The Victims and Prisoners Bill

Part of 3. Questions to the Counsel General – in the Senedd at 3:37 pm on 23 April 2024.

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Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 3:37, 23 April 2024

Can I firstly thank you for continuing to raise this issue and the issue of the Hillsborough law? As you know, I met with some of the Hillsborough campaigners some while back, and have also been engaged with them. It is certainly the case that the—. Well, to start with, the Bill has certain other elements to it that are things that I think we as a Government would support, in respect of, for example, contaminated blood and contaminated blood compensation, and the issue that has been there for quite some time. So, those are things that I think are positive within the Bill.

But the point you specifically raise is: does this Bill actually address the issues that were raised by the Hillsborough campaigners? The fact of the matter is that it doesn't. What it does do is have a very weak-hearted, I think, attempt at creating public advocates, the purpose of which is extremely unclear at the moment. And this of course is the area where I met with the UK Government Minister last week—myself and another Cabinet Secretary met—really just to push the point that they respect the public advocates in guidance, that where that related specifically to the carrying out of devolved functions, there should be a requirement to consent. That's what Sewel says, and that is what we expected to be the case. The Bill is obviously at Report Stage in the House of Lords at the moment, so it was very, very disappointing that, at very short notice, we were told that the UK Government was going to lay an amendment that only required it to consult. And it's for that reason that this matter will be coming on 30 April as a matter of legislative consent.

The one area, of course, that you've raised consistently is the issue of a public duty of candour, and it seems to me that that is absolutely fundamental. It is not in the Bill. A duty of candour is basically an obligation on public servants to tell the truth. It isn't a legal obligation on them to do so and to come forward proactively with that. And that is one of the fundamental demands in respect of a so-called Hillsborough law. What I am very pleased to say is that, of course, Sir Keir Starmer has already indicated that an incoming Labour Government will introduce a full Hillsborough law, it will introduce public advocates. I am certain that it will also respect the devolution settlement, but it also will establish that duty of candour, which I think is fundamental.

There is of course a very much easier way to press on, and that would be, basically, to open the doors of legal aid to those who become victims. That would have been the most simple and straightforward way of actually doing this, and it seems to me that it's a step too far. But the lack of a duty of candour is something that applies in any event, even with the opening doors of legal aid, were that to happen. So, it doesn't go anywhere near what I think we were expecting and, I'm afraid, it is a very half-hearted attempt at responding to those demands that were made.