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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I always remember my earlier Answers and look back on them with great pleasure. The formation of the British-Irish Council has nothing to do with the Kilbrandon Report. The British-Irish Council derives from Strand Three of the Belfast agreement, in which it was agreed that the British-Irish Council would comprise representatives of the British Government, the Irish Government, devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, when established, and, if appropriate, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, together with representatives of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. This is a step forward and a change which I am sure the noble Lord's party welcomes as part of the continuing organic development of our constitutional arrangements.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, the Minister said that there was provision that, if appropriate, the devolved regions of England would be represented in the council of the isles. Can he tell us what thought has been given to the form of that representation, perhaps starting with London when the greater London authority is established next year?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I spoke of devolved institutions, when established, and, if appropriate, elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I believe my answer is literally accurate because it derives entirely from my reading of the text of Strand Three of the agreement. If there are continuing developments, this is the kind of body which will itself, I hope, be subject to organic growth on the basis of consensus.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, what about the position of Sark and Alderney, or are their interests to be recognised and implemented by Guernsey and Jersey?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, they will certainly not be represented by Jersey; I think there would be civil war if they were. Sark and Alderney, as every schoolboy knows, are within the jurisdiction and bailiwick of Guernsey.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, can the Minister say whether, after 1st July when the Scottish

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Executive is set up and is represented in the council of the isles, if that executive takes a different view on a reserved matter from the view taken by the Government of the United Kingdom, its representatives will be able to take part in discussions on that agenda item in the council of the isles?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we believe that one should avoid being unduly prescriptive. If one looks at the text of Strand Three, one can see that it will be open to the British-Irish Council to agree common policies or common actions. Individual members, which would include the Parliament of Scotland at Edinburgh, may opt not to participate in such common policies and common actions. The answer to the noble Lord's question is to be found in the text of the agreement.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that is all very fine, but some of us do not have before us the text of the agreement. That was why my noble friend asked the Minister to explain the matter. Can he have another shot?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am certainly prepared to have another shot. I turn from paragraph 6 to paragraph 7 of Strand Three:

    "The [British-Irish Council] normally will operate by consensus. In relation to decisions on common policies or common actions ... it will operate by agreement of all members participating in such policies or actions". I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, agrees that nothing could be plainer.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, following the supplementary of my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, how will members of the BIC be selected from the British devolved institutions?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, by the British devolved institutions.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Channel Islands are possessions of the Crown in its capacity as inheritor of the Duchy of Normandy and no other?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, in furtherance of the organic constitutional development of which the Minister is so fond, does he believe that there is any case for adding Gibraltar to the council of the isles?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there may be a case for it. However, as far as I am aware it does not fall within the Belfast agreement.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the noble Lord has been kind enough to tell the House what the council of the isles can do. Can the noble Lord tell us what it does, if anything?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it does not do anything at the moment because there have been no

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elections of which I am aware to an assembly in Cardiff, a parliament in Scotland or an assembly in Northern Ireland. One awaits those elections. It has a substantial prospective agenda. For example, paragraph 5 of Strand Three indicates that,

    "Suitable issues for early discussion ... could include transport links, agricultural issues, environmental issues, cultural issues, health issues, education issues and"-- I look particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire--

    "approaches to EU issues".

Noise at Work

3.21 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to minimise the risk to hearing from noise at work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, there is substantial legislation in place requiring employers and others to take action to reduce the risk to hearing from noise at work. The Health and Safety Executive and other enforcing authorities are continually working to increase awareness of the risks to health from noise, to ensure compliance with the legislation, to offer practical advice and guidance on ways to reduce noise levels and to control exposure to noise at work.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I declare an unpaid interest as president of the RNID. Is my noble friend aware that although I welcome the constructive nature of his Answer, the evidence points to the fact that the Health and Safety Executive is failing because many employers are unaware of their obligations under the Act and do not comply with the regulations and because many workers are unaware of the dangers to their hearing from noise at work? Does my noble friend on behalf of the Government agree that the next step is for the Government to monitor more closely the work of the Health and Safety Executive and to do what they can to help it to achieve a really significant change to prevent thousands of British workers suffering hearing loss?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are still areas of British industry, particularly the newer ones, which are not fully aware of the regulations and which are not fully enforcing them. Nevertheless, the Health and Safety Executive has made substantial efforts to provide information to employers and others. Its leaflets on reducing noise at work and Sound Solutions have received very widespread circulation. Bearing in mind my noble friend's declared interest, I am aware of the report by the TUC and the RNID pointing to some of the problems in getting across the message, which I and my colleague Michael Meacher very much welcome. As to giving greater emphasis to the

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Health and Safety Executive, we are doing better than monitoring; we are very substantially increasing the resources that are available to the HSE.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to express my deep admiration for the courage and persistence of my noble friend Lord Ashley in this matter. Can the Minister inform the House whether the Health and Safety Executive is focusing more on this issue? How many prosecutions have taken place? What have been the results, and what precise steps is the executive taking to enforce the many regulations to which he has rightly referred? Is it correct that the risk from noise is growing all the time and that my noble friend is right to express very deep concern about the way this matter is being handled?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. A substantial number of people are exposed to potential noise problems. The HSE estimates that at least 1.3 million people are exposed to noise levels that may result in damage to hearing and that about 170,000 people say that they are suffering from noise at work. I am not in a position to give information on the precise number of prosecutions, but I can say that a very substantial proportion of the additional resources to be allocated to the Health and Safety Executive as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review will be directed at inspection and the enforcement of the regulations to which my noble friend refers.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that at present there is inadequate legislation with regard to aircraft noise? Will the Government consider whether on this small and crowded island the time has come to restrict the use of helicopters to the military and emergency services?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are substantial regulations relating to helicopters in highly residential areas. I do not believe that it would be appropriate to restrict their use entirely to military and emergency purposes. They can play a very useful role in commercial activities. However, I accept that there are some concerns about both the noise and nuisance value which need to be addressed.

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