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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. In the light of what the Cabinet Secretary said to a committee in another place, will the Government give the Armed Forces and civil servants very clear guidance about their obligations under humanitarian law? Will she confirm that there are effective remedies in English and American law if they breach those obligations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course; we always do when we are in these difficult situations. I have no reason to think that this particular armed conflict, if, sadly, it must come, will be any different.

The Government have said since the start of this process—as we did during similar processes leading to military action in 1998—that we shall always act in accordance with international law. I hope that I have been able to set out the basis for international law as regards the action that may follow Iraq's failure to comply. We still hope that Saddam will take a decision open to him even now to disarm voluntarily but I am bound to say that that hope is dwindling fast, as many of your Lordships indicated this evening.

As my right honourable friend's Statement made clear, tomorrow the House of Commons will be asked to endorse the UK's participation in military operations and it will be asked to do so with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and thereby the

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maintenance of the authority of the United Nations. As part of the same village, as my noble friend Lord Desai put it, these issues are of enormous importance not just in Iraq and the region but right the way across the world. In many ways I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.

I am sure that all your Lordships join me in sending the strongest possible message of support to our Armed Forces already in the Gulf and to those who will join them shortly. I am sure that, although we do not take any relish in the debate that we shall have tomorrow, we shall approach it in the same serious frame of mind as we approached the very interesting debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, this evening.

10.21 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this difficult and rather unhappy debate. We have seen tonight a deeply divided House. There have been powerful speeches in support of the Government by, among others, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who was the Attorney-General at the time of the first Gulf War, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, who was our ambassador to the United Nations at the time of the first Gulf War, and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is a former Foreign Secretary.

There have also been powerful speeches the other way, not only from my noble friends but also from a former Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and from two distinguished lawyers on the Labour Benches, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former Law Officer, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, a former chairman of the Bar Council.

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I should like to make a special mention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, who for a few minutes raised our thoughts away from the narrow details of the text of resolutions of the United Nations and up to a higher level.

It is not appropriate for me at this stage to make a speech in reply. However, I should like to make one comment; that is, that the arguments of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General and of those who supported him in this debate are that ever since Resolution 678 in 1990 there has been a right for the USA or, indeed, any other member state, to launch an attack on Iraq up to the level of full-scale war without any further approval by the Security Council at any time when Iraq has been in serious breach of Resolutions 678 or 687. That, I have to say, in my view stretches the interpretation of Resolution 678 far beyond the breaking point. It might have been wiser to be more frank and simply to adopt the view of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that what is illegal may also be just—not an argument which I accept in this case but one which seems to me to be seriously arguable.

We now therefore move to war. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that I see no inconsistency between our stating our views frankly while we are still at peace and recognising that, once war begins, that debate should cease, as it will as far as we are concerned. I join entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in sending messages of support to our troops in the Iraq theatre. On this sombre evening, we must hope that the war is quick and that casualties among military and civilians on our side and the other are as low as possible. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Northern Ireland Assembly Elections Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

        House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past ten o'clock.

17 Mar 2003 : Column GC1

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Electricity (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Monday, 17th March 2003.

The Committee met at half-past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one important respect, our proceedings will be exactly as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard. The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in a Grand Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division may be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

I should explain what will happen if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting. The Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and then resume after 10 minutes.

Clause 1 [Expenditure relating to British Energy p.l.c.]:

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 6, at end insert "in relation to qualifying activities"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 1 has been grouped with Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 7. The purpose of these and other amendments tabled today is to limit the aid and support proposed for British Energy so as to put a cap on such aid and support and to prevent it being used for other purposes and other companies. The trouble with the Bill as presented is that it is too open-ended. I believe that it is a proper exercise of our responsibilities to ensure that some limit is placed on the Government's freedom of action in this connection.

I turn first to Amendments Nos. 1 and 7. The purpose of introducing the concept of "qualifying activities" is to limit the Government's aid to the historic liabilities of a company, which is indeed in line with what the Government have said, and to prevent it from incurring operational losses at the taxpayer's expense in the future. There is no doubt that the Government will have to make a major contribution to decommissioning liabilities, and that is allowed for in the figure quoted in Amendment No. 7. I beg to move.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon: These amendments are very similar to ones tabled by my honourable friend the Member for Reigate in another place when he supported Liberal Democrat amendments that would have the same effect. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that there cannot be a case for giving unlimited sums to various sectors within the electricity industry, especially when the rest of the sector is under such pressure. We certainly support the amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I attached my name to Amendment No. 1 because, as I believe I made clear at Second Reading, I entirely share the objective that we should limit the impact of this apparently open-ended Bill. Clause 1, of course, deals with support for British Energy. Later this afternoon, or when we debate later amendments, we shall deal with proposals that might extend that to other companies. The whole question of the support that may be given to British Energy seems to me to be absolutely open-ended and it does not seem to me that that is right. I say that as someone who spent a year or two, some years ago, as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I find it strange that the Treasury should be content to allow such an open-ended commitment to stand on the statute book. It is open ended in terms of both the amount and the scope of the activities that it can fund.

I believe that, if accepted, Amendment No. 1 would be a considerable step in the right direction by allowing Parliament to perform one of its proper duties—the control of expenditure. If there needs to be substantial additional expenditure, surely it would be right—as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, indicated in his reply at Second Reading—for the Government to come back to Parliament for fresh authorisation. That seems to me right. We must impose some limits, both on how much can be spent and on what it can be spent on. The amendments in this group would achieve that purpose. I look forward to the Government's response.

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