Mr. Djanogly: Does that extend to the Attorney-General's being in the House of Lords? While we are at it, does the hon. and learned Lady agree that the Attorney-General should be the Lord Chief Justice?
Vera Baird: I think it is a moot point. I am very puzzled by the other suggestion, that he should become the Lord Chief Justice; I am not sure where that has come from. I have obviously missed a bit of gossip somewhere along the way. The hon. Gentleman can update me on where he read that.
Shall we stick to the point? Why is it necessary to oust the Lord Chancellor, whoever he may be, from the House of Commons? First, he is no longer to be a judge at all. The Tories were very happy when the Lord Chancellor was a political appointee who appointed the judiciary. That seems to be to be a much more dangerous position than anything currently proposed in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill remedies that. Now, however, the Lord Chancellor will not do that either. He will not appoint the judiciary; as is now, I think, commonly approved, the judiciary will be appointed by a judicial appointments commission, quite separate from the Lord Chancellor. The recommendations will certainly be given to him, but the transparency of the process, and the limitations of his role in that process, make it very clear that he has less potential to intervene in judicial independence and less potential to appoint croniesnot that anyone has ever really suggested that that is what a Lord Chancellor has done. He is not a judge, so why do we need him to be a peer? He does not appoint the judges. Why do we need him not to be in the House of Commons? He is not in charge of discipline for the judges any more. He is not in charge of removal any more, on his own. It is all hedged around with qualifications and limitations. Very little of his role is to be applied to judges. So why is it now necessary to remove him to the House of Lords, when his role in the judiciary is much smaller? It is not necessary to do that to protect the judiciary. If that is why the Opposition say that that should be done, it is incomprehensible in context.
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On the concordat with the Lord Chief Justice, he pronounces himself satisfied that there is no threat to judicial independence from anywhere. I have just quoted him. He says that he is perfectly happy that the person should be in either House. He feels that being a peer would make no measurable difference and would not improve the situation. He speaks on behalf of the judiciary. If the judiciary is not concerned that that figure, who will still have an important though much reduced role, should be in the Commons, surely no one has a leg to stand on. Those are the very people whom the Opposition are pretending are likely to be threatened by the presence of the Lord Chancellor in the political hurly-burly.
The Lord Chief Justice himself, who must have been negotiating now for over a year on the issue and gone through it in extraordinary detail, has pronounced himself utterly satisfied that this measure is completely unnecessary. One just gropes around for the reason for the proposal. I cannot find one. It is easily demonstrated that there is much less control over the judiciary now with this official, and therefore less reason to be concerned about his presence in what I call the political hurly-burly without believing that it is worse in here than it is in the other place.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) did not do fairly by the two Select Committees that have laboured mightily, reported properly and taken evidence on the issue. He did not say as clearly as he should have done that the House of Lords Select Committee, to which this Bill was, unusually, sent for very careful and long-term consideration, did not say that the Lord Chancellor should be a peer. It was divided on the issue. As has been made clear from the horse's mouth and from the horse's colleague, the Committee of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) did not say anything of the sort either. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) is talking to me all the time about it being preferable. That is a very different thing from it being compulsory.
Vera Baird: We want the best Lord Chancellor and the best Lord Chancellor may be in this House. The hon. Gentleman will exclude the best person, if he or she is here, from being appointed to that office.
Mr. Leslie: The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) has now begun to speak in riddles to justify his point. He talks about it being preferable but the clause that he is advocating reads:
Vera Baird: The preferable position is achievable now without the that measure. Surely that is not beyond the hon. Gentleman. Let me move on because I am satisfied that it is not beyond him. He is starting to have to talk in riddles because he has lost the rational basis for what he is putting forward. The testimony from all the interested parties, Committees of both Houses and the judiciary is that he is wrong and he is completely out of it, so he is starting to talk in riddles.
The purpose of the measure has nothing to do with judicial independence. Its purpose may be to avoid any suggestion of improper influence in the courts system because of too close control over the Lord Chancellor's appointment by the Prime Minister, perhapsby any Prime Ministeror too much interference by other politicians. Of course, avoiding allegations of cronyism is very important but it must be said that the current Lord Chancellor is both a peer and a lawyer and that has not avoided such allegations against him. Indeed, on Second Reading, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) suggested that there was something wrong with the appointment of Lord Justice Potter as the president of the family division because he had been the pupil master of the Lord Chancellor.
Mr. Garnier: Since the hon. and learned Lady and I had a spat on the last occasion, I checked precisely what I did say. If she looks at the record, I said that there was something illogical about the Government advancing the arguments that they were advancing for a judicial appointments commission when their current Lord Chancellor was prepared to appoint judges in the way that he did. I had no criticism of the individual appointment. Lord Justice Potter will make a very good president of the family division. However, I do not want to get sidetracked. I have some better arguments to put to her in a minute.
"The Minister says that the Government want to modernise the operation of the judicial appointments system and make it transparent. Why then did the Lord Chancellor for the transitional period, as he likes to call himself, appoint his pupil master as president of the family division?"[Official Report, Monday 17 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 557.]
If the complaint were about a lack of transparency in the current methodology, which is what I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is now suggesting, he could have mentioned the appointment of any judge over the last period after the institution of the Bill, but he did not choose to mention the appointment of Lady Hale, Mr. Justice Bean or Mrs. Justice Dobbs. He chose to mention the appointment of Lord Justice Potter, the pupil master as the president of the family division. It
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seems that that was a slur. There would have been no point in mentioning that particular individual if it had not been intended to slur the Lord Chancellor. I regret to say that the consequence was that it became dangerously close to slurring Sir Mark Potter, who is an absolutely excellent appointment.