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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the Minister aware that interventionist employment legislation, such as unduly onerous terms of hiring and firing and such as a minimum wage of over £5 per hour, can but inhibit employment? Is the Minister also aware that the European Court of Justice, as part of the process of advancing integration, would give effect to such subsidiary legislation?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, a reply which satisfies some will never satisfy the noble Lord, but I am quite used to that because I have heard the noble Lord, and have been much entertained by him, over many years now. A Low Pay Commission has now been established. It will look at the level of the minimum
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that not all of the proposals that are put forward by the Commission emerge unchanged as Community legislation? The noble Lord may have experience of that himself. Will he also confirm that the British attitude to social policy is shared by a number of other governments, in particular by the Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Dutch Governments, and that we are therefore unlikely to be isolated or on our own?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's second point is definitively yes. On his first point, as a former European Commissioner, perhaps I may say that not one of my proposals (or for that matter any proposal by a colleague) was ever passed without qualification by the Council of Ministers or even by the CoReper before that.
Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, in view of the fact that in answer to his noble friend the Minister said that majority voting could mean technically that we would have to put up with something which we voted against, will the Minister now confirm that it would be much better to do our negotiating now, to get something that is in Britain's interests and only then to sign the social chapter?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a rather strange question. I thought that the party opposite was against the social chapter, but the noble Lord is now urging us to legislate nationally for the items that are in the social chapter--
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I find that an extraordinary proposition, coming as it does from that source. The fact of the matter is that it was the noble Lord's government who extended qualified majority voting in the Single European Act--and who did so extensively. Why does the noble Lord omit to recall that salient fact?
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that some of the exchanges this afternoon have been strange, given the fact that the British people declared their view of the matter at the last general election?
Lord Annan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the welfare of the workforce in this country and creating decent social conditions for them are matters of importance which have been totally neglected by those who have criticised him today?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): No, my Lords. We shall act with the greatest energy and determination to advance the prospects of reaching a comprehensive and widely acceptable settlement in Northern Ireland, but we do not believe that that objective would be served by banning the use of plastic baton rounds. We recognise that the use of baton rounds has given rise to controversy and we look forward to a time when their use is no longer required. In current circumstances, however, where the security forces require the capability to defend lives and property, and to protect themselves in riot situations, baton rounds unfortunately remain necessary.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and congratulate him on his appointment. However, I find the reply disappointing. I suppose that the Minister must know that since the introduction of these missiles 100,000 bullets have been fired and
Lord Dubs: My Lords, plastic baton rounds have been used in Northern Ireland for many years. I remind my noble friend that they were used only a week or so ago at Harryville to prevent disorder when rioters tried to break into a Catholic church. We have had to use them to maintain the peace and to ensure that safeguards can be applied when lives or properties are at risk. For that reason we must stick with these weapons. I hope that when there is peace in Northern Ireland these weapons will no longer be necessary. In the meantime, unfortunately they are.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, even if banning these weapons is not possible, can the Minister give an assurance that their use will be kept to a minimum and that the right size and quality of missile will be used?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, there are already strict rules governing the use of plastic baton rounds by the RUC. The use of these rounds is also governed by Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 in that the force used must be reasonable in the circumstances. The police also undergo thorough training before they are able to use these weapons. We are doing all we can to ensure that they are used in the safest possible way.
Lord Blease: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is the considered aim of all peaceable organisations in Northern Ireland to be able to dispense with the use of plastic bullets? Does the Minister also agree that the credibility of the peace process could be more realistically and constructively reinforced if the perpetrators of crowd violence, organised rioting, the burning of churches, property and public transport, and
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