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before appointing an ordinary member, the Lord Chancellor must consult the Lord Chief Justice about the process for appointment of the member and about the person selected for appointment.
We have maintained throughout that at no stage should the independent legal profession in this country be undermined. For that reason, we have pushed to ensure that the independence of the Legal Services Board from Government is protected through the role of the Lord Chief Justice in the appointments procedure. I believe that we were right to push that issue instead of simply accepting that a reference to consultation alone was sufficient. The statement of Lord Hunt, the Minister in the other place, on 17 October 2007only last weekon the matter was telling. He stated:
I think it will be helpful if at this stage I outline how the Lord Chief Justice is to be consulted. My ministerial colleague
has written to the Lord Chief Justice to consult him on the process we are undertaking for the appointment of the chair of the board.
I am slightly concerned that, given that we have been considering the Bill for roughly 11 months, consultation with the Lord Chief Justice has involved only a single letter. Consultation on the appointment of other members of the board does not appear to have even reached the letter-writing stage. Lord Hunt also pointed out last week that the Under-Secretary
will write again shortly with respect to other members of the board.[ Official Report, House of Lords, 17 October 2007; Vol. 695, c. 747-8.]
Perhaps she could advise the House on the outcome of the consultations. I would also be grateful if she confirmed whether she has considered the use of parliamentary confirmation hearings for appointments, as suggested by hon. Members of all parties on Report.
However, the Government have come a long way on the issue. I accept that Government amendments highlight moves towards the crucial recognition of the need to involve the Lord Chief Justice in not only the method of appointment but the decisions. Although we still maintain that they could go further we accept that we have reached a clearer and more transparent position. On that basis, we will not request the House to divide on the matter.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) differs from the Liberal Democrats on dividing on the matter. We still believe that the principle is important. I accept that the Under-Secretary has travelled a great distance on all sorts of mattersshe knows that I appreciate that. Indeed, even on the issue that we are considering, the proposal is much better than what the Government previously suggested. The process that has been outlined is clearly better than what was previously described. I simply want her to take that last little step because it will convey an important signal about what we hope to achieve in the Bill.
I do not believe that there is a huge practical difference between the amount of consultation that has been offered and concurrence, which we believe to be so important. It is inconceivable that the Lord Chancellor would make a political appointment that did not have the support or at least the acceptance of the Lord Chief Justice. The stakes have been raised too high in terms of public and professional acceptability if the Lord Chief Justice were to make a report or simply make public his or her lack of confidence in the person appointed to the post of chairman.
Our acceptance of the principle that the chairman should be a lay member is important to the boards independence. I am pleased that we included that in the Bill because it means that we have a guarantee of independence from the legal profession. That also guarantees credibility among the wider public. However, credibility must also be shared by the judiciary and the legal profession. In the context that we considering, I do not perceive the Lord Chief Justice as head of the professionthat would be wrong. If it were suggested that the president of the Bar Council or of the Law Society should have any sort of handle on the final appointment, that would be wrong, because it would mean accepting a legal closed shop, which, I hope, we are busting wide open in the process.
However, as head of the judiciary and in a specific context in our constitutional arrangements, the position of Lord Chief Justice has changed. It is one of the great offices of state. The seal of approval from an independent judiciary as well as Ministers and the House is to be encouraged. I therefore hold to the view that concurrence is a more satisfactory arrangement and that the House should insist on it. I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against the Government amendments.
Mr. Kevan Jones: It is like Groundhog day because we have gone over the arguments on numerous occasions. The Under-Secretary has ably conducted proceedings on the Bill and the Government have taken on not only constructive amendments and representations from Back Benchers but even some suggestions from the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly).
That the following provisions shall apply to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 22nd January and 17th May 2007 (Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill (Programme) and Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion four hours after their commencement at this days sitting.
2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement. [Mr. Alan Campbell.]
John Healey: The Bill is about the greater devolution of power to local government, and about greater local democracy. It puts in place a new framework to enable local government to work more closely with local partner agencies and bodies in delivering a full range of services in its area. It goes beyond the expected traditional areas of local government that we have come to recognise in previous local government Bills. For instance, it makes the link to health services, both in their delivery and in the involvement and direct participation of people in local
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Minister might just be metaphorically clearing his throat, but I should remind him that this is not a Second Reading debate. He must address his remarks to the Lords amendments.
John Healey: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was aware of that, but I felt that it was important to set the context for the large number of amendments in the group. These amendments and those in the other groups reflect the fact that, throughout the progress of the Bill, the Government have listened intently to the arguments that have been put to us, and I hope that other hon. Members will also take that view.
All the amendments in this group were introduced by the Government in another place, and they relate to part 1 of the Bill. They are also a tribute not only to my noble Friend Baroness Andrews, who led the Bill so well through the upper House, but to Baroness Hanham and Baroness Scott, who led for the Opposition. The amendments will ensure that the new processes for bringing about structural and boundary change are effective in all circumstances, and that there are no ambiguities or uncertainties. A number of them are purely technical, and I do not intend to go through those in detail.
The amendments to clause 7 will ensure that the Bill and the invitation process are fully aligned with each other, and that the principles of devolution are properly encapsulated. They simply correct the drafting so that the clause does not require the Secretary of State herself to impose a form of general consultation on local areas, at a later stage of deliberation, that goes
above and beyond that which had been quite rightly undertaken earlier in the process by the local authorities concerned.
The amendments to clauses 8 and 10 will ensure that, when conducting a boundary review, the boundary committee will be able to make a recommendation for no change. It is clearly desirable that the boundary committee, having decided that no change to the boundaries should be made, formally completes the review process by making such a recommendation to the Secretary of State.
The remaining amendments in the group are further technical amendments to part 1 and to the related schedule, schedule 1. The amendments to clause 12 will ensure that the Secretary of State is able to make provision in relation to parish electoral arrangements when she makes an order for structural or boundary change. The Bill already enables the Secretary of State to make changes to parish boundaries and, in certain circumstances, that would require a change to parish electoral arrangements. The amendments ensure that that would be possible.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Can the Minister assure me that the extra powers, with which I am perfectly in agreement, would not extend to a point at which the Secretary of State could abolish a parish? There is a case in my constituency in which two parishes have been abolished. May I be sure that this provision will not increase her ability to abolish parishes?
We are also proposing a number of minor amendments to improve the drafting of the Bill, and to ensure that the provisions in this part of the Bill can be used effectively. I commend the amendments to the House.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to respond to the relatively new Minister for Local Government. He has not taken the Bill through the Committee with the rest of us, but we appreciate the attention that he is giving it now and wish him well in his role when, on future occasions, we are dealing with each other across the Chamber.
In response to the Ministers throat clearing, I should like to do a little of my own. I just want to say that the Opposition recognise that a number of concessions were made in the other place, and I shall touch on those later. We still feel, however, that the Bill could have done more on devolution, including dealing with the regional bodies and devolving some of their powers to local authorities. Having said that, some of the matters that we shall discuss this afternoon reflect the fact that changes have been made following the discussions that took place in Committee and in another place.
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