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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I fully accept the sincerity and passion of the Minister. Although we on these Benches have broadly supported the sanctions policy against Iraq, perhaps I may ask the Minister if she would be so kind as to look at some of the details. I am troubled by the fact that in Committee 661 the United States and the British Government objected specifically to the supply of railway spare parts. The railways provide the main means of transporting humanitarian aid throughout Iraq. In consequence, many aid programmes have, in effect, been stopped at the ports because they have not got beyond them. Does the Minister accept that many of us, like the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and others, believe that we are beginning to come to the end of this policy and need to look at more focused and, perhaps I may say, harsher sanctions addressed at the ruling elite in Iraq and not at the ordinary people?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly understand the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness. I shall of course undertake to look at the situation regarding Committee 661. However, I make it clear to the House that Britain has put a stop to only about 1 per cent of the contracts, usually because of lack of information or a failure to make a clear division between those matters which are permitted and those which are not. Non-clearance of contracts is extremely limited. We are doing everything in our power to make sure that the process is smooth, speedy and that it directly affects only those issues which it should properly do.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the purpose of the programme of gold auctions is to achieve a better balance in the reserves portfolio. It is a medium-term programme. The auctions held to date have demonstrated that they can be successfully used to sell gold in an open and transparent way.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. In rejecting the unequivocal advice of the Governor of the Bank of England that those bullion sales should not take place, was it not the declared intention of the Government that those decisions should make the poor people of the world
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the original decision was a matter for the Government, not for the Governor of the Bank of England. As to what happened to the money received from the sale of gold, as the noble and learned Lord may know, it has been invested in dollars, euros and yen. The Governor has described that policy as perfectly reasonable.
Of course, the issue of the poor people of the world has been in our minds at all times when considering the policy, but 25 tonnes, which is the amount sold at each auction, is 1 per cent of the annual world gold mining supply. The groundstocks of gold are something like 100,000 tonnes. We must keep the size of the auctions in proportion.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that concern was expressed at the beginning of the programme and has been expressed from time to time since then. We believe, frankly, that it is wrong. It is not the speed of the sales but the size which matters. Our views, which we expressed to the government of South Africa at that time, have been confirmed by the fact that there is no evidence that the sales have forced down, or helped to influence, gold prices internationally.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is a good question. Of course, gold reserves bring nothing to us in interest payments. Since the gold disposal policy began in May last year, we have received in five auctions, including one this morning, over 1.2 billion dollars in receipts and we have made something like 1.9 million dollars up to 15th December in interest received on the currency reserves; I do not have the more recent figures. That is of considerable benefit to the Exchequer.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, will the Minister indicate why the Government chose to announce in advance of the sales their intention to sell the gold? Will he tell the House what is his estimate of the cost to the taxpayer of that decision and whether, with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better not to have done so?
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, in terms of cost to the taxpayer, is the Minister aware that on the Bank of England's website he will find confirmation that the Chancellor decided to sell gold just before it went up in price and to buy euros just before they went down, and that the net cost is £40 million?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Chancellor did not decide to sell gold just before it went up. The price at 6th May 1999 at the beginning of the process was 289.5 dollars per ounce. The sales this morning were at 285.25 dollars per ounce. There has been no increase in the price. There had been a decrease in the price prior to that. As to the investment in the dollar, the euro and the yen, I have given the figures to show the benefit that there has been to the taxpayer.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if the Government were so fortunate as to reach their Elysian field of joining economic and monetary union, does the Minister agree that that would require us to commit all our gold reserves--and, indeed, all our foreign currency reserves--to the control of the unelected bankers in Frankfurt? The Minister would then no longer be able to pursue the brilliant policy about which he is presently telling us.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am glad to have the noble Lord's support for the policy which his noble friends on the Front Bench and elsewhere attack. The noble Lord is, strictly speaking, correct--if we remove his emotional language--that our reserves would be merged with those of the European Central Bank.
I am always pleased to bring consolidation Bills before your Lordships. It is important that access to our legislation should be made easier and that judges, lawyers and people with an interest should not have to go on a paper chase through half a dozen enactments or more to find out what the law is.
This consolidation Bill is particularly valuable. It brings together all the main legislation governing the powers of the courts in sentencing. It will be in daily use in the criminal courts. The last consolidation Bill on sentencing was the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973. This Bill repeals that Act and also consolidates provisions in 13 other Acts. To ensure that the Bill will work satisfactorily, it gives effect to a small number of
The courts have emphasised on a number of occasions the need for consolidation of judicial sentencing powers. In R v Governor of Brockhill Prison ex parte Evans  QB 443, the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, and other members of the Divisional Court expressed the hope that the task would be given a high degree of priority.
Sentencing powers are always controversial, but I remind your Lordships that, apart from the minor modifications to which I have referred, this Bill does not change the law and it is not open to either House to seek to amend it in order to do so.
Members of the judiciary and other interested people who have been consulted by the Home Office about the Bill have raised no objections. I am sure that your Lordships will be grateful to the Law Commissions, the Home Office and the draftsman for producing the Bill. It is a substantial and impressive piece of work.