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Guidance on Costs and Benefits

Part of New clause 3 – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 27th June 1995.

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Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble 6:45 pm, 27th June 1995

The hon. Lady is obsessed with judicial reviews. I have tried to explain that the agencies will be allowed wide discretion. If matters are made more precise and specific, there is a likelihood that more judicial reviews will be held than were conducted in the past. What I said in Committee bears repeating. I remind the hon. Lady that I said: All challenges by way of judicial review require leave to be given by a judge. If they are unsuccessful they can result in orders for costs against the challengers. Frivolous or vexatious challenges are disallowed. There are significant protections against the bringing of borderline or exploratory cases for judicial review."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 18 May 1995; c. 285.] As I have said in this debate and in others, being precise and specific is likely to do more harm than good.

Although there is a fundamental issue between the Government and the Opposition on this clause, I suspect that there is not much difference between us on the way that the matter is being addressed. Opposition Members have made it clear that they believe that the cost assessment of any action by the agencies should be of secondary importance. That is not our view. Despite the fact that we have debated this issue time and again, I cannot accept the amendment that proposes to replace clause 38 or the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis).

In summary, at best the amendment of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North is confusing. The new clause, as I have sought to explain, is unnecessary, and its interpretation differs from that which we believe. If carried—I am sure that it will not be, because I shall urge my right hon. and hon. Friends not to do so—it will result in precisely the field day for lawyers about which so much concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.