HL Deb 12 April 1978 vol 390 cc619-22

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking on the Salmon Reports on Tribunals of Inquiry.


My Lords, the Government accept, with certain modifications, the recommendations both of the Royal Commission on Tribunals of Inquiry, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon, was chairman, and of the Inter-Departmental Committee which he also chaired and which examined the law of contempt as it affects tribunals of inquiry.

Most of the Royal Commission's principal recommendations can be effectively implemented without legislation. When an opportunity for legislation occurs, the Government will wish to take account of the experience of the application of the Salmon Commission's principles which the tribunal on the Crown Agents will afford.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer and for giving a statement which I. as a layman, find rather difficult to follow. I am concerned about the length of time which it appears has elapsed in the deliberations of this Committee. Is it not a fact that the Royal Commission on Tribunals of Inquiry made recommendations affecting the protection of witnesses as far back as 1966? This was followed in 1969 by legislation recommended by a departmental committee in order to cover speeches made before tribunals and evidence given by witnesses. That was followed by a Conservative White Paper in 1973 accepting many of the recommendations of the Salmon Report. Has not rather a long time elapsed before effect is given to the important issues raised by distinguished people who sat on these Committees?


My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point about the interval of time. I do not think that I can make any useful comment on that, although I think I am right in saying that no tribunal has been set up since the Royal Commission reported. It is perfectly true that in the White Paper there are seven recommendations, all of which require legislation, and one of them is the one to which the noble Lord referred. I pointed out that, from an administrative point of view, at least five of them can be implemented without legislation, but the Government accept that eventually there will have to be legislation for the seven recommendations.


My Lords, why "eventually"? Is it not the case that time after time we set up these judicial tribunals? Is it not the case that every time one reports there are complaints about the procedure? Is it not the case that every time one reports we are told that one day we shall have legislation, and we never get it?


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, as always is perfectly right. I have many times found myself at the Dispatch Box having to say much the same thing as he has suggested I have said today. However, it is the Government's intention to do so, but I do not feel that, on behalf of the Government, I could promise that there will be legislation this Session.


My Lords, has my noble friend any news of the other Salmon report on which the Government have taken no action?


My Lords, I think that I must confine myself to the Question before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that, when the Government of the day invited my noble and learned kinsman, Lord Salmon, to chair the Royal Commission in 1966—at a time when, even then, the problems were most pressing—they received the report only some eight months after the initial meeting? Furthermore, do Her Majesty's Government not feel that the disheartening indifference to the recommendations by successive Governments can lead only to the same advice being given to those asked to chair Royal Commissions as that given by Mr. Punch to those contemplating marriage?


My Lords, perhaps I could repeat that the Royal Commission established and set out six cardinal principles for the conduct of future tribunals. We are in the process of a tribunal and, on 10th April, the chairman made it clear that the tribunal intends to use as guidelines the six cardinal principles set out in the Royal Commission's report, wherever it is practicable to do so. I should have thought that, in the absence of legislation, the very fact that the chairman had made that statement, really is carrying into effect at least a major part of the report of the noble and learned Lord's Commission.


My Lords, I was greatly interested to hear the intervention by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, complaining that this Government constantly promise legislation and do not deliver it. Would not my noble friend agree that the common complaint from the opposite Benches is that we have too much legislation?


My Lords, perhaps I ought to put the record straight for my own sake by saying that when I told the noble and learned Lord that I entirely agreed with him, not only did that remark apply to this Government but certainly also to past Governments.