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Lord Laming: My Lords, my speaking notes were compiled before the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made his contribution. I welcome Amendment No. 52 for its greater clarity and because it emphasises the responsibilities and powers of the chair of an inquiry.

9 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to the government amendments. They accept in principle what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, proposes. I agree that inquiry panels are not public authorities for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act. There is no need to set that out explicitly in the Bill because it is a provision of the Bill as drafted. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, realises, subsection (2) of Amendment No. 9 contains a matter that we intend to deal with in procedural rules, as government Amendment No. 107 makes clear. I can assure the noble Lord that our intention is that at the end of an inquiry the records that are retained will pass to a public authority, usually a government department or the National Archives.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has convinced me that there is no need for the absolute exemption conferred by Section 32 to apply to the records of inquiries under the Bill once those inquiries are over. Amendments Nos. 52 and 62 address that point. Amendments Nos. 108 and 110 are consequential definitions.

I do not believe that it would be right for a Minister to use the powers in Clause 23 to withhold information from a report that a person would have the right to see under the Freedom of Information Act. We are happy to make provision in the Bill to that effect.

As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, knows, there are difficulties regarding how his amendments would work in practice, not least because we are concerned that the sensitivity of information changes all the time. Information that may be exempt today may not be exempt in six months' time. So we believe that it is better to ensure that any actual request received must be complied with in accordance with the Freedom of
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Information Act and that Clause 23 cannot override any rights of access. We have tabled Amendment No. 86 to that effect.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said to me before that he wished to see a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner on materials withheld from reports. I am not sure that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord would introduce that right, but I believe that Amendment No. 86 would.

Scotland has a separate Freedom of Information Act. The Scottish Ministers are happy to make parallel provisions for that Act, and those are included in the government amendments.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dubs for raising the issues, but we shall have opportunities to discuss Clause 17 specifically when we get there. It clarifies the rules. I look forward to that debate and hope that my noble friend will participate in it. On the basis that the Government have achieved what I hope the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was looking for, and—dare I say—added to it, not least in the case of Scotland, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I shall move the government amendments at the appropriate time.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the issue will be raised when we reach the group of amendments starting with Amendment No. 65. As I have already said, I am happy to ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Appointment of inquiry panel]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 10:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I can deal with this point very briefly. The amendment would ensure that the Minister consults the chairman before appointing anyone else to the inquiry panel. In Committee, there was a discussion, and the Minister very kindly agreed to think about it. The Government have tabled an amendment which, essentially, would achieve the same objective as mine. In those circumstances, depending on what the Government say about it of course, I am happy to accept their version. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I hope I shall be able to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. The amendment that the Government propose would compel the Minister to consult the chairman or the person he wishes to appoint as chairman before appointing a member, or a further member, of the inquiry panel. We had a full discussion of that point in Committee and, having considered what noble Lords have said about the need for a statutory requirement, we have tabled Amendment No. 11 to address the point.

That amendment will introduce a requirement for consultation for all appointments of panel members other than the chairman, including any further appointments made under Clause 6. It allows for the
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consultation to take place before the formal appointment of the chairman if the whole panel is being appointed at the same time.

As before, if the Minister proposes to increase the number of panel members during the inquiry, without having set out his proposal before the start under Clause 5(b)(ii), the chairman's consent is required.

I hope that we have satisfied noble Lords. We had a very long discussion about this in Grand Committee.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his response. In those circumstances, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 11:

"( ) Before appointing a member to the inquiry panel (otherwise than as chairman) the Minister must consult the person he has appointed, or proposes to appoint, as chairman."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Setting-up date and terms of reference]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 12:

"( ) Before establishing the terms of reference the Minister shall consult the chairman."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 12 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14. Amendment No. 12 requires a Minister to consult the chairman of the inquiry on the terms of reference. Amendment No. 14 permits the terms of reference to be modified without having to terminate the inquiry and reboot it—to use computer-speak—subject to the agreement of the panel to the modification.

Amendment No. 16, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is to the same effect as our Amendment No. 14, but requires the agreement of the chairman rather than that of the panel as a whole.

Government Amendment No. 15 accepts these amendments, except that in the case of the modification of the terms of reference it requires only consultation with the chairman, not consent. I can see that the chairman has the ultimate weapon of resignation if a Minister tries to force an unwelcome change to the terms of reference on him or her, but I would still prefer the requirement to be consent. I would suggest that there is a need for the whole panel at least to be consulted on the matter.

I can well imagine the furious reaction of a panel member if he or she finds that the terms of reference have been altered without anyone consulting him or her. I should like to hear further the views of the Minister on these points. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I have nothing to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has said.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I hope again that I shall be able to satisfy the noble Lord,
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Lord Goodhart. As I said in Grand Committee, in practice the Minister will invariably consult the chairman before setting out the terms of reference. However, I was persuaded by the arguments that the noble Lord made for having a specific provision.

During debate in Grand Committee, it was clear that there were strong feelings for a provision to enable the terms of reference to be amended during the course of an inquiry. I think it is very important not to encourage such changes unless they are absolutely necessary and have been very carefully thought through. However, we were attracted by the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in Grand Committee that a power to change the terms of reference should be limited to situations in which a change was in the public interest. We thank him for that idea. I therefore support in principle Amendments Nos. 12, 14 and 16 but I ask noble Lords not to press them and instead to accept government Amendment No. 15 which the parliamentary draftsman has provided.

I also ask noble Lords to accept government Amendment No. 43, which would allow the same provisions to apply to the conversion of an inquiry, and government Amendments Nos. 91, 92 and 93, which reflect the changes that would be caused by introducing a power to modify the terms of reference. I beg to move.

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