Lord Keen of Elie [V]
My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions to this debate and I shall address the points made as fully as possible. First, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, touched on the issue of victim payments, a point taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and, most recently, by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Of course, we wish to see this matter resolved as soon as possible. As it is the subject of litigation, it would not be appropriate for me to make any further detailed comments at this time, but I am conscious of the expressions of concern that have been made—and heard, no doubt—beyond the Chamber. I am confident that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, will not rest this matter until it is resolved.
I come to some points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, and a number of other noble Lords about the IMA itself. Yes, the Secretary of State has certain powers with regard to appointments and removals from appointments, as one would expect in this context, but that does not take away from the independent standing of the IMA, which will of course be respected going forward. The idea of a transfer to another body would be contemplated only if it were considered that the time had come when the IMA as such was not required to continue, yet some functions ought to be continued. Therefore another appropriate body would be identified and steps taken to ensure that that body was fully independent and in a position to discharge the functions of the IMA. However, I do not understand it to be contemplated that functions would be divided up between other bodies. The idea is that there could be—I stress “could”, not “would”—a transfer of functions to another body, but the transfer would involve consideration of the receiving body’s ability to discharge all the appropriate functions of the IMA.
Coming to the question of abolition, it is a product of our withdrawal agreement that, after eight years, the IMA, if it were no longer required, could be the subject of abolition, but only with the mutual agreement of the European Union. In other words, it would be only if the EU and the UK decided that there was no longer a role for the IMA that any steps could be taken to abolish it. As I say, that could occur only after eight years.
With regard to the appointments that were made, noble Lords will appreciate that we have not only the provisions of Section 75 in respect of Northern Ireland, but the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 in respect of the United Kingdom. It is against that background that appointments have been made to date. Indeed, when appointments have been made, of course those making appointments have been conscious of the steps that will be taken with regard to the Section 75 order. In any event, as I say, they are conscious of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
As regards the appointment of staff, we are confident that the IMA will be functioning fully by the end of the transition period, when it will come into operation.
I stress that the IMA in a sense reflects the role of the commission at present with regard to these matters; in other words, it is concerned not with individual cases as such but with systemic issues which stem from the behaviour of public bodies or public authorities. It will be in a position to receive complaints. It will not be bound to accept every complaint—that is right—because it is looking at systemic issues. When it receives complaints, it may instigate inquiries and if it finds that certain obligations are not being adhered to by public bodies or by those performing functions on behalf of public bodies, it will have the ability to take legal action in the form of judicial review. Where it has a substantive complaint to make, it will be able to secure substantive remedies such as mandatory remedies and so on, so we feel that it will be well equipped to carry out the necessary function in that context.
The noble Lord, Lord Wood, also asked about function transfer and abolition. I hope I clarified what the position would be in that context. Clearly, if any step was to be taken in that regard, it would be with the mutual agreement of the parties and Parliament would be made aware of that, for obvious reasons.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, raised the question of reports by the IMA. The IMA will report to Parliament with regard to its functions and therefore the discharge of those functions will be subject to oversight by Parliament.
With regard to the resources of the IMA, reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, to the figures that have been provided. We consider that the IMA will be well and sufficiently resourced to discharge its functions, but again I emphasise that it is going to be looking at systemic issues rather than individual cases and the enforcement of individual rights.
Not only will the devolved authorities be represented on the IMA but so will Gibraltar. The remedies available in Gibraltar will be determined by the Gibraltarian legislature. This is a UK-wide authority and it also extends to Gibraltar.
I hope that I have addressed the points raised by noble Lords in the debate. I beg to move.