Amendment 124

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 13 February 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 6:00, 13 February 2024

My Lords, in moving Amendment 124 I will speak to Amendments 125 and 128 in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. We are now, of course, continuing our discussion about major incidents and the role of the advocate.

The reason for Amendment 124 is that the press release introducing the standing advocate position states that the role will

“give victims a voice when decisions are made about the type of review or inquiry to be held into a disaster”.

However, there is no requirement in the Bill for the standing advocate to directly consider the views of victims of a major incident when advising the Secretary of State. The Bill provides for an individual other than the standing advocate to be appointed as the advocate in respect of a major incident. In these circumstances in particular, it is not clear from the Bill how and whether the views of victims will be communicated to either the standing advocate or the Secretary of State. That is the situation that Amendment 124 seeks to rectify. It would require the standing advocate to communicate directly to the Secretary of State the views of victims in relation to the type of review or inquiry to be held into the incident and their treatment by public authorities.

I turn now to Amendment 125. The Government have said that the appointment of advocates for individual major incidents will allow for expert insight from, for instance, community leaders who hold the confidence of victims. There is no requirement to consider the views of the community affected by the incident when deciding whether and who to appoint as a specialist advocate in relation to a specific incident. We appreciate that the need for rapid deployment of an advocate following a major incident—which noble Lords have been talking about already—may make it difficult to seek the views of victims before appointing an advocate in respect of that incident. However, once an advocate has been appointed, the Secretary of State should seek the views of victims as to whether to appoint an additional specialist advocate and who to appoint. This is what Amendment 125 in the name of my noble friend seeks to do.

Amendment 128 would require the Secretary of State to consider the views of the victims of an incident before making a decision to terminate the appointment of an advocate appointed in respect of that incident.

This suite of amendments strengthens the role of victims, which is what we are seeking to do in this Bill. I beg to move.