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Lord Renton: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Is he proposing that there should be as many court administration councils as there are police authorities?

Lord Dixon-Smith: That would be the effect of Amendment No. 17. It is very practical. The new administration must start somewhere. Tying the number of court administration councils to the number of police forces would give us an existing pattern of building blocks. But that does not prevent the numbers from falling. A reduction in the number of police forces, which may happen, would provide an opportunity for a change in the courts administration system. The difficulty is that, under the Bill and from

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what we have learned so far, we have no means of judging what should happen and whether it will work. I beg to move.

Lord Jones: My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, with some diffidence. In the White Paper Justice for All the Government promised that court management decisions would be taken locally by local management boards. They also stated that,

    "resources can be managed flexibly to meet local requirements".

If I understand it correctly, instead we are told that management boards are now to be court administration councils to provide the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor with recommendations, which are not necessarily binding. Might that result in an erosion of local accountability rather than the enhancement promised six months ago by a Minister in a letter to all magistrates? I emphasise that magistrates' courts committees currently include in their membership 12 justices of the peace who practise in the area. Under the proposals, each court administration council would have only one justice of the peace as provided at line 3 on page 3 of the Bill in subsection (4)(b).

It is fair to argue that this will not keep the courts,

    "in touch with the communities they serve",

as promised previously by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I hesitate to intervene on the noble Lord, Lord Jones, but I think that he is debating my next group of amendments rather than the present one.

Lord Jones: The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, argued so persuasively that he stirred my enthusiasm.

Lord Waddington: I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jones, because I agree with almost every word he said. We are entitled to guidance on how many areas it is proposed to divide England and Wales into.

If there is to be only one justice of the peace for each court administration council, it follows, as night follows day, that the council cannot have any meaning unless it covers only a relatively small area. The document that was put in the Library—the so-called statement about the principles which will form the basis of the agency's framework document—refers more than once to local areas. That means different things to different people. I hope that by the end of this debate we will at least have a clearer exposition from the Government as to what sort of areas they have in mind. Only when we know how large these areas are can we begin to debate seriously what the representation on the court administration councils could be. It seems absurd that we should be asked to discuss the councils' composition when we have no idea what sort of areas they will cover. If the Government are to stick to the idea of having only one JP per council, it follows that if those councils are to have any meaningful role, they will have to cover

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relatively tightly drawn and small areas. We could not have nine or 10 covering the whole of England and Wales.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I warmly endorse what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and my noble friend Lord Waddington. This is controversial because of the anxiety felt about some provisions that greatly enhance the centralisation of the administration of justice in this country at the expense of the well tried and greatly admired local accountability of magistrates' courts. That is the context.

I hope that the Minister took on board what the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said. Are the Government aware that the Magistrates' Association and the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees are at one in objecting to the proposals? They do not object to them in principle, because they realise that there may be better ways of managing the magistrates' courts than through the magistrates courts' committees, as at present constituted and distributed. But they were reassured to read in the White Paper that, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, there would be true accountability with meaningful local management with an overall guiding national framework for the unified court. Now it appears, from the Bill, that the CACs will not have any decision-making powers. As the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, even the recommendations provided by the council are due to receive only a measure of due consideration from the Lord Chancellor.

We hope to find an explanation in what the Minister has to say for the U-turn in respect of what the White Paper and the letter in August referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, promised. What is the reason for the U-turn and what is the proposed scale of distribution of CACs? If there are to be only a small number, that is a further blow to local accountability and local contact with the administration of justice, and that is greatly feared from this part of the Bill.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Amendment No. 17 is replicated in Amendment No. 23. I think it fair to say that Amendments Nos. 23, 28 and 30, in the names of Members from Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches, cover the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, rather more fully. It may be best to keep our powder dry for later.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: On the specific issue of the numbers of court administration councils, I refer to the letter written by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on 23 December last when she replied to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, saying:

    "No decision will be taken about the number of Court Administration Councils until there has been consultation with all stakeholders. Our consideration of these matters will of course take full account of the need to fit with the criminal justice areas (which are clearly a building block of the new organisation), and other considerations (such as the needs of civil and family justice). This is in accord with Sir Robin Auld's recommendation 102".

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In fact, as I recall from his report, Sir Robin Auld did not approve of the idea of 42 councils. I should like an assurance, once these consultations with stakeholders have been completed, that each criminal justice area will have a court administration council.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to Wales. These matters are not devolved to Wales, but I can understand the Lord Chancellor considering Wales in this respect. The fact that it is easier for the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and me to get to London than to Cardiff is neither here nor there. The temptation to have one court administration council for Wales would be considerable. I look forward to the Minister's assurance that that is not the plan.

Viscount Tenby: Keeping one's powder dry is rather a good thing to do at this stage. Let us not rush ahead too far. We are, as I understand it, talking about the specific amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. But since my name has kindly been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, let me say that I said what I did on Second Reading in an effort not to dismember the 42 existing councils which are showing signs of succeeding. They have been up and running for only 18 months. To take all that to pieces, petulantly, like a child in a nursery, may be a mistake. If the system is running, we should not muck about with it. That was the point that I was trying to make. As far as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is concerned, I am interested to see how the argument develops.

Lord Jones: When the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, examines Hansard tomorrow, he might see that I constructed my argument around his generous cock-shy of 25.

The noble Lord made an interesting point at the beginning of his remarks on Amendment No. 16 regarding Wales. I thought that I should inform him that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, chairs an all-party commission that has been set up by the Assembly for Wales. The noble Lord might wish to go before that commission with his interesting suggestion or to write to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I think, however, that he might have more success with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, than he will ever have with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

Lord Waddington: I hope that the Minister will answer this simple question: how can we be expected to agree Clause 4(4)—the composition of a council—until we are told how many councils there will be and how large will be the areas that they cover? Now we are told that the number of councils will not be determined until there is further consultation. In that case, I repeat what I said a moment ago: how, until that consultation has taken place, can we possibly agree the composition of the councils?

Lord Hylton: The Government have a duty to the Committee to disclose the basis on which they have been consulting. Either they must have approached the consultees saying that they had no ideas and wanted to

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hear their views, or they must have put forward thoughts on the nature and size of the areas. The Government should enlighten us.

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