10 Jan 2013 : Column GC97

Grand Committee

Thursday, 10 January 2013.

2 pm

Arrangement of Business


The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall): Good afternoon, my Lords. I remind the Committee that in the unlikely event of there being a Division in the Chamber, we will adjourn for 10 minutes from the sound of the Division Bell.

European Union (Croatian Access and Irish Protocol) Bill

European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL]


The Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. With the agreement of the Committee, I will now put the Question that I report the Bill to the House without amendment.

Question put, That the Bill be reported to the House without amendment.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, before proceeding, I would like to place on record the respect of the whole Committee, I am sure, for, Zlatko Mateša, Prime Minister of Croatia between 1995 and 2000. I was with him in Andorra only a couple of months ago when he suffered a very severe heart attack. I am glad to say that he is on the mend.

The reason why I mention him is because as Prime Minister in 1995, he provided the leadership, the inspiration and the commitment to the European project through signing the first agreement between the European Union and Croatia. As Prime Minister, he also established the office for European integration in his country and appointed a Deputy Prime Minister, Ljerka Mintas-Hodak, as Minister for European integration.

Zlatko Mateša is a great European who has been a good friend of this country, not least through matters Olympic. He has led the Croatian national Olympic committee for many years. I am sure the whole Committee will wish him well and hope that he makes a speedy and full recovery, recognising the remarkable and important contribution that he has made. His work and the work of his successors have been good news for British relations with Croatia and good news for Croatia. This is an important year for Croatia, which will go down in its history. We will all celebrate and support that country on its road to full integration within the European Union.

Lord Monks: My Lords, is it in order for me to say something about the Irish protocol? I apologise for not having given notice that I intended to do so.

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There is a bit missing from the Irish protocol, for which the UK bears some responsibility. The story starts with the rejection of the EU constitution by French and Dutch voters, which prompted Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy to propose a social clause to be incorporated into European treaties to reflect the fact that the single market is a vehicle for social progress and that economic freedoms and competition in the market should not have priority over fundamental social rights and not be used to evade or circumvent national laws and practices.

The idea was dropped as the constitutional treaty was minimised; certain things were concentrated on—some things were withdrawn, not added, to the process. Then came along two legal cases turning on the relationship of the free movement principles with national employment law systems. I refer to the Laval case and the Viking case. In both cases, the European Court of Justice ruled that the free movement principles would prevail.

There has been a series of other cases, some of which noble Lords will probably be familiar with because they are closer to home. One involved British and Irish Ferries where the predominantly Irish workforce was replaced by an eastern European workforce. This caused a lot of consternation in Ireland at about the time that the Irish voters rejected the EU constitutional treaty. This protocol is designed to permit the Irish Government to put the issue again to the Irish people, which they have done. But at that time the initial rejection was put down in a major way to the Irish Ferries case, employment issues and workers’ rights.

There are other cases. The British Airline Pilots Association—I declare an interest as the unremunerated president—in a dispute with British Airways, which was establishing subsidiaries in Paris and Brussels, was seeking clarification on whether the British collective agreement, which covers Hong Kong, Australia and other places, would also cover Paris and Brussels.

There was also a dispute at Immingham in 2009 in a petrochemical plant that attracted a lot of attention under the heading of “British jobs for British workers”, a phrase that the previous Prime Minister had used. In each case, employers were seeking to take advantage of the ECJ rulings in the Laval and Viking cases. Let me make it clear that unions are not objecting to the employment of foreign labour—absolutely not. We are trying to protect collective agreements and to be able to enforce those agreements in the country where the dispute arises. We are looking to protect the collective agreement to ensure equality between migrants and indigenous workers, particularly where there is a loophole in the posting of workers directive where a migrant employer brings in his or her own workforce.

This is when the idea of a social protocol re-emerged to be attached to the Irish protocol. It was based on a clause on the free movement of goods originally drafted by Mario Monti when he was European Commissioner. He said then that in relation to the movement of goods, the single market would not interfere with fundamental rights. We have been seeking to get that phraseology shoved into the provisions on the free movement of services.

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We have the support of the Taoiseach, the Irish Government and most Governments. It all went through the diplomatic channels and COREPER in Brussels, but it was blocked at the eleventh hour by the UK Government, who were worried about red lines in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and feared that it would strengthen calls for a referendum in the UK on Britain’s EU membership.

Interestingly, for those who think that powers should be repatriated, if we had been then in the Norway position, this particular measure could never have been blocked; the rest would have agreed it. The British influence worked against my interests in that case, but it showed Britain’s influence in the EU through participation.

The response of the European authorities was to establish another exercise, also under Mario Monti, who proposed a regulation rather similar to the one he had proposed 10 years earlier in the free movement of goods legislation. The Commission drafted a regulation based on his report but, interestingly and importantly, said that they could not go further than the ECJ decisions because it was important simply to recognise that free movement is a European competence and labour law is a national competence. They were going to respect that as no doubt the British Government wished.

That has produced a lot of disillusion. I am certainly not holding my breath for any prospect of change, but the campaign for a change goes on. As Brendan Barber, my successor at the TUC, has said, we managed to get Monti 1, we did not manage to get Monti 2, but now we would really like the full Monti. The full Monti is a social protocol which we came close to achieving in the Irish protocol that is before us today.

I emphasise that the campaign for the trade union principle of when in Rome, do as the Romans do—advice given many centuries ago to St Augustine—is very important.

I will not go into the broader implications of social Europe. I am presuming a little on the Committee’s time at the moment, and I am grateful for its patience. However, it is important to recognise that social Europe is a crucial part of Europe’s future. That concept made Europe popular, certainly on the left of British politics. Ever since, it has been chopped and cut back, and this is an example. Funnily enough, the number of supporters decreases. If we pro-Europeans are going to fight for the European Union in future, do not be careless with the concept of a social Europe. Do not be careless with the rights that have been established, or how social Europe can be used to move us in the direction of the more successful European countries such as the Nordics, Germany, the Netherlands and the eastern side of our North Sea.

I thank the Committee for its attention and for this opportunity.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, before we receive any more contributions, I remind the Committee that the Question before it is to do with the reporting of the Bill back to the House. It is not really debatable. With great respect to the noble Lord,

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Lord Monks, I do not think that he can expect any further contributions on the observations that he has made.

The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, I first congratulate the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government. The forthcoming European Union membership of Croatia is greatly to be welcomed and we all welcome it. I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Croatia, and also as Scottish consul for Croatia. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Anderson. They have both made an enormous contribution within Parliament to assist Croatia in recent years.

It so happens that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and I have just come from a meeting with a Montenegrin delegation. I asked its members one question which may be timely: given that we now have three countries within south-east Europe committed to the European Union—Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia, with the latter already in membership—what plans are they already evolving among themselves to confront intransigent problems preventing candidature and EU membership elsewhere in south-east Europe?

First, we have not least the absence of constitutional reform within Bosnia and Herzegovina; we have the Kosovo/Serbia difficulty; and we have border disputes and a number of other matters holding back Macedonia and Albania. What plans have the Government to address those issues along with these three committed EU states, thus making use of their energies?

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but this not appropriate to the Question we have before us. The Minister is not required to answer the noble Earl’s question.

The Earl of Dundee: I am grateful to the noble Countess for reminding me of that. I am fully aware that the Minister is not required to answer my questions today. I had a word with her before these proceedings and suggested that she might come back to me later on. She has already kindly agreed to do so.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: I am delighted to follow the noble Earl, who I am tempted to call “my noble friend”. We had a discussion as to whether we should sit on the same side of the Committee. Indeed, we form a troika with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in this respect. Again, I do not expect any answer to the questions I raise at this point. Perhaps the Minister will consider them and will be able to give some answer at the next stage of proceedings.

Croatia is, as the noble Earl said, the last entry into the EU, as it will be on 1 July, under the old rules. As we know, the new rules will be far tighter—particularly, as the noble Earl has said, in respect of the rule of law. There have been bilateral problems in respect of Croatia from Slovenia, in that Slovenia first drove a hard bargain in respect of Piran and, latterly, in respect of the bank. I understand that Croatia has given a firm, if not bankable, pledge that it will not use the fact of its entry as a means of creating problems for other countries in the western Balkans.

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2.15 pm

In terms of its regional responsibilities, Croatia is also to be complimented on passing to all other relevant countries the acquis, which it has translated, since the language is essentially the same in Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. This is a major matter, although I understand that a large part of the material that it produced actually relates to defunct, expired elements of the acquis and is not relevant.

The most important point, which perhaps the Minister can briefly come back to when we next convene, is how to deal with the matter of regional integration. We know that after Croatia’s entry to the EU on 1 July, there is likely to be a substantial hiatus. It is possible that, depending on the result of its vote, Iceland will enter the European Union in about 2015. Thereafter, the earliest possible date—and the target date for Montenegro—is 2020.

All the instruments of the European Union must be used to keep the remaining countries of the western Balkans in play, to ensure that there is not a greater divide. For example, I understand that Bosnia will lose out in terms of trade in several respects. The particular trade matters that are relevant include the sale of river fish and animal skins. So we have to ensure that there is no further divide over that period as a result of the Croatian entry.

Finally, there are clearly other regional implications, although it is now agreed that there will not be a bloc entry and the European Union accepts that there is differentiation. Montenegro has a particular advantage because it already uses the euro and there are no bilateral problems. It will be very important, therefore, that those countries that have recently gone through the process of joining, particularly those in the region such as Slovenia and Croatia itself, help the remaining countries of the western Balkans. It is in their interests. It is surely in our interests.

My very final point is that it would be helpful if, next time, the Minister could give some indication of how we will use our experience of helping Croatia in its own six-year preparation for entry on 1 July in terms of twinning and technical help for the neighbouring countries in the western Balkans in preparing for their hoped-for entry. The key point is this: the troika and all of us will surely give a very warm blessing to Croatia on its progress to full entry in July.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, once again I remind the Committee that the Question before it is to report the Bill. Perhaps I might observe, with great respect to those who have contributed thus far, that it might have been more appropriate to add these points under a clause stand part or similar Motion. Equally respectfully, I recommend to the Committee that we do not progress this debate further.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I suggest to noble Lords that they put an amendment down on Report if they wish to speak to it.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, I will take a few brief moments to thank noble Lords who have made

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contributions today. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, makes important historical points but also raises some concerns for the future. I add my comments to those of my noble friend in relation to Mr Mateša. I am sure that all of us will join him in wishing him a speedy recovery.

There was some overlap of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and my noble friend Lord Dundee in terms of those who are inside the European Union family, those who are now joining and those who are seeking to join. I think we would all agree that there is a responsibility on those of us inside the European Union to ensure that we keep on making the case for an enlarged European Union and for those joining the EU family to meet their responsibilities. We must also ensure that as nations we continue to strengthen our bilateral relationships with nations aspiring to become part of the European Union family. With those comments, I beg to move that the Bill be reported to the House.

Bill reported without amendment.

European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL]

European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL]


Bill reported without amendment.

Legislative Reform (Constitution of Veterinary Surgeons Preliminary Investigation and Disciplinary Committees) Order 2013

Legislative Reform (Constitution of Veterinary Surgeons Preliminary Investigation and Disciplinary Committees) Order 20139th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

Considered in Grand Committee

2.21 pm

Moved By Baroness Northover

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Legislative Reform (Constitution of Veterinary Surgeons Preliminary Investigation and Disciplinary Committees) Order 2013

Relevant documents: 9th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

Baroness Northover: My Lords, this draft legislative reform order seeks to make changes to the outdated constitution of the two committees that deal with disciplinary proceedings, the disciplinary committee and the preliminary investigation committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. At the moment, the college is required to populate these two committees with members of its governing council. In effect, that means that the same body of people is responsible for both setting the standards for the profession and dealing with possible breaches of those standards. This is not in line with modern regulatory best practice as there is insufficient impartiality and independence and there is public pressure for reform. The RCVS needs to separate these functions to balance both professional and public interests. In addition, the current

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size of the disciplinary committee makes it difficult to manage the current and future case load in an efficient and timely manner. The college reports that RCVS council members who are elected to the disciplinary committee are now overstretched as they struggle to find time for the increasing number of sitting days.

The constitution of the DC and the PIC is prescribed in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and reflects the regulatory practices of that time. Replacing Part I of Schedule 2 to that Act allows the college to implement modern disciplinary practices in line with other comparable regulators such as the General Medical Council, the General Dental Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. In these organisations, there is a separation between those who advise on professional standards and those who implement the disciplinary process.

The proposed amendment to the Veterinary Surgeons Act is to change the constitution of the two disciplinary committees, in terms of both the eligibility for membership and their size. This will allow the royal college to make changes that comply better with the Better Regulation Commission’s principles. No longer will the membership and chairmanship of the PIC and DC be drawn from the council. They will in fact be ineligible for appointment. Instead, appointment to both committees will follow an open, transparent and independent recruitment process. For the first time there will be a statutory requirement that the committees must contain a proportion of lay people, to bring a fresh perspective to the work of the committees and to improve further their independence. There will an increase in the size of the committees. This should make it much easier, and possibly quicker, to assemble a panel for an individual case-hearing from the larger pool of people, thus removing a burden, specifically defined as “an obstacle to efficiency”, from the RCVS.

The amendments will also introduce more flexibility into the constitution of the committees as well as remove the most outdated restrictive provisions. Committee members will serve for a specific term of office and for no more than two terms on each committee. The new size of the committees allows for flexibility in case further increase is needed in the future, without the need for another legislative change.

Removal of the provision regarding veterinary practitioners supports better regulation principles by removing outdated and unnecessary provisions through simplification and streamlining, while removal of the prescriptive timing of committee elections removes another burden to the college’s operation of its disciplinary process. However, provisions that are seen as important in the current Act will be retained—these relate to the size of the quorum and the important judicial principal that no member may sit on both the preliminary investigation committee and the disciplinary committee in relation to the same case.

In conclusion, this replacement of the relevant schedule to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 is necessary to allow the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to exercise its functions in relation to disciplinary cases brought against members of the veterinary profession.

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It will allow the disciplinary committees to work in a more efficient manner and in compliance with better regulation principles, and will provide flexibility to cope with future changes. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare my interest as an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association. This draft legislative reform order has been long in gestation and I know there will be relief all round to see it finally enacted. The order will bring the royal college in line with other professional health bodies, as the Minister said, such as the General Medical Council, which are responsible for setting standards as well as imposing discipline on those of their registrants who may be in breach. The importance of being fair as well as being seen to be fair has grown since the human rights legislation came into force. Ensuring that membership of both the preliminary investigation committee and the disciplinary committee is no longer elected by or from among the council of the royal college eliminates the possibility of accusations of bias. Increasing the size of both committees ensures that there will be a larger pool from which to draw members for hearings. The pressure on members to attend disciplinary committee hearings will be relieved and waiting times for hearings will be reduced. We should never forget that justice delayed is justice denied.

I have always believed that lay members add strength to committees of professionals because they are in a position to ask the important “how, what, when, why, where” questions that professionals tend not to ask each other. Changing the status of the current lay observers to full membership and enabling them to vote is laudable and will increase the transparency of the committee proceedings. I am also pleased to see the built-in flexibility with the size of committees for particular hearings as well as the definition of quorum membership and size that this order defines.

The open, transparent and independent recruitment process described by the Minister and in the impact assessment is a foil to anyone tempted to complain that the appointment of committee membership was opaque and partial. This problem had been of concern to the public, the veterinary profession and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for more than a decade. The possibility of producing a new veterinary surgeons Act to replace the one that is now nearly 47 years old was considered. I recall the suggestions from the EFRA committee in the other place being given a very firm put-down by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, when he was Defra Minister on the grounds of lack of time and finance. This order is the next best thing, and I commend it.

2.30 pm

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I support this order. As my noble friend has described, it has been a long time coming before us. Again, I declare my interest as an honorary associate member of the Royal Veterinary College and member of the British Veterinary Association. I well remember as a shadow Minister all those years

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ago that this was something that kept coming up whenever we had working meetings with the college. It was particularly worried about being seen as both judge and jury, which is clearly not in anyone’s best interests. From an outsider’s point of view, it was particularly noticeable that the profession itself was anxious about this, more so than the lobby by consumers. We had looked at perhaps introducing a new veterinary service Act, but that was not possible, so this order is the best way to bring things up to date and make it possible for the royal college to be seen to be doing its work at its best. I totally agree with my noble friend that outside lay people can bring a layer of inquiry because they often ask questions that are not raised by professional colleagues because they do not necessarily have that sort of knowledge. An outsider will pose questions that a professional would not ask because they would know the answer. I thank the Minister for introducing it.

Lord Grantchester: I thank the Minister for her explanation of the order before the Committee, ably supported by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I will not detain the Committee long as this is a non-contentious updating of regulation in line with modern practice. In the other place, it was taken without debate as there was no dissent following the excellent second report of the House of Commons Regulatory Reform Committee. The report explains with great clarity the problem with the constitution of the disciplinary committees of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as defined by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, and sets out the proposed solution made under the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 by ensuring that the same group of people in the veterinary profession is not responsible for setting the rules as well as investigating complaints and adjudication. It also introduces formally lay persons on to both the preliminary investigation committee and the disciplinary committee. In your Lordships’ House, the ninth report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee cleared the order, satisfied that it meets the tests set out in the 2006 Act. The committee was also content with Defra’s proposal that the affirmative procedure should apply. From these Benches, I am happy to add our agreement to the order.

In assessing the order, notwithstanding the necessary updating of compliance, I wonder if there is evidence of problems that have arisen from the existing procedures. In my conversations with the royal college, I am grateful to Anthony Roberts who sent me the details of an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council against the judgment made exactly on the grounds that this order seeks to remedy; namely, that the profession’s disciplinary procedures were inherently unfair and against the Human Rights Act. This appeal in December 2011 was dismissed by the Privy Council, which noted that the royal college had gone to elaborate efforts to separate the membership and work of the committees that produce guidance, investigate complaints and pass judgment. It also noted that the RCVS had made strenuous efforts to ensure that its disciplinary procedures were fair and in accordance with human rights legislation. In addition, the Privy Council recognised

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that the veterinary profession’s regulatory framework was indeed constrained by the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, and the council therefore supported,

“statutory reform so as to enable members of the disciplinary committees to be chosen from outside the Council”.

This view from the Privy Council lends significant weight to the case for the legislative reform order before us.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his guidance on the situation. We look forward to his maiden speech tomorrow. He described this order as the most important reform of the profession since the 1966 Act. It is a discreet reform that is in the best interests of the public and the veterinary profession. It includes lay persons among the committee’s membership, thereby balancing public and professional interests.

I should like to tempt the Minister to comment further. The only sanction that the disciplinary committee has is to remove or suspend a veterinary surgeon from the register. This is a draconian power that disallows a vet from going about his or her business. When I commented on this to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, he said that the royal college has introduced further reforms to ensure that it remains at the forefront of regulatory best practice. The royal college has been able to widen its sanction measures by dealing compassionately with veterinary surgeons with health or mental health issues. I wonder whether further measures could be introduced, such as the power to fine or even to suspend penalties, although some may argue against this. Can the noble Baroness say whether other powers have been considered by her department, and what view she has in this regard? I know that the royal college has initiated a performance protocol which aims to allow the college to manage proportionately any justified concerns about professional performance and to launch a new code of professional conduct.

It is encouraging to see that the royal college is constantly seeking ways to improve and I commend it on its activities. Last November, it introduced its first-rate regulator initiative. Among the areas that the college has been reviewing is the regulation of veterinary nurses who are not subject to statutory regulation. Indeed, the title “veterinary nurse” is not protected. I understand that as long ago as 2007, the college introduced a non-statutory register for veterinary nurses under by-laws made under the royal charter. Mindful of the increasing role of veterinary nurses in practice teams and public expectations about professional accountability, what are the department’s views in this respect? In its discussion with the college, has the department come to a conclusion on how statutory regulations may be introduced, and to what timetable?

These further questions must not allow us to refrain from making progress today. I agree that the order before us must be passed to bring forward the necessary reforms, and I look forward to their implementation.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady Mar and Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for their fulsome support for this measure, and I wish that that was the case for all the departments that I cover. This is really refreshing, especially for my first SI for Defra.

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The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, flagged up a couple of areas which I shall seek to address. As he will know, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 regulates the profession of veterinary surgeons. We are aware that the college has been working to develop proposals for a framework for the statutory regulation of veterinary nurses, but these have not yet been presented to Defra for consideration.

In October last year, a project was launched that will see joint input from Defra officials and representatives from the veterinary profession and other para-professional industries to review how “minor acts of veterinary surgery” undertaken by non-veterinarians should be controlled in the future. Our general approach is that we would like to see a more effective but proportionate—echoing the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester—risk-based approach to this. We will look for a non-regulatory solution wherever possible and look forward to further discussions on this.

I was also asked about the fact that the only sanctions available to the college are those of removal or suspension and whether other powers are being considered. These could not be brought in using a legislative reform order, but we welcome what the college has done in terms of the health protocol. I have taken note of what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, and given that I have been given various other pieces of information on this, I shall be happy to discuss the detail with him later. As he has said, we do not want to slow down the passing of this order.

I want also to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said about the noble Lord, Lord Trees. I enormously appreciate the fact that he came to see me to express his support for this order, pointing out that he would have liked to have spoken in the debate but could not do so because he will be making his maiden speech in the debate tomorrow, which we look forward to hearing.

I thank all noble Lords for their support for this order and I will follow up on anything that has not been dealt with. In the mean time, I commend the order to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Biological Threats

Question for Short Debate

2.43 pm

Tabled By Lord Harris of Haringey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements they have in place to protect the residents of the United Kingdom against biological threats; and what measures they are taking to promote the international regulation of biological weapons and to ensure that security standards are sufficient in laboratories engaged in biological research around the world.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken an interest in this debate and I want to express my thanks to Julian

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Elderfield, a master’s student at the London School of Economics last year, who has prepared for me some very interesting notes on this topic. They inspired me to put forward this Question for Short Debate. Admittedly, I tabled it last May, so we are considering it a few months later, but I am none the less sure that the issues have not moved on significantly during that period.

We are all aware that the National Risk Register places in tier 1 a number of significant threats to the United Kingdom. Those include a major natural hazard which requires a national response, such as an influenza pandemic. Also included in the tier 1 category is the threat of international terrorism, stating specifically:

“International terrorism affecting the UK or its interests, including a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack by terrorists”.

That is the context within which this debate is framed.

We need to consider why biological threats have the capacity to be potentially so catastrophic. Of course, there have been a number of developments over the years, not least the rapid growth in international travel, which means that a virus emerging in one part of the world can travel round the world extremely quickly. We saw that with the SARS epidemic and other phenomena over the years. The changes in the way in which the world operates have had significant consequences.

The other context for all this is that viruses can, entirely naturally, change rapidly. They can mutate. They are comparatively simple organisms, if indeed they can be defined as organisms, and their mutation will often throw up viruses that have different effects or impacts, are more easily spread or are more virulent when they are ingested.

There is a whole group of issues around natural hazards and biothreats. In addition, of course, 50 years ago many countries—including, I rather suspect, our own—were experimenting with or thinking about biological weapons. Most countries would now deny that they have such a capacity but the fact that many countries considered this research and experimented with it raises the issue of what happened to those programmes and their products. In some instances, they were stockpiled and in some instances we do not yet know what happened to that material.

So far, one virus has been effectively eliminated in its natural state: smallpox. However, there are, I think, two stocks of the smallpox virus that have been retained for research purposes, presumably because of the possibility that smallpox might recur in some other way in the future. We have to consider the security of those stocks and whether there are similar issues around them.

The other big change that has happened, really quite dramatically, in the past 10 to 15 years is the speed of technological advance and the ability of scientists now to undertake genetic manipulation. As I said earlier, viruses are very simple. They are simply a capsule, often with perhaps 10 or 12 genes within them. The changing of just one gene within a virus can have a very profound effect on what that virus does: how easily it is transmitted, the extent to which it can

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be transmitted from an animal to a human being or between humans, and the consequences for the organism that is infected.

In fact, in 2001 the Journal of Virology published a research paper that demonstrated a whole number of ways of modifying the mousepox virus. This new virus was so effective that it overwhelmed the immune system of the test mice, causing massive liver failure and eventually killing the subjects. That reaction occurred even if the mice had been vaccinated against the mousepox virus. That was a legitimate scientific experiment— an effort to control the mouse population in Australia —but it demonstrated that a quite small change in a single gene with comparatively simple techniques could have major consequences.

These techniques are becoming more straightforward and all sorts of legitimate research is taking place in these areas around the world. Some of this could have the consequence of rendering a vaccine ineffective; some of it could confer resistance to therapeutically useful antibiotics and antiviral agents in pathogenic organisms; it could increase the virulence of a pathogen, or make it easier for that pathogen to be transmitted; or it could perhaps alter the range of hosts for that pathogen. A whole number of things are now technically possible that were not easily doable 10, 15 or 20 years ago. Entirely legitimate research on genetic manipulation and modification is of course going on all over the world for entirely benign purposes.

The question that I want to pose is: how well regulated around the world is that research? How confident can we be that other countries are applying the sorts of restrictions that we would wish to see? Some pharmaceutical companies may have an interest in carrying out experiments and developing their techniques in countries where the regulatory regime is far less intense than it might be in our own country.

We have the Biological Weapons Convention, which is extremely well supported. I think that in excess of 150 countries around the world have signed it. However, as I understand it, although countries have said that they accept that they should not be developing biological weapons, the world has not set up what we might consider to be any effective system for monitoring compliance or verification. Some of the biggest and most powerful countries—the United States of America, for one—are extremely dubious about setting up any external system to monitor their own compliance and do not necessarily see the need for a supervisory body.

The US, for example, clearly has no official bioweapons capability but has constructed a huge research base, in many different centres around the United States, under the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures programme. That is undertaking, no doubt quite properly, genetic research, development and testing. However, if the United States says, “We are not happy with our compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention ever being tested by anybody else”, it is very difficult to see how that could be enforced on other countries.

Scepticism also persists about whether Russia’s offensive bioweapons capabilities have been completely dismantled. There are, I think, five Russian military bioweapons facilities which remain closed to outside inspection. Many of the officials linked to their current defensive

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programme are the same officials who developed Soviet offensive capabilities during the Cold War. There is a question again about how secure those facilities are, particularly as we know that regimes change and that certain parts of the world become less stable as things move forward.

There is clearly a risk that stocks of materials developed for one purpose could be misused or fall into the hands of terrorist groups or, potentially, rogue regimes. There is also a question of where scientific research is going. There have obviously been discussions over the years, particularly in the United States following the September 11 attacks, as to whether certain areas of scientific activity should be properly reported and appear in the scientific journals. I do not think that is a very positive route to go down but it recognises the levels of concern that exist in this.

In responding, can the Minister first say what is being done to improve supervision of these matters? Secondly, what is being done to regulate the security of scientific establishments, including those that hold stocks of pathogens? It all ends with a fundamental question. We are at risk, as a nation, from a pandemic of whatever sort and from whatever origin, whether naturally or unnaturally occurring. Are we really satisfied that our emergency and health services are able to withstand that?

2.54 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for initiating this extremely important debate and being kind enough to let me have sight of that excellent research paper from Mr Julian Elderfield. Without that, I would not have been able to speak in this debate; such is the paucity of my knowledge of these matters. There are important broader considerations, many of which I engage with regularly, so I decided that it was important to hear what was said today.

It seems that the concerns on this issue fall into three broad categories: public information, international co-operation and regulation. In the context of the report by the Defence Select Committee in the other place on cybersecurity, we heard yesterday from General Jonathan Shaw, former head of cybersecurity at the MoD, about the lack of preparedness. He made the point that one of the greatest weaknesses in the system is the lack of awareness of the public, enterprise and companies as to what can happen to the infrastructure around us and of the potential breakdown of day-to-day technological systems on which we all rely. He called for a public awareness campaign similar to the HIV/AIDS campaigns of the 1980s, when every household in the country received a leaflet informing them of the background and their options in terms of behaviour change and so on. That is the extent to which he considered public information to be critical.

Although it is a very different threat, that could equally apply to the threat from biological warfare, which may potentially be more serious than cyberwarfare in the context both of an indiscriminate bioterrorist attack could affect densely populated areas, and of serious leaks from laboratories that could cause multiple fatalities. There would then be questions of identifying

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what created the emergency and dealing with the fall-out from it. The awareness and preparedness of the emergency services was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He is a great expert on that so I will not particularly dwell on it, but it will be critical to how the emergency is dealt with. For example, identifying the nature of the attack would itself be a challenge, as well as dealing with potential mass casualties.

The aftermath of the sarin attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995 is instructive. That was the most serious attack on the Japanese mainland since World War Two. It killed 13 people, seriously injured 50 and created temporary problems with vision for about 1,000 people. Immediately after the attack, ambulances transported nearly 700 patients and hospitals saw nearly 5,000 patients who got there by one means or another. Most of those reporting to hospital were the worried well—in other words, people who thought that they might have been affected. As it turned out, many of them were not but they were a drain on hospital facilities in an emergency.

Witnesses reported afterwards that subway entrances resembled battlefields. In many cases, the injured simply lay on the ground, many with breathing difficulties. Many of those affected by sarin went to work that morning despite their symptoms, most of them not realising that they had been exposed to it. Most victims who sought medical treatment as the symptoms worsened got the information that led them to report to hospital via news broadcasts, so there was a considerable lag between the incident itself and the information on what had happened and what people had to do about it if they were affected.

In the aftermath, emergency services were criticised for their handling of the attack. For example, the Tokyo subway authority failed to halt several trains despite reports of passenger injury and the platforms were inundated. Sarin poisoning was not well known at the time, and many hospitals only received information on diagnosis and treatment because a single professor at Shinshu University’s school of medicine happened to see reports on television. He had experience of treating sarin poisoning after a very small incident, recognised the symptoms and had information on diagnosis and treatment. He then led a team who sent the information to hospitals throughout Tokyo via fax machine.

That was some considerable time ago, although frankly 17 years is not that long. Technology has moved on and, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said, after the attacks of 7/7 here in the UK, we have put into place a significant number of protocols to ensure that a joined-up response can be effected in the event of a major emergency. The question still arises of how quickly we can identify the cause, given the plethora of different types of pathogens that can be used and, indeed, the natural variants that can exist. Another question is whether we have sufficient antidotes to treat the victims.

Information campaigns may also be useful in deciding what not to do. In the Tokyo attack, significant numbers of people were exposed to sarin only because they helped others who had been directly exposed. Among

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those passengers on other trains were subway workers and health workers, who immediately set aside everything else and got stuck in to helping people. We know from this that even basic guidance such as where to look for information would itself be helpful.

The second principle to deal with is international co-operation. Before I move to the UN framework, it is worth commenting that—according to today’s New York Times—the first General Assembly of the United Nations was convened in London for its first meeting on this date in 1946. What a happy day it is for our country.

Multilateral diplomacy aims to regulate biotechnology and to prevent bioweapons. This is, of course, of limited use when it comes to terrorists, and that is the problem. Traditional diplomacy on its own is not enough. As we know from bitter experience, international law is meaningless to terrorists. Given that the Biological Weapons Convention is nearly universally ratified— 165 states have ratified it and 12 have signed it—the treaty offers a sound platform for developing further policy in this area. We need to build on the BWC and not let unilateral measures undermine the treaty. One method of strengthening the BWC is to institute greater confidence-building measures in the regular meetings which take place in between the quinquennial reviews, the last of which took place in 2011.

The lack of enforcement and verification of the BWC is a further problem, but it does not invalidate the treaty. It has contributed to the national policy development and is therefore a key source of policy diffusion and information sharing. While we would want to see a global verification regime, I suggest that while the US continues to be an obstacle we should not hold out too much hope and should do what we did with the ICC, when partners of the US moved forward without that particular ally, while encouraging it to participate from afar.

We also need to recognise certain limitations of global Governance. We are not going to eliminate bioweapons research; major powers will always want to create a security margin for themselves by doing defensive research to develop bioweapons in order to understand how they work and how they may be able to develop measures to fight them if they are released by enemies. There will always be a suspicion that other countries’ defensive research could potentially be used for offensive purposes, but it is our responsibility to our citizens to continue to do that research.

Given the boundaries between pure and applied research, defensive and offensive, civilian and military uses are unavoidably blurred. It is also important to better integrate biosecurity considerations into current public policy on biotechnology, nanotechnology and synthetic biology. I suspect that this is largely missing from current policy initiatives in these areas, not least within the European Union framework. In responding, is my noble friend able to tell us what work is ongoing within the EU to advance this?

I conclude by turning briefly to regulation. From the literature it appears that more could be done to increase security in the institutions that deal with these matters. Better controls are required. Can the Minister tell us in summing up what requirements are put on

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laboratories in the UK to conform to standards, as well as international bodies that engage in this work, particularly those which sub-contract to research laboratories abroad?

3.06 pm

Lord Giddens: My Lords, this is a cosy and intimate debate given the seriousness of the risks that we are discussing, but I still want to congratulate my noble friend Lord Harris on having set it up and on his excellent introduction. There are three sets of factors which make biological threats far more menacing than they were for previous generations. The first of these, as my noble friend has said, is work in scientific laboratories that is designed to unpack the basic building blocks of nature but which can have spin-offs of a dangerous kind. I shall say a little more about that later. Secondly, there is the disruption to or destruction of the world’s ecosystems, releasing pathogens from their normal hosts. The process is normally known as zoonosis and it is one that is fraught with implications for human beings. Thirdly, as my noble friend also mentioned, we have globalisation which can transmit pathogens almost immediately from one side of the world to the other.

This is an extraordinary package of innovation for us to have to live with. As the science writer David Quammen notes in his book, Spillover, the consequences appear,

“as a pattern of weird and terrible new diseases emerging from unexpected sources, raising deep concern and deep foreboding among the scientists who study them”.

Such diseases can spark global pandemics which are all the more dangerous because they feature pathogens for which there is no known cure or treatment. Just as ominously, they can be used in warfare or in terrorist activity. The emergence of terrorist groups willing to inflict damage upon millions of people and who may be indifferent to their own survival is a chilling thought.

The SARS outbreak of 2003 was contained partly because of quick diagnostic work—there is something to be learnt from that—and partly because rigorous quarantine measures were taken in the key cities involved. But there was also a large element of luck. SARS is unusual in that the symptoms appear before a person becomes highly infectious; in other words, there is a space of time for detection and intervention that does not occur in most other diseases. The nightmare scenario for the UK is what would happen if a new strain of disease should form the basis of a terrorist attack, especially a disease with no known cure.

I have three questions for the Minister. The first concerns the Biological Weapons Convention. It seems to be only obliquely relevant to stopping such an eventuality, while more generally it is a relatively weak mechanism. So-called confidence building measures are supposed to be crucial to its operation, providing for the sharing of knowledge and strategies, but since the late 1980s only eight states out of 116 signatories have supplied CBMs every year. How could the BWC be further beefed up?

Secondly, we know that scientists are our guardians in this area. We cannot depend on political leaders

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because only scientists can calculate where diseases are likely to emerge and identify new types of bio-weapons. Scientists work in a variety of national and international organisations such as the WHO and scrutinise emerging trends in the production of pathogens. However, as was said earlier, at some point the public must be involved in relation to public understanding of the risks and threats. What role do the Government see for public education here?

Thirdly, what do the Government make of the interesting controversy over research involving H5N1 influenza—in other words, bird flu—which has been much debated over the past couple of years and to which it is difficult to seek a resolution? This research led to a strain that could be transmitted between humans through the air. In January 2012, the New York Times published an article called, “An Engineered Doomsday”, imploring scientists to abort their research and destroy the strains produced. In the view of the Minister, should there be some controls on the dissemination of scientific studies, or even on such studies themselves? If so, where should the lines be drawn and by whom? As the noble Lord will know, this controversy continues in the scientific community without, so far, a clear outcome—although there seems to be some progress. This is a prototypical case; that is, the more new diseases emerge from zoonoses, or as the by-product of scientific research, the more we are going to face this dilemma over whether there should be limits to research and the publication of research. These lines are extremely difficult to draw.

3.11 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey has made clear in his powerful speech, the issue we are debating is one of considerable importance and, indeed, worry for the world in general and our own nation in particular. We should be grateful to my noble friend for giving us this opportunity to discuss the issues and potential issues involved, and I hope my noble friend will receive specific answers to the points he has raised from the Minister, not least his points about the effectiveness of our current defences against biological threats and a bioterrorist attack.

The question we are considering refers specifically to biological threats, biological weapons and biological research. I hope that I will be forgiven if in my remarks I refer to the broader heading of the threat from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material, which of course includes biological threats. Scientific advances, matched by the rapidly increased and increasing ease with which knowledge can be shared, makes it more and more difficult to keep chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material away from those with malign intent and a disregard for international law, whether they be state actors, some highly unstable and repressive, or non-state actors, some driven by contorted religious fundamentalism. In a situation where weak and failing states outnumber strong states by two to one, globalisation is driving a major redistribution of power and threats, and demographic change is placing pressure on the world’s increasingly stretched natural resources, with the potential that has

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as a source of conflict, a stable security landscape is certainly not what we have at the present time.

A very immediate source of concern is Syria, where the fourth largest stocks of chemical weapons in the world are held. President Obama has rightly said that deployment of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a “tragic mistake”, but of course there is also the issue of what might happen in a post-Assad era, when these stocks would presumably come into the possession and under the control of others currently unknown, including in their intentions.

We agree with the Government’s recognition in their 2010 national security strategy that,

“International terrorism affecting the UK or its interests, including a CBRN attack”,

is the top tier 1 threat. This continues the approach of the previous Government since the 2008 national security strategy outlined measures to tackle the CBRN threat, based around dissuading states from acquisition, detecting acquisition attempts, denying access and defending our borders.

On the military side, the Government intend to expand the role of reservists in our Armed Forces, which will provide an opportunity for greater use of niche civilian skills and expertise in this field in a military setting. However, we will not improve national response and mitigation capacities through small specialised units but through a broad spectrum of capabilities, working across agencies and borders. We support the work of the National Security Council working across government, but any response would need to go beyond Cabinet co-ordination, and co-ordinate the military, specialist rapid reaction teams and public health and civil emergency services.

As our technology develops, and in the light of the extent to which CBRN materials can be found in legitimate commercial or civilian sectors, it is important that we make full use of all those with the relevant scientific know-how. We also encourage education among the medical and scientific communities about the potential for abuse in areas of dual-use. It is not simply those on the frontline or in the higher echelons of the world of science, but those who on a more daily basis handle agents that can be used for malign and hostile purposes who should be the focus of government-led awareness-raising campaigns.

However, of course, it goes beyond governments. We have to share threat information between business, scientists and government, especially since 80% of the UK’s critical national infrastructure which would be a possible target of any CBRN attack is in the private sector. We need to ensure compliance with export regulations and see that there is information exchange on proliferation activity.

In respect of the scientific community, the Institute for Public Policy Research has found that insufficiently secure government laboratories around the world remain a worry and recommends improved international data and knowledge sharing, as well as harmonisation of national standards, and regulatory and best laboratory practices. There is an ongoing debate about how we increase confidence in compliance of existing international regulations, in particular, as has already

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been mentioned, with regard to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, which unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention does not have a verification system in place, making implementation and monitoring of the treaty’s provisions difficult. Neither, unlike the Chemical Weapons Convention, does it have the equivalent of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. However it is also important to have a discussion on how existing and new threats of proliferation can be tackled, including stockpiling of vaccines.

As has already been said, the threat posed by CBRN—including biological threat—is very real. At best it can cause panic; indeed, the threat of a panic can cause something approaching panic. At worst, the threat posed by CBRN can result in something much more serious. In the UK we have had the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium-210 in London. We saw the sarin attacks in Tokyo, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has already referred, and we can appreciate the havoc that there would be should something similar be tried on the London Underground, which carries millions of people a day.

As I understand it, in New York there is a “Securing the City” strategy under which local and regional agencies are equipped with world-leading radiological detection equipment. New York has established a permanent radiological defensive ring through the installation of fixed detection equipment to monitor traffic at all bridges and tunnels that lead into the city. The sensors have been networked to enable them to provide real-time radiation data, so at all times experts can take a reading and know instantly about threat levels or, indeed, the nature of an attack. New York City operates more than 4,500 radiation detectors across the metropolitan area. The deputy commissioner for counterterrorism of the New York City Police Department has called this effort “unprecedented”. While I appreciate that it relates to the radiological side, nevertheless perhaps the Minister could say—if not now, then later—if there is something along these lines that we are looking to develop for detection to help protect our major cities.

The ease with which new technologies can be attained and developed into sophisticated means of alarm and destruction, and the implications which that has, must be regarded as a priority issue for all developed nations, and not least for this country. While the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks involve the use of conventional weapons, the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials threat transcends national boundaries and should unite nations by necessity as well as in shared interests. Our collective response to the threat should have at its core good intelligence, determined detection, strong international agreements deeply implemented in national policies, robust defences and well-organised response capabilities. As we know, new technologies promise enormous benefits for humanity, and we have a duty to promote scientific advance and exploration. However, that imperative must be coupled with the knowledge that new technologies are also now an inescapable part of our national and international security challenge.

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3.20 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for introducing this debate. As he may know, I did not expect to answer this debate until about 11 o’clock this morning and I much regret that I have not been able to phone my son who works in the systems biology group at Harvard on patterns of mutation in transferable RNA—a topic that I am not entirely sure I could explain to the noble Lord. If I had known last week, I would have talked to members of the Bradford peace studies department, most of whom live in or around Saltaire and some of whom share the allotments on which I work at weekends. I understand that Bradford does a lot of extremely good work on some aspects of biological weapons and their control.

This is an important subject, and both a domestic and international one. We are concerned with the potential of a terrorist attack and the very distant potential of a global state attack—that potential has clearly retreated since the end of the Cold War. We are also concerned with the possibility of accidental release from badly secured laboratories. This is an area of domestic and international overlap. I would not discourage noble Lords from pointing out, as we deal with the intensely emotional issue of the defence of British sovereignty from European and other interference, that this is one of many areas where you cannot have entirely different British and foreign issues. We have to have international co-operation and, as far we can, regulation. The Government are deeply committed to protecting the United Kingdom from biological threats. That requires us to have strong measures at home and co-operation abroad.

The British approach is set out in the UK’s counterterrorism and counterproliferation strategies and we have a cross-government programme to prevent terrorists gaining access to the technical expertise and specialist materials needed to carry out biological attacks. Overseas, we are leading efforts to strengthen a rules-based international system, provide technical and financial support to minimise the risk that sensitive science is misused and improve the security of hazardous materials. As noble Lords know, this year the United Kingdom will chair the G8. The global partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction is part of that and we will take a major role in that area.

There is resistance to a strong international compliance programme. On the point made by the noble Baroness, it is not simply from the United States, let alone from the American pharmaceutical industry, but from a range of other countries that I will not go through. For many of them it is a question of sovereignty and, for one or two south Asian countries, of suspicion of the West. There are limits to what we can achieve and we have to work as far as we can through education, co-operation and providing assistance. I also note that we are working with our partners inside the European Union through the establishment of centres of excellence with regional centres around the world to build this level of co-operation.

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Noble Lords will be aware that this is a low probability but very high impact threat. It is a particularly difficult threat for us to measure. Since it is a very diverse threat, what detection systems are really effective and how far they are effective against every single potential threat are not easy questions either, but we take the threat extremely seriously. We have built capabilities to lessen the impact of a biological attack. We have focused on measures likely to have the greatest effect in reducing deaths and illness and, where possible, which provide the highest utility for other emergencies.

The national chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response centre, run by the police but available to other emergency services, has a range of CBRN response equipment at its disposal and has trained more than 10,000 police officers to respond to CBR incidents. The noble Lord is, I am sure, highly familiar with all this. In addition, the MoD Technical Response Force provides specialist surge support to the UK police in the event of this sort of emergency. I assure noble Lords that the UK will continue to build capabilities to respond to and recover from a wide range of terrorist and other civil emergencies; improve the ability of the emergency services to work together during a terrorist attack; and enhance communications and information sharing on terrorist attacks.

Working at the international level is of course a great deal more complicated. UN Security Council Resolution 1540 requires states to adopt and enforce controls to keep materials held secure and to maintain effective national export and border regimes to prevent the smuggling of such materials. The UK was active in negotiating the renewal of UNSCR 1540 last year. We have provided the relevant committee with status reports which go beyond the resolution’s reporting obligations and strongly encourage implementation and reporting by all UN members. However, 23 UN member states have yet to implement the resolution, and my noble friend is right to say that the number of states that provide annual reports remains desperately low. We are doing our best, with our partners, to raise that number. If you are dealing with a whole range of other issues—I have just been talking to my niece, who has returned from Southern Sudan, dealing with a whole range of epidemics out there—biological threats do not appear to be so high to a large number of other countries as perhaps they do to us. There is enough out there in the natural world for others to worry about.

Noble Lords all understand, I hope, why, regrettably, there are no effective provisions to verify compliance of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. A range of other states has inhibitions about accepting an intrusive compliance regime. In the absence of an international consensus, we are working with international partners to strengthen elements of the current regime such as national implementation measures, annual confidence-building measures and assistance in cases of actual or alleged biological weapons use. The UK was active in supporting the EU Council decision of July 2012, which provided nearly €2 million for continued EU assistance with implementation of the BTWC.

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We provide practical assistance to other nations seeking to reduce the threat from biological weapons, for a range of different programmes. The Ministry of Defence’s UK biological engagement programme funds a number of projects to strengthen international biological security. Again, when we talk about international biological security, we are talking about things from the ground up, from basic work to help laboratories in central Asia improve their security techniques, all the way up to much more complex proposals. We work very closely with international organisations—including the World Organisation for Animal Health, the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation—to promote the highest practicable standards of safety and security for biological agents.

3.30 pm

Through the counterproliferation strategic programme fund, the FCO funds projects which help priority countries improve the security of CBRN materials or which help encourage the political will to do so. For the current financial year, the value of the programme is £3 million.

I have already mentioned the initiation of the European Union’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear action plan, which seeks to raise European capability and capacity for handling CBRN terrorist incidents. We are working with the EU to deliver its €95 million CBRN centres of excellence programme which aims to help countries develop institutional capacity and strategies for CBRN risk mitigation.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked about the preparedness of the emergency services. The Government have built capabilities to lessen the impact of a biological attack. We have focused on measures likely to have the greatest effect in reducing deaths and providing the widest utility for other emergencies. We are keeping under review what we may need for this. We are all uncomfortably aware that until a major event happens, as we discovered both with the Kings Cross fire and the London terrorist attacks, it is difficult to know exactly what one should be planning for.

My noble friend asked about how we enforce compliance at home. The police have powers under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act to enter labs, to issue a notice to improve security measures, to issue direction for the removal of listed substances if improvements are not made in time, and to request details of all personnel with access to substances. Failure to apply these is a criminal offence. We are therefore working very hard to ensure that labs within Britain—I am conscious that there are questions about labs within cities as well, particularly in the developing centre north of Kings Cross—have the highest standards possible. Similarly, we are working with international partners to improve, as far as we can, their standards for the safety and security of laboratories.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, also asked how well regulated biological research is around the world. There are some real problems here and the answer is “not well regulated enough by a very long way”. This is an area in which we will continue to work actively with others.

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The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked me about H5N1 and what we as academics know is the delicate issue of whether one can publish all academic research, or if it would be better not to publish some aspects of biological research in this area. This is a very complex area and it would be better if I wrote to the noble Lord.

Lord Giddens: The noble Lord will forgive me, but what he said before moving on my point seemed like a bunch of truisms. We are dealing here with issues that are going to be extremely hard to control. For example, we have had no success in controlling the current flu norovirus. If it had been a really noxious virus, one would have seen how vulnerable we are. That is a long way from saying, “We are going to try to persuade other nations to help us”, which, of course, we are. It is a situation of much more extreme vulnerability, one that we have never been in, to a whole range of new global risks. I would like to be convinced that the Government are taking the uniqueness of these risks seriously enough, especially those of which we have no experience. They could come from anywhere.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Briefly, I can only assure the noble Lord that we are acutely aware of how rapidly pandemics can spread around the world and how rapidly a potential biological attack might spread from one country to another. We have seen this with the flu virus and we are certainly aware of it. A lot of research is now under way. The biology profession itself has paid a great deal of attention to it. However, there are tremendous holes in what we are capable of doing. Much of the world is governed by regimes that do not wish to co-operate with this. It is part of the gap between the global governance that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, would like to see and the national sovereignty under which we have to operate. Her Majesty’s Government in no sense underestimate these risks. Several government departments are putting co-ordinated efforts into combating this risk, and we are working with others through the global partnership.

Lord Giddens: I do not want to keep the debate going too long, but it is a short one. The general population and many political leaders are not really aware of the radical nature of new dangers that never existed before because we could not do many of the experiments that we can now do in altering the genetic make-up of human beings. We have never interfered with animal life in the way we are now by destroying their natural environments and forcing viruses to look for a host, the most available of which is human beings. Truisms are not enough; we have to do a lot of thinking about how we handle risks. The obvious thing for the ordinary person to say is, “Well, it has never happened yet”. It only has to happen once, and then it is too late. There are so many new risks around, of which nuclear weapons were the first, that handling them is going to be very puzzling and problematic. We should be thinking very carefully and in depth about how to do so.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have already seen the Ebola virus and a number of other potential pandemics coming out of Africa. What I should say to the noble Lord is that this is the sort of topic into

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which it would be highly appropriate for a sessional Lords committee to undertake a detailed inquiry. There is a certain amount of valuable expertise in this House which could look at it and that is a way we could go forward. If a sufficient number of Members of this House would like to have a Government briefing, I daresay that could be arranged, but let us discuss that further. Having, I hope, given a response which in no sense wishes to close the subject—it is something

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which the noble Lord, Lord Harris has previously brought attention to—I shall finish by saying that we need to keep on challenging our Government and even more so other governments. I thank the noble Lord for opening the debate and I am happy to go on discussing how best we might continue to raise public awareness of this issue.

Committee adjourned at 3.37 pm.