Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Heald: The hon. Gentleman has quoted the concordat. Is he aware that Lord Woolf said of the Judges Council that

So both the Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Lord Chief Justice believe that that is preferable.

Mr. Tyler: That is not what was said. It was not thought to be essential; even the hon. Member for Huntingdon knows that.

Mr. Djanogly: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler: Let me just advance this argument a bit further. Let us see whether the hon. Gentleman can quibble with this. First and foremost—

Mr. Djanogly: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyler: Oh, come on then.

Mr. Djanogly: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He attacked what I said earlier, and it is only fair that I should be allowed to answer him. The point is that I questioned the very conclusion that he has reached. No, I did not quote the whole report, but I addressed the issue to which he has referred, and I questioned it. He might wish to answer the questions that I posed.

Mr. Tyler: I would like to do so, but first and foremost, the hon. Gentleman should recognise that the Select Committee took evidence and thought very carefully indeed about this issue. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are members of that Committee. Its report stated very clearly that its recommendation was that it was not essential for the Lord Chancellor to be a Member of the House of Lords. That was a balanced judgment from an all-party Select Committee reporting back to the House in very good time so that we could take account of hon. Member's views in our debate this evening. The Select Committee also said:

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is about to say that the House of Lords should in future have a role in determining the Supply issue, which has always been an important function of this House. We have always said that the other place should not be able to intervene on issues of that kind, so unless he wants to change the constitution in that way, I am afraid that his argument simply collapses.

That is not the only anomaly in the Conservatives' argument. It is also extraordinary that they think it preferable that this very important post should be held
31 Jan 2005 : Column 648
by someone who is basically an appointee of the Prime Minister of the day, rather than that he or she should have a mandate from the electorate. This House provides every single one of us with a responsibility not only to Parliament and to our party, but to our constituents and to the electorate at large. It is curious, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said on Second Reading, that anyone should

The Conservative party, my party and, I hope, the Labour party are absolutely determined to make the other place an elected House in due course. I think that the hon. Gentleman's party is still signed up to making a majority of those in the other place elected—I believe that 80 per cent. was the last proposal. My party is also committed to the election of a majority of those in the other place. I am not sure about the hon. Gentleman's views, but a substantial number of his colleagues in both Houses—including their leader in the Lords, and the Lord Chancellor himself—are committed to making the other place more democratic and more representative. That, after all, was what all Labour Members of Parliament were committed to at two general elections, and what they had a mandate to implement. It has not happened yet, and I suppose we should not hold our breath.

The hon. Gentleman referred to an anomaly. He assumes a continuation in the other place of appointees of the Prime Minister of the day. If he is now resiling from the policy of his own party, let him say so.

Mr. Djanogly rose—

Mr. Heald rose—

Mr. Tyler: I will respond to an intervention from whichever hon. Member wishes to speak.

Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman is kicking the ball way out of the baseball park—[Laughter]—or even the football ground. How can he pre-empt the form of a future elected upper Chamber? If there happened to be a list system, which his party would presumably propose, a certain number of advocates could be stuck on the list—whoever his party wished.

Mr. Tyler: You would probably call me to order, Mrs Heal, if I spoke at length about the proportional representation system that I—along with members of the hon. Gentleman's party and members of the governing party—hope to include in a draft Bill in a couple of weeks; but it will not be a list system.

This Bill, we hope, will ensure that the Lord Chancellor of the future is the best person for the job. We would wish to ensure not just that that person was accountable to the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the day, in terms of collective responsibility, but that he or she was accountable to the nation at large through Parliament. We accept the argument that the best way to achieve that is to prevent any discrimination against any individual holding the post.
31 Jan 2005 : Column 649

I find extraordinary the way in which members of the Conservative party so patronisingly describe all those in the other place as being at the end of their careers—on the verge of their dotage, according to the hon. Member for Huntingdon. We believe that the occupant of this important post, responsible for a considerable budget for a very important Department, should be answerable, in the best possible way, to whichever House of Parliament of which he or she is a Member, and through Parliament to the people of this country. It would be absurd to prevent that improvement from being made by the Bill simply because of an assumption that the current Prime Minister will always block real reform of the other place.

We will support the Government in a Division to remove prescription and discrimination that we consider unnecessary and undesirable. We accept the view of the Select Committee, which has thought about the matter very carefully, that on balance it would be best to dispose of this proposal now.

Vera Baird: It strikes me as absurd that it should be suggested that in a democratic society in the 21st century we should legislate to ensure that a Minister of the Crown with a budget of £3 billion is never to be answerable to the House of Commons. That is an utter democratic absurdity, completely inconsistent with the democratic state that we have reached.

Mr. Heald: The hon. and learned Lady appears before judges all the time. The Judges Council says that that would be preferable, because it is looking for someone who is not particularly partisan and party political to do the important job of upholding judges' independence. What is wrong with that?

Vera Baird: Let me make two corrections. First, I do not appear before judges all the time. Unlike several of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, I am a full-time professional Member of Parliament who does not see this as a part-time job to come to in the evenings. Secondly, Lord Woolf may have mentioned that the Judges Council had thought it preferable, but what he eventually said was this:

8.15 pm

I am sure I have made my point firmly enough, but let me repeat it. What other democratic institution anywhere in this century will legislate to remove from democratic control a Minister of the Crown with a budget of £3 billion? The short answer is none. I want to be able to ask, on behalf of my constituents, questions about the organisation of the courts, questions about the use of the legal aid fund, questions about the quantum of the legal aid fund—and that is exactly the right way for politics to be carried out. I should have the Minister in question answerable to me in the House of Commons. The Opposition would legislate to make that utterly impossible, and to emasculate—I wish there were a feminine term—a Member of Parliament, preventing that Member from performing a very important function. That is a democratic absurdity.
31 Jan 2005 : Column 650

What do the Opposition say? They say that even if a Member of the House of Commons is 60 or 70 years old, intent on retiring at the next election with no wish for further advancement, having already shown himself to be a great statesperson who everyone agrees could do the job, he shall be stopped from doing it unless he gives up his constituency, which he may be very happy to serve and which may be very happy for him to serve it. That applies to Members on both sides of the House. The best person for the job, who all in this House may agree is the best person for the job, will be excluded.

Next Section IndexHome Page