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House of Lords

Tuesday, 19 July 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Baroness Fritchie

Dame Irene Tordoff Fritchie, DBE, having been created Baroness Fritchie, of Gloucester in the County of Gloucestershire, for life—Was, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Cumberlege and the Lord Wilson of Dinton.

Lord Anderson of Swansea

The Right Honourable Donald Anderson, having been created Baron Anderson of Swansea, of Swansea in the County of West Glamorgan, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Andrews and the Lord Morris of Aberavon.

Lord Haskins—took the Oath.

Export Control Organisation

2.48 pm

The Lord Bishop of Winchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the department has carried out a major assessment of outsourcing all or parts of the Export Control Organisation, including its effectiveness. A decision has been made and an announcement will be made later this week in the House of Commons.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, following our conversations yesterday evening and this morning. I shall watch for the promised Statement with a lot of interest and shall save further questions until after I have read it.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for that very helpful comment. I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot say what decision has been taken. I cannot defend it, nor can I say that I shall take account of the views of the House, because we have already made a decision. Other than that, I shall try to be as helpful as I can.
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Lord Garden: My Lords, in that respect, can the Minister tell me whether he agrees personally with the Quadripartite Committee's report, when it said:

Can he assure us that the Statement on Thursday will ensure that enough elements of the Export Control Organisation are preserved that he does not cross that line?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I can agree with the first statement, as it is obviously a statement of fact. On the second, the noble Lord will have to wait to see what the decision is.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, what does the Minister mean by saying that he is going to make a Statement but that he is not going to take any notice of the feelings of the House? That is pretty outrageous. The right reverend Prelate has been very gracious in saying that he was not going to ask any more questions, but I want to ask more. Why do we not have any locus in this matter?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I should not want to mislead the House by saying that we will take account of noble Lords' views when a decision has clearly been made which we are going to announce on Thursday. It would be pointless and dishonest to say that we were going to take account of them. We have considered all the arguments, we have consulted widely, and we have taken a decision which we shall now announce.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, what has happened to the proposals for the Defence Export Scrutiny Committee? Are they still in the long grass?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that those issues are still being considered. I do not know whether my noble friend would describe that as being in the long grass—but I shall check that point and come back to him.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, if the decision has already been made—and the Minister made that quite clear—can we have any idea when it will be announced, and indeed whether it will actually be announced in this House as well? We are at the end of the Session. Will it be announced before the end of the Summer Recess, as one of my noble friends has just suggested over my shoulder? I have a wonderful question that would really floor the Minister, but under the circumstances it would be foolish to ask it.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it will be announced later this week in the House of Commons. As soon as the announcement is made, I shall make sure that your Lordships are notified.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, have the Government fully considered the risks of conflict of interest if this vital function is either wholly or partly privatised?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, yes, obviously.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend consider that Britain's presidency of the G8 will
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provide an excellent opportunity for the Government, in the spirit of responsibility and practicality that he has anticipated, to encourage other wealthy industrial countries to pull back, as we have done, from the twin unhappy policies of flooding third world countries with weapons while draining them of their qualified medical people?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, those are interesting questions but I cannot see that they have any relevance to this issue, which concerns the Export Control Organisation and the outsourcing of it. I do not think that they affect that.

Lord McNally: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester showed a great deal of Christian charity as regards the Minister's reply. If the Minister has the decision ready, why did he not announce it to the House today? If it is to be announced in another place on Thursday, will he give an assurance that he will make a Statement in this House on Thursday as there is clearly much interest in this topic in all parts of the House?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I agree that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester showed great Christian charity. That was after we had had a very lengthy discussion on the nature of the decision. I very much welcome that Christian charity which is much appreciated in these circumstances, and which we thought would end all further questions on this subject. The decision will not be announced immediately as there are some process points that have to be gone through. As with any decision of this kind a number of process points have to be gone through before we can make the announcement.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, irrespective or whether this function is to be privatised—many of us very much hope that it will not be privatised—will the Minister indicate whether that will make any difference to the criteria used for the export of arms? Essentially, those criteria prohibit such exports if it is believed that they would add to internal repression or external aggression in any country. Many of us want those criteria to be maintained.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness a clear assurance that it will make no difference whatever to the criteria.

Lord Roper: My Lords, will the Minister reply to my noble friend Lord McNally's question as to whether we can have a Statement on Thursday?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we should wait until noble Lords hear what that Statement is.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, noble Lords will then understand that the response to that question will depend upon the nature of the Statement.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, is it not the case that on Thursday it will be up to the official Opposition in this House to ask for the Statement to be repeated here?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, clearly that is the formal position.
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Visa Regime: Croatian Nationals

2.56 pm

The Earl of Dundee asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, all visa regimes are kept under review and introduced or lifted on the basis of immigration need. I can confirm that the visa regime on Croatian nationals is the subject of a continuing review. However, it would not be appropriate for me to make public our thinking with regard to specific visa regimes in advance of any decision, as that could give rise to false expectations.

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