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Mr. Dalyell: Everything depends on the good sense of those who make the decisions. What is the situation with the establishment of the pathogens access appeals commission? Is it being set up or has it been set up, and what is the likely composition? I am not asking the Minister to give me names off the top of her head, but it is an important matter. How big a body will it be, as it could be a significant operation?
Mr. Gummer: As a non-lawyer, I have a concern about what happens if material not listed here is found in the hands of a terrorist or a putative terrorist. Could he claim that because it was not listed in the schedule, it was therefore less objectionable? Would he be in a better position because of the detailed listing? I am sure that that has been considered, and I would like to know what the position is.
Beverley Hughes: As several right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber have considerable expertise in this area, I shall have to be careful on the scientific aspects. In response to the questions of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), we have been informed that the name of the substance to which he referred has been accepted as being changed. The amendment simply puts in the schedule what the scientific community regards as the correct nomenclature.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned specificity. We took the view that because there is a duty in the provisions to report substancesindeed, it is an offence not to do so within a certain time scaleit was right to be clear and specific in those circumstances. We believe that as there is also the power to amend the schedule, being specific is the right course of action and only fair to the laboratories, given the duties that we are placing on them and the fact that people can be in breach of the law by not reporting specific substances.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the appeals commission has not yet been established. We have not yet made decisions on some of the questions that he has raised, such as the size of membership. We think that it should be small, and members will need to be vetted. We are in the process of deciding on those details.
On the point raised by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the schedule applies only for the purposes of duties in part 7 and will not be prejudicial to other legislation. I am not sure whether that fully answers the right hon. Gentleman's point, but it is as far as I can go this evening.
Mr. Dalyell: My hon. Friends may remember the attack by the Americans on the El Shifa factory outside Khartoum. I do not want to go into details, but it was all based on false premises. The substanceo ethyl methyl phosphonoic acidwas not being made at the factory at all. In this field, all sorts of false information, taken out of context, can easily lead to actions that tend to be
Amendments made: No. 43, in page 105, line 29, leave out "Chlamydia" and insert "Chlamydophila".
No. 44, in page 106, line 11, at end insert
'1A Any reference in this Schedule to a toxin includes
(a) any genetic material containing any nucleic acid sequence for the coding of the toxin; and
(b) any genetically modified organism containing any such sequence.'
No. 45, in page 106, line 12, leave out paragraph 2 and insert
'2 Any reference in this Schedule to a toxin includes subunits of the toxin.'[Mrs. McGuire.]
Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Dalyell: I wish to press my hon. Friend gently about whether background information will be put in the Library on this issue, either by the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence. My hon. Friend the UnderSecretary of State for Defence has been very good in the past about giving such details, which the scientific community has certainly appreciated. I think that the same should be done here.
Beverley Hughes: If my hon. Friend means by that the decisions on what is classed as a dangerous substance, the composition of schedule 5 and the way in which any additions to it might be made, I can give him that assurance.
I shall be extremely brief. Throughout the Bill, the Government seek to tighten controls on dangerous materials, and who could argue with that as an objective? Therefore, it struck us as a little surprising that the compliance period was a month when a shorter time scale should be achievable. That is the reason for the amendment, and I would be grateful for the Minister's comments.
Beverley Hughes: I have sympathy with the objectives of Liberal Democrat Members. The amendment would reduce from one month to 14 days the period in which occupiers of premises must notify the Secretary of State that they hold or use dangerous substances. I understand and relate to the hon. Gentleman's desire that such information should be made available to the authorities at the earliest opportunity. I remind him of the earlier comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) about what that requirement will mean for occupiers of laboratories. Furthermore, if the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will be making it an offence for the occupier to fail to provide the required notification within the specified period.
For both those reasons, it seemed that the time scale should be feasible. It should not be so short that an occupier who was willing to comply with the requirement was in danger of committing an offence simply because there was not enough time in which to do so. That is why we have taken the view that one month is a more reasonable time scale for that purpose.
Mr. Gummer: Will the Minister return to the problem that I raised before in a slightly different context? In most cases, as I understand it, the proprietors or managers of such establishments have to make returns of various kinds if they have such material in their possession. That is not to protect the nation against terroristsas is now the casebut to ensure that these often extremely dangerous pathogens will not escape into the outside atmosphere or beyond the confines of the laboratory.
I am concerned that there should not be yet another, separate burden, and that the provisions should be integrated into the system that is already used to regulate those matters. If we could put that right, we should get closer to dealing with the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker). This part of the Bill worries me. I realise that there is a question of time and I am not suggesting that everything can be covered in this way, but if we are talking about joined-up government we should acknowledge that one of the things that makes life extremely difficult for people is having to report the same thing to different people at different times and within different time scales.
I hope that the Minister will assure the Committee that she will look into practical ways in which the process can be made easier. That is not because I have a particular interest either in supporting or agreeing with the laboratories, but to point out that if things are easy to do, they are more likely to be done on time and properly. If the process is complex, complicated and if there are
Beverley Hughes: The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Clearly, the occupiers will have to know about their own substancesthey will have to collect and record that information. I am certainly happy to assure him that, in considering the detail of the operation of the scheme under these provisions, we shallas far as we canenable proprietors, as the right hon. Gentleman says, to join up the systems. If we can achieve some economies of scale as regards their efforts, we shall try to do so.