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5.51 pm

Mr. Burnett: I declare that I am a lawyer, but I do not practise as such.

The Liberal Democrats have also gone along with the Bill--for want of a better of expression. However, I warn the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), that the public defender system will not be as cost-effective as the existing provision through private practitioners. Private practitioners are competitive and do not require a huge new infrastructure and the administration costs that will be spawned by the public defender system.

I have said to the House on many occasions that real independence and the perception of real independence are crucial in the administration of justice. We have always

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opposed a salaried defender system because we do not believe that the state should provide the court administration, the prosecution and the defence.

I also warn the Parliamentary Secretary that the state defender system that the Government are intent on setting up will be significantly more expensive to operate than an efficient system of independent private practitioners working through the legal aid system. It is regrettable that the Government are intent on continuing with the measure; nevertheless we shall reluctantly go along with it.

5.52 pm

Mr. Forth: It is not often that one hears such half-hearted support from both sides of the House. I feel that I should say a few words, as it looks as though I shall be the only non-lawyer to have said anything about the Bill during this stage of its proceedings. On behalf of all non-lawyers everywhere, I shall make a few comments.

Given the intimate relationship--about which we are learning--of the Liberal Democrats with the Government, how is it that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), finds himself having to express such grave reservations about the thrust of the Bill and of the legislation from which it emerged? Indeed, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), while giving the measure his reluctant and half-hearted support, also felt obliged to remind himself and the House of the fact that the Bill emerged from a series of errors and probably from a failure of scrutiny--not merely of this measure but of the previous legislation. We find ourselves in a sad and sorry state.

No one wants the Bill. Everyone wishes that it was not before us. The Government have not even apologised for it, but we are getting used to that. None of us is satisfied that it will add to the sum of human well-being, but we are stuck with it. The judgment of the lawyers among us is that the measure will bring some small net benefit or will limit the damage--one or the other--so we should feel obliged to accept it.

Mr. Garnier: One of the sad aspects of this correcting Bill is that it exposes the Government's rubber-stamping of legislation under the Human Rights Act 1998. No doubt my right hon. Friend will remember that when the Access to Justice Bill was published, its cover carried a declaration from a junior Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department that the Bill complied with the Human Rights Act. Clearly, it did not, but we were required to assume that it did because the Minister had said so. That measure will be brought back into compliance with the Human Rights Act because we are bringing access to legal aid for criminal defendants into line

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with the European convention and the Act. Regardless of what one thinks of the Human Rights Act and of the convention--

Mr. Forth: Very little.

Mr. Garnier: Well, one ought to think more of it unfortunately--certainly rather more than the Government do. At last, we have brought the Access to Justice Act 1999 back into compliance with the Government's own wretched legislation.

Mr. Forth: I am tempted to say that that would almost be a reason for me not to support the Bill. I do not agree with the Human Rights Act. I have little time for the convention, which has long since passed its sell-by date and the Act is a mess and a monster that we shall all regret. However, for the sake of legislative consistency, I accept the point that my hon. and learned Friend makes. If, as he tells me, the measure will achieve the result of bringing us into compliance with the Human Rights Act--although I do not support the Act and have no interest in the human rights convention--I suppose, for that reason alone, that it is probably necessary for us to support this increasingly dreadful-looking little Bill.

All in all, none of us has any enthusiasm for the measure; we all regard it as an extremely regrettable necessity and for that reason, I suppose that we ought to let it go through. I hope that the lessons from it will have been learned, although I am not optimistic. One of these days, surely even the Labour Government, in the short time they have left to survive--although they gave themselves a little more life today--will learn that to do the job properly, to allow Parliament to do its job properly and to allow the Commons to scrutinise is not something to be avoided but to be welcomed. In the end, that is of benefit to the Government and, indeed, to the people of this country. However, I do not expect that lesson to be learned yet. It may be that the Government will have to lose an election before they are allowed to ponder those matters in opposition.

5.57 pm

Mr. Lock: With the leave of the House, I shall respond briefly to the debate.

I thank the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) for their support for the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough was fair. He made his usual criticisms. He said that repetition never made a good point better. I entirely agree, although as he has again demonstrated, it is capable of making a bad point worse. None the less, I am grateful for his support and that of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. I hope that means that the House will not divide on Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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2 Apr 2001 : Column 63

Armed Forces Bill [Money]

Queen's recommendation having been signified--

5.58 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie): I beg to move,

The Ministry of Defence police are already inspected by Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary by invitation. Inspections occur every four years or so. As a result of amendment No. 8, which we shall discuss later, the process will be placed on a statutory basis comparable to that which applies to the inspection of Home Department police forces. That will not of itself give rise to significant additional costs. However, because a statutory duty will rest on the inspectorate, it is necessary that the House should agree to a resolution authorising that the cost be met from public funds.

I commend the motion to the House.

5.59 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): The Opposition cannot carp at this money motion as it will cover a proposition put by us in Committee; and we are grateful to the Government for putting it on the Order Paper. Indeed, we are so grateful that, later on, I shall not have to move new clause 1.

Nevertheless, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence makes an extraordinary statement. I had not expected a money motion to be tabled at all at this stage; normally, one would expect it to occur after a Second Reading Division. The Minister says that the advice of his Department is that it is expedient to introduce such a motion. Will he answer a simple question? How much did the previous inspection cost? That would give us a clue to what is anticipated, because in the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary for the last year available--1999-2000--we are specifically told that the costs of the inspectorate are funded directly by central Government and provided through the policing and crime reduction group of the Home Office and that, each year, the inspectorate receives income from two separate allocations. The day-to-day running costs are subject to a specific funding allocation, while income and capital spending are accounted for separately, and the expenditure is controlled by Government accounting rules.

Dr. Moonie: Perhaps I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question. The cost is difficult to predict, but we have made an allowance of approximately £100,000 to cover all the costs related to the forthcoming inspection.

Mr. Key: I am grateful to the Minister, but I asked him what the previous inspection cost. I am sure that that answer will be forthcoming, but I am glad that he has specified the figure of £100,000. As he has already been

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able to tell us that the inspection will cost up to £100,000, I should be grateful to him if he could explain why the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary states:

It continues:

So what will that £100,000 be spent on, because it is clearly not going to Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary or to the Home Office? If the Minister will kindly answer those straightforward questions, I am sure that we can make progress.

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