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House of Lords

Monday, 27th March 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to host a lunch in honour of the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament on Wednesday, 29th March, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

UN Millennium NGO Forum

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to ensure the success of the forthcoming United Nations Millennium NGO Forum.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government believe that the millennium forum should make an important contribution to the deliberations of the United Nations' role in the 21st century. We have offered the forum financial assistance and have contributed to the United Kingdom preparatory event. We also support plans for the forum to be represented at the intergovernmental millennium summit in September.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, as ever, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer and in particular for the reference to financial assistance. Will she confirm that the Government have taken a commendable lead in encouraging the United Nations to summon the millennium assembly and the millennium summit to discuss its future role in promoting peace, security and development?

But does she agree that unless the bones are to remain dry, it is essential to involve civil society in those discussions and that that is the purpose of the forum? Given that it is due to take place in May of this year and that many delegates from less privileged areas are relying on financial assistance to pay their fares, how much money are the Government proposing to contribute; when is it likely to be available; and who else has made any contribution?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, first, I say straightaway that I endorse wholeheartedly what my noble and learned friend said in relation to the importance of the summit. The Government strongly

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support the idea of the millennium forum. It is a unique occasion for global civil society to consider the challenges facing the United Nations in the 21st century and to propose initiatives to tackle them.

The Government are to make a contribution. We have, in principle, offered to contribute towards the costs of securing developing country representation at the forum to ensure that it is truly representative of the global civil society. We also provided £15,000 to the United Kingdom United Nations Association to help fund the national preparatory event in February which sought to frame the national civil society input to the forum. Unfortunately, I cannot tell my noble and learned friend the precise nature of the further contribution but we are hopeful that it will be substantial.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House where the forum is to be held? I was involved in the World Conference of Women and I remember clearly the NGO forum there. Will the Minister tell me also whether the NGOs will be adequately housed in one huge area? In the past, the problem has always been that there has not been adequate space for all the representatives to be together. Their value is greatly diminished if they have to be separated.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that the forum is to be held in New York. I cannot give her the precise location in New York but I am sure that I can write to her with that information if that is what she requires. We believe that the forum will be extremely important and that accommodation will be available for those who attend. I hope that that is a full answer to the noble Baroness's question. I can certainly take forward those matters and if I am able to cull further details from the information available, I shall write to the noble Baroness in relation to it and make available a copy of that letter to other Members of the House.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that since the UN Charter refers to "We, the peoples" of the United Nations and not "We, the governments", and since this country has one of the largest proportions of NGOs among the UN members, it is entirely appropriate that this Government should give a lead in supporting the forum?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I respectfully agree with my noble friend. It is extremely important that civil society plays its full part in that regard. We are most encouraged that the forum is to take place and are very hopeful that there will be a full and frank exchange and that there will be opportunity at the summit for the results of the deliberations to be communicated more broadly.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that this is an ideal opportunity for this Government to pledge greater financial and other

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support, beyond that which the Minister mentioned, to our two outstanding British export successes--the BBC World Service and the British Council--both of which could and would make a major contribution to ensuring the success of that NGO forum?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, we already give extensive support to both the British Council and the BBC World Service. They have worked extremely hard and well with Her Majesty's Government, as they have with previous governments. We shall certainly continue to be supportive in the links that we have and in the partnerships and working together which we believe will evolve over a period of time.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend has welcomed the universal support that the project has received in the House. Will she give the House some idea of the extent to which other countries are participating?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, other countries are participating in the event. We are hoping that our partners in Europe also will make a contribution. I am not able to tell noble Lords the precise nature of their contribution, but I am aware that they are deliberating as to financial and other participation. The forum is being welcomed by a number of our partners.

Data Protection Codes: Revision

2.42 p.m.

Viscount Astor asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will bring forward a revised Data Protection (Designated Codes of Practice) Order to comply with the Press Complaints Commission's revised code.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, we are checking whether there are proposals to amend any of the other codes designated under Section 32 of the Data Protection Act 1998. We shall bring forward a draft order shortly after Easter in the light of those checks and after consulting the Data Protection Commissioner.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, will the Minister apologise to the House for bringing forward an order on 7th February which referred to a code that was out of date? The changes of which he was not aware then, but he is now, were made on 20th January. Does that not show that the consultation promised by the Minister did not take place? Will he assure the House that it will take place in the future? Does he agree that the changes are important because they relate to the identification of juvenile victims and juvenile witnesses to crime?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is most regrettable that we were unable to designate the appropriate code. That must be common ground. I regret that there was a temporary breakdown in communication. Such things happen from time to time. We need to ensure that we get consultation absolutely right so that we designate the appropriate order. The changes reflected in the order are minor in extent but they are important. They reflect important changes in other aspects of public policy, partly in reaction to the Thompson and Venables case.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, will the code of practice take account of the use of the new form of the electoral register for commercial purposes under Section 9 of the Representation of the People Act without the consent of the person registered, in context with the provisions of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights? Also, will the order be subject to affirmative resolution?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the code of practice to which the Question relates does not bear any resemblance to the noble Lord's question. I am more than happy to consider the issue raised in his second point and to communicate with the noble Lord to clarify any issues of concern.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Data Protection Commissioner has been notified that the code designated was out of date? Will he say what steps are being taken to inform journalists who, looking at the present code published by the Press Complaints Commission, might believe that it was the one with which they should comply? In fact, they should be complying with a code that dates from three years earlier. What steps are the Government taking to help such journalists, who may be put in a position where they might unintentionally break the law due to the error made by the Government?

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