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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am engaged at present in a case that falls within the provisions on very high cost cases. It is my first experience of such a case, and I must say that I am very concerned about the bureaucracy involved.

We have little criticism of the order, but I shall outline my reservations about it. First, one is presented with a contract running to 19 pages, and one must guess how much time one will expend on a case. In the case on which I am working there are eight defence teams, each with a case manager, some of whom are at the headquarters of this unit. I do not see the need for that.

Furthermore, the regulations provide that if anything new is presented to the court, it is necessary for the consent of the case manager to be obtained before one can look at it. For example, in the case in which I am engaged at the moment, if the prosecution produce a plan, in theory it is necessary for the trial to stop while each of the teams contacts the case manager to get his permission to look at the plan. Similarly, any notices of additional evidence require, in theory, the consent of the case manager before they are considered.

All this is ridiculous, and it is ignored by those who are engaged in such a case at the risk of never being paid for the work that they are doing. This scheme is in danger of running into the sand through the enormous overload of bureaucracy that now surrounds it. I welcome the fact that there is machinery to appoint new counsel contained in these regulations, but, overall, I am concerned that this scheme will not succeed.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, these regulations, inter alia, provide that any question of whether the case fulfils the criteria of a very high cost case is to be referred to the Legal Services Commission.

As I understand it the commission, as contract manager, takes a number of decisions about the status of cases, including the decision on whether a criminal case falls into the category of a very high cost case.

Can the Minister assure the House that a process exists for practitioners to appeal against decisions by the Legal Services Commission, which classifies cases as very high cost?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I am grateful to him for rightly acknowledging his personal interest in the subject.

The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, gives a valuable insight into this issue. We are concerned to ensure that bureaucracy does not interfere with proper case management. I am sure that the noble Lord would accept that proper case management is important. Case management helps to

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manage the costs. However, there are regular opportunities for the commission to meet with representatives from the Bar Council and the Law Society to look at the issue raised by the noble Lord. We are keen to see that bureaucracy levels are kept within limits and that the audit process is more precise and not overbearing.

The best that I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is that I am grateful to him for expressing his concern in the way in which he did. It is an important issue, and we clearly need to keep it under review. Perhaps the noble Lord could share through his professional association some of those concerns and help us in our shared objective of ensuring that bureaucracy costs do not get in the way of a sensible case management approach.

There is currently no appeal procedure to cover the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, but it is a valid point which is worth reflecting on. I will write to the noble Lord on that point. We are happy to consider representations on that issue. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having raised it in the way in which he did.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Harbours Bill [HL]

7.44 p.m.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Berkeley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Amendment of procedure for dealing with applications for harbour orders]:

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 1:


    Page 2, line 10, after "situated," insert—


"(ab) the relevant nature conservancy authority,"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 1 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 2 to 7, which also stand in my name. For the convenience of the Committee, I shall speak to them together.

These amendments have been prepared to meet a point raised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, following the introduction of this Bill. I mentioned to your Lordships at Second Reading that I would be moving these amendments at this stage. I explained then that the effect of the amendments would be that the Secretary of State would be required to hold an inquiry to consider objections when English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales object to an application for an order, and inform the Secretary of State that the agency or the commission wish the objection to be referred to a local inquiry. That explanation was not quite right, and I apologise to your Lordships if I misled the House.

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I should have said that the amendments put English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales in exactly the same position as local authorities under the Bill; namely, that they can require a local inquiry or a public hearing, but it is for the Secretary of State to decide which of those shall occur.

Other noble Lords questioned the effects of these amendments at Second Reading. I refer to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. Many of those noble Lords are not in their places. I have discussed this amendment and my speech with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, and he has agreed that I should say that he is happy with what is now being proposed.

These amendments do not oblige English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales to object to every application for a harbour order. They already have a right to object to any application that may affect matters relevant to their statutory powers and duties, such as adverse effects on nature conservation. Experience demonstrates that English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales exercise their rights to objection only in appropriate circumstances. In such circumstances, it is more than likely that the RSPB and other interested bodies, such as the local wildlife trust and amenity bodies, will also object.

In those circumstances, it is inconceivable that the Secretary of State would not require the application for that order to be referred to an inquiry. Where the Bill will assist is in cases where orders are promoted for purposes that do not adversely affect the environment. For example, an order may be promoted to alter the constitution of a harbour authority. I imagine that neither English Heritage, the Council, or the RSPB would wish to object to such an application. However, there may be others who would wish to do so, and the Bill would enable the Secretary of State to deal with those objections by means of written representations without the need for a public inquiry or hearing.

I hope that this has been an intelligible explanation. I do not think that these amendments will reduce in any respect the efficacy of what is proposed by means of this Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: As well as I understand the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, my noble friend Lord Bradshaw regrets that he is unable to be in his place this evening, and he has asked me to deal with these few amendments. I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining them so clearly. These Benches are happy with the general aim of the Bill. If that can be achieved, these Benches will be satisfied. We support the amendments.

Lord Triesman: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his introduction. It was wholly intelligible even to me and therefore, I suspect, generally intelligible to everybody. I greatly appreciate what he said and the great care and detail that has gone

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into his work. I applaud that work, and I know that it has been done over some time. It has brought us to our discussion tonight.

The Committee will be aware that the Government support the objectives of the Bill. If enacted, it would make a useful contribution to our policy of streamlining the procedures associated with the planning process. A detailed exposition of the Government's support and the support expressed here was set out in the reply made at Second Reading on 7 January by my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton.

I can understand why the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has tabled the amendments. English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales are already well versed in how to comment on harbour orders in their role as consultees on all relevant applications. Of course, the Bill brings the Harbours Act 1964 into line with the Transport and Works Act 1992 and similar planning legislation in respect of rights to inquiries. The amendment would upset that alignment to a certain degree.

I do not think, on the face of it, that that detracts from the Bill's objectives, but we would like to give the matter further consideration between now and Report, with a view to tabling our own amendments at that stage, if we believe that it is desirable to do so.


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