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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I shall be happy to receive a letter from the noble Lord. I totally support the idea of traded obligations. In fact, my maiden speech in this House was on that subject some 14 years ago. In his correspondence with me I hope that he will be able to deal with the point about the MAFF scheme.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall certainly try to do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised the issue of wind farms near national parks. That is an example of the way in which renewable energy is not universally approved of by everybody, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said. There is an element of not wanting the hum or the sight of wind farms too close. That does not apply just if one lives near national parks, but wherever one lives in the countryside.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made a specific point about the effect of regulation on the offshore industry. For the purpose of the principal objective of the authority, which is to protect the interests of consumers, the word "consumers" is defined to include future consumers; in other words, our children and grandchildren, who, in due course, will have their own electricity bills. So would it be consistent with the objective to impose measures that, even if they were

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attractive in the short term, would reduce the supply of affordable gas in the longer term? If the offshore industry believes that that would be the effect of any particular proposal, we would listen to it. We shall be glad to receive any correspondence or hold any meetings that would be appropriate for that purpose.

I now move on to the issue of the consumer council. Perhaps I should set out the role of that council in dealing with individual consumer complaints. The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, appears to believe that it would be appropriate for the council to have an arbitration system. The present arrangements for the consumer council are confusing and frustrating. They are different for electricity and gas, as those concerned with consumer interests know. The joint council will have a duty to investigate complaints and the right to require--not request--information from the companies relevant to a complaint, so that it can assemble the whole picture. It will try to resolve the complaint satisfactorily in the light of its investigations, and it will seek, by agreement, to resolve complaints as far as possible by mediating between the consumers and the utilities. It will also inform the regulator if complaints raise enforcement or regulatory policy issues.

I believe we are providing the classic consumer protection service: expert assistance, backed by information gathering powers so that the complaint can be resolved satisfactorily. That is complemented by the publication powers that are not exactly those of the authority, which go wider, but the council will be able to publish anything that it believes will promote the interests of consumers without the consent of those to whom the information relates, unless the publication will have serious and prejudicial effects on those persons. The council may publish information, even commercially confidential information, which has adverse effects as long as they fall short of serious and prejudicial effects. Serious and prejudicial effects are not an exemption from publication by the authority because the authority is there to come down like a ton of bricks on people who behave badly. That is not exactly the role of the consumer council.

In relation to most consumer protection organisations, the harm threshold is a high one. However, I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, says that there is a conflict in the advice he has been given by the Consumers' Association and the CBI. I acknowledge that we fall in between the two, and probably cannot satisfy either of them.

I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that what I have said includes the right to gather information, the right to conduct research as well as publication itself. If direct access to information is refused by the utilities, there is the possibility of a reference to the authority--the licensing authority--which will have sanctions that it can apply in appropriate cases.

Perhaps I should say more about the role of the information commissioner, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and by the noble Lord, Lord Currie. We accept that there may be a role for the

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information commissioner, or perhaps some other arbitrator, in adjudicating disputes about the council's access to information. That may be in cases where the licensee or the authority considers that it has a right to reject a request for information under the regulations setting out the exceptions to the council's right to information. The regulations aim to provide an objective test.

Currently, the Bill provides that the authority will decide those matters, but we see a case to retain some flexibility as to who may be the best person to adjudicate so we intend to bring forward an amendment in Committee to allow for the appointment of an adjudicator by regulation.

The issue of reasonable consumer interests, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is a difficult one that I do not have time to deal with now. If it comes up in Committee, we can discuss the matter then. The noble Lord has received representations. Ann Robinson, the chairman designate of the new consumer council, is consulting on a five-office regional structure. Perhaps we can re-address this problem when her consultation is complete.

Perhaps I should say a word about fuel poverty. In general I am grateful for the support expressed for the fuel poverty provisions, but I must make it clear that fuel poverty is part of a wider problem of social exclusion. The ministerial group on fuel poverty goes across a number of departments and affects many aspects of government, of industry and of regulation. Because we have a more competitive energy industry in this country, it is not appropriate for us to adopt the French experience of a social price, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred.

I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said about prepayment meter prices. Again, that is a matter that can usefully be discussed between now and Committee stage.

I have trespassed on the kindness of the House for too long. It is clear that we believe that this is a Bill that, effectively, promotes the five objectives that I set out in introducing it. It would be inappropriate for me to repeat those objectives. I believe that the Bill will put gas and electricity regulation on a secure footing for the next decade. It is capable of adapting to changes in markets and capable, at all times, of protecting consumers. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Myra Hindley

6.48 p.m.

The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what reasonable grounds there are for the continued imprisonment of Myra Hindley after 35 years.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I want to ask the Government whether there are any reasonable grounds for continuing the incarceration of Myra Hindley after 35 years. I do not expect a dramatic

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answer from the Minister. I am aware that there is much public animosity towards this young woman, stirred up, over many years, by the tabloid press. I shall be content with a guarded answer from the Minister.

A cruel injustice is being done to a young member of our society who, many years ago, sinned terribly. She has repented completely. As someone who has known her for 30 years, I am well aware of that. All I can do tonight is to bring this issue before the public. I am an unrepentant believer in the ultimate sense of justice of our Ministers, Opposition leaders and the general public when they have the facts before them. Tonight I shall attempt to contribute to their knowledge and understanding.

Rather more than 33 years ago, two young people, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, were condemned for horrifying crimes. Those crimes have gone down in history as among the worst and most revolting ever committed. Now, of course, they are both incarcerated.

I have visited Ian Brady at various times over the years. His attitude towards me has varied. At one time we were good friends, but then he said that he suspected that I was a Home Office lackey. I cannot say that he and I are any longer intimate friends. For a number of years he has been in Ashworth hospital, the northern equivalent of Broadmoor to which offenders suffering from mental troubles are sent. Recently he has expressed a desire to die. I do not believe that anyone should allow a person in their charge to die. However, I do not think that he would agree with me on that point. Perhaps that wish indicates his present state of mind.

He is a gifted man. He was illegitimate and never knew his father, but I met his mother, who was a very nice woman. Some years ago he published quotations from some letters that he wrote to me. The late Professor Rowse wrote to me to say, "That man, Brady, must be a remarkable man". Even as a boy--and long before he met Myra--he was a criminal, but he already had a good knowledge of Russian literature. He is a very unusual man and a tragic figure.

It was a part of Myra's destiny to work under him in an office and to fall under his influence. Indeed, she continued to love him for a long time. Until she met him she had been a good Catholic, but in the following years she lost her faith. She recovered it when she went to prison. I met her perhaps two years after she began her sentence. Already she had returned to the Catholic faith, although at that point she was still in love with Ian Brady. Eventually that came to an end.

She was an infatuated accomplice and she herself would be the first to agree that it was right that she was condemned to spend many years in prison as a punishment. Certainly, she will be haunted all her life by the things in which she was involved.

In the intervening years she has obtained an Open University degree with honours and today she is a devoted Catholic. Various priests would testify to that. Noble Lords may not think that my testimony is of any importance, but I should like to point out that she is

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particularly fond of my wife. It would be safe to say that she is fonder of my wife than she is of me, but that is understandable.

As I have said, she is a devoted Catholic, but she remains incarcerated. Her present priest has given me permission to quote him as saying that she is a "truly spiritual woman". However, that is not the view taken by the nation, especially when it is instructed by the Sun newspaper, which has portrayed her as a monster. Recently that newspaper suggested that perhaps the best thing would be for her to come out of prison, whereupon she would be lynched--or words to that effect. That is the situation with which we are confronted.

Recently, Myra Hindley's case was brought before the Law Lords. After a three-day hearing in this place, they rejected the claim that what the Home Secretary had done was unlawful. But they left a loophole. The Home Secretary has stated that it would be possible to modify the earlier decision that in her case the sentence of life must mean life and that she must die in prison in the light of her exceptional progress. No one who has visited as many prisoners as I have could deny that Myra Hindley has made exceptional progress. If she has not done so, then no one has done so. The case has been returned to the Home Secretary. For that reason the Home Secretary may be rather guarded in his reply.

The case is also being taken to the European Court. Again, the issues will be strongly argued when it is heard. It is not for me to offer an opinion on the legal aspects of the matter, but on the face of it I agree entirely with the conclusion submitted by her counsel that the sentence of "the whole of her life" is contrary to all the legislation covering human rights. It represents a cruel and unusual punishment.

Perhaps we should examine the record of the state over recent years as regards the case of Myra Hindley. Some years after she was sent to prison, the Lord Chief Justice of the day twice suggested that a tariff of 25 years should be fixed for her. However, a new Home Secretary came along and fixed her sentence at 30 years. Later, a sentence of "all life" was imposed. What was happening? No one could pretend that the crimes has got any worse and she herself was making progress. Nevertheless, the sentence was increased. In other words, the rules of the game were altered halfway through the game. In my eyes, that is a disgrace to British justice.

What would I recommend for the future? Of course I hope for a decision from the Home Secretary and/or the European Court. What is the answer for a case of this kind? I agree with the opinion of many distinguished lawyers that the decision in a case such as this should not be left to a Home Secretary. We can all sympathise with the position of the current Home Secretary and not for a moment do I suggest that I could do any better.

On a previous occasion I may have mentioned that when I was chairman of the Labour Party penal affairs group just prior to the election of the Wilson government--whereupon I became the Leader of the

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House here--my good friend, the famous writer Evelyn Waugh, wrote to me to say that it was a good thing I was not Home Secretary otherwise we would all be murdered in our beds. He was entitled to his point of view.

When all is said and done, any Home Secretary must shoulder a terrible and difficult responsibility. On the one hand--I am sure that it is particularly the case for our present Home Secretary, who is a good Christian man--he feels a deep and fundamental sense of duty to maintain the confidence of the public. It would be no good having a Home Secretary who lost that public confidence, as one or two of us might have done had we served in that office. Such a Home Secretary would not be equal to the job. A Home Secretary must achieve a balance between maintaining the confidence of the public and offering justice to the individual. That will never be easy.

Before I sit down, perhaps I could make a suggestion. I believe that the Parole Board, whether as presently constituted or in a somewhat modified form, would represent the fairest kind of tribunal. Already that board takes decisions in cases of discretionary life sentences; only mandatory sentences are left to the Home Secretary. I suggest that this case be referred back to the Parole Board for further consideration.

I should mention to noble Lords that I am not addressing only the vast public gathered here tonight; principally I am speaking for the record. Some years ago the Parole Board did consider the case of Myra Hindley. It recommended that she should be sent to an open prison in preparation, no doubt, for her release. But that was turned down and I am saying that the matter could go back to the Parole Board. That is my best suggestion.

I would not be too dogmatic as to whether or not that is the right procedure. But, looking at the issue more broadly, I am aware that the House, the Minister and, above all, the Home Secretary are faced with a test of courage. Over the years, several people have said to me, in one way or another, "Of course I agree with you, my dear chap. She has been treated disgracefully. She ought to have come out long ago but no one has the guts to let her out". I do not believe that our Home Secretary is lacking in guts. I ask the Minister to convey to him what we have said tonight, and ask him to consider it all carefully.

7 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has immense experience in this case, and, whatever one's views on the course to be followed, he has earned great respect on all sides and in all parts of the country for the dedication with which he has pursued this case. He is, of course, the only participant in this debate tonight who has experience of the subject.

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That having been said, our view from these Benches is that life really does mean life. The decision originally taken in 1994 by my right honourable friend Mr Michael Howard that Myra Hindley should serve a life tariff was reached after the most careful scrutiny of the case. That decision was confirmed by the present Home Secretary in 1997.

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