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Clause 77 - Family Procedure Rule Committee

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 8th July 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 11:15 am, 8th July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 79, in

clause 77, page 36, line 36, leave out 'one person with' and insert 'two persons with current'.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 87, in

clause 83, page 38, line 36, after 'with', insert 'current'.

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

We are suggesting that the Bill should include the fact that there is a need for two people,

rather than one person, with current experience of the lay advice sector. Two people are set out in clause 83, so why not two people in clause 77? For clause 83, we have tabled a more restricted amendment to make it clear that we are talking about people with ''current'' experience.

We want to ensure that those who understand the lay advice sector are fully involved. People such as those in citizens advice bureaux feel strongly about that, so I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to what, after all, is a modest change to the Bill. Even if he cannot accept our proposed wording today, I hope that he will accept that it would be helpful to table something along these lines in a Government amendment at a later stage.

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

Although I sympathise with some of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath in advocating amendment No. 87, on reflection there might be difficulties with inserting the words ''current experience'' in the clause. My argument follows on from some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Upminster. She expressed worry that experience can sometimes be lost when we have cut-offs and allow people to serve only if a current definition can be applied to them. I suspect that she might be concerned about this amendment.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the form of words in the amendment were included in the Bill, the Committee would be bereft of the benefit of the experience that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath brings? I know that his experience goes back to the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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

I am not sure that it is fair to characterise the hon. Gentleman purely as having experience from the 1970s and 1980s. I am sure that he has experience of matters in the 1990s and the new century. I do not know whether he is applying to be a member of the family procedure rule committee, and it would not be fair for me to go into any details. All the

normal Nolan committee procedures relating to applications must be followed in the normal way, and the hon. Gentleman can consider his application in due course.

We should be wary about the wisdom of adding the word ''current'' to the issue of experience. It could exclude people with very recent experience of the lay advice sector. For example, an applicant might have built a vast depth of knowledge of the field over 20 or 30 years, but then left a month before applying to a particular position. If the amendment were accepted, such an applicant would have to be rejected and his knowledge would be lost. That is not the right approach as it is too restrictive.

In any case, we have not found references to ''current experience'' in other primary legislation. There would be issues in defining what is current experience. It is necessary to ensure that we have the flexibility to include very recent experience, although I understand the hon. Gentleman's point.

Amendment No. 79 has the further effect of increasing the number of lay advisers on the family procedure rule committee from one to two. The amendment is similar to another tabled in another place by Baroness Anelay of St. Johns. She recognised that

''the family procedure rule committee has a narrower remit and is more specialised''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 February 2003; Vol. 644, c. 661.]

and that perhaps the committee would need only one lay advice member. She consequently withdrew her amendment, and I advise the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to do the same.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.