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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am bemused by the reply given to both amendments. In response to my intervention about offering employers encouragement in good practice, the noble Lord said that the body may be too new and that in its early stages it will have only a limited body of good practice on which to call. We are not legislating for the first two or three months of the commission but for its life--that is, until another Parliament at some time in the future considers a review of the statute. I find that answer wholly unacceptable.

The noble Lord went on to say that the commission will be accountable for the good practice that it encourages. I say touche to that. It should certainly be accountable for the good practice that it encourages, but we are concerned about the times when it does not encourage good practice where we believe that the encouragement of good practice is necessary.

If I may say so, I do not think that the Minister picked up the point being made when he referred to the commission not having a role where a company was not practising as it ought or meeting its obligations under the law. The Minister suggested that if the commission went into a company which did not have good practice, it would have no responsibility to encourage good practice. I find that strange.

The Minister accused me of trying to impose upon the commission a separate duty. I am trying to impose upon the commission a coherent duty and to say that it has a duty to encourage good practice. Where good practice exists, the commission should have a duty to improve such good practice and, where good practice does not exist, it should have a duty to encourage such good practice.

The Minister also said that this is not a discretionary power. If it is not discretionary, let us make it mandatory--and we can do that by accepting the amendment which seeks to substitute "shall" for "may".

Perhaps I may advise the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, that I have just realised how much time

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I spent in government answering those who were seeking to do just as I am now. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, comes to mind because I do not think that from those Benches I took a single Bill through the House when the noble Lord did not make a fair feast about substituting "shall" for "may"! Perhaps I may make a serious point on that. I referred in passing in Committee to the way in which in those days I would return to my department and fight the corner. I did not always do that because I often thought that the argument about substituting "shall" for "may" was pedantic and irrelevant. However, there are occasions when providing for a duty as opposed to a permissive power is appropriate. I think that the case has been well made in this instance. This is an appropriate occasion for the use of the word "shall" rather than "may".

I turn now to Amendment No. 4. My noble friend Lord Renton referred to the possibility of saving time and money if the provisions work well. A third positive reason for accepting the amendment is that when the body has a statutory duty to meet, it must meet it under the law. Very often, if resources are tight and a government agency needs advice and a body such as the commission cannot meet the permissive power, it is very easy for it to say, "We simply don't have the money; nor do we have a statutory duty". Where the commission is conscious that good practice does not exist and where it believes that it would be positively helpful to prevent a case going to court--that would be a jolly sight more expensive for the public purse--I believe that the commission should have a duty to advise.

The noble Lord said that he was happy to put on the record that the right would be subsumed and that the commission would be able to advise agencies as well as government. If the noble Lord is happy to place that on the record, he should be even happier to put it on the face of the Bill. I say that because I do not believe that it is good enough simply to put it on the record. When we last spoke about this, the noble Lord said that this provision is on the face of the Bill. He said that it was subsumed. I asked for the reference, as did the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the Minister was unable to give it to us. He has not given it to us today. The other agencies are an arm of government. The clause states that they may advise the Government. I do not believe that my amendment precludes local authorities and other agencies. As I understand it, they are already subsumed in that there is a permissive power for them to advise any organisation that they believe it appropriate to advise. I am talking about agencies that deliver government business--that is, about government agencies. Unless I can be told exactly and precisely where that provision comes in the Bill, I believe that we should test the opinion of the House on this matter.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thought that I had referred specifically to subsection (3)(b)-- I apologise if I did not--which refers to the commission's ability to provide information and advice.

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It is under that provision that the commission has the ability, which it will undoubtedly use, to advise a government agency.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot see the connection between that subsection and government agencies. Can the noble Lord explain to me what I am missing in that provision?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness put her finger on it earlier when she referred to the ability of the commission to give advice to local authorities under that general power. My point is that, just as under that subsection the commission can give advice to local authorities, so it can give advice to government agencies.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, that does not meet my point. Subsection (3)(b) states:

    "undertake, or arrange for or support (whether financially or otherwise) the carrying out of research or the provision of advice or information".
I am referring to the commission advising the Government and making it clear beyond peradventure, on the face of the Bill, that the phrase "the Government" includes government agencies--that is, those bodies, of which there are many, which provide government services. That should be made explicit on the face of the Bill.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not think that I can say anything more. The ability of the commission to offer advice to government agencies and the other institutions which the noble Baroness mentioned is contained in that subsection.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I rise to make my last point. It is a key point. We are not talking about a permissive power. We know that the commission will offer and proffer advice to many bodies. If it has a duty in law to advise the Government, we want to make it statutory that that duty should be extended to advising government agencies also.

In the light of what the Minister said about substituting "shall" for "may"--that is the point of my first amendment--I shall seek to withdraw Amendment No. 3 in the hope that--not on the grounds that, but in the hope that--the Minister will give serious thought not only to what I have said but also to what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said because, as he did in Committee, the noble Lord has offered us today a very workable alternative, which I believe needs consideration between now and the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 3.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 25, at end insert--
("( ) make proposals or give other advice to any Government agency as to the practical application of any law;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move.

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4.58 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 81.

Division No. 1


Addington, L.
Alderdice, L.
Annaly, L.
Astor of Hever, L.
Avebury, L.
Bath, M.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Blatch, B.
Brentford, V.
Bridgeman, V.
Broadbridge, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.]
Byford, B.
Cadman, L.
Campbell of Croy, L.
Carlisle, E.
Charteris of Amisfield, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Clement-Jones, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Cowdrey of Tonbridge, L.
Craigavon, V.
Dahrendorf, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
Davidson, V.
Denham, L.
Dholakia, L.
Downshire, M.
Elton, L.
Ezra, L.
Falkland, V.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Glanusk, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Glentoran, L.
Goodhart, L.
Grey, E.
Harding of Petherton, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Harrowby, E.
Higgins, L.
Holderness, L.
Hooper, B.
Hooson, L.
Howe, E.
Inglewood, L.
Jacobs, L.
Kimball, L.
Kirkwood, L.
Knollys, V.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lawrence, L.
Layton, L.
Leigh, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Long, V.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Lyell, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Manton, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Marlesford, L.
Merrivale, L.
Methuen, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Morris, L. Moyne, L.
Newby, L.
Nunburnholme, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Ogmore, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pender, L.
Perry of Walton, L.
Perth, E.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Rankeillour, L.
Rawlings, B.
Razzall, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rees, L.
Rennell, L.
Renton, L.
Rix, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Seccombe, B. [Teller.]
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Skelmersdale, L.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Strafford, E.
Sudeley, L.
Swinfen, L.
Tebbit, L.
Teviot, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurlow, L.
Thurso, V.
Tordoff, L.
Vivian, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Wigoder, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Wise, L.
Wynford, L.
Young, B.


Acton, L.
Ahmed, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Brookman, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hacking, L.
Hardie, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennet, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lockwood, B.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Montague of Oxford, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nicol, B.
Peston, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rogers of Riverside, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Shepherd, L.
Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Thornton, B.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winston, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

11 Mar 1999 : Column 379

5.7 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 5:

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