§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)
My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.
149 Perhaps I may briefly thank those noble Lords who have taken part on the Bill as it has passed through your Lordships' House. I also thank the opposition parties for the full and constructive support they gave to this important measure which marks a major step forward in freeing the world from the menace of chemical weapons. It has been the Government's aim that the UK should be among the founding state parties to the convention. For the UK to be among the first 65 states to ratify—at present there are some 49—will preserve British influence both in the preparatory commission and in the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons which will come into being upon entry into force of the convention. It will also secure British people in post there.
The Bill's passage will ensure that the UK continues to take a leading role in the development of the Chemical Weapons Convention. I can assure your Lordships that we shall not hesitate to use our influence to ensure that the convention's ban on chemical weapons operates effectively. Apart from my thanks to those noble Lords who participated in our brief exchanges on these matters, I thank also the Royal Society of Chemistry for its thorough and thoughtful briefing. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.)
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, perhaps I may first apologise to your Lordships, and to the Minister, for not being in my place when the business on the Bill started. The previous business ended slightly earlier than one was anticipating.
This is an important piece of legislation. I am delighted that it will soon be enacted into law. We have dealt with it as best we can, although I must say that I was disappointed that a Bill of this importance attracted little interest from your Lordships.
The Minister did an excellent job, and I did the best I could in the circumstances, as did the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Most other Members of your Lordships' House, despite what many of us believe is a tremendously important move by Her Majesty's Government, did not feel that it was worth their while taking part. So much for that.
Perhaps I may make one or two points before coming to my final remarks. We discussed the issue of an advisory mechanism. Although in connection with that and one or two other matters the Government felt unable to accept my amendments, they made a number of pledges. One was that advice would be taken without delay and would be taken seriously. I hope that will be the case and that the non-statutory advisory mechanism will start soon. I intend to find ways within your Lordships' procedures to check on that matter because it is important.
Similarly, what will be an extremely important Act will involve various licensing arrangements. The Government promised to publish documentation on the proposed appeals process but as yet I am unaware of its publication. I hope that the Minister will ensure that it 150 will be published soon. The researcher who is denied a licence or who has his licence varied will be most anxious about the matter and will wish to be in a position to appeal. I have also pointed out that many people who will be affected by the Bill—notably the academic community engaged in chemical research—appear to know nothing about its existence. The Minister promised that he would do what he could to publicise the Bill and I know that once he has made a promise, he will ensure that it is fulfilled.
The Bill is a start; but we are discussing a world-wide issue and we cannot act alone. We have taken a leading part, and I know that we shall do so again, in making chemical weapons a thing of the past—that is, so far as is humanly possible. Your Lordships will be aware that biological weapons are another of the more noxious things in the world. I look forward to a biological weapons convention, too.
I repeat my congratulations and thanks to the Minister and I join him in thanking the Royal Society of Chemistry. Mr. Stephen Benn was immensely helpful to me. It was obvious that in so far as I had anything useful to say he was one of my main sources. I wish to place on record my thanks to the Royal Society of Chemistry and to Mr. Benn. I also thank Mr. Julian Perry-Robinson of the Science Policy Research Unit, who has been most helpful. The unit is an example of an effective research body playing a useful role in helping those of us who sit on the Opposition Benches who do not have the vast resources of a government department. Such bodies give us the kind of back-up which enables us to make sense of such legislation.
I support the Bill, as I have throughout its passage. I hope that it succeeds and I hope that our successors will not live in a world in which the use of chemical weapons is acceptable in any kind of conflict.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I echo the sentiments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in thanking the Minister for his adroit handling of the Bill, and in particular for the assurances that he gave on Report about the function of the advisory body. I hope that the Minister will take adequate advice.
As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, pointed out, a large number of institutions—mostly the universities and the smaller institutions—will discover that the Bill has financial implications. They must be sorted out at a later date and I am sure that such issues will be raised in this House again. It would be wrong if that were not the case because the Bill is supported by everyone and it certainly has our blessing.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I have not taken part in the proceedings of the Bill in this House. However, one of the reasons why few people took part and why the Bill has not received from outside the attention that it should have received is that there was a misunderstanding about its general scope and purpose. That was due in part to its departmental sponsorship—the origins of the Chemical Weapons Convention are in the Foreign and Commonwealth 151 Office—and in part because some of the briefing concentrated on academic and non-military aspects of the impact of the convention.
However, as one who with the late Lord Mulley was in at the birth of the Chemical Weapons Convention more than 30 years ago, it is a great pleasure to see the convention come in this form to your Lordships' House. The legislation is of enormous importance and significance. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, chemical, biological and microbiological weapons are among the most horrifying engines of war ever to be invented.
In commenting on the noble Lord's wish that we should see the end of such weapons, I point out that one of the great problems which faces us is their proliferation. The fact that Her Majesty's Government are taking a leading part in this way underlines their commitment to the cause of limiting the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them. I therefore conclude my one and only brief contribution to the proceedings and congratulate Her Majesty's Government on taking a leading role in the matter.
On Question, Bill passed.