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The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt but the House will be aware that there was an agreement in the Procedure Committee about the arrangements that we should make on the basis of these deferred Questions being taken in the form of an extra Question at the end of Question Time.

I refer the noble Baroness to the Companion in which it says that where there is a Private Notice Question which is to be repeated in the Lords, the questions should be confined to not more than two short points.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked a number of question, in fact so many it was difficult to keep track of them. But in response to the plethora of questions which I have been asked, I shall outline what we have done because that is important in relation to what the noble Baroness said.

Your Lordships will know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State met President Mugabe last week in the margins of the EU-Africa summit and he was grateful to President Obasanjo of Nigeria for helping to arrange that meeting. The Secretary of State emphasised our deep concern at the present situation

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in Zimbabwe, and in particular the refusal of the Zimbabwe police and the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law by complying with a court order to clear the illegal occupation of farms or by protecting the right of citizens to peaceful demonstration without fear of violence.

My right honourable friend stressed also the importance that we attach to free and fair elections within the time frame set out in the constitution of Zimbabwe.

It is extremely important to remember that when we talk about the land issue we are talking about something which affects all Zimbabweans. Whether black or white, they are Zimbabweans first. President Mugabe assured my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that he intends to hold the elections. He agreed also to send a delegation to London to discuss all our concerns. Britain remains willing, within such a discussion, to support a programme of land reform; but that would be on the basis of a fair price to willing sellers and must be targeted on helping the real rural poor. There can be no question of us supporting a programme of land reform unless the illegal occupations end and free and fair elections are held.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, while it is certainly the case that the situation in Zimbabwe is extremely volatile and dangerous, does my noble friend believe that the trotting out by the Opposition from the dictionary of insults and headlines in a hostile way towards a Commonwealth government helps the situation, or does she believe that a calm and sensible approach of discussion with the Government of Zimbabwe will pay better dividends?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree.

Lord Carrington: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that probably the best way of getting President Mugabe to change his mind is for a fellow African to persuade him of the error of his ways and that he is driving his country into economic ruin? There are Africans who may be able to do that.

Secondly, will the Government do everything that they can in all the international bodies, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the Commonwealth, to persuade President Mugabe not only to have an election but to have monitors to ensure that the election is fair?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as usual, the noble Lord speaks with great good sense and I respectfully agree with his suggestions. It is of importance and of some comfort that President Obasanjo of Nigeria has been very helpful in that regard. We are obviously giving him our wholehearted support. We wish to see this matter successfully concluded.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, I am very glad to hear what my noble friend said in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington,

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but surely we should have placed a greater emphasis on the Commonwealth in this matter. After all, it was in Harare where the declaration was made about the future commitment of the Commonwealth to democracy and the enforcement of it.

I have no objection whatever to the European Union also exerting some influence, but that is not the primary place for influence to be exerted. It should have begun by obtaining advice on this matter from the Commonwealth Secretariat and then ideally we should find an African Commonwealth leader who might intercede.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I obviously hear what my noble friend says, but I assure him that we have given proper emphasis to our Commonwealth partners. The efforts that we have made have very much included the Commonwealth. We have been warmed and greatly encouraged by the fact that our Commonwealth partners have come to the fore and have helped us to deal with this issue. We give real credit to the Nigerians for their efforts because we know that, historically, they have had their problems and have overcome them. We hope that that experience will assist them greatly in the conversations that they are able to have with President Mugabe.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and my noble friend Lord Carrington, if she feels, as I do, that the Commonwealth should be taking a leading role in this matter, how is it that Her Majesty's Government have emphasised the role of the European Union at the expense of that of the Commonwealth until the Minister's replies this afternoon?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have not. We need the help of our EU partners just as much as we need the help of our Commonwealth colleagues. This is a joint enterprise upon which we should all be engaged, irrespective of from whence we hail.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the dissolution of the Zimbabwean Parliament today provides a time limit within which the elections must be held and yet there is no electoral register and no boundaries have yet been defined? Will the Government do everything that they can to persuade President Mugabe that, if he does not want to accept the offer of technical assistance from the United Nations, some other international body--whether it be the European Union or the Commonwealth--will offer that technical assistance which will allow a clean and fair electoral register to be compiled and boundaries to be properly delineated?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we absolutely share the noble Lord's concerns. In the conversations that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and others have had with President Mugabe and members of that administration we have made clear the importance of a fair and free election and the need to really concentrate on making sure that that

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takes place. Therefore, we are convinced that that needs to happen with that technical assistance, from wherever it can be culled.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that they fact that the European Union has become involved has not proved to be helpful and, indeed, is being used by President Mugabe to say that that is interference by the European nations against free African countries which have been decolonised?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot agree with the comments made by my noble friend.

Business of the House: Debates, 12th April

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Harrison set down for tomorrow shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Lord Ashley of Stoke set down for the same day to two hours.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Bill [H.L.]

3.18 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Irvine of Lairg.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clauses 1 to 89 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 90 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I have given notice to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and to the Clerk of the Parliaments that I should like to raise the question of the compatibility of Clause 90 with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Clause 90 consolidates Section 53(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, as amended, and continues to provide that,

    "Where a person convicted of murder ... [was] under 18 at the time the offence was committed, the court shall (notwithstanding anything in this or any other Act) sentence him to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure",

without having the duty to set the tariff in open court. The power of fixing the tariff remains in the hands of the Minister, not the judiciary.

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The clause may be incompatible with Article 6, paragraph 1 of the European convention. On 16th December 1999, the European Court of Human Rights gave judgment in the Venables case. It decided that it is a breach of Article 6, paragraph 1 of the convention for Ministers, as members of the executive, to set tariffs for juveniles sentenced to detention at her Majesty's pleasure. To give effect to that judgment, it is necessary for tariffs to be set by the trial judge in open court, in the same way as they are currently set for adults subject to discretionary life sentences.

This valuable consolidation Bill contains the Lord Chancellor's statement under Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that, in his view, its provisions are compatible with the convention rights. Unfortunately, almost 18 months after the Human Rights Act received Royal Assent, there is still no parliamentary Select Committee to scrutinise such ministerial statements of compatibility. However, on 28th March, the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills published its report on this Bill. The committee is chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clyde. The Select Committee drew the special attention of this House and of the other place--which is why I am on my feet now--to the question of the Bill's compatibility with convention rights in the following terms:

    "This is the first instance of a consolidation bill being brought forward after the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998, and in accordance with that Act the Lord Chancellor has made a statement that in his view the Bill is compatible with the Convention rights. We considered this point with the assistance of officials from the Home Office, recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings printed with this report, and draw attention to the concerns expressed about the compatibility of clause 90 of the Bill. As this is a consolidation bill, any non-compatibility cannot be rectified in the Bill itself. However, we understand that the issue is likely to be addressed in amendments which the Government intend to table to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill".

To the best of my knowledge, no amendments have as yet been tabled. I share the concern expressed within the Select Committee about the compatibility of Clause 90 with convention rights. Clause 90 as it stands seems to require the courts to continue to act in breach of Article 6(1) of the convention, despite the judgment of the European Court in Venables. In those circumstances, I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would inform the House of his reasons for considering Clause 90 as it stands to be compatible with Article 6 of the convention and of the Government's intention in the matter.

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