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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for explaining the order. Despite a small amount of confusion which has been apparent in the relaying of this SI, we do not propose to oppose its passage through this House.

As the Minister said, in essence this is a technical measure to translate the agreement on the European economic area signed at Oporto in 1992, to which the accession countries signed up in 2003, into a community treaty. We are pleased to see these accession countries moving forward to full EU membership at the weekend. That is something which we have always supported, and we support this measure, which is designed to allow accession countries fully to enjoy the benefits of sharing in the internal market.

However, I have a small number of points which I hope the noble Baroness can clarify. First, given that this SI relates to accession countries due to accede on 1 May, why is it being brought before us at this time so near to 1 May? What, if anything, does this SI and the translation from agreement to community treaty substantially change? Finally, when does the noble Baroness envisage that ratification will occur?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we all welcome—indeed, we are all going to rather too many parties welcoming—the enlargement of the European Union which takes place this weekend. I have to accept that the Government must have found it rather easy to forget about the European economic area in all of this. The EEA is a leftover of an attempted negotiation in the late 1980s between the European Community and the European free trade area countries to provide them with an acceptable alternative to membership which did not impose on them the full obligations of participation in the European Union. As I am sure Members of the Conservative Party remember well—they were then in government—by the time those negotiations were concluded, the majority of members of EFTA had decided that there was no viable alternative to membership and that they were better off becoming full members.

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I am not entirely sure whether the Conservative opposition sees the relationship between Iceland and the EU, Norway and the EU or Liechtenstein and the EU as its preferred model for Britain's future association or whether, indeed, it would prefer to reject the EEA as well and take, perhaps, the Swiss position. I heard a Conservative on the radio the other day suggest that Norway was the ideal model for Britain's relationship with the EU. Therefore, I am very pleased that the Minister reminded us that Norway has agreed to become the largest contributor per head of financial assistance to new member states thus reminding the Conservative opposition that one does not entirely opt out of everything one does not want to have if one attempts to renegotiate. Indeed, I am well aware, as I have taken part in conferences both in Oslo and Reykjavik in the past 18 months, of an active debate within both those countries as to whether they would now be better to reconsider and become full members.

Having made that very slightly partisan point, perhaps I may say that we on these Benches welcome the agreement. The EEA is a useful minor part of the European Union's external relations. I hope that once we have got over the celebrations of enlargement, we shall have some time in this House to debate the wider issues of the European Union's relations with its neighbours. After all, its other neighbours are far more difficult than the three covered by this order.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, perhaps I may add to the point that has just been made. In everything that is done in the European Union, not only in respect of industrial free trade but many of the regulations concerning public procurement, and so forth—the list is very long indeed—Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein do not sit at the table. Therefore, their interests are not directly spoken to at the time that such arrangements are made, and they are contributing to the funds of the European Union in the guise of the European economic area, which of course, has the characteristics described by my noble friend.

Therefore, this is a very good opportunity to underline the fact that this would be a hopeless formula for a country such as Britain. I think we shall hear more of this question as the months go by.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Astor of Hever, and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for the support that they have offered the Government on this order. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that we did not forget the EEA. As I attempted to say in my opening remarks, the delay in presenting the order to your Lordships was a miscalculation of the number of sitting days between the day the order was laid before the House and 1 May. I apologise again to

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noble Lords for that. I hope that that answers the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, about why this is so close to 1 May. It was not meant to be quite so close. As I have said, there was a mistake. I am grateful to both noble Lords for being so generous in passing gracefully over that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked what real difference the order would make. It does not make any material difference to the issues covered, but extends the relationship between the European Union countries which are full members today and the three countries concerned to the 10 countries which will join us on Saturday. So it is not a question of changing the nature of the agreement; it simply changes its geographical coverage. When all the EU members have been through their acceptance process, there will be ratification in the usual way and I would not expect that to present any particular difficulty.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked whether the arrangements for Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein might provide a model for the future. As noble Lords would expect, I agree very much with the points made by my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall. We would not be happy sitting in this position in relation to the rest of Europe, but perhaps that is a debate for another day.

I re-emphasise the comments of my noble friend Lord Lea. The British Government value the United Kingdom's excellent relations with Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. Clearly, they contribute far more than just an effective internal market. The figures I have been able to give noble Lords regarding the very generous contributions that all three countries are able to make over the next five years to the economic and social development of the accession countries speak for themselves. I think that her Majesty's Government would be very pleased to support any of the peoples and governments of those three countries were they to choose to apply for EU membership. We would support that wholeheartedly.

I believe that the House overwhelmingly supported the legislation ratifying the EU enlargement last year and by approving the order on the EEA today the House has had an opportunity to reaffirm its support for the inclusion of the accession states in the process of building a competitive and effective Europe. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this brief exchange for their support.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Health Protection Agency Bill [HL]

2.28 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 4 [Functions: supplementary]:

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 1:


    Page 4, line 26, leave out subsection (7).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when we last debated Clause 4 of the Bill, the Minister laid down what I described as a veritable barrage of legislative

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precedent in relation to his new provisions in Clause 4(7), giving the appropriate authority, by which is normally meant the Secretary of State, the power to direct the agency to have regard in exercising any of its functions to such aspects of the policies of the authority as the authority directs, and also the default powers, to persuade us that there was very good precedent for both aspects of the new amendments he proposed at that time. When the smoke cleared, however—effectively after I had read Hansard subsequent to the debate—it struck me that a number of questions remained regarding what the Minister had said.

There is no dispute between any of the Benches on the question of the default powers. They fall fair and square with virtually every other agency that the Secretary of State for Health has to deal with, whether it is the FSA, the regulators or many other bodies. It is really over the subsection (7) powers that there is some doubt.

When the Minister referred to the new subsection he referred to CHI—I know that that is now called the Healthcare Commission, so one must remember to change our vocabulary as time goes on—and CSCI, which I believe has not changed its name. These bodies have a very different role to that of the Health Protection Authority.

The Minister referred to chapter and verse. He referred to Section 131 of the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act as regards CSCI, and he referred to Section 132 of that Act, as regards the Healthcare Commission.

The Minister skated very lightly over one matter—indeed, he did not mention it. This is the aspect that interested me when the smoke cleared. The FSA, which has much more analogous functions to the Health Protection Agency, does not have any power of that kind available to the Secretary of State. This is the dog that did not bark in the night. Perhaps the Minister would give us further background on the issue.

The default powers are in Section 24 of the Food Standards Act 1999. There are other powers relating to international treaties, and indeed powers to remove members of the agency, which are quite interesting in the context of the HPA Bill. But there is nothing similar to subsection (7). That seems rather strange. Could the Minister explain why we are adopting this provision when no such provision exists in the case of the Food Standards Agency? I beg to move.


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