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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".
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.
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.
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.
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;").
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.