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Mr. Leslie: The hon. Gentleman has long-held, strong views on programme motions, and I do not want to rehearse those again. He has his opinion; other Members have theirs. I remain of the opinion that the balance of consideration in Committee of the whole House and in Standing Committee is right, because, as in the other place, the Bill's most important constitutional aspects will be given an ample airing on the Floor of the House.
Sir Patrick Cormack:
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view both of your ruling, which we completely understand, and of what the Minister has
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said, will you make it plain that it will be permissible to refer fairly extensively to the programme motion during the Second Reading debate?
Mr. Leslie: What a strange turn of affairs if the main point of contention from Opposition Members is the time allocated to the debate rather than the substance of the Bill. Indeed, we have probably spent more time on the interventions about whether the programme motion has the correct division of time between the Floor of the House and the Standing Committee than we have on the Bill. Conservative Members need to get a little perspective on the issue.
Mr. Heald: Almost everything that the Minister has mentioned, from whether the Lord Chancellor should be a lord, and whether he should be a lawyer, to the transfer of functionsall the points of detail that he has prayed in aid as being of interest to the Housewill not be discussed in Committee of the whole House. How can he justify that?
Mr. Leslie: I believe that the Bill's most fundamental constitutional aspects will be debated in Committee of the whole House; the other aspects, which are more appropriate for the Standing Committee, will be debated at length and in great detail by that perfectly capable body.
Mr. Gummer: I thank the Minister, whose courtesy is renowned, for giving way. He has told us that the Bill's purpose is primarily to address the fact that people outside do not understand the complications and what appear to be the contradictions in our present system. Does he not understand that the same is true of what he has just said? People outside will not understand why there is no procedure whereby we will be able to discuss, on the Floor of the House, a major constitutional change. He is arguing one thing in the case of the whole Bill, and exactly the opposite in this case. That is why we have spent so much time on the point.
Mr. Leslie: We will have to agree to disagree on the matter. It is not true that we will have no opportunity to debate the judicial appointments commission on the Floor of the House, because as the Bill progresses through its parliamentary consideration there will, of course, be Report stage, when we will be able to look in detail at many of those matters.
I want briefly to mention the operation of the judicial appointments commission, which will select judges for appointment in England and Wales. It will be composed of 15 members: six lay members, five judges, one solicitor, one barrister, one tribunal member and one magistrate. The chair will be a layperson, emphasising independence both from the judiciary and from the Executive. The commission will recommend to the Lord Chancellor one candidate for each vacancy selected, solely on merit. No one will be appointed who has not been selected by the commission.
The Lord Chancellor will have a very restricted role: he or she will be able to reject a candidate once and to ask the commission to reconsider a selection once, as I said in answer to an intervention by the hon. and learned
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Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). The arrangements will ensure that the role of the Lord Chancellor is transparent, but that there is necessary ministerial oversight and involvement to ensure proper accountability to Parliament, which is of course sovereign.
At present, the Lord Chancellor has statutory powers to remove judicial office holders below the High Court on grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour. Those powers will be reformed so that they can be exercised only with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice. The Bill places all matters of judicial discipline and removal on a transparent statutory footing and provides a structure that reflects a proper balance between the independence of the judiciary and democratic accountability for the judicial system. The current role of Lord Chancellor will be shared with the Lord Chief Justice. No removal or other disciplinary action can be taken by one of them without the agreement of the other. None of those powers will displace the existing role of Parliament in the removal of the most senior members of the judiciary, in those exceptional circumstances.
The Bill will also permit those who are dissatisfied with the administration of the complaints procedure established by the judicial appointments commission to seek review of the operation of the process by a judicial appointments and conduct ombudsman.
Part 5 of the Bill takes account of the reform of the office of the Lord Chancellor in Northern Ireland, building on the provisions already made for that jurisdiction. Part 5 makes provision for the removal of judges in Northern Ireland in the period prior to devolution of justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Mr. Bercow: The Minister has sought to deal with the Bill sequentially, but will he press the rewind button for a moment? I would like to take up the issue of the provision in clause 16 for the transfer, modification or abolition of the functions of the Lord Chancellor by order. I am in a difficulty from which I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to extricate me. Given that the Lord Chancellor has a visitatorial functiona responsibility for interpreting and acting as arbiter in a number of disputes, notably, for example, in universities and hospitalscan the hon. Gentleman tell me how that role relates to and/or differs from comparable responsibilities of the President of the Council, the Leader of the House? What is the nature of the reform that the Government envisage?
Many of the visitatorial functions of the old office of Lord Chancellor are not appropriate to the new ministerial office. Many of those will revert either to
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universities or to the other appropriate office holderthe Secretary of State responsible for those particular policy areas. That is one of those matters of detail that I again suggest would be better aired in Committee.
Mr. Bercow: I admit that this is a matter of detail. The hon. Gentleman and others may think that I am being pedantic, but I happen to think that the matter is important, and I do not disagree with what he has just said. In saying what he has about the rather anachronistic character of some of the responsibilities, does he accept that it would be a bit of an anachronism for the Leader of the House, notwithstanding his multifaceted talents, to have responsibility for arbitrating on disputes in universities? Surely the right hon. Gentleman's time would be better devoted to other responsibilities.
To return to the principles of the Bill, its rationale is clear and simple: a modern footing for the relationship between the Government, the judiciary and Parliament; an end to the potential conflicts of interest between the political and the judicial realm; a restatement and strengthening of judicial independence; better courts administration, with a full-time Cabinet Minister overseeing £3 billion of public expenditure; and clearer responsibilities for the vital functions of a modern democracy.
Our constitutional history is among the longest and most illustrious anywhere in the world. It has evolved gradually but constantly over the centuries. Change and reform is therefore a core feature of our system of governance, not alien to it. These changes, too, will further enhance and improve our constitution so that it is fit for the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.
Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for raising this matter, but I wonder whether there is anything that you can do to protect the interests of the House. We have just heard that this is a major constitutional Bill of enormous and far-reaching importancean historic Bill, whatever one's view of ityet despite the Minister's assurance, the House will have only three hours on the Floor of the House to debate the most fundamental aspects of the measure. Can you do anything to make representations to those who have brought the Bill before us to ensure that the Houseyour House, over which you presidehas a proper opportunity to discuss those important matters?
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