|Back to Table of Contents
|Lords Hansard Home Page
Lord Renton: My Lords, I regard this as a very important amendment. I hope that the Government will agree to it. As my noble friend Lady Anelay pointed out, in dealing with freezing orders in Clauses 10, 11 and 12 we are dealing with something that has so far been considered to be unusual in our law; the arrangement will introduce an entirely fresh system. Its importance must be considered by the Government and a report laid before Parliament annually, as my noble friend said. That is not a great obligation on the Government.
I realise that the new clause could come after Clause 12 instead of before Clause 10. In previous legislation, when requiring the Secretary of State to report to Parliament, we generally required it to be done after we had set out the obligations. Here, we are doing so before the obligations are mentioned. However, either way, I believe that this clause should be inserted into the Bill, and there is no harm in its going in before Clause 10.
I suppose it is arguable that, in his annual report, the Secretary of State might refer to what happens in other countries. But, frankly, I do not believe that that is relevant in relation to our law. The people of this countrydare I say, especially the lawyersshould be informed about the development of this process.
Therefore, I hope that the Government will be very sympathetic and accept the amendment. It is not controversial. When three important new clauses introduce in some detail new legal factors into this country, surely there should be a report to Parliament. I hope that the Government will accept that.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I hope that the Minister who is to reply will not say, "Here we goanother annual report". As both my noble friends have said, this is an entirely new arrangement. The passing of evidence between different countries for actions in different courts is a very complex arrangement. It will be important that it works from all ends of the operation in all countries. It will also be important for this country to know whether it is working for us as well as for other people.
Perhaps there need not be an annual report for evermy noble friend did not include such a requirement in the amendment. It may be needed only for the first four or five years or for however long the Government consider necessary. But it seems to me
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for retabling an amendment, which, as she said, is not completely dissimilar to one debated in Grand Committee. I believe it has provided a useful opportunity for your Lordships' House to remind the Government of our requirement to ensure that everyone is fully informed about the impact of important pieces of legislation that are put into the statute book, especially where they concern important issues such as the freezing of evidence.
This is not the first time that amendments to this Billor other Billshave required annual reports to be produced. We have previously debated and discussed that matter cheerfully and helpfully. I do not believe that it will come as a great surprise to your Lordships when I say that we do not see great merit in the amendment, although, rightly, we understand the spirit in which it is moved. It is important to hold the Government to account and to ensure that we provide information on these matters on a regular basis.
The amendment differs from the one that we debated in Grand Committee in that, as the noble Baroness said, the original amendment would have required an independent person to prepare the report. If this amendment is successful in any form, it will not be so very different because someone will have to prepare the information and bring forward a report.
The arrangement for executing and requesting evidence freezing orders from our EU partners is new. It is right that Parliament has a continuing interest in their use and operational experience. However, we consider the proposed new clause to be unnecessary. The information contained in an annual report would be readily available to MPs and Members of this House, who would be able to obtain it by tabling parliamentary Questions, whether Written or Oral. Therefore, Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the use of freezing orders without the need to appoint someone formally to prepare a report.
Our view is that the proposed new clause would be overly bureaucratic and unnecessary, although we understand what is behind it. It is possible that in the first few years, while we were feeling our way with freezing orders, it would be desirable to hold an occasional debate on the issue. However, we do not believe that we require an annual report and do not consider it to be the correct way to proceed.
As to the question of whether the information will be available as official statistics, my suspicion is that it will be tucked away somewhere in judicial statistics. That is a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department. I fully understand the point made in posing the question, and I shall ensure that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have participated in the discussion are
I believe that the information will be available. Of course, it can be requested on a regular basis through the use of parliamentary Questions. We understand at the outset the concern to ensure that freezing orders operate well but, ultimately, we are not convinced that they require the full effect of an annual report.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, in view of what my noble friend on the Front Bench said, perhaps I may ask what makes the Minister think that Parliament can scrutinise this complicated system of freezing orders through parliamentary Questions? Can he tell us why that would work?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Opposition, or anyone in this place or the House of Commons, could put forward not only an Oral but also a Written Question and that the information could be prolific? Does my noble friend also agree that, far from being defenceless in this matter, the use of Questions has a real effect on the Government?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is always pleasant to have a Minister quote what I said and find that I still agree with myself. In politics, that is even more of a surprise these days. There are, indeed, occasions when Written Questions are the right avenue to follow and there are occasions when they are not.
I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Renton and Lady Carnegy for their support for the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, recognised, it is something of a "Bassam special". As he said, he and I have had cheerful and helpful debates about annual reports over the past eight, nine or 10 months.
I agree that it is important to hold the Government to account. So information should be provided. As the noble Lord said, the difficulty is that that has to be done on a regular basis. Unless there is an annual
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, it is possible for any Member at a specific time to interrogate the Government. That is one point and there are many more. Does the noble Baroness agree with that or not?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. As I said earlier, Written Questions can be a useful part of the battery of weapons, not just for the Opposition, but for all noble Lords. In this House we are aware that we have an advantage with Oral Questions to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred. We changed our rules so there is greater opportunity for individual Members to put their names to Oral Questions.
If one were to follow the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and the Minister to its logical conclusion, there would never be need for an annual report. I cannot believe that that is the case. This provision is new; it needs to be tested. And the Government need to be held to account. I wish therefore to test the opinion of the House.