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House of Lords

Wednesday, 12th November 1997.

The House met at a quarter past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Lord Islwyn

Royston John Hughes, Esquire, having been created Baron Islwyn, of Casnewydd in the County of Gwent, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos and the Lord Merlyn-Rees.

Lord Goodhart

Sir William Howard Goodhart, Knight, QC, having been created Baron Goodhart, of Youlbury in the County of Oxfordshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and the Lord Taverne, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Baroness Maddock

Mrs. Diana Margaret Maddock, having been created Baroness Maddock, of Christchurch in the County of Dorset, for life--Was, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Hamwee and the Lord Tope, and made the solemn Affirmation.

Nuclear Safeguards: IAEA Model Protocol

2.50 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy with regard to the protocol on the application of nuclear safeguards approved by the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in May 1997.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government strongly support the measures contained in the model protocol which was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors on 15th May this year. The protocols based on this model will be additional to existing agreements between states and the IAEA for the application of safeguards. These protocols, once adopted, will support the twin objectives of increasing the agency's ability to detect clandestine nuclear activities in non-nuclear weapon states and increasing the effectiveness of the application of existing safeguards measures.

A copy of the text of the statement made by the UK governor to the IAEA to the board of governors on 15th May, together with a detailed list of measures

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which the UK intends to implement and a copy of the model protocol itself, will be placed in the Library of the House.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full Answer. Does he agree that the illicit traffic in nuclear materials is one of the greatest existing threats to international security, and that the additional protocol could do much to prevent the threat if it were brought fully into effect? Will Her Majesty's Government do all that they can and use every endeavour to ensure that other countries, especially those which have nuclear weapons, sign the protocol so that it becomes universal and effective?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord's propositions. Of course, illicit traffic is a threat to the entire globe. We will use our best endeavours to ensure that as many countries as possible adopt the procedures because that would be enormously helpful.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is it the case that the best example that nuclear states can give to non-nuclear states is to become non-nuclear themselves?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as ever, my noble friend extends the Question. I do not agree with the proposition he has advanced. We are seeking to ensure that non-proliferation succeeds and that the powers which are available to the IAEA inspectors are enhanced. That advance is important and, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, we must ensure that it can be extended as widely as possible.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, will the Minister assure us that co-operation and intelligence between nuclear states are full and proper?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the significance of this protocol is to enhance the powers of the inspectors in important ways. That is the best way to gain the assurances, rather than to rely necessarily on information which is passed from one country to another.

Lord Carver: My Lords, will the Minister accept that his comments will receive strong support from everyone who believes that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a danger? Will the Government continue to support any strengthening of the investigative and enforcement powers of the IAEA?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. His question reflects what this is all about, which is strengthening the enforcement powers. We are ensuring that there are greater powers to investigate situations in order to avoid the problem which he identified.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the extension of the powers of the IAEA allow it to deal with the enormous problems of redundant nuclear reactors and material

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such as the Russians have stored following the dismantling of their North Sea fleet? In view of the IAEA's adoption of greater transparency, will representations be made to the Russians that they should drop the charges against Dr. Alexander Nikitin who performed a great service to the world in revealing the dangers of the redundant reactors and the North Sea fleet?

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, with respect, I believe that the noble Lord should table a specific Question on that matter. I would then be able to give him an informed Answer.

Scottish Museums and Admission Charges

2.55 p.m.

The Earl of Clancarty asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will intervene to ensure that the National Museums of Scotland do not introduce the admission charge to their sites which is planned to take effect on 5th January 1998.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, the Board of Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland has powers under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985 to impose charges for admission to its premises. It is entirely a matter for the trustees; they do not require the approval of the Secretary of State. The Government are already reviewing their position on access to the national collections, including the implications of admission charges, and expect to announce the outcome of the review early in December.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Will he acknowledge that the National Museums of Scotland will be able to claim back almost £3 million in VAT in the current tax year only if, completely against their will, they take the option of introducing admission charges? Will the Minister review the situation and change the VAT rules so that all national museums are not penalised in such a manner?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am aware that the VAT issue is one of the driving concerns in the trustees' decision to introduce charges. It is true that the issue will be taken up in the review.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, taking into account the noble Earl's interesting Question, is the Minister aware that for some years during the late 1980s I was a trustee of the National Museums of Scotland and that I argued long and hard, but unsuccessfully, for limited flexible entrance fees? Does the Minister agree with me that, if people pay, curators and other staff feel more answerable to the public they serve? Would it not

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be better if the museum in Chambers Street had proper turnstiles, rather than manual clickers, so that it could properly ascertain the popularity of its offering?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am indeed aware of the noble Baroness's contribution to this issue. She may have advocated charges for nearly 20 years and is only now seeing them materialise, but I have been advocating a Scottish Parliament for more than 20 years and that is just coming about, too. I am not sure that I can go down the precise road suggested by the noble Baroness as regards the value of charges and the worth that it gives to curating staff. However, the whole issue of charges, the contribution that they can make and their impact on access is properly being examined in the context of the review.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that on two occasions the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport has publicly committed himself to the principle of universal access, and therefore opposition to charging in all national museums, or is that merely a restatement of the well known principle that justice is open to all, as is the Ritz Hotel?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I believe that on this occasion the noble Lord has not accurately represented the comments of my right honourable friend in another place. However, I fully accept that access is an important issue which is recognised on all sides of the House and which is currently engaging active interest and concern.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, with regard to VAT, would my noble friend, in the government review, consider anomalies whereby free national museums have to pay VAT while local free museums and charging national museums do not pay it? Would it not be better to free the lot?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am aware of a number of anomalies in the VAT area. I had to deal with one on a different subject a few months ago. That taught me the lesson that it is incredibly difficult to sort out even what appear on the surface to be glaring anomalies.

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