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Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 12:


The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is consequential on government Amendment No. 18, which was moved on Report. The Bill currently contains a reference to a court administration council. As your Lordships have already agreed, court administration councils have been renamed courts boards. The amendment removes a previously overlooked reference and ensures consistency throughout the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 13:


    Page 5, line 30, leave out "or" and insert—


"( ) the Common Council of the City of London, or"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment puts it beyond doubt that the Lord Chancellor must consult the City of London if he wishes to alter the boundaries of a local justice area that falls partly or wholly within the City. The amendment alters the definition of a local authority that appears in subsection (7) of Clause 8. Section 34 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 requires the Lord Chancellor or a magistrates' courts committee wishing to change the boundaries of a petty sessions area first to consult every relevant council affected by those changes. Section 34 defines "every relevant council" and Section 70 of the same Act extends that provision to cover the corporation of the City acting through its Common Council. The Bill does not currently contain a provision similar to Section 70. It could be argued, therefore, that the Lord Chancellor would not be required to consult the City of London over boundary changes to local justice areas that fell within the City. That is not our intention. Amendment No. 13 adds the explicit reference of the Common Council of the City of London to the meaning of "local authority" in subsection (7) of Clause 8. I hope your Lordships' feel able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

19 May 2003 : Column 515

Clause 30 [Places, dates and times of sittings]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 14:


    Page 14, line 16, leave out "locally accesible by" and insert "accessible to"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 14 simplifies the wording of Amendment No. 58 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on Report on 8th May.

The effect of Amendment No. 58 was to place a duty on the Lord Chancellor, when making directions as to the places at which magistrates' courts may sit, to have regard to the need to ensure that courthouses are locally accessible by persons resident in each local justice area.

Amendment No. 14 alters Clause 30 by changing the phrase "locally accesible by"—I am sure your Lordships will have noted the mistake—in subsection (2) to "accessible to". In drafting terms, it is not clear what the expression "locally accessible" means. We took it to mean geographical accessibility rather than physical accessibility. However, on Report, during the debate on Amendment No. 58, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made a number of equally important points about the need to ensure physical accessibility to courthouses. I refer in particular to col. 1250.

Removing the word "locally" from Clause 30(2) will mean that the Lord Chancellor is simply under a duty to have regard to the need to ensure that courthouses are accessible to persons resident in each local justice area. The term "accessible" would not be limited in any way. I believe that that adds a useful simplification to the drafting of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. I hope that she will accept that it offers no detriment to her stated objectives and that perhaps in some way the simplification enhances its meaning. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I welcome the Government's suggested improvement to my drafting for two reasons. The first is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, referred. It more properly takes account of the views expressed not only by myself but by my noble friend Lord Renton on Report. I had in mind very firmly that it was not just a matter of geographical access but also of physical access. In the European Year of Disabled People, it is particularly appropriate for such a helpful amendment to be on the face of the Bill.

My second reason perhaps echoes the earlier words of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I accept the Government's amendment in the hope that it presages that it may not return here from another place.

Lord Goodhart: I too welcome the amendment and one previously unmentioned aspect of it, which is the correction of the misspelling of the word "accessible".

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 15:


    After Clause 31, insert the following new clause—

19 May 2003 : Column 516


"TRAINING
(1) The Lord Chancellor may provide guidance as to the training of a fines officer.
(2) Guidance provided in accordance with subsection (1) shall be published—
(a) before the pilot scheme regarding fines officers is established, and
(b) after consultation with such persons as the Lord Chancellor may deem appropriate."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Bill introduces the role of fines officers and specifies their functions. However, nothing on the face of the Bill gives any guidance as to the training of these new civil servants. These officers will carry out quasi-judicial functions. It is essential that they have the best preparation for this new and important role. It is also essential that all participants in the court process understand their particular role and how they will dovetail in with all court users.

The Government have now made a clear commitment on the training of lay magistrates following discussion of amendments in the House, but not for fines officers. The amendment would ensure that the Lord Chancellor consults such persons he feels are appropriate before publishing any guidance. This will be subject to the pilot schemes. It would ensure the flexibility to provide the best training possible. It would also give outside organisations the opportunity to share their expertise in order to ensure that this new role works to enable the smooth running of the courts. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I support the idea that fines officers should be properly trained. But that goes for any official of the courts. It should not be confined to fines officers. I do not think that it is necessary to provide specific guidance so far as they are concerned. The courts have different functions. There are different areas. People have to subscribe to different practices as a result. I do not think, therefore, that there should be a centralised form of guidance. I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis for his comments. However, I say straightaway to the noble Baroness that I am sure that all Members of the House agree with her about the importance of ensuring that fines officers are properly trained. That will be vital to the success of the pilot schemes as well as to national implementation of the new measures.

Where we depart is on whether the amendment is necessary. Amendment No. 15, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, proposes that a new clause be added to the Bill to allow the Lord Chancellor to provide guidance for the training of fines officers. However, the effect of the amendment would be that the pilots could not commence until such guidance had been prepared in consultation with appropriate persons and published.

19 May 2003 : Column 517

Clearly, before the pilots begin, there is need to consult the magistrates' courts committees concerned on the format and content of the training that will be needed. However, it is not generally the practice for the Lord Chancellor to publish training guidance and we see no need for a statutory requirement to do so. Any document published prior to the completion of the pilots will necessarily only be a first draft and will be largely untested in practice.

Furthermore, during the pilots not all fines officers will be applying the full range of sanctions set out in Schedule 3. Each fines officer participating in the pilots will be trained and given guidance about the particular package of measures from the fines collection scheme being piloted in their specific area.

The pilots themselves will provide an opportunity to test the quality and scope of the training given, and to identify any further training needs that may arise. It is therefore likely that training material will be refined and supplemented during the pilots. Following evaluation, the fines collection scheme will be adjusted in the light of experience of the pilots and the final scheme will be put before Parliament for approval.

The noble Baroness will remember from when we last discussed the matter that we are open to the fact that some suggestions we make may be more successful than others. It may be that some will not work at all. We have no hesitation in saying that we shall not seek to pursue those measures which do not prove successful. We only want that which actually works to be put forward and therefore to come before Parliament for its approval by the affirmative resolution procedure.

The evaluation of the pilots will include an evaluation of the training needs for the final scheme. The national guidance, which will be made available to all court areas, will be based upon material which has been tested in the field and which relates directly to the final scheme approved by Parliament.

I can assure your Lordships that fines officers will be suitably trained for their role. It is in the interests of the fines collection scheme that they are well trained, so that we can actually evaluate the different schemes properly. However, if the Government were to accept Amendment No. 15, it is likely that commencement of the pilots would be delayed and that the opportunity to test the quality of the guidance would have to be deferred. I am sure that that is not what the noble Baroness intends. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment, assured that when the matter comes back after the final scheme has been tested she will have a proper opportunity to make whatever comments she and those opposite think right in relation to the scheme overall.


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