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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, may have thought he was being helpful, but he has inadvertently put his finger on precisely what is the problem with this whole debate: we have not yet had a proper debate about the Government's announcement. We have had two Statements in which Back-Benchers were limited to only 20 minutes. This is the first opportunity that anyone has had to say anything outside the normal time limits. It is entirely appropriate for noble Lords on all sides of the House to wish to offer advice to the Select Committee when it is set up.
Having said that, when we debated this issue last week, I said that I greatly welcomed the decision by the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council that there would be a Select Committee to debate this issue. That is infinitely preferable to setting up either a Leader's Group or a sub-committee of the Procedure Committee. That is the reason why we now have this Motion before us.
It is also a sign of the real concerns which many Members of this House have about the future role of the Speaker that so many have chosen to speak today, with perhaps even more to follow, and that two amendments have been tabled by my noble friend Lord Elton. I hope very much that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House will be able to give some comfort to my noble friend so that he will not need to press those amendments.
On the question of reporting back, I thought that my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon made a most important point. The Select Committee will be unable to come to a conclusion about all these matters until it has seen a full list of the duties and responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor. One cannot decide what the future role of the Speaker is unless one knows what the Speaker is supposed to do and what the Government intend to do with all the remaining roles of the Lord Chancellor. I therefore hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to tell us when that list will be available and whether or not, when the Lord Chancellor comes to make his statements on the
Perhaps the noble and learned Lord can also confirm that much of this problem could have been solved if the Government had come forward right at the very beginning with a fully thought-through White Paper that could have been debated before being sent to a Select Committee.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we have made clear from these Benches that we are entirely in favour of the principle of the changes which the Government are proposing to make; indeed, we suggest they do not go far enough in respect of the creation of a ministry of justice. At the same time, however, we have also made clear that we are deeply unhappy with the way in which the changes have been introduced. I therefore have some understanding of why the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has chosen to table his amendments and why they have received support from Members of the House.
Of those in favour of the amendments, the speech I found the most impressive, not unexpectedly, was that of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon. I think he makes the entirely legitimate point that these reforms should include consideration of whether someone who is a Member of your Lordships' House is given a special responsibility to act as guardian of the independence of the judiciary. That matter certainly needs to be considered at some stage. However, I do not think that it needs to be considered as part of the responsibilities of this Select Committee. It seems to me that even if it is appropriate, as it may well be, to create the role of guardian of the judiciary, there is absolutely no reason why the person performing that role should also be required to preside for half an hour a day over the sittings of your Lordships' House.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, that is entirely different. The Lord Chancellor has undoubtedly acted, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, said, in an outstanding role as the protector of the independence of the judiciary. However, I think that his role as Speaker of your Lordships' House is one that scarcely taxed his abilities. Indeed, I suspect that he may himself have regarded it as not the most important of his functions. I therefore believe that that is an issue for another time.
On the first amendment, I understand that it is plainly desirable that the Cabinet should understand the workings of the House of Lords. It is of course true that many Ministers are Members of the House of Lords and will continue to be Ministers. I should also point out, first, as is already recognised, that the Government cannot bind any future government with any undertakings they give on this occasion. Secondly, it is also fair to point out that the role of Lord Chancellor has not always been a strongly political one. While some holders of that office such as the late Lord Hailsham had been very distinguished politicians with a previous history of sitting in the Cabinet in other posts, others such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, have come with very little political experience and are widely believed to have played very little part in Cabinet outside matters of direct concern to their own department. So I do not think that what is proposed here will necessarily lead to a result that has not already happened.
On the second amendment, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who made a very clear and very sensible speech. This proposal is, I think, necessarily implicit in the role of the Select Committee. I assume that it is not beyond the capacity of the Lord Chancellor's Department, as it wasor DCAFF, as I suppose we are now to call itto produce a list of those functions in time for the first or at any rate the second sitting of the Select Committee.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, in a speech that was wholly in order and totally to the point, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out how intricately intertwined are all the various proposals that stem from the Government's desire to revise the various roles of the Lord Chancellor. I must confess that I fail to understand the urgency of changing the Speakership of the House which renders it necessary to come first. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is too busy to attend the House as regularly as his predecessor, no doubt leave of absence can more readily be given. However, to take that aspect on its own and sort it out without knowing where the Government are going on any of the other points is madness.
I accept that some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other noble Lords relate to other functions of the Lord Chancellor. Until we know what the Government propose to do about those functions, we cannot know how they should be intertwined with the function not merely of sitting on the Woolsack, but of the representation of this House and so forth.
It is highly desirable that the Select Committee should not proceed too speedily. Not only should it wait until we have a list of the various things that the Lord Chancellor does; we should also have some idea of what the Government intend to do about those
I venture to suggest that the matter might not be as urgent as is suggested. Although the Motion in the name of the Lord President requires that the committee shall report at the end of the Session, it in no way has to be a final report. If the committee considers that it needs to investigate and know about the other functions, it can produce an interim report. The substance of the matter must be that we should not decide on the Speakership on its own until we know where the Government are going on the Lord Chancellor's other functions.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, when one rises in your Lordships' House, it is not unusual to say, "I shall be brief", only for the opposite to happen, but I shall be. I want to reinforce the points made by the noble and gallant Lord the Convenor of the Cross Benches and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth.
We are talking about the role of the Speakership of the House. The present Speaker of the House is the Lord Chancellor, and I cannot conceive how we can talk about that role until we know what are the other roles of the Lord Chancellor in this context.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be rather pleased that I intend to focus wholly on the proposal in front of us. However, I did detect what seemed to me a rather ugly undertone in remarks made by some noble Lords suggesting that they would have liked a Speaker on the Woolsack who would have prevented this debate taking place.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I do not like the use of the word ugly, but being acerbic myself I never mind about the language. However, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, should not be in any doubt: I would like to have a Speaker who asks noble Lords to speak to the subject before us. That seems entirely reasonable.
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