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House of Lords

Tuesday, 15th October 1996.

Reassembling after the Summer Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Lord Rotherwick --Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Stansted: Hijacked Aircraft Procedures

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the security arrangements involved in the successful conclusion of the recent incident at Stansted Airport.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, yes. We were very pleased by the successful and peaceful conclusion of the hijacking incident at Stansted Airport on 27th August. All involved in the incident both here and overseas, particularly, the Essex police, played their part very well and the value of contingency planning was proved to be very worth while. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. There are always new lessons to be learnt and the Government are examining closely the handling of this incident.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am sure that I speak for many when I congratulate all those concerned on the successful conclusion of the operation. However, do not the Government have one or two concerns about what happened on that day? Is the Minister aware that a radio reporter at the airport broadcast the exact disposition of the security forces around the aircraft--news which presumably could have been received on board the aircraft? Is she also aware of public reports that Stansted was the preferred airport of the authorities for dealing with hijacks, which has presumably made the airport unsuitable for that purpose in the future? Does the Minister recall press reports of the composition and activities of the committee set up by the Government, presumably in secret, to deal with such crises? Will the Government therefore consider a press blackout or at least an understanding that the press will do nothing to prejudice the activities of the security forces in any future crisis.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord raises some very important points. Certainly, the police did not believe their operation compromised by some of the publicity given to the incident. As the noble Lord knows, one of the difficulties was that at the time the aircraft left Cyprus, CNN, a broadcasting organisation over which we have no control, gave details about the fact that it was hijacked and heading for the United

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Kingdom. Furthermore, Stansted is fairly exposed which meant there could be a great deal of intelligent speculation by people simply looking across the airfield and noting movements to and from the aircraft. All points are considered. If a blackout is deemed necessary it can be implemented. It is possible to have a secure landline to an aircraft but in the case of a hijack it must be properly negotiated with the hijackers.

Sex Offenders: Early Release Arrangements

2.41 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to change the criteria for parole for paedophiles and other sex offenders.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, earlier this year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced proposals for changes in early release arrangements for all offenders, including the abolition of parole and the strengthening of the supervision of convicted sex offenders following release.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that affirmative Answer. Is she aware that some years ago I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who was then Prime Minister, making a similar suggestion and that I raised the matter in your Lordships' House and received little support? Is it not now time to press for change, bearing in mind the chilling increase in the number of young people in peril and defenceless women who are suffering attacks?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me, but I am unaware of the letter that he wrote to my noble friend Lady Thatcher. I know that there is considerable concern about the matter and that changes have been made over the years. The proposed package of changes will be subject to parliamentary approval. They include extending and strengthening supervision arrangements; automatic life sentences for people who commit a second or further serious sexual or violent offence; a register of convicted sex offenders; a requirement on sex offenders to notify places of residence; a prohibition on sex offenders from working in any employment with access to children; DNA sampling extended to those convicted of a sex offence and to people currently serving a prison sentence for a sex offence, which is also subject to parliamentary approval; and the supervision of access to victims' statements and photographs in sexual offence cases. We will announce our conclusion on some of those proposals for legislation as soon as possible.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, will the Minister accept that there will be support from these Benches and probably on all sides of the House for many of the measures which are to be announced

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subject, of course, to their wording? However, I cannot say the same in relation to automatic life sentences for sex offenders.

Will the Minister acknowledge also that the phrase "sex offender" goes rather wider of the issue than is desirable? After all, some sexual offences relate to consensual acts in which there are no victims and for which the kind of register and increased parole and notification arrangements would not be appropriate.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's support. It would be a happy coincidence if all parties could come together in relation to these measures. I am sorry that the noble Lord feels unable to support automatic life sentences for serious sex offenders because the whole point of automatic life sentences is not to make them serve a great deal longer in prison. It makes two provisions which are very important: first, there is a full risk assessment before any offender is allowed to be released into the community; and secondly, if an offender displays a pattern of behaviour which gives cause for concern, he can be returned to prison. But the judges will determine the tariff for such sentences and there will be proper risk assessment.

The noble Lord made another important point which we shall discuss in more detail when it comes before the House. Arrangements will be made so that if there are exceptional mitigating circumstances, the automatic life sentence may be set aside by the judge.

Lord Stewartby: My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the Government recognise that in those matters, the overriding priority is the protection of the public rather than the freedom of the offender?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, absolutely. The whole point of this is that we believe that the public deserves to be protected and we are doing all that we can to increase that protection.

Perhaps I may return to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is looking very unhappy. I referred to automatic life sentences and I believe that the noble Lord may have been referring to other offences which concern consensual behaviour. Offenders who have committed sexual offences will be subject to extended supervision which, again, will be determined by a judge.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that it is still the Government's policy that offenders, both adult and juveniles, are still human beings. The policy of any government should be aimed at rehabilitation.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I may say with some deference to the noble Earl that the people who are on the receiving end of those awful crimes are also human beings and it is their protection with which we are concerned.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will forgive me for returning to this matter

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because I do not believe that she understood my question. I was referring to those sexual offences which have no victims but which represent illegal consensual acts between adults. Although of course the protection of the public and victims must be paramount in relation to the sexual offences to which the Minister referred, there are sexual offences which do not fall into that category and for which the register and extra parole would not be appropriate.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if this measure is passed by Parliament, that would be a matter for the courts. However, perhaps I may give one example. If there was consensual sex between two male people, one of whom was a 13 year-old boy and one an adult male, that would be a sexual offence. I believe that extended supervision would be appropriate in those circumstances.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, does not the case of the offender who has absconded while on some kind of remedial exercise, and who was responsible for the death of two innocent infants, require individual examination to ascertain what has gone wrong?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, any escape into the community which causes anxiety is a reason for us to look at why and how it happened and to do all that we can to ensure that it does not happen again.

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