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Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for saying a few words about Amendments Nos. 23 and 26, to which I neglected to speakperhaps in my enthusiasm for Amendment No. 19. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who participated in the debate.
It is worth pointing out that Amendment No. 26 highlights again the weakness of the ombudsman's position. Although the listed authority has power to make compensation where injustice or hardship has occurred, the ombudsman is left out of the clause and out of the picture altogether. He has no power of enforcement, although it is clearly true that a claimant who has a recommendation made by the ombudsman for compensation will be well armed, should he take the matter to court.
We are dealing primarily with enforceability. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, was wrong to say that the listed authority or the ombudsman could take the matter to the Assembly. That is not provided for in the Bill. So the ombudsman is in a weak position and can be defied by a listed authority, as has happened in England. I have before me a list of authorities in England that have defied the Local Government Ombudsman and left a very unsatisfactory situation with no action taken. That is no answer where injustice or hardship has occurred. Therefore, on the issue of enforceability, I beg to test the opinion of the House.
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In Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, tabled an amendment to Clause 20, which deals with the alternative procedure for reports. The amendment sought to clarify the parties who would agree the period within which listed authorities would implement the ombudsman's recommendations. The noble Lord, together with the noble Lord, Lord Luke, has tabled an identical amendment, Amendment No. 21, on Report.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord in Grand Committee caused the Government to reconsider the provision in this clause. Our intention has always been that the period would be agreed between the ombudsman, the person aggrieved and the listed authority. As that was not specified in the Bill, we saw that it could lead to some confusion.
As a result, I have tabled Amendments Nos. 20 and 22, which make the parties involved in agreeing the period clear in the Bill. Amendment No. 22 also makes provision for a situation where the three parties cannot agree on the length of the period. If the ombudsman thinks that agreement cannot be reached, he can specify the period in writing.
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I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, was concerned to ensure that the person aggrieved would have a part in agreeing the period. Bearing that in mind, I hope that he will be able to accept the amendments that I have tabled, as they make it clear that the person aggrieved would be involved in agreeing the period.
It follows from that that I cannot accept Amendment No. 21, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. However, as I have explained, I hope that the amendments that I have tabled deal with the point of principle that the noble Lords are concerned about. I invite the noble Lord not to move his amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I shall not move Amendment No. 21. The Government have explained clearly that Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 will achieve the objective that we were after in Committee. I am glad to say that the Government have seen the light and accepted the substance of our amendments in Committee. They have tabled an excellent pair of amendments that achieve our purpose.
"( ) The permitted period is
(a) a period agreed between the Ombudsman, the listed authority and the person who made the complaint, or
(b) if the Ombudsman thinks that no such agreement can be reached, the period specified by him in writing."
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