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House of Lords

Thursday, 9th February 1995.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St. Albans.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Personal Statement: The Lord Lester of Herne Hill

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I should like to make a personal statement. Last week I sent a memorandum to the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, on declaration and registration of interests. It was not my intention that the memorandum should be made public, but unfortunately it was leaked to the press, by whom I know not, although I am satisfied that the leak took place outside this House. In the present circumstances I am asking to be heard by the sub-committee at an early opportunity to explain my views publicly.

I ask your Lordships to accept that in making my submission to the sub-committee I believed that I was acting in the best interests of the House. I profoundly regret the embarrassment that my note and its public disclosure have caused to this House and to another place. It caused me great personal distress. I apologise for having inadvertently caused offence to the House and risked blemishing its reputation.

EC Judgment: Implementation

3.2 p.m.

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to implement the judgment of the European Court of Justice concerning redundancies and the transfer of undertakings.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the relevant legislation on all but one of the points covered by the judgments was amended by the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. The Government are presently considering what action needs to be taken on the remaining issue concerning consultation with employees' representatives.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that unsatisfactory reply; perhaps he will go a little further. Will he accept that this is another example of the Government refusing to take at face value the spirit of the directives and what is clearly being said? Does he accept that as a result since the mid-1970s workers have been denied simple rights? The Government cannot go on saying that the employer will decide where consultation shall lie. It is clear that that is unlawful. Will the Government say when they intend to publish their views on this matter? Will they also say whether

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their attention has yet been drawn by the Commission to their own attitudes and whether they have had a letter from the Commission along those lines?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asks a number of questions. The important point about the decisions in the two judgments is that it is for the employees to determine who their representatives will be. As the noble Lord will know, the judgments and the law in this area are far from straightforward. We are anxious to make sure that we consider the matter properly. Subsequently we shall discuss our ideas before bringing proposals forward. In this area of the law it is instructive to look back to when the original directives came into effect. In one instance it was four years after the directive came into effect that British legislation was put on the statute book. In the other instance it also took a long time to make sure that we had got it right.

As to the more general question of workers' rights, it is relevant that it was put on record by the noble Lord himself in your Lordships' House that the opposition party's proposals for implementing the acquired rights directive had it won the general election in 1979 would have broken the terms of the directive.

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister in connection with his last answer. Am I to understand that when he talks about discussions on introducing what remains of the judgment of last June the intention is that there will be discussions with employees' representatives? This is a very complex issue. Will there also be discussions with employers' representatives?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I understand that the matter has already been broached between the Government and the Trades Union Congress and that in addition there will be discussions with employers.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the judgments have the force of law because in the European Communities Act 1972 Parliament, in the exercise of its sovereignty, so decided? Will he further agree that the only question can be about how and not whether we implement them?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is absolutely correct in his analysis of the constitutional position. I can confirm that he is correct that it is not a matter of whether but how these matters are dealt with.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, can the Minister say why the Government always adopt such a minimalist approach to these matters? After all, they had to amend their position relating to trade union reform and employment rights legislation and change the TUPE regulations because they were not adequate. There had to be a statement by the Attorney-General spelling out rights in relation to pensions as regards TUPE. Why can the Government not get it right first time instead of having constantly to come back with amending legislation?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I should like to make two points. The first concerns what the noble Baroness

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describes rather grudgingly as a minimalist approach. Each member state has discretion as to how it implements directives. We wish to exercise that discretion in the manner we think most suitable for our country.

My second point concerns the nature of amendments to regulations and legislation. It is relevant that in this instance the major problem with which the two judgments were concerned was not identified by anyone in this country but by the European Commission. It is accepted on all sides that this branch of the law is extremely complicated. As I have mentioned, the original legislation that was put in place by the party opposite when in power had to be amended because it was defective.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, the noble Lord says that I asked many questions. I asked two questions. I think he will agree that he answered neither of them. He throws dust in our eyes. I ask that the next time he wants to insinuate that I said something which I cannot remember and he does not cite he gives me advance notice of the so-called statements I am supposed to have made. Will he even now say whether the Government have had any communication from the Commission and when the Government are likely to decide this question?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, I am not aware of the most recent communications between the Commission and the Government about this matter. The remarks of the noble Lord to which I alluded were those he made in this House on 10th December 1981, reported in Hansard at col. 1486.

Murder/Manslaughter Charges

3.10 p.m.

Lord Carver asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to introduce legislation to give effect to the recommendation of the Criminal Law Revision Committee in its 14th report in 1980 relating to the charge of manslaughter rather than murder to be brought against a person who kills another person by using excessive force in legitimate self-defence or in the prevention of crime.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is considering the recommendation as part of the review of the law on murder, which he announced on 24th January in response to the concerns expressed by this House sitting in its judicial capacity in the case of Private Clegg.

Lord Carver: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that encouraging reply. Does she agree it is regrettable that in the almost 15 years which have passed since that recommendation was made nothing has been done to put it into effect? The result has been that members of the Armed Forces, when called upon to act in aid of the civil power, have continued to find

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themselves liable to prosecution for murder, with its statutory penalty of life imprisonment, when they reasonably believed that they were doing their duty.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, both the Government of the day and subsequent Governments have taken the view that it was not necessary to review that aspect of the law. The Private Clegg case has clearly thrown that issue into relief. My right honourable friend now believes that it is timely to review the situation.

Perhaps I may also make the point that the Criminal Law Revision Committee, the Law Commission Report in 1989 and the Select Committee of the House of Lords which considered murder and life imprisonment were not referring only to security forces. Their considerations encompassed all aspects of security and non-security personnel.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that if the Government had accepted the recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee and the decision of this House when it debated the issue, the problem regarding Private Clegg would not have arisen in the first place? Is she not aware that the real problem relates to the mandatory life sentence? It means that a mercy killer and the person who destroyed the aircraft over Lockerbie are regarded in precisely the same manner?

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