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Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
Tribunals, Court and Enforcement

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: John Bercow, † Mrs. Joan Humble
Baird, Vera (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs)
Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Hughes, Simon (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op)
Mallaber, Judy (Amber Valley) (Lab)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op)
Newmark, Mr. Brooks (Braintree) (Con)
Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Alan Sandall, Hannah Weston, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 15 March 2007


[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

9 am
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with this Bill, copies of which are available in the room. I should also like to remind hon. Members that adequate notice shouldbe given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my co-Chairman do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendments that are introduced for an afternoon sitting of the Committee. Finally, hon. Members may remove their jackets, as the sun is shining.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): I beg to move,
(1) in addition to its first meeting on Thursday 15th March at 9.00 a.m., the Committee shall meet on—
(a) Thursday 15th March at 1.00 p.m.,
(b) Tuesday 20th March at 10.45 a.m. and 4.00 p.m.,
(c) Thursday 22nd March at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m., and
(d) Tuesday 27th March at 10.45 a.m. and 4.00 p.m.;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the order shown below and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 p.m. on Tuesday 27th March. Clauses 1 and 2; Schedule 1; Clauses 3 and 4; Schedule 2; Clause 5; Schedule 3; Clauses 6 and 7; Schedule 4; Clauses 8 to 22; Schedule 5; Clauses 23 to 36; Schedule 6; Clauses 37 to 44; Schedule 7; Clauses 45 to 47; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 1; Clause 48; Schedules 8 and 9; Clauses 49 and 50; Schedule 10; Clauses 51 to 53; Schedule 11; Clauses 54 to 57; Schedules 12 and 13; Clauses 58 to 81; Schedule 14; Clauses 82 to 85; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 3; Clause 86; Schedule 15; Clauses 87 to 100; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 4; Clause 101; Schedule 16; Clauses 102 and 103; Schedules 17 to 20; Clauses 104 to 108; Schedule 21; Clauses 109 to 128; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 5; Clauses 129 to 133; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to Part 6; Clause 134; Schedule 22; Clauses 135 to 141; Schedule 23; Clauses 142 to 144; remaining proceedings on the Bill.
Good morning, Mrs. Humble. I welcome you to the Chair. I am looking forward to renewing the close working relationship that you and I had on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions not so long ago.
I am extremely pleased that the Committee’s programme has been agreed through the usual channels in an amiable way. I am grateful to those who took part in that process. I expect that our proceedings will be pleasant, although I hope not too long an experience. The last time that I served on a Committee, we discussed the Company Law Reform Bill, which had 925 clauses and is the longest Bill that has ever been introduced to Parliament. That Committee was also notable for a further reason: since her child care provision failed, my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) had to bring her one-year-old daughter with her to all the sittings. So long were our deliberations that the young girl learned to walk. Indeed, when needing a break, many hon. Members were seen holding the baby’s arms and strutting down the corridor with her. We cannot offer such nice distractions on this Committee, so we shall have to make what positive steps we can.
This is a good Bill. It was well received in the House of Lords, and I pay tribute to my colleague there, Baroness Ashton, whose open-minded, co-operative approach I intend to emulate, since I am sure that the Bill can be improved and that its rationales can be probed so that we understand it better. It will transform the Tribunals Service of this country, which plays such a vital role in relations between the individual and the state, adjudicating independently. It will introduce other beneficial changes to help the indebted who need help and who cannot pay, and enforce debts against those who will not pay. Finally, it will assist the museums and art galleries of the country to obtain loans of cultural objects without risk.
I look forward very much to our deliberations. I welcome my hon. Friends and gentlemen and ladies on the Opposition Benches to the Committee and look forward to some co-operative, helpful and improving work.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mrs. Humble.
I certainly endorse what the Minister said about the Bill. We support it in principle and we endorse much of its detail. We wish to probe some matters, and there may even be areas on which we shall push the hon. and learned Lady quite hard, particularly when we reach parts 3 and 4, which deal with bailiffs and powers of entry. In the main, we support the Bill. It has a lot of detail, but if we move at a sensible place I am sure that we shall get through it and give it proper scrutiny. I support the programme motion.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Humble. This is the first time that I served with you in the Chair, and the first time I have served on a Public Bill Committee as opposed to one of the myriad other predecessor Committees on which—with some exceptions—I have had the pleasure of serving. I share the view of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that the controversial parts of the Bill come later, in parts 3 and 4.
I should like to raise one further matter, if I may.The Minister has tabled a second motion about evidence, which she will no doubt move in a second. The guidance notes sent to Members on Public Bill Committees state:
“The programme for oral evidence will be included in the programme motion agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee and proposed by the Minister at the first meeting of the Public Bill Committee. The motion is debatable.”
I seek your guidance, Mrs. Humble. I want to propose that we take oral evidence from two organisations, so I assume that that request should come under the next motion for discussion, although the leaflet suggests that it might covered by the one we are considering. I shall take your guidance.
The Chairman: If the hon. Gentleman wishes to move that proposal, he needs to do so as an amendment to the programme motion. We would need to have the text of any such proposal now.
Simon Hughes: In that case, I shall write the proposal as I speak. I want to submit a manuscript amendment asking that the Committee hear evidence from National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and from the Local Government Association. This relates to the issues in parts 3 and 4—[Interruption.] I find it surprising that some people are so reluctant to see members of our local government family of friends. I have written the proposal, which is not in the best script in the world, but it will do.
The Chairman: I must tell the Committee that I am not selecting the amendment.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: I call the Minister to move the motion to report written evidence.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Vera Baird.]

Written evidence to be reported to the House

TRI 2 Paul Nicholson
TRI 5 National Children’s Bureau/The Children’s Legal Centre
TRI 6 Barry Minney
TRI 7 The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
TRI 8 Law Society Scotland
TRI 9 Insolvency Practices Council
TRI 10 Low Income Tax Reform Group
TRI 11 Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Clause 1

Independence of tribunal judiciary
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Vera Baird: The purpose of the clause is manifest. It puts beyond doubt the fact that the tribunal judiciary are independent of the Executive. It does so by ensuring that the duty on the Lord Chancellor and other Ministers of the Crown to uphold the continued judicial independence of the judiciary, which is enshrined in section 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, extends to all the tribunals for which the Lord Chancellor is responsible. That includes the employment tribunals in Scotland and criminal injuries compensation appeal panel adjudicators appointed by Scottish Ministers under section 5 of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 1995. The guarantee also covers non-legal members of tribunals, as well as the legally qualified ones.
It is right that the Bill begins by making it clear that tribunals have the same constitutional and legal guarantee of independence as the courts, and I ask that the clause stand part of the Bill.
Simon Hughes: Are there any tribunals for which the Lord Chancellor does not have responsibility and which therefore will not be covered by the clause?
Vera Baird: Yes, there are a number. The competition tribunal, for example, will not be covered either by that provision or by the Bill in any other way. All the tribunals that are dealt with by the Bill have this guarantee of independence enshrined in the clause.
Simon Hughes: If, at a later stage, the Minister were to be kind enough to let us have a note detailing the other tribunals that are not covered and to tell us whether they are protected by any similar independence provision, it would be helpful. I do not intend to press the matter further now.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Senior President of Tribunals
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Vera Baird: Taken together, this clause and schedule 1 create the post of senior president of tribunals. They set out the procedure for filling that post and provide for him to represent the views of tribunal members—an important provision. We indeed have a “him” designate at the moment, although his post rather than his gender is designated and we hope to turn it quickly into a reality. As I am sure everybody knows, Lord Justice Carnwath is the senior president designate. The clause and schedule closely follow Sir Andrew Leggatt’s recommendation that the leadership of the tribunals system should promote
“by leadership and co-ordination, both consistency of decision-making and uniformity of practice and procedure”.
The senior president will be a free-standing senior judicial official who will oversee the tribunal judiciary, and his powers and duties are set out in the Bill. Furthermore, not only is his office clearly independent of the Executive, but in carrying out his functions, the senior president will not be subject to the direction of the chief justices responsible for the courts. Clause 2 places a duty on the senior president to ensure that tribunals are accessible, that proceedings are fair and are handled quickly and efficiently, that members are expert and that innovative dispute resolution methods are developed in respect of the type of cases that come before tribunals. Those criteria are based on the long-standing principles underlying the jurisdiction of tribunals which go back to the Franks report in the 1950s.
The White Paper “Transforming Public Services: Complaints, Redress and Tribunals” signalled that the senior president would
“provide a clear single voice able to speak for the tribunal judiciary collectively.”
Paragraphs 13 and 14 to schedule 1 enable the senior president to do just that—represent tribunal members’ views to Parliament, to the Lord Chancellor and to Ministers of the Crown generally, giving the tribunals a distinct, unified voice for the first time.
It is crucial to ensure that the right person of the right calibre is appointed. Schedule 1 provides two possible routes by which any vacancy for the senior president position may be filled. The first will be when the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland all agree on the nomination of a lord or lady justice of appeal, or a member of the inner house of Court of Session, as a suitable candidate.
As an alternative, the Lord Chancellor wouldask the Judicial Appointments Commission to selecta candidate for recommendation for appointment.The process for doing that follows as closely as is appropriate the process under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 for appointing heads of division.
The successful candidate will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. To underpin the independenceof the role, the senior president, unless disabled by a permanent infirmity or incapacitated from resigning, may be removed from office only by Her Majestyon an address presented to her by both Houses of Parliament.
Mr. Bellingham: We certainly support this part of the Bill. The hon. and learned Lady made a point about the Judicial Appointments Commission. We supported the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 because one ofthe key principles behind it was the separation of powers—that is, that the process of judicial selection should be totally separate from the Executive. Obviously, taking the power away from the Lord Chancellor and putting it into the hands of the commission was an important part of that Act.
I have a question about the clause. Obviously, the Lord Chancellor himself will appoint the person tothe office of senior president. I take on board the Minister’s point about the default position in respect of the Judicial Appointments Commission, but may I ask how that ties in with the 2005 Act?
I want to make another quick point. We support the whole essence of trying to bring the tribunals together into one consolidated organisation. However, how will Parliament be involved in scrutinising how the new process works? Obviously, we can question Ministers; the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs will call evidence at different times in different inquiries. However, will the Minister comment briefly on how Parliament will be able to scrutinise how the new process will work?
Simon Hughes: The initiative is welcome. Bluntly, the Tribunals Service has long lacked both coherence and co-ordination, and somebody should be seen to be leading it. As we all know from our communities and constituencies, that is an important part of the process. The Tribunals Service probably has more people going through its doors than the courts, and certainly more than the non-criminal courts. Given that some tribunals are territorial, and limited to either England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, I assume that the implication is that the president looks after and speaks on behalf of all of them. Is it envisagedthat someone will be chosen, who will come under the president, whose particular role will be to speak for the Northern Ireland, Scotland or England and Wales tribunals? In other words, if a particular issue arisesin one of the jurisdictions within the UK, is there someone within the process who will lead on that?
9.15 am
Vera Baird: The appointment is not made by the Lord Chancellor under either route; it is made, on his recommendation, by Her Majesty the Queen. The purpose of outlining the first way forward to the appointment of a senior president is that if an obvious candidate emerges from the judiciary and consequently comes from that independent source, it might be appropriate for the Lord Chancellor, having been consulted, to sanction that appointment. In default of absolute consensus among the judiciary—essentially a proposal coming from the judiciary—it is appropriate that the appointment should be made in the ordinary way by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
If I have understood the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk correctly, he is asking how the Judicial Appointments Commission will be scrutinised by Parliament. My understanding—I shall write to correct it if I am not accurate—is that the commission will prepare an annual report that will be presented to Parliament and debated.
To answer the territorial question asked by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, the position is that it will be the senior president’s role to make representations on behalf of the tribunals, and he will serve all the jurisdictions. Therefore, he is the voice of the Tribunals Service.
I hope that that has dealt with the questions asked by Opposition Members, and that the clause will stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Bellingham: The question that I asked about parliamentary scrutiny was not so much about the appointments process as about the operations of the whole Tribunals Service, and what DCA Ministers will be doing to keep Parliament informed of the new working arrangements.
Vera Baird: The new working arrangements are pretty inchoate at present. There will be extensive consultation as they proceed. A detailed policy statement has been put into the Library. It spells out our intentions regarding the next steps, and states that there will be consultation at every stage. It seems to me to be correct to say that there needs to be some formula by which working practices, once they emerge, can be checked by Parliament to ensure that they are functioning accurately. However, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman now specifically how that will occur beyond a Member who is troubled raising it in the ordinary way on the Floor of the House. Some provision must be put in place, however, and that will be part of the consultations that will follow.
Vera Baird: I think that I now fully understand the cause of concern that both the hon. Gentleman andthe hon. Member for North-West Norfolk have raised. I think that I can reassure them by referring toclause 39(3), which states:
“The Lord Chancellor must annually prepare and lay before each House of Parliament a report as to the way in which he has discharged his general duty in relation to the tribunals”.
That will facilitate scrutiny of the kind that is being referred to.
Mr. Ellwood: That is very helpful. Would that report lead to a debate on the Floor of the House?
Vera Baird: There is no reason why it should not, and it would be wise, particularly in the early years of the tribunals, if it could, because this will be an emerging structure and set of powers, so it will be worth keeping it under close scrutiny.
Mr. Ellwood: Subject to the usual channels, I suppose.
Vera Baird: I am sure. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is a usual channel, I understand.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
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