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Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I believe that all Members of the Committee who have spoken agree that it is necessary to prevent the creation of weapons of mass destruction and to prevent the communication of weapons relating to mass destruction. It is hoped that the Government will produce an amendment which will indicate specifically that they would be able to intervene when a fear or suspicion that information relating to weapons of mass destruction was involved.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I raised the matter only because that is the one point introduced by the Bill and its associated secondary legislation where we are operating that type of control. I consider it necessary to make that point having listened to the apocalyptic remarks made in this Chamber about controlling every paper produced by scientists and preventing communications between scientists of every country. It is worth making the point that the Bill controls simply the oral communication of information which is not in the public domain and which would lead to the use of weapons of mass destruction. I believe that that is sensible and important. I make the point that that is what the Bill controls. I turn to the other question, which is possibly
Earl Russell: Is the noble Lord aware that in 1982 an undergraduate in the department of nuclear physics at Princeton, subsequently a candidate for Congress, constructed a nuclear bomb in the course of his studies? Is the Minister trying to tread a line so narrow as to be invisible?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: No, I believe that it is sensible. In the real and practical world, if we are faced with a situation in which we know that a person in this country, a scientist or whoever, is giving information, and knowingly wants to give information, to another country which would help it to make a weapon of mass destruction, which presumably it cannot doit is still the case that not every country can do thatwe should have the power to control that. The fact that in an American university there are probably lots of people who can do that is neither here nor there, compared to the situation with which a Minister could be faced and on which he would need to take practical action.
There is an issue to be debated which has rightly been debated. I refer to the role of secondary legislation as opposed to such provisions being on the face of the Bill. Concern has been expressed that without exemptions in primary legislation the powers in Clause 2 could be abused by a future government. I can assure the House that the freedom of any future government to remove exemptions for information in the public domain from secondary legislation to be made under the Bill is severely constrained. Any future government wishing to alter secondary legislation would have to comply with the Human Rights Act, which protects freedom of expression.
As regards the provisions in the Bill, I have already given a statement under Section 19(1) of the Human Rights Act to the effect that in my view the provisions in the Bill are compatible with the convention rights. Those convention rights include the following:
A further protection is provided by the fact that by virtue of introduction of the European Community's dual-use regulation, controls on exports of dual-use goods and technology are a matter of Community competence. The UK Government do not have the right to alter European controls introduced in this area. Any order attempting to modify or remove the exemptions in this regulation for technology or software "in the public domain" or for "basic scientific research" would again be liable to successful challenge in the courts.
Finally, I point out that the Bill limits the controls that could be introduced under Clause 2 to military technology and controls on transfers that might risk certain effects including contributing to weapons of mass destruction or human rights abuses. Only a limited proportion of academic research would have the potential to cause harm of that nature. By contrast, the export control powers which the Bill will replace, and which already allow controls on physical exports of technology, have no such limitations.
I turn to the controls that the Government propose to introduce under the Bill, which are set out clearly in the dummy draft orders published last autumn. Both the Bill and the proposals for secondary legislation have been welcomed in broad terms by Universities UK. While that organisation would like to see a direct reference to the protection of routine academic activity in the text of the Bill, it accepts that the option of guaranteeing academic freedom in secondary legislation is nevertheless helpful. However, it asks that that be backed up by a statement in the House about how the Government intend to protect academic freedom in that way. I believe that that has been the view expressed to us by Universities UK. From what the noble Baroness said earlier, it seems that it is now going rather further than that. However, I shall respond to the position which it put forward and say that I can now give it the statement it wants about how the Government intend to protect academic freedom.
I make clear that the Government intend to control the transfer of technology abroad by electronic means such as fax and e-mail in exactly the same way as we currently control the export of hard copy communications. That means that the same exemptions which now apply to exports of hard copies will apply to transfer by electronic means. There are already exemptions, both for information in the public domainthat includes information already in the public domain and information that is being put into the public domain by the transaction in questionand for basic scientific research.
As regards controls on communications in person, I make clear that there is no question of the Government licensing foreign students. I also make clear, for those who have not read the Bill, that the Bill does not give us the powers to do that. The only control we intend to introduce on communications in person is where a provider of information knows or has been informed by government that such information, if communicated to a particular person or persons, is or may be intended for use in connection with a weapons of mass destruction programme or missiles capable of their delivery. Even here, there will be an exemption for information in the public domain. We believe that most scientists would, in any case, wish to avoid their work contributing to such programmes. I hope that what I have said for the record today will reassure both the Committee and the academic community. Perhaps I may provide further reassurance by reminding the Committee that we shall be holding a full public consultation on the draft orders to be made under the Bill which will give all, including the academic community, a further opportunity to comment on the details of the proposed new controls.
In view of my explanation of why we cannot place exemptions on the face of the Bill, the fact that the amendments would achieve little which is not achieved by the Human Rights Act, the legal protections already in place against future abuse of the powers in the Bill, and finally the assurances I have given about the way in which the Government propose to use the powers in Clause 2, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the Minister sits down, I understood him to say that to put the defence of academic freedom on the face of the Bill would simply reiterate the Human Rights Act. If that is so, it must also be the case that it would be repeated in secondary legislation. Does he not realise that for all the discussions he might have with and agreement he might get from academics, this Chamber wants to approve the wording and, if necessary, amend it? We cannot amend secondary legislation. It would be a different matter to put such provisions into secondary legislation. I think he must realise that.
My noble friend mentioned that we have debated the subject before. I remember my late noble friend Lord Beloff making a magnificent speech about what academic freedom meant. His definitions mattered very much indeed. I believe that this Chamber exists for that purpose; that is, to ensure that the wording in which freedom is expressed should be satisfactory to Parliament, not just to academics, who might not get the full agreement of the noble Lord and find that they had lost out in their discussions. I believe the Minister should understand that. I do not see any reason why the provision should not be on the face of the Bill. There may have to be other provisions in secondary legislation, but this provision should be placed on the face of the Bill. When we come to debate the matter again, if the noble Lord cannot help us in this matter I hope that we shall make the Government do that.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: To be absolutely clear about this issue, we have a Human Rights Act. It has very clear rights for people. It was no doubt drafted with great care to cover the point of freedom of expression. The point that I was making was that if one put something on the face of the Bill, it would have to be expressed in largely similar terms. They would not add great value to the Bill, given that one has the human rights legislation which prevents people altering the secondary legislation in an unsatisfactory way. That is the point I was trying to make. I think that it is a valid one to make in this case.
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