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Mr. Garnier: Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the reasons why the Lord Chief Justice was able to be so effective in influencing this debate is because he has been able to speak and participate in the House of Lords?
Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. and learned Friend anticipates my arguments to some degree. Had we not had Law Lords in the House of Lords and had we not had the Lord Chief Justice in that place, goodness knows where we would have been.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has had to leave the Chamber briefly. He gave an admirable exposition of his Committee's views, especially in regard to the office of Lord Chancellor. He slightly distanced himself from those views, but when he said how crucial it was that the Lord Chancellor should be a figure of eminence, somebody who was not in any way influenced by his own political ambition, he described the sort of figure that the Lord Chancellor, as envisaged in the Bill as it stands, would be.
Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Redcar, to whom I listened with great respectas always, she spoke persuasively and eloquentlyI accept the logic of the argument that the Lord Chancellor should be in the House of Lords and should be a lawyer. In particular, he or she should be in the House of Lords. I would be delighted to see a woman Chancellor. We have had a woman Speaker and a woman Prime Minister, so why should we not have a woman Lord Chancellorsomebody who could do that job?
We need someone who is no longer motivated by political ambition and who, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) saidor my noble Friendcan stand up to the Home Secretary and, as I said in an intervention, stand up to the Prime Minister, as well. Looking back over my years in the House, I can think of a number of Lords Chancellors who did that. I think of my dear friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, for instance, from the other side of the House. I think of the last Conservative Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, whose quiet, avuncular wit, but firm authority, enabled him to say things that others perhaps could not say. Of course I also think of the wonderfully rumbustious and very wise Lord Hailshamand there are others.
If the Government of the day have a large majority, we need someone in the Cabinet who can stand up to the Prime Minister. It was Lord Hailsham who coined the phrase "the elected dictatorship". In whichever part of the House we sit, we must all accept that when a Government have an enormous majority, as the present Government enjoy, they can do pretty well what they want and what the Prime Minister wants. I was critical in supporting Lord Pym, who was sacked for his pains, when he spoke of not wanting too big a majority in 1983. Things began to unravel for the Conservative Government when the overall majority of 140 or so was attained. I believe that many poor and even bad decisions have been made by the present Government mainly because of their huge majority.
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In such a situation, someone at the Cabinet table who enjoys enormous respect, who is not ambitious, but who has an innate authority and who can speak up, is a great safeguard of many of our constitutional liberties. So yes, I am perfectly happy to see the Lord Chancellor shorn of some of his powers and responsibilities, as the Bill proposes, but I want the Lord Chancellor to be a man or woman of real authority, transparent integrity, wisdom and experience. I accept that it may not be necessary for the Lord Chancellor to be a lawyer, although I would prefer that, but he must have the attributes that I described.
I very much hope that as the Bill goes through the House there will be no attempt to take out those parts of the Lords amendments. I am glad that the office of Lord Chancellor, ancient as it isit has changed many times over the centuries; it used always to be a bishopis not be removed from our constitutional history.
Vera Baird: I am following with great interest what the hon. Gentleman is saying and I agree wholeheartedly that the Lord Chancellor needs to be a person of substantial integrity and authority, for the very reasons that the hon. Gentleman set out, but it is difficult to put that in legislation. Why does he think that it a sufficient proxy to say that the Lord Chancellor should be a lawyer and a peer?
Sir Patrick Cormack: I said that I had a slight preferenceperhaps it is a prejudicethat the Lord Chancellor should be a lawyer. Why should he be a peer? I address that directly. I am one of those who believe in the House of Lords more or less as it exists. I do not want to see an elected second Chamber. One of the great attributes of a senior peer is that he or she has no fear or favour as regards party considerations. It is important that the Lord Chancellor is somebody who is not dependent upon patronage, who is therenot in the office of Lord Chancellor, of coursefor life, and who brings a great deal of experience from previous jobs to the office of Lord Chancellor.
We are speaking in the context of our present parliamentary system. I have made my position plain. Unlike my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, I do not want to change it. In our present system, it is far better to have the Lord Chancellor in that place than in this place. Most hon. Members who aspire to high office have ambition. Ambition is not always a grievous fault, as Mark Antony satirically had it. Ambition is a decent motivating force, but it is not the best motivating force of a Lord Chancellor.
May I provide another reason and see whether it attracts my hon. Friend? The Lord Chancellor not only has to command the respect of his Cabinet colleagues, particularly the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, for the reasons given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), but in so far as he is the voice of the judiciary in Cabinet and of the legal system, he must also command the respect of those whom he is representing from that constituency. My fear is that a Minister in the Commons, who was seen to be looking
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at the job as merely a stepping stone to greater things, would not command the respect that would be required of him in the judiciary and the legal profession as a whole. That is open to criticism and to argument, but it is certainly a reason that is worth considering.
Sir Patrick Cormack: It is. My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely valid point, and it is one with which I find myself in very real sympathy. The Lord Chancellor of the day, even if he is not of the judiciary, should be regarded by it as a peer in every sense; somebody for whom it holds respect; somebody whom it can look up to. I beg the Minister not to close the door when he is talking about those amendments that would require the Lord Chancellor not only to remain as a title, but to be a Minister in the other placeand, frankly, preferably, a lawyer. Even the hon. and learned Member for Redcar, who does not particularly want the holder of the office to be a lawyer, admitted that the next three or four probably would be.
I conclude by referring, as others have, to the manner in which the Government are presenting the Bill to the House. There was quite a little uproar this afternoon, in which I took part, over the Bill's timetabling. I am one of those who do not like the automatic guillotining of Bills, which is what we have when we have a programme motion at the end of every Second Reading. We now have the programme motions without any debate, which was why Mr. Speaker, when I raised the point of order, said that it was entirely permissible to make some of these points on Second Reading. We learned to my horror and, frankly, to my disgust today that there had been no agreement between the three major parties, let alone the minor parties, on how the Bill should be taken.
It is the tradition that constitutional Bills are taken on the Floor of the House, and that is a good tradition, not only because it focuses the nation's attention on this Chamber, but because every Member of this Chamber can come and take part in debates on amendments when it is appropriate to do so. The whole of the Bill should have been taken on the Floor of this House of Commons. However, real insult has been added to parliamentary injury by the way in which the Bill has been carved up, because whatever the Minister's extremely amiable and very patient ministerial colleague might have said this afternoon, and indeed his hon. Friend admitted as much during an intervention earlier this evening, the fact is that it is the Government who have broken off negotiations with other parties and who have decided how the Bill should be divided up and which aspects debated on the Floor and which in Committee.
That is bad. It shows a disdain for and a disregard of Parliament, which is insulting to us allnot just those who sit on the Opposition Benches, but those who sit on the Government Benches as well. Although there are not many of them here tonight, there is one who knows what it is like to sit on the Opposition Benches. If we have any length of time in this place, we all learn what it is like to sit on the Opposition Benches. Parliament itself, holding the Executive to account as it must, must be allowed the leeway to do so by the way in which legislation is considered.
In the beginning, I said that the Bill should have been started as draft legislation, but that did not happenthis is where we are; I wish that we were not. As we are
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here, however, the Government should relent and say that the whole of the Bill will be considered in a Committee of the whole House. That would save the Government time on Report and would not add a great deal of time to the consideration of the Bill. In so doing, the Government would earn back a little of the respect that they have forfeited from all who hold the parliamentary system in high regard.
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