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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, the noble Baroness has made the mistake, which is quite common in this House, of referring to me as Lord Smith of "Clinton". I should say that I never inhale.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Indeed, my Lords. The noble Lord makes a similar mistake with my name. I am not the Baroness Ashdown. I think he is referring to his eminent previous leader, who is a dear friend of mine, but we are not related. Perhaps we can forgive each other. As I said it, I knew I had got it wrong. I shall just call him the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the rest can be put in.
The chairman must take the issue of costs into consideration when making decisions. Clause 36 obliges the Minister to pay costs reasonably. That is the other side of the balance. Some noble Lords were, in a sense, pushing us to be clearer about controlling costs; other noble Lords were concerned that the implication of that would be that the Minister would have too much power and be able to say, "I am not doing this because it costs too much". It is a matter of achieving a balance. I think we all recognise that costs are a factor in this and that at some point in the deliberations of an inquiryparticularly at the endthe chairman needs to account for those costs. We need to be clear about what they have been spent on, and so on. We are looking for that balance and I hope that we have got it right. I look forward to debating the issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, raised the question of legal representation. Again, the procedural rules may give us an opportunity to consider that issue and we will welcome any input.
A number of noble Lords referred to private inquiries. As noble Lords will recognise, we have given the Bill flexibility in regard to privacy, but only where it is proportionate and reasonable; it can be challenged in the courts. We have sought to set out criteria in the Bill to enable judicial challenge to be taken early.
Noble Lords will know that in some inquiries there are constant issues of privacy and of keeping evidence out of the public domain. This can lead to a whole series of different interventions. We have tried to ensure greater clarity from the beginning; I hope that we have succeeded. I look forward to debating the issue with noble Lords. I should say to the noble Lord,
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Lord Goodhart, that we expect the vast majority of inquiries to be held in public. The question of whether they are televised, publicised or whatever will be considered at each inquiry.
The purpose of inquiries is to learn lessons; to find out what went wrong and to make sure that it cannot happen again. I would argue that there are occasions when getting to the truth may be better done in private. This is not only about issues of securitywhich are importantbut also about enabling people to speak freely and openly and to get to the bottom of any matter. We have to be clear that we need flexibility.
I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that there have been nine private or partially private inquiries since 1990, and there have been other public inquiries but with some information withheld. I am happy to give noble Lords a list of those.
As to freedom of information, documents given to inquiries by government departments are subject to the freedom of information legislation in any event because the departments are subject to it. Inquiry records are subject to freedom of information after 30 years, as are court records.
As to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, about the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976, the obligation to set up an inquiry means that that legislation is different. The kind of inquiry set up under the Bill is not affected by it; it sits alongside it, as I understand it.
Other issues have been raised. We will no doubt debate the role of the Minister who is responsible to Parliament, quite rightly, and responsible for ensuring that, within the remit of the work they do, the services provided and the work of the public authorities is performed properly. That is quite central to the issue. It is the bringing together of the different pieces of legislation and will help strike the right balance where the definition of the Minister's role is substantially different.
I know that we will debate that issue at length and I hopeas is always the case in your Lordships' Housethat we will end up with a Bill that is even better than the one I have brought forward today. I look forward to it, oddly enough.
I believe that the Bill will help inquiries discover the truth more effectively and enable us to provide better services for all our citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right
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honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:
"Yesterday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Irish Prime Minister travelled to Belfast to publish an important set of documents: their proposals for a comprehensive agreement in relation to the political process in Northern Ireland. I want to explain to the House the background and the significance of these proposals.
"Just over a year ago, the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly changed the political landscape. Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party became the leading parties of their respective communities. At the time, there was much speculation that bringing these two parties to agreement together would be a difficult, if not impossible, task. In the months since the election, our efforts have been dedicated to building the trust and confidence necessary to enable these parties to lead an inclusive and stable executive.
"In February, we began a review of the Good Friday agreement involving all the parties. We spent many months discussing possible changes and improvements to the operation of the political institutions. In June, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach met the political parties at Lancaster House and identified four areas that needed resolution to enable devolution to be restored in Northern Ireland.
"First, there had to be a complete and decisive end to paramilitary activity by the IRA; secondly, the process of decommissioning illegal weapons had to be completed within a clear timescale; thirdly, in this context, Unionist parties must agree to operate the power-sharing institutions in a stable and sustained fashion; and, finally, we had to create the conditions in which all parts of the community in Northern Ireland could support and participate in policing.
"The documents published yesterday, copies of which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, represent a series of statements which would have been published in sequence by the governments and the other relevant organisations if there had been an overall agreement.
"These proposals include commitments in the form of a statement from the IRA that the causes of the conflict would be removed by the implementation of this agreement and that IRA paramilitary activity would cease immediately and definitively, and that decommissioning of IRA weapons would be completed by the end of December this year under the supervision of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. I shall return to the issue of decommissioning later.
"There were further commitments to the effect that, after a period during which the good faith of the earlier commitments had been demonstrated, an inclusive power-sharing executive would be established in March 2005. That restoration would take place on the basis of agreed changes to the operation of the institutions under strands 1 to 3 of the 1998 agreement.
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"Finally, the proposed agreement sets out a timescale in which republicans would support policing and the policing structures established under the Good Friday agreement in the context of the devolution of policing and justice powers, as envisaged by the agreement.
"Any observer of the political process since 1998 will recognise how significant and substantial is the progress represented by these commitments. Before I turn to the outstanding area where agreement has not yet been reached, I want to pay tribute to all of those involved. The leaderships of the DUP and Sinn Fein have negotiated tirelessly and in good faith. I have no doubt that they want to reach a final accommodation. I also want to pay tribute to the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP, the Alliance and the PUP, all of which have made essential contributions and without which the progress we have already seen in Northern Ireland would not have been achieved. As always, our partnership with the Irish Government has been close and decisive in driving this process forward. The progress of recent months owes much to the energy and determination of officials of both governments.
"But the House will know that, despite this remarkable progress, there remains an outstanding issue that could not be resolved; that is, the transparency with which the decommissioning process should be carried out. This issue will be very familiar to right honourable and honourable Members who have followed the twists and turns of recent years. They will understand the significance of the promise of a completion of IRA decommissioning by the end of the year. But both governments also recognise that public confidence in the process is critical to the success of any settlement and to the wider political stability of Northern Ireland.
"For that reason, the governments set out in the documents published yesterday a proposal that we regard as a fair compromise. Under that proposal, set out in Annex D to the document, photographs of weapons to be decommissioned would be shown privately to political parties in January and would be published at the time that the executive came to be established in March. We believed that this proposal should be acceptable to all.
"I would have liked to be telling the House today that a final, comprehensive settlement had been reached that would enable devolved government to be restored. That is the shared aim of all parties in this House and, more importantly, the firm desire of the whole community in Northern Ireland. Despite the efforts of so many, and the remarkable progress made, we are not quite there yet and that announcement will have to wait a little longer.
"But I am absolutely convinced that the day when the final piece of the jigsaw can be put in place is not far off. I remain optimistic that we will be able to resolve the outstanding issues and to restore devolution. We have published the proposals now so that the people of Northern Ireland can discuss and debate the issues.
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"The governments will continue to press forward so that the remaining gap can be bridged. To that end, I will be meeting the Irish Foreign Minister and we will both engage jointly with the parties next week. There will also be a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference on Thursday 16 December. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will have the opportunity to meet again at the European Council the following day.
"The outstanding issue is about more than photographs. It is about confidence and trust between the parties. We will strive to encourage and build that trust. I know that in these efforts to move on from the legacy of the past, I can rely on the support and goodwill of the whole House. Anyone who has followed the political process in Northern Ireland over the past number of years will appreciate that yesterday was a very significant milestone in that journey towards lasting peace and stability".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
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