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The Minister also spoke about a Bill of Rights. The noble Lord says that over the coming months the Government will be publishing a Green Paper on a British Bill of rights and responsibilities, and on the values that should bind us together as citizens. Does that mean that the European Convention on Human Rights is in some way inadequate for our purposes and that it needs filling out or perhaps even amending? If so, which particular aspects of the convention are notto quote a former Minister in his Governmentfit for purpose? It may well be, for example, that the Minister might like to enshrine the right to jury trial in a new Bill of Rights or perhaps the presumption of innocence, which has been so savagely eroded by a series of criminal law measures over the past 10 years by the Government. I am extremely curious to know what particular issuesspecific issuesthe Minister has in mind on a Bill of Rights.
In that context, frankly, the Statement todayalong with the White Paper and even the draft Billis a mouse. To wait for so longfrom last Julyfor their gestation has been a frustrating exercise. We had hoped for more, because the purpose of the exercise is not a little tidying up, but to re-engage our fellow citizens in the democratic institutions of our countryboth local and nationaland to reinvigorate our democracy. I do not think that there is quite enough here to do that.
I shall turn to the detailed points in the Statement and the White Paper. We certainly support the abolition of the ridiculous crime that was introduced of a protest in and around Parliament. The Minister will recall that my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer introduced a Bill at the beginning of the year that would have done that very neatly; we would not have had to wait for a Joint Committee or a draft Bill, or had any other delay. This is yet another example of where legislating for a knee-jerk reaction means that we all repent at leisure.
We have some concernsthey were expressed again by the noble Lord, Lord Kingslandabout precisely to whom the Attorney-General is to be responsible and accountable. Is it to Parliament as a whole, or is he or she still adviser to the political party that happens to be in government at the time? There are clearly circumstances where the exclusion for national security, which was referred to in the Statement, might include such highly charged political issues as the BAE Systems contract with the Saudi Government or the difficult situation that arose in the run-up to the Iraq war. The White Paper does not adequately address the concerns that came from the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, which noble Lords will recall raised important questions about apparent political bias in the way in which the Attorney-General gave advice to the Government.
We have an anxiety that, for public and to some extent judicial appointments, Secretaries of Statenot just those who happen to be heads of quangos or have other appointments under the stateshould have to answer to parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. The Secretary of State should be the one brought to a Select Committeeperhaps a joint oneon the appropriate department, so that there could be a proper interrogation of his or her intentions in that department. If we are to have new, confirmatory hearings, surely they should be within Parliament, of parliamentarians.
It was significant that the Minister had to make a mini-introduction to his Statement to emphasise that, every time this House was referred to in the Statement to the other place, it did not mean your Lordships' House. It is true that the Statement and the White Paper do not explain the exact role of your Lordships' House in relation to the ratification of treaties. It is clear that the other place has a right to veto ratification, but what is the responsibility of your Lordships' House in that matter? I hope that we can have an explanation. Similarly, on war powers, I was a Member of the other place at the time of the debate on the decision by the Government to go to war in Iraq. I have no regrets whatever for voting against that, but I was conscious at the time that there was expertise and great concern in your Lordships' House. What role will there be in future if that proposal goes forward and the prerogative power is modified or removed?
There will be wide concern about the role of special advisers in possible instruction or direction of professional civil servants. I do not see a clear statement of what change is to take place on that in the draft Bill when we put the Civil Service on a statutory basis, welcome though that obviously is. As has already been said on the role of Parliament in relation to dissolution or recall of Parliament, assuming that the Government of the day have a majority in the other place, it is to some extent a fig-leaf and not a real change. In certain circumstances, it might constrain the role of the monarch. If the other place has no overall majority, as is the case in your Lordships' House, that might be a more meaningful vote; perhaps we should have a vote in this House as to whether the other House should be dissolved or recalled.
The gaping hole is the lack of a single reference to the very recent and very useful government report on voting systems, which must surely be at the heart of a representative democracy. As became apparent when we had a debate just 10 days or so ago, it is extraordinary that only about a third of those elected to the other place these days can claim to represent a majority of those who voted in their constituencies, and not one single Member of Parliament now can claim to have a majority supporting him from the whole of his registered electorate. If we are going to have a British Bill of Rights, surely a very basic right of a British citizen is to be able to see his or her vote as having equal value to everybody elses.
Can the Minister confirm or deny the report on the front page of yesterdays Guardian that the Government are considering a reform of the voting system? If so, why was that leaked to the media rather than given as a Statement to your Lordships House when the Minister addressed us on 13 March? True or false, perhaps he would like to confirm that there have been no discussions or consultation with other partiescertainly not with the Liberal Democrats. If Parliament is to be,
as the Statement says, surely the confidence of our fellow citizens that they are truly and fairly represented in Parliament is a critical factor if we are to renew confidence in our parliamentary systems. This
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I welcome the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland, and Lord Tyler. I congratulate both noble Lords on their perceptive remarks, with such short notice. I welcome the support that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has given to a number of the proposals encompassed within the debate. In relation to the SOCAP legislation, as the Statement suggested, it is important that access to Parliament is kept open. Therefore, we will be consulting Parliament on any additional measures that might need to be taken in the absence of the legislation which the draft Bill makes provision for repealing. I welcome his general comments on the question of the changes to the Attorney-Generals position. He is right about the accountability of the prosecution authorities and our intent is that that would be covered in the protocol that will be laid before Parliament in due course. As far the legislation of the Civil Service is concerned, I do not agree with him that the system has broken down. I pay tribute to the Civil Service and the integrity of those people who work for the Government. On the expansion of executive power, this White Paper, the draft legislation and the various other developments of policy that the Government have involved themselves in since the original Statement last July are intended to ensure that Parliament can properly hold the Executive to account. I believe that the measures contained in this document allow that to happen. On the development of pre-legislative scrutiny, the fact that this draft Bill that is published today will be considered by a Joint Select Committee in pre-legislative scrutiny is an example of how parliamentary influence has been developed. He may have seen a Statement made by the Leader of the House of Commons last week on the Governments position in relation to post-legislative scrutiny, which I know is a matter close to the hearts of a number of noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Norton. So we see this as being consistent with the way in which Parliament has been and is continuing to be given more say and influence in the detail of the legislative programme.
As far as decentralisation is concerned, I would point the noble Lord to the new arrangements for local area agreements for local authorities as a real and genuine effort by the Government to give greater discretion to local government. There will be many other examples.
The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of the section on war powers. We had a splendid debate on this matter in your Lordships House only a few weeks ago and the Government have paid careful attention to the issue by balancing the need, as the Government have seen it, to involve Parliament in such a decision with that of ensuring that that cannot happen at the expense of the safety and security of this nation and its troops. I take what he said about the integrity of the information brought before Parliament. I am confident that that will prove to be
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To review the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 in the light of experience and to recommend any changes to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Scottish Parliament to serve the people of Scotland better, that would improve the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament and would continue to secure the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord asked me about reform of your Lordships House. The Statement made it clear that the talks in the cross-party group are going well; I am sure that his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, would be happy to provide him with further details. In terms of making an early Statement to your Lordships House, I always welcome an opportunity to discuss Lords reform with Members of the House. The intention is, as set out in the Statement, that we will make a formal Statement on the progress of the cross-party group by the Summer Recess. I do not think that I can say anything further on that matter. It is very important that, as far as possible, we can reach consensus; and then we will of course be happy to make such a Statement.
The proposal for a British Bill of rights and responsibilities is not a reflection of the inadequacies or otherwise of the ECHR, but will help the people of this nation to focus on the values that we share, the rights we enjoy and the responsibilities that we acknowledge to be a foundation of our society.
I turn to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. He welcomed the Statement and then said that it was not perhaps as profound and exciting as he would wish. I am sorry about that, because I believe that the Statement and the related work suggest that there has been considerable progress not only towards reporting to the House on the prerogative powers but in terms of enhancing parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive. The changes that I announced today are substantive, but also have to be seen in the context of other measures, such as devolution, the Bill on human rights and the Freedom of Information Act. One has to consider these issues in the round.
I welcome the noble Lords support on SOCAP. We will ask Parliament for its further views on this matter, particularly in the context of the use of sessional orders in the future. The Attorney-General is accountable to Parliament and is the chief legal adviser to the Government. That dual role has served this country and Parliament well. The arrangements that I have announced today will ensure that that takes place within a more transparent process. There is a real advantage in a Government Minister heading the service that is headed by the Attorney-General.
The British Aerospace decision was taken by the SFO director and not by the Attorney-General. No doubt we will be debating the role of the House of
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I suggest that we await the view of the Modernisation Committee in another place on the recall of Parliament. On voting systemsnice try, but of course I will not comment on speculation in the Guardian on bank holiday Monday. We launched the report on voting systems that has been widely applauded for the quality and objectivity of its work. We welcome debate on that matter.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I make a very short point. It is a great relief that the changes to the role of Attorney-General are much less than had been foreshadowed in some quarters. Above all, it is a huge relief that she will remain responsible for giving independent advice to the Government and to Parliament, as she and her predecessors have always done, and that the role will not be transferred to a QC, who would not be a member of either House. I hope in consequence that that we will see more of the present noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General than we have done in the past few monthsshe has been much missedand that she will be present on the Government Front Benches whenever there are difficult legal questions at issue.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot answer for my noble and learned friend, except to say that the comfort felt by the House is nothing compared to the comfort that I feel when she sits beside me.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, I have two questions for my noble friend, the first of which is on public appointments. Can he confirm that whatever proposals the Liaison Committee comes up with on parliamentary involvement, they will not cover judicial appointments, which will be treated separately, and that the Judicial Appointments Commission will continue to have its considerable role in making or advising on appointments, so that there will be no question of an advise and consent arrangement, as operated by the United States Senate? Secondly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was concerned about the position of the Attorney-General. May I assume from the brief references in what we have read today that he or she will continue to be either a Member of this House or a Member of the
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, on the latter point, as the White Paper makes clear, we considered that it would be extremely valuable to have a Minister occupy the role of Attorney-General in terms of the legal advice to be given to Ministers and the Government, as chief legal adviser, and drawing on his or her ministerial role and understanding of the wider ramifications of policies. It follows that the contribution that that person can make by being a Member of either your Lordships House or another place is clearly very important. Therefore, I very much accept and endorse the remarks of my noble friend.
Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, the fact that the Minister is able to say with a serious face that the proceedings of the cross-party working group are progressing well can lead one to only one conclusionthat the working group is manifestly unrepresentative of the diversity of opinion that exists on this topic. That statement brings to mind the clock that strikes 13 times and casts doubt on the reliability of the rest of its evidence.
Turning to the more substantial aspect of what he said, the agenda that he has presented to us is hugely ambitiousin fact, I would say that it is hopelessly over-ambitious and potentially very dangerous. It starts off as a programme of constitutional renewal but that includes in some cases reviewing and in other cases building upon, underpinning, recasting and enshrininga whole range of propositions which, as he acknowledges, are fundamental to the working of our constitution and have evolved historically into conventions which are not always perfect but are well understood in practice. I suggest that there is very grave danger in seeking to transform all these enormously important and extensive matters into legislationabove all, astonishingly, for the most part in one Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, appeared to be disappointed at the modesty of this programme and was looking for a more extensive and exciting one. I take exactly the opposite view. It seriously underestimates what Lord Moulton, a distinguished Liberal Peer, said in, I think, 1920, when he stressed the huge importance of unwritten law to almost every aspect of every constitution of this kindabove all, given our history. I take one examplethe proposal to produce a protocol which will set out how the Attorney-General and the prosecuting authorities are to exercise their functions in relation to each other. That reminds one of the protocol that emerged from the catastrophic legislation which led to the disappearance of the Lord Chancellor, as we had come to know that role. In that legislation, as the
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Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I am bound by convention to comply with what the noble Baroness says. Does not the Ministerand indeed the Governmentrealise that this overambitious agenda is likely to lead us into ill-considered and ill-thought-out conclusions on a range of matters which deserve immensely detailed and careful consideration? Does he not agree that the agenda taken here exceeds in huge proportion the modest items which President Giscard dEstaing had to address in drawing up the treaty of Lisbon? That was childs play. Does he not agree that this is infinitely more ambitious and therefore infinitely more dangerous?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is ambitious and I do not underestimate the importance of conventions and unwritten law. The noble and learned Lord is right that the development of a protocol to be laid before Parliament on the relationship between the Attorney-General and the prosecution authorities will require very careful drafting. I am sure that I can rely on my noble and learned friend to ensure that that is undertaken very carefully indeed.
However, I would also say to the noble and learned Lord that our constitutional arrangements are not set in stone for ever and it is important that they should be developed and renewed as this country develops and renews itself. The questions that that raises about how power can be made accountable are important at the moment as is the need to ensure that we uphold both the rights and responsibilities of citizens. However, I agree with the noble and learned Lord that this needs to be done in a careful and considered way. The establishment of a joint Select Committee and the publication of a draft Bill and pre-legislative scrutiny is surely a sensible and careful approach.
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