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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sits down, I

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hope I may ask a question about the state of the law as it now is. I suggested in my speech that, although a specific intent is needed for the common law of contempt, that intent would be inferred by the courts where there was a virtual certainty that as a result of, for example, a large payment being made to a witness, an interference with the course of justice was inevitable. If I am right about that--I would be grateful to know whether that is also the view of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor--that certainly would be a severe warning to the press that common law contempt is a real weapon. If on the other hand I am wrong about that, it seems to me it is important that the House knows that because it would be a situation that perhaps cried out for legislation.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the press should certainly have in mind that the criminal law of contempt is alive and is capable of dealing with cases in this area. However, there is a difficulty as regards proving intent. The noble Lord cites an example of what he calls a large payment. The very fact that he puts it that way suggests that he does not have a precise test because it is a matter of how large the payment has to be. Different people have different views on that matter. What is large to me might not be large to the noble Lord as I stopped practising a long time ago.

These are relative matters. When it comes to the question of intent in this matter, what one is having to show is that the intention of making the payment was to interfere with the course of justice. I cannot imagine that most people who make these payments--however, I cannot generalise and I have no personal experience of making any such payment, as your Lordships will understand--would be willing to accept that that was the reason they made the payment. They would make the payment in order to inform the wider public of the interesting material that the witness had disclosed to them. I believe that the dangers in this area are perhaps more subtle than describing an intent of that kind. When a witness has gone over a statement with someone in detail and has perhaps repeated that, it has an effect on the witness's memory and on what the witness recollects. One has certainly seen this in particular cases. I wish to make it clear that I believe that the law of criminal contempt is a lively law not to be left aside. However, I do not believe that it will necessarily provide an answer to all the situations which are the subject of concern in the debate this evening in respect of payment to witnesses.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am glad that I overcame my reluctance and put this Motion down on the Order Paper. I am most grateful to all noble and learned Lords and to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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Western European Time Bill [H.L.]

7.36 p.m.

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Motion for the Adjournment

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the lot of the Chief Whip is not always a happy one but one of the most pleasant duties at this time of year is to move the adjournment of the House. In doing so I should like to take the traditional opportunity to thank all the staff of the House for their efforts on our behalf. I hope that the House agrees it would be invidious to single out any particular groups of staff and therefore I shall confine myself to thanking most warmly all those who work both behind the scenes and in front of them to make our proceedings possible. To them, and indeed to all noble Lords wherever they may be during this festive season, I wish a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn.--(Lord Strathclyde.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, twice a year the Government Chief Whip and I have the delightful duty publicly to thank those who serve us. However, I know that he and I every day take many opportunities to thank those individuals who give us service. The year 1995, in my recollection, has been no less onerous than other years and therefore the thanks and gratitude of the House are certainly due. Whatever divides us, there are certainly more things that unite us, and one of those things is the gratitude that we wish to extend to those who have given us service. The very least we can do is to acknowledge that; and I do so from these Benches with a full heart and in the same Christmas spirit evoked by the Government Chief Whip.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, yet again this year the happy duty falls to me to echo the words of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip and the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip.

Normally, I try to mention a group of people who I think have not had the recognition that they deserve. Because I bring a number of guests to the House each year and show them round, I should like to thank all members of the staff of your Lordships' House who make that such a pleasant duty to perform and such an enjoyable and profitable experience for the guests. That applies to the restaurant staff and the Doorkeepers who go to such lengths to smoothly find them places in the House so that they may listen to a small part of the debate. That shows off the House extremely well and is much appreciated, not only by the hosts but by the guests as well.

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On behalf of these Benches, I should like to wish everybody a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, it is a great privilege to be allowed to associate the Cross-Benches with the sentiments that have just been expressed.

In doing so, perhaps I may mention that in the 30 or more years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have found that one of its abiding virtues is its sense of tradition, history and permanence. That was most vividly shown this year when the noble Viscount the Leader of the House organised with such skill and imagination the events that celebrated the end of the Second World War. I could not help reflecting that three-quarters of a century ago--a little before I came to the House--one of the noble Viscount's predecessors as Leader of the House, Lord Curzon, organised with equal skill and imagination the celebrations which marked the end of the First World War. That link illustrates the timeless and permanent nature of this House.

There is another link, to which other noble Lords have referred; namely, the style and efficiency with which our staff look after us.

I understand that among the Doorkeepers, who have already been wished a happy Christmas, one--Mr. Thompson--has been transferred to the other place. Therefore, it would be appropriate to offer him our condolences as well as our good wishes.

I hope that it will not be thought a sign of Celtic hedonism if I reserve a special word for the staff of the Refreshment Department. It is a cliche much loved by gossip columnists that this House is the best club in London. If it is, that is largely due to those who look after us in the Guest Room, the Bishops Bar, the Cholmondeley Room and the Barry Room. In that context, I should like to express the hope--which I trust the Government Front Bench will note--that we can be assured that there will be no problems in all the new arrangements that are made for the administration and accommodation of the catering staff. They have a most responsible task. They will have an even more responsible task when the new facilities come into use in the new year, and they deserve generous office and administrative space. I make that point simply in passing.

I conclude by wishing all noble Lords and the staff of the House a very happy Christmas. In doing so, I express the hope that for all of us 1996 may be, at last, a peaceful year.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned for the Christmas Recess at seventeen minutes before eight o'clock until Tuesday, 9th January next.

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