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5.30 pm

Amendment No. 50, tabled by the Opposition, rather oddly suggests that the annual report that the Lord Chancellor must produce should include a report on the whole of the legislation and on other changes since May 1997. The scope of the proposed annual report is already wide. It will be an annual report into the efficiency and effectiveness of the court system. It is quite odd to suggest that the focus should be on this Bill when it is not just about the court system or unification of the courts administration, but contains provisions about the Northern Ireland Official Solicitor and the process for making periodical payments for civil damages. The legislative vehicle is not the best vessel to mirror if we are aiming to produce a well-written, well-structured annual report.

It is also interesting that Opposition Members have picked May 1997 as the start for the court system report. It is tempting to consider what activities took place before that date, but perhaps comment on those adverse circumstances is best left to another occasion.

The amendment also calls for an independent analysis of the effect that the Bill and other pieces of legislation since 1997 have had. We already have a robust process for audit and scrutiny. The Government are not against independent scrutiny. The new Constitutional Affairs Committee was established earlier this year under the august chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—I say that because I have not yet appeared before the Committee; who knows I might change my view. With the publication of the reports of the magistrates courts service inspectorate and the National Audit Office, there are already ample opportunities for independent scrutiny. Amendment No. 50 does not stand the test of what is required.

Amendment No. 55 is significant in that it suggests that fees prescribed in civil courts cannot be used to recover the cost of judicial salaries or the notional cost of using heritage buildings, which are presumably listed buildings. Although it is a slightly separate matter, it is important to consider the context. Fees are prescribed in the civil court justice system because, unlike in the criminal courts, cases are brought by private individuals or bodies seeking damages and redress, rather than on the basis of public interest. The Government have a long-standing policy of seeking to recover the full cost of the civil court services provided, including judicial salaries—something that was decided in 1992—and the notional cost of using buildings in the court estate, as decided in 1982.

20 Oct 2003 : Column 407

That policy is based on the general principle that parties to cases are expected to pay the full cost of that part of the civil justice system that they use to resolve their private disputes. Recovering those court costs through fees ensures the protection of taxpayer resources, which can best be targeted at priority areas for the public benefit. To exclude the elements in question would understate the true cost of the service by about £130 million a year for the cost of civil judicial salaries alone. No doubt that would all be paid for by the top rate of tax to be imposed by the Liberal Democrats. It is worth totting that up as a spending commitment for future reference.

The amendment would institute a subsidy of that sum—and more besides—for all types of civil cases, including business cases brought by large corporations. A far better system than that crude subsidy is one in which exemptions and remissions are based on need, as they are in the case of the family proceedings subsidy or the 5 million people who are eligible for automatic exemptions from fees because they are receiving working family tax credit, pension credit, income support and so forth. That is a better approach than excluding whole categories of costs from the fees that should be paid by litigants. It is perfectly reasonable for fees to include a recovery element, and to look for full recovery of costs to cover those matters. I hope that the amendment is rejected and that the House will not accept this group of amendments.

Mr. Heath: With the leave of the House, I should like to say that we have had an interesting little debate. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) for his support, and that of his colleagues, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), whose analogy of the Lord Chancellor as a stripper with a train to catch will live long in my memory. The next time I see the noble Lord Falconer, I shall try hard not to let that image form in my mind as I am speaking to him.

I understand the frustrations of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) with the legal system; I often share them. He is not the only one to have experienced cases such as these, as he knows. I have no difficulty accepting that there is a proper place for criticism of the system as a whole and, sometimes, of individual decisions. Indeed, the judiciary is sometimes guilty of the charge of a degree of unwarranted complacency. I recall that Lord Hewart told the Lord Mayor's banquet in 1936 that

I would not suggest that that is necessarily a statement of the current position; nor would I suggest that many present-day judges would be quite so complacent about the esteem in which they may or may not be held by the public. There is, however, a clear division between criticism and pressure from a person in a position of authority—that is, a Cabinet Minister, or the Government as a whole. That was the distinction that I was trying to draw.

Mr. George Howarth: I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that I believe that the Secretary of State should be able to bring pressure to bear in any particular case. I was using the case that I mentioned to

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illustrate a general principle, namely that the courts do not seem willing to deal with these serious matters in a serious manner.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I do not think that there is much between us on this issue. When we return to the question of sentencing guidelines councils in the context of the Criminal Justice Bill, on which there has been broad agreement between the Front Benches and Back Benches of all parties, we shall see that there is a case for not only the Executive, but the House having some sort of handle on what happens in our courts—as long as it does not go further and compromise the independence of the judiciary in coming to their legal decisions.

Amendment No. 55 deals with the full recovery of costs. The Minister does not seem to accept the idea, which I think is self-evident, that there is a common good in having disputes settled through the legal process. A moment's thought will surely tell us that we are better off living in a country in which these issues are arranged through the courts rather than through fisticuffs, which is often the alternative. There is, therefore, a proper role for the Government in supporting that function. That was always accepted without question until relatively recently—full cost recovery was introduced only relatively recently—and the justification for refusing any support to the system is a flimsy one indeed.

On the second and perhaps more substantial point of accessibility, this is a matter that we debated long and hard in Committee. Opposition Members are absolutely clear that, whatever the Minister's protestations, a general duty of accessibility needs to be written into the Bill. Judging by what the Minister has said, he does not seem to have a problem with that, because he believes that that is being achieved in any case. The only thing that he does not like is the word that we want to insert into the Bill. He said that we could have a long debate on the words that could be added, but we do not need to do that. We just want one word: "accessibility". I also believe that the House wants that word to be added, and should I have the opportunity later, I should like to test the opinion of the House on that matter.

I think I have said enough on independence. The Minister asks that we do not pre-empt the consultation process on his White Paper. I believe that constitutional principle pre-empts administrative arrangements. The Lord Chancellor has had a specific role in maintaining judicial independence. Given that that will inevitably be lost in the process of reform, we must ensure that it is stated in some form in statute. We have the support of the Select Committee and the judiciary, which acutely feels under threat. In the light of that, the House should express an opinion.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 284.

Division No. 327
[5:40 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Barrett, John
Beith, rh A. J.
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Breed, Colin
Burnside, David
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Cameron, David
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Carmichael, Alistair
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Doughty, Sue
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Evans, Nigel
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Forth, rh Eric
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Greenway, John
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heath, David
Hendry, Charles
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jack, rh Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Lansley, Andrew
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Leigh, Edward
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Maples, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Page, Richard
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Rosindell, Andrew
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Teather, Sarah
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Trend, Michael
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Viggers, Peter
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Brake and
Mrs. Annette L. Brooke


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barron, rh Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Bell, Stuart
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Caborn, rh Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, rh Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hanson, David
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hodge, Margaret
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Kemp, Fraser
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Mountford, Kali
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Edward
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Margaret Moran and
Mr. John Heppell

Question accordingly negatived.

20 Oct 2003 : Column 411

New Clause 3


'( ) The courts boards within an individual Circuit may from time to time meet together to consider matters relating to the courts in that Circuit area.

20 Oct 2003 : Column 412

( ) Before altering any Circuit area, the Lord Chancellor must consult with the courts boards affected.'.—[Mr. Heath.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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