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 Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 6:00, 13 February 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for laying these amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for introducing them. After the last group, we continue to delve into the role of standing advocates. Once again, the lack of a victims’ code for those major incidents not deemed to be criminal, or not obviously criminal, means that the voice of the victim may not be heard.

One would hope that any standing advocate would seek and relay to the Secretary of State the views of the victims, but it is not evident from the Bill as published exactly how that would happen. These amendments create the golden thread that ensures that a standing advocate must do that, and that the Secretary of State, before they terminate the appointment of an advocate, must consider the views of the victims of a major incident. For example, there might be a conflict of interest with a future Government who are unhappy about the direction in which a standing advocate is going. The standing advocate might think that what the victims are saying goes beyond what the Government had hoped, and there might be a push to remove the standing advocate. Under this amendment, the standing advocate would be able to produce the evidence brought to him or her from the victims to say why the matter should be taken seriously. At the moment, there is no such structure to do that.

We know from other appointments made perhaps a bit hastily, without thought or understanding of the views of victims, that this can cause a high level of distrust in the proceedings. I am citing these examples not to raise the detail of them, and I will not name the people involved, but to make the point about what can happen when a Government appoints somebody to chair an inquiry and then this goes wrong. In the past, IICSA hit problems not just over the appointment of the chair—with two chairs being appointed and standing down due to their apparent closeness to the individuals or establishments being investigated—but over victims’ concerns about the scope of the inquiry. Much more recently—indeed, just last week the Minister and I had a conversation privately about this—the Government announced the new chair of the contaminated blood compensation technical panel. Within two days, victims and their families had raised concerns about them and whether they would be truly independent. Let me be very clear that I am not arguing the detail of any of these appointments. My issue is about process and making sure that the views of victims are fed up and down through the system, so that it is well evidenced. This would, I hope, reduce problems with some appointments in the future.

Can the Minister say exactly why the Bill does not currently propose that the advocate would formally take the views of the victims on board and pass them up to the Secretary of State? That would help us to understand, in the context of the debates on the previous two groups, the whole role of the standing advocate, where the victims stand and how their voices are heard.