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Iraq: Field Hospitals

3.05 pm

Baroness Emerton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, there is in theatre a major medical incident plan which can be invoked if it is likely that additional medical facilities are required. This plan is constantly reviewed and has been invoked previously and proven effective. In addition, force protection measures are being enhanced to improve infrastructure protection against indirect fire. Details of these plans cannot be released; to do so would seriously compromise operational security.

Baroness Emerton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful and informative Answer. I declare an interest as a trustee of the St John and British Red Cross Defence Medical Welfare Service, under contract with the Ministry of Defence. Currently there are two welfare officers serving in the field hospital in Basra under military command. The chief executive officer of the Defence Medical Welfare Service has recently returned from a three-day visit to the hospital, where he saw at first hand the excellent facilities and equipment that are available in the hospital and, more importantly, the skills and compassion of the clinical team and welfare officers. Can the Minister give an assurance that, in the forthcoming committee of inquiry into the welfare of our Armed Forces, account will be taken of the professional welfare officers?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness the assurance she seeks. The department fully recognises the vital role played by the Defence Medical Welfare Service and others, which provide for the practical and emotional support of our troops and their families. This will, of course, be reflected in the evidence that the department is submitting to the House of Commons Defence Committee.

Lord Garden: My Lords, the Question recognises the increasing hazards to our forces and the welfare support forces as we draw down our bases in Iraq to a single base. This raises another strategic question. Can the Minister assure the House that there are forces on call at high readiness to provide rescue and casualty evacuation capability in the event of a major contingency?

Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, the United States has brought in protocols to deal with brain injuries, psychological and physical, as a result of blast injuries. I understand the MoD is waiting to see the results of this programme despite widespread medical evidence that the Americans are doing the right thing. In the light of that, will the Government reconsider this?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I shall certainly take back to the department the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. I shall write to him and leave copies in both Libraries.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that those who are seriously injured and ill get sent back to the appropriate hospital in the UK as soon as possible?

Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance. The medical attention that our troops receive in theatre is a first step. They receive extremely good—world-class—attention, but it is always with the view to getting them out and home as soon as possible.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, what studies are being undertaken into the psychological trauma of those evacuated with battlefield injuries? It has been a constant complaint that those in the Territorial Army have received less than adequate attention.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we seek continually to improve our psychological support in theatre, at Selly Oak and at Headley Court. It is under constant review.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I saw the work of the Defence Medical Services in the first Gulf War and realised the enormous value of the arm and the service that it provides. There is a suggestion that, as a result of the inquiry, its role may be undertaken by SSAFA. That is entirely inappropriate because SSAFA’s role is with families. Will the Minister ensure that, as a result of the inquiry, the work of this valuable arm and the service continues and two separate welfare services are provided in whatever is ultimately produced?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the department, in its evidence to the inquiry, will put strongly the case for retaining the present role of the Defence Medical Welfare Service. Other charitable bodies and organisations play equally important but different roles.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, does the Minister believe that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has made a generous settlement for service doctors?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the Government have accepted in full the pay recommendations of the independent body for service medical and dental officers. The recommendations seek a balance with the Government’s approach to public-sector pay, including the Chancellor’s view that pay awards should be in line with the inflation target of 2 per cent, the prevailing economic conditions and DMS manning, recruitment and retention.

Lord Patel: My Lords, what is the current shortfall below target in the medical workforce of the Armed Forces? I declare an interest as a member of the diversity panel of the Armed Forces and a former member of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I cannot say with accuracy what the current shortfall is, if there is one, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord.

International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [HL]

3.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

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

Legal Services Bill [HL]

Read a third time.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is identical to Amendment No. 38 which we tabled in Committee. As noble Lords are aware, the Legal Services Bill establishes, among other institutions, a Consumer Panel, which is entitled both to make representations and to be consulted. Contrary to the structure in the Financial Services Act, however, there is no equivalent practitioners’ panel.

Accordingly in Committee we tabled Amendment No. 38, which was in identical terms to the amendment before your Lordships today. It was clear from our debate in Committee that the Minister accepted this amendment, either in terms or in equivalent terms. I turn to what she said in Hansard:

On Report, however, the Minister was not prepared to honour that undertaking. I am not suggesting that she behaved in any way reprehensibly —I suspect that others gave her very strict riding instructions—but the undertaking is there, and it is unequivocal. Others of your Lordships, such as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, have withdrawn amendments that they might otherwise have pressed to a vote because of that undertaking.

I suggest to the Minister, as I did on Report, that there is a clear convention in your Lordships’ House that having made such a statement, whether she regrets it or not on reflection, the Minister must accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support this amendment, not just for the reasons given by my noble friend, which I wholly accept, but for another reason. I am a Clementi man. The amendment safeguards the freedom of the approved regulators to make representation, which is, to my mind, and I think to Sir David’s mind, of the essence of the type of relationship that should exist, of which there are as yet no words of expression in the Bill. It is essential that representation and consultation should ensue if the regime is to work not only in the interests of the consumer and the legal profession but in the public interest. Where possible, one should seek agreement.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I am just a simple Lord. I take words as they come. We have an amendment that clearly states:

My noble friend read out the Minister’s words. I remind noble Lords exactly what the Minister said in the terms that my noble friend has just outlined and reflect that this was said in an attempt to dissuade the Committee on its fifth day from moving further amendments. The Minister said:

When we last discussed this amendment, the Minister said, “I only accepted it in principle”. But that principle makes it clear that the Minister has accepted that Clause 10 will apply mutatis mutandis et cetera. Nothing could be simpler.

Something has been going on, because the Minister has always been straightforward. I know of no other Minister who listens more intently to what is said in this place than the noble Baroness. If something has been going on that we are unaware of, let us draw a line under that. My noble friend is rightly seeking to ensure that we can have this important principle enshrined in the Bill. It is easy to do. It is only Amendment No. 1. All the Minister has to say is, “I accept the amendment”.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, may I suggest what happened? The Minister went back to the Lord Chancellor and said, “I have agreed this on the Floor of the House and given the Government’s word on it”. The Lord Chancellor said, “I don’t care. You are not accepting it. Get me out of it. Resist”. I suggest that that is exactly what happened. Under those circumstances, I feel very sorry for the Minister, because I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. She always listens, she always smiles and she is always good natured. She is smiling now, justifiably. I bet she hates being in this position, because it is very uncomfortable for her. She should stick to her own guns.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the measured way in which the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has brought back an issue that he feels extremely strongly about. I am enchanted by the concerns that noble Lords have for me, but worried that my powers of persuasion, particularly in the eyes of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, are clearly not up to much if that were the situation that had arisen. I do not have any regrets about what I did. I will explain what I did and why.

I do not accept the idea that, because of our discussions in Committee, noble Lords felt that they did not need or were unable to bring back amendments. I made it clear in my discussions with noble Lords between Committee and Report that I would not be bringing this amendment forward. I made that clear at Report, so there was always the opportunity to come back at this stage. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I recall that we had a discussion about possibilities in which this issue might be raised. Anyway, if noble Lords had felt that they had been misled, I would have been perfectly happy to see amendments today that addressed the issue. Indeed, we have the noble Lord’s amendment. I am quite sure what the outcome of this debate will be as a consequence.

I will put my position as clearly as I can, because I like my reputation as a listening Minister and I believe that I take away and consider carefully everything that is said to me.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I always consult my colleagues. But, most important, I take legal advice and parliamentary counsel advice that goes alongside that. I would be distraught were there any suggestion that I misled the House. I have thought about that a lot.

This is what I believe I did. I accept completely that the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Hunt of Wirral, and other noble Lords were seeking to ensure that this Bill was even-handed in its approach to the Consumer Panel and the role of the professions. I think that noble Lords accepted, after our lengthy and helpful debates in Committee, that there was a need to create a Consumer Panel. There was no such body; therefore, for the Consumer Panel to be able either to take judicial review or make proper representations, it needed to be set up properly. The concern that was expressed was whether that shifted the weight of representation away from the professions and the legal services to the point at which the Bill was in a sense up-ended. That we did not wish to do.

I took away Amendment No. 38. I did not accept it on the Floor, but it is reasonable to say that I might not have done that in any event, because I would have had to consult. I took it back and took legal and parliamentary counsel advice on whether the principle behind even-handedness was already in the Bill or not.

I have been back several times and the advice that I have received consistently is that scattered throughout the Bill—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has been concerned that it is scattered—is a provision that allows for consultation with the professions. The principal way in which the professions can make representations, by the nature of the organisations that they are, and in which they have traditionally sought to make representations, secures them mutatis mutandis. Therefore, my advice was that, were we to insert anything further, we would be in danger of moving the Bill in the other direction.

What lies between us is simply that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, with his experience—and no doubt he will be joined by other noble Lords—does not think that we have achieved what I believe we have achieved. Noble Lords will have to make their decision whether we have or have not done so from what I and the noble Lord have said. That is the joy of being in your Lordships’ House—it is up to noble Lords to determine. From my perspective, I have sought to ensure that what I agreed to do has been achieved, which was to make sure that the measure was even-handed. It is my contention that it has been achieved. That may not satisfy noble Lords, but I believe that I have not misled the House in so doing.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I am, as always, most grateful to the Minister for her explanation, the core of which suggested that, having made this initial undertaking on 22 January, which was when the debate on Amendment No. 38 took place, she went away and discussed the matter with her team; and on mature reflection decided that the amendment was not only unnecessary but would push the balance too far in the other direction. In other words, the practitioner would have had a stronger hand to play, once the act was implemented, than the consumer.

The difficulty about that argument is the statement that I read out to your Lordships:

That was said more than a month after the debate on the amendment, which took place on 22 January. The commitment that the Minister gave the Committee about Amendment No. 38 was given at least five weeks after the debate, so quite a long period of reflection had taken place; five weeks after our debate on the amendment, she still felt completely committed to it.

The substance of this issue is secondary to the constitutional convention. What matters is that the undertaking was given unequivocally to your Lordships’ House. I am really disappointed that any Government could resile from such a clear-cut undertaking.

I am not going to press this amendment because I believe that the Government ought to be ashamed of themselves. When they conclude that they are and this Bill has been to the Commons, I am confident that by the time it comes back to the Lords we will find this amendment in it. We do not need to vote on this matter. The convention ought to be strong enough. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.30 pm

Clause 64 [Modification of the Board's functions under section 62(1)(b)]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 2:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 to 12 and 15 to 31. This group of amendments makes consequential amendments to Schedules 3, 5 and 16 and updates the Law Society’s powers to require information, as I indicated I would do on the last day of Report. I do not propose to go into detail on the consequential amendments, suffice to say that they are necessary in order to make the amendments agreed at previous stages of the Bill work properly. However, I should like to say a little more on the amendments that I committed on Report to table.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 25, for example, are necessary to update the powers of the Law Society to obtain information relevant to an investigation into a solicitor, a recognised body or a manager or employee of a recognised body. Amendment No. 20 allows the Law Society to obtain information from a person who is not connected to the solicitor or firm under investigation. This is necessary in order to close an existing loophole where information relevant to an investigation would be outside the society’s scope if held by a third party. The power may be exercised only through a High Court order.

The amendments also aim to ensure that investigations are not frustrated by providing for it to be an offence to falsify, conceal, destroy or otherwise dispose of a document which a person knows or suspects to be relevant to the investigation; or recklessly or deliberately to provide information which is false or misleading in a material particular.

Amendment No. 22 ensures that these updated powers apply effectively to recognised bodies and their managers, employees and interest holders, and that the powers may also be exercised for the purpose of investigating a body’s continuing suitability to be recognised. I beg to move.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, we are perfectly content with these amendments. In harping back to Schedule 16, I again welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, confirmed last week that all the matters of concern to us in that schedule would be dealt with, if not today by government amendments, then when the Bill crosses over to another place. I see both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, nodding, so I think that I can take that as a secure commitment on behalf of the Government.

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