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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, that if the spirit of liberty is as he says I am indeed a free woman.

I say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that where the exercise of the power in Clause 17 engages Article 10, the Minister or the chairman must of course act compatibly with Article 10.2. That means that the exercise must be both necessary and proportionate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for discussing the matter with me. I believe that that addresses the point which he is keen I should place on the record.

I shall briefly deal with the issues which have been raised. We believe that when setting up an inquiry the Minister must be sure that witnesses are not endangered and that national security is not at risk. The Minister has to be satisfied about the effective use of public funds and has to set up the inquiry in a way that will allow it to get to the truth most effectively. Decisions about privacy must be part of that process.

Under the Bill, for example, if much of the information will be sensitive, it is much better to have a single decision about public access at the start, which can be challenged, rather than numerous applications for public interest immunity throughout the inquiry, which can cause delays.

These powers are not new. Existing legislation such as the Children Act 1989 and the Police Act 1996 have explicit powers for Ministers to hold inquiries, or part of inquiries, in private. Unlike the provisions in the Bill, those powers are not qualified by the legislation in any way.

For the first time, we have set out the reasons for which a Minister can hold an inquiry in private. The Bill actually restricts Ministers' current powers in this respect. It creates a clear structure in which decisions
 
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about public access and privacy must be made. Clause 17 draws on the reasons for which restrictions have been justifiably placed on public access in the past, including decisions that have been upheld in the courts.

My submission is that during an inquiry you cannot always predict what will arise. Ministers must be able to ensure, for example, that the UK complies with the European Convention on Human Rights. If the disclosure of information would breach individual rights under the ECHR, Ministers must be able to issue restrictions to protect those rights. If the inquiry panel breaches the individuals' ECHR rights, it is the Minister, not the panel, who will be taken to court in Strasbourg.

It is not fair, in our view, to place the responsibility solely on the chairman to weigh up the wider public interest all the time when conducting his inquiry, particularly if he has no expertise in security, international relations, economic matters or whatever the relevant field might be. The job of the chairman is to get to the truth in the most effective way possible. It is the Minister's job to protect the wider public interest.

A restriction notice would not stop any information from going to the chairman and the rest of the panel. Of course, if the chairman was not happy with the notice, he could say so publicly. I believe that that carries a tremendous amount of power.

The clause sets out very clearly the circumstances in which restriction notices can be justified. It is in the business of safeguarding the public interest, preventing real harm and making the inquiry effective. Any unreasonable or improper restrictions could, and undoubtedly would, be challenged in the courts.

For the reasons I have given, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister and to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I shall respond briefly. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, asked whether it would not be all right if the Minister, at the outset of the inquiry, imposed certain constraints—for example, with respect to public security—and made that a condition for the chairman to abide by when undertaking the inquiry. That, for me, would not be a problem because it could form part of the terms of reference of the inquiry.

My concerns relate to the issue of a restriction notice in the course of an inquiry. It is then that the interests of the individuals who might be adversely affected by the ultimate decision of the inquiry emerge and become clear. But they will become clear only to the chairman. Therefore, when it comes to measuring the various public interests which are expressed in Clause 17, it is, in my judgment, only the chairman who can make an appropriate balancing judgment.

I shall not repeat the arguments I made at the outset and certainly not those I made in Committee. This is, for us, an important point of principle and therefore I would like to test the opinion of the House.
 
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6.16 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 53) shall be agreed to?

*Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 162.


Division No. 2


CONTENTS

Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Byford, B.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Denham, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Elton, L.
Feldman, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Freeman, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L.
Higgins, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Inglewood, L.
Kimball, L.
Kingsland, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laird, L.
Liverpool, E.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
Mancroft, L.
Marlesford, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Noakes, B.
Northesk, E.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Rees, L.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selborne, E.
Skelmersdale, L.
Stewartby, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Swinfen, L.
Tebbit, L.
Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Ullswater, V.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wilcox, B.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Amos, B. (Lord President of the Council)
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Avebury, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bhattacharyya, L.
Blackstone, B.
Bledisloe, V.
Borrie, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Brookman, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Carter of Coles, L.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Desai, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon, L.
Drayson, L.
Dubs, L.
Dykes, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Giddens, L.
Gilbert, L.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Greengross, B.
Greenway, L.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskins, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jones, L.
Judd, L.
Kilclooney, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Leitch, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lipsey, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Ludford, B.
McDonagh, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Maxton, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Michie of Gallanach, B.
Mitchell, L.
Monson, L.
Morgan, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Northover, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
O'Neill of Bengarve, B.
Palmer, L.
Parekh, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Radice, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Razzall, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Richard, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rogan, L.
Roper, L.
Rosser, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Russell-Johnston, L.
St. John of Bletso, L.
Sandberg, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Sheldon, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Stern, B.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Triesman, L.
Truscott, L.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turnberg, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walton of Detchant, L.
Warner, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Watson of Richmond, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Young of Norwood Green, L.

[*See col. 742]


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.


 
8 Feb 2005 : Column 715
 
6.28 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 54 to 56 not moved.]


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