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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Good try! My Lords, of course one does not take a single year when considering the deficit. The facts of the matter are that Italy's deficit has fallen from a peak of 11.1 per cent. in 1990 to 2.7 per cent. in 1997. It is forecast to fall further to 2.5 per cent. in 1998 and to 2 per cent. in 1999. Therefore, the so-called euro tax is simply one point in
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that while it is one thing to take a sensible view of the convergence criteria surely it is quite a different matter to view 118 per cent. of GDP as anything vaguely in the same ball park as 60 per cent. of GDP, which is what the Maastricht convergence criteria say about debt as a percentage of GDP? Is it not a long way from 60 per cent? Further, is it not odd that when the Government were being so kind to the Government of Italy, Prime Minister Prodi said of the Prime Minister of Britain after the weekend that he thought he was singularly ill-prepared for the weekend's council?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government were not being kind but agreeing with ECOFIN that, taking all of the convergence criteria into account, Italy was moving in the right direction and should therefore be admitted to the single currency on 1st January 1999. I have no comment to make on the alleged statement of Prime Minister Prodi. I would not dream of commenting on alleged statements of the heads of state of other member states.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, under the terms of the treaty, Her Majesty's Government have no responsibility in these matters? The conditions of convergence are finally determined by the Commission on whose authority they rely in terms of advice on reaching decisions, as set out in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Government have no responsibility whatever. Is the Minister further aware that the final terms of convergence in conformity with the sanctity of the treaty are determined by the Commission, which is responsible for the production of all the figures? Her Majesty's Government are entirely innocent and have no responsibility whatever. Indeed, they have never had any power in the matter!
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope the House will agree that in view of the Prime Minister's Statement today, which is to be repeated in this House, it would be inappropriate for me to answer questions about anything other than Italy, which was the subject of the original Question.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, would it not be easier for us to move forward on these issues if we accepted that the draftsmen of the Maastricht Treaty were people of great precision, but that the interpretation has been handed over to Humpty-Dumpty?
We have been considering whether new machinery is necessary to assist in the handling of cases such as that of Sidney Cooke. The Home Secretary has instructed officials to convene a group including representatives of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and the Association of Chief Police Officers together with sex offender treatment specialists to take forward this work. The group, which we expect to start work soon, will be charged to identify high profile, difficult-to-place sex offenders in prison and assess their release plans, oversee their handling and consider any funding necessary to meet likely additional accommodation costs.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer. I am extremely concerned that such people, having served the sentence for their crime, still pose a danger, as they admit. Will the Minister advise the House whether they should be released or spend the rest of their lives in gaol? Should the press be allowed to whip up vigilantes against them? Furthermore, is it right that taxpayers are spending almost £5,000 a week to keep Sidney Cooke in a police cell away from the vigilantes?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, those are important questions. The release of a particular offender is entirely dependent on the sentence originally passed. It is a well known constitutional convention that matters of sentence are for trial judges and not for politicians, and I believe that that is proper.
I take the noble Lord's point about the press. The Government's view is that it is much better for people such as Sidney Cooke to be managed carefully without whipping up undue public fears, in particular when those fears are based on inaccurate information. I am sure everyone would deprecate attacks on police officers, for instance, who are doing their public duty in attempting to safeguard public order, security and safety.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister congratulate Paddy Ashdown on the way he handled a difficult meeting in Yeovil? Will he confirm that the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset is satisfied with the control of Sidney Cooke while under his supervision? Although I welcome the setting up of the group to
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that Paddy Ashdown behaved properly, courageously and rightly. The arrangements that have been made with Sidney Cooke are the best that can be made in all the circumstances. The noble Lord asked for an immediate response about funding and treatment. The group has been set up and we ought to await its recommendations before blundering into short-term solutions which may not be of long-term use.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, does the Minister recall that during the passage of the Crime (Sentences) Bill frequent reference was made to the report in 1975 of the Butler Committee on mentally disordered offenders? The suggestion was that a new indeterminate sentence should be created called a "reviewable" sentence so that those who were still a danger were not released from prison until the review declared that it was appropriate, and that the review should take place every two years. Does the Minister agree that if those recommendations had been in place none of the present anxieties would have occurred? Will he now take urgent action to see whether there should be legislation to put into force either Lord Butler's recommendation or similar measures for a new indeterminate sentence?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I recall the debates we had on the occasion to which the noble and learned Lord refers. If a reviewable sentence had been available and had been passed on Sidney Cooke, some of the present difficulties might have been avoided. Serious and urgent consideration is taking place in the Home Office for further legislation in the light of policy development along the general lines to which the noble and learned Lord referred.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on economic and monetary union. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on Statements should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I rise to take advice from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in that I wish to make a comment before we discuss the amendments to the Bill. I do not know whether to do so now or to wait until the Motion has been put.
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