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Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, we support the order. I take this opportunity to put on record our appreciation of the lay magistracy, both in its civil and criminal jurisdictions, and for the enormous contribution that it makes to the due administration of justice throughout the country. Just as service as a juror provides education in citizenship and makes a major contribution to citizenship, so also does membership of the bench. It is a tribute to the public spiritedness of lay magistrates throughout the country that they are willing to volunteer so much of their free time, and sometimes time made free only with great difficulty, for the administration of justice in their areas.

It is important that lay justices are a microcosm of the communities they serve and so should reflect all groups and all ages in society. So, while magistrates may be retired, so also they may be in employment, which makes it the more difficult for them to offer the time required. I believe that it would be sound policy to allow those with good reason to confine their sittings to a minimum of 26 half days. But, where targets for annual average sittings have proved to be incapable of achievement, then the case for the additional deployment of a full-time stipendiary magistrate must be considered on a case by case basis.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord that the appointment of additional stipendiary magistrates in no way calls into question the high quality of local benches. On the contrary, the issue is simply this: have the demands on the magistrates' courts in particular areas become so pressing that a serious question arises as to whether a stipendiary magistrate is needed as, as it were, an additional bolt-on resource to ensure the efficient administration of justice?

I believe the opinion of the Magistrates' Association to be that that question arises once a bench attains 250 in number. That principle seems to be right. Beyond that, we do not believe that any hard and fast rules can be laid down. All depends upon local circumstances. Where any particular court or area falls materially behind the national average delay times between first listing and completion, then clearly the question acutely arises as to whether a stipendiary magistrate in addition is required.

We therefore believe it obviously right that the statutory ceiling of 40 should be increased to 50 so as to give the necessary flexibility to make further appointments when local need demands it.

I desire to associate myself and my party with the noble and learned Lord's assurances that this additional flexibility implies no lack of confidence in, still less hostility to, the lay magistracy throughout the country. The lay magistracy is, and will remain, the backbone of the delivery and administration of justice at local level.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, as a lay magistrate now on the supplemental list, I should like to query a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine. He talked about 26 half-day sittings. When I was appointed, which I believe was in 1971, we were told

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that the figure was 26 half days. Some years later we were told we had to do 26 full days. I was never able to do that and I wonder what the position is now.

I remember applying to the noble and learned Lord's department to do fewer days and I would like to know what the ruling is. On the Bench on which I sat there were a number of stipendiary magistrates and there was no clash whatever. The lay members greatly valued the work done by the stipendiaries and we worked very well together.

Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, it may be that my information is out of date. I had certainly thought that current policy was to allow those with good reason to confine their sittings to a minimum of 26 half days. If I am wrong about that the noble and learned Lord will correct me.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, in a sense, both are right. It is not easy to see why that should be. The minimum for which we ask is 26 half days but, of course, different benches may have different requirements. Depending on where one is one may find oneself on a bench which has an average higher than the minimum. Accordingly, it may well be that my noble friend found herself in circumstances where the talent was scarce and the bench felt that it needed to require a larger number of half days than the national minimum. I believe that could be the only basis on which my noble friend was on the supplemental list.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, for his support of the Motion which I have sought to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Noise Bill

9.47 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 11 [Interpretation and subordinate legislation]:

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved the amendment:

Page 7, line 19, leave out subsection (3).

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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to rectify a problem brought to our attention by the Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers. It questioned the need for Clause 11(3).

As currently drafted, this subsection allows the Secretary of State to vary the amount or form of the fixed penalty under Clause 9 by different orders for different purposes. This is clearly not required.

The reason why this subsection was originally included was to allow the Secretary of State to make different statutory instruments for different purposes when there was a regulation-making power in the schedule to the Bill. When the schedule was substantially amended in another place, this regulation-making power was removed. This subsection should also have been removed rather than amended to apply only to orders under Clause 9.

At the Committee stage, I stated that on reflection we agreed with the Select Committee's view that this clause was unnecessary and undertook to amend it at Report stage. This amendment honours that undertaking. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the amendment and also to the Select Committee for noticing this point. We are content that the amendment should be made.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, we on these Benches have looked at the Bill as it has come back to us from Committee and we welcome it in its present form. It was not unduly troublesome to us in any of its earlier stages and it is a necessary piece of legislation which we commend to your Lordships' House.

Noise is, by definition, undesirable. The permitted level of noise as defined in Clause 5 appears to us to be sensible and acceptable. It can be enforced properly because it can be easily understood.

The Bill comes to us on Report and, as we have neither question, nor comment, nor amendments to propose we are content to give the Bill our complete approval.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

        House adjourned at ten minutes before ten o'clock.

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