Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

THURSDAY 21 MARCH 2002

MR MICHAEL WILLS, MR MARK DE PULFORD AND MR RICHARD HEATON

  40. Do you get top level support on that when you call together these 26 people? Do you have senior Ministers or Cabinet Ministers who occasionally put a boot in if they think they are not sufficiently adopted?
  (Mr Wills) I will ask Mark to give you a few words about how those contacts work, if I may. Certainly I have felt wholly supported by my Ministerial colleagues in anything I have ever raised with them. May Mark say a few words about how this relationship with contact points in the departments works?
  (Mr de Pulford) I am not sure there is a great deal I can add to what the Minister has said. The contacts are largely of an informal nature in relation to the specific subjects. We are not in a position to, as it were, police Whitehall with regard to human rights, that is not our role. It is our role certainly to promote human rights and we do that through the general guidance and we follow up in specific areas as we are asked to and as we see fit. I could not claim that it is a comprehensive activity nor, indeed, that there is a duty upon those in other departments necessarily to seek our advice on matters or every matter where a Convention right is engaged, that would be a different activity to the one that is currently undertaken.

  Lord Campbell of Alloway: That makes total sense.

Chairman

  41. Do you feel that you are getting the support that you need? Is there any enthusiasm for this in Whitehall?
  (Mr de Pulford) Is the question addressed to me?

  42. I was following on from what Mr de Pulford said, he is perfectly at liberty to reply to it if he wishes.
  (Mr de Pulford) We are all civil servants and we serve the ministers in the Departments. I am sorry to give a formal reply but I think I need to do that because you are asking about commitment and I do not think that it is for individual civil servants to express a view.
  (Mr Wills) On a political level inevitably some ministers take a stronger personal interest than others. Some are highly positive, some are more neutral. I would not say that any are actively antagonistic in my experience.

  43. The ones who are neutral are put into gear, are they?
  (Mr Wills) That is our job.

Mr Woodward

  44. Can I follow that up with a very specific question in relation to the memorandum you wrote. A lot of this is about expectation and I think some of the worry here is that the Human Rights Act has been around for some years and where there is a challenge because the DRC bring it, it does not happen because there is another review going on. Your memorandum is written to raise expectations and I refer to the memorandum by the Lord Chancellor's Department which was supplied to us on this question. In paragraph eight it very much talks about the arrangements for co-ordinating work on human rights that have been revised following the changes in the machinery, it goes on to talk about a team of lawyers and the networks of contact points in each Department which they use to collect, co-ordinate and disseminate information as necessary. It goes on to talk about the purposes of co-ordination and so on. I read that and I actually thought that there is obviously quite a sophisticated network going on, there is collection going on, there is dissemination going on but we have just heard from Mr de Pulford that in practice—this is not a criticism, it is just about getting to where we are really at—some people would say this is very good window dressing but the point is there is not much co-ordination, there are not regular meetings of the 26 contact points. In fact, if I was to ask you when was the last time that you actually asked for collection of information, co-ordination of information, or indeed when did you last disseminate information, not police it but disseminate information through the networks, when did that last happen?
  (Mr Wills) It is a continuing process.

  45. Give me an example of when it last happened as part of the process?
  (Mr Wills) I will ask Mark to give you the last meeting that he had on this particular thing. Obviously I am not aware of all the contacts that he has all the time and that is what his unit does, so I will give him that question, if I may, in just a moment. You are right to draw attention to the fact that up until now this has been an informal and ad hoc procedure.

  46. It does not say that in your memorandum.
  (Mr Wills) But, if I may just finish, we have recognised that we need to do more and that is why we are now setting up a more regular set of meetings, as I have said earlier, on a quarterly basis with all the 26 contact points together to add a more formal structure to what has been going on informally to do all those things that you describe. In terms of the last time that this happened, if I may I will ask Mark because he will be able to tell you as a fact when the last contact was.
  (Mr de Pulford) With your permission. It might help if I just clarify that there are, in fact, two species of co-ordination that we are undertaking here. There is the co-ordination that my unit in particular undertakes with the human rights contact points, with policy administrators and other Departments, and there is legal co-ordination which my colleague, and effectively legal adviser, Richard Heaton, undertakes which is more systematic in the sense that it has had ongoing—and I do not know whether it is permissible for me to suggest that Richard gives details about this—for a considerable time regular meetings with lawyers about specific Convention points. Perhaps it would be possible to add to that. As far as my own unit's contact with the champions, if I can call them that, in other departments I am not able to say to you today precisely when the last e-mail, as it were, the last set of information, communication, was but I would say if it was not in the last week it would have been in the week before. There is fairly frequent contact but not regular meetings with all the contacts at once, which is what we are now setting up in response to consideration of the first six months or so of the LCD experience.

  Chairman: It may be that following this meeting there may be something you could write to us about on this which might transpire when you go back to the office.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

  47. A short point which is an irenic contribution for the sake of the record. The point taken about altering the structure of the legislation and removing the safeguard in the first statute and leaving it out in the second Bill because they are human rights considerations was certainly argued by me in the House, and the Minister agreed that he would go back and take advice as to what he would do about it because he saw the point that a judge would say "well, if you have got one statute and it is taken out of the other it alters the effect, it looks as if it is express". The Minister took the point and at once said "I will take advice for the next stage of the Bill". I wanted to be clear on that.
  (Mr Wills) Also we think this is a very good point that we need to address and we will be writing as soon as we have co-ordinated with the Leader of the House of Commons.

Chairman

  48. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Wills) Can I just say, of course we are happy to write as you suggest, Chair, and perhaps it would be helpful if we give you a list, perhaps over the last month, of more detail, as much as we can give you, say over the last month to address Shaun Woodward's point about this.

  49. Perhaps a snapshot.
  (Mr Wills) Would that be acceptable?

  Chairman : Yes.

Lord Parekh

  50. May I ask you two questions rolled into one. Given the fact that we have had a history of building up an institutional structure in government which is rather secretive and not sensitive to human rights, you must come across all kinds of difficulties and resistance from other departments every time you talk of implementing human rights. I wonder if you have considered producing a report or alerting government to the kind of resistance you come across from other departments every time you alert them to the importance of human rights? You have been talking about creating a culture of human rights in our schools amongst young people, adults and so on. What kind of promotional literature have you produced and who have you consulted in order to do that?
  (Mr Wills) We have produced quite a wide range of promotional literature. I can give you some of the figures in a moment. Just to go back to your first question about the resistance. I can only speak personally here. I have not encountered resistance. I think we would view in our Department that certainly this is something not to be resisted, it is the law, it must not be resisted but actually not to be tolerated or to be gone through as a bureaucratic exercise but something to be welcomed and pushed forward. Now obviously some people are more enthusiastically engaged with that process than others. I am not sure a report on those who are less enthusiastic would necessarily encourage them to be more enthusiastic. I think we have to make the case.

  51. Since we are trying to change the culture, and it is an old culture, you come across all kinds of difficulties. One would like to know at some point what kind of difficulties you have encountered? How do you overcome them and how good practices in one department can be encouraged in other departments?
  (Mr Wills) Well I think we do want to push this, we would rather go down that latter route rather than the former route, in other words we would like to promote good practice. It is one of the advantages of bringing all the 26 contact points together. We have made considerable progress, as I mentioned earlier, with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and I think that is an important step forward and that is the kind of example of good practice that we will show others. If the Prison Service can do it there is no reason why other people cannot take a similarly admirable approach in our view towards implementation. In terms of pushing the wider message out to people outside the Westminster and Whitehall machine, we run a help desk which gets several hundred—I will give you figures in a moment I have them somewhere in my pack—and we run a distribution centre also which I think from memory pushes out something like 3,000 pieces of material every month. We are being as active as we can. Obviously our ability to produce material is somewhat constrained by our budget inevitably. What we are doing in schools is a very important exercise for us at the moment. We hope that it will be successful and be a pathway to others but it is a very important pilot initiative for us.

Chairman

  52. There is a lot in Annex A of your memorandum. In paragraph 11 of your memorandum to us, Minister, you say you ". . . have asked all Departments to be alert to the interests of other Departments in dealing with human rights issues". They are ". . . to inform the LCD about `hot cases', significant changes to procedure and legislation, and pending legislation." Given that Whitehall runs on a pecking order, could you tell us whether the LCD is able to punch above its weight in getting this information and getting them to jump to attention and to follow through policy issues involved? Have you had any answers and what were they?
  (Mr Wills) If I may say, your description characterises a somewhat adversarial process which we would always try to avoid and look at it more co-operatively. Certainly I do not think anyone would think the Lord Chancellor does not punch at least at his weight, if not above it. Certainly we feel that human rights has a doughty champion in the Lord Chancellor. He is the person who punches, as it were.

  53. Do you have the answer to the question? Have you had the response that you asked for in paragraph 11?
  (Mr Wills) Sorry, you will have to remind me.

  54. In your memorandum you talked about Departments being very alert.
  (Mr Wills) I am sorry. Can you bear with me.

  55. Paragraph 1 of your own submission to us.
  (Mr Wills) Yes.

  56. You said you ". . . have asked all Departments to be alert to the interests of other Departments in dealing with human rights issues". They are to ". . . inform LCD about `hot cases', significant changes to procedure and legislation, and pending legislation".
  (Mr Wills) Sorry, I think I am looking at the wrong memorandum, the one which is about resources. I recognise the words, I am just trying to find them.

  57. We can certainly give you a copy. I just wondered what had happened in relation to what you said and did in those two sentences of your own submission?
  (Mr Wills) You mean are we being informed about "hot cases"?

  58. Are they taking notice and are you getting the information?
  (Mr Wills) Yes, we are. If you would like the details of the most recent information and so on, I will, if I may, hand over to Richard. This is the information about hot cases. Sorry, I just want to be sure we are at one.

  59. Can I be illustrative. Can I ask then what the LCD is doing in relation to the declaration of incompatibility in Matthews v Ministry of Defence case as an example, would that be helpful?
  (Mr Heaton) I can answer that particular point to say that case is under appeal so there is not very much I can say about it. Would it be helpful, Chair, with your permission, if I speak a little bit more about my job because I think there has been a bit of confusion about legal co-ordination and LCD's work in that. I do not want to detain you but it might be helpful.


 
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