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Members' Voting Rights

16. Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): If she will make a statement on the voting rights of hon. Members representing constituencies outside England on matters relating exclusively to England. [53920]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): Hon. Members are entitled to speak and vote on any issue in this House.

Adam Afriyie: But we must face the fact that there is a constitutional injustice here. To most reasonable people it is illogical, unfair and unjust that Scottish MPs can vote on laws that relate only to England, but English MPs cannot do likewise for Scotland. What specific actions are she and her Department taking to address that democratic inequality?

Bridget Prentice: The Department has absolutely no intention of taking any action to address what is not an inequality. The hon. Gentleman asked the same question a few moments ago, and I was tempted simply to refer him to the answer that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland gave a few moments ago. As the hon. Gentleman voted five times on the Government of Wales Bill last night, I find it difficult to
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understand why he has difficulty in understanding why every Member of this House has the right to vote on every issue within it.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Could my hon. Friend arrange a series of teach-ins for Members of Parliament who do not understand how long it took to get members of the whole of the United Kingdom—men and women—represented in this House, to explain why they should not lightly, for party political purposes, launch forth on absurd, ill thought-out and farcical campaigns to change that status?

Bridget Prentice: I do not think that my response could put that any better than my hon. Friend has done.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Does the Minister not agree that if it was iniquitous for English rule to be imposed on Scotland, it would be just as iniquitous for Scottish rule now to be imposed on England?

Bridget Prentice: The hon. Gentleman needs to remember the history of the Conservative—and, at one time, Unionist—party, which imposed laws on Scotland against the wishes of the Scottish people. [Interruption.] I think that everyone knows that I am referring to the poll tax. May I say to the hon. Gentleman—he too voted five times on the Government of Wales Bill last night—that every Member of the House should be treated equally? We should not have two classes of MPs in the House, and matters that affect Scotland are entitled to be voted on by English MPs and vice versa.

Electoral Commission

17. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of the operation of the Electoral Commission. [53921]

The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): The Electoral Commission is an independent body established by Parliament, reporting to the Speaker's Committee. The Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Speaker's Committee are currently reviewing separate aspects of the operation of the Electoral Commission.

Julie Morgan: Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that although the Electoral Commission has   independent status, it needs clear, transparent accountability too? Does she think that reporting to the Speaker's Committee fulfils that function?

Ms Harman: The fact that the Electoral Commission is answerable to the Speaker's Committee fulfils an important function, but Members of Parliament can ask Constitutional Affairs Ministers about its work on electoral registration, election fraud and, for example,   registration of service voters, so we have that   additional transparency. Representatives of the Electoral Commission are also happy to meet individual Members of Parliament to discuss its work.
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Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the Minister refer to the Electoral Commission for its consideration the question that has arisen six times since 2.30 pm today? We understand that Ministers do not like English votes on English matters. Do they understand, and could she remind the Electoral Commission, that many English people do not want regional assemblies or extra politicians? Could she ask the Electoral Commission to come up with a solution that would be acceptable in all parts of the House?

Ms Harman: I do not think that that would come within the Electoral Commission's remit. That is not what it was set up to do, and it would be odd and wrong to give it that responsibility, which is a matter for this House.

Judicial Appointments Commission

18. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): How many of her civil servants are being transferred to the Judicial Appointments Commission; and if she will make a statement. [53922]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): No departmental staff will transfer to the Judicial Appointments Commission on 3 April 2006. It is currently anticipated that 80 staff will be seconded to the commission for up to two years. The commission, as an independent body, has the power to recruit its own staff.

Keith Vaz: While I welcome the establishment of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which is a great constitutional change for the judiciary, transferring or seconding staff amounts to the same thing. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the new organisation, which is intended to be truly independent, should start with no staff from the Department, because some may have preconceived ideas about the method of selection or the qualities of particular candidates? Can she give an assurance that that independence will remain?

Bridget Prentice: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that that independence will remain. I have every confidence that the chair of the commission, Baroness Prashar—of whose appointment I notified the House a month or two ago—will provide the necessary leadership to forge a new and independent body. The JAC will be able to determine its own staffing strategy after its launch on 3 April.


19. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): What steps the Department has taken to encourage the judiciary to interact with other professionals and the public in order to improve mutual understanding. [53923]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): It is for judges themselves to decide the extent and frequency of their engagement with the local community. However, the Department has taken many steps, in conjunction with the judiciary, to interact with the professions and the public, such as the local crime and disorder reduction
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partnerships of local authorities and local criminal justice boards, local family justice councils, a judges in schools guide, and developing a protocol for case management to deal with delays in care cases.

Mr. Allen: Would my hon. Friend the Minister congratulate the clerk to the magistrates in Nottingham, Mr. Graham Hooper, on convening a conference on Saturday about the community justice options that are now available, including the appointment of community judges? Will she go further and urge all similar colleagues to reach out, so that the criminal justice system can start to play a full part in the attack on antisocial behaviour and criminality, and in the regeneration of our communities? Health services, the police, the education services and many others are involved in that battle, so can we ensure that the criminal justice system also plays its full part?

Bridget Prentice: I certainly support my hon. Friend in congratulating Graham Hooper and his team on the conference that will take place on Saturday. I also add my thanks to my hon. Friend for his part in organising that conference, and I am sure that it will be a great success. I know that he is the chairman of the local regeneration partnership in Nottingham, One Nottingham, whose vision statement of reducing inequality so that no one is disadvantaged is one that we can all endorse. I assure my hon. Friend that we will do all that we can to ensure that the judicial community participates in its local community and that the ideals that he and Mr. Hooper seek to encourage and develop on Saturday are taken further.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Minister will be aware of the excellent work of the armed forces parliamentary scheme and the Industry and Parliament Trust. What consideration has been given to helping humble Back Benchers such as me to improve their knowledge of the judiciary, perhaps through day-release schemes—[Interruption.] Perhaps I should say early release schemes. Such a scheme would enable me to spend more time learning about the important role of the judiciary.

Bridget Prentice: I missed the last half of the hon. Gentleman's question. I am sure that he is not suggesting that we should tag hon. Members so that we know where they are. As a fellow of the Industry and Parliament Trust, I recognise how important such schemes are in giving Members of Parliament an opportunity to understand what is happening in terms of other aspects of our country. To further his knowledge, he might like to sit in on his local court and see what happens there. He could also visit the partnerships in his local authority and discover what crime reduction schemes are in place. I recommend sitting in on his local magistrates court for a day as a good way of learning exactly what happens there.

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