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Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I recognise that if we are to avoid age discrimination it will be necessary to adjust the existing law in respect of unfair dismissal, particularly in terms of redundancy. But is my noble friend saying that the legislation will provide that if a person is dismissed from employment at the age of 65, irrespective of any other circumstances, such a dismissal will automatically be unfair?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I think that it is the other way around. Currently there is an age limit on bringing a claim for unfair dismissal. The question we are debating is whether that limit should be removed altogether if an employer does not have a retirement age.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the Minister believe that, if the British people had been

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aware in 1975 when they voted to stay in what they were assured was merely a common market, they would have voted for this kind of initiative from Brussels?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is probable that this will be an extremely popular piece of legislation, particularly in this House. If such a vision had been before them at the time, I think it would have moved people to be even more enthusiastic.

Criminal Records Bureau: Payments to Capita

2.47 p.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What additional payments have been made to Capita in respect of changes to requirements made by the Government after the contract for processing applications to the Criminal Records Bureau was signed.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, since the contract for processing disclosure applications to the Criminal Records Bureau was signed in August 2000, a total of 23.7 million has been paid to Capita in respect of changes to requirements. These are part of the normal contract changes that are to be expected with any green-field contract of this scale. Of the figure, 19 million is accounted for by payments for the introduction of the paper-based application process, for enhanced quality assurance and for system testing prior to the launch, and for the setting up of the second site at Darwen to ensure business continuity.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I give a half-thanks to my noble friend for that response. Can she tell me why the Government did not disclose the fact that a compensation payment of 8.4 million had been made to Capita after the Home Office made sudden changes to the original contract for the Criminal Records Bureau? Is it not unacceptable that users should face a doubling of the charges made for checks to clear up the mess made by the Home Office without any date being set for introducing the 10 million a year basic checks that are expected to provide most of the income of the CRB? Further, can she guarantee that those teachers needing checks to take up new jobs this autumn will receive them without a repeat of the shambles last year?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, can I say straightaway that the arrangements which have been put in place in relation to teachers are now robust? Of course we accept that when the new procedure was introduced we did not see the response we would have expected.

The total amount paid to Capita as at the end of January last was 42.7 million, which includes the 23.7 million for the contract changes. When the

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contract was awarded, we predicted the total contract value over 10 years to be 400 million, although that is clearly demand dependent.

Changes have been made and we believe that those changes are the right ones. Further, I can tell noble Lords that the procedure is now working far better than it did when it was first introduced.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that of the target set with Capita of dealing with 95 per cent of cases within one week by March, only 20 per cent has been achieved? Seven out of eight targets have not been reached. Why is it necessary to hike up the fees by more than 300 per cent when there has been an utter failure on the part of those who administer the Criminal Records Bureau?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not accept that there has been an utter failure. The disclosure fee is determined by a combination of CRB costs and the volume of applications. Despite the increase in capacity in recent months the unit cost of producing disclosures remains higher than the initial estimate, which informed the decision to set the original fee at 12. This is mainly because of the deferment of the introduction of basic disclosures, which has meant that the volume of disclosures issued has been less than forecast, thereby pushing up the unit cost of producing each disclosure. Other factors have also impinged upon the decision.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, are any further extensions of the remit of the Criminal Records Bureau planned for the future?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord means by "further extensions". The enhanced provision that we have now is far better than we have ever had before. We now have an opportunity to achieve a joined-up approach to these matters. We wish to introduce further checks and we shall look at such matters as quickly as we are able to do so.

Queen's Counsel

2.52 p.m.

Earl Ferrers asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to discontinue making recommendations for the appointment of Queen's Counsel.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the Government intend to publish a consultation paper in which the principal issue will be

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whether the status of Queen's Counsel should continue to exist. I shall announce the timetable for the paper later this week.

Noble Lords: We cannot hear!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for what he said. The only trouble is that an awful lot of noble Lords could not hear. Would he care to say it again?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am sorry. The Government intend to publish a consultation paper in which the principal issue will be whether the status of Queen's Counsel should continue to exist. I shall announce the timetable for the paper later this week. I apologise for not being close enough to a microphone.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his supreme elevation. However, I am not quite certain to what he is elevated. I am not sure whether he is the Lord Chancellor or the Speaker of the House of Lords, the Keeper of the Queen's Conscience or the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. Or perhaps he is Pooh-Bah and covers them all. Perhaps he will clarify the situation.

Is the noble and learned Lord aware that I had intended to ask his predecessor, who I thought would be answering the Question, whether or not he believed that there must be some limit beyond which the Government would not go in the dismantling and desecration of our constitution, pageantry, history and tradition? However, as the Government have decided to remove an office of 1,400 years standing, there is no point in asking that question as the answer would be "no".

So perhaps I may ask another question. The noble and learned Lord said that he will be producing a consultation document in regard to the abolition of QCs. Presumably he or the Government believe that that would be a good thing otherwise they would not produce a consultation document. Can the noble and learned Lord explain why he believes that would be a good thing and why the Bar, without the eloquence of his predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, would be better? Why would it be better to have such people removed from the auspices of Queen's Counsel, which gives them a high-profile and much-treasured standing? I hope that the noble and learned Lord will say that of course the Government will ask the question but that they do not expect to do it.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his congratulations.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord does me a great privilege, but I am not learned.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I apologise for insulting the noble Earl in that way.

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As my noble and learned predecessor made absolutely clear, the Government have an open mind in relation to the issue of Queen's Counsel. Those who are Queen's Counsel, including my noble and learned friends the former Lord Chancellor and Lord Williams of Mostyn, would be quite upset to think that their only role in life was to play a part in the pageantry. They are important and well-qualified people who make a real contribution to the law.

The question is whether it is appropriate that the state should give a kite mark from which people benefit substantially. Is it right to continue with the present system or are there better ways of doing it, as, for example, the Bar Council has suggested?

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord said that there will be consultation. Will the time allowed for that consultation be more, the same or less than the time allowed for consultation over the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor; the decision to go for a supreme court rather than the House of Lords as the final court of appeal in this country; and the whole question of the appointment of the judiciary? Is it intended that the period of consultation on this issue will be longer than that given for those matters?


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