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Mr. Garnier: I do not want to interrupt the flow of my right hon. Friend's speech with an indelicate intervention, but legal services are a successful invisible export from this country and overseas litigants are encouraged to come to our British courts in London to litigate their disputes. There is no guarantee that the great kerfuffle caused by the Government will enhance that invisible export one jot.
I am not expert on the size of those exports or their invisibility, but the present situation does not seem to put off people from abroad who ask for British law to be the basis of the interpretation of contracts and the like; indeed, the system appears to work quite well. On the question of practicalities, the people whom the Minister prayed in aidthe people from far beyond the seas who supposedly would not understand ithave not found it difficult to see that the system works. Indeed, only last week I perused a contract signed by a previous chairman of the company on behalf of somebody whom I employed. Although the company was French, the contract was to be understood in the context of English law and any argument about it was to be heard in the English courts. As the French todayleave alone Montesquieufind it easy to understand that the system works pretty well, it is reasonable to think that it is not too bad. It may not be perfectI am sure that the hon. and learned Member
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for Redcar (Vera Baird) will mention several aspects that she would like to improvebut that is true of most of life. The Minister has not explained why this change, with all its ramifications, is a sufficiently necessary or successful alternative to be considered by this House.
The Minister has not established the first pointthat there is a real problem that needs immediate and fundamental resolution in this House. The second point that he must establish is that, having identified such a problem, he has made a considered response. Here, I very much sympathise with him. He had obviously thought carefully about how to deal with the fundamental difficulty that the issue was not introduced in the most felicitous of manners. I am sure that deep in his heart he said to himself, "I wouldn't have done it this way myself. I wouldn't have suddenly announced something that I had not talked to anybody about, not thought about much, and did not know much about, and then found myself in a mess so that my best friend had to go off and explain to people that what he had said was not quite what he had meant." This started off in a very embarrassing way"back of an envelope" would be putting it politely.
Perhaps that would not matter so much were not this part of a pattern. Lord Butler restrained himself for many months before making his recent comments about the nature of this Government's approach to institutions of state. He argued, as an independent voice who was at the heart of Government, that this Government make decisions on the sofa. Very often, they do not act properly and sensibly by listening to people, finding out about the various views, and trying to use the institutions of Government better to serve the people, but by changing the institutions of Government ad hominem.
Let me give two examples that parallel what we are discussing. We have an Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, as we previously had the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, that is based not on making Government more efficient or effective, but on providing what was thought to be a suitable job for the Deputy Prime Minister. His first Department did not provide him with a suitable job because he mucked it up considerably, so the Government created another Department based upon the same principle.
Perhaps I would not mind that happening on one occasion, but I was very upset when the Government decided to abolish what everybody had seen as the best and most powerful Environment Department of either party or of any European country. They took it away from planning and local government, where it had the power to act, and shoved it in with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as though the environment were something to do with rural development and woolly animals. It is not surprising that since then the environment has had no influence on any of the Government's decisions. When they introduced a planning Bill, the Minister responsible for the environment was never consulted.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is another ad hominem change in which we might both have an interest. Following the foot and mouth debacle,
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the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was destroyed and responsibility for agricultural matters was pushed right down the pecking order.
Mr. Gummer: My right hon. and learned Friend has been an Agriculture Minister. The Secretary of State who runs DEFRA has done a remarkably good job with the tools that she was given. The Department was created to give her a sufficiency of power to make up for the fact that she was going to be moved to make space for the Foreign Secretary. That was done over lunchit was not back of an envelope, but back of a menu.
My point, Mr. Deputy Speakerlest you should be hovering in your seat, about to suggest that I must concentrate on the Billis simply this: one does not arrive at good institutional solutions by making suitable packages for one's friends, but by doing the job properly and allowing the Government to function. That is why this issue is so serious. This Government are often characterised by saying the right thing and wanting to do the right thing, but very rarely achieving it. They are a Government of words, not action, and they have shown throughout that they cannot make the Government system work.
In saying that, I am citing the Prime Minister. After the first period of Labour Government, he admitted, "When we started we thought that when we said something, it would happen. Then we found that it didn't happen, so we would have to make it happen." Four years later, he still has not made it happen. The Government still do not deliver, even in areas where I support them. I support most of their aims on the environment, but I can no longer pretend that they have delivered any of them. Now, because the European Union has pointed out that we have not brought down our emissions as we promised, they are going to sue the EU to prevent it from capping those emissions.
In this case, the Government do not say, "There is a problem, we will prove that it is there and provide the institutional solution", but, "We don't really have a problem, there isn't really much to do, so we will make a fundamental change, but we can't prove to you that it will work in practice." The Minister did not explain how it would work. Indeed, he was at his weakest when he tried to argue that he could not do so because the other House had not made its decisions about whom it was going to call what to do which, and that there were problems about what would happen if the Prime Minister appointed as Lord Chancellor someone who did not sit in the House of Lords or, if he did appoint someone who sat in the House of Lords, whether he might chair its proceedings. As the Bill started in the House of Lords, it might have been helpful to have had answers to such questions.
We do not have those answers because the Minister started off on the wrong foot. The Bill did not come forth as the result of proper discussion and the serious involvement of all the appropriate parties, but because somebody wanted to shift people around on the board and make Cabinet changes without thinking about the results. The Minister may shake his head, but no one but he believes that we are here because of logical Government decision making. We are here because the Prime Minister made a mistake and had to cover it up by producing a Bill that would otherwise not have been introduced. I can imagine that, at some time, the
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Government might have believed that the Bill was a convenient measure to introduce when they did not want to present anything too controversial with the public to make up for the Hunting Bill, but that is not the reason for our debating it now. We are debating it now because the Prime Minister shot from the hip and found that he had shot his fox.
Mr. Leslie: I would understand if the right hon. Gentleman disagreed with the proposals, but it does him no credit to belittle the logic and the rationale that I believe that I presented to justify a significant change in our constitution. Let us consider, for example, his point that the Lord Chancellor should be a lawyer or a peer. Does he claim that he is not sufficiently capable of undertaking that ministerial post and that he is somehow not qualified or capable of being appointed to it in future?
Mr. Gummer: It is not among my ambitions. However, if the Bill had been approached by trying to find a consensus for change rather than pre-empting it, it would have been more logical and not open to the specific worries that now beset the Under-Secretary. I do not believe that I belittled his arguments. He is here, although not a lawyer, as an advocate. We know why he is herehe has been presented with a Bill and he has to do the best he can with it. In general, with his normal charm, he has done a great deal of good, but he cannot get away from the problem.
The problem is that the Bill exists not because of a concerted and sensible approach to the constitution, but because the Prime Minister made a bodge-up. To try to overcome that, it was thought better to try to produce something that might at least stand up, by which time he was in no position to gain a commonality of view. A considered response is crucial on constitutional matters. It would not matter if we were discussing a less important subject, but it matters not to have got a considered consensual response on a question that lies at the heart of the relationship between the powers of Government, the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the judiciary.
Now that we are here we must ask for the third point that is necessary for good legislation. We should demand proper scrutiny. If the problem has not been properly adumbrated and the response is far from considered, the House should demand at least proper scrutiny. I should like the Under-Secretary to reflect on the way in which he answered some of the questions that were put to him. I believe that future generations will speak harshly of the way in which the current generation has damaged the nature of Parliament.
The guillotine, without debate, that is compulsory for every Bill is a fundamental constitutional outrage. It means that the Government not only control the agenda, but decide the length of time that they believe should be devoted to any aspect of a Bill. As we witnessed earlier, the Government also decide whether a matter should be debated on the Floor of the House or Upstairs. The Government, with a majority, do all those things irrespective of any longstanding convention of the House. We heard from the Speaker that there was no position from which to defend the rights of Back Benchers because the debate is subject to a vote and not to his prerogative.
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Given that the Government have started on the wrong foot, have experienced some difficulty in proving the need for the changes and have had great difficulty in providing a considered response or a proper consensus, I would have thought that they would at least ensure that the whole Bill was debated on the Floor of the House, as constitutional Bills should be, and that enough time was provided for that. The deal should have been done by the Government and the Opposition, with the involvement of the Liberal Democrats in the discussion. The Liberal Democrats take a different view from mine, but I believe that we have let the nation down by not enabling the country to understand how we have limited our ability to deal with legislation.
There is more bad legislation than ever on the statute book because there is more undebated legislation on it. To make life more convenient for Members of Parliament, we have become more convenient for the Executive. To make our sittings times shorter and our hours more social, we have brought about a position whereby our constituents are faced with largely undigested Bills. Without the House of Lords, legislation would be impossible for the judiciary to interpret or tackle. I feel ashamed in my surgery when constituents approach me and say, "Mr. Gummer, how could anyone pass that clause?" I look the matter up and find that that clause has not been discussed. The compulsory timetablethe guillotine; that foreign invention that the Government have forced upon usis intolerable.
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