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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): All evidence given to the 1974 Lane Committee on the Working of the Abortion Act was invited on the basis that it would be confidential to the Committee.
Baroness Cumberlege: We announced the establishment of the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing on 10th January 1996 at col. 231 in another place, when the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne was appointed Chairman.
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The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon): I consider that the common law of Scotland is adequate to deal with the menace of stalking. Such conduct can broadly be described as actings calculated to lead to the harassment of another person, whether they are intended to do so or whether they in fact do so. While such conduct frequently occurs on repeated occasions, it need not necessarily do so.
As far as the criminal law of Scotland is concerned, any conduct which is liable to create alarm and annoyance can give rise to a charge of breach of the peace. The types of conduct commonly referred to as stalking fall within that definition, even though the conduct complained of might in other circumstances be perfectly innocuous and lawful. Whether in any particular case the actings of an accused constitute a breach of the peace is a question for the court which falls to be determined in the light of the circumstances of the individual case. The court is entitled to hold that the accused's conduct amounted to a breach of the peace where something has been done in breach of public order or decorum and might reasonably be expected to have led to one or more members of the public being alarmed or upset. It is not necessary for the prosecutor to prove that actual harm was suffered by a third party. Nor is it necessary for the prosecution to establish that an accused person actually intended such a result.
In a case in 1961 the High Court of Justiciary upheld a conviction of breach of the peace where the accused had become infatuated with a young woman. The accused had formed a habit of waiting outside her place of employment, looking at her and following her and her fiance. The young woman became alarmed and agitated and her fiance angry and indignant. The High Court of Justiciary accepted that such conduct amounted to a breach of the peace. That is a good example of the flexibility with which the Scottish criminal courts can apply the common law offence of breach of the peace. In recent years persons who have engaged in stalking in Scotland have been successfully prosecuted on charges of breach of the peace.
Those who have made improper use of the public telephone system, by making offensive or menacing telephone calls, have been successfully prosecuted for contraventions of Section 43 of the Telecommunications Act 1984.
The maximum sentence available of a conviction for breach of the peace depends on the court in which the case is prosecuted. The maximum sentence of imprisonment ranges from 60 days in the District Court to life imprisonment in the High Court. The choice of court, which is determined by the Crown, reflects the gravity of the particular offence.
The joint consultation paper which has been published today by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary identifies a number of deficiencies in the existing criminal law in England and Wales. There are difficulties over the requirement to prove intent on the part of the accused. There are also difficulties where the accused's behaviour is ostensibly routine and harmless and therefore not caught by existing laws. I am satisfied that these difficulties do not arise in Scotland, where the activities of stalkers are struck at by the common law offence of breach of the peace, which, as explained above, covers a wider range of activity than the similar offence in England and Wales.
The common law of Scotland also provides the victims of stalking with certain civil remedies. When personal molestation or assault is seriously threatened, an order for interdict may competently be sought from the Sheriff Court or the Court of Session. Interim interdict can also be granted. A person who fails to abide by the terms of an order for interdict or interim interdict is liable to be held in contempt of court and subjected to admonition, censure, fine or imprisonment. The maximum penalty which can be imposed by way of imprisonment for contempt of court is two years. It is also competent for a fine to be imposed.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): Together with my noble friend the Earl of Lindsay, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment represented the United Kingdom at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on 25th June.
Common positions were reached on proposed directives on the marketing of biocidal products and on the control of emissions from offroad vehicles. In both cases the United Kingdom was able to secure its negotiating objectives.
The Council agreed Conclusions on a Community Strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from passenger cars and on the EU position for the Second Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is to be held in Geneva later this month.
Council Conclusions were also agreed on water policy and on the EU position for the first meeting of the open-ended ad hoc working group to prepare a biosafety protocol for the Conference of the Parties on Biological Diversity.
The Council agreed a Recommendation on the keeping of wild animals in zoos, a mandate to approve the Espoo Convention, and a negotiating mandate on a proposed agreement for the conservation of whales in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
There were useful policy debates about the review of the fifth environmental action programme and on the proposed amendment of directive 90/219 (on the contained use of genetically modified organisms). Both dossiers will be taken forward under the Irish Presidency. Progress on the negotiations with major fur exporting countries over the use of leghold traps and on the preparations for the Third Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity was noted.
Earl Ferrers: As part of the Government's programme of regular five-yearly finance, management and policy reviews of non-departmental public bodies, my department will conduct a thorough review of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive, which will begin today.
As with all "prior options" studies, this will assess the extent to which the Health and Safety Commission and Executive's functions are necessary for the achievement of the Government's policies, and whether there is scope for privatising, contracting out or transferring all or part of its functions to another body. It will draw on work which has already been done in this area.
The progress made by the commission and executive since the previous review in 1991-92 will be examined and the results of that examination and of the prior options study will inform a review of the policy and financial management systems of the commission and executive. An essential component of government policy is to maintain high standards of health and safety, and the review will reflect this.
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