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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I very much regret if the noble Lord believes that I departed in any way from the practice that is appropriate when repeating such a Statement on the publication of a report. I do not want to weary the House in the limited time available, but I must ask the noble Lord whether, during his time in politics, he can recollect a time of such sustained attacks on Ministers about what might be in a report before it was available to enable anyone to form an opinion? I see that the noble Lord wishes to respond. I give way.
Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, I am much obliged. I believe that the answer is yes. I have in mind the Stanley Report of 1946-47. Anyone who recalls the occasion will remember the sustained attack made upon Hugh Dalton, Mr. Stanley and, indeed, on a number of other people. I must tell the noble and learned Lord in response that it would have been far better and more appropriate if the Government had just published the report and delayed any Statement of theirs for 48 hours so as to give everyone the opportunity to read it.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I was aged 18 months at the time, so I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not remember the report. What had been heralded prior to today's Statement by those on the Opposition Benches in another place was that the report would clearly reveal that a number of Ministers had acted in such a way that their resignations ought to be instant. In such circumstances, it seems to me entirely appropriate that, in putting forward a Statement on behalf of the Government, a number of observations in the report by Lord Justice Scott should be highlighted
I am also concerned that the noble Lord indicated that he would not have been prepared to submit to the type of conditions that were asked of those who wanted access to the report prior to its publication. I can only repeat that they were not conditions and an approach simply dreamt up by an officious government; indeed, it was what was required of government by Sir Richard Scott who headed up the inquiry. It was in those circumstances that not only were those noble Lords on the Benches opposite invited to sign the document, but so also was the most senior member of Her Majesty's Government, the Prime Minister, who signed such a certificate without demur.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, in view of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, can my noble and learned friend the Minister confirm that the Attorney-General correctly advised Ministers that it was their responsibility, and hence their duty, to decide whether to claim immunity and not to usurp the functions of the judge who decided later, having read all the documents, whether they should be disclosed in the public interest? Can my noble and learned friend also confirm that there was no reason--and, indeed, not one has been found in the report which none of us has read--which would lead one to suppose that it would have been right for the Attorney-General to have taken over the personal supervision of a Customs and Excise proceedings?
Can my noble and friend also confirm that, contrary to the suggestion in The Times today, the Attorney-General made no attempt to influence the decision of the Ministers, nor did he make any attempt to influence the decision of the judge? I found the relevant passage in the report by chance. It is to be found on page 1361 of Volume III at G13.76. It says that there was no cause for the Attorney-General to read the documents which would be read by the judge and that he did not do so. In those circumstances, any suggestion of impropriety on the part of the Attorney-General was wholly without foundation.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, as I indicated when repeating the Statement, there is certainly no attack on the personal integrity of the Attorney-General. I believe that I spelt out in some detail the basis upon which the Attorney-General proffered advice to those Ministers who had to sign PII certificates. In the ensuing circumstances, it seems to me that the law followed through its course exactly as might have been expected: the PII certificates were signed; they were submitted to the court; the court deliberated upon them and ruled on a significant number of them. The outcome of the ruling by the court was that the decision regarding most of the documents in respect of which public interest immunity had been claimed was overturned. The documents were then handed over to the defence counsel in the trial. As I revealed earlier, three of the defence counsel accepted that the way the Government handled the PII certificates was indeed correct. If the Attorney-General had acted other than he did, I believe that it would have been perverse.
However, there is one criticism of the Attorney-General which was spelt out by Sir Richard Scott. He was concerned that, given Mr. Michael Heseltine's particular views on the subject matter in respect of which he was invited to sign a certificate, the Attorney-General should have made sure that those views were conveyed to prosecuting counsel. I indicated that it is a matter of opinion whether someone in the position of the Attorney-General could have been expected reasonably to have done just that. That is a matter for debate. However, I wish to stress that Sir Richard was in no doubt that the Attorney-General was honest in his belief that it was not for him to do that, and indeed his workload was such that he would be overburdened if he tried to take on that sort of task on every occasion.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I appreciate, as I am sure all Members of your Lordships' House do, that it is really useless to comment on the Statement in so far as it refers to the report until we have had an opportunity of reading the report. I wonder whether the Minister can deal, however, with one question. I imagine that he and his colleagues are extremely satisfied with the fair conduct of the inquiry by Sir Richard Scott. I pause to see whether or not the Minister nods his head. I invite him to nod his head. Does the fact that he does not nod his head mean that he does not agree that Sir Richard Scott conducted this inquiry in that way, or is he as wary of making any reply, committal or non-committal, as seems to be the case on this occasion with many of the questions that we have in our minds? I ask him this: if he is content with the fair conduct of this inquiry by Sir Richard Scott, can he explain the conduct of his senior colleagues, past Ministers of Her Majesty's Government, in criticising Sir Richard Scott, as they have done in the media and elsewhere, in the way that, quite honestly, no serious and responsible person could without even having read the report? Was the criticism, for example, of the noble Lord, Lord Howe, and others of his colleagues made on the basis that they thought that the report would be rather more critical of them than it was? Is this the way to treat Her Majesty's judges, and certainly one of the most senior and fine judges that the country has the privilege of having?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the noble Lord can scrutinise Hansard tomorrow and read my subsequent remarks. I defy him to find anywhere in my words any personal criticism of Lord Justice Scott. Certainly it is no part of my purpose in responding to questions on this Statement to offer any such criticism. On the contrary, I began by indicating to your Lordships that those who have the opportunity to read this full report will appreciate the extraordinary diligence with which he undertook his task. The noble Lord will appreciate from the Statement that there are a number of matters on which Lord Justice Scott made recommendations which are accepted. There are criticisms which he made that are accepted, and there are a number of issues where, with respect, we do not agree with Sir Richard Scott. That seems to me to be a perfectly responsible position for us to hold, and it is one which we can debate on 26th February.
I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Howe is more than able to explain his own views on the fairness or otherwise of the procedures followed by Sir Richard Scott's inquiry. I would simply say that I certainly acknowledge it has been carried out extremely thoroughly. I have not come across anything that I would consider to be, in a crude fashion, unfair. As I say, there are passages with which I do not agree, not least as regards Sir Richard's interpretation of some parts of the law. However, what is interesting and valuable in the report--which no doubt will be of particular interest to the noble Lord--is that Sir Richard considers whether the six cardinal principles set out in Salmon ought to be applied in each and every circumstance where there is an inquiry. He explains forcefully and robustly why he does not believe the right to cross-examination should be afforded on every occasion. I have no doubt that, independent of the substance of this report, the way he has approached that particular issue will certainly give rise to a great deal of debate and interest among lawyers.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that when I picked up my copy of this report a few moments ago I fell into the familiar trap of most politicians when considering a book or publication about politics; namely, I looked for references to myself? I discovered that I am accused, on page 73, of a reprehensible abuse of executive power in the course of carrying out my duties as President of the Board of Trade. Does my noble and learned friend suggest that I should be more upset at that accusation than comforted by the fact that it is also made against my noble friend Lord Cockfield, the noble Lord, Lord Mason, the late John Smith, Sir Edward Heath and Mr. Peter Shore, to name but a few of the 15 who were accused of abusing executive powers? Does that not make the report slightly extraordinary?
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