Committee (2nd Day)
Public Bodies Bill [HL]
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Labour)
My Lords, it is with mixed feelings that I rise to speak about the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council and add my voice to all of those who are urging the Minister to think again in relation to this council. What has been said by my noble friend Lord Borrie, what has been said so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd of Berwick and Lord Howe of Aberavon, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is not only correct but I hope the Minister will take comfort from the fact that he could not have been shot at by more accurate huntsmen. If he is feeling that he has been holed beneath the water, he should draw comfort from the fact that the whole House has done it and not just those noble Lords who sit behind him.
I have pleasure in rising because I am pleased to add my voice to those others. There is also, however, concern and a little sadness that I am driven to speak at all, prompted by the Government's as yet unsubstantiated case for abolishing the council. It is sad to see the council head the list for abolition under Schedule 1.
This House will remember the debate in 2007. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and others are right to say there was unanimity in this House about the necessity to keep the council, the sagacity of Sir Andrew Leggatt's report and the rightness of supporting it. The Minister may recall that the late and much missed Lord Kingsland said in relation to the then Government's proposal that they had got it absolutely right by following Sir Andrew's arguments. He was talking about constitutionality. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, was therefore right to quote what was said by Sir Andrew Leggatt and to endorse it.
I was also concerned, when looking at the Chairman's foreword for the most recent annual report of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, to read:
"However, as the text of this foreword was being finalised we learned that the AJTC is to be included among the MoJ sponsored Arms Length Bodies to be abolished through the Public Bodies Reform Bill, due to be introduced in Parliament in the autumn. Whilst recognising the absolute prerogative of Ministers and Parliament to take such a decision, the outcome is disappointing and it is unfortunate that we were not included in the discussions leading to this decision. However we look forward to contributing to the debate".
The foreword points to the fact that this council in its various forms has done sterling work on behalf of individuals for the past 50 years and has throughout been applauded for its achievements. My concern is aggravated therefore by the quality of the process undertaken by the Government in making this choice. The annual report sets out all the reasons why the council should be retained. There are many around this House who feel that the inclusion of the council on the Schedule 1 list is extraordinary.
That feeling of unhappiness is exacerbated when one considers the millions of people who may be affected by the acts and omissions undertaken by various administrative bodies which have their roles scrutinised by tribunals with the council supporting them.
I, too, agree with the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, that if we are to go through the list organisation by organisation, entity by entity, it will take some considerable time if each body is to be given the scrutiny it deserves.
Your Lordships will know that if the council is to remain on the list, a great deal of unhappiness-not just in this House but for individuals who are adversely affected by that decision-will be occasioned. I should conclude with a view comments from Sir Andrew Leggatt himself, when talking about the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council. He said:
"There should be one guiding principle. In origin, many tribunal functions started within the administrative process. Tribunals were established because it was clear that the citizen needed an independent means of challenging possible mistakes and illegalities which was faster, simpler and cheaper than recourse to the courts. Tribunals are an alternative to court, not administrative, processes. They will keep the confidence of users only in so far as they are seen to demonstrate similar qualities of independence and impartiality to the courts".
His words go to the heart of why judicial and quasi-judicial bodies need additional protection, and is why I and many others support the amendment. Independence has to be established and has to be seen, felt, and tasted. If the council is removed, I add a question to those posed by the noble Lord, Lord Newton: how is that to be guaranteed if everything is invested in the department, which may be in need of challenge, assistance and advice?
I urge the Minister to say this evening that the council's name will be struck from the schedule. Then the House would not be put through the burden to vote and the noble Lord may have greater time to consider the other bodies which may or may not merit inclusion.