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Changes to Government Departments

3.16 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made earlier by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place.

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    judiciary and will also work to ensure that the court system provides an increasingly efficient service to the public.

    "As for the posts of Secretary of State for Scotland and Wales, following devolution, there is no longer a requirement for there to be Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales who hold only those offices. Their roles can be combined with other posts. The civil servants in the Scotland Office and the Wales Office will be part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so as to ensure they do not move, should Cabinet members change. The new department has responsibility for the devolution settlement and the new Secretary of State, like the Lord Chancellor before him, will remain chairing the main Cabinet Constitutional Reform Committee. Oral and Written Questions will continue, as now, to be answered by the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales.

    "The reforms I have outlined today are essential acts of constitutional modernisation. They follow on from the success of devolution to Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the removal of 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers from the House of Lords. All those reforms are now seen as welcome and permanent changes to our system of government. I am confident that the changes I have set out today will in time be regarded in the same light. I do not believe that any party in this House will reverse any of these changes, and I commend them to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement today. I hope that it will not embarrass him if I start by saying that if the Prime Minister had followed the example of the noble and learned Lord and volunteered a Statement on Monday, he would not have had to be dragged to another place by the Speaker today. If he took more advice more often from his Cabinet colleagues, perhaps he might have avoided some of the damaging criticism that has been raining on his head over the last few days.

When asked to do so, the Leader of the House apologised for the way in which Parliament was treated by the Prime Minister. But, sadly, the Prime Minister made no such apology for his discourtesy in the Statement that we have just heard. Refusal ever to acknowledge a mistake is invariably a sign of a poor government, and one heading for a fall. This is not just an Opposition view—it is a general view. The Financial Times today referred to a "shocking lack of consultation". Can the noble and learned Lord not see what is meant by that?

As Leader of the House, will the noble and learned Lord tell his colleague, Mr Hain, the new part-time Leader of another place, that before he complains about and threatens this House, he might care to look

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at why we are sent, time after time, poorly drafted Bills that another place has not even bothered to examine in full?

We dealt on Monday with the issue of the Lord Chancellorship and the presiding officer of this House. If it is convenient for the House, I should like to leave it there until we return to it on another day. Can the noble and learned Lord confirm that it is still his intention to make a Statement on this subject next Wednesday?

Today the Prime Minister said a great deal but explained very little. We are still left in the dark about what has been called a Whitehall reorganisation that baffles most observers. Exactly what are the roles of the Scottish Secretary, the Welsh Secretary and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs? Do Wales Office and Scotland Office officials report to the Lord Chancellor as well as being part of the Lord Chancellor's Department? The noble and learned Lord's affection for Wales is well known. So perhaps he can explain why Mr Hain wrote in his foreword to his 2003 departmental report about his crucial,

    "full-time responsibilities as Secretary of State for Wales".

Does the noble and learned Lord agree that this important job is now better conducted on a part-time basis?

The Prime Minister totally ignored the West Lothian question. The trouble is that, like letters from the bank manager, awkward questions will not go away. How will Mr Darling argue the case for adjusting the Barnett formula to allow more money for transport in England when he has the duty of putting the case for Scotland? How can Dr Reid, who represents part of a country where foundation hospitals have been rejected, impose foundation hospitals on England, whose people and MPs have no say over Scottish health policy? The questions will not go away just because the Prime Minister pretends they do not exist. Will the Lord Chancellor, if he is responsible for devolution, have responsibility for regional assemblies, and by what logic should he not do so?

Turning to the supreme court, we await the papers to be published by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House can shed light on when that will be. Will he, as Leader, provide time for full debates on issues which so directly affect us all in the House?

The Prime Minister is said to have considered all this carefully. So can the noble and learned Lord say if the supreme court will be an entirely separate creation, designed to serve Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as England? Does he agree that that would mean the Lord Chief Justice could not preside over it? What would happen in the event of a dispute between, say, the Home Secretary and the new court, and could Parliament overrule a judgment of the court? How will the new appointments commission be appointed and be made independent of those who appoint it?

Does the Prime Minister's proclamation last week mean that no more Peers will be created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876? Do the Government intend to repeal that Act? What will happen to former

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Lords of Appeal who sit here? The House hugely gains from their wisdom. Will they be excluded? Would others like them come to the House in future? If so, who would decide which ones would come here? Might the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, do that work? Within the package, these are important matters affecting the nature of this House which the House will expect the noble and learned Lord to be able to clarify.

This has been a sorry episode. The Statement leaves more questions in the air than it answers. But it also leaves a sour sense that the Prime Minister frankly could not care very much about this place and what we think, and a worrying sense that the Government are making it all up on their own. There is no worse way to go about constitutional change.

The noble and learned Lord seemed to suggest that the Government plan to plunge ahead on legislation next Session on the basis of as yet half-baked plans. Surely, in our hospitals and schools, there are far more urgent matters affecting this country and better deserving the attention of the Prime Minister and the time of this House.

3.27 p.m.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, with a barrage of detailed questions about the legal changes, because I know that there are many in this House who are more qualified than I to do so. Indeed, we may even get some penetrating questions from the Government Back Benches.

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the headline in today's Evening Standard:

    "Blunkett admits: The reshuffle was bungled".

I put it to the Lord President that it would have been a better and more efficient use of the time of both Houses if the Prime Minister had simply admitted that.

I believe that this episode over the past five days highlights a piece of wisdom from the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who, it will be recalled, said, "Every Prime Minister needs a Willie". It is abundantly clear that this Prime Minister lacks somebody with empathy and sympathy for how Parliament works to help him in his dealings.

It was said to me many years ago, when I worked on the Cook-Maclennan committee, "the problem is that Tony is not interested in these matters". There is every sign that since Robin Cook left the Government nobody is really interested in this. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that since the Government pretty well worked through the agenda that Cook-Maclennan supplied, they have become increasingly accident-prone in dealing with constitutional matters.

The Prime Minister surely has to learn that government by a No. 10 cabal is not the most effective form of government. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, gave a very pointed lecture some time ago about the weakness of Cabinet government under this Prime Minister. It

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shows in activities such as this. The Prime Minister must realise that the handling of constitutional reform needs cross-party co-operation and a great deal more consultation than has been revealed today. Will the Lord President accept the heartfelt message from these Benches that we are the Liberal Democrats, and we are here to help you?

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