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Mr. Gallie : Will the hon. Gentleman tell us precisely where the Bill states that the chief constable, or the constabulary, cannot take the Secretary of State for Scotland into custody if he commits a misdemeanour ?
Mr. Worthington : I do not often alarm the hon. Gentleman this much. I did not say that ; I said that there must be a three-way balance of power in the system that we have invented, so that the chief constable has operational responsibility and--within that responsibility--does not feel threatened by one of the other powers. What alarms me is that, with fixed- term contracts and with the Secretary of State determining what is to be in the report delivered to him, a picture is building up of too much control going in one direction. We are seeing a Secretary of State who acts as God, with contempt for both the police service and local authorities. When debating this issue, we must bear in mind both the fact that local government is being reorganised, and the Government's plans with regard to payment for results. Payment for results in itself constitutes a formidable centralisation of power : it means telling officers how they will be judged worthy of receiving extra money. I should be astonished if the Secretary of State said that they should be given extra money for investigating City fraud, for example ; we are already seeing the Government's attitude in their relaxed attitude to tax evasion, as opposed to DSS fraud.
The Government must spell out to us why the Bill applies to Scotland. The Home Secretary has not done so today. In particular, we must hear some reasoning about what is currently going wrong in terms of Scotland's police forces. Only last week, Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary produced a periodic report on the forces in Scotland. It included a glowing report on Strathclyde, which pointed out that in 1993 there had been a 20 per cent. drop in violent crime. It has been claimed that crime has fallen in England and Wales, but that did not include violent crime. This is in spite of all that the Government can throw at us in terms of unemployment and growing inequality.
The finding, however, does not result from any action taken by the Home Secretary. Today, we have heard reference to the underfunding of the police forces ; the chief inspector points out that in Scotland the Home Secretary substantially underfunds the capital requirements of Strathclyde police force, in comparison with those of similar metropolitan police authorities elsewhere. However, the report states :
"Despite the effects of the Sheehy Inquiry, morale within the force is high with a belief that real progress is being made at last on the crime front."
Column 181Crime is a real worry, in Scotland and elsewhere ; but the level has remained static and fallen in Scotland, while it has soared in England. A huge amount of that development has been due to the partnership between local authorities and the police--a partnership which the Government will damage with this Bill and the Bill to reorganise local government.
Although Second Reading is a bit late in the day, the Government must explain why the Home Secretary knows best. Just why does he, rather than the local authorities, know how much to spend on the police ? Just what knowledge does he have ? Ministers have taken no steps to meet local councillors directly, even after the publication of the Bill ; they certainly took no such steps before its publication. We are seeing wrong- headed action by those who want to centralise control even further.
Policing in Britain is one of the institutional miracles of which I think we should be proudest. Unlike most societies in the world, our police work on the basis of consent : typically, they do not carry arms, and they constitute a social service as well as a force. Everything in the Bill will weaken that trend--that central cultural feature of our policing. Payment will go not to the social service aspects--not to community policing--but to other, as yet unspecified, sectors.
We send our police around the world. They are in South Africa and Somalia now, teaching the doctrine of policing by consent. What I find extraordinary, and what bothers me, is the weakening of the central relationship between police, local authorities and local people by this Home Secretary and his aide de camp the Secretary of State for Scotland-- who has not even shown up today--with no reference to the Scottish people. They have not even had the common decency to make a case for the Bill. When will they do so ?
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown)--together with other Conservative Members--pointed out forcefully, in his customary manner, that we are, indeed, the party of law and order. The Bill is designed to make it easier for the law enforcers, both police and magistrates, to clear up crime, streamline procedures--that seems logical enough to me--and modernise the organisation and management methods of the police and, indeed, magistrates courts. Having said that, I am mindful of those who have a number of reservations about the Bill. I welcome the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has taken into account some of the anxieties felt by some of our friends in the other place. Tonight, therefore, I wish to focus primarily on the reforms of the police- -on why they are needed, and on why so many of the reforms will benefit both the police and the population at large. Too often our opponents, in their desire to oppose for opposition's sake, seem to forget that these reforms are designed to make it easier to tackle crime--to make it easier for our constituents to sleep safely in their beds at night or walk the streets without fear of mugging or sexual assault. Why do those on the Opposition Benches seem so ready to forget that fact ?
Column 182The Government have made great strides in recent years to ensure that the police have a better deal. Not only has the number of police risen by close to 16,000 since 1979--to a record 129,000-- but police pay has risen by nearly 40 per cent. during that period. The Conservative party has a record to be proud of in these matters. I very much welcome the Government's decision to enhance community policing. Thousands of police have been put back on the beat. The neighbourhood watch, safer cities and urban crime fund initiatives have been a tremendous success. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) said earlier this evening, there are now more than 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes, including many in Lichfield and Stone which I have the honour to represent. The purpose of the reforms is clear : to devolve power away from the centre--not to centralise--down to the local police authorities and the local chief constable. It is surprising that Opposition Members who so often spout the rhetoric of devolution seem to oppose it when it is introduced. Perhaps even more important, the Bill once enacted will unshackle the police from huge amounts of paperwork and bureaucracy, freeing police officers to combat crime.
I have seen it myself at Lichfield police station. I am not the only hon. Member from Staffordshire--an Opposition Member spoke earlier--who has been on the beat with the police. I, too, have seen at Lichfield police station and elsewhere the huge sea of paperwork under which the police could drown. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Inspector Colin Bailey, who is based at Lichfield police station in Frog lane and who has taken me on a number of police patrols in the area.
Paperwork can be damaging. As the writer Joe Orton once said, reading should not be an occupation that we encourage amongst police officers. I guess that the same goes for writing, too. Only three or four months ago, the Home Office provided guidelines to the police about how their paperwork could be reduced. That initiative is to be applauded.
The strengthening of the police authorities is an important step, particularly as the original proposals have been refined still further. The deepening of local accountability is a key feature. Police authorities will have a legal obligation to consult the local community about matters of importance. Opposition Members who have said that local authorities will not be accountable to local people are wrong. I argue that the police authorities will be more accountable as a result of the Bill.
Accountability is enhanced by the duty of the police authority to publish a local policing plan each year and to explain whether its objectives have been achieved. It is wrong that police objectives should be shrouded in secrecy as, to some extent, they have been in the past. This is not a centralising Bill just because the Home Secretary will have some say in local police authority affairs. I am sure that if Opposition Members were ever to get their hands on the police budget of £6 billion, even they would want to have some say in how the money was spent.
There has been inconsistency on the Opposition Benches. Earlier in the debate the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said that the Bill was centralising power, but almost in the same breath he criticised the fact that the magistrates courts would be
Column 183given the freedom to provide contracts of employment. It seems to me that there is some dichotomy in what Opposition Members believe. A further agreeable aspect of the proposed reform is the simplification of procedures for the amalgamation of police forces, with the appropriate checks and balances, so as to avoid wasting resources. I have seen for myself how neighbouring police forces use different vehicles and different telecommunications equipment which does not allow them to communicate with each other properly. There seems to be some concern among Opposition Members when they speak about a national police force. I emphasise--it is made absolutely clear--that there are no plans at present for the amalgamation of two or more police forces. In any event, speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the party, I do not see what is wrong with the idea of a national police force. Hon. Members will recall that the police force was begun by Robert Peel on a local basis. [Interruption.] I am very pleased that I have finally woken up those on the Opposition Front Bench. The local police forces were set up to show their difference from the Army which had formerly undertaken policing. We have moved a long way since then. [Interruption.] I am honoured that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), compares me with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. I take that as a great compliment.
The amalgamation of police forces can be advantageous because buying in volume and having integrated systems must make for a major improvement. Nevertheless, we should take into account the views of the Police Federation on this point and ensure that there is adequate parliamentary scrutiny and possibly local inquiries if any local amalgamation is to take place.
The implementation of some important Sheehy proposals should do much to ease bureaucracy and streamline management. The abolition of the ranks of deputy chief constable and chief superintendent will allow chief constables to engage close to 3,000 extra police constables on the beat, if they so choose. I, for one, hope that they will choose to use their extra resources to put extra police on the beat.
Although this is an important and worthy aspect of the Bill, I nevertheless think that it is important that we recognise that there are those who have some genuine anxieties about certain parts of the Bill.
Mr. Gallie My hon. Friend is talking about restructuring within the police force and perhaps disposing of ranks. Given the words of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) to the effect that there is no restructuring of the police force in Scotland, does he realise that that is contained in the Bill ?
Mr. Fabricant : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It displays yet again how Opposition Members are aggressive but their aggression is based on fallacy. Chief police officers--including the chief constable of the Staffordshire police, Charles Kelly--are concerned that the abolition of ranks will enhance operational difficulties rather than diminish them. The Association of Chief Police Officers may have a point when it states : "Removal of the Chief Superintendent and Chief Inspector ranks we now know that the chief inspector rank will not be removed
Column 184"could lead to an informal rank structure which could give rise to the formation of Seniors' and Juniors' within the remaining ranks. It is feared the loss of clarity could seriously compromise efficiency in certain situations particularly in instances of spontaneous public disorder and major disasters which require instant response and do not allow for pre-planning."
Nevertheless, I have worked in organisations where there were far too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and I remain to be convinced by the arguments presented by the Association of Chief Police Officers, especially now that the Home Secretary has made this major and important concession.
Junior ranks, too, are concerned about the new disciplinary procedure. The Police Federation made the valid point, which has been mentioned by hon. Members of all parties, that safeguards are needed in relation to disciplinary procedures. It correctly said that police officers are in a "monopoly employment situation"--if they are dismissed, they lose the right to practise their profession. I therefore fully accept that it is important that, when police officers are accused of alleged misdemeanours, there are high procedural standards. They should include the right to cross-examine witnesses and have legal representation. The Police Federation states :
"Policing in the United Kingdom is normally conducted by officers acting alone and if the burden of proof and the procedural standards required to prove disciplinary allegations are reduced to that of ordinary employment law, police officers will be reluctant to act knowing that a complaint, perhaps corroborated by some other ill-disposed person, could quite easily lead to a loss of livelihood."
That point has also been taken on board, thus proving the flexibility of the Home Office and its ability to listen.
The vast majority of our police offer a first-rate and excellent service and do not deserve to have the weight of the law unfairly balanced against them, in the form of disciplinary procedures. My near neighbour, the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright), made great play of clause 23, which deals with the acceptance of gifts and loans. He spoke at great length about companies such as McDonald's possibly sponsoring police cars and so on. SPACE--the Staffordshire Police Activity and Community Enterprise--is an excellent initiative introduced by the Staffordshire police. It helps to look after children during the summer recess. I would argue that it could well do with sponsorship, which would enable resources to be put back into policing on the streets. I have travelled and lived all over the world, but I believe that our police force is second to none. It carries out its duties admirably. In true Peelite spirit, the Bill will do much to modernise the force and equip it for the 21st century. As with any major reform, there are bound to be anxieties but, as he has shown with his alterations to the original Bill, I am sure that the Home Secretary will take any apprehensions on board. We would do well to remember Gilbert and Sullivan's warning :
"When constabulary duty's to be done, A policeman's lot is not a happy one".
That is sometimes the case even in Staffordshire.
Column 185Arthur Rank's "Look at Life" series from the 1960s--both offered an idealised version of what was happening in the world.
I am deeply offended by the hon. Members who try to make political capital out of any divisions within the Labour party or of our supposedly being anti-police. Having watched at first hand the party that is supposed to be the party of defence and of law and order, I suggest that we should not be regarded with such disrespect. I say that because the police are in a critical period : the police, private security, the non-Home Department police forces, the military and all the organisations that have a responsibility for policing and security are uncertain about their future.
In the past few years, we have had a royal commission, a White Paper, nonsensical speeches at party conferences and legislation, but I do not believe that the police are any nearer being able to resolve the problems that they need to resolve in order to tackle crime effectively. The Bill will not take them any further down that road. The Home Office and the Government need to demonstrate a degree of imagination in defining policing in the next five or six years, and in defining the relationship between the police and the private sector. The most important activity undertaken by the Home Office has nothing to do with the Bill. I should have liked the Bill to be postponed until the internal inquiry into core responsibilities has been published because that will determine the nature of policing in the years ahead, the size and functions of the police force, and what functions will be handed to or usurped by the private sector. Some serious analysis is required but the Bill does not provide it. We have heard some remarkable examples of Toryspeak. The climbdown in the House of Lords is described as a great piece of statesmanship, in the same way as I suppose a full-blooded and fast retreat could be described as a tactical regrouping.
The other great piece of Toryspeak is, "We are the party of law and order." The Tories need not look far in their own constituencies to find out about the perception of crime, and regrettably the reality of crime is coming closer and closer to the perception. People are extremely anxious, and if the Bill is to reassure them, the Government will have to re-examine it much more closely.
There may be a return to basics, but regrettably we are returning almost to the basics of the pre-1830s, before the modern police force and modern municipal government were established. As has already been said, in those days policing was the responsibility not of the police force but of the watches or of the military. Otherwise there was self-protection. Then the police and municipal government were established, and our system for 140 years or so has rested on them. Now we are reverting to a position in which the private sector will have a greater role than the official sector of policing. I am sorry to bore the Minister further on that subject, but if the private sector is to be expanded, as has happened exponentially over the past 10 years, the minimum that the Government must do is to bring it within the framework of regulation.
The Bill, far from being a decentralising measure, is in some ways a piece of centralising legislation. It is not quite as bad as it was before it went to the House of Lords--I
Column 186congratulate the other place on having done a good job on it--and we should bear that fact in mind. But the Bill is still centralising. I do not like the idea of force amalgamations, or of the reform of the police boards ; it will still be possible to pack a committee. I do not like the idea of what will happen to the town that I represent. Until 20 years ago it had a close and complete relationship with the police force and with the watch committee--in other words, with the "controlling element". Now we are not certain that we shall have even one member on the new police authority. I believe that in Manchester there will be more members available than there will be places, so we are going in the reverse direction, away from local accountability. That is greatly to be regretted. I should like to speak at greater length, but time does not permit. The Government have got it wrong. Some of the deficiencies in the Bill have been partially remedied, and I hope that in Committee the Government do not take the opportunity to reinsert some of the more obnoxious features that have received universal criticism. I can think of few Bills, even among those introduced by the Government, that have attracted so much criticism. I also have considerable criticisms of the sections dealing with magistrates courts, on which we have all been lobbied.
We have heard much about the Government consisting of "listening Ministers". I have recently been reading about the rise of Chartism, and one of its demands--annually elected Parliaments--has still not been achieved. However, 120 years later we have annually appointed Home Secretaries. Perhaps some degree of stability could be introduced if the people who make the initial decisions were around to try to implement them.
I hope that the Committee will do a good job of work, and that the Act that emerges from the House will strengthen the law. I repeat my request that the people in the Home Office should have a little vision, and should look further than the end of their noses, and further than what might happen next week or next month. I ask them to look at the future shape of policing and security. That is imperative, and I hope that the Home Office will meet the challenge.
Sir Roger Moate (Faversham) : May I concentrate for a few moments on the part of the Bill that deals with the reorganisation of the administration of Her Majesty's magistrates courts ? While I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the Lord Chancellor for the courteous way in which they have received representations from me and others, they will not be surprised to know that I view that part of the Bill with something less than enthusiasm.
I must make it clear that, if there was evidence of great inefficiency in the system, or evidence of something fundamentally wrong, or evidence of wastage, I would certainly support fundamental reform of the magistrates court system. However, I do not believe that there is any such evidence at all. I must put on record the fact that this otherwise excellent Bill would be no worse, and would probably be much better, if the whole section on magistrates courts were to disappear altogether. It does not add very much to the sum total of the administration of justice.
Of course, one is not saying that there is not some inefficiency and some wastage. Even allowing for the
Column 187possibility of that, one must balance any such costs against the enormous saving that our society makes from the remarkable system of voluntary justice that we enjoy in this country.
It is a remarkable system in which so many thousands of people give service of the highest order freely and generously and handle--I forget the exact figures--90 or 95 per cent. of cases brought before our courts. Against minor inefficiencies, one must balance those enormous advantages to our society of the present voluntary system. When we seek to impose new criteria, cash limits, performance indicators, amalgamation and business plans, let us be careful that we are not discouraging those who have given- -and we hope will give in future--service of that high order.
What is clear to me, and what motivates my criticism, is that the closure of local magistrates courts in many towns and rural areas--it has certainly happened in Kent, and is likely to continue throughout the country-- undermines what I believe to be, and what most people perceive as, truly local justice. It leads to the undermining of the magistracy. I am not saying that there is a hidden agenda for the closure of courts. It is a very open agenda, certainly in Kent, where plans have become widely known and a number of courts are lined up for closure, and I have no doubt that what is applying in Kent is likely to apply throughout the length and breadth of the country. If there should be any doubt, we were informed in a note from the Justices' Clerks Society that, in the briefing paper prepared by the Lord Chancellor's Department for the Select Committee, the suggestion was made that the Lord Chancellor could, under clause 66,
" specify a minimum level of courtroom use'".
The clerks go on to say :
"This could lead to the widespread closure of local courts and courts offices. One of the effects of smaller towns losing their magistrates courts will be, particularly in rural areas, a loss of the availability of fair justice to defendants who may have difficulty reaching a distant court. Witnesses also will be deterred from attending".
What that means in plain English is the closure of smaller courthouses, not only through the effects of the Bill, but through the effects of the Bill coupled with the cash limits that the Lord Chancellor's Department has already been applying. If one combines those supposedly more efficient and businesslike structures with cash limits, the threat to the smaller courthouses arises.
It is not only that the Bill will create new chief executives--the term applied to justices' chief clerks--of newly amalgamated committees that alarms me. Those chief executives can, and I hope will, be made fully answerable to the magistrates courts committees in their areas. What is alarming is that those committees will in practice--perhaps not in theory-- be impotent in the face of a more professional chief executive, whose principal job is to administer the cash, which is provided under cash limits by the Government in conformity with performance indicators laid down by the Government.
Mr. John M. Taylor : I am well aware of my hon. Friend's long and strongly held views on those matters, but is it not trespassing slightly into an area which would demean our magistrates to suggest that they would be powerless in the face of a clerk ? I hold a much higher opinion of magistrates than that.
Column 188we shall return in Committee and on Report. I believe that I am right and that my hon. Friend is wrong. We have been over this ground before.
The difficulty is that, as a result of clerk and cash limits, the magistrates, however powerful and determined, will face the closure of some smaller courts. This is not hypothetical ; it has already happened in my county, and I believe that it is likely to continue. I am not saying that the problem is insoluble ; I am making the point that we shall have to face up to it. The result of the legislation will be the closure, over the years, of many courthouses throughout the country.
Court closures often take place one at a time. When I want to object to a closure in my constituency, other people are not worried about closures in their areas. As the process is piecemeal, the House never gets to grips with what is a very significant change in society. Indeed, Members of Parliament often do not have the right to object as cases do not even reach the Lord Chancellor.
This is a very serious problem. A courthouse in Faversham that had been going for many hundreds of years--it housed one of the oldest benches in the country : a small and very efficient and cost-effective court--was closed down. We could not object, as Kent county council--the local authority paying 20 per cent. of its costs--did not object.
This is something for which I do not forgive the county council. Had the matter gone to the Minister, he might have reversed the decision. In my view, this will happen increasingly as we move into the whole new era of cash limits based on certain very rigid criteria, some of which I still think are rather peculiar, and the new structure.
What will happen under local government reorganisation ? Who will have the right to object to a closure ? At present, we do not know. Who will then contribute the balance of the costs of the magistrates courts ? Again, we do not know. Would it not be sensible to wait for local government reorganisation before embarking on this restructuring of the magistrates courts committees ?
We ought to require simply that every magistrates court closure is automatically referred to the Lord Chancellor. That would not be a very great change. I hope that there will not be many such proposals, and that we shall learn to resist those that are made. I should like to have it confirmed, preferably in the legislation, that there will not be high pressure for amalgamations. I cannot see great reason for amalgamation on the scale that is envisaged, resulting in a drop from 100 magistrates courts committees to 50 or 60.
Most important of all, as we embark on this new era, is that we should get rid of the formula--which I think has been suspended--that imposes on magistrates courts committees throughout the country certain performance requirements that do not make sense. It does not make sense for central Government to say, "This is the total available cash, and we shall reallocate it county by county, taking from some areas and giving to others where there is probably no need or no crying need, and disregarding history and the number of small towns, as well as the number of small local courts."
We have been in danger of centralising. No doubt the motive was good : the aim was to secure efficient justice and financial savings. However, I believe that we got it wrong. Thus, I hope that, in Committee and on Report, we shall have a chance of putting the situation right. I hope
Column 189that my hon. Friend will not resist those opportunities, but will respond to the many representations that he has received from hon. Members and from people outside.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : This unappealing and unacceptable Bill was introduced by the Home Secretary in his customary way--cynicism, complacency and calculation in large and equal measure. There was cynicism in the rationale which he applied in justification of the measure. There was complacency in the face of its manifest failure to deal with real concerns about crime and the administration of justice. There was calculation because at the heart of all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does is not the interests of justice, not the proper and real concerns that need to be addressed about crime, but a cynical calculation of his political future. Those of us who listened to all the speeches during the debate will have noted that the most striking feature was that only two Conservative Members could be found to give unequivocal support to the Bill. I refer to the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). That says that all that needs to be said about the merits of the Bill.
All that the Government could dredge up was, as I have said, the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury and for
Mr. Atkinson rose
I listened to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It was a memorable speech in its way, but even in that there was a moment of concern or doubt--I am glad that he is now in his place--about the proposals for the special role of the lords lieutenant. Of all the things to find wrong with this measure and of all the agonies to be shared with the House, the hon. Gentleman was able to find one concern, which was the slight withdrawal of the importance and status of the role of lords lieutenant.
Such is the world in which some Conservative Members live. It is one far removed from reality, from the real concerns about crime and crime prevention. There are real concerns about the deplorable morale in magistrates courts and in the administration of justice generally.
Some important points were made by the hon. Members for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and for Faversham (Sir R. Moate). There did not seem to be an unequivocal welcome from those hon. Members for the Bill. There seemed to be some concern.
Column 190I fear for the hon. Member for Faversham, who made an important and serious speech. He expressed the desire that certain matters would be raised in Committee. I saw the expression on the faces of the silent ones who sit on the Treasury Bench. Expressions of concern may well be made in Committee, but they will not, I fear, be made by the hon. Member for Faversham. The reality is
The Home Secretary was only too anxious to share with us the anticipation of the contribution of the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was only too anxious to palm off on him the difficult issues and the real concerns
Mr. Boateng : Indeed. The Parliamentary Secretary will drink deep of that draught. He has been anticipating the drop for some time. That is surprising, bearing in mind his experience and position. He knows that there is widespread concern throughout the country and on both sides of the House about the provisions on reorganising magistrates courts. That is not surprising, given the measures in the Bill.
The Bill is a battered edifice. It was knocked about quite a bit in the course of its introduction in the House of Lords. The Home Secretary and his noble and learned Friend may rue the day that the measure was introduced there, because the robustness of mind in the other place has long since been quelled on the Conservative Benches. The octogenarian tendency in the other place shows remarkable signs of life, and great spirit. We owe Members of the House of Lords a debt of gratitude, and we do not intend to let them down. The Bill was assaulted on both sides of the House. Although some of its edges were knocked off, and it was made a little smoother in parts, it remains an obstacle to the proper administration of justice, which is why we shall oppose it.
The Bill represents, in so obvious a form, the twin pinnacles of Toryism, on this and many other issues. The first pinnacle is the Tories' adulation of market forces and belief that the rules and disciplines of the market should be applied wherever possible. That is their approach to all issues. The second pinnacle is their obsession with centralisation, and loathing of local administration.
Mr. Boateng : The hon. Lady has only just manifested herself in the Chamber. Her comment accords neither with what Ministers have said in this debate so far nor with the lip service which the Home Secretary has paid to the notion of local accountability. I expect that the Parliamentary Secretary will rise to his feet and say how much the Lord Chancellor supports the input of local magistrates courts committees. The reality, however, is different.
Let us see what is left now that the other place has had a go at this edifice. The power to remove directions to a
Column 191magistrates courts committee remains, as does the power to remove the chairman and members of a magistrates courts committee and replace them with appointees.
We are discussing not just the two co-opted persons--the Lord Chancellor's placepersons--who will have all the necessary qualifications required to be the placepersons of any Minister in this House : they will be paid-up members of the Tory party, preferably the spouse of a Conservative Member. There will doubtless be plenty of willing nominees for that post.
We are discussing not just the power to co-opt but the power, in certain circumstances, to replace the magistrates courts committees entirely by people who are not even justices of the peace. That is an incredible power, when one considers its constitutional implications.
The Bill still contains the power not to approve candidates for the post of justices' chief executive and justices' clerk. Then there are the powers of the inspectorate, and the indirect monitoring of justices' clerks by the chief executive. All those aspects remain intact, despite the amendments in another place, which were eventually accepted--although initially opposed-- by the Lord Chancellor.
Mr. Mackinlay : What my hon. Friend describes must be seen against a backdrop of the growing concern, in this House and especially in another place, about the power of the Lord Chancellor and his office. Is there not widespread concern about the politicisation of his duties in administering justice, and is there not a case for a root-and-branch review of his roles, in respect both of the magistracy and of the administration of justice generally ? Is my hon. Friend aware that their Lordships are holding a debate on that very point tomorrow evening ?
Mr. Boateng : My hon. Friend has tabled a number of important questions in the House, and I know that the Lord Chancellor has met him to discuss his concern about the latter's role in relation to the late president of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, and the real concerns among the judiciary and the public alike about the fact that the Lord Chancellor is being given powers that lie outside his proper judicial functions.
It will therefore not be good enough if the Parliamentary Secretary dismisses as unworthy of consideration the idea that the Lord Chancellor might be tempted to misuse the considerable powers that this Bill will give him. Moreover, there are real anxieties about the extent to which the Treasury has its dead hand on the administration of justice. Increasingly, the Lord Chancellor is becoming the agent of the Treasury in matters of justice.
These are not fanciful notions ; they are a real reflection of the worries expressed by Lord Ackner, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, who has referred to the role of the Treasury and how it works against the interests of justice. He has also talked of the importance of the Lord Chancellor being a bulwark against this encroaching tendency.
In the House of Commons, we suffer from the fact that we do not have the Lord Chancellor before us : we have only his Parliamentary Secretary. Fond though we are of him, the Lord Chancellor's valet is no substitute for his own presence. [Hon. Members :-- "His batman."] I did not use that word, because it would imply that there was a Robin--and he does not even have that. He does not even have someone to sit behind him
Column 192Lady Olga Maitland rose