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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for what he described as an "overlong" exposition but one that I think was entirely necessary in view of the importance of the issues that he
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addressed and the authority which a statement of that kind will carry in explanation of the purposes and the mode of operation of the Bill in so far as they are not spelt out in detail in the language of the Bill.
I believe that the Government have moved in a most helpful way to ensure the high level of independence in securing and expending resources which it was the wish of a number of members of the Select Committee to secure and which certainly lay behind the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Goodhart and myself.
One or two issues were raised in a very helpful letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to my noble friend, to myself and to other Members of the House, to which the Minister may feel it is worth responding. One is whether the staff of the court will be civil servants in the full sense of the term, or whether they will be employed as public servants with equivalent terms and services.
A second question that occurs to me is whether the chief executive, as an independent accounting officer, will be subject to the scrutiny of the National Audit Office, and through that, of the Public Accounts Committee. I imagine that nothing of that kind will be done by any direction, but for the avoidance of doubt, it would be helpful to know what is intended.
The measure announced by the Government in this complex but important package seems to me to go a very long way to meet the desirable goal of ensuring independent management of the court's affairs and the exclusion of the Executive from that. I am bound to say that I am persuaded by what the Minister has said about the importance of not leaving the president of the Supreme Court to argue his corner with the Cabinet for his putative budget. I believe that that ministerial responsibility is an acceptable constitutional propriety which does not provide the wedge that would enable executive interference in the conduct of the court.
These detailed provisions, which will ensure that the budget of the Supreme Court cannot be touched by Ministers, will go far to fortify the underlying objectives of the Bill to secure, as far as is reasonably possible, the separation of the authorities, while retaining the ultimate accountability of the Lord Chancellor. In the light of the government amendments, which have clearly covered other points that we wished to bring to the attention of the Government, my noble friend and I will not wish to press our amendments.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I apologise for pursuing this point once again, but I still wonder where the Treasury fits into the picture. The Lord Chancellor has quite rightly explained that the estimates that have been put forward for the court are not something with which the Minister will interfere; he will simply act as a conduit for them to go forward. But the conduit to where, except the Treasury? The Treasury has a habit of seeking to impose cash limits on such things.
I shall repeat the anecdote that I believe I told the Select Committee. When I was Chancellor I sought to impose cash limits on the House of Commons
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expenditure and was met by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who was then serving on the House of Commons Commission. He snapped his fingers at me and said that the Commons was not subject to any cash limits whatever. When I became Leader of the House of Commons at a later stage, I was delighted when the then Chancellor sought to do the same thing to me. In turn, I snapped my fingers at him.
The report of the Select Committee describes the existing arrangements. It says,
"While the salaries of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are paid direct from the Consolidation Fund, the administrative costs of the Judicial Office (and of course of accommodation) are borne on the House of Lords vote, or request for resources, and accounted for by the Clerk of the Parliaments. The estimates are laid by the Treasury, in like manner as far as a non-departmental public body, though they are not cash limited".
I have never been directly concerned with the accounts of the House of Lords, but I have been looking at the annual report for 2003-04 and I perceive accounts that are presented in a most unusually relaxed fashion. All that they set out in appendix F is the outturn of expenditure for each year from 2000-01 to 2003-04, escalating steadily and substantially from £45.67 million in the first year to £61.117 million in the last year. For the year ahead, 2004-05, it simply states the cash requirement, rather as, when a child, one submitted one's bid to one's parents for pocket money. I have the impression that the one benefit of retaining control of the funding of the Supreme Court in one or other of the parliamentary institutionsobviously this oneis that the Treasury will be as powerless as it was in relation to me and the House of Commons.
The Lord Chancellor talks about the Executive not being able to interfere. I appreciate that that means that the Minister has foresworn his ability to intervene, but what about the Treasury? Will not the Supreme Court, in the end, find itself negotiating directly with the Treasury? I seem to recollect one of the Scottish Law Lords who gave evidence to the committee saying that he was uncomfortable about finding himself in that position and appreciated the ability, in his case, to invoke the help of the Secretary of State. It is as though he found himself rather lonely and unprotected by the legislature and was obliged to turn to the Secretary of State for help.
I wonder whether the Lord Chancellor is putting the court in the wrong position. I am not sure what one should do about it, but it seems that the court would be more comfortably protected if it were under the umbrella of unrestricted cash limits, which the two Houses of Parliament appear to enjoy. I may have misunderstood the position, but it seems to me that the most advantageous way of doing it is to bring it under the wing of this House. I am sure that with the utmost benevolence the Lord Chancellor may be depriving the Supreme Court of the liberty that it would have enjoyed under the wing of this House.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for going a very
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long way to meet the concerns expressed by the Select Committee. Having been a thorn in his side on financial matters, I acknowledge that he has made a considerable step forward on this matter.
Having had to argue public expenditure requirements for eight years as a Minister, when I hear a former Chancellor of the Exchequer make the kind of contribution that he has just made, I have some anxieties. Of course, the reality is that all such matters come back to the Treasury and, as a Minister and later as chairman of a major quango, I sometimes found that the Treasury was extremely difficult and bloody-minded about what seemed to me to be absolutely essential expenditure.
I shall be interested to hear what the Lord Chancellor says in response to my noble and learned friend. I am particularly struck by the fact that earlier this afternoon in answer to a question I put to him about the world-class law library that his Written Ministerial Statement told me we were to have, he said that the costs of establishing that library were included in the capital cost estimates that had been put before us. So far so goodup to a point.
I have done a little research into the matter and have spoken to someone who probably has more wisdom and authority on the matter than almost anyone else. I am assured that the cost of maintaining the law Library in this House is very high. It is a major item of expenditure. Currently, it is absorbed in those items referred to by my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon; it is conveniently covered in the expenses of Parliament and therefore is not challengeable by the Treasury.
However, I fear that the ongoing maintenance cost of that librarythe provision year after year of a mass of books and learned tomes for the Law Lordswill come under that heading. Therefore, my anxiety about my noble and learned friend's intervention has been magnified by the information that I have discovered in the past hour about the costs of the Library. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can reassure me on the matter.
But the fact is that the Treasury will be extremely difficult, as it is on all these mattersas any noble Lord who has dealt with it will knowabout the very large expense of the Library. Is there not some way in which we can provide for this expense under the kind of arrangements we have at present, which free the final court of appeal from that kind of limitation? Although this is a step forward, is it the best that we can have?
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has drawn the House's attention to the fact that this amendment, and the others connected with it, will have a considerable effect on the amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour as well as those of other noble Lords. It is probably my own fault that I am at the receiving end of a very inefficient postal system, but I was rather late in finding notice of this new policy introduced by the noble and learned Lord.
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Last night I sat in on a debate on the marine environment. The big complaint was that you cannot always see what is going on beneath the surface of the water. Trying to cope with the new concepts being introduced here leaves me in a slightly similar fog.
Through the later amendments in the group, the Government propose to remove Clauses 38 to 43. A lot of the issues which our amendments address and which the House considered in Committee relate to those clauses. I am very grateful to the Minister. He promised us that they would table amendments at this stage, but the amendments make it look as though in Committee they had some idea that they would bring forward this massive new proposal, with which I was suddenly faced yesterday.
However, some of the issues remain and, as far as I can see, they are not all addressed in the new scheme. Certainly, Amendment No. 118A allows that:
but in Amendment No. 118B we are back to:
It is reassuring to see that on accommodation the Minister must ensure that courts' offices and accommodation are provided. Can the Minister explain why the appointment of staff only requires "may"? These provisions replace the clauses in which Amendments Nos. 124 and 134, which I was due to move, had effect. So I raise my queries at this point.
In Clause 40, which Amendment No. 130 would delete, we were considering the question of consultation on staff provision by third parties. The amendments offered by the Government in the group make no provision for staff provision by third parties. Is that because it is reckoned that the Civil Service is large enough to ensure that there will never be need for outside contractors; or that outside contracts will not be made on the basis of hiring staff?
The amendment still does not address the issue at the heart of the desire for wide consultation, which was addressed by Amendments Nos. 128 and 129, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. What happens if the decisions of the chief executive upset the working arrangements of other courts or the staff of other legal bodies? Can the noble and learned Lord tell me what approach the Government propose in those matters?
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