Select Committee on Constitution Tenth Report


Meeting with the Lord Chancellor

1. On the 12th June the Government announced their intention to abolish the position of Lord Chancellor. At the same time, the Lord Chancellor's Department was replaced by the Department for Constitutional Affairs; the Government announced their intention to consult on the setting up of a Supreme Court; the House of Lords was invited to determine the role and means of appointment of a new Lords speaker; and the Wales and Scotland Offices were restructured, although the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales were retained.

2. These announcements were clearly constitutionally important and we decided to invite the Lord Chancellor to present evidence to us. We considered, however, that it would be better to wait until after the summer recess before holding a meeting so that the changes would have some time to bed down. We also did not wish to duplicate work done by the then Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department in the House of Commons which took evidence from the Lord Chancellor on 30th June. We therefore wrote to the Lord Chancellor on 3rd July asking for further information on the role of the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, and the Government's approach to constitutional change (see Appendix 1). The Lord Chancellor's reply is printed at Appendix 2.

3. Our discussions with the Lord Chancellor on 15th October were wide-ranging and constructive. We note that, both during the meeting and after it, he offered to meet us again. We are grateful to him for making himself available in this way, and plan to hold such meetings with him annually.

4. In addition to raising issues of general constitutional significance during the meeting, we were particularly keen to follow up matters relating to our report, Devolution: Inter-Institutional Arrangements in the United Kingdom.[1] Following our discussions the Lord Chancellor submitted a supplementary memorandum and organisation chart which set out more clearly the structure of the new department in relation to devolution issues. These are printed subsequent to the transcript of oral evidence.

5. The following key topics were discussed:

Structure

  • the structure of the Department for Constitutional Affairs in relation to the Scotland and Wales Offices; (Q 2-4)
  • the Constitutional Directorate; (Q 5-6)
  • strengthening and safeguarding the constitution; (Q 9-13)
  • co-ordinating constitutional change; (Q 14-15)
  • oversight of departmental expenditure; (Q 18-22)
  • independence of the Secretary of State from Government; (Q 26-30)
  • representation of the House of Lords in the Cabinet; (Q 31-34)
  • relations with the Sovereign; (Q 43)
  • status of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs; (Q 62-67)
  • timing of constitutional reforms; (Q 96)
  • workload of the Lord Chancellor; (Q 97-98)
  • departmental web-site; (Q 99-100)

Vision

  • definition of the constitution; (Q 49-51)
  • the Government's approach to constitutional change; (Q 52-55, 68-70)
  • role in relation to local accountability and Regional Assemblies; (Q 56-61)

Policy

(i)   Devolution

  • devolution; (Q 16-17, 23-25)
  • roles of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales; (Q 71-73, 79-90)

(ii)  Supreme Court and the judiciary

  • the special responsibility of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs regarding the independence of the judiciary; (Q 7-8, 41-42)
  • creation of a Supreme Court; (Q 35-37, 74-78)
  • appointment of judges; (Q 38-40)
  • the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; (Q 44-48)

(iii)  Draft Constitutional Treaty

  • the draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union. (Q 91-95)



1   Second Report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 28. Back


 
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