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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it is because in challenging economic times we need to take tough decisions, some of which will be to reprioritise existing programmes. There is nothing particularly unusual
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Lord Kinnock: Is not one of the major impediments to meeting the great and growing need for social housing in this period the fact that this Government started with difficulties inflicted on the country by well over a decade of Governments who effectively destroyed social and council housing and would not even allow local authorities to use the revenue from house sales to construct and renew fresh social housing?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My noble friend is absolutely right. Let us be clear about this Government's record. Between 1997-98 and 2008-09, we delivered almost 500,000 new affordable homes. These included newly built housing and property that was acquired and refurbished. That would not have happened if we had not developed programmes such as Decent Homes.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, when the Government decide to reprioritise-that sounds to me like an interesting new word-do they always make it plain that the money that was previously allocated to a different source will no longer go to that source?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it should have been abundantly clear to the 13 ALMOs that had this funding scheduled into their forward programmes-each of them had something like a five-year programme, over different time periods-that the funding would not be made available. They should have known that if they did not achieve the two-star rating in their assessment, they would not fulfil the criteria for funding, whatever was drafted into the programme.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, are the Government still committed to the full 15-year funding of the housing market renewal programme for areas of cheap and older housing, such as Pennine Lancashire, where I am a councillor?
Baroness Deech: My Lords, I shall not thank the Minister for that Answer. However, what will he do to dispel the perception that senior judicial appointments are taking longer than ever to make and are more politicised than ever, even though the Supreme Court has been established and the Judicial Appointments Commission has been set up to promote the separation of powers?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, it may be true that senior appointments are taking longer to make than they did when they were within the sole discretion of the Lord Chancellor. Indeed, in his evidence to the Select Committee on the Constitution, the Lord Chancellor admitted that the new process is somewhat clunky. The process was decided by this House and the Lord Chancellor has an appropriate role in it. In the evidence to the same committee, it is interesting to note the extent to which the Lord Chancellor set out his two roles: the typical role of a Secretary of State and a special role as Lord Chancellor, principally related to the judiciary and the maintenance of its independence. In that special role, for which he takes a particular oath under the Constitutional Reform Act, he is involved, as Parliament expected, in the process of senior appointments.
Lord Henley: My Lords, this matter has been sitting on the Lord Chancellor's desk-somewhat clunkily, as the noble Lord puts it-for some three months. Does he think that a three-month delay, with its attendant uncertainty, is good for the Family Division?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Lord Chancellor's policy is to maintain strict confidentiality in relation to individual appointments. The appointment will be announced after the Queen has approved it. That policy has been adopted and adhered to by successive Lord Chancellors. Therefore, I shall not comment on how long it has been on anyone's desk. As far as we are concerned, the beginning of the process is in the public domain and it will end when the appointment is made. Other recent senior appointments, such as the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Chief Justice, President of the Queen's Bench and others, have taken between three and eight months. Today we announced the appointment of Lord Justice Dyson as a justice of the Supreme Court, and that process took seven and a half months.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the Lord Chancellor rejected the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Commission in the appointment of Sir Nicholas Wall to the post of president. He is regarded as a most thorough and compassionate judge in the legal profession. Was that because, last November, he told the Association of Lawyers for Children that it was the duty of judges to come off the Bench and speak out about government changes to the law that were damaging the service to children and families, or because he warned that, without proper legal aid funding, the justice system would implode and that children would suffer the most? Was not the Lord Chancellor's decision entirely political?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I have said that it is this Lord Chancellor's policy, as it has been the policy of Lord Chancellors since time recorded, not to comment on individual appointments, and I certainly do not now.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former President of the Family Division. Does the Minister appreciate the importance of the outgoing president properly helping the incoming president to understand what is going on? That is absolutely crucial. I spent three months in effect training my successor. The president will be leaving on 31 March and will have no one to hand over to. Does the Minister also recognise the dismay of the family judges and the family Bar and solicitors at the situation?
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sure that the new president, when he is appointed, will be at pains to learn all he can from his predecessor. I can add nothing to that except to say that the process was started at a time when we hoped it would be complete. It is not complete and I will not be making further comments on the process.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, does the Minister's reply not show that the Constitutional Reform Act has made the administration of justice slower and much more expensive? For some reason, the Minister cannot explain what is going on without looking at his papers and mumbling. This whole procedure is a disgrace.
Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the noble Earl can have his view of mumbling. I am making it very clear how we appoint people to virtually every job in the public or private sector, and I am insisting on that definition. As for the speed with which these appointments are made, I will again quote the Lord Chancellor, using reported speech as it will be quicker. In the processes below these senior judges, the new system is working efficiently and in a way that a Lord Chancellor could not do without considerable sub-processes. In the processes for the most senior appointments, I think he has said in passing that, looking at the Act, perhaps this part is "clunky".
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. I have a very simple question. What will happen in terms of the continuity of the programmes that the present president has in place, and can we commend the work of Mark Potter for ensuring that the work of guardians and family court judges has continued at a time of unprecedented pressure?
Lord Pannick: Does the Minister accept that the high quality of the judiciary in this country is in part due to the willingness of the Lord Chancellor's predecessors, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay
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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the present Lord Chancellor's praise of previous Lord Chancellors, and the way they executed their duty, is unreserved. He says in his evidence that he thinks they all did a good job under the old system. I am sure that he is committed to ensuring that the present process does an equally good job.
To ask Her Majesty's Government to make a statement regarding the implications for the Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order 2010 and the Exeter and Devon (Structural Changes) Order 2010 following the acceptance of the motions of regret passed in the House of Lords.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, the Government welcome the House's approval last night of the Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order 2010 and the Exeter and Devon (Structural Changes) Order 2010, and are disappointed that the House has regretted that the draft orders were laid. We are considering the House's request not to proceed with making the orders before conducting further consultation, and will consider this in the light of the decision on the draft orders expected shortly in another place. The Government will lay a Written Ministerial Statement before the House, setting out how we intend to proceed, before the end of this week.
Lord Bates: I thank the Minister for his response, which is effectively saying that the Government are still considering this matter. I ask the Minister to respond with regard to the votes that occurred yesterday evening. He will be aware that he and his party voted against the Motion standing in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in respect of Norfolk and Norwich, but when the House was invited to consider the same Motion in respect of Exeter and Devon, the Government agreed with the Motion.
Explicitly, the Motion stated that it regretted the action of the Government in tabling these orders, and called upon them to delay their implementation pending
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Lord Bates: I have already asked my Question, as noble Lords will be aware, and I am coming to my second one. They ran against the recommendations of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, they overlooked the flaws in the drafting of the orders identified by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, they ran against the wishes of the House of Lords after its consideration, and they ran against the express wishes of the Permanent Secretary of the department. Can I ask the Minister-
Lord Bates: My question is, indeed, short and very sharp. Will the Minister say what conversations he has had this morning with Peter Housden, the Permanent Secretary to the department, who had regarded the previous advice as so unsafe and so against the Government's own rules that he felt the need extraordinarily to seek political direction from the Secretary of State before he gave his approval?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am bound to say that this is complete nonsense and a waste of the time of your Lordships' House. We debated this thing endlessly yesterday, and the noble Lord has raised nothing that we did not debate in three and a half hours of fairly intense and comprehensive discussion on this issue. I have had no conversations with Peter Housden this morning. I have already said that we intend to lay a Written Ministerial Statement before the end of this week, and it would be wrong of me to pre-empt what that Statement may say.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that two quite different sets of issues were discussed? One group of issues related to
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is time that we brought this to a conclusion. He is right in a sense that yesterday's debate touched on issues of process as well as on substantive issues. Sometimes they were conflated. I repeat that we intend to lay a Written Ministerial Statement by the end of the week.
Lord Tope: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a bit rich for the noble Lord to lecture us about dithering when he led his colleagues to abstain on the one Motion that could have brought this matter to a conclusion last night and rendered today's PNQ entirely unnecessary?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Lord gives me an open goal, if I may say so. It is a matter for the Opposition to choose how to vote on the issue. I see that they did not have common cause on this with the Liberal Democrats, but it is for them to explain the matter, not me.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, has not this House over time respected the convention that the unelected House does not overturn the elected House, however strongly we may feel about the substantive issue? Therefore, would it not be inappropriate for my noble friend to tell us today what the Government intend to do before we have had the final decision this afternoon of the House of Commons-the elected House that is full of MPs whose constituencies may or may not be affected?
Lord Elton: As I understand it, the Government agreed last night to a Motion that expected the Government not to implement this order until certain things have been done. That was the express will of the Government. Will the Minister explain how they can proceed to implement the order as though they had not given that opinion, which amounts to an undertaking?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we did not agree to the Motion; we accepted the second amendment because we lost the first one-I am bound to say fairly comprehensively. It was for the convenience of the House. There is no point in causing people to have to go through the Lobbies again. That would have been perverse. It was to help the House to make progress on this matter.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, as someone who sat throughout the debate yesterday, but decided not to speak because I thought that it had already gone on at an interminable length, I was unable to make the following point. Unitary local government, brought in by a Conservative Government-to their great credit-in Telford, has been a resounding success, and I commend it to other parts of the country. I further ask my noble friend, given that we are now having a debate only a matter of hours after the House made a decision after a long debate yesterday, whether this bizarre procedure, which I have never heard of before, should be one of the matters considered by the Leader's Group.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, on my noble friend's second point, this seems to me entirely appropriate. Regarding his first point, I, like him, value unitary government. I understand his experience in Telford. It mirrors my experience in Luton, where unitary government has transformed the prospects of our town.
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