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Lord Alexander of Weedon: My Lords, in that case I shall try to speak very briefly and mainly to the point, even in the high view of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Let me make one point that I know will appeal—because I know him well—to the noble and learned Lord the Lord President. The most concerning point arising out of these proposed reforms—which I am sure all noble Lords will agree we should consider extremely carefully—is how we will preserve the independence of the judiciary. In the past that has been done—and done magnificently—by successive Lords Chancellor of each political party. No one has done that better, as I know from talks with the senior judiciary, than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg.

That will continue to be the position until we know what will be the form of any proposed independent commission on the judiciary and, crucially, which Minister will be responsible for appointing judges on the recommendation of the commission and what the criteria will be for the appointment both of the

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commission and the judiciary. Until that time, the Lord Chancellor carries that same responsibility. It is at least possible that some will, in time, want to explore whether a Lord Chancellor, who may not and probably should not be a Minister in the Cabinet, should still carry that responsibility.

The Lord President has spoken about reforming the role of the Lord Chancellor. We do not know what that reformed role will be. We know that his present role is complex and will have to be examined carefully before we know what the reformed role should be. I suggest to all colleagues in the House that on this crucial topic, we should not decide whether the Lord Chancellor should cease to be our Speaker until we know what responsibility he may continue to carry in the future for the independence of the judiciary and how that fits with his objective participation in the affairs of this House. That is why I passionately support the second amendment raised by my noble friend Lord Elton.

11.30 a.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I pay tribute to the Lord President. He has inherited a situation that he did not create which has been quite uniquely criticised by three former Cabinet Secretaries as a disgraceful example of public administration. He has been very open to listening to views of Members of your Lordships' House and now presents a Motion which is the outcome of some of the representations made to him.

I do not know what attitude the noble and learned Lord proposes to take to the amendments to his Motion, but I urge him, in the spirit in which he has launched on the recovery programme to try to get this back on a sensible basis, to look at them very sympathetically. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the amendment does not actually ask the Government to come up with an answer for the Select Committee about how many members of the Cabinet shall sit in your Lordships' House. It suggests that the committee should be able to consider any representations that the Government may wish to make, although they may not make any. The committee may be able to make some helpful suggestions on this point.

I have a personal memory of this, because my own arrival in the Cabinet was postponed. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, had it in mind to appoint me to a certain post in the Cabinet, at which moment those Members of your Lordships' House then present on the Government Benches deputed to the Prime Minister and said it was outrageous that their Lordships were under-represented, and I was invited to stand down while the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, was promoted to that position. It was felt strongly at that time—and I therefore had to accept that it must have been a wise decision taken by a very intelligent Prime Minister—that your Lordships' House should be properly represented.

Having sat in the Cabinet, as I did for a number of years, and having come to your Lordships' House, I entirely accept the point which I think even the noble and

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learned Lord the Lord President has admitted at times—that there is a fairly stupefying ignorance in the Commons and among many Cabinet Ministers about the procedures, performance and significance of your Lordships' House. I certainly think that if there was any suggestion that the representation from this House should ever be reduced to one, that would make the position of the occupant of the post of Lord President—the Leader of the House—extremely difficult.

This is the most gentle of amendments which refers to considering any representations that might be made. It is a serious point, and I should have thought a listening government would be quite happy to hear the views of the committee. Those views will not be binding—the only suggestion the committee has to make is how that particular problem could be addressed.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I speak in support of my noble friend Lord Dubs. I had regarded myself as very open-minded on the Speakership until I heard the speeches from noble Lords opposite. I echo entirely the views of my noble friend. I am amazed that the two amendments are in order, but if the Clerks have allowed them to be put down, they must be. However, the speeches have not, in my judgment, been remotely in order. I entirely agree with my noble friend that if we had anybody resembling a Speaker, he or she would have been on their feet long before now, merely asking noble Lords to speak about the subject before them and not decide to have a major debate on a government policy which we are in no position yet to debate. I have no intention of responding to or criticising any of the speeches because that would be to add to the possibility that they were remotely within the scope of what we should be debating.

Secondly, I regard this as simply a delaying tactic to prevent the committee doing the quite minor technical job—

Noble Lords: Oh.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I notice the shaking of heads, but we have been asked to consider matters such as the independence of the judiciary, the composition of the Cabinet—I have a list of all the topics that have been raised. This is not a debate about those subjects. I would be very interested to have a debate on the Government's policy when they are ready to bring it before us, and many of us will take part. But this is about the setting up of a fairly simple committee. The one good bit about this is the recognition that we have an enormous number of Cross-Benchers and that, for once, there will be three on the committee instead of two. That is the only plus that I can see in the contributions.

Can we, for once, talk about what is before us? I think the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that the system works perfectly well. I do not know where he has been for the past two or three years, but the system is working badly and is getting worse. We are breaking all our rules of self-government and self-regulation, and we have been doing it for far too long. That is one

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of the reasons why we are considering these matters. Would noble Lords be good enough to talk about the subject before us, for once, and not use this occasion as a basis for talking about everything else under the sun that concerns them. I certainly think we should reject both of the amendments on the grounds that they are not helpful in any way whatever with regard to our making some progress. When the time comes, we might well get around to debating the substantive issue when, eventually, the Government put forward their proposals and we can look at them in detail.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I am sure that many of your Lordships will, in spite of your reservations, want to wish the work and outcome of this committee well. I am grateful that the House is proceeding along the proper course. That will go some way towards reassuring those inside this House, in another place and in the country generally about the somewhat amateurish way—if I may put it so—that the announcement was made about the Lord Chancellorship at the time of the reshuffle. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Lord President on the way in which he has handled the matter since then.

There are wide-ranging constitutional and symbolic implications in the proposal to abolish the Lord Chancellorship. I do not naturally think, a la "Yes, Prime Minister", that nothing must ever be done for the first time. I hope all these issues have a full and proper airing in the deliberations of the Select Committee, and I am sure they will.

I sense a certain amount of resurgent frustration being expressed in this debate which goes back to the way in which things were handled originally. We are, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has said, beginning to have a debate prematurely. This is a matter of process, and I think the process should be allowed to go forward.

With regard to the amendments, I follow the view of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, that the first has some sense to it. However, I think that it would tie the hands of the Select Committee unduly and would not predispose it in any particular direction. My verdict, using my Scottish blood, is "not proven", which is a nice dodge in Scottish law.

The second amendment is implicit in any committee's work in looking at the future of the Lord Chancellorship. It will be recalled that when the Joint Committee was set up last year to take further the reform of your Lordships' House, my friend and colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, spoke for these Benches in voicing our disappointment that there was no Bishop on it. If I may say so, that resentment still stands. On this Select Committee, however, these Benches are content to register our support for what is before us in principle without predisposing either what the Select Committee comes up with or indeed the proper debate that needs to take place at a future date, with the hope that we may be able to offer assistance in the usual way to the work of that committee.

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The assistance would be in two areas, the first of which would obviously be the ecclesiastical implications. I am interested to hear this gathering list of the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities, which includes patronage of 500 livings and 12 canonries—over which I doubt many noble Lords will want to lose much sleep. However, the list is quite long. I am guessing that the work of this committee will be quite onerous as the list will grow ever longer and all these issues will need to be examined, not in this debate but in the work of the committee. There are also wider implications to do with the constitution of this country. It is in that area that I hope that all Members of your Lordships' House will find ways of feeding their views into the committee's work.

I wish the Select Committee well. It feels a little like handling on the floor of a General Synod a motion about the future of the world. However, I hope that the committee comes up with some good proposals which we can then debate in the proper way.

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