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Lord Drayson: My Lords, as I have said a number of times, there is no such thing as a perfect vehicle that will protect our troops against all threats. There is a
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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I come back to the noble Lords answer to my noble friend Lord King. Do I correctly understand that whereas the total number of vehicles is sufficient for need, the same cannot be said for each specific type?
Lord Drayson: My Lords, let me absolutely clear about this. We have the number we need of each type of vehicle. I can put in the public domainand, therefore, in the Librarythe total number of vehicles and their availability. I cannot break that down by individual vehicle type because our policy is not to put into the public domain the specific numbers of, for example, Viking, Snatch and Mastiff vehicles. That would give information to the enemy.
Moved, That the Commons message of 2 May be considered and that a committee of nine Lords members be appointed to join with the committee appointed by the Commons to consider and report on any draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown and that the committee should report on the draft Bill by 25 July;
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
(1) If it appears to the Board that complaints about any authorised person are not being handled effectively and efficiently by the OLC, the Board may exercise in relation to the OLC such of the powers in subsection (2) as it considers necessary.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the subject matter of the amendment was given consideration at an earlier stage of the Bill. As so often during that time, the noble Baroness expressed the view that the language of the Bill was already sufficient to ensure that the failure of the Office for Legal Complaints in the eyes of the Legal Services Board would not render a stalemate and that it would be possible to bring about changes. However, on further reflection, it has appeared to my noble friends that the position is not entirely satisfactory and that the Legal Services Board has no adequate powers to investigate the Office for Legal Complaints.
There is no direct provision for the board to intervene if it believes that the Office for Legal Complaints is not handling complaints properly. The amendment would transfer to the Legal Services Board the current powers enjoyed by the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner. The powers would allow the board to look strategically at how the Office for Legal Complaints is operating and to intervene if it appears to the board that the OLC is not handling complaints efficiently and effectively. That would help to ensure that information on complaints can be used to improve the whole system of legal services delivery for consumers. It seems clear that if the OLC fails to deliver an efficient and effective service, appropriate sanctions should be available.
Even at this stage of consideration of the Billit has been thoroughly trawledit is not entirely obvious who would deal with the OLC and how. Clause 118 allows the Legal Services Board to set performance targets for and to monitor the OLC, which is welcome. But there are no further direct powers over the OLC, particularly in the event of its failure, other than the power and ability to remove the OLC chair and board, which might be thought to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The inclusion of the power to investigate concerns would allow for sensible and reasonable target setting if this became necessary. It is also desirable to consider how to stiffen the Legal Services Boards ability to ensure the OLCs compliance with its directions. I hope that these amendments will commend themselves at this stage to the Government. I beg to move.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord who, as he has indicated, returns to an issue that we debated in Committee. The amendments would produce a hybrid between the present Legal Services Complaints Commissioner and the proposal in the Bill in relation to the LSB and the improved regulators. Having looked again at the provisions in the Bill, as I said I would do, I believe that we have satisfactory arrangements to make sure that the board has the appropriate range of controls over the OLC.
I will demonstrate this in six key ways. First are the overall arrangements in Part 6 which provide for the OLC to operate through a series of rules which, in Clause 152, must receive the consent of the LSB before they can take effect. The LSB will have complete oversight of the way in which the OLCs rules are framed and, provided they are adhered to, how the OLC operates. Additionally, in Clause 153, the board may amend or modify any of those rules if it considers that they are deficient.
Secondly, in Clause 115, the OLC is accountable through its annual report to the LSB, which must deal with any matter that the board has directed. For example, they may have to show how they have dealt with the speed with which complaints are resolved. Of course, the OLC has a separate annual report to the LSB because it has a distinct function and its status is as a distinct non-departmental public body. The LSB will present both its annual report and the OLCs annual report to the Secretary of State, who will lay them before Parliament. This will reflect the fact that the OLC reports to the LSB.
Thirdly, Clause 117 allows the board to require the Office for Legal Complaints to prepare a report on any matter relating to its functions. This might include, for example, a strategic plan for how it proposes to remedy a particular failure to meet a performance target. Fourthly, the power to set performance targets in Clause 118 allows the board to impose conditions on how those targets are met and, crucially, to monitor performance against targets. This will allow the LSB to monitor systematically how complaints are being handled.
Fifthly, the LSBs ultimate power in relation to the Office for Legal Complaints is at Schedule 15(8)(b). As the noble Lord has said, this allows the board the power to remove members of the OLC. The noble Lord described this as, perhaps, a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it is important as the ultimate power, only to be used on members of the OLC where there is obviously a significant failure in the discharge of their duties. Finally, in addition to the above statutory powers, as a non-departmental public body, the Office for Legal Complaints will be accountable to Parliament for the efficient use of resources and the discharge of its statutory responsibilities in a way that the current complaints-handling and regulatory bodies are not.
We consider that, taken together, these six key points provide an appropriate and effective control over the Office for Legal Complaints and the way it operates, intentionally different from those the board has in relation to approved regulators, designed specifically to govern the relationship between two distinct non-departmental public bodies with different functions, but with the OLC being subordinate to the LSB. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord can withdraw his amendment.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I express my gratitude to the Minister for giving further thought to the issue. It was dealt with at some length at an earlier stage and she has canvassed powerful arguments for the point of view she has been expressing. As she has described, there are powers. I acknowledged this in my opening remarks, but begged leave to doubt whether they were sufficiently targeted to the problem of complaints. In the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 353, 355, 357 to 360, 379 and 380, 382, 394 and 395, 402 to 404, 427, 434 and 446. This group of amendments, aimed at further protecting the consumers of legal services, responds to amendments debated in Committee which I agreed to take away and consider. While some are minor and clarificatory, I hope noble Lords will agree that others are of real substance and will improve the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 352 and 353 respond to amendments helpfully moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, in Committee. They will require scheme rules to make provision permitting specified persons to continue a complaint following the death or incapacitation of the original complainant. This means that the Office for Legal Complaints must give proper consideration to, and consult on, which persons should be allowed to continue a complaint. Complainants and their relatives or representatives will be certain whether and when they are eligible to continue a complaint.
Amendment No. 355 arises out of helpful points made in Committee by my noble friend Lord Whitty clarifying the limits on the power of the Office for Legal Complaints to award costs against a party in
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Amendments Nos. 357, 358, 359 and 360 make it clear who can exercise the power of summary dismissal of a complaint. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on the fifth day in Committee that this should be a power exercisable only by an ombudsman, and the wording has been reconsidered with a view to making it entirely clear.
Amendments Nos. 379, 380 and 382 have been drafted in response to amendments tabled earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and my noble friend Lord Whitty. In those circumstances, which we expect to be rare, where a respondent fails or refuses to comply with an ombudsmans determination, these amendments will give ombudsmen the power to take enforcement action in relation to that determination on a complainants behalf, and we will set out the exact details in the scheme rules. These amendments therefore provide additional protection for vulnerable people who might not wish or know how to seek a court order themselves. Individuals may of course take action themselves, if they so wish, without the ombudsmans assistance.
Amendments Nos. 394, 395 and 446 address concerns expressed in Committee by my noble friend Lady Henig, who is not in her place today. They enable approved regulators to respond quickly and effectively in cases of widespread wrongdoing, where potentially large numbers of consumers may be affected, but they may not know that they have a complaint or, indeed, the procedure for complaining. In circumstances where an approved regulator suspects widespread wrongdoing, these amendments will ensure that approved regulators can require authorised persons to investigate their files, and if they find signs of potential wrongdoing, alert the consumer and initiate the internal complaints process. Because of the importance of maintaining a clear role for the Office for Legal Complaints in providing redress, the amendments I have tabled do not allow approved regulators to award redress or require authorised persons to pay redress.
Amendments Nos. 402 to 404, 427 and 434 again are tabled in response to persuasive arguments made in Committee by my noble friend Lord Whitty and others who have rightly identified that it is important for the OLC to have the power to administer a voluntary complaints handling scheme. The amendments will therefore give the Office for Legal Complaints the
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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for addressing the point made in Committee about the continuity of complaints. Although this is only a minor concession, I appreciate that it will now be a requirement for the OLC to set out in its scheme rules the circumstances in which complaints may be continued on behalf of a person who has died or is otherwise unable to act. That removes what was certainly an inequitable lacuna in the Bills coverage.
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