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Lord Dixon-Smith: I am prompted to rise by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Waddington relating to the Duchy of Lancaster. If I understand his remarks correctly, a recent consultation document shows that the local view is clearly for the situation to remain as it is. However, the provisions of the Bill change that and disregard the local view.

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The issue is fundamental. So often we have heard from the Government Benches that these matters are still subject to consultation and that they have not been decided. They say that until the consultation is complete they are not prepared to take a decision. However, in this instance the consultation is complete and the view of the local people who were interested in the matter has been wholly disregarded. What faith can we then have in the rest of the consultation process?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I shall deal first with the last point, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. We wrote in January, and placed a copy in the Library of the House, to say that we fully consulted the Duchy of Lancaster and are not aware of any disagreement between the Duchy and ourselves in relation to the proposals that we—

Lord Waddington: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. With respect, history has gone on. The consultation exercise was launched in January 2000. I received a letter from the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 2001 stating that a consultation exercise had taken place and as a result of the replies he was not going ahead with the proposal. I do not know what has happened since, but the noble Baroness knows perfectly well that what is in the Bill is contrary to the results of the consultation which took place in 2000 to 2001.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Of course I hear what the noble Lord says with such passion. However, as he will know, consultation in relation to what should happen as a result of the process of unification has been taking place throughout the period. The recommendations made by Lord Justice Auld have been fully considered and we consulted on the form that a unified procedure should take. I can reassure Members of the Committee that we have fully consulted with the Duchy of Lancaster.

In addition, Members of the Committee will know from what I said earlier that in the sequence of visits which we make around the country, all those who are currently the responsibility of the Duchy of Lancaster will have an opportunity to make known how they wish the arrangements in their area to be managed. I shall of course ask for further and better particulars on the matter in the hope that I shall be able to satisfy the noble Lord more fully. I was not aware that there was any difficulty on it between ourselves and the Duchy of Lancaster. If I am proved wrong, I shall of course write to Members of the Committee.

Lord Renton: What the noble Baroness has said is most interesting, but surely the situation she has described should be expressed in the Bill.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The situation is expressed in the Bill. We are seeking a national unified administration in which one department will be responsible as opposed to two, and in which the responsibility will be discharged in a more holistic way.

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I emphasise that word, to the delight of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who I know is charmed by it.

Lord Waddington: Will the Minister try to understand my resentment? In the Explanatory Notes to Clause 10, almost as a throwaway line at the end, paragraph 51 states:


    "A further effect of the repeal of the JPA 1997, and the provision of this clause, is to transfer the current responsibilities of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in respect of the appointment of magistrates within the Duchy, to the Lord Chancellor".

There is nothing about that on the face of the Bill. No one but a very assiduous reader of the Explanatory Notes would have known that this opportunity was being taken to reverse the results of a consultation exercise which took place less than two years ago.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear what the noble Lord says. I reiterate what I said earlier: that the consultation which has gone on since then has been within the context of the proposed strategy to unify all courts.

The repeal of the 1997 Act—

Baroness Seccombe: Who was consulted and when? What were the results of that consultation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I shall be happy to make the necessary inquiries. The information I have is that the Duchy was consulted and is content. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington—

Baroness Seccombe: Who was consulted?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have said what I have said. As I have reiterated to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I shall certainly make further inquiries and seek to give the Committee further and better details of the nature and extent of the consultation and the precise information we have received as a result. To the best of my knowledge and belief, this was not a matter of concern before it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I have said that I will write to noble Lords, and I will.

I give way because I notice that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are consulting.

Lord Waddington: I have been prompted that apparently my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral raised this matter on Second Reading. I am therefore surprised that the Minister is not aware of the great concern about it.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wrote to the Duchy of Lancaster specifically on this point. I have said that I will take the issue away with me and try to provide the

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noble Lord with further and better particulars. There was consultation within government, including with the Duchy, in relation to a unified court structure.

Let me say straightaway that I accept the way in which the amendment has been brought forward. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said that it was a probing amendment designed to secure further and better information. I hope I shall be able to provide her with that today.

I should say to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we understand the necessity to ensure that the delivery of the service remains local and that local magistrates continue to have a close connection with the areas in which they serve. All those issues are taken on board and are well said, if I may respectfully say so.

The current position is that about 95.5 per cent of all criminal work is dealt with by magistrates. At the moment, there are 95 district judges. It is anticipated that that figure will rise to 130; that is what has been settled. But it is possible that the figure may rise to 160 if workloads look likely to require such an improvement. At present, there are 29,000 lay magistrates; we anticipate that an extra 3,000 may be needed over the next three years. So we do not see a change occurring in the balance between district judges and magistrates.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Seccombe and Lady Anelay, say that the Lord Chancellor has shown great commitment to lay magistrates. That commitment is unswerving. We value the lay magistrates; we think they do an incredibly useful job. They are the biggest volunteer group we have, and we treasure them. I cannot say enough about their virtues and the fact that we do not wish to see their demise.

We are hopeful that the strategy will be published early this year, certainly within the six-month period that the noble Lady, Lady Seccombe, suggested. I shall say a little of the work that we have done on the strategy and seek to answer some of the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Jones about its ambit. There has been concern about the pressures put on magistrates as a result of the workload. Ministers are considering the draft strategy and discussions are taking place to procure full funding for the project. Once resources are available, the strategy will be published.

We acknowledge that employed magistrates face certain problems undertaking their duties. We intend to explore methods for dealing with those issues within the strategy framework. We will also target employers and try to persuade them of the benefits of employing magistrates.

The strategy's aim is to encourage applications from as wide a cross-section of the community as possible. It will build upon the encouraging recruitment trends that have emerged over recent years. In 2000–01, for example, the proportion of new appointments drawn from ethnic minority communities rose to 9.3 per cent from 8.6 per cent the year before. The figure was 6.5 per cent in 1997 and only 5 per cent in 1994. So we are addressing recruitment issues.

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The national recruitment strategy will complement two other important initiatives aimed at promoting the lay magistracy and broadening the pool from which it is drawn. The Judiciary for All scheme and the mock trial competition are both very important in this regard. Judiciary for All aims to encourage more people from ethnic minority groups to apply to become magistrates. The project has now been piloted in seven areas, with 47 individuals shadowing 94 magistrates. It has been very well received and is proving successful. I take this opportunity to compliment not only the 47 individuals who participated but, very importantly, the 94 magistrates who gave up their time to participate.

While the shadowing scheme is aimed at the over-25s, the mock trial competition is raising the profile of the magistracy among secondary school students. Run by the Citizenship Foundation, with the support of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the competition has been designed to fit in with the new national curriculum subject of citizenship studies. This year, 350 schools entered the competition, giving 4,500 students a taste of life in the judicial system and a sense of the contribution magistrates make to their local communities. The strategy will also explore further ideas for promoting the magistracy. All that work is being undertaken by volunteers in the magistrates' courts. We welcome it and believe that we are getting good results from it.

I refer to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Borrie. I apologise for not responding to it properly. I shall endeavour to do so. I shall write to my noble friend in response to his interesting idea about magistrates sitting with district judges.

We intend to make an assessment of the workload, try to predict better what will be needed as a result of the criminal justice reform programme and respond with a proper strategy. Throughout that process we shall continue to consult all the relevant agencies and individuals. I refrain from referring to stakeholders in case I excite further attention.


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