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Before we were so rudely interrupted by lunch, I was halfway through an explanation of why amendments Nos. 79 and 87 should not be made to clause 77, which relates to the composition of the family procedure rule committee. I shall add to the comments that I have already made the fact that the Government remain convinced that having a single lay member on the family procedure rule committee will ensure that the voice of the lay person is heard when rules are being drafted. I shall briefly repeat the reason why we feel that only one seat is necessary. As all hon. Members know, committees can become large and unwieldy if the number of members is excessive. It was therefore a matter of judgment where we drew the line, but we believe that we have provided for adequate representation on the committees. I hope that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) will withdraw his amendment.
I have one brief question about clause 77 as it stands. Once again, I shall raise a point that has been raised with me by the Institute of Legal Executives. Before lunch we dealt with amendment No. 141, which would have ensured the inclusion of one legal executive who had particular experience of practice in family proceedings. The Government resisted that amendment, and we withdrew it, although we voted on a similar amendment with regard to criminal matters.
The Institute of Legal Executives raised the issue of the current drafting of clause 77(2)(l) and (n). It has offered two alternative interpretations of those paragraphs, and I agree that they could be read in
either way. If the Minister can say today which of the two interpretations is correct, I would be grateful. If not, I would be grateful if he wrote to me and other Committee members in due course—I appreciate that my question is slightly technical. The institute asked whether paragraphs (l) and (n) should be read in the light of preceding paragraph (k), which refers to a person being
Alternatively, the reference in those paragraphs to one person who has been granted that right could be read in the light of subsection (5), which makes provision for the Lord Chancellor to consult authorised bodies for the purposes of section 27 or 28 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.
If the latter interpretation were correct, that could imply that all those with rights granted under either section 27 or 28 of the 1990 Act were eligible to be appointed under paragraphs (l) and (n). However, if the first of the two interpretations were applied, legal executives would not be eligible for appointment, as they currently have no independent rights to conduct litigation. If the second interpretation were applied, legal executives who are granted rights of audience by their institute in the county court or magistrates court could be eligible. The Institute of Legal Executives is obviously hoping that the second interpretation is correct. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that point now, or write to me after he has considered the matter with his officials.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a point on behalf of those who, in turn, have raised queries with him. My understanding is that the former of his two explanations is likely to be right: in other words, the persons who may be appointed under subsection (2)(k), (l) and (m) are those who have been granted the right to conduct litigation in relation to all proceedings in Supreme Court by an authorised body. That seems to be how the clause is drafted.
As usual, I should say that if on reflection I prove wrong, I will be happy to write and correct my interpretation for the hon. Gentleman, because he raises an issue that is clearly of concern to the Institute of Legal Executives. It is a fair point to make, and I shall clarify further if my explanation is wrong. On the whole, I think that clause 77, in defining the membership of the family procedure rule committee, strikes the right balance, so that there will be a good spread of experience and qualification. I hope that the Committee will allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.