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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his explanation. But can he rebut the imputation, which I invited him to deny, that the Government propose to reduce income support in order to increase the incentive to work?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I believe I started my contribution on lone parents by saying specifically that that was not our intention.

Perhaps I may turn to the question raised by the noble Baroness, the noble Earl and indeed my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree. They asked, in the context of fraud, about the reductions in the cost of the social security budget on which my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Lilley and the other Ministers in his team are now engaged.

First, we are determined to ring fence those amounts of money which are going into the pursuit of fraud, the clarification of what that fraud is and how we intend to stop it. For example, the noble Earl asked about the distinction between confirmed and suspected fraud. Suspected fraud involves claims where we have a strong

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suspicion of fraud, but where it cannot properly be established in the time available. Confirmed fraud is exactly what it says.

The interesting point about our decision to try to reduce the administrative costs of the social security budget is that, to begin with, the party opposite told us that it was impossible without all kinds of awful things happening. Indeed, I spent a period of time nearly a fortnight ago in radio and television studios trying to explain the Government's position and countering the Opposition's accusation that it was impossible to do what we want to without all sorts of dreadful things happening.

Then, lo and behold, into our hands fell a letter from Mr. Andrew Smith, MP, who is the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to Mr. Chris Smith, MP, the social security spokesman. The noble Baroness accused me of practising being in Opposition. But the Opposition are practising to be in government in a big way when the Shadow Chief Secretary sends rude minutes to his colleagues about cutting government expenditure and then proceeds to have them leaked to the press. I say no more on that, other than admitting to being slightly amused. However, it is not amusing. It shows a tendency to say one thing and mean another.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I am intrigued by his insisting on practising his oppositional stance. Would he also like to remind the House of the exchange of letters between Mr. Lilley and Mr. Waldegrave a few months ago, when Mr. Waldegrave was proposing, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, various cuts in the administration of the department and Mr. Lilley pointed out how unwise and foolish it would be? It is clear that the Treasury, as ever, overruled Mr. Lilley. He has now acquiesced in those cuts. I am sure the Minister would like to entertain the House with a similar exchange of letters.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am happy to see that the noble Baroness is still keeping herself in practice for continued opposition by introducing a diversionary tactic. In fact, the letter was leaked. As usual, the picture was incomplete. The correspondence at that time concerned running costs in the coming financial year. The position we are now in is looking at a step-by-step change over the next three years in the way the benefit system is administered in order to achieve the savings at the end of that period.

The noble Baroness will not divert me from giving your Lordships the flavour of the letter before I sit down. It states,


    "Following Peter Lilley's announcement last week that he is seeking to axe his department's running costs by a quarter, I have been making some informal enquiries about the feasibility of his plans ... The advice I am getting, which is necessarily incomplete, nevertheless suggests that savings in running costs of this magnitude are perfectly feasible".
Thank you very much, Mr. Andrew Smith! The Observer, which runs a lie detector scheme each Sunday, and which it usually attempts to practise on the Government, was forced to practise it on its friends last Sunday and make the little lie detector show clearly in the "truth spin lies" lever, that it is clearly pointing to lies. That points to the distinction I made. Mr. Chris Smith said,

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    "[The Government] make a nonsense of [his] much vaunted fight against fraud. [The benefit system would be] pushed past breaking point".
His Shadow Chief Secretary says, as I read out, that,


    "savings in running costs of this magnitude are perfectly feasible".

What is perfectly feasible, but difficult to do, is to contain the social security budget. We have done it by attempting year on year to keep control. The other night I was attacked by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, for allowing the public sector borrowing requirement to go out of control, as he put it. It is not out of control, but that is neither here nor there. I invited him to tell his noble friend that the next time I come forward with proposals to contain the social security budget, he should remind the noble Baroness that keeping control of one's expenditure is a vital and important fact in the Government balancing their budget. Keeping control of this enormous budget--£90 billion--as my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree pointed out, is central to that control.

We have done it. With the measures that we have taken over the past few years, virtually--I could probably say "all", but because I have not checked I shall say "virtually"--all opposed by the noble Baroness in debates such as this, we have kept the expenditure down to £90 billion when it might otherwise have approached £100 billion in this second half of the 1990s. That is sensible budgeting. It is looking after the people who need the help most and yet not at the same time imposing an intolerable burden on the taxpayer. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating and National Insurance Fund Payments) Order 1996

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31st January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security (Contributions) Amendment Regulations 1996

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31st January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1428

Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 1996

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31st January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security (Incapacity for Work) (General) Amendment Regulations 1996

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31st January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Child Support (Maintenance Assessments and Special Cases) and Social Security (Claims and Payments) Amendment Regulations 1996

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 31st January be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Chemical Weapons Bill

6.17 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (LORD LYELL) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 1:


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

National Advisory Committee

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

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(3) The duties of the National Advisory Committee shall include the provision of advice to the Secretary of State about all aspects of the Act and the Convention.").

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

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

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

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

What is the reason for advice? First, what we are discussing here affects at least two very important communities: on the one hand, the research and academic community and, on the other hand, one of our major industries. Whatever view the President of the Board of Trade takes about how to operate the powers given to him, he will need advice, at least in part to reassure those two communities. Secondly, with no disrespect to the Minister's department, it does not have

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1430

the expertise to enable it to operate without this kind of advice. That is the first step we take, and I doubt whether we disagree on that.

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


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

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

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

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

A point has been made about commercial confidentiality. I fail to see that argument in terms of a statutory committee. It will apply to any committee. I stand second to none in my view that commercial

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1431

confidentiality must be protected, but I do not see that that has anything specifically to do with a statutory committee. The amendment as drafted by me and the other noble Lords does not restrict the Minister as to those whom he appoints, but it will help him to fulfil his role.

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1432

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

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

6.30 p.m.

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


    "Our view is that the national authority will need advice from many sources. It is doubtless a matter to which we shall return in Committee, but we think it is mistaken to believe that the authority will obtain all the advice it needs from a single committee".
He went on to say:


    "We hope that a single committee will be able to provide the advice that the national authority will need on those subjects".--[Official Report, 30/1/96; cols. 1380-81.]
I hope that the Minister can provide clarification. It seems to be a way of saying that we do not need to put the provision on the face of the Bill but we shall set up the committee anyway. I hope that he will put the advisory committee on the face of the Bill.

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

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


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