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Lord Bassam of Brighton: Again I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention on clause stand part. We are aware of the problem of court security. We have been addressing the issue. That is why we think that the approach we have adopted of putting the matter into statute is the best way to ensure that we have the right court security for the particular court that we are looking at and for the different situations that are likely to occur.
The noble Lord returned to the question of costs. I make plain that the Lord Chancellor is committed to securing appropriate funding for security improvements without passing the costs on to litigants. The noble Lord invited me to provide him with more data regarding the scope of the problem. I am happy to see what more information we can provide for him. I am happy to write
I turn to the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on whether we are dealing with this matter in the appropriate way. I think we are. Obviously, we need to describe in more detail how court security will work. The majority of that will probably be through regulation. We also need to be clear about what we are attempting to achieve; that is, an improvement in public safety and the security of our courts. We have demonstrated our commitment towards that today during these important debates. We now need to ensure that we establish the right legislation through the Bill to put that on a sound statutory basis. For those reasons, I hope that Members of the Committee will feel confident to support the clause as it stands.
The noble Lord said: The amendment inserts "shall" in place of "may" and relates to court security. Clause 51 gives the Lord Chancellor the power to make regulations about retention of articles. What regulations and timing are we talking about? Will national standards be applied uniformly? I should have thought that appropriate when dealing with articles which have been surrendered or seized. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate how the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor intends to proceed. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Again I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to spell out how we approach the issue. The purpose of Clause 51 is to give the Lord Chancellor a power to make regulations concerning matters connected to the seizure and surrender of articles.
It was considered unnecessary to deal with these matters under primary legislation as the provisions would be overly detailed and might conceivably change from time to time. However, it was considered desirable that the matters should be dealt with in a uniform way in all courts. Consequently, the Lord Chancellor has been given the regulation-making power to deal with the issues.
As drafted, the clause gives the Lord Chancellor a power to make regulations. Specifically, those are the provision of written information regarding the powers of retention of court security officers to persons whose items have been surrendered or seized, the keeping of records of surrendered or seized items, the period for which unclaimed items have to be kept and the disposal of such items after the time limit has expired. The amendment would turn that power into a duty.
The power to make regulations dealing with these issues has been included in the Bill in recognition of the need for a uniform approach across all courts and for people to know what is to happen to their articles if
We recognise the importance of providing publicly accessible information dealing with the issues highlighted in the clause. We wish to make it clear that regulations, or some other form of instructions, will be available in the public domain and will be produced for wide dissemination. However, we prefer the flexibility that a power confers. It is an argument that we have put forward previously but some flexibility is essential.
The noble Lord asked how the regime might work. The finer details have yet to be determined. However, information will be provided in the form of a formal receipt presented on surrender or seizure of articles.
How long an item may be kept has again to be determined. However, the policy intention is that adequate notice will be provided as to when an article will be disposed of. We hope that that offers some assurance. Some items will have to be disposed of but that will be dependent on their characteristic. Potential weapons will be disposed of through the police; and other items which may be a lesser problem or threat may well be distributed to charities for a more important and gainful purpose. Details have yet to be worked out. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's point.
The noble Lord said: I had no wish to take up the time of the Committee in debating whether Clause 53 should stand part of the Bill. However, we are now moving to an important set of clauses which deals with the new independent inspectorate to be known collectively as Her Majesty's inspectorate of court administration.
In considering how the new inspection powers will operate, I recognise that at present inspection arrangements are in place only for the administration of magistrates' courts and the Children and Family
If it is a fact that the provision comes from the heart of the Lord Chancellor's Department, I am sure the noble Lord will seek this opportunity to clarify exactly how the powers will operate. An outside observer might feel that the traditional independence of the High Court could be called into question. Some might see it as a step in the direction of a ministry of justice rather than a Lord Chancellor's Department. I know that a debate is raging outside the House about whether there should be a ministry of justice. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the position on that.
Are we seeking a genuinely unified system? If so, why has a significant part of the system been left out so far? Why is the power there to add the rest of the court system, should that become necessary? Clarification would be much appreciated. I beg to move.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: I have a semi-technical question. If we are to insert, "save the High Court", we will certainly include the Employment Appeal Tribunal which, in deference to sensitivities, calls itself a tribunal but is not at all; it is a court of co-equal status with the High Court.
However, something else worries me more. If court administration means the Court Service, I do not have much trouble with the provision. But if court administration has a wider meaning than that, and, for instanceto hark back to my days in the Court of Appealwould involve telling the Master of the Rolls that he must or should reorganise the court's civil appeals office, I begin to get distinctly edgy.
I spent 10 years in concealed battle with the Lord Chancellor's Department. Fairly junior members of the department wrote to the court's civil appeals office demanding explanations for delays, or whatever. I told the staff of the civil appeals office that they were my staff, even if for pay and rations they were the Lord Chancellor's staff. I said that they were not to answer those letters, they were to give them to me and I would deal with them as I saw fit.
No doubt things are now much more civilised, but the point is that as long as court administration means the Court Service, that is probably all rightalthough, in a situation such as mine, in which I was telling members of the Court Service that they were my people, not the Lord Chancellor's, even then there would be trouble. Subject to that, as long as court administration does not mean administration by the judges, I am reasonably content. But the point about the Employment Appeal Tribunal stands, for what it is worth.
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