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Lord Peston: I thank the Minister for his answer, which contained more than I expected. I very much hope that we shall see the documentation to which he refers, but we shall wait and see. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Identifying persons who have information]:

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 16, line 23, leave out from ("instrument") to end of line 24 and insert--
("and no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has a different purpose. We know that the Bill gives the Government all the powers that they require to do everything to which we are committed under the convention. But of course not a great deal of what the Government will have to do is in the Bill. Those powers will be used via delegated legislation. It seems to me that that is particularly true in relation to Clause 23 and it perhaps occurs even more strongly later.

Unless the noble and learned Lord tells me that I have misunderstood the clause, I believe that we are discussing matters which may lead to criminal offences. The Bill certainly reads in that way. Therefore, I feel that I have a responsibility on behalf of all Members of the Committee--and I notice how full is the Chamber at present--to press the Minister further on anything which may lead us into matters involving the criminal law. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will clarify that matter. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: This amendment deals with the desirability of negative resolution procedure. Perhaps I may say at the outset that I hope that I shall

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1440

be able to convince the Committee that that is the right approach because it is proportionate to the purpose of the regulations.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Clause 23 must be read with Clause 22. If the noble Lord looks at Clause 22(3) he will find:

    "A person who without reasonable excuse fails to comply with the notice served on him under subsection (1) or (2) is guilty of an offence",
and is liable to a number of penalties.

The effect of Clause 22(1)(a) is that the scope is restricted to those persons likely to have information needed for the purposes of the convention. It does not apply to anyone else. Thus, there is clearly a restricted class of people.

The convention is explicit about the information needed. There are four categories of chemicals--Schedules 1 to 3 and discrete organic chemicals--and declarations are required for activities beyond specified thresholds. Those must be reflected in the regulations.

However, the deregulations must reflect also detailed technical points. For example, if a chemical has been diluted, there is the question of the concentration of chemical beyond which declarations are required. That issue and others are still under discussion internationally and may well change with experience of the regimes.

This power is needed because the convention requires that all sides covered by declaration requirements must be included in the UK declaration. Inspections will take place to check declarations and the United Kingdom will be open to challenge if another state believes that it has wrongly not declared any site. Experience of other states is that industry response is poor where there is no statutory requirement to give information. For example, Australia reports that 36 per cent. failed to respond to the carefully structured convention-related survey. Therefore, it is undoubtedly right that it should be backed by those powers.

From my explanation, the noble Lord will realise that we have moved from persons to materials because, as I understand it, the way in which one defines the persons who are under an obligation to give the information is by reference to the chemicals which they hold. It is clearly a very detailed matter and this may be one of the issues on which a more detailed scientific explanation from officials would be helpful to the noble Lord. But I hope that for present purposes that response is sufficient.

Lord Peston: Again, I thank the Minister. I think that I am now getting tired because I followed most of his explanation and then I lost him. As I say, I am sensitive about this issue because the criminal law is involved. One always feels that it is one's duty to be sure that one is not agreeing to something about which it is said at some time in the future: "Why did you agree to the negative procedure in relation to that matter?". But again, that will do for the moment, as the noble and learned Lord quite rightly says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1441

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clauses 24 to 32 agreed to.

Clause 33 [Annual reports by Secretary of State]:

Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 22, line 5, after ("Act") insert ("and the operation of the Convention,").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move the above amendment in order to take the burden off the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It is a simple amendment which, in effect, would make the annual report cover the convention and not just the Act. There may be parts of the convention which are not covered just by the Chemical Weapons Act 1995. I realise that it would actually increase the substance of the yet to be seen annual report but, considering the nature of the matter under discussion, I believe that it would be of benefit to all. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I am grateful to the noble Lord for making it clear to me that where the amendment refers to,

    "the operation of the Convention",
it refers to the operation of the convention within the United Kingdom. My original concern was that the noble Lord wished the report to cover the operation of the convention worldwide. I believe that he will appreciate that that would be a task beyond even the very distinguished present Secretary of State.

Now that I understand what the noble Lord seeks to do, perhaps I may tell him that, notwithstanding the limitation that he has indicated, I do not believe that it would be right to put a statutory requirement on the Secretary of State to provide information which he has no power to obtain under the Act or which he might be constrained from making public because of the confidentiality requirements of the convention. I hope that general information on the operation of the convention will be provided by the international organisations and that it will prove to be possible to include that in the annual report.

The Bill is about the implementation of the convention in the United Kingdom. It contains the powers needed for the UK to comply with its obligations under the convention, and we believe that it will in fact cover this country's obligations under the convention, because that is indeed the central purpose of the Bill.

Lord Redesdale: I thank the Minister for his reply. With that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 33 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

27 Feb 1996 : Column 1442

7.15 p.m.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 6:

After Clause 33, insert the following new clause--

Annual Seminar

" .--(1) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements for an annual seminar to discuss the operation of the Act and the Convention.
(2) The Secretary of State shall invite to this seminar persons with appropriate expertise from the academic, industrial and research community, together with persons from the appropriate professional bodies.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment has not actually been spoken to, although I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, may have alluded to it when he spoke earlier. The amendment is essentially my way of giving some advice to the Minister about how we can work with the convention and the Act. I say that as an academic coming to the end of his career who has always hated seminars. Whatever seminar we are talking about here it is not one that I hope to be invited to under any circumstances.

First, we all agree on something about which I am genuinely worried. I am concerned that far too few people know about the convention or about the Act; or, indeed, about how it will affect them. That is my first concern, and I have had a good deal of experience in that respect over the past few weeks simply talking to academics. As I pointed out on Second Reading, they do not have the faintest idea that their lives will change a little as a result of the legislation.

The second concern upon which we are all agreed is the fact that all this will evolve. There will be new things developing that we will learn about, and again people will need to know what is happening as it is affecting them. We are not talking about an unusual phenomenon. Certainly in the world of education Secretaries of State have proceeded along such lines, although I am not certain that I have ever seen what I am proposing--namely, putting the need for a seminar on the face of an Act of Parliament--put into effect. Therefore, if we were to achieve our aim, it would possibly be for the first time ever. But, in my judgment, that would be a very good reason for so doing.

The reasons are straightforward. The desirability of dissemination via our suggested method, with leadership given by the Secretary of State--in fact, the President of the Board of Trade--and by his officials who know about such matters would be immensely helpful. That is why I recommend the proposed new clause to the Committee. I beg to move.

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