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Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Saddam Hussein's military strategy of delivering weapons of mass destruction is a serious threat to the American strategy, which is based on sheer size and high technology? Does she further agree that it is most important for Britain now to work in close partnership with our American colleagues to ensure that we can fend off this evil dictator in the best way possible?

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will agree with what the noble Lord said about the evil and destructive force of weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, the Minister has accepted the evidence of my noble friend Lady Cox that weapons of mass destruction have been used by the Sudanese Government against sections of their own people. If they were not provided by Iraq, are we to understand that the Minister believes that the Sudan itself is capable of the manufacture and delivery of such weapons, in which case we have another major threat to think about?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Sudan has chemical plants as part of its industrial infrastructure which could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. But we have no evidence from any source to corroborate claims that Sudan has attempted to acquire, either indigenously or through procurement, any form of weapons of mass destruction.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, will the Minister accept at the very least that there is a mass of substantial allegations of a regular supply of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and know-how to the Sudan with, incidentally, the co-operation of Iran, which is an extremely anxious issue? Will the Minister accept that that is a threat to all the African nations bordering on the Sudan, given the fact that the Khartoum Government have already threatened the Ugandans with a chemical attack?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Iraq had admitted to concealment mechanisms which UNSCOM is continuing to investigate. We do not rule out the possibility that the gaps in Iraq's disclosure may indeed be attributable to the transfer out of Iraq of weapons with a mass destruction capability. However, I have told your Lordships' House that, while that is a possibility of which Her Majesty's Government are fully aware, we do not have credible evidence to support that view.

If I were to provide further details, I am afraid that I should have to draw on material collected by the intelligence agencies. Of course, it has been the practice of successive governments not to comment on that.

Mis-sold Personal Pensions: Compensation

3.32 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to accelerate the programme of compensation to victims of the mis-selling of personal pensions, and to prevent any mis-selling of the proposed stakeholder pension.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Financial Services Authority is taking action to ensure

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that everyone who has been mis-sold a personal pension since the Financial Services Act came into force will have access to a review which will determine whether they have suffered a redressable loss.

Last week my honourable friend the Economic Secretary answered a question in another place giving data on the progress made by the 41 firms with most cases to review. The figures show that some 65 per cent. of all priority cases have now been dealt with.

The Economic Secretary also gave her support to the FSA's approach to dealing with the remaining cases, which are grouped into Phase 2 of this exercise. All cases must be fairly and quickly dealt with.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: I congratulate the Government on the efficiency and energy with which the Economic Secretary has pursued this matter. Does the Minister agree with me that it is very alarming to read the situation in Phase 2 which is outlined in the Financial Services Authority's recent statement? That shows that something like 1.8 million smaller investors may have suffered detriment to the tune of some £6.5 billion. Therefore would he not agree that that scandalous situation shows that the profit-making private pension insurance companies are not to be trusted to provide the same security in retirement as the state insurance schemes? What steps are the Government taking to prevent the proposed stakeholder pension falling into their hands?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Economic Secretary will be very grateful for my noble friend's first remarks. As regards the second phase, my noble friend quotes the figures quite correctly. Of course, the second phase is not concerned with smaller investors but with younger investors--those who have more than 15 years to go before retirement. Priority was rightly given to those closer to retirement in Phase 1 of the investigation.

As regards avoiding that problem in the future, my noble friend's remarks will of course be taken into account. We are determined that the stakeholder pension should not suffer from the same mis-selling problem.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister realise that I very much agree with him on the question of mis-selling? I hope it will be put right because it has greatly damaged the legitimate private personal pension interests which many people in this country will need to have if they are to have pension provision in their old age. Does the Minister recall that I had exactly the same problem when I had to put through the Pensions Act because of the behaviour of Mr. Robert Maxwell, who was, I think, an ex-colleague of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle?

Does the Minister, like me, find it rather odd that the Economic Secretary should be the person who is throwing stones on the issue of mis-selling private pensions when she had such a close relationship with Mr. Robert Maxwell in her previous existence?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord has managed to make two "McCarthyite" accusations of guilt by association in the course of one short question. I congratulate him.

Earl Russell: My Lords, in considering measures to prevent that happening again, will the Government look again at the proposals of the Goode Report? Will they ensure also that trustees of occupational pension schemes representing the employees and pensioners cannot in future be removed by the employer?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course those matters will be considered in the very comprehensive review of pension provision which will start this summer. But the issue of trustees is somewhat removed from the original Question.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Is the Minister aware that I never had a close association with Robert Maxwell, and perhaps not as close an association as some Members opposite have had with other tycoons?


3.36 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. today, my noble friend Lady Blackstone will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on schools funding.

Also, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter Recess on Thursday, 9th April, and return on Monday, 20th April. The House will sit at 11 a.m. on Thursday, 9th April.

Petroleum Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Audit Commission Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Crime and Disorder Bill [H.L.]

3.39 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Lord Bridges moved Amendment No. 80:

After Clause 26, insert the following new clause--
("Publication of telephone conversations

Offence of publishing telephone conversations

.--(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, a person who publishes, or causes to be published, a telephone conversation made by means of a public telecommunication system shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply in a case where--
(a) the recording of the conversation did not contravene the provisions of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, and all parties to the telephone conversation in question have given their consent to publication;
(b) one of the parties to the conversation is a journalist and the conversation was undertaken as part of his professional investigations;
(c) the conversation was recorded by the employer of one of the parties to the conversation ("the employee") as part of a routine procedure for recording telephone conversations within the workplace provided that--
(i) the employee has been made aware in writing of this procedure, and
(ii) publication is necessary for or in connection with the conduct of disciplinary proceedings;
(d) the conversation was conducted between persons acting on behalf of a firm and one of its clients and the recording was undertaken to provide evidence of a commercial transaction; or
(e) it can be shown that publication of the conversation is in the public interest.
(3) A person found guilty of an offence under subsection (1) shall be liable--
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine, or to both.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Monson, I should explain that this is a substantially revised version of the amendment which I moved in Committee, but that it retains the same objective; namely, the creation of a new criminal offence, the publication of the transcript of a clandestinely monitored telephone conversation. It is already illegal to make such interceptions, save under a warrant issued by the Secretary of State in carefully defined circumstances, but it is not at present illegal to publish the transcript. Thus, the amendment is designed to close a loophole in existing legislation.

Replying to the debate on 13th February, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said that my proposal covered a wide area and gave rise to a number of matters which the Government were already considering in the context of EC Directive No. 97/66/EC of 15th December 1997 and that he thought it would be premature for me to press my amendment, which he invited me to withdraw meanwhile. I agreed to do this and said that I would study the directive, reserving the right to present it again on Report, which I now do in revised form.

There is no conflict between this amendment and the EC directive; rather the two texts are complementary and mutually supportive. In particular,

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Article 5 of the directive states the intention to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of telecommunications, which is also my main objective. There is a similar provision in Article 8 of the European human rights convention. The problem that the Government have with the directive is that it covers all telecommunications, whereas our own law, the Interception of Telecommunications Act 1985, is less extensive in its coverage, applying only to telecommunications which pass through the public networks. Privatisation and the advance of technology mean that a substantial sector is thus left uncovered. Therefore, amendment of the 1985 Act will be required before we can implement the directive, and we know that a review of that Act is already in progress.

Meanwhile, the Government have exercised their right to derogate from implementation of the directive until October 2000, in respect of Article 5, as is permitted by the text of the directive. I cite these matters simply to illustrate that I can see no impediment in the directive to the passage of my amendment, as I rather think the noble Lord, Lord Williams, implied when he spoke on the earlier occasion. That was, I suggest, something of a red herring, although I understand his wish not to complicate other matters which require consideration as a result of the directive. However, I submit that my amendment would not be in conflict with the directive. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for drawing my attention to the directive, and more particularly for his kindness in arranging a meeting at the Home Office on Monday morning when we were able to discuss the question in more detail. As a result, I have endeavoured to meet the objections and difficulties mentioned at that meeting in the substantially revised version of the amendment which is before the House today. I shall speak as briefly as I can to those changes.

Subsection (2)(b) of my earlier draft contained a provision that if a journalist wished to question a person in public life about some alleged malpractice, and for the greater accuracy of his report wanted to record the conversation, he should first make known his intention. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, told me that he thought that provision would hinder legitimate investigative journalism, as the person approached would surely terminate the conversation abruptly if he heard that a recording was to be made. To meet this objection, which does have some force, I have much shortened the subsection so as to remove the proviso regarding recording altogether: the exemption now covers all conversations by journalists. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will find this satisfactory. I am not particularly happy with a law which places journalists in a privileged position in relation to other citizens, but I cannot think of another way of meeting the noble Lord's objection.

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For the greater certainty of knowledge, I should add that there is a clause in the voluntary code of practice, number 8, which covers the matter. It says:

    "Journalists must not obtain or publish material obtained by using clandestine listening devices or by intercepting private telephone conversations".

In parenthesis, I do not suppose that that clause need necessarily apply to transcripts of on-the-record telephone conversations, although that is not made clear in the code. My intention is to give legal effect to clause 8 of the code, which I have just quoted. Indeed, the code, my amendment and the EC directive share a common objective. If we agree to adopt the amendment, we shall be able to transpose that passage of the code into statute law and to facilitate implementation of the EC directive at the same time.

Some noble Lords may feel that matters are better left as they are, on the basis of a voluntary code. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, spoke eloquently on those lines in a recent debate. I should add that I informed the noble Lord yesterday of my intention to refer to his intervention this afternoon. However, I do not see that as being the route we ought to follow. I say that because an editor may more readily overlook the effect of a code, which he can always argue about at length afterwards; but he cannot so readily ignore the force of the law.

As I suggested in my earlier speech, this is an area where temptations are strong, where technology is constantly advancing and making interceptions easier. I submit that safeguards are needed to strengthen the resolve to remove malpractice as far as possible. After all, we are talking about a fundamental matter; namely, the right of the citizen to enjoy privacy of personal communication. We should be proud of that right and exert ourselves to protect it. I doubt whether that right would be fully protected by the code, which does not, I think, enjoy the confidence placed by the public in statute law.

There are some other changes which I shall mention more briefly. Subsection (2)(c) is followed by a new paragraph (d) to make it clear that records of telephone conversations in a City dealing room may, if necessary, be used to verify details of a particular financial transaction. It was my intention that that should be covered by way of the original wording, but the matter is now set out more clearly in this version of the amendment.

A final change is the omission of the former subsection (2)(d), which was designed to authorise the Director of Public Prosecutions to make use of these recordings in criminal proceedings if he thought it desirable. It has been pointed out to me that this practice is precluded by the terms of the Interception of Communications Act 1985, so I have excised it from the amendment. No doubt the matter can be examined in more detail in the review of that Act which is now in progress. Indeed, there may perhaps be a case for lifting the total ban in certain cases so as to make use of intercepted material in particularly serious criminal cases.

I hope that the amendment in its revised form will be acceptable to the Government. The only aspect mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, which I have not attempted to cover relates to the doubts that he expressed

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about the word "publishes", which is to be found in line 1 of my amendment. As I understand it, in legal terminology this word has far-reaching effect, meaning:

    "Communication to another, or others, by whatever means".

However, I hope that noble Lords will not be put off course by worries of that kind. What I am seeking to outlaw in this amendment is the violation of the principle of privacy of communication, which is a fundamental right.

Not having a written constitution, we have to take specific steps of this kind to achieve an objective which most other countries enjoy in a basic constitutional document. The principle already features prominently in international texts, some of which I have mentioned. We need this provision in our domestic law. It must be an anomaly that it is illegal to make a clandestine recording of a telephone conversation, but legal to publish it. That is the situation at present.

I am not interested in regulation of the press, nor do I favour it; but I am interested in the rights of the citizen. However, to meet any possible objection on that score, I have included a new subsection (2)(e) which would permit publication when it can be shown to be in the public interest. Thus, it would be for the courts of this country to determine whether or not an editor's decision to publish an illegal document was justified in the public interest.

I have gone a long way to meet the difficulties expressed to me by Ministers. I hope that this revised version will allay the problems which they foresaw. Should the Government still dislike it--the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, indicated to me that he thought it unlikely the Government could accept the amendment--I can conclude only that they wish to avoid the risk of ruffling feathers in Fleet Street, Wapping and other places of that kind. If that is their calculation, I put it to them that they will not be able to rely on goodwill from that quarter. I put it to the House that the sounder judgment is to regard this as a matter of principle, as I have tried to express it this afternoon. I hope that noble Lords from all sides of the House will take that view and join me in the Lobby if that proves necessary. I beg to move.

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