|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Richard: Perhaps I may finish this sentence and then I shall of course give way. The noble Lord having risen, perhaps I should say that the name and the Great Seal will be left. I had forgotten the Great Seal.
Lord Richard: I am very much attached to the State Opening of Parliament. I enjoy it; it is colourful. It gives great fun and enjoyment to all those concerned. However, it does not have to be the Lord Chancellor who goes down on his knee and hands up the Queen's Speech. I am sure that anyone who sits on the Woolsack at any given moment could do that. Indeed, even perhaps one of the other Ministers in the House
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1178
of Lords could do that. I do not think that the nature of the ceremony of the opening of Parliament is a justification, one way or another, for retaining the Lord Chancellor.
Lord Kingsland: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. In order that there should be no misunderstanding, when I introduced the amendment I made it absolutely clear that we accept the new architecture of the Bill. The issue is not whether the Lord Chancellor should or should not remain in status quo; the issue is whether in the new architecture of the Bill, the Lord Chancellor should fulfil the function of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. To say other is to misrepresent our position.
Lord Richard: It is not your position; there is not one position on the matter. That is the unreality of the debate. Everyone is saying they want to retain the Lord Chancellor, but there are different versions of the kind of Lord Chancellor they want to retain. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is clear and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is clearbut the two certainly do not agree. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, if he was in his place, would not agree.
Before people attack the Bill in a slightly virulent way, it is incumbent upon the Opposition to say what kind of Lord Chancellor they want. I have heard it from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and, with respect, I do not need to hear it again. I heard it in Committee; I have heard it twice today; I understand it.
Perhaps I may now briefly finish what I was going to say. The only argument that seems to me to be left for some individual called the Lord Chancellor is that he should be a kind of constitutional nanny in the Cabinet, where he could pass on to the rest of the Cabinet and the Government his preoccupations about whether the Government are doing something which interferes with the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. History does not lead us to believe that the function of many Lord Chancellors in the past has been in that direction. As I said earlier, too often it has been in the other direction.
If the post goes and there is very little left of it except the name and shell, should we keep the name? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, was quoted earlier and perhaps I may be allowed to quote him. He was very firm that continued use of the title would create confusion. He said:
"because of an accumulation of events, including the fact that the role of the Government Minister envisaged in the Concordat is very different from the historic role of the Lord Chancellor, I have real reservations as to whether it is possible to retain the title".
Viscount Bledisloe: I detect that the feeling of the House is reaching the stage of wishing to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and then bringing the matter to a conclusion. But perhaps, as
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1179
someone whose name is attached to the amendments, I may be allowed to postpone that for onebut only onespeech further.
The first thing I was going to say has just been said in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. After hearing the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Brennan, Lord Carter and Lord Richard, and the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, to the right reverend Prelate, one would have thought that none of them had heard the various concessions and points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, at the beginning as to what these amendments do not seek to change. It is no good noble Lords on the Government Benches knocking down cock-shies that do not exist.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that there are various models of Lord Chancellor that might be kept. That may be so, but the model we are debating is the one contained in these amendmentsand it is quite clear what that model does and does not seek to do. Under the government proposals in the Bill, there is a substantial role for a Government Minister. Obviously that is right; there has to be a considerable ministerial involvement in processes such as being responsible for the courts and judicial resources and the administration of those services; being responsible for setting up the Judicial Appointments Commission and recommending judicial appointments on its selection; and for implementing the concordat.
Various people have spoken about the concordat but have forgottenor perhaps some have not read every word of Schedule 1 and so have not knownwhat it actually involves. The concordat involves an enormous number of decisions, made either by the Lord Chief Justice in concurrence with the Minister, or by the Minister in concurrence with the Lord Chief Justice, or by one having consulted the other. There is a very large ministerial role. The question is: who is to perform it?
The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, quite rightly said that under the Bill the Lord Chief Justice is to represent the views of the judges. But the noble Lord seems to have forgotten that under the Bill also the Lord Chief Justice will be deprived of his voice in this place and will not be able to comment in advance, or speak in Cabinet or to Ministers, about proposals that have not yet emerged. We all know that the word that gets out early and prevents someone announcing a detrimental course of action is infinitely more influential; it is easier than trying to turn someone from a policy that they have announced.
Under Clause 1, the Minister will have a special responsibility for guarding judicial independence and the rule of law. That is a role which inherently involves tension. There is inevitably and rightly a conflict between the demands of order and efficiency and the demands of justice and the rule of law. Those whose duty it is to protect the latterthe demands of justice and the rule of lawmust be willing and able to stand up for their cause notwithstanding that inherent tension.
The Government say that one of the purposes of their proposals is to remove that inherent tension. If that is what the effect of the Bill will be, then the
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1180
defence of constitutional propriety will have gone by the board. If the tension is not there, the role is not being fulfilled.
The question before the House is not one of name or how you preserve the Lord Chancellor. We do not start from the premise, "Oh, we must have a Lord Chancellor doing something; now let's find him something to do", as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, seems to think. We are sayingto use the words of the right reverend Prelatethat there are functions under this Bill; what kind of person do you want to discharge them?
The Government say that we are to have an ordinary, run-of-the-mill House of Commons politician in the middle of his career looking for promotion, with no particular knowledge of the law and its workings, hoping to keep the Prime Minister's good will and get promotion and move upwards, sideways or perhaps, if he is difficult, outwards, in a very short time.
Contrariwise, we say that there should be somebody in the traditional mould of a Lord Chancellor who has served the British constitution in an evolving way for many centuries. It should be a senior lawyer in this House, bound by an oath to the duties imposed on him by Clause 1. It should be somebodyand this is the key perhapsat the ceiling of his career, who has nothing to hope for by way of promotion and who therefore is in a strongerI only say strongerposition.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that it is surprising that we are seeking to encapsulate that in the statute. It has been the practice and convention for centuries. The only reason why it has to be encapsulated in statute now is because the Government have sought to tear up that convention.
The advantages of having such a person are that he is in a much betterI only say betterposition to fulfil the vital role of protecting the rule of law and judicial independence. What is fascinating is that that is a view expressed by the House of Commons constitutional committee. Surely, therefore, it is not very surprising if your Lordships' House takes the same view. Such a person is more likely to see the rule-of-law implications, and is in a better position to insist on them.
Of course that person can be sacked. Any Minister can be sacked. But that is a very drastic tack for a Prime Minister to take. Everyone will be aware that he has been sacked, and he will be around to make his displeasure or his reasons for dissenting known, whereas an ordinary Minister can be moved with no trouble without ruffling the waters. He can be "promoted" or moved sideways. Nobody will know that that is because he was putting his foot down or seeking to say, "Oi, look, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are offended by your proposal".
We are not saying that a Lord Chancellor will always succeed in standing up for the rule of law sufficiently strongly, or that he will succeed. No mechanism in a constitutioncertainly no mechanism
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1181
depending on a personwill always be successful. But we are saying that on average he will be more likely to be successful in that role than a run-of-the-mill politician hoping for promotion. It does not avail us for the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to tell us how wonderfully Lord Jenkins no doubt would have done that job, or for the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, to tell us how wonderfully the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, would have done that job. Of course there are always exceptions. But what we are looking for is what in general will be better. I would suggest that there is no doubt that that is somebody in the mould and with the qualifications of a judicial Lord Chancellor.
I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester that it is totally defeatist to suggest that, because the Government have sought to smash the mould, that mould is irretrievable. There have always been bad holders of particular offices, or periods when offices did not do particularly well, but that does not mean that those offices were ruined. That is no more the case now.
There is one other point which I do not think has been made. If there is a person with the qualifications of a Lord Chancellor, it will be infinitely easier for the partnership between the Lord Chief Justice and the Government to function properly, and for them to handle judiciary-related matters. There are hundreds of different matters in Schedule 1 alone. If there is a new Minister from outside with no relevant background, and the Lord Chief Justice has to get his concurrence or consult him or vice versa on myriad issues, the Lord Chief Justicepoor manwill spend the first six months of that man's time in office teaching him the basics of what is going on. He will have to explain to him who the difficult personalities are, and explain the problems. Just when they are beginning to talk the same language, he will be moved on to another department, whereas Lord Chancellors have on the whole been relatively permanent, certainly by the relevant standards.
That raises a very important point on which the noble and learned Lords, Lord Bingham and Lord Mackay, expressed great concern. It is on whether, if under the Bill an enormous amount of administrative work is loaded on to the Lord Chief Justice, top lawyers and the best judges will want to take that role if they have those administrative burdens made infinitely more difficult by having to deal with a series of new Ministers coming in and having to be taught.
It is said that one does not have a doctor as Minister of Health, or a soldier as Minister of Defence, so why does one need a special qualification for this role? The answer is another question: is the administration of justice simply a department of government, or is it a separate and vital strand of our constitution? As the very distinguished working party chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, and including Members from all parts of the House, made absolutely plain, the administration of justice is different and therefore cannot be equated with the Minister of Health.
13 Jul 2004 : Column 1182
I sought to explain why there are enormous advantages to the course proposed by the amendment. Are there any disadvantages? I can see only one, but I fear that it will weigh with the Government's Front Bench very strongly. It is that the proposed amendment is not the scheme devised by the Prime Minister on the back of an envelope after long minutes of thought, research and consultation during the afternoon of 12 June.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|