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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full and clear justification of the maintenance of the Bill as it stood. She chastises one with such elegance and charm that it is almost impossible to realise that one has been thoroughly flogged and has got nothing out of it, but there we are; that is the way.
I suppose that the only thing about which I still have a strong residual sense is the appointment of the commissioner. This is a singularly sensitive appointment. The commissioner will have to delve into the interstices of the Civil Service and will have to make some strong judgments about the discharge of the Home Secretary's responsibilities with regard to the registry and all its affairs. I therefore would have wished strongly for the appointment by the Crown to have been preserved, as the independence needs not only to be real but to be seen to be real. However, acting, as I believe that we have, with care and consideration for the primacy of the other place, we do not seek to oppose the proposals.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I rise because I moved Amendment No. 50, the one on reporting, on the earlier occasion. Like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I have listened with great care to the Minister's patient explanation as to why the reports should be given to
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the Secretary of State rather than direct to Parliament. She has repeated in some detail what she said on 19 December; indeed, she has elaborated on it a little today, saying that the Secretary of State has information about security matters on which it would be unreasonable to brief the commissioner in the same detail. She has emphasised that the Secretary of State will consult the commissioner about the matters to be excluded and that the exclusions are not necessarily final if the circumstances change. All that is helpful and, clearly, we are not really in a position to pursue the matter much further.
I simply want to make two points. The Minister spoke about the will of the other House being expressed on this matter. I suppose, in a sense, that it was, although the matter was not debated at all. Because of the way in which these matters are dealt with in another place, with the imposition of timetables, the debate was on something completely different and the vote simply followed automatically. It is worth making that comment when we are dealing with the commissioner's relationship with Parliament. Many months ago, the Minister, in reply to a Select Committee, said that the primary job of the commissioner was to advise the Secretary of State. The last time that we debated this matter, I said that I believed that the primary job was to report to Parliament and to protect the citizen. That is why we moved our amendment. Although I understand that there are security grounds for doing it in the way that the Minister describes, the point needs to be made that the commissioner is there not to serve the purposes of the Secretary of State but to protect the citizen and to serve Parliament. Even though the other place did not think that this matter was worth discussion, or could not find time to discuss it, it seems to me to be the job of this House to ensure that the citizen is protected and that the role of Parliament is looked at closely.
I am therefore somewhat regretful that we cannot pursue the matter further. I think that the point has been made, however, and I hope that the commissioner will recognise that the House has expressed the view that he should do his job with the principles that I have expressed in mindthe protection of the citizen and the duty of Parliament. I hope that his relationship with the Secretary of State will be very much guided by those principles.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, the Minister has offered some reassuring words, but I do not see how a proper check is being provided when the person who is supposed to be the check on the system is appointed by and reports to the person controlling at the top. It is a bit like having a corporate bank account with only one signature on it. No one would ever allow that to happen in business. You would be labelled as a total lunatic if you did it. I still have that feeling, and this self-certification and internal checking that has started to appear in many of the Bills that come to us from the
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Executive concerns me. We must remember that this scheme was first floated by the Home Office to a Conservative administration, although it did not get anywhere, and has been floated time and again.
We must remember that Parliament is here to act as a check on the Executive. That is what Magna Carta was about, and we forget that at our peril. It may be said that the country effectively votes for an executive at the elections, but it is really voting for a slate in Parliament. We sometimes get confused when we think about exactly which hat the Executive is wearing when it sits in Parliament. When members of the Cabinet are in Parliament, they are sitting as legislators, the people who control the Executive. They sometimes forget that. We ought to maintain some of these checks, and it is with great regret that I see these amendments being turned down by the other place, which ought to know better.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I intervene only briefly. Being international, one of the sad things I face is that I tend to be one of the few representatives of the 13 million British subjects who live abroad. They have a certain concern about an identity register, and let us assume that the 13 million people who live abroad do have passports. Because of the current situation as regards the disclosure of information I have been asked to try to seek assurance that, if we are not to have an independent commissioner, the information will not be passed to foreign governments or others under any circumstances without the approval or knowledge of the person concerned. The Minister will know full well that we have many British subjects working in various difficult areas and territories where the rule of law is not absolute. It is just that sort of assurance that would be welcome. I should prefer the Bill to be as we amended it here but I accept that we are in a minority.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly hope that I can reassure noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that we have already taken all proper steps to ensure that only appropriate reference will be given to anyone under the Bill. We went through in extensive detail what those safeguards are and I think it would be invidious if I tried to abridge all of it. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that no disproportionate or improper use of that data will be permitted either within or outwith the jurisdiction.
Of course I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, says about the benefits of a commissioner being otherwise appointed. I hope I made clear in my remarks supporting the Motion that the distinction between Her Majesty appointing and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary or his successors in title supervising involves very little practical difference. I reassure the House that the appropriate scrutiny will be undertaken to ensure that what happens is proportionate and right.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I open by thanking the Minister and, although they are not in their places, the Bill team for the considerable patience they have shown in Committee and in particular for the letters and the written follow-ups that I think we all have had.
I am very content with what is in this document. The purpose of the amendment is to try to get at least a part or summary of it into Hansard for reference should it be needed at a much later stage. This will all be happening over many years to come and I should like as much clarity as possible on the face of the Bill, and that which I cannot get in the Bill I should like to have in Hansard. I beg to move.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for the way in which he moved the amendment and for his thanks to me and to the Bill team for the way in which we sought to respond to various issues that were raised in Committee and usefully considered afterwards. I hope that I can satisfy him on the points he makes. I realise that he wants in Hansard a very clear definition of the position of the Olympic Delivery Authority. I shall seek to re-emphasise that again.
The ODA, as a non-departmental public body, is accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State. I do not think that it is necessary for that to be on the face of the Bill because, as I sought to explain in Committee, it is a classification rather than a legal definition and as such does not have a proper place in the Bill itself. However, it does help to clarify the nature of this non-departmental public body. It will be recognised that the term NDPB covers a wide range of institutions. This one, like others, indicates that it operates at arm's length from government. I think that that is the important point as regards the noble Lord's amendment. This arm's-length arrangement has already been put in place as regards the ODA and will be reflected in the financial memorandum and management statement being prepared in relation to it. Once the authority has been set up and the right structures and people put in place, the Government will let the ODA get on with doing the job of preparing for the games.
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It may be helpful to reassure noble Lords that, as I said in Committee, where the Bill provides the Secretary of State with powers of control over the ODA these are included only as a backstop and could not be exercised in a manner that allowed the DCMS to interfere with the management of the ODA on a daily basis. I sought to reassure noble Lords that what was suggested at one stagethat the Secretary of State might be interested in expenses claims from members of the ODAwas an indication of exactly how we do not intend the ODA to operate. We want it to be at arm's length from government and to have proper authority over all matters that are within its remit while nevertheless being responsible to the Secretary of State.
We envisage that the expenditure threshold for the ODA will be set at about £20 million, subject to the Chief Secretary's agreement. That level should strike a balance between allowing the authority to get on with the job without day-to-day interference while still giving the Secretary of State oversight and accountability over very large projects, as the House and the other place would expect. In a similar way, a threshold will be agreed and set for staff salaries and other payments such as travel allowances. Only on rare occasions when payments are above the threshold would the authority need to refer to the DCMS, and that is likely only with the appointment of senior members of staff.
The Bill provides powers enabling the Secretary of State to exercise some control over the ODA, but, again, such powers are part of the usual arrangement between any department and its appropriate NDPBs. These backstop powers of control are generally used only in two types of extreme situation: either where the body is failing or on those rare occasions when the decision to be taken is of such fundamental importance that it is a matter in which the Secretary of State needs to be involved.
The House will be reassured to know that when submitting its annual report the authority must specify any direction that the Secretary of State has given during the year, thereby identifying the full accountability which it has exercised. This will give both Houses of Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise the Secretary of State in giving directions to the authority and assess whether it is being overburdened. I hope that that gives the House and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, who has pursued this issue with his customary diligence, adequate assurance that the department's relationship with the ODA will be at arm's length. It will allow the authority to get on with that very important job which we all recognise it has without undue interference. Consequently its classification will be that of an NDPB, and of course we will honour that classification.
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