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Lord Vinson: My Lords, would my noble and learned friend care to comment on the current position of the draft appeal procedures which were promoted in this House about a year ago and which, when enacted, will enable the regulatee to appeal against inappropriate or excessive regulation to a far greater extent than currently? Had those procedures been enacted when this horrendous case arose no doubt it would not have occurred. Can my noble and learned friend give some idea of when those appeal procedures are likely to be introduced?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, this is an aspect of the whole issue of deregulation which the House knows has been considered actively by the Government. In relation to the particular statutory provisions with which this case is concerned, it is my understanding that until this particular case they have operated in the manner in which they were designed to operate; namely, to provide a speedy remedy for establishing one way or another whether the food in question is unfit for human consumption. Clearly, this case has lasted a great deal longer than anticipated. It has cost more money than is desirable. Therefore, the matter will be looked at fully by the Government once the proceedings have come to an end.

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Stalking of Women

2.55 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to legislate to combat the stalking of women by men.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, the Government have recently completed an examination of the anti-stalking laws passed in the United States, Australia and Canada and are currently considering whether workable and effective legislation to combat stalkers can be introduced in the United Kingdom.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am grateful for that constructive response. Does the Minister agree that some 5,500 people, the overwhelming majority of them women, have complained of being stalked, and that stalking induces terror and devastates their lives? That is before any assault or rape which sometimes follows. When the noble Baroness discusses these matters in relation to the United States, will she bear in mind the example of Los Angeles where a threat management unit has been established with legislation and penalties specifically aimed at this serious and obnoxious offence?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord about the horror of stalking, the fear it generates and the physical violence which is often the end result. I am able to say to the noble Lord that we are looking at lessons to be learned from abroad. The noble Lord will know that the picture is patchy. There is not a uniform approach to stalking. One of the main difficulties is that many of the activities of stalkers are already offences in this country. Many of the less serious aspects of stalking can, on the one hand, be very sinister and part of the ways in which real stalkers stalk their prey and, on the other, the harmless activities of innocent people. The problem is finding words to put on the statute book that would catch the kind of person who is of concern to all noble Lords in this House.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has raised an important subject which needs to be addressed. However, on a less serious point perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether she is aware that there have been cases of men being stalked by women, not in the same way but with the perseverance and guile of a femme fatale, who usually achieves her object in the end. Will an attempt be made to avoid sex discrimination in any legislation?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, by way of warning, it is leap year. Therefore, I ask all male Peers in the House to beware. Of course we shall always respect the need to avoid discrimination in this respect.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, can my noble friend say how one would define stalking as distinct from any other offence?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: that is the difficulty. We all know that

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the kind of stalking which is the subject of this Question is what we want to prevent. Some of the activities involved in stalking include looking at someone, appearing at the same venue frequently over a period of time or sitting in a car in a road outside someone's house. It is difficult to regard those as criminal activities when we know that in some cases they are criminal activities but in others they are not. We also know that there are many aspects of legislation that can be brought to bear here. The police have a general power to bring people before the courts for breach of the peace. It is an offence to make indecent, obscene or menacing phone calls. It is an offence to send a letter which is threatening, offensive or indecent. It is possible to seek an injunction on someone who is behaving in an objectionable way. It is an offence intentionally to cause alarm, distress or harassment. There is a great deal on the statute book that can be used.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, would it be accurate to say that the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York are stalked by the press?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it would be inappropriate for me to go into any detail on that. However, it has been the subject of public comment that they have been stalked. On reading through all the symptoms of stalking in preparing for this Question, I have to say that journalists come to mind.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this loose use of the word "stalker" is somewhat upsetting to someone who lives in Scotland where stalkers are highly trained, suffer an arduous life and are essential to the culling of our herds of deer? They are a very honourable corps of men; there may be some ladies among them. I hate the word "stalker" being used as though it is a bad smell.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, whatever the outcome of the deliberations of the Home Office in seeking a solution to the problem, I hope that it will not thwart the innocent activities of our noble friends in Scotland or anyone else who indulges in harmless and innocent activities. However, the heart of the problem is to put something on the statute book which will catch the sort of people of whom we speak.

I have to say to my noble friend that stalking has a very real meaning for some people who have been subject to it. I live very close to a lady who is the subject of a recent case; and I suspect that for that lady her life will never be the same again.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, amid the levity and the difficulties of definition, will the Minister accept that we are referring to areas of profound concern and danger for individuals? The difficulties of definition have been tackled by other countries. Will the noble Baroness be steadfast in considering the issue seriously, given the amount of concern that she has expressed about its consequences?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, because there has been some lightening of the subject I hope that it does not

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detract from its seriousness. I believe that it is serious in particular for the people whom the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, mentioned.

In America, 48 states have addressed anti-stalking legislation in different ways. In an attempt to have some consistency, Congress produced a model code for an offence. It states,

    "purposefully engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury to himself or herself or a member of his or her immediate family or to fear the death of himself or herself or a member of his or her family".
That sounds fine. I suspect that as a Minister for the Home Office I should have some difficulty in persuading your Lordships to put those words on the statute book in this country.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what about "watching and besetting"?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am tempted to say, "What about it?". Again, watching and besetting for some people is a wholly innocent activity. For others it would be rather sinister.

EC Accounts: Court of Auditors' Findings

3.6 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take in regard to the European Court of Auditors' declaration (95/C.352/01) of 30th December 1995 that it is unable to provide the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers with a statement of assurance, as required by Article 188(c) of the Treaty of Rome, as to the reliability of the accounts of the Community and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes the publication of the European Court of Auditors' first statement of assurance, a UK initiative secured at Maastricht in 1992. The court's statement will be one of the documents which the Council will take into account in deciding on the Council's recommendation to the European Parliament on the discharge to be given to the Commission in respect of its implementation of the 1994 Community budget.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that his rather non-committal Answer gives no cause for comfort to those who have taken an interest in a matter which affects every British taxpayer? Is he aware that the report regarding reliability of the accounts and the regularity of the transactions lying behind them is not a matter which concerns the domestic affairs of individual states but the actions of the institutions and in particular

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the Commission? Is the Minister aware that the document is a thorough indictment of the irregularity with which large numbers of transactions are carried out within the European institutions? Will he take a far more robust attitude in the Council of Ministers towards the discharge of the budget than his answers have done so far?

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