|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
It would be a very bad thing if, having lost the Lord Chancellor as a sturdy advocate of this place in Cabinet, we were to finish up with there being only one Member of this House in Cabinet; that is, the Leader of the House. This place would be seriously weakened vis-a-vis the Commons, and it is small wonder that my noble friend Lord Carrington expressed his concerns about this in his remarks on 25th June (at col. 298 of the Official Report). Given his wealth of experience, we should take heed of his wise words.
Of course I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, will remain in this place when his role changes. He has nowhere else to go. But there is no reason to think that a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will always, or even normally, sit in the Lords. So we are entitled to some assurance from the Government that this House will not be left with only one Cabinet Minister.
Certainly the Select Committee, when considering what arrangements should be made for the Speakership of this place, should have regard to this important matter, which is the point of the amendment. With the Motion amended as suggested, the Select Committee would be able to report that, in its view, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, should continue to sit on the Woolsack until appropriate assurances are given by the Government.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, first, perhaps I may welcome the proposal in the Motion in the name of the Lord President of the Council that the Speakership Select Committee should consist of 11 Peers. This will allow the Committee of Selection to consider nominations for three Cross-Bench Peers. Noble Lords will be aware that the Cross Benches have been arguing for some time that their numbers are not always fairly or proportionately represented on Select and other Committees of your Lordships' House.
The split of 4:4:2:2, or a 3:3:2:2 split, are still the default choices of the parties. But these no longer reflect the size of the Cross-Bench group and the increasing contribution to the work of this House made from these Benches or from the Bishops' Bench. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the move to form this committee of 11 members, split 3:3:2:3, is a sound one. It is right for this topic and sets a standard that should be considered and adopted on future
Turning to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I share the concern that lies behind his first amendment. The major changes that have been made, and may continue to be made, in the functions and roles of the upper House can amount in sum to diminishing the standing and ethos of the House of Lords.
Whatever the political and legal arguments that favour a supreme court, the loss of the Law Lords as a part of this House would be highly symbolic. If the many changes made to, or in prospect for, the House are not to lead to a permanent degradation of its position as an authoritative and respected part of the legislature, of Parliament and of the nation, key features need to be identified and retained.
I share the view that for the House and Government to function in the interests of the Queen's subjects there need to be routes for the exchange of information and ideas. So I support the first amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
As to his second amendment, I take it as self-evident that the Select Committee should, as part of its remit, consider the points about the Lord Chancellor raised by the amendment. Their bearing, or their non-bearing, on the issue of a Speaker and the roles and responsibilities that go with that post should not be ignored in arriving at recommendations.
The other point in the amendment is that the time to report is no longer explicit, but is it not more important to have this major issue studied thoroughly and to get any changes right rather than to hurry it and fail to give it the consideration that it rightly deserves? We are contemplating a major change to long-standing arrangements that have stood the test of time and served the House well.
It might be that the approach that would find favour is to give the Select Committee the requirement to make a progress report to the House by the end of the Session and to estimate, if by then it is realised that it is necessary to carry out further work, how long before its complete report will become available. After three months it should be in a far better position than the House is in at the moment to judge the scope and scale of its task. I hope that the Lord President will not feel that timetable is more important than substance and will be minded to agree this modification to his approach for the Select Committee.
I remind the House that the estimate made for undertaking the Leader's Group review of working practices took more than twice as long to complete than had been originally envisaged by the Leaderand that was a far less complex task than the Speakership Select Committee is about to embark upon. The list of issues to be studied is already long and will no doubt grow as the work progresses. I wish the Select Committee well in its endeavours.
Lord Acton: My Lords, I wish to raise a point raised to me by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who has immense experience. He wanted to raise the point when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to the matter originally but he did not get to his feet.
The noble Lord tells me that it is not true that the Lord Chancellor is invariably a member of the Cabinet. When Viscount Simon, the grandfather of my noble friend, was Lord Chancellor, he was neither a member of the wartime Cabinet nor, after the coalition broke up, a member of the Churchill Cabinet thereafter. I thought it worth bringing this to your Lordships' attention.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, this issue is an example of the real back-of-the-envelope, cannot-think-of-anything-else-to-do syndrome, where the word "modernisation" flashed before the Prime Minster's eyes as he dashed from Iraq to Europe to somewhere else. There was no greater example of the lack of thought given to constitutional reform than the half-baked reform of your Lordships' House and the total failure to address the West Lothian question.
The brutal and licentious soldiery has a word which I would not dream of allowing to pass my lips in the House. It is a word which is used for thought or absence of thought. The Government, I suggest, use the word "modernisation" in exactly the way that the brutal and licentious soldiery use the word that I would not dream of allowing to pass my lips.
I beg the noble and learned Lord, please take a grip, agree with what my noble friend Lord Elton says and give this half-baked ideaas it seems to me at first sightfurther consideration. It is unnecessary and there has been no pressure to introduce it. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord can tell us how many delegations have been banging on his door and saying, "Please, reform the Speakership of the House of Lords". Not very many, I suggest.
The noble and learned Lord said that it is unfair that he or other Ministers should say which Peers should speak. In all the 30 or so years that I have been in your Lordships' House, the late Lord Shackleton, Lord Shepherd, Lord Carringtonwho is not latethe noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and his predecessors have all shown integrity and justice and regard for the interests of the House. There is no need for the Government now to come over all coy and introduce change for change's sake.
How many judges do the Government want to sack because they feel that the method of appointment has been wrong? Is the Bench of Judges rotten? Is it full of corruption and nepotism, with people putting fines into their own back pockets or Swiss bank accounts? Of course it is not. The Bench of Judges at the moment is of as high a standardor so my judicial friends tell meas it has been for 100 years. So, if it is, what on earth is wrong with the method of appointment? How many will be asked to leave because they will not be up to scratch when the supreme court is established? Could it be that when they speak on criminal matters the Government find it embarrassing to listen to views
Lord Dubs: My Lords, we laughed because we thought the noble Earl had made a good joke. We laughed in appreciation of his sense of humour. If that was misplaced, I owe him an apology, but that was the sense we had on these Benches.
The noble Earl having provoked me into intervening, perhaps I may very briefly make a comment. I do not understandI bow to the experience of noble Lords who have been around a lot longer than I have and who have been in the House for many years longerhow any government can give an undertaking as to the future composition of their Cabinet. No government in history could have possibly done that. It seems to me that the first amendment is not on the mark in that respect.
As regards the second amendment, given that it refers to the office of Lord Chancellor and not to the way in which we conduct our arrangements in this House, it is a recipe for endless discussions dealing with the hundreds of years of history associated with the Lord Chancellor. The amendment appears calculated to delay matters indefinitely. I hope that the House will not be impressed by either of the amendments.
In any case, I suggest, very gently, that if we were dealing with these matters in another placeand I know that we are notevery speech, with the exception of that of my noble friend Lord Acton, and possibly mine, would have been out of order.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page