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31 Oct 2000 : Column WA75

Written Answers

Tuesday, 31st October 2000.

Justice and Home Affairs Council, 28 September

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council held in Brussels on 28 September.[HL4438]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Nigel Sheinwald, the United Kingdom's Permanent Representative to the European Union, represented the United Kingdom at the 28 September Council. The main matters dealt with at the Meeting were as follows:

The list of A points was adopted in full, except items on the Schengen Information System, Sirene, on which one member state maintained a parliamentary scrutiny reserve, and on minimum standards for the security of passports. Common Visa List:

The Council agreed to a mechanism for deferring the entry into force of a visa exemption for certain third countries. Further discussion would take place in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and the European Parliament would be reconsulted. This is a measure in respect of which the United Kingdom has not sought to opt in.

Europol: money laundering:

Political agreement was reached on extending the Europol Convention to cover all money laundering and the accompanying Council declaration on predicate offences, subject to consideration of the European Parliament's Opinion. This would formally be adopted at the Council's meeting on 30 November.

Commission Proposal for a draft Council Directive on minimum standards on asylum procedures:

The Commission presented this proposal as its first response to the call by the Tampere European Council in October 1999 to create a common European asylum system. The proposal set out minimum procedural guarantees to ensure that member states could process cases quickly and fairly at a national level and that secondary movements of asylum seekers were avoided. Common standards and time limits would assist in dismissing inadmissible and unfounded cases. Member states gave a general welcome to the proposal, which was remitted to the Asylum Working Group for further consideration.

Reception conditions for asylum seekers:

This was an orientation debate on key points in the Presidency's discussion document. No conclusions were drawn but the Presidency stressed that this was a key priority and it would be seeking to agree conclusions at the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)

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Council in November in order to provide a background to an anticipated legislative proposal from the Commission.

Council Decision to create a provisional Eurojust Unit:

Political orientation was reached on key elements of the text, subject to consideration of the European Parliament's opinion, which had not yet been received. The text was remitted to COREPER for resolution of some technical issues and the language regime at the request of one member state. A new Article was agreed which would allow the Commission to be associated fully with the general work of the unit, particularly in relation to the development of the permanent Eurojust and which would also enable the Commission to lend its expertise to cases considered by the unit where these fell within Commission competence. The United Kingdom maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reservation.

Framework Decision relating to the status of victims in criminal proceedings:

This text was remitted to COREPER to resolve the outstanding issue on compensation. One member state lifted its scrutiny reserve provided that a recital was included to the effect that the Decision did not imply an obligation to treat victims as parties to criminal proceedings. The United Kingdom maintained its parliamentary scrutiny reservation.

Commission proposal to create a European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters:

The Commission presented this draft Council Decision, which was aimed at improving and developing existing judicial co-operation arrangements and providing the public with practical information about access to justice in cross-border litigation. The Civil Law Committee would discuss this further.

Protection of the environment through the criminal law: orientation debate:

There was general support for the introduction of measures to combat environmental crime, in order to establish a European Union acquis in this area. The Presidency would produce an initiative for a new instrument incorporating the aspects of the 1998 Council of Europe Convention on Environmental Crime which were acceptable to all member states.

Preparation for the joint JHA/European Council of Finance Ministers (ECOFIN) Council:

Over lunch, the Council prepared the joint ECOFIN/JHA Council meeting of 17 October on financial crime. The Presidency explained that this would feature a debate on a common and coherent European Union strategy towards more effective co-operation in the financial sector, law enforcement and judicial co-operation.

Brussels/Regulation:

The Presidency urged Ministers to pursue this dossier in their capitals as it was a key element of the mutual recognition programme on civil law. The

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Commission advised that it would be issuing modified proposals during the next week of the e-commerce aspects of mutual recognition in light of the European Parliament's Opinion.

Other items:

The Council noted a communication from Germany on the need for Community-level action on fighting dogs, calling for a Commission initiative on this matter. The Commission doubted if there was a legal basis for Community action but undertook to examine this in greater detail.

Mixed Committee with Iceland and Norway:

The Committee heard progress reports on the draft Common Visa List, which Iceland and Norway would apply, and on the application of the Schengen arrangements to the Nordic countries.

Terrorism Act 2000: Implementation

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to bring the Terrorism Act 2000 into force.[HL4436]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We are currently working towards an implementation date for the Terrorism Act 2000 of 19 February 2001. Certain powers required in advance of the Terrorism Act taking effect have already been brought into force by Commencement Orders under section 128 of the Act. On 12 October 2000, provisions relating to United Kingdom-wide and Northern Ireland specific codes of practice were brought into force, paving the way for consultation on those codes. Today further provisions, such as those setting out the procedure for the making of secondary legislation, including the orders to bring the codes of practice into force, have been commenced. The provisions brought into force today also include provision for rules of court dealing with certain procedures under the Act and for the establishment of the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission.

Immigrant Advisers and Service Providers: Regulation

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress the Immigration Service Commissioner has made in establishing the scheme of regulation for immigration advisers and service providers.[HL4437]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Copies of the Immigration Services Commissioner's Rules, Code of Standards and Complaints Scheme have now been published on the internet at http:www.oisc.org.uk. A copy of these documents will be placed in the Library.

The Commissioner has also published guidance to advisers on competencies in relation to the provision of immigration advice or immigration services. The Commissioner will be making an announcement in the near future as to the process for making a case for exemption or an application for registration.

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Sentencing Guidelines: Women

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will issue sentencing guidelines in respect of women; and, if so, when.[HL4231]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government has no power to issue sentencing guidelines.

Powers in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 empower the Home Secretary to direct the Sentencing Advisory Panel to propose to the Court of Appeal that it issue guidelines for specific offences or categories of offence. This power does not extend to making directions that the Panel should propose guidelines for particular categories of offender.

Custodial Sentences: Policy

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is settled public policy that property offences and non-violent crime generally should not be punished by imprisonment unless there are special or aggravating circumstances.[HL4232]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The sentencing framework now contained in the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 sets out the criteria which must be met before it is appropriate for an offender to be imprisoned for a given offence: broadly, the offence (or the offence and one or more offences associated with it) must be so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified for the offence.

There are a number of property and other non-violent offences for which the maximum available penalty is imprisonment because of the possible seriousness of the worst examples of offending falling within that offence. It is for the courts to use their discretion when deciding whether imprisonment is justified, taking into account all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the offence and any previous convictions of the offender or failure to respond to previous sentences.

Additionally, the Government have concluded that there are certain types of persistent offending for which a sentence of imprisonment is invariably necessary. We introduced provisions requiring an automatic minimum sentence of seven years' imprisonment for third-time traffickers in Class A drugs and of three years' imprisonment for third-time burglars. In each case, such a sentence must be imposed unless the court is satisfied that there are particular circumstances relating to any of the offences or to the offender which would make it unjust to do so.


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