HL Deb 22 November 2001 vol 628 cc1321-2

7.58 p.m.

Lord Grocott rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th October be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this draft order will enable the United Kingdom to accept and implement the agreement on privileges and immunities of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which was signed by our Ambassador in The Hague and presented to Parliament in April this year (Cmnd. 5099).

The draft order confers privileges and immunities on the organisation, representatives of its members, its officials and experts, as provided for in the OPCW agreement. Those privileges and immunities are comparable to those accorded to similar international organisations and are no more than the Government are internationally obliged to confer under the OPCW agreement.

The United Kingdom is a party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction; that title is normally shortened to the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC. It entered into force on 29th April 1997 under the Conservative government. It established the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons—OPCW—which is located in The Hague. The CWC is the first multilateral arms control agreement that aims to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction in a verifiable manner, and 143 states have now ratified it. Since coming into force, the OPCW has established a rigorous worldwide regime of verification and monitoring. More than 900 inspections have so far taken place in some 49 countries.

The OPCW agreement provides, among other things, for immunity from civil and criminal process for representatives of states, officials and experts. Such matters impinge on the devolved responsibilities of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not on those of Wales. The devolved Administrations are responsible for observing and implementing those international obligations of the UK that relate to their devolved responsibilities. Scotland and Northern Ireland have been consulted and are content that the proposed Order in Council under the International Organisations Act 1968 should extend to them.

I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights that are contained in the European Convention of Human Rights. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th October be approved [7th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Grocott.)

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, we on these Benches have no difficulty in welcoming the order. It is perhaps unfortunate that an order on biological weapons that was ratified by all the major parties is not also on the books in the foreseeable future. We very much welcome the order.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order. It will come as no surprise that we on these Benches support it. As the Minister said, the previous Conservative government helped to negotiate the convention and signed and ratified it. Currently, when the potential threat of the terrorist use of chemical weapons is so real, it is all the more important to support the work of the organisation. The order assists with that purpose and is therefore very welcome.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, it is nice to have a note of such universal agreement. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, whom I welcome to his new responsibilities—he has moved from DfID to defence, and I am sure that he will bring the same expertise to this subject as he did to the previous subject.

On Question, Motion agreed to.