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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, welcome though a complaints procedure may be--I am sure that it would be widely welcomed in consumer quarters--it is important that anyone involved in such proceedings should be expert but completely independent so that the advice he or she gives would give the additional help implied; and that, above all, the procedures should be easily available to those who may have to use them?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. The procedures should be transparent and independent.

Earl Howe: My Lords, regardless of the position that the Government state they inherited, is the Minister aware that the number of adults registered with a dentist in the UK was 22.3 million in December 1997? However, the figure had fallen to 19.7 million by December 1998, a reduction of 2.5 million? What are the Government doing to make NHS dentistry more available to the many people who are unable to find an NHS dentist?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend suggests I say that we should not and would not have started from here. The problem created by the withdrawal from NHS dentistry will take time to turn around. However, we have received 282 bids for

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funding from investment in dentistry, which have been approved to the value of more than £8 million. That will enable more than 650,000 new patients to receive NHS care. However, some areas of the country have been complete deserts for NHS dentistry for some time and it will take some time to build them up and stop that being the case.

Military Intervention: Justification

3 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the conflict in Kosovo, it is appropriate to intervene in countries where governments are acting violently against sections of the population by methods which themselves cause injury and death and destroy the means of urban life and communication.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, NATO military action against the FRY was justifiable as an exceptional measure on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. It was never part of NATO's agenda to attack civilian targets, nor to wear down the civilian population.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend remember the saying of Archbishop Tutu: "If we can get rid of apartheid we can also get rid of war"? Is it not time, in this age of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and otherwise, to decide that war has become too dangerous to start and that all disputes with nations and within nations must be settled by other means?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that everyone in the House wishes that it had not been necessary to take the military action that we had to take. But we have to remember that our quarrel was not with the people of Serbia, not with those who have suffered inadvertently in this terrible military action, but with the barbaric policies of President Milosevic. I repeat to the noble Lord that it has never been part of our objective to attack civilians. All our attacks were limited to military objectives as defined under international humanitarian law.

I reiterate to the noble Lord, as I have done previously in your Lordships' House, that of course we regret civilian casualties and we have made every effort to avoid them.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Security Council has yet passed the resolution which will legitimise our performance and make an honest woman of us all?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sorry, but I did not catch the end of the noble Earl's question. The Security Council has certainly passed a resolution, but he asked me something specific about it.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, we understood from a Statement made last week that the Security

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Council resolution to be passed would embrace us all and give an overdue legitimacy to our action and--as I put it in a simple phrase--make an honest woman of us all.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that we needed a Security Council resolution to make an honest woman of us all, as the noble Earl puts it. But he is right in saying that a Security Council resolution was passed last week. There was one abstention from China. We are all delighted that we were able to reach that degree of unanimity, albeit without China, on the Security Council.

Lord Richard: My Lords, in my view, the Government deserve great credit for their actions in Kosovo in the past few weeks, as do our Armed Forces. It is right that that should be put on record. However, my noble friend in answering spoke of the doctrine of overwhelming humanitarian necessity. Will she recognise that if that doctrine is in international law, it has a serious effect on Article 2(7) of the Charter of the United Nations which states that no activity within the borders of an individual state shall be challengable by outside intervention.

I do not seek to argue whether it is right or wrong, but if we are moving into a time when overwhelming humanitarian necessity is a justification for outside intervention, will my noble friend recognise that it has to be done gradually and by agreement? Will Her Majesty's Government therefore take the initiative in the United Nations to ensure that the doctrine of humanitarian necessity is properly discussed by the international community?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that on a number of occasions in your Lordships' House we have addressed the evolving nature of the legal basis of such action. I stress to my noble friend that every means short of force was taken to avert the situation. Your Lordships will remember the number of times we discussed the matter in June and October last year, when the Rambouillet talks were taking place. So this matter has not come out of the blue; it is something we have had to face up to. We were not alone in our judgment of the legality of what we were doing; 19 allies of NATO took the same view. We do not believe that we in any way offended against the Geneva Convention. We have also discussed that in your Lordships' House. However, I agree with my noble friend that these issues must be discussed openly and we have made a useful beginning in doing that in passing the UNSCR last week.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, while fully endorsing the congratulations to the Government and the Armed Forces on their role in Kosovo, and the role of our NATO allies, is the Minister aware that public opinion in some NATO countries has still swallowed Serb propaganda; that the suffering of the Kosovars is the result of NATO's intervention? Can she say what

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the Government are able to do to correct that impression in other NATO countries and perhaps to some extent in this country?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for his kind words about the Government and the military. I am sure your Lordships will wish to join in his comment about the Armed Forces. I stress that we are not there yet; there is still much to do in Kosovo. The noble Lord said that there is a job to be done in a number of different NATO countries. It is remarkable that we have gone through this period of military action, 19 countries together, with all those countries holding together. We all know that there are differences; we all live in democracies and have a free press. People are entitled to say what they like about what happens, which is different from the case in Kosovo.

However, I suspect that as we go into Kosovo during the next few days we shall see not only more evidence of the dreadful atrocities which took place but shall learn more about what took place. I believe that everything we said about the displacement of people last year, about the 2,000 deaths of innocent Kosovars which took place before the bombing began, will come into focus and people will see that the bombing was a reaction to that and not the cause of it.

Business

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 4.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement being made in another place on Kosovo.

Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Read a third time.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Hacking: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly before the Bill passes from this House. In doing so, I renew my congratulations to my noble and learned friend not only on bringing forward this important law reform, which has been in the wings for more than 100 years, but also on guiding it through your Lordships' House. I hope that the noble and learned Lord can hear what I am saying because a number of noble Lords are now leaving the Chamber and it is a little noisy.

I repeat to my noble and learned friend that this is a good Bill and a good measure to have brought forward. However, I have continued concerns that both the legal

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profession and the judiciary will have difficulty in construing the Bill, particularly the terms under which a third party takes its benefit.

Perhaps I may briefly remind your Lordships of Clause 1(4) which reads:


    "This section does not confer a right on a third party to enforce a term of a contract otherwise than subject to and in accordance with any other relevant terms of the contract".

That will not be difficult for the legal profession and the judiciary if the promisor and the promisee in the contract spell out in detail the terms under which the third party is to take its benefit. It may be that there will be difficulties if, in the contract, the promisor and promisee agree that not only disputes between themselves should be adjudicated by arbitration but also those between themselves and the third party should be adjudicated by arbitration. Here again my noble and learned friend has come to the rescue. He tabled an amendment in response to representations that I made that a third party will be able to use the arbitration clause in a dispute if it so wishes.

However, in other circumstances, when the promisor and the promisee do not set out in the contract the terms under which the third party is to take the benefit, the difficulty will be how and under what terms the third party receives its benefit. I had a solution which I proffered in the form of tabled amendments on Report; but, my noble and learned friend thought that I was going too far. I certainly received no support from any quarter in the House and I had the noble Lord, Lord Renton against me. That was a little disappointing as I have been his apostle on law reform for years and I thought that I was being his apostle in tabling those amendments.

My solution was that unless the contrary was expressed in the contract, the third party should take his benefit under the same terms as existed between the promisor and the promisee in the contract. As I indicated just now, my amendment was rejected. My noble and learned friend felt that I was taking the matter too far and that the amendment would infringe the freedom of contract.

I therefore ask my noble and learned friend if he could give assistance. He has already kindly indicated that he will look afresh at the Explanatory Notes to the Bill and see if they can be expanded. At the moment, as my noble and learned friend knows, they are somewhat bald in the assistance that they give to Clause 1(4). They read as follows:


    "Subsection (4) clarifies subsection (1). The term being enforced should not be construed in isolation from the rest of the contract". That is somewhat bald. I should be grateful if my noble and learned friend could think of ways in which the Explanatory Notes could be expanded. I am perfectly well aware that concerns have been expressed about the use of explanatory notes. If, for example, an explanatory note was contrary to the terms of a Bill, now a statute, or went further than just giving guiding notes, of course it should have no influence on the courts. However, I believe here it would be of great value in giving guidance to the judiciary, and to the legal profession who are asked to construe these measures, if the

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    guidelines in the Explanatory Notes could be further developed. I should be grateful to have some assistance on that from my noble and learned friend.

As the Bill now leaves your Lordships' House, perhaps I may ask my noble and learned friend what further plans he has to bring forward other Bills based on Law Commission reports. As he will recall, one of his noble and illustrious predecessors, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, set up the Law Commission. If I remember rightly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, was its first chairman. The Law Commission has produced a number of reports over the years. However, the number which have been neglected and have not found their way into statutory reform is disappointing. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, expressed that view. My noble and learned friend indicated that he wishes to bring forward more measures based on the recommendations of the Law Commission. I should be grateful, therefore, if he could give some further indication of his plans in that respect.

Finally, perhaps I may personally thank the noble and learned Lord for accepting so many of the amendments that I have tabled. I have never had so many amendments accepted by any government minister, let alone by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I am flattered and extremely grateful to him. I wish the Bill all good speed through the other place and congratulate my noble and learned friend on bringing it forward.

3.15 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, for his supportive observations and for his contribution during the passage of the Bill, upon which he has just remarked. That certainly led to some important improvements. I should also like to thank other noble Lords who participated in the proceedings, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, the noble Lords, Lord Meston and Lord Renton, and my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon.

Perhaps I was unwise to concede so much to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, because, as a result, I appear not to have satisfied him entirely and perhaps to have whetted his appetite. However, I am grateful for his appreciation for what I agreed to.

The reform effected by the Bill has been widely welcomed. I should take the opportunity to express my gratitude to the Law Commission for the excellence of the report on which the Bill is based. I am grateful to Professor Burrows for his continued assistance during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House. It is primarily thanks to the Law Commission and to your Lordships that this valuable and well-polished piece of law reform is able to begin its journey to another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, raised a particular point about the benefits conferred on third parties which third parties will be able to enforce when the Bill passes into law. The principle of the Bill is that third parties have the right to enforce the benefits, to which otherwise

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they would not be entitled, which the parties to the contract have agreed they should receive. So, the extent of the benefit will depend upon the terms of the contract and, as ever, that will be a matter for the courts, as a court of construction, to determine.

My noble friend asked questions about Law Commission reports generally. First, I believe that we are doing rather well this Session. Two Bills from the Law Commission are going through; that is, this Bill and the Trustee Delegation Bill. No one is more supportive than I am in endeavouring to get upon the statute book as quickly as possible Law Commission reports and draft Bills which are plainly beneficial and uncontroversial. However, it is very often asserted of Law Commission reports that they are not controversial when your Lordships' House disagrees. Typical areas in which the Law Commission has been very busy in times past and no doubt will be busy in the future, are family law, divorce law and the criminal law. Quite frankly it can be asserted as often as those who support the proposition choose that what they propose is uncontroversial. Your Lordships will not find it uncontroversial; your Lordships will find it highly controversial and such legislation has to take its place in the competition for scarce parliamentary time.

However, I am endeavouring to take certain initiatives and the Law Commission's recent practice of producing a policy paper in advance of the final report is greatly welcomed because it enables the Government better to plan ahead. I am also seeking to give a new priority to establish, through discussion between government departments, priorities in relation to areas in which Law Commission work could more usefully be focused; in particular, areas where the Government would be likely to desire to legislate.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.


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