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Human Rights Act: Compatibility of Legislation

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Her Majesty's Government believes that a debate in Parliament provides the best forum in which the person responsible can explain his or her thinking on the compatibility of the provisions of a Bill with the Convention rights. Reasons can then be given in the context of particular concerns about particular provisions. Convention issues are frequently complex. It would be difficult to do justice to them in a written statement accompanying a Bill and it would not be practicable to provide a written statement of reasons in advance of the parliamentary proceedings on the Bill.


Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Interpol General Secretariat publish each year a Progress Report as part of their Official Publication International Criminal Police Review. The report details the activities and finances of the organisation for the appropriate year. Copies of the report are sent to each National Central Bureau (NCB) of Interpol for their distribution. In the United Kingdom, the report is distributed to police forces, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, police libraries and other interested bodies, as requested. In the United Kingdom the Interpol NCB is part of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and is

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based at the NCIS Headquarters in London. Each year NCIS produces an annual report which includes the activities of the United Kingdom NCB. This report is widely circulated.

Copies of both reports have been placed in the Library.

Either-way Cases: Mode of Trial

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to change the procedure for determining the mode of trial in either-way cases.[HL2579]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, and more recently the Narey Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System, recommended that defendants should not be able to choose to be tried by a jury in either-way cases which magistrates have indicated that they would be content to hear.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary having considered this recommendation and the responses to the consultation paper he issued last year on election for trial, we are announcing today that we will be bringing forward legislation when parliamentary time allows to abolish the ability of defendants to elect for jury trial in either-way cases (where the cases are triable either on indictment at the Crown Court or summarily at the magistrates' court).

The Government readily acknowledge that jury trial is preferable for certain sorts of either-way case. The question is whether it should be available at the choice of the defendant, or restricted to cases which objectively warrant it. In the same way that defendants do not have a choice of which magistrate, or which judge and jury hear their case, we believe that defendants should not be able to choose a criminal justice jurisdiction where their case is tried. England and Wales are almost alone in allowing defendants a choice of court. In most jurisdictions, it is a matter for the court. In Scotland, it is at the election of the prosecution.

The majority of cases in which the defendant elects for Crown Court trial result eventually in guilty pleas, but only after greater inconvenience and worry to victims and witnesses, and at considerable extra cost. This Government's proposals will end the practice that many rightly regard as a manipulation of the criminal justice system by defendants demanding Crown Court trial for no good reason other than to delay proceedings.

But there will be safeguards. In determining where the case should be tried, magistrates will be required to have regard not only to any defence representations, but also to such factors as the gravity of the offence, the complexity of the case and the effect of conviction (as legislation already requires) and the likely sentence on the defendant's livelihood and reputation. Defendants will also be given an interlocutory right of appeal to the Crown Court against the magistrates' decision on mode of trial.

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Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish their proposals for tackling arson.[HL2580]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: As part of the Government's commitment to delivering safer communities, the Home Office is publishing today the outcome of a study undertaken to review arrangements for tackling arson. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.

The report, Safer Communities--Towards Effective Arson Control, was commissioned because of concern that the number of arson fires had grown considerably in recent years, while prosecutions and cautions for the offence had fallen. The outcome of the study has shown that, although some local examples of good practice exist, much more needs to be done to tackle deliberately started fires. We want this report to mark the first step in the process to rectify that situation.

The report makes 22 recommendations for putting in place more effective arson control arrangements.

A great deal of emphasis in the study is placed on greater liaison and co-operation, so we want to hear the views of all those who can contribute to tackling arson. We will, therefore, be consulting a wide range of interested parties over the next few months on how to take these proposals forward.

Yugoslavia: Costs of NATO Operations

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the cost of NATO's military operations against Yugoslavia since 24 March and how, in the long run, the costs of these operations are to be divided up between the members of NATO, particularly the costs of the provision of equipment and services to NATO members' forces by the United States.[HL1940]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): The total cost of NATO's military operations against Yugoslavia has yet to be determined. Individual nations will, however, be expected to bear the costs associated with their own military activity in support of Kosovo-related operations. NATO common costs, covering the activities of NATO bodies and formations, will be apportioned in accordance with established cost share arrangements.

Army Units: Withdrawal from Germany

Baroness Crawley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the outcome of the Strategic Defence Review, what plans they have for the withdrawal of British army units from Germany.[HL2550]

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Lord Gilbert: We stressed in the Strategic Defence Review that the forward basing of ground forces in Germany would remain a key aspect of British defence policy. 1(UK) Armoured Division, with its three brigades, will continue to be stationed in Germany, together with United Kingdom Support Command (Germany) and the Headquarters of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, with its signals brigades. The withdrawal of some units to the United Kingdom will, however, mean that we have a reduced requirement for barracks accommodation and can plan to return to the German authorities at least one Army barracks. The Army has now concluded its studies of its barracks requirement, and we are in a position to give a clearer indication of the likely impact, and timescale, of these moves, which are, to an extent, dependent on the timescale within which refurbished accommodation becomes available in the United Kingdom. The process of withdrawal will be phased and we do not expect that full withdrawal of the about 2,500 British troops that we announced will be completed until 2005 at the earliest. However, barracks are now available in the UK to accommodate 1st Royal Tank Regiment, currently located at Paderborn.

The plan is, therefore, to withdraw this unit by August of this year. To make best use of the barracks vacated in Germany, and to meet our operational requirements more effectively, we intend to move 35 Engineer Regiment, currently based in Hameln, to Paderborn, Internal moves within Hameln will enable Bindon Barracks to be handed back to the Federal authorities by 2002.

Our plans for the later phases of the withdrawals are much less certain at the moment and many details have yet to be worked out. Our current assumptions are that there will be two further phases, the first involving the surrender of a barracks in Osnabruck following the withdrawal of an armoured regiment from there. We do not expect this second phase to commence before the year 2001, or to be complete until some time after that.

The third and final phase will involve the withdrawal of an armoured regiment from 7th Armoured Brigade, which is based in Hohne. In this case, it is expected that there will be a regrouping of units of the 7th Armoured Brigade with the result that the requirement for Trenchard Barracks, Celle, will cease, although some married quarters are likely to be retained. This last phase is unlikely to take place before the year 2005.

Finally, we should say that these withdrawal plans are predicated on our current level of operational commitments in the Balkans, and that a change in the situation there may affect our basing plans.

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