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Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 118:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak slowly for the first minute or two to allow noble Lords to make their exit before we get on to this fascinating amendment. I move the amendment only in order to enable myself to speak to it because I am satisfied with the government amendments grouped with it and which render the amendments standing in our names unnecessary.

This group of amendments deals with an issue that caused us some concern at earlier stages of the Bill. For a long time, there has been a Civil Procedure Rules Committee, which drafts the rules of court that the Lord Chancellor may approve or disapprove. The Lord Chancellor cannot at present make rules or alter draft rules submitted by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee. If the Lord Chancellor does not like the draft, he can send it back to the committee for further consideration but he cannot substitute his own version.

I should add that in the past the Lord Chancellor had the power to alter rules that were submitted to him for approval in the case of the county court rules, but there is no longer a separate body of county court rules; that power has not existed for some years.

In addition to the Civil Procedure Rules Committee, which has existed for many years, the Bill provides for a new criminal procedure rule committee and a new family procedure rule committee. That is undoubtedly a sensible step which we wholly endorse, but in all three of those committees the Lord Chancellor is now given power to alter draft rules put to him by the procedure committee. He is required to consult the committee before altering those rules, but the committee has no veto.

It is of course a limited power. The Lord Chancellor can alter only drafts put by the committee; he cannot, under the guise of claiming to do so, rewrite the rule book. The power is therefore to some extent constrained. But we are concerned that in respect of the High Court and the Crown Court, the Lord

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Chancellor is for the first time being given power to override the committee. We therefore tabled amendments in Committee to remove the Lord Chancellor's power to alter draft rules submitted to him for approval by the three procedure committees.

The Government have come forward with a compromise solution. It is that where the Lord Chancellor exercises the power to alter rules, as opposed merely to approving rules submitted by the committees, those new rules will require the use of the affirmative resolution procedure for approval by each House of Parliament. That compromise was originally floated by me in Committee. So, not surprisingly, I welcome it and will be happy to support it.

The amendment has come forward at a late stage and the Lord Chancellor's Department sent me a suitably apologetic letter. References to the department being extremely sorry were in bold and underlined. All I can say is, "Better late than never". We are satisfied with the Government's compromise, so I shall not press the amendments in my name. However, for the purposes of debate, I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I should point out that if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 120A or 121A.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I do not believe that the Chairman of Committees will face that dilemma because I join the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in welcoming the government amendment. I never regret the lateness of amendments if they are in the right direction, which these clearly are. I also recognise that the Bill team will have been sorely pressed on a number of fronts. Indeed, there has been a tremendous amount of activity on the Bill, probably far more than originally envisaged, and I greatly welcome the fact that the Minister has brought these amendments forward in good time for the debate. Although we received them only last week, we have had more than sufficient time to scrutinise them.

Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that the two of us were the architects of this compromise through a series of nods and winks. We eventually reached the solution which is now brought forward by the Government and I welcome that. I shared the noble Lord's disquiet about the Lord Chancellor having the power to alter rules and that disquiet remains over these three committees. However, the safeguards now built in come a considerable way to allay that disquiet and therefore it will not be necessary for me to move Amendments Nos. 121, 128 and 133. They are matched by government amendments which have the same or similar effect. I thank the Government once again.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I, too, thank the Government for listening. All too often we complain that governments of all kinds are utterly deaf. This Government have not been. It does not matter that the amendments have been tabled late; the important

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point is that they have been tabled. I thank my noble friend for the path that she and those advising her have taken.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those kind remarks and the helpful comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Hunt of Wirral. I am pleased to say that in Committee on 11th February the Government listened carefully to the debate on the Lord Chancellor's power to alter rules and these government amendments are in response to your Lordships' concerns. I said on a number of occasions that one of the good things about the debates, especially in Committee, is that on all sides we have sought to listen to one another so that we can fashion measures which are fit for the purpose.

I am extremely sorry that the Government were not able to lay these amendments earlier in order to give your Lordships more time to consider them. I had hoped—and it appears to be the case—that I would be forgiven as they are in the right direction. I assure your Lordships that we tabled these amendments as soon as we were in a position to do so. They have the effect of requiring any rules made by the criminal, family or civil procedure rule committees and subsequently altered by the Lord Chancellor to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Those rules which are allowed by the Lord Chancellor will follow the negative resolution procedure.

As we have comity on this issue, I do not seek to trouble the House further.

Lord Renton: My Lords, the noble Baroness has, with her usual worthiness, apologised on behalf of the Government for the considerable changes being made to the Bill at the Report stage. We make amendments at Report stage, but not on the scale of the number made to this Bill.

Recently, discussion at Third Reading has dwindled because almost everything has been done at Report stage, often after mature consideration in Committee. But as so much change has been made to the Bill at Report stage, I suggest that at Third Reading there should be a greater latitude of discussion than is now the trend.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the compromise that has been arrived at. As it has been greeted with warmth from all sides of the House, I need say nothing further about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 119 and 120 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 120A:

    Page 31, line 24, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (7),"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 121A:

    Page 31, line 25, at end insert—

"(7) A statutory instrument containing rules altered by the Lord Chancellor is of no effect unless approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament before the day referred to in subsection (5)(a)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 68 [Power to amend legislation in connection with the rules]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 122:

    Page 31, line 28, leave out from first "amend" to "to" in line 29 and insert ", repeal or revoke any enactment"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 70 [Family Procedure Rules]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 123:

    Page 32, line 17, leave out "means family proceedings as defined by" and insert ", in relation to a court, means proceedings in that court which are family proceedings as defined by either".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is purely technical and seeks to put beyond doubt the meaning of "family proceedings" in Clause 70. By virtue of Clause 70(1), family procedure rules may be made in relation to family proceedings in the High Court, county courts and magistrates' courts. Clause 70(3) currently defines "family proceedings" as defined by:

    "(a) section 65 of the 1980 Act",

that is the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.


    (b) section 32 of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984".

Section 65 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 defines "family proceedings" in relation to magistrates' courts and Section 32 of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 provides a definition in relation to county courts and the High Court. Unfortunately, these definitions are not identical. Some proceedings defined as "family proceedings" in the 1984 Act are not defined as such in the 1980 Act in magistrates' courts.

Clause 70(3) intends to clarify that family procedure rules can be made about proceedings in court which are defined in either of the two sections. So, for example, family procedure rules could be made about proceedings in the magistrates' courts which although not defined as "family proceedings" in the 1980 Act are so defined in the 1984 Act.

The amendment clarifies Clause 70(3) and removes any potential ambiguity in the current drafting. I hope that that is clear to all noble Lords. I beg to move.

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