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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I express my gratitude to the Minister for taking seriously the points that I made on two previous occasions, and for giving such a full explanation. I shall study it with care and take advice on it. I am very grateful to him.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am also grateful to the Minister. He was right to pay care and attention to such matters in his answers, as they are complex and affect a huge number of people. The assurances that he gave were important to have on record.

I was grateful that the Minister took care to come back to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Although on previous occasions I have understood the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I admit that I am not sure that I have understood the Minister's answer. I certainly need to have a jolly good look at that.

I was grateful to the Minister for his statement on the consultation, for the Government's commitment to that and for the fact that it has already started. We will have to look in more detail at the nature of that consultation, but I felt that he went as far as he could today to satisfy me on those matters.

It was also interesting to hear the list of property given. From what the Minister said, it seems as though one should judge the importance of a Minister by the size of his portfolio. By the sound of it, the noble and

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learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is trying to give Mr John Prescott a helping hand up the ministerial ladder. How much further has he got to go? Not far, perhaps.

The Minister talks about 10,000 staff perhaps being transferred from the local authorities. I understand his proper remarks about not all of those being wholly employed on related issues. However, from the list of the properties and the numbers of people, we get a picture of the size of the undertaking, which is huge, and of the measure of transfer from local to central, despite the fact that the Government say that the provision is not centralisation.

The physical aspects of the matter are intriguing, and we will return to them in other ways. However, it was most helpful for the Minister to put such matters on record. It will be up to other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, to see whether his remarks fully meet the questions that they put. I feel that the Minister's response was productive, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 32:

    Page 56, line 14, leave out paragraph 9 and insert—

"9 (1) The Lord Chancellor shall make a scheme (a "staff transfer scheme") for the transfer, immediately before Magistrates' Courts Committees are abolished by section 6, of all eligible employees into employment by the Lord Chancellor.
(2) "Eligible employee" means a person who is employed under a contract of employment—
(a) by a Magistrates' Courts Committee, or
(b) by a local authority in that part of the local authority's undertaking which carries out the local authority's functions under section 55 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 (c. 25) (duties of local authorities).
(3) All eligible employees shall be treated in the same way as an employee in circumstances where the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 (S.I. 1981/1794) apply and, for the purposes of this Schedule, the employing Magistrates' Courts Committee or local authority shall be treated as transferor and the Lord Chancellor shall be treated as the transferee."

The noble Baroness said: I thank my noble friend for his response to Amendment No. 32, with which we are very pleased. Therefore, I do not intend to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Clause 8 [Local justice areas]:

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 35:

    Page 4, line 11, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (2A),"

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 36. The amendments would insert a new subsection. We have heard much about the new justice areas, which the Lord Chancellor will make by order and has the

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power to amend by order. We seek an answer to the questions of how many local justice areas there should be and how their boundaries should be determined.

My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith debated the principles underlying the amendments on Amendment No. 17, which covered the number and boundaries of CACs. One would anticipate that the boundaries of CACs and local justice areas would be coterminous in themselves, but that is not clear in the Bill. It is therefore important that we debate the amendments.

Amendment No. 35 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 36. It provides that the areas into which the country is to be divided by the Lord Chancellor to become local justice areas shall be determined in accordance with our new subsection (2A). Amendment No. 36 inserts that new subsection. It is the crucial amendment, specifying that the local justice areas should be coterminous with the police and CPS areas. I cannot understand why the Lord Chancellor would wish to set the boundaries in any other way. What other factors that he would wish to take into account are so important that they would cause him to set the boundaries so that they were not coterminous with the police areas?

It would seem hard to deliver local justice if the local justice areas were fewer in number. Therefore, we believe that ensuring that their boundaries are coterminous with areas established for the police and CPS would not only make sure that there were enough areas to make them local, but harmonise the whole criminal justice system—something that the Lord Chancellor purportedly seeks to do with the Bill.

We are flexible, however. We ensure that the boundaries of the local justice areas can change if those of the police change in future. They would thereby remain coterminous. Our drafting is not draconian. It does not say that the Lord Chancellor must set the local justice areas so that they are coterminous with the police areas, only that he must have regard to the desirability of making them coterminous. If he decides to set the boundaries differently, he could be held to account and asked to give his reasons.

The Minister will have read the briefing from the Magistrates' Association, the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees and the Association of Justices' Chief Executives, which all support the objective of the amendments. As the Bar Council so rightly said, the areas under Clause 8(2) should be defined now, as Clause 8(4) allows the Lord Chancellor carte blanche to do what he pleases at a later stage. In theory, we could end up with only one "local" justice area serving the whole country. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I hope that the Government welcome the amendment, because it would prevent administrative confusion by making the police and crown prosecution areas coterminous with what is

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proposed in the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will feel it worth considering seriously.

Lord Jones: Following the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, the proposal to create a local justice area in place of commission areas and petty sessions might lead to substantial erosion, or even destruction, of the local infrastructures that are the core and strength of the system of justice in the localities. The magistrates and those who support them believe that local justice areas must remain local, and I am sure that the House would not want to have only one local area, which is possible in theory.

Current and past court closures and amalgamations are already putting a strain on the magistrates' courts system and, arguably, undermining local justice. With those basic thoughts in mind, I shall resume my seat. But I hope that Her Majesty's Government will listen to the succinct case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe.

Viscount Tenby: I cannot conceive that the Government would have any objection to Amendment No. 36, which seeks to make local justice areas coterminous with police and Crown Prosecution Service areas, in particular. Surely that is what it is all about. It is all about joined-up government, unification and getting things on the road and about trying to get rid of all the disparity which has existed up until now and with which we have limped along. Therefore, I join my puny voice in support of the amendments and shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply.

Lord Waddington: I want to point out that the terminology in the Bill is somewhat confusing. We are told that England and Wales are to be divided up into areas, for each of which there is to be a court administration council. The document of 4th December tells us that these are local areas and that each local area is to be managed by an agency chief officer. Yet, in Clause 8 we have local justice areas, which are not the same thing at all. It is merely a new name for petty sessions areas.

The Government seem to use the word "local" in connection with court administration councils simply because they feel that that has the right ring to it. However, it does not appear that they will be local at all. They certainly will not be local in the sense that these bodies will be local. Therefore, I wonder whether the Government have been wise in their choice of a new title for the petty sessions areas.

However, when we come to the substance of the amendment, I need say only that I agree entirely with what has already been said. My understanding is that the local justice areas will initially cover the same areas as the petty sessions areas. It will be very wrong if they become much bigger and cease to be local.

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