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As I said in Committee, there seems to be no constraint whatsoever on the circumstances in which the Minister may bring an inquiry to an end. The clause is one of astonishing breadth. I think that I am right to say that I have strong support from both the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on the Cross Benches, and those on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
The Government have furnished your Lordships' House with an amendment; but I submit that it does not go far enough. My attention is particularly drawn to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, in Committee, when he said, in broad terms, that the purpose of the clause is to deal with situations where an
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inquiry is no longer needed. In other words, it has become otioseentirely surplus to requirements. He continued:
At the very least, the grounds for ending an inquiry should be in the Bill. If the interpretation made by the noble Lord, Lord Evans, of the clause's purpose is correct, I see no reason why the paragraph should not say simply, "an inquiry can be brought to an end where it serves no further useful purpose" or some such form of words. Instead we have the government amendment, which for the reasons that I have given, is not satisfactory. I beg to move.
I have some sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. It is well arguable that his proposal is the proper course to take; certainly I would not object to its being taken. I am not sure whether I would go so far as saying that it is essential to take that course because ultimately the Minister must be accountable for the termination of the inquiry. For that reason, it is essential that he place his reasons before Parliament so that they can be challenged, if necessary, in Parliament. Ultimately, the burden must rest on the Minister.
I am not convinced that it is essential, for those purposes, that the Minister should get the agreement of the chairman. It would be an unhappy situation if an inquiry continued when the Minister wanted to end it and the chairman did not. In that case, the better option is to end the inquiry and for the Minister to defend his action in Parliament. We will accept Amendment No. 39 and not move our Amendment No. 40.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for accepting government Amendment No. 39, which accepts the principle, to which we have agreed, that any notice ending an inquiry early should be laid before Parliament.
Amendment No. 38, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, seeks the consent of the chairman to the early termination of an inquiry under subsection (1)(b). Amendment No. 39 contains a requirement to consult, but we do not agree that there is a need to require the chairman's consent. That power is included in the Bill so that there is a way in which the inquiry can be brought to a close when it is clear that it is no longer needed. There could be all
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sorts of reasons for that; our problem is predicting them all. A Minister must be able to ensure that public money is not wasted by continuing if there is no point.
We understand absolutely the concerns about the potential for abuse of those powers but we believe that the requirement to explain the reasons to Parliament will act as a strong safeguard. In addition, any unreasonable or improper decision to terminate an inquiry early can always be challenged through judicial review. If the chairman disagrees with a decision to end an inquiry and the Minister ends it anyway, the chairman has a powerful option available to him: he can make his views public, no doubt prompting detailed public media and parliamentary scrutiny of the decision.
We think that it would be very unwise for any Minister to attempt to end an inquiry without the chairman's agreement, unless he was absolutely certain that he could justify the decision to Parliament, the courts and the public. Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland; my views as read out in Committee were much firmer than those in the brief that I have been given today. We considered and tried to construct a list of all the possible reasons but gave up because we believed that we could not capture all the reasons why an inquiry might not be needed, or needed to be closed down. Obviously, parliamentary scrutiny of the reasons is an alternative safeguard.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, one of the many reasons why I admire the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, so much is that he is a man of transparent honesty. I can think of very few occasions when I have heard from the government Benches an admission that what had been said at an earlier stage of the Bill was exactly as it was interpreted by the opposition Front Bench. I am most grateful.
However, sometimes change is for the worse. In this case, the amendment that the Government have tabled on Report is worse than it would have been had it reflected what the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, said in Committee. In my submission, this matter is curable in precisely the same way as the situation in relation to Amendment No. 32 is curable.
If Clause 13(1)(b) expressed the circumstances in which an earlier date would be appropriate, we would be in a much better position to accept the Government's approach. If the Government are right in saying that there are a very limited number of circumstances in which a committee's deliberations would be brought to an end prematurely, and they will only be circumstances in which the committee can serve no useful purpose, surely it is not beyond the skills of the parliamentary draftsman, together with the appropriate Ministers, to devise a form of words that reflects that exactly. That is all we ask.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am probably breaking all the procedural rules by rising
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again. In the light of this discussion, we would like the opportunity to think, yet again, about the clause. We will come back to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, before Third Reading. We hope that we can satisfy what seem to be absolutely legitimate concerns.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, should apologise for coming back. Although this is Report stage, the Bill was debated in Grand Committee in the Moses Room and therefore this is the first opportunity that we have had to deal with those matters on the Floor of the House. In my submission, therefore, it is wholly appropriate that greater flexibility should apply to our deliberations. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his response. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) Before exercising his power under subsection (1)(b) the Minister must consult the chairman.
( ) Where the Minister gives a notice under subsection (1)(b) he must
(a) set out in the notice his reasons for bringing the inquiry to an end;
(b) lay a copy of the notice, as soon as is reasonably practicable, before the relevant Parliament or Assembly."
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