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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): There are currently two community justice projectsthe pilot community justice centre in north Liverpool, which was launched last month by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, and the Salford community justice initiative, which will be launched next week. Those will be fully evaluated to determine aspects that can be applied elsewhere. There will be no further community justice centres such as that in north Liverpool until the evaluation has taken place at the end of 2006.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I welcome the approach to evidence-based policy that my hon. Friend is advancing. I urge her to consider the American example, where areas with community justice models were better at holding offenders accountable and had an improved community perception of local justice, a quicker process from arrest to court appearance, and reduced crime. While the evidence is being gathered, may I put in an early claim for community justice models in the Welsh valleys and other urban centres, where they will do a lot to restore faith in community justice?
My hon. Friend makes a compelling argument for a community justice centre in his constituency or thereabouts. We will consider what happens not only in north Liverpool and Salford but in other projects around the country and internationally. There are good projects going forward in Bridgend in
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Wales, where county court staff give presentations to schools and bring young people into the court system to give them work experience. Those projects are receiving very good feedback. They are also excellent in bringing in people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds and have recently won a national award from Operation Black Vote for encouraging people from black and ethnic minority communities to become magistrates.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Does the Minister accept that the experiment in Vauxhall in north Liverpool and the future one in Salford are enormously to be welcomed? Does she also acceptas I think she does, given what she said about evaluationthat the social and legal environment in the Red Hook area in New York, which was the origin of the experiment, is very different from that in northern Britain, let alone Wales, and that we need to look very carefully at whether the experiments work?
One could say that the old-fashioned term for community justice centres is magistrates courts. Does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that every community in England and Wales has access to a magistrates court? Will she make it clear that the further proposals for rationalisation or closure of local magistrates courts play no part in providing a community justice system?
Bridget Prentice: The hon. Gentleman is right. We must consider community justice in the round. What is appropriate in north Liverpool may not be appropriate in Somerset, Wales or even central London. It is vital that we take such evaluations seriously.
It is important that people have access to magistrates courts, but it is also important that we ensure that the proper facilities are available in the regions. I am sure that we will continue to ensure that that happens.
"The court was scheduled to begin at 9.45 am but by 10.15 am no defendants had turned up. Judge . . . Fletcher . . . undeterred by the shaky start, conducted a brief adjournment hearing but was finally forced to retire in the absence of anyone to administer tough justice to."
Bridget Prentice: It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman quoted from The Times instead of visiting the north Liverpool centre. We will help to arrange and facilitate that opportunity for him so that he can see the good work that is being done there.
The court began operating from the Liverpool magistrates court in December last year and has already heard more than 1,300 cases. It is a doing a good job and we should appreciate its work. The court is working with the local community because it asked for that facility.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): A major programme of work is under way to prepare for the transfers. We are working closely with the tribunals, parent Departments and stakeholders to ensure a smooth handover. A team of about 40 staff is working on that. We are on target to complete the transfers by April.
Mr. Harris: In my constituency, the efficiency of the asylum and immigration tribunal is vital. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that the transitional arrangements will not compromise that efficiency, especially the average time taken for appeals to be heard against an initial decision to refuse asylum?
Bridget Prentice: My hon. Friend can be assured that immigration and asylum tribunals will not be affected by the transition because they are already part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. He makes an important point about delay, which is not good, especially in asylum and immigration cases. The asylum and immigration tribunal, which started its work in April, now logs all cases directly. Those that are logged directly with it are often heard within a month of their being listed.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I had the pleasure of visiting the Arnhem centre last Friday and I saw the efficient work that is being done there. However, I am worried about appointments to the tribunals during the transitional period. Will the Lord Chancellor continue to make them or will responsibility be handed to the Judicial Appointments Commission, which already has a new chairman?
Bridget Prentice: I, too, have visited the Arnhem centre in Loughborough in the past couple of weeks. I put on record my thanks to the staff for their dedication. They work extremely hard and do an excellent job. Discussions are taking place about appointments in the transitional period. Those that are in the pipeline will continue to go through, but further discussions are being held with the different stakeholders to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): In the past five years, including the current one, the Conservative party will have received approximately £22.5 million in Short money, Cranborne money and policy development grants. That figure does not include free postage and party political broadcasts.
The obvious question to ask is whether, at £100,000 per MP, the taxpayer is getting value for money. Perhaps more seriously, may I ask whether it is reasonable for the money to be concentrated overwhelmingly on one political partybe it the
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Conservative party or any otherand whether it should not be shared among the political parties represented in the House?
Ms Harman: The figures are as follows: the Conservatives received £22.5 million; the Liberal Democrats will have received £9 million over the same period; and the Labour party will have received more than £2 million. The House decided that money should go to the Opposition parties in proportion to their size, and much less to the governing party.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): My right hon. Friend stated on 18 October that the Government had no plans to change the present arrangements for considering private Members' Bills.
Simon Hughes: At the moment, it appears to people outside the House that private Members' Bills have to overcome all sorts of hurdles before they have any chance of becoming law. If we are to engage the public and convince them that there is a chance for individual MPs to change the law, those Bills need a better slot and more protection. In the light of what happened to the Bills introduced by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) and, last Friday, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead), will the Deputy Leader of the House please reconsider bringing private Members' business into the middle of the week, where it would have the chance of a fair hearing and of making some progress?
Nigel Griffiths: Earlier this year, the Modernisation Committee considered moving private Members' Bills from Friday to a weekday evening. Its subsequent report concluded that such a move would fundamentally change the character of proceedings here, and the House has recently considered and decided the sitting pattern for the week. It is far too soon to reopen that issue.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend carefully consider whether sufficient hours are allowed for private Members' Bills during the parliamentary week? There are ways in which the term could be extended. Members frequently come up with sensible ideas that ought to be allowed on to the statute book, but which are rejected by the Government of the daysometimes for rather lightweight reasons.
There are 13 sitting Fridays for such Bills to be considered. The whole House will endorse my hon. Friend's sentiments in promoting the right of Members to have their Bills debated. When I have attended on Fridays,
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I have seen that there appears to be ample opportunity for debate, although, for one reason or another, best advantage is sometimes not taken of it. As I said, the Modernisation Committee considered this matter recently, as did the House in deciding our sitting patterns. I know that the House will want to review that matter from time to time as appropriate.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that when Bills that have been fully debated in the House of Lordsoften with the benefit of the great professional expertise in that placecome to this House, they often have to go to the back of the queue behind private Members' Bills, where they have little or no chance of being debated. Does he agree that that arrangement is not entirely satisfactory, and that it should be reviewed?
Nigel Griffiths: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are Bills that are drafted on behalf of Members in this House, which right hon. and hon. Members here would wish to champion. The hon. Gentleman would have difficulty in persuading hon. Members that their Bills should go to the back of the queue behind those from the other place, where there is ample opportunityas he has pointed outfor the Lords to debate their Bills. Such matters are reviewed by the various Committees of this House and by Joint Committees, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has made a case for the change that he advocates.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I support the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). There are huge procedural hurdles to be overcome in getting private Members' Bills on to the statute book100 Members voting for closure, for example. The whole pack of cards is stacked against private Members' measures. The Modernisation Committee is wrong; we have a slot available on Wednesday evenings, and private Members' Bills should fill it.
Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion, and if he believes that members of the Modernisation Committee got it wrong, that is his view. As with several recent measures and decisions in the House, I respectfully disagree with him.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I support the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). Has the Deputy Leader of the House noticed that on occasions Members find an awful lot to say about private Members' Bills on Second Readingperhaps rather more than they say on the Second Reading of a Government Bill? Is it time to have some protection, in terms of the length of speeches on Second Reading, to enable private Members' legislation to proceed? Would not it be sensible, in any case, for him to collate information from those Members who have the good fortune to be drawn out of the ballot about their experiences in proceeding with their Bills, so that we can amend the proceedings of the House accordingly?
I welcome that lengthy contribution and question from the hon. Gentleman. The position is clear: Members take as long as they feel is necessary. The
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way in which the House operates is considered at least annually, and the sitting pattern during the week was considered before the summer recess. All those factors are taken into account. We all read Hansard and draw conclusions about the qualities of speeches that we have and have not heard.
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