HL Deb 09 December 2004 vol 667 cc984-1017

11.31 a.m.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Inquiries Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Over many years, successive governments have sometimes responded to a particular event of serious public concern by setting up an independent inquiry. The aim is for the inquiry to establish the facts, to decide what, if anything, went wrong, and, if necessary, to make recommendations aimed at preventing recurrence. This is a Bill to reform the arrangements for conducting such inquiries to make them as effective as possible. But it is important to be clear on what the Bill does not do.

It is not about inquiries conducted by parliamentary Select Committees, nor is it about planning and licensing inquiries, or inquiries set up by public bodies, including local authorities. It does not attempt to specify when an inquiry should be set up. One has only to look at the range of events that have led to past inquiries, for example, the Dunblane shootings, the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease or the collapse of Equitable Life, to see that it would not be possible to lay down criteria. In the future, as in the past, Ministers will have to consider the particular circumstances and all the options available. Ministers will not call an inquiry under the Bill when there are other investigation procedures for dealing with the matter. So the Bill will not lead either to more or to fewer inquiries being called.

Before I explain how the provisions of the Bill work, I will set out how the present legislation developed. That will, I trust, help noble Lords to understand why we believe that the time has come for a fresh start.

The first legislation allowing Ministers to give formal powers to inquiries of a general nature, as some noble Lords know very well, was the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. That provided for inquiries of an independent and non-partisan nature, into any, definite matter of urgent public importance". Alongside that Act, other legislation has grown up giving Ministers additional powers to order inquiries in particular areas within their remit, such as policing, health or child protection. In 1966, a Royal Commission headed by Lord Salmon reviewed the way the 1921 Act worked. Based on that and on his later report of 1969, a 1973 White Paper set out various proposals for legislation, but these were never taken forward.

On taking office, this Government therefore found themselves with a mixture of powers available to call statutory inquiries. These have often proved quite adequate and suitable. Thus, for example, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry was conducted under the Police Act 1996, and the inquiry into children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, under Section 84 of the National Health Service Act 1977. Other inquiries, such as the Bichard inquiry into matters arising out of the Soham murders, have conducted effective investigations on a non-statutory basis since all those involved were prepared to co-operate.

But we can see that deficiencies in the legislation could prevent us setting up inquiries in the most effective form. Sometimes this arises from simple gaps in the framework of specific powers: there is no power, for example, to call inquiries into deaths in custody, or into other events of concern in prisons in England and Wales. The inquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarek in Feltham Young Offender Institution, has had to begin on a non-statutory basis, despite the fact that there would be clear value in having statutory powers available to it.

Nowadays, statutory inquiries can span several subject areas. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Laming, knows well, the Victoria Climbié inquiry was set up under three separate pieces of legislation. As the statutory powers vary slightly from one piece of legislation to another, this creates potential risks to the effectiveness of the inquiry. There is also the possibility that a future inquiry might need to span both devolved and reserved business falling within the responsibility of two different administrations.

One way of dealing with these problems would be to make greater use of the 1921 Act. But over the years, it has been reserved for the most serious issues and has not been deployed for the whole range of inquiries commissioned by Ministers. It has never been updated, either to reflect the 1973 White Paper or to take account of the most recent legislation on devolution.

Though most inquiries are certainly conducted efficiently and effectively, there has been concern here and in another place about the cost of some inquiries. The Government are absolutely clear that inquiries must have all the powers and resources necessary to get at the truth, but it is quite proper that the best use is made of public money in doing so.

With all these issues in mind, my department and its predecessor have been reviewing the legislation for some years. In February this year, the Public Administration Select Committee announced a review of "Government by Inquiry" and asked for responses to a series of questions about the conduct of inquiries. Many of those questions overlapped with our work. Some noble Lords gave evidence to the inquiry.

Accordingly, my noble and learned friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor decided to submit a full response to the questions, and obtained the committee's agreement to publishing a consultation paper closely based on the responses, to invite wider public debate on the issues. The paper, Effective Inquiries, was published on 6 May. It suggested that the conduct and effectiveness of inquiries could be improved if the 1921 Act, and much of the specific legislation, were replaced by a single statute. New legislation could also codify much good practice that has grown up over the years.

Along with requesting written responses, we invited people who had been involved with inquiries in the recent past, including a number of distinguished former inquiry chairmen, to join discussion groups. The discussions and written responses showed general support for the views expressed, as set out in the summary of responses that we published on 28 September. We have also worked closely with the devolved administrations to create a system that takes account of their responsibilities.

Accordingly, we are now in a position to propose legislation that will provide a comprehensive statutory framework for major inquiries across the United Kingdom. The Bill is suitable for the whole range of major inquiries. We want the benefits of this framework to be available as soon as possible for any future inquiries that may be called.

I shall now give a little information about some of the detailed provisions of the Bill and refer noble Lords to the Explanatory Notes we have published for more information.

Clauses 1 to 13 deal with the process of setting up and running an inquiry. They set out a clear structure to the process for all inquiries, while recognising that the factors to take into account in decision-making will vary from case to case. The power to establish an inquiry, set out in Clause 1, is deliberately drawn to cover a wider range of inquiries than is covered by the 1921 Act, and covers all the areas where an inquiry might be needed. But, as I have already indicated, that does not imply any intention to call more major statutory inquiries. Many smaller or more localised inquiries, and indeed some larger ones, are set up very effectively on a non-statutory basis or under more general powers, such as Section 2 of the National Health Service Act 1977. It is not our intention to bring all those within the more formal regime of the Inquiries Bill.

Clauses 7 and 8 impose requirements on the Minister to have regard to the need for expertise and impartiality in making appointments to the inquiry panel. Clause 9 concerns the arrangements for the appointment of judges to inquiries—a matter on which, as noble Lords will know, there have been discussions during our consideration of the Constitutional Reform Bill. I have no doubt that we shall discuss this further in our consideration of the present Bill.

Clauses 14 and 15 give a new power, to convert another type of inquiry into one under this Bill. There is no present intention to use this power for any statutory inquiry already running; these will continue as if under their present legislation. However, the power will provide flexibility in the future. In particular, an inquiry set up on a non-statutory basis could be converted to provide it with statutory powers to compel witnesses, if it became necessary.

Clauses 16 to 21 cover the inquiry proceedings. They will be supplemented by rules of procedure made under Clause 38, which should contribute significantly to the effectiveness and smooth running of future inquiries. Rules could cover such topics as the arrangements for cross-examination of witnesses and the extent of legal representation. It is my intention to provide a memorandum setting out more detail on the expected content of the rules before the House rises for the Christmas Recess. There are separate rule-making powers for the devolved administrations.

Clause 16 also introduces an important new duty on inquiry chairmen—to conduct proceedings to avoid unnecessary cost to all participants, whether or not financed by public funds. I am sure that noble Lords will see the sense of this.

Clauses 17 and 18 cover public access to inquiry hearings and to evidence. We aim to create a flexible framework and to set out what factors can be taken into account in decisions on this. Whether or not a particular inquiry should be held in public or in private can sometimes be controversial, and I am sure that noble Lords will wish to look closely at these provisions. However, I remind noble Lords that it is far from unusual for inquiries to be held with some degree of privacy. More than a third of the major inquiries held since 1990 have had some sort of restrictions on public access, for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes the Minister setting up the inquiry has chosen these restrictions; in other cases, it has been the chairman's decision.

Clauses 19 to 21 cover the powers that an inquiry can use to require the production of evidence; they are quite similar to the provisions of existing legislation. These powers can be exercised only within the terms of reference. Later clauses cover enforcement.

Clauses 24 to 28 deal with inquiries by or involving devolved administrations, and have been agreed with them. A Sewel Motion will be brought before the Scottish Parliament in respect of their application to Scotland.

Many of the remaining clauses deal with further details of inquiry procedures and funding. Clause 35, for example, aims to ensure that challenges to inquiry procedures will come before the courts promptly, minimising the potential for disruption and delay. There are general provisions on legal costs, which will be dealt with in more detail in rules of procedure. Some of these clauses in fact reflect recommendations of the 1973 White Paper.

I think that I have said enough about these proposals; it is now for your Lordships to consider them. I know that many noble Lords here today have experience and knowledge of inquiries, and naturally I look forward to hearing those voices of experience. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

11.43 a.m.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, we broadly welcome the Bill. We believe that it simplifies and consolidates existing legislation on public inquiries, and that this is a desirable objective. But, as is to be expected in cases of this kind, we have a number of concerns.

It is clear that someone must initiate a public inquiry, and that person will almost always be a Minister. The only serious alternative to a ministerial inquiry would be an inquiry by a parliamentary Select Committee, and such Committees do carry out some investigations. However, there are serious defects in that procedure. That became evident to me when, as a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, I looked at the handling of complaints against Members of Parliament by the Committee on Standards and Privileges in the House of Commons. The cross-examination of witnesses by committee members was chaotic, and to be effective, a committee would have to appoint counsel to cross-examine witnesses, as happens with committees of the Senate or the House of Representatives in the USA.

If the Minister, therefore, is the person to initiate an inquiry, it seems a necessary conclusion that the Minister must also be the person who decides on the terms of reference. It would be wrong to give an outside body power to impose terms of reference on an unwilling Minister. That would discourage Ministers from setting up inquiries which are usually set up in response to public demand.

We have received some briefings which are critical of the Minister's unfettered power to decide the terms of reference, but no viable alternatives have been suggested. It is, of course, plain that the Minister should consult widely on the terms of reference, but it is right that the ultimate responsibility should rest with the Minister, who is accountable for his or her actions in office to Parliament and the electors.

One concern is that the Bill provides no role for Parliament. At present, there is no need for parliamentary authority for an inquiry unless the inquiry is being set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, in which case resolutions of both Houses are needed. But, as the Minister pointed out, that Act has been used infrequently—only 24 times, in fact, since 1921. The only current inquiries held under the Act are the Bloody Sunday and Shipman inquiries.

Most inquiries are non-statutory or come under other statutes containing powers to set up an inquiry. I therefore do not believe that there is a general necessity to obtain parliamentary endorsement for the setting up of an inquiry. That is an executive, not a legislative, act. But Parliament should be kept informed, and I believe that whenever an inquiry is set up, the Minister should be required to lay before Parliament a Written Statement on the terms of reference, the setting-up date, and the names of the chairman and of any other panel members who have been appointed before the date of the statement.

There is one issue on which I have somewhat more concern about the lack of parliamentary involvement. Under the Bill, any inquiry, including those which until now have been non-statutory, can require the production of evidence or documents under Clause 19. Failure to do so is an offence under Clause 32, and could be dealt with by a court as contempt under Clause 33.

An inquiry is not a court, and the effect of the legislation will be that the chairman of the inquiry can insist on the production of evidence and documents which the Minister could not obtain directly by other means. That seems, at first sight, to raise some constitutional concerns. I would have been tempted to insist that the notice under Clause 19 should require some kind of parliamentary authority. However, the current position is that most, if not all, statutory provisions for inquiries—such as the ones mentioned by the Minister and Section 250 of the Local Government Act 1972—provide that evidence can be obtained for an inquiry and do not require any prior authority from either Parliament or a court. It would be difficult to justify imposing an obligation to obtain parliamentary orders where no such obligation now exists, or to treat some inquiries as requiring such authority but not others. I may well put down an amendment to obtain a further debate on this serious issue in Committee.

There is one other issue which I regard as probably the most important; it is the most serious criticism of the Bill. I refer to the nature of the power to maintain secrecy by restricting public access to the hearings and the evidence and, more importantly, by the possibility of withholding parts of the report from publication. I can of course see circumstances in which withholding evidence or part of the report could be justified. For example, that might apply on questions of national security or when a report contains information about a vulnerable individual. But I believe that the powers in the Bill are too wide in that regard. Since the whole purpose of the inquiry under Clause 1 is to investigate matters of public concern, there must be a strong presumption that reports should be published in full in order that public concern may be either allayed or shown to be justified.

Therefore, the powers in the Bill to maintain secrecy over evidence or over parts of the report are too wide and need further restriction. In particular, I should like evidence and reports to be brought within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, so that after the report has been published, any withholding of documents or of unpublished parts of the report can be challenged before the Information Commissioner. I also believe that reports, as with the initial statement, should be laid before Parliament when published.

I have a number of other points. First, the Bill contains no power to modify the terms of reference after the inquiry has begun. It is not uncommon to find that after the inquiry has started there is a need to extend its scope. I can see advantages in allowing the Minister to vary the terms of reference during the course of the inquiry, if that is done at the request or with the consent of the panel. It has been suggested that the Minister could achieve that result by terminating the existing inquiry and restarting with new terms of reference, but that seems an altogether unnecessarily complicated procedure. Secondly, there are concerns about the power to convert existing inquiries to inquiries conducted under a different set of rules and, perhaps, with different terms of reference.

I have one or two minor matters to raise, but I do not believe that they are worth raising today. I shall raise them in Committee. This is a useful Bill that will improve our system of inquiries, but it contains issues that will need further examination in the later stages of its passage through your Lordships' House.

11.52 a.m.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, unhappily, as I respect the way in which the Minister handles so many issues in this House, I must be less welcoming to the Bill than the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. My first anxiety relates to the publication and consideration of the Bill at this stage, when the consideration of the whole topic by the Public Administration Select Committee has not concluded its examination or report. It has had to resort to delivering a letter, which reached me this morning and which I have copied for the benefit of my noble friend Lord Kingsland, so that he may be aware of it. I cannot understand the need for the helter-skelter rush towards this House with this legislation.

On 6 May, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in his foreword to the consultation document, said: We will be co-operating fully with the Select Committee's investigation, and hope and expect that useful conclusions will flow from it". Therefore, it seems premature in the extreme to offer his own approach to the matter without awaiting the arrival of those conclusions. They are of enormous importance. The committee will take account of the evidence given to it by my noble friend Lord Norton, as well as by myself, which was printed only in September. The matter is very serious and casts a shadow over the whole of the Bill.

The second matter relates to my anxiety that the belief here is that long and substantial legislation will solve most of the problems that have arisen with inquiries. In my judgment, almost all the problems that have arisen are not addressed by the Bill. The Bill, although difficult to challenge intellectually, is enormously comprehensive and a manifestation of what I call "legislative lust". The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, not long ago wrote an article that will take us into fanciful territory. He said, of the Queen's Speech: My fantasy is of a speech in which her Majesty announces NO legislation for a whole session, an opportunity to draw breath and consider maturely what we have, rather than … debate what we think we must need". Considering that, as the Minister explained, deliberations have been going on with regard to the subject of the Bill since at least 1973, a few weeks more to listen to the Select Committee in the other place would have been prudent, to say the least of it.

My other anxiety is that the structure of the legislation is psychologically linked with another contemporary disease, which I call "giantism"—the belief that by rolling everything up under one great umbrella one somehow provides a framework for issues to be addressed sensibly. I cite in that regard Ofcom, Ofwat, Of-everything, Oftoff, as well as the structure to consider human rights in the field of sex, disability, race and perhaps, who knows, religion as well. The Bill suffers from that misapprehension. It also disturbs the existing landscape. Schedule 3 repeals provisions from almost every regulatory statute that exists. People working in the fire service or the police have become accustomed to working within the legislative framework that they have. They will come to this Bill wondering where to start. So I am anxious about the entire psychology behind the Bill.

Another disturbing feature, which is a consequence of the same approach, is the impact of the Bill on some of the people most concerned about these matters. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to representations that he had received from Northern Ireland and from Justice, all of which perceive a conspiracy theory behind the Bill. They believe that it extends the powers of government into every nook and cranny and enables government Ministers to override provisions that they ought not to be able to override.

I would not go as far as that, but I have had an intimation from someone with long experience of many years of inquiries of the kind dealt with in the Bill. I do not think that I can identify him, because I have not been able to establish his consent. This man of immense reason, discretion and wisdom sent me this comment: The arrogant authoritarianism of this proposed measure peers out from beneath every slippery stone in it". That is a notable mixed metaphor—but if that is the impact on a mature judge, one can well understand the impact on more ordinary citizens.

The Bill gives powers to the Minister to dismiss, replace, regulate and inhibit access and, above all, limit publication. The definition of "Minister" includes any and every Minister of the Crown, whatever his status. That really is granting a huge blank cheque over "independent public inquiries". I rather wonder at the comparison between the upheaval that has been taking place in the Lord Chancellor's Department in order to ensure the separation of powers and the intermingling of powers in this Bill. Powers to change the structure of an inquiry, to change its terms of reference and to sack the chairman or replace him are all in the hands of the Minister—albeit that when he sacks the chairman he is at least obliged to consult the chairman. There is a remarkable comparison to be made with the way in which the Government have approached the larger question.

I share in particular the concern about the power to limit publication expressed by the noble and learned Lord—I keep on calling the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, learned, and he is when he is not in this House. I can cite my own experience in one of the inquiries with which I was closely concerned into the events at Ely hospital 30 years—a long time ago. We were appointed by the Welsh board of health. We delivered our report and were confronted by the entire board, who suggested that we should rewrite it with a summary of the central conclusions, as that was all that they expected. My colleagues and I resisted that invitation. We produced a report along those lines, but we included in it a closing paragraph to say that we could not refrain from protesting at the editorial influences that had been brought to bear on us, which we considered we must draw to the attention of a wider public. Happily, all the material was transmitted to Richard Crossman, one of whose most notable acts was to publish the whole of our original report. Therefore, it is understandable that there should be anxiety about the extent of that power.

I also share the concern expressed by the Commons Public Administration Committee at the disappearance of the 1921 Act. I do not argue at all with the fact that it may need to be brought up to date, but I believe that the existence of a power that can be exercised by Parliament, and only by Parliament, remains useful. It is, incidentally, an answer to the concerns expressed by the noble Lord and, indeed, by the Minister herself, about the shortcomings of parliamentary Select Committees. I entirely agree that, in the investigation of misbehaviour and misdeeds, having the power of cross-examination scattered among 12 Members of the Committee does not induce successful cross-examination. However, I believe that Parliament should retain the right to play a part in the appointment of more important inquiries of this kind.

The real problems with which we should be concerned arise not from the absence of rules but almost always from the failure of judgment in the exercise of existing conventions and rules, either in the appointment of the inquiry or in the performance of the members of the inquiry. A host of inquiries are conducted without regulation from outside and give rise to no complaint. I refer to those in the health service and many other specialised services. However, one must acknowledge that those that have given rise to anxiety are principally those under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hutton and Lord Scott, and, at least in relation to expense, that under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville.

Some of the most important inquiries conducted under the 1921 Act—for example, the Aberfan inquiry, which dealt with a very sensitive issue—were conducted without any public complaint about it at all. I had the privilege and burden of appearing before that inquiry. The Waterhouse inquiry, which examined immensely sensitive matters in north Wales, was again appointed under the 1921 Act but was conducted without complaint of injustice. The faults, if I may summarise them briefly, have been the shortcomings of judgments given by solo chairmen. That applies to the Hutton inquiry and to the Scott inquiry. I am glad to note that the Public Administration Select Committee recommends a wider inquiry.

I shall not dwell on the extent of the powers given to the Minister under the Bill, but it seems to me that they go a great deal too far and deserve a great deal more examination. The remedy that is needed—we may be part of the way towards achieving it—is the existence in government of a unit with specialised knowledge drawn from the experience of years—which I have been told now exists in the Cabinet Office. It would avoid the faults of appointing the wrong people and appointing a wrongly composed tribunal. If that wisdom is available, the need for such detailed regulatory control is not made out, and certainly it has not been made out in a manner that satisfies both Houses of Parliament. The Commons Select Committee is still considering the matter.

12.4 p.m.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I certainly cannot speak about this Bill with the experience of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. However, I have to ask at the outset: why are Bills now brought before this House—I have been associated with another place and here for more than 20 years—that are little more than frameworks for legislation? The problems do not appear to be thought out and understood before those Bills come before this House.

I envisage that with this legislation we shall find ourselves in a similar situation to that which occurred when the Civil Partnership Bill was brought before this House. Literally hundreds of government amendments had to be tabled before we could get something that made the slightest sense—not that I think that measure is a great asset but that is another matter. It is important to bear in mind that this Bill puts in place a framework of procedures for setting up inquiries but it does not give guidance regarding the circumstances in which an inquiry should be set up. There are no criteria save for those in Clause 1. The power to establish an inquiry is left entirely to the relevant Minister and there are two considerations only — that, particular events have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern, or … there is public concern that particular events may have occurred". I believe that we need something much more specific regarding why an inquiry should be established in the first place.

Thereafter, everything is the gift of a Minister. As a consequence of that nothing would, for example—I refer to something that was mentioned in your Lordships' House earlier today—guarantee the holding of a Deepcut inquiry. There is nothing that would restrict expenditure on something like the Bloody Sunday inquiry. Recently I read an article in the Independent in which Queen's Counsel who were engaged in that £155 million inquiry said that it had cost far too much.

If we do not have control, that may not appear here in England or, indeed, perhaps in Wales and Scotland, to have the far-reaching effect that it would have in Northern Ireland where, unlike the other three regions, there is a degree of corporate responsibility and one might reasonably expect that a Minister would consult his colleagues before deciding to have an inquiry. But would that happen in Northern Ireland? I fear that it may not. I cite an example of the kind of thing that may happen. I draw attention to the Parthian shot of Minister Martin McGuinness when the Assembly was being wound up. Without any consultation whatever with colleagues and without any sense of corporate responsibility he made a decision which had a far-reaching effect on education, and especially on that particularly successful stratum of education—our grammar schools in Northern Ireland. That was highlighted by the response to a question that I asked on whether an infrastructural audit or cost assessment had been carried out in respect of some of the proposals that were brought forward. I was told that there had been no such infrastructural audit or cost analysis. I am sorry if I appear to stray but I consider that this is a very good example of arbitrary activity by a Minister in Northern Ireland. I can find nothing in this Bill that guarantees that we will not find ourselves going down that road.

Perhaps Clause 24(7)(c) should be amended so that nothing could happen in Northern Ireland without a prior seal of approval from the First and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly. To fail to put in that safeguard would lead to a form of almost legalised anarchy in terms of some of the problems that could arise because of the particular nature of proposed devolved government in Northern Ireland.

I turn to a related matter. Although this Bill imposes geographical restrictions—we deal differently with Wales, with Scotland, with England and with Northern Ireland—there is no restriction on areas of responsibility, so that we could find, for example, a finance Minister triggering an inquiry on a matter that related specifically to health. Or we could find the Minister with responsibility for health triggering an inquiry that was to do specifically with an employment, environmental or educational matter. That surely is not going to be of any advantage to those of us who live in Northern Ireland and want to see devolved government brought forward in some sort of constructive way, where we reduce the tension between our traditions in Northern Ireland rather than put a dangerous weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous Minister. Let us remember that the way in which our Ministers will be appointed—on a d'Hondt system—does not give the corporate responsibility that one might expect an opportunity to flourish.

I shall refer briefly to one or two other issues. I am concerned by the compulsion that Clause 19 may place on people to come before an inquiry and be obliged to participate in it without the safeguards that those people would have if they were forced to come before a court. I think that there is a difference and I should like to see introduced into the Bill some safeguards.

Can the Minister assure us that inquiries will be able to be as independent as we would like them to be? We know that if we were appointing a judicial figure, as in the case of the Hutton inquiry, we would be very likely to find someone who would not be swayed by supposition, conjecture or media speculation, but in the type of inquiry as is envisaged, it is possible that that would happen. We need reassurance on that.

I am unhappy with that as I am with many other issues. I am unhappy mostly that this Government seem determined to bring forward Bills that are not complete and do not give us a reasonable basis for amending them in the first place.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

My Lords, while I share some of the reservations which my noble and learned friend Lord Howe has expressed, it would be churlish of me not to say that I welcome this Bill. If I have a grumble about it, I would have preferred it to have been in place some years ago, when I had cause to want to have some of the powers that are included in it.

That the public have preferred discretionary inquiries in the past seems a perverse reaction. As soon as one decides that a statutory inquiry is required, for perverse reasons, the public do not like it. I shall come to a particular example of that. So I am pleased to see this Bill before us and I hope to participate in Grand Committee as it passes through this House.

Until relatively recently, I was engaged in an inquiry in Scotland, appointed by the First Minister of Scotland and the Presiding Officer, into the cost overrun of the new Parliament building at Holyrood, which went from a mere £50 million to £431 million, and it was running three years late. In such circumstances, I was appointed on a non-statutory basis. I do not criticise the Scottish First Minister for that. I did not want to have powers under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act because I feared that I was likely to have something like nine Silks in front of me. The cost of that to the public purse would have been very considerable indeed. Particularly as it was an inquiry that was looking into the cost of things, it seemed to be incumbent on me to attempt to keep costs down to the minimum.

But I encountered a problem. It came to my notice that the BBC had a film of the late Donald Dewar and the late Senor Morales, who was architect—the two key players in the building of this new Parliament. Although the BBC had this film, it refused to let me have access to it or any details of it. I could not compel it to hand it over to me because I did not have powers under the 1921 Act.

If I had been asking the BBC to give me the name and address of, let us say, a cameraman in Northern Ireland who had had the occasion to film a riot, I would have desisted immediately, but the BBC want these films and interviews to show to the great British public this month or next month. It seemed to be positively obstructive in such circumstances to deprive me and my inquiry of access to film where the two people involved were both dead and I had no opportunity otherwise of discovering what they might have said. So I welcome the way in which the Bill is structured and the opportunity that it would have given to someone like me to have gone back to the Minister and said, "Will you give me powers to compel witnesses or compel the production of evidence, because I haven't got it and it might be vital? I don't know".

As a rather peculiar consequence, I finished up by reporting to the Scottish Parliament in great detail, but had to say to it, "I have not concluded my report, because I cannot properly do so, in terms of my remit, until I have seen these films on the BBC this month or next month". I do not believe that the film is going to reveal anything new that I did not know, but I have to be cautious about it and take the step of keeping the inquiry open until that happens.

One aspect that seems to have been understated in this debate thus far is the extraordinary issue of cost. The Saville inquiry, when it concludes, is going to be probably the most expensive inquiry of modern times. Whether that level of cost was justified is a very real question.

The Bill is a little wobbly about that. It says that the chairman of the inquiry has to have regard to the costs to all parties—so far, so good—but a later provision indicates that the Minister might have to pay costs of those who appear. As I understand it, it is the cost not only of witnesses but of representation. I suppose that, if anything, I would like the presumption that costs should not be imposed on the taxpayer to be more clearly stated somewhere in the Bill. Lord Salmon said in his report that, where parties are brought before the inquiry or have to come before it to look after their own interests, the taxpayer will pick up the tab.

That has led to some extraordinary costs. I remember with some disbelief one inquiry when an eminent Silk in Scotland took half an hour to establish that the M8 ran on an east-west axis between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It took an immense cross-examination to achieve that, particularly in view of the fact that we had all come along that road that morning to the inquiry. The taxpayer has to pick up such costs day after day, in terms of various inquiries, which is undesirable. Although I am not in favour of stealing bread from the mouths of lawyers, the House should look very carefully at the costs of inquiries.

Of course the 1921 Act has been there, but recent modern history will establish that it has been exceptionally difficult to get Ministers of any persuasion to accept that the very wide powers given under that Act should be granted to them. It has almost passed from being a practical way of dealing with inquiries, which has led to the proliferation of non-statutory inquiries over the years.

I have a couple of points that I would specifically like to raise. We went off the rails from the time of the Salmon report. Procedures under the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act became so formalised and so like legal proceedings that they were effectively indistinguishable. I am not confident that that really helped us get to the truth on a number of matters. Once we have examination, cross-examination and rights of representation, it is inevitable that matters are less effectively examined.

I want to see a number of points examined in Committee. I do not ask the Minister to answer them now, but I shall give her warning of them. The presumption should be clearly stated in favour of publicity for everything. The clause should not deal with restrictions, but at least start with the presumption in favour of publicity. If there are to be restrictions—there will be circumstances when they are necessary—that should be secondary. If I may say so—I had no difficulty with it—the presumption should be in favour of broadcasting. I am rather surprised to see in the notes attached to the Bill the weight given to Article 8 of the European convention. If someone can sit at the back of an inquiry, it seems undesirable that the greater public should not be able to watch it at home in the evening on television. I would like some movement that way.

Again, I do not ask the Minister for consideration of a broader issue now, but she said that part of the Bill included a sort of codification of best practice. Clause 8 is an indication of that. If it is not a codification, it seems completely unnecessary. Of course the chairman of an inquiry has to act impartially; of course, if something comes to his or her attention subsequent to that, he will have to say to the Minister, "You will have to disqualify me from heading this inquiry". Effectively, that seems a codification of existing practice and judicial decisions.

Am I to assume that, if something is not codified in the Bill, it is abandoned? I would not be at all upset to see one issue abandoned, and some of those who have headed inquiries hold the same view. That is the dreadful Salmon letters that have to be sent to anyone who might be the subject of criticism in the report. Nothing causes more time and delay than the requirement to put out those letters. Effectively, I had to finish my report, go through it to see who might be criticised, refer to particular passages of evidence in the report, and send them out. Without mentioning any names, another colleague of mine in the law recently had very grave difficulties over his Salmon letters. I hope that we can examine that broader issue carefully.

Will the Minister explain very briefly the fate of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976? It provides for both mandatory and discretionary inquiries, and the relationship to it is not clear. I cannot find any reference to it. It is not entirely a non-issue; it was my problem when we had to look at the Lockerbie disaster. The inquiry was mandatory because the flight crew and cabin crew were killed during the course of their employment, but so far as the other people were concerned the inquiry was discretionary. The relatives of those killed on the flight wanted a much broader inquiry than was possible to be undertaken under that Act.

With those observations and, I hope, some experience of what has happened in the past, I take on board the reservations expressed but look forward to participating in the passage of the Bill.

12.26 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I must apologise to the House for the second time this week for having arrived late for a debate in which I was taking part. I come here by public transport, and obviously must re-examine what I thought were the already very generous margins that I allow for the time that it takes.

I am fortunate to be sandwiched in the list of speakers between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I was fascinated by what the noble and learned Lord had to say, and look forward very much to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Norton, who I think will have a lot to tell us about how we should approach the Bill.

I join noble Lords in deploring the fact that the Bill has been brought in before we have had the benefit of the committee in another place. Given the amount of legislation that we are promised, it seems unnecessary that the Bill has been given such priority. However, it has, and I have been asked to oppose it. As your Lordships know, to oppose the Bill in this House would be counterproductive, but we have to amend it very seriously and need to devote a lot of time to it.

I am persuaded by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that it is right that a Minister set the terms of reference for the inquiry. Like him, however, I challenge the fact that the chair has no power to seek any alteration to the terms of reference, and that a Minister is under no obligation to consult anyone about them.

We must look very carefully at government control over access, disclosure and publication of evidence. Although the chair will have the normal powers to decide whether hearings are held in public, to order disclosure of documents and to publish material given in evidence, a Minister will also be able to tell the inquiry what to do. A Minister can issue a restriction notice at any time before or during an inquiry about any of those matters for a variety of reasons, including that he or she considers it to be, necessary in the public interest". That is a very broad term. It is true that "public interest" is to be defined or expanded in the Bill, and that is a help to us. But I am not sure that "the economic interests" of the country and "commercially sensitive information", about which I am always very dubious, should be among the items which are said to be in the public interest.

I agree that the Freedom of Information Act should definitively be applicable to the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned laying the results before Parliament. I do not see why inquiries should no longer have the power to attribute civil or criminal liability, as in Clause 2. That seems to me unnecessary, and it is probably something which they should have the power to do. I do not like the Minister having the power to stop an inquiry before it has delivered a report and not having to give any reason for doing so.

I have already mentioned the proposal that it should be possible to withhold evidence from an inquiry in order to avoid the risk of damage to the economy. I find that very difficult to swallow.

I turn to the limitations on inquiries in Scotland and Wales and the fact that, on the whole, there are all kinds of things which they are not allowed to consider unless they specifically involve Scotland and Wales, the same being true of Northern Ireland. I believe that that is probably unnecessary, and we need to look at the matter in detail.

We also need to consider the danger to existing inquiries. The Minister will have the power to convert any existing inquiry involving public concern to one governed by the Inquiries Act and to alter the terms of reference. The Minister can also sack any member of the inquiry panel on a number of grounds. Thus, if a Minister does not like the way in which an inquiry is developing or how a member is acting, he or she can change it, even applying the Act retrospectively.

I believe that the Inquiries Bill is introduced at the wrong time. In conception, it is probably a good idea, but it appears to contain an enormous amount of very strong anti-public interest and anti-public access clauses, at which we need to look very carefully before we allow it to pass into law.

12.32 p.m.

Lord Norton of Louth

My Lords, this is a relatively short Bill and it may appear a straightforward administrative measure. However, it is a Bill of some constitutional importance and one that requires significant attention by your Lordships' House.

I accept, as other noble Lords have done, that there is a need for a measure to replace the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 and the other legislation that has grown up on public inquiries. I welcome particular provisions of the Bill. However, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, I have a number of concerns about it, and I shall identify what I believe to be the most salient.

First, I am concerned that the Bill has come forward without any prior consideration. Given that it is a measure of constitutional significance and that the Government have published a consultation paper, I see no reason why the measure should not have been published in draft and have been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons has previously stated that, a Bill should be published in draft form unless there are good reasons for not doing so".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/2/04; col. I9WH.] and has made it clear that it is the Government's intention and policy to increase the amount of legislation that is subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. This Bill would seem an obvious candidate for such scrutiny.

Secondly, and related to the first point, like my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I am worried by the fact that the Government have brought forward this measure without waiting for the report of the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place. That committee has been examining the subject for some time; indeed, it has been taking evidence this morning. Although there is a need for a Bill, I am not convinced that the need is so compelling that it should be brought in ahead of the report of that committee.

Thirdly, coming to the substance of the measure. I am concerned that the Bill vests too much power in the hands of a Minister and does so at the expense of Parliament. This is an important constitutional point. As we have already heard, under the provisions of the Bill, the 1921 Act is repealed. Under the 1921 Act, a resolution of both Houses of Parliament declaring that it is expedient that a tribunal of inquiry be appointed to inquire into a matter of "urgent public importance" is necessary before Her Majesty or a Secretary of State can appoint a tribunal of inquiry with the same power to compel witnesses to give evidence as are exercised by the High Court. Under the Bill, Parliament is excluded from the process. Clause 1 vests the power to set up an inquiry solely in the hands of a Minister.

I have seen a copy of the letter from the Minister. the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to the British Irish Rights Watch organisation, in which she justifies the exclusion of Parliament on the grounds that inquiries under the 1921 Act are the exception rather than the rule. That point has already been touched upon by noble Lords. However, that is not an argument for excluding Parliament from the provisions of the Bill. The inquiries set up by Ministers without parliamentary sanction do not usually exercise the powers conferred under Clause 19 of the Bill. Given that, the logical read-across from the 1921 Act is to require Parliament's approval before the powers can be exercised.

Fourthly, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, the power to cause an inquiry to be held is essentially all-encompassing. Under Clause 1 the Minister can establish an inquiry in relation to events that have, or may have, occurred and have caused, or are capable of causing, public concern. As it is difficult to think of anything that does not have the potential to cause public concern, a Minister can trigger an inquiry on anything. The Explanatory Notes state: The range of inquiries in the past ten years illustrates that it is not possible to specify more precisely the circumstances when an inquiry may be called". The topics covered in inquiries may have been diverse, but it does not follow that one cannot generate criteria that have to be met before an inquiry is called—a point that I made in evidence to the Public Administration Committee and to which I shall return.

Fifthly, the Minister's powers in respect of who is to serve on the inquiry and the powers that it may exercise are far too broad. Not only can the Minister establish an inquiry on any topic; he or she can decide who is on it, what their terms of reference are and what restrictions may be imposed on attendance and on disclosure of information. In certain and limited cases, there is a duty to consult or to have regard to particular considerations, but none of these provisions prevents a Minister proceeding in whatever way he or she wishes.

Sixthly, the Minister not only has certain powers to suspend an inquiry and to end an inquiry before it has reported but also has the power to convert existing inquiries into inquiries under the terms of this measure and to change the terms of reference. That, in effect, extends a Minister's powers and introduces a retrospective provision. The scope and retrospective element are causes for concern. The Explanatory Notes state: It is not intended that this power should be used to convert other types of inquiries, such as planning inquiries". That may not he the intention, but there is no prohibition under the terms of the Bill.

Seventhly, not only is the Minister empowered to set up an inquiry without any involvement of Parliament; there is also no involvement of the Council on Tribunals. Instead of the council, which is independent of the Minister, having an oversight capacity, the oversight is exercised by the Minister. Paragraph 14 of Schedule 2 to the Bill amends the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992 in order to bring about this result.

In short, I believe that the powers conferred on a Minister are too extensive, cutting out a role for Parliament and giving a Minister the capacity to interfere once an inquiry has been established. Neither of those elements is acceptable.

How are these matters to be addressed? I shall deal, first, with the issue of process. In the recent report from the Constitution Committee entitled Parliament and the Legislative Process, the committee, which I chaired, recommends that at some stage during its passage, each Bill should normally be considered by a committee empowered to take evidence. Given that this Bill has not been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, perhaps the Minister can explain what plans the Government have to ensure that the Bill is properly considered by an evidence-taking committee. It will also be helpful to hear from the Minister why the Bill has been brought in ahead of the report of the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place.

I come to the contents of the Bill. I believe that it needs to be reworked so that two basic principles can he met: first, that the basis on which an inquiry can be called is clearly stipulated; and, secondly, that an inquiry, once appointed, shall he independent of the Minister.

In my evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, I argued that there should be a checklist for determining whether an inquiry is the most appropriate mechanism for considering a matter of public concern. The checklist, I suggested, could cover questions such as the following. Is the problem clearly defined? Does it have clear implications for public policy? Is the level of public concern sufficient to justify triggering a public inquiry? Is there an established alternative available? Have other possible avenues been exhausted? Do the potential benefits of an inquiry justify the costs? I use those as illustrative questions, but I attach particular importance to the last two.

There are sometimes problems with Ministers declining to set up inquiries despite considerable pressure to do so. However, there is also the danger of a Minister establishing an inquiry as a means of circumventing parliamentary investigation. The conditions under which an inquiry of the sort envisaged in the Bill can be held must be stipulated more precisely, with the Minister required at least to satisfy certain criteria before establishing an inquiry.

In order to ensure the independence of the Minister, I believe that there must be more involvement of others in the appointment of the members of an inquiry and that, once appointed, it must be a matter for the inquiry as to how it sets about fulfilling its terms of reference. Those provisions giving the Minister power to remove members, to terminate the inquiry, and to issue restriction notices covering such matters as access and disclosure, should be amended or stripped out of the Bill. An inquiry must be independent and, crucial for the purpose of' public confidence, must be seen to be independent. The provisions of the Bill do not ensure that this basic requirement is seen to be met. Given the powers vested in a Minister, one has to wonder who would accept appointment to serve on an inquiry if independence were not guaranteed.

I would thus remove the provisions giving a Minister power over an inquiry once it has been appointed. In my evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, I endorsed the idea of art inquiries unit being set up within government. Given the provisions of this Bill, I believe that there is a case for maintaining and, if necessary, extending the role of the Council on Tribunals. At present, the council must be consulted before procedural rules are made for any tribunal specified in Schedule 1 to the 1992 Act, it must be consulted before any exemption is granted from the requirement in Section 10 of that Act to give reasons for decisions, and it may make general recommendations to Ministers about appointments to membership of scheduled tribunals. Given the nature, composition and experience of the council, not only should its oversight role be retained, but it should also have a statutory role to be consulted before a Minister may set up an inquiry.

On other provisions of the Bill, I believe that an inquiry should normally comprise a panel of three or more members. Although there have been some excellent reports emanating from inquiries undertaken by individuals, there is the danger that an individual may miss a particular point or may not have sufficient grounding in all aspects of the subject to be able to assess the evidence appropriately. Although drawing on an eminent person may invest a report with some authority, it may serve also to detract attention from the substance of the report or encourage critics to level criticisms at the individual rather than at the reasoning of the report. As the Constitution Select Committee noted in its report on the regulatory state, the practice in terms of establishing regulatory bodies is to appoint boards, rather than individuals, and the same approach should be adopted for public inquiries.

There are other provisions that require attention, including those governing the appointment of judges to chair inquiries. However, I think my comments, like those of other noble Lords, are sufficient to identify the limitations of the Bill. It is clearly a measure that would have benefited from pre-legislative scrutiny. I fail to see why it is being brought forward now. If it is to be proceeded with, it requires the most detailed scrutiny and, I fear, considerable amendment.

12.44 p.m.

Lord Laming

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has said, it is a relatively short Bill, but I hope that your Lordships will agree that that in no way diminishes its importance. Indeed, sometimes there are those who question the need for inquiries. "After all", they say, "Parliament has put in place a wide variety of mechanisms through which the actions and decisions of others can be rightly challenged".

However, it must also be acknowledged that within both the public services and private enterprises, great powers and responsibilities are exercised and sometimes issues arise that go well beyond the interests of the individual and rightly excite serious and general concern. In my view, in a modern democratic society, there is a distinctive and important place for an inquiry to be held in circumstances in which there are general concerns that are unlikely to be addressed satisfactorily by any other means to secure public confidence.

Therefore, I support the Bill for three main reasons. First, it really is time that the legislation was brought up to date. We need to learn the lessons of previous experience and ensure that the legislative framework serves current needs and expectations. Secondly, experience shows that there is a need to establish inquiries to address a very wide range of issues. Therefore, the style and nature of an inquiry must be relevant to the particular matter and circumstance. Thirdly, it is absolutely essential that each and every inquiry must be seen to be independent of all special interests, which must include the government of the day.

It is on that latter point that I wish to raise some concerns on which I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House. I do so because I suspect that in our society there is a long history of governments who, in seeking to tackle problems, take more powers unto themselves as a first reaction. On the issue of inquiries, governments have to exercise restraint so as not to put in jeopardy the independence of inquiries.

Perhaps I may touch on a few of my concerns. You will not be surprised that some of them have already been highlighted. First, in Clause 1 it is for the Minister to establish an inquiry. Parliament is deliberately excluded both in the setting up of an inquiry and in the publication of the report. That issue is important because I suspect that in a number of inquiries, when the spotlight has veered towards the activities of central government, it has somehow been deflected elsewhere. Even when central government have been at the centre of the storm, somehow matters turn out to be all right in the end. I believe that it is absolutely essential that the activities of central government are subjected to the same degree of scrutiny as are local operational services. That being so, I have real concerns about Parliament being excluded and all the powers being given to the Minister.

Secondly, the Bill enables the Minister to settle the terms of reference without even consulting the person who will chair the inquiry, despite the fact that experience shows that it is not unusual for the terms of reference of an inquiry to attract critical comment. Often the chair has to explain or even to defend the terms of reference. In my view, it is essential that there is a clear understanding and a meeting of minds between the Minister and the chair on this vitally important matter, which goes beyond the form of words, but embraces an understanding of their interpretation.

Thirdly, the Minister can appoint the panel of advisers without reference to the chair. In my view, that both fails to recognise that the chair and the advisers have to work as a team and undermines the independence of the inquiry—a factor of immense importance.

Fourthly, the Minister can determine when the inquiry is to begin and when it is to end. However, experience shows that sometimes inquiries have to take evidence from many more witnesses, or study many more documents, than was initially envisaged by the Minister, solely to satisfy the terms of reference.

Fifthly, the Minister is given powers to publish the report and, in doing so, can withhold material that he decides should be excluded in the public interest. It may be tempting in some circumstances for the Minister to interpret "the public interest" rather widely. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to assure the House that that does not encompass such matters as possible embarrassment to the government of the day. I am surprised that the Minister is not required to publish the report to a prompt timescale and I hope that some reassurance can be given on the point.

Sixthly, although it is entirely right that inquiries should not trespass on civil or criminal liability—that is absolutely right—I could not help but note that the statement from the department that accompanied the Bill indicated that: The purpose of an inquiry is not to apportion blame. I make it plain that if a train crashes because the driver has gone through a stop light and he is then proved to be drunk while on duty, I would expect the blame to be stated very clearly, although further issues must be followed up elsewhere.

Seventhly, your Lordships will have noticed that the Minister has been given power to suspend an inquiry without having to consult the chair. That illustrates an important principle and a matter of concern, which is that Parliament must ensure that Ministers do not exert undue influence over inquiries. Indeed, a principal task of a Minister is to appoint someone capable of conducting an independent inquiry. That person must be accountable for the management of the inquiry and its conclusions.

I readily accept that the Minister cannot give, as it were, a blank cheque, but there has to be proper recognition, both of the responsibilities of the Minister and those of the chair. I hope that the Minister will be willing to look to see whether the balance has yet been achieved between the responsibilities of the Minister and the chair of the inquiry.

I touch briefly now on a point of omission already referred to, which is the report by Lord Salmon and, in particular, the so-called "Salmon principles". I agree entirely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, that anyone who has had to try to manage informing people about potential criticism will know of the complexities and of the potential for delay and added expense in an inquiry.

The present arrangements seem to me to hold out the possibility that inquiries are almost never ending. That being so, I hope the Minister can give an assurance that the issue will be tackled and these principles brought up to date.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me if I intervene to ask him a question on that. I suggest that the Salmon principles, properly applied—and I fully take the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser—can accelerate the conclusion, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, for example, demonstrated in the BSE Inquiry. There has to be a balance between the two. But to discard the Salmon principles altogether would be to jeopardise the interests of individuals.

Lord Laming

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that intervention. I did not intend to imply that the Salmon principles should be abandoned. Far from it; there are issues of justice and fairness that have to be properly taken into account. But the way the Salmon principles are framed can lead to inquiries being reopened, new witness statements being taken, new evidence received and witnesses being recalled. The list can go on and on unless these matters are addressed. I make the point because inquiries have interestingly devised different ways in which to handle the Salmon principles and it seems to me that there should be some consistency in the matter.

Finally, I repeat that I very much welcome this Bill; indeed, I welcome any Bill that is intended to strengthen and make more efficient the conduct of inquiries. The concerns I have expressed are not intended in any way to imply that we do not need a Bill of this kind or that it is not important; indeed, I believe that inquiries are essential, not only to recover public confidence but also to ensure that the public can be guaranteed that matters of this kind will be handled in an independent, thorough, careful, robust and fair way. The issue of the independence of the inquiry is my principal concern.

12.55 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I speak only of the implications of the Bill for Northern Island. I begin by saying that although some of the concerns I am expressing may now prove premature, they are none the less valid.

Sinn Fein/IRA is well versed in the art of brinkmanship. Its latest statements are part of the war of nerves. It will now sit back and wait for more concessions. As the Independent Monitoring Commission pointed out, it has never stopped recruiting in this past year while negotiations have been going on, and it has never disciplined the so-called dissidents whom it has done much to arm.

The Cory inquiry, with its flawed redaction, was not a reassuring example of an inquiry set up by Ministers. The Bill we are about to debate provides that Ministers from the devolved administration will have the power to establish such inquiries into matters within their remit.

Under Clause 27 an inquiry established by a Northern Ireland Minister must not receive evidence or make any recommendation in matters concerned with national security. I assume that that was the position before devolution. That should be a safeguard against the disgraceful exposure seen in the Cory report of a number of servants of the state who were not questioned or given any opportunity to defend themselves.

However, the timetable given in annex A of the proposal for a comprehensive agreement provides that by early summer 2005 the British Government will introduce legislation giving effect to the devolution of criminal justice and policing. Indeed, there were to be—and no doubt still will be—shadow assembly committees as early as January 2005 to consider modalities for the devolution of those areas of power.

In annex F of the proposals for agreement, Sinn Fein engages, in the context of the enactment of the British Parliament of the legislation to give full expression to this transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London", to, decide on the issue of policing as soon as the legislation is enacted". Its commitment remains conditional even at the height of the honeymoon.

In the context of the Northern Ireland negotiations, the timing of the Bill is significant. It is a very nice sop to Cerberus. Sinn Fein/IRA, if and when it becomes a part of power sharing, will undoubtedly use the legislation in due course to attack the security forces, despite all the reassurance that ought to be given by Clause 27, for by that time it will have a presence on the police force and a strong hand in rewriting the rules. It has the agreement of both the DUP and the British Government to the transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Assembly. I think that we can expect more inquiries, although none, I fear, on the 1,800 murders committed by the IRA over the years and no inquiry either on behalf of the families of the disappeared.

Incidentally, I do not see why, since the inquiries have no power to convict and none to determine any personal civil or criminal liability, the IRA should not be, in the period before devolution, publicly exposed in such inquiries—it is the only good thing about the idea so far as I can see—and those who have committed this crime named.

Once the powers in the Bill have been devolved, however, it is very doubtful whether a Northern Ireland Minister in a devolved Assembly would ever do anything so contentious as to arraign the IRA or indeed the protestant paramilitaries who have committed crimes. They will probably only go for the police and, retrospectively—since by that time the Armed Forces will be being usefully employed by a sorely overstretched Army somewhere else—the military.

In the statement on the Cory report in April, the Secretary of State said that wrongdoers would be brought to justice. I cannot but wonder whether such inquiries ordered by a devolved administration, and expressly precluded in Clause 2 from ruling on or determining any person's civil or criminal liability, may prove to be just the thing to solve the problem for the Government of how to get the "on the runs" back home unpunished for their crimes. That is what was promised at Weston Park—that there would be a brief judicial process which would immediately set the OTRs free.

Will the mechanism for inquiries in the Bill offer a useful way of appearing to arraign them, while at the same time ensuring that no action could be taken against them? Is that why Sinn Fein/IRA is ready, once the legislation on the devolution of police and criminal justice is secure, to decide on the issue of policing? Incidentally, nothing has been said in the proposals about either the OTRs or about the right of those arbitrarily exiled by paramilitaries to return.

In due course, although perhaps not by the Minister today, as that would be inappropriate, I should be glad to be assured that the IRA's Stormont operation and the Special Branch break-in, which put so many police officers and others at risk of their lives, will have been brought before the courts and justice done, as the Secretary of State promised that it would be. Once Sinn Fein/IRA is on the police board and enjoying the powers that the Bill will give Ministers to set inquiries going at will, three guesses as to who will be the targets. Not Sinn Fein/IRA.

Relentless public exposure of the forces of law and order, in the guise of inquiries, who will, on the Cory model, be given no chance to defend themselves, will serve very well to demoralise public servants. I fear that the interesting reason why the Bill has been introduced now is the context of Northern Ireland and the Government's need to offer concessions.

1.1 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, on 1 April, responding to the Statement on the Cory report, I asked: Is there likely to be a future opportunity for this House to discuss the precise workings of the inquiries?".—[Official Report, 1/4/04; col. 1523.] That question was not answered.

As other noble Lords have said, the Bill has raised many concerns, in particular the timing and the nature in which it has been introduced. Noble Lords have asked: why now, in advance of the Public Administration Committee's report? As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, said, why was there no provision for pre-legislative scrutiny, when the Bill seems eminently suitable for such treatment? His successor as chairman of the Constitution Committee, my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham, wrote yesterday to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, noting that the Bill had not had a White Paper as a precursor or any pre-legislative scrutiny. The consultation that occurred is not a substitute for either pre-legislative scrutiny or the publication of a White Paper.

The Bill is relatively short but very dense. It places an enormous concentration of power in the hands of a Minister. In her replies to the many bodies that expressed concerns, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has been the model of reasonableness, as we would expect from her, but not all Ministers in future or even now, when initiating inquiries under the Bill, will necessarily display the same degree of reasonableness. The Bill is likely to last for some time, if history is to be repeated.

That concentration of powers is the major concern raised by the Bill. In the wrong ministerial hands, the Bill enables Ministers so to manipulate inquiries that more is concealed than revealed. We had an example today during Questions, when we saw the reluctance of the Ministry of Defence to be sufficiently open about the Deepcut allegations of bullying and abuse of young recruits. That reveals a much more common ministerial approach than the one adopted by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton.

Although no one would not welcome a Bill that seeks to modernise and bring up to date the provision for inquiries to be held, it is vague in many respects. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said that it was a framework Bill and a bit short on specifics. We will doubtless address those in Grand Committee, but we hear that one aspiration is to constrain the financial costs of such inquiries. The largest item in those costs is of course lawyers' fees. Can the Minister suggest how, in practice, those will be effectively contained? No one in the history of humankind has contrived a solution to that, so it is an ambitious aspiration. For example, will there be a limit on the number of days on which an inquiry can sit? Will there be a cap on legal fees, or what? That general aspiration is far too vague, and we need in Committee to consider how that will pan out.

So, as my noble friend Lord Goodhart said, we welcome the Bill in principle, but the devil is in the detail, and that we will consider in Committee. We are especially worried about the problem of transparency, on which many noble Lords have touched. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, said, there must be a presumption of publicity rather than covert operations. As the noble Lord, Lord Laming, said, it must not be used as an excuse either to prevent the activities of central government being examined or—he put it more politely than I would—for Ministers to exempt themselves from any scrutiny. That is a particular worry for us, as is the short-circuiting of Parliament in the whole process referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. That is not good enough, and it is a matter that we will also pursue.

1.7 p.m.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, I think that all your Lordships who have spoken in the debate have agreed that it is now timely to reconsider the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921.

I think that your Lordships are also agreed that it is a great shame that the Government did not wait until the Public Administration Committee in another place had reported on the matter. It has been examining the topic in depth, taking evidence and reflecting maturely on what ought to replace the 1921 Act. As several noble Lords have said, it would have been an easy step for the Government either to wait until the committee had reported or to introduce the Bill in draft form.

In any event, the Bill is only a partial response to the problem that the 1921 Act was intended to confront. The Bill, adequate or otherwise—I shall say something about that later—deals only with issues that do not involve either the principle of ministerial responsibility or, at one remove, the conduct of a ministerial department.

The core of the Bill is to shift the responsibility for establishing a public inquiry from Parliament to the Executive—a shift that is manifested in many other decisions that the Government have made during the past seven or so years. Be that as it may, how can it be appropriate for the Bill to apply where a fellow Minister in Cabinet or government has done something or not done something that justifies the establishment of an inquiry?

Under this Bill, it is the Minister who decides whether the inquiry will be established or not; it is the Minister who decides who shall sit on that inquiry; and it is the Minister who decides what the terms of reference of that inquiry shall be. How can that conceivably be appropriate where the relevant conduct is that of another Minister or even the department of the Minister in question?

There is therefore a gaping hole in this Bill because that whole topic—perhaps the most important topic of all when it comes to the establishment of public inquiries—is not addressed. There should have been an entirely separate clause in the Bill where the constitutional mechanism that was established by the 1921 Act should have remained. A resolution of both Houses of Parliament should be required for the establishment of any inquiry into the conduct of a Minister or a ministerial department.

Ministers are supposed to be accountable to Parliament. Therefore, Parliament is the appropriate forum to initiate an inquiry of that sort. As your Lordships well know, in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, conduct of that sort by Ministers of the Crown was habitually investigated by a committee either of another place or your Lordships' House. That procedure became discredited following the famous—or perhaps I should say notorious—Marconi inquiry just before the First World War. Indeed, it might be said that the experience gleaned from the Marconi inquiry was one of the inspirational features behind the 1921 Act.

It is time that Parliament reposed confidence in itself again to set up inquiries to investigate alleged ministerial misdemeanours. I suggest that your Lordships' House is an ideal part of Parliament to conduct such inquiries because it has the great merit of having a substantial Cross-Bench ingredient. Therefore, any investigatory inquiry conducted by your Lordships' House with a majority of Members from the Cross Benches would not fall foul of the criticisms rightly levelled at the Marconi inquiry.

What better way to establish the authority of Parliament than to have another clause in the Inquiries Bill requiring investigations of ministerial misdemeanours in future to be conducted in the parliamentary context. Of course, it may be that Parliament would not always consider one of its own committees appropriate to conduct such an inquiry; in which case it could delegate that authority to an outside committee, even perhaps headed by someone who was not a parliamentarian.

Not to pursue that approach would have two consequences. First, it would further undermine the confidence of the public in the role that Parliament is pre-eminently supposed to play, which is making the Executive accountable. Secondly, it leaves the Prime Minister of the day open to exercise his prerogative in the time-honoured way and set up the particular sort of inquiry that suits him or her whenever one or other of his Ministers is alleged to have committed a misdemeanour or another sort of wrong.

I hope that in the course of debate on the Bill your Lordships will grapple with the crucial issue of how ministerial conduct of that sort should be investigated. There is absolutely nothing whatever in the Bill that is relevant to that aspect of the inquiry system.

I turn briefly to the Bill itself. Just as, constitutionally, the Bill reflects a shift from Parliament to the Executive, so within the framework of the Bill we see a massive shift of power away from the person who chairs the inquiry towards the Minister. The Bill, as so many of your Lordships have said, is riddled with new discretionary powers for Ministers to override or overreach the decisions that traditionally are—or ought to be—made by the chairman of the inquiry.

There are legion examples in the various clauses of this, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, rightly described it, dense Bill. But one can just refer to a few clauses to remind your Lordships of how this shift is occurring.

It is clear from Clause 5(1) and (3) that the Minister has complete control over the terms of reference of the inquiry. I was somewhat surprised to see that because in the Department for Constitutional Affairs consultation paper, it appeared from the text that the Government were encouraging us to think that the Bill would require the Minister to initiate a period of some weeks where those who had an interest in the content of an inquiry could make suggestions about what its terms of reference should be. But that idea seems to have been abandoned in the final draft of the Bill.

There is a particularly worrying aspect that flows from the Minister's determination of the terms of reference. Any matter considered in the course of the inquiry by the chairman, which falls outside the initial terms of reference, will not qualify for any form of financial support whatever. So even if, in the course of the inquiry, new evidence emerges which makes it essential for the proper continuation of the analysis by the chairman to stray beyond the Minister's terms of reference, the structure of the Bill prohibits the chairman from doing so.

As your Lordships are also aware, under Clause 17 the Minister will retain iron control over all matters concerned with the disclosure and publication of evidence. For example, under Clause 17(2)(b), the Minister can issue a restriction notice at any time, before or during an inquiry, as to whether the hearing should continue to be held in public, whether material advanced and adduced in evidence should be published, and on a whole range of other matters, as long as he considers it to be necessary in the public interest. That is a draconian power where the Minister can second-guess the judgment and discretion of the man on the spot who is the chairman of the inquiry.

Under Clause 23, the Minister will control all aspects of the publication of the final report. In principle, all reports are to be published in full. But under Clause 23(2), the Minister will have the power to retain control over the publication process. Under Clause 23(4)(b), he can withhold from publication anything in the report if it is in the public interest to do so. These powers, in my submission, are wholly inappropriate for the Minister to retain in the course of the inquiry.

This morning we have been considering the big, set-piece public inquiries. But, of course, there are a mass of public inquiries that are set up and take place under a variety of individual statutes which are also affected by the Bill.

The individual statutes to be repealed are set out in Schedule 2 and the procedures enshrined in each individual statute replaced by the procedures in the Bill. They cover a wide range of activities: mental health, agriculture, transport, travel and traffic, the environment, children, the elderly, the vulnerable, those in care, aspects of higher and further education, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and health and safety. Many of these inquiries take place out of the eye of the public and the newspapers and have been conducted satisfactorily for many years. The procedures are now about to be abandoned. Can the Minister tell us what consultations the Government have had with those affected by the procedures under those individual Acts? If consultations have taken place, can she indicate their outcome? How do those individuals likely to be affected by the new Inquiries Bill feel about the fact that all these procedures are to be replaced?

The Minister is shaking her head. If I have misunderstood the purpose of the Bill and the fact that it will replace these procedures individually, I am glad to hear it. But my understanding is that it will replace them. Moreover, the Bill provides a power to intervene in any other inquiry being undertaken and require it to be conducted under the new rules. That will be so even if those inquiries have already been set up. In that respect, it seems that the Bill will be retrospective.

In principle, we want to see a much better inquiry procedure; but in our submission the Bill does not cover the most important aspects of inquiries and, in the Bill itself, the balance between the chairman and the Minister is entirely wrong.

1.22 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to an interesting and illuminating debate. I had anticipated a number of the contributions, not least those of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, whose evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee I have indeed read. However, the debate has been both effective and useful in that it has indicated the clear points of concern for noble Lords. Again, I might have predicted some of those. We may be able to deal them in the course of our deliberations in Committee, and some may even be capable of being dealt with in correspondence between now and that time. So I am extremely grateful for all the contributions, although undoubtedly more for some than for others.

I was particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who have both chaired inquiries and therefore have a great deal to offer to our deliberations today and at later stages. I thought the exposition of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, of why Clause 14 is so important was extremely helpful and I am sure that noble Lords will reflect on it.

I think that a general welcome has been given to what the Bill seeks to achieve, although I recognise gaps in the opinion of many noble Lords. I want to say at the start that it seeks to strike a balance. We seek to ensure that we put the right powers in the hands of Ministers to make sure that inquiries take place, with an independent chairman operating appropriately in order to win public confidence, an aim which lies at the heart of the Bill. We also seek to consolidate the relevant legislation.

I did shake my head at the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for which I apologise because it is awful when Ministers do that. However, what the Bill does not do is take away all the other forms of inquiry. It is quite possible that for many of the inquiries that need to take place on what may be described as a day-to-day basis, the provisions of the Bill would be inappropriate.

The purpose of this legislation is to address the kind of inquiries in which noble Lords have been involved. We heard, among others, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, describe the conduct of the Aberfan inquiry, and the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, with the Climbié inquiry. Above all else, the aim of all such inquiries is to seek and establish the truth. They are held in order to find out what happened and do what can be done to change it. Quite often, that means systemic change. It is all about examining carefully whether the matters Ministers are responsible for are working effectively and if not, why not. To my mind, nowhere was that more evident than when I read the evidence and conclusions of the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, into the Victoria Climbié tragedy.

As I said, dealing with the issue of public confidence is important. First, however, I shall address what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, and the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, about why the Bill has been brought forward at this time. The answer is simple: we have consulted and the Bill is ready to come forward. Moreover, we want to get on with it.

I recognise the fact that the Public Administration Select Committee has not yet reported. On the day of the Queen's Speech I wrote to the chairman of that committee with an offer to meet and discuss this. I trust that it will be of some comfort to noble Lords to learn that the Public Administration Select Committee will have reported before the Bill is considered in another place. Therefore I am willing to assume that we shall look carefully at the committee's conclusions before the Bill returns to your Lordships' House. It may be worth pointing out that originally we thought that the committee would report much earlier. However, we were ready to roll and we wanted to bring the Bill forward. It is not meant to do anything other than complement the deliberations of the committee; hence we are following carefully the evidence that has been brought forward.

I was interested in the evidence submitted to the committee by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, which he has repeated in this House, about a checklist. I am not sure that I agree with him, but I look forward to discussing it. I do not agree partly because of the wide difference in the nature of inquiries. They are fundamentally different. Although the noble Lord expanded on the form his checklist would take, I am still not sure whether we would capture everything that needed to be considered. I was even concerned about his final point on whether it could be done better this way with public money. But even that might tilt the balance away from the inquiry. No doubt we shall debate the point.

I was also interested in the evidence given by the noble Lord about wingmen as described in the Public Administration Select Committee evidence, along with the role of assessors, which we have tried to indicate in the Bill. We have addressed this both from the Minister's point of view to ensure that we have the right kind of expertise, as well as with the chairman and/or panel. Experts must be available from the beginning. However, I take the point about ensuring that the chairman is able to bring together his own experts and the Bill is not meant to contradict that.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, Parliament does hold inquiries to scrutinise government policy and legislation, and rightly so. They are important inquiries. But they are different from what is being proposed here. If Parliament wants to design or develop other forms of inquiry, that is a matter for Parliament. I do not say that it should not do so. However, this Bill addresses serious inquiries of a public nature that conduct the necessary investigations to enable us to make the kind of changes we have seen. Again, we will debate the point on amendments that no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will wish to table.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, about expertise in the Cabinet Office. Again, however, I am not sure whether I would go further. Of course I cannot respond to the comments of the eminent unnamed person, for obvious reasons. However, I hope that the eminent unnamed person becomes named so that I can do so.

It is also true that the chairman of an inquiry is subject to huge pressures, one of which is that one person's positively wonderful chairman may not be another's. We have sought to establish the independence of the chairman in the Bill, ensuring that the person is positioned so as to alleviate some of those pressures.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, asked whether inquiries set up under the Bill could be supervised by the Council on Tribunals. The noble Lord knows that inquiries are not tribunals. The council has no role in relation to the 1921 Act as its main role at present is in relation to planning. However, I shall look at the point.

I shall read with care the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, but make only one response today. Clause 27 would mean that Northern Ireland Ministers would be able to set up inquiries only into devolved matters that were already devolved at the time of the occurrence. That may go some way to alleviating the concerns of the noble Baroness.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was concerned that witnesses in inquiries would not enjoy the same safeguards as witnesses in court. However, they will. Clause 20(1) provides that witnesses cannot be forced to produce or say anything that would not have to be declared in civil proceedings. As witnesses, they will have the same protections and privileges as those provided by a civil court.

The noble Lord was also concerned about restrictions on areas of responsibility. The noble Lord has highlighted a real issue: inquiries do not always fit neatly into one area of responsibility. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, knows that the Climbié inquiry ranged over many different areas. However, the point about corporate responsibility is more a question of how the Northern Ireland Executive works; that is, it is an issue beyond the scope of the Bill, although I recognise the point.

Noble Lords were concerned about terms of reference. The Bill provides that the chairman will play a role with the Minister in considering the terms of reference and that, in a sense, will give the public confidence because they will be well known. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland—it had already been made to me—about changing the terms of reference when new evidence comes to light and so on. I will look at the matter again. But the way in which an inquiry is established under the Bill will give real clarity as to what it is set up to do. If the terms of reference were to be altered, that would, in a sense, change the nature of the inquiry. In that case, we would dissolve and reappoint immediately.

I have asked for advice from my officials to ensure that that would be a non-cumbersome process. Its purpose is to ensure that pressure cannot be put on a chairman—as undoubtedly in many inquiries it is—to widen, change or alter the inquiry in some way.

The noble Lord, Lord Laming, said that if there is a train crash, we want to be clear about what happened. Inquiries are not courts. If there is a train crash, we want to find out what happened and how it happened. At the end of an inquiry, blame may indeed be fairly and squarely placed on a process or an individual, and it is then for the due process of law to take its course. The Bill is clear that these are not courts of law but inquiries into fact and seekers after truth, which is very important.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, referred to inquiries under subject specific legislation and not having the powers to convert, as in Clause 14. As the noble Lord knows, there is no power to convert in the 1921 Act and there are no specific powers within subject specific inquiries. But they have been used in that way. I draw the noble Lord's attention to the Clifford Ayling and Neale inquiries. They were converted under the NHS Act from Section 2 to Section 84, which gave them statutory powers. It is a technical point but it is of relevance none the less.

A number of noble Lords referred to the role of Parliament. I should say to noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon—that it has been the universal practice of Ministers in this Government and their predecessors to explain to Parliament the reason for causing a major inquiry whether or not it is under the 1921 Act. I expect this practice to continue. I am satisfied that the formal resolution power has not added anything.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said about the issue. In the past 15 years, only four inquiries have been set up under the 1921 Act following resolutions of Parliament. In three of those cases, the resolutions were passed as a formality. The noble Lord indicated that Shipman was the exception.

But written statements are important. Noble Lords referred to written statements both before and after. It is good practice—it happens now—and during our deliberations in Committee I will be happy to consider whether the procedure needs to be strengthened in any way.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, spoke with strength—as, indeed, did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon—about the Salmon report. We want to consider the question of the procedural rules and, as I said, I shall be publishing information before the House rises for Christmas. I very much welcome the input of noble Lords to this issue. We intend to consult widely on the rules to clarify or strengthen them, or indeed to change them if that seems to be the most appropriate course. Certainly it is an issue that needs to be thought through again and I am very happy to commit to doing that.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, also referred to the terms of reference. I hope that I have given him some reassurance about the way in which we have considered the issue. I shall continue to look at it. The procedure is designed to alleviate pressure, which is important.

The noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Smith of Clinton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, spoke from rather different angles about costs. Clause 16 makes it explicit that costs are one aspect—

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, the noble Baroness has made the mistake, which is quite common in this House, of referring to me as Lord Smith of "Clinton". I should say that I never inhale.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

Indeed, my Lords. The noble Lord makes a similar mistake with my name. I am not the Baroness Ashdown. I think he is referring to his eminent previous leader, who is a dear friend of mine, but we are not related. Perhaps we can forgive each other. As I said it, I knew I had got it wrong. I shall just call him the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the rest can be put in.

The chairman must take the issue of costs into consideration when making decisions. Clause 36 obliges the Minister to pay costs reasonably. That is the other side of the balance. Some noble Lords were, in a sense, pushing us to be clearer about controlling costs; other noble Lords were concerned that the implication of that would be that the Minister would have too much power and be able to say, "I am not doing this because it costs too much". It is a matter of achieving a balance. I think we all recognise that costs are a factor in this and that at some point in the deliberations of an inquiry—particularly at the end—the chairman needs to account for those costs. We need to be clear about what they have been spent on, and so on. We are looking for that balance and I hope that we have got it right. I look forward to debating the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith, raised the question of legal representation. Again, the procedural rules may give us an opportunity to consider that issue and we will welcome any input.

A number of noble Lords referred to private inquiries. As noble Lords will recognise, we have given the Bill flexibility in regard to privacy, but only where it is proportionate and reasonable; it can be challenged in the courts. We have sought to set out criteria in the Bill to enable judicial challenge to be taken early.

Noble Lords will know that in some inquiries there are constant issues of privacy and of keeping evidence out of the public domain. This can lead to a whole series of different interventions. We have tried to ensure greater clarity from the beginning; I hope that we have succeeded. I look forward to debating the issue with noble Lords. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we expect the vast majority of inquiries to be held in public. The question of whether they are televised, publicised or whatever will be considered at each inquiry.

The purpose of inquiries is to learn lessons; to find out what went wrong and to make sure that it cannot happen again. I would argue that there are occasions when getting to the truth may be better done in private. This is not only about issues of security—which are important—but also about enabling people to speak freely and openly and to get to the bottom of any matter. We have to be clear that we need flexibility.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that there have been nine private or partially private inquiries since 1990, and there have been other public inquiries but with some information withheld. I am happy to give noble Lords a list of those.

As to freedom of information, documents given to inquiries by government departments are subject to the freedom of information legislation in any event because the departments are subject to it. Inquiry records are subject to freedom of information after 30 years, as are court records.

As to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, about the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976, the obligation to set up an inquiry means that that legislation is different. The kind of inquiry set up under the Bill is not affected by it: it sits alongside it, as I understand it.

Other issues have been raised. We will no doubt debate the role of the Minister who is responsible to Parliament, quite rightly, and responsible for ensuring that, within the remit of the work they do, the services provided and the work of the public authorities is performed properly. That is quite central to the issue. It is the bringing together of the different pieces of legislation and will help strike the right balance where the definition of the Minister's role is substantially different.

I know that we will debate that issue at length and I hope—as is always the case in your Lordships' House—that we will end up with a Bill that is even better than the one I have brought forward today. I look forward to it, oddly enough.

Galileo said: All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them". I believe that the Bill will help inquiries discover the truth more effectively and enable us to provide better services for all our citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.