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Lord Bach: My Lords, as far as a debate is concerned, that will be a matter for the usual channels. I can, however, venture the opinion, probably shared by all Members of the House, that this House will have—as will another place—ample opportunity to discuss these very significant matters at the right time. I agree with the noble Lord about the seriousness of the Statement. The noble Lord talks about debating in a more relaxed atmosphere. Given that the House is hearing a serious statement, it is in as relaxed an atmosphere as it can be. Certainly, we would need to spend longer than we are spending on the subject. I think that that is the noble Lord's point.

I shall go away and consider whether the answer I gave as to the medical position is adequate. If it is not, I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Lord Sandberg: My Lords, the Statement mentioned a large number of troops, some 26,000. Can the Minister give some idea of the time lag in this deployment? I ask because we are talking about a

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credible answer to Saddam Hussein's sins and omissions. Obviously, it would be no good if troops were to arrive in May or when the hot season starts.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I shall answer the noble Lord in broad terms. The noble Lord can be assured that troops will arrive in good time in order to do what they have to do in the Gulf area. We hope that the fact they are being sent, along with armed forces from the United States, will show Saddam Hussein that on this occasion the United Nations means business. I can reassure the noble Lord that our troops will be there in good time for any conflict, if that is what happens.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, does my noble friend have information as to whether any other European member of NATO has plans to send troops to the Middle East as we are doing, if not on the same scale?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not have any information in front of me concerning that matter. My noble friend will know that requests have been made by the United States Administration in the terms of his question. The answers are of course matters for the United Nations Administration. At present, I cannot say more than that.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I address my questions to the last part of the Statement and to the diplomatic process. Can the noble Lord give the House an assurance that if Dr Blix and Mr ElBaradei report to the Security Council next week that they may require some more time for inspection, Her Majesty's Government will support that request?

Secondly, does the Minister agree that, while a lot of focus is placed on the second resolution of the United Nations, every bit as important is whether Dr Blix and Mr ElBaradei are, before any force is contemplated, able to state whether Saddam Hussein is in full compliance with the Security Council's resolutions? Will that judgment be one of the key factors as to whether the United Nations and the international community are able to address this matter as toughly as they ought to?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who has, as the House knows, vast experience of these matters. I cannot give him explicitly the reassurance he seeks as to his first question. But I remind him of something that he will very well know, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear on more than one occasion that UNMOVIC must have as much time as it needs before we reach any decisive view on the matter. The Prime Minister has said that its report back to the Security Council next Monday, 27th January, is not in itself an event that will necessarily lead to the next action but is a passage in what is happening. I can go that far but no further on the matter.

As to the noble Lord's second question, I can give him the reassurance that we are thinking in the terms that he mentions.

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us what fixed-wing air cover will be provided for our

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troops—not only our ground troops but also our naval forces—if they are deployed, and under whose command that will be?

My next question is not entirely frivolous, given the experience a previous government had in the Crimean war, but how will 20,000 pairs of boots equip 26,000 troops unless there is a complete fit?

Finally, arising from the Minister's reply to my noble friend about the Challenger 2 tanks, can he assure us that the work now being done will be completed before there is any question of any armoured vehicle moving in the desert— that they will be desertised before they are deployed—as he said the work, which was well in hand four months ago, is not yet complete?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord as to his last question. Of course the vehicles will be desertised by the time they are deployed.

As to the question about fixed-wing aircraft, the noble Lord will know that we have some aircraft in the region at present, which bravely enforce the no-fly zones. But, by their nature, aircraft can be deployed very quickly if they are required. The movements of enabling equipment, to which I referred, include some equipment and personnel, which would facilitate the deployment of additional aircraft in due course, if required. We do not see a need to deploy additional aircraft at present. But I give the assurance that we shall continue to inform the House—as I hope we have on various occasions on these matters—when such decisions are taken.

The noble Lord need not worry. There will be good and enough desert boots for everyone.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the no-fly zone. Can he confirm that over the past year or so the Iraqi anti-aircraft capacity has been directed rather aggressively towards those missions? Can he say whether in recent weeks the Iraqis have locked on to our aircraft to a lesser or smaller extent than in the past?

Lord Bach: My Lords, my noble friend understates the position. The Iraqis have behaved with great aggression during the period he talks about towards those operating in the no-fly zones. I remind the House that the reason for those missions is to protect the minorities living in those parts of Iraq who have been the subject of appalling treatment by Saddam Hussein in the past.

I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord's second question, but I shall write to him.

Courts Bill [HL]

6.58 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Lyell) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The general duty]:

Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 5, leave out from second "is" to "to" in line 6 and insert "a fair, efficient and effective system promoting confidence in the rule of law so as"

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the first amendment is to try to ensure that this crucial clause, around which the whole of the Bill revolves, is more meaningful and provides more guidance to the Lord Chancellor, the courts, justices of the peace and those who run the courts.

It is obvious—many have said it—that the Bill centralises power in the hands of the Lord Chancellor and the proposed national agency in a way that justice has never been centralised in this country. That being so, it is not just desirable but essential that the duty placed on the Lord Chancellor with regard to the running of the court system as a whole be as explicit as possible, without being too confining and inflexible. The Bill is littered with a panoply of powers and rights on the Lord Chancellor's behalf, so it is the more important that where there is an expression of his or her duty, it should be phrased in justiciable terms.

Clause 1(1) describes the Lord Chancellor's duty under the Bill as being,

    "to ensure that there is an efficient and effective system to support the carrying on the business of",

the courts,

    "and that appropriate services are provided for those courts".

One need not be Alice in Wonderland to think that the key words, "efficient", "effective" and "appropriate", are about as vague and empty of meaning as any three words could be. They are words that would appeal to the dictator and the tyrant as giving him about as much rope as he could ever require. Not for a second do I equate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor with tyranny, but my point is obvious.

The insertion proposed by Amendment No. 1 is fairly modest, but takes the general duty considerably further by referring to fairness and promotion of the interests of justice. Those words are not mine, they are taken from the mission statement of the courts agency. What is good for the legislative goose is good for the gander. I should be disappointed—nay, suspicious—if such gentle words as fairness and promotion of the interests of justice should be in any way obnoxious to the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 in the name of my noble friend, which are grouped with the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has moved. He is absolutely right; I agree with his introduction of his

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amendment. This clause is crucial and we need to give more guidance to the public, the courts and the Lord Chancellor about how the statutory duty will operate.

The Bill's drafting makes us believe that local justice is under threat from the Government. Although they wax lyrical about the importance of devolving government to the regions and localities, the Bill comprehensively centralises power in the hands of the Lord Chancellor. Amendment No. 2 challenges the Government to make it plain on the face of the Bill that they will consider the needs of rural as well as urban areas in fulfilling the duty in Clause 1. As the noble Lord explained, the clause places a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to ensure that there is an efficient and effective courts system and that he provides the right services for the courts. Our amendment adds necessary clarity to that duty.

It is all too easy for a Lord Chancellor keen on streamlining a centralised system in which he is carefully paring down the budget to withdraw services from some areas despite the cost and inconvenience that that may bring to the public who use the courts. The Committee may be aware from a Written Answer given in another place on 29th October that since 1997, 96 magistrates' courts have closed, while only 14 new ones have opened. From Appleby to Ripon, from Windermere to South Molton, in Devon, courts have closed the length and breadth of the country. The victims of crime, witnesses and defendants on bail all have to travel longer distances. As Lord Justice Auld pointed out on page 301 of his report:

    "In mid-Wales, Devon and Cornwall and Cumbria, for example, current closures can result in a 30 or 40 miles travelling distance to and from court, often without a choice of convenient public transport".

As the Deputy Chairman of the Magistrates' Association said:

    "the closures now are seriously going to disrupt local and community justice because they will just put pressure on other parts of the justice system—the police, probation and social services".

Lord Justice Auld explained in his report how the closures are driven by the Government. As he states:

    "In the case of closure of a magistrates' court, the decision is notionally that of the Magistrates' Courts Committee, but they are so bound by his"—

the Lord Chancellor's—

    "guidelines as to usage, available modern facilities, accommodation for prisoners and budgetary restrictions that, effectively, closures are driven by his Department".

So it seems only right that the statutory duty that the Bill imposes on the Lord Chancellor should make it as clear as day that his responsibility must be to provide a system that serves both rural and urban areas well.

Amendment No. 4 develops the theme explored by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, but I shall address a specific issue about the report to be issued. Clause 1(4) states that the Lord Chancellor must publish an annual report on the business of the courts. That implies that he does not have to address what is provided in the final line of subsection (1), line 10, which includes in his duty that he should ensure,

    "that appropriate services are provided for those courts".

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I table the amendment simply to ask the Minister to put on the record an assurance—which I hope that she can give with ease—that the report will cover not only details of the business of the supreme court, county courts and magistrates' courts but of the Lord Chancellor's performance in providing appropriate services. That would involve a statement of what he considers to be appropriate services and an assessment of how closely his provision has matched the ideal during the period of the report. If she is able to give such an assurance, she may want to consider some redrafting of the clause.

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