|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The third reform we propose is to invite the House of Lords to select its own presiding officer, rather than having a Minister imposed upon it by the Government of the day, as happens now. In any rational world, that is something the Opposition should welcome with open arms. Do they agree with that or do they not? In any rational world, that is something that everyone should welcome. Indeed, many in the House of Lords welcome it. Why is it suddenly such a terrible idea? The answer is: because we are proposing it. Tories always react to change and reform like scalded cats.
We have pledged to consult on all the reforms. My right hon. Friend Lord Williams, the Leader of the Lords, has begun consulting Members of the House of Lords on a new independent presiding officer for that House, and my right hon. Friend Lord Falconer will publish consultation papers before the summer on a judicial appointments commission and the supreme court.
Once these reforms are in place, we will abolish the post of Lord Chancellor, but not beforeas, again, was made clear in the statement issued by Downing street last Thursday that I have already quoted. I will quote it again for the Opposition's benefit. It stated explicitly:
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I am grateful to the part-time Leader of the House for giving way once again. If everything is such sweetness and light is so clear, why on earth did Downing street refer to the new arrangements as being a bit "hazy"?
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, as Lord Falconer is now the Lord Chancellor, he will receive the full Lord Chancellor's pension of £2.5 million when he leaves the post?
Mr. Llwyd: I believe that these reforms are a good thing, but the way in which they came to light last week was not a good thing. There should have been proper consultation beforehand. I for one know that many judges will agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. However, does not declaring that the office will go in 18 months skew the whole consultation process?
Peter Hain: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would have expected nothing less from him. He, like me, wants radical reform of the structure of government. He is not stuck in the past, unlike the Conservative Opposition. The hon. Gentleman agrees with the substance, and in respect of the process, the difference between us is perhaps that we are in government. When one is in government, one reshuffles Ministers, as the Prime Minister does from time to time out of choice or necessity, and one then consults on the implementation of the subsequent detailwhich, incidentally, the Conservatives did not do in respect of any of the departmental reorganisations that they undertook.
Huw Irranca-Davies: There is clearly ample confusion among the Opposition about these changes, so may I make a pertinent suggestion? What is termed in the jargon "an idiot's guide" should be published to ensure Conservative Members' constituents are not disadvantaged.
Mr. Flook: Given that we are discussing the constitutional implications of the Prime Minister's decisions last week, to what extent is the right hon. Gentleman trying to tell us that they are no more than just a tidying-up exercise?
Peter Hain: I never described reform of the European constitution as just a tidying-up exercise. [Hon. Members: "You did."] I never said that it was just a tidying-up exercise; I said that it was a tidying-up exercise and a process of reform and modernisation. Given that more than three quarters of the clauses in the new constitutional treaty come from the existing four treaties, how else would one describe the reform other than to say that those clauses are tidied up into the new constitutional treaty?
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): Is not the truth of the matter that, although most ordinary members of the public are far more interested in issues to do with crime, health and education than in whether we have a supreme court, they will look to the House for a serious debate on how we separate politics from the judiciary in this country and will be a bit depressed by the pantomime that we have seen from Widow Twanky and his colleagues on the Opposition Benches?
The reforms are part of a continuing process of change to ensure the modernisation of our criminal justice system, and should be seen alongside the new criminal justice laws, the reform of the Crown Prosecution Service and the changes to the Home Office that will see its functions on the constitution progressively reallocated to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so that it, too, can focus on its core work, fighting crime and changing our asylum and immigration system. All this is common-sense constitutional modernisation, which is why the Tories oppose it.
We look forward to the next election and to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst campaigning on that great issue of the 21st centuryto bring back the Lord Chancellor, complete with wig, breeches, trainbearer, wallpaper and outdated role as politician, judge and Government-appointed Speaker of the House of Lords all rolled into one.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have listened to this appalling speech for quite a long time, and I would be grateful if you could address the serious question raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) about what appears on the Order Paper. I understand that the contents of the Order Paper are the responsibility of the Government and not the occupant of the Chair. I would therefore be grateful for guidance as to how Members of the House can establish whether the words "former Scotland Office" on the Order Paper are accurate.
Madam Deputy Speaker: The relevant part of the Order Paper to which the hon. Gentleman refers is produced and prepared by Departments of the House. It is not the responsibility of the occupant of the Chair.
Mr. Salmond: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House suggested that the passage on the Order Paper is inaccurate. If it emerged that the description and information on the Order Paper came from Government Departments, would we be told and would it be regarded as a serious matter?
Madam Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and will know that it is entirely up to hon. Members to go to the Table Office and table a question, where they will be advised accordingly.