|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Redwood: The Minister has argued two very different positions. Before we vote, it would be good to have a little clarification of which the Government believe in. On one hand, the Minister wishes to agree with the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), who argue that more or less anybody can be Lord Chancellor, as slimmed down, redefined and modernised by this legislation. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) made a cogent case for the proposition that even the slimmed down, modernised and damaged version of the Lord Chancellor that we have before us in the Bill should be someone of legal distinction and knowledge, for the obvious reasons that he and my hon. Friends have set out.
I have a simple question for the Minister, the answer to which would help Members decide how to vote: were this Government to stay in office through another change of Lord Chancellor, would the Prime Minister want to appoint someone who was a good lawyer, because he accepts the argument of the hon. Member for Leicester, East, or does the Prime Minister think that modernisation would be advanced by definitely not having a lawyer and by taking advantage of the greater freedom for which the Minister is urging the Committee to vote?
I had no intention of speaking in this debate. I wandered into the Chamber and thought that I would listen and learn from more learned hon. Friends and colleagues, but I feel as if I have wandered into some bizarre little world of its own. People keep sidling up to me and asking, "What are you doing here? You aren't a
31 Jan 2005 : Column 679
lawyer." I think that I am quite unusual in this Chamber in not being a lawyer. [Interruption.] I know that there are others present who are not lawyers.
Mr. Simon: The Minister notes that he is not a lawyer, which is indeed a relief. Nevertheless, there is a preponderance of lawyers present, particularly on the Conservative Benches. [Interruption.] They have cheated a little
Mr. Simon: Regardless of whether Opposition Members are preponderantly lawyers, their argument that in order to be Lord Chancellor one needs to be a lawyer is absurd. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) characterised my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) and me as having argued that anybody can be Lord Chancellor. I am arguing that anybody can be anything. Anybody can be Prime Minister; anybody can be Home Secretary. One does not have to have specialist knowledge or professional expertise to run a Government Department. That much ought to be obvious. I cannot imagine what people in the real world think when they see Benches stuffed full of lawyers arguing that the only people who can head a law Department are lawyers. One does not have to be a teacher to run the Department for Education and Skills, one does not have to be a doctor to run the Department of Health, and one does not have to have been to Prime Minister school and gained 12 years' experience to be Prime Minister. It is self-evidently not the case, therefore, that one must be a lawyer to run the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) keeps telling us that the Government are intellectually dishonest, because they have changed the nature of the job while keeping the name of Lord Chancellor. There can be few constitutional jobs that have changed more while keeping their name. It is ridiculous to argue that the difference between the next Lord Chancellor and Lord Mackay of Clashfern is greater than the difference between the present incumbent and the Lord Chancellor who, 500 years ago, did a completely different job in a completely different environment.
The Lord Chancellor does not need to be a lawyer nor, as the Minister said, do we need to put such a requirement into statute. Indeed, it could be argued that it would be better if the Lord Chancellor were not a lawyer. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar argued, if the holder of the post is a lawyer, it may, heaven forfend, make the Lord Chancellor look like a "producerist", defensive protector of the interests of the legal profession. Lawyers are not necessarily interested in the impartial, efficient and admirable administration of justicesome of them may be interested in their own enrichment and vainglory. The
31 Jan 2005 : Column 680
notion that we should legislate to guarantee that they have one of their own to speak for and defend them is not just wrong but ridiculous.
Mr. Leslie: It has been useful to hear the arguments adduced in favour of clause 3, because, as with clause 2, they are thin and threadbare. Indeed, clause 3 is a step backwards in time. There is no statutory requirement at present for the Lord Chancellor to be a lawyer. That is simply a convention. Enshrining in statute a requirement for 12 years of senior legal practice or two years' experience as a judge makes the process of appointment more rigid and less flexible. It is strange that none of the Members who spoke in favour of clause 3 could suggest why the reformed office of Lord Chancellor, even if they do not like the way in which will be shaped, should be different from the post of Health Secretary or Education Secretary. The shadow Health Secretary, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), has no medical qualifications, yet he would make health inspector appointments. The shadow Education Secretary, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), has no teaching qualifications, yet he hopes to make school inspector appointments. It is not axiomatic that the person holding the ministerial job of Lord Chancellor should have legal qualifications.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) said that it is desirable that the Lord Chancellor is a lawyer, but he accepted that clause 3 is too rigid. Conversely, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) argued that it might even be better if that individual were not a lawyer so we do not have what he characterised as a producer interest in the post. I do not seek to say whether it is, or is not, a good thing, but I dislike the mandatory requirement for the post to be held by an individual with a particular qualification.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington argued that anyone could become Prime Minister or Home Secretary. It is almost like the famous American dream: "One day, even you, young fellow my lad, could grow up to be President of the United States." What that individual needs is character, integrity, strength of judgment and so forth. We should recognise the fact that the ministerial post of Lord Chancellor belongs not to a certain profession, but to all the people. Legislation should not set in stone such unnecessary exclusivity. We know what the qualifications for that ministerial office need to be: competence, judgment, character and accountability.
The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked whether the Prime Minister would appoint lawyers in future. My answer is that he must ask him at Prime Minister's Question Time, but the Prime Minister will certainly be held accountable for any appointment that was deemed to be irrational or illogical, or involved not appointing the right person for the job.
Given the reformed status of the office of the Lord Chancellor and the fact that that individual will no longer be head of the judiciary or a Law Lord who sits as a judge, the post holder can sit in either House of
31 Jan 2005 : Column 681
Parliament. There is no longer a rational requirement for any legal qualification, and I hope that the Committee will reject clause 3.
I shall comment on the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) and her partner in crime, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon). Of course almost anyone could be appointed to the job if someone chose to do so, but given that it is an important job with particular responsibilitiesincluding standing up for the rule of law in Cabinet and ensuring that judicial independence continues, the residual role of making appointments to the judiciary and the other important roles that relate to the jurisdiction of the courtsit would be a help if the person concerned were a lawyer. Indeed, the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs said that that may be a help.
The Judges Council, which knows a thing or two about this, particularly wants the post holder to be a lawyer, ideally with qualifications similar to those required before a person can be appointed a High Court judge. Those on the council wanted that requirement not to enrich themselves or to be vainglorious, or anything of that sort, as described by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington but because the Lord Chancellor's role is important and such knowledge is extremely helpful in the role.
It is all very wellthis is a bit like another point that I have madesaying that it is preferable to have a lawyer in the role of Lord Chancellor, but if it is preferable, why should we take second best? That is why I continue to argue that clause 3 is vital and that such a requirement would be helpful to the person in that role, so we wish to divide the House on the issue.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|