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UN Human Rights Declaration: 50th Anniversary

2.52 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the 50th anniversary is an important opportunity to re-affirm the universal nature of human rights. Five decades on, the declaration remains a common standard of achievement for all nations and all people. We are working closely with the United Nations Association

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and other NGOs to mark the anniversary in the United Kingdom. This includes meetings, seminars and events covering the full spectrum of human rights issues.

We have encouraged NGOs to use the 50th anniversary commemorations to stimulate young people's interests in human rights. The Foreign Office has funded information packs for all secondary schools which have been enthusiastically received. We are also organising a conference--human rights in the 21st century--attended by delegates from about 30 countries. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary addressed an Amnesty festival on 16th October at which he announced a number of important new initiatives.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's recognition of the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why is it that Her Majesty's Government have in substance left the organisation of the celebratory events to the United Nations Association? Again, while I recognise that the Government have made a great contribution to human rights this year by what is shortly to become the Human Rights Act, could not the Government link that with the 50th anniversary? I accept that there is no possibility of bringing the whole Act into force on 10th December, but will the Government consider bringing part of it into force on that date; in particular, what is now Clause 19 on ministerial compatibility statements? Will the Government lay a commencement order before Parliament on 10th December bringing the rest of the Human Rights Act into force as soon as possible, and not later than 1st October?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, what a long supplementary question! The noble Lord raised several issues. This country is celebrating the 50th anniversary in an entirely proper way. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd have signed up to Amnesty's Get Up, Sign Up, campaign. I urge others in your Lordships' House who are so minded to do so. We held a seminar at the FCO attended by NGOs, academics, government officials and private sector representatives at which a full range of human rights issues was discussed. We also welcome a full programme of events being organised by the United Nations. This is an international event and 24 such events are being organised by the United Nations. I am happy to give the noble Lord a list of those.

The noble Lord raises other questions which I understand the noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised with my honourable friend Mr. Lloyd at a meeting yesterday. Mr. Lloyd was able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that a number of issues are being looked at now. For example, the Government have announced a review of the UK's position under various international instruments.

It is important that the Government have been pursuing those issues and the legislation to which the noble Lord referred. He knows that very well and he knows also that I am in no position today to give an undertaking that it will be brought in on 10th December. I hope that that is not a desperate disappointment to the noble Lord. I hardly think

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it is. However, I hope that he will acknowledge that in the reviews to which I have referred the Government are sincere in trying to look at their position in that respect.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, in linking that important anniversary with the Council of Europe, will my noble friend accept that it would be paying tribute to the post-war Labour Government who played such an enormously important part in those developments?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that all the appropriate tributes will be made. I am trying to impress upon your Lordships that an enormous amount of work is under way on human rights. I have referred to the various reviews which are taking place covering the additional ECHR protocol, the UN optional protocols and the individual petition mechanisms under the ICCPR, the convention on elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and many other protocols which the United Kingdom Government are examining at present.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, while not associating myself with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in his supplementary question, I would like to know what position have the Government taken as regards the formation of a human rights centre in London which is being advanced by Amnesty International in order to give training on the proper respect for human rights, both to people in this country and across the world.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the pre-election consultation paper Bringing Rights Home canvassed views on the establishment of a human rights commission, as I am sure the noble Baroness is aware. The Government's priority is to give further effect to ECHR rights in domestic law so that people can enforce those rights in the United Kingdom courts. The establishment of a human rights commission is not, in the Government's view, central to that particular objective.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the clock has reached 15 minutes, which is half-way through Question Time. We must move on.

Internet Trading: Tax Receipts

3 p.m.

Lord Newby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What estimates they have made of the effects on corporate tax receipts of the growth of trading on the Internet.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are examining the effect of the growth of trading on the Internet on corporate and other tax receipts in close consultation with other governments and with the business community. The Organisation

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for Economic Co-operation and Development is the key forum in which discussions are taking place and the Government are taking a lead role.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and stress his point that the Government should take a leading role in this. In negotiations through the OECD, will as much priority be placed on ensuring that tax is not avoided as ensuring that we do not find ourselves with double taxation, as has been the case up to now?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, one of the principles which came out of the Ottawa Conference earlier this month on OECD was that we should be seeking both to avoid double taxation and to achieve neutrality of taxation. That does not mean that there would need to be any new taxes and there would be no need to have the flat rate "bit tax" which some people have suggested.

Lord Peston: My Lords, can my noble friend clarify this intriguing Question a bit further? The noble Lord, Lord Newby, used the word "avoided". Is tax avoidance or tax evasion the issue here? As I understand it--much as one may think it deplorable--tax avoidance is perfectly legal and therefore it is peculiar that one would single out the Internet as one specific area in which to try to stop tax avoidance. Alternatively, do the Government suspect that trading via the Internet will lead to the total concealment of income so that there will be actual tax evasion?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are involved both with tax evasion and tax avoidance. We would be involved with tax evasion if there were to be any significant possibility of those trading on the Internet avoiding identifying themselves, either the customer or the supplier. Part of the international negotiation is to that effect. We are involved with tax avoidance if it is possible for anybody legally to slip through the net. That is why the co-operation of the major trading companies within OECD is so important.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, if somebody in the United Kingdom buys a piece of software by downloading it from a site in the United States, is that transaction subject to VAT? If so, has any money ever been collected for transactions of that nature?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, no. The location of the tax obligation is at the point of supply. The supplier in the United States would be eligible for such sales taxes as are applied in the state or city concerned.

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Chile: Relations

3.2 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether recent events will affect the United Kingdom's relations with Chile.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we are working hard to make sure that the detention of Senator Pinochet does not affect our wider relations with Chile. The detention is, of course, a matter for the police and the courts. It is not politically motivated. It should not be seen as such--in Chile or anywhere else.

We have very cordial and close working relations with the Government of Chile. We have a shared commitment to free trade and last year our exports went up by 26 per cent. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in another place yesterday, the Government are determined to prevent these legal proceedings undermining our excellent relations with the democratic Government of Chile.

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