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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister. As he rightly said, I rather misunderstood the purpose of the certificate. I now understand and I am grateful for his answer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 10:

("( ) For the purposes of subsection (7) above, it shall be a defence if the actions of any Agency inspector, in entering or searching premises or persons, infringe the European Convention on Human Rights.").

The noble Lord said: This is the last amendment I have. The Minister, as is now the practice, has certified somewhere in this Bill that it obeys the European Convention. However, it is just conceivable that the Minister or, more importantly, his advisors, may have missed something, and that in fact a court may take a contrary view. For example, I do not suspect that the Scottish Executive, or indeed the Westminster Government before the Scottish Executive was set up, thought for a moment that a court would find that temporary sheriffs would be in breach and create all the chaos that has been caused in Scottish courts; although at least some people have benefited, because 10 permanent ones have just been created who might not otherwise have been created quite so speedily.

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We ought to make clear on the face of the Bill that a breach of the human rights legislation would in fact be a defence. The Human Rights Act is a whole new ball game and I suspect some pretty surprising conclusions will arise, such as the Scottish court case. I suspect there will be some in England, unless the Lord Advocate marks an appeal and the Appeal Court in Scotland finds that temporary justice, temporary sheriffs, temporary judges are perfectly consistent with the Human Rights convention. We shall have some surprising things. There may even be some surprising things in this Bill. I wonder whether these words should be added for the avoidance of doubt.

4.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As the noble Lord will imagine, I am very much in sympathy with the motivation behind the amendment. I have cheeky and serious answers. The cheeky answer is that technically speaking the IAEA is not a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore the IAEA and its inspectors could not breach a measure to which they are not formally subject. I do not propose to rely on that argument; it would kill the amendment formally. However, I think that the noble Lord deserves a more serious answer than that.

We are confident that the rights given to agency inspectors by Clause 5 are consistent with Article 8 of the convention, on the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence, to the extent that these rights may be exercised in relation to premises within the scope of that article.

Article 8 of the convention is, as I understand it, principally concerned with domestic premises, and it is unlikely--though I concede it is not impossible--that the rights under Clause 5 would actually ever be exercised in relation to domestic premises. We are talking here about nuclear weapons, and I do not think that many of them are produced in back bedrooms.

We are confident that these rights are consistent with Article 1 of the first protocol to the convention on peaceful enjoyment of possessions. However, if an inspector acted in a way which was--to use a neutral phrase--inconsistent with the rights protected in the convention, that could be taken into account by the courts in deciding whether an offence under the Bill had been committed by someone else, if the inspector's actions were relevant to the conduct of a person charged with such an offence.

For example, if an agency inspector's actions were inconsistent with a person's right under the ECHR, that could be relevant to whether the inspector was indeed acting in exercise of a power under Clause 5 for the purposes of an offence under Clause 7, or to whether the person charged with the offence under Clause 5(7)(b) or (c) had a "reasonable excuse" for failing to comply with the request of an agency inspector, authorised officer or constable, or for interfering with things placed on land by an agency inspector. The defence of reasonable excuse is already set out in paragraphs (b) and (c).

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Under Clause 5 as drafted an action by an inspector which was inconsistent with the ECHR could, and should, provide a defence to such a prosecution only if that particular action were relevant to the subject matter of the charge. Amendment No. 10 tabled would give anyone prosecuted under Clause 5(7) a defence if there had been any breach of the convention, even if the breach were entirely unconnected with the subject matter of the prosecution. I cannot believe that the noble Lord intended that when he drafted the amendment.

Finally, the amendment would cause confusion about the relevance of the European Convention on Human Rights to other offences by this Bill, and possibly even its relevance to offences under other legislation. One does not state in every piece of legislation that it is not in contravention of the European convention. As the noble Lord rightly said, I have signed a certificate to that effect, which is on the front page of the Bill. That is meant to cover all the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord is perhaps familiar with the maximum legal interpretation: that to include the one implies exclusion of the others.

If we did so for Clause 5(7) alone, the implication would be that breaches of the ECHR could not be taken into account in deciding whether offences had been committed under other provisions of the Bill. We do not want that kind of confusion. There is no need to insert an express reference to the principles of the ECHR in every offence provision in the statute book. It is much better to let the courts decide on normal general principles when and how far the European Convention on Human Rights is relevant to whether any given offence has been committed under Clause 5(7) or other offences provisions in the Bill or elsewhere. I hope that the noble Lord will not seek to press his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I shall not press the amendment. However, it has brought forward an

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interesting point. The AEA--I shall call it the agency otherwise I will get into a fankle--is not bound by the ECHR and yet the qualification to the Bill is that the provisions of the Bill are compatible with convention rights.

I will draw the attention of some of my legal friends to this interesting little argument, but, as throughout the Committee, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation; it certainly has been quite illuminating. I am not sure whether we go anywhere else with the amendments but I understand that it is an important Bill to try to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. Any amendments I have put forward this afternoon have certainly not been meant to inhibit that in any way, but they have been made to ensure that what we are doing is consistent with the normal practice in our country.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Before the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, concludes his remarks, may I take this opportunity to acknowledge that nothing the noble Lord has said or put in his amendments is in any way designed to inhibit the effective control of nuclear weapons. I recognise that point.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister for that recognition. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: That concludes the Committee's proceedings on the Bill.

The Committee adjourned at twenty-three minutes past four o'clock.

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Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill [H.L.]

Monday, 13th December 1999.

The Committee met at half past four of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one important respect, our proceedings will be exactly as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard.

The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in the Grand Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division may be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

I should explain what will happen if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting. This Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and will then resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Functions]:

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 25, at end insert ("within one month of its receipt")

The noble Lord said: This is a matter that I brought to the attention of the Minister when I was responding to the Second Reading debate. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that, by inserting the wording,

    "within one month of its receipt",

the reports that are being produced and presented to the Minister will be published as soon as possible or within a period of four weeks.

Let me say straight away that, when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General was the Minister for Prisons, I saw a distinct change in the way with which HMI reports at that time were dealt. They were published much more quickly and people working in the criminal justice field were absolutely delighted that they were able to find out what was contained in such reports.

Against that, in the past, particularly when reports were fairly sensitive or were difficult in terms of criticism of government policy, the tendency was to

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push them to the bottom of the pile and one did not see them for six or eight months. By that time, matters had moved so fast that the original situation that existed when the inspection was carried out was no longer relevant. That was an unacceptable practice.

I shall be delighted--and it would be right--for HMI to present reports. However, it is perfectly feasible for such reports to be published within a period of four weeks. I understand that, from time to time, delay may occur, but the standard must be that the report is made available for public consumption in the shortest possible time. That is very much a part of the policy that the Government pursue in terms of open access to information. More importantly, however, is that it is very much in line with the Narey Committee's report in terms of avoiding delay within the criminal justice process. If it applies to magistrates courts and other courts, why should it not apply to the Crown Prosecution Service?

There is a maxim which says, "justice delayed is justice denied". I hope that the same applies in relation to reports. If reports are not published, they are likely to become less relevant over a period of time. I suggest therefore that it would be appropriate to insert an amendment for publication to be,

    "within one month of receipt".

I beg to move.

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