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The Earl of Halsbury: With what is left of my mind after last night's late sitting, I have to confess that these two amendments are very much on the lines that I recommended to your Lordships when I spoke at Second Reading. I endorse their acceptance. As the Committee may know, I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and I should declare that as an interest.
Lord Kennet: I support the amendments. It is clear to many Members of the Committee that when something is desirable and in the absence of any strong structural reason why it should not exist it is much better to put it in the Act than to rely on informal undertakings by this Minister or that. Ministers change and governments change. Those undertakings cannot bind Ministers' successors. Let us have both these provisions and all the subsidiary ones written on the face of the Bill where they will survive until they are reconsidered and repealed or amended. That applies both to the annual statement to Parliament and to the advisory committee.
The advisory committee will have several roles. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries are immensely complicated. The more complicated a scene is the harder it is to ensure that legislation, which is itself complicated, is being carried out in the day-to-day industrial processes that we are talking about. The President of the Board of Trade will need all the advice he can get, but he can also use the advisory committee as an instrument for sending messages downhill into the industry. He can also use it as a means of obtaining information from the industry that he would not be able to obtain and of sending messages which he would not be able to send without it. The reason for that is that the Civil Service, rightly or wrongly, is shrinking all the time. Moreover, if he gets the right people on the advisory committee he is more likely to learn through them than he would through routine contact with civil servants what are the inner hopes and fears of the industry.
The industries will be put to a great deal of trouble by this legislation. I do not think that they will find it difficult to evade, if that is what they want to do, and the more co-operation and good feeling that can be obtained in the industry, the better. I commend the advisory committee as one means of obtaining that. Members of that committee will learn, and will become more useful and more representative of the industry as they serve. The continuing committee, with its changing membership, could become a profoundly beneficial institution.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for his kind words when he began to move the amendment. I am grateful to him for agreeing that this amendment should be grouped with Amendment No. 5 because that helps to explain the Government's position more clearly.
In many respects, I regret that, as the noble Lord indicated, I am not prepared at present to accept either amendment. I say that I regret that because, as the noble Lord correctly recalled from Second Reading, I said
Two considerations lie at the centre of our concerns. The first is whether the advice to be received--albeit one would hope in considerable detail--would be from such a committee and whether it is appropriately the exclusive source of advice. When one couples that with Amendment No. 5, our second consideration is whether difficult issues arise about commercial confidentiality and possibly also national security.
I think that the noble Lord will have been provided with a brief by the Chemical Industries Association in preparation for this debate, as I am sure is the case with other noble Lords. The briefing states:
The national authority will need advice from many sources. It is mistaken to believe that it will be able to obtain all the advice it needs from a single committee, however expert it may be. This is a new regime with no clear parallels. In our view, it would be wrong to set the national authority's advisory structure in statute when flexibility is needed.
There are some areas where the national authority will need to look to a committee for advice. That is clear. As I said at Second Reading, we intend to establish an advisory committee to assist the national authority on such matters as the implementation of the convention in the UK, how the compliance monitoring arrangements of the national authority can be made more effective and on how the burden that the regulations place on business and academia might be kept to the minimum necessary.
However, the national authority will need advice in other areas where an advisory committee may not be the best. It will have to keep abreast of developments in chemical technology which may have chemical weapons applications. It will rely heavily on Porton Down for that advice, but not exclusively. It will need to maintain close contacts with both industry and academia. An advisory committee may not be the best or only way to obtain this information because research--I emphasise particularly commercial research--is subject to commercial confidentiality. However, we have not closed our minds on this and will consider the balance between advice from the committee and other channels.
Although I appreciate that there is concern to put that provision on the face of the statute, I emphasise that the Secretary of State does not need to have a statutory provision before establishing such a committee. He can do so administratively.
I turn now to the national authority's report and what it should contain. The information held by the national authority, quite properly, will be subject to national security and commercial confidentiality constraints. The Secretary of State will have to decide, within those
We are concerned that some of the information listed in the amendment could jeopardise both national security and commercial confidentiality. Perhaps I may briefly take noble Lords through this because it is important. I turn first to paragraph (b). Information on the aggregate quantities of chemicals declared could divulge commercially confidential information where there are only one or two companies in the market.
On paragraph (i), the information on defensive programmes to be declared under Article X(4) is still under discussion in the Preparatory Commission in The Hague. The divulging of any information about the UK's defensive programme must be considered carefully. It is easy to cause damage to UK interests. For example, proliferators will always be looking out for information which may lead them to promising lines of research, and any information on the scope or direction of our programme could provide clues to potential enemies on where there might be weaknesses in our defence.
I turn to paragraph (k). Publishing a list of chemicals which recently have become of concern because of their chemical weapons potential would again be of great interest to proliferators. We should do nothing to make their task any easier.
On paragraph (n), the progress of other state parties in eliminating chemical weapons will be provided to the national authority by the international organisation in The Hague. However, it may be classified in accordance with the terms of the convention and, if so, must be protected.
Although a number of worthwhile items are included in the list, I hope that that explanation will be clear enough to bring home to noble Lords the fact that, although we are not in the business of trying to restrict information in the report in any unhelpful fashion, there are real reasons why the list that is proposed does not appear to be appropriate.
The advisory committee proposed must contain members from those affected by the Act if it is to be effective in advising on the operation of the legislation. Some members will have a commercial interest in the chemical industry or in research. Consequently, it would not be right to show the committee details of information provided by industry or research bodies for inclusion in the UK declaration. The advisory committee could not and should not act as the arbiter of which information must remain confidential. That responsibility must remain with the Secretary of State if industry, academia and research bodies are to be confident that their information will be properly protected.
It will be clear from what I have said that I have, in a curious way, a stronger resistance to Amendment No. 5 because of the difficulties that I can envisage emerging as a result of the inclusion of such detail in an annual report.
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