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Lord Burnham: My Lords, the noble Lord rightly says that gypsies should receive equal treatment with anybody else. Therefore, is it the case that he is prepared to accept that other sections of the public may be permitted to cause the filth, damage and vandalism that the majority of people on these gypsy sites cause at present?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not accept that the majority of gypsies are vandals, filthy or criminal. If they commit criminal offences or civil trespass, they are liable to be dealt with under the law, as is anyone else. I return to what the noble Baroness said. Sometimes it is better to act on evidence, however disagreeable that may be, rather than prejudice.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on this particular occasion I was talking about criminal activity and not trespass? What concerns me is the evidence which exists that very large numbers of police officers are being employed in a trawl such as the one I described in north Oxfordshire, with a view to uncovering criminal activity which, in the event, is proved not to exist. Is the Minister aware that in north Oxfordshire they are developing guidelines for these operations? Does he agree that it would be better if it were done on a national scale than for each county in England and Wales to reinvent its own wheel?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is no question of each county in England and Wales reinventing the wheel. These are matters for the operational discretion of chief constables. That is the system under which we operate. We do not have a national police force in this country. If the noble Lord has any evidence of police malpractice, he ought to report it fully and in detail to the chief constable concerned and the Police Complaints Authority.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I recognise the complex nature of these issues, but does he accept, first, that the Government have a significant interest in ensuring that the analogue switch-off takes place as quickly as possible in the next millennium; and, secondly, that they have an interest in ensuring that the "box war" over digital TV which is likely to occur between BSkyB for the digital satellite providers and BDB for the digital terrestrial suppliers will not be damaging to the Government's aim? Will the Minister agree that this is a major issue and that the Government should ensure that there is interoperability between the two systems? Most particularly, in the light of the events of the past few days, will the Minister confirm that, if the Prime Minister has a telephone relationship with Mr. Rupert Murdoch which enables him to discuss the question of Italian TV, he could use that relationship to ensure that this problem is sorted out, and quickly?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sure that the House will agree with me when I refuse to answer the noble Lord's fourth and last question. On the matter of analogue switch-off, of course we have an interest in the switch-off not taking place too late, but we must also have regard to those households with an analogue television who cannot afford to change to digital. We must bear that point in mind when we consider what decision to take. Of course the Government have an interest in interoperability, but so do the manufacturers and the broadcasters. It would be thoroughly undesirable for anybody in this business if there were to be a set-top "box war" of the kind which the noble Lord implied was likely. I do not think that it is likely because it is not in anybody's interests for that to happen.
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I rise following the exchanges that took place in the House last night during which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, questioned my right as Leader of the House to offer advice to Peers about whether or not amendments should be moved. The noble Lord rightly indicated that it is for the House to decide whether an amendment is within the scope of a Bill.
I am sure that many of your Lordships will be aware that when the Clerks in the Public Bill Office offer advice to a noble Lord that an amendment falls outside the normal rules of your Lordships' House and the noble Lord nevertheless insists, as is his right, on that amendment staying on the Order Paper against that advice, the Clerk of the Parliaments draws the correspondence to the attention of the Leader of the House. There is nothing new about that. It has happened for a very long time. The Leader of the House often
I am moved to reply today to the question asked in the House yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for two reasons. First, the advice to which the noble Lord referred was not, as was suggested then, about the relevance of amendments, but about the rule in your Lordships' House that an issue which has been fully debated or decided at an earlier stage should not be reopened by amendment at Third Reading. Secondly, I am sure that the House will expect me to put the record straight in explaining, as I have, why I acted in that way.
The House might like to know that after correspondence with the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Renton, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Henley, yesterday referred, I decided that it would not be necessary for me to intervene on the Floor of the House when the noble Lords moved their amendments yesterday. Perhaps I may add--I thank him for it--that I have today received a personal letter from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, offering me his apologies.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his courtesy in laying to rest the misunderstanding that occurred last night. The occasion of his doing so enables me to re-emphasise the importance that this side of the House attaches to the rule which the Leader enunciated this afternoon, which is that we rely on the Leader for guidance in matters governing the control of business and the proper observance of our procedures in this House. I should like once again to take this opportunity to emphasise how grateful we are to the noble Lord for the way in which he carries out those duties and our complete acceptance of the ruling that he has given us this afternoon.
Lord Renton: My Lords, having been personally involved in one of the decisions which the Leader of the House had to take yesterday, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to him for his decision with regard to my amendment, which enabled a 40-minute debate to take place on a matter affecting 700 years of our history. It was a debate in which noble Lords who hold views on both sides of the argument were able to express those views fully for the first time. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the decision that he took.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, we on these Benches thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his clear exposition of the position and his clarification of the points involved. It seems to us that there was no serious breach of procedure or serious quarrel among your Lordships. What happened seems
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Viscount of Oxfuird set down for today shall be limited to three-and-a-half hours and that in the name of the Lord Campbell of Croy to one-and-a-half hours.--(Lord Richard.)