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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, before the Minister replies, I want to declare an interest that I failed to declare at the start of my speech. I am a solicitor in practice in the charity field and trustee of several charities.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, in the approximately seven minutes left to me, I shall try to deal with what has been an excellent and important debate. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Patten, for initiating it. I should declare that I am a trustee of the Parliamentary Choir and a member of the RSPB.
The central question is the nature of the problem or problems. In one respectperhaps in manythe noble Lord, Lord Patten, is right. We have about 19 ombudsmen, but none of them focuses specifically or solely on the charities themselves. That may be a problem, or it may not.
We have heard a lot about the RSPCA, the National Trust and the RSPB. I shall not go into details, as I am not knowledgeable about what has been happening in those organisations, but I mark a central issue with which we must engage. The Charity Commission looks into complaints about unconstitutional practice within charities, as well as breaches of charity law. Therefore, if any of those organisations appear to have acted in unconstitutional matters, it is rightly a matter for the Charity Commission to investigate. They have a power and locus to do so.
By comparison, ombudsmen are for complaints about poor administration causing harm or suffering to individuals. That is what they have always been, to date. I shall double-check, but I am sure that those are the terms of reference of the 19 ombudsmen that we have now. No doubt I shall reflect on this, but on first flush the complaints and issues raised concerning the RSPCA, the National Trust and the RSPB appear to fall into the first categorymatters for the Charity Commission and whether there has been unconstitutional practice or notrather than into the category of administration.
To put it another way, although I take no view whatever on the previous examples, it seems that charities are entitled to take up a policy position subject to it being within the terms of their constitution and no doubt having had proper processes for reaching that position. Clearly, we shall need to reflect whether the examples which have been advanced fall within that ambit.
Although it may irk some members, the RSPCA can refuse membership to those who do not agree with its position. As I understand it, subject to that being legitimate in terms of charity law, a charity can exclude from membership people opposed to its policies. Again, those processes must be carried out fairly.
Where does this take us? First, we need to unpack the nature of the complaints we are discussing. Some complaints are clearly legitimate matters for the Charity Commission to investigate. Time does not allow me to define their scope, but clearly it has power and locus for some of the issues raised.
Secondly, some complaints raised may get redress through other regulatorsfor example, through a whole range of bodies that regulate standards of conduct in public life. Again, time does not permit me to bore the House with more detail. There are a range of complaints which might be dealt with by other regulators in some cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is right in terms of his response to the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies. In essence, the Strategy Unit review recommends the creation of a tribunal for the purposes that he advanced. The Government are considering those recommendations as part of the whole consultation exercise that is coming to a conclusion.
Because we are debating ombudsmen, we should be concerned with issues of maladministration. The first question we should ask ourselves is: if there should be a case for an ombudsman to look at maladministration, not issues of policy with which we might or might not disagree, what are the options?
There are probably five options: a new charity ombudsman; to give the function to one of the existing ombudsmen; to extend the function of the Charity Commission; to extend the remit to the independent complaints reviewer; or to ask the charitable sector to set up its own ombudsman scheme. If a convincing case was made for the scale and volume of complaints, there could be pros and cons for each of those options.
There are other options available immediately. It is crucial that charities themselves have effective internal complaints procedures to deal with as many complaints as possible at source. That is a principle of basic good ombudsman procedure in the first instance. Clearly, trustees have a particular duty to act as long-stops in those processes and to take part in overseeing them.
My next point is that a range of existing ombudsmen also have scope over charities. The Local Government Ombudsman, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Health Service Ombudsman and the Independent Housing Ombudsman can all intervene in charities
I cannot go into the debate concerning the Independent Housing Ombudsman because I have only one minute left. Clearly, that was a particularly interesting example. It was set up with the support of the sector. What is interesting about the housing ombudsman's role is the scale of the bodies we are discussing, dealing with 1.75 million tenanted dwellings a year and therefore a big service business.
I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, on the point he made about grants. In conclusion, I shall instance where we would like to go forward on the matter. First, we have to obtain facts and evidence about the nature and scale of the problem. I say that in no criticism of the debate. We have to obtain some numbers in order to see the extent to which there are charities which are a legitimate discretion of the charity itself, although we might disagree with it. Secondly, we have to establish that they are legitimate and can be dealt with by the Charity Commission; thirdly, that other regulators can deal with the matter; and, fourthly, that other ombudsman can deal with it. When we have identified the scale of those categories, we are left with a fifth, which is the heart of the issue. How many are legitimate issues of potential maladministration which have no other home to go to? That is the nature of the reflections and analysis I shall be asking officials to undertake in conjunction with the Charity Commission.
In the light of those discussions and that analysis, which may take a period of time, I shall have further discussion on these issues and no doubt it will be a privilege to respond to questions from this House. In conclusion, I commend the House for the stimulus to government thinking that the debate has provided.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 3, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 15. The purpose of these amendments is to make it clear that the appropriate services that should be provided for the effective work of the courts should include information technology services.
The picture painted by a lawyer to meI am very much the laymanwas that a train set was going to be built without the engine or coaches. Is it not true that the current state of play is that even the criminal courts will be left with systems which are well past their sell-by date, such as CREST, and that there has been a scrabble to upgrade systems, such as XHIBIT, to do things they were never designed to do? That hardly smacks of efficient and effective guardianship of the system, which we are supposed to see in Clause 1, especially at a time when in the criminal justice system the Home Office legislation is adding to requirements for the use of IT systems; for example, in the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill which some Members of the Committee are suffering upstairs in Grand Committee. What consultations did the Lord Chancellor's Department have with the Home Office before clauses were inserted into the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill to extend the use of televisual links? What agreement has been reached about the resourcing of these?
What news does the Minister have of progress with Libra? I read the sorry story of this in the January edition of the Magistrate. Although I am no longer a magistrate, as a life member of the association I still receive the magazine. The Committee will be aware that Libra is an attempt by the Lord Chancellor's Department to develop case management and administration systems for England and Wales.
What reason can the Minister give the Committee for having confidence that IT can provide the method by which the criminal and justice communities can work together effectively under the provisions of the Bill? I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The amendment is unnecessary. IT services will be included in the term "services". A reasonable interpretation of "appropriate services" includes information technology, and it is certainly our intention to provide such services.
Let me make a general point before I go on to deal with specific points. From both the start of the Committee stage and at Second Reading my strong feeling has been that all noble Lords wish to see the same kind of improvement and development. Whatever comments I may make in Committee, I wish to assure noble Lords that everything that is said will be taken into account and fully considered before we come back on Report. To do otherwise would not do justice to the import that everyone involved in the Bill wishes to achieve. I want to assure the Committee that we have that very much in mind.
The SR2002 funding settlement has been committed to the roll-out of a modern IT infrastructure across all Crown Court centres; the roll-out of the LCD led, cross-CJS XHIBIT initiative, which uses modern technology to share, in real time, court hearing information across all in the criminal justice service who need to make use of itthe evaluation of the first pilot has shown very significant benefits across the CJS by allowing all the many parties involved in hearings to work more effectively together; and the roll-out of a national standard case management application across all magistrates' courts.
The noble Baroness asked whether this spending will be ring fenced. I can give her no such assurance. We are trying to ensure that all needs are fully met. A modern IT infrastructure has been rolled-out, through Libra, to more than 80 per cent of magistrates' courts, and this is on target for completion this year; work, which will be complete this year, is underway on the roll-out of prison to court video links to 30 of the largest Crown Court centres; and more than 50 per cent of all money claims through the civil courts are already issued electronically. So the Internet-based money claim on-line service, which has had a positive reception from many groupsincluding, for example, the Consumers' Associationallows all aspects of a money claim to be carried out on-line, all the way
This is a very wide, comprehensive IT programme. We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that it responds to the new system that we hope will come into being as a result of the Courts Bill to make it more efficient and effective.
I know that reference has already been made to the use of the words "efficiency" and "effectiveness", but citizens of this country who go to the courts very much want to have an efficient and effective system that actually works. Those words are perfectly fine to describe the aspirations of what many individuals wish to see in terms of service provision.
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