HL Deb 15 July 1994 vol 556 cc2111-2

12.35 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee],

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, which is located in Heidelberg, was established by an inter-governmental agreement in 1973. It was to promote co-operation among European states in molecular biology. It has 15 member states: Austria, Finland, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union states except Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg.

The EMBL has decided to set up an "outstation" called the European Bioinformatics Institute, the EBI, which the United Kingdom, I am delighted to say, has successfully bid to host. The EBI is to be located at Hinxton Park, near Cambridge.

The EBI will be a home to the existing EMBL data library but will also have various research and development functions. Germany and Sweden also made competing bids but the excellent scientific arguments in favour of Cambridge, including this country's strengths in genome research, protein structural studies and computing, won the day. The UK bid was organised by the Medical Research Council working with the Office of Science and Technology. I am grateful to the Wellcome Trust for its generous contribution of half the cost of the building for the EBI. I am delighted that the EMBL has chosen Cambridge as the location for the EBI. I hope noble Lords will join me in welcoming it to the United Kingdom and wishing it every success in its endeavours.

A draft agreement has been negotiated between the Government and the EMBL concerning the status of the EBI. Specifically, this debate is about the privileges and immunities accorded under the draft order which are necessary to fulfil our obligations under the draft EBI agreement. I should like to emphasise that the privileges and immunities accorded give no more than is necessary for the effective operation of the EBI in the United Kingdom. They are granted in accordance with the limitations imposed by the International Organisations Act 1968, as amended, under whose provisions the order is made.

The privileges and immunities set out in the draft order include certain exemptions from duties and taxation for the EBI and certain immunities from seizure of its property although its premises do not enjoy inviolability. Its staff members are exempted from taxation on the salaries paid to them by the EBI (although they will pay an internal tax for the benefit of the EBI) and they will be immune from suit and legal process in respect of their official acts. Only the director-general of the EMBL will enjoy privileges and immunities equivalent to those enjoyed by a diplomatic agent. Those who are British citizens or permanent residents of the United Kingdom receive only the essential minimum privileges and immunities to enable them to perform their official functions.

The order needs to be formally made at the meeting of the Privy Council on 19th July 1994 so that the headquarters agreement may be signed shortly thereafter. The agreement will enter into force on signature.

It is for this reason that the order is before the House today. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered the draft instrument and has reported to the House. There is nothing unusual in the order. It is a great success that the EBI should come to us here in Britain. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, those outside the House who read our proceedings will not understand when I say that the presentation by the Minister has left us all breathless. We appreciate the exigencies of the business. I speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blackstone. She warmly welcomes what has been said and what the order does. We certainly have no objection to it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.