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I therefore deplore the insertion of Clause 61. It seems extraordinary that the Government should put this forward, so showing an apparent indifference to the preservation of free speech. It is interesting that leading homosexuals such as Peter Tatchell and Matthew Parris should support a free speech clause. The churches are clearly against Clause 61 and I wholly agree with the excellent speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. Liberty, an organisation which seeks to protect civil liberties and promote human rights for everyone, reportedly opposes the Governments approach on free speech grounds.
I believe that the Government, and any Government of our country, should do all that they can to protect and promote freedom of speech and never compromise on this. They ought to put it much higher among their priorities.
Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to coroners and inquests related to military personnel, which is the area on which I, too, shall concentrate. This is a long-awaited Bill. Certainly, from the area in which I am interested, it is a long time coming, so I very much welcome it. I am also delighted that my noble friend Lord Bach is the Minister taking this Bill through. He was a Minister at the MoD at the time of the pensions Bill for the Armed Forces and he assisted in making some considerable changes. So I am quite optimistic that we may get a listening ear to what we are seeking.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the decision on Friday to change the Governments stance in the Bill in regard to inquests held in secret. I think that I could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that one or two of those noble Lords were rather
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Last July, a consultative meeting took place of bereaved families who had had experience of Oxford and its coroner. They had lost loved onesmen, women, sons, husbands, daughters and wivesin Armed Forces operations. I was privileged to be at the end session of that day, which was organised by the Royal British Legion and supported by the War Widows Association. I must declare an interest as vice-president to the president, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. At the end of that day, which was very movingthese families had experienced delays and problems in trying to get an open decision quickly for their loved onesthey made it clear that what they wanted was a system in which they had confidence. Certainly, with the extra resource that has been put into Oxford, that confidence was starting to build up. From their experience, it is clear that a coroner dealing with military inquests has to be trained. If they are not trained in military investigations, the inquest will not give families confidence or assurance that the outcome will give them closure and allow them to continue their lives.
I should like to see an amendment ensuring that one of the deputy senior coroners will be specifically responsible for military inquests. Alternatively, before a referral can be made, the Chief Coroner should ensure that whoever is dealing with the case is trained. I accept that there well may be a difference between fatalities in the Armed Forces suffered in normal day-to-day work and training, and those suffered in operations overseas. That may be something we need to consider.
Part 6 of the Bill refers to representation. I would like the Bill amended to provide legal representations for families. There is no doubt that there is full legal representation at the inquest. We are told it is to help the coroner; we would like the families to have legal representation to help the coroner too. It would give a much more balanced outcome. Having said that, I am not aware of any family who has had a military fatality which has been refused legal support at an inquest, but it would be good to see such a provision in the Bill.
The facilities for families are also of concern. They are in a traumatic situation, with no privacyit is all over the paperstheir lives are turned upside down and they have to face the delay we have been talking about. When they turn up for the inquest, there is not only a moral requirement but a responsibility of duty of care to ensure that the facilities they have are good and help them face the inquest. That is not always the case at the moment and I would welcome discussing it in Committee.
I should also like to see an amendment to provide that an inquest is by jury where the death has occurred during military training, or, more importantly because of recent events, the individual is under 18. We have had the Deepcut report, with all the concerns there are about it. With a fatality affecting someone under 18, it would help if the inquest took place in front of a jury.
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These are a few amendments that I would like to see to the Bill, but, my goodness, they would make an awful lot of difference to the well-being of families who have lost loved ones in the service of their country. They would also go a long way to help meet the commitment that the country has to those people.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, this Bill has been called a ragbag, if not a dogs breakfast. I suppose the items in the Bill are linked together vaguely by a concept of justice, but like my noble and learned friend, Lord Lloyd of Berwick I pity the Minister when he has to make some sense of all the completely different topics that have been touched on today.
I shall speak briefly on one topic: Clauses 49 and 50 seek to amend the Suicide Act 1961 with the aim of bringing it up to date. What I say will be a footnote to what has already been said by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I understand and applaud the Governments desire to be able to prosecute those who publicise suicide over the internet, and, for whatever motive, malicious or missionary, positively encourage young people to kill themselves. My noble friend Lady Finlay has spoken very eloquently on this subject and I agree with everything that she says. Clauses 49 and 50 would criminalise in exactly the same way, and to the same degree, these dangerous people who are putting young lives at risk and who are broadcasting their thoughts and encouragement to the world at large as the other group of people who, perhaps with agonies of conscience, assist individuals who they know and love to end their lives when living is no longer tolerable to them.
These two target groups are so radically different, one from another, that they really cannot be treated in the same way by the law. From the cases we know about, the notion of encouraging suicide is miles away from the thoughts of those who often are persuaded only with great difficulty to help their relatives to go abroad. I am thinking of the well publicised case of the Turner family where the three children were eventually persuaded that their mother, a doctor, really did want to end her life before it became more intolerable than it was. There was simply no question of encouraging suicide because they did their very best to dissuade her from going, but at last were won over and in the end felt that what they had done was right. If the law treats cases that are so different from one another as if they are the same, that will lead to total confusion. As the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, reminded us, it goes without saying that the issue of accompanying relatives abroad has become urgent because of the much-publicised recent cases. Also, none of the more than 100 people who have done this has been prosecuted, although there is no doubt whatever that under the 1961 Act they were assisting a suicide and therefore committing a crime.
Some lawyers think that the status quo should stay as it is or that the law as it would be amended by Clauses 49 and 50 will be adequate. For myself, I
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In saying that the law should be changed, I am merely echoing the words of, among others, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, and Lord Justice Scott Baker, who asserted that the law must be changed and that it is the task of Parliament to change it. The present Bill affords Parliament a chance to do that and amendments will be brought forward at a later stage that can be discussed in detail.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, many noble Lords have complained that this is a ragtag Bill or a dogs breakfast, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, just said, but for some of us this is a fantastic thing. Those involved in legislation to do with heritage or archaeology always find their issues tagged on the end of something else, so to find them in this Bill is a wonderful feeling. Before I thank the Minister for accepting the amendment on the coroner for treasure, I should say that I am almost disappointed because I have with me a briefing with coloured tags for an incisive and decisive argument. I have never been so well prepared for an amendment, but he has shot the fox, as the expression goes. However, I thank the Minister for accepting the arguments and for the work done by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and all those in the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group.
However, I think that the Minister would be upset if I said that I would leave it at that and that I was going to sit down, so there are a few points that I want to make. I thank the Minister for putting something back that had been in the draft Bill, so these are almost government points. Three other small points that would be of incredible value to those of us in the heritage community were contained in Schedule 3 to the 2006 draft Bill. If they were included, life would be a great deal simpler for those in the heritage sector. They all concern aspects of treasure. Some noble Lords may not be aware of the growing number of finds due to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is now looking at much stronger funding due to the Governments work. Treasures are being brought to light by metal detectorists in areas the majority of which would have been destroyed by the actions of industrialised farming. Noble Lords can go to the British Museum to see the treasure exhibition or catch it on tour to appreciate the value of the finds that are coming up through the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
The first of the three amendments that I ask the Minister to replace in the Bill, because they would make life a great deal easier, is to widen the obligation to report finds of treasure to anyone who comes into possession of treasure. At present, the duty to report treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 rests solely with those who find treasure. The British Museum has an agreement with eBay to monitor its site for potential treasure, although it is thought that many items of treasure are sold by third parties without applying the appropriate due diligence tests. The amendment would encourage best practice.
I have had a number of meetings with eBay on this after the passing of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill, a Private Members Bill that I had the joy of taking through your Lordships House. When I found the legal representative for eBay and said that I would like to talk to him about this, his first answer was: How the hell did you get this number?. It is not the easiest thing tracking down eBay. I am not saying anything about the quality of the company, but there is a major problem with the fact that a market could be created in finds. We know from the English Heritage report on nighthawking that the illicit selling of finds is a major problem. If this market is created on eBay and takes hold, we will see a large number of our sites raided. Of course eBay has made agreements with other European countries on this. We asked it why it had not signed an agreement in this country and it said that it was because our legislation is not as strong as legislation in other European countries, which I believe says something about how we prioritise our heritage. This is an extremely important amendment and I hope that the Minister will look at it kindly, because there are a large number of APPAG members who are going to enjoy a few discussions on this. If he just accepted what of course was a government amendment, against which it is going to be very difficult to argue, that would shorten the course of the Bill.
The second point is to give the coroner powers to require anybody who reports the discovery of found treasure to deliver it to the coroner. We know of a case where Bronze Age axes were reported to the coroner but some of the best of them were kept out of the report, which meant that there was a real problem in finding out about their existence.
The third point, which I think is extremely important in making sense of the Treasure Act at all, is to allow more time for prosecution to be brought under the Act. The case that I just mentioned took a long time and, even though the police were prepared to prosecute, the statute of limitations, which at present is at six months, is not long enough to deal with the process. If a coroners report is taking a yearor in some cases two yearsthe statute of limitations kicks in and the whole system is made a farce.
These would be three small but valuable changes. They would not be very costly but would make the job of the coroner for treasure announced by the Minister far more relevant. I believe that they would make our heritage far safer from that small minority of people among the metal-detecting community who use metal detecting for profit rather than for extending the knowledge of our heritage.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, most of this Bill is well outside my knowledge and experience. However, I know that coroners inquests in Northern Ireland proved unsatisfactory during the long years of violence. That was partly because of major delays between deaths and inquests into them and partly because of the triangular low-level warfare that was going on at that time. There must be ways in which the workings of the historic coroners courts can be improved and better satisfy the relatives of those who have been killed.
I intervene for two reasons only. The first concerns Clause 61 and freedom of speech. After only one year, the Government seek to remove the amendments that your Lordships made on 21 April 2008. Surely it is too soon for it to be known whether the amendment has produced adverse or unintended consequences. I fear that Her Majestys Government may have caved in to pressure from the fashionable homosexual lobby. What evidence is there that this important defence, protecting freedom of expression and speech, has done the slightest harm? The burden of proof is surely entirely on the authors of the Bill. There was doubt, and the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, removed it. Innocent people should not have to be investigated unnecessarily.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Moran, who, alas, is not here, that so-called homophobia should not be made into a crime. When words are in fact threatening or intended to stir up hatred, they should be treated as an offence, but, where they express genuine opinion criticising certain behaviour in a reasonable way, they should be given full protection. I urge the House to resist Clause 61 and to leave the Public Order Act 1986 as it is. Free speech is always being whittled away; we should rally to its defence.
My second point arises from Clauses 49 to 51 about suicide. Suicide is an awful thing whose repercussions affect many others apart from the deceased. There is a temptation for some who would be afraid to cause death by murder or manslaughter to achieve the same end by the suicide of their victim. That is why, rightly, the Bill makes encouraging or assisting suicide a serious offence, punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. On 20 March, when the Bill was in the other place, some Members, led by the right honourable Patricia Hewitt, proposed an amendment to create a new exception to the provisions of the Bill, which would have made encouraging or assisting suicide lawful if the death occurred in another country where self-destruction was allowed. That would run directly counter to the purpose and intentions of the Bill.
I argue that many people, especially the feeble-minded, the frail, the elderly, the confused or the chronically ill, are particularly vulnerable. They deserve our protection against coercion or persuasion to take their own lives. Exceptions to the offence of encouraging or assisting suicide will place temptations in front of would-be exploiters who would benefit from someone elses death. On the contrary, we should be providing safeguards for a vulnerable group of people. I urge your Lordships to resist amendments of the kind described just as strongly as you would defend free speech.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, at the beginning of 2008, following the delays in implementing many of the recommendations that arose from the murder of patients by Dr Harold Shipman and the subsequent murder in 2002 of patients at Leeds General Infirmary by the nurse Colin Norris, I tabled a series of Questions to the Government, which were answered on 25 March and 21 May 2008. In response, the Government indicated their intention to legislate, and I welcome large parts of the Bill before us today.
The Shipman murders led to an inquiry that published six reports and 228 recommendations, at a cost to the public purse of £21 million. Weaknesses were discovered in the death certification process, in the requirement for one doctor alone to certify a death and to decide on referral to a coroner, and in the failure to cross-reference notified deaths and to look for trends and patterns. Among the recommendations were many other proposals to strengthen the system of public protection.
After the trial, the Shipman inquiry, chaired by Dame Janet Smith, decided there was enough evidence to suggest that Shipman had probably killed around 250 people, of whom 218 could positively be identified. About 80 per cent of his victims were women. In the case of nurse Colin Norris, he was convicted on 8 March 2008 of murdering four elderly patients and attempting to murder another.
I recognise that the Bill goes some way to try and prevent a repetition of these appalling crimes, but I should like to hear from the Government how many of the 228 recommendations of the Shipman inquiry have been incorporated into this legislation and what further measures will be needed to deal with the failings identified by the Norris inquiry.
In addressing end-of-life issues, this question of public protection must surely be our paramount concern. It is why the Government have rightly resisted any attempts to use the Bill to make assistance with suicide or the killing of patients legal. In any event, during the life of this Parliament in your Lordships House we have had the benefit of a Select Committee and several Private Members Bills, while, on the most recent vote that was taken in this House, the proposal to permit assisted suicide was defeated by a substantial majority. Constitutionally, the correct place for this matter to be tested is surely in another place. I agree with the Minister that to use the Bill in that way would be quite wrong.
In the context of this Bill, there would be no logic in making the law more restrictive in dealing with doctors and nurses who set out to take the lives of their patients, such as Shipman or Norris, while simultaneously giving a green light to the approval of euthanasia. By amending the Suicide Act 1961, this Bill also rightly outlaws predatory websites that encourage or promote suicide. It introduces an offence of encouraging or assisting suicide. It would make no sense and defy logicand, indeed, introduce a dangerous, contradictory fault lineif we were to make it an offence to promote suicide on the internet and then to approve the promotion of suicide overseas.
The prohibition on the promotion of suicide is a good and welcome provision, and nothing should be placed in the Bill which contradicts or weakens our determination to protect the vulnerable. Our laws are tough, but they are administered with compassion and common sense. It is not a fudge, as some noble Lords have suggested, to leave open the possibility of prosecution where motives are shown, for instance, to be pecuniary gain. Merely because some people have not been prosecuted is not a reason for setting aside a law that has protected many thousands of people. I would briefly remind your Lordships that when it was decided to allow voluntary euthanasia in Holland it led to involuntary euthanasia. Nearly 1,000 deaths a year are involuntary out of a total of 4,000. So we need to be clear where we are proceeding if we give the green light to what is being suggested. It is, of course, the reason why all of the Royal Colleges and the British Medical Association take the view, shared by the Government, that the law should not be changed.
My second pointand here I will follow my noble friend Lady DSouza, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Baroness, Lady OCathainconcerns the question of genocide charges and bringing charges against those who have committed crimes against humanity in other jurisdictions. Several of us in this House, while Members of another place, took part in the parliamentary passage of the War Crimes Act 1991. That dealt with suspected Nazi-era war criminals who had made their way to these shores during the chaos that followed the Second World War. During those proceedings, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, made a memorable and moving speech, where he began by drawing our attention to what he described as an unregisterable interest. Two of his grandparents, two of his uncles, an aunt and many cousins were killed during the Holocaust. They were doctors, teachers and postmastersnormal people murdered because of their racial origins. I know he would not mind my bringing this painful memory to the attention of the House, because his purpose in 1991 was to remind his listeners that they should not forget the victimsnot just the dead, but also the living: especially the living, who often crave justice just as any other victim of any so-called normal crime would do.
The Nazi Holocaust holds a particular horror for the world, and rightly so. That is why Parliament eventually passed the War Crimes Act 1991, which specifically related to crimes committed in Nazi-occupied Europe. However, the victims and survivors of modern genocides and crimes also want justice.
My noble friend Lady DSouza raised the issue of the Rwandan suspected genocidaires, who can neither be extradited to face trial nor prosecuted here. I visited Rwanda in 2004 and published a report in October of that year through the British charity the Jubilee Campaign. In paragraph 3.28 of the report, I described the Murambi genocide site in south-west Rwanda. Murambi was a technical college, which, as I said,
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