– in the House of Lords at 2:51 pm on 29th November 1999.
asked Her Majesty's Government:
In which aspects of the case of General Pinochet the Lord Chancellor has been involved.
My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for the detail necessary to answer this Question properly. I have not sat judicially in any of the Pinochet proceedings. When the first substantive decision of the Law Lords in these proceedings was set aside, I took the initiative, with the senior Law Lord, to put in place procedures to prevent these circumstances ever recurring. Ministerial responsibility for extradition lies with the Home Secretary, not the Lord Chancellor. I have, however, answered on behalf of the Attorney-General written parliamentary Questions from the noble Lord about the decision to arrest Senator Pinochet and to commence extradition proceedings against him. That was because both the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General were in the other place and had no Minister in this House. Any questions on these matters should now be put to my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Attorney-General, who took office, as we were all delighted to note, on 29th July.
There is, however, an inquiry now being held into whether the judgments of the Law Lords in the second substantive hearing were leaked to the media prior to their delivery. I shall be making a statement on the outcome of that inquiry very soon.
Finally, my department has met Senator Pinochet's costs of the first substantive hearing and of the hearing which resulted in that judgment being set aside through central funds in compliance with an order to that effect by the Law Lords on 8th July.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that full reply. Bearing in mind the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities for the impartiality of justice, does the noble and learned Lord agree that it was utterly unacceptable, and utterly wrong, for the Prime Minister to offer his personal views on the former president of Chile at the Labour Party conference? How can anyone believe that the Home Secretary will exercise his responsibilities impartially when the Prime Minister who appoints him, and to whom he owes his continued existence, has expressed his views so fully in public? Has the noble and learned Lord issued a rebuke to the Prime Minister? Does his responsibility as one of Tony's cronies take precedence over his responsibility as a Law Officer?
My Lords, I acknowledge that the noble Lord has more than a passing interest in this subject. I should not like to count the number of Written Questions that he has tabled. No, I am not in the business of issuing rebukes to the Prime Minister; and I have complete confidence in the impartiality of the Home Secretary.
My Lords, is it not the case that my noble and learned friend's sole involvement in the Pinochet affair has been, first, to take steps to ensure that the first appeal hearing debacle is not repeated, and, secondly, to be accountable to Parliament in relation to the leak inquiry, which was not even set up by him in the first instance?
Yes, my Lords, that is the limit of my responsibility.
My Lords, was the United States in league with Pinochet against Allende in 1973 and therefore implicated in human rights abuses?
My Lords, I am not aware that that bears in any way upon my involvement or responsibility.
My Lords, at the Labour Party conference the Prime Minister described General Pinochet as "unspeakable". Would the noble and learned Lord care to say whether the Prime Minister was speaking as the leader of his party, or indeed as Prime Minister, or both? Are such comments helpful to justice in this country?
My Lords, there are many things that are unspeakable--but that might draw me into the hunting issue.