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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the only question not put to me is whether I have stopped beating my wife. I did not say that murder is a uniquely heinous offence. So I have been asked a question on a basis which has proved to be incorrect. However, it involves the taking of human life, which we must not devalue. It involves the taking of human life with at least one of two intents; namely, the intention to kill or to do really serious physical injury. None of those things can be overlooked. I take a view which is that even in "mercy killings" a human life has passed from us, and no society can turn its face away from that. I do not believe that the present system devalues the life sentence. It indicates the feelings of our society as they presently are, that to take life in those circumstances is extremely grave and serious. It has the additional benefit of the flexibility of approach and regime to which I referred earlier.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall not be asking the Minister whether he has stopped beating his wife, but I shall, with a wry smile, say to him that I welcome the fact that he has said that this is not a party political issue. But for 16 out of the 18 years that we on this side ruled it was very definitely a party political issue. We were opposed tooth and nail on minimum sentences, automatic life sentences, and mandatory life sentences. We welcome the tough and resolute stand that is now being taken on this particular issue. Will the Minister confirm what his right honourable friend said in another place, that they will implement the automatic life sentence as set out in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am not sure that government should properly be described as ruling. I believe that governments are there to serve the public. One of the possible disadvantages of the previous government was that they had regarded themselves as ruling rather than serving. The noble Baroness smiles at me in her charming way, but "ruling" was the word that she used. If it was a slip, something to which we are all subject occasionally, then of course I shall close my eyes to it. I have already said that the Home Secretary will make an announcement quite soon about these matters.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will he assure the House that the Government accept the objectives, established by the OECD last year, to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015? Do they also agree that one good means of achieving that would be to accept the 20/20 proposition whereby donor governments provide 20 per cent. of their aid budgets for social infrastructure and recipient governments use 20 per cent. of their budgets for the same purpose?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, yes, I can assure the House that the White Paper on international development, to be published in the autumn, will endorse the targets set out in the 1996 OECD report, to which my noble friend refers, and, in particular, the overriding target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. The achievement of those targets will require the mutual commitment and partnership of recipient and donor countries which is implicit in the 20/20 concept.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, the UNDP report is somewhat critical of the development of globalisation and suggests that the poorer countries are becoming marginalised by the unequal and often protective nature of trading partnerships between the richer countries. Do the Government agree with that view? If so, what action do they intend to take through their aid and trade policy?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is undoubtedly something in that view. The position of the countries with the lowest incomes has deteriorated over the period, in part as a result of being left out of some of the development of globalisation. We do not, however, take the view that more restrictive trade practices would help those countries either on their own behalf or in terms of any multilateral arrangements. We intend to use our aid programme and our broader programmes to ensure that in some of those countries aid and trade benefits go to the poorest within them through a greater gearing of the programmes, a greater use of NGOs, and pressure on the countries themselves to ensure that the poorest benefit.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, in view of the increasing importance of the human development report, have the Government changed their definition of the poorest countries measured by GNP in the direction of the other human development indices?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have to be honest and say that I need detailed notice of that question. I shall write to the noble Earl. The definition used in the report is one that has existed for some considerable time. We have given the indices of achievement in the aid field according to that definition.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord said, does he believe that the Government will put more resources into the technical assistance programmes which provide training in developing countries, which generate employment thereby, and which have proved beneficial in the past?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, yes, the whole strategy behind re-gearing programmes to meet the needs of the poorest people is to ensure that they can benefit from training and other infrastructure developments rather than to provide aid to a particular country. It is all part of the gearing strategy to which I referred.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, while quite properly pursuing the policies advocated in the international field for the purpose of the relief of poverty--poverty far exceeding anything we experience here--will my noble friend nevertheless bear in mind that within the UK some 40 per cent. of the population lives below the poverty line, as defined in Europe, and that at least one household in every five in the UK lacks an employed person within it?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I broadly accept those statistics. I assure the House that the elimination of poverty within the UK is one of our prime objectives and is in no way contrary to the achievement of the elimination of poverty in some of the poorest areas of the world.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I believe that I do, too! Before the Bill passes from this place, I want to comment briefly. First, I wish to put the Minister on notice that we shall be interested to see how far the £2,500 goes in setting up and paying for the annual running costs of the Bill. We shall be vigilant in pursuing that.
However, for the record, my main point is to repeat our disappointment that the Minister has not responded more generously to the concerns which I and my noble friend Lady Anelay expressed during the passage of the Bill. Perhaps the depth of the love-in between the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on the Liberal Democrat Bench and the Minister proved too much of a distraction. But the Bill goes further than what was required to respond to the Chahal case.
Although I see some merit in the one-stop approach for any appellant whose case comes before the commission, I remain very concerned about possible bias in favour of the appellant who, after all, will be a person who has sufficiently concerned the Home Secretary of the day on the grounds of national security.
We have taken the view that the paramount consideration must be the national security interest to which other matters should be subordinated. However, in a letter sent to my noble friend Lady Anelay and copied to me, the Minister admits that in an appeal involving a decision to deport or refuse entry and an application for asylum, the commission will first address the question of the asylum application and that only if there is no Article 3 risk will it consider the national security case. It is the national security interest that is a matter of serious concern to this country.
The responses given by the noble Lord have been hardly reassuring. However, for all our sakes, I hope that the Bill will work in practice. The risk remains that under the Bill it is likely that the interests of an individual appellant will take precedence over the security of the country. I cannot believe that my colleagues in another place will be sanguine about that. Nor will public support be quite so forthcoming to this Government if the concern I express is borne out in the future by a binding decision of the commission in which the needs of a suspected terrorist are considered more important than the security needs of our country.
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