|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. McNulty: I accept that, and I applaud the implementation team on its work, as I do the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who were on the original Chilcot committee. It relates to the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, too. These are absolutely and quintessentially different circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman will know, because he has lived and breathed it for the best part of a year or more, that the whole edifice and architecture of Chilcot, and how to move to utilise intercept as evidence in courts, is precisely a result of the two substantive sidesprecisely because of disclosure and all the other elements that surround it. They are not germane to an individual coroner sitting in such circumstances.
The right hon. Gentlemans constituency is very close to ScotlandI hope his town stays this side of the border; I have heard the rumoursand he will know that a High Court judge is quite properly on the appropriate list in Scotland to get such sensitive material, including intercept, as evidence during fatal accident inquiries. That is why FAIs do not feature in the provisions. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven
and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) asked a question about that, and he will know that Lord Cullen of Whitekirk was recently appointedin March, I thinkto carry out a full review of the law and the operation of FAIs in Scotland. He will consider issues relating to article 2 and the disclosure of sensitive materials during the course of that review, which, I am told, is to report by next March.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I have no wish to add to my right hon. Friends burden of explaining some of the contradictions in the concessions that have been made to get the Bill through, but because I agree with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), let me ask the Minister this simple question. The Bill establishes a principle of extending the use of intercept evidence in a coroners court. Why is it necessary to do so in this Bill, here and now, when our own inquiry is under way and will report in the not too distant future, and when we are awaiting the Bill on the coroners process? Why is it not possible here to wait, but in Scotlandanother part of the United Kingdomit is possible, on a matter of national security, to wait until its inquiry has resulted, and when, moreover, responsibility for national security on such an issue will be handed over from this House to the First Minister in Scotland?
Mr. McNulty: That is because, as my right hon. Friend knows, the High Court judge rather than the coroner sits in FAIs and already has the capability under Scottish law to receive and use that information. I freely concede the point, although not in respect of the constitutional drivel from the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth), that two or three things are going on that of course should, more usefully, be aligned. In the wake of the Jordan case and what we require on article 2yes, again, for the families and nobody elsewe cannot delay one particular case any longer. There may well be others, as I have suggested. It would simply be unfair and unjust to those family members and on that case.
I alluded to this point in Committee and I am happy to repeat it: I shall do all that I can to ensureI do not know what the mechanism is; we are still exploring itthat these elements are duly sunsetted and fed into the coroners reform Bill. That is where they properly belong, and they can be properly fed into all the other aspects of a full and deep review of the coronial system in the country. That is right. The balance for us to strike is to comply now with article 2 and the essence of the Jordan case and to move on further the individual case and, potentially, other individual cases, because they have been held in abeyance for so long, rather than to wait not only for the Chilcot implementation group and Lord Cullen to report, but for what may well beI do not know; I am not a futurologistthe real rather than the apparent existence of a coroners reform Bill, from the pre-legislative form in the Queens Speech to actuality.
May I just pick up on that point? The Ministers argument is that the provision is vital for a number of cases in which people need justice, but how does he respond to the point that has been made from all parts of the House that the system is so inherently flawed that it will not deliver the results that the Government claim for it? This is a matter of self-interest, if I may say so to the Minister. The Government should pause and
withdraw these measures, because they will not fulfil the expectations that they themselves have placed on them, quiet apart from the fact that they are unfair.
Mr. McNulty: I do not accept that they are flawed, and I certainly do not accept that they are Kafkaesque, going back to the 1920s or anything else. What we have replicated for special coroners is the provision that pertains to the judiciary everywhere else in this land. It is arrant nonsense to suggest that a special coroner suitably appointed by the Secretary of State and the Lord Chief Justice is somehow a stooge while all the other judges all the way up to the very top are not stooges.
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): As the Minister is aware, I share the concerns about moving to the use of intercept evidence before the Chilcot committee has undertaken the study that was not only recommended by the Government but fully accepted by the Prime Minister in this Chamber when he introduced the report. Interestingly, the Minister said that he is considering the possibility of a sunset clause. I presume that the mechanism for that would be the tabling of some amendments at the appropriate stage in the other place. Could he confirm that that is in the Governments thinking?
Mr. McNulty: That is entirely in the Governments thinking, not least because the only unfortunate thing in the whole process is the lack of alignment between fairly significant pieces of endeavourthe Chilcot implementation group, Lord Cullens further inquiry into what pertains in Scotland, and the introduction of the coroners reform Bill. In the end, all these provisions sit more suitably in a coroners reform Bill, having been suitably informed by the Cullen review and what Chilcot says about implementation. It is arrant nonsense to suggest that this is about the state taking over peoples article 2 rights and in some sinister fashion ensuring that anything remotely attached to the state relating to the death of an individual will now be hush-hush, covered up and secret. We have said very clearly in the substance of the Bill that the only secret bit of any proceedings, even with a specially appointed coroner, will be for sensitive information, intercept evidence and whatever else. The rest of the inquest, albeit just with the special coroner, is public.
The notion that this is about hurrying and scurrying into a little hole so that no one knows anything, not least the family, is simply is not the case, as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) knows. He rightly starts from the premise, as do most fair-minded individuals in this House, of whom there are plenty, that there is an issue to do with particular cases that we need to resolve. We think that this architecture addresses that, and that none of the amendments does.
We have moved on this, as we have on all the assorted groups of amendments that we have dealt with tonight. We have taken to heart what the Committee said about this being a singular activity of the Secretary of State,
and we have introduced not only concurrence but the veto of the Lord Chief Justice and the Secretary of State working together. We have even amended and restricted revocationtaking an individual special coroner out of a processto incapacity and misbehaviour. That is misbehaviour in the perfectly rational and legally precedented process already on the statute book, which extends to falling asleep, being offensive and all the other things that already govern the conduct of judges in such procedures.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will know far more about that than I do. People are not going to say, Oh, we will vote for the licensing of this particular special coroner because he is making a decision counter to what the state wants. That was the implication of the comments of some individuals, and again I say that it is absolute nonsense. Complaints about judicial decisions are subject to appeal to a higher court in the normal fashion. What we are describing is the independent, finder-of-fact role that the coroner has, and getting to a stagein what are, in reality, narrowly defined caseswhere closure can be achieved for the families.
I know that most people are entirely genuine in sharing a desire to see the resolution of those cases. I hope that the House takes what I am saying seriously; in the end the process has to align with the work of the implementation group on intercept evidence, and with what Lord Cullen is saying in Scotland. The perfect place for that will be, if and when it comes to fruition, the coroners reform Bill. However, there is an urgent need in some cases, with regard to article 2 and the Jordan case, to go along these lines.
In other aspects, as in most circumstances, other elements of what is currently on the statute book will prevail. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 will prevail, where appropriate, as will other provisions in a broader context. We need to get to a stage where the next of kin can get closure, and we need to ensure that we move to get closure for individuals now, rather than waiting, which would be the most convenient thing for the Government to do.
Mr. McNulty: With those reassurances, and leaving time for the principal mover of the amendments, which is only a courtesy, something that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) will not know much about[Hon. Members: Give way!]I ask the House to resist the amendments, except for the Government ones, and to give closure in these special cases to the families for whom everyone purports to speak.
We have had an interesting debate, and there has been unanimity across the Houseapart from my right hon. Friend the Ministerthat the proposals should not stand. The fact remains that the proposals create a system of secret inquests. No matter how much my right hon. Friend blusters about it, that is the case. He asked the question, What about families? We are aware of only one family affected. It is a serious matter for that family, as I mentioned earlier. My right hon.
Friend talks about closure, but the process in question will not give them closure. It might give them partial closure and some of the answers, but it will not give them the full story. We have not heard whether the Government have considered the public interest immunity system in that case. We do not know whether the family in question have asked for that process to be implemented. Has it been discussed with them, and would they accept it if it was offered to them?
My right hon. Friend says that none of us is really interested in the concerns of the families. I can tell him that in my professional life I have dealt with many bereaved familiescases where people were killed in the most appalling circumstances at work or on the roadsand I know what makes families in those circumstances tick. Inquests deal with bereaved families day in, day out, and those involved are opposed to the proposals. If I were to ask the families concerned whether they wanted to wait a little longer and have a much better chance of getting full closure, or whether they wanted the process to go forward now and not know what actually happened, I know which alternative they would accept.
The inquest process is not just about the families. They are an important part of the process, but there is also a public accountability function. There is a public interest function in establishing the truth, and the provisions will prevent that from happening. We are not looking for a counsel of perfection in an inquest. Inquest verdicts are not brought in on the basis of beyond all reasonable doubt, considering every factor involved.
The question of why we are doing this now arises, when many other things are yet to be decided. A coroners Bill is coming up. Why are we tacking the provision on to a terrorism Bill when most of the cases we are talking about will not involve terrorism at all? We are told about a sunset clause. Can we have a sunset clause just for this case, covering a few weeks, then kill the Bill off after that? We still have not heard which Secretary of State will be involved, and the separation of powers argument has been advanced by several Members. My right hon. Friend accepts that the provision would be better in the coroners Billlet us go down that route. The fact remains that the process in the Bill forms no real part of our system and it ought not to be allowed to survive.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|