I now turn to county courts, of which I have great experience. I share the doubts expressed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. A single court may have some administrative advantages. However, there are two tests. First, does it increase or decrease access to justice? Secondly, does it improve the quality of the decision-making in relation to a particular case? As to the first question about access to justice, that depends on the maintenance of buildings and offices in every part. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to the name “county”. The reason why we had county courts was that they were immediately available, not just the courts themselves but the offices where you could get writs and warrants—the noble

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Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and I remember the one in Wrexham very well. That meant that, without witnesses having to travel too far, a case could be determined within the community. Secondly, on the quality of the decision, there is the continuity of the judge in a particular case. You did not apply on one day for an interim order and on another day for another interim order, only to find yourself in front of different judges when you got to the end of the process. You had continuity of the judge. Sometimes that was not a very advantageous thing, but that is what you had—the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, knows exactly what I am thinking. So I am not sure about county courts. I hope that it is not just a cost-saving measure and that some real principle is behind it.

As to family courts, I welcome them. The expense and delay in public law cases has been recognised in the Norgrove report. Proceedings have indeed got out of hand, with expert after expert being called and cases dragging on in a way that does not assist—I think there is a delay of 55 weeks at the moment to get a case before the court. Can the Minister say what has happened to the Family Justice Board that was promised this month in the Government’s response to the Norgrove report? Hopefully that will be able to refocus private cases between partners and children on mediation and dispute resolution, which I hope is the way that we are going to go.

I went on the London Legal walk a week ago today to raise money, ironically, for CABs and law centres, which we debated at much length. I had the opportunity of discussing the present situation with some family law practitioners. I was told that district judges are quicker; magistrates are much slower but are more easily persuaded; and litigants who appear in person will inevitably make a case last twice as long—but I do not want to go back over areas that we covered extensively before.

As regards television, will it cause advocates to act differently in court? I doubt it. I do not know what your Lordships’ experience is but in this place I am not conscious of television cameras when I am speaking. I am conscious of them only when I am sitting next to the person who is speaking. That probably accords with your Lordships’ experience, particularly if the person I am sitting next to goes on for some time. Oh, I am being kicked. As for the drama of television performances, in the political field Prime Minister’s Questions must take most of the viewing time. The rest of the parliamentary proceedings are a cure for insomnia in the middle of the night. It is the drama of Prime Minister’s Questions that attracts an audience.

Where is that in the courts? In the criminal court, it is in the cross-examination of major witnesses, particularly victims. We can see that in the Leveson inquiry at the moment, as we can again with the cross-examination of the men in the dock. Yet the most dramatic moment is undoubtedly the delivery of the verdict. I can tell your Lordships that that can be hugely dramatic. People faint; there are screams and shouts. Nothing on the stage, in my experience, or in any film I have ever seen can match the drama of a jury returning a verdict. That is the moment, but of course it cannot be allowed on television. What we must not have is for

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the public to usurp the jury in any way to come to a conclusion, perhaps to vote over the telephone. Perhaps the Ministry might think it a good idea to have a number that everybody phones to give their verdict, and then it could collect the proceeds from the phone calls. That is not the way to proceed. We must keep the tightest possible control on television in the court-room. I agree that it would be right to have sentencing remarks. If anybody wants to watch arguments or judgments in the Court of Appeal that would, like parliamentary proceedings, be a cure for insomnia.

9.02 pm

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, this has been a most excellent Second Reading debate. I, like so many other Members of the House, I am sure, have found it a most enriching and educating experience. It is yet again a case of a Government bringing in at least one miscellaneous provisions criminal law Bill a year. I think this must be true over the past 25 years, possibly even longer. On previous occasions I have been irreverent enough to suggest that some day we should have a Bill of Rights and a written constitution, and that the obverse of that Bill of Rights should be that a Government should be allowed only one miscellaneous provisions criminal Bill every two years. That was an academic point when made in earlier years. It may now be much more relevant, in light of the fact that Clause 2 of the House of Lords reform Bill has been demolished by the Richard committee and that there may well be a unanimous view that only a written constitution can prevent two elected Houses committing mutual strangulation.

Be that as it may, at this late hour I will confine my remarks to Clause 17. As the House will know that clause deals, first, with the creation of a single, unified county court for England and Wales and, secondly, the creation by subsection (3) of a family court. I was most interested to hear what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said about her late brother Michael and his most progressive and pioneering views, which he articulated in the early 1980s, in relation to a family court.

On the question of a county court, doubts have been raised as to exactly what is achieved by this. The county court has a fascinating history. It is of Anglo-Saxon origin, probably predating the Norman conquest by a couple of centuries, but it is a very different body from a criminal court as such, dealing with criminal and civil matters. Indeed, it was almost rendered unnecessary and irrelevant by the assize system of Henry II in the 12th century. The County Courts Act 1846 created a small claims court, something entirely different from the earlier county court. It was a very modest development, and in the 176 years since then it has grown out of all proportion and beyond all imaginations.

That is the point that I make in relation to whether there should be unification. The strongest claim for bringing together the 170 individual courts—this rich patchwork quilt of little fiefdoms—into one court is brought about more than anything by the fact of the tremendous development that there has been in that court in the past 20 or 30 years. Thousands of heavy, complex cases, which normally would be heard in the

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High Court—the High Court would never be able to handle anything like that with its present membership—have been successfully handled by the county court, in many cases by circuit judges sitting as deputy High Court judges, but in many cases by ordinary circuit judges. Therefore, one has to take that very much into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, asks the question of exactly what it will achieve—what is the added value? It seems to me that one can put the case in the following fairly balanced way. There are obvious advantages to using the human and material resources of those 170 courts to the best possible effect but there are two very substantial difficulties and dangers. We had a cull of the county courts in England and Wales some two years ago. I forget exactly how many were lost but dozens disappeared.

Under Schedule 9, which deals with this particular reform, the Lord Chancellor will have massive powers to decide which county courts exist or not. He will decide where this conjoined, unified court for England and Wales will sit, and there may well be a further cull. I appeal for the particular consideration of rural areas, which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I know very well, where the travelling distances involved for people who do not have private transport are so immense—very often half the day is taken up with two or three bus or train journeys—that one has to take into account that justice will be denied to people who live in those areas unless one maintains broadly the structure that we have at the moment.

One other matter is illustrative of what can happen with centralisation. It happened two or three years ago, when the Lord Chancellor decided that all bulk issues should take place through the Salford County Court. This meant that hundreds of thousands of processes were commenced there on behalf of bodies that were of national stature. The effect of that on the viability of other county courts could be immense, making any profit and loss trading account considerations largely irrelevant. There was no consultation at all with the Welsh judiciary, local government or the managers of county courts. It should never have been done in that way. If it is humanly possible in some way to revisit that situation, I will be very glad to see it dealt with in a fair and balanced way.

I come now to the question of the family court. Yes, this development has been waiting at our door for a very long time. I have no doubt that it is to be welcomed. I do not think it revolutionary. As a circuit judge for many years, dealing with cases that had commenced in the county court, I found it easy to send them either up to the High Court or down to a magistrates’ court. There is nothing revolutionary in this at all, but again there is the power of the Lord Chancellor to decide exactly what shall be heard at which courts and at what level. Those powers are very considerable.

I end with the obvious point that the setting up of a family court creates a new forum but does not deal with the dozens of issues now coming to the boil in relation to family matters. I refer in particular to the Munro report, the Narey report and the remainder of the Northcroft report. Dozens of pioneering and

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progressive decisions have to be made. When the Minister comes to sum up the debate, I would welcome some indication as to what the timetable might be. I pay tribute to the Government tonight for having examined so many of these major reforms in a sensitive and careful way. It would be entirely wrong to tack any of them on to latter stages of the Bill. However, I would like some idea of the order of priority and the possible timetable.

9.11 pm

Lord Beecham: My Lords, as many speakers in this very thoughtful debate have implied—notably my noble friend Lady Smith—for all the Bill’s positive features, it is yet another example of the Government’s recidivist tendency to legislate on the hoof. In this case, it is a demonstrably unshod hoof. From the crass failure that my noble friend identified to provide a framework document for Part 1 of the Bill in relation to the National Crime Agency, to the uncertainty about when we will be informed of the outcome of consultation on the community sentencing provisions and the response to that consultation, let alone details of what the Government plan to include the Bill, to the extraordinarily wide powers to amend any enactment contained in Clause 2(4), which deals with counterterrorism, through to the uncertainties about the financial implications of the establishment of the National Crime Agency, the latter’s relationship—touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—with the police and crime commissioners, the powers of the NCA director, the recurrent issues of accountability not only of the NCA itself but of immigration officers under Part 3, the implications of the abolition of the police improvement authority, the lack of clarity over details of the opposed new offence of drug-driving, which all of us would welcome in principle, and the reliance yet again on regulations as yet unseen instead of primary legislation, the Bill falls lamentably below the standards that your Lordships’ House and the British people are entitled to expect, especially given its importance in relation to our system of justice.

It is as well, then, that the Bill starts and will finish in your Lordships’ House where, thanks to the presence of so many former senior members of the judiciary, experienced legal practitioners at the highest level—among whom I am not included—and many other Members with a passionate concern for liberty, accountability and due process, it can expect to receive more, and more effective, scrutiny than the whipped procedures of the House of Commons all too frequently allow. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Henley. Continuing our Dickensian dialogue—perhaps I should say “monologue”—I rather see him today in the role of Sergeant Buzfuz, briefed not by the plaintiff on a breach of promise action against Mr Pickwick but by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, today’s combined equivalent of the Circumlocution Office. We may, however, return to the question of breach of promise—breach of electoral promise—when we come in due course to the Justice and Security Bill.

I now address those issues in the Bill which fall primarily within the responsibilities of the Ministry of Justice. In relation to creating a single county court, my considerable concern is the venue. For most purposes,

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as we have just heard, this is at present based on one or both parties having a connection with the geographical area of the county court in which proceedings commence. I hope that the Minister can assure us that this will remain the case and, if it is, how that can be secured. To pick up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, will he also assure us that we will not see a further rash of closures of county court facilities for the reasons that he gave? No doubt corporate clients would find it very convenient to choose the venue at the expense of the interests of individual claimants.

In passing, it is worth noting that the ministerial statement heralding this change also announced increases in the small-claim limits in the county court below which it is impossible for a successful litigant to obtain his costs: first to £10,000, then to £15,000. This is not in the Bill but it is connected to the question of access to justice and it would be a grave blow to claimants and a boon, no doubt, to the insurance industry, which of course is such a generous donor to the Conservative Party.

On family courts, the Bill carries forward the generally well received recommendations of the Norgrove report. I have one particular concern because the Bill is not clear on this: will a single lay magistrate, who counts as a judge in the Family Court under Schedule 10’s insertion of new Section 31Y in the Matrimonial Proceedings Act, be empowered to determine contested cases? That would perhaps be less than desirable. I raised the matter in discussion with the Bill team and I do not know whether the Minister has yet ascertained whether that would be the case.

Mentioning the magistracy brings me to a slightly different point, one hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. Last night I was in discussion with the lord-lieutenant in my area, who expressed considerable concern on his part and, as he put it, on behalf of his brother lords-lieutenant, about the position within the magistrates’ court system, where the feeling is that lay magistrates are increasingly being displaced by full-time paid district judges. I confess that I have not appeared in a magistrates’ court for nearly 20 years, and the role of the justices’ clerks—as they used to be called; I am not sure that the appellation is still relevant—seems to have changed. Apparently the clerks are no longer responsible to magistrates’ courts’ committees but, increasingly, seem to be responsible upwards, to the Ministry of Justice. As the magistracy becomes more professionalised, I suppose that that is likely to be increased. There is a concern, which was raised in the debate on the Queen’s Speech by a Member opposite, that local justice might be somewhat imperilled.

In relation to judicial appointments, generally we welcome the steps to promote equality and diversity. It is worth proceeding with the concept of part-time appointments in the higher courts, recognising that there may be a risk, as some of your Lordships have indicated, and practical difficulties. It is not necessary to assume that if things turn out to be less effective than envisaged we are stuck with the system indefinitely. I suggest that it would be a matter to be kept under review, and that could be provided for in the legislation in the first place. However, we are so far behind in

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promoting equality and diversity that it seems worth while at least to attempt to see whether that particular provision could improve the position.

It was interesting to hear a number of Members of your Lordships’ House—my noble friend Lady Jay, the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Prashar, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—all expressing concerns about the desirability of the Lord Chancellor having a vote in the selection of the president and deputy president of the Supreme Court. I share those concerns. Proceeding in that way may seem questionable, as we may be thought to be bringing the Executive too close to postholders who ultimately may have to sit in judgment on the Executive. I do not mean just the Lord Chancellor as an individual; I mean the Government of whom the Lord Chancellor is obviously a member. It is also not clear to me whether the powers of the Lord Chancellor to prescribe regulations about appointments in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and others is or should be absolute or whether there is to be any parliamentary scrutiny—not of the appointments but of the regulations that will govern those appointments.

On Clause 22 and the question of filming or recording proceedings, we welcome the proposals for Court of Appeal hearings and remarks on sentencing in Crown Courts to be broadcast, subject always to the decision of the trial judge. I think that there would be a concern, which I would certainly share, if it were envisaged that those two categories should be expanded and other areas of the court’s activity made subject to broadcasting. I endorse Liberty’s suggestion that these two proposals should be embodied in the Bill—possibly with a sunset clause to allow the position to be evaluated after a period—and that in any event any extension of categories should be subject to primary legislation and not implemented through regulation.

On Clause 23, which deals with community sentences, simply giving the Secretary of State the power to make regulations for or in connection with non-custodial sentences is unacceptable, particularly in the light of the paucity of information currently available and the length of time before it will become available, to which I and others have referred. Moreover, there is a question about how the whole clause stands with last week’s White Paper on anti-social behaviour, which we have not yet had an opportunity to debate. That whole set of proposals needs to be thoroughly debated and we need to know exactly what the Government have in mind before we can make a judgment about it.

On the provisions relating to immigration under Part 3, my noble friend Lady Smith indicated a number of concerns that, again, I share. The first relates to the abolition of the right of appeal against refusal of entry clearance to the UK under Clause 24, which undoes the Labour Government’s changes in relation to family visit visas. As Liberty points out, this would create great difficulties in relation to, for example, important family events, weddings or funerals or for visiting the sick. My noble friend Lord Judd quite rightly raised the apparent bypassing of family values on the question of family visit visas.

There is also a potential problem in relation to Clause 25 concerning appeals against a decision to vary a person’s leave to enter or remain in the UK

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when he or she is outside the jurisdiction when the decision is made. That could make it extremely difficult for the right to be exercised.

Under Clause 26 and Schedule 14, we have the conferment on immigration officers of very wide powers without an evident framework for accountability such as, as in the case of the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Moreover, paragraph 380 of the Explanatory Notes indicates that the clause confers on the border agency’s chief operating officer the power,

“to authorise applications from immigration officers for the purpose of investigating organised immigration crime”,

without defining the latter term. What is “organised immigration crime”? We need to be clear about that. In any event, the powers conferred by Clause 26 do not seem to be limited to those purposes. Again, we have wide-ranging powers without any real boundaries or constraints.

Clause 27 deals with drugs and driving, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, spoke with such effect during the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Like others, I look forward to hearing from her again in Committee. The Government must address the concerns that she expressed and that have been expressed by Liberty, the British Medical Association and, as we have heard tonight, other noble Lords about the practical implications of a widely drawn offence. It must surely be confined to substances that are likely to affect driving ability and which the user knows, or ought to know, are likely to have such an effect and, as we have heard, can be measured.

Other matters may be raised in the course of the Bill’s progress, and one that may make an appearance is metal theft. That was debated at some length in the very late hours during the passage of the legal aid Act, as some noble Lords will recall, and the Government indicated that measures would be brought forward. I would have thought that the Bill would have provided an opportunity to deal with this matter of considerable concern that affects public safety as well as having considerable financial implications. We may take the opportunity of tabling an amendment to that end.

The Opposition look forward to working with the Government and Members from all parts of the House to improve a Bill that, in some areas, introduces welcome reforms but in others threatens to undermine, to some extent, parliamentary and public accountability and infringe civil liberties. It will be for your Lordships’ House to improve the Bill and send it to the House of Commons in a form that we can only hope will represent an improvement and which will allow us to achieve a consensus on those matters on which, broadly speaking, we share a civilised view but that the Bill does not quite match in the reach of its provisions.

9.26 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for that offer at the end. That is exactly how we wish to approach the Bill. I am grateful for the broad welcome that has come from all parts of the House about the thrust of the Bill and I recognise

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that, in a limited time, people are bound to raise the points that they do not like rather than emphasise the points that they do like.

The noble Lord was a little modest in his introduction. He is a very distinguished lawyer and, as he knows, I am not. In the two years I have been in this job, I have got used to saying very quickly to people, “I am not a lawyer”. I have now abandoned that mantra because my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford took me for lunch the other day with a very distinguished professor of law from the University of Yale. I used my usual defensive opening, “Well, I am not a lawyer”, and he leant forward and said, “Then I’ll speak very slowly”.

However, I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that we have benefited from a debate in which we have been able to hear a wide range of people with tremendous depth of experience about the issues under discussion. We have heard from some of our most distinguished judicial representatives: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is a former Lord Chief Justice; my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, is a former Lord Chancellor; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, is a former Law Lord; and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, was President of the Family Division. It is always a great pleasure to hear their contributions. I always have some mixed feelings about the interventions from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay because he says things in such a gentle voice that I am convinced that he is on my side but at about two o'clock in the morning I wake up and realise that he has delivered the most devastating critique of what I was hoping to do. So I shall wait for that 2 am moment some time tomorrow morning.

This has been a very good debate. I fully take on board that we have a task in Committee to look at these proposals. Some of the issues that have been raised will have to be explained, debated and discussed, and how we propose to do things will have to be weighed against alternatives. That is certainly how my noble friend Lord Henley and I will take this forward. I would also like to put on record our thanks, particularly for Part 2 of the Bill, to the Constitution Committee for its contribution: a very timely report. With her usual courtesy, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, explained to the House, and to me separately, why she could not be with us for the wind-ups tonight. I know that she will play a full part when we reach Committee.

I will try to cover a range of the issues raised during the debate. Although we will be returning to them all in Committee, it is right that I also try deal with them tonight. A large number of people—the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Harris and Lord Prescott, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Doocey—raised the question of whether there was an incipient conflict between the accountability of the PCCs and the National Crime Agency. I am not sure. I think that the best answer probably came from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his recognition that there will probably be a certain tension in these roles but not a destructive tension.

Somebody mentioned that there has been a debate since 1929 about how national and how local a police force should be. It is true that in this country we have

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had policing that has done both, but as fresh challenges have come up, successive Administrations have sought to create agencies that can meet the wider challenges that go beyond localism without losing the benefits of localism. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that this is not a slippery slope towards an FBI. It will be a powerful agency, and again I hear what the noble Lord says about the importance of the power of direction if it is going to be effective. However, that is something that we can look at in Committee.

I move on to the powers of the director-general to direct a police force in England and Wales to perform a particular task, and whether that conflicts with the chief officer’s accountability to the local police and crime commissioner. The power of the director-general directly to task a police force will be a very limited backstop measure, used only when co-operative arrangements cannot be agreed on and where it is essential for the national effort against serious and organised crime that action is taken by that police force. This power does not cut across the responsibility of police and crime commissioners to hold their chief constables properly to account for the totality of policing in that force’s area, including tackling cross-boundary policing challenges such as organised crime, terrorism, public disorder, civil emergencies and cyberthreats. This includes the responsibility of police and crime commissioners to ensure that their chief constable co-operates effectively with the National Crime Agency.

Noble Lords asked whether this would be done within a reduced budget. We are clear that the National Crime Agency, like SOCA, will need to live within its spending review settlement, which will be based on the respective budgets of the precursor organisations. The agency will deliver more through its enhanced intelligence capability, capturing a single national picture of the threat presented by organised crime. It will also have more effective tasking and co-ordinating arrangements, enabling more effective prioritisation and smarter use of its own and others’ assets.

Lord Berkeley: The noble Lord twice mentioned organised crime. Will he explain what disorganised crime is?

Lord McNally: Not at 9.35 pm after six hours of debate. We will leave that for another day.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Smith, asked whether CEOP would retain its identity. CEOP will keep its ability to create and maintain the innovative partnerships that are so valuable. It will keep its independent brand and multidisciplinary workforce, and it will have a ring-fenced budget, operational independence within the NCA and independent governance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Dear, raised the question of human trafficking. The National Crime Agency will have a key role in building on the existing arrangements for tackling human trafficking by using its enhanced intelligence capabilities and co-ordinating functions to target organised criminal gangs involved in human trafficking, wherever they are. The UK Human Trafficking Centre will move into the National

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Crime Agency as part of the precursor transfer of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. This will ensure that human trafficking continues to receive the priority and attention that it deserves.

My noble friend Lord Alderdice raised the important and particular issue of how the National Crime Agency will operate in Northern Ireland. The NCA will be a UK-wide agency. In framing the provisions of the Bill and developing the operating model on the ground, we were acutely conscious of the fact that policing is devolved in Northern Ireland, and of the need to work with the grain of existing police arrangements. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary worked closely with the Minister of Justice, David Ford, to ensure that the legislative framework properly respects the devolution settlement. The provisions were designed not to interfere with the important accountability arrangements for policing in Northern Ireland. In accordance with the Sewel convention, it will be necessary for the Northern Ireland Assembly to agree a legislative consent Motion in respect of the provisions in Part 1 of the Bill. I am sure that the Assembly will debate the matter robustly, and we will welcome any proposals for strengthening the partnership working between the National Crime Agency and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Doocey, Lady Hamwee, Lady Harris and Lady Smith, and the noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Condon, raised the question of counterterrorism functions. We have made it very clear that decisions on the future of counterterrorism policing should not be taken until after the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and after the NCA has been fully established. Only then will counterterrorism policing be considered, and decisions taken on what role the NCA might play. Without prejudice to any further decision on the issue, Clause 2 will enable the functions of the NCA to be extended by order to cover counterterrorism policing. Any such order would be subject to super-affirmative procedures to ensure full parliamentary scrutiny. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that we do want any turf wars. Just as we will set an example in this House of constructive examination of the cases, I hope the various police authorities will do the same.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith and my noble friend Lady Harris raised the question of whether the new agency will be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. I am the Minister responsible for freedom of information and I have given this considerable thought. At the moment SOCA is covered by the Freedom of Information Act. The question I had to face was whether it was cleaner simply to make the larger body exempt. It is a matter that can be well examined in Committee. We are committed to making the National Crime Agency open, public-facing and transparent. Careful consideration was given to whether the National Crime Agency should be brought under the Freedom of Information Act, which was not the case with the Serious Organised Crime Agency. We want the public to have access to a wide range of information about what the agency is doing, how it is performing, its internal procedures and the latest assessment of the threat from organised crime. The measures in the Bill, such as a duty to publish information,

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will ensure that this happens. The National Crime Agency will handle large volumes of sensitive information, including intelligence material which could have a critical impact on national security. If the National Crime Agency were subject to the Freedom of Information Act, there is a risk that international and private-sector partners would be more reluctant to share information with the agency. Intelligence shows that organised criminals will seek to exploit any avenue, including freedom of information requests, to further their criminal activity. As I said, it was a matter of a judgment. I am very happy to revisit it in Committee. Perhaps when we do so, the Opposition could tell us why SOCA was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and we could explore their thinking at that time. I suspect it was not very far from the thinking that we have gone through when looking at the setting-up of this agency.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Condon, asked about the National Policing Improvement Agency functions. The wind-down of the agency is well under way with some functions already transferred to the Home Office and others to the Serious Organised Crime Agency as an interim step to their new home in the National Crime Agency in 2013. A programme of further transfers to other successor organisations, such as the new police professional body and the new police information and communications technology company is being managed in conjunction with the National Policing Improvement Agency. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already set out the details of these transfers in two Written Ministerial Statements. The future destination of all remaining National Policing Improvement Agency functions will be announced in due course.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Lords, Lord Elystan-Morgan and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Dholakia asked about changes to the county and family courts. There is no secret agenda for further court closures. That is a separate issue that will be debated, discussed and decided on its merits at the time. In both cases this will give greater flexibility and efficiency, and in the main the practitioners involved in those courts have welcomed the move. I was particularly pleased to hear the endorsement that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, felt able to give, although I suspect that, once again, we will examine this carefully in Committee.

An issue that is of concern to my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as well as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is whether the role of magistrates will be diminished in the new single family court. I can assure noble Lords that the Government have no intention of diminishing the importance of magistrates in the family justice system. Magistrates will continue to play a vital role in the new family court, but on the specific question of whether a lay magistrate would sit alone in these cases, the answer is no.

There was a full and informed discussion on the merits of diversity. One of my tasks in the Ministry of Justice is to promote diversity. To a certain extent I accept the point made by my noble friend Lord Thomas

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that, particularly at the top end, the shape of our judiciary reflects the Bar of 30 years ago. However, I have said before from this Box that when people ask me what the biggest difference is on returning to Whitehall after a 30-year gap, it is that the Civil Service has managed to diversify in a most remarkable way over that period. Although I might have started life as a Fabian, I am not convinced that the inevitability of gradualness is going to produce the diverse judiciary that a 21st century functioning democracy deserves. I am in nothing but awe of both the intellectual calibre and the integrity of our judiciary. Wherever I go, I realise what a great national asset we have in it. However, I do not think that its merit cannot be produced from a more diverse source that better reflects our society.

I look forward to discussing these issues in Committee and I hope that we will see broad cross-party support in this House for what we are trying to do. We are not proceeding recklessly, rather we are building on some worthwhile reforms. We have listened to much of the advice given by the Constitution Committee and I think that we are on the right track. However, I also agree with a point that was made a number of times, which is that if we are going to get diversity, it is not a matter for government alone. The professions and the judiciary have to buy into it. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, asked particularly about the Judicial Diversity Taskforce. The work of the taskforce on diversity is crucial and I can provide a reassurance that it will continue to drive progress in this area. I certainly made it clear when I became Minister that one of my priorities was attending meetings of the taskforce and making sure that we kept up the pressure and commitment from the various parts of the system that are recommended on that force.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Prashar, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, queried the involvement of the Lord Chancellor in the appointment process. Obviously, we will return to this. I have sat in on some of the discussions and it certainly is not any kind of power grab by the present Lord Chancellor. In fact, like me, he is rather an enthusiast for the separation of powers. In the discussions, the opinion came from a number of sources that the relationship between the President of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor was absolutely crucial to the effective working of justice and therefore making sure that they were a cohesive group was very important.

As has been pointed out, at the moment the Lord Chancellor has a veto, which is a pretty large intrusion into any selection process. In these proposals, that veto is dropped and he becomes one of a committee. It will be very interesting to tease this out in Committee. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, will confirm, these are not only judicial offices but considerable administrative offices—perhaps they regret it—particularly for the Lord Chief Justice, and their relationships with the Executive and Parliament have to be managed properly to reflect the realities of those relationships. Looking over at the Cross Benches, I can see that noble Lords are keeping their powder dry for Committee.

The noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Ponsonby, raised the issue of the enforcement of fines. The issue

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of fines enforcement and the vulnerable is important. Fines are a criminal sentence and taxpayers should not be subsidising those who deliberately avoid payment. Under our proposals, if the offender provides accurate means information at the outset of their engagement with the justice system and keeps to the payment plan set out by the court, enforcement action will not take place.

We heard a number of very interesting comments on court broadcasting from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, who is much influenced by Scottish experience. Again, let us have a good Committee session on that.

On community sentencing, I would make a virtue of the fact that it is only a holding clause at the moment. It is also an opportunity. We heard my noble friend Lady Linklater and the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham, Lord Judd and Lord Dholakia, eloquently putting the case for constructive community sentencing. We are in consultation; this is the opportunity to use that consultation to make that case.

On drug-driving, I draw the House’s attention to the fact that my noble friend Lord Attlee has been here throughout this debate precisely because he is going to cover those clauses in the Bill. He even

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whispered to me that if any noble Lords wished to nobble him and talk to him before that, he is ready to receive them.

It would only be fair if I said that we could leave other matters to Committee. I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about family visa cases and, again, we will make our case in Committee.

On the timetable that the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, asked about, I am afraid that I cannot help. The Bill will be the first steps in the reform of the family court. There are significant changes in store that will take some time to implement, so I cannot at this time give a timetable, but we will do so when we are able.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, and I look forward to exploring these and other issues in Committee. I believe that this Bill will greatly enhance the national response to serious and organised crime while delivering a swift, more transparent and effective courts and tribunals system. I warmly commend it to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 9.56 pm.