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Mr. Lock: Perhaps I can assist the right hon. Gentleman. If he turns to section 14 of the 1999 Act, he will see that subsection (1) provides for the grant of a representation in specific criminal proceedings. That is the reference to criminal proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman helpfully refers the House to the fact that section 13(2)(g) provides for the funding of advice and assistance. However, it is not clear from section 13(1) or, indeed, from section 13(2)(g), whether that advice and assistance includes advocacy in a case that is not subject to investigation because it has become a matter of proceedings before a court.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful explanation, which takes us some way further in satisfying ourselves about the nature of the lacuna that he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire described earlier.

Mr. Bercow: I hope that my right hon. Friend will not err on the side of unnecessary and excessive generosity in this matter because, although the Minister might well now have an extremely effective grasp of the Access to Justice Act 1999, it is a great pity that he and his hon. Friends, especially the current Secretary of State for Defence, did not have such a grasp at the time. Will my right hon. Friend clear up the confusion that still exists in my mind as to exactly when it occurred to the Government that the 1999 Act might not achieve what it was intended to achieve and when exactly therefore it was decided to introduce this supposedly modest measure?

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister coyly failed to give us that information; it has not yet emerged, but it is crucial because it relates to the matter of timing, to which I referred a moment ago. If the matter had been identified earlier and the Government had been able properly to introduce this corrective Bill in another place and then here, the difficulties might still have arisen, but not in the same way. The Minister would not be in the position in which he now finds himself of expecting, with the arrogance that we have come to expect of the Government, that the Bill will be rushed or nodded through with scant regard under the timetable that the Government need to get themselves out of this hole. Had the matter been dealt with on a proper time scale at an earlier date, it would have been more certain and more measured, and proper scrutiny could have taken place, instead of which we now face the possibility of truncated consideration in Committee and the Bill's Third Reading and further stages at risk for the reasons that I have given. Perhaps, as a result of my hon. Friend's helpful intervention, the Minister will explain matters further. We might be more sympathetic to his request if he were prepared to tell us why the Bill has been introduced at this very late stage, putting him in such an embarrassing position.

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I am grateful to the Minister for the further explanation that he has given as to the nature of the problem that we are seeking to remedy, but that only brings us to the intriguing reference in the explanatory notes to public expenditure, to which my hon. Friend referred earlier. Rather teasingly, paragraph 28 of the explanatory notes states:

That gives rise to another question: either the Bill is simply intended to validate the existing services or legal support given to people subject to criminal investigation or proceedings, or it is intended to give them something in addition.

I am not sure whether I can simply take as read the statement that the Bill will not increase public expenditure, because either the claims that were originally made when the 1999 Act was passed have not been fulfilled, or something additional will be provided if the Bill receives its Second Reading, in which case I should have thought that public expenditure would inevitably increase.

Mr. Lock: It may help to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about public expenditure if I point out what would be likely to happen if the duty solicitor scheme were to be abandoned. In those circumstances, the defendants who have a right to representation would have their cases adjourned and would have to go to solicitors to seek a right to representation under section 14(1) of the 1999 Act in respect of individual cases. The cases would come back before the court on a later occasion and justice would be delayed. The overall cost to taxpayers would therefore probably be considerably higher.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. However, almost all the Members who have spoken in the debate have suggested that the answer depends, to put it crudely, on the relationship between the services provided by private and public sector sources. Our view of the Minister's analysis would depend rather more on the view that one takes of those relationships, which are not at all clear to me. I still have my doubts about the assertion in the explanatory notes:

However, I shall leave the matter at that. The Minister has provided his explanation and I shall leave it to others to judge whether it is the correct interpretation.

I have concluded my preamble and I now come to the Bill itself, in relation to which further explanation is required. I am keen--at least, initially--to read the text of the Bill literally to see whether it means what it says. Clause 1(1) states:

the Act that we have been discussing--

Does that literally mean what it says? Does that constitute the entirety of the remaining provisions in section 13, which appears to consist of more words than those simply in paragraph (b)? The wording of clause 1(1) is rather unusual. I seek clarification as to whether it refers to paragraph (b) only or to that paragraph and all the following words.

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New section 13(1)(b) of the 1999 Act contains the words:

I am again at a disadvantage in that I am not a lawyer, but I wonder whether that wording is sufficiently clear as to be reliable. The phrase "investigations which may lead" appears to be very vague and all-encompassing and, in some circumstances, that could lead to difficulties.

The same point applies to my reading of new paragraph (b)(2), which contains the words:

My legal friends and colleagues--and perhaps even the Minister--may well be able to reassure me that the term "or other body" is sufficiently clear and can be relied on not to open up what, on the face of it, could be a wide range of possibilities. As the whole point of the Bill is to provide the clarification and the reliability that patently did not appear in the 1999 Act, I wonder whether the words are sufficiently reliable for us to go forward with confidence and give the Bill a Second Reading.

Clause 1(2) provides the retrospective element in the Bill. It states:

That odd form of words gives us the future retrospection to which I referred earlier and which I have had difficulty getting my mind round.

Overall, I am worried not just by the lateness of the Bill's introduction or the speed that the Government are relying on to make it effective; that is bad enough. I have grave doubts as to whether its wording is sufficiently robust and reliable to do what it is intended to do. Given that the Bill is designed to correct earlier errors, one would have hoped and expected that it would be above and beyond suspicion. I do not believe that it is, and I am not yet satisfied that the retrospective element should be accepted as readily as the Minister suggests.

This allegedly small, technical and uncontroversial Bill is not all those things. Small it may look, but it has potentially wide ramifications. It carries within it many implications for the legislative process and for the Government's attitude to that process. The fact that the Bill has been introduced to correct the Government's earlier errors, which were caused by the speed at which they legislate and by the excessive number of amendments leads me to believe that the Bill requires much more scrutiny than the Government may have imagined. Its timetable may be more at risk than the Minister glibly suggested.

The House is right to give attention to such a Bill. I look forward very much to the Minister expanding on his introductory remarks as he seeks to reassure us on the matters that I have raised.

7.46 pm

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I am grateful to have the opportunity to take part in the debate, and I repeat my apology for not having been present earlier. I wish to make just a couple of short points that are important to the way in which the country is governed--or, at least in part, significantly misgoverned.

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The country is significantly misgoverned because legislation is rushed through. Legislation is often rushed even when we do not face the circumstances pertaining to this parliamentary Session, in which every Bill is being timetabled and in which much important criminal justice legislation is simply being put through in a time that is inadequate for its proper consideration. I know that perfectly well because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins,) I am currently serving on the heavily truncated Committee stage of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. That Bill will certainly not receive the scrutiny that it requires.

This Bill follows on from the Access to Justice Act 1999. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) has said in the past and as he probably said before I entered the Chamber, the 1999 Act was simply a legal Christmas tree--an expression that I had not heard before--on which it was possible to hang almost anything. On it are being hung the rights of the citizens of this country and their freedoms when they are brought before a court and charged with a criminal offence and their liberty is at risk of being removed by the court.

It is plain that this Bill was introduced because the need for the representation of the citizens in those circumstances was overlooked when the 1999 Act was passed. I do not blame the Minister for that. I was a junior Minister in the then Department of Health and Social Security and--happily, before I joined the Department--I know that mistakes were made in legislation and had to be corrected in what were colloquially known as the Social Security (Cock-up) (No. 1) and the Social Security (Cock-up) (No. 2) Bills. I would describe the present Bill as the Access to Justice (Cock-up) (No. 1) Bill.

It is right that mistakes should be corrected, but it is not right for corrections to made without our noting that errors occur when legislation is not properly scrutinised. That happens very often these days.

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