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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord proposes a clearly understandable addition to the Bill requiring the Lord Chancellor to ensure that sufficient resources are allocated for a court security officer to carry out his powers of exclusion, removal or restraint under Clause 48. However, it should be borne in mind that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is committed to improving court security and, even without significant additional funding or other resources, the Bill will do that. The provisions will provide court security officers in all courts with significant, effective and uniform powers, and also extensive training to enable them to exercise their powers safely, efficiently and lawfully.
It is anticipated that the number of court security officers in place will remain at least the same after the implementation of the Bill. Funding is available to develop the necessary training programmes, guidance notes and other matters that need to be in place prior to the start-up of the new system. That will ensure that the new security provisions will be more effective even without funding for additional court security officers. From that point of view, I respectfully suggest that the amendment is unnecessary. I am afraid that it is practically unworkable. I am glad to see that the noble Lord is content for me to dispense with explaining why.
Of course, the Government accept that funding is the key to the pace and scope of improvement in security in the courts. However, security remains high on the agenda of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and the importance of planning for improvement remains. I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for raising the important point but, for the reasons that I have given, the amendment is inappropriate for inclusion in the Bill. I therefore invite him to withdraw it.
Information technology systems are becoming increasingly important throughout the justice world. They are already vital to the business world, but justice is catching up. They are important for the smooth and efficient running of the court system, and provide an effective way of ensuring that information is stored correctly and available when needed. When the fines system is set up, the matter will be even more important, as it will be one not only of sharing information on cases as they go through, but of tracking. In this modern age, it is essential to have an up-to-date and cost-effective IT system throughout the Lord Chancellor's Department, so that information can be shared electronically with other courts, and to enable the transfer of electronic information to other enforcement agencies.
Earlier, the Minister explained the Government's thoughts as regards extending penalties in relation to fines, and she referred to benefit payments. The Benefits Agency, very early on, went through a rather painful but ultimately successful exercise in transferring its information systems to IT. Its system is up and ready and it is important that the system in the Lord Chancellor's Departmentif it is to interact with the agency on fines collection enforcementshould be compliant.
We on these Benches believe that it is necessary for the inspectors to monitor such an essential system, particularly in the light of the current IT systems failures within the Lord Chancellor's Department. I referred to the matter in relation to a different kind of amendment in Committee.
The system which is currently in place and would have to be monitored was set up under the private finance initiative with ICLnow known as Fujitsu Servicesis called "Libra". The project has already cost the taxpayer twice the estimated cost. It is now costing about £390 million.
I raised a rather different amendment in Committee. Since my remarks about IT then, the National Audit Office has issued its report, New IT systems for Magistrates' Courts: the Libra project, which I have in front of me. The report concludes that, despite 20 years of throwing money at courtsI recognise that this goes back beyond 1997 but it must be said that that report seems to apportion blame on this occasion only post-1997there is still no working system of IT within them and that the Lord Chancellor's Department has made "some truly basic mistakes".
We understand that it is extremely difficult to set up IT systems in any event, but particularly within the justice system; and it is costly. It is vital, therefore, that we should be assured that, in future, it will be the task of the inspector within the unified courts administration, as part of his or her job, not only to report on the setting up of these systems and on their implementation and effectiveness, but to make recommendations as to how they might be better developed in the future.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give assurances about the role of the inspector under the new UCA and an indication of the Government's response to the report by the National Audit Office. I do not expect her to give a detailed response, but to say how the Government have taken the report into account in drafting the Bill and in terms of how its provisions will be taken forward. I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as always, I have listened with great interest to the arguments advanced by the noble Baroness in support of the amendment. However, I believe that it is unnecessary.
Noble Lords will undoubtedly recall that during the debate on 20th January on Amendment No. 3 (at cols. 532536 of the Official Report) I explained that "services" included information technology services, and an amendment identical to this one standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, was subsequently withdrawn.
Clause 54 places a duty on the inspectors to inspect and report to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on the system that supports the carrying on of the business of those courts listed in Clause 54(2)currently, the Crown Court, county courts and magistrates' courtsand the service provided for those same courts. Those services include, among
It is our intention that all of those services, including information technology services, will be subject to inspection. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness feels that her amendment is not necessary and that she will withdraw it.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her response and her assurances that the inspector of court administration will indeed report on IT services. I took from her remarks a caution for myself: I shall not send her some of my more well-meaning arrangements about withdrawing amendments in future. I shall have to consider the implications of that. Her reference to the fact that a similar amendment in Committee, which stood in the names of my noble friends Lord Kingsland and Lady Seccombe, who is in her place, had been withdrawn rather implied that it had been withdrawn because we were satisfied with the answer that was given to Amendments Nos. 3 and 15. I believe that Amendment No. 15 was grouped with Amendment No. 3 on that occasion. That was not the case. We withdrew that amendment because the Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, had become increasingly exercised about the time that we were taking that evening. In a spirit of good humour I offered to withdraw the amendment. Gosh, I must think about that in future!
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not want to discourage the noble Baroness from so doing but usually she kindly indicates when she will return to an amendment that she is withdrawing. I rather thought that that amendment had been withdrawn in that spirit. If I misunderstood her, I withdraw any such comments; I should hate to discourage her from continuing along her happy path in terms of the way in which we co-operate on this and other Bills.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, our happy paths will continue, not necessarily in parallel lines or even overlapping; but we will carry on our merry way. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.