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House of Lords

Tuesday, 14 June 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope

Sir Archibald Johnstone Kirkwood, Knight, having been created Baron Kirkwood of Kirkhope, of Kirkhope in Scottish Borders, for life—Was, in his robes introduced between the Lord Steel of Aikwood and the Lord Smith of Clifton.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton

The Right Honourable Winifred Ann Taylor, having been created Baroness Taylor of Bolton, of Bolton in the County of Greater Manchester, for life—Was, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Evans of Parkside and the Lord Clark of Windermere, and made the solemn affirmation.

Several Lords—took the Oath or affirmed.

Department for Constitutional Affairs

2.39 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the Prime Minister announced in May 2005 that we would assume responsibility for coroners and local government elections. In April 2006, an independent judicial appointments commission and a judicial complaints commission will be established. At the same time, the new tribunal service will be launched. The implementation of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in April 2007 will create the new role of the Public Guardian alongside a new court of protection.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: But, my Lords, does the Minister recall that two years ago the Prime Minister announced the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor? Is she aware how pleased we are on these Benches that we still have a Lord Chancellor?

Will she also accept my very best wishes for every possible success with her new brief on compensation? Does she foresee a place in the forthcoming compensation Bill for rapid and effective rehabilitation right at the heart of a streamlined and improved compensation system whose priority is making people well and fit again, rather than putting an arbitrary price tag on human
 
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inconvenience or pain? Will she therefore put in place the right structure to ensure that, properly funded in partnership with the compensator, the National Health Service has a leading role to play in such a partnership?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I note the noble Lord's comments on the Lord Chancellor. We have debated that many times in your Lordships' House.

I am grateful for the noble Lord's congratulations, if I may put it like that, on my work on the compensation culture. There is an interdepartmental working group of Ministers, including my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. One issue being considered between Ministers from the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions is precisely the question of rehabilitation, for reasons that the noble Lord knows extremely well, which is critical to ensuring that we get people back to work and deal with those issues accordingly.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, why do not the Government transfer the responsibility for criminal justice to the DCA and thereby constitute a proper ministry of justice?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there are already strong trilateral relations with colleagues in the Home Office and with the Attorney-General which work extremely well. Any changes to the department's organisation would be a matter for the Prime Minister.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, is there a Cabinet committee considering future constitutional arrangements? If so, who chairs it?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there is no constitutional Cabinet sub-committee as such. As I said, there is a Cabinet sub-committee considering issues concerning electoral reform and so on, of which noble Lords are aware, and I ensured that details of who attended that Cabinet committee were put on the website.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, which department has responsibility for ensuring that proper consideration is given to the creation of new statutory offences? I have the impression that, since 1997, we have had one or two of those and I wonder what effect, if any, that has had on provision for the courts—which is, of course, the responsibility of the DCA.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am unable to give the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, details of exactly how the structure works, because it is not an area specifically covered in the Question. I can tell him that the relations that I have described between the Attorney-General's office and the Home Office ensure that when we consider statutory offences and their impact on the courts, that is done collectively and collaboratively.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, will the Government help to alleviate considerable public
 
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confusion by making their mind up whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is to be known as the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not sure that there is a great deal of public confusion—as much as the public, I am sure, spend time deliberating that question. However, the question has been raised with me in your Lordships' House. I shall refer it to my noble and learned friend to see whether he wishes to indicate further, perhaps in writing to the noble Lord, his personal view.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, further to my noble friend's original Question, is the noble Baroness happy that, two years later, we still have a Lord Chancellor?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, how could I be other than happy with my noble and learned friend?

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of us look back with nostalgia to the days when the occupant of the Woolsack was the present Lord Chancellor's predecessor?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the joy of being in government is perhaps never to look back. However, I have a great deal of nostalgia for many noble Lords who have served in all kinds of capacities. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that they have all done a wonderful job.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, when the noble Baroness writes to her noble and learned friend asking whether he would like to be known as the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, will she suggest to him that he remains the Lord Chancellor?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I was not going to write to my noble and learned friend; I was going to talk to him and ask him to write to the noble Lord who raised the question. I will ensure that noble Lords' views are brought to his attention but it will be for him to decide.

European Union: Budget

2.55 pm

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the Government are currently negotiating both the annual budget and the next financial perspective. In both areas the Government are working effectively with like-minded member states
 
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to ensure budget discipline and value-added for spending at EU level. Other member states have taken a keen interest in the UK's ideas and we are confident that the negotiations will result in an outcome in the best interests of both the UK and the EU.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer and appreciate that it is difficult for the Treasury to find short answers to say nothing. Would not the simple answer to my Question have been, "Not a lot"? My noble friend has nothing to apologise for; we understand that the Prime Minister is under a little pressure at present. Does he accept that in practice it means a challenge for the Government to make clear that a major alternative is possible; namely, substantial reform of the budget perspective? In those terms, will he make clear that there is no need to rush for this; it will not be settled next week, next month, or indeed this year, and it would not matter if it were because it does not come into force until 2007? Will my noble friend give us a clear assurance that the Government have no intention of making even the tiniest concession on the budget rebate without it being agreed clearly that there will be major reform of the budget including, not least, the common agricultural policy?


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