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Mr. Grieve: I am entirely in favour of people being able to see the supreme court in action, but its work will be similar to that of the Law Lords, and that—as many Law Lords have acknowledged—does not attract much wider public interest, because of its extremely academic and slightly esoteric nature. The High Court in the Strand offers more opportunity for excitement. That will continue to apply wherever the court is, and in whichever building it sits.

Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is right, to an extent. People can no longer come here to see whether someone is sentenced to death or not. They cannot come here to discover whether a conviction for one of the gruesome murders featured in the tabloids will be overturned by the court of criminal appeal. Nevertheless, great constitutional judgments of our day such as the one in December are important, not only to academics but to a huge number of people.

I believe that the first point is made. Let me deal with the second tangentially. My colleagues and I want a mostly elected second Chamber. I should like 80 per cent. of its members to be elected, with a residual number of appointees. That debate is, of course, as yet unresolved, although we hope it can be resolved in the next Parliament, whatever the outcome of the election.

With a minority of appointees, it would be possible to secure the expertise of those in the legal and judicial professions. A nominee might have been a member of the supreme court or been nominated by the judges. With the disestablished Church that some of us favour, denominations of the Christian and other faiths could be equally represented. We need not lose the voice of judicial experience in a second chamber, but the representatives should not be trying to do two jobs at once. It is clearly unfair for someone to be legislating at one moment and judging at the next. There is no weakness in a system whereby judges come fresh to the law and interpret it—they need not have sat through the debate. If the Lord Chief Justice or the president of the supreme court wants to issue a warning that the Government are behaving inappropriately, he or she can do so by calling a press conference or making an announcement, or as part of a judgment.

Then there is the question of the venue. There is no magic in establishing the supreme court in the Middlesex guildhall. I have no absolutist view on that,
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but take a pragmatic, sensible view on what constitutes an appropriate location. Of course a supreme court could sit at the end of this building without going anywhere else, but if we are to start with the new structure clear, it is surely better on balance for us to vacate space that has been accidentally occupied in this building and move to a convenient location nearby at no huge public expense, if that is possible. It would then be possible to consolidate all the other activities of Parliament in this building. We have "outhouse" buildings that we rent to accommodate people, such as No. 7 Millbank and the buildings in Abbey gardens. Perhaps we could save those costs. Filling the space will be no difficulty in practical terms.

If it is decided that a move would be better, or possible, where should the move be to? It would be logical to choose somewhere near the centre of traditional power in the land. We have Government in Whitehall and the legislature here at Westminster, so the logical venue for the supreme court is close at hand. What are the options? I suppose there is the chapter house of Westminster abbey, although it is not terribly convenient. The court could squat in some of the rooms at Westminster school, although the school might have something to say about that, or we could ask the General Synod of the Church of England whether some hot desking would be possible in Church house. The Synod might not think that appropriate, but I believe that Church house has been used on a temporary basis before: I think that during the war Parliament moved in when this place was bombed. We could talk to the Methodists very nicely—Central Hall Westminster is capacious. It would even be possible to book a few rooms at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.

All those are options, but directly opposite us—on the other side of Parliament square—there happens to be a building that was originally the shire hall for the very county in which Parliament was for hundreds of years. It is, indeed, the very county in which Parliament still is, for the old county of Middlesex includes this place. The government of Westminster has moved up the road to less pleasant-looking premises in Victoria street, the city council offices, but that building was our county headquarters. Moreover, it is a court building. It is not as if it would be taken from local government to become a court. Of course some adaptations would be necessary, and I support the Law Lords' wish to retain the style that they have had before, but I cannot believe that that would be impossible in the Middlesex guildhall.

I have only one other thought. I have not gone around with a questionnaire consulting Law Lords or anyone else, but the only other building with a logic to it—if it were adaptable—would be the Privy Council building in Whitehall. It is near enough, and part of the Government's complex of buildings. I should be interested to learn from the Minister whether that has been considered. I share the view that buildings further afield, such as Somerset house, are inappropriate.

I feel that the proposition that the Middlesex guildhall could be adapted is reasonable. I note that the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs—chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who has had to leave the Chamber—decided that it was entirely reasonable, and I hope that
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it could be adapted at minimal cost. I should also be interested to know what contingency arrangements are in hand for moving the current work of the courts. I have three Crown courts in my constituency just over the bridge: the inner London court of session, which has been there for many years; Southwark Crown court, which is extremely busy; and Blackfriars Crown court. There are spaces in London for other courts. The courts administration could doubtless be adapted and, if the presiding judges were given due notice and help from the Minister's Department, appropriate buildings could be found.

There is a cost issue and it is true that we ought not to spend huge sums. If we were starting from scratch, we could build a new building, but no one is saying that we should do so. I assume that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is not suggesting that it is Conservative policy to build a new building for a supreme court. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has not added the associated cost to the list of additional Conservative expenditure, which will of course be balanced by £35 billion-worth of Conservative cuts. In the light of such cuts, it would be difficult to squeeze out of the Tory budget money for a new building.

Mr. Grieve: I was amused to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to £30 million costs as minimal—he is being very liberal with the largesse involved. We want the court to remain in the current building because that is the proper setting, but if it is the Government's wish to splash out public money, in our view, the building that has been identified—notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman says—is wholly unsatisfactory.

Simon Hughes: We can debate that issue and express our views but, in the end, if the Government get their Bill, they can implement the proposal.

In a rare moment of accord, we have tabled no amendments in Committee to a Government proposal—[Interruption.] No, that is no precedent for the future —not even for the short period before we are the Government and Labour are the Opposition. [Interruption.] That period may be shorter than Labour Members think. That said, I shall not be distracted into too much preliminary electioneering. The reality is that the Bill contains a contingent proposal: there will be a supreme court, but only if it moves from this building. I am surprised that the Government are being so definite about this proposal. I can see the logic of it in one sense, but as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield will agree, it is entirely possible to have a supreme court—the most important point—without moving it immediately, which is a less important point. We must get the priorities right.

I turn to the bigger issue, with which amendment No. 328 deals: whether we have Lords of Appeal in Ordinary or supreme court judges, with all that that entails. My hon. Friends and I approach this issue from different traditions and perspectives, but we share the common view that there is merit in having a supreme court. As my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said on Second Reading, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are certainly not "ordinary" and therefore have an anomalous name. The role that they fulfil would be more clearly perceived as judicially independent were we to bite the bullet and adopt the proposal before us.
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This is not a new proposal that the Government have just dreamed up—it has been around for a long time, and we Liberal Democrats are glad that they have grasped this issue. Implementation of such a proposal is overdue. It would make it clear that there is a difference in democracies between government, legislature and the courts. It is important that those elements be separated, because at the moment, there are all manner of anomalies, such as the Lord Chancellor having three jobs and the Law Lords acting as legislators. That is why we will vote against the amendments if they are pressed to a vote. We hope that we can proceed to a satisfactory solution that will cost the taxpayer little money, but which will give us clear judicial independence, separation of powers and a separate, self-contained place in which the Law Lords, in their new role as the supreme court, can do their work.

1.45 pm

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