‘(1A)The power to appoint a member under subsection (1)(a) is exercisable only after consultation with the Chairman’.
The amendment follows the same theme as that discussed at great length when we debated the amendments on the allocation of duties to the commissioning Minister and the inquiries chairman. As such, and as this amendment was discussed by me to some extent previously, I shall be relatively brief.
The amendment would address a technical oversight. As I said, there is great inconsistency between the extent of chairman involvement when changing the composition of the inquiry panel. The Minister did not address that. To recap, under clause 8 the chairman must consent to any appointment that would increase the number on the panel, unless the Minister had originally foreseen that it would be increased. In such circumstances, only the chairman needs to be consulted. By contrast, where a vacancy arises in the panel, for whatever reason, the chairman has no involvement in selecting members to fill it.
Given that the Minister is involved in every other situation relating to the composition of the inquiry panel, we can only conclude that that lacuna has been overlooked. If there is a policy reason behind it, I would appreciate hearing the Minister’s explanation, because the need for some involvement of the chairman seems to be clear. The same argument arose in relation to both the independence, and so to the credibility, of the inquiry and the ability of the chairman and his panel to work as a cohesive team. The precise extent to which the chairman should be involved in appointing a new panel member to fill a vacancy is unclear.
The amendment would introduce the minimum requirement of consultation. In hindsight, we recognise some inconsistency with amendment No. 3, which proposed that the Minister must “seek the agreement of” the chairman on appointing the original members of the panel, and with clause 8(2)(b), which requires consent when making an appointment that would increase the number on the panel.
Unfortunately, the debate has not clarified matters. The only thing that has become clear is that there is little consensus about whether there should be consistency, never mind at which level the chairman should influence the decisions. I appreciate that the Committee will not want to cover old ground for a second time. However, I hope that it will recognise that some chairman involvement is required to fill the loophole relating to the appointing of new members to fill vacancies on the inquiry panel. That is particularly important given that the Bill as drafted allows the Minister to cause a vacancy on the panel to come about in the first place by terminating a panel member’s appointment at any time and for any reason.
There is a small drafting defect in the amendment. As it stands, the chairman would also have to be consulted on the chairman’s appointment. That is clearly unrealistic. It would be superfluous if it applied to the incoming chairman, and it may be inappropriate or impossible if it applied to the outgoing chairman. The Committee needs to debate the amendment as if the chairman were excluded from the spectrum of new panel members for whom consultation with the chairman would be required. No doubt the Government could find the appropriate wording on Report.