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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that the escape of pollen from these GM crops can be contained or that now it has been released it will contaminate what may be called feral rapeseed oil plants that grow along the sides of our roads and motorways?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the advice of the statutory advisers is that the pollen from this crop is not a potential cross-pollinator with other wild oilseed--whether or not the noble Lord agrees, I state the advice that we have received--because these particular plants are male sterile. One issue which we believe must be dealt with is the potential for volunteers that are left after cultivation. I am informed that there is a potential for one in four of the 1 per cent of the crop that is GM being fertile. In that case we must have an appropriate policy to deal with the volunteers, and that is what we are working out.

Earl Peel: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether in her view Advanta has contravened EU Directive 90/220? If so, will the Government institute criminal proceedings against the company?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I said on the day of the announcement that initially the legal advice was that no offence had been committed. We must take our responsibility as regulators very seriously and ensure that offences are not committed or, if they are, that

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appropriate action is taken. I do not believe that the House would expect me to give details of the advice received in relation to the appropriateness or otherwise of prosecution.

Territorial Army: Restructuring

2.58 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House that I have an interest in that I am a serving TA officer but no one in my unit is adversely affected.

The Question was as follows:

    Whether Her Majesty's Government will review their decision to replace the Territorial Army's non-Regular permanent staff financial systems administrators with Band D civil servants by means of compulsory redundancy.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, this decision has already been reviewed by my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. The decision stands.

Earl Attlee : My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. Can the Minister tell the House the payback period for these changes? Would it not have been fairer and more economic to replace the NRPS by natural wastage rather than compulsory redundancy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the payback period is extremely difficult to calculate because the redundancy costs involved vary according to the length of service, grade and pay of the individuals which must be compared with their replacements, and the relationship between the two may vary at any one time. As of today, using the guidance issued by the Treasury, which states that redundancy costs are regarded as transfer payments and are therefore not included in the economic appraisals, the payback period is some five years. I stress to the noble Earl--I do not want to mislead him--that that does not cancel the redundancy costs.

The noble Earl also asked whether it would be better to accomplish this through natural wastage. The answer is no; it would take much longer. The payback period would be a great deal longer; and it does not fulfil the criterion of wanting to move every five years or so staff who undertake such financial jobs. That is good practice and a prudent measure. It casts absolutely no aspersions whatsoever on the officers who have been performing those tasks hereunto.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Question on the Order Paper is totally incomprehensible, and that, with great respect to the Minister, the Answer was almost as incomprehensible? Is the noble Baroness aware that the remainder of us

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who do not know what is involved here have the clear impression that there is a problem. Can she tell us what it is?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I understood the noble Earl's Question; and when a noble Lord asks for a review and the Minister states that it has already been reviewed and the decision stands, I say gently to my noble friend that I think that that is a clear Answer. I am sure it is not the one the noble Earl wanted. None the less, it is the Answer.

There is a problem because the noble Earl and others believe that these officers are being unfairly moved because they are being moved from a task which they are undertaking at present and replaced by civilian staff. That is the kernel of the issue. I am in the peculiar position of justifying the noble Earl's Question. However, I believe that that is the purport underlying the Question. I am afraid that Her Majesty's Government do not agree with the noble Earl.

Lord Renton: My Lords, although I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, does not the change mean that the TA will be deprived of serving soldiers when it is already very short of serving soldiers?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, these officers were recruited specifically as financial services administrators. Some are now transferring to posts where their military expertise can be better used. It is believed that their current jobs can be undertaken equally well by civilians. Eleven have so far become redundant. Six of those have moved into other jobs where their military expertise can be better used. One has gained a commission.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I never cease to be amazed at the way the Treasury appears to invent rules as it goes along. Is it correct, as the Minister indicated, that in working out the cost of the operation it will not take into account the redundancy costs which any other organisation would do automatically?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lord, the Treasury does not do so "as it goes along". I believe that it is a well-established Treasury rule that these are regarded as transfer payments and therefore not counted in the overall economic case. The noble Lord may find that curious and he is not alone, but those are the Treasury's rules.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I sought to understand the Question and the Answer. Does the Foreign Office always accept the Treasury rules?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord needs to catch up a little. My noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal speaks for the Foreign Office. I speak for the MoD. I speak for both of us when I say that we all follow the Treasury rules.

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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is there any objective of the exercise other than to save money?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we should not underestimate the importance of having the most cost-effective solutions to the ways in which we man the essential services in the MoD. I would not discount the cost-effective answer.

One of the main aims of restructuring the TA was to ensure that military expertise is focused where it is most useful. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred to the importance of maintaining military expertise where it is needed. That is part of the rationale of what is being undertaken here. I stress to the noble Lord that not all officers are being moved. Some are choosing to take redundancy, or are being put in a position where they have no choice. It would not be fair to say that they are all being moved.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in many instances the Minister has the approval of these Benches when she faces up to the Treasury. When the Treasury speaks on an issue relating to the MoD on which these Benches and the Benches opposite are in agreement, does the noble Baroness face up to the Treasury? Perhaps I may express the hope that she sometimes wins.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, when government departments sometimes have their little victories, it is sad that that is not as clear as it might be. I thank the noble Lord for saying that on occasions I excite the approval of the Benches opposite. I am bound to say that that is not always apparent to me.

These are not rules especially introduced for the Ministry of Defence; they are rules which run across the whole of the government service. I agree with the noble Lord that they seem curious. However, those are the rules by which we operate.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Bassam will, with the leave of the House, repeat two Statements which are being made in another place, on deaths at Dover and Euro 2000.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill

3.6 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

19 Jun 2000 : Column 12


Clause 12 [Maintenance of interception capability]:

The Earl of Northesk moved Amendment No. 48A:

    Page 14, line 2, leave out ("it appears to him") and insert ("are").

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 48B and 49A. My purpose is straightforward. Many of the powers granted to the Secretary of State in the Bill are significant. I accept that the existing drafting is a standard formulation but I see no reason why it should not expressly reflect that, in the most important areas where these powers are to rely on a matter of judgment, such judgments should be objective--that is, a matter of fact--rather than subjective--that is, constrained by the discretion of the Secretary of State. Hence my suggested change of wording.

At least in part, I have the well-being of the office of the Secretary of State in mind. While accepting that any Home Secretary should always be responsible for his actions, instances where the decision-making process in the Home Office has been subject to an allegation of political taint have perhaps been on the increase in recent years. This is regrettable. The job is difficult enough without having to run that gauntlet. I cannot help feeling that it is important to minimise this with respect to the interception regime.

I am particularly concerned about this matter in the context of Clause 12. If, as I believe they should, the Government accept the proposition of my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench that there should be a technical approvals board to advise the Secretary of State, it defies logic that its advice should not be one of the principal determining factors in the shaping of the obligations to be imposed by orders under this clause. That being so, it should be possible to frame such orders on the basis of the factual evidence so adduced: that they should be drafted objectively rather than subjectively.

With respect to Amendments Nos. 48B and 49A I am conscious that I run the risk of being accused of over-egging the pudding. Having spent so many happy hours with the Financial Services and Markets Bill, I am only too well aware that the attractions of the "reasonable" test on the face of legislation are seductive--perhaps overly so. No doubt that consideration will form part of the Minister's defence.

None the less, I believe that the issues with which Clause 12 is concerned are of major significance and would benefit from the additional constraint that I propose. While we shall no doubt return to the matter in more detail with Amendments Nos. 55 and 57, it is enough at this stage to say that the Bill will impose huge burdens both in terms of regulation and of cost on e-commerce, thereby undermining the Government's aim of making the UK the best place in the world to do e-business. Surely, it is not too much to ask that these burdens should be reasonable. I beg to move.

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