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I have a somewhat less esoteric question for the Minister, whom I commend on his
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mastery of the brief in connection with such a detailed issue. The daffodil in my buttonhole suggests that I might be an Anglican, but I am part of the disestablished Church, not a member of the Church of England. Having said that, I do not believe that denominations are important. There is one Church and denominations have often been a curse, not a merit, of that Church.
Given that we are talking about the transfer of ecclesiastical functions to the Prime Ministeras my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, there is a well established system of officials who deal with these matterswill the Minister give an assurance on the record that there will always be consultation with the "customers or clients", to use my right hon. Friend's words, or the parishioners before the Prime Minister makes any appointments under his new powers?
Mr. Leslie: I suspect that that will be the case. I can give that undertaking in so far as we do not propose to make any changes to the practice of making those patronage appointments. It is simply a matter of the formality of who will make the appointments on the advice of the Prime Minister to the Queen.
The third tranche of amendments in the group deal with the Lord Chancellor's powers to appoint and remove from tribunals that have a UK-wide jurisdiction. Amendments Nos. 399 and 430 transfer the Lord Chancellor's duty to consult the Secretary of State for Health or the chief medical officer in respect of certain tribunal appointments.
The others deal with tribunals with a UK-wide jurisdiction or a jurisdiction covering more than one part of the UK. Those require special arrangements in respect of some appointing and delegating functions and removals from office. The power to remove usually lies with the Lord Chancellor, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, but in respect of Scottish members, removal should be with the agreement of the Lord President of the Court of Session; and in respect of Northern Irish members, removal should be with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. Those seem to me sensible and appropriate changes. The relevant judge in each case is referred to in the amendments as the "appropriate senior judge".
The fourth group of amendments deal with miscellaneous technical changes to schedule 4. For example, amendments Nos. 442 to 444 provide for the Lord Chief Justice to appoint someone other than the Master of the Rolls to the post of head of civil justice, bringing the legislation into line with the appointment procedure for the heads of criminal and family justice in clauses 8 and 9, which we discussed earlier. Amendment No. 397 transfers to the Lord Chief Justice the Lord Chancellor's power to prescribe new business for the central office, which we will now call the senior courts. There are also a series of amendments to omit statutory references to the now redundant power of the Lord Chancellor to alter rules made by rule committees.
: Why are there so many amendments? Is it because the Minister did not bother to check the
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provisions in the first place, or is it simply that the Government are making it all up as they go along and that this is the new material that they have recently come up with?
Mr. Leslie: Neither of those two options apply. We have certainly consulted the judiciary and many of the amendments are a consequence of that. We have also had a prolonged period of scrutiny of the legislation, including, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, scrutiny by a special Select Committee in the other place, not to mention debate and suggestions from the Constitutional Affairs Committee. Not all the amendments arise from those particular considerations, as many stem from consequential changes to other pieces of legislation. I realise that the volume of amendments is a burden on the Committee, but it is right and necessary to be as accurate as possible.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I shall come back later to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). If the head of civil justice is not to be Master of the Rolls, what is the purpose of having a Master of the Rolls? In other words, what would he do?
Mr. Leslie: There may well be other tasks for the Master of the Rolls to do in place of having the post of the head of civil justice. I have already set out, in our discussions on clauses 8 and 9, the point of having some flexibility among the senior judiciary. We will always have persons to head the senior divisions of our courts. There will not be vacancies for long in respect of any of those posts, but we need to ensure that we retain a degree of flexibility. That idea was not simply thought up by my Department, but in agreement with the Lord Chief Justice and others.
Mr. Djanogly: I am not quite sure what the Minister is getting at. If the Master of the Rolls is not going to carry out the job allocated to him, why should not the person who subsequently gets his job be called the Master of the Rolls?
Mr. Leslie: That is because the Vice-Chancellor was head of civil justice. The Bill changes a number of titles among the senior judiciary. The president of the civil division of the Court of Appeal will have that post, but we must put the new arrangement in place to allow greater flexibility. If it will help the hon. Gentleman, I shall write to him with some more detail about our discussions with the Lord Chief Justice on this matter. The arrangements in the Bill are ones that we have agreed with him, as I set out earlier.
Simon Hughes: I want to raise another matter that may have been dealt with earlier when I was not present, but will the Master of the Rolls retain his judicial oversight of solicitors? Is that role to be transferred as well?
There are a number of other minor and technical amendments in this group that serve to change the wording in various places, alter references to sections
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and paragraphs, provide cross-referencing to other legislation, and so on. In addition, they correct the Bill's provisions when a function's transfer is not entirely in line with the concordat arrangement.
The most significant change, however, is to the renewal of recorder appointments set out in Government amendment No. 385. The new provisions mirror what has been the practice for some timethat is, that appointments are automatically renewed except where there are grounds for non-renewal. The Bill will now require the Lord Chief Justice's agreement to the grounds given for non-renewal or removal from office, and to any decision that those grounds are fulfilled in any particular case. The remaining amendments correct how some existing functions of the Lord Chancellor are modified, and delete incorrect provisions. Amendment No. 447 provides that the Home Secretary will be involved in a new power relating to the making of criminal procedure rules. Other amendments ensure that the Lord Chancellor's functions relating to the making of those rules are correctly reflected in the relevant statutory provisions.
The fifth set of amendments in this group alters the Local Land Charges Act 1975 to give local authorities in England the power to set local land charge fees, but not personal search fees. At present, there is considerable variation between local authorities when it comes to keeping local land charge records. Local land charge fees are set nationally, by the Lord Chancellor. Local fees that reflect a local authority's circumstances will encourage better local accountability, efficiency and transparency, and will be fairer to local authorities and their customers.
Government amendment No. 390 implements one element of the action plan set out in the September 2002 local government White Paper and announced by my noble Friend Lord Rooker during the Committee stage of the Housing Bill. It will allow local authorities to set fees at a level which, taking one year with another, will enable them to recover an amount up to, but not in excess of, the costs incurred by providing local land charge services.
The amendment does not change the position in respect of fees for personal searches, of which a full review will be undertaken before any decision is made. It does not change the position in Wales either, as local land charge fees have been set by the National Assembly for Wales since 31 December 2004.
Simon Hughes: I imagine that the question of local land charges will be of interest to many hon. Members, but the Minister just said that local authorities will not be allowed to make a profit from the provision of that information. I support delegating powers to local government, but will he say why a flat rate cannot be introduced? Will not it be slightly confusing for consumers if the amount varies between local authorities? People often do not know which is the relevant local authority, so is there not a possible complication that could be avoided?
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