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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. Another decision announced this morning is that the Arts Council and the Crafts Council will be merged, and the document which was issued, together with the announcement in another place, makes clear how the interests of the crafts, including the Crafts Council Gallery in Pentonville Road, will be protected under the merger.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister to give the House a little more information about the statistics he mentioned in his earlier reply. Will he confirm that the statement made by the Secretary of State in another place was, on this occasion, at 10 o'clock this morning in the Tate Gallery and not this afternoon in another place? Will he further confirm that of the 167 respondents who mentioned the proposal to establish a museums and libraries body only 52 were in favour, 85 were opposed, and the remainder reserved their position? Does that not show that the Museums and Galleries Commission proved beyond doubt that the Government's proposals today are most unwelcome?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my statement about the announcement was accurate. In

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addition to the press conference at the Tate Gallery this morning, a Written Answer was placed in the Library of another place this morning. I answered a Written Question from my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden. So the proprieties have been observed, if I may put it that way.

My figures on the responses on the issue were restricted to those who specifically commented on the point. However, if there is any conflict on the evidence I shall write to the noble Baroness and place a copy in the Library of the House, since it could be of public interest.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether there was a similar consultation concerning the Arts Council and the Crafts Council merger? Has he any similar information to that which he gave on the other mergers?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. The departmental spending review announcement made at the end of July included the provision for consultation on the future of the Arts Council and the Crafts Council. That consultation produced a large number of responses, mostly in favour of the merger. Since it was not specifically the subject of the Question, I do not have the figures in front of me. However, I can write to my noble friend on the point.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister said that parliamentary proprieties had been observed. Will the noble Lord tell the House whether the Written Answer was placed in another place before or after the press statement this morning?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I believe that they were simultaneous. It was not after.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that not all of us believe that the co-ordination of library, arts and museum services is not a good thing? Would it not be excellent for local authorities to be able to co-ordinate cultural matters under one heading and to allocate the finance in a reasonable and positive way?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that I am right in interpreting my noble friend's double negative as an expression of support. He is right that, since local authorities organise themselves in that way, they will be able to refer to the new museums, libraries and archives commission in that field. It is also true that the commission will be in a position to give strategic advice to government on all the issues which concern those local authority departments.

Although change is not proposed in the funding for national museums, they will be strongly represented on the new body and their input will be taken into account.

Viscount Mersey: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House the budget of the Crafts Council?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, since we are way outside the Question, I can flounder for a

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moment! The budget of the Crafts Council for this year and last year is £3.2 million, which is to rise to £3.4 million, £3.5 million and £3.6 million over the next three years.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify something the Minister said. He stated that a Written Answer had been made this morning in another place. The other place was not sitting. My recollection is that Written Answers cannot be published until half-past three.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are two opportunities in any day for Written Answers in another place: at 9.30 a.m. and 3.30 p.m. Therefore, I feel sure that I am correct in saying that the proprieties have been observed.

Life Prisoners: Sentencing

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have been able to consider the views of the Lord Chief Justice about the responsibility for the sentencing of life prisoners.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Government always consider carefully the views of the Lord Chief Justice on all sentencing matters, including the responsibility for the sentencing of life prisoners.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is my duty to thank the Minister for that cryptic Answer. It would be an impertinence for me to tell such a highly qualified Minister that it is iniquitous that a crime once committed should be treated as worse and worse as time passes. Is my noble friend aware that under present arrangements every now and then a tariff for a crime is increased by the Government in response to imagined public outcry, self-motivated by the tabloid press?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that my Answer was cryptic, although it may have been Delphic. There is no question of a crime becoming worse as time passes, but the public have a legitimate interest in how the state deals with those who have committed very serious crimes; and murder is regarded in any civilised society as being a crime of the utmost gravity. I believe that the Home Office has a legitimate part to play here, but it is not exclusive. It depends on co-operation with the higher judiciary and the Parole Board.

Lord Windlesham: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many others share the reported views of the Lord Chief Justice? Does the noble Lord recall, for instance, that in the previous Parliament the Home Affairs Committee in another place, including all the Labour Members, recommended that, while the mandatory sentence for murder should be retained,

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the responsibility for setting the tariff and release decisions should be removed from the Home Secretary? Now that the Government have the power to implement that recommendation, why do they not do so?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, because they do not believe that to be the proper policy to be adopted. The tariff in these mandatory life cases is set by the Home Secretary but only after paying careful attention to the views of the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice of the day. I can say from my own personal knowledge that they are very carefully and scrupulously taken into account.

When the death penalty was abolished in this country, these were the constitutional arrangements arrived at. They depend upon maintenance of public confidence and the ultimate accountability of the Home Secretary.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is not the maintenance of public confidence ensured by the arrangements whereby the Parole Board can only recommend the release on licence of a life sentence prisoner if it is satisfied that the risk of reoffending is minimal? Why do we need the tariff on top of that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the tariff is not on top of that; it is quite the opposite. The tariff is set as a minimum period of time which is to be served before a mandatory life sentence prisoner is capable of being considered for release. Thereafter the Parole Board has its part to play in giving informed, detailed advice to the Home Office about risk to the public of reoffending. Nevertheless, I believe, and it is the Government's policy, that the Home Secretary should contribute to the ultimate decision. I believe that that enjoys public confidence.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, will the Minister agree that it is an issue on which the Home Secretary is at odds with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor? Was the noble Lord present in this House on 24th June 1997 during Question Time when my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor agreed in substance with the statement that he had previously made that how long a person should spend in prison is a judicial decision to be made by a judge in open court after hearing argument, subject to a right of appeal, and that it should not be made by a politician in secret without any right of appeal?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what the noble and learned Lord alluded to there was the generality of judicial power. In fact the High Court judges who try murder cases have the opportunity at present to state in open court what they think the tariff should be. In 221 of the cases between 1st April and 31st October this year the trial judge at that stage exercised his power in only five. It is not a secretive process. The trial judge is consulted. The Lord Chief Justice is consulted. Their recommendations are put to the prisoner. The Parole

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Board recommendations are disclosed to the prisoner. The procedure therefore is transparent so far as concerns the prisoner.

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