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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government's view is absolutely firm. Both my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have said robustly that they wish to protect the independence of the judiciary. They give way to no one on that.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister may be aware that last week, in its 21st report, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments expressed a significant doubt whether one of the instruments before the House was intra vires. The Government thought otherwise. Will the Minister give us an undertaking

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that, in the not impossible event of the judges agreeing with the Joint Committee, the Government will not accuse the judges of rewriting the law? Will they further accept that if they were a little less certain that they were right, they would suffer less pain when occasionally they are found to be wrong?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure noble Lords that the Government enjoy greatly the benefit of the democracy we have. We know that it is the joy of those who sit on the Benches opposite—and, indeed, sometimes of those who sit on the Benches behind me—to tell the Government in an unequivocal way when they believe that the Government are wrong.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, one criticism made by the Lord Chief Justice in his speech on Second Reading which has not been the subject matter of any comment is that the sentences that the Home Secretary has laid down in Schedule 17 will increase the prison population enormously. If those principles, as they must, reflect on all serious offences, the prison population will become so vast that it cannot be contained.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has said very clearly that he feels—and this is the Government's view—that prison is a course of last resort. Noble Lords will know that in the Criminal Justice Bill we have produced a menu of different sentences—a mixture of community sentences together with prison sentences—which the whole House very much welcomed. It is not the Government's view that the proposals contained in the Criminal Justice Bill should increase the prison population enormously, as the noble and learned Lord seeks to assert.

Hallmarking

3.17 p.m.

Lord Henley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to change the current system of hallmarking of precious metals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the Government have no plans to change the current system of hallmarking precious metals. The Consumer Minister, Melanie Johnson, announced on 12th June that the Government do not support plans to revive the draft EU directive on the marking of precious metals which, if implemented, would alter the system of hallmarking in the UK.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that partially helpful Answer. Would he agree that the current hallmarking system is one of the most effective and efficient systems of consumer protection available in this country? I should add that it is not modern, which the Government will no doubt hold against it.

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Will the Minister go further when referring to proposed directives from the European Union and give an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to prevent any such directive coming into effect? I hope that the Government will ensure that we preserve our current system of hallmarking.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we believe that the current system is very effective and efficient, and we will oppose the directive. I am sure that the House will be relieved to hear that this is a 700 year-old institution that we believe has worked very well for 700 years and will continue to support.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, is the Minister aware that his reply to the noble Lord's question will be greeted with joy and relief in the city of Birmingham where, around 1780, that inventive industrial genius Matthew Bolton and others got together to found the Birmingham Assay Office and to give it its anchor assay mark, taking the name from the pub wherein they met? I urge the Minister to be absolutely resolute with those in Brussels who want to interfere with a system that is a guarantee of high-quality manufactured goods in Birmingham and elsewhere.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am very glad if any of my announcements are greeted with joy and relief and I do not care on what basis that occurs.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that he has the unanimous support of all sides in your Lordships' House and of all parties in another place on this issue? Is he prepared to go further than his Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and confirm that there is no chance whatever of the directive taking effect in a form that we would not wish to see?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the chances of success for the directive do not look promising but we should be realistic in recognising that the position in Europe has changed since 1996. Fewer countries now operate mandatory third party marking regimes. We shall, however, oppose the directive being introduced.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Minister said initially that the Government had no plans regarding the directive. Subsequently he said that the Government would not support it and then that they would vigorously oppose it. In view of the question that has just been asked and given that this is a matter of majority voting and that our hallmark indicates that our products are better than those produced anywhere else—and we want to keep it that way—will the Government not only vigorously oppose the directive but also make it their business to try to get all the other countries in Europe to vote our way to prevent our being defeated on this very serious matter?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we were part of the blocking minority when the directive was last

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discussed in 1996. We intend to try to do the same on the next occasion it is discussed. I simply pointed out to the House that the position had changed since 1996 and that it might be more difficult to try to block the measure. But as a whole our view is still that the directive's chances of success are very small.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I declare an interest as my husband is a liveryman of the Goldsmiths' Company. Is the Minister aware that tens of thousands of substandard articles have to be destroyed every year by assay offices here and that UK hallmarking offers great protection to members of the public, many of whom are totally unaware of the fact?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I said, the present system works well and instils great confidence in consumers. Our objection to the proposed directive is that we do not consider that it would instil that confidence in consumers which is so important in this market.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, surely this is a perfect example of where subsidiarity should prevent such attempts by Brussels?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that may be the noble Lord's view but it is not the constitutional view on the matter.

Scottish and Welsh Affairs: Ministerial Responsibility

3.22 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which United Kingdom ministerial office holder will have overall responsibility for Scottish and Welsh affairs.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement in another place yesterday, the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales continue to represent Scottish and Welsh issues in Cabinet and account on them to the House of Commons. They are assisted by the Scotland and Wales Offices which continue as distinct entities in my department.

I am responsible for the overall devolution settlements and overall government policy on devolution previously with the Deputy Prime Minister, including the Memorandum of Understanding, the Joint Ministerial Committee and the British-Irish Council.

The team of officials responsible for co-ordinating devolution issues has moved from the ODPM to my department, reporting to me.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his novel office of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs which has, as he indicated, now absorbed the Wales and

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Scotland Offices. Can he confirm that he has the ultimate authority to decide policy directions in Scotland and Wales and that he can override the part-time territorial Secretaries of State if needs be?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind congratulations. He is wrong; I do not have the ability to override the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland. Not one part of their powers has been transferred to my department. All that has happened is that their officials have moved there because they share an office with another department. If another Secretary of State took over who had a different department, it would be sensible for the officials to have a home in which they stayed.


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