Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not agree with that. First, it would be quite wrong for me as a politician at the Dispatch Box, or for this House, to second guess the judiciary in these matters. Whether that situation raised a problem for Private Clegg, or whether the recommendation would have made a difference, we know that at both the first appeal in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and subsequently at the House of Lords appeal the judges questioned having at their disposal at least the flexibility of the lesser charge of manslaughter. That is the matter now being looked into.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the mandatory sentence takes justice out of the hands of the court and puts it into the hands of the police? The sentence depends entirely upon the section under which the police prosecute.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no, it certainly does not put the matter into the hands of the police. This young man went before the courts; a judgment was made; and subsequently the appeal judges in both appeals said that they would have liked to have at their disposal at least the possibility of considering—that is all it was—the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree—but I must formally ask her whether she does so—that, had the recommendation of the Criminal Law Revision Committee and of your Lordships' Select Committee been implemented, the following would have been the consequences. First, the whole range of sentencing options from life imprisonment downwards would be available to cover the situation being discussed, thus making it possible to fit the sentence to the crime—the "just deserts" philosophy urged by the Government during the passage of the Criminal Justice

9 Feb 1995 : Column 305

Bill 1991. Secondly, the period actually served in prison would have been determined judicially on relevant facts, in public, and subject to appeal; whereas, as the matter now stands, it is determined by a politician, in private, upon undisclosed facts with no appeal. If the noble Baroness so agrees, why has it taken this length of time to remedy the situation?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that range of options would have been available to the court. That was the question raised by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal and the House of Lords' judges in their summing up. My right honourable friend has responded to that.

All I can say is that in the intervening period, between the report by the Criminal Law Revision Committee and today, the Government took the decision not to review the issue. In the light of the Private Clegg case, they have now decided to review the issue.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, underlying the question by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and supplementary questions, is the role of soldiers in Northern Ireland since they first went there when the RUC was overwhelmed. I do not suggest that the Army withdraws from Northern Ireland. However, given the change in the RUC's strength and role, has the time not come to consider whether British soldiers should be on street corners in Belfast facing that situation?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot answer that question in this context. What I can say is that the soldiers on the streets of Northern Ireland are, as are soldiers anywhere, bound by the yellow card rules of engagement. As I have already said, there is to be a review. The status of the yellow card rules of engagement will be taken into account in the course of that review.

Lord Wigoder: My Lords, is not the present situation regarding the use of self-defence totally insupportable when a person who is recognised as having the right to use force in self-defence finds himself with only two choices: doing nothing or of using force which, by its very nature, is bound to be excessive?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not a lawyer, but I understand that in the case of Private Clegg it was possible to pray in aid self-defence or provocation. That was open to the courts to consider. My understanding is that the issue was properly considered and the conclusion of the courts was that it was not an action in self-defence. Therefore, as I said earlier, it would be inappropriate for me, or indeed for this House, to second guess such a judgment, or the judgments of the appeal courts.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, clearly one sympathises with my noble friend in her present situation because of her lack of legal qualification.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, am I wrong? I apologise at once, unreservedly, if I am wrong. However, still feeling sympathy with her, notwithstanding any mistake I may have made, may I

9 Feb 1995 : Column 306

ask her whether, in the case of Private Clegg, four shots were fired, three of which were in self-defence, and whether the fourth shot was decided not to be so? Is that not an absurd situation? Is it not absurd that anyone of that age, in a battle scenario, faced with that situation in the dark, should be charged with the abominable crime of murder?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, tempting though it is to get into the debate raised by my noble and learned friend, I really must not. I believe that to do so would be improper, with or without knowledge of the law. However, the specific point raised by my noble and learned friend is precisely why this area of policy is to be reviewed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to a government review. Will she include in that review the more numerous cases of domestic violence which involve the issue of justifiable force? Will she also consider looking again at some of the judgments involving cases between husband and wife?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the focus of the review has been triggered by the specific case of Private Clegg. However, as I have already said, the three major reports which addressed the issue did not confine themselves to the security forces. I would expect the review to take that consideration into account.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, in view of the close interest which members of the Armed Forces clearly will have in the review, will the Minister assure the House that the views of chiefs of staff will be obtained in the course of that review?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not sure that I am in a position to give a personal guarantee that that will take place. I believe that it is essential that their views are taken into account. However, I have to make two points. First, the issue does not exclusively relate to security forces. Secondly, because that specific case is the focus of the inquiry, I believe that that will happen. If I am wrong in my answers, I shall write to the noble Lord.

The Building Industry

3.20 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

    What discussions they have had with representatives of the building industry about current trends in that industry.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater): My Lords, Ministers and officials from the Department of the Environment regularly meet representatives of the construction industry to discuss topical issues. In addition, a joint working group comprising officials and

9 Feb 1995 : Column 307

representatives of the main trade organisations meets to produce a twice-yearly report entitled The State of the Construction Industry. Copies of the latest issue, which was published on 7th February, have been placed in the Library.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the Latham Report which, from the news release, appears to be or could be of some significance, not least because Sir Michael Latham is highly respected in both Houses?

Viscount Ullswater: Yes, my Lords. Coming out of the Latham review, which was set up jointly between the industry and the Government, Sir Michael reported in Constructing the Team. The Government and the industry have agreed to set up a construction industry board to oversee the continuing work of the working groups which were set up in the wake of the review. The board will also channel comments by industry and clients on any subsequent legislation which may be required.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, we have seen the news release to which the noble Viscount referred and which sets up the construction industry board. Can the Minister tell the House where is the urgency in it? Sir Michael Latham drew attention to the urgency of reducing the cost of construction projects by 30 per cent. by the year 2000. We have no promise of legislation in the review, unless the noble Viscount can tell me differently. As I understand it, all we have is a proposal that Mr. Gummer himself will be president of the board and will take the chair at least twice a year. Is that a true sense of urgency?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the Review Implementation Forum which followed the Latham review of midsummer 1994 had a six-month period in which it set up a number of working groups. One of them has already reported. As the noble Lord said, there is a target of 30 per cent. by the year 2000. We felt that the best way of supervising the remaining work—and there is much to be done on changing the nature of the industry to stop it being so adversarial—is that it needs to be overseen by such a board. That is the first time that the construction industry has come together in one single identity in order to tackle the important tasks that it has and to try to deliver the target.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page