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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Lord. It is a matter very much for the Prime Minister to decide who forms part of his government. To seek to constrain the formation of government in the way the noble Lord suggests would deny the Prime Minister the ability to appoint those with the ability to do the job in the right way.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, why do we not simply transfer responsibility for policing the Ministerial Code to the Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons, who is an officer of Parliament, and have an end to all this argument about enforcement?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the Prime Minister has made pretty clear on a number of occasions, the Prime Minister must be the ultimate judge of the standard of behaviour expected of a Minister.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Well, my Lords, I think rightly so because, ultimately, the Prime Minister should be held to account for the actions of his Ministers. I would have thought that was a very important principle in the way we govern our country.
Lord Tugendhat: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, though of course the Prime Minister should have complete freedom of action, no past Prime Minister has been so bereft of talent that he has been obliged to reappoint people who have departed from his Cabinet so very soon afterwards, not once but twice?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is really not asking that question seriously. I think that our Government have been full of talent. They continue to do the job which the public expect and to command widespread public support.
Lord McNally: My Lords, the Minister has just given a significant reply. The noble Lord, Lord Soley,
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last week pontificated that this was a matter for Parliament. Will the noble Lord confirm that responsibility for the Ministerial Code is the Prime Minister's direct responsibility? That being so, he does not need the Leader of the House to tell him. The Prime Minister himself takes great pride in being the Minister responsible. Why, therefore, is the Prime Minister refusing to publish Sir Patrick Brown's report? Why is the Prime Minister rejecting the ninth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which asks for an independent adviser for this code? Why is the Prime Minister refusing a Standing Committee to examine breaches of the code? Will he now admit that the problems are at the Prime Minister's door and that the noble Lord, Lord Soley wasnot for the first time in his political careerwrong?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I rather like my noble friend Lord Soley. I think that he tends to be right on most issues, actually. I have known him for a long time, as I am sure the noble Lord has.
Let us start with the Sir Patrick Brown review. The Prime Minister commissioned a review from Sir Patrick Brown. That review has been completed. The report has been submitted and we are giving it very careful consideration and will respond in due course. The Business Appointment Rules are important. They were set up during the Conservative administration in the mid-1990s and have worked well to date. We do not expect that there will be great problems with the way they work. They have been very helpful and will continue to be helpful.
The noble Lord asked about the independent adviser on ministerial interests. Again, we have done a great deal, as government, to strengthen the handling of Ministers' financial interests, including the requirement to provide Permanent Secretaries with a list of those interests. It is not an easy appointment to fill. Whoever is appointed will need to understand how government and Parliament work. On the noble Lord's first question, obviously it is for the Prime Minister to determine who are members of his Government and to make judgments about their suitability. It is also a matter for Parliament.
Lord Soley: My Lords, I was about to suggest that we went back to basics on this, but another Conservative government brought that term into disrepute. Why is it that we get into a muddle on this? It has always been clear in the British constitution, under successive governments, that the Prime Minister is responsible for appointing Ministers and for their conduct in office. But Parliament is and remains responsible for the conduct of Members of Parliament. If you confuse those two, you confuse the whole concept of the constitution because the Government are drawn from Parliament and governments answer to Parliament, not the other way round.
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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, strictly speaking that is true, but no doubt people will form a judgment on people's behaviour which will affect their future careers and aspirations. That is a very important check.
What is their response to the European Union Commission requirement contained in document COM (2005) 172 that the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights must be enshrined in all new European Union legislation.
The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the Commission communication seeks to improve the way in which the Commission ensures its own compliance with fundamental rights. The communication does not change the legal status of the charter, which remains a non-legally binding document setting out existing rights. The charter reaffirms rights already agreed by the member states in previous international human rights treaties, which include the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The communication lays down a sensible and transparent procedure.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that reply. Surely, the document deals specifically with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was part of a constitution that was knocked on the head by two member states in referenda. Do the Government believe that the constitution is dead and that, therefore, the charter is dead with it? If so, could the Minister please encourage the Commission to stop messing around by breathing life into a corpse, but to do something useful such as getting its accounts approved by the auditors for the first time in 12 years?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, some of the noble Lord's question was a bit wide of the mark. As I said in my Answer, the charter lays down existing rights; it is not a legally binding document. For example, it includes rights such as everyone's right to life, which we would accept from other documents. It is perfectly sensible for the Commission to produce a document that says, "When we are thinking of
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legislating, we will make sure that we have complied with these fundamental rights". That is perfectly sensible and it is right that it says how it is done in every case.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that the Charter of Fundamental Rights is independent of the constitutional treaty and that it continues notwithstanding the two adverse referenda in two member countries, and, furthermore, that this Government and members of other parties have strongly supported the practice of the Commission in getting impact assessments of what legislative proposals it has been advancing, and that impact on fundamental rights must inevitably be one of the considerations that it has in mind?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the charter was completely separate from the constitution. The constitution referred to the charter, but the charter was a document agreed quite separately from the constitution. I also agree that it is right and proper for the Commission, when considering proposals it makes for legislation, to measure up that proposed legislation with what the charter says. The charter contains rights, such as the right to life, the right to liberty and the right not to be tortured, that we would all agree with.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is not this charter the one that a Minister of the Crown in this Government described as about as important as Beano? If that is the view of the GovernmentI believe that the Prime Minister was vehemently against the charter's inclusion, in any form, in the constitutioncan we be assured by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that any future draft treaty that this Government put forward for new rules for Europe, to replace the defunct constitutional treaty, will exclude the charter completely?
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