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Clause 28 - Functions

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 1st July 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 2:45 pm, 1st July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 40, in

clause 28, page 13, line 10, leave out 'things' and insert 'matters currently'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 41, in

clause 28, page 13, line 10, leave out second ', to'.

Amendment No. 42, in

clause 28, page 13, line 13, leave out 'things' and insert 'matters currently'.

Amendment No. 43, in

clause 28, page 13, line 13, leave out second ', to'.

Amendment No. 44, in

clause 28, page 13, line 15, at end insert

'and not by any other person'.

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

I admit to the Committee that I am being pedantic in this group of amendments and I make no apology for that. The clause begins by stating:

''Rules may make provision enabling things authorised to be done by''.

When I read that, I thought that it was not the wording that I normally see in a Bill that will become an Act of Parliament. The word ''things'' is ugly in such legislation. Therefore, I tabled a group of amendments to change it, so that we have the wording that we are more used to seeing in Bills and Acts. I also felt that it was unusual for the Bill to suggest that things would be done ''to a single justice'', and that it was better to have matters being dealt with ''before'' single justices or benches of magistrates.

I hope that Committee members will understand where I am coming from. With great respect to the parliamentary counsel who drafted this Bill, I genuinely believe that it would look more fitting if we referred to ''matters'' rather than ''things''.

However, one amendment in this group is of slightly more substance than the others—amendment No. 45. [Interruption.] I have just checked my notes.

Amendment No. 45 has not been selected, so I cannot talk about it. I conclude by saying that I hope that the Minister will say that he accepts that the Opposition's phraseology is more elegant than the Government's.

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

There was a famous occasion when the former American President, Bill Clinton, spent hours discussing the meaning of the word ''is''. I know that we do not wish to open up some of those matters.

The Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), has suggested sotto voce that ''stuff'' could also easily be used as a replacement word. I do not think that either that or ''matters'' would be better than ''things'' in this instance. However, perhaps I should stick to the points that it has been suggested sorrythat I raise.

Clause 28 sets out the functions of a justices' clerk and empowers the Lord Chancellor to make rules allowing a justices' clerk or an assistant to a clerk to perform the functions of a single justice of the peace. The clause remodels section 45 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, which is to be repealed under the Bill. The clause introduces no new powers and no significant changes are anticipated to the advisory or judicial functions of the justices' clerks.

Amendments Nos. 40 and 42 change

''things authorised to be done''

to

''matters currently authorised to be done''

in subsection (1) and subsection (2). I am told that that adds little to the clarity of those subsections.

I hear what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath says about the need to use appropriate wording. I am advised that the word ''things'' has been transposed from section 45 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, although I cannot remember exactly which political party may have helped in drafting that.

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

Things are not what they used to be.

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

The hon. Gentleman says that things are not what they used to be. To quote from one of the Labour party's slogans, things can only get better, and we intend to pursue that aim.

I am sorry to say to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath that his amendment does not add anything to the meaning of the clause. I am unclear what he intends the word ''currently'' to mean. Does it mean the date of Royal Assent, when the clause can be enforced, or when the reader is looking at it? That is a bit of pedantry that I can throw back at him.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 43 similarly seek to delete the second instance of the word ''to''—how one pronounces it depends on the part of the country from which one comes—from the phrase

''to be done by, to or before a single justice''.

The Government feel that that makes no discernible improvement to the wording taken from the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, which has stood the test of time since it was implemented. Apparently, the phrase

''by, to or before''

a person is not uncommon in legislation. It appears, for example, in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and the Charities Act 1993.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

I wonder whether the Minister will give some examples of what it is envisaged would constitute things done to a single justice.

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

I am sure that I could, but I am not sure that I should like to do so at the present moment. Should I feel the need to elaborate, I may do so on Report. Who knows when we may return to this matter? I stand by the points that I make.

The clause seems to be perfectly clear as it stands. It replicates a provision in the 1997 Act, which works adequately and is currently in force. Although I understand the points raised by hon. Members, far be it from me to tamper with the good advice and wise voices of parliamentary counsel. I shall stand by them to the hilt on this matter.

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

The Minister said that things can only get better. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) wisely observed, was that in the Labour manifesto? I do not think that the British people necessarily feel that things have got better.

I do not want to take up the Committee's time. However, in asking whether the Minister could think of a single example of something being done to a single justice, the hon. Member for North Norfolk asked an especially apposite question. The fact that that phrase might have been used in other legislation in a different context was not a good answer to our amendments. Will the Minister write to all Committee members, not only to the hon. Member for North Norfolk and to me, to give some examples of where he and parliamentary counsel believe that something would properly be done to a single justice of the peace? If he cannot think of one, perhaps he will table a Government amendment on Report to correct the drafting.

Photo of Mr Gareth Thomas Mr Gareth Thomas Labour, Clwyd West

As a member of the Bar, the hon. Gentleman no doubt recalls making applications to a judge or a justices' clerk. That is rather different from making applications before them, which suggests that those could be made on paper, not necessarily in person. The wording is not otiose in that respect. That is my stab at it.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will remember that he and I have crossed swords as advocates in the past. I see that his imagination has not deserted him since the mid-1990s, when he became a Member of Parliament.

I hope that the debate has been useful, if only to parade the knowledge of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) on song titles. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.