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The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord does not have the true facts of the case. Since the disaster in Lockerbie in 1988 the Government have done a huge amount to improve transport security in the United Kingdom and internationally. Her Majesty's Government have taken a leading role in agreeing with other countries a range of measures to improve security--the review of the National Aviation Security Programme,

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the cargo security regime and the Accounting and Authorising of Hold Baggage for Carriage (Triple A). A great many measures are involved

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that of course it is the responsibility of government to lay down standards for security and ensure that they are enforced; but it must be for the management of the airport companies themselves to be in charge of the day-to-day operations?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Transec, a division of the Department of Transport, also holds a watching brief.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, the Minister's noble friend makes a good point. If airports are incompetent about letting people back to collect their baggage, they are probably incompetent about clearing people from the area.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I think the situation at Heathrow in which my noble friend was involved shows how efficiently the security services at airports work.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is surely no sustainable suggestion that the airport authorities at any airport in the United Kingdom are incompetent in dealing with emergencies of the serious kind that unfortunately have arisen from time to time? There may be a difficulty about getting back into the baggage hall, but that seems to me to be less significant overall.

Will the Minister accept that we on this side of the House wish to echo what has been said about the magnificent work of the emergency services in Manchester the other day? Undoubtedly it reflects the work of the emergency services in so many unacceptable situations that have arisen through the activities of the IRA. I am sure that the whole House will wish to condemn those activities in no uncertain way.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. However, we must remember that security is impossible to guarantee 100 per cent. Her Majesty's Government, with the support of noble Lords opposite, are determined to ensure that ours remains among the best in the world.

Life Sentences: Home Secretary's Responsibilities

3.1 p.m.

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they agree with the conclusion of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that the Home Secretary should no longer have the responsibility for setting the tariff for life sentence prisoners and taking decisions on their release.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, we welcome the committee's

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conclusion that the mandatory life sentence should be retained for the offence of murder. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made clear in his evidence to the committee that the Government did not agree that the Home Secretary's role should be removed. However, we are carefully considering the report and will respond to it in due course.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am not clear from that Answer whether the noble Baroness gave a yes or a no to my Question. I do not think anybody in the House will be aware as to whether she said yes or no. She is holding her breath. Are we to understand that the Government are still considering the possibility that the Home Secretary might be withdrawn altogether from the process, which is most inappropriate, of deciding the life sentence of somebody on electoral considerations? Are we to understand that that role is to be withdrawn from him? The Minister may be aware that there is a procedure readily available for discretionary life prisoners. Is she ready to apply that to mandatory life prisoners?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I was not avoiding the noble Earl's Question. What I said was that he will have to be patient, as we have not yet responded to the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The Home Secretary gave a robust defence of the present position; but he has agreed to consider the report carefully and will respond to it in due course.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in England and Wales the Home Secretary has the important constitutional responsibility of advising the Crown on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy? Will she confirm that it would be most unfortunate if that prerogative were interfered with in any way?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I have to agree with my noble friend on that point.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, does the Minister recall--I am sure she does--that in a recent Criminal Justice Bill, this House, by a sizeable majority, passed an amendment that there should be a right of appeal given in a murder case against a minimum sentence recommended by the judge? Does she recall that that amendment was nullified in another place? Will the Minister assure the House that since the committee whose report we are discussing advised very firmly that there should be such a right of appeal, provision will be made for such a situation in the next available criminal justice Bill?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot give the noble and learned Lord that assurance. Both Houses rightly discussed the matter and each reached a different conclusion on that particular issue. The elected Chamber took a different view from that taken

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by this Chamber. As I said, the Home Secretary will consider the report and will respond to it in due course.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House who in Scotland exercises the powers exercised in this respect in England and Wales by the Home Secretary?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my understanding is that it is the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in how many cases has the Secretary of State settled a tariff that exceeds that recommended to him by the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice? In how many of those cases has his decision been challenged by way of judicial review?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my understanding is that he has differed in 15 cases. In some five he settled at a figure lower than the recommendation from the trial judge; in the rest the tariff was increased. The vast majority of recommendations from both the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice are accepted by my right honourable friend. At the end of the day, my right honourable friend has responsibility for considering the wider public interest and the safety of the community. That is not a consideration for the trial judge.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, as we read today, the victim's views are now to be heard at every stage of the criminal process, including sentencing. Could further consideration be given as to whether there ought not to be a judicial determination in open court as to release or recall on licence? I do not of course include any reference to the prerogative of mercy. I refer to judicial determination on the available evidence, as distinct from an executive decision, which raises difficulties with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in anticipation of my right honourable friend considering the recommendations of the report from the Home Affairs Select Committee, we have to date taken the view that the procedures in place are the right ones, and we have defended them. So far as the European Court of Human Rights is concerned, we have already indicated that although we are disappointed, for example, about the decisions in the cases of Hussein and Singh we intend to comply with the ECHR ruling.

As to whether procedures for release and parole should be judicially decided, the current procedures for adult life sentence prisoners are the result of careful consideration by our own courts of appropriate procedures of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the case of mandatory lifers, the final decision on whether a prisoner should be released remains with the Home Secretary. To date, that has never been found unlawful.

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Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921

3.8 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name in the Order Paper.

Moved to resolve, That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the abuse of children in care in the former county council areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd.--(Lord Lucas.)

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we in North Wales in particular welcome this decision with a good deal of relief? Is he further aware that we also welcome the appointment of Sir Ronald Waterhouse as chairman of the inquiry?

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, the Royal Commission presided over by Lord Salmon made recommendations about the procedure to be followed by tribunals of inquiry. Is the Minister aware that the tribunal of inquiry into the Crown Agents, on which I had the rather dubious privilege of serving, suggested some modification of those recommendations? Will the Minister assure the House that those suggestions will be brought to the notice of the chairman of the tribunal?

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