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Schedule 1 - Constitution and procedure of courts boards

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 26th June 2003.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 3:00 pm, 26th June 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in

schedule 1, page 60, line 9, leave out 'who are assigned' and insert

', each of whom is assigned'.

This amendment makes drafting changes to an amendment made on Report in another place. The effect of the amendment tabled by Lord Phillips of Sudbury was to increase the minimum number of magistrates on each courts board from one to two. I shall explain why we resisted that in the Lords. In short, we wanted the Bill to set out a framework, so that that the constitution of courts boards could vary between local areas. The regional discussion groups, to which I referred earlier, have unanimously agreed that one size does not fit all.

We have listened to magistrates' concerns that a minimum of one magistrate would not be sufficient, and we shall not try to defeat an amendment that increases the minimum number of magistrates to two. However, we want to amend the amendment that was accepted in another place. It would require all magistrates appointed to a courts board to be assigned to the same local justice area. Courts boards are likely to cover areas that include more than one local justice area. Amendment No. 24 therefore clarifies that each magistrate member should be assigned to one of the local justice areas that are in whole or part covered by the relevant courts board area, hence the better turn of phrase,

''each of whom is assigned''.

I hope that that necessary drafting change does not in any way change the spirit of what we accepted in another place.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

We are very pleased that the defeat inflicted on the Government by the combined forces of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in another place has been accepted. The Minister referred to the amendment tabled by Lord Phillips of Sudbury, which was supported by my noble Friend Baroness Anelay of St. Johns. Lord Goodhart neatly encapsulated the reason why we felt it vital to have two magistrates—two lay justices. He pointed out what could happen if a single magistrate were the appointee under the original proposals:

''If there were only one magistrate on the board, he might be ill or have some unavoidable other commitment. There could therefore be a meeting of the courts board at which no magistrate would be present. That would be absolutely wrong.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 May 2003; Vol. 647, c. 1198.]

The belief of Lord Phillips and my noble Friend Baroness Anelay was that it was essential to have at least two lay magistrates—there could be more.

We have no difficulty with the Government's further clarification in their amendment, and I am delighted that Ministers have written to my noble Friend Baroness Anelay and I; no doubt they have written to others, too. We accept the principle of the Government amendment. Lord Filkin wrote in a letter to my noble Friend on 19 June that the Government simply want to tidy up the drafting. The Government amendment achieves that, and we welcome the fact that, as a result of the work by those in another place, we have improved the Bill. That is a good example of how this House and another place work together.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for accepting the amendment, and I agree with his redrafting of it.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the First schedule to the Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I shall be brief. I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the formulation that is used in paragraph 2(c) and (d). If I remember his words correctly, he said that that was terribly vague and the Lord Chancellor's having to nominate persons who appeared to him to be representative of a particular area could not possibly work in practice. I cannot remember all the arguments that he adduced in talking down my amendment earlier. I am sure that he has those somewhere in his notes.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.