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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Kate Hoey) represented the United Kingdom at the Council. The main matters dealt with were as follows:
The Council agreed as "A" points, among other things, Europol's budget for 1999, the half-yearly report on the activities of the Europol Drugs Unit, decisions concerning the role of the Director of Europol after entry into force of the Europol Convention and the transfer of the strategic direction of the TECS project to Europol, and the regular Europol information system report.
A useful discussion was held on new technical developments in the interception of telecommunications and their implications for the draft Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance, agreement to which is an important priority in the fight against organised crime.
The Council noted a progress report on preparations for the entry into force of the Europol Convention and discussed the rules and procedure to be employed by Europol's Joint Supervisory Body. This matter will be discussed further at the informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Vienna at the end of October.
The Presidency gave an oral progress report on negotiation of the draft Eurodac Convention, which is concerned with the fingerprinting of asylum applicants. Ministers will discuss the matter again at the Vienna informal Ministerial meeting.
The Council discussed the need for urgent measures to tackle abuse of the Internet and other forms of sexual exploitation of children. The Presidency's draft Joint Action on child pornography on the Internet will be discussed at the December Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA). The Council also discussed Europol's role in this area and the importance of early implementation of the Joint Action of February 1997 concerning action to combat trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of children.
In the afternoon, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Ministers held a joint meeting with their counterparts from the associated Central and Eastern European countries (CEEs) and Cyprus. The meeting began with an exchange of views on implementation of the Justice and Home Affairs acquis in the field of immigration and asylum, with discussion introduced by Germany.
The United Kingdom introduced discussion on judicial co-operation. A number of applicant states outlined the progress they had made towards meeting the Justice and Home Affairs acquis in this area, the importance of which, in both practical and legal terms, they fully recognised. The applicant states were encouraged to consider accession to the Lugano Convention.
On organised crime, the Commission gave an overview of recent work, together with an analysis of the linkages of this work to the wider accession process. A number of CEEs and Cyprus described recent developments in their domestic legislation and policies to combat organised crime. Common themes highlighted included the development of domestic legislation; the creation of multi-disciplinary task forces to co-ordinate action; and the development of practical operational co-operation between police forces in different states.
Outside the formal Council meetings, a number of discussions were held with other Interior Ministers and officials on the need for better co-ordination and action to stem the flow of economic migrants claiming asylum.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has carefully reviewed the existing powers of controllers at privately managed prisons and has decided that broadly the current arrangements should be retained. Increasing the powers of controllers would reduce the contractors' operational responsibility for managing the prisons. The essence of contracting out is that optimum risk should be transferred to the private sector; efficient contract enforcement would seem to be the best way to ensure value for money from these contracts.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I refer the noble Lord to the reply given to a Question from my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede on 6 April 1998 (WA 98), in which I explained that I was placing a copy of the disclosable version of four of the six volumes of the Immigration Directorates' Instructions (IDIs) in the Library. I also refer the noble Lord to the reply given to a Question from my noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld on 9 July 1998 (WA 149), in which I explained that the disclosable version of the IDIs is being placed on the Internet.
The instruction to which the noble Lord refers has been superseded by guidance which now forms part of Volume 6 of the IDIs. This is one of the two volumes which were not originally disclosed. We are examining further the question of disclosure of the remaining two volumes in so far as they relate to immigration casework.
Further guidance on this subject is also contained in the Operational Enforcement Manual for immigration officers. Disclosure of this manual is also under consideration. I shall make a further statement in due course.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): When exercising his judicial functions the Lord Chancellor is bound by his judicial oath. Discretion is exercised in determining the cases in which he sits in his judicial capacity, as a safeguard against any perception of partiality or conflict of interest. It is not, however, desirable to lay down any rigid rules. Lord Chancellors have, for example, frequently sat in criminal and tax appeals. Where cases arise in which the Government or a Minister has an interest as a party litigant, or in which constitutional or political issues are involved, I will exercise my discretion so as not to sit where I consider that it would be inappropriate or improper to do so.
The Lord Chancellor: When exercising his judicial functions the Lord Chancellor is bound by his judicial oath. Where constitutional or human rights cases, arising under the legislation to which the noble Lord refers, come before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, or this House in its judicial capacity, I will exercise my discretion not to sit where I consider it would be inappropriate or improper to do so. I have no doubt that any future Lord Chancellor will do likewise. It is not, however, desirable to lay down any rigid rules.
The Lord Chancellor: No. If Her Majesty's Government successfully defend a claim involving convention rights under the Human Rights Bill, the normal costs rules will apply; and, where appropriate, counsel will be instructed to seek an order for costs from the unsuccessful party in the usual way.
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