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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I plan or contemplate new court buildings, in various parts of the country, offering better facilities for victims and the disabled, not to mention much-needed improvements to the High Court in the Strand. New court buildings are planned for Sheffield, Bristol, Exeter and East Anglia and a new major court centre in the heart of Manchester is a strong gleam in my eye. I believe that all those matters are higher priorities than a new building for our Supreme Court.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the views expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, are supported by the Lord Chief Justice, by the Master of the Rolls and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, who last night devoted an after-dinner speech at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies to the subject? In those circumstances, perhaps the noble and learned Lord might reconsider allowing the matter to be debated.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am always influenced by what the higher judiciary say, either judicially or extra-judicially, but I have stated the Government's priorities.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has defended the current situation on the ground that it works. Will he use the same principle with regard to other matters in relation to your Lordships' House?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, our plans for the reform of your Lordships' House are to make it a better place and one which works better.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that a number of Law Lords take the view that it is inappropriate for them to take part in and to contribute to the debates? Does he further accept that there are serious constitutional issues in relation to this matter that need to be the subject of a proper debate, not only in this House but also in the wider community in this country?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I believe that these issues are widely debated in the country. They have also very recently been considered by a Royal Commission. Debates in this House are of course a matter for the usual channels.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend comment on the recent Denning Society lecture given by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, which touched on these matters?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, is not in his place. With respect to the noble Lord, I feel that he fell into a basic error in asserting that a Lord Chancellor can be non-political. If a Lord Chancellor were non-political, presumably he would not sit in the Cabinet, as the Cabinet is the political executive that takes political decisions collectively. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, also says that the Lord Chancellor should be in charge of non-political law reform. In fact, practically all our law reform has a strong political dimension. He said that the Lord Chancellor should continue to be responsible for the courts, but expenditure on the courts, as I indicated in my earlier answers, requires political priorities to be settled and the Lord Chancellor is accountable to Parliament for that expenditure. For once, I believe that the customary rigour of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, was lost.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the present somewhat anomalous system works simply because the Law Lords are very careful to avoid party politics and because, historically, Lord Chancellors have not been too party political themselves?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I recall very well the late and much loved Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, stomping the country during a general election when he was Lord Chancellor. As regards the Law Lords, the senior Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, has set out in this House
Lord Harrison: My Lords, perhaps I may press my noble and learned friend for a post-prandial answer. How can the Law Lords ensure that their role in this Chamber does not run into conflict with their role as members, in effect, of our Supreme Court?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the Wakeham Commission made a recommendation on that subject. On 22nd June 2000, on behalf of all the Law Lords, the senior Law Lord made a statement in this House on the principles that the Law Lords would observe. That statement is to be found in Hansard of that day and I am not aware that his statement has subsequently been subject to any criticism at all.
Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:
The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, we already have measures in place to deter the hijacking of passenger aircraft. They were substantially enhanced on 11th September. An urgent and wide-ranging review of aviation security measures is under way which is looking at ways to improve aviation security including the methods used by the terrorist.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that the danger of hijacking sadly remains a great one for passengers on civilian aircraft? In the circumstances, will he ensure that everything is done to speed up the measures to which he has referred and to ensure the inclusion of three additional ones: first, the installation of CCTV on flight decks; secondly, the introduction of electronic passenger blacklisting; and thirdly, and most importantly, that on all appropriate flights British airlines should have "skymarshals" in the same way as certain other airlines do?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree that there is a serious threat. Everything that can be done should be done. As I indicated, on 11th September measures were increased at British airports and in relation to aircraft in order to increase aviation
Viscount Astor: My Lords, first, can the Minister tell the House when he expects the Civil Aviation Authority to issue any guidance to the airlines? It is now two months since the dreadful incident and no guidance from the CAA has been given to the airlines on what steps they should take. Secondly, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord is aware, from today the Government are to charge airlines for the cost of third-party, war and terrorism risks. That cost could be up to £50 million a year, which is a new revenue that the Government will receive. Will the noble and learned Lord consider altering some of the other charges that the Government levy on passengers so that the airlines do not suffer a loss of revenue in these very difficult times?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as to the issuance of guidance by the CAA, that body is independent. However, the CAA is involved in the working parties which are looking at a range of measures that can be introduced. We should do it as quickly as possible, but we should not rush into things that could cause more difficulties than initially we thought might be the case. As to charges, there are no immediate plans to review them.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, important as it is to attempt to defend each of the points at which terrorists may strike, one can never be totally effective? Does he also agree that it is at least as important, if not more so, to strike at the roots of terrorism from whence those attacks are organised?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I entirely agree with both parts of the question. We shall do all that we can to improve security. The noble Lord is right that one can never provide complete security. Of the greatest importance is to attack the roots of the terrorists who caused the events of 11th September.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that air travel is still one of the safest forms of transport and that he should do everything he can to encourage people to bear in mind the risks but realise that there are dangers in many other things that they do, particularly as regards other modes of transport?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, aviation is a very safe form of travel, but that is no reason not to continue to take measures and to do such investigations as are appropriate to ensure that safety improves even further.
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