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Mr. Straw: The point is that the situation would arise only when a view was taken that there could not be an article 2-compliant inquest with a jury, because of the existence of information that could not go before a jury for reasons that we have all discussed, such as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. There might be other circumstances in which the issue of seeking an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 will arise, although, to provide a qualified assurance, I cannot completely anticipate them. The effect of the hon. and learned Gentleman's amendment (a) would be no different from the effect of the Lords amendment. I have already explained why amendment (a) is not necessary.
Mr. Dismore: I am not sure that that is right. Can my right hon. Friend absolutely assure us that if the Lord Chief Justice turns down a judge, the secret inquiry will not take place and the inquest will? If he can, that will go a long way to resolving the issue.
Mr. Straw: There will have to be an inquest. If the request is turned down and there is, therefore, no suspension, the inquest will continue in any event. There is a separate issue about whether that inquest would then be article 2-compliant, which sort of begs the original question. Of course, if the Lord Chief Justice says, "I'm not giving you a judge," paragraph 1, as amended already, means that there will not be a suspension of the inquest-full stop. There cannot be.
Mr. Dismore: Well, that is my concern, because I am not entirely convinced that the wording under the Lords amendment would achieve that. We would end up in limbo: on the one hand, the Lord Chancellor would say, "Secret inquiry"; on the other hand, the Lord Chief Justice would say, "You can't have a judge." We would end up exactly where we are with the Azelle Rodney case-four years on and no inquiry into it.
My right hon. Friend knows that when we last debated the issue, he won the Division by eight votes. It was probably closer than he thinks, however, because several people said to me afterwards, "We went into the wrong Lobby by mistake." That demonstrates the strength of feeling on the Labour Benches. There is nothing to be lost in accepting the Opposition's formulation, because it would strengthen the wording and achieve, beyond peradventure, what my right hon. Friend says he wants to achieve through the Lords amendment.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am broadly in the same camp as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), because I feel that I voted the wrong way on Monday. However, I am a serial loyalist, and sometimes that overwhelms me.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor is probably the greatest circle-squarer whom Whitehall has seen in recent years. I tend to follow him, but I remember that when we worked together at the Foreign Office he would come to me and say, "We may be going in this direction, Denis, but it is about-turn time and swallow-humble-pie time, and I am afraid that is the political reality." On this cause, he may not have the votes of the House, so I ask him to consider whether that moment has arrived.
My thinking stems, first, from a fundamental principle that is enshrined in the term habeas corpus. It translates as "produce the body", and it applies as much to the
dead as to the living. A core human right is to know how and under what conditions somebody died. If we do not have that right, we do not have full democracy. Families cannot grieve and injustices cannot be put right. That is why the coroners' jury surveillance system is of the most profound democratic importance. I wish there were far more of it in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and I am very reluctant to see any watering-down of it in our own country.
Of course, I fully accept my right hon. Friend's sincerity, but I well recall our great right hon. Friend, Michael Foot, saying in the 1970s that if the freedoms and liberties of Britain had been left in the hands of judges, we would have precious few. He got terrible stick from the learned QC profession about that-the Thomas Leggs and others were out there bashing him about the head-but I actually think he was right. When I hear, "The Executive will talk to a senior judge and, er, that's all right", I am afraid I start to become more and more of a Footite and less and less of a Strawite. These things can happen.
I have some direct experience of the matter, because some 19 years ago I became involved tangentially, through a friend, in the case of eight British fusiliers who were killed by friendly fire in the first Iraq conflict. They were brought home, but they could not be buried until there had been a coroner's inquest, because a person cannot be buried in the UK without the coroner's say-so. We found the most constant lying, deceit, obfuscation, dishonesty and cover-up on the part of the Conservative party, which was in power.
Mr. MacShane: One of the millionaires on the Opposition Front Bench says, "What?" I will send him my book, and if he can say to me that the letters sent by the Ministry of Defence or the then Prime Minister to the families were acceptable, I will give him even more money to add to his millions.
By using the Freedom of Information Act in the United States and by talking directly to American officers, we got to the truth. We were able to bring to a coroner's court at Oxford an American officer who, under the cloak of anonymity, gave vital evidence that disproved the position of the then Government, and a verdict of unlawful killing was rightly returned. The grieving families of those dead fusiliers felt that they had justice, because no part of the Executive or the judicial system could remove their right to the coroner's court.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and others, I am worried, if there is a change of Government, about handing to the state and the judiciary new powers that in that case would have denied the right of British citizens to know how their loved ones
died. We should therefore resist it, so I say with affection and respect to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that I cannot follow him into the Lobby on this proposal.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to all the hon. Members who have participated in the debate and to the Secretary of State for the way in which he has responded, but I remain of the view that our amendment is useful. I hate to think that if we did not press it to the vote, I would regret it at a later date in the realisation that it would have helped in the interpretation of a difficult clause. I therefore wish to press it.
That this House does not insist on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments 59, 119, 121, 236 and 239- ( Mr. Straw. )
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would be useful if the Secretary of State could make a statement on the fact
that the Government appear to have run up the white flag on Lord Waddington's amendment. This is a great victory for free speech, and we should know more about it.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have given you prior notice of this point of order. On 14 May 1977, Captain Robert Nairac of 3 Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was captured by the IRA on operations in Northern Ireland. Yesterday, the press reported that someone has been arrested for his murder. The officer is still technically missing in action, and I wonder whether a Minister will come to the House and explain what is happening and what information can be given to his family and regiment.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: While I appreciate that that is a matter of enduring and deep concern, I am afraid that the Chair has no means of requiring a Minister to come to the House on that matter; nor has the Chair had any notice that that might happen. The hon. Gentleman has made his point and there may be an opportunity before long for more to be said on that subject.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Policing and Crime Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 19 January and 19 May 2009 (Policing and Crime Bill (Programme) and Policing and Crime Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at this day's sitting.
2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.- (Mr. Hanson.)
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