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Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman was at great pains to say that nothing had gone wrong so far, yet he then said that as people do not understand that nothing has gone wrong so far, we have to change things. I do not understand what has happened to our society if we are unable to understand something that we had been perfectly able to understand, and people had been perfectly well able to run, for so many years, and which is, to quote the Minister, well known and honoured throughout the world. Why can we not go on as we have done?
Mr. Leslie: Having the Appellate Committee as the highest court in the legislature has not sat comfortably for more than a century. The Appellate Jurisdiction Act, although it was not commenced, sought to establish a separate UK supreme court. For various reasons, that did not happen at the time. The initiative is not exactly new but it is long, long overdue.
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab):
It is important to remember that most of us have been dissatisfied with the situation because the Lord Chancellor, who was appointing judges, was an active
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party politician. Ever since I saw Lord Hailsham on the beach in his bathing costume ringing the bell for the Tory party and then claiming that he was completely independent, I have viewed the system with some suspicion.
Half the Law Lords are reported to be uncomfortable with the present arrangements. If we do not move to reform, how long will it be before a majority are unhappy? The time has come for our highest court to be a separate institutionnot only separate, but seen to be separate. By establishing a supreme court, we shall create a visible apex of an independent United Kingdom judicial system, and we shall increase public comprehension of the judicial system, both in this country and abroad.
Sir Patrick Cormack: The Minister is exemplary in giving way, but I must correct one point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley). When Lord Hailsham rang his bell he was chairman of the Conservative party, not Lord Chancellor. As Lord Chancellor, he exercised his functions with great distinction and complete impartiality.
Mr. Leslie: Politicians should stick to politics and the judiciary should stick to judging. That is the clear direction in which we are travelling and there is not a massive amount of controversy about that issue.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth) (SNP): The Minister referred a moment ago to the fact the new supreme court would be an independent UK judicial systemI think that that was the phrase that he usedbut given that the funding arrangements for the new supreme court will still be part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs' overall budget, the chief executive of the new supreme court will be appointed by the DCA Minister, and the DCA Minister will retain functions that relate to the judiciary in England and Wales, how can it be argued therefore that all aspects of the new supreme court will be entirely distinct and separate from the legal system south of the border? Surely it therefore falls foul of the 1707 treaty of Union.
The hon. Lady is wrong. First, the Department for Constitutional Affairs is a United Kingdom Department, not specifically relating to England and Wales. Secondly, the post of chief executive of the new supreme court will not be simply a ministerial appointment in the way that she describes. Thirdly, although there must be some accountability to Parliament for the taxpayers' money expended in the running and operations of the United Kingdom supreme courtministerial accountability is therefore the way to provide thatwe will provide protections separate from the normal run-of-the-mill votes and estimates that departmental budgets come under, and those resources will be ring-fenced. That will provide adequate protection for the new supreme court, so that it is seen to be independent, and is given the measure of independence set out in the Bill.
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Understandable concern has been expressed about where the supreme court will be located and the cost of such a building. I am sure that Opposition Members are keen to consider that. The building for the supreme court should be a reflection of the court's importance and its place at the heart of the justice system and the constitution, yet simultaneously not excessive or lavish.
The current accommodation for the Law Lords in the Palace of Westminster leaves a lot to be desired. Their offices are cramped and inconveniently located, and constraints on the space available limit the number of support staff. Quite separately from the constitutional principles, there is a strong case for improved facilities. We have therefore considered many different building options over the past year, and after detailed evaluation and close consultation with the Law Lords, our preferred option is Middlesex Guildhall, which is on the opposite side of Parliament square from Parliament, and currently a Crown court building. We believe that it can be adapted to meet the operational requirements of a modern supreme court and provide a building of sufficiently prestigious design and locationall, of course, subject to the normal planning controls.
Mr. Grieve: I certainly agree with the Minister that the Law Lords may have divided views, but before history is rewritten, the Minister must have read the speech of Lord Nicholls in respect of the supreme court and his comments, as a Law Lord, about the adequacy of the accommodation currently available in the House of Lords. Would he like to confirm whether he has done so? In fact, in that speech, the indication from one Law Lord was that he considered that the accommodation provided in the House of Lords was entirely adequate.
Different Law Lords have different views, but I do not think that by any stretch of the imagination, the hon. Gentleman is unable to envisage improvements that could be made to the accommodation for our highest court of appeal in the landsomething that he will hold as a respected institution that deserves to be supported in the best way possible, to help to preserve the judiciary's independence.
The cost of establishing the supreme court at Middlesex Guildhall will be approximately £30 million, but we will also need to ensure that the criminal justice system is not adversely affected by the selection of that building. We will therefore provide additional courtrooms to handle the Crown court work currently undertaken at the Guildhall, at an estimated further cost of £15 million.
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The Government are committed to implementing the new supreme court properly and to achieving value for money. That is why clause 120 contains provisions to ensure that the supreme court can not be implemented until an appropriate building is ready to receive it. Those provisions demonstrate our pledge that we will not implement the supreme court arrangements prematurely.
Mr. Grieve: The Minister said that Middlesex Guildhall was the preferred option and then went on to say in some detail that, in fact, it was the Government's choice. However, Lord Bingham, who wants a supreme court, has expressed extremely unfavourable views about the Guildhall.
Mr. Leslie: Again, I do not think that is a fair categorisation. No building is absolutely perfect. I have long preferred Middlesex Guildhall, and I know that others hon. Members have reached that conclusion. It is seems an obvious conclusion to draw. The building is already there, we can see it and we know what it looks like. It looks right, it feels right and it is in the right location. It is my preferred optionbut of course, it remains subject to the normal planning constraints that we have to go through. It remains a preferred option at this stage while we make sure that all those processes are undertaken properly.
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