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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Lord's interest in and valuable contributions to this subject are well known. From today there will be in place administrative systems plus an enhancement of the existing Caseman IT system in courts. There will be a new IT system to support diary managers in case progression and an upgrading of the IT system in the County Court Bulk Centre. I expect a full administrative IT system to be in place during 2000, but there will, with immediate effect, be vital experience and great benefits for court users to be gained. I certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord said about the need for evaluation. We are currently working on evaluation plans which will bolster the qualitative and quantative element. I will keep him informed of the development of such plans. In the shorter term, on 16th July there will be a review conference of designated civil judges, court service staff and court users. I will report to him on the outcome of that conference too.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree with me that among the beneficiaries of the new reforms will be those who are seeking to recover unpaid debts, and that small businesses will particularly benefit? Has he any plans for ensuring that the enforcement of judgments is made more effective than at present so that judgments are not mere pieces of paper?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that all is not satisfactory with the system of enforcement of judgments. There is not much point in winning in the court if you do not recover the money to which you are entitled. Within my department there is an ongoing investigation and consultation exercise aimed at modernising the enforcement process.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor happy with the timing of this change in view of the published concerns of the Law Society about the impact of the early introduction of such reforms; its concerns at the lack of resources available for IT; the fact that no further judges will be appointed and the court staff are to be reduced by 800 over the next three years?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there has been the fullest of consultations. We have listened to all the concerns. The House debated these changes in July last year and further amendments were laid before Parliament on 30th March. Every full-time judge in England has been fully trained and the court staff are trained. I have visited courts up and down the country
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, am I right in believing the newspaper reports that one of the changes being instituted is the modernisation of legal jargon? If so, what steps are being taken to ensure that Acts of Parliament on which the courts base their judgments are similarly modified?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, no one is more in favour than I of a simpler statute book. But the principle benefit for court rules arising from these reforms is that the Latin language is to be expunged. Lawyers therefore will have to talk to one another in Latin in private from now on. However, of the many vices from which the statute book suffers, Latin is not one.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord accept my hearty congratulations to him and his colleagues on reaching this stage in these important reforms? Notwithstanding his heavy commitment this morning on the "Today" programme in debate with the Law Society, has the noble and learned Lord had an opportunity to read Professor Scott's letter in The Times? If so, does he have any comment on it?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I confess that I have not read it. However, as soon as I leave the Woolsack I shall do so because I take my guidance on reading from my noble and learned predecessor. Perhaps I may take this opportunity of saying that great credit is due to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Woolf and my predecessor, for taking important initiatives in this area which this Government are now carrying through to success.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, my question has already been partly answered. But will the noble and learned Lord inform the House whether the courts are ready to cope with the new system? Also, is he satisfied?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, we put an extra £1.5 million into the pay bill recently to help clear the backlog of cases; there were an extra 2,400 sitting days in the last financial year; and despite a falling workload and additional computer support for family work, staffing levels have not only been maintained but 124 new posts have been allocated with 60 assigned to support case tracking. The circuit administrators assure me that the courts are ready. As I said earlier, I visited the Mayor's Court in the City on Friday. Everything that I have heard is encouraging and the reports coming back from the courts today throughout the country are extremely good.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who said it would help small businesses, will the noble and learned Lord tell us how ordinary people will find out how to
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I do not know whether ordinary people, as the noble Baroness refers to them, have access to websites. All the new rules, protocols and guidelines--I encourage the noble Baroness to follow my advice--are available on my department's website and can be accessed free of charge.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, the Government recognise the valuable contribution which small slaughterhouses make to the economy. But they cannot be exempt from the requirements of European Union law.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, but not as much as I thank the Government for the statement made by Mr. Brown on 21st April at col. 993 of the Commons Hansard, which went considerably further to announce the Government's intention to ensure that small specialist slaughterhouses did not suffer. He announced that there would be an interim period during which the Government would carry the costs. I am surprised the Minister did not refer to that in his Answer. He also said that there would be a review. Will the Minister say when the review will start and when it is expected to report?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, my right honourable friend announced that the proposed charges on specified risk materials were to be deferred for a year, and that the increased charges for meat hygiene inspection were being deferred while a review was undertaken on the impact of charges on that industry and on the ways in which we can rightly impose the requirements of the European Union, but not over-implement them. I did not refer to that statement because I was confident that the noble Lord would take the opportunity so graciously to thank us. We hope that the review will be completed within two months.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, will the review look into the case of fallen animals and, in that regard, the provision of slaughterhouses on a purely geographical basis? For instance, if there is a fallen
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. That issue does not arise specifically within the remit of the inquiry, but I shall certainly draw it to the attention of the department for consideration.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, having in the past represented the interests of those employed in slaughterhouses, I am of course concerned with the security of employment. At the same time, the question of closures and bankruptcies in slaughterhouses ought to be kept in proportion. Therefore can my noble friend advise the House on how many slaughterhouses were closed under the previous administration and how many have been closed under Labour?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. If we take England and red meat slaughterhouses, which are the heart of the industry, under this Government some 30 slaughterhouses have closed--not been closed; the number has gone down from around 380 to 350. Under the previous administration, 600 were closed: down from 980 to 380; that is roughly two-thirds of all slaughterhouses.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I do not have a definition for "efficient management". However, we now have a hygiene assessment system which assesses all slaughterhouses according to their hygiene efficiency. This Government put that in place.
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