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4.15pm

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I, too, thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement made in another place. I, for one, welcome its future aspirations for the phased withdrawal of our troops. I am sure that it is a step in the right direction. Our forces have obviously done extremely well, intelligently and professionally, to prepare the ground. I only hope that there will not be too many slips between the cup and the lip over the withdrawal. Does the Minister agree—or, at least, does the Ministry of Defence advise her, perhaps through the noble Lord sitting beside her—that it would be virtually impossible for our forces in Afghanistan to do an even more important job there as well as it could be done as long as we still have a significant war on two fronts?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think that we all recognise that having our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be difficult to sustain over the long term. That said, we all commend what our troops have been doing in theatre in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will continue to look at the force levels in both those countries because this is about the conditions on the ground and the support that we need to give our troops to ensure that they are able to function effectively.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement, which contained such very welcome news about Iraq. In view of what was said in it about the Sunni insurgency, will she confirm the reports that, even in al-Anbar, the Sunnis are turning against the al-Qaeda element in their midst? This is partly because of the brutality of that element, but also because of the exposure of al-Qaeda’s opportunism in espousing, or appearing to espouse, the Sunni cause, since it cares no more for mainstream Iraqi Sunnis than it does for mainstream Palestinians or any other group that does not share its extremist views.



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Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are aware of reports that Sunni tribes in Iraq have been turning their backs on al-Qaeda and other extremist groups that have been espousing militant ideologies. I agree with my noble friend that this is about ordinary Iraqis making it clear that they do not want to be involved in this kind of violence in their country. Groups such as al-Qaeda have no place in a representative and democratic Iraq. Undermining that democracy is what this level of terrorism is about.

Lord Garden: My Lords, the Statement rightly pays tribute to our coalition partners in MND South-East. We are the lead nation, but will the noble Baroness assure us that we are concerned about our partners’ safety and security as well? Have the Government consulted Denmark, Australia, Romania, the Czech Republic and Lithuania about this change of plans? What are those countries going to do? Are they going to reduce in parallel with us? Will they all come and be a single target at Basra air station?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we continue to work closely with our partners, and their security is intertwined with ours. Yes, we have consulted. I understand that a statement will be made by one of those partner countries later today, but I am not at present at liberty to say which one.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, since the Statement referred to current contacts with the Prime Minister of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, can the Minister confirm the statement attributed to Ehud Olmert in the press two days ago that he had received assurances from President Bush that the Americans had no intention of stopping the boycott of the Palestinian Government? If that is true, is it not a deplorable reaction to the diplomatic efforts of the Saudi Arabian Government and Mahmoud Abbas himself, and of both Fatah and Hamas, in having reached agreement on a coalition Government?

I shall also make one remark about Iran. For the first time in my 13 years in this House, I regret that we do not have the practice of the United States Congress of reading articles and speeches into Hansard. I commend to the Minister, and to all your Lordships, an article on Iran in today’s Financial Times by my former Diplomatic Service colleague Sir Rodric Braithwaite. The article eloquently supports the points, which I fully endorse, made by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord McNally.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am unable to give any assurances with respect to the statement made by Prime Minister Olmert. I cannot of course speak for United States policy, but we have been working extremely closely with all those in the region. There cannot be a solution to what is happening in the Middle East without neighbouring countries being involved in the debates and discussions. I commend the work which has been done on this issue.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, on Israel-Palestine, the Statement refers to the importance of basing the proposed national unity Government on the principles of the quartet. Does that include the

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recognition of the two-state solution? Does it include the recognition of Israel? Does it include the renunciation of violence, recognising that very recently Hamas designated the atrocity in Eilat as legitimate?

Whatever our views on the invasion of Iraq—and there are many in the House and the country—we should at least recognise that had the invasion not taken place, Saddam Hussein would still be in Iraq, preparing the succession for one or other of his evil sons. Whatever lack of unity there may be in this country on that issue, there is considerable unity on the magnificent work of our troops in the field. Have the Government given any thought to preparing some national recognition of that service by our troops as thanks for a job well done?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, on my noble friend’s final point, we have not got to that stage yet, but I am certain that there will be some mark of recognition. On the national unity Government and the principles of the quartet, of course the recognition of the two-state solution is essential to the work we are seeking to do with respect to Israel and Palestine. The renunciation of violence is also a key part of that. My noble friend may recall that one of the problems posed by the election of the Hamas Government is the difficulty the European Union, the United States and other Governments have in working with a Government who refuse to recognise Israel and to renounce violence.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I welcome the Statement and congratulate the Government on finally adopting the policy that was put to us by many in the Iraqi leadership in late 2004—that the commencement of troop withdrawal should begin by June 2005. Is my noble friend aware of any work going on in the Foreign Office on a federal arrangement within Iraq which is supported by the Kurds on the street in Kurdistan, talked about extensively behind closed doors within the Sunni community in northern Iraq and welcomed by many Shia groups in the south? Has she had the opportunity of reading the book by Peter Galbraith, the former American ambassador in Croatia, entitled The End of Iraq, which has some very interesting points to make on this subject?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I have not read that book. I know that there are a number of debates and discussions about whether autonomous sectarian regions should be created within Iraq. Our view is that that would lead to increased conflict. All 18 provinces and many cities of Iraq, including Baghdad, have mixed ethnic and religious communities which have lived in close proximity, largely peacefully, for decades. It is important that that continues and that we work with the Iraqi Government to sustain it.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I agree with my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall about the welcome news that troops will be brought home. I am also glad that in the comments since, various other

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points have come up. I support the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in his call for an inquiry into all that has not gone right with this campaign and note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that this campaign did not enjoy the support of the whole British public. When taking part in operations in Borneo and Northern Ireland, I remember that one thing that was helpful was that we felt we had the support of the country behind us. One of the unique characteristics of operations in Iraq is that our soldiers there have not felt that from the moment the operation started.

The Lord President said that we would not want an inquiry until the soldiers came home. I entirely agree, because of soldiers’ uncertainty in the operations that are continuing. They could do without an inquiry, but that inquiry ought to happen when they are home to make certain that the lessons are learnt and all the points that have been brought up time and again in your Lordships' House are examined.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, it is important that we learn the lessons, but we do not have to wait for any large-scale inquiry to do that. We should continue to learn them as the process develops.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, for many of us, the emphasis in this important and significant Statement on remaining committed to the regional approach is very reassuring? In that context the determination to stay with the diplomatic approach, if a tough one, towards Iran is also welcome.

As far as the Israel/Palestine situation is concerned, does my noble friend accept that peace-building is a process and it is not possible to achieve all the objectives at the beginning of the process, as we have learnt in the saga of Northern Ireland? If we are to find success in the process that we hope has begun, there will have to be patience, understanding and inclusiveness. Finally, does my noble friend agree that, in Iraq itself, the human resource issue is crucial? It is distressing to see the number of qualified people who have fled the country. Will she assure the House that specific plans are in place to ensure that human resources, not least in the administration of justice, can be rapidly built up?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that peace-building is a continuous process. We have seen that not only in Northern Ireland, but over many years in the Middle East conflict. We have made progress and many of us felt helpful on some occasions. On other occasions, there have been significant setbacks. In that context, of course inclusiveness is a key element. On the issue of human resources in Iraq, the key is security. We are working with the Iraqi Government to build up capacity within the justice sector, but qualified Iraqis living outside Iraq will feel able to return only when there is a degree of stability and security in the country.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, as one who opposed the war in the first place, I am pleased that 1,600 troops will be brought home very shortly. I hope

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that the rest of them will be brought home in not too long. There is a great deal of concern about the sabre-rattling in the United States over Iran. I hope that the Government are warning the United States that to take military action in Iran would be a huge disaster and bring about even graver consequences than those that exist in Iraq.

Finally, has it ever been suggested to Iran, especially since the Prime Minister of Israel has accepted and admitted that Israel has nuclear weapons, that as a quid pro quo for Iran stopping its enrichment programme Israel would be disarmed of any nuclear weapons that it had?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in relation to that last point, I am not aware of any such proposal having been made. With respect to the Government’s policy in Iran, I explained earlier that our strategy is very clear. We have been working with European Union partners pursuing a diplomatic route. We will continue to do that and, of course, we will continue to work through the United Nations.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, would the Minister acknowledge that the most troubling aspect of the Prime Minister’s Statement was his attempt to characterise the complex and very different situations in a number of different parts of the region as,

This light and dark approach brings no practical help to the diplomacy that needs to be deployed by any country that cares for democracy and justice in tackling these historic and long-rooted problems. Will the Minister also retreat from the expression in the Statement about the spread of these things to the region, for force is surely discredited in that part of the world when it is deployed by external nations, whatever the rhetoric used by their political leaders?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we are tackling historic and long-rooted problems, but I cannot agree with any of his other statements. Of course, this is about deploying diplomacy, but it is also about recognising the kinds of issues and forces with which we are dealing, and we have to be clear about that.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that one in five Iraqis is now homeless, either abroad or internally displaced? What contingency plan is the coalition making for the protection of the displaced—and not least of United Nations workers who will have to deal with them?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot confirm or deny those figures, although I am very happy to go back and check them. The Government have just announced a £4 million contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide emergency assistance to those who are internally displaced. We are also considering an appeal by the UNHCR about helping refugees

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who have fled into neighbouring countries. The noble Earl is right in saying that this is an issue that the humanitarian and refugee agencies will need to deal with. Of course there is considerable expertise but that is not the point—the point is that people will want as quickly as possible to return to their homes, which is why ensuring stability and security is at the top of our agenda.

Legal Services Bill [HL]

4.35 pm

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 House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Thomas of Walliswood) in the Chair.]

Schedule 15 [The Office for Legal Complaints]:

[Amendment No. 111 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 112:

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 112 and 113, which are grouped, relate to the Secretary of State’s influence over the Office for Legal Complaints. They to some degree rehearse the issues raised on the first day of the Committee in relation to the Legal Services Board.

Amendment No. 112 would remove the provision which enables the Secretary of State to alter the number of members of the Office for Legal Complaints. Why should the Secretary of State have any role in fixing that number? While such a provision may have been a useful emergency power over the Legal Services Board, it is plainly unnecessary and undesirable here. The Legal Services Board is in charge of the OLC; the OLC is responsible to it. To insinuate the Secretary of State will confuse the chain of command.

Amendment No. 113 would ensure that the chairman of the Office for Legal Complaints could be removed only with the consent of the Lord Chief Justice rather than the Secretary of State. The amendment underlines the importance of ensuring the independence of the legal profession. It must be seen as absolutely essential, whether for the sake of consumers of legal services or that of our international reputation, that the profession’s major complaints-handler and redress system are entirely free from government influence. I beg to move.

Lord Lyell of Markyate: I strongly support my noble friend Lord Kingsland in these amendments, particularly in the second amendment, which relates

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to the removal of the chairman of the board. Removal of somebody in a responsible position where independence is an essential part of their role is a very serious step, and it would be deeply unfortunate if it were thought to be being exercised by the Executive. It is therefore extremely wise to require the Lord Chief Justice’s approval. It should not cause problems for any Government, unless they have reached some constitutional crisis of proportions which we hope we never see. Consequently, I hope that the Minister will look kindly on that amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: The amendments are very important. For the reasons that have been given by my noble friend and my noble and learned friend, I support the amendment in the hope that it will be favourably received by the Government as a matter of general principle.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for giving me the opportunity to talk about the role of the OLC. As he said, the amendments are similar to those in respect of the Legal Services Board which we debated on the first day of Committee. Let us be clear that the OLC is a completely different organisation from the LSB. First, it is subordinate to the Legal Services Board; the Legal Services Board approves its budget and its rules. Secondly, it will not be involved in the regulation of the legal profession, so concerns about its independence are different from those which were expressed in respect of the Legal Services Board.

The role of the members of the Office for Legal Complaints will be to make rules about how the complaints scheme will work; to appoint the chief ombudsman and any assistant ombudsman; generally to run and manage the organisation in which the ombudsman and caseworkers will work, including managing the budget that has been agreed with the Legal Services Board; and to prepare the annual report on its performance of those functions.

Looking at the two amendments in that context, at the moment we have set the size of the Office for Legal Complaints at between six and eight members plus the chairman. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 15 sets out a list of nine areas of which we consider it desirable for members of the OLC between them to have knowledge or experience—the handling of complaints, the provision of legal services, legal education and legal training, consumer affairs, civil or criminal proceedings and the working of the courts, the maintenance of the professional standards of persons who provide legal services, non-commercial legal services, the differing needs of consumers, and the provision of claims management services.

While we hope that the members of the OLC will have this knowledge and experience between them once it is set up, that may not always be the case. We want to create a system with enough flexibility. For example, if there were six candidates with good experience of the first five attributes set out in paragraph 4, but with little experience of the last four, the LSB might want to appoint further people to fill those skills gaps. Unless there was some way of

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making the Office for Legal Complaints bigger, that could not happen. On the other hand, we do not want the OLC to become so large that it is unnecessarily bureaucratic or costly. We are trying to balance the interests of both the consumer and the profession. The Secretary of State, who is accountable to Parliament, is best placed to do that and that is why that power exists under Schedule 15.

On Amendment No. 113, I have explained the differences between the OLC and the LSB, and those differences are also important in respect of this amendment. Under paragraph 8(2) of Schedule 15, members of the OLC, including the chairman, cannot be removed unless they have failed without reasonable excuse to discharge the functions of the Office for Legal Complaints for a continuous period of six months, have been convicted of an offence, are an undischarged bankrupt, or are otherwise unfit to hold the office or unable to discharge its functions. Members of the OLC are appointed by the LSB and can be removed by the LSB only if those conditions are met.


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