Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful for the noble Baroness's response. Her amendment, while welcome, does not go far enough to meet my central concern. However, I shall not put the amendment to the test tonight, but shall go away and reflect on whether I can come up with a further amendment that might take the noble Baroness a little further down the road that I want her to take, without perhaps going as far as this amendment. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 79 to 85 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 86:


"( ) Subsection (4)(b) does not affect any obligation of the Minister, or any other public authority or Scottish public authority, that may arise under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36) or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (asp 13)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 87 and 88 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 89:


"LAYING OF REPORTS BEFORE PARLIAMENT OR ASSEMBLY
Whatever is required to be published under section 23 must be laid by the Minister, either at the time of publication or as soon afterwards as is reasonably practicable, before the relevant Parliament or Assembly."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment introduces a new clause to ensure that the final published report must be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, proposed a similar amendment in Grand Committee that I promised to take away and consider further. Amendment No. 89 supplements a number of other amendments designed to provide greater parliamentary involvement in the inquiry process. It also provides parallel requirements for the devolved administrations to lay reports before their own parliaments or assemblies. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I simply express my gratitude to the noble Baroness.

On Question, amendment agreed to.
 
8 Feb 2005 : Column 726
 

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 90:


"INQUIRIES INTO LOSS OF LIFE
(1) Where an inquiry involves investigation into loss of life, this Act shall apply with the following modifications.
(2) No restriction notice may be given by a Minister.
(3) It is the duty of the chairman to arrange for reports of the inquiry to be published.
(4) Subsection (1) of section 8 shall have effect as if the words following "party" had been omitted.
(5) Subsection (4) of section 37 shall not apply to an award of amounts in respect of legal representation which is reasonably required for the representation of family members of persons whose deaths are a subject of the inquiry."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a new amendment concerning a matter not raised in Grand Committee. It is based on the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill, which was not published until after the Bill had finished its time in Grand Committee.

The Joint Committee was concerned whether the Bill satisfied the requirements of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights in cases of inquiries into loss of life. Under the law as laid down by the European Court of Human Rights and subsequently applied by the courts of the United Kingdom, an investigation under Article 2 must be independent of the Government.

The Joint Committee was concerned whether a number of provisions in the Bill satisfied that test. Those provisions included: the Minister's power to make a restriction notice; the Minister's power to decide what material in the report is to be withheld from publication; the possible appointment to a panel of a member having a direct interest in the subject matter or a close association with an interested party; and the absence of any express reference to providing legal representation for families of those whose deaths were the subject of the inquiry.

Amendment No. 90 is intended to cover those points. Does the Minister believe that the amendment is necessary to meet the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights? If not, how can those concerns be met? I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. He will have seen me scrabbling around on the Front Bench, which was to find a copy of my noble and learned friend's letter to Jean Corston, the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I hope that a copy found its way to the noble Lord today. He may want to discuss issues regarding that letter with me before Third Reading, which I shall be happy to pick up. However, it has only just arrived with me too, so I am not as up to speed with it as I would like. I shall try to deal with the amendment and see whether that will help him as well.

The noble Lord will not be surprised if I say that the majority of notable inquiries have been established in recent years to investigate circumstances in which loss of life has tragically occurred in some way. In some cases Article 2 has been engaged, but in others it has not. For the reasons that he outlined, he has proposed the
 
8 Feb 2005 : Column 727
 
amendment so that there should be a separate provision for inquiries involving loss of life. We are clear that the inquiries under the Bill must be capable of contributing to the discharge of the state's obligation, under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to provide an effective investigation into a death the circumstances of which suggest state involvement in some way. Such inquiries must meet certain standards of independence and public scrutiny to meet the criterion of being "effective".

As I said, my noble and learned friend has written to the Joint Committee on that. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has a copy of the letter, and I will ensure that other noble Lords who have participated today also receive copies. We are satisfied that the Bill enables us to establish inquiries that will comply with the requirement to hold an effective investigation where Article 2 is engaged. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, knows well, both the Government and the inquiry panel will be public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act and will be under a duty to exercise their powers under the Bill in a way compatible with Article 2. There is no need for an amendment specifically to require them to do so.

I am concerned that the amendment—it goes much wider than the point that the noble Lord seeks to address—would cause some confusion in the way in which the provisions would need to be applied. I shall not go into detail, because I do not think that that was his intention; he seeks to ensure that the issues concerning Article 2 are effectively dealt with, as opposed to trying to set up separate inquiry routes, unless I have completely misread what he seeks. Our contention is that the matter is satisfied in the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord will have the opportunity to look at the letter from my noble and learned friend, and perhaps to discuss with him or me any other issues that he would like to raise.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I have a copy of the letter dated 6 February which I think is the one to which the Minister is referring. It gives me a good deal of reassurance as to what is necessary. The matter has been of particular concern in Northern Ireland where there are issues regarding inquiries into deaths. Such inquiries should be conducted in a way that satisfies the criteria of Article 2. I feel considerably reassured, but if I have further concerns I shall raise them before Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 [Scottish inquiries]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 91:

On Question, amendment agreed to.
 
8 Feb 2005 : Column 728
 

Clause 26 [Welsh inquiries]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 92:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 27 [Northern Ireland inquiries]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page