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Lord Ackner moved Amendment No. 17:

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in the interests of not testing to destruction the tolerance of a much-valued carer, perhaps I may be allowed to refer to this amendment together with other amendments tabled solely in my name that take a similar course in subsequent clauses. I refer, among others, to Amendments Nos. 17, 22, 26 and 37.

I have tabled the amendments as the result of reading a detailed memorandum from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The association has set out, in so far as it relates to this Bill, its concern that two fundamental tenets of democratic governance, transparency and accountability, seem to be eroded. It goes on to point out that, as drafted, the Bill takes away from Parliament,

The memorandum continues by saying that a,

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It says in terms that, as drafted, the Inquiries Bill represents a retreat from meaningful, independent and transparent public inquiries in the United Kingdom. It goes on to state:

The memorandum continues in that vein.

The noble Baroness, who has been unstinting in her assistance in regard to my problems, was interested to see the document. I provided her with copies. Thereafter, she sent me copies of the amendments that she has proposed and most helpfully dealt fully and point by point with the points made by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, which did not have the benefit of the amendments being proposed by the Government.

I am now content not to press this amendment or move the other amendments standing solely in my name. As a point of courtesy to the House, I can indicate now that I shall not move the remaining amendments. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. I did indeed write to him in some detail to deal with all the issues raised in the paper from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. I understand that the noble and learned Lord now accepts that the issues have been dealt with either in my letter or by the amendments now before your Lordships' House. Again, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 18:

(1) A Minister who proposes to cause an inquiry to be held, or who has already done so without making a statement under this section, must as soon as is reasonably practicable make a statement to that effect to the relevant Parliament or Assembly.
(2) A statement under subsection (1) must state—
(a) who is to be, or has been, appointed as chairman of the inquiry;
(b) whether the Minister has appointed, or proposes to appoint, any other members to the inquiry panel, and if so how many;
(c) what are to be, or are, the inquiry's terms of reference.
(3) Where the terms of reference of an inquiry are amended under section 5(2A), the Minister must, as soon as is reasonably practicable, make a statement to the relevant Parliament or Assembly setting out the amended terms of reference.
(4) A statement under this section may be oral or written."

[Amendment No. 19, as an Amendment to No. 18, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 18 agreed to.
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[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Further appointments to inquiry panel]:

[Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Requirement of impartiality]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 23:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment was the subject of a long and illuminating debate in Committee. I stated at the time that it was intended to be of a probing nature. The Minister engaged most helpfully in the discussion and has emerged from it with Amendment No. 24, with which I am content. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for being entirely content with what I sought to do. The credit must go to the noble Lord. I have also tabled Amendment No. 31 to ensure that there is consistency between Clause 11(3)(c) and Clause 8(1) as amended by Amendment No. 24. I hope these changes will help to promote public confidence, which is what we are seeking to do. I am very grateful for what the noble Lord said and I hope that he will withdraw his amendment in favour of mine.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, it follows ineluctably from what I said earlier that I shall, indeed, beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 24:

"unless, despite the person's interest or association, his appointment could not reasonably be regarded as affecting the impartiality of the inquiry panel"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Appointment of judge as panel member]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 25:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment and Amendment No. 26, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is to require the consent of the relevant senior judge to the appointment of a judge as chairman or member of a panel. The relevant senior judge would be the senior Law Lord in the case of the proposed appointment of a Law Lord, the Lord Chief Justice in the case of a judge in England and Wales, the Lord President of the Court of Session in the case of the appointment of a Scottish judge, and the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland in the case of the appointment of a Northern Irish judge. At present the Bill requires only consultation, not the consent of the relevant senior judge.

As anything I would say would be based on the views of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, as expressed in his evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, and as both the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf and Lord
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Cullen, are in their places and intend to speak, I shall simply move the amendment in order that they may be heard as soon as possible. I beg to move.

Lord Cullen of Whitekirk: My Lords, whatever once upon a time was the position, it is nowadays common for judges to be asked to conduct public inquiries. However, it cannot simply be taken for granted that there is a ready availability of judges. Taking a judge away from his normal work for a public inquiry has important implications for his work as a judge and for the work of the court of which he is a member. This is particularly the case with smaller jurisdictions. I must, of course, declare my interest as the Lord President of the Court of Session. Judges have been called upon from that court in recent years to conduct inquiries not only in Scotland but also in England.

No doubt judges are sought as chairmen because of the qualities which they bring to their work as judges. In their natural setting, they have independence and authority. However, it is not inconceivable that the involvement of a judge in an inquiry which is concerned with the conduct of the Executive might damage those very qualities which he otherwise possesses—that high-risk strategy which was referred to earlier. If he is asked to deal with matters which are sensitive in political terms, he may run the risk of being depicted either as favouring the Executive or as becoming embroiled in a confrontation with the Executive.

So there is much to be said for enacting that before a judge is appointed to chair a public inquiry, the Minister should obtain the consent or the agreement of the senior judge. I support what was said on this score by the Lord Chief Justice in his evidence last year to the Public Administration Committee in another place.

This matter should be in the hands of the senior judge; it should not be left to the judge who is the target of the Minister's attentions. From my own experience as an inquiry chairman, I think that most judges would feel very diffident about turning down an invitation to take an appointment which was seen as being for the public good.

In this Bill, as in the Constitutional Reform Bill, we are witnessing a process of transition from convention to prescription by the letter of the law. I am concerned that if the statute merely were to require consultation with the senior judge, that would place him under pressure to agree to the abstracting of a judge for a public inquiry when he did not consider that this was in the interests of the administration of justice.

9.30 p.m.

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