Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 67)



Mr Prentice

  60. You said a number of times earlier on that certain things would not happen because you are obviously very close to the movers and shakers who decide these things.
  (Lord Wakeham) I do not know. Take it bit by bit.

  61. Okay. You said that the supreme court would not happen. Has anything that has happened since the publication of the Royal Commission report caused you to reconsider that?
  (Lord Wakeham) No. We had quite a lot of evidence about the supreme court and we came to the conclusion that the evidence that we got was, yes, if we were starting again we would have it but the question was what harm had the existing system done and the best we could get was "it does not look right but they have not done any harm". I simply take a judgment on it that I do not think there is any Government at this present stage, I am not saying in 25 years' time, is likely to do it. The one case where the issue might have come up was over Lord Hoffmann and Amnesty International. That could not have been avoided by a separate supreme court, the fact of the matter is that in every walk of life all of us know there are issues where there are conflicts of interest. The key thing about conflicts of interest is to declare them and then decide what to do. If you forget to declare them for whatever reason you have got a problem and whether it is the supreme court or a Committee of the House of Lords or down the road it does not make any difference. I do not see any chance of that happening.

  62. I was interested in you saying quite categorically that it would not happen. We have Lord Thomas Bingham arguing publicly for a separate supreme court. If the higher judicial bench were to come out in favour of the supreme court presumably you would reconsider your position?
  (Lord Wakeham) I have got no position at all in the sense that I have said what I have said and it is based on the evidence we received at the time. If the evidence was different others would maybe come to a different view but I see no sign of it happening and I would be very doubtful whether in my lifetime I would ever see a separate supreme court.

  63. But on that point of the evidence you say in your report that a number of weighty and well argued submissions were exemplified by the report of a distinguished working group established by JUSTICE and Chaired by Lord Alexander of Weedon and they came up with the view that judicial functions should no longer be exercised by the second chamber and should be transferred to a separate supreme court.
  (Lord Wakeham) Their's is a perfectly legitimate view but we happen to take a different view having read all the evidence and using our own judgment. One thing that Royal Commissions have to do is not to propound what others say but say what they think, and that is what we thought.

  64. What I am saying is, just to wrap this thing up, we are in this process of consultation and looking at the Government's response, but if there were a body of judicial opinion that, having listened to the arguments, read all the reports, came to the conclusion that there was a powerful case for a separate supreme court you would go along with that?
  (Lord Wakeham) No, I did not say that at all. I said there was a powerful case, there is a powerful case, people made it, there was a powerful case against it as well and in my view it is not going to happen at all.


  65. Could I just ask you one final question, and you referred to it glancingly a few moments ago, which is the question of existing life Peers. This is a huge problem, it was a huge problem for the Commission and is a huge problem for the Government in responding because on the figures we are going to be left, by any international standard, with an absurdly large second chamber. This is because it is believed that nothing can be done about existing life Peers. You have told us that you think the Government is dead right to do what it did about the hereditaries and without that there would have been no reform of any kind at all, it unlocked the process. I do not quite understand why we could not take the same approach to the life Peers. We know that only about half of the existing life Peers are active for more than half the time and we know, indeed it is said in the Government's own document, that many of them are there for the honour rather than for the work. So why can you not just bite the bullet on this and do the same thing as we did with the hereditaries, have an election and sort out those who ought to remain?
  (Lord Wakeham) I do not know whether to answer as a ex-Chief Whip or anything else. The answer is it will not happen, that is all I am saying.

  66. Because they will not vote for it?
  (Lord Wakeham) It just will not happen, the Government will think there are better and more important priorities than dealing with that because time will resolve it. That is the view, I think. I think the Government would also take the view that a number of people, and it was in the Lord Chancellor's speech yesterday, have given up careers and other things to come to the House of Lords on a certain undertaking, certain agreement, that they would be there for life, that was the deal, and they think there is a matter of honour there; as far as they are concerned that is what they dealt with. My view is that there is not anything like the problem that people make. If you have got a very part-time House and people are not paid for not being there, which I think is absolutely right, then I think the fact the numbers are going to be big for a few years is not the biggest problem we have got to deal with.

  67. You do not think this reflects a sort of clubby approach to these questions, that we cannot fiddle about with the Bishops, we cannot fiddle about with the judges, we cannot fiddle about with the life Peers, because it is not what good chaps do?
  (Lord Wakeham) I can see why one would say that but at the end of the day am I right or am I wrong? Of course you could bring in Bills to do all these things, Government could, but they will not, that is all I am saying.

  Chairman: I think we should end as we started, in authentic Chief Whip mode. Thank you very much indeed for coming, we have had a very interesting session with you. Thank you very much.

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