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Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. With the last few remarks he has made I hope he is not implying that the Parliamentary Assembly was not reliably informed by the sub-committee which I chaired. It was informed in an objective and fair manner within the agreement which had been reached between the bureau, the political parties concerned and the Parliamentary Assembly.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, all I am saying is that it is right to say that governments would reasonably expect, where recommendations by the sub-committee depart from the recommendations of government, that the assembly would be informed of the reasons for that departure.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that the absence of this kind of reasoning by the sub-committee was unfortunate. The Government have certainly

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understood the fundamental importance of close and continuing co-ordination between governments and parliamentary delegations over elections to the court. It is in all our interests to achieve a balanced and high quality court. We can surely best achieve that in an atmosphere of co-operation and trust rather than one of competition and suspicion.

I emphasise two things. While the Government have no plans to press for changes to the procedure for the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights, they are sensitive to the need for the assembly to be reliably advised on the qualities of the candidates put forward by governments. The Government would be happy to discuss with the United Kingdom parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe any changes that it might be minded to propose in the selection procedure in advance of the next round of elections in three years' time. The Government will endeavour to ensure that this close co-ordination is achieved through consultation with the parliamentary delegation when the next UK election takes place.

As I have said, the Government are therefore sympathetic to the noble Lord's argument that it would have been better if the sub-committee had supported its recommendations, which were to depart from the views of government, with reasons for that departure. In that way the full assembly would have been better informed. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, that recommendations for judicial appointments in this country that come to me via the very wide consultation community and my officials are very detailed and fully reasoned and I am, therefore, fully informed. Reasons for appointing or not appointing are not given, but the point is that the decisions are taken by those who are fully informed. It is widely known in our country, however, that appointment is on merit only and those who succeed are those who are found to have best fulfilled the criteria for appointment.

I have noted the very limited measure of positive discrimination to which the noble Baroness has drawn attention in the European procedures that we are addressing. I shall repeat her quote:

    "That in case of equal qualifications between candidates preference should be given to the female candidate".

For our domestic judicial appointments system, the Government are opposed to positive discrimination and favour appointment exclusively on merit. Many women are winning through on merit. I find the notion of two candidates of precisely equal merit rather fanciful. I believe that people can always be distinguished on grounds of merit. Of course, in our system my officials are available to explain to individuals in general terms why they have failed to secure appointment and how they might strengthen their position in future applications. I add that in this country a lawyer's politics are fully irrelevant to the decision whether to elevate to our independent judiciary and that it is one of the high duties of the office that I occupy to uphold the independence of the judiciary. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, made an important point when she reminded us that our traditions of judicial independence are by no means universal.

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Finally, I respond to the three questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns. First, I can assure her that government officials did not lobby on behalf of any of the candidates for election to the European Court of Human Rights. Officials did, however, make clear to officials of the secretariat and of other member states of the Council of Europe, that the Government continued to support the candidates in the order proposed, but that the selection process was for the Parliamentary Assembly. It is, of course, the duty of officials to communicate the views of Ministers in precisely this way.

Secondly, the noble Baroness asks me to agree that the lobbying campaign was unfortunate. I make no comment on any lobbying in the assembly. This was for the individuals concerned, and the Government were not involved.

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Finally, the noble Baroness asks me to agree that the sub-committee carried out its work with due and proper diligence. The sub-committee was, of course, answerable not to governments, but to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I rather think, therefore, that this is an issue on which I have no real standing to comment. That said, I can say this to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, and to your Lordships: it appears to me as an outsider that the sub-committee did diligently the job that it was appointed to do. I have already made my comments on the desirability of it supporting its recommendations to the assembly with its reasons for departing from the recommendations of Her Majesty's Government.

        House adjourned at a quarter before nine o'clock.

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