Clause 41

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Provision of accommodation

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

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I have just one question. There has been a long running drive promoted by Members from all parties to ensure that courts remain local in all our communities—in your county, Mr. Bercow, in Norfolk, in Wales and in rural and urban areas. What is the plan to ensure that the Tribunals Service, under the new arrangements, is geographically accessible to people in each of the counties of England and Wales and to ensure that that is done in a way that minimises costs for attendance, travel and inconvenience? We are talking about an administrative legal service, and it is not much good if it takes a long time to get to, is a long way away and costs a lot to travel to. I want to be reassured about the plan for the geographical arrangements for the service throughout England and Wales.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

It is intended that there should be a tribunal location in every significant centre. It is clearly not practical to have them in very small areas, when they have such diverse jurisdiction. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about courts being closed, but other community courts are being opened in different localities. I imagine we will see the use of technology increasing in tribunals hereafter. Clearly, people might not be able to travel to a centre, for example when disability is an issue. It seems inevitable that there should be video provision. When we refer to the senior president having a duty to consider innovative ways to ensure that the tribunal functions, that is what he is likely to consider. That is the plan at the moment. I suspect that there is likely to be some sharing between the Courts Service and the Tribunals Service, but the intention is to have an installation in every major centre.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I am encouraged by that. It is important not only that facilities are shared intelligently—an example could be found in Somerset, where hon. Friends have argued that the magistrates court needs to be retained and where there would be an opportunity to have the magistrates and county courts and the Tribunals Service in one place—but that innovative arrangements are made for both tribunals and other offices that the public need to access to use those services. I hope that the Minister will consult on and be responsive to that, and that as the plans are drawn up they will be consulted on, not least with parliamentary colleagues across the United Kingdom, so that they can be as user-friendly and helpful as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.