Clause 150

Legal Services Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 26th June 2007.

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Enforcement of requirements to provide information or produce documentation

Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

I beg to move amendment No. 236, in clause 150, page 80, line 4, leave out ‘a person (“the defaulter”)’ and insert ‘an authorised person’.

I rise merely to provide clarification, to ensure that the right person is dealt with.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment, as it would mean that the ombudsman would not be able to enforce requests for information or documents from complainants. That would be unacceptable because it could result in unequal treatment of the two parties in a case under the scheme. As it would mean that the ombudsman would be unable to follow up requirements for information from complainants, it could result in people wasting the ombudsman’s time. It might be of some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman that I expect the power to be used rarely, if at all. It is nevertheless important for it to be included in the Bill, to act as a deterrent and so that, in the interests of fairness, both parties are treated equally.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I am half-surprised that the Minister did not buy the amendment. She understands the argument. That she says that the measure will be rarely used is a consolation, but not a complete protection, which she also understands.

There is a difference between requiring disclosure and revelation of documents from organisations and requiring the same from the individual citizen. There is a general wish to protect the privacy of citizens’ information, which is why the amendment was tabled. That is the right starting point. We will consider the Minister’s concerns, but this is the sort of issue of principle on which we would want to be absolutely certain that we have guaranteed enough protection for the individual. We will return to it later if necessary. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, having moved the amendment, has to rise to withdraw it if he wishes to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 150 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 151 to 157 ordered to stand part of the Bill.