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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her response and to all noble and noble and learned Lords who have spoken.

As I said at the outset, two quite distinct issues are raised by this group of amendments. The first issue is to what extent Parliament should be involved in the establishment of a committee, including its membership, its terms of reference and so on. The second, quite distinct, issue is what form the committee of inquiry should take, whether it should be a parliamentary commission as suggested by the report or of some other character, perhaps chaired by a judge.

Your Lordships have several options: your Lordships can reject both aims that lie behind this line of amendments; your Lordships can accept both aims; or your Lordships can accept one aim and refuse the other. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, seemed to be suggesting that he accepted entirely the need for Parliament to be involved in the setting up of a committee which sought to investigate a potential ministerial misdemeanour; but that he had
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reservations about the second aim and whether or not the committee should be composed of Members of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I like to think, is out to the jury on the second point, and not entirely determined one way or the other. So I entirely accept that there may well be a variety of views that emerge from your Lordships' House when we come to consider the matter again at Third Reading.

I remain a firm adherent of both aims that are implied by this line of amendments. I must confess to being somewhat surprised by those of your Lordships who are worried about the role that Parliament might play in what is, after all, one of the fundamental conventions of our constitution—the responsibility of a Minister to Parliament. If we do not make that convention work, then one of the two core tasks of Parliament will simply cease to function. We can continue making legislation but we will have no influence over the conduct of the Executive. I simply cannot believe that that is what your Lordships want.

The point was extremely well illustrated by the final quotation from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, when he took us to the conclusions and recommendations of the report and read out the last part of paragraph 229. I make no apologies for quoting it again:

I find it very hard to believe that Parliament would want to abandon this central field to others; because it is one of the two main purposes for the existence of Parliament. So leaving your Lordships to reflect on that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 not moved.]

Clause 3 [The inquiry panel]:

Lord Howe of Aberavon moved Amendment No. 6:

"(a) by a chairman with one or more other members, or
(b) by a chairman alone.
( ) In deciding whether or not an inquiry can acceptably be conducted by a chairman alone, the Minister must have regard to the considerations specified in section 7."

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 to some extent contain alternatives or cumulatives. The essence of them is to press the case for a broadly based panel of inquiry, more than a chairman sitting on his own, flanked by wingmen or wingwomen—as we must take care to say—of sufficient expertise and sufficiently balanced to equip the inquiry to do its task.

Before I embark on the arguments in support of that proposition, I should like, with great respect to the Minister, for whom we all have respect in her conduct of these and other proceedings, to echo the concern expressed by noble Lords on both sides of the House at the somewhat ridiculous position in which we find
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ourselves. Legislation of this importance, effecting far-reaching changes and sweeping up decades of piecemeal, but not too badly workable, history, is being considered and has almost reached the point of departure from your Lordships' House at the moment when the Public Administration Committee in the other place has concluded a formidably effective inquiry. I echo the admiration expressed by a number of colleagues already for the diligence, zeal and effectiveness of that committee, particularly of its chairman, Mr Tony Wright.

For us to be assured by the Minister that even if we catch only a fleeting glimpse of her exchanges with the committee report, it will hasten its response so that the Commons will have a chance to glance at it before the Bill completes its proceedings in that House is an extraordinary situation. I do not want to sound too harshly critical, but it does no credit to the Government, Parliament or the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The department itself has been conducting a long-running and meticulous inquiry, but it has not run on a parallel course. Different evidence has been heard in different ways and we have not had the opportunity of, rather than knocking heads together, rubbing wise heads together and distilling a greater degree of wisdom than has so far been available to us. I am sorry to start on that critical note, but it makes nonsense of any real achievement of good administration—or joined-up government to use the fashionable phrase.

Making the best of that, this group of amendments is concerned with anxiety about the appointment of solo inquiries and the absence of wingmen. That is not founded on the proposition that solo inquiries are bound to go wrong—far from it—nor that joint inquiries are bound to be right. We can think of many examples of solo inquiries conducted with distinction by learned judges, Members of this House and other judges. Shortly after the tragic death of Lord Scarman one recollected a number of inquiries that he conducted in this country and in Northern Ireland which certainly got it right as far as it is possible to do so.

However, even if that is the case, in our Committee proceedings the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, drew our attention to the extent to which the judiciary on its own, conducting politically charged inquiries, is obliged to follow what can be a high-risk course when one considers the respect with which the judiciary is entitled to be held. That is particularly so in today's media environment when the outcome of such inquiries is all too likely to provoke an outburst of whitewash throwing to try to conceal and obscure the wisdom of the conclusion. That can be rapidly followed—this can even be used as an alternative—by mud throwing to challenge the integrity of the inquiry in a different way. In those circumstances, one reason for believing that one should have more than a single judge in charge of an inquiry in the ordinary way is to protect the judiciary from that kind of hazard.
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However, that is not my only reason for advancing this case and the judiciary, notwithstanding those hazards, is well able to look after itself. Again with respect to the judiciary, I also wish to broaden the basis of judgment of such panels of inquiry when they are investigating fields with which, by definition, traditional figures may not be familiar. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, told the noble Lord, Lord Garel-Jones, at some stage when giving evidence to the inquiry that the noble Lord conducted that his first acquaintance with the machinery of government had come solely from his experience in the conduct of that inquiry. It is not surprising, but it was a hazard to which he ought not to have been exposed.

I think that I am right in quoting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hutton, in his evidence to the Public Administration Committee saying that there was no discussion in that case—and there was none in the case of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, about whether wingmen might be desirable. Be that as it may, as I told the Grand Committee, in my modest experience when I sat with great hesitation as a deputy chairman of quarter sessions, not having been a prolific practitioner in the criminal courts, I was enormously fortified by having the presence of magistrates alongside me, especially when it came to sentencing.

I well remember, as will the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, the care that we took in the initial construction of the National Industrial Relations Court which he launched with such distinction. It is now better known as the Employment Appeals Tribunal although it is in much the same state. There was enormous value in that tribunal of having wingmen there—representatives in the old-fashioned phrase from both sides of industry. However, it is beyond the substance of the issue that one sees the need for support in that form. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, a Member of this House and a senior Law Lord, paid specific tribute to that after his conduct of the BCCI inquiry. I quoted him in Grand Committee. He referred to the benefit of,

But, almost more importantly, he said:

That judgment was endorsed by the Council on Tribunals in its report of 1996, when it praised not only the breadth of experience that can be brought to bear on the subject of an inquiry. It said that wingmen can also,

The council concluded that, if the inquiry involved consideration of broad policy issues,

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8.30 p.m.

Since then, we have of course received the report of the Public Administration Committee. On this issue, its judgment is if anything even clearer than that of the Council on Tribunals. Paragraph 73 of the committee's report said:

When the Minister replied to the debate in Grand Committee, she sought to rely on the references in Clause 7 on the need to have regard to expertise and the need for balance. She said that those provisions provided an answer to the question, covered by my previous amendment, that there should be a preference for a panel rather than a single individual. Some noble Lords, particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said that I had argued in favour of an irrebuttable presumption in that direction. I had not—but if it looked as if it had, I take it back.

I return to the central point. The Public Administration Committee in another place endorsed without qualification the central proposition of what I seek to embody in this amendment. I beg to move.

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