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Hunting Act

22. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What assessment he has made of the likely impact of the Hunting Act 2004 on the future work load of the Court Service. [200055]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): I am content that the courts have ample capacity to cope with any new work load arising from offences created by recent legislation, including any offences committed under the Hunting Act.

Ann Winterton: During debates on the Hunting Bill, now an Act, the Minister in charge assured the House that the costs would be the same after the Act was passed as they were before. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that? What is the view of his Department on the matter?

Mr. Leslie: We take the view that the Hunting Bill is now an Act of Parliament, that all individuals, including hon. Members, will want to see the public uphold the law of the land, and that there should be no significant extra costs to the courts, which are perfectly capable of coping with any new offences that arise.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The work load of the Court Service could increase, because before the Hunting Bill was passed, a number of magistrates said that they would defy the Act. What steps are being taken to deal with the effect that it could have on the work load of the Court Service if we have fewer magistrates?

Mr. Leslie: The Lord Chancellor has already reiterated that all members of the judiciary clearly have a duty to uphold the law and to practise accordingly. We do not anticipate any problem in that regard.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): But does not the Minister recognise that there are potentially tens of thousands of extra cases that will need to be heard in courts in rural areas? What plans are there for extra court sittings? Will it be necessary to bring in more stipendiary magistrates? Does he have any indication of the effect of the new law on retention of magistrates, many of whom may find the implementation of the attack on rural England totally unacceptable?

Mr. Leslie: I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman also supports the law of the land. We do not anticipate that there will be any extra burden on the court system,
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and I do not anticipate the tens of thousands of cases of which he seems to have knowledge. I disagree with him about that.

Magistrates (Nottingham)

23. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What plans he has to improve the contact between magistrates and the police and community they serve in Nottingham, North; and if he will make a statement. [200056]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The Nottinghamshire criminal justice board was created earlier this year, since when representatives of the judiciary, courts, administration, police, probation, Crown Prosecution Service, police and local council have an improved regular dialogue about their local activities and priorities. The Government are keen to raise public confidence in the criminal justice system with, for example, court open days, the appointment of magistrates with local connections, and new Court Service area directors available to meet any hon. Member at their request.

Mr. Allen: I welcome the fact that the Lord Chancellor gave a presentation at the Cabinet last week on uniting the criminal justice system with the people whom it is meant to serve, but does the Minister realise that this can only take place on the ground and that there is fundamentally a lot of misunderstanding between magistrates and police officers and the community that criminal justice is meant to serve? Will he look at the nitty-gritty and detailed organisation on the ground of how magistrates connect and communicate with the communities on our estates, where crime is the No. 1 issue?

Mr. Leslie: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that, while magistrates cannot discuss individual cases, they should be encouraged to listen to the views expressed by local communities. That is why we have established new courts boards to be operational from April, for example, in which members of the judiciary will meet representatives of local communities. There are a number of other initiatives that we could also encourage, including the magistrates in the community initiative, so that magistrates can listen to local neighbourhood concerns.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): In Broxtowe, as in Nottingham, there is concern that additional police and community support officers will need further support from additional resources downstream in the criminal justice system, including the magistracy, so that police officers do not have long waits in the magistrates courts to get cases heard and prosecutions carried out, and so that they can get back on the streets to catch more criminals.

Mr. Leslie: My hon. Friend is entirely right that one of the worst inefficiencies that we have seen in the courts system historically is that police officers sometimes wait around all day for cases to be heard. We now have new processes and effective trial management systems in
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place to reduce that problem, including a new computer system called Exhibit, which will notify police officers of precisely when their evidence needs to be taken. I hope that that will help.

House of Lords

24. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): What proposals the Secretary of State has for the second stage of House of Lords reform. [200057]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): The Government are determined to proceed with further reform of the House of Lords. It is important to consider the proper role and functions of the second chamber, and not just issues of composition alone. Policy will be developed further in the context of the Labour party manifesto.

Tony Wright: Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Government have a very impressive record of constitutional reform to their credit, House of Lords reform has not been one of their great success stories? I suggest to him that the Government have made House of Lords reform more difficult than it need be, as some of us across the House have recently tried to show. Will he do all he can to ensure that a reforming third term has this major piece of unfinished constitutional business at its centre?

Mr. Leslie: The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has made this point himself: we want to move forward on reform of the second chamber. I do not believe that it is possible to have a legitimate second chamber without some reform. It is possible to move forward on this, but we had votes in this Chamber and there was a difference of opinion about the extent to which we should have appointment or election. We want to achieve consensus as far as possible, if it is available.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Will the Minister explain to the House why the Democratic Unionist party has no representatives in the House of Lords, but all other parties have? Is that not deliberate discrimination against the largest section of the Unionist people now in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Leslie: I would agree to the extent that we need to have a second chamber that is more representative and reflective of the balance of society. To that extent, we should always try to strive for that objective. Individual appointments to the other place are not a matter for me, but I shall certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Is it the case that in this parliamentary year, the Law Lords will have their right to sit in the House of Lords taken away? If so, where will their alternative home be?

Mr. Leslie: We want to create a new supreme court and move the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords out of the legislature. That depends on the
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progress of the Constitutional Reform Bill. I hope that we can pass it through not only the other place, but this House as soon as possible.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): The Government's programme for this Session, which was announced last week, states that the

Does that extend to the House of Lords? Will the Minister accept that the cross-party initiative announced last week offers a draft Bill in the near future, which would surely enable him to fulfil the promises made to the House and to the country in two manifestos?

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties that we have had with House of Lords reform. We have proposed legislation, but the other place would refuse to pass it, which could create a massive backlog of other pressing legislation. We want to press ahead, but we must ensure that we achieve the greatest possible consensus. Returning to the matter in our manifesto is one way to make certain that we can make progress early in the next Parliament.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Why is my hon. Friend being so coy? Why is it taking so long to see the plain obvious? Consider Ukraine, South Africa or even the United States of America, where people queued for hours to vote. What is wrong with democracy informing a second chamber? Instead of the ludicrous ping-pong between the two Chambers, we should have a new Parliament Act to reconcile this Chamber with a new democratic chamber.

Mr. Leslie: Consensus exists on some issues—for instance, on the idea that this House of Commons should be supreme and is the ultimate elected chamber. The question concerns the powers of the revising chamber and how they should be reflected in its composition. That problem is not impossible to solve, but we must return to it so that the public can make their judgment on the different parties' respective manifestos.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In the last manifesto, the Prime Minister committed himself and his party to a more democratic and accountable House of Lords. He then announced that he had changed his mind and that proposal was abandoned. How do we know that the same thing will not happen again?

Mr. Leslie: The right hon. Gentleman could go through the history of the decisions that we have taken and principles on which we have voted in this House. The Government tabled proposals for reform and the other place objected to them. It refused to entertain reform. We had to make a judgment, balanced against some of our other policy priorities, and we are progressing as best we can, but he can be sure that we will return to the matter.
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