PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT LEGAL ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE (SCOPE) AMENDMENT REGULATIONS 1990

Tuesday 17 July 1990

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR. GERAINT HOWELLS

BELL, MR. STUART (Middlesbrough)

Bradley, Mr. Keith (Manchester, Withington)

Carlile, Mr. Alex (Montgomery)

Ewing, Mr. Harry (Falkirk, East)

Fraser, Mr. John (Norwood)

Ground, Mr. Patrick (Feltham and Heston)

Heal, Mrs. Sylvia (Mid-Staffordshire)

Lyell, Sir Nicholas (Solicitor-General)

Mills, Mr. Iain (Meriden)

Moss, Mr. Malcolm (Cambridgeshire. North-East)

Mudd, Mr. David (Falmouth and Camborne)

Norris, Mr. Steve (Epping Forest)

Sayeed, Mr. Jonathan (Bristol, East)

Taylor, Mr. John M. (Solihull)

Thurnham, Mr. Peter (Bolton, North-East)

Vaz, Mr. Keith (Leicester, East)

Ward, Mr. John (Poole)

Wells, Mr. Bowen (Hertford and Stortford)

Mr. R. J. Rogers, Committee Clerk

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3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 17 July 1990

[MR. GERAINT HOWELLS in the Chair]

DRAFT LEGAL ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE (SCOPE) (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 1990

10.30 am

The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Legal Advice and Assistance (Scope) (Amendment) Regulations 1990. I hope not to detain the Committee. I shall simply explain that the regulations extend the scope of the assistance by way of a representation scheme to cover appeals against closure orders made under section 10A of the Fire Precautions Act 1971. The regulations also include such cases as remain under the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates' Courts) Act 1960. Unlike assistance under the green form scheme, which is generally available unless excluded by regulations, ABWOR is available only to the extent that regulations provide. The draft regulations before us today specify two categories for which ABWOR will now be available. The first rectifies an omission from the last ABWOR regulations made in March 1989. By mistake, the reference to the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates' Courts) Act 1960—which has now been repealed—was left out of the 1989 regulations. ABWOR has always been available for those proceedings and no change of policy had been intended, but there are still some cases outstanding under the former Act and cases which have to be reviewed. This amendment now restores the position. The extension to appeals under section 10A of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 is, however, new. The Act was amended in 1987 to give fire officers the power to order the immediate closure of multi-occupation buildings where there was a serious risk to safety. That means that fire authorities now have the power to make closure orders against the occupiers of a building, including domestic tenants. The effect of an order is to force the tenants to leave the closed premises immediately. Failure to do so could lead to a fine or imprisonment. Consequently, there is an appeal against an order which lies to the magistrates' court and these regulations make advice by way of representation available to assist those who wish to prosecute such appeals. The first case involving domestic tenants recently came before the courts and it was then clear that ABWOR was not available. Full legal aid could be available, but ABWOR is much more suitable and the regulations repair that omission.

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10.32 am

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood): I welcome the regulations and the speed with which the Government have enabled those affected by fire prevention closure orders to be represented in magistrates' courts. Could that principle be extended elsewhere—to the Public Health (London) Act 1936, for example? Until relatively recently, in London in particular, environmental health officers could issue proceedings against any housing authority apart from their own. In fact, it had been the practice for environmental health officers to summons even their own councils. I am afraid that that desirable practice came to an end as the result of a judicial review involving the City of Cardiff. It was decided that environmental health officers could not be legal hermaphrodites and could not proceed against their own authority. Thenceforth, environmental health officers have been unable to issue summonses against their own authority if it is also a housing authority. For a long time it was possible to have redress against the Greater London Council, and authorities in other cities, as a housing authority. If orders under section 99 of the Public Health (London) Act 1936 were required for a property to be repaired, they could be applied for by the environmental health officer. That has ceased with the abolition of the GLC and the transfer of its housing stock to metropolitan boroughs. When looking at the jurisdiction of the magistrates' courts and the extent to which legal aid is available, perhaps the Solicitor-General might consider an extension of the ABWOR scheme. Those under the scheme could then apply to the local magistrates' courts with legal aid to obtain repair orders against their own housing authority where previously such applications would have been made by the environmental health officer.

10.35 am

The Solicitor-General: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) for giving me some indication of the matter he intended to raise which, as he said, does not arise directly out of the regulations, but is related point and another possible area in which ABWOR might be made available. I shall invite those who assist me to help me consider the matter, and a I shall write to the hon. Gentleman. It remains to me only, I think, to thank you for your chairmanship, Mr. Howells.

Mr. Fraser: I also thank you, Mr. Howells.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Legal Advice and Assistance (Scope) (Amendment) Regulations 1990.

Committee rose at twenty-four minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Howells, Mr. Geraint (Chairman)

Bell, Mr.

Bradley, Mr.

Fraser, Mr.

Ground, Mr.

Heal, Mrs.

Mills, Mr.

Moss, Mr.

Norris, Mr.

Sayeed, Mr.

Solicitor-General, The

Taylor, Mr. John M.

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