Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Slynn of Hadley: My Lords—

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, we have had no Tory.

Noble Lords: Law Lord.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I shall be—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Slynn of Hadley: My Lords, on Third Reading, it is perfectly appropriate and proper to refer to two principles, the answers to which have emerged from
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1561
the very long debates noble Lords have had on many matters, including many matters of detail to which I shall not refer.

The first of the questions of principle that the House has to consider—and I hope that Cross-Benchers will consider it—is whether it can be said—indeed, whether it is said—that the Judicial Committee of the House is not competent to carry out the functions attributed to it as a court. That is not said, and cannot be said. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goff, said not very long ago that the speeches made by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary in this House when deciding cases are the most widely quoted in Europe of all the European Courts. They have earned the highest respect. The same is true of the Commonwealth and the common law countries. In many places during the past 12 months, people have expressed astonishment that it should be found necessary to take this step in view of this high reputation for competence.

The second question of principle is whether it is said or can be said that membership of the House interferes with the independence or the integrity of the members of the Judicial Committee. That is not said and cannot be said. There is no evidence that any influence has been brought to bear on judicial decisions because of membership of this House. I believe that it is important that the Cross-Benchers should consider this matter, not necessarily in league or agreement with the Conservative Members of the House, but standing on their own.

It seems to me that the other arguments that have been advanced during the debate are largely doctrinaire. At the end of the day, the discussion of the separation of powers does not matter. Many of the other arguments are either doctrinaire or even specious. I invite those noble Lords who are not completely committed to voting one way or the other to say that this is not the time to bring in this change. It is a change that is neither necessary nor justified.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, one of the basic duties of all of us in Parliament is to protect our constitution. In my few brief remarks this afternoon, it is my purpose not to enter into the detail of some of the issues in front of us, but to comment on the constitutional principles that are at stake.

The House owes the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a considerable debt. This process of constitutional reform started in a most extraordinary constitutional muddle on the back of a government reshuffle. In front of us this afternoon is a Bill that has much greater coherence and principled logic to it.

I very much support the remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice that we need to judge this matter in the context of the whole piece of legislation. The preservation of the Lord Chancellor and his post in our constitution is a significant shift and gain in this legislation. It means that the reforms that we are about are evolutionary, not revolutionary. We are moving step by step. Matters such as the establishment of an independent process of appointments are extremely important.
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1562

I would be helped to think about our constitution if we moved the language of what we are doing away from the language of the separation of powers. At this stage in the Bill's life, I shall not repeat the arguments that I have made before in this House. Parliament contains all the faces of our constitutional life. That is why Parliament is the highest court in the land. It is called "the High Court of Parliament" and that is the reality of the matter. Therefore, in principle, the establishment of a Supreme Court does not, of itself, damage the constitutional principles. Where that court happens to meet is a practical concern which is well distant from our constitutional principles.

If we lose the Law Lords from this House, how is the face of the law in our constitution to inform our parliamentary processes? That question has not been adequately addressed. It is one thing to establish a Supreme Court, and proper to find the right premises for it; it is quite another to remove from this House the legal advice that is necessary under our constitutional provisions. While we have not yet agreed the final shape of the reform of this Chamber, it seems that we have an unresolved issue. Some comment by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might be helpful to us this afternoon.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I should like to make one very brief contribution. Having sat through almost every sitting of the Bill and heard the arguments not once, not twice, but perhaps even more, I have two reflections on it. First, the Procedure Committee of this House really must do something about the procedures on Third Reading. At present, if he or she wishes, a noble Lord can have no fewer than five bites at a particular cherry—one on Second Reading, at least one in Committee, and probably two, three, four or five, at least one on Report, one at Third Reading and, indeed, he or she could make a Second Reading speech on the Motion that the Bill Do Now Pass. I do not think that airing the same argument five times increases its validity or its force.

Secondly, I listened very carefully, as I always do, to the remarks of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd and Lord Slynn, about the contribution that the Law Lords make to this House. It is not the Law Lords who make the contribution but the retired Law Lords. If one looks at the Cross Benches of an afternoon, where legislative things are being considered in a legislative way, one sees a fair sprinkling of people who have been Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and are now appearing in the House. If one looks at the way in which committees are constituted, particularly those taking place in the Moses Room, they have a fair, and extremely valuable, sprinkling of retired Law Lords. There seems to be a self-denying ordinance on the part of sitting Law Lords to appear in this House and to speak in this House and now never to vote in this House. If that is the situation, I cannot for the life of me see the argument that says that somehow or other the force of the Supreme Court will be diminished if it is moved outside this building.
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1563

I hesitate to repeat the arguments I put on previous occasions—indeed, I will not do so. They are all on record; they are all well known. I think it really is time that the House decides what it wants to do.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, there is, I believe, an expression from ancient learning, which goes, "All Cretans are liars. I am a Cretan". We have a perfect example of that today, although it is nothing to do with truth. The Law Lords have been trying to influence what we should do by saying that they should not be there.

We have had a very eloquent speech from the Lord Chief Justice which has certainly planted some doubts in my mind. But it is because he is here, not giving a lecture in Durham or Norwich or somewhere else, that his influence is so important. That, I think, answers the point of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The influence the Lord Chief Justice has by making that speech is his position, as a Law Lord, saying they should not have any more influence. It is important that that influence stays in the House.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords—

Lord Brennan: My Lords—

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I think it is time we made some progress.

I took part last Thursday evening in a discussion programme on television. We were discussing the Belmarsh case, and one of the viewers rang in, saying "Is the Government going to abolish the House of Lords because of this decision?". That is an indication of the confusion that is rampant, not among the journalists who regularly cover these issues, but among the general public.

The Law Lords are a different set of people doing a different job from the rest of those in your Lordships' House. It is generally inappropriate for serving Law Lords to take part in the legislative proceedings of your Lordships' House. This Bill obviously presents a special case, and I do not suggest that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, is in any way acting inappropriately in his very useful contribution to the debate. But the Law Lords do not need to be—nor, I believe, should they be—Members of your Lordships' House. The link between the Law Lords and the House as a whole is a historical link only, and it conceals the true nature of the role of the Law Lords.

Creating a Supreme Court and giving it a proper home would end the confusion in the minds of the public, here and abroad. It would emphasise the independence and the proper role of the court. It would provide proper facilities not available in your Lordships' House for judges, for lawyers and their clients and for the public. Although I cannot speak as a judge, I can certainly speak as someone who has
20 Dec 2004 : Column 1564
appeared as a lawyer and also attended other cases as a spectator. I disagree, therefore, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls.

The facilities provided in this building are far inferior to those in most other countries, and I do not refer simply to the American Supreme Court. About 10 years ago, I visited the Supreme Court of Israel. Accommodation there is far superior to anything in the Palace of Westminster. I believe that poor accommodation is one of the reasons why so few people attend the hearings. Perching in the Committee Rooms of your Lordships' House does not add to the dignity of the highest court in our land, nor to the respect in which it is held.

It is, I believe, a wise rule that those who make the laws should not interpret them and those who interpret the laws should not make them. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the idea that the Law Lords obtain significant benefit from membership of your Lordships' House or that your Lordships' House, as a legislative body, obtains significant benefit from having serving Law Lords as Members is, in fact, fanciful. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, pointed out, your Lordships' House does, of course, benefit from the contributions of a number of former Law Lords, and I hope that that will continue to be the case. But that is another matter; it is not a matter for this Bill.

What has been my party's policy for many years has now been adopted by the Government. We therefore strongly back the Government on this issue, and I hope that your Lordships will as well.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page