Amendment 127

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:30 pm ar 13 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:30, 13 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I shall speak first to the two amendments in my name. Amendment 29 states:

“During their appointment, an advocate may sit within the Ministry of Justice for administrative purposes, but must be independent with respect to its functioning and decision-making processes, and discharge of its statutory duties”.

The purpose of this probing amendment is to seek clarification of the function and operational independence of the advocate.

Amendment 132 would remove the power of the Secretary of State to issue guidance to advocates appointed in respect of major incidents and give this power instead to the standing advocate. It states:

“The standing advocate may issue guidance as to the matters to which other advocates appointed in respect of a major incident must have regard to in exercising their functions”.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, spoke to his Amendment 127. In a sense, there is an overlapping theme between this short group and the previous one and, indeed, other matters that have been discussed in Committee. That overall theme is bolstering the independence of the public advocate. I take the noble and learned Lord’s point regarding Amendment 129—I must admit I had not really appreciated it—that this is the first time “independent” appears in this part of the Bill. That is another example of bolstering the independence of the public advocate and the role itself.

In a previous group, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, spoke about putting the financial support for the IPA in the Bill. That too is a way of bolstering support, giving the advocate independence from the Secretary of State, so that the IPA is not constantly looking over his shoulder in terms of what the Secretary of State’s views might be. I too take the Minister’s point, made at the end of the previous group, that there may be practical reasons why the Secretary of State wants to move public advocates around. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said, there is nothing sinister about that. Nevertheless, this suite of amendments is all about bolstering the independence of the IPA and trying to integrate the victims’ views into the process as far as is practicable. As was said when we debated the importance of review in the previous group, the way in which this new position is managed and the roles taken on may evolve over time.

I am hoping to hear from the Minister that the Government are sympathetic to the overall thrust of the amendments on independence of operation and making sure that victims’ views are represented at every opportunity as this role evolves.