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As a result of previous debates in this House and in the other place, the Chilcot committee was established. It is a committee of privy counsellors, appointed by the Prime Minister to look into the issues and concerns surrounding the use of intercept material. When it was appointed, it was the subject of widespread agreement. The Privy Counsellors from the three major parties and Sir John Chilcot considered the matter and established, in the final report, nine principles which the committee believed had to be addressed before intercept material could be used in our courts. The committee is now studying further those nine principles. The Home Office is engaged in a major inquiry to see how those matters can be addressed. I, and I dare say a number of other noble Lords, have been involved in that detailed consultation and there is an absolute determination to find solutions where solutions can be found.

It would be entirely wrong for this House today to take a position which in many ways would pre-empt the work of the Chilcot committee and the outcome of the issues that it is considering. I do not intend, although I could, to argue the case here about the nature of the sensitive information we are talking about and the sources which might well be closed off if this principle were to be moved forward on the basis of pre-Chilcot sensitivities because I do not think that is particularly relevant. There are those who are interested in coroners courts and a coroners Bill has been promised, but the whole issue of intercept was genuinely agreed between all the parties to be a matter for the Chilcot committee and the work that was to be done after Chilcot’s nine principles were established.

To go down this road today, with whatever safeguards are thought of at this time to be sufficient, is to pre-empt the outcome of that very important matter. Knowing what I know, I believe that we enter into very dangerous territory, from this country's point of view, if we walk down this road without carefully examining all the implications. Therefore, I believe it is premature for us to vote in favour of this amendment today.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, is clearly an attempt to resolve a very serious anomaly about delayed inquests. As my noble friend has just said, another consequence is that, essentially, it pre-empts a series of processes which are currently in play. We know how serious and important an issue this has been. This House has debated the principle of

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1301

the admission of intercept evidence in courts numerous times. We all recognise the importance of that. It is a serious debate and one which has to be addressed in a serious fashion.

We have a clear indication that we will have before us at some stage—I hope not too far in the future—a major piece of legislation on coroners. I think we all acknowledge that the law surrounding coroners’ courts needs a great deal of updating and I am sure that the debates in this House and in the other place on the implications of that will be extremely interesting. We also have the work of the Chilcot committee. The report that we have already seen on the consideration of a committee of privy counsellors—drawn together to look at how this matter might be taken forward—identified a number of complicated issues that had to be addressed before we could be sure that national security was not being endangered by the admission of intercept evidence in a court.

4 pm

I do not see how coroners courts differ from any other court in this matter. We should wait to see whether the Chilcot committee comes forward with proposals addressing the nine principles outlined in its earlier report. If I were being cynical, I would say that this amendment is intended to be the nose of the camel under the tent: if we accepted it, before we knew it we would have the rest of the camel inside the tent, and intercept evidence accepted in every area. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, does not intend that, but it is the case that we would be pre-empting the twin processes that are already in track—the more important of those being the work of the Chilcot committee.

It is a serious matter, and I believe that the technical issues that the Chilcot committee must address are complicated and very important to national security. I understand that when the congressional 9/11 Commission published its report, a reference to some particular intercept material was buried away 200 or 300 pages in. The fact that it was possible to carry out intercepts under those specific conditions had not previously been made public. I do not know whether the 9/11 Commission intended to make public the fact that such intercepts were possible, but the fact is that it did. I have been told that, to those who watch these things, the consequence of that was immediately noticeable. Certain types of conversation stopped happening and could no longer be intercepted—and I notice the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, nodding. The lesson is that we should be wary of the consequences of allowing these things to drift into the public domain by accident.

I am aware that the amendment before us allows the coroner, who would be,

to limit disclosure, or not to permit it, or to have it redacted, where that disclosure would not prejudice national security. However, there are two tests on that. One is: might the content of the intercept itself prejudice national security? The other is: would the fact of the intercept prejudice national security? It seems to me that however it is played, we are in danger of releasing

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1302

the fact that some material was collected from a particular conversation, which would lead to an understanding either of particular sources or of processes. Revealing those could be prejudicial to the national interest.

The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, asked an extremely important question: what then? We would then be faced with an inquest, and there would be certain material that would be known to exist but would not be released. That situation seems unsatisfactory to me. We have to find a way to address all these issues together, but this amendment is premature and unhelpful given all the other work being done, in particular by the Chilcot committee.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, as I understand it, the case made for this amendment is that a High Court judge, sitting as a High Court judge, is entitled to look at intercept evidence in an appropriate case, but when he is sitting as a coroner he is not so entitled. I fail to see the distinction: he is the same person, carrying the same responsibilities whether sitting as a coroner or in the High Court. Therefore, it seems right to me that he should have the power to disclose it if he thinks that it will not prejudice the national interest and is the proper way to determine the cause of death.

The noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, asked what would happen if the judge made such an order of disclosure. The order could be challenged by way of judicial review in the High Court and beyond, so it would not necessarily be simply his final decision. There are so many points about inquests that require to be discussed. It is not helpful to say that there will be a coroners Bill in so many months’ time. These inquests have been outstanding for a very long time.

I am also concerned to hear, only this afternoon, for example, that the Ministry of Defence is refusing to support the legal costs of a family in an inquest next week.

Baroness Manningham-Buller: My Lords, my concern was not the need to challenge the judge. If the judge decides that the material is prejudicial to national security and accepts that redactions are significant, the material may be unusable in the court and we would have the same problem about the process of the inquest. That is all that I am saying. I am not saying that the judge would be wrong in his judgments.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, on the one hand, his decision is challengeable; on the other—in answer to the noble Baroness’s point—it is for him to decide whether the information is of any use in determining the cause of death. If, through redaction or whatever, he decides that the information is not of any use to a jury or to himself, he will not rely on it in any way.

I heard only today that the Ministry of Defence was unwilling to support the costs of the family of a sergeant, who was killed in a collision between helicopters last year, in an inquest that is to take place a week next Tuesday. We have to look broadly at inquests and at how families are to be properly supported in making representations before them. The proposal in the amendment is something that we can do now to ensure that delayed inquests can be heard and that the families can have some satisfaction.



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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for the amendments. They are a valiant attempt to address the knotty problem of ensuring that coroners’ inquests can progress while protecting sensitive material from public disclosure. There has been considerable debate in this House and in the other place about the broad issues.

Unfortunately, for reasons that I shall go into, Amendment No. 106B does not provide a solution to this most difficult of problems. It would enable a High Court judge sitting as a coroner to require disclosure of sensitive material where he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist that make disclosure essential to enable matters that are required to be ascertained by an inquest to be ascertained. Where this material is central to ascertaining the cause of death but there are national security concerns over its disclosure, he could not disclose it to the jury.

However, it is the jury, not the coroner, who are the finders of fact in these coroners’ inquests; and as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, pointed out, the jury already have material in redacted form. So the amendment would still not enable inquests to be completed or provide any further material to the jury and interested parties that cannot already be made available to them, and indeed already is available to them. That redacted information, without the material about which there is a security concern, is provided to them.

In view of the ongoing Chilcot review and the work we intend to do in the Coroners Bill, the points on pre-emption made by my noble friends Lord Robertson and Lord Harris are valid as well. However, in view of the point about redacted material and the question of what will be gained, this amendment would not achieve the right result—much as I wish that it did, as it would be very good to resolve the issue. The amendment tries to resolve it but does not. For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her Amendments Nos. 106B and 133B.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who spoke in this interesting debate. This amendment is the best possible solution before the Coroners Bill arrives. Apparently that Bill will be in the next Queen’s Speech and could receive Royal Assent next year; or it could be one of the 10 or 12 Bills that it is rumoured will now be dropped. I absolutely understand the points about the Chilcot review. When it is complete and is taken together with the Coroners Bill, a better solution might be found. In the mean time, however, there will still be outstanding inquests that cannot be held. Is it really acceptable that these inquests should drag on year after year while this House and another place search for the perfect solution? I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, said, but, with all due respect, it dealt with a hypothetical situation. We are not there yet. In one of the two outstanding cases, the IPCC itself said that it could proceed to inquest. If a body like that did not see problems with it, it suggests that it thought that an inquest could reasonably be held.

The noble Lord, Lord West, says this is a valiant attempt, which I think is damning with faint praise. I do not mind that at all. However, I cannot accept that

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our tradition of holding prompt inquests into the deaths of citizens at the hands of the state should be set aside. The Minister can always cite matters of national security. I fully accept how important those are, and I have given as much room as I can for the judgment of the judge to deal with them. Ultimately, however, it comes down to whether the Government think that the judge can take that amount of responsibility, which he can; and whether he is to be trusted, which the Government must say they do.

If the system does not work for the inquests that are stacking up at the moment we will have lost time and they will not be valuable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, pointed out. On the other hand, the likelihood is that they will proceed. Some answers, even if redacted, will be found, and those inquests will have been held. I would therefore invite the House to agree with me.

4.13 pm

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. C1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 125; Not-Contents, 144.


Division No. 1


CONTENTS

Addington, L.
Ampthill, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Ashcroft, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Barker, B.
Best, L.
Bowness, L.
Bradshaw, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnett, L.
Butler-Sloss, B.
Caithness, E.
Cameron of Dillington, L.
Chorley, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cotter, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Craigavon, V.
Dundee, E.
Dykes, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Emerton, B.
Erroll, E.
Exeter, Bp.
Falkner of Margravine, B.
Fearn, L.
Garden of Frognal, B.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Glasgow, E.
Glenarthur, L.
Goodhart, L.
Hamilton of Epsom, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hanham, B. [Teller]
Hannay of Chiswick, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Howell of Guildford, L.
James of Blackheath, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jones of Cheltenham, L.
Jopling, L.
Laird, L.
Lee of Trafford, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lloyd of Berwick, L.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McAlpine of West Green, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mar, C.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mawson, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Monson, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Moynihan, L.
Naseby, L.
Neuberger, B.
Neville-Jones, B.
Northover, B.
O'Cathain, B.
Paisley of St George's, B.


24 Nov 2008 : Column 1305

Palmer, L.
Pannick, L.
Patten, L.
Plumb, L.
Ramsbotham, L.
Rawlings, B.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Roper, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Seccombe, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sharples, B.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Shrewsbury, E.
Shutt of Greetland, L. [Teller]
Skelmersdale, L.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Sterling of Plaistow, L.
Stern, B.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Teverson, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomas of Winchester, B.
Tope, L.
Tyler, L.
Ullswater, V.
Verma, B.
Waddington, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Walpole, L.
Walton of Detchant, L.
Williamson of Horton, L.

NOT CONTENTS

Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alli, L.
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]
Bilimoria, L.
Billingham, B.
Bilston, L.
Bledisloe, V.
Blood, B.
Borrie, L.
Boyd of Duncansby, L.
Brennan, L.
Brett, L.
Bridges, L.
Broers, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter of Barnes, L.
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Condon, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Darzi of Denham, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dear, L.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Elder, L.
Elystan-Morgan, L.
Falkender, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Ford, B.
Foster of Bishop Auckland, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gilbert, L.
Golding, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Griffiths of Burry Port, L.
Grocott, L.
Harries of Pentregarth, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hart of Chilton, L.
Haskel, L.
Haskins, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jones, L.
Jones of Whitchurch, B.
Jordan, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Kingsmill, B.
Kirkhill, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Manningham-Buller, B.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Maxton, L.
Mitchell, L.
Moonie, L.
Morgan, L.
Morgan of Drefelin, B.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Handsworth, L.
Morris of Yardley, B.
Moser, L.
Murphy, B.
O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.
Parekh, L.
Patel, L.
Patel of Bradford, L.
Paul, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.


24 Nov 2008 : Column 1306

Plant of Highfield, L.
Prashar, B.
Prys-Davies, L.
Quin, B.
Radice, L.
Richard, L.
Robertson of Port Ellen, L.
Rooker, L.
Rosser, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Sawyer, L.
Sewel, L.
Simon, V.
Slim, V.
Slynn of Hadley, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Snape, L.
Soley, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Taylor of Bolton, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Tenby, V.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thornton, B.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Warner, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
West of Spithead, L.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment C1 disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion C agreed to.

Armed Forces

4.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton) rose to move, That this House takes note of matters relating to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and the service personnel Command Paper (Cm 7424).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this debate is very timely and will be welcomed by Members on all sides of the House. Recently, we have been paying tribute, as we always do at this time of year, to those who have been killed or injured in action. This year, our time of remembrance was especially poignant as we marked the 90th anniversary of the Armistice and remembered the sacrifices made in conflicts from 1914 to the present day. It is not an exaggeration to say that the freedoms that we enjoy were bought at a very high price. It is right that as a nation we reflect on what our predecessors achieved for our sake. It is also important to reflect on the sacrifices that the brave men and women of our Armed Forces continue to make in order to defend our vital national interests. Some have paid the ultimate price, even very recently. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude and offer our deepest condolences to their families.

There can be no doubt that the British Armed Forces are working extremely hard. Ongoing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that they are operating at a high tempo. On a daily basis they demonstrate their courage, dedication and professionalism. They are stretched but, as the chiefs have said, the situation is manageable. In such times, the nation and the Government have a duty to offer more than just warm words. The demands that we impose on our Armed Forces are unique and we must ensure that they receive the support and recognition that they deserve.

The national recognition study, which the Government commissioned and which reported earlier this year, highlighted ways in which the country could do more to show its appreciation. I am glad that it has caught the imagination of the public. Since its publication, we

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1307

have seen the nation doing more to celebrate and honour our Armed Forces. Only last week, large crowds lined the streets of Colchester to welcome back 16 Air Assault Brigade. That is not a unique occurrence, but it is one that I hope will continue. It is an appropriate form of recognition, which I would like to see in more towns and cities around the country.

While recognition is important, we must ensure that our service men and women, their families and those who have left the services get the support that they need and merit. That is why this Government launched the service personnel Command Paper in July this year. This set out for the first time ever the nation’s commitment to the Armed Forces constituency, which numbers around 10 million people. Cross-government, some 40 initiatives are being taken forward and are starting to deliver. For example, we expect the first payments doubling the compensation lump sum to be made before the end of this year and we have already extended eligibility for the affordable housing programme in England for a further 12 months post-discharge. These and other initiatives will ensure that those who serve their country are not disadvantaged by virtue of what they do or the circumstances of their work and that, where necessary, they are given special treatment.

This is not all jam tomorrow. We have already done much across the board to improve the lot of our service personnel. Pay has been going up above inflation for the past two years. In February, we accepted the Armed Forces Pay Review Body’s recommendation of a 2.6 per cent pay rise for all service men and women—among the best in the public sector. This award builds on last year’s increase of 3.3 per cent—also the highest in the public sector. The 2007 award included a 9.4 per cent pay increase for some 13,000 of the most junior trained service personnel. It should be remembered that this is just basic pay; it does not include the free medical care, subsidised accommodation, food and a range of allowances on top of the basic salary. We have also introduced a wide-ranging operational welfare package. It includes more free calls for those on the front line so that they can stay in touch with people at home, free internet access, free post and council tax rebates, to name just a few.

We recognise that accommodation is a key concern for personnel. Decades of underinvestment have left some service accommodation in poor condition, but that is something that we are putting right. In the next 10 years, we will be spending £8.4 billion in that area alone. Over the past seven years, the MoD has upgraded around 13,000 family homes to the top standard. I am pleased to say that by the end of this year there will no longer be any service families living in accommodation at the lowest tier of standards. We are also improving single living accommodation. Some 30,000 new or improved bed spaces have already been delivered. A further investment of £1.7 billion will be made in the next decade.

Recently opened improvements at Catterick demonstrate the level of accommodation that we are putting in place. In Catterick—the Army’s largest garrison—1,800 of the soldiers from 4 Mechanised Brigade now have their own en suite rooms. Since 2002, some 2,800 new bedrooms have been completed

24 Nov 2008 : Column 1308

as part of the £330 million programme to develop the super-garrison. The MoD is also building a physiotherapy centre, dining facilities, a sport and leisure centre and swimming pool, as well as redeveloping Catterick town centre under a major private finance initiative contract.


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