Amendment 127

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:45 pm ar 13 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 6:45, 13 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I shall be relatively brief on this short group of amendments. I stated my support for the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in advance, in principle, during debate on the third group. I apologise for mentioning his amendment before he had had an opportunity to speak to it. However, his reasoning was a development of the reasoning that I then expressed. I reiterate his point: for an independent advocate system to work, the advocate must be independent. I take the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that if “independent” has only appeared, or might only appear, by virtue of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that is wrong. We have all called it independent because the independent public advocacy scheme is a term that has been frequently used. The word “independent” ought to appear in the Bill specifically, and the independent standing advocate could be called exactly that to make the point clear.

That means that such an advocate must be able to advance the victims’ interests without a concern that they are liable to be removed by the Secretary of State without very good reason. For such reasons

“as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”,

which is the wording used in the Bill, is just not good enough. Nothing less than the formulation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, of them being

“unfit or unable to fulfil their functions” will do as a justification for removal.

I take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. This could also be achieved by a process for termination, not simply by the grounds for termination. Those are not necessarily alternatives; we could have both approaches. I suggest that the Government ought to consider whether the process should not be strengthened. To make the point I have made before, the Bill is shot through with the difficulty that the interests of the victims may conflict with the interests of the Secretary of State. That important conflict of interest can be resolved only by removing power from the Secretary of State.

I turn to Amendment 129 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, which proposes that office facilities may be afforded by the Ministry of Justice, provided that they do not compromise the functional independence of the standing advocate. That is another point on independence. It is plainly administratively convenient and may be necessary that the Ministry of Justice provides the office facilities, but that does not mean that the bodies are not completely separate, and they must be.

Amendment 128A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wills, to which I have added my name, was moved into the second group, but Amendment 129 remained in this group although they are on similar subjects. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, would answer on Amendment 128A. The point I made was that proper secretarial support and resources are crucial for the standing advocate if the system is to work. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, made the point about resourcing in general terms but made it very powerfully. Appropriate support is essential for the role to be properly done, as are statutory guarantees of adequate resourcing.

Amendment 132 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, deals with guidance to other appointed advocates on what matters they should consider in relation to a major incident. It is not right that such guidance should come from the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may have interests in diverting attention to some aspects of a major incident against the interests of considering others. Guidance should come from the standing advocate who has, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, put it earlier, a leadership role. That is the proper source of such guidance and not the Secretary of State, who has a political interest that may be opposed to the interests of the victims. I suggest that the Bill’s formulation on this is simply quite wrong in principle.