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Mr. Leslie: Briefly, clause 37 and schedule 8, which it introduces, together provide for the jurisdiction of the UK supreme court, and transfer over the current arrangements, ensuring that they are preserved. Effectively, that is what clause 37 does, and I commend it to the Committee.
The usual concerns are raised regarding the independence of the judiciary from the legislature. A convention already exists, however, in relation to the present Law Lordsthat they will exclude themselves from debates and voting in circumstances where this is properly left to the remaining Members of the other place. As Lord Bingham of Cornhill's statement in 2000 made clear, the Law Lords will not speak or vote on matters which are strongly party political or which they believe would affect their ability to judge a case involving the matters under discussion. If an issue arises in a case as a result of a comment that a Law Lord has made during a debate, the Law Lord in question will not hear that case. That does not take us outside the general principle that the senior judiciary must be careful not to be seen to prejudice their judicial work through extra-judicial activities, an example being the giving of opinions in lectures.
The input of the current Law Lords is highly valued in the scrutiny of legislation, particularly in Committee, where they bring their technical experience of interpreting legislation. In addition, they contribute informed criticism on social issues, drawing on their practical experience in the courts. They also help to promote the type of legal reform measures that can sometimes be a low legislative priority for Governments.
All that being the case, there is little weight to the argument that the Law Lords, or if necessary their successors in the supreme court, could not maintain or be seen to maintain their independence in judicial matters, and therefore need to be excluded from the other place. As Lord Hope of Craighead said in Committee in the other place, the most that any perceived imperfections in this area might call for is a Standing Order to formalise the successful present conventions. However, I am afraid that that would play into this Government's mindset of total disregard for our conventions, which have served us well in years gone by and still do so today. I have no doubt that the quality of debate in the other place, particularly on legal issues, will be much reduced as a result of the Bill. That is highly regrettable.
The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North pointed out that it is helpful for the Law Lords to sit in on proceedings of the House so that they are kept up to date on the issues. All that will go, on the basis of this Bill. I note the Government's desire for a separation of powers, but ask again what is the real purpose of the measure. As for whether things will be better as a result, I am afraid that I cannot see how that will be the case.
Is not the best way to guarantee independence to allow the Lords to act as they areas the House of Lordswithout the presence of members
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of the supreme court? Is not that the best way to ensure that there is no cause for misinterpretation of anything that they do or say?
Mr. Djanogly: It is interesting that throughout our debates on the Bill no Member on either side of the House has suggested that the House of Lords is at all party political or that it has acted wrongly in any way. In fact, people were only too keen to say how impartial they are. The hon. Gentleman must consider his question in the context of history, precedent and what happens in practice. In practice, the court works, and we wish to keep it that way. We believe that the Bill will distort that, which is why we tabled the amendments.
The Bill will add judges of the supreme court to the list of persons disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and consequently the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales in other legislation. A separate part of clause 109 will suspend the sitting and voting rights of full-time judicial officeholders in the House of Lords, while not wholly removing their membership of the Lords or their peerages.
The amendments are clearly contrary to one of the key principles behind the proposals for a separate supreme court and for the functional separation of the judiciary from the legislature. The supreme court must be able to demonstrate the independence of Parliament's Upper Chamber, and that would be impossible if all the members of the court continue to be Members of the House of Lords entitled to take a full part in its proceedings, which would be the effect of the amendment. Law Lords are judges, not legislators. We must maintain that proper distinction and go on to enhance it with the creation of the supreme court justices. The separation between the two functions must be clear. In practice, we propose applying to the House of Lords provisions that have long applied in the House of Commons. Full-time members of the judiciary should not also be Members of Parliament, able to speak and vote on legislation that they will subsequently be called upon to interpret. The first judges of the supreme court will be the current Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, and they will retain their peerages but be disqualified from sitting and voting in the House.
It has been said that removing the sitting and voting rights of the judiciary will lead to a loss of expertise in the House of Lords. However, members of the supplementary panelretired supreme court judges and other senior judges in the first five years of their retirementcan be full Members of the House alongside other part-time judges. It will also become the convention that judges of the supreme court are offered peerages on their retirement. We recognise that the judiciary has made an important contribution to the work of the House of Lords, but that cannot override the clear need for a visible, separate and independent supreme court while the judges are conducting their full-time job.
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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I accept the Under-Secretary's argument, although I do not agree with it, about the need for a clear separation between the House of Lords as a part of Parliament and the judiciary. However, he undermines his argument by saying that those on the supplementary panel would be entitled to participate in the work of the Judicial Committee or the supreme court and none the less remain active members of the House of Lords as a legislature. If he is to be as pure as he wishes, surely he should be consistent and exclude or include everybody.
Mr. Leslie: If we took that attitude, the hon. and learned Gentleman, as a member of the part-time judiciary, might be in some difficulty. We need to draw a line on the basis of practical common sense. We do not want members of the full-time judiciary to have a concurrent full-time legislative role. From time to time, because of illness or bringing in extra individuals, people on the supplementary panel may need to help out at supreme court level. It would be prudent and reasonable to allow them to continue with their full membership of the House of Lords.
Mr. Redwood: I was about to make a suggestion to help further debate. Several hon. Members wish to speak and the knife will fall too soon. Will the Under-Secretary adjust our sitting hours so that we can discuss the issue properly? I am sure that, under pressure, we could still finish at his chosen time this evening, but it is silly that we do not have enough time to discuss the subject of our current debate.
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