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Clause 12 - The supplemental list

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 1st July 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:15 am, 1st July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in

clause 12, page 6, line 27, at end insert

'and a copy is to be laid in the Library of the House of Commons and the copy laid there is to be regularly updated as appropriate.'.

This is a small amendment. It would be helpful if Parliament had a copy of the supplemental list. I see no reason why an updated copy of the list should not be placed in the Library of the House. It is only a small point, but I hope that the Minister will understand that we are trying to improve the provision of information, and the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. I hope—at this time of day, without much optimism—that the Minister might not resist the amendment.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

A supplemental list already exists and this is a measure to preserve it. Can it already be found in the House of Commons Library?

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

I do not know, although the Minister will no doubt tell us.

When I read the Bill, however, it struck me that keeping the list in the Library and updating it would be a helpful way of increasing parliamentary scrutiny. I shall listen with interest to his reply.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:30 am, 1st July 2003

I feel that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is losing heart, which is a sad state of affairs at this time on a Tuesday morning. I cannot believe that the supplemental list will be essential reading for every Member of Parliament, but will the Minister tell us whether it is included in at least one reference volume? I imagine that it probably is and that it is not a discrete item.

Am I right in thinking that the posts of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery and permanent secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs are held simultaneously by the same individual? If so, questions about the supplemental list would presumably be open to direct parliamentary scrutiny.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

To answer the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, my understanding is that the current Clerk of the Crown in Chancery is, indeed, one and the same person as the permanent secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Indeed, I spoke about the amendments with him yesterday, and he was most interested to know that we were going to discuss them.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath wanted to make a short and interesting point, but it now means that I must describe the supplemental list and elaborate on some of the existing arrangements. Section 7 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 provides that the names of lay justices who have retired, or stood down due to age or ill health, can be entered on a record known as the supplemental list, which many former justices of the peace regard as a roll of honour. The list is kept by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery at the headquarters of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Each commission area has a keeper of the rolls, who holds a record of all serving and supplemental justices resident in their jurisdiction. The Bill maintains the office of keeper of the rolls, but defines its responsibilities in terms of groups of local justice areas, because commission areas will no longer apply.

I am afraid that the amendment is unnecessary and slightly impractical. It is the responsibility of keepers of the rolls to inform the secretary of commissions when a person on the supplemental list dies. Unfortunately, keepers must rely on the deceased's relatives to notify them, and many deaths go unrecorded. Understandably, even relatives who know of the procedure often overlook what is a relatively minor matter in comparison with the more pressing issues that they face. With the best will in the world, therefore, it would be slightly difficult to keep a completely up-to-date copy of the supplemental list available. That would negate one of the main intentions behind the amendment.

Furthermore, we consider it inappropriate and unnecessary for Parliament to hold a copy of the list, because it is essentially a record of local appointments. We do not retain lists of comparable voluntary

workers in, for example, the Territorial Army or the Royal Naval Reserve. Nor do we retain lists of school governors, special constables or lifeboat crews, and I can see no valid reason to make an exception for former lay justices. Given the sheer scale of the task, the length of the list and the difficulty in ensuring that it is regularly updated, the amendments would be particularly burdensome. Few hon. Members may have looked at the supplemental list, but I am sure that it will be accessible, under normal freedom of information arrangements, to those who want to see it in the bowels of the Department for Constitutional Affairs building. I hope that Committee members will not require it to be put in the House of Commons Library.

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

The Minister may have misheard me. I did not claim that the matter would be interesting, although I certainly said that it was a small debate. Nevertheless, it was useful for those points to be put on the record. Perhaps the permanent secretary is still Sir Hayden Phillips, with whom I had the great pleasure of working when he was permanent secretary at the Department of National Heritage, when my party was in government and I was parliamentary private secretary there. I am delighted to know that the position of Clerk of the Crown in Chancery is in such safe hands. It was helpful for the minister to put the full position on the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.