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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, we are aware of the concerns expressed by the noble Earl. I wish I could be tempted into being slightly more exact about the terms of the consultative paper which will be issued on the subject. All I can say is that I promise it will not be more than a matter of days, let alone weeks, before such information is available.

Written Answers and e-mail

2.48 p.m.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, considerable progress is being made towards implementing a system for delivering electronic Answers to parliamentary Questions. Many issues have needed to be considered, including security. We are getting close to resolving those and hope to be in a position to make an announcement fairly shortly. It will be our intention to consult noble Lords on any proposals.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that Answer, which is a great deal better than I expected, having asked a similar Question in written form over many months. It is astonishing that it has taken 13 months for a government who claim to be cool, with it and wired to produce such a complicated Answer to a simple Question. Can the noble Lord assure me that when this announcement is made after such a long gestation we will receive a live-born infant and not just wind?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps I may turn away wrath with a soft answer by expressing

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my gratitude to the noble Lord for pursuing this matter over a number of months, even though he now seems to be getting a little impatient. I can assure him that the announcement, when it comes, will address the issues, which are not simple, involved in providing Answers to Written Questions by electronic mail. For example, it is important that any Answers which are sent to noble Lords should have their provenance well established. In other words, it should be as clear that they come from the Minister as a signed Written Answer. It is also important that they should arrive on time and not be delayed by, for example, a server going down.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, in view of the fact that all Written Answers appear in Hansard, what is the secrecy problem?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not say there was a secrecy problem; I said there was a security problem, which is not quite the same thing. It is important that an Answer should go first to the noble Lord who has asked the Question before it goes anywhere else.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Minute Room already welcomes Questions for Written Answer by e-mail? If the Member wants the Answers in electronic form, he or she can get them from the PDVN the day after they are published. Is the Minister prepared to say that Ministers will answer correspondence by e-mail; and, if so, where can Members find the e-mail addresses of Ministers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord's first question, Questions are available electronically after they have been replied to and received by the noble Lord asking the Question. There is no issue of secrecy or security on that. As to the question of correspondence, I think that will naturally follow from the solution to the problems I have described. When that time comes, there will be no difficulty in providing noble Lords with e-mail addresses.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that it is not exactly the brightest spark on the Opposition Front Bench who has asked the Question today? In relation to Answers by electronic mail, as I look round your Lordships' House, is there not a strong argument for slowing life down rather than speeding it up?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend on either of the points that he makes. I do not think unnecessary delay in administrative procedures is to anyone's benefit.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I have some Questions outstanding with the MoD since the beginning of May? I have had a stalling letter, but I still regard six weeks as being a little too

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long to receive an Answer. Can he say whether putting the Answers on e-mail will expedite the actions of the MoD?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, my Lords--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have to be honest about these things. The provision of Answers by e-mail, which is the subject of the Question, does not bring with it, alas, any greater speed in decision-making in government departments. Any complaints which the noble Countess has should be addressed to the department concerned, although I will certainly pass them on.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Britain now a number of companies are paperless? I had the opportunity of visiting Andersen Consulting in Paris a few months ago. It has no paper at all. What consideration have the Government given to having a paperless Parliament; or if not that, how about having a less paper-using Parliament?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are a long way from a paperless society. The Government have well advanced plans, which will be announced fairly shortly, for an improvement in electronic communications between government and citizens and of course parliamentarians as well. But anyone who thinks that that will result in a paperless society has another think coming.

Criminal Memoirs: "Cries Unheard"

2.53 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the outcome of their inquiry into the events surrounding the publication of Cries Unheard concerning the case of Mary Bell, with particular reference to any lessons to be learned by the supervising authorities and the media.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Home Secretary announced on 30th April that he had asked the Permanent Secretary to investigate the circumstances in which Home Office officials had become aware that Mary Bell was proposing to co-operate in the writing of a book about her life. My right honourable friend has asked for the investigation to be completed by the end of this month and will publish the main findings. A separate internal review of the legal position concerning criminal memoirs is continuing. I understand that the Press Complaints Commission is still considering a complaint that the newspaper serialisation of this book was in breach of the industry's code of practice.

Lord McNally: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is still a great deal of public concern about the

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issues raised back in April by the publication of that book and that kicking the matter into the long grass in Whitehall is not an adequate response; neither is it for us to rely on the Press Complaints Commission, which seems to be adept at slamming the stable door rather than dealing with press abuses? Can the Minister give an assurance that the House will return to this issue constantly until we have a proper response from government and from the Press Complaints Commission and better behaviour from the media themselves?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is no question of kicking the issue into the long grass. The investigation was announced on 30th April and I have just indicated that the Home Secretary has directed that he wants it concluded by the end of this month. That is two months, which is not a bad effort. As regards the PCC, I know from my conversations with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, that it is considering this matter. But it is not an easy matter, capable of a simplistic answer.

Lord Henley: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that if the Government are contemplating legislation-- I do not know whether they are: we shall have to wait until the end of the month--the matter may be difficult to resolve without contravening the provisions of the Human Rights Bill which was recently passed by this House and is now going through another place? Will he give a commitment that the Government will consider carefully the relevant aspects of the Human Rights Bill in relation to these matters?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes, my Lords. It is important to bear in mind that I drew a careful distinction between the internal investigation to which I referred in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and a review of the legal position. If one wants a review of the legal position, legislation may be required which would have to bear carefully in mind Article 10 on freedom of expression. However, other articles are important; namely, the right to decent respect for private and family life.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify a point about an often repeated desire by Ministers not to see criminals profit from their criminal past? Does this apply to those who have been convicted of criminal offences abroad?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think one can give a global answer to that question. Some people will have been convicted of criminal offences abroad which neither the noble Lord nor the rest of your Lordships would think ought to be correctly designated as crime. Therefore, one cannot produce a simplistic answer. It is our view that it is morally wrong for criminals who have been convicted in this country of what is properly described in a civilised jurisdiction as crime should profit from crime. But the noble Lord will know that the ability to recover funds from those

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sources is limited to six years. In the case of Mary Bell, she committed her crimes and was convicted of them as long ago as 1968.

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