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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise because my name is attached to Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 111 and 112 in this group.

We supported amendments in Grand Committee to maintain the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. However, following debate in Grand Committee, I see no particular merit in keeping that Act in existence as it stands. Whenever it has been used, it has always been on the initiative of the Government and the main purpose of using it has been to give the inquiry power to summon witnesses and obtain documents.
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The parliamentary procedure in recent cases has been a formality. Since I became a Member of your Lordships' House in 1997, the 1921 Act has been initiated twice—in the Bloody Sunday and Shipman inquiries. I cannot remember a significant debate on the relevant resolution in either of those cases. The last time that Parliament seems to have been seriously involved concerned the proposal to set up a special commission of inquiry to investigate the failure of Rhodesian oil sanctions policy in 1978. That proposal failed because it was rejected by your Lordships' House—perhaps not one of the wiser decisions that we have taken.

7.45 p.m.

The Public Administration Select Committee, in its valuable report published only last Thursday has, as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, recommended that inquiries into the conduct of Ministers set up under the Bill should have a special procedure retaining some degree of parliamentary involvement. We have therefore put our names to the draft amendment published as Annexe 2 to the Select Committee's report. The Select Committee's arguments are persuasive and we support them.

That will still require the Government to initiate the inquiry procedure. There is no existing procedure by which a government who do not want to set up an inquiry can be impelled to hold one. The situation is therefore very different from that in the United States of America, where the Senate and the House of Representatives can set up inquiries without the consent of the Executive. Of course, Select Committees can carry out inquiries but, for reasons explained in the report with which I agree—in particular, as a result of my experience in considering the operation of the Committee of Standards and Privileges in the House of Commons when I was a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life—Select Committees are not suitable bodies for conducting what might be described as forensic inquiries involving cross-examination of witnesses, as opposed to inquiries into policy.

The Public Administration Select Committee proposed a procedure to allow the Liaison Committee of the House of Commons to put a resolution before that House proposing that a matter of public concern should be the subject of a formal inquiry. That would involve a change in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, but not statutory powers, so no relevant amendments can be tabled to the Bill. However, subject to the proposal for a Select Committee having to be approved by your Lordships' House as well as by the House of Commons, I would welcome that. It would provide an opportunity to involve both Houses of Parliament in setting up an inquiry, whether or not the Government approved it. Of course, it would always be subject to a vote of the House of Commons, where a government with a substantial majority would have a strong probability of succeeding, so that might
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not necessarily take the matter a great deal forward, but it would at least provide one channel by which that could be done.

I must say that I am less attracted than the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, by the report's proposal of the setting up of a parliamentary commission of inquiry. I fear that that could take us back to a commission divided on party lines, as happened in the Marconi inquiry, which is perhaps one of the less reputable occurrences in the history of my party, and other inquiries that took place before 1921. Indeed, there has in the past, although less so in recent years, been a problem with the Committee on Standards and Privileges in the House of Commons. However, the question of whether we should have a parliamentary commission of inquiry is not relevant to this group of amendments. Therefore, I give our strong support to Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 111 and 112.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, perhaps I may seek clarification. The parliamentary commission as defined in the report would not involve any party being in the majority or even party politicians having dominance. Perhaps the noble Lord might wish to reflect on that in the context.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I saw that the report included lay people, or those who are not Members of either House of Parliament, as well as those who were. There is no rule in the recommendation about the number in each category. I said that I was hesitant about it; I have concerns. I would not reject it entirely, but I am not convinced that it is an improvement on having a wholly independent, non-parliamentary inquiry.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, we have all had some opportunity to look at the important Public Administration Select Committee report, published last week, entitled Government by Inquiry. It is most helpful and deals with lots of issues that are the subject of our debates. In an ideal world, it would have been better if the report had been available to us before the Government started Second Reading and Committee stages. But we are where we are; we have the benefit of the report now.

I have the highest admiration for the committee chairman, my honourable friend Dr Tony Wright. The committee has done a great deal of work. As in Committee, I share somewhat the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about previous parliamentary inquiries, such as the Marconi inquiry. In any case, that inquiry is supposed to have been the reason why Parliament thought it preferable to have "tribunals of inquiry", as they were called under the 1921 Act. I can see that, when Ministers' conduct is involved from the very beginning and not just as an incident to the course of investigating events, a commission of inquiry into politically sensitive issues held by parliamentarians, with or without other members, could be most valuable.

It is proposed that an amendment along the lines of appendix 2 of the report should be agreed so that Parliament could engage in such investigatory
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inquiries. However, the more I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart—as distinct from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland—the more I began to think that legislative provision, through an amendment to the Bill or otherwise, was not needed, because at several points the report confirms what I understood to be the position. Parliament has inherent powers to make inquiries, to conduct investigations—by the House of Commons on its own, the House of Lords on its own or the two Houses jointly—and can invite other members to join it if it so wishes.

Paragraph 214, from which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, quoted, makes the point—I thought that it was well understood anyway—that,

There is therefore the power to make any investigatory inquiry effective. As to why legislative powers to that effect are needed, I studied the appendix that sets out what is intended and has now been repeated in the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has pointed out that it is not in practice feasible or possible for an Order in Council to establish any such inquiry to be presented unless the Government agree. If the Government agree, it is not the House of Commons in the driving seat. That lies behind many of the points made in this otherwise excellent report.

The report examines over several paragraphs the government's attempt in 1978 to get the House of Commons and the House of Lords to agree to a parliamentary commission on a joint resolution to deal with matters relating to Rhodesia. They succeeded up to a point in the Commons but did not in the House of Lords.

The amendment would require that an Order in Council be laid before Parliament and that it should have the approval of both Houses. If that is the position, what extra is achieved, apart from the presence of Members of Parliament in the committee, beyond what is provided in the Inquiries Bill? There is little to be gained beyond what Parliament and the individual Houses already have: powers to conduct investigations, if they wish. Nothing prevents that at present.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. Given that he claims to rely on my arguments, perhaps I may ask him whether the following would not be an answer to his point: if a parliamentary process is involved, Parliament has a potential input. If it does not like the terms on which the inquiry is to be set up, Parliament could say to the Government, "This is not the form of inquiry that we want. We welcome your proposal for an inquiry but we will approve it only if you are prepared to take this away and come back with a different form".

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