Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the remit of the 50,000 research contract is unlikely to go quite as wide as the change in social mores to which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, refers. However, it will consider all aspects relating to changes in licensing laws, including liquor and entertainment licensing.

Acts of Parliament: Internet Publication

2.58 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, all Acts are published simultaneously on the Internet and in print as soon as possible after Royal Assent. It is important to ensure that an accurate approved text is published and that all users have access at the same time to the same text. To do otherwise might raise issues of fairness. When a Bill has been heavily amended during its final stages, there may be some delay between Royal Assent and the receipt of the final text by the Stationery Office.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware of a case recently reported in The Times, in which the Home Secretary made an order for the removal of an asylum seeker on 14th November 2002, under Section 115 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, two weeks before the Act was published? It was a matter of great concern to the Court of Appeal. Does he accept that it is intolerable that decisions should be taken on statutes that are not yet in the public domain? Does he agree that the best way in which to deal with the situation would be to ensure that all statutes are put on to the Internet as soon as they receive Royal Assent?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am familiar with the case which attracted significant criticism from the noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls with regard to the delay in publication. The difficulty was that the Bill received Royal Assent on 7th November only two hours after your Lordships agreed to the final round of Commons amendments. Therefore, there was uncertainty about the outcome. The Public Bill Office could not make a proof copy

10 Feb 2003 : Column 465

until Royal Assent had been granted. The proof copy was sent to the printers the next day. There were two further stages. The Public Bill Office, parliamentary counsel and the relevant government departments had to check the proofs carefully which then had to be printed. Checking the proofs took eight working days and the printing took five working days. I do not pretend that that situation was satisfactory.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that the use of the Internet as regards the publication of parliamentary material could be much improved and speeded up? Is he aware that in the other place the minutes of evidence of certain Select Committees are put on the Internet the following day? That is an enormous advantage for those of us who like to keep in touch with what is happening in certain Select Committees at the time when such events are making the greatest impact on public affairs.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. I revert to the general topic raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in saying that many judgments are published immediately on the Internet. Some benefit would have been gained from immediate Internet publication of the statute we are discussing. However, that would not have met the essential point that Bills cannot, or should not, be published on the Internet until they have been carefully checked. Four substantial Bills received Royal Assent at about the same time and the resource simply could not cope. We are trying to prioritise important Bills. I accept that the one specified by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, would have fallen into that category.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the Information Committee is examining proposals to display amendments daily on the Internet? Although that is not immediately in sight, it is certainly something that we are working towards.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is very important to disseminate accurate public information as soon as possible. Normally, there is a gap between the passage of a Bill and Royal Assent of the order of two months. The Royal Assent we are discussing was expedited and a delay arose in the printing of the relevant document.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of the concern felt on all sides of the House about the gap between citizens and Parliament, will the noble and learned Lord, who is after all distinguished for his support for modern approaches, consider the possibility of publishing draft Bills and explanatory notes on the Internet to encourage the public to comment on them? A precedent exists with regard to some of the operations of the US Congress whereby Bills are published on the Internet in draft form and the public are invited to make suggestions on how they might be amended.

10 Feb 2003 : Column 466

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is an extremely valuable suggestion. I hope that as we develop pre-legislative scrutiny—to which I believe we are all committed—that useful avenue will be explored. One would then be likely to obtain a wider and a more fully informed public response.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, Acts of Parliament and their associated Hansards should be published on the Internet. But what happens if the relevant Hansard is incorrect? That happened recently with regard to a Treasury matter when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, wrote to Members of your Lordships' House to correct a statement he had made at the Dispatch Box. However, that letter has been seen only by a handful of Members of your Lordships' House. Will important correspondence of that kind also be published on the Internet?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that the letter mentioned by the noble Lord is in the Library of the House which, as we know, is the most appropriate place in which to conceal material one does not want widely disseminated. That is a constitutional convention of many centuries' standing. However, I shall certainly consider that point and any similar points.

I believe that I may inadvertently have made a slip of the tongue. I meant—I thought that I had said this—to refer to a period of two months between Royal Assent and commencement. If I said between amendment and Royal Assent, I was wrong to do so.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House say when the Government will finally be in a position to deliver the Answers to Written Questions electronically?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, generous hearted as I am, that is a shade wide of the Question.


3.4 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I wish to say a few brief words about the progress of business later today. The two Northern Ireland orders were scheduled to be discussed in the dinner break. Following discussion in the usual channels it has been agreed that it will be more convenient for all if the Courts Bill continues until about 8 p.m. and the orders are taken as the final business after consideration of the Courts Bill.

Courts Bill [HL]

3.5 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

10 Feb 2003 : Column 467

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Irvine of Lairg).)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 43:

    After Clause 13, insert the following new clause—

(1) There shall be kept in the office of the keeper of the rolls for each local justice area a supplemental list as provided for by this Act (in this Act referred to as "the supplemental list").
(2) There shall be entered in the supplemental list the name of any justice of the peace who has attained the age of 70.
(3) The name of a justice of the peace shall be entered in the supplemental list if he applies for it to be so entered and the application is approved by the Lord Chancellor.
(4) A person's name shall be removed from the supplemental list if—
(a) he ceases to be a justice of the peace; or
(b) the Lord Chancellor so directs.
(5) A justice of the peace for any area while his name is entered in the supplemental list shall not by reason of being a justice for that area be qualified as a justice to do any act or to be a member of any committee or other body."

The noble Baroness said: Before I speak to Amendment No. 43, I declare an interest. I have had the pleasure of receiving a letter from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor informing me that I am included on the supplemental list.

This amendment is not of the greatest judicial importance but I am sure that many Members of the Committee will agree that it is important in human terms. It is an amendment about which I feel most strongly as I believe that deleting Sections 7 to 9 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 has no merit at all. At Second Reading (at col. 21 of Hansard of 9th December) I challenged the Government to explain why they wished to abolish the supplemental list.

The lay magistracy can trace its heritage to the late 12th century when Richard I commissioned knights to preserve the peace. Since that time the Justices of the Peace, as they have been known since 1361, have worked tirelessly in the pursuit of justice in this country.

The Auld report provides the astounding figure that lay magistrates deal with about 91 per cent of all summary criminal cases. The Auld report also states that the lay magistracy is,

    "unpaid, receiving only a modest allowance for financial loss and subsistence".

Furthermore, Justices of the Peace,

    "are required to sit for a minimum of 26 half-day court sittings each year, but on average sit 40 or more times a year".

Surely that dedication to a job with very few rewards which makes such a difference to the local community should be recognised by inclusion on a supplemental list. I am wholeheartedly opposed to the abolition of the supplemental list which strikes me as an

10 Feb 2003 : Column 468

unnecessary attack on people who have given at least 15, and often up to 30, years of their life to the community by their work on the Bench.

Membership of such a list enables a retired lay magistrate to sign passports and witness signatures—something which professionals such as doctors rarely have time for nowadays and, if they do, they probably require a fee. Moreover, supplemental justices often contribute a great deal to community projects, mock trial competitions and recruitment drives, and for this reason are of substantial ongoing value to their community.

In the letter which the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, sent to noble Lords over Christmas, she stated that the Government believe that the list now serves little substantive purpose. We hope that that does not mean that when people reach the age of 70 they are to be airbrushed out of history. But I was encouraged to see that the noble Baroness went on to state that she recognises the need to value the achievement of retired lay magistrates, and that the Government would consider with care the points raised at Second Reading. I hope that we shall be told that as a result of that further consideration our fears can be allayed. This is an important matter for so many people. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page