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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Israeli Foreign Minister when in London last week said that some of these settlements would have to be dismantled? Does he agree that this is an extremely important step towards peace? Can he tell the House whether the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Peres, gave any indication as to the timetable for the dismantlement of some of these settlements, or indeed any details of which they would be?
Lord Molloy: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the endeavours of Mr. Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister have been quite remarkable and that they are genuine in their endeavours to achieve peace? Both sides listen carefully to what the British Parliament has to say. If we can encourage them with regard to this one issue so that the land can be returned to its rightful owners, I feel sure that the British contribution can ensure peace in the Middle East and help both sides.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, it is undoubtedly the case that in January this year very severe pressures were put on the declaration of principles. Both leaders played a significant part in bringing matters forward. We must all be united in hoping to see a solution to this long-standing, extremely difficult and well nigh almost intractable problem.
The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry): Yes, my Lords. We welcome the unique and important contribution that chaplains and ministers of religion are able to make, along with other agencies, to the pastoral care of prisoners in times of personal crises.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that up until recently the amount of time that individual ministers gave to their pastoral duties within the prison system was a matter within their own discretion but that now contracts are being let by individual prison governors which specify the maximum number of hours which can be devoted to a prison by a given minister? Under those circumstances there is a lack of flexibility and a difference between one prison and another which are hindering the visiting ministers from carrying out the duties that are mentioned.
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, I am aware that as a result of the development of local management the arrangements now are made on a local basis. In setting the amount of time for which payment will be made regard is had to the requirements which are perceived to be necessary for a particular prison. They vary according to the different denominations which are predominant in various parts of the country. That is wholly without prejudice to the right of any minister to visit voluntarily without payment in addition to the hours for which he is paid.
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, as the noble Earl, who takes an interest in these matters, knows, there are provisions both in statute and in the prison rules which deal with religious observance and so on in prisons. Having regard to the obligations under statute and under the rules, the local management decides the best way in which the resources should be used in a particular prison. For example, in some areas there may be a requirement for more Buddhists or more Moslems to be visited; in other areas, more Roman Catholics. It is entirely a matter for the governor, having regard to the obligations which are placed upon him.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is it really satisfactory that matters of this kind should be determined by the governor? I am all in favour, as I am sure all of us are, of giving as much authority to governors as possible, but are we really contemplating a situation where a minister of religion could be excluded if he required payment for what might be fairly onerous services?
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, these matters are discussed with the chaplains who liaise with the various denominations. As a result of that, agreements are entered into in the local area. There is no question of ministers of religion being excluded from visiting any particular person. The only question that arises is the number of hours of service for which they would be paid. That is determined as a result of negotiations with the chaplains and with the various people who represent the faiths. It is a matter on which, so far as I am aware, agreement is generally reached.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, can we be assured that, whatever the position with regard to payment might be, a minister of religion is free to come and go and to extend his work if he sees fit? We cannot surely be moving to a situation of payment by results in religion.
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, I give that assurance. Indeed I would underline that there is no question of that. The question of access is dealt with on the basis that, so far as it does not interfere with discipline and so on, there is free access. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, raised the question of the number of hours for which payment might be made. That is a different matter.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that it is profoundly unsatisfactory for him to say that ministers of religion can provide these services free? Is he further aware that in some prisons the amount of time that is allowed to be devoted to individual prisoners can be as low as 12 minutes per month? Does he not agree that the Home Office has a duty to consult representatives of all the faiths served
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry: My Lords, I believe that it is true to say that the Home Office and the Prison Service have taken a lead in developing over the years a way of handling the various faiths which are now represented in the prison population. Indeed, they have produced directories of information, and so on, which have been a model not only to this country but to countries overseas as well. Therefore, I would reject any suggestion that this matter has not been dealt with sensitively. On the contrary, my understanding is that agreement and consultation are very much the order of the day.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Cumberlege will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on health services in London.
With the leave of the House, I should like to say a word about the two debates standing in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. Speeches in the first debate should be limited to a maximum of seven minutes and those in the second to a maximum of six minutes. If any noble Lord were to speak at greater length, he would be doing so at the expense of subsequent speakers in that debate. It may also be for the convenience of the House if I remind noble Lords that when the clocks indicate six minutes, that means that six minutes have already elapsed and the seventh minute has in fact begun.
Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, as regards the Statement, I understood that the Procedure Committee decided some time ago that on the days when there are two short debates and a Statement had to be made it would be made between the two debates. Is that practice now being discontinued?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, where possible, it is the practice to continue to accommodate Statements between two debates when we have two short debates on a Wednesday. However, the decision was taken after considerable consideration and discussion with the usual channels. It was decided that it would be for the convenience of the House to have this debate earlier on in the afternoon rather than later.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to consolidate the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894 to 1994 and other enactments relating to merchant shipping. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.