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In the light of that, does he not have regard to paragraph 87 of Questions of Procedure for Ministers, a copy of which was placed by the Prime Minister in the Library of the House? It indicates that Ministers making speeches outside their own departmental responsibilities must consult the Minister who is directly responsible. Did the Minister without Portfolio consult the noble and learned Lord before making that speech? Many of us will be interested in his reply.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is possible for people to make a speech without enunciating a policy. I believe that is what my right honourable friend did on this occasion. It is not my practice to disclose consultations between myself and other Members of the Government.
Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, while I endorse every word that fell from my noble and learned friend, could he perhaps tactfully suggest to the right honourable gentleman concerned that his suggestion will not be universally approved or welcomed by members of the judiciary?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it depends on whether the expression is one of praise or dissatisfaction. Not long ago, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, kindly passed on to me his observation of a particular case, saying how well the judge had performed. I was extremely happy to pass his comments on to the judge, and I am sure the judge appreciated them. I am sure that judges, like all others, are very glad to receive appreciations and praise from others. On occasion, I welcome hearing such myself.
Was he not whipping up write-ins to bring pressure to bear on judges to give tougher sentences, when it is the judges who know all the facts of a particular case and the history of a particular offender? What does the noble and learned Lord advise judges or magistrates to do if, as a result of the exhortations of Dr. Mawhinney, they receive a mail bag attacking a particular sentence as too soft? Does he advise judges to reply with a justification for their decisions or to cause offence by ignoring the letters?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I occasionally receive letters about judicial sentences. My method of dealing with them depends to a good extent on the tone of the letter. Sometimes it appears that the writer is in ignorance of some important fact, often as a result of a rather shortened account of the circumstances in the newspaper. I then write back explaining that position. If, on the other hand, the letter is in the nature of abuse, which sometimes descends on all people holding public office, the appropriate response might be a rather cool acknowledgement.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I had intended to answer the noble Lord's question by stating what I myself do. I believe that those who hold Her Majesty's commission as judges are well able to decide how to handle their correspondence. I suggested the sort of approach that I take, which might well commend itself to judges who receive some correspondence.
So far as I am concerned, the number of such letters is not very large. Everyone has to realise just what a lonely and responsible job passing sentence is. It is not a light matter. Therefore, the latter part of Dr. Mawhinney's advice should be well taken into account before anyone thinks of writing; namely, they should recollect that the judge has heard all the evidence in the case. If they wish to make observations, they should keep that very firmly in mind. I am sure that Dr. Mawhinney would not support the idea of abusive letters, whether they come in an avalanche or otherwise.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend agree that it would be sensible for us all to bear in mind the impact that the powerful air of Blackpool is notorious for having on the balance of certain people's minds?
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord say whether "judges" in this context includes magistrates? Will he agree that if the public started writing letters to unpaid magistrates, there could be a real difficulty?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the speech included not only professional judges but also lay judges; that is to say, magistrates. I take it that correspondence addressed to magistrates would be handled on their behalf by court officials. That would be the appropriate way in which a response might be put forward on their behalf. But again, the principles would be the same as I enunciated earlier.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord agree that Parliament has laid down very stringent restrictions on the imposition of imprisonment? They are to be found in Section 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, as amended by the Act of 1993. In short, they provide that,
Does the noble and learned Lord agree that for observations such as were made by the Minister to go out to the public can only tend to confuse and mislead, the public not knowing of the restrictions that Parliament has imposed?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I do not think that Dr. Mawhinney's speech went into the same level of detail as that in my noble and learned friend's question. It may very well be that, at least in some of the instances, the factors to which my noble and learned friend referred should be taken into account. As I said before, the business of passing sentence is not by any means to be taken lightly. It is full of restrictions, if one cares to look at it in that way. Maxima are usually prescribed; and indeed in cases of driving, minima may also be prescribed in relation to suspension and endorsement. These are complicated matters. I do not believe that my right honourable friend intended to go into that level of detail in his remarks in Blackpool.
The Motion refers to two reports from the Procedure Committee, both concerned with only one subject, the declaration and registration of interests. The first of the two reports is the committee's third report, which includes an annex containing the report made to the committee by a sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths.
I do not propose to attempt to speak about the content of the report of the sub-committee, especially as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, is to speak next. Instead I will confine myself mainly to a few remarks which it is perhaps more appropriate for me to make as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. Indeed, your Lordships will no doubt think that it is in fact my duty to put forward the feelings and proposals of the committee.
First, I must say that the Procedure Committee was immensely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the members of his sub-committee. The subject matter of their inquiry was a difficult one and they must be congratulated on having produced such an admirable and thorough report. Indeed, when the Procedure Committee considered what recommendation to make to the House in relation to the report, the whole committee agreed to welcome the report and to suggest that the House should adopt its recommendations.
The Procedure Committee's conclusions in relation to the sub-committee's report appear in the committee's fifth report, which is the second of the two reports referred to in my Motion. That report includes in an annex the text of a note by the Clerk of the Parliaments indicating how the sub-committee's recommendations might be implemented, in particular those recommendations concerned with the institution of a register.
Your Lordships will be aware that the Committee on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, is proposing to consider matters relating to this House in the near future. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, has indicated that it would not cause his committee any difficulty if the House were to accept the recommendations of the sub-committee in whole or in part in advance of that consideration.
The Procedure Committee accordingly concluded that, if there were general support in the House, it would be right for the recommendations to be implemented without delay. One particular advantage of that approach would be that the House would have experience of the operation of the new arrangements when considering any proposals which might be made by the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. It would also show, as one would expect, how very seriously the sub-committee and indeed the House itself have taken the whole matter, in some respects choosing to go further than the first report of the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan.
If it becomes clear as a result of this afternoon's debate that it is the general wish of the House to proceed with the implementation of the sub-committee's recommendations, then the House will be invited either in the remaining days of this Session or very early in the new Session to agree to the necessary order or orders. That would enable us all to reflect upon what has been said in this debate and to take into account points that noble Lords will have made.
There are just one or two other observations of a more general nature that I should like to make. They are points which are perhaps rather more for the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, the leaders of the other parties and the Convener of the Cross-Bench Peers than for me as the Chairman of Committees. I make them simply as a Member of your Lordships' House rather than in any other capacity. I offer them simply as personal views. I take full responsibility for them and they have no greater authority than that.
I am conscious, as no doubt we all are, that not all Members of your Lordships' House approach these proposals with enthusiasm, even though some at least of those Members are prepared to go along with themalbeit with a measure of reluctance. If adopted, they will amount to a departure of some significance from our previous procedures. There is also the perfectly valid point that your Lordships have been forthcoming in declaring interests where appropriate in accordance with our existing practice.
However, we are all of us, I am sure, conscious of at least two points that have been mentioned in the course of our consideration of these matters. One is that among people generally there is a greater expectation these days that there will be more disclosure rather than less; and that it would be wrong not to take account of public opinion. The other is that the public perception of Parliament is such that some people find it hard to distinguish between the two Houses or to understand why there should be different rules. But I submit that it has to be borne firmly in mind that there are, of course, clear differences between your Lordships' House and another place, most notably perhaps in its composition and the fact that this is, in substance, a voluntary Chamber. There are other obvious differences as well.
I hope very much that, if your Lordships decide in due course to adopt these proposals, Members of your Lordships' House who are not enthusiastic about them but are prepared to go along with them will not feel inhibited from taking part in our proceedings in the future. I have long felt that one of the great strengths of this place is that Members have outside interests and we are able to draw upon the extensive expertise of so many Members, with wide experience of so many matters outside the House. It is of great benefit to the House and therefore to the nation that such knowledge is made available. It would be a great loss if we (the House and the nation) were to be deprived of the service performed by those Members. So, as just one Member of your Lordships' House, I hope very much indeed that those Members will not feel inhibited from continuing to take part and will keep giving us the benefit of their wisdom, guidance and knowledge gained from their outside interests.
Moved, That this House takes note of the Third and Fifth Reports from the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House and of the recommendations of the Sub-Committee on Declaration and Registration of Interests (HL Papers 90 and 98).(The Chairman of Committees.)
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