Examination of Witness (Questions 60 -
THURSDAY 10 JANUARY 2002
60. You said a number of times earlier on that
certain things would not happen because you are obviously very
close to the movers and shakers who decide these things.
(Lord Wakeham) I do not know. Take it bit by bit.
61. Okay. You said that the supreme court would
not happen. Has anything that has happened since the publication
of the Royal Commission report caused you to reconsider that?
(Lord Wakeham) No. We had quite a lot of evidence
about the supreme court and we came to the conclusion that the
evidence that we got was, yes, if we were starting again we would
have it but the question was what harm had the existing system
done and the best we could get was "it does not look right
but they have not done any harm". I simply take a judgment
on it that I do not think there is any Government at this present
stage, I am not saying in 25 years' time, is likely to do it.
The one case where the issue might have come up was over Lord
Hoffmann and Amnesty International. That could not have been avoided
by a separate supreme court, the fact of the matter is that in
every walk of life all of us know there are issues where there
are conflicts of interest. The key thing about conflicts of interest
is to declare them and then decide what to do. If you forget to
declare them for whatever reason you have got a problem and whether
it is the supreme court or a Committee of the House of Lords or
down the road it does not make any difference. I do not see any
chance of that happening.
62. I was interested in you saying quite categorically
that it would not happen. We have Lord Thomas Bingham arguing
publicly for a separate supreme court. If the higher judicial
bench were to come out in favour of the supreme court presumably
you would reconsider your position?
(Lord Wakeham) I have got no position at all in the
sense that I have said what I have said and it is based on the
evidence we received at the time. If the evidence was different
others would maybe come to a different view but I see no sign
of it happening and I would be very doubtful whether in my lifetime
I would ever see a separate supreme court.
63. But on that point of the evidence you say
in your report that a number of weighty and well argued submissions
were exemplified by the report of a distinguished working group
established by JUSTICE and Chaired by Lord Alexander of Weedon
and they came up with the view that judicial functions should
no longer be exercised by the second chamber and should be transferred
to a separate supreme court.
(Lord Wakeham) Their's is a perfectly legitimate view
but we happen to take a different view having read all the evidence
and using our own judgment. One thing that Royal Commissions have
to do is not to propound what others say but say what they think,
and that is what we thought.
64. What I am saying is, just to wrap this thing
up, we are in this process of consultation and looking at the
Government's response, but if there were a body of judicial opinion
that, having listened to the arguments, read all the reports,
came to the conclusion that there was a powerful case for a separate
supreme court you would go along with that?
(Lord Wakeham) No, I did not say that at all. I said
there was a powerful case, there is a powerful case, people made
it, there was a powerful case against it as well and in my view
it is not going to happen at all.
65. Could I just ask you one final question,
and you referred to it glancingly a few moments ago, which is
the question of existing life Peers. This is a huge problem, it
was a huge problem for the Commission and is a huge problem for
the Government in responding because on the figures we are going
to be left, by any international standard, with an absurdly large
second chamber. This is because it is believed that nothing can
be done about existing life Peers. You have told us that you think
the Government is dead right to do what it did about the hereditaries
and without that there would have been no reform of any kind at
all, it unlocked the process. I do not quite understand why we
could not take the same approach to the life Peers. We know that
only about half of the existing life Peers are active for more
than half the time and we know, indeed it is said in the Government's
own document, that many of them are there for the honour rather
than for the work. So why can you not just bite the bullet on
this and do the same thing as we did with the hereditaries, have
an election and sort out those who ought to remain?
(Lord Wakeham) I do not know whether to answer as
a ex-Chief Whip or anything else. The answer is it will not happen,
that is all I am saying.
66. Because they will not vote for it?
(Lord Wakeham) It just will not happen, the Government
will think there are better and more important priorities than
dealing with that because time will resolve it. That is the view,
I think. I think the Government would also take the view that
a number of people, and it was in the Lord Chancellor's speech
yesterday, have given up careers and other things to come to the
House of Lords on a certain undertaking, certain agreement, that
they would be there for life, that was the deal, and they think
there is a matter of honour there; as far as they are concerned
that is what they dealt with. My view is that there is not anything
like the problem that people make. If you have got a very part-time
House and people are not paid for not being there, which I think
is absolutely right, then I think the fact the numbers are going
to be big for a few years is not the biggest problem we have got
to deal with.
67. You do not think this reflects a sort of
clubby approach to these questions, that we cannot fiddle about
with the Bishops, we cannot fiddle about with the judges, we cannot
fiddle about with the life Peers, because it is not what good
(Lord Wakeham) I can see why one would say that but
at the end of the day am I right or am I wrong? Of course you
could bring in Bills to do all these things, Government could,
but they will not, that is all I am saying.
Chairman: I think we should end as we started,
in authentic Chief Whip mode. Thank you very much indeed for coming,
we have had a very interesting session with you. Thank you very