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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Lord Chancellor (Transfer of Functions and Supplementary Provisions) (No. 3) Order 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Roger Gale
Atkins, Charlotte (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab)
Baird, Vera (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs)
Clapham, Mr. Michael (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. David (Midlothian) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Hughes, Simon (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine (Bridgend) (Lab)
Moran, Margaret (Luton, South) (Lab)
Mullin, Mr. Chris (Sunderland, South) (Lab)
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew (Chichester) (Con)
Watkinson, Angela (Upminster) (Con)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Eliot Wilson, Olivia Davidson, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 14 June 2006

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Draft Lord Chancellor (Transfer of Functions and Supplementary Provisions) (No. 3) Order 2006

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Lord Chancellor (Transfer of Functions and Supplementary Provisions) (No. 3) Order 2006.
It is terrific to serve on a Committee before you, Mr. Gale. I am not unused to doing that, but I am unused to it in my current role. I am pleased that someone as experienced as you are and whom I know so well in this guise is here to help.
The order transfers functions, but the most important parts of it are probably the supplementary provisions, which deal with the arrangements for providing a salary and pension for the Speaker of the House of Lords. It might be helpful if I remind the Committee of some of the background to the proposal.
The Lord Chancellor, by way of a long-standing convention, sits as the Speaker of the House of Lords, and a proportion of his nominal salary entitlement is paid in respect of his duties as such. The current Lord Chancellor chooses to receive only the salary of a Lords Cabinet Minister. That includes no allowance for the speakership of the House of Lords.
During the passage of the Constitutional Reform Bill, the Government’s original proposals, which were to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor, were modified, but the separation of the various powers that he had historically held went forward, so the judicial, executive and other functions were separated. The judicial functions were transferred to the Lord Chief Justice. The office of Lord Chancellor was retained only as a ministerial office—the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs under another name. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005, in section 18 and schedule 6, also made arrangements to separate the offices of Lord Chancellor and Speaker of the House of Lords, and any enactments that allocated functions to the Lord Chancellor that were clearly functions of the Speaker of the House of Lords were amended to refer to the Speaker, rather than to the Lord Chancellor.
In recognition of that, the Lords agreed on 12 July 2005 that they should make arrangements for electing their own Speaker, separate from the office of Lord Chancellor, and they set up a Select Committee to make recommendations for the detailed arrangements. Most of the recommendations were about matters internal to the House of Lords, such as the Speaker’s authority over the conduct of debate; they are not relevant to us in this House or to this order.
The Select Committee recommended, and the House of Lords agreed, that the Senior Salaries Review Body should be invited to make recommendations about the salary and pension of the Speaker of the House of Lords. The SSRB did that in March 2006, saying that it proposed provisional arrangements that it might revise in the light of evidence gathering during its next full review of parliamentary pay and allowances, or after any other reform of the House of Lords. It proposed an annual salary of £101,668, which is the same as that of a Cabinet Minister in the House of Lords. It said that the salary should be subject to annual uprating on 1 April. It proposed a pension in accordance with the normal pension scheme provisions for Ministers, MPs and the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. It did not include the Lords Speaker in the special arrangements that exist for the pensions of the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Their lordships approved that recommendation on 2 May, and this order gives effect to it. It does not create the new office of Lords Speaker; it is for the other place to do that through amendment of its Standing Orders. This order is made under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, using the powers in sections 19, 140(4)(b) and 143 to make transfers of functions and consequential and transitional provisions necessary for the proper implementation of the Act.
The order transfers three functions from the Lord Chancellor to the new Lords Speaker. The first is the power to recall the House of Lords to consider emergency orders made under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. That Act was not enacted when the Constitutional Reform Bill was published, and it was agreed that it would not be appropriate to amend the CRB to include it, which is why it is dealt with by this order.
The second function is that of being an ex officio Church Commissioner. The provision will ensurethat the Church Commissioners continue to have anex officio representative in the House of Lords. The Speaker of the House of Commons is also an ex officio Church Commissioner.
The third function is the power to nominate members to the Statutory Instruments Reference Committee. For those who are not familiar with the Committee, its main concern is with the proper arrangements for the printing, publication and numbering of statutory instruments.
Schedule 2 deals with the pension and salary arrangements for the Lords Speaker. Paragraph 1 will separate the pension of the Lord Chancellor from that of the Lords Speaker. Paragraph 3(2) has the same practical consequence in relation to the Speaker’s salary. Paragraph 3(3) will insert the Lord Speaker into the relevant provision of the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975—it will put this new office into the list. Some of the brighter or more alert members of the Committee will have noted that the figure in the salary provision is £103,701 and not £102,685 because the first upgrading has taken place before the office has been taken up, on 1 April. That is why there is that engaging distinction.
The Government think that it is entirely correct that the Lords Speaker should be paid by money provided by Parliament, which ultimately approves all public expenditure. It puts us in a slightly delicate position as this House, because of its financial privileges, effectively has a veto of the salary arrangements of the other House even though those arrangements might legitimately be regarded as internal matters for the other place. I urge the Committee to respect the autonomy of the other place and to approve the order to give effect to the policy that that House has decided that it wants to adopt of providing its own Speaker, something that this House has enjoyed since its earliest days.
2.37 pm
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): I do not propose to detain the Committee for long, but it is worth reflecting on the fact that the deliberations of the Committee might, in years to come, feature as a footnote in history.
As we have heard, since time immemorial the Lord Chancellor has presided from the Woolsack over the proceedings of the other place, a function that derives not from statute but from long prescription. With the making and implementation of the order, that historic role will cease. I am sure that all of us who have visited the other place from time to time to observe its proceedings have been impressed with the good order and general high levels of courtesy that prevail there. It is no secret that my party opposed the change in the role of the Lord Chancellor and has expressed some concern about what will replace it.
Lord Strathclyde observed in the debate on 12 July of last year:
“Many fear that once you elevate one Peer above the rest, however slightly, to decide on who may speak next, to enforce time limits, or to be—in that insidious phrase—the guardian of the Companion, that Peer will extend the amount of intervention. Before long, we will have appeals to the Chair, points of order, and more of the characteristics that disfigure the other place.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 July 2005; Vol. 673, c. 1004.]
Reading the transcript of the debates over the proposals that culminate in the order that will be made today, it is clear that peers from all parties are anxious that the principle of self-regulation should continue. The new Lords Speaker will, we hope, preside over the proceedings of the other place with a light touch. Much, of course, will depend on the character of the individual who is elected by their lordships to fulfil the role of the first Lords Speaker, as he or she will undoubtedly set a pattern for his or her successors.
As you know, Mr. Gale, the Conservative party has a high regard for the independent spirit traditionally displayed—sometimes to the embarrassment and annoyance of Governments of both political hues—by the other place. Therefore, although we regret the passing of the Lord Chancellor’s role as presiding officer, we fully recognise the important function that the new Lords Speaker will play in the maintenance of parliamentary democracy in this country, and we wish him or her well.
2.40 pm
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I support the order, and shall deal with two relevant points. First, and most controversial outside the House, is the salary and pension of the Lords Speaker. My noble Friend Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, and others, took the simple and straightforward view that the issue should be referred to the appropriate salaries review body. It was, and that body has made its recommendation on the salary and pension.
As I understand it, the proposal and uprating follows exactly the Senior Salaries Review Body recommendation. That seems the right way to proceed. If we are to have a body to advise on such things as ministerial, Cabinet, prime ministerial and MPs’ salaries, logically that job in respect of the Lords Speaker should be given to the SSRB. I make no issue about it; the body has given its advice on the basis of the new job specification resulting from the transfer of the Lord Chancellor’s functions to the new Lords Speaker when he or she takes up the post next month, and it appears entirely appropriate.
I gather that the race is hotly contested, with nine runners; I have not read the canvassing rules, but the candidates must produce a manifesto of 75 words, which would be a discipline for us all, especially political parties. However things turn out, the role will be important, and I guess it will evolve appropriately.
My party supported the division back into component parts and the legislation that created a supreme court, removed the political component from the senior judiciary and made sure that the Lord Chief Justice was appointed as the senior judge who would lead, as he now does. That legislation also separated the Cabinet job of being Minister with responsibility for justice from the speakership of the Lords. That was an odd historical anomaly that did not appear appropriate in a modern constitutional settlement, and we welcome that very last brick in the wall that makes the final separation.
As the Committee knows, the title of Lord Chancellor was retained as a compromise; several other old titles carry on in the modern Cabinet and other jobs and that compromise seems reasonable. I hope that, in due course, the last bit of the process—the name change—will happen and that there will be something called the ministry of justice or the department of justice, because it is important that people understand that it is a function of Government to deliver justice, and for Parliament to seek to support them in so doing.
My other substantive point was the anomaly that I had spotted and noticed and which was spotted by colleagues in the Lords when Baroness Amos introduced this order for debate. One of the three transferred functions, as the Minister rightly told us, is that of Church Commissioner. There was a debate, during which my noble Friend Lord Tordoff raised questions. My noble Friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno also raised questions about the appropriateness of whoever became Lords Speaker becoming one of the Church Commissioners for the Church of England.
I am aware that, historically, such roles depended on denomination or faith. Until recently, there were restrictions; for a long time, the Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and other office holders had to be Anglicans. They could certainly not be Roman Catholics. Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, I think, was the first Roman Catholic holder of his post, and rules had to be changed to accommodate that. Clearly, nobody should be precluded by denomination, faith or lack of it from being Speaker in the House of Lords.
The position is a matter of election, in which every candidate should be entitled to take part. However, I should flag up that although it is not an appropriate subject for this Committee, the role of the Church Commissioners needs to be modernised. For as long as the Church of England is the state Church in England there will be a link with Parliament. I believe in disestablishment and I will continue to argue for that, but I accept that there will be a link.
I am not sure that the appropriate format for the Church Commissioners is to have lots of people,ex officio, who may not have a particular interest, expertise or the time to do the job. The Prime Minister is, ex officio, a Church Commissioner. There is a list of them such as the Lord President of the Council, the Home Secretary and the Speaker of the House of Commons. Rather bizarrely, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is also one. That is not a personal slight on the Secretary of State, but I was surprised to see her name on the list. Then there are the more obvious candidates such as the archbishops of York and Canterbury. I think that it is time that there were an appropriate group of people. Yes there is seniority and I understand that there may be a good argument for having someone in the Lords and somebody in the Commons to provide the link for as long as there is an established Church.
If the link between the two Houses of Parliament and the Church of England is to continue, it needs to be used. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and I had a battle the other day with the Church Commissioners over the sale of some of their properties just the other side of the river. It concerned some social housing, the legacy of Octavia Hill, which the Church of England assets committee sold to the highest bidder against the wishes of all the occupants. There is a political element sometimes to the activities of the Church of England. We should not forget that.
2.48 pm
Vera Baird: I am grateful to both hon. Gentlemen for their support for the order. I shall deal with some of the points about the Church Commissioners. I do not want to stray too far, but the main complaint in the Lords was that the decision to include the transfer of the Church Commissioners’ role from Lord Chancellor to Lords Speaker was quite late in the day. It was, however, done at the request of the Anglican Church, which perceived, perhaps at the last minute, that under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 the Lord Chancellor could be in the Commons from now on and so there would not be an ex officio Church Commissioner in the Lords. That is not to be wished.
Just to complete the picture, the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) mentioned that the Home Secretary is currently a Church Commissioner. He has been persuaded to give that up because it is still necessary for the Lord Chancellor to be one because he has the responsibility for Church-state relations. Consequently, as this transfer of functions order is about giving jobs to the new Speaker, the Lord Chancellor’s role goes across, and it will no doubt be my tedious job to move the Home Secretary’s role as a Church Commissioner across to the Lord Chancellor in due course. One can see the mischief that the Church of England wanted to patch up quickly, namely that there would be noex officio Church Commissioner in the Lords. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is probably involved because of the heritage buildings and nothing more than that.
I am grateful for the Committee’s support. I know that the Conservative party opposed, which I thought bizarre, the logical split between Cabinet Minister on the one hand and Speaker in the Lords. How we have managed to let history take us so far and not split those two functions until today I do not know. What will replace it is exactly the Lords Speaker and, although the Conservatives were not in favour of this change, I see that they have got some nominees and no doubt they will tell their man to use a light touch when he is elected, if he is.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Lord Chancellor (Transfer of Functions and Supplementary Provisions) (No. 3) Order 2006.
Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Three o’clock.

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