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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the Leader of the House will appreciate how grateful we are for the efforts he has made to bring about pre-legislative scrutiny of major Bills. Will he give the House an estimate of how quickly the difficulties of staffing pre-legislative scrutiny can be overtaken so that the House can assume that most major Bills will go to pre-legislative scrutiny within whatever period of years he can indicate?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, during previous discussions, I said that this was a long-term ambition and the Lord President has reaffirmed that in the House of Commons. I ought to echo what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said. The difficulty is often not a deficiency of resource in parliamentary drafting terms, because parliamentary counsel do admirable work and my noble and learned friend has applied extra resource to them and obtained extra numbers. Oftenand I am whispering nowit is the fact that Ministers have not come to policy conclusions that is the difficulty.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord, who is usually most forthcoming in his answers, be a little more expansive and say what circumstances will apply to the use of the Parliament Act on a Bill that is carried over and what will not?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if the Parliament Act is to bite, it could bite in some circumstances on a carry-over Bill. But that, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, would depend as far as we are concerned to agreeing to carry-over. It seems to me that whichever party is in government the power of this House to have its own way on carry-over is a very important check. That was, I understood, what your Lordships intended when we agreed on the new reforms.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, in reply to me the noble and learned Lord used the word "mulish" in reference to some of the amendments passed in your Lordships' House. As a former Chief Whip in the other place, I have sometimes shared that feeling. But does he not feel that, for example, the Animal Health Bill and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will thought be given to having more Clerks available for pre-legislative scrutiny? I sat on the Communications Bill and the Clerks were very much overburdened. In fact, a Clerk had to be changed in the middle of consideration of the Bill. If we are to carry out a great deal of pre-legislative scrutiny, could thought be given to the matter so that we are serviced in the right way?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is a good point to which I know the House authorities have regard. They were able to be most flexible with the Communications Bill and we can proceed only if the resource is available. I remind myself that the mule is also incapable of reproduction, but that will not be a problem much longer.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the inquiry has indicated that on current plans it expects to report during 2004. I pause for the hiss to be recorded. Up to the end of October 2002 the total cost of the inquiry to the Government was £93 million. It is estimated that the final cost will be £155 million, subject to the outcome of the judicial reviews of decisions on lawyers' fees.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I pause to get my breath back. Has the time not come for the noble and learned Lord and his colleagues to reflect on the fact that the inquiry is into events which took place more than 30 years ago; has cost £93 million (I was flabbergasted by the noble and learned Lord's figure); and has gone on for four years?
Despite what the noble and learned Lord the chairman has said, does not the Minister agree that this has come to look more like a trial every day, with the Army, already under very considerable pressures at this time, in the dock? I should hate to be impertinent, but I wonder whether the time has not
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it was a long time ago, but the allegations are of the utmost gravity. Whether the allegations are true ought to be determined. Part of the cost, which is large, is that those members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who served at that time, whether they are still serving or not, are entitled to have legal representation. It seems to me that what was said by Mr Hague, the then Leader of the Conservative Party, was right. He said:
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that there is something very wrong with a peace process which since 1998 has spent all that money on a single event in which 13 people sadly diedand I take his point about its importancebut has allocated only £18.25 million over the same period to the needs of victims? Most of the money has gone to initiatives, strategies and programmes, but does not the Minister believe that as we are dealing with a peace and healing process some of it might have been used to deal with and address the violence from the paramilitaries on the streets? That seems to me to be just as important as the issue he has raised.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in that both issues are important. But it is a false opposition to suggest that an inquiry ought to be under-funded in order for other worthy purposes to be achieved. Very substantial public resource is devoted to the problems of paramilitary violence at the moment, as the noble Baroness knows.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that a more general point is at issue herenamely, that it is not only this inquiry that has cost a lot of money? There have been other protracted and costly inquiries. Is it not time that the Government set up one of their favourite task forcespreferably not under a lawyerto look at how such inquiries can be expedited, rather than to continue going about these things in the conventional way?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a valid point. It is a question of the structure of any inquiry and whether it should be more of an inquisition rather than an adversarial proceeding. Certainly I have taken part in an inquiry which was largely inquisitorial and was able to report relatively inexpensively and fairly promptly.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that it is working, ultimately, to the detriment of the peace process. These are, I repeat, serious allegations of criminal activity against servants of the Crown. If wrong-doing occurred, it must be exposed. If wrong-doing did not occur, that must be explained also. Those against whom allegations are made are entitled to their representation and to their day.
Lord Rogan: My Lords, given that many of the key witnesses to events being examined by the Saville inquiry are either very old or deceased, how confident is the noble and learned Lord that an accurate conclusion can be arrived at? Is not the inquiry another down-paymenttoday we have heard that it will cost £155 million of taxpayers' moneyin return for Sinn Fein/IRA's limited engagement in the Northern Ireland political process?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in the nature of things, many of the witnesses will be old and some of them are dead. This is a common experience which judges meet from time to time. The three members of the tribunal are eminent judges who will have to set those issues in their context. But, of course, we have film from the time, we have journalists' recollections at the time and we have many sources of live, direct evidence. It is a matter for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, and his judicial colleagues to weigh all the evidence and to come to their judicial and judicious conclusion.
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