Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord McNally: My Lords, I have only to list my noble friends Lord Holme, Lord Tordoff, Lord Goodhart—our very own Willie—Lord Lester, Lord Phillips, Lord Carlile, and Lord Thomas, any one of whom could have given the Prime Minister better advice than was available to him last Thursday when he wandered into this disastrous minefield, this self-inflicted shambles.

We welcome the splitting of the triple role of the Lord Chancellor. Is this the end of the matter? Does the Home Secretary now have a permanent veto on the setting up of a department of justice? As regards the Scottish and Welsh responsibilities, does the Lord President agree that eventually this would be far better handled by a department of the nations and regions—another good Liberal Democrat idea?

The whole package of reform is needed for direction, not least for the urgent reform of this House. I watched the Prime Minister's performance today, and instead of running rings around Mr Ian Duncan Smith—which he did, and which is very easily done—he might have done better to take a leaf out of Lord Whitelaw's book. He would have said "sorry chaps; bit of a horlicks; learnt the lessons; will consult better in the future—and meanwhile, I have asked Jonathan Powell to get all the Liberal Democrat policy documents on constitutional reform, and I will read them".

3.32 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, even deja vu is not what it used to be. I always listen carefully to everything said to me by any member of the Liberal Democrat Party. I found interesting the catalogue of grace and honour that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, read out as those who might be useful advisers to the Prime Minister: the one missing name was the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

Was Mr Blunkett right?


I agree with Mr Blunkett. Your Lordships will not want me to waste too much time; I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, demonstrated, that the old jokes are always the best, but in this House, above all, I suggest that we concentrate on substance, not surface.

I also witnessed the Prime Minister demonstrate his superiority in the House of Commons at Question Time. These are the questions he put. Three discrete

18 Jun 2003 : Column 815

reforms are offered; first, the setting up of a supreme court, seen to be and wholly separate from this House; secondly, the voluntary abdication of political ministerial power to appoint—and to discipline—the judiciary; and thirdly, to invite this House to consider proposals which it may come to in its own way, in its own time, about appointing a presiding officer or Speaker. Throughout none of our debate have I heard any suggestion that those first two discrete policy proposals were wrong. I imagine that we shall be waiting a long time before we hear a reasoned objection to them. It was a rhetorical question in the Prime Minister's Statement that he doubted whether any political party likely to come to power would ever seek to reverse these charges.

Noble Lords: Changes.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for that correction.

We do not really want any more knockabout about the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, do we? If we do, I will be tempted to bring out some quotations that I prepared earlier. After the 1997 elections—noble Lords on the Benches opposite will remember that—the Tories were left with no Scottish and Welsh MPs, and Mr Hague, the then leader, abolished the separate Shadow Cabinet posts of Scottish and Welsh Secretaries. Later, the post was merged with the role of Leader of the Commons, and held by Sir George Young and then by Angela Browning: so can we stop having silly jokes about "part-time leader"? It is interesting and amusing the first 12 times, but not after that. I have another quotation:


    "It is clear that there is a requirement to retain the post of Secretary of State for Scotland but that it is a much reduced role".

That was Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Now for the supreme court.


    "I must accept that we would need a supreme court of the kind that the United States has. I believe that the Supreme Court has served the US extraordinarily well . . . I would have thought that something akin to the US Supreme Court would be a necessary adjunct to an elected upper Chamber".—[Official Report, Commons,1/2/99; col.653.]

That was Mr Eric Forth.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I could hardly believe my ears, but am I right that there was no plain reference in the Prime Minister's Statement today that last Thursday, without any consultation, he announced his intention to abolish the historic office of Lord Chancellor? Of course Prime Ministers are entitled to make decisions designed to improve the machinery of government, but does the noble and learned Lord really think it proper for a Prime Minister to claim the right to announce the abolition of a great office of state without any prior consultation whatsoever?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what the Prime Minister said—and it was worth listening to him in the

18 Jun 2003 : Column 816

House of Commons earlier, for he repeated it—was that he was bringing forward proposals that would require statutory approval. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, knows as well as I do, because we were both at the Bar, that none of these changes to the Lord Chancellorship, and the supreme court and the appointment of judges—

Lord Waddington: This was my question. Why did the Prime Minister say last Thursday that he was going to see abolished the office of Lord Chancellor without any prior consultation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what the Prime Minister said was that that was his proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I, and many other lawyers in the House, and those who are not lawyers, know perfectly well that the changes to the Lord Chancellorship, the setting-up of an independent supreme court, and the devolution of political power for the appointment of judges cannot be brought about without legislative change. As the Prime Minister repeated today, they cannot go through without going through both Houses of Parliament.

I invited your Lordships to look at substance, not surface. Let us attend to the principle of whether these two reforms in the legal context are good. In due time, although we may be waiting a long time, we will have the defined view of the Opposition about these changes. We have heard the defined view, plainly expressed, of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on behalf of his party. We, as a separate and important House of Parliament, are entitled to know the Opposition view in principle, and the country is entitled to know it also.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords—

Lord Naseby: My Lords—

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords—

Earl Russell: My Lords—

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench!

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, let us be sensible. Perhaps we can start with the Cross Benches.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, it is a very short question. In the Statement, if I heard it correctly, it is said that the Lords of Appeal will become a fully independent supreme court. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord will say in what respect the current Law Lords of Appeal are not fully independent? If it is because the Lord Chancellor is entitled to sit as a Lord of Appeal, which in my

18 Jun 2003 : Column 817

experience he hardly ever does, would it not have been simpler to say that in future he should not so sit, in which case everything could have continued as before?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most obliged to the noble and learned Lord. I am so sorry that he is suffering from what I am suffering from, I think—

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My voice has just come back.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am just about to lose mine.

Of course, the sitting of the Lord Chancellor, which is anomalous in the view of many of us as a matter of principle, leads to the view that we have not an apparently independent supreme court. I entirely accept the thrust of what the noble and learned Lord said. There still remains the fact that judges who sit in the House of Lords judicially can vote on legislation in this Chamber and speak about legislation in this Chamber. Therefore, they are engaging themselves in political activity. I accept that a number of the noble and learned Lord's colleagues—the noble and learned Lords, Lord Steyn, I think, and the Master of the Rolls—have specifically said that they will not use their rights. However, it is better, I believe, to have a principled constitutional settlement on these matters.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, the Leader of the House suggested that this was all planned and thought about. Why was it not in the Queen's Speech? What emergency has transpired in the past week that ensures that we have to decide all these matters within the four weeks left to us for sitting, subject to progress of business, plus the two weeks in September? First, what is it that drives that degree of speed in ensuring that the Lord Chancellor's role is dramatically changed? Secondly, how long is the present Lord Chancellor to do the job of the current Lord Chancellor and of the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page