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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. When the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform examined this very point it said,

Do the Government accept that?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, this is obviously an issue to which we shall give great and careful attention. It is extremely important and we shall take that matter on board. I was simply making the point of what is covered here. It is not an open opportunity to amend any other piece of legislation, as I believe the noble Baroness implied. In this context the issue is quite narrowly defined, as I read it.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, raised the issue of restructuring as against administration. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, also raised the possibility that administration might be desirable. Given that almost certainly no private purchaser will come forward, the choice is between the action taken here and administration which leads to the Government taking over. In either case the Government have to take on very substantial liabilities. There is also the question of administration and its additional cost, which the taxpayer will have to take up. In any case, as a matter of government policy, we would prefer to keep the company in the private sector rather than have it taken over by the Government.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, how does what the Minister has said relate to what the Secretary of State said in that, as regards the taxpayer, there was no effective difference between restructuring and administration?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the Secretary of State was making the point that there were very substantial liabilities, which probably dwarf all other costs, and which have to be taken up by the Government. There is the additional cost of administration. Either way, the Secretary of State is quite right in that very significant costs have to be picked up by the Government and they are probably more, by a substantial factor, than the other costs involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, asked what I meant by excessive exposure to wholesale electricity prices. I believe that that is quite clear. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, rightly made the point that as they were wholly dependent on wholesale prices, they were vulnerable if the wholesale prices declined.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether the Government were asking for a blank cheque. We wish to remove the Schedule 12 ceiling for nuclear liability support because we intend to stand as guarantor behind BE's nuclear liabilities. At this point we do not

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have a fixed value to put on that. However, that does not mean that we are handing over a blank cheque to the company for it to spend as it sees fit or that we are throwing money down a bottomless pit. We will provide financial support to British Energy as regards its nuclear liabilities, but we shall do so subject to a number of safeguards such as controls on decommissioning plans, proper and transparent contracting of work, and the right to take over the station once decommissioning begins. These safeguards will help to keep costs under control. We shall be looking to put in place incentives for BE to reduce costs in this area. Any significant additional expenditure would need to be approved by Parliament and through the normal supply process.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, raised the question of state aid. The Government will be submitting a restructuring plan to the Commission by the 9th March deadline. The company has always been aware that the restructuring deal would need to meet the criteria of state aids approval. We are confident that the plan that we submit will be approved. But, if the initial deal is not approved, we expect to be able to negotiate a restructuring plan with the Commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about distortion of competition. One must deal with realities in this situation. All the economic and the nuclear safety issues point to the retention of the company and to its assets being used in some way, unless one is prepared to propose its closure. The question is whether the company should be restructured, or whether it should go into administration and be taken over by the Government. The noble Lord asked whether the situation would be temporary. If restructuring takes place, it will not be temporary. If administration takes place and the Government take over, it will be difficult to predict how long the situation will last.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked other questions on skills, nuclear waste and the inspectorate. They are important aspects of nuclear energy, particularly in keeping open the nuclear energy option. The Government will look at all those matters in that light.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, raised several points about hydrogen. He is right that, if hydrogen is to be used, an energy source will be needed to produce it. That will be an important aspect of energy policy as we progress. But it relates to energy policy rather than to the precise nature of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Gray, raised some extremely important questions, but we must deal with them in the context of future energy policy. The Bill is very much about what happens to the company here and now. The noble Lord also asked what would happen if the company went into administration and whether we had planned and prepared for it. We made it clear that, were the restructuring deal not to succeed, we would be prepared to fund an administrator to run the company in administration. The Government are being careful to ensure that plans for an administration are now in place so that the company could move swiftly and smoothly into that process if necessary. The

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administration would have to ensure that stations continued to operate and that nuclear safety and security of supply were guaranteed. We have now had time to put those plans in place.

This short Bill is an important part of the Government's response to the difficulties of British Energy. It provides the tools for us to deliver our part of the company's restructuring plan. The plan appears to be progressing well at present. But, in the event that the company falters along the way, the Bill will ensure that there is a satisfactory way forward if the company goes into administration. It is a sensible, practical Bill. It is in line with the Government's overall approach to British Energy. I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.

Crime (International Co-operation) Bill [HL]

4.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 71:

    After Clause 80, insert the following new clause—

(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to facilitate the work of—
(a) police forces in Great Britain,
(b) the Police Service of Northern Ireland,
(c) the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and
(d) the National Crime Squad,
in preventing the unlawful importation of firearms into the United Kingdom by ensuring effective international co-operation between those bodies and other foreign and international law enforcement agencies.
(2) When the Secretary of State is—
(a) preparing a National Policing Plan under section 36A of the Police Act 1996 (c. 16) (national policing plan);
(b) determining objectives for the policing of the areas of all police authorities under section 37 of that Act (setting of objectives for police authorities);
(c) determining objectives for the National Criminal Intelligence Service under section 26 of the Police Act 1997 (setting of objectives);
(d) determining objectives for the National Crime Squad under section 71 of that Act (setting of objectives);
he shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring effective co-operation with foreign and international law enforcement agencies to prevent the unlawful importation of firearms into the United Kingdom."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment would insert a new clause on international co-operation and the general duty of the Secretary of State on firearms and firearms-related crime.

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I have focused on the work done by the Home Office and the law enforcement agencies in preventing the importation of firearms into the United Kingdom. Naturally, I pay tribute to the work already undertaken in this area by the men and women of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, the police and other law enforcement agencies—not least Customs and Excise, which is at the coalface in trying to detect those weapons.

My amendment would require the Secretary of State to facilitate the work of the law enforcement agencies by ensuring effective international co-operation between the police forces of the UK and the authorities in other countries. It would also require the Home Secretary to have regard to the desirability of ensuring such effective co-operation to prevent the importation of firearms when setting the priorities, plans and objectives for police forces under the legislation that authorises him to set those priorities, plans and objectives.

I asked the Government in Committee to put on the record the approach that they intend to take to the problem of firearms already in the UK and the conversion of replica weapons and airguns. The amendment seeks to prompt an explanation from the Government of what work they and the law enforcement agencies are carrying out to stop guns coming into our country from abroad. It is also a call for the Government to address the creation of a long-term strategy to prevent firearms getting into this country and on to our streets.

In his response in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, made some helpful comments, for which I thank him. I need to return to the issue for two reasons: first, to ask the Minister to respond more fully to matters I raised in Committee; and, secondly, to ask questions based on the facts given in the NCIS UK threat assessment 2002. I had not had the opportunity to read the assessment at the time of the Committee stage. A third reason for raising the issue is a press release from the Home Office today, to which I shall refer later.

The Minister referred in Committee to the creation of a national computerised forensic firearms intelligence database to be used for tracking guns used in crime. It is to be run within the Forensic Science Service—a welcome development. I asked the Minister whether the tracking of those guns related only to crimes committed in this country, or whether our agencies would have access to information on guns used in overseas crime. The Minister helpfully wrote to me on the matter on 18th February. I invite him today to put his answer on the record from the Dispatch Box. In addition, what budget has been allocated for setting up the new service? Is it new money, or has it been re-allocated from another service? Finally, what is the timetable for completing the establishment of that welcome service?

The second follow-up question relates to the Minister's comment in Grand Committee, as reported at col. EC 196 of Hansard, on the Government's intention to introduce a mandatory minimum sentence

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for the possession of illegal firearms. Has an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill now been tabled in another place? Will it be an absolute mandatory minimum sentence, or will there be room for manoeuvre by the judiciary to find exceptional circumstances in which a person should not face such a sentence? I have in mind, for example, the situation of someone who legally holds a firearm but whose licence expires. In the interim period, while applying for a new licence, that person might be arrested.

I have new queries as a result of reading the NCIS threat assessment 2002, in particular paragraph 7.16. It states:

    "The UN protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition passed in May 2001, outlines measures to be taken by signatory countries to combat criminal possession of firearms".

This is the important point:

    "This may encourage a rush to dispose of supplies before the protocol is incorporated into law in each signatory country".

How are the Government preparing to deal with the dumping of firearms by governments as a consequence of the signing of the UN protocol? What mechanisms do they have in place?

I note that the NCIS threat assessment makes the point that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has already seized illegally imported firearms, still in their original packaging and unused, but manufactured in the 1950s. They are believed to have originated from surplus stock belonging to a foreign government.

I noticed this morning that the Home Office had issued a press release stating that there would be a national firearms amnesty—the first, I understand, since 1996. In the context of the Bill, will the Minister comment on how the firearms amnesty fits in with the Government's general policy on illegal firearms and their prohibition on importation? I beg to move.

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