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The amendments also refer to rejecting or modifying the recommendations of the ombudsman. We will listen to the Minister’s response with interest, just as I have listened with interest to the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, put forward. On the one hand, one could say that being able to modify a recommendation might then lead to the Defence Council accepting it rather than rejecting it in totality, which I think is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has made. On the other hand, I suppose that one could argue that being able to modify a recommendation rather than either accepting or rejecting it, and having to explain why if the latter, could be interpreted as meaning that the Defence Council can effectively write its own recommendations on the findings of the ombudsman. That might be seen as rather weakening the objective of the ombudsman making recommendations and the Defence Council then having to decide yes or no, rather than being able to rewrite bits of them. As I say, we await with interest the Minister’s response on that.

It could mean that the Defence Council could modify only parts of a recommendation that it found, for example, inconvenient, and then announce that it would accept the rest. If the provision is for a straight rejection or acceptance, the Defence Council will know that it has to produce some pretty convincing reasons if it is to reject the recommendations in totality. It will also know that, if it is unable to modify them, it may well have to put up with parts that it simply finds inconvenient. We await with interest the Government’s response, as there are two ways of looking at the amendment and its implications.

The reality is that the Defence Council will have to show itself willing to accept the ombudsman’s recommendations if service personnel are to have confidence in the new arrangements. If the Defence Council starts rejecting recommendations because it does not particularly like some parts of them, it will raise questions about the effectiveness of the new arrangements and could lead to pressure in the future—a pressure that is already there anyway from some quarters—for the ombudsman’s recommendations to be made binding under a future defence Bill.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, Amendment 14 would make the ombudsman’s recommendations binding on the Defence Council and would mean that the Defence Council had no choice but to accept the findings of the ombudsman in all cases. Amendments 15 and 16 aim to clarify the powers of the Defence Council in responding to recommendations from the ombudsman —to make clear that the Defence Council can reject or modify a recommendation.

It is our intention that the findings of the ombudsman in its investigation report will, in effect, be binding on the Defence Council. The Defence Council would be able to judicially review those findings if it considered them to be irrational or otherwise flawed on other public law grounds. However, we do not anticipate that happening, and expect the Defence Council to accept the findings before going on to consider any recommendations that the ombudsman may have made in the case.

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There has been recent judicial consideration of the legal status of both findings and recommendations in relation to the local government ombudsman. While that consideration related to a different ombudsman, we anticipate that a court would apply those principles to the legal status of the Service Complaints Ombudsman’s findings. As such, we do not consider that it is necessary to make specific provision for this in the Bill. That is, again, in common with other ombudsman legislation.

While we accept the importance of the point being raised, and agree with it in substance, it is considered unnecessary to make specific provision for it in the Bill. The amendment is resisted for that reason.

Turning to Amendments 15 and 16, it may be helpful if I explain in more detail the role of the Defence Council when considering and responding to the recommendations of the ombudsman. The first, as I explained in my closing speech at Second Reading, argues that the recommendations will clearly have some legal effect. The Defence Council will not be free simply to reject the recommendations because it disagrees with them. It would need to have very good, cogent, written reasons to do so, such as where the implementation of the recommendations in full was simply unworkable or where significant resource implications may be involved. It is right that the Defence Council should be able to reach a final decision on matters covered in any recommendations made by the ombudsman.

Given that starting point, the focus of the Defence Council in most cases where the ombudsman has made recommendations will be to decide precisely how it will respond. That may be simply a matter of implementing the recommendations by, for example, making an appropriate apology to the complainant. It may be that the person or persons who made the final decision in the internal process will be asked to reconsider a particular piece of evidence to see whether that would have affected the outcome of their decision. There may be some cases in which the failings identified by the ombudsman are such that a full reconsideration at the final stage of the complaint process is required. That may involve the appointment of a new person or panel of persons to hear the complaint again or, for example, to hold an oral hearing to test some crucial evidence.

This is all provided for in new Section 340M. The Defence Council will not need to modify the recommendation open to it. It would simply decide to reconsider the complaint in a way that suitably responded to the recommendations after careful consideration. I hope these points I have made answer the questions of my noble friend. As such, the amendments are unnecessary, and I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, again I am very grateful to the Minister for making clear that which I believe to be the case, and I am happy to withdraw my amendment and not to move the other two.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendments 15 and 16 not moved.

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Amendment 17

Moved by Lord Rosser

17: Clause 2, page 11, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) an assessment of the adequacy of the resources of the Ombudsman’s office to fulfil his or her functions.”

Lord Rosser: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to make an addition to page 11 after line 25, which sets out the matters that must be covered in the annual report by the Service Complaints Ombudsman. We are proposing that there should also be a requirement for an assessment of the adequacy of the resources of the ombudsman’s office to fulfil his or her functions. I believe it has already been indicated that there will be an increase in the number of staff that the Service Complaints Ombudsman has—this has been compared with the staff of the Service Complaints Commissioner. If memory serves, I think the figure that has been mentioned is an increase from nine to 20, but I may be wrong on that.

Clearly, a key part of the ability or otherwise of the ombudsman’s office to be able to carry out the duties and responsibilities it is given under the Bill will be the resources available to it. We have already discussed today the issue of whether the ombudsman should be able to undertake thematic reviews—or already can do so under the clauses in the Bill before us. If the ombudsman is able to go down that road of carrying out that kind of review, and if that is to be done effectively, then clearly that has implications for resources. Resources can be both financial and human.

In the context of this amendment about resources, I also raise a point with the Minister that I accept may well need a subsequent response in writing. The Bill sets out the areas that the ombudsman will cover. I am not entirely sure at the moment whether that also covers the Royal Military Police, in respect of complaints both made by the police about its own working environment or whatever other issue it might be and that might be made by service personnel about the activities of the Royal Military Police or how it carried out its role. I am not clear whether those issues are ones that the Service Complaints Ombudsman would be expected to investigate. If they are not, I am then not quite clear on who deals with, for example, issues that service personnel wish to raise about the way they believe the Royal Military Police conducted its affairs in relation to those service personnel. I would be grateful for a response but accept that I may have to wait for a reply in writing.

Put simply, at the moment, the full extent of the role that the ombudsman could have is not entirely clear. Of course, that will also depend on the amount of resources needed, whether financial or human, and on the number of complaints that come in. I do not suggest that suddenly the situation will be such that morale will plummet and everyone will put complaints in. However, if people perceive the Service Complaints Ombudsman to be somebody to whom it is worth making a complaint, that might encourage some people to do so who currently would not make a complaint because they do not think much of the present system. That might have an impact on the workload of the ombudsman.

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I rather hope that the response I get back will not be that there is no need for this because it is already covered in the Bill in the previous matters referred to in new Section 340O. I appreciate that that refers to,

“the efficiency, effectiveness and fairness”,

of the system,

“the exercise by the Ombudsman … of the Ombudsman’s functions”,


“such other aspects of the system mentioned in paragraph (a) … as the Ombudsman considers appropriate”.

However, there is then the question of whether the ombudsman believes that the resources are sufficient to carry out that role as effectively as the ombudsman believes it should be. There are a number of uncertainties about what workloads are likely to be. Other issues about what the ombudsman’s report must cover are written into new Section 340O, too, so there cannot be an objection to writing this in. I would have thought that writing into the Bill specifically that it should also cover whether the ombudsman believes the resources are adequate to enable his or her office to fulfil their functions is entirely appropriate. I hope the Minister will agree. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I urge the Minister to exercise some caution. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has made some good points, especially about possibly increasing levels of demand on the ombudsman, especially in the number of complaints. However, the ombudsman will never have completely adequate resources and may well not be able to do everything that they want. Ombudsmen will have to prioritise their activities. I can think of no Defence Minister in the last 22 years of my service in the House of Lords who would deliberately underresource the ombudsman.

6.15 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, this amendment seeks to make specific reference in new Section 340O to the requirement for the ombudsman to make an assessment in their annual report of the adequacy of the resources available in exercising their functions. This new section in the Bill requires the ombudsman to provide the Secretary of State with an annual report which he must lay before Parliament. The report must comment on the fairness, efficiency and effectiveness with which the system has operated during the preceding calendar year. It must also cover the exercise of the ombudsman’s functions during that period. Additionally, the ombudsman may include in the report any other aspect of either of those elements, as the ombudsman considers appropriate. These are clearly fundamental to any report from the ombudsman and an important product of their oversight role.

The ombudsman’s assessment of the system and the role they play in it can ultimately have a significant impact on the extent to which our personnel and the public at large have confidence in the complaints system and, as a result, are prepared to engage with it to address the concerns they feel. As with other specific areas of the ombudsman’s role, such as their power to conduct investigations, the Bill leaves it to the ombudsman’s discretion about what other issues they feel are pertinent to how the system has operated in

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the preceding calendar year, and how they have been able to exercise their functions. As in all matters, these will differ from one year to the next and it is right therefore that the ombudsman should be able to judge what is relevant and worth including in their annual report.

The same provisions apply to the current Service Complaints Commissioner. She has varied the issues covered in each of her annual reports, depending on what she has experienced during the report period. Those reports have included comments on the adequacy of the resources that have been made available to her office. My noble friend Lord Thomas and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, commented at Second Reading that it was important that the new arrangements provided under the Bill are properly resourced. We set out in the impact assessment that accompanied publication of the Bill that we are working with the Service Complaints Commissioner on the changes that her office needs to enable it to convert to the new task of the ombudsman’s role. That will require additional resources and personnel with different skills. As we made clear in the impact assessment, we anticipate increasing the number of staff from the current nine of the commissioner’s office to 20. I hope that my noble friend will be satisfied with those numbers.

The noble Lord asked me about the Royal Military Police. Two days ago, I wrote a two-page letter to him on this subject, which he may not have received. I think this goes into some detail in answering him.

Lord Rosser: I am aware of it and grateful for the letter. I was rather hoping that the noble Lord would refer to it, so it is on the record in Hansard.

Lord Astor of Hever: The letter is very detailed. Rather than reading out the main points from the Dispatch Box, I would rather refer to the letter. The discretion available to the ombudsman in Section 340O, to include such aspects of the exercise of their function as they deem appropriate, is considered sufficient to cover any eventuality that may arise, without the need to make specific reference to resources, as this amendment proposes. For that reason, I must resist this amendment and ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Rosser: My immediate reaction is to say that I want at some stage to have that on the record in Hansard. I appreciate the Minister’s lack of enthusiasm for standing up to read it all out now, so I am not wondering why he is not doing that, but I may have to consider whether to table an amendment on Report to achieve that. We are always extremely grateful—and I mean this—for the letters that the Minister sends and the care that he takes to respond to questions raised. I appreciate his approach and the assistance that he provides, but I think that some letters ought to be on the record in Hansard, so I may table an amendment on Report with the purpose of getting that one on the record.

As for the rest of the amendment, I hinted that under the wording of the Bill the Service Complaints Ombudsman could probably comment if they felt that

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the resources that they had were inadequate—or even if they were adequate, because an assessment of the adequacy could mean that the ombudsman says that everything is fine. I do not share the view of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that an ombudsman would never consider what they had to be adequate—that was what I inferred from what he said. After all, if an ombudsman were to announce that resources were inadequate, they would have to submit some justification in the report, which would be, or be in, a public document. The very fact that they had to write it down and could be questioned on it might make them think very hard whether they were being reasonable in their approach.

I included the provision because I think that there are uncertainties about what the workload will be. There is the issue of the wider-ranging reviews and whether they are already encompassed in the Bill; there is the issue of the number of complaints that may come forward if people have real confidence in the new arrangements. It did not seem to me to be unreasonable to include as a requirement an assessment of the adequacy of the resources. After all, if the ombudsman is entirely happy, it is a one-sentence response: “I consider that my resources are adequate”.

Earl Attlee: My concern is that if the ombudsman feels that there are adequate resources, the ombudsman needs to say nothing, but if the ombudsman cannot meet all the demand and has to report on that, he or she is bound to say, “I cannot meet all the demand”, but he or she may still be an effective ombudsman, although not meeting all the demand.

Lord Rosser: I do not particularly disagree with what the noble Earl says—that you could still be effective without meeting all the demand. I am not sure that that knocks my view that it should be a requirement that the ombudsman makes a comment on the issue of resources within the annual report.

However, I do not seek to turn this into a major issue, as it is clearly not. It has been an interesting discussion and I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed.

Clause 3 agreed.

Clause 4: Financial assistance for benefit of armed forces community

Amendment 18

Moved by Lord Rosser

18: Clause 4, page 12, line 40, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on the extent to which the criteria listed in subsection (5) have been met.”

Lord Rosser: We move now to Clause 4, which deals with the issue of financial assistance for benefit of the Armed Forces community. It sets out that the Secretary of State can give financial assistance. Subsection (5)

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states that financial assistance can be given subject to conditions, which are then set out in paragraphs (a) to (e). We are talking about future funds. Some of what has been given so far has come from the LIBOR fund, which, one assumes, as time goes on, will dry up completely, as it is coming from activities which financial institutions should not be undertaking. One would hope that, in future, that source will dry up for the right reasons.

However, there will still be provision for funds. The documentation that we have had refers to the Ministry of Defence developing proposals to manage the enduring £10 million per year funding for future Armed Forces covenant commitments. It also discusses the process for assessing how money under this particular clause will be distributed and how the decisions will be made. From comments that we have heard, our feeling is that there are those who think that it has not been entirely clear how LIBOR funding has been allocated and spent and therefore how any future funding would be allocated. We have picked up comments that it has not been clear whether those in receipt of LIBOR funds have had to demonstrate their performance, that the criteria for how such funding has been allocated has not been very clear, and that it has also not been clear whether the money allocated has led to some of the intended improvements. That may or may not be the case. The purpose of this amendment is simply to provide that the Secretary of State will publish an annual report on the extent to which the criteria listed in subsection (5) have been met—that is really about what financial assistance has been given and whether the conditions laid down in Clause 4(5) have been met. Those are quite important conditions. They include,

“the purposes for which the assistance may be used”—


“the keeping, and making available for inspection, of accounts and other records”.

That is another important issue and important check on how the money is being used and whether there is proper control and accountability. Bearing in mind that this is going to be in the Bill and that Clause 4(5) sets out some specific conditions, it does not seem unreasonable to say that the Secretary of State should publish an annual report on the extent to which those criteria have been met. We are talking about not inconsiderable sums of money. I hope the Minister will feel able to go down that road.

Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD): My Lords, Amendment 19, which is in this group, is a probing amendment. It has largely been answered by the helpful background note circulated last week. My amendment is an additional aspect to those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

This additional funding is a most welcome contribution to the benefit of the Armed Forces community. To the initial government grant of £30 million has been added, as the noble Lord mentioned, £35 million from LIBOR fines for Armed Forces covenant projects, and a further £40 million from LIBOR fines for a veterans’ accommodation fund. From 2015, there will be the enduring Armed Forces covenant fund of £10 million per annum. Applications are considered regionally, with the funding administered centrally by the MoD. These are very significant amounts and, as with any

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such funding, it is important that as little resource as possible is spent on administration and as much as possible goes direct to the people or projects to be funded. It is also important to avoid unnecessary duplication.

6.30 pm

Currently, the central panel comprises,

“MoD representatives … the Treasury, representatives of the Covenant Reference Group including the devolved governments and selected service charities such as the Families Federations and either the Confederation of Service Charities or a cluster lead”.

Will this composition be retained for the enduring £10 million a year funding? If the panel details are not to be included in primary legislation, what assurances can my noble friend the Minister give that the Armed Forces, their families and welfare organisations will continue to be involved in funding decisions, the merits of which they will understand better than most? Can my noble friend clarify for the record the possible ambiguity in the use of “person” in lines 5 and 20. In the first three clauses of the Bill, “person” is taken to be an individual and the impression may be given that under Clause 4 individuals can apply direct to the Secretary of State for assistance. However, the guidance notes for the two schemes indicate that applications are for projects rather than individual hardship cases. It would be helpful if my noble friend could clarify the definition in this context. I look forward to her reply.

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their comments. I shall try to tease out issues around process and demonstrating effectiveness for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the composition of the panel and what a “person” is for my noble friend Lady Garden.

The proposed amendments would affect Clause 4, which deals with financial payments to charities and other organisations that support the Armed Forces community. As my noble friend the Minister made clear at Second Reading, this Government have made a commitment to all those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown and their families. This commitment takes the form of a covenant. The Armed Forces covenant has two key principles: that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services; and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured and the bereaved. This obligation involves the whole of society. It includes voluntary and charitable bodies, private organisations and the actions of individuals in supporting the Armed Forces. Recognising those who have performed military duty unites the country and demonstrates the value of their contribution. This has no greater expression than in upholding this covenant.

Over the past four years, the Government have committed £105 million to deliver on the commitments of the covenant—£55 million has been distributed through the community covenant grant fund, which strengthens ties and understanding between the Armed Forces and the wider community, and through the £35 million LIBOR fund, which backs projects supporting

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the broader aims of the covenant. A further £10 million of community covenant funding and a final £40 million veterans’ accommodation fund is set to be distributed this year. We are also developing proposals for the management of the future Armed Forces covenant fund, which is set at £10 million per year from 2015 onwards.

Organisations working with the Armed Forces community are based throughout the United Kingdom and we want them to benefit from these funds, wherever they are located. However, the use of covenant funding is currently constrained by two pieces of legislation. Section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 confines payments to local authorities in England and Wales and Section 70 of the Charities Act 2006 limits financial assistance to charities and other benevolent institutions that provide a direct or indirect benefit to England. We have temporarily navigated around these constraints by making payments under the appropriation Act. However, this is not a long-term solution. Clause 4 therefore enables financial assistance to be given to organisations that support the Armed Forces community, wherever they are based.

The Secretary of State is already required to produce and lay before Parliament an annual Armed Forces covenant report under Sections 343A and 343B of the Armed Forces Act 2006, which I believe satisfies the intent behind the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in respect of the obligation to report publicly. As noble Lords will know, the Armed Forces covenant report is about the effects of membership or former membership of the Armed Forces on service people, specifically in the fields of healthcare, education and housing, and in such other fields as the Secretary of State may determine. Clearly, then, it could and does cover the areas in which we currently provide financial assistance under the community covenant and LIBOR funds and the veterans’ accommodation fund.

Throughout the most recent Armed Forces covenant report, published in December 2013, the Secretary of State provided examples, including figures, of how financial assistance was provided to the Armed Forces community, reflecting the twin principles of the Armed Forces covenant. It is intended that the 2014 report will similarly detail how financial assistance has been provided throughout the year. Further to that covered in the annual report, the financial assistance provided by these three funds is also subject to the usual parliamentary scrutiny of government expenditure.

The National Audit Office has access to annual reports and to date has not expressed any negative views on how Armed Forces covenant funding has been allocated, the propriety of the financial assistance that has been provided or the rigorous scrutiny and governance processes that support it. This is provided by regional panels for community covenant schemes, and a central cross-government panel for the Armed Forces covenant (LIBOR) fund and the veterans’ accommodation fund. The scrutiny and governance processes have been explained in detail to noble Lords in the financial assistance brief that was circulated to all Peers recently. In addition, the management of funding for Armed Forces covenant schemes is also subject to the established governance procedures set out in Managing

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Public Money

, a publicly available Treasury document that provides guidance on all aspects of how to handle public funds.

The enduring £10 million per annum that the Government have approved for Armed Forces covenant commitments will be specifically ring-fenced for these activities only. Work is currently under way to develop plans for the new fund and how it will be managed. Expenditure will be reported on both in the MoD’s annual report and accounts, for which the department’s Permanent Secretary is held personally accountable by Parliament, and in the annual Armed Forces covenant report that the Secretary of State is legally required to produce. The National Audit Office will also scrutinise both documents. In addition to the comprehensive governance framework described above, funding for Armed Forces covenant schemes is also subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Anyone, if they wish, can submit a request to receive information on Armed Forces covenant funding.

A combination of all the activity described will continue to provide the assurance that any financial assistance that is provided under the Armed Forces covenant meets the criteria listed in Clause 4(5) of the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill, which we are currently debating.

I shall now address Amendment 19. It is essential that the money allocated to the covenant meets the aims of the Armed Forces covenant. Noble Lords will have seen the briefing note that was circulated recently, which set down proposals for how the community covenant grant scheme, the £35 million LIBOR fund and the veterans’ accommodation fund have managed the allocation of funding.

For each of the previous schemes, it has been essential that applicants meet a tightly defined set of conditions, including a clear demonstration of how they meet the aims of the Armed Forces covenant, a clear demonstration of how a project will benefit the Armed Forces community, a clear demonstration of the need and associated benefits, a clear demonstration of how the project will provide value for money and confirmation that the project will not generate any profit. Even where an application meets these terms, a final decision is subject to the agreement of a board of experts.

Funding for the community covenant grant scheme is administered regionally. This reflects the aim to focus on local initiatives, based on a local assessment of need. Bids are first considered by the local joint civil/military partnership board, or where this is not established, the local authority and military signatories of the community covenant, before being referred to the regional grant panel. The membership of the regional grant panel consists of a chair with a rank equivalent to colonel or brigadier, a member of each service with a rank at least equivalent to major, one or two external members from organisations—the Families Federation, for example—the local authority or charitable partners, and a regional administrator, who is the secretary.

Where bids exceed a set level, currently £70,000, these are referred to a central panel for consideration. This includes a representative from HM Treasury and members of the Ministry of Defence Armed Forces covenant team, representing the Chief of Defence Personnel.

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Applications to the £35 million LIBOR fund and the veterans’ accommodation fund have been administered centrally by the Chief of Defence Personnel. The board that considers applications to these funds includes representatives of the MoD, which chairs the panel, and the Treasury, representatives of the Covenant Reference Group, including the devolved Administrations and selected service charities, such as the Families Federations and either the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations or a cluster lead. There are already in existence boards that oversee and manage the distribution of the financial assistance for the Armed Forces community. A detailed explanation of all of these arrangements is widely available through the gov.uk internet site, but I hope I have demonstrated that there is already in place a rigorous governance process to ensure that funding attributed to the Armed Forces covenant is managed effectively.

With regard to the more recent £10 million LIBOR fund, the MoD is currently developing proposals for how the future fund will be managed. If possible, we will bring additional rigour to the process through the appointment of a professional grant-management organisation. This will ensure professional expertise and independence in the grant-making process. This is very much work in progress but I assure noble Lords that the criteria for applications and the rigorous scrutiny process will be retained, and will include a representative panel of experts who can ensure a continued focus on the principles enshrined in the Armed Forces covenant. The priorities for the future fund will also be agreed each year through the Covenant Reference Group.

Furthermore, as set out earlier, the Armed Forces annual report, which the Secretary of State is required by Parliament to produce, will also explain in a transparent way how financial assistance has been distributed to the Armed Forces community through the year in line with the Armed Forces covenant’s twin principles. Most notably in this regard, it is the right of the independent members of the Covenant Reference Group to express their unexpurgated comments in the report. This in itself will provide significant scrutiny of how the funding is allocated.

Approval of the legislation in Clause 4 will give the MoD the flexibility and agility that it needs to provide financial assistance to the Armed Forces community anywhere in the world. The intention is that the schemes should remain discretionary, as opposed to being placed on a statutory basis, but subject to the established governance procedures set out in the document that I mentioned earlier, Managing Public Money. As we continue to strengthen and improve this process, it is essential that we are able to retain sufficient flexibility over the composition of future decision panels, bringing in expertise and specialists.

My noble friend asked for clarification on matters of governance and I hope that she is satisfied with what I have outlined. She also asked for clarification of what a “person” is. The term is technical. The word “person” relies on the definition of the word used as a general tool of statutory interpretation, provided in Schedule 1 to the Interpretation Act 1978, where a “person” is stated to include,

“a body of persons corporate or incorporate”.

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These can be companies and unincorporated associations.

While in theory any individual could apply for financial assistance, they would not meet the criteria for any of the current schemes or the terms laid out in Clause 4. It is also most unlikely that an individual could apply to the Secretary of State for financial assistance simply to benefit themselves. The requirement is for the person to undertake activities which are for a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purpose, and in such circumstances the individual would not appear to be undertaking any activity other than spending the money for their own personal needs.

6.45 pm

In future, it might be possible to agree a scheme to include an element of hardship to which an individual may apply, but there are currently no plans to do so. We must recognise that funding is in place to support the principles of the Armed Forces covenant for the next 25 years and the terms of the legislation are designed to allow flexibility over how that money may be spent in future.

I hope I have been able to satisfy noble Lords about the actions that the Government and the department are putting in place through this Bill. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank my noble friend for such a comprehensive definition of a person.

Lord Rosser: I, too, thank the Minister for her reply. As I understand it, the response to my amendment is basically that the issues I raised in it are likely to be covered in the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant.

Baroness Jolly: Yes.

Lord Rosser: On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Amendment 19 not moved.

Clause 4 agreed.

Clauses 5 to 7 agreed.

The Schedule : Service complaints: consequential amendments

Amendment 20

Moved by Lord Rosser

20: The Schedule, page 14, line 14, after “340A(4),” insert “340B(5)(c),”

Lord Rosser: I think the Minister may have already given part of the reply to this amendment when we were discussing Amendment 7, but if he was—I thought

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he was—I have to say that he caught me unawares, so I did not really follow, and I will probably be asking for an element of repetition.

As the Minister knows, this amendment was prompted by the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in respect of the Bill. The effect of our amendment, if it has been tabled correctly, is to make sure that the regulations referred to in new Section 340B(5)(c) would require an affirmative resolution. In fact, that does not appear to go as far as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee suggested, if we have read correctly the conclusion it reached, because it refers to the provision in new Section 340B(5), which states:

“For the purposes of subsection (4), a service complaint is not admissible if … (c) the complaint is not admissible on any other ground specified in service complaints regulations”.

The argument of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is that this is an extremely wide-ranging power under which it would be open to a Secretary of State, now or in future, simply through regulations to decide that things that one might have thought acceptable to be the basis of a complaint would no longer be in that category and would be regarded as inadmissible. In its report the committee says:

“In our view the powers are potentially very significant in that they allow additional restrictions to be imposed on a person’s right to have a complaint dealt with under the new redress procedures. At the same time the powers conferred by section 340B(5)(c) are very wide: they contain no limits on the kinds of matters which might be specified in the regulations as grounds for a service complaint to be inadmissible. Given the importance of the power and its potential to limit the right to bring a service complaint, and the lack of any restrictions on the matters which may be specified under the regulations, we consider the delegation of powers conferred by section 340B(5)(c) to be inappropriate”.

I read into that that the committee would probably not feel that our amendment was sufficient; indeed, it might suggest that what should be proposed should be the complete deletion of new Section 340(5)(c). However, we have tabled the amendment in this form, saying that it should go through the affirmative procedure. Clearly, the committee’s concern was that even if nobody could have any exception to the regulations, when they come out—I hope that I correctly anticipate that nobody will have any great exception to them—nevertheless, the power is there for some Secretary of State to do something in the future which could lead to matters which one might feel should be the subject of complaint being no longer admissible, simply through regulations. That really is a very wide power indeed.

I will wait with interest to hear the Minister’s response in the light of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s views on the very wide-ranging powers within the clause. I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, some of my answers on Amendment 7 are obviously relevant to this amendment but I shall not repeat what I said earlier. Amendment 20 is aimed at providing a higher level of parliamentary scrutiny of any Defence Council regulations made in respect of inadmissibility grounds. At first glance, it may seem inconsistent to make the Secretary of State’s regulations specifying matters which are

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excluded from the service complaints system subject to the affirmative procedure, but not the Defence Council’s regulations on grounds of admissibility. There is a distinction to be made between excluded matters and grounds of admissibility, although they are closely linked. Excluded matters, as can be seen from the initial draft of the service complaints miscellaneous provisions regulations, will include, as now, matters which are subject to alternative dispute mechanisms or involve decisions of independent persons, such as judge advocates or the service police.

The two additional grounds of inadmissibility which we are proposing to include in the draft service complaints regulations have emerged during the operation of the current service complaints system over the past six years. They are grounds related firmly to the fair operation of the service complaints system itself, and are, in our view, relatively uncontroversial. There is no current intention to expand on these grounds, but the Government wish to retain some flexibility here to be able to add to the list if other grounds of a similar type emerge which are impacting on the overall effectiveness of the system, without impacting on the rights of complainants to make service complaints.

Given the distinction between excluded matters and grounds of inadmissibility, we are of the view that it is appropriate for them to be dealt with in different sets of regulations and for those regulations to be subject to different parliamentary procedures. The former go to more fundamental matters, carving out small classes of complaints from the system, so it is appropriate for them to be dealt with in regulations made by the Secretary of State, and subject to the affirmative procedure. That is the same as now in respect of the equivalent regulations. As the additional grounds of admissibility relate broadly to procedural grounds for exclusion they should properly be covered in the Defence Council regulations dealing with the internal complaints system, and there is no reason for this aspect alone to be made subject to the affirmative procedure. As was noted by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, it should be remembered that the current Defence Council regulations are not subject to any parliamentary scrutiny at all. As I have already indicated, we will reflect on this provision before Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, observed that the power in new Section 340B(5)(c) is very wide ranging. As I mentioned in responding to Amendment 7, I have asked officials to consider what more might be done to limit the scope of the power. In the light of that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Rosser: I thank the Minister for his reply. In the light of the fact that he indicated further consideration is being given to this issue, I am very happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 20 withdrawn.

Schedule agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.

House adjourned at 6.56 pm.