clear that the process of consultation will continue once the convention is in operation. The national authority will need advice from a wide range of sources on a broad spectrum of issues in order to maintain the effectiveness of its operations. This advice will best be obtained in some areas through formal committees and in others through less formal bilateral contacts.
Although Notes on Clauses were made available in the Library before Christmas, perhaps I may briefly outline those clauses. Clauses 1 to 3 prohibit chemical weapons. Clauses 4 to 10 set out procedures for the identification, and, if necessary, the seizure and destruction of chemical weapons. Clauses 11 to 18 set out procedures for the destruction or alteration of any facility which may be identified as a chemical weapons production facility.
The convention requires the UK to make declarations to the international organisation in the Hague of its activities in certain chemicals. Clauses 22 and 23 enable the Secretary of State to obtain the necessary information.
Clauses 29 to 31 contain provisions relating to offences, such as powers to enable investigation where an offence is suspected, a power for a court to order forfeit an object connected with an offence, and restrictions on the initiation of prosecutions.
Clauses 34 to 39 contain various provisions, such as that service personnel committing any of the most serious offences be tried in a civil court rather than by court martial, the power to amend the Act consequent upon any amendment to the convention, and that the Bill binds the Crown, subject to certain qualifications.
I hope that I have signalled sufficiently clearly the Bill's ambit. I do not propose to elaborate further. As I said at the outset, it would seem to me that all rational beings would warmly support not merely the convention but its implementation in the UK through this legislation. I beg to move.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear exposition of the Bill. On behalf of the Official Opposition, I must say immediately that we welcome this important piece of legislation. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Convention on the
Of course, my interests are industry and economics. I have no expertise in foreign affairs or armaments. But we all know only too well that the possibility or alleged use of chemical weapons by nation states or terrorist groups is never far from the surface of our concern. The Gulf War, Iraq's treatment of the Kurds last year, terrorist attacks in Tokyo and recent reports from Bosnia are all evidence of that.
It is vitally important for the UK to uphold the convention to which we are a signatory. It is also highly desirable--I think I understood the Minister to be saying this--for the UK to be among the first 65 ratifying signatories to the treaty for reasons which the House well knows and which were outlined partly in what the Minister said and in other documents.
As your Lordships will recall, the UK signed the convention on 13th January 1993--fully three years ago--following the public commitment of Her Majesty's Government at the London G7 economic summit which had occurred some 18 months previously. Our commitment involves the UK being an original party to the treaty.
If I have it right, the convention will enter into force once 180 days have elapsed following 65 signatory states ratifying the convention and depositing their instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary-General. Again, I am not sure whether I missed what the Minister said, but my advice is that 47 of the original signatory states have deposited their ratifications. They include many EU member states--France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands--together, I am very happy to say, with Commonwealth states such as Australia, Canada and South Africa.
The Minister mentioned the USA and Russia and their progress towards ratification, which is of course of enormous importance. There has been some uncertainty in those countries, but I believe I am right--I understood the Minister was confirming this--that the presidents of both those countries are now pushing hard for ratification. In that connection, I read some stories in a Sunday newspaper to the effect that the USA is finding some technical difficulties in disposing of its existing stockpile. I hope that that is not some kind of signal that something will go wrong with the ratification of the convention in that country. We would normally expect the USA to take a considerable lead in a matter such as this.
To revert to the UK, I believe that we would all agree that there would be disadvantages, even damage, caused to us if we were not among the ratifying signatories by the time the convention comes into force. I am sure that that is what the Minister is saying. My initial remark was that the Official Opposition are determined to see that our role is to help rather than hinder that.
I believe that I am correct in saying that, were one not to do so, one would suffer some adverse trade consequences. We should be obliged to remain outside the decision-making structures of the convention. The
Again, to go over some of the technical ground, there will be a body called the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is to be based at the Hague and which already has a provisional technical secretariat. As I understand it--I hope the Minister will confirm this--an offshoot of the preparatory commission for the convention has the important tasks of watching progress towards ratification and hiring and training a large international corps of inspectors to be ready by the time the treaty comes into force.
Again, my advice is that the chief executive of that provisional secretariat is British, as are other key officials. Assuming that I am right, I must say that I am very pleased to hear that, because it is a reflection of the UK's important role during the long and arduous negotiations on the convention. To repeat, it would therefore be unthinkable for us not to be among the first 65 ratifying signatories. Again, to repeat almost ad nauseam, I interpret the Minister as saying that he feels a sense of urgency now and that this will go ahead with no delay.
The matter looked as if it were in abeyance at one time. That concerned me, because I believe it was presaged in a much earlier Queen's Speech. Your Lordships' House will now act with dispatch, but I should emphasise that despite the urgency of the timetable there is time to consider the Bill properly, thoroughly and constructively. I hope to make some contribution. I have in mind one or two possible improvements that we could deal with in Committee. When the Bill was dealt with in another place, similar improvement occurred.
I pointed out my ignorance of these matters when I started. I should now like to pay a particular tribute to those who advised me, notably the Royal Society of Chemistry, which has played a most helpful role in providing invaluable background briefing not just to me but to other noble Lords for our debate. I relied heavily also on Dr. Julian Perry-Robinson who is a distinguished academic of Sussex University. Without that kind of advice from a distinguished body such as the RSC many of your Lordships who lack the right scientific credentials and an understanding of the convention would be unable to deal with these matters. It is a pleasure to pay tribute to such a non-partisan professional body as the RSC. Oddly enough, at least three of its past presidents are Members of your Lordships' House but I do not see any of them in their seats at the moment.
It is important for the scientific community to assist Parliament when it is considering scientific subjects. I have to point out at the other extreme that, vital though this is to chemical firms within the chemical industry--I believe they have been in touch with the Minister--not one chemical firm has felt it worth while to get in touch with me, although they are one of our country's major industries. I also say with regret that we know that chemistry is one of the few subjects in our
The Government considered seriously at least one important amendment tabled in the other place, namely the provision of an annual report to Parliament. I was delighted that the Government responded to that initiative, which was pressed for by the Royal Society of Chemistry. However, I shall press again a matter with which the Government disagreed in the other place. It is the need for an advisory structure stronger than the Minister has outlined. I listened to him tonight and I shall listen to him again in Committee. However, for the sake of transparency, and agreeing that we must identify a national authority--in this case that will be the DTI, which will be the lead agency for the enabling legislation and all the associated matters--the DTI will need an advisory group of a formal kind.
I do not believe that that suggestion is controversial and I do not believe that a formal advisory group will give rise to controversy. It would be of practical help, and I am sorry that the Bill is totally silent on that point. The Ministry of Defence has an advisory mechanism in connection with chemical work at Porton Down. I believe that we can build on that and therefore we would not be breaking new ground. I shall press that matter and the issue of transparency when we sit in Committee.
Another matter to which the Minister referred is the licensing arrangements. I always have difficulty with the correct use of grammar there, but I believe that it is correct to say that another matter "is" the licensing arrangements. These are extensive. That does not fit grammatically either but I shall reflect on it when Hansard is printed. The Bill goes further than the convention in its adoption to the licensing system in the sense that the convention does not ban academic research involving the use of toxic chemicals, as in Schedule 1 to the Bill. It positively permits it under Article II(9)(a). That is one part of the convention that most impinges on industry and the academic community.
However, the Bill does ban research, subject to certain strict conditions which are set out in Clauses 19 and 20 which create the extensive system of licensing. Perhaps I may say immediately that I agree that, if we err at all, we should err on the safe side. We are concerned with chemistry, and the chemical industry and the nature of the chemical compounds that are used. We have a serious balancing problem to safeguard academic research in chemistry, which in this country is world class, but not to make it possible for potential criminals to assemble lethal or potentially lethal mixtures.
Perhaps I may draw to your Lordships' attention a most interesting and important article in last Sunday's Mail on Sunday, although I am sure it has been noted already. The article mentions my name, which is unusual. I was concerned about what was reported, in
Having said that, we must not go to the other extreme whereby those who have wholly legitimate research purposes will not be able to obtain chemicals, albeit in small quantities, which are vital for their work not only in chemistry but in related subjects such as biology and medicine. Perhaps I may refer to a great deal of the research which is chemical in nature on the neuro-chemical transmission process; that is, brain research and so forth. It is vital that we rid the world of chemical weapons, but we do not want to rid the world of the science of chemistry.
There is a great deal to be said on the issue of licensing and of the enormous powers granted to the Secretary of State as regards varying and revoking licences. However, at this late hour I believe that they are matters to be raised in Committee. I shall not press them on your Lordships tonight.
I wish to raise two further matters. First, the Minister said that he had engaged in widespread consulting, and I am sure that he must have done so. However, I wonder whether there has been enough publicity on what the Bill is all about and whether the potential has been sufficiently publicised. My guess, which relates to my point on the CVCP, is that, if we were to take a random sample of chemistry departments and ask them what they thought about the Bill, the majority would say, "What Bill?". If we were to say, "There is a problem that you might have", I guess that they would ask, "What problem?". When proceeding with legislation that cannot be a satisfactory state of affairs.
In turning to my final point I know that I am in a minority. Noble Lords are aware of my obsession with the question of delegated legislation and all of that. There is an enormous amount of delegated legislation in the Bill. Your Lordships' Select Committee looked at the Bill and, even though Clause 36 is a Henry VIII clause, and seems to me to be a pretty extreme one, it said that it was willing to live with it. I am beginning to think that I am becoming an obsessive in my concern about such things. I would never criticise your Lordships' committee, but I am doubtful about that clause. I am particularly doubtful about whether the so-called negative procedure for dealing with such
I have spoken longer than the Minister, for which I apologise, and I do not wish to delay your Lordships further. I merely repeat my point that, although I shall raise three or four serious issues in Committee, my main objective is precisely that of the Minister--to get the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible and for the United Kingdom to be a ratifying country as rapidly as possible.
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, this is a good Bill and my noble friends would wish me to welcome it and to express the hope that we shall soon be ratifying the convention. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, there was a strange delay in bringing it forward. It is three years since we signed the treaty and during that period we on these Benches asked the Government to explain the delay. We were not reassured when we were told that there was a shortage of parliamentary time. We found that very hard to believe. Nevertheless, in retrospect it is clear that thorough, successful consultation was carried out and we are in time to ratify the convention before the expiry date.
I followed carefully what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about improving the Bill in Committee. I believe that my noble friends are of the same thinking. The noble Lord mentioned the fact that the Government yielded in Committee in another place on the question of an annual report. Personally, I should like to go further: I should like to see the Government agree to statutorily lay down a minimum content for that annual report; otherwise, it may lose much of its value. There is also more than one view on the question of an advisory committee. We shall listen carefully to what the Government say on that point.
It is certainly a little odd to note that, apparently, there will be only seven servants in the ministry concerned with monitoring and verifying the convention. Of course, seven is a magical number, but it seems very few for the huge task and responsibility which the Government will face. Surprisingly--and, I think, on the whole unfortunately--the legislation is presented as a DTI Bill. That is not in any way to disparage the able Ministers of that department who have presented it in both Houses. It seems to me that it should have been a Foreign Office Bill. I believe that we have become a little introspective about the subject. We seem interested only in perfecting the system of control in this country.
However, there are much wider and more difficult questions arising from the Bill and the convention. It would have been good to have had the Government's view on them. We are told that so many countries have ratified, so many have signed and that so many will ratify. But, what will happen in a few years time? There will be three groups of nations. The first group will have ratified and will have the administration, as we have,
The second group of countries will be those which will have ratified but which will not have the strength and integrity of administration to ensure control. For example, one thinks of the Soviet Union and many other countries. The third group of countries will be those which will have resisted international pressure to ratify. I should like to have heard the Government explain what measures they propose to ensure that the non-signers, the non-ratifiers, are sufficiently pressurised to make the convention universal. That is a very key point. How do the Government propose to deal with the situation?
Countries which sign the convention are, of course, renouncing their ability to deter an attack by chemical weapons through holding such weapons themselves. I have heard it argued that the reason why Hitler did not use chemical weapons in World War II was the fear of retaliation by such weapons. Well, the Government--and, indeed, both Opposition parties--agree that we should not hold chemical weapons in order to deter attack by such weapons. That is something which requires thinking about. It contrasts, for example, with the attitude of the Government and of the Opposition parties on nuclear weapons.
We are agreed that we should hold nuclear weapons in order to deter nuclear attack by other countries. There is a strange inconsistency in that respect. It cannot be argued that chemical weapons are crueller or more destructive than nuclear weapons; indeed, they are not. Nuclear weapons are infinitely more destructive. They are crueller and more destructive of property than chemical weapons. It cannot be argued that chemical weapons are easier to detect and prevent than nuclear weapons. On the contrary, nuclear weapons are very much easier, or much less difficult, to detect and control internationally than is the case with chemical weapons. Why then do all of us on both sides of the House say, "Yes, we should hold nuclear weapons to deter nuclear attack; but, no, we should not hold chemical weapons to deter chemical attack"?
It is possible that the Government think that nuclear weapons can be used to deter chemical attacks. If so, they have never said so; and, indeed, conspicuously did not say so at the time of the Gulf War when it would certainly have been relevant. That is certainly not the policy of my noble friends.
I suppose that, logically, the only answer is that we should work urgently for the international suppression of all weapons of mass destruction, accepting as inevitable that that will take a long time; that it will involve every country in a marked loss of sovereignty; and that it will, from time to time, expose governments who are peace-loving and scrupulous to threats from governments who are neither. For all I know, that may be the Government's policy; or, indeed, they may have no policy.
Therefore, as I said, I should have liked the Foreign Office to handle the matter. In that way we could have been shown the broader thinking of the Government on such important and difficult questions. In the meantime,
I do not wish to cover or repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said on points which I believe will be more appropriately dealt with in Committee. Similarly, I do not ask the noble and learned Lord to answer the very big and difficult and controversial questions that I have raised. Nevertheless, the Government must face up to the matter. They must decide what they will do about the non-signers, the non-ratifiers.
Are the Government content that well behaved, civilised governments should be exposed to threat from those who refuse to ratify and either maintain a chemical weapons capability, or at least maintain the capability to build a chemical weapons capacity? That is a very important question. I roughly sketched out what might be a logical answer, but I rather regret that, in handling the Bill, those wider considerations have not been taken into account.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I too welcome the Bill warmly. Its immediate purpose is to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the convention in time to be an original state party and also to play a full part from the outset in the proposed organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons, which will provide the international inspectors and supervise the working of the convention. But, in the longer term, it will also provide a permanent legislative framework to enable this country to uphold the convention and ensure that everyone co-operates so that it is fully implemented by the United Kingdom in perpetuity.
The Churches have long encouraged the negotiation of a chemical weapons convention. It is now almost 20 years since a deputation from the British Council of Churches visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss ways of promoting the UK Draft Convention of 1976. That draft convention was only one of the initiatives taken by the United Kingdom over the years towards the goal of a world-wide, verifiable treaty ban on chemical weapons.
That goal had to be in the interest of a country which no longer possessed chemical weapons but felt under threat from those possessed by others. Our national interest coincided happily with the wider interest of the international community. So the eventual CWC took shape, painstakingly crafted and negotiated, and in 1993 the United Kingdom was one of the original signatories. Now this Bill opens the way to ratification. We are happy with its approach. In particular we applaud the
There remains, however, one major area of concern which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Will the Government accept that an advisory committee should be added? Without this addition the Bill will be incomplete because it leaves the national authority for the CWC too isolated from key constituencies of support and expertise in science and in industry. An advisory committee is needed with the force of law; it is not enough for Ministers to say that naturally they will seek advice in various quarters which should remain unspecified in the Bill. The Bill should ensure that Parliament receives annual reports from the advisory committee, as well as from the national authority.
An advisory committee, I submit, would be a safeguard against the Act being used to interfere with legitimate chemical activity unrelated to the CWC--if that is a risk. Equally it would be a safeguard against the national authority proving insufficiently active and vigilant in its proper, preventive role--if that indeed is a risk. Both eventualities may be remote; let us hope so. But it is wise to take precautions and this is the simplest way available. The statutory existence of an advisory committee would be likely to hold the national authority to a steady course. It would help to ensure that the national authority continued to do its job; no more, no less. It would enhance the parliamentary accountability and transparency of the whole process of CWC implementation in the United Kingdom. It would also help to keep intact that broad unity of purpose in support of the convention which has been such an impressive feature of our public life.
Over many years British people in science, industry--and, I think, in the universities--and not least the Churches, have encouraged successive Ministers and officials first to secure a good convention and then to apply it. It belongs to us all. For let us remember that it is the United Kingdom that will come under the full set of international legal obligations when the convention comes into force; and the United Kingdom, not just the United Kingdom Government, is, we believe, ready to take on that solemn commitment and to implement the convention wholeheartedly. I believe that it is an advisory committee, representative of that wide-ranging spectrum of support, which can best express this permanent commitment and channel British experience and expertise into lasting, practical involvement, so that we can carry forward this great enterprise and, as a nation, make the convention work.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing absolutely with everything that everyone has said. Perhaps that is going a trifle too far; I agreed with most things that everyone has said. That is an unusual occurrence for me. I believe that the Government have performed well on this issue. They have experienced difficulties and they have not overcome all of them. Noble Lords who have followed this matter throughout are aware of points that need
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