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Lord Goodhart: Does that mean that if, for instance, a court administration council is dissatisfied with the nature of the IT services provided centrally, subsection (3) prevents it from commenting on a service that is provided nationally? Surely, if there is a local impact it should be able to comment. However, the Minister appears to indicate that it may be outside the powers of the council to comment.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I thought I had made it clear that anything which has a direct impact on the delivery of services in the local area becomes a competent issue upon which the councils can comment and make recommendations. I have also said that it can be important to try and get the various areas working co-operatively together. An issue relating to IT, mentioned by the noble Lord, will clearly be of importance because the central system must work compatibly with all the local IT systems to ensure that we achieve the value that we want from the system.
I reiterate that the Court Service already has 10 years' experience of dealing with certain issues centrally. It knows the benefits of taking away some basic administrative tasks which releases local people to deliver a face-to-face service more effectively, not burdened by services that can be done more efficiently and effectively by others. That is all we are talking about.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I understood the Minister in her last explanation to say that the central service is taking away administrative services in order to operate them nationally and to set up centres in different places. However, I am not clear whether in that event local councils will have the right to make recommendations.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I said in answerand I am happy to say it againthat councils will have an interest in the way the business centres function. The local courts in their area will be the customers of those centres. Therefore, we envisage that the relationship
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: There is a difference once the business centre is set up and there is a service-level agreement in which the council will have an interest. However, the Minister seemed to say in her opening response to the amendments that there would be no local right of recommendation on the strategic decision prior to the establishment of the local business centres. Perhaps it is necessary for us to read Hansard carefully and return to this important matter.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: Perhaps I may raise a point of construction, which is what I believe it to be. I have been sitting here minding my own business and listening to the various comments. The real problem, as I see it, is the meaning of the word "specifically". If one looks in tomorrow's Hansard at the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, one will see that he said "specifically only" in one passage. That is his interpretation of the word "specifically"; it means "specifically and only". The Minister's construction is different; meaning "as long as it applies to the local area".
I am not saying which I believe to be right, but it seems silly that there should be problems over the construction of one word. It may well be that parliamentary counsel, assisted by lawyers from the department, could find some other word which makes it clear what is intended.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear and am grateful for what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, said in relation to that matter. Members of the Committee will see from the current drafting that the word "only" does not appear. The word "specifically" appears. Furthermore, I have tried to make clear the construction which we will place on that word and that the guidance to be issued will clarify the way in which the relationship should work.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: Without being a bore, perhaps I may offer a middle way on this little matter of "give due consideration" and have "regard to". I thought I heard my noble friend say that we would not move the amendment, but we may have to return to the matter. The middle way, I propose, is merely to knock out the word "due" and say that the Lord Chancellor
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: On this difficult little word "specifically", would it not be possible for the Minister to write to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, indicating how the clause would be different if "specifically" were left out and the provision simply read,
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I had not anticipated that this small amendment would lead to such a fascinating debate. I am not mightily persuaded by what the Minister says. We offered her an opportunity to correct an erroneous impression of the Lord Chancellor's Department outside this Chamber. I believe that there is a concern that the Lord Chancellor's Department is becoming all-powerful and overweaning in its attitudes. That impression seems to be well established by the inclusion of subsection (3).
The Lord Chancellor will have a general duty and a proper power all over the countryI have no objection to that because he has a real responsibility for the administration of justicebut every court administration council is to be kept in its box. It is not to do anything except make specific recommendations about its area.
If an area council somewhere in the north-east of England wanted to make a recommendation about the south-west of England, I readily understand that the Lord Chancellor of the day might consider that little weight should be attached to that recommendation. However, it seems extraordinary that in no circumstances, as I understand subsection (3)I hope that the Minister will not think me arrogant when I say that I have some fairly heavyweight legal opinion on my side in regard to the meaning and interpretation to be attached to subsection (3)would an area council be entitled even to make a recommendation. It would not be for the Lord Chancellor to say, "That is a stupid observation and I shall not give any regard to it"; the area council would not be able even to make the observation.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hesitate to interrupt. Perhaps I am not speaking with the clarity to which I believe I have become used, but I said that the example given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, would be included within the definition. It is our understanding that a local council could make recommendations and the Lord Chancellor would be obliged to give either due regard or due consideration to them.
While I am on my feet, I should say that removing the word "due", as suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, would make the Bill weaker. We want to make the Bill stronger. But these are all drafting issues that we can continue to discuss.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: The example I gave seemed to me to be the simplest one in the circumstance where a council thought that its area might be extended. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, with his long experience in office, has brought forward an unanswerable point.
Let me give the example of an area council on either side of the M6 going into England. It was my common experience as Lord Advocate in Scotland that often the police at Folkestone or Dover would pick up someone who was dealing in drugs and follow them, not unreasonably, to discover where the drugs were to be delivered. Sometimes a load of drugs would go all the way up the M6 but, when it got to the North West, the police would suddenly develop a consideration and concern that it was about to pass into another jurisdiction and that they had better move to close the dealers down and bring them before the courts, even though they would not find outas they clearly wanted tothe ultimate destination of the drugs.
It seems to me that it would not be unreasonable for members of a Cumbrian council to say, "We do not take exception to the practice that has been followed through in Dover, but its consequence has been to impose an additional burden on us". That would be a perfectly reasonable approach to take. But it would not make much sense if they said only, "We have got this number of drug dealers being brought before the courts on a Monday morning" without referring back to the broader practice being followed throughout the country.
I cannot see why the amendment is so objectionable . I have no particular pride of authorship in seeking to insert "with particular reference to", but it seems to me that subsection (3) is truly objectionableor "offensive", as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, saidand I urge the Minister to consider deleting it completely. If those who are advising the Minister and drafting the Bill have another way of approaching this issue, I am perfectly content for them to do so.
I again emphasise that I am not seeking to deprive the Lord Chancellor of his general duty in relation to England and Wales. Indeed, I applaud the imposition of that duty and wish to see it maintained. I certainly do not wish to see the court administration councils dictating to the Lord Chancellor what he should do. All we are trying to do is to take this council out of its box and allow it to speak more broadly than simply with reference to the area for which it is established.
These bodies will not consist of a set of magistrates who may have little or no knowledge of anything beyond their area; they will be councils, some of whose members will be appointed by the Lord Chancellor and one of whom will be a judge. In such circumstances it would be entirely appropriate and
I shall not press the amendment to a Division at this stage, although I am sorely tempted to do so. I hope that the Minister appreciates that I am not satisfied with her answer and that I reserve the right to return to this issue at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.