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Clause 13

Other functions of the Lord Chancellor and organisation of the courts

Mr. Leslie: I beg to move amendment No. 491, in page 5, line 35, leave out 'certain functions of' and insert 'functions to or from'.

The First Deputy Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 492, 376, 377, 493 to 498, 378, 499 to 501, 379, 502 to 507, 380 to 385, 508, 509, 386 to 395,
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510 to 512, 396 to 400, 513, 401, 514, 402, 404, 405, 515, 406 to 408, 516, 409 to 411, 517, 412, 413, 518 to 527, 415 to 420, 528, 421 to 425, 529, 530, 427 to 429, 531 to 534, 430 to 433, 535 to 538, 434, 435, 539 to 544, 436 to 453, 545 to 556, 454, 557, 456 to 459, 558, 460 to 462 and Government new schedule 1.

Mr. Leslie: This group of amendments is very substantial—the most substantial that we will debate today—and makes detailed and technical amendments to schedule 4 in five separate areas. It will therefore assist the Committee and perhaps speed debate if I set the scene and list the areas affected before considering each in more detail, thereby providing an overview of this "super-group" of amendments.

Schedule 4, which is a key part of the Bill, gives effect to the concordat agreed between the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice. It provides for the Lord Chancellor's current statutory functions relating to the judiciary and to the organisation of the courts to be amended, so that they require consultation with, or the concurrence of, the judiciary, or transferral to the Lord Chief Justice or to another senior judicial office holder.

The amendments are designed to complete the schedule and to make sure that it fully reflects concordat principles. Five separate areas are covered. The first batch of amendments in the group covers a number of individual functions in Northern Ireland under legislation that extends throughout the United Kingdom, and it introduces a new schedule relating to Northern Ireland that corresponds to schedule 4. The second batch contains provisions that support arrangements for ending the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage and, as the Government announced on 2 March 2004, its future exercise by the Prime Minister.

The third batch of amendments makes arrangements for appointments and removals from tribunals that cover the whole of the United Kingdom or other parts of the UK in addition to England and Wales. The fourth batch makes a number of corrections and updates to ensure that the transfer of functions is fully in line with the concordat. The fifth batch transfers to local registering authorities in England the power to set fees for local charge services, with the exception of fees for personal searches of the register.

Simon Hughes: Before the Minister finishes summarising the amendments and deals with the detail, can he say how many transfers of patronage in respect of Church of England livings are expected as a result of this shift from the Lord Chancellor to the Prime Minister?

Mr. Leslie: I will come to that issue in a moment. I want first to talk about Northern Ireland appointments, removals to UK tribunals, the introduction of the new schedule and, in that context, amendment No. 491 and the associated amendments. Those amendments cover a number of individual functions in Northern Ireland and create new roles for the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. In addition, a new schedule relating to Northern Ireland is introduced that corresponds to schedule 4, which affects England and Wales. Amendment Nos. 491 and 492 amend clause 13 to provide for the transfer of the Lord Chancellor's
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functions in Northern Ireland, and for the introduction of the new schedule. Amendments Nos. 493 to 558 amend schedule 4 to deal with a number of the Lord Chancellor's functions in legislation with UK-wide extent.

To return to the intervention from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), as stated in the Lord Chancellor's written statement to the House on 2 March 2004, the Crown's ecclesiastical patronage rights currently exercised by the Lord Chancellor will remain with the Crown. The basis of the Lord Chancellor's exercise of this patronage is historical; it is not based in statute. In future, that patronage will be exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister, who already deals with a range of ecclesiastical appointments. Passing responsibility for exercising this patronage can be achieved through non-statutory means.

The amendments to the Pluralities Act 1838, the Ecclesiastical Leasing Act 1842, the Inclosure Act 1859, the City of London (Guild Churches) Act 1952 and the Pastoral Measure 1983 are consequential on that transfer, and change statutory references to the Lord Chancellor in provisions relating to patronage to reflect the decision to transfer such matters to the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] I have been inspired to point out that some 442 aspects of ecclesiastical patronage will be transferred to the Prime Minister; I hope that that is not too precise a figure for the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Those amendments will ensure that the ending of the Lord Chancellor's ecclesiastical patronage is satisfactorily completed and that any uncertainty is removed. They have of course been discussed with the Church, and agreement has been reached on this outcome.

Amendments to the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 and the Public Notaries Act 1843 relate to the Lord Chancellor's functions in respect of appeals under those Acts.

Mr. Bercow : Sadly, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) is not with us. If he were, I feel certain that he would be able to advise us of the significance or otherwise of these provisions. In his absence, can the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee whether, as it stands, this represents, following Bagehot, a dignified or an efficient part of the constitution? In other words, in practice, is the Prime Minister going to take advice and, if so, from whom, or is he seriously going to preoccupy himself with any significant number of these nominations?

Mr. Beith rose—

Mr. Leslie: I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who has conducted wider inquiries into some of these matters, in a few moments.

The Prime Minister, in his capacity as First Lord of the Treasury, already provides advice to the sovereign on a wide range of ecclesiastical appointments, and officials dealing with parish appointments are already based at No. 10 Downing street, but currently work both for the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor. It
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makes pragmatic and practical sense to continue with the rationalisation of these arrangements in the light of responses to consultation on the issue.

Mr. Beith: Does the Minister recall that the Constitutional Affairs Committee had an interesting evidence-gathering session on this matter? It was made clear that the same officials would continue to do the work. Rarely, in my experience, has a group of public officials been so widely commended by the customers and clients of their work. If any other course of action were to be adopted, such as a transfer of these functions to the Church authorities, there was no agreement as to which part of the Church's structure they should be attached to.

Mr. Leslie: The right hon. Gentleman has neatly summed up the rationale behind many of the amendments, which is why I would not demur from them.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman guide us as to the connection, if any, between these provisions and what are known as Royal Peculiars? Arrangements stemming from the 10th to the 15th century governed the relationship between the papacy and the Crown and established spiritual jurisdiction in respect of colleges and prebends. Windsor castle is one example, not to mention St. Stephen's, Westminster and many others in my constituency—for some reason, Staffordshire and Shropshire have a significant number of these Royal Peculiars, otherwise sometimes known as royal free chapels.

My question is whether the transfer from the Lord Chancellor to the Prime Minister will in any way affect those Royal Peculiars. I have an idea that, unbeknown to some people, the residual spiritual jurisdiction vested in the Crown as a result of the Royal Peculiars might be of some assistance at some point in time in respect of the problems that have arisen with Windsor castle. I wonder whether the Minister—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Roger Gale): Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point; he is making an intervention.

Mr. Leslie: I would not want to accuse the hon. Gentleman of trying to grab the headlines—certainly not in this debate, at least. My understanding is that many of the Royal Peculiar functions are already undertaken under prime ministerial patronage, but I will try to check on the point, in case I am wrong. The amendments that we are proposing in this group make no further changes in that respect; they are simply designed to amalgamate the ecclesiastical patronage arrangements of the Lord Chancellor with those of the Prime Minister. Other functions are more judicial in that they relate to appeals under legislation such as the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 and the Public Notaries Act 1843, so they are transferred in line with the ending of the judicial role and functions of the Lord Chancellor. The amendments also provide for the Chancellor of the High Court to delegate the function of hearing appeals to another judge.

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