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Lord Dixon-Smith: I heard what the noble Baroness had to say. I would be the first to recognise the deficiencies of my amendment. For a moment, I thought that the noble Baroness would volunteer to take it over and put it right. It was a vain hope. She is in the position of having brought a wonderful invention before a court of adjudicators. It may be a wonderful invention, but the court of adjudicators has spotted a hole in it. Whenever we try to fill the hole, or find out what goes into it, we get an imprecise answer. We are in danger of sounding like a gramophone record with the needle stuck—a passe picture but the best I can think of.

However, I take encouragement from the fact that the noble Baroness welcomes a meeting. We should not allow the legislation to go forward with this appalling gap. I accept that the circumstances of each court administration council will be difficult. None the less, the Bill contains a requirement for the

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membership of court administration councils. It may be a minimum requirement, but, as I argued, it is insufficient.

I accept that other court interests must be taken into account. I had hoped that the noble Baroness might provide the solution, building on my suggestion. That has not happened. But we have the meeting, the results of which I look forward to. I beg the noble Baroness not to try to pursue the Bill further without filling the information gap. That needs to be done before we can approve the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 24A:

    Page 3, line 23, leave out "in" and insert "with particular reference to"

The noble and learned Lord said: The amendment also stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Kingsland. Very appropriately, it has been grouped with Amendment No. 27. I readily acknowledge that, if Amendment No. 27 is unsuccessful and subsection (3) is not deleted, my amendment will not make much sense. There is a transparent contradiction between the two.

In response to various amendments on Clause 4, the Minister, not without persuasive effect, argued that, as there was not yet a set model for the court administration council areas and as the Government were carrying out consultation, our appropriate course of action was to await the outcome of consultation. That is not a bad argument. We might argue that it would have been more appropriate to begin consulting earlier so that, by the time we debated the matter, we would have some idea of the Government's thoughts as a result of the consultation. The Minister seemed more than a little hurt that the Government, having carried out consultation for once, should be criticised for doing so. I do not criticise her for that. It is not a feeble argument. The obverse of what she said is that the Government do not yet have a clearly defined view on the appropriate size of a court administration council area in England or Wales. If that is correct, it follows that the areas cannot be so obvious or naturally fixed as to be constant for ever.

Subsection (3) restricts court administration councils, which can provide recommendations under subsection (1), but cannot do so,

    "on matters which do not relate specifically to the area for which the council is established".

There is an inherent contradiction. On the one hand, the Government are not yet clear on what the areas should be; on the other hand, they say that a council shall not offer advice to the Lord Chancellor unless it relates specifically to the area for which it is responsible. That is odd and wrong. As the Minister will appreciate from my previous interventions, I do not argue that the general duty imposed upon the Lord Chancellor should be diminished in any way. He should continue to hold that duty. But subsection (3) should be deleted. It is far too specific and restrictive.

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It would be more appropriate for the Lord Chancellor to follow my suggestion in Amendment No. 27A. The court administration council should give advice "with particular reference"—no more than that—to the area for which it is established. That is logical and sensible. It is extraordinary that if, for example, a council says that its area is unnatural and should be extended in a certain direction, the Lord Chancellor does not have to give the recommendation less regard than he might give to one relating to the council's area; rather, he is entitled under subsection (3) simply to ignore it. I do not suggest that this Lord Chancellor or any future one would do that. But his officials would be entitled to say that they did not need to listen further to a council's recommendation because it did not relate specifically to the area for which it was responsible.

I seek to amend the Bill to allow the Lord Chancellor's general duty to prevail, as it should. However, he should not be in a position to ignore a recommendation because it does not relate specifically to a council's area. In some circumstances it may be very appropriate for a council to say that its area is of the wrong size or location and that activity carried out along the motorway from it is imposing an excessive burden on it. It would be unusual and unattractive if that recommendation were not considered. I cannot see why the Lord Chancellor should not be great and grand enough to accept the advice of a council on matters not relating exclusively to the area for which it is responsible.

In that context, my amendment would provide that a council's recommendations should be only "with particular reference to" the area for which it is established. That should not mean that councils are wholly excluded from offering advice on matters relating to adjoining areas or those of a broader and more general character. It is only in that context that I move the amendment.

Lord Borrie: Does the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, envisage that the council for one area would offer recommendations relating to a neighbouring area where there is another council? Is not the noble and learned Lord's proposal a recipe for conflict between court administration councils?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: That is why I was careful to indicate that I thought that the general duty imposed on the Lord Chancellor of the day should be maintained. I can understand readily why the Lord Chancellor of the day, if faced with an opinion from one court administration council that relates to the area of another council, should weigh in the balance the value of what is being said. I cannot see what is unusual or unacceptable about that.

Following on from what the Minister said, I object to the idea that those areas are not absolutely fixed and naturally determined. The Government do not, as yet, know what the areas should be. The Lord Chancellor, in the exercise of his general duty, will be in a position to say, "Of course, I give greater weight to the council that represents this area". However, there may also be

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occasions on which he will want to say, "I have listened to what the adjoining council had to say and it has made a good point". As matters stand, he need not even consider the views of the adjoining council because, if the matter does not relate specifically to its area, its views will be taken off the desk and ignored. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I would like to say—

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I would not normally dare to rise before the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who has given longer service in this House and another place than I. The Chairman of Committees has been extremely helpful to us this afternoon, so I shall try to keep to the order. One of my amendments is grouped with Amendment No. 24A, so it may be convenient for the Committee if I speak briefly to Amendment No. 26 now. I endorse everything that my noble and learned friend said about Amendments Nos. 24A and 27.

Amendment No. 26 relates to the way in which the Lord Chancellor will use the recommendations to which my noble and learned friend referred to inform his decisions about how best to fulfil his duty. The Bill requires the Lord Chancellor to,

    "give due consideration to recommendations provided by the councils".

My amendment would change that to a requirement to "have regard" to recommendations provided by the councils, and I use it as a device to ask the Minister to explain to the Committee the exact nature of the requirement on the Lord Chancellor. Does the phrase "due consideration" mean that the Lord Chancellor will have to consider the recommendations but will then be given unfettered discretion to follow or reject them, for whatever reason, without giving those reasons?

Lord Waddington: I am also troubled by Clause 5(3), but the noble Baroness may be able to remove my worries. It is one thing for a court administration council to seek to make recommendations about how another council does its work in its area and another for a council not to be able to make any recommendation to the Lord Chancellor on the lines that experience has shown that the boundaries between two areas have been wrongly drawn. That is the point. If my reading of it is correct, Clause 5(3) would stop a council commenting even on that. I cannot believe that that is the Government's intention.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I was interested in what was said about the Lord Chancellor not even having to take views into account. That is right, but it would be a queer Lord Chancellor who was not made aware of nuances and feelings. They will all have the opportunity—such as the one that I am using now—of being approached by friendly magistrates asking for their point of view to be considered.

As I read the Bill and other papers, it seems that the intention is to focus attention or concentration in an area on the things that affect that area. I do not think

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for a moment that there is likely to be a free-for-all, in which councils not only try to improve and look after their own patch but are free to comment on others. All of us have experience of magistrates; they are a powerful bunch. They are well appointed, well experienced and conscious of the important part that they play in a community. There will be few, if any, occasions on which people will want to interfere in, adjust or influence matters outside their own patch. I will be interested in what the Minister says about the danger of that happening, but I cannot see the value of the amendment.

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