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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, as a non-legal person perhaps I may join the debate. One of the fascinations of any debate on anything to do with the law is that we get a number of noble Lords and noble and learned Lords taking part and going over everything with a fine toothcomb. I would not venture to enter into the intellectual heat that is generated by noble and learned Lords or noble Lords who are knowledgeable of the law.

I shall look at the matter from a slightly different position. We have heard much about the independence of the judiciary and the protection of the law. On 7 December, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said:

On the same date, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said:

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I am bound to say that I find that argument hard to follow. If the future is going to be better than the past, the inference is that the past was poor, unstraight or somehow inadequate. I do not find that at all an attractive proposition. I have always thought—I think that every noble Lord has always said—that the British system of justice is the best in the world.

People come from other countries to see what we do and how we do it. They marvel at it. Yet we dismantle it on some pretext of improving it. Of course, anything can be improved, but does one really have to get hold of the Law Lords, unseat them like forking cabbages out of a garden, knock all the soil off and then plant them in a different place of residence? That is not necessary.

If we do that, will the people of the country exclaim with excitement, "Ah, now we have a Supreme Court just like all the other emerging countries in the world. Now our law will be safer, less corrupt, more transparent"—whatever that may mean, but one has to use it on every occasion nowadays—"and it will give better judgments"? With the greatest of respect to your Lordships, if one believes that, one will believe anything.

In my modest view, the people of this country, in so far as they take any interest at all in these things, will say that it is a complete waste of money, it is an increase in bureaucracy and that we will have lost that which we have always respected; namely, the judgment of the House of Lords.

The new body will have to earn its respect. We should not be under the misapprehension that the respect in which the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House is held will automatically transfer to the new body that government speak might love to call "a seamless legal transfer"

Apart from my overall dislike of the prospect, I have two fundamental concerns. My first concern is the further disfigurement of the membership of your Lordships' House. It was only a few years ago that the great rage was to get rid of hereditary Peers. That occupied your Lordships' and everyone else's minds perpetually ad nauseam. It was decided to get rid of all of the hereditary Peers. Then the Government decided that the House of Lords could not do without them so they had 100 of them back. I am bound to just mention in passing that we are the only Members of this House who are elected.

Not satisfied with that, the Government turned around and said, "Now we want to get rid of the Lord Chancellor". It was only due to the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, last week that that was put on the back burner temporarily. Now the Government say, "We want to get rid of the Law Lords; get rid of them altogether".
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What will be left? Just before answering that question, I should warn the right reverend Prelates—at least there is one here. I remember a quotation from the book with which he is familiar. It is something that he will probably remember better than I:

The right reverend Prelates will be the next to go. The Government, given half an opportunity, will change their numbers from 26 to 15.

Who will be left? It will be only—with the greatest of respect I say "only"—our dear friends the life Peers. And they will be the next to go. Make no mistake about it. There will be alterations and that will happen.

I want to know why the Government are doing that to your Lordships' House. Why are they ruining the second Chamber of Parliament? Why are they denuding Parliament from the benefits and wisdom of the Law Lords? Why do they continue like vultures to pick at the carcass of your Lordships' House in order to try to consume anything that they can? Everyone knows—it is constantly repeated—that there is no other Chamber in the world with such knowledge and wealth of experience as your Lordships' House. Much of that comes from the noble and learned Lords, the Law Lords, as well as others. I find it extraordinary that this House should be denied that expertise and rendered bereft of it.

People talk about the separation of powers, but no one has ever suggested that Law Lords, in the operation of their work, have used their seats in this House in making their judgments, or that their experience here is such that, when they do make contributions, they do so with the knowledge they have gained over the years in dealing with the law, with criminals, and doing what they do.

My second concern is what the court will cost. On 8 March last, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said:

One noble Lord was "staggered" by them. The noble and learned Lord went on to say of the new court:

I gave the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor notice that I would ask this question: how do the Government justify increasing the cost of servicing the Law Lords from £168,000 to £8.7 million? Those might be called Mickey Mouse figures. I do not understand how they can contemplate that kind of expenditure when, in another breath, they want to get rid of the band of the Coldstream Guards because they cannot afford it. I should declare an
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interest since I did march to the happy tune of the band of the Coldstream Guards, and that made me a better person than I would otherwise have been.

Sometimes I think that we really have gone mad. What will we get for all this extra expenditure? My noble friend Lord Waddington asked whether we will get better judgments, better lawyers, or different lawyers? Will we get quicker processing of waiting lists?

I had not realised, when I wrote to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor asking him to explain this, that his explanation would be made this morning in a Written Ministerial Statement. I felt a momentary excitement because I thought that I had made an impression on the Government because they put out a Statement before I had even asked the question. But of course such inflated arrogance soon went back to its normal position when I realised that the noble and learned Lord gave those figures as a result of the amendment put down by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd.

I fear that we are going to get more bureaucracy and a lessening of the huge respect presently enjoyed by the Law Lords as they are gradually merged into the pompous anonymity of a Supreme Court.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, in the midst of so many distinguished speakers, my natural diffidence has made it difficult for me to follow up the words of my noble friend Lord Crickhowell rather earlier in the debate. I turn to the question of the broad cost set out in the Statement of the noble and learned Lord. Indeed, he was kind enough to send it to me a day in advance. It details the capital costs of setting up the Supreme Court, should it be at Middlesex Guildhall.

My noble friend referred to what happened to the Parliament building in Scotland. I want to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he has taken into account the fact that it is much more difficult to estimate the cost of altering an old building than of constructing a new one. Anyone who has been involved in large expenditures within government, local government or even in commerce will know that. Moreover, it is particularly important to ensure that the right sort of contract has been agreed.

The noble and learned Lord quoted £30 million as the broad estimate of what the renovation will cost. Even the most enthusiastic supporters of the notion of a separate Supreme Court will not disagree that the broad cost must be understood before any decision is taken. On behalf of the taxpayers of this country, that is only right.

The noble and learned Lord has explained that the figure was calculated by looking at what the base costs might be—the construction costs, statutory fees, professional fees and VAT—and then adding half as much again to cover risks, unforeseen issues and changing project specifications. I know from
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experience that when making alterations to an old building, the risks and unforeseen issues are enormous. We need to know how confident the noble and learned Lord is that he is in the broad area of expenditure or, as happened in the case of the Scots Parliament, might the costs multiply by 10?

I see that my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie is in his place. In his report he criticised the process used in the building of the Scots Parliament. Can the noble and learned Lord confirm, first, that he is confident that the £30 million estimate is roughly the right figure, or, like the Scots Parliament, could it swell to 10 times as much? Secondly, can he assure us that the contract is properly suited to making alterations to an old building—controlling costs before the project starts and not as it goes along, which is what happened in Scotland?

I hope that the noble and learned Lord can respond to those two questions because, however cautious or enthusiastic one is about the proposal for a Supreme Court, they are part of the bigger decision we are discussing.

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