Clause 4

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Meaning of “the responsible officer”

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in clause 4, page 3, line 22, leave out subsection (3).

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 4, in clause 4, page 3, line 30, leave out subsection (4).

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

As you can see, Sir Nicholas, subsections (3) and (4) give the Secretary of State the power to amend legislation. However, they do not give him the power to amend only secondary legislation or even the Bill; he is being given the power to amend other primary criminal justice legislation. It is rather more than interesting that the Act that he is being given the power to amend—the Criminal Justice Act 2003—is, in terms of its implementation, the most ridiculous piece of legislation that it is possible to imagine.

In written questions, I have asked the Home Secretary how much of the 2003 Act is in force, how much has been repealed before even coming into force and how much is not yet in force. Although it is a big fat Act, it is incredible how many of its provisions are not in effect, have not been implemented, or have been repealed before being brought into force.

That point is reinforced, or at least I like to think that my arguments are reinforced, by a quick glance at schedules 4 and 23 of the Bill, in which great reams of amendments to recent legislation are identified. There is a constant cascade of legislation that is being amended before it is even brought into force, yet here we are giving the Secretary of State power to effect amendment by the writing of his name, rather than by any fully scrutinised legislative process.

I tabled amendments Nos. 3 and 4 because I believe that Parliament should amend the criminal law; Parliament should amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Parliament, not the Executive, should make the decisions on how we frame our criminal law, which deals with the removal of people’s liberties and the conduct of our police, courts and criminal justice system more widely.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

These amendments are the first of several that the hon. and learned Gentleman has tabled that seek to remove delegated powers from the Bill. The use of order and regulation-making powers is a well established means of removing unnecessary detail from primary legislation and of conferring a sensible degree of flexibility on the legislative scheme. It has been used not just by the current Government but by previous Governments.

We have set out the rationale for each delegated power in a memorandum that we published on the introduction of the Bill, and I hope that members of the Committee can reflect upon that rationale. I must say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the parliamentary scrutiny element of that memorandum will be considered in due course by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in another place. That Committee, as members of this Committee may know, is never slow to criticise any excessive use of delegated powers. In the event that the delegated powers aspects of the legislation are considered by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Committee makes suggestions, I will certainly consider those suggestions in the normal way and give sympathetic consideration to recommendations that the Committee makes.

I believe that the order-making power is necessary and justified, and that it gives us the flexibility to adapt the interpretation of legislation, particularly relating to the responsible officer in this case. The order-making power will enable the Secretary of State to require courts to determine who should be the appropriate responsible officer where the order contains more than one requirement.

On that basis, I commend the order-making power in the Bill to the Committee. I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman’s concerns. I hope that the fact that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee will examine this legislation in detail reassures him. The Committee will make recommendations and those recommendations will be considered by the Government, and if it suggests changes, I give a commitment to consider them sympathetically, in the light of any comments that it wishes to make.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I hear what the Minister says. It is seven-all in this Committee, and I gather that there may be other people interested in this debate who are not currently present. However, I will not disturb the hon. Member for Tooting and require him to go outside, because that would lead to a further delay of our proceedings. However, it is important that, as a matter of constitutional propriety, we are careful about what powers we give a Secretary of State.

This is the place where the Executive should be held to account. It may be said that this is a convenient and well used procedure to amend the detail of legislation, but just because it has been done before does not mean that it is right to do it again. I think that, from time to time, Committees of this House and the House itself should just check the Government, because Governments, if they are not careful, take power because they find it convenient to do so. The Government are not here for the convenience of anybody apart from the electorate of this country, as represented by us.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

This is a minor point that I would just like to ask the Minister about; it is such a minor point that I did not think that it was worth an amendment. It  is just a minor anxiety on my part. Subsection (1)(b) says that the responsible officer, in respect of an attendance centre, is

“the officer in charge of the attendance centre in question”.

Given that the responsible officer has a particular relationship to the offender, it may not always be the case that the person who is nominally in charge of the attendance centre is the person who has that relationship in care to the offender in question. I just wonder whether that wording raises any possibility of causing difficulties or confusion. If it does not, my anxiety is allayed.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am advised that it will not cause problems, in that the officer in charge will maintain responsibility. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I hope that I can assure him that there will not be a problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.