Courts Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Leslie: Clearly, the new courts agency will have a local structure that will be able to deal in the normal way with employment matters. Hon. Members are employers these days, so they will be familiar with the need to take great care to ensure that should somebody need to be removed from their post, procedures are gone through and sensitivity is applied to certain issues that can arise in the course of employment. A rigid requirement to consult the courts board, for example, as set out in paragraph (b) of the amendment, would not always be appropriate, because it will not be the employer. As I said, there is already latitude in the provisions to allow for consultation, and for representations to be made. They are adequate in their present form.

There is also a minor technical problem with the title ''courts administration council'' as opposed to ''courts board'', but I will not make a big deal about that. There are reasons why the amendment is not absolutely correct in that regard, but I have made the substantive point that sensitive personnel matters could be involved. Such wide and rigid consultation requirements will not always be appropriate. On those grounds, I hope that the amendment will be reconsidered.

Mr. Hawkins: It is helpful to have the Minister's reassurances on the record. Were there to be a dispute about the need for consultation about the removal of a justices' clerk, those involved can now refer back to the Hansard report of this Committee's proceedings and

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read what the Minister said on behalf of the Government. It was worth while tabling the amendment and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his usual courtesy in addressing the matter seriously.

We were grateful for the Government's response in another place. The Minister touched on the fact that the Government had responded to concerns raised by my noble Friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns and other noble Lords about the matter. We have explored the matter sufficiently and now have some reassurance on the record, so I do not need to press the amendment to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28

Functions

2.45 pm

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 40, in

    clause 28, page 13, line 10, leave out 'things' and insert 'matters currently'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 41, in

    clause 28, page 13, line 10, leave out second ', to'.

Amendment No. 42, in

    clause 28, page 13, line 13, leave out 'things' and insert 'matters currently'.

Amendment No. 43, in

    clause 28, page 13, line 13, leave out second ', to'.

Amendment No. 44, in

    clause 28, page 13, line 15, at end insert

    'and not by any other person'.

Mr. Hawkins: I admit to the Committee that I am being pedantic in this group of amendments and I make no apology for that. The clause begins by stating:

    ''Rules may make provision enabling things authorised to be done by''.

When I read that, I thought that it was not the wording that I normally see in a Bill that will become an Act of Parliament. The word ''things'' is ugly in such legislation. Therefore, I tabled a group of amendments to change it, so that we have the wording that we are more used to seeing in Bills and Acts. I also felt that it was unusual for the Bill to suggest that things would be done ''to a single justice'', and that it was better to have matters being dealt with ''before'' single justices or benches of magistrates.

I hope that Committee members will understand where I am coming from. With great respect to the parliamentary counsel who drafted this Bill, I genuinely believe that it would look more fitting if we referred to ''matters'' rather than ''things''.

However, one amendment in this group is of slightly more substance than the others—amendment No. 45. [Interruption.] I have just checked my notes.

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Amendment No. 45 has not been selected, so I cannot talk about it. I conclude by saying that I hope that the Minister will say that he accepts that the Opposition's phraseology is more elegant than the Government's.

Mr. Leslie: There was a famous occasion when the former American President, Bill Clinton, spent hours discussing the meaning of the word ''is''. I know that we do not wish to open up some of those matters.

The Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), has suggested sotto voce that ''stuff'' could also easily be used as a replacement word. I do not think that either that or ''matters'' would be better than ''things'' in this instance. However, perhaps I should stick to the points that it has been suggested sorrythat I raise.

Clause 28 sets out the functions of a justices' clerk and empowers the Lord Chancellor to make rules allowing a justices' clerk or an assistant to a clerk to perform the functions of a single justice of the peace. The clause remodels section 45 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, which is to be repealed under the Bill. The clause introduces no new powers and no significant changes are anticipated to the advisory or judicial functions of the justices' clerks.

Amendments Nos. 40 and 42 change

    ''things authorised to be done''

to

    ''matters currently authorised to be done''

in subsection (1) and subsection (2). I am told that that adds little to the clarity of those subsections.

I hear what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath says about the need to use appropriate wording. I am advised that the word ''things'' has been transposed from section 45 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, although I cannot remember exactly which political party may have helped in drafting that.

Mr. Heath: Things are not what they used to be.

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman says that things are not what they used to be. To quote from one of the Labour party's slogans, things can only get better, and we intend to pursue that aim.

I am sorry to say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that his amendment does not add anything to the meaning of the clause. I am unclear what he intends the word ''currently'' to mean. Does it mean the date of Royal Assent, when the clause can be enforced, or when the reader is looking at it? That is a bit of pedantry that I can throw back at him.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 similarly seek to delete the second instance of the word ''to''—how one pronounces it depends on the part of the country from which one comes—from the phrase

    ''to be done by, to or before a single justice''.

The Government feel that that makes no discernible improvement to the wording taken from the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, which has stood the test of time since it was implemented. Apparently, the phrase

    ''by, to or before''

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a person is not uncommon in legislation. It appears, for example, in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and the Charities Act 1993.

Norman Lamb: I wonder whether the Minister will give some examples of what it is envisaged would constitute things done to a single justice.

Mr. Leslie: I am sure that I could, but I am not sure that I should like to do so at the present moment. Should I feel the need to elaborate, I may do so on Report. Who knows when we may return to this matter? I stand by the points that I make.

The clause seems to be perfectly clear as it stands. It replicates a provision in the 1997 Act, which works adequately and is currently in force. Although I understand the points raised by hon. Members, far be it from me to tamper with the good advice and wise voices of parliamentary counsel. I shall stand by them to the hilt on this matter.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister said that things can only get better. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) wisely observed, was that in the Labour manifesto? I do not think that the British people necessarily feel that things have got better.

I do not want to take up the Committee's time. However, in asking whether the Minister could think of a single example of something being done to a single justice, the hon. Member for North Norfolk asked an especially apposite question. The fact that that phrase might have been used in other legislation in a different context was not a good answer to our amendments. Will the Minister write to all Committee members, not only to the hon. Member for North Norfolk and to me, to give some examples of where he and parliamentary counsel believe that something would properly be done to a single justice of the peace? If he cannot think of one, perhaps he will table a Government amendment on Report to correct the drafting.

Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): As a member of the Bar, the hon. Gentleman no doubt recalls making applications to a judge or a justices' clerk. That is rather different from making applications before them, which suggests that those could be made on paper, not necessarily in person. The wording is not otiose in that respect. That is my stab at it.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will remember that he and I have crossed swords as advocates in the past. I see that his imagination has not deserted him since the mid-1990s, when he became a Member of Parliament.

I hope that the debate has been useful, if only to parade the knowledge of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on song titles. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 30

Places, dates and times of sittings

Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in

    clause 30, page 14, line 17, at end insert—

    '( ) Before giving any direction under subsection (1), the Lord Chancellor shall consult with—

    (a) the relevant courts board;

    (b) any local authorities whose area includes the relevant local justice area or a part of the local justice area.'.

 
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