Skip to main content

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill [Lords]

Volume 462: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2007

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 7

Transfer from salaried to fee-paid judicial office

‘(1) The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c. 4) is amended as follows.

(2) After section 94 insert—

“94A Appointments not subject to section 85: courts

(1) Where this section applies to an appointment—

(a) section 85 does not apply, but

(b) the Lord Chancellor may not make the appointment without the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice.

(2) This section applies to the appointment of a person, on a fee-paid basis, to an office in the table below (the “proposed appointment”) if the person—

(a) holds the corresponding qualifying office (or one of them) on a salaried basis, or

(b) ceased to hold the corresponding qualifying office (or one of them) within two years ending with the date when the proposed appointment takes effect and, immediately before ceasing to hold that office, held it on a salaried basis.

Proposed appointment (fee-paid)

Qualifying office (salaried)

An office listed in Part 2 of Schedule 14.

The same office.

Deputy District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts).

District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts),

Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate), or

Deputy Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate).

Assistant Judge Advocate General, or a person appointed temporarily to assist the Judge Advocate General.

Judge Advocate of Her Majesty’s Fleet,

Judge Advocate General,

Vice Judge Advocate General, or

Assistant Judge Advocate General

(3) The Lord Chief Justice may nominate a judicial office holder (as defined in section 109(4)) to exercise his function under subsection (1)(b).

(4) In this section “salaried” and “fee-paid” have the meaning given by paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 7 to the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 (c. 8).

94B Appointments not subject to section 85: tribunals

(1) Where this section applies to a recommendation or appointment—

(a) section 85 does not apply, but

(b) the Lord Chancellor may not make the recommendation or appointment without the concurrence of the Senior President of Tribunals.

(2) In the case of the appointment of a person as a deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal, if the person holds or has held an office listed in section 6(1) of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, the Lord Chancellor must also consult the Lord Chief Justice before making the appointment.

(3) This section applies to, or to a recommendation to Her Majesty for, the appointment of a person, on a fee-paid basis, to an office in the table below (the “proposed appointment”) if the person—

(a) holds the corresponding qualifying office (or one of them) on a salaried basis, or

(b) subject to subsection (4), ceased to hold the corresponding qualifying office (or one of them) within two years ending with the date when the proposed appointment takes effect and, immediately before ceasing to hold that office, held it on a salaried basis.

Proposed appointment (fee-paid)Qualifying office (salaried)An office listed in Part 3 of Schedule 14 (other than the office of Chamber President or Deputy Chamber President of a chamber of the Upper Tribunal or the First-tier Tribunal).The same office, ora more senior office, listed in Part 3 of Schedule 14, in the same tribunal or body (but excluding the Upper Tribunal and the First-tier Tribunal).Deputy Child Support Commissioner.Chief Child Support Commissioner, orChild Support Commissioner.Deputy Social Security Commissioner.Chief Social Security Commissioner, orSocial Security Commissioner.Deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal.Ordinary judge of the Court of Appeal in England and Wales,Lord Justice of Appeal in Northern Ireland,Judge of the Court of Session,Puisne judge of the High Court in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, Circuit judge,Sheriff in Scotland,County court judge in Northern Ireland,District judge in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts), orJudge of the Upper Tribunal by virtue of any of paragraphs (a) to (f) or (i) of section 5(1) of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.Judge of the First-tier Tribunal by appointment under paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 2 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.Transferred-in judge of the First-tier Tribunal (see section 31(2) of that Act).Other member of the First-tier Tribunal by appointment under paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 2 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.Transferred-in other member of the First-tier Tribunal (see section 31(2) of that Act).Judge of the Upper Tribunal by appointment under paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 3 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.Transferred-in judge of the Upper Tribunal (see section 31(2) of that Act).Other member of the Upper Tribunal by appointment under paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 3 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.Transferred-in other member of the Upper Tribunal (see section 31(2) of that Act).Deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal by appointment under paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 3 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.Deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal under section 31(2) of that Act.

(4) In subsection (3)(b) the words “within two years ending with the date when the proposed appointment takes effect” do not apply if—

(a) the proposed appointment is to the office of deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal, and

(b) the corresponding qualifying office is—

(i) ordinary judge of the Court of Appeal in England and Wales,

(ii) Lord Justice of Appeal in Northern Ireland,

(iii) judge of the Court of Session, or

(iv) puisne judge of the High Court in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.

(5) In this section “salaried” and “fee-paid” have the meaning given by paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 7 to the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993.”

(3) After section 85(2) (restriction on recommendations and appointments) insert—

“(2A) This section is subject to—

(a) section 30(4) of the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951,

(b) sections 91(1ZB) and 102(1C) of the Supreme Court Act 1981,

(c) section 8(1ZC) of the County Courts Act 1984, and

(d) sections 94A and 94B below.”

(4) After section 85(3) (power to amend Schedule 14) add—

“(4) The Lord Chancellor may by order amend section 94A or 94B if he thinks that the amendment is consequential on an amendment made to Schedule 14 by an order under subsection (3).”

(5) Section 97 (Scotland and Northern Ireland) is amended as follows.

(6) In subsection (1)—

(a) for “This section applies” substitute “Subsections (2) and (3) apply”, and

(b) after paragraph (c) insert—

“(ca) section 94B(2);”.

(7) After subsection (3) add—

“(4) Subsections (2) and (3) apply to the reference in section 94A(1) to the Lord Chancellor obtaining the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice as they apply to a reference in a provision specified in subsection (1) to the Lord Chancellor consulting the Lord Chief Justice.

(5) The Lord President of the Court of Session may nominate any of the following to exercise his function under section 94A(1)(b)—

(a) a judge who is a member of the First or Second Division of the Inner House of the Court of Session;

(b) the Senior President of Tribunals.

(6) The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland may nominate any of the following to exercise his function under section 94A(1)(b)—

(a) the holder of one of the offices listed in Schedule 1 to the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002;

(b) a Lord Justice of Appeal (as defined in section 88 of that Act);

(c) the Senior President of Tribunals.”’.—[Vera Baird.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 8—Appointment of temporary assistant to Judge Advocate General.

Government new clause 9—Appointment of deputy Circuit judge.

Government new clause 10—Appointment as Chairman of Law Commission.

Government new clause 13—Continuation of judicial office after normal retirement date.

Government amendments Nos. 43 to 51, 71, 66, 52 to 63 and 67.

New clauses 7 and 9 and amendments Nos. 43 to 63 deal with a single topic, which is that those who have served in judicial office on a salaried basis should be facilitated to continue to do so on a fee-paid basis, offering as they do an important additional resource for the peaks and troughs of court and tribunal business, and to preserve their tried and tested specialist skills. Where someone has served successfully in salaried office, it would be a waste of resources if he had to go through a Judicial Appointments Commission selection process in order to become, as it were, part-time, but every case must be carefully considered. A business case will be required in each instance, and the individual must of course be guaranteed to be up to the job.

Originally, in clauses 53 and 54 the provision was available for deputy district judges and deputy and temporary additional masters and registrars of the Supreme Court. The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have agreed that it would be better if the provisions were amended and extended. Such a use of staff was regarded as deployments appropriately carried out by the Lord Chief Justice, but the two men have agreed that it is more appropriate to call them appointments and to say that they will be done by the Lord Chancellor, although he will be required to obtain the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice in relation to appointments in the ordinary courts, and of the senior president of tribunals in relation to tribunal appointments. The provisions will in addition apply to all the judicial offices at the level of circuit judge and below in the ordinary courts and to all tribunal appointments made by the Lord Chancellor.

I should be happy to take the House through the details of how all the amendments culminate in what I have set out, but essentially I have outlined their import. They will facilitate the use of a formerly salaried chairman, judge or master to work on a part-time paid basis, either on retirement or when they have held office in the previous two years. The provisions contain all the checks and balances to which I have referred, but if more amplification is needed, I shall of course respond to any comments that are made.

New clause 8 sets out amendments to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951. It arises from an unforeseen interaction between the 2005 Act and the anticipated Armed Forces Act 2006. The effect of this interaction, if not remedied, would mean that certain judicial office holders and lawyers who sit as judge advocates would no longer be eligible to do so without having to apply afresh for their posts.

Currently, the Judge Advocate General can appoint judge advocates from a pool of 12 judicial office holders or lawyers to individual courts martial. That will change once the new Armed Forces Act comes into force, as all appointments will require selection by the Judicial Appointments Commission. That could cause difficulty for the current band of 12 people from whom court martial officials are drawn. If they were to require selection by the JAC, we could lose a good deal of specialist expertise, as the people involved have worked in this field for many years, and are regarded with esteem.

The problem has been discussed with the Ministry of Defence and with the Office of the Judge Advocate General. To achieve our purpose, it is necessary to amend the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951. New clause 8 does that by adding three new subsections to the 1951 Act. It requires that the Lord Chancellor, who will be in charge of the appointments, seek the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice before making any such appointment. I assure the House that new clause 8 is necessary for the continued smooth running of the courts martial system, and I trust that hon. Members will be able to support it.

New clause 10 relates to the appointment of the chairman of the Law Commission. As hon. Members know, the Law Commission is a statutory body set up in 1965, and it comprises a chairman and four other commissioners. All are appointed by the Lord Chancellor from persons who appear to be suitably qualified by the holding of judicial office or by practical or academic experience of the law.

The first chairman was the then Sir Leslie Scarman, who was appointed in 1965, and the present chairman is the delightful and extremely effective Sir Terence Etherton, who was appointed in 2006. In practice, the policy of all the successive Lord Chancellors has been to appoint a candidate from among the judges of the High Court. That has brought significant advantages of independence, expertise and prestige to the Law Commission, and has helped to make it the internationally well regarded law reform body that it is today.

We propose to amend the Law Commissions Act 1965 so that in future the Lord Chancellor can appoint only a senior judge as chairman of the Law Commission. The change is necessary because the code of practice on ministerial appointments of the Commissioner for Public Appointments requires that an appointment should be open to all those who are qualified to be appointed. Therefore, the fact that the chairmanship of the Law Commission would have to be open to judges, barristers, solicitors and legal academics could deter applications from judges and could deny the Law Commission the very important benefits that flow from the appointment of a senior High Court judge. There are also consequential amendments, but I hope that I need spend no more time persuading hon. Members that the proposed change is wholly desirable.

Finally, new clause 13 rectifies a technical lacuna in a section of the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 that resulted inadvertently from its modification by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The 1993 Act prescribes a normal compulsory retirement age of 70 for judicial office holders, subject to transitional provisions for later retirement dates for those already sitting at the date of commencement. Section 26 of the 1993 Act makes further provision to enable the service of judicial office holders to be extended, on a year-to-year basis, up to the age of 75—that is, beyond what is otherwise their compulsory retirement date. That is an example of flexibility in the interests of justice, in exceptional cases. It means, for instance, that an office holder should be retained if his or her specialist knowledge causes particular difficulty in finding a replacement.

Paragraph 228 of schedule 4 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 modifies the Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 to reflect the new division of functions between the Executive and the judiciary. By reassigning the power for the extension of service of judicial office holders, it catered for the exercise of that power in relation to judicial office holders exercising jurisdiction exclusively in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, it has latterly come to light that there is a lacuna, because the changes did not cater for those who exercise cross-border jurisdiction. Consequently, we have sought to close that lacuna, and again I hope that I need persuade the House no further that that is an entirely desirable development.

I begin by thanking the Minister for her courtesy in writing to the Opposition Front-Bench team—and I presume also to our Liberal Democrat counterparts—to inform us about these changes. We support them because, as she explained, they tidy up various problems. We certainly support the amendments relating to the appointment of the chairman of the Law Commission, and to the appointment of retired judges.

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) suggested that retired High Courts judges should be able to sit as deputy judges in the upper tribunal. The Minister said that she would follow up his suggestion, and I am especially pleased that she has done so. I am also keen about what she is doing in respect of the appointment of existing part-time judge advocates. She explained clearly that the 12 lawyers in the pool from which the Advocate General makes appointments to sit on courts martial will have to go through a formal appointment process, under the auspices of the JAC. Obviously, quite a few of them will not feel able to put themselves through that selection procedure, and that is why the proposal is pragmatic and sensible. The Opposition are the last people who would want to lose experienced post holders, as that would have an impact on the smooth running of the courts martial system.

There are a lot of amendments and new clauses in the group, which makes it look rather intimidating. We support the Government’s proposals, some of which flow from our discussions in Committee, but I am concerned that the Government should have introduced so many new clauses at this stage. The Minister was correct to inform us about her plans, and I appreciate entirely that it is important to get things right. We had a lengthy debate in the other place and in the Joint Committee, but the Bill has taken a long time to come to fruition.

Various reports were followed by a draft Bill, and there has been a great deal of discussion for many years. I hope that the Minister will say why so many amendments have been left to the last moment. Why could she and her Department not get all of it right from the word go? With those few critical remarks, however, I assure the Minister that we support these amendments. They make a great deal of sense, and I commend her on bringing them to the House.

I too thank the Minister for writing to us in good time for today’s debate. She indicated the Government’s intentions and the nature of their amendments in a way that was both clear and sensible. I understand the value of allowing people to be available for work on a part-time basis, as that will extend the range of those who are able to assist in the tribunal service. That is completely logical. It is right to deal with the point about the courts martial and with the technical issue in the Bill, as it is a perfectly proper Bill in which to sort out the structure of the courts and tribunals. The proposals are welcomed by the Liberal Democrats.

A point could be made about the delay, but these are not major constitutional changes. There is nothing that rocks the ship of state. It is much better that we get a Bill in good shape, so the new clauses are entirely acceptable to me and my colleagues. We are glad that we can tidy matters up at this stage of our proceedings.

I am immensely grateful to the hon. Members for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). As the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk suggested, the lacuna regarding cross-border jurisdiction and pensions emerged only when we tried to draft appropriate provisions for the matter that we discussed in Committee of extending tenure of office and transferring people from salaried to part-time posts. The issue was late to arrive.

The issue of the Law Commission chairman was raised by the current chairman himself. We have taken some time to ascertain that no adverse consequences would result from complying with his wishes. It seems to us that the steps are only advantageous, and I am grateful for the support for them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 8

Appointment of temporary assistant to Judge Advocate General

‘After section 30(2) of the Courts-Martial (Appeals) Act 1951 (c. 46) (temporary assistants to Judge Advocate General) insert—

“(3) The Lord Chancellor may not appoint a holder of relevant office under subsection (2) without the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

(4) Section 85 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (selection of certain office holders) does not apply to an appointment to which subsection (3) applies.

(5) In subsection (3) “holder of relevant office” means a person who has, within the two years ending with the day on which this subsection comes into force, been appointed as judge advocate to a court-martial under—

(a) section 84B of the Army Act 1955,

(b) section 84B of the Air Force Act 1955, or

(c) section 53B of the Naval Discipline Act 1957.”’.—[Vera Baird.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 9

Appointment of deputy Circuit judge

‘In section 24(1) of the Courts Act 1971 (c. 23) (appointment of deputy Circuit judges and assistant recorders) for paragraph (a) substitute—

“(a) the Lord Chancellor may, with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, appoint to be a deputy Circuit judge, during such period or on such occasions as the Lord Chancellor thinks fit, any person who has held office as a judge of the Court of Appeal or of the High Court or as a Circuit judge;”.’.—[Vera Baird.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Appointment as Chairman of Law Commission

‘(1) Section 1 of the Law Commissions Act 1965 (c. 22) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) The person appointed to be the Chairman shall be a person who holds office as a judge of the High Court or Court of Appeal in England and Wales.”

(3) In subsection (2) before “Commissioners” insert “the other”.—[Vera Baird.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 13

Continuation of judicial office after normal retirement date

‘(1) Section 26 of the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 (c. 8) (retirement date for holders of certain judicial offices etc.) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (12), in the definition of “the appropriate person”, after paragraph (c) insert “;

(d) the Senior President of Tribunals in the case of a person who holds a judicial office that—

(i) is specified in subsection (12A) below, and

(ii) is not in the person’s case an office to which any of paragraphs (a) to (c) above applies;

(e) the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in the case of a person who holds a judicial office that is not in the person’s case an office to which any of paragraphs (a) to (d) applies;”.

(3) After subsection (12) insert—

“(12A) The judicial offices mentioned in paragraph (d) of the definition of “appropriate person” in subsection (12) above are—

(a) Chamber President, or Deputy Chamber President, of a chamber of the First-tier Tribunal or of a chamber of the Upper Tribunal;

(b) judge, or other member, of the First-tier Tribunal or of the Upper Tribunal appointed under paragraph 1(1) or 2(1) of Schedule 2 or 3 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (“the 2007 Act”);

(c) deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal appointed under paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 3 to the 2007 Act, except in a case where the holding of the office by the person in question falls within subsection (7)(ga) above;

(d) transferred-in judge, or transferred-in other member, of the First-tier Tribunal or of the Upper Tribunal (see section 31(2) of the 2007 Act);

(e) deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal by virtue of an order under section 31(2) of the 2007 Act;

(f) an office held by a person if the person’s holding of the office results in the person being a member of, or person who is, a tribunal in a list in Schedule 6 to the 2007 Act that has effect for the purposes of section 30 of that Act (but only if the office is specified in Schedule 5 to this Act);

(g) President or other member of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal;

(h) member of the Employment Appeal Tribunal appointed under section 22(1)(c) of the Employment Tribunals Act 1996;

(i) member of a panel of chairmen of employment tribunals.

(12B) Neither paragraph (d) nor paragraph (e) of the definition of “appropriate person” in subsection (12) above applies to an office held by a person if provision about that person’s continuation in the office after the compulsory retirement date for the office—

(a) would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament if it were included in an Act of that Parliament, or

(b) would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly if it were included in an Act of that Assembly.”

(4) In subsection (13) (Lord Chief Justices to exercise functions under section with concurrence of Lord Chancellor), after “Northern Ireland” insert “or the Senior President of Tribunals”.’.—[Vera Baird.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 2

Commencement of Chapter 1 of Part 3

‘The provisions of Chapter 1 of Part 3 of this Act shall not come into force until a registration scheme for bailiffs and enforcement agents, enforcement agency businesses and enforcement trade associations has been set up and implemented in accordance with the Private Security Industry Act 2001 or this Act.’.—[Simon Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 4—Uniforms

‘All enforcement agents, both private and Crown-employed, must at all times wear such uniform or other means of identification as shall be prescribed.’.

New clause 5—Enforcement by taking control of goods

‘(1) There shall be a form of enforcement against corporeal moveable property for recovery of money owed that it is to be known as taking control of goods.

(2) Taking control of goods shall include selling them to recover a sum of money.

(3) Schedule 12 applies where an enactment, writ or warrant confers power to take control of goods.

(4) Regulations may make provision about taking control of goods, including provision determining the time when control is taken.

(5) Any liability of an enforcement agent (including criminal liability) arising out of his securing goods on a highway is excluded to the extent that he acted in accordance with Schedule 12 and with reasonable care.’.

New clause 6—Independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents

‘(1) The Lord Chancellor must by regulations establish an independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision for—

(a) the licensing of enforcement agents;

(b) the approval of the businesses and organisations which employ them;

(c) the accreditation of the professional bodies which represent them;

(d) the setting of standards of conduct;

(e) the monitoring of performance;

(f) the investigation of complaints;

(g) the punishment of failure to comply with standards of conduct; and

(h) the provision of redress where appropriate.’.

Amendment No. 37, page 43, line 21, leave out clause 57.

Amendment No. 21, in clause 58, page 44, line 4, leave out paragraph (c).

Amendment No. 33, page 44, line 6 , leave out from ‘as’ to end of line 10 and insert ‘a constable’.

Amendment No. 34, page 44, line 11, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

Amendment No. 35, in clause 59, page 44, line 29 , at end insert—

‘(ba) for certificates to be issued to—

(i) officers of a Government department, and

(ii) persons appointed under section 2(1) of the Courts Act 2003 who are directly employed by a Government department or an executive agency;’.

Amendment No. 5, in clause 143, page 110, line 3 , at end insert—

‘(4A) No order may be made under this section to bring Chapter 1 of Part 3 into force unless the provisions of section [Commencement of Chapter 1 of Part 3] have been complied with.’.

Amendment No. 42, page 110, line 3 , at end insert—

‘(4A) No order may be made under this section to bring Chapter 1 of Part 3 into force unless the provisions of section [Independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents] have been complied with.’.

Amendment No. 24, in schedule 12, page 205, line 21, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) and I tabled new clauses 2 and 4 and amendment No. 5, but I am conscious that other new clauses and amendments were tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). [Interruption.] I beg his pardon—that was an aberration; I was looking for him in the wrong place. We have all been a bit thrown by the events of the past 24 hours, so I apologise. I am also conscious that for the next hour or two, great attention will be probably paid to the activities of the state elsewhere, and not here. None the less, these are important matters, and I am grateful for the opportunity to come back to them.

Our new clauses relate to the important part of the Bill about the enforcement of court orders that was much discussed on Second Reading and in Committee. In particular, I refer to the enforcement of control orders by taking control of goods, and to the activities of bailiffs. They have a perfectly proper job to do, but they can become tyrants to the poor and the dispossessed. A regular theme of our debates has been to try to ensure that that this set of provisions in the Bill does not come into force until there is a registration scheme for bailiffs. That is the burden of new clause 2.

The Minister has been helpful in this respect, and I pay tribute to her for that. In Committee, she confirmed that the application of the Bill will be delayed until it can be placed in the context of the system for proper registration that exists under earlier legislation dating from the Private Security Industry Act 2001. I am grateful to her for that. To be honest, I must explain that the new clause is the rerunning of the argument about whether what she said should appear on the face of the Bill. The proposal is to put such a provision into the Bill, to lock into place the undertakings that she gave without equivocation or qualification earlier in the Bill’s passage.

I do not want to be confrontational, because there has been a coming together and the Bill has made significant progress on a matter that was controversial. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central and I expressed concerns in different ways that reflected our constituency experience and the wider knowledge that we need to make sure that the bailiff and enforcement agency industries are properly regulated. New clause 2 was tabled to that end.

New clause 4 is a specific proposal that would require those who do enforcement work to be identifiable by wearing some form of uniform or having other identifying characteristics. Again, this is not new territory and the new clause is self-explanatory. It says:

“All enforcement agents, both private and Crown-employed, must at all times wear such uniforms or other means of identification as shall be prescribed.”

It does not goes into detail—one would not expect it to—as to what the uniform should be, but it would make it clear that people must be able to recognise the enforcement agents. Many agencies do such work, so if we are not careful, people will appear at people’s doors and they will not be obviously identifiable. They do not appear in police uniform or, necessarily, in any other recognisable uniform. Therefore, someone on the receiving end may not know that a document, letter, card or pass signifies with any authority what the person is there for.

We are trying to find a way of making sure that the citizen can understand that when people have particular powers to enter a property to take possessions—the sort of powers that are regarded as powers of the state or powers that the state gives to other people—those powers cannot be abused. Citizens should understand their rights in the real world, in which the poorest are often those who face the most oppressive debt. They are most harassed by such activity and find it troubling, and it can lead to the most severe consequences. Personal debt has gone through the roof, and many more people have hire purchase agreements, get into terrible trouble with their credit cards and finances and face huge interest rates. In the end, people may come to enforce the agreement, which legally in contract they may be entitled to do, but without the citizen knowing about it.

The Minister has been sympathetic to the concerns that have been expressed, and I am glad that this is not an issue of fundamental controversy. There are many people at the bottom of the income scale in her constituency and mine, and in that of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. The new clause says that there should be a means by which the enforcer can be identified.

Amendment No. 5 deals with the commencement date for chapter 1 of part 3. It is linked to the new clause and would defer the commencement date until we know that we have the other security in place. It is tied to the first point that I made, and I think that it is covered by what the Minister has said. The provision would be locked into statute, because we are keen that we should come out of Report and Third Reading with everyone clear that no additional powers will be given to those doing enforcement work, unless there is a proper regulatory system.

Before I sit down, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it may be helpful to you, the Clerk, and my colleagues if I say that I do not think that there is now much disagreement on new clause 2. There may still be an issue with new clause 4. If so, I would be grateful if we could press new clause 4 to a Division, although I am conscious that that may come at a different stage in the proceedings.

It a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend across the tramlines, or rather, across the tracks—if I may call him that. He has put a lot of effort and thought into the measure and speaks with a good knowledge of the background. I was not on the Public Bill Committee because of the habit of not putting Government party critics of Bills on those Committees, so I am catching up from behind and cannot speak with his wealth of experience. I want to echo the concerns that he has expressed.

The bailiff provisions are one of the worst parts of the Bill. I have no great quarrel with the rest of the Bill. It would be better to omit part 3 and start again, but as the Government are determined to press on with it, it is important that the provisions fit into the social background. Society is being engulfed by a rising tide of debt. The problem is that the poor, who are struggling against debt and trying to rise above it, are in danger of being pushed down by over-harsh debt recovery provisions.

Debts abound. We are a society built on debt. Not only do we have student debt, which will have to be recovered at some stage, we have mortgage debt and the possibility of negative equity, which I hope does not arise again. More and more people have bigger and bigger mortgages. We have fines and fixed penalties, which will have to be recovered at some stage, local government fines and charges for council tax, bank charges, credit card debt, hire purchase debt, and tax credit recovery. All that will pose an increasing problem—a problem that will press on the poor, in particular. We do not want that section of society to be threatened by a massive and brutal recovery process. But, unless the new clauses and amendments are accepted, the Bill will do exactly that.

Bailiffs are a big business, and the reputation of the sector is not high. There are instances all over the country of brutal, and in many cases misguided, enforcements of debts. Sometimes those debts were never owing. People report their bad experiences with bailiffs. The situation is largely unregulated. Councils and courts have contracts with firms of bailiffs, but the contracts are weak. Many of them are not published, and it is difficult to get at them. They do not set a fair basis for charges and they do not set the fees, which can escalate. We have a system in which there is an onus on bailiffs not to recover the debt or trace the person, because they make their money by enforcement—by distraint on goods or by clamping cars, and by charging for that service. The whole system is slanted towards charges of that nature.

A regulatory framework is needed. My hon. and learned Friend the Minister, who has listened to the complaints with care and consideration, unfortunately still persists in saying that the regulatory framework will be provided through the Security Industry Authority. My new clauses would create an independent regulator for the industry, because the Security Industry Authority, to which, under regulations, the Minister proposes to give the powers, is not adequate. We are not talking about people who are bouncers at nightclubs. Some of them may behave like thugs and brutes, but they do not fall into that category. In many cases, they are acting as agents of the state, the court or the council—particularly in respect of road traffic fines. We need more effective regulation than the Security Industry Authority can provide. We need registration. We need that kind of structure to impose discipline.

New clause 5 proposes a new method of taking control of goods. In practice, one of the Liberal Democrat new clauses is better, and I would be happy to accept that instead. The nub of my argument is dealt with in new clause 6, which proposes an independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents. It would apply to all people enforcing debts, whether they are from the court, the council or the Government. It proposes a framework that involves licensing the businesses that employ those people and accrediting the professional bodies that represent them. The authority would set standards of conduct, which is the key point.

Standards of conduct and behaviour vary widely, and in effect there is no redress for a person who is afflicted by the behaviour of bailiffs. If we had an independent authority that set standards, people could appeal to it and take their complaints to it. It would monitor performance. Much of the performance is unseen. The state and the courts want debts to be enforced. Bailiffs bring in money on an enormous scale, so there is, in effect, a kind of conspiracy between the authorities and the bailiffs. By monitoring performance, an independent authority could ensure that standards were maintained. It could investigate complaints, punish failure to comply with proper standards of conduct and provide the redress that is not presently available—or at least, it is extraordinarily difficult to secure—for anybody who suffers from the activities of bailiffs or mistakes made by bailiffs.

We know of large numbers of cases involving the distraint of goods, and in particular, the clamping of vehicles, in order to enforce debts. People are charged massive sums to take the clamps off. Those people need some machinery of redress and complaint, and the Security Industry Authority will not provide it. The Government have wavered on whether there should be some machinery of redress and complaint. First, they said that there should, and then they changed their mind and said that there should not. New clause 6 would require the provision of some machinery of complaint, because that is a basic democratic right.

The amendments in the group are less important than the new clauses. Amendment No. 37 is, in effect, covered by the new clauses. Amendments Nos. 21 and 24 provide that distraint and clamping should be done by bailiffs, not by somebody acting in the name of bailiffs, or even somebody supervised by bailiffs. Several cases have been brought to my attention in which the work was done by people who were not qualified or registered as bailiffs, but who said that they were acting under the supervision of bailiffs. My daughter’s car was clamped by somebody claiming to be a bailiff, who was not in fact the bailiff and was not registered as such. We might need more bailiffs—it is true that the numbers are not large, given the amount of work that is to be done—but it is important that they be registered, to ensure that they are supervised and working to proper standards. That is better than having the work done by untrained unqualified subordinates.

Amendments Nos. 33 to 35 would put Government officers on the same basis as bailiffs, so that only constables would be exempt from the relevant enforcement provisions. Amendment No. 42 would provide simply that the enforcement procedures would not come into force until an effective and proper independent regulator of the type that I want had been established.

I have given a quick tour d’horizon of my amendments, which resulted from burning the midnight oil to try to bring easement to the situation. However, I will want to press new clause 6 to a Division, because it is crucial that we have an independent regulator. I am not satisfied by the proposals put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. Although she has modified the Bill considerably and effectively, I am not happy about the Security Industry Authority, so I want the independent regulator for which new clause 6 would provide.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—my hon. Friend, in this context—said. We would certainly support him on new clause 4. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) obviously carried out a good deal of research before preparing his new clauses and amendments, to which he spoke with eloquence. When I saw the amendment paper, I was amazed that so many of his proposals were similar to those tabled by the official Opposition in Committee. We devoted a substantial time to debating this subject in Committee. The Minister was able to explain that some of our fears were unfounded, and we were comfortable on some fronts after hearing what she said. However, there are many aspects of the Bill that still cause us great concern. That is why Conservative Members will be minded to support the Lib Dems on new clause 4, which would require bailiffs to wear uniforms—we tabled such an amendment in Committee—and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby on new clause 6, which would provide for regulation by an outside body.

The Bill gives bailiffs a substantial number of extra powers, such as increased powers to enter homes. It also takes away existing constraints. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby pointed out, that is happening at a time when the amount of debt in our society is increasing, as is the pressure on individuals throughout our constituencies. More and more people are being persuaded to take out debt, or bamboozled into doing so.

The Government have created an additional 2,900 criminal offences and there are many new fines and penalties. To some extent, the Government have warped our sense of what is criminal. Many bailiff actions stem from crimes that resulted in fixed penalty notices. There has been a huge proliferation in the use of such notices. There is great concern in the enforcement industry that many Government Departments have created a situation in which more people will get into debt, which will have to be enforced.

I should make it clear that people who run up debts should of course pay those debts, whether they are owed to companies or to other individuals. There should be a mechanism by which debts may be enforced. If people owe money to government-related organisations for council tax or because of fines, including parking fines, those debts should be paid, because if they are not paid, other taxpayers suffer. However, at the same time, there must be a proper system for protecting the vulnerable. We have tabled amendments in a later group that would specifically protect the vulnerable.

Everyone who has examined this issue will know that the vast majority of bailiffs behave responsibly. There is no doubt that the industry prides itself on high standards. However, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby pointed out, and as we discussed at length in Committee, a small minority of bailiffs bring the industry into disrepute by going completely over the top. We have all come across examples in our constituencies of bailiffs acting in an intimidating way.

Various examples have been cited by citizens advice bureaux, including my local citizens advice bureau. A CAB in Somerset was looking after a 44-year-old woman who had been visited by a bailiff collecting council tax arrears. The bailiff said that he wanted immediate payment for the full sum owing. He tried to enter and stated that he would go to all the rooms and remove children’s possessions, white goods—including the cooker—and all furniture. The bailiff stated that for every half an hour he sat outside the house he would charge £50, which he did after sitting there for exactly 30 minutes. Owing to the bailiff’s threatening behaviour, the woman’s partner made a payment, but only by using the rent money, which moved the debt problem elsewhere.

A CAB in Bedfordshire told me about a woman whom it was looking after. Sadly, her husband died relatively young, and the next day a bailiff called at her house about council tax arrears. The woman explained that her husband had just died and that because he had not made a will, and she would therefore have to go through probate, there would not be enough money in the estate to pay the council tax. She thus asked the bailiff to wait for a while, but he refused and said that unless she paid at least £150 then and there, he would seize her goods. He also threatened her with arrest. The behaviour of that bailiff was completely contrary to the Government’s guidelines for the enforcement industry, which make it clear that people in vulnerable situations should be protected.

While a minority of bailiffs behave in such a way, there is a need for proper outside regulation, which brings us to the two key amendments in the group. New clause 2 relates to the Security Industry Authority. For those who have not been following our debates carefully, I should explain that the SIA is a private sector organisation approved by the Government that regulates various private sector organisations. Under the Government’s plans, private bailiffs, rather than court and Government-employed bailiffs, will be regulated by the SIA. We support those proposals because, as we said in Committee, if the Government will not introduce full independent regulation not just for private bailiffs but for the whole industry, we will reluctantly accept the second-best option of the SIA, because a step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

In essence, new clause 2 provides that the greater powers for bailiffs under the Bill, especially powers to enter people’s homes, should not come into effect until SIA regulation is implemented. We have various concerns that are relevant to new clause 2. Can the Minister tell the House when the new SIA system will be in place? I am concerned that it may not be for quite a while, which means that it is even more important to include in the Bill the provisions proposed by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey. The Bill may be in its final stages—it will have its Third Reading this afternoon and will in due course receive Royal Assent—but we need to hear from the Minister exactly when the regulation under the SIA will be in place.

Can the Minister also tell us how the proposed new certification scheme will work alongside regulation by the SIA? We discussed the matter in Committee at some length so she is well aware that the present certification scheme is flawed because many local authorities do not insist on their contracted bailiffs complying with the existing scheme. Will the new scheme work properly? One of the problems under the SIA plans is that a debtor will not be able to get redress even if the bailiff loses his or her licence.

I want to pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, which causes me concern, too. We have been told time and again of the feeling in the bailiff industry and among many organisations working hard to try to protect the vulnerable, such as the Church of England, the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, the Child Poverty Action Group and the CAB, that because bailiffs collect billions of pounds for central and local government the Government have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, with regulation as light-touch as possible.

Philip Evans, chair of the Enforcement Law Reform Group, made a telling remark the other day, which he will not mind my quoting:

“Among police and judiciary there is an institutionalised complacency about the behaviour of bailiffs.”

His organisation is not like the CAB or the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, whose approach might be that most bailiffs should be looked at suspiciously; his were the remarks of someone who represents the enforcement and bailiff industry. The industry, too, is calling for greater regulation, because it realises that the actions of a small minority of bailiffs—including the examples to which I referred and many more—are doing huge damage to the reputation of bailiffs generally. That is why the industry wants regulation.

It is worth looking at what other outside third parties have said about regulation. Professor J. Beatson, professor of public law at Cambridge university, produced a report for the Lord Chancellor in 2000, which had quite an impact on the subsequent Green Paper. Professor Beatson made it clear that he felt that independent regulation for bailiffs was absolutely essential. He said that the arguments for bailiffs having extra powers could be countenanced only in the context of proper outside regulation.

Can the Minister comment on why the Government did not follow the recommendations in the Green Paper and why they have not listened to the views of many organisations, such as the Enforcement Services Association and the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies, as well as the voluntary bodies that spend their time trying to help vulnerable people? Yes, we are taking a small step forward with the SIA. I do not want to be churlish, because we advocated that move in Committee; we pushed hard for it and we thank the Minister for agreeing. We may even be entitled to give ourselves a pat on the back for that small step forward, but it does not go far enough, especially when bailiffs are being given more powers.

From the examples given in Committee and in this debate, we know that in many cases bailiffs misrepresent their legal powers. People are knocking on doors pretending to be someone they are not, which is why new clause 4, proposed by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, says that bailiffs should wear a distinctive uniform or carry more than merely a card as identification. We debated that matter in Committee and the Minister was not happy about the idea of bailiffs turning up in uniform. She took the view that it was bad enough for a vulnerable person living in a block of flats if the police came round, so if a bailiff in uniform came to their flat, word would quickly get out that they were in debt. I entirely accept the need to strike a balance, but the existing situation is not satisfactory.

In Committee, we discussed how bailiffs work with business people and how they enter business premises. I raised the case of one of my constituents who runs a fish and chip shop and was threatened with the removal of his frying equipment—not that he could work out how that would be done, as the bailiff had only a car. None the less, the threat was a real one. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need to ensure that enforcement must be circumspect so that people are not prevented from carrying on their trade so that they can earn the money to pay their debts? Perhaps the Minister could refer to that issue when she sums up.

I entirely agree. We may cover such matters when we move on to the fourth group, where our amendments Nos. 19 and 12 relate to tools of the trade, so the hon. Gentleman may like to support us in the Lobby to reinforce his point, if the Government have not listened. However, I do not want to push your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because we shall come to enforcement by taking control of goods, and the procedures involved, under a later group. At present, we are talking specifically about uniforms, regulation and control of enforcement agents, but I agree with the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that all these concerns are linked and there is a significant overlap.

To sum up, society is changing, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby pointed out. People are becoming far more indebted. When the Committee was dealing with provisions covering individual voluntary arrangements and other methods of sorting out debt, one of the things that concerned us was the sheer scale of debt being built up in the UK. When that is combined with the number of extra offences, the extra powers being given to bailiffs and the small minority of those bailiffs who are a disgrace to their profession, we can see that we need more than a system of voluntary regulation. It is not just a matter of regulating private sector bailiffs; we need a better system of regulation for the whole industry, which is why we shall support new clause 5.

First, may I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) how much I would have welcomed him to the Committee? He brings to the issue the particular strength of feeling he derives from the personal experience suffered by his daughter, which he set out in the Chamber at a lamentably late hour of the night some months ago. He brings to it, too, his usual characteristic concern for the poor and underprivileged sectors of his constituency. I, too, have poor and underprivileged sectors in my constituency, and I would have welcomed his work in Committee.

Both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) contextualised the changes we have to make when they spoke of the rising tide of debt. It is the Government’s view that whether one, 10 or however many people are misused by bailiffs who exercise their powers excessively it is too many, and we will stop that happening. I assure my hon. Friend he is wrong to say that this part of the legislation is the worst part. In my view, it is one of the most important parts, and perhaps the best.

I reject the assertion of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that the Government have not listened. We have been most consultative. We consulted as we put together the documents that preceded the Bill, we consulted before its publication and we have consulted throughout its progress through the House. I do not accept that vigorous criticisms can be levelled at the use of penalty notices and so on for lower-level crimes. They seem to me to be appropriate, proportionate and speedy ways of remedying minor abuses and misbehaviour. The legislation on the power to enter premises to impose penalties or to ensure that they are paid is not in the present Bill, but was passed more than two years ago, richly supported by the Conservatives.

The SIA is not a private industry body; it is a non-departmental public body. Let me make that clear, lest I forget to emphasise the point in the course of the debate.

I shall now deal systematically with the amendments in the group. On the question of certification running alongside the SIA’s jurisdiction, it is intended that the certification process should endure only until the authority takes over responsibility for licensing.

I apologise if the Minister was about to tell us this, but we were hoping that she will update us regarding the time scale for the new authority taking over control.

It is likely to be at least two years before the SIA is in that position. I cannot be any more specific than that. However, we are reassured that, in the meantime, the strength of the county court certification process that we will introduce in a renewed and increasingly powerful way will ensure that there is rigorous control.

To give due courtesy to those who have contributed to the debate, I shall deal with the points they made one at a time, but first let me say to the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, who says that good bailiffs are anxious to have regulation because they do not want their reputation to be diminished by bad bailiffs, that he is obviously correct. I pay tribute to the excellent service done by a very large proportion of the enforcement agent industry and agree with him that it is not the majority who behave in the appalling way described by many agencies in the course of the Bill’s passage through the House. I can say—with no fear of contradiction, I hope—that they do want proper regulation, and that is exactly what they are going to get under the Bill. We are determined about that.

As the House knows, the long-term intention is that all enforcement agents will be licensed by a totally independent regulator—an NDPB, which is what the SIA is—and we are confident that in due course the SIA will be the appropriate body for that task. Consultation has been going on since January and the responses are being analysed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby for his contribution to that consultation. I know from that contribution, from the Adjournment debate I mentioned and from his comments today that he is concerned about the role of the SIA, but I emphasise that we believe that it will, in due course, be the correct body.

Perhaps it is even more important that I say to my hon. Friend, as strongly as I can, that we are determined to ensure that the enforcement agency industry is properly licensed and regulated and that the cowboys are removed from it as soon as the Bill becomes law. Were we to take the course that he advocates in new clause 6 and create a new authority, it would take very much longer to set a body up from scratch than will be needed to make sure that the SIA is in the right shape to take on the task. In addition, it would cost a considerable sum and, in our view, it would not serve any purpose because we are confident that the SIA can be brought into a position to be every bit as effective as a new body, and more quickly than a new body could be.

The SIA is, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said, already in existence. It is building up its expertise as a regulator, which is an important reason to use an existing body, and it has the right tools to encourage compliance and to improve standards within the industry. I acknowledge that, at the outset, the organisation had some teething problems, but it has addressed them. It has a new chair—my noble Friend Baroness Henig—and a new chief executive. I have every confidence that those new people will continue the good progress that the SIA has made.

In addition, the Government have given assurances that the SIA will take on the licensing of enforcement agents only when it is in a position to do so. The Government will be the judge of whether it is in such a position, and I have made clear what the Government intend should flow from regulation. If hon. Members put together my assertion of our political intention in terms of proper regulation, licensing and control and the fact that we will hand over that function to the SIA only when we are satisfied that it is ready to take on the whole task, I hope that they will be significantly reassured.

In the meantime, there is in the Bill an enhanced and extended certification process, which gives us an interim solution and will help us as we work toward full independent regulation. Other than Crown officials—I shall deal with them in a minute—no bailiff or enforcement agent will be able to function unless he is certificated by a county court judge. Almost all of the complaints voiced by various bodies are about bailiffs who are not currently regulated; when the legislation comes into force, they will simply not be able to function without going through the new certification process. As a result, we should get rid at a stroke of a large number of the problems that have rightly been brought to public attention in our debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

We need a workable system for complaint and redress, and we intend to have one—let me make that clear, as well. That can be done both through the courts and through regulation. My officials are strongly committed to developing appropriate procedures with their colleagues in the SIA and the Home Office and with stakeholders across the system. We particularly need to consider what role alternative dispute resolution might play.

The primary role of the SIA is, of course, to manage the licensing of the sectors it regulates and to raise the standards of professionalism and skill, but we have made it clear that the authority will also be able to deal with complaints. If it investigates a complaint, it will be able to use its powers to issue warnings, or to revoke or modify a licence. The House will recall that schedule 12 sets out, not quite a code of conduct, but a series of requirements on the enforcement industry and the means of redress where those requirements are not met. We intend that all the requirements in the schedule be read into the certificate and ultimately—when the SIA becomes responsible—the licence. Therefore, the requirements in the Bill will follow across into the certification process and then the licensing regime.

The Minister mentioned complaints against private bailiffs, but what would happen if one wanted to complain about a court bailiff—an employee of the court? One would presumably go through either her Department, or the organisation involved with the day-to-day running of the court. Presumably one could not go through the SIA.

No, and if I may, I shall come on to Crown public employees in a minute, because as the hon. Gentleman knows, they have a different status, and we intend them to keep it. However, there will be an effective complaints procedure relating to them, too.

In relation to the interim period and the certification by county court judges, the Minister will know well from her experiences, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and I do from ours, that county court judges vary in style, tradition and reputation. Some appear to be very much the friend of the landlord, and others seem to be much more the friend of the citizen. What guarantee is there that the process of certification will be a hands-on process, and that the county court judges will be accountable, through that system, to the Ministry of Justice, so that they do their job properly if there are real concerns?

The hon. Gentleman appositely points out that this is a sort of barrister-fest, given the background of the three Front-Bench spokespeople. I had not really digested that point, but I assert that our proceedings are none the worse for that. I have never come across partisanship in a judge; let me make that totally clear. Not every county court judge will have the responsibility that we are discussing, and there are county court judges who have those responsibilities now. It makes obvious sense that if there is a major firm of bailiffs in an area, the local county court judge becomes much more experienced. They are exposed to the risks and difficulties of the process, and therefore become masters, or mistresses, of dealing with them. I say mistresses, as one or two of the county courts judges are women. It is our intention to build on that expertise. We intend the county court regime to be imposed with considerable rigour. As I say, we intend to put the requirements of schedule 12 forward as part of the certification process.

As hon. Members will remember from Committee, bailiffs will have to be trained before they qualify for the certification process. They will also have to put up a bond, and the judge can order the forfeiture of that bond, or part of it, if the bailiff is in breach of the terms of their certification. As hon. Members will remember, there is a regime in schedule 12 for bringing actions, whether for damages and related loss, or abuse of power. Pretty well every remedy that one could wish for against an enforcement agent is listed in schedule 12. As I have said, we intend those remedies to carry across the enforcement industry, but they can be applied to the county court.

I hope that we have a reasonably foolproof framework, because that is certainly our intention, notwithstanding the slightly uncomfortable transitional phase that must take place. I hope that we have a satisfactory framework in place. The SIA supports the penalties principle and the characteristics for enforcing regulations that are featured in Professor Macrory’s work. Over the next few months, the SIA will consider how the Macrory toolkit of new regulatory sanctions can be integrated with its existing approach, which is largely based on compliance. In partnership with the Home Office, the SIA will consider what steps it needs to take to access those new tools. In particular, the SIA will look at how the additional sanctions could help to support its compliance activity and its overall aim of protecting the public.

Paragraph 66 of schedule 12, to which I have already made free reference, sets out new remedies that will be available to the debtor against an enforcement agent who breaches the provisions of the new law. As I have said, the remedies include damages for loss. There is a procedure that will enable the court to deal with complaints such as those relating to the overcharging of fees. The enforcement agent would be liable if anyone whom he takes on to premises to assist him breaches any of the provisions in schedule 12. The assistant, and of course the enforcement agent, will be personally liable if they commit an offence under ordinary criminal law.

Under clause 58, an offence is committed if a person purports to act as an enforcement agent without being authorised to do so. The maximum penalty—and it is not a penny too much, in my view—is £5,000. Additionally, there are other avenues of redress, for example through the local authority ombudsman, if the enforcement agent is sent by the local authority. Obviously, we will have to develop appropriate complaints handling procedures with the SIA, the Home Office and all stakeholders, so that the SIA is always informed of complaints that require targeted intervention and investigation, however they fit into the framework. It is primarily through regulation that we will drive up standards across the industry. In particular, as I have said, strict competences and conditions will be set for individuals who apply for a licence.

That is all that I wanted to say about new clause 6, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby. I hope that I have allayed his concerns through my best endeavours. My officials have worked very hard to make sure that I am in a position to use those best endeavours to try to deal with his complaints. I have said, and will say again, that the will of the Government is that there should be proper licensing, proper regulation and proper complaints procedures to ensure that the enforcement agency sector no longer produces the kind of horrors of which we have heard.

Amendments Nos. 33 to 35 concern certification, and as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk said, they effectively replicate amendments tabled by the Conservatives in Committee in the Commons, and in Grand Committee in the other place. Our position on the certification of Crown employees has already been made clear, but let me restate it: I do not believe that it is necessary for them to fall within the new regime. The Government have little or no control over the training, conduct and discipline of enforcement agents. In contrast, Her Majesty’s Courts Service has a large degree of control over agents such as county court bailiffs. Other departments, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have similarly high levels of control over their own enforcement staff.

County court bailiffs and civilian enforcement officers in the magistrates courts are subject to civil service recruitment procedures, and the civil service code governs their behaviour. They are subject to strict controls relating to conduct and discipline under civil service disciplinary procedures, and complaints against them can be made to the appropriate court manager. They are also subject to continuous training and development, which is provided by their departments, and of course they are subject to compulsory criminal record checks. Although we can insist that such standards be adhered to within our own departments, we have no such power outside our departments, hence the need for certification. However, it is not needed for our own employees. It is widely acknowledged that the problem is private sector bailiffs; they are the source of most of the complaints about the activities of enforcement agents. Figures provided by Citizens Advice show that well over 90 per cent. of the complaints that it receives on the subject relate to that sector. It is at that sector that we must target the comprehensive system of regulation.

I want to reiterate what my noble Friend Baroness Ashton said on Third Reading in the other place, and what I said in Committee about Crown employees: the Government are committed to ensuring a common set of standards and a common appearance—that gives an indication of the subject that I shall move on to next—across the enforcement industry, built around a high standard of training and professionalism across the public and private sectors. We are considering what we can do on the subject of common information and a central register of enforcement agents, so that debtors can verify that the person on the doorstep has the necessary authority.

Amendments Nos. 21 and 24 are unnecessary. Amendment No. 21 would mean that enforcement functions could not be carried out by those who assist the enforcement agent in his presence and under his direction. Enforcement agents need to take other persons on to premises with them for practical reasons, for example when they are dealing with large-scale business or industrial premises. They may need assistance in taking an inventory or removing goods that need packaging and safeguarding; for those tasks, expertise is essential. Frequently, of course, they require the assistance of a locksmith. If we insist that those functions cannot be carried out by someone assisting the enforcement officer under his direction and in his presence—that is what is required—it will make the whole process of taking control of goods so lengthy and complex that it is virtually unworkable.

Amendment No. 24 would have far-reaching consequences which, I guess, were not intended. For many statutory debts, such as debts owed to national or local government bodies, the statutory power to enforce, using certain methods, is placed in the hands of the relevant Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then confers that power on another person working on his behalf. He may confer it on a member of staff in the relevant organisation, or on a company that provides the relevant services, by means of a contract. If the amendment were made, the effect would be that only those on whom the relevant statutory enforcement power was conferred could carry out the function of enforcement. I am sure that is not what my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby intends, and I shall go on to explain how catastrophic it would be if the Secretary of State alone could carry out those functions.

I am interested to hear that. My hon. and learned Friend is almost certainly right, as she usually is. However, those contracts whether with local authorities or courts, could be made publicly available, and we should use more power to regulate the enforcement officer’s behaviour and the charges. Most of those contracts are not clear or adequate, and they are not known.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. At the moment, that is an important omission for public purposes, but once the network is in place the problem will diminish immensely. May I therefore return to my argument? Obviously, my hon. Friend did not intend that only the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions could carry out the enforcement of child support legislation, so I assume that he will not persevere with his proposal. By smiling happily at me, he appears to indicate that I am correct.

May I turn to the question of uniforms? As I said in Committee and on Second Reading, I well understand the sentiments that underpin the proposal that all enforcement agents should wear a uniform or carry a means of compulsory identification. I was initially attracted to the notion of a uniform, but I thought that I had persuaded the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey in Committee to agree that it was not such a good idea as it appeared. Perhaps I have done so, as new clause 4 includes the words,

“or other means of identification”.

Although the hon. Gentleman has suggested that he intends to press the new clause to a Division, I hope that he will be satisfied by my reply. I think that we all recall the touching account by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) in Committee of bailiffs coming to her home as a child. Not only did they take away goods, as they were empowered to do, but they wore what she described as the unfailingly identifiable uniform from those long-ago days of a bowler hat. Everyone knew that the bailiffs had come, so it was extra humiliating for her and her family.

The enforcement industry says with considerable force that uniforms make such a person identifiable not merely to the person whose home they have approached but to everyone else. It points out that from time to time, lamentably, even fire service personnel are attacked when they go into the community, so it fears that if its members were obliged to wear a recognisable uniform they would be more subject to attack. It is therefore a thornier issue than anyone first appreciated, but the reference in new clause 4 to “other means of identification” is the crux of the matter. I agree entirely that an enforcement agent must be clearly and easily identifiable to a debtor and readily accountable for his actions. Paragraph 26 of schedule 12 requires an enforcement agent to show the debtor and any person who appears to be in charge of the premises evidence of his identity and his authority to enter those premises. We are considering what form that evidence might take but, as I said in Committee, I am keen to introduce a single form of identification for all agents, with a unique identifying number—a photograph is probably important, too—so that a debtor approached by such a person at their front door knows exactly who they are, what their status is, precisely what authority they have to be there and, where appropriate, how to complain about an agent’s actions.

I respectfully suggest to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey that, once again, I am in a position to demonstrate the political will to ensure that there is compliance with all of that in the regime that we have set up under the Bill. I invite him to consider the fact that there is no need to press his new clause to a vote. It is not apposite in our view to include all that detail in the Bill, as we will ensure that the issue is properly covered. Indeed, we would be very happy to consult and negotiate with him, or those people whom he nominates for consultation, to try to advance the matter powerfully. The exact form of identification will be determined after consultation with all the relevant stakeholders. In passing, the new clause appears to contain a flaw that was part of the proposal tabled in Committee, too, as it appears to suggest that enforcement agents would have to wear their uniform all the time. They might find it a little oppressive at the enforcement agents’ annual ball if they were required to wear their epaulettes—that might be an unintended imposition. As I said before, I think with characteristic wit, would the agent have to wear his uniform in bed? That is not the reason why we oppose the new clause: on a serious note, it is just unnecessary.

I appreciate the sentiments behind new clause 2 and amendments Nos. 5 and 42, and I restate the commitment that I gave in Committee. We will not allow enforcement agents to apply for a warrant to use reasonable force to enter domestic premises until we have full regulation of enforcement agents under the SIA. However, as I explained in Committee, chapter 1 of part 3, which the proposals would amend, is about much more than forced entry. It will introduce a great deal of valuable protection for debtors, including fixed dates and times at which enforcement agents can come to a premises; limits to methods of entry; exemption of goods from seizure; a single fee structure; and new remedies when enforcement agents break the law. There is no reason whatsoever to wait to implement all those protections until the SIA procedure is in place. New clause 2 and amendments Nos. 5 and 42 would prevent us from doing everything that we intend to do, and would mean that we would have to wait months and probably years before we could protect the public in the way in which all hon. Members intend.

Hon. Members will recall that a clause identical to new clause 5 was debated in Committee, and I remain of the view that the provision is not necessary. Clause 57 and paragraph 13 of schedule 12 already make provision for what the new clause is seeking to achieve. In particular, the provisions in new clause 5(1), (2) and (3) are very similar to those in clause 57. New clause 5(4), which deals with regulations governing procedures for taking control of goods, is nearly the same as paragraph 13(3) of schedule 12. I remain unconvinced of the merits of new clause 5(5), which seeks to exclude liabilities when securing goods on the highway, but does not cover goods secured on premises. Bailiffs would therefore have to take a different approach when taking control of goods depending whether they did so on the highway or on premises. That is likely to result in confusion, and it would go completely against our efforts to clarify and simplify procedures in the Bill.

Finally, amendment No. 37 would remove clause 57 from the Bill, and would prevent schedule 13 from taking effect. That would mean that the important consequential amendments in that schedule would not take effect, leaving enforcement agent law scattered across the statute book. It would do nothing to address the confusion and scope for abuse allowed by the law as a result of that scattering and of the differentiation between various pieces of legislation enacted at various times. I am sure that no one intends that, so I hope and predict that amendment No. 37 will not be pressed any further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby spoke, in passing perhaps, about fees. I know that that was an important part of what worried him in the Adjournment debate. Because, as he would say, bailiffs make money out of enforcement, it is possible for them to carry on enforcing in order to make more money. Paragraph 62 to schedule 12 allows the Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor, to make regulations about costs and fees. It is our intention to use that power to ensure that the fees are front-loaded so that there is much less incentive for an enforcement agent to carry on, as my hon. Friend put it, in order to make money. Enforcement agents will get an up-front payment to do the job. I hope that will give the right kind of incentive and a powerful signal that those people are not working on a partisan basis for creditors, but that they work also as agents of the state.

I hope that what I have said across all these issues has reassured my hon. Friend and hon. Gentlemen, and that they now feel able to withdraw the proposals.

I thank the Minister for her full and careful response to the debate. It was extremely helpful that she dealt with all four new clauses and eight amendments in the group, which were tabled from different parts of the House and deal with several different but interrelated issues.

The Minister made the point and we all accept—there is a huge amount of common ground—that the Bill seeks to address the concerns of those who are old, those with learning difficulties, and those who are inadequate, poor, incapacitated, ill and vulnerable, who find at some stage in their lives that at their door—usually the door of their home, but occasionally the door of their business—somebody has come to enforce the consequence of some financial arrangement that they have got themselves into. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, it can start with something as inconsequential as a parking ticket, and often does, or with a clamp on their vehicle, if they have one. It can start with a very small fine for dropping litter on the street.

There was a story in the Evening Standard yesterday about some well known star or starlet—I forget who it was—who faces a huge fine for congestion charge non-payment because she thought that her vehicle was an eco-friendly vehicle that qualified for exemption, and therefore had never paid. She now discovers that she has been liable all the time. I am not defending her. I am merely pointing out that the bright, the intelligent and the well connected can get into trouble, and if they can, then people not in those categories are even more likely to do so.

People may have got into trouble with the local authority about council tax, or with child support liabilities, judgment debts at their local court, or credit cards. We could all quote statistics: 20 per cent. of people with credit cards are behind with their payments. Repossessions are running at 10,000 a year, and applications for repossessions at 100,000 a year. As we all agree, the number of such liabilities goes up all the time.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept also that it is not just people who are in financial trouble who will have someone knocking at their door? I am sure he has come across cases where a false address has been given or someone has moved, and the person in the property has great difficulty dealing with bailiffs who refuse to believe that they are not liable and continue to pester and harass them.

Indeed. I have a constituent who works in the building where our constituency office is, a relatively young and competent widow, who is in exactly that position, and I have taken up the case to try to deal with the people who are chasing her for debts that are not her liability at all. She finds it extremely oppressive.

Anything to do with a financial liability is so important that I find that I put it at the top of the cases that I deal with. Colleagues may do the same. Even if only a small sum is involved, I deal with the matter more urgently than with other cases because I know that often, if it is not dealt with quickly, it may escalate and become a much bigger problem. The penalty charge notice for non-payment of the congestion charge can suddenly get out of control.

I shall deal with the Minister’s responses. She referred to the Security Industry Authority that has already been set up. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby tabled a carefully drafted new clause which argues for an independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents. He indicated that in due course he would press it to a Division. We are likely to support that, because it does not tie the Government to creating a separate body. It ties the Government to creating a body that is independent and fit for purpose.

As the SIA moves on, it should change its title. It needs to be seen to be a body that regulates not just the bouncers, but the bailiffs. I buy the Minister’s argument that it is better to have one body than two administrative structures, two organisations and two sets of set-up costs. That is not inconsistent with the hon. Gentleman’s argument that the body must be independent and appropriate and do the job set out in his new clause 6.

On our amendment No. 5, which would delay the imposition of chapter 1 to part 3, I accept the Minister’s argument. I accept that it would be inappropriate to delay the whole of the implementation of that part of the Bill pending the new authority taking responsibility, because there are many other aspects that we need to get on with. She is persuasive in that argument, so we will not press our amendment.

That leaves new clause 4 and the uniform point. The Minister was, as I would have expected, observant enough to notice that I had sought to vary slightly the terms of the proposition. We went in arguing for uniform, but I heard that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) described a personal experience which was very telling. I understand the point that uniform per se may have significant disadvantages if, sadly, people are occasionally subject to abuse, stone throwing and so on, but uniform also identifies the person walking across the estate or the road. However, we are keen to flag up, and it is not inconsistent with the objective, that there should be a system that is self-identifying.

What is in the schedule at present is, as the Minister pointed out, an obligation to produce identification on request, before or during the interchange with the bailiff. Our new clause would oblige the Government to have in place uniform or some other means of identification, such as a badge. We all know the practical problems of things that are permanent and things that can be taken off. Nobody wants nonsensical requirements for insignia to be worn at the bailiffs’ and enforcement agents’ ball or for a romantic weekend in Paris—no doubt even bailiffs have romantic weekends in Paris—but we are keen that there should be the obligation that the Minister says she is willing to work to.

It is important that there should be an obligation on the industry, not just a duty to respond when asked, and that that should be written into the Bill. When the time comes, therefore, I shall therefore seek a vote on new clause 4. In the meantime, on the basis of the Minister’s assurances, and on the understanding that in all parts of the House from which there has been a contribution and beyond we share an objective that there must be regulation, it must be clear and transparent, it must end the existence of anomalous sets of legislative provision, and the citizen must know that in future that there will be control of those who have powers of enforcement, that it will be possible to complain and to seek redress, and hopefully that there will be much less abuse as a result, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

The hon. Gentleman is slightly ahead of himself. All good things, or perhaps some good things, come to those who wait. We have to proceed now with new clause 3 and we will come later to new clauses 4 and 6.

I am grateful for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have spent much of my life in that condition.

New Clause 3

Applications for relief under section 15: legal aid

‘The Lord Chancellor must by regulations make provision for legal aid for applicants for relief under section 15.’.—[Simon Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: new clause 11—Enforcement of Mobile Homes Act 1983—

‘(1) The Mobile Homes Act 1983 (c. 34) is amended as follows.

(2) In sections 1(5), 2(2), 2(3), and 2(4), for “the court”, substitute “the tribunal”.

(3) After section 3 insert—

“3A The tribunal

(1) The local authority for the district in which the protected site is situated must establish a tribunal to perform functions under this Act if the occupier or the owner so requests.

(2) The Secretary of State may make regulations about tribunals under this Act.

(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument.”.

(4) In section 4, and in the heading to that section, for “the court”, substitute “the tribunal”.

(5) In section 5(1)—

(a) omit the definition of “the court”, and

(b) at the appropriate place insert—

““the tribunal” means—

(a) in relation to England and Wales, the tribunal established under section 3A or, where the parties have agreed in writing to submit any question arising under this Act or, as the case may be, any agreement to which it applies to arbitration, the arbitrator;

(b) in relation to Scotland, the sheriff having jurisdiction where the protected site is situated or, where the parties have so agreed, the arbiter.”.

(6) After section 6(4) insert—

“(5) Section 3A extends to England and Wales only.”’.

Amendment No. 4, in clause 22, page 20, line 4,  at end insert—

‘(4A) The Tribunal Procedure Rules shall make provision for the granting by a judge of the First-tier Tribunal of legal aid for appropriate advice and representation in relation to any decision within the jurisdiction of the tribunal systems.’.

Amendment No. 72, in clause 31, page 26, line 43,  at end insert—

‘(11) The Lord Chancellor may be regulations provide for the payment of pensions, allowances or gratuities by way of compensation to or in respect of such persons who suffer loss of office as a result of the abolition of a tribunal by virtue of this section as may be so specified or so determined.

(12) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (11), regulations under this section may make provision—

(a) as to the circumstances in which compensation is payable;

(b) as to the amounts which are to be payable by way of compensation;

(c) as to the manner in which and the person to whom any claim for compensation is to be made; and

(d) for the determination of all questions arising under the regulations.’.

Amendment No. 9, page 141, schedule 6, leave out lines 18 and 19.

New clause 3 and amendment No. 4 relate to legal aid and amendment No. 72 is on an entirely different matter, with which amendment No. 9, tabled by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) also deals, and that is the specific matter of the future of the general commissioners of the Revenue and their staff, which is a matter of concern on both sides of the House.

New clause 3 contains the simple but hugely important proposal that the Lord Chancellor, the Minister of Justice, as he now is—or, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk commented, whoever he or his successor is soon to be—must by regulations make provision for legal aid for applicants for relief under clause 15.

The Minister rightly brings to the House a Bill that sets up a new structure for our tribunals, and that is welcome. In that system there is the ability under clause 16 for the upper tribunal to have a judicial review jurisdiction. At the moment, there is provision for legal aid in some tribunals and on some occasions. We accept and believe that in general terms tribunals should not have lots of lawyers doing legally aided work, but there are exceptions when legal aid should be available because a matter is particularly significant, important or difficult. At the moment, that is possible by obtaining ministerial agreement, but we think that that is over-centralist, and that it should be possible for legal aid to be granted through arrangements made by the Minister of Justice in a much more routine and matter-of-fact way.

Courts do important and significant work, but so do tribunals. We all know that, whether it is the social security tribunals dealing with people’s benefits, whether it is the industrial tribunals dealing with people’s employment rights, whether it is the race relations tribunals dealing with equality at work, or whether it is the asylum and immigration tribunals dealing with people’s status, they can determine people’s wealth, or their future in this country, and so on. We therefore believe that, exceptionally, there should be the ability to have legal aid in those places. New clause 3 would allow that, and we hope that the House will agree to it. Amendment No. 4 is a complementary proposal and I hope that it will commend itself to the House.

The last matter is a ring-fenced one that is of concern to only a small number of people, but it is important enough to deal with here, a view shared by Conservative Members. The clerks to the commissioners who have looked after adjudications on tax matters are remunerated by the Ministry of Justice on a salaried basis. They are dealt with by tax management legislation. The clerks to the general commissioners for taxes may work in a profession that is not terribly popular, but they do an extremely good, competent and valuable job.

Earlier in the year, the treasurer and secretary of the Association of Clerks to the General Commissioners of Income Tax wrote to Members of Parliament expressing a concern that because the general commissioners of income tax are currently a tribunal dealing with income tax and corporation tax matters, as they have been for 210 years, but are to be abolished and disappear with the general tribunal system, they need to be looked after as a group of people who will have no automatic continuing career. The role of the clerk will effectively disappear completely when the Bill becomes law and is implemented.

There are 244 clerks—or there were when we were first approached—mostly part-time, and many are retired professionals from other walks of life, business, the law or the Revenue, employed by the general commissioners of tax, paid for by the Ministry of Justice. There is no compensation for loss of office for these people. Therefore we tabled amendment No. 72 to allow the Lord Chancellor, by regulations, to

“provide for the payment of pensions, allowances or gratuities by way of compensation to or in respect of such persons who suffer loss of office as a result of the abolition of a tribunal by virtue of this section”.

It gives a general permissive power which we hope would allow the Lord Chancellor to treat these people justly when their jobs end.

I had hoped, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk and others had, that by now this matter would have been resolved amicably. I know that these people and their representatives went to see Ministers and have had many communications. I had a letter dated 24 April—colleagues will have received a similar letter—from Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the Under-Secretary of State who looked after the Bill in the other place. She tells me that she has carefully considered the issues and merits of including a provision for compensation, but that on balance she does not believe that the Bill should be amended to allow for that, because—I summarise for the sake of brevity—the legal advice is that these people are fee-paid office holders, which is a status creating no expectation in law of compensation. That was the confirmed ministerial view in April. Since then, even as recently as in the last week, there has been a further meeting with Ministers, but as I understand it, there is still no resolution that is satisfactory to the clerks.

This is a plea that those people, who have been public servants in the most important of jobs, done hugely professionally, should not be left out in the cold as a by-product of the legislation. I hope that at this last hour we can persuade Ministers either to accept amendment No. 72 or amendment No. 9.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) represents a city where a large number of people are employed by the Revenue and look after Revenue matters for Member of Parliament. I think that all Members’ tax matters are dealt with in Cardiff, so my hon. Friend has a particular constituency interest, and we also have a general interest. These are people who have served us specifically and the country at large, and I hope that we can look after them, at their request, and treat them decently.

New clause 11 refers to park homes, the legislation behind which can be found in the Mobile Homes Act 1983, as amended. The Government were genuine in the amendments they made to park homes legislation in the Housing Act 2004. I am the first to admit that the new clause is very broad in its attempt to resolve a serious problem and I hope the Minister can help me in finding the best way forward.

I have 11 park home sites in my constituency, the largest of which has over 150 units. Bizarrely, these are not dwellings under the law, but chattels. They have many of the rights of properties, but they cannot be considered as such under the law. Most park home sites are well managed and I am a great supporter of this type of living, which affords the occupants an excellent life choice; an affordable home and a way of maintaining savings while living in a social environment.

All is not well in park homes across the country, however. This week I attended a meeting of the all-party group on mobile homes, chaired by the excellent hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner). We heard from the National Association of Park Home Residents that despite all the recent legislation and genuine attempts from both sides of the House to address the problems, dwellers in mobile homes are worse off than ever.

Under the provisions of the Housing Act 2004, unscrupulous site owners have been free to charge huge additional sums for the extra administration caused by legislation. Under the new legislation, park home owners may require the site owner to give notice of 14 days before entering their buildings. Site owners are now asking residents to put electricity meters outside their homes and to pay for that. All these costs resulting from legislation, along with changes to the RPI and other matters, are piling pressure on to some of the most financially challenged people in our communities.

The majority of park home sites are well managed. Residents get on well with the site owner and they can enjoy their lives. But in too many sites, unscrupulous owners behave in a way that sometimes defies belief. I have used terms like “Dickensian” and “robber baron” perhaps too freely, to the point where I am exaggerating a little, but there is great misery and concern.

The clause concerns the resolving of disputes. One problem area is the sale of properties. Let us say that an elderly park home owner has to move into residential care and puts her home on the market. Under the terms of legislation and her agreement, she can sell to anyone, but the site owner has to agree that that person can take over. He cannot take an unreasonable attitude to the new purchaser and has 28 days to approve. However, he can comply with the legislation precisely by saying, “I am delighted that you have bought this park home and that you will be living on my site. I think you should know that I’m going to make your life hell. I am going to try to increase pitch fees to the maximum, put more units on the site and not resurface the roads.” Pretty soon, the purchaser realises that this is not where they want to spend the more leisurely years of their life and pulls out of the deal. After that has happened two or three times, the vendor is so desperate that she agrees to sell at a knock-down price to the park site owner. To add insult to injury, he then takes 10 per cent. of the sale fee.

I am seeking to allow park home owners to raise such horrendous matters in a more appropriate form of tribunal than currently exists. It takes great courage for individuals to follow due process, be it through the courts or a tribunal, to achieve redress. There is the added problem that local authorities, who have huge responsibilities for park homes sites, are not exercising their full powers. I am not blaming my local authority—it is reasonably assiduous—but there are many stories of local authorities not exercising their powers within licensing agreements to improve the quality of life for park home dwellers.

I want to raise the issue of park home owners who wish to have a residents’ association. On well-run sites, enlightened site owners welcome residents’ associations. It can be a mutually beneficial experience, as the site owner can have a direct link, through one group of people, to all the park home owners. Conversely, people feel that they have a conduit for their concerns on a regulated basis through an organisation with a constitution.

The unscrupulous site owner finds such associations a threat, however. In one site in my constituency, the owner has written to residents to set out his reasons why he does not want a residents’ association on the site. He said in his letter that those who are pushing for an association have a “hidden agenda” and that such schemes often cause ill-feeling between residents and park owners. He is really saying that he does not want the residents of that park home to be empowered, as they are entitled to be under the law, to represent their concerns in a properly constituted body.

The standard trick by the unscrupulous site owner is to divide and rule. I have witnessed many cases where the owner has asked people to withdraw their names from petitions calling for a residents’ association, with the proposed association then falling. There have been even worse cases where owners have passed out private information about the circumstances of individuals who are trying to set up residents’ associations.

What options exist for an aggrieved park home dweller to resolve a dispute? Really, the only option is the county court, which is a laborious and expensive process. By and large, the people concerned have reached the stage of their lives where they do not want or need the hassle of going to a county court to resolve a dispute. There must be a better way of doing it. I have discovered that local authorities can, if they wish, set up tribunals to carry out their functions in settling disputes or dealing with local authority matters. Basically, local authorities can do what they like when exercising their own powers, but they may not set up a tribunal to deal with something that is out of their jurisdiction. They can, for example, deal with licensing measures, but they cannot act when residents are trying to set up a residents association but are unable to do so. That is the problem that I seek to resolve through the new clause. In some circumstances, it is in people’s interests to go to the county court, because if they get a bad judgment they can at least appeal. That route remains attractive in dealing with several kinds of disputes, but for a great many people the county court remains a daunting prospect, to the point where they are not prepared to go down that path.

I hope that the way in which the Mobile Homes Act 1983 was amended by statutory instrument last year may offer a way forward. If the Minister is willing to meet me, and perhaps members of interested bodies on both sides, to discuss that option, I will be prepared to consider withdrawing the new clause to find a better method of resolving the situation. In any event, I hope that she will take from this debate the serious concerns that exist among thousands of people, many of whom have reached a point in their lives where they simply do not want the overbearing responsibility, difficulty, expense and process of going to a county court when there must be a better and more local tribunal system that can deal with their concerns.

I would like first to address my remarks to new clause 11, which was so ably discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), who put the case very well and made his points extremely eloquently.

We all have experiences of mobile home parks in our constituencies. The vast majority are well run, well managed and enjoy a happy state of affairs, as in the case of the 10 or 11 in my constituency. That is endorsed by what I have heard from the National Association of Park Home Residents. There is none the less the danger that unscrupulous site managers or owners may want to adopt a particular course of action. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury said, many of them are opposed to the idea of residents associations. Sometimes their agenda is to remove existing tenants who have sub-standard vans. There have been several examples of that around the country, including a case in Oxfordshire and one in Cambridgeshire, where a site changed hands and the new owners wanted to replace the existing vans with a much more upmarket type for which they could charge much more rent. They use every tactic in the book to try to frighten people off. There are examples of straightforward intimidation, noise harassment and blackmail, where people were told that if they did not sell their van and move on they would have services cut off and pitch fees increased. It was a catalogue of the most unscrupulous behaviour that I have ever seen.

When such an example occurred in my constituency, on the Hardwick road site, I am pleased to say that some of the worst excesses of behaviour did not take place, but there were still grounds for concern. It belongs to the local authority, which had let it to a site owner. There was nothing in the lease to prevent the tenant from sub-letting it, so they sub-let it to a new site manager, who decided that he wanted to change the whole character and complexion of the site and move from fairly middle-of-the-range types of vans to smart, upmarket vans, each of which cost in excess of £60,000 or £70,000, and sometimes much more. As a result, we have a well managed, smart site, but at the expense of some of the tenants who wanted to stay there.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury pointed out, many people adopt a lifestyle choice whereby they do not want the aggro of all the expense, commitment and responsibility that people have when they live in a normal home. It may well be that their marriage has broken down, that they have retired or that they have a house abroad. I would describe some of the people on mobile home sites in my constituency as being non-asset rich but cash-rich—they can have lovely holidays, go abroad a lot and make various choices. That is in direct contrast with many other pensioners who are asset-rich but cash-poor. We are talking about people who do not have many rights and can easily be exploited, and there are plenty of examples of that happening. Taking a dispute to the county court is a blunt instrument. By the time the case has been brought, we can imagine the amount of harassment that could have taken place and the amount of pressure that the individual could have been put under. It can be quite appalling. That is why we need a simple system to enable these people to resolve their disputes.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend’s proposal is 100 per cent. workable or the ideal solution, but it is a brave and imaginative attempt to get to the bottom of a particularly difficult problem and to give people who are potentially among the most vulnerable in society a way of having their disputes and problems resolved at the minimum expense and with the minimum fuss. I congratulate him and hope that the Minister will be able to respond in a positive manner. We want a simple process that enables mobile home sites to work properly. Good will is required between the two parties—the site owner or manager and the residents—and if that breaks down, it creates serious problems. I hope that my hon. Friend will continue his campaign, because he will do a great deal of good for many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have experienced similar problems in their constituencies.

Let me turn to new clause 3 and the consequential amendment No. 4, which stand in the names of the Liberal Democrats. When legal aid was debated in Committee, we took the view that the situation is in no way satisfactory. Of course, as the Minister explained at the time, it is possible to get legal aid if one has to take a case to tribunal or if a case in which one is involved is taken to tribunal, but that happens through ministerial approval and is a formal, distant process. I should like the process to be a great deal more flexible and consumer-friendly.

We should bear in mind one key point. Most of our constituents, thankfully, do not have any interface with the legal system at all, but when they do it is usually through a tribunal. That is why it is important that tribunals are as user-friendly and informal as possible and that the applicant is put completely at ease and feels that they can relax and not be in any way intimidated. If too many lawyers are brought into the process, everything becomes more potentially intimidating and formal, and jargon is used. It so happens that all three Front Benchers today are barristers at law. We often appear in court without realising how our customs and idiosyncracies are not especially appealing to the wider public whom we are trying to represent. That system is not user-friendly. One of the great strengths of the tribunal system is that it can put people at ease and deal with their problems informally and effectively.

Let us keep lawyers out of it if possible. However, on occasions, tribunal cases get extremely complicated. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) gave some examples in Committee. At some point, a tribunal case may be adjourned pending further information. Points of law may arise and the applicant may have to seek legal advice. Perhaps taking legal advice from a firm of solicitors is the only way in which the applicant can keep the case on the road. There should be an efficient, quick and effective system that allows such applicants to get legal aid. We are therefore sympathetic to new clause 3 and amendment No. 4.

I am a non-practising solicitor. Do the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party support legal aid for employment tribunal cases?

That is a good question. I believe that employment tribunal cases should come under the same system as other tribunals. We must consider cost, and I am keen to bear down on the cost of legal aid. We have held a lengthy debate on the matter and I do not support the Government’s changes. However, we could bear down heavily on, for example, the cost of expert witnesses in parts of the legal system, and more heavily on the cost of highly complex criminal cases. We could examine what some of the top criminal QCs earn—parliamentary questions on that were answered this week, showing some extraordinary figures. There is a world of haves and have-nots. Top QCs earn a vast amount of money while junior barristers earn little and can hardly make a living. I would therefore include employment tribunals in the entire tribunal system.

Let me consider amendment No. 9. My hon. Friends and I believe it is one of the most important amendments that we will consider this afternoon. It would remove the general commissioners for tax from the new unified structure, which sets up the new tribunal system. Conservative Members support the new unified tribunal structure, which is the result of a huge amount of preparation and work, flowing from the Leggatt report, Green Papers, much debate and a great deal of pressure from the different Departments that sponsor tribunals. It makes sense to try to bring the tribunals together into a unified system and have cross-referencing of infrastructure. Judges will also be able to be more versatile.

However, I should like the Minister to reflect on what the general commissioners do. There are roughly 2,000, with 214 clerks. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said that there were 244, but I believe that the figure is 214; perhaps we both misread the letter from Susan Balchin, who is secretary of the Association of Clerks to the General Commissioners of Income Tax.

The general commissioners do a superb job. They are lay people and volunteers, who sit in the nearest town to where the taxpayer who will have a hearing lives. The appellant—the taxpayer—can therefore go to the local town and appear before general commissioners who are local, lay, unremunerated people with common sense. The system is based on informality and an understanding that the appellants’ problems will be sorted out by lay people who understand the community. It could be a farming community, an industrial community, a community that consists mainly of retired people or one that is part of an inner city. The essence of the current system is that lay commissioners understand the community from which the appellants come and sit in judgment in an informal, unintimidating atmosphere on the appeals of those who have problems with their tax affairs.

I am fortunate, because so far I have never had a tax appeal, touch wood. I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends have had a tax appeal, but we all have constituents who experience problems with their taxes. We have all experienced constituents coming to our surgeries with a pile of papers probably 4 ft high, and extraordinarily complex tax problems. If they want to appeal against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, they can take the case to the general commissioners, who are local people.

That process will be replaced by a tribunal system, chaired by a judge with a professional clerk. It will be much more intimidating and far more formal. Furthermore, it will be much more remote because the new tribunals will sit at regional centres. Those presiding will not have the local knowledge, which is now so important.

Let us not forget that the lay commissioners give their services on a pro bono basis; they get only some expenses. They have local knowledge and their positions have existed for 200 or 300 years. The current system builds on the best in localism—choice and flexibility. That is what my party stands for.

I shall not go down the route that the hon. Gentleman suggests, except to say that I am sure his party is relieved not to be the recipient of the recent defection.

The system is quaint and old-fashioned but it works. We feel strongly that if something works well, we should retain it. Why build a system on the basis of one size fits all? Why not have some flexibility? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The cost of trying to fix it will be considerable.

The current system costs approximately £5 million. Getting rid of the general commissioners and the clerks, setting up the new system with judges and bringing it into the tribunal system, with professional clerks who have no local knowledge and sit in regional centres, will cost perhaps two and a half times as much as the current system. A cost of roughly £5 million could increase to £12.5 million unnecessarily. Will that result in the taxpayer and consumer getting a better service? The answer is manifestly no. The consumer will have to take a tax appeal to a system that is far more formal and much more remote and costly.

Schedule 6 contains a list almost a mile long of all the different tribunals that the Bill affects. One sort of tribunal should not be included. We make a plea to the Minister, even at this late stage, to listen to the general commissioners. They say that their system works extraordinarily well and that they do a superb job for our constituents. We ask the Minister to listen to them and exempt them, even at this late stage.

If my party is elected to government in the next couple of years—

I do not want to take anything for granted. If one takes too much for granted, one loses trust and credibility. However, I make a commitment that, if the amendment is not accepted and if we are elected at the next election, we will reverse the proposals and ensure that the general commissioners are kept out of the unified tribunal system.

It is quite wrong and quite unfair that the general commissioners are not to be paid proper remuneration for their loss of office. I am not going to make a spending commitment this afternoon, because under our proposals there would be no loss of office, so compensation would not come into it. I find it strange that the commissioners are not being offered any form of compensation.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out that the Taxes Management Act 1970 provides for a retirement age of 70, with the possibility of an extension to 75 at the request of the general commissioners. Many of the clerks are solicitors, and partners in local firms of local solicitors. Many of them are worthy and knowledgeable local people; I have had the pleasure of meeting some of them. In fact, I had the pleasure of addressing their recent conference in London. Many of them structure their professional lives by scaling down their office work and their general practice when they reach their late 50s or early 60s. They then rely on employment as a clerk to the commissioners until the age of 70 and, in many cases, beyond. That is how they run their lives; they make the choice to serve the general commissioners in an honourable and assiduous way, yet they are to have that office taken away from them without any compensation whatever.

This is in stark contrast to the sub-postmasters and mistresses, who will get compensation, as will part-time coroners’ clerks. A direct parallel can also be drawn with the abolition of the office of clerk to the peace, when the Crown Court was established. Clerks to the peace received proper compensation for loss of office.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out that representatives of the National Association of General Commissioners wrote to the Minister, the noble Baroness Ashton of Upholland, to ask for a meeting in March 2006. They heard nothing until the beginning of December, when they were invited to telephone the Minister to discuss the situation. They were given the direct telephone number of her diary secretary, but when they eventually got through, they were told that the Minister would not be prepared to make an appointment with them. This saga went on and on, until they eventually had a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), yesterday morning. I hope that the Minister would agree that that is no way to treat an honourable and decent group of people who are staring loss of office in the face without any compensation. They are only asking for a fair hearing.

Will the Minister look at this again, even at this late stage? Will she accept our amendment No. 9? Will she in any event make sure that there is proper compensation for loss of office? I should like to give an indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I should like to ask the House’s leave to vote on that amendment at the appropriate stage. On that basis, I hope that the Minister will listen to what we have said this afternoon.

I shall take the items in the same order in which they were proposed, if that is acceptable to all the parties who have spoken. First, I shall deal with amendment No. 4, which deals with legal aid—

New clause 3 was indeed first; the hon. Gentleman is right. I hope that he will not mind if I deal with legal aid generally first, then come to his specific proposal on legal aid afterwards.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment No. 4, which was also tabled by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), deals with legal aid. Many points have been raised about legal aid, and in particular about bearing down on the costs involved. The proposals that we have introduced following the Carter review are intended to do that.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) has talked about the cost of expert witnesses, and we are already bearing down on that. We are looking at how expert witnesses are remunerated, and at how they should be remunerated in the future, under legal aid. He mentioned a recent parliamentary question in which the earnings of what he called “top QCs” from legal aid were set out. It is true that those earnings are considerable, but it is only fair to point out that the figures are not necessarily the earnings of those individuals for the year in question alone. They can run back to earlier years, because some cases are very long. At the same time, figures have also been published, although not in answer to that particular question, showing the legal aid fees of what I am sure the hon. Gentleman would call “top solicitors”—they are certainly the top-earning solicitors—and they, too, were very sizeable indeed. I do not believe that there is a clash between the two sides of the profession in this regard.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk referred to the junior Bar, about which I also have concerns. The real problem for junior members of the Bar is not the level of legal aid payment, however; it is more to do with their not being fully occupied.

I salute what my hon. and learned Friend has done in trying to bear down on legal aid costs. There is a huge disparity in the system involving the moneys paid to top criminal barristers. I speak as a solicitor with no brief for barristers, but I understand that the figures for barristers’ pay that were recently quoted included VAT, which does not go into the barrister’s pocket, and the office costs that they have to pay to run their business. That is like ascribing the turnover of a business to the owner of the business as earnings. The figures are still very high, and they should be borne down on, but we must bear in mind that the netted-down figures are not quiet as alarming as the gross figures that are now in circulation.

I will deal with my hon. Friend’s point, then I will gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman.

As I have already said, I do not think that VAT is applied in those circumstances, but I might be wrong. Let me emphasise that this information was disclosed as a consequence of a parliamentary question put to me by an hon. Gentleman from the main Opposition party. My hon. Friend is right, however. We must also take into consideration what we, in our rarefied atmosphere, call chambers expenses. Those include the cost of running the business, and they are shared among all the barristers who share secretarial assistants, clerking and so on. I have already made probably the biggest point about this, which is that the fees—particularly of barristers, but probably of solicitors, too—often relate to cases that have gone on across more than one tax year. We must therefore not get too carried away, but there is none the less a need to bear down on excessive legal aid costs, as my hon. Friend happily acknowledges, and which, on an earlier occasion, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk has also acknowledged.

On Second Reading, I spoke of an experience that I had had when a vexatious claim was made against me as a small businessman, and of the effect that it had on my time and my business. Legal aid obviously provides access to justice in many cases, but does the Minister agree that it must also be measured in the context of taking action against those who use the system for vexatious cases? A provision exists that allows for tribunals to impose a bond whereby a cost can be imposed on an individual who brings a vexatious case; this is strongly supported by organisations such as the CBI. That system is not being used enough, however. Is there anything that the Minister can do to assure us that where provision exists for bonds to be put in place, it will be used?

I am more familiar with the procedure in the legal aid system in which another party to a case has the option of writing to the Legal Services Commission to say that in their view the legal aid is being misused, and to set out a case. That is a tool that can be used as part and parcel of the dispute, and it sometimes is, but if it is well grounded, the Legal Services Commission will be obliged to look at it. That is a step that ought to be taken in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has outlined.

The amendment is similar to amendments tabled in Committee, and in the Grand Committee and on Report in the other place. In both Houses, the amendments were pressed to a vote, and in both Houses they were defeated. One of the greatest assets of tribunals is that people do not usually need a lawyer to pursue their point. As the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk puts it, “Let’s keep lawyers out of it if we can.” Tribunals are not courts. Unlike courts, most tribunals do not rely on strict rules of evidence; they adopt a much more inquisitorial approach. They question the user to find out the relevant information, and do not therefore place the burden entirely on him to present his argument. The majority of tribunal users can relay their evidence by answering questions, without the need for legal representation.

For those who qualify financially, however, legal aid is available in the form of a legal help scheme. Although that does not provide representation, it does provide advice and assistance and can pay for counsel’s advice within its fee structure. For example, in the situation conjured up by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, in which someone’s case is adjourned mid-tribunal for a complicated point of law to be tackled, resort to legal help would make available solicitor’s or counsel’s advice on the point in question.

The Government understand that the tribunal experience can be daunting for some. As the new tribunals come on stream, there will be a wave of effort to ensure that users of tribunals receive good information. We will improve information and provide the opportunity for the case to be informally evaluated before the hearing process gets under way, which will be hugely helpful and give pointers to people seeking to represent themselves at tribunal.

We acknowledge, however, that legal aid for representation has a role in tribunals. It is available for the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Mental Health Review Tribunal. It is also available, in cases of special difficulty, for all tribunals where the exceptional funding criteria are met. I think that the hon. Members for North-West Norfolk and for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) both referred to that.

We would like to do more. As I said on Second Reading and in Committee, we are reforming the legal aid system. We are putting lawyers on fixed fees for standard cases, but with exceptional cases being paid for by the hour, which will help control the legal aid budget. The reasons for those changes are partly so that we can rebalance the legal aid budget towards the civil side, including social welfare law. That is imperative, and it is our purpose. Those are my comments about the broad issue of legal aid.

New clause 3 would require the Lord Chancellor to provide legal aid for judicial review hearings transferred to the upper tribunal. I understand the point, and have immense sympathy with it. Were there a judicial review in the court, legal aid would follow. Were the judicial review moved across to the upper tribunal, however, legal aid would follow only if the exceptional funding criteria were brought into use. I understand that that difference is unacceptable. We intend to change the funding code, which does not require an amendment, so that legal aid for judicial review in the High Court is available if a judicial review is transferred to the upper tribunal. Consequently, the scope of legal aid will be amended.

I hope that that meets the nub of what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey was getting at with new clause 3. It seems to me that we should go further and monitor the transfer of cases to the upper tribunal, which we will do. We should also monitor the change that will inevitably come as a result of the implementation of the Bill and the existence of the upper tribunal: what would now have to go to judicial review would instead be able to go as a statutory appeal to the tribunal. If, in due course, that started to happen, we would not want people to be disadvantaged by the non-availability of legal aid. For the time being—I hope that this meets the need that the hon. Gentleman has identified—we intend to ensure that the scope of legal aid is extended, so that if a case is transferred to the upper tribunal, legal aid will be available if it is a judicial review.

I am not saying that we would never seek to extend legal aid into other sectors. My noble Friends in the other place have said, and I have said in this House, that when we have the current legal aid spend under control we will consider how best to use such freed resources. I hope that my explanations are sufficient to persuade hon. Members not to press the amendments to a vote. If they do, however, we will oppose them.

The Minister is being very helpful. If she clarifies one point, I will be happy to respond to her invitation in relation to new clause 3. As I understand it, the Government intend to achieve, through the proposal that she sets out, exactly what we propose in new clause 3—that there should be legal aid for applicants for relief under section 15, which is the judicial review provision. If it is confirmed that all section 15 applicants will be covered, I shall respond positively to her suggestion.

Those who are eligible for legal aid for a judicial review in the High Court will not be put at a disadvantage if the case is transferred to the upper tribunal. We will therefore extend the scope of legal aid so that they get legal aid. I hope that that answer is satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman. An amendment is not required.

On new clause 11, I congratulate and compliment the hon. Member for Newbury on taking the opportunity to draw public attention to such issues. I, too, think that to live in an affordable park home sounds like quite an agreeable lifestyle choice. The stories that we have heard about blackmail, bullying and people behaving badly and abusing their power are appalling. I am sorry that that goes on. I hope that I can bring forward a positive suggestion in relation to his constituents’ difficulties with the fact that the only place for the resolution of disputes is the county court.

The hon. Gentleman has 11 mobile home sites within his constituency—I think that I have two—and he is an active member of the all-party group on the welfare of park home owners. He probably also knows that the Department for Communities and Local Government is working closely with representatives of both site providers and residents to try to develop proposals for alternative forms of resolution. If he did not know that, let me make clear that that is going on, and if wishes to get involved on behalf of the 11 mobile home sites in his constituency, I shall make sure that he has sufficient information.

Alternative ways of resolution other than the courts are being considered. Currently, disputes go to the county court under the mobile homes legislation. I understand that negotiations have thrown up some issues that both sides of the park home sector agree should remain in the county court. If that is so, those issues will no doubt stay in the county court. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, let me say that the county court has a small claims track, which is likely to be a route that can be taken by people in some of the predicaments that he has described. Its procedures are very much simplified, and the district judges who operate that track are proactive and immensely helpful to those who are unrepresented and not well versed in matters of law.

Many county courts also increasingly have mediation officers, to whom district judges can send cases that they think are appropriate for mediation. It sounds possible that some of the issues raised would be appropriate for mediation. Whether or not that is the case, if it is agreed at the end of negotiations that some issues should remain in the county court, that should not put off constituents who have a real cause for complaint, because the small claims track is not a fully bewigged, begowned, formal, “my learned friend” sort of experience. It is much more informal than that.

Once there is overall agreement on the best routes for dispute resolution, the Government can, and will be happy to, use the provisions in the Housing Act 2004 to transfer those disputes that it is agreed should be transferred to a tribunal setting. The tribunal will be the residential property tribunal service, which is an existing national tribunal service that already deals with issues such as rent and leasehold, so should be well versed in the kind of territory over which some of the disputes arise. Transfer can be achieved by an affirmative statutory instrument under the 2004 Act, making the amendment unnecessary. Of course, if that process is used there will be a debate allowing scrutiny of the proposed transfer.

The hon. Gentleman did not intend his amendment to be perfection incarnate, and it would be very expensive to set up individual tribunals for each of the 269 local authorities that have park homes, so the proposition I have described is much better. I hope that I have set the hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest and that he will participate, on behalf of his constituents, in the discussions that are going on, so that in due course park home owners can have ready access to recourse when they are treated in the appalling way that he described.

I turn now to the general commissioners for income tax. I should make it clear that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), will have responsibility for tribunals—at least for another couple of hours— and that is why he has discussed the issue with the commissioners. Amendment No. 9, tabled by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, would remove the reference to the general commissioners, while amendment No. 72 would enable compensation to be paid for loss of office as a result of this Bill.

The primary concern of both amendments is the question of compensation to clerks following the abolition of their office. I was impressed by the impassioned plea for the retention of the status quo made by the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that he generally supports the streamlining process in this Bill. It is a thin case to suggest that the issue of compensation means that the tax commissioners should be left out entirely.

I assure the Minister that amendment No. 9 is not driven exclusively by the concerns about compensation for loss of office, but by real concerns about the new system for the general commissioners’ work. We are concerned about the structure.

I accept that entirely and I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman made the point that costs of appeals would increase, but we do not accept that. There should be no increase in cost and the unified and, we would say, more expert system that will begin when the commissioners are put into the tribunal system will be more efficient and consequently, if anything, cheaper.

The Minister has touched on a point that struck me when the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) was talking. He mentioned the £5 million cost of the general commissioners, but he did not include—the figures may not have been available—the potential cost of the appeals from lay general commissioners who through no fault of their own make the wrong decision. Did it also strike the Minister that the hon. Gentleman made a contradictory argument when he claimed that the new system would be more expensive because of the staff involved, but then suggested that there would be loss of office? Is it not possible that some of those 200 or so general commissioners’ clerks could be transferred into the new system with no loss of office?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the potential cost of appeals if the persons hearing the cases in the first instance are less expert. That is a truism across the board.

I acknowledge the statement by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that his amendment is concerned with the structure. We are confident that tax appeal modernisation is an important part of the tribunal reforms. We intend such appeals to fall within the new tribunal system.

The Liberal Democrat amendment is about compensation. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary met with the clerks yesterday to listen to their arguments. It has been the view of the Government that no compensation is appropriate, and nothing was put forward in those discussions that changed the Government’s mind on the matter. The clerks are not salaried, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey suggested: they are fee-paid office holders—[Interruption.] I must have misheard the hon. Gentleman. There is no expectation attached to that status of compensation if the office is abolished.

Clerks handle their work load in their own way: they are not directed by the Department. Some clerks do a lot of work and either manage that work alongside being a practicing solicitor or as their sole activity. But most clerks earn very little. The average remuneration is under £5,000. Only 10 out of 356 divisions generate more than £20,000 in fees for the clerk. The exact breakdown of that fee will vary from clerk to clerk, but a fee of £20,000 equates to approximately 60 hours of hearing time a year. For the vast majority, our reforms represent not a loss of their livelihood, but merely the loss of one source of income for their firm.

Reform of the tax appeals system has been on the agenda for many years. The clerks have known for two years that the present system was likely to be abolished. It will not be abolished until April 2009 and they have had, and continue to have, ample time to look for alternative sources of income. Firms have to do this all the time, of course.

Furthermore and importantly, appeal numbers have been declining since self-assessment for income tax was introduced. It is unreasonable to suggest that there can be a legitimate expectation that the present level of income from that work would have continued had the system not been abolished. The existing compensation scheme is in the context of a continuing general commissioner system and not its abolition. If the system were continuing and there were to be a merger of divisions and a choice had to be made as to which of a number of clerks would be clerk of the merged division, it would be reasonable to compensate those who lost the opportunity to carry on. But where the whole system is to be abolished it would be an inappropriate use of public money to compensate all those individuals who happen to be earning fees from the scheme at the time. We have looked carefully at the examples of compensation schemes cited by the clerks in support of their case, but we are advised that none of them constitutes a legal precedent. Nor is there any breach of the Human Rights Act, although no one has today suggested that that is the case.

The Government have already agreed to top up fees if the work load in the final year is higher than the preceding year. It now looks likely that the nature of the work in the last year will require some additional duties of the clerks, to assist in transition from old to new system. My officials are considering the details of a final-year scheme that will take full account of those additional duties and ensure that clerks are fully and properly remunerated for all that they do up to the end of the scheme.

The Government cannot accept an amendment that would set back our plans for tax appeal modernisation, which is what the Conservatives’ amendment would do. We also remain unconvinced by the arguments put in favour of compensation.

I hope my few words about looking at the final year will have cheered the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey a little. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice has said that he hopes to recover the good will of the clerks, but we remain unconvinced about the amendments and cannot accept them.

If you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall start my response by saying that we began the debate under one regime, and will finish under a new Prime Minister. On behalf of all those in the House when he was elected, and of everyone else, I extend our congratulations and best wishes to him and his family. I am sure that we will support everything that he does in the national interest. The Minister and I are of the same generation as the new Prime Minister, and so have a particular cause for rejoicing.

With his new clause 11, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) rightfully put on record an important and significant matter of concern. The Minister was not able to accede to his request, but I hope that the fact that his argument was heard will mean that the people who live in park homes around the country get a better response to their concerns in future.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and I then sought to persuade the Minister about the general commissioners of taxes and their clerks. I meant to say that they were fee earners and not salaried, but stand corrected if I did not. I incorrectly said that Lisvane, where our taxes are processed, was in Cardiff rather than Llanishen, but the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk rightly said that general commissioners and their clerks meet and serve locally. Unlike the Revenue as a whole, therefore, they offer very much a local face and presence. The hon. Gentleman said that he had never appeared before the commissioners: I have, at a hearing in London, and found them very courteous and helpful.

I met the Under-Secretary yesterday. He is currently responsible for these matters, but I have not yet had the full feedback from the meeting. I hear what the Minister has said today and, although we still want to support the commissioners and clerks, we will defer to the Conservative amendment that I understand will be moved later.

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting exactly our proposals on legal aid in new clause 3. Amendment No. 4 also deals with legal aid, and we still believe that having a more express permission for the granting of legal aid in the Bill would be of benefit. When the time comes, we will put that amendment to the will of the House. I shall ask to withdraw new clause 3, then move new clause 4 formally. I know that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) wants to press new clause 6 to a Division, and then we shall do the same for amendment No. 4.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 4

Uniforms

‘All enforcement agents, both private and Crown-employed, must at all times wear such uniform or other means of identification as shall be prescribed.’.—[Simon Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

New Clause 6

Independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents

‘(1) The Lord Chancellor must by regulations establish an independent regulatory authority for bailiffs and enforcement agents.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must make provision for—

(a) the licensing of enforcement agents;

(b) the approval of the businesses and organisations which employ them;

(c) the accreditation of the professional bodies which represent them;

(d) the setting of standards of conduct;

(e) the monitoring of performance;

(f) the investigation of complaints;

(g) the punishment of failure to comply with standards of conduct; and

(h) the provision of redress where appropriate.’.—[Mr. Austin Mitchell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

Clause 22

Miscellaneous

Amendment proposed: No. 4, in page 20, line 4, at end insert—

‘(4A) The Tribunal Procedure Rules shall make provision for the granting by a judge of the First-tier Tribunal of legal aid for appropriate advice and representation in relation to any decision within the jurisdiction of the tribunal systems.’.—[Simon Hughes.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Clause 54

deputy, and temporary additional, masters etc.

Amendments made: No. 43, page 41, line 37, leave out ‘and (3)’ and insert ‘to (3B)’.

No. 44, page 41, line 38, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

‘(2) In subsection (1)—

(a) for “the Lord Chief Justice, after consulting the Lord Chancellor,” substitute “the Lord Chancellor”, and

(b) for “the Lord Chief Justice may, after consulting the Lord Chancellor,” substitute “the Lord Chancellor may”.’.

No. 45, page 41, line 39, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) After subsection (1) insert—

“(1ZA) The Lord Chancellor may not appoint a holder of relevant office under subsection (1) without the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice.

(1ZB) Section 85 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (selection of certain office holders) does not apply to an appointment to which subsection (1ZA) applies.

(1ZC) In this section a “holder of relevant office” means a person who holds, or has held within two years ending with the date when his appointment under this section takes effect—

(a) any office listed in column 1 of Part 2 or 3 of Schedule 2, or

(b) the office of district judge.”’.

No. 46, page 42, line 7, at end insert—

‘(3A) For subsection (3) substitute—

“(3) An appointment under this section may extend until the day on which a person attains the age of seventy-five years if it is an appointment of a holder of relevant office.”

(3B) In subsection (7) for “subsection (1)” substitute “subsection (1ZA)”.

(3C) In section 92(1) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (c. 54) after “this section” insert “, to section 91(3)”.’.

No. 47, page 42, line 8, leave out ‘3’ and insert ‘2’.

No. 48, page 42, line 10, leave out from ‘entry’ to ‘, insert’ in line 12 and insert

‘for an assistant recorder appointed under section 24(1) of the Courts Act 1971 (c. 23)’.

No. 49, page 42, line 13, leave out ‘Section 91(1ZA) of the Supreme Court Act 1981’ and insert

‘Section 91(1) of the Supreme Court Act 1981, unless subsection (1ZA) of that section applies to the appointment’.

No. 50, page 42, line 20, leave out subsections (5) and (6).—[Vera Baird.]

Clause 57

enforcement by taking control of goods

I beg to move amendment No. 10, page 43, line 28, at end insert—

‘(2A) The Lord Chancellor shall issue National Standards or other guidance requiring enforcement agents and those acting on their behalf not to act oppressively or disproportionately with regards to vulnerable and other persons.’.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 68, in clause 59, page 44, line 36 , at end insert—

‘(h) requiring enforcement agents to work subject to a published contract when enforcing court fines, council tax and non-domestic rate arrears and road traffic debts.’.

No. 8, in clause 84, page 53 , leave out lines 13 to 15.

No. 11, in Schedule 12, page 205, line 27, at end insert—

‘(5) In exercising any of their powers or duties under this procedure enforcement agents and any persons authorised to act on their behalf shall act in accordance with National Standards and any guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor.’.

No. 1, page 206, line 16, after ‘means’, insert—

‘(a)  ’.

No. 2, page 206, line 17, at end insert—

‘(b) such tools, books, vehicles and other items of equipment as are necessary to the debtor for use personally by him in his employment, business or vocation;

(c) such clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and provisions as are necessary for satisfying the basic domestic needs of the debtor and his family;

(d) money where an enforcement agent has reasonable cause to believe that this would be necessary for the immediate domestic needs of the debtor and his family;

(e) domestic pets;’.

No. 19, page 206, line 17, at end insert—

‘(b) goods that fall within paragraph 4A(1);’.

No. 13, page 206, line 31, at end insert—

‘Code of conduct

3A (1) The Secretary of State shall issue a code of conduct to ensure that the poor, vulnerable and socially excluded are protected from disproportionate enforcement.

(2) Enforcement agents, courts, creditors and others with responsibility for an enforcement action shall comply with the code of conduct.’.

No. 41, page 206, line 31, at end insert—

‘Protection from disproportionate enforcement action

3A The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to ensure that the poor, vulnerable and socially excluded people are protected from disproportionate enforcement action.’.

No. 12, page 207, line 3, at end insert—

‘4A (1) The following fall into the definition of exempt goods so as to preclude seizure of—

(a) any goods which are fixtures or fittings attached to the premises including goods which are plumbed in or connected to water, fuel or power supplies,

(b) domestic animals and animals kept as pets,

(c) guard dogs,

(d) any dog on which a blind person relies,

(e) any animal which is kept for commercial gain, save as allowed through common law and where provision for the welfare of the animal has been arranged in advance,

(f) in the case of domestic dwellings no sum of money of £500 in cash or below,

(g) in the case of domestic dwellings no sum of money which would leave the debtor with less than £500.

(2) In the case of domestic dwellings no sum of money above £500 is to be removed without the civil enforcement officer recording the purpose for which the money is to be used.’.

No. 3, page 207, line 42, at end insert—

‘Rights and remedies information

6A (1) Her Majesty’s Court Service shall prepare an information sheet to inform debtors of the rights and remedies available to them with respect to an enforcement power.

(2) Regulations must make provision for the information to be included in an information sheet to include—

(a) powers of entry and re-entry;

(b) limits and controls on the power to use reasonable force;

(c) exempt goods;

(d) ways of taking control of goods;

(e) permitted costs and charges;

(f) rights to redress;

(g) how to complain;

(h) how to ask for time to pay;

(i) where to go for advice and assistance.

(3) Regulations must make provision for the form, ordering and prominence of information.

(4) The Lord Chancellor shall consult such persons and bodies he considers appropriate on the content of regulations under this paragraph.’.

No. 25, page 208, line 2, at end insert—

‘and has signed a form to indicate that the notice has been received’.

No. 69, page 208, line 2, at end insert—

‘by recorded delivery mail and, in the event of any failure of delivery, by personal visit by the enforcement agent, acknowledged by the signature of the debtor.’.

No. 36, page 208, line 28, at end insert—

‘and only if they are not money, clothing, bedding, furniture, household equipment and provisions as are necessary for satisfying the basic domestic needs of the debtor and his or her family or such tools or other items of equipment as are necessary for the debtor to continue in his business, employment, vocation or education.

(2) Regulations may clarify, limit or expand the exemptions in subparagraph (1), including but not limited to placing an upper monetary limit on the value of a protected item where necessary.’.

No. 26, page 209, leave out line 6.

No. 38, page 209, line 14, leave out paragraph 13.

No. 27, page 209, line 21, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

No. 20, page 209, line 29, at end insert ‘or other competent person’.

No. 16, page 209, line 34, at end insert—

‘(5) In this paragraph a “competent person” is any person either residing at the relevant premises or working at the relevant premises where these are premises where the debtor carries out trade or business at the time when control is taken, who—

(a) is 18 years of age or over; and

(b) fully understands the consequences of the procedure being carried out.’.

No. 15, page 209, line 34, at end insert—

‘Premises occupied by a single woman or persons under 16

13A Where a dwelling is known or believed to be occupied by a single woman or a child under 16, no visit with the intention of seizing goods shall be permitted unless the enforcement officer is female or is accompanied by a female enforcement officer.’.

No. 28, page 213, line 2, at end insert—

‘and after notice has been given to the owner of any vehicle in relation to which the power is to be exercised’.

No. 70, page 213, line 2, at end insert—

‘(1A) There shall be no enforcement action until notice has been served by recorded delivery mail, and in the event of any failure of delivery, by personal visit by the enforcement agent, acknowledged by the signature of the debtor.’.

No. 29, page 213, line 7, at end insert—

‘, before doing either of those things,’.

No. 30, page 213, line 12, leave out sub-paragraphs (3) and (4) and insert—

‘(3) The enforcement agent must deliver the notice to any relevant premises in a sealed envelope addressed to the debtor.

(4) Premises are relevant if the enforcement agent reasonably believes that they are the place, or one of the places, where the debtor—

(a) usually lives, or

(b) carries on a trade or business.’.

No. 31, page 213, line 37, leave out ‘Before the end of the minimum period’ and insert—

‘If a vehicle is clamped or removed under the provisions of this Schedule’.

No. 32, page 214, line 1, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

No. 40, page 217, line 24, leave out sub-paragraph (2).

No. 7, page 221, line 28, at end insert—

‘(4A) Regulations must make provision for legal aid to be available where financially necessary in all such actions.’.

Government amendments Nos. 64 and 65.

The amendments relate to enforcement by taking control of goods, and the relevant procedure. I shall say a word about the amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friends. Amendment No. 10 is about protection for vulnerable people. Amendment No. 11 makes it clear that enforcement agents must act in accordance with national standards. Amendment No. 19 is about exempt goods. Amendment No. 13 is about a code of conduct to protect the vulnerable, and is closely related to amendment No. 10. Amendment No. 12 deals with the tools of trade. Amendment No. 3, which is about rights and remedies information, was tabled by the Liberal Democrats but we have signed it. Amendments Nos. 16 and 20 are about the competent persons test. Amendment No. 15 is about protection for the under-16s.

We have heard today about vulnerable groups and the pressure that they may come under. Although the vast majority of bailiffs act correctly and properly and do an excellent job, there are those who do not do such a good job and who abuse their power. We have already debated whether it would appropriate to bring in tougher regulation for those who do abuse their power, but too many cases have come to our attention of bailiffs turning up on the doorsteps of vulnerable people.

I want to refer to one or two cases that should never have happened. A case in 2001 involved a man from Southwark suffering from serious learning difficulties, who might well have been a constituent of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), and the local council outsourced the collection of the debt to a private bailiff. This man had a council house debt of £235.10, plus the costs of a hearing, and he received a summons, parts of which were highlighted and in bold type. Many such summonses are despatched every day. It said:

“If a liability order is granted the Council will be able to take one or more of the following actions: instruct bailiffs to take your goods to settle your debt…you will be liable to pay the bailiffs’ costs…instruct your employer to deduct payments…deduct money…make you bankrupt, or make a charging order against your home, or have you committed to prison.”

That person had no support or help whatever and he ended up committing suicide.

Other cases involve people who were in desperate plight. A case reported to us by the citizens advice bureau in Lincolnshire involved a tenant who had vacated premises without notice and owing rent. The client did not know where the tenant had gone and was unaware that he had not paid his TV licence. One day when the client was at the premises, two bailiffs arrived to collect the sum due. The client explained who he was, and eventually the bailiffs believed him. However, they said that they had not come all that way to leave with nothing, and insisted that the client pay the fine instead. The client again said that he was not liable, but the bailiffs said that if he did not pay the fine in cash immediately, they would telephone for a lorry, break into his premises and take goods to the value of the fine. When the client explained that he did not have sufficient cash on him, the bailiffs insisted on accompanying him to the bank to withdraw the money. When the client phoned the magistrates court, he was told to take his complaint to the local CAB. The client told the CAB that he felt so intimidated and frightened that he had no choice but to pay the fine, and went to the bank with one of the bailiffs.

I gave an example earlier of a tragic case involving a woman from Manchester who was visited by bailiffs in respect of a debt owed by her daughter, who did not live with her. The bailiffs told her that she was responsible for her daughter’s debt and that they were permitted to move goods from the property, which of course was wrong.

I also gave an example earlier of a CAB client in Bedfordshire whose husband had died, but the next day the bailiffs called at her house. She explained that her husband had died, that there were real problems in the family and that he had not made his will, but they insisted on going ahead with enforcement action.

The Minister said in Committee, and she alluded to it again this afternoon, that various measures will be in place to help vulnerable people. She referred specifically to the national standards for enforcement agents, which make clear those who are potentially vulnerable, including the elderly, people with a disability, the seriously ill, the recently bereaved, single parent families and pregnant women. When the Minister replies, I hope that she will be able to make clear whether those national standards are being properly adhered to.

The Reverend Paul Nicholson of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust has done a huge amount of work in helping the vulnerable over many years and has become an expert in bailiff procedure and enforcement procedure. He has been assiduous in briefing the Committee and hon. Members and I applaud him for his work. When the Minister wrote to him, she made it clear:

“We remain of the opinion that the best way to tackle the problems that enforcement agents may face when identifying or being confronted by so-called potentially vulnerable debtor groups or situations is through the training they will have to undergo and through the enhanced and extended certification process.”

Is she going to honour that pledge? Will the existing national guidelines be adhered to? I hope that they will. The Bill will give bailiffs substantially more power. I am concerned by the use of complicated language in schedule 12, and Philip Evans, national chair of the Certified Bailiffs Association, made it clear in a letter to members of the committee that he felt that the language used in the schedule was “gobbledegook.” He was concerned that, over many years, the Government had not enforced the national standards and made sure that they were adhered to properly. We will have a system of regulation for private bailiffs, but it will not cover Crown agents. There will be a new certification process for them and the Minister says there will be remedies for people who have complaints. The Government have a huge vested interest in making sure that the money is collected—in many ways we respect and accept that—but there will be a great deal of pressure on bailiffs, who, we must bear in mind, will have increased powers.

I am concerned by the new forced entry powers, which, to be fair, do not flow from the Bill; they were brought in by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. This extra amendment to that Bill was tabled at the last moment and overturns many hundreds of years of common law.

Bailiffs now have far more power as a result of the 2004 Act and will receive additional powers under the Bill. In Committee, I quoted the argument about the Englishman’s home being his castle, which dates back to the 14th century Semayne case. The case was commented on by William Pitt the elder, the first Earl of Chatham, in a classic quote that sums up this part of common law. In the 1960s case Southam v Smout, Lord Denning cited William Pitt the Elder’s famous saying:

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter; the rain may enter—but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement”.

That sums up the situation that was prevalent in common law until the Government changed it.

The Bill gives bailiffs yet more powers, including more powers of entry, and vulnerable people may suffer as a consequence. We do not want that to happen and it would be easy to add extra safeguards, which is what the amendment proposes. Why should not the tools of the trade be exempt in the Bill? Many of those who run into debt will be self-employed small business people. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) mentioned a constituency case in which a firm had run into debt and the bailiffs came round and removed what might have been vital equipment.

I would like the Minister to comment on two additional points. First, there has of late been a lot of discussion as to whether, once the bailiffs have been unleashed, for example by a central payment office, to go to visit a debtor and to raise the money, if the debtor then wants to go back to the magistrates court to request a hearing for a review of a disproportionate fine, the magistrates court can withdraw the bailiffs after the request to enter. The Minister wrote to Rev. Paul Nicholson saying that in her view the magistrates court does have the power to order the bailiffs to be called off so that the case for review can take place. On the other hand, I have seen an opinion by leading counsel, in reference to a particular case, making it clear that it does not have the power to withdraw the bailiffs. In fact, the clerks to the magistrates court in Her Majesty’s Courts Service central payments office in Buckinghamshire say that they do not have that power. They cited—it was also cited by leading counsel—the case of R v. Hereford and Worcester Magistrates Court, ex parte MacRae, 1998, 163 JP 433. The Minister needs to clarify this because it is very important in terms of how the vulnerable are treated once they get seriously into debt and run into major problems. If Rev. Paul Nicholson and leading counsel are saying one thing and the Minister and her civil servants are saying something else, that is a pretty unfair and rum situation.

Secondly, I should like to touch on the point relating to judicial review. As we know, judicial review is used to control illegal or unlawful decisions—decisions which break the law or which a body or organisation has no power to make. For example, there could be procedural impropriety, or a situation where unfair decisions are made, or the decision maker is biased, or unreasonable decisions take place where the bodies in question have discretion but do not use it. In 1948, a well known case—Associated Provincial Picture Houses v. Wednesbury Corporation—laid down the Wednesbury rules, which refer to all cases of judicial review. When it comes to Crown bailiffs—the Government-employed bailiffs—who act on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, public bodies and local authorities, there is no proper system of judicial review, which means that the actions of these Government employees and Crown servants cannot be properly held to account in the courts. That concerned us a great deal in Committee, where we had a substantial debate about it. That strengthens the case for amendment No. 10, which would lay down in the Bill a proper code to help the vulnerable.

Earlier, the Minister said that schedule 12 lays down the appropriate remedies and protection. She mentioned the use of reasonable force, methods of address and the procedures relating to the sale of goods. We accept a great deal of that, but it does not go far enough. We feel very strongly at a time when the Government are giving bailiffs more power, when more and more people are falling into debt, and when, sadly but inevitably as more debts are enforced and more private bailiffs are employed, that there will be abuses of the system. The Bill’s consequences will be felt in places, and we are grateful for that. For example, the Security Industry Authority will regulate private bailiffs.

Not only the small minority of private bailiffs abuse power, however. Government bailiffs also do that from time to time. There are far too many cases of vulnerable people who are at their wits’ end suffering persecution, strain and stress that none of us would wish on anyone. We get such cases in our surgeries and advice centres and we read about them. They are unfortunately a fact of life. The Bill will help to reduce such cases; but granting more power, not putting in place a proper system of judicial review, and relying exclusively on schedule 12 and its remedies are not enough.

I therefore urge the Under-Secretary to consider the amendment, which would provide for issuing national standards and guidance that required enforcement agencies not to act oppressively or disproportionately. If she accepts it, I shall not press amendments about the tools of the trade, the code of conduct, the rights and remedies information sheet, the competent persons test and protection for the under-16s. Amendment No. 10 goes to the core of what we are trying to achieve.

We have grave concerns about the Bill, but it will do a substantial amount of good through the unified tribunal system, the provisions on looted art and the measures to update the enforcement system. However, if we go ahead without the amendment, we will unleash on the public a system that will not give them a fair deal.

I shall speak about amendments Nos. 68, 25, 69, 36, 26, 38, 27, 28, 70, 29 to 32 and 40. Reading them out is a speech in itself, so I shall try to be brief. I do not want to hold up proceedings—we are here, feeling the hand of history on our shoulders, while our constituents are feeling the waters of history in their wellingtons and basements. I would much rather be in my constituency helping my constituents deal with their problems.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) because it is good to see the Conservative party taking up the defence of the poor and vulnerable, as he has done consistently throughout our debates on the Bill. My amendments have the same purpose.

A high proportion of mistakes occurs in many cases in which bailiffs are brought in. Those mistakes are made in the system of delivering fines and punishment, which is extraordinarily sloppy. We have a mobile society, especially in London, and fairly antiquated court procedures, which grind slowly on and get to grips with the issues some weeks after the matters have arisen, and then mistakes are often made in delivery.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will explain why we do not require all court matters and judgments to be sent by recorded delivery. It is not an expensive system—heaven knows it would not add substantially to costs. All European countries require delivery by such a system so that people can be sure that details and fines have arrived. My amendments attempt to avoid mistakes by ensuring that fines and details of bailiffs’ intended actions are delivered.

The amendments would prevent the sort of abuses that happen now, when bailiffs make phantom visits. They are paid for visits and, in many cases, it suits them to claim for phantom visits—visits that never took place or left no record at the relevant house. They can charge for all such visits to increase their revenues. It is silly. There are cases where a mistake has been made, and the person involved is not responsible for the charge, yet visits are claimed to have been made, which adds to the bill and compounds the problem.

My amendments Nos. 28, 69, 70, 29 and 30 are an attempt to ensure effective delivery of the bailiffs’ action, and of the fines and charges that have been claimed to have been made, to the people responsible. With proper delivery in place, if a mistake had been made the person concerned could contest it. That would cut the whole procedure off. This is a simple provision, and I do not know why we do not adopt it, to ensure that all deliveries by bailiffs, courts and councils are made by recorded delivery, so that guarantees are in place.

Amendment No. 68 would require the publication of the contracts between the courts, the local authorities and the firms of bailiffs, so that people would know how effectively the firms were being regulated, what the bailiffs’ rights and responsibilities were, and what their own rights were. All too often, inquiries have revealed contracts to be out of date, badly drafted or ineffective, and councils are often reluctant to produce them. People have to go through freedom of information procedures to see the contracts on which this whole system is based, which is ridiculous. We need published contracts to ensure proper enforcement and the proper regulation of bailiffs.

Amendment No. 36 is intended to rectify a major omission from the Bill by providing protection for essential household items and other things needed by the debtor or his family to continue earning a living. Bailiffs should not be able to seize such items, and they need to be protected. I know that essential items are exempt under various statutes. For example, the tools of a person’s trade are exempt, except in relation to the enforcement of non-domestic rates and VAT payments. As the amount of penalties and sanctions increases, we need to define what items bailiffs can take, and to extend the basic provision to cover money and foods, which are necessary for the survival of the family.

The policy statement sets out the protection to be given to goods in the regulations. However, if Parliament, through this legislation, effectively abolishes the common law protections, we should enact their replacement in the form of statutory protections, rather than delegating the task to the Minister. The Minister is responsible for using bailiffs to recover Government revenues, and therefore has a vested interest in sustaining and helping them. That is a conflict of interest. We should therefore define what is protected in the legislation and not leave it to be set out in regulations. That is why my amendment No. 36 defines what bailiffs may and may not take, in a clear and simple fashion. What is wrong with that?

I turn to amendment No. 40. Paragraph 53(2) of schedule 12 states that goods that are unsold at auction are to be “abandoned” and must be returned to the debtor. Paragraph 54(1)(a) states that, if that happens,

“the enforcement power ceases to be exercisable”.

Surely that will cause problems. At the moment, if an item does not attract a reasonable price at auction, it is kept back until the next auction. That is sensible, because someone will eventually buy it, and we want to get the best price for such items. Am I correct in saying that the new paragraph will prohibit that? If the alternative to selling the item is to return it, it will surely be flogged for whatever the auctioneers can get for it. It is therefore likely to attract a much lower price than if it is put back in the next auction.

Currently, failure to sell one item does not affect the sale of any other items taken from the debtor. Under paragraph 54, however, if the enforcement power ceases to become exercisable, none of the other items can be sold. It is therefore probable that all the items will be sold off as a simple job lot. That means that they will raise less money than they would if they were sold individually. It is in all our interests that the debtor gets the best price for the items confiscated. I worry that the provision will stop that.

The hon. Gentleman might not be aware of it, but I gave an example in Committee of a woman who had a substantial debt, of about £500. The bailiffs took from her about £1,000 worth of household goods—white goods, a television set and other bits and pieces—but they made only £30 at auction.

I am grateful for that example; I have heard similar examples, but not of such a low price for an estimated £1,000 worth of goods. We must protect people from such a possibility. We want the debtor to get the maximum possible price for the goods confiscated. That is the only protection that we can decently offer. It is ridiculous to consider such goods to be abandoned, and my amendment No. 40 would therefore remove paragraph 53(2) of schedule 12.

Having heard the speech and the examples given by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, I am sorry that I missed the joys of the Committee. It has been a real pleasure to contribute to today’s debate. Having enjoyed the disrepute of leading the first major rebellion of the new Government, involving a massive number of my colleagues—the Whip is glaring at me already—may I say to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister that I do not intend to hold the terrible threat of further rebellions over her head? Given that we must protect the vulnerable, however, I hope that she will assure me that the protections that I want to introduce through the amendments will be secured under her new regime.

We had an interesting discussion during the voting as to whether, before the new Prime Minister appoints his Government, there is a Government at all, and whether there are such things as Government amendments. The Minister and others have assured me that there are, and we are working on that basis. Therefore, we can still rebel.

That is another reason for expediting proceedings. I want to go home and wait for the phone not to ring.

There may be time yet.

This group of amendments was introduced by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). Were he to seek to divide the House on his lead amendment, my hon. Friends and I would support him. As he rightly says, the purpose of this group is to ensure that standards apply in all places and at all times to prevent the vulnerable from being adversely affected by bailiffs and people coming to their homes and taking their property.

Amendment No. 10 is a permissive amendment, which would require national standards and guidance, thus providing a gold standard. That would be a welcome initiative. In this large group of amendments, the majority of which were tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), the Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments Nos. 8, 1, 2, 3 and 7.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are a return to the proposal that we should be more specific in the Bill about what constitute exempt goods. I remember the debate, and the Minister’s summary response was that we need flexibility. The lack of specificity in the Bill would be covered if there were general guidance and national standards, and amendment No. 10 would cover the criticism of amendments Nos. 1 and 2. Amendment No. 8 has been discussed, but it is an anomaly in this day and age that clause 84 should state:

“This part binds the Crown”—

and then continues:

“But the procedure in Schedule 12 may not be used…to recover debts due from the Crown…to take control of or sell goods of the Crown…or…to enter premises occupied by the Crown.”

I understand that there would be great embarrassment, for instance, if the bailiffs could go into Buckingham palace, especially this afternoon at the same time as other people. That would clearly be inappropriate. However, we discovered in Committee that that provision also referred to Crown agencies—all of those acting under the authority of the Crown. We believe that there should be no exemption. Some years ago we changed the rules to reduce the exemptions that apply in general to the Crown and they should be reduced here too.

We have argued that clear information should be given to individuals about their rights, and our amendment No. 3 is similar to those tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby. It would require that Her Majesty’s Court Service prepare an information sheet, to be made generally available and that reflects the rules and tells debtors of the rights and remedies available to them. That is the same point as that made by the hon. Gentleman. At the moment, the law is confusing. If we went down the Old Kent road in my constituency and asked people when they thought they had a duty to let someone who was chasing them for money into their house, we would get all sorts of different answers, because the law is not generally known or understood. People do not know when they are obliged to let people in. Many people would say that a home in England is a castle and that we must be allowed to keep people out. It is indeed the case that in many cases people do not have to let others into their house, even if they come with some rights over property, because there are processes that have to be gone through. It is important to make that clear.

The document should cover the powers of entry; the powers of re-entry; when reasonable force can be used; when force can be used; exempt goods; how goods can be secured; how goods can be taken away; what can be charged, because goods can be removed and retained, while the costs tick up like a meter and the owners cannot recover them; what remedy is available if goods are collected wrongly; how one can complain; how one can ask for time to pay; and where one should go for advice and assistance. That information is important.

Amendment No. 7 proposes that the debtor, when seeking to enforce rights against those who come to seize their goods, should have legal aid. There should be an ability to challenge the authority, whether it is the state, local government or the private sector.

Our amendments are about giving the citizen the power to know the law and their rights, and ensuring that people in positions of authority—especially those with a financial hold over them—cannot abuse that position. We need a new regime and the amendments would help towards that end. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to them.

I am delighted to be able to return to this important if somewhat heterogeneous Bill, although I very much doubt that our deliberations will be among the top one or two stories on the news tonight. The Minister may look doubtful about that, but it is a shame because the Bill will have a considerable impact on those of our constituents unfortunate enough to find themselves in financial difficulty.

If anything is more stressful than moving house, it is probably the thought that someone may enter it to remove treasured possessions. The Opposition have been consistent in our appeals for a code of conduct that is transparent and accessible to members of the public, and on which they can rely when they are in difficulty with bailiffs. The poor, vulnerable and socially excluded are at particular risk, but a code of conduct or set of notional standards would bring universal benefits.

The slightly tenuous argument was advanced in Committee that bailiffs already have their own code of conduct, and that a Government code would be to no avail in dealing with the few bailiffs who have decided to ignore their own. However, national standards or a code of conduct set by the Government would ensure consistency and hold up a mirror to the whole enforcement profession, and that could not but be to the advantage of the public as a whole.

If that is not sufficient, proposed new paragraph (2) of amendment No. 13 makes it explicit that the code would not be a matter of whimsy, but that people would be expected to adhere to it. We are all aware of the sterling work of the citizens advice bureaux in assisting people who get into debt. Staff at the office covering Braintree, Witham and Halstead have written to me with their general concerns about the Bill, and specific examples of problems that they have encountered recently.

In one example, a client was being chased for a debt even though she thought that she was up to date with it. Indeed, it turned out that the debt was nearly 10 years old. That was unfortunate in itself, but her real concern was that the bailiff involved was demanding entry to her house and would not accept any payment terms whatsoever. The CAB client had offered to pay the debt over a period of six months, but the bailiff said that he could only accept three monthly instalments.

I know that such problems are all too common, and that is why I continue to believe that the Bill is missing an opportunity to set out, clearly and accessibly, the behaviour expected from bailiffs when dealing with the poor, vulnerable or socially excluded. Society and Government have a special responsibility to those people—an implicit responsibility that ought to be made explicit.

Requiring bailiffs to act proportionately would also be an attempt to legislate for common sense. The Minister has that quality in abundance, but unfortunately it is sometimes lacking in bailiffs, who can clock up hundreds of pounds of costs in order to get their hands on pennies.

The Minister places her trust in training as part of the beefed-up certification process, but training can still fall short of the mark, even when those participating in it have the best of intentions. In addition, the certification process will almost certainly be opaque to public scrutiny, whereas a code of conduct and minimum standards would be clearly understood by the enforcement profession and, more importantly, the public.

In Committee, there was some question over the secrecy of the bailiffs bible. The Minister keeps it under lock and key in her office because it concerns operations issues which, in her opinion, should not be made public. That is indicative of one of the problems with the Bill. There is a suspicion, or even just a perception, that a lot is going on behind closed doors in terms of available guidance, standards and training.

A code of conduct or recognisable national standards would go a long way towards dispelling that perception. The Minister has been kind enough to acknowledge that the predecessors to these amendments were all well intentioned, but suggested that they were unnecessary because the conduct of bailiffs would be well enough regulated by appropriate regulations. However, she hit the nail on the head when she said that she did not expect a debtor to read them and that there was no chance of that happening, but more chance that they might lead to national standards or a code of conduct that is clearly in the public domain. She has been steadfast in her position on that line of argument, but I hope that she will reconsider the position today.

I also wish to speak in support of amendment No. 12 on the need to provide in the Bill a list of items exempted from possessions that enforcement officers are able to remove. I do not in any way suggest that it is a full list. As we discussed in Committee, regardless of whether it is even possible to provide a full list, it is also inexpedient to do so because such a list would need to evolve over time. Nevertheless, a core list in the Bill and further exemptions spelled out by regulations are not mutually exclusive. If I am incorrect in that assumption, I hope that the Minister will correct me in her usual gracious way. My concern is that parts of the Bill are so skeletal that it is remarkable that they have not been seized upon by Damien Hirst as a candidate for diamond-plating.

I am grateful for the Ministry’s detailed policy statement on delegated powers, but the fact that it reaches 65 pages on its own suggests either that it is the very model of detail or that there are an awful lot of delegated powers. In Committee, the Minister advanced two principal arguments for the Government's reliance on regulations, and I should like to challenge each of them. First, she said that it was necessary to preserve flexibility by not pinning the exemptions to a list on the face of the Bill. I quite agree with that, and I have no doubt that thorough consultation, which I hope the Government are committed to, will turn up some worthy exemptions that have not yet occurred to the Minister.

In the space of just a few minutes, members of the Committee thought of a number of potentially necessary additions to the list, but I do not think that anyone has suggested that a list appearing in schedule 12 need be exhaustive. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) does not seek to address matters like the prophesy of future technological advances, or to start listing all trade tools that might conceivably stand in the line of fire—wigs and gowns included. However, a list included in schedule 12 merely needs to cover some of the ground as an explicit indication of the Government’s intentions, and one which has statutory authority.

That brings me to the second of the Minister's arguments, which was that the paucity of parliamentary time would make any list contained in the Bill entirely untenable because of the scant opportunity to amend it. That perfectly reasonable objection could be overcome by the simple addition of a reference to any further regulations that the Minister should, from time to time, need to lay before Parliament. I assume that I am right in thinking that the Government would not envisage the need to come to Parliament to repeal the protection that the amendment offers to guide dogs. The Minister will be glad to hear that I shall not devote any further time to the potential inequity of canine repossession, but will she address one question that arose from my reading of the detailed policy statement?

Paragraphs 143 and 144 concern situations in which enforcement officers may take control of goods that would normally be exempted but that have a value beyond their common use and can therefore be easily replaced. The guidance gives the example of an antique dining table, which could easily be replaced by a utilitarian table in order to release some value. How does the Minister envisage that process operating in practice, given that enforcement officers will not be replacing like with like? That seems to be a recipe for confusion or even abuse.

If the enforcement officers take the table and replace it, who meets the cost of the replacement until such a time as the original is sold, and what provision is made for the cost of the related logistics? Enforcement officers could spend a considerable sum on finding replacements for otherwise exempted items—for example, money would be spent on buying and transporting them—but the underlying debt might not be reduced at all by the whole process. Perhaps the Minister could comment on the complexity and the potential for abuse represented by the guidance. I do not wish to go any wider of the amendment, but I hope that she will reconsider the Government’s position on the inclusion of a list in the schedule.

Finally, I deal with amendment No. 15 which relates to single women and children. I am conscious that the issue has already been addressed at some length, but I wish to make two points. First, it seems an entirely reasonable proposition that single women—by which I mean women on their own—should be dealt with by female enforcement officers. It is a well established principle that searches by police, Customs officers and security staff are sensitive to gender, because searches are invasive. Visits by bailiffs are similarly invasive and deserve to be treated with comparable sensitivity.

Secondly, on the issue of children under the age of 16, the amendment is necessary to reinforce the available protection. The Minister confirmed in Committee that there is something of a lacuna between the protection offered to children under 12 and that offered to children under 18. If the only person on the premises is under 12, the bailiff is required to withdraw, but if there is someone aged between 12 and 18 the bailiff is entitled to make inquiries before leaving. The protections deal only with situations in which a child is home alone and do not address the position of children who are otherwise subjected to a visit by a bailiff. I hope that the Minister will comment on that situation. I am conscious that she will argue that bailiffs will be trained in how to deal with children and other vulnerable people, but I just question whether that is enough.

As everyone has said, this is quite a sizeable group of amendments. I will deal with them painstakingly and thoroughly, although I hope not tediously. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) talked about the Englishman’s castle again. I want to quote briefly from an article in The Times, which said:

“An ‘Englishman’s castle’ fuss will always erupt when someone claiming special rights wants the portcullis raised. The argument is every bit as old as the language it is couched in. Victor Tunkel, secretary of the legal-history group the Selden Society, explains that creditors even in Anglo-Saxon times had a ‘right of distress’, allowing them to ‘seize a bloke’s best beast, the tools of his trade”—

we do not want to do that—

“or his bed’. Royal tax collectors similarly were seldom shy of crossing the threshold, and history has offered few ruder awakenings than ‘Open up in the name of the King!’ All that has changed is the volume and complexity of the law”.

We intend to protect the vulnerable and to ensure that the law is known to the public. I have already mentioned on many occasions, both in Committee and in the Chamber, the extent to which we will go to ensure that the Bill does exactly that. The hon. Gentleman makes much play of the increased powers in the Bill. He knows that I have undertaken that, until there is a satisfactory and full regulatory process in place, and a complaints system and a licensing system, the new power that he is particularly concerned about—breaking into houses—will not be introduced. I am at a loss as to what the hon. Gentleman thinks anyone could possibly add to that.

The hon. Gentleman tells horror story after horror story, but I could do the same thing because I, too, have a citizens advice bureau and vulnerable people in my constituency. I do not doubt that Redcar has as many rogue bailiffs as his constituency and that of the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark). That is exactly why we are introducing the new regime. This part of the Bill is designed to put an end to precisely the kind of mischief about which we have heard.

The hon. Member for Braintree made an attractive speech, as ever. Contrary to his assertion, I have no kind of bible under lock and key anywhere in my possession. The bailiffs bible, which he mentioned, was made available to a body that asked for it—perhaps it was the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust—with redacted passages. He says that I keep the document secret, but I offered each and every member of the Public Bill Committee the opportunity to look at the document without the redacted bits. Who has come to look at it? No one.

Let me deal first with amendment No. 8. Hon. Members might recall that there was some discussion in Committee about clause 84 and the application of part 3 to the Crown. There are already statutory obligations on the Crown to ensure that creditors who might be owed money by the Crown are paid. The Crown can be sued and it cannot ignore any judgment made against it by a court. Section 25 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 makes provision for the satisfaction of orders against the Crown. The Crown will thus not escape its obligations simply because it is exempt from enforcement under schedule 12.

As a matter of fact amendment No. 8 would not work, because although it would allow an enforcement agent to use the power in schedule 12 against the Crown to take control of or to sell goods, the agent would not be able to enter premises to get them in the first place. He would thus be able to take control of or sell only Crown goods found on premises occupied by a third party. I am sure that that is not what anyone intends. Given that it is clear that existing provisions will ensure that orders against the Crown will be satisfied, there is no need for the amendment.

I acknowledge the good intentions behind amendment No. 68, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). Indeed, there are good intentions behind all his amendments, including even his rebellion-causing new clause. Contracts between Her Majesty’s Courts Service and enforcement companies for the enforcement of unpaid magistrates courts fines are already published. They are available on the departmental website.

While the Department has no direct control over the contractual negotiations that local authorities carry out when tendering out work to outside enforcement companies for the enforcement of parking fines and local taxes, we would certainly consider that the publication of such contracts would be good practice. However, hon. Members should bear in mind the fact that that many local authorities do not contract out such services. They are often carried out in-house by directly employed members of a local authority’s staff. In that case, the contract would be a contract of employment between the local authority and its employee and the publication of such a contract would be intrusive, improper and unnecessary. However, I hope that my assertion is sufficiently strong to allow my hon. Friend to feel that real steps forward have been made.

Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 13, 15 and 41 are concerned with protecting the vulnerable. As I have said many times, I agree entirely with the sentiments behind the amendments, as will hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am surprised and sorry that anyone thinks that schedule 12 is gobbledegook. I think that it is straightforward and easy to understand.

National standards have been talked about. Although I do not have a chained-up ‘bible’, I have a copy of the national standards in question: “Effective Enforcement”—the national standards for enforcement agents. They will be reflected in the new enhanced and extended certification process for enforcement agents who are not Crown employees but who will work through the county court. They will also be reflected in future regulation by the Security Industry Authority, when that fine day dawns. The training requirements for enforcement agencies will ensure that all agents have a thorough working knowledge of all the relevant areas of enforcement law and of the national standards.

Agents will have to comply with many other things to undertake enforcement work, and the training will cover those requirements. Agents will need to be able to deal with potentially dangerous or aggressive situations, develop negotiating skills and understand and acquire the ability to deal with vulnerable or potentially vulnerable debtors, as well as undergoing enhanced criminal record checks. I have already alluded to the fact that the deposit of a bond will be required, and that it could be used and forfeited if there was a breach of certification.

Crown-employed enforcement agents will continue to be subject to their own high standards of training and guidance, which include diversity awareness and dealing with the vulnerable and with potentially vulnerable situations. As I have repeatedly said, no one disputes the fact that there is little complaint about those people. I reiterate that the intention is for a commonality of standards in the future among those against whom there is no complaint, so as to bring up to those standards those against whom there is complaint—in so far as those people survive in the industry at all, because if they are cowboys, they will be out at first base.

I do not know that it would be an automatic penalty. We intend to bring the national standards and the requirements of schedule 12 into the terms of certification and ultimately the terms of licensing. The question will then be whether there has been a breach of the certificate or the licence, depending on the stage in the evolution of regulation in which the breach occurs. At that point, the processes and responses that I have already set out will apply, so it is more complicated than an automatic penalty.

May I deduce, therefore, that the answer is that breach of standards would normally result in loss of licence? I am not trying to trap the Minister; I just wanted to find out about the status of the standards and what the effect of a breach would be.

I do not feel trapped. The hon. Gentleman makes an inappropriate inquiry, if I may say so, but the question is not as simple as he suggests. Somebody who breached their licence or certificate in a fairly minor way, which might still be couched in terms of a breach of national standards, might not automatically lose their licence. The hon. Gentleman will recall that a range of penalties is available to the county court judge, who may, when dealing with a complaint in certain circumstances, think it appropriate to summon the bailiff before him and tell him off. Many steps would be taken before actually ending somebody’s livelihood, but I have no doubt that in serious or repeated breaches of standards judges will act appropriately and with rigour. Similarly, the SIA will implement the standards with rigour.

On amendment No. 15, I am not sure why the hon. Member for Braintree and others consider it necessary to include a specific provision for dealing with premises where the occupant is known to be a single woman, in the sense of a woman alone. What about protecting women who are not known to be on their own? The distinction is arbitrary. The process is not intrusive in the way that searches by police officers are. We are talking about a bailiff knocking on the door and presumably, as a rule, seeking walking possession. That is not about personal searches or anything that requires gender-specific treatment, so we think there is no need for the amendment. The training requirements will include training in how to identify and deal with vulnerable and potentially vulnerable debtors.

After consultation, and if it is considered appropriate, regulations made under paragraph 24 of schedule 12 will reflect those parts of the national standards that state that, on discovering that the only person on the premises is a child, the enforcement agent should withdraw immediately, without making further inquiries. If those regulations were breached, remedies would be available under paragraph 66 of the schedule. That would put that part of the national standards into a higher, more immediate category, and a separate code of conduct and separate responsibilities to comply with the code would therefore become unnecessary.

Our proposals go beyond what amendment No. 41 is designed to achieve. In particular, the status of the guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor and the sanctions that would be available if an enforcement agent chose to ignore it are not clear. Concepts such as “vulnerability” are difficult to put in statutory terms, and generic definitions would make it difficult to predict who would fall into the vulnerable category. What is important is good character, accredited training and getting people who do not behave properly or understand their responsibilities out of the business entirely.

Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 12, 19 and 36 are about exempt goods and are similar to amendments that were debated in Committee. Our intention is that both the general definition of exempt goods and the specific list of goods themselves will be clearly set out in regulations. The hon. Member for Braintree will remember that during the Committee debate, hon. Members suggested a number of goods that, thanks to technical innovation, are now considered to be essential to a debtor’s livelihood. That made the point that any list put into statute could never be exhaustive because circumstances change.

Furthermore, to change a statute takes a lot of parliamentary time. A regulation made under a statute carries just as much statutory authority: it is the law—not in exactly the same way, but just as patently as if it were statute—yet it can be refined, tidied up, added to and taken away from far more easily than amending a statute, which would occupy parliamentary time which, to be frank, ought to be occupied by much more high-level matters. Appropriate scrutiny is available for the list, but as I understand it, the hon. Gentleman’s concern is not about the contents of the list, but about where the list is put—into which document. Our clear view is that regulation is the right place for it.

The hon. Gentleman will also remember that when an amendment suggesting a list of goods was debated in Committee, we looked at the list in the policy statement that we issued some time ago stating how we would use the powers in the Bill and found some differences between the two lists. That made the point that if we make a list, someone will have a bright idea about an item that should be added to it. What is proposed in the amendment is far too rigid—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, “Okay.”

I understand that hon. Members have concerns about debating the provisions in advance of seeing the regulations, but the policy statement fills that gap. In paragraphs 133 to 136 of that statement we set out the goods that we currently think should be exempted, and they include tools of the trade.

Under amendment No. 25, a debtor would have to sign a form stating that notice had been received before goods could be taken away. I understand the concern, but it would enable people to thwart efforts to take control of goods by declining to sign the form. That would undermine the remedy, which is quite a good one.

Of course, the signing could be for the recorded delivery of the letters—an acknowledgement that they have been received.

My hon. Friend says that, but my response to his amendment No. 69, which would oblige post to be sent by recorded delivery, is that a person could easily thwart the whole process by refusing to sign the receipt for the recorded delivery. Other court notices are not sent by recorded delivery. Ours, at least, will by sent by first-class post, but many such notices are sent by second-class post. On amendments Nos. 16 to 20, a controlled goods agreement can be signed by a person other than the debtor; I think that that is clear.

I am sorry, but the Minister has given a trivial defence. The letter sent by recorded delivery could contain a large sum of money. No one would know what was is in it until they opened it.

I did not really want to quibble on this subject, but the fact is that if recipients are knowing debtors, as we envisage they will be, if a recorded delivery letter came along, they would probably be very suspicious of it. The point is that we cannot say whether Mrs. X in Great Grimsby knew what the contents of the recorded delivery letter were, but we can say that refusing to sign for the letter is a sure way of thwarting the whole process. It would not allow us to go ahead with the seizure of goods or walking possession, although I thought that everyone in the Chamber, no matter what their party, thought that that was a desirable remedy that should be used—albeit with great care, as we have been at pains to set out.

I have dealt with a great many of the other amendments. On amendment No. 26, it is suggested that we should limit the value of the goods to be seized to the value of the debt owed, but that is a difficult line to draw finely. We have said in paragraph 12(1) of schedule 12 that an enforcement agent will take control only of goods that are proportionate to the value of the debt owed, plus any future costs. That seems to us to be the right way forward.

Amendment No. 27 would make a distinction between goods seized on the highway and goods seized in other ways. I have already addressed the principle: we think that the measure would just add confusion and would not improve matters. On the issue of abandoned goods—again, this is a concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby—the goods have to be sold for the best price. If goods that have been in a legally conducted sale are left unsold, they will be deemed abandoned. That is intended to protect the debtor from an enforcement agent keeping the debtor’s goods indefinitely until they are eventually sold, possibly after many attempts.

Amendment No. 3 on information sheets is a Liberal Democrat amendment. We will provide a large amount of information, and the information on the sheet proposed by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) is just a very small part of what we will make available. His amendment is, I fear, unclear, but he can rest assured that his aim, which is to ensure that people are entitled to know their rights, will be met. An enforcement agent has to provide a notice before action commences and after entering premises, as the hon. Gentleman knows. That is expressed in schedule 12.

Amendment No. 7, which is about legal aid, would insert a requirement that regulations must

“make provision for legal aid to be available where financially necessary”

in all actions that are to be brought in the High Court, irrespective of the merits of the application. We just could not tolerate that; as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are merits and means tests for all legal aid applications, so that would be a great crashing change.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members. We will protect the public and we will ensure that there is good information available to them, so that they know their rights. Part of that process will take place through legislation. I have dealt in detail with most of the amendments in the group, and I hope that hon. Members now feel that they can withdraw them.

I am grateful to the Minister for her response. She has put my mind at rest on some points, and certainly on exempt goods, tools for trade, and the code of conduct for the vulnerable. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) for his excellent contribution on the subject of protection of the under-16s and children. The Minister answered many of his points. I should be grateful if she would write to me at some stage about the power to withdraw bailiffs who have been unleashed in cases in which the debtor wants to seek relief from a disproportionate fine at a magistrates court. I do not expect a reply now, as we want to get on, but I would be grateful if she wrote to me in due course.

I am concerned that the Minister has not given us a favourable or satisfactory response to amendment No. 10, which we have discussed at great length. I believe that we have won the argument, so it is my wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Clause 129

Protected objects

I beg to move amendment No. 83, page 99, line 18, after ‘with’, insert

‘the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in relation to that object and’.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 84, page 99, line 20, at end insert

‘(including provenance and if appropriate ownership) on a public register for the purpose of inviting any person who asserts a claim to that object to raise an objection to its inclusion in the exhibition within a specified period.’.

No. 85, page 100, line 10, at end insert—

‘(9A) The Secretary of State shall make regulations for the establishment of an independent committee, such as the Spoliation Advisory Committee, to monitor the publication and reporting of specified information, the compliance of museums and galleries with the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the handling of claims made or objections raised in relation to any object.’.

No. 86, in clause 131, page 101, line 4, at end insert—

‘(2A) It shall be a condition of such approval that any approved institution has agreed to apply to each and every object the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.’.

No. 87, page 101, line 6, after ‘particular,’, insert ‘it must withdraw approval’.

No. 88, page 101, line 10, after ‘reason),’, insert

‘and the institution has failed to improve its procedures having received a warning from the appropriate authority specifying a reasonable time frame in which to do so,’.

No. 89, page 101, line 12, at end insert

‘and, in the case of failure which is capable of remedy, has failed to remedy the failure having received a warning from the appropriate authority specifying a reasonable time frame in which in which to do so.’.

The amendments seek to ensure that the immunity that is granted to works of art as they travel between countries is not achieved at the expense of those who believe that they have a rightful claim to those works of art. They relate to works of art that were looted in time of war and particularly to works that the Germans took in the second world war; what is known as holocaust looting.

This has become a major international problem recently as more and more great international museums put on temporary exhibitions to attract people and, for the enjoyment of the public, the need to borrow great works and move them between countries becomes greater every day. In recent years there have been a number of high profile and contentious cases, when works have appeared in a country destined for an exhibition and have been subject to injunctions and legal action. Inevitably that creates great insecurity and impossibility in terms of planning by the international museums. It is also something of an inhibition to those generous enough to loan what they believe to be their own works of art, whether they be museums or individuals.

A general sense of insecurity developed and most countries around the world—certainly most European countries and American states—introduced legislation that granted some form of immunity to museums so that works could be loaned with a degree of certainty. Most of that legislation balanced the needs not only of the museums, but of the donors and the people who felt that they had a claim to those works of art.

We did not introduce such legislation and our great national galleries—the Tate, the British Museum, the National Gallery and particularly the Royal Academy, which has many high profile international exhibitions—launched a well argued and vigorous campaign and persuaded the Government that we had to do something about that. The Government took the point and introduced immunity.

The museums, understandably, are concerned about their exhibitions. They were perhaps less rigorous about the potential rights of people who had a legal claim, or whose forefathers had a legal claim, to those works of art. The amendments seek to correct that imbalance. They would not take away from what the great national galleries and museums have achieved, or what the Government have given them in legislation, but they would provide a measure of balance to ensure that the museums do not act at the expense of people whose families once believed that they owned such works of art and who see those works appear in front of them, only to be swept away before they have had a chance to make a legal claim, or to establish the provenance that might do that.

The amendments are corrective and would introduce due diligence, on which the Government have already established the principle, to require museums to use their best offices and efforts to establish the provenance of a work of art. They would have a responsibility when accepting a work of art to see whether there was an owner out there and whether the people loaning it genuinely had title to it. In almost all cases, they do, but there have been some contested cases and it is those that the amendments seek to address.

If the Government are minded to be sympathetic to the amendments and are interested in pursuing the idea of due diligence, that would be constructive, even-handed and fair and Members on both sides would welcome it. Even if that were the case, this would be only the first step towards resolving the problem. Just establishing the concept of due diligence, or assigning oversight of that procedure to an independent committee, will not be the end of the story. For example, there will be the question of the guidelines and guidance issued to that committee.

The problem is likely to grow in future, with all the archaeological works of art that are coming out of Iraq and flooding the international markets, not least in London. It will prove much more difficult to prove provenance in such cases. I fear that looted art will be with us for a long time and will be a general source of contention and unhappiness. It is therefore important that we are, first, establishing this immunity and, secondly, at the same time correcting it as regards the rights of people who have good title to works of art.

I stress that this is only a start: certain major problems lie ahead. About three years ago, the Russians, who looted a huge amount of art in the second world war when they swept through Europe and drew it all back to Moscow and St. Petersburg, nationalised everything through their own legislation. In theory, those works of art can now be lent around the world and, on the face of it, their provenance will be entirely legal and correct. That legislation is not currently recognised by UNESCO, which is considering drawing up guidelines to try to deal with that situation. In fact, there are plenty of problems. If one burrows right back in time, many of the works in the national collections of most European countries have been looted from somebody at some point during wartime. That is a slightly more esoteric point, but there is no doubt that the Russian arrangement will be difficult to resolve. The UNESCO guidelines will be important, because a kind of laundering of provenance makes this difficult subject even more difficult.

For today, I hope that the amendments will find favour with the Minister and that she will think that it is possible to establish such a committee. Due diligence is not an easy thing to achieve. The National Museum Directors Conference has had a committee working on it for several years; I must declare an interest, having been a member. Other members—they are an interesting collection—have included Sir Nicholas Serota, Lord Moynihan, Miss Marina Vaizey, the well known art historian, Miss Ann Webber, who probably knows more about looted art than anybody else in this country, and Professor David Cesarani. However, relatively few people in this country have much experience of the issues involved, other than one or two dealers. It will not be easy to find the expertise to augment any committee that the Government nominate to take on this work. Nevertheless, it is possible, with good will, encouragement and thoughtful guidelines and guidance, that we can establish a model that other countries may well find useful in dealing with these difficult issues.

I commend the amendments to the Minister and hope that the Government are not averse to them.

These are important amendments. The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) for drawing our attention to clause 129, which I support. The risk of judicial seizure is a significant one, and exhibition planning becomes increasingly impossible if international lenders will not lend to countries that do not have immunity as regards seizure legislation. There is a balance to be struck between the rights of potential claimants and the much wider public interest in ensuring that such international exchanges take place.

Amendments Nos. 83 and 85 are fairly innocuous; I certainly support the concept of due diligence. I have slight reservations about amendment No. 84, which goes very wide and is almost an invitation to any person to litigate. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might reflect on its drafting. The same applies to amendment No. 86, which would make the guidelines mandatory not only for every exhibition but for every conceivable object in the exhibition. Guidelines should probably be no more than guidelines. However, the whole House should support the spirit behind the amendments and the letter of the clause.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) for tabling the amendments. He made a forceful speech on the subject on Second Reading.

It is worth recording that, when the issue was first discussed in the other place, the Government made some important concessions, which we welcomed, especially the requirement for museums to exercise due diligence. Important progress was made in providing that only museums that the Secretary of State nominated would be granted immunity from seizure, thus ensuring that those that exercise due diligence will be granted immunity. However, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, more progress can be made, especially through amendment No. 85.

The hon. Gentlemen kindly referred to my mother’s diligent work on the National Museum Directors Conference committee alongside him. As he pointed out, the Government rightly want to ensure that museums have the maximum flexibility to exercise due diligence and are not subject to a regime that is too bureaucratic. He wants to ensure that an independent committee audits museums’ due diligence procedures and can give independent advice. That is an important safeguard.

As has been said on other occasions when part 6 was debated, there is an important balance to be struck. Conservative Members acknowledge the need for our national museums to benefit from some immunity from seizure legislation to maintain the high quality of international exhibitions that come to this country. However, we also recognise the need for those whose families lost works of art during the second world war—and people and countries that have lost works of art through more recent conflicts, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan—to have appropriate safeguards in place so that they can take action if required. It is vital to strike a balance, and the amendments provide further safeguards for individuals and families. We look forward to the Under-Secretary’s comments on the Government’s view.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Russia effectively nationalising its looted art. I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) about the matter. I believe that the Russian federal law on cultural valuables, which was passed in 1998, creates a specific loophole. The Government appear to believe that that makes such looted art effectively Russian art and a matter of Russian law. Will the Under-Secretary comment on what a museum is expected to do in exercising due diligence if a piece of looted art is Russian art under Russian law but, de facto, is looted art?

Liberal Democrat Members agree with almost all that has been said on the subject. We held an interesting discussion on the matter in Committee and another interesting debate took place in the other place. Much of what needs to be said has therefore been said in several places.

The amendments are reasonable and sensible, and everybody has said that we need to strike a balance. Although we agree that the provisions in the Bill go in the right direction, the amendments would tighten up the measure a little, and ensure that it is even better and that the balancing act is carefully maintained.

I applaud the intention behind the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), and I hope that I can give him the satisfaction that he seeks, although not by accepting them. I will write to the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) about his proposition on due diligence and the conflict of laws, if I do not satisfy him with my few words.

Amendments Nos. 83 and 86 are unnecessary. It is one of the basic principles set out in the due diligence guidelines published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that a museum should not acquire or borrow any item unless it is satisfied that there are no legal or ethical doubts about that item. This means that a museum will have to apply the due diligence guidelines in relation to every single item that it wishes to borrow. Failure to do so will amount to failure to comply with the guidelines. As clause 131(3)(a) makes clear, this would threaten the approved status of the museum.

Amendment No. 84 is also unnecessary. We intend to require museums to publish sufficient information about a particular object to ensure that it can be identified by anyone who may have an interest in that object. This will require the publication of some information on provenance, but we do not think that it is necessary for the full provenance of an object to be published in every case. Where, for example, the object concerned is a 17th century painting that was acquired by the Metropolitan museum in New York in the 19th century and has never left the museum’s control, there would appear to be no point in giving full details of its provenance.

We also propose to require publication of the identity of the lender in advance of an exhibition, when the lender is a public body. More difficult issues arise in relation to the publication of the identity of private owners, and we will be discussing with museums and other interest groups whether and how it would be possible for that information to be made available to potential claimants.

Amendment No. 85 would require provision to be made for the establishment of a new statutory body. We do not think that that is necessary. The amendment refers to the spoliation advisory panel. That is not a statutory body, and it is not supported by regulations. However, it plays a very valuable role in resolving claims relating to objects lost during the Nazi era that are now in our public collections. Other non-statutory bodies, such as the reviewing committee for the export of works of art, play an equally valuable role in relation to the export of cultural objects.

DCMS will be working closely with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to ensure that the Secretary of State has access to appropriate advice on the due diligence procedures followed by museums seeking approval, and that, following approval, museums’ due diligence procedures and their compliance are subject to appropriate monitoring. We accept that it would be beneficial for advice from an independent body to be available to the Secretary of State. DCMS proposes to seek the assistance of the acceptance in lieu panel, an independent body which has experience in considering provenance issues, in monitoring the compliance of museums and galleries with the due diligence requirements. DCMS is having discussions with the panel on how such assistance may be offered.

Amendments Nos. 87 to 89 relate to the withdrawal of approval from museums. We do not believe that it is necessary either to limit the discretion given to the appropriate authority in clause 131(3), as amendment No. 87 seeks to do, or to prescribe the procedures that must be followed if a museum is considered not to have undertaken adequate due diligence procedures or to have failed to comply with regulations requiring additional information to be given on request, as amendments Nos. 88 and 89 seek to do.

The Secretary of State is required to act reasonably and proportionately in exercising any discretionary power, and this applies to the power in clause 131(3) as much as to any other power. Removal of approved status in the cases set out in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection without any warning, and without giving a reasonable time for a museum to rectify the faults that have been identified, would be regarded as acting unreasonably in any case where a museum’s failures, either in relation to due diligence or to the provision of information, could be easily rectified.

However, we would wish to reserve the power to act without notice in any case in which this could be justified. We want museums to know that if, after they have received approval under these provisions, they decide that it is no longer necessary to carry out any due diligence, there is a risk that their approved status will be removed with little or no warning. I hope that what I have said has reassured my hon. Friend, and that he now feels able to withdraw his amendment.

I am most grateful to the Minister. Her response has been extraordinarily constructive and positive. If this is an indication of the new Administration’s attitude towards amendments, that Administration will be generally welcomed throughout the House. I am most grateful for her attention to detail. I am slightly nonplussed, however, as a member of the acceptance in lieu panel, which she has nominated to act on behalf of, or through, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to fulfil these responsibilities. We will be happy to accept that responsibility, although it will involve a certain amount of work. It is important work, however, and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House, and those in another place, who have taken an interest in these matters will appreciate the Minister’s constructive attitude. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being Six o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [5 March].

Clause 139

Protected functions of the Lord Chancellor

Amendments made: No. 51, page 108, line 5, leave out ‘91(1ZA)’ and insert ‘91(1)’.

No. 71, page 108, line 10, at end insert—

‘( ) In the entry for section 26(5), (6) and (9) of the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 (c. 8), for “and (9)” substitute “, (9) and (13)”.’.—[Mr. Roy.]

Clause 143

Commencement

Amendments made: No. 66, page 109, line 32, at end insert—

‘( ) Section [Appointment as Chairman of Law Commission] comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.’.

No. 52, page 110, line 1, after ‘sections’ insert

‘53, 54, [Transfer from salaried to fee-paid judicial office], [Appointment of Deputy Circuit judge],’.

No. 53, page 110, line 1, leave out ‘and this section’ and insert ‘, this section and Schedule 11’.—[Mr. Roy.]

Schedule 6

Tribunals for the purposes of sections 30 to 36

Amendment proposed: No. 9, page 141, leave out lines 18 and 19.—[Mr. Bellingham.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

Schedule 8

Tribunals and Inquiries: consequential and other Amendments

Amendments made: No. 54, page 162, line 12, at end insert—

‘( ) In section 26 (retirement date for holders of certain judicial offices etc.) subsection (7) is amended as follows.

( ) In paragraph (f) for the words from “(persons” to the end substitute “(holders of relevant office);”.

( ) After paragraph (g) insert—

“(ga) hold office as a deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal if—

(i) section 94B of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 applied to the appointment, and

(ii) his corresponding qualifying office was listed in section 6(1) of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007;”’.

No. 55, page 162 , leave out lines 40 to 42 and insert—

‘Deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal appointed under paragraph 7(1) of Schedule 3 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, except in a case where the holding of the office by the person in question falls within section 26(7)(ga) of this Act

Deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal by virtue of an order under section 31(2) of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007’.—[Vera Baird.]

Schedule 11

District judges and deputy district judges

Amendments made: No. 56, page 201, line 26, leave out from ‘judge,’ to end of line 33 and insert ‘or

(b) holds, or has held, the office of district judge.

(1B) The Lord Chancellor may not appoint a person under subsection (1) without the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice if the person—

(a) holds the office of district judge, or

(b) ceased to hold the office of district judge within two years ending with the date when the appointment takes effect.

(1C) Section 85 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c. 4) (selection of certain office holders) does not apply to an appointment to which subsection (1B) applies.”’.

No. 57, page 201, line 38, leave out ‘under subsection (1B)’ and insert ‘to which subsection (1B) applies’.

No. 58, page 202, line 24, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) and insert—

‘(2) If the person had held the office of district judge before his appointment, the person is to be treated after the commencement date as if section 102(1B) of that Act had applied to his appointment (and had been complied with).’.

No. 59, page 203, line 7, leave out from ‘judge,’ to end of line 14 and insert ‘or

(b) holds, or has held, the office of district judge.

(1ZB) The Lord Chancellor may not appoint a person under subsection (1) without the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice if the person—

(a) holds the office of district judge, or

(b) ceased to hold the office of district judge within two years ending with the date when the appointment takes effect.

(1ZC) Section 85 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c. 4) (selection of certain office holders) does not apply to an appointment to which subsection (1ZB) applies.”

( ) In subsection (1A)(a) (duration of appointment as deputy district judge of person who previously held office as district judge), for “if he has previously held office as a district judge,” substitute “if subsection (1ZB) applies to the appointment,”.’.

No. 60, page 204, line 4, leave out from ‘date’ to end of line 5 and insert

‘as if section 8(1ZB) of that Act had applied to his appointment (and had been complied with).’.

No. 61, page 204, leave out lines 15 to 19 and insert—

‘“(g) hold office as a deputy district judge if either section 102(1B) of that Act (former district judge appointed as deputy in the High Court) or section 8(1ZB) of the County Courts Act 1984 (former district judge appointed as deputy in the county courts) applied to the appointment;”.’.

No. 62, page 204, leave out lines 24 and 25 and insert

‘, for the words after “except in a case where” substitute “subsection (1B) of that section applied to the appointment of the person in question.”’.

No. 63, page 204, leave out lines 28 and 29 and insert

‘, for the words after “except in a case where” substitute “subsection (1ZB) of that section applied to the appointment of the person in question.”’.—[Vera Baird.]

Schedule 13

Taking control of goods: amendments

Amendments made: No. 64, page 233, leave out lines 11 to 15.

No. 65, page 245, line 11, at end insert—

‘Income Tax Act 2007 (c.3)

158 In section 955(4) of the Income Tax Act 2007 (proceedings before set-off claim is made) after “attachment” insert “or under Schedule 12 to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (taking control of goods)”.’.—[Vera Baird.]

Title

Amendment made: No. 67, line 3, after ‘appointments’, insert ‘and appointments to the Law Commission’.—[Vera Baird.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen’s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This has been called a heterogeneous Bill and that is a reasonably accurate description. It will create a simplified statutory framework for tribunals, improving access to justice in many ways and establishing a platform for future reform. It will strengthen the independence of tribunals by separating them from the departments whose decisions they are reviewing. It will increase consistency of procedure and rules and it will deliver efficiency savings by, for instance, allowing the tribunal judiciary to sit more readily in other jurisdictions. It will thus enable us in a number of ways to deliver better services to users.

The enforcement provisions will create a consolidated code of enforcement agent law, bringing much greater clarity and removing scope for abuse. The Bill will allow us to create a simplified fee structure that will reward enforcement agents up front to discourage abuse. It will provide debtors with a range of remedies when an enforcement agent breaches the new code, and it will create an enhanced and extended certification scheme for enforcement agents, paving the way to independent licensing by the Security Industry Authority.

The Bill contains a number of measures for debt management and relief, which will come to the assistance of debtors when that is desirable. It also contains what I think and hope from our most recent debate will be a balanced system between the owners of potentially looted goods and museums that need an element of immunity. In a number of other ways scattered around the Bill are improvements to access to justice broadly. In the words of “1066 And All That”, it is, I suggest, “a Good Thing”.

I am very grateful for the way in which members of the Committee and those who have taken part today have applied themselves in the most amiable way to trying to get the best out of the Bill and to helping the Government to make sure that it is as strong and effective an aid to improving access to justice as it could possibly be. So good natured have almost all the exchanges been that I think the worst allegation that has been made about the Government in the whole of the Bill’s passage through the House was that the Minister leading for the Government was a trendy dresser. I commend the Bill to the House.

I thank the Minister for her comments. As she pointed out, the Bill tries to achieve a number of ends. In many ways, it is also quite a skeletal style of Bill, because of the meat that will have to be put on the bones through regulations, and we accept that.

We have subjected the Bill to substantial scrutiny in Committee, and I am grateful to the Minister for her forbearance and understanding and for ensuring that we have not had to guillotine the Bill at any stage. We had full debates in Committee and all the different concerns that we have put to the Government have been looked at. Although we cannot claim that we have had satisfaction on every single count, we have been able to put strong points of view on various fronts and we have had some of the concerns answered and some of our worst fears put to rest.

There are still areas that concern us. They have been gone through and I will not rehearse them now; it is not the time to do it. However, as a result of the Bill, we will have a far more efficient and effective unified tribunal system. The taxpayer ultimately will get better value for money if we look several years ahead. In the short term, there will obviously be implementation costs for the new unified tribunal system and I still have my concerns about the general tax commissioners. I always take the view, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” Certainly I deeply regret the fact that the general commissioners have been included in the unified tribunal system.

The Government have done the right thing as far as judicial appointments are concerned. There has been a great deal of debate about enforcement by taking control of goods and the enforcement of judgments and orders. We were right to push the amendments that we did and to have votes on some of the key issues. I am sorry that the Minister has not conceded all the different points that we would like her to concede. On the other hand, by subjecting the Bill to substantial scrutiny, we have at least put the points of view of many of the organisations that stand up for people who are likely to get into debt and have bailiffs knocking on their doors. It must be a horrifying experience to go through all that. That is why we, as parliamentarians, were quite right to spend a substantial amount of time looking at the new procedures and powers, and the rights that people have to protect themselves.

I am still concerned, because, including the Committee stage and the debate this afternoon, we have had something like 10 votes on the key issues relating to bailiffs and on not one of those issues did the Government concede a great deal, although to be fair they have made it clear that—through regulations, possible changes to schedule 12, and the flexibility and power that Ministers have to issue guidelines and rules—they will encompass many of the concerns that we have put forward. Obviously we will have to wait and see what happens. With a Bill of this nature, which gives so much power to the Government to issue regulations and to make changes over the next few months and years, we are putting a great deal of trust in Ministers not to deviate from the course that this particular Minister has assured us they will follow.

We were quite right to keep pushing the point about the regulation of bailiffs. If we give bailiffs more power, we must have a proper method of protecting the wider public and give them the chance of redress and recourse to a proper complaints procedure through a body that imposes regulation. I thank the Minister for acceding to some extent to our wishes by bringing bailiffs within the remit of the SIA. That is a positive move forward and it would not have come about were it not for the representations made by Members on both Opposition Front Benches. We have pushed hard for this measure. I know that it is not everything that we wanted, but we have to be grateful for half a step forward, rather than the full step forward that we would have liked.

There is a great deal in the Bill that concerns debt management schemes, administration orders, and debt management and relief. Much of that has been well thought out. We have not subjected it to the same level of scrutiny as other parts of the Bill, but the Government have put a lot of time and effort into it and hopefully it will lead to a far better system.

As far as the protection of cultural objects on loan is concerned, this afternoon’s debate was important. The Minister went a significant distance towards putting the mind of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) at rest. He composed those amendments from his hospital bed. He was in hospital with septicaemia of his leg and was involved in negotiations with various different organisations when working on the amendments. He was brave to come to the House today to talk about the amendments, and I am pleased that the Minister is going to listen to some of the things that he said. We hope that the part of the Bill that relates to cultural objects will become far better and more effective, because we all realise that galleries and museums are a vitally important part of our cultural life.

We are not going to vote against the Bill, because there is too much good in it to justify doing so—even though we have some ongoing concerns. I hope that we can continue the dialogue that we have had so far about those areas of concern. The Minister has always made it clear to us that, although we may disagree, her door is always open and she is prepared to discuss matters and listen to us and to the outside organisations that have been so assiduous, thorough and professional in briefing me, my colleagues on the Front Bench and other colleagues who take an interest in the Bill. We will not oppose the Bill, but we will be looking carefully at how the legislation develops and how it is implemented over the months and years ahead.

I join the chorus of praise. The Bill is leaving the House in a better form than when it arrived. In the main, I do not quibble with most of its provisions, especially those on debt management and relief. My interest has been concentrated on the provisions on bailiffs. I am a latecomer to that debate, so I have been engaged in a catch-up exercise. I am grateful for the advice that I have received from people such as Philip Evans about the way in which to catch up.

My concern about, and interest in, the subject was elicited by the clamping of my daughter’s car and a charge of £700. I secured an Adjournment debate on the subject to which the Minister replied charmingly, although the Grimsby Telegraph categorised my speech as a foul-mouthed rant—we get such reviews from Grimsby. Following that debate, I have become aware that there is a large pool of bitterness and resentment about the behaviour of bailiffs and a need for them to be effectively controlled and regulated. People from throughout the country wrote to me with horror stories that clearly indicated that something needed to be done, and the Bill goes some way towards addressing the alarming situation.

We face the problem that our society is built on debt. We are all encouraged to take on more debt, and some people are carrying crippling burdens of debt. All the fixed penalty fines that are imposed add to such debt, and those fines are a particular burden for the poor and vulnerable. It is interesting that Liberal, Conservative and Labour Members are concerned about the possible oppression of the poor and vulnerable that is caused by the burden of debt. We are seeing penalties on poverty for people at the bottom of the social scale. Members are in a fairly comfortable position because we do not face bailiffs banging on our doors—at least I do not think that we do. It is interesting that since the housing allowance for Members of Parliament became so generous, we have ceased to be interested in housing problems. As we are fairly comfortable and well off, we are less interested than we should be in the problems of the poor, but they are very real. A large section of society is struggling with the burden of debt. A visit from the bailiffs—

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this is a Third Reading debate, rather than an opportunity to canter around the entire course again.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A Third Reading third rant is not appropriate.

The problems to which I have referred will have to be addressed effectively through regulations. A large area must be defined through regulations, so I hope that the Minister has listened to what has been said. She is a listening and concerned Minister, and I think that she has dealt effectively with points that have been raised. However, those points must be addressed by the regulations.

I would have preferred an independent regulator to the Security Industry Authority, because the authority will probably be as much use as the community wardens in Grimsby would be if they were asked to deal with the Enron affair, British Aerospace, or a mafia problem. The authority will not be sufficiently powerful or effective. The way in which the authority develops is now in the Minister’s hands, as is the way in which bailiffs’ powers will be controlled, regulated and restrained.

It is unfortunate that we are breaching the principle that an Englishman’s home is his castle, which was first breached by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. That is bad, because we are making the punishment a further penalty by increasing the burdens on the poor. However, the matter is now in the hands of the Minister and the regulator. My hon. and learned Friend has listened to the debates and made adjustments, so I am sure she will ensure that the regulations that will be the basis of control of the bailiffs will be as effective as the House clearly wants them to be in protecting the poor and the vulnerable.

I congratulate the Minister on her handling of the Bill. It has been an education to watch its effective progress, which I hope will continue.

This has been a momentous afternoon. In less than seven hours, one Prime Minister has answered his last Question Time and indicated his intention to stand down not only as Prime Minister but as a Member of Parliament. The Chancellor of Exchequer of this morning has become the Prime Minister of this afternoon. The Bill, which came into Parliament from the Department for Constitutional Affairs, leaves as a Bill from the Ministry of Justice. I think I am right in saying that when it receives its Third Reading and Royal Assent it will be the first Bill from the new Ministry; indeed, it may also be the first Bill of the new prime ministership to receive Royal Assent.

The Bill is important in terms of history, but it is important in its own right, too, and I congratulate the Government. The Bill is another indication that they are interested in justice reform—of the system and the courts—which has been necessary for a long time.

The first part of the Bill reforms tribunals and gives them a structure, which is necessary and welcome. Like the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) and others, my only reservation is about how the general commissioners for taxes and their clerks will be dealt with, but we have made our views clear on that. There are some welcome proposals on judicial appointments, which met with no dissent on either side of the House.

The measures on debt management and relief are also welcome. As the Minister and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said, we are all aware that we live in a debt-ridden, debt-shackled society, where the chains are getting longer and the pressures are becoming greater all the time. It is important to help people to manage debt and get out of it. I am sure that every MP regularly confronts people in that position in their surgery; it is a sad fact of our society that pressures to buy are so great that they can overtake the possibility of survival. For some people at the lower end of the income scale that has always been the case, but more people are affected, and more severely and dangerously.

The last point of complete assent was that we needed to do something about cultural objects on loan in the UK. We have made progress and protected those objects in a better regime.

A more controversial subject was how we should deal with bailiffs, enforcement agents and others who have the right to enter people’s homes or businesses, or to take their property. There has been dispute about that issue. As well as amendments in Committee, four Opposition amendments and one Labour Back-Bench amendment were tabled today. None succeeded, but the Minister gave us some useful and welcome assurances during the passage of the Bill, not least that the new powers will come into force only when the new protection—the new regulatory structure—is in place. That was the most welcome change in the Government’s position and we backed it with much appreciation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) and I enjoyed serving in Committee and doing our duty on the Bill. We realise that it is important, but the work is not yet done. As the hon. Member for Great Grimsby reminded us, we live in an age not only of much more debt, but where there are 266 powers under which people can enter the homes of our citizens. We have managed to circumscribe some of them in relation to debt and the collection of debt, but many others remain uncontrolled in a way that the citizen does not understand. There remains work for the Department and for Parliament to do to make sure that we give citizens more rights as well as allow people properly to enforce the debts that are owed to them.

My final reflection is that although there may have been much more interest today in the Executive than in the legislature, the legislature has continued to do its job today while others around us are doing theirs. In the end, it is the laws that are passed as well as the policies of Ministers that most influence people’s lives. This is an important Bill and I hope that many people will benefit from it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Extradition

That the draft Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.—[Steve McCabe.]

Question agreed to.

EUROPEAN UNION DOCUMENTS

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Fisheries: By-catches and Discards

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 8179/07 and Addenda 1 and 2, Commission Communication, A policy to reduce unwanted by-catches and eliminate discards in European fisheries; and agrees with the Government’s initial assessment of the proposal that it represents a sound basis for debate, but that the discussion of possible solutions needs to take full account of the mixed nature of many of the EU fisheries and balance the socio-economic interests involved, whilst the UK is mindful of the importance of effective enforcement and control and the resource implications thereof.—[Steve McCabe.]

Question agreed to.