Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Phillips of Sudbury: It is late, so do not worry: I am not going to say much. I shall merely thank the Minister for a long reply. I cannot resist her closing, headmistress-like jibe, "Could do better". Who could not do better? Which government department could not? Which centralised quango could not?

The question is one of finding the right balance. In terms of a unified service, one can have more or less federalism among the 42 local boards. The litany of failure that the Government talk about could be dealt with via a much more effective national agency, which could work with the semi-autonomous boards that the amendment proposes.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I was going to begin my winding-up with exactly the same words as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. It is indeed late. The Minister was right to take the amendment as seriously as she did and to give it careful consideration in her response, late though the hour is. However, I would be wrong if I then summarised the powerful points put by all Members of the Committee, whether they disagreed with me as did the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, or had some reservations as did my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser. All Members of the Committee made strong representations. Debate on the subject goes to the heart of our main problems with this part of the Bill.

Our difficulty is that we have a unity of purpose between us, but our unity of purpose is that we believe that the Government got things right the first time round, when they talked about local decision making. It is their second approach that we find unacceptable. The Minister said tonight and in her letter that what they said in the White Paper is what we have now, but patently that is not what we or all those outside the

28 Jan 2003 : Column 1118

Chamber believe is in the Bill. We are trying to get greater clarity with regard to that. My noble friend Lord Waddington made a powerful point about the wording of the White Paper and clearly showed that there would be executive action at the local base. That would be, as he said, within a unified structure; the arrangement can work and will not simply involve a talking shop.

The Minister said that our amendments were internally inconsistent. She did not actually prove that in her responses, but I shall read carefully what she said. We are not arguing that the amendments are the perfect solution. We are prepared to listen and learn and to work between now and Report for that solution. Our problem, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said, is that so far the Government have made no movement. The Minister repeatedly said that magistrates' courts committees have not worked and involved many problems. They have said that they want to find a way forward to something better.

The more that the noble Baroness spoke tonight, the more I saw coming towards me the leviathan of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the unified structure. I am sure that that is not the impression that she was trying to give. However, I saw that coming down the tracks towards me at a slow but relentless rate, gathering within it all the other organisations: tribunals here and tribunals there.

On Report, we may have further opportunity to reflect on what unification as opposed to centralisation of power means. We may come back with a proposal that finds favour with, I hope, a majority in the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before eleven o'clock.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page