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Lord Clinton-Davis: Before my noble friend sits down, I fail to understand his logic. I would much prefer that he said here and now that the Government will have another look at the matter. My noble friend has not delivered that assurance. He may have intended to, but we have to observe firm rules here.
A sensible case has been argued. We have an opportunity to look at the matter again. On the face of it, inserting the word "shall" in Clause 3(1) is very sensible. Can I hear from my noble friend again in regard to that?
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I support the amendment. The Lord Chancellor is not going to build the court-houses with his own hands. I do not see how his flexibility to hire other firms to build court-houses is affected by changing "may" to "shall".
I was around in 1971, in a brand-new court-house in Moldthe palace-on-the-hillwhich really was splendid. However, on visits there over the past 10 years, as I said in the Second Reading debate, there have been buckets all over the place to catch the water coming through the roof. I believe that the Lord Chancellor has not given the right priority to the maintenance of some of these excellent court-houses. The word "shall" would impose a dutysomething to which people could pointand require the proper repair of court-houses currently in existence.
Lord Hylton: The 1971 Act has been quoted as a precedent. I am sure that at that time the concept of private finance initiatives had never been thought of. It is very much on the agenda now. I wonder whether the Government's reply, to which we listened carefully, might not conceal an intention to provide new court-houses by PFI.
It is perfectly appropriate that the Lord Chancellor should be under a duty in subsection (1), but when it comes to the issue of making arrangements he should be given a degree of discrimination and allowed to use his best discretion in these matters. There is nothing incompatible between having "shall" at page 2, line 18, and "may" in subsection (2) at line 21.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and for the support of my noble friend Lord Renton, my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, urged his noble friend the Minister to look at this matter again, but there is no need. As the Minister said, the Government have an opportunity here to do something simple. There is no need to wait. My amendment would not impose any prohibition on the Lord Chancellor from doing his job properly. Indeed, it would ensure that future generations of Lord Chancellors would do their job properly.
I would have been happy if the Minister had stayed with his first comment, that the amendment was innocent and worthwhile and that he should concede. I shall give him a chance to think again by seeking the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: Clauses 4 and 5 contain the core of the way in which the new, unified courts administration service is to operate. I find myself in some difficulty. I suspect, as must most other Members of the Committee, that the Minister must be embarrassed, because she cannot tell us in detail how the system is to work. Whenever we begin to approach the detail, the whole system is "out for consultation" and no decisions are to be taken until we have the results.
I find it passing strange that we should be invited to approve legislation to establish a new system when we do not have a clear picture of what it will be. It is somewhat unsurprising, therefore, that these two clauses have attracted a large volume of amendments.
This is a simple question. It could have been asked by means of a further amendment, but I did not think that appropriate. The amendment simply seeks to add to Clause 4(1) a minimum number of areas for which there should be court administration councils. We are dealing with practicalities.
Amendment No. 17 is somewhat different. It ties the court administration councils to police areas, as happens under the existing system. That point is acknowledged in the response of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the Select Committee on the Constitution in which he acknowledges that the existing limits are to be the base blocks of any new system.
But the Bill does not indicate how England and Wales is to be divided. Theoretically, there could be one court administration council for England and another for Wales. That would be preposterous. But if the scale of the London Magistrates' Courts Committee operation were applied throughout the United Kingdom, one might have eight or nine court administration councils. There would be a logical basis for that, although one could argue that it was impractical. If there were one court administration council to cover the whole of the North, I wonder whether it would take much longer to travel from the east coast to the west coast of that region than it does to travel from the northern boundary of London to the southern boundary, such is the state to which its traffic system has been reduced.
Outside the London area, an area on that scale would be far too big. It would be administratively impossible for a court administration council to operate in an area of that size and to understand local pressures and nuances, which, it is implied, councils must do. So, my first cock-shyI admit that it is such, because there is no absolute logic in itis that we should include "a minimum of 25" in the Bill. It is a nice simple number, although it was not the first one that came into my head. It would allow considerable streamlining of the present system, if it were genuinely desired, but it would have disadvantages. There is much to commend the present arrangements, whereby the magistrates courts, which handle the vast bulk of cases numerically in any event, the police and the Probation Service all work on similar areas.
But the difficulty is that we cannot get any solid information from the Government on precisely what they intend. So my second thought was that we should use the police force area as the basic block, as is almost current practice. It makes a good deal of sense. Large geographic areas would still be involved. A very diligent group of people would be needed to know and understand their area, its pressures and difficulties, and, most importantly, how to improve and streamline a service in the interests of the community they represent.