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Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that information. Does he agree that volatility in oil prices is likely to persist and will continue to cause serious disruption? In those circumstances, does he agree that the Government, in conjunction with our partners in the EU and the IEA, should consider longer-term solutions than the emergency measures now being contemplated? Should not such solutions include a serious effort to encourage the use of alternative fuels in the transport sector, such as natural gas and electricity, for which the technology has been fully developed? That would have considerable climate change advantages and a suitable regulatory framework would be needed to encourage such developments.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, crude oil prices are likely to remain volatile. There are no obvious long-term solutions that would prevent such fluctuations, particularly as in this case the problem is caused by particular disruptions on the product side as

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well as the imbalance between demand and supply--which obviously one can do something about. It goes without saying that in the long term we must continue to develop alternative technologies and sources of energy, because that creates greater diversity, which is essential.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, did the Minister see a graph on this subject in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago? It showed that at the beginning of each recent decade--1969-70, 1979-80, 1989-90 and today--there has been a sudden rise in the wholesale price of oil. Has his department done any analysis to determine why that happened--he has explained today's hike, but not previous ones--and, more importantly, why the price subsequently came down?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am afraid that the answer is very simple, as it is on almost all such questions about supply and demand. This House will understand that with a commodity such as this, which can be traded and where supply and demand shift, this issue will arise constantly. It is interesting that in this House not more than 18 months ago we were talking about low oil prices. Many people made the point that we had perhaps entered a new era of low oil prices. It is interesting that today people are saying that we are entering a period of very high oil prices. The reality is that over that period there have been ups and downs relating to supply and demand and no fundamental change has taken place in the underlying structure of that particular industry. Therefore, I believe that this issue does not require more than a simple analysis of supply and demand.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Opposition have suggested that 3p should come off the price of petrol. Does the Minister believe that that is a suitable response to the price of oil?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, Mr William Hague made a very good point on that particular issue when he said on 13th September 2000:

    "We would not cut taxes today because there has been a protest yesterday. You can't run the country like that".

Apparently, that policy lasted about one week.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the original Question. I was a little puzzled by the Minister's description of the work of the International Energy Agency. It is an excellent organisation and one which a long time ago I had the privilege of chairing. It co-ordinates within the OECD all the interests of the oil-consuming countries, including all the European countries. Can the Minister explain more clearly what European Union involvement brings to the party and what value it adds? From the reports that we have had it seems that the pronouncements from the European Commission have rather destabilised the situation. Is it really helpful to have this fifth wheel on the coach?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that one must be clear that the International Energy

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Agency remit is restricted to four particular areas: co-operation on energy conservation and alternative energy sources; information on international oil markets; co-operation with oil-producing and oil-consuming countries to develop stable international energy trade; and planning against risk or major disruptions. I do not believe that there is consensus within that body as to any action that it should take on market carnet. However, as I explained at the beginning, the EU has very little remit on this issue other than that which comes from the question of the directive relating to countries holding supplies for emergencies.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, particularly in the current situation, would it not be helpful if Iraq were brought back to full production? Can the Minister confirm that America is now buying Iraqi oil hand over fist, albeit through third parties?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, clearly anything which increases the supply of oil will help this particular situation. However, whether that is desirable is, of course, another question.

International Treaties: Parliamentary Scrutiny

2.53 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they support the creation of a Select Committee to scrutinise international treaties concluded outside the framework of the European Union before they are ratified by the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the creation of Select Committees principally is a matter for the relevant House of Parliament. The Government are open to considering ways of contributing to efficient and effective parliamentary scrutiny of treaties, as we made clear in evidence both to the Royal Commission's inquiry on the reform of your Lordships' House and to the inquiry into the parliamentary scrutiny of treaties by the Procedure Committee in another place.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I thank the Minister a little for that Answer. However, could not the Government give a stronger lead on this issue? Has not the matter been seriously delayed since my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill first raised it in this House? Is this not an ideal matter on which the House of Lords, with its very good reputation for dealing with the consequences of the European treaties, could exercise more widely the parliamentary role of scrutiny as regards treaties? Will the noble Baroness remember that, in these days of old Labour and new Labour, one

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of the oldest of the Labour Party's commitments in international affairs is to have parliamentary scrutiny of treaty-making?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reminder but I hope that he will take it well when I say that in fact no such reminder was needed for Her Majesty's Government. The Government are aware of the recommendation in the report of the Royal Commission that the Liaison Committee should consider the establishment of a Select Committee to scrutinise treaties and of the recommendations in the report by the Procedure Committee in another place. Both reports are still being considered and the Government will respond in due course. If requested to do so, the Government will, of course, make a contribution to any inquiry by the Liaison Committee. This is very much a matter for the Liaison Committee and I believe that everyone in this House knows that the issue will be in safe hands.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, in the course of the evidence given jointly and in agreement by the German and French ambassadors before your Lordships' House Select Committee on European matters, it was announced that, if necessary and acting jointly, France and Germany would proceed to draft treaties at the second level without bothering governments at all? Does not the noble Baroness consider that we need to be exceptionally vigilant that matters which affect our own status within the European Union are discussed and agreed at the proper level rather than below the top level?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government are being very vigilant in relation to those matters. My noble friend will be aware that there are special procedures for EU treaties which provide for scrutiny through the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union and its sub-committees and the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee as well. I suggest respectfully that it is an achievement of this Government that instruments in the inter-governmental field of common, foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs are now subject to scrutiny through the introduction of the scrutiny reserve.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the chronology or timetable? I introduced the Bill into the House four years ago in February 1996. Ten Members of your Lordships' House gave evidence to the Select Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, in support of there being a treaty scrutiny committee in this House. As the noble Baroness indicated, while saying that it was unnecessary for the other place to have such a committee, in July this year the second report of the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons effectively commended the recommendations of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham. Those recommendations stated that

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we, as a House, are capable of scrutinising treaties, with retired Law Lords, retired members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Members of the House who are expert in this matter being well suited to the role.

Finally, is the noble Baroness aware of the principle of the unripe time, which teaches that one should not do today something which needs to be done today on the ground that the time is unripe and it should therefore be done tomorrow or next year?

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