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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that these matters were in the Queen's Speech. However, the necessary corollary of thatit is the trap which the noble Lord has laid for himself, and I am just observing that he has fallen into itis that no government policy would ever be brought forward following a Queen's Speech. That is a manifest, self-evident absurdity.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: There is no emergency, my Lords. It is the fact that these proposals have been intensely debated and discussed by lawyers for at least the past 10 years. It is not necessary for there to be an emergency to bring about reform. I have never heard
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord President may have been at some risk of confusing substance with surface when he referred to the opinion of Mr Eric Forth and prayed it in evidence in support of the Government's view that there should be a supreme court. I am not aware that the Government are advocating anything like the United States Supreme Court where the membership is subjected to bitter cross-party criticism and where a serious attack is currently under way on the political complexion of the court. I hope that he will make it absolutely plain that the Government have no such thought in mind.
Will the noble and learned Lord also please recognise that although the proposals for the future of the judiciary and the separation of powers may enjoy a strong lineage in the policy of the Liberal Democrat Party and in the opinion of judges in this country, to embark upon political reforms of this kind requires the consent of a much wider section of public opinion and to make these announcements without trailing them as government policy, never mind in any kind of pre-election manifesto, is to seek to bounce some of the most important constitutional changes and to put at risk their acceptance?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords. First, what I pointed out was that such material as is available about the thinking of the current Conservative Front Bench is to be found in the words of Mr Forth; other than that I have heard nothing. We are not suggesting that there should be a supreme court on the United States model. For my own part I entirely agree with the noble Lord's observations about the supreme court.
What we have done is perfectly reasonable. We have set out elements of government policy. I confine myself, as the noble Lord did, to the legal reforms. We have said that we shall publish before the recess, which is only a matter of a few weeks away, consultative documents, one for each topic. Following a substantial period of consultation, we shall reflect on what the advice has been from various quarters, including all sections of public opinion. We would then propose to bring forward legislation. I repeat: it cannot be put into effect without both Chambers having been consulted on it carefully. I still await from the Conservative Party an answer to the question of what
Lord Desai: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that this Chamber has twice had discussions, initiated by the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Patten, about the appropriate role of the Lord Chancellor and the necessity of a supreme court? I myself tabled a Question arising from the Guernsey case about the Lord Chancellor's independence in these matters. Does my noble and learned friend therefore agree that the Members of this House have had our own discussions? By and large, in the light of those discussions, we should welcome the changes, which are consequent upon the Human Rights Act.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. We have discussed these issues on many occasions. I agree with his recollection that often they have been at the request of the Liberal Democrats, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester. Many of us thought that many of the submissions they put forward had a good deal of merit.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, last week the Government issued a list of ministerial responsibilities under the new regime, putting the junior Wales Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, but made no reference at all to the continuation of the Wales Office. The Scotland Office took down the brass plate, then put it up again. We now have an interesting and novel statement by the Prime Minister that the civil servants in those departments will continue as part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, apparently solely to ensure that they do not move should the Cabinet Ministers change.
However, there is a more important and serious issue. Probably the most significant responsibility remaining with the Secretary of State for Wales after the devolution settlement is to fight for proper resources for Wales where that is not provided for automatically under the Barnett formula, and, secondly, to ensure that the legislative interests of Wales are properly looked after. May I have clarification? Is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor and his department solely to ensure that the civil servants do not have the inconvenience of moving, or does he have a role in these matters? In other words, is the junior Minister for Wales answerable only to the Leader of the House of Commons, or does he have a dual responsibility? What exactly is the division of responsibilities? I think it rather important that we should know exactly where responsibilities lie.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Well, my Lords, it is not difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, defines two of the important aspects of Mr Hain's work. The question of whether the civil servants report directly to the Minister but are nevertheless for administrative purposes attached to the new Department for Constitutional Affairs is by no means novel; there are many precedents for it. There is no difficulty at all.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I draw the attention of the noble and learned Lord the Lord President to the government of Scotland with no knockabout purpose. Will he remember that the existence of separate governments in London and Edinburgh has happened before? When it did, their relationship was managed through a very close personal relationship between the Earl of Mar, the Lord Treasurer of Scotland, and the Earl of Kellie, head of the King's personal staff in Whitehall. It was a relationship less close only than that which unites their successor. That type of relationship, though not full-time, was clearly identified, worked well and had a lot to commend it.
Will the noble and learned Lord also instruct the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, a little further on the West Lothian question? I once had the strange privilege of leading on a Higher Education (Scotland) Bill, which was never going to affect me. I said this gave rise to a West London question. Would the noble and learned Lord agree that so long as we have a Union and two separate systems of law, there must be either a West Lothian question or a West London question? Only those who have complained about the West London question are now entitled to complain about the West Lothian question.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think the noble Earl is a better pedagogue than I should ever seek to be and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has learnt and inwardly digested the lesson that has been put. It occurs to me that if there was once an Earl of Mar and once an Earl of Kellie, their relationship must have been very close.
Lord Elton: My Lords, in his summary of the Prime Minister's statement in another place, the Leader of the House said that the House of Lords is invited in its own way and in its own time to come to a conclusion on the question of speakership. Can we therefore take it that we will no longer be required to get all our comments on this proposal to the Leader by the end of this week, as he said originally?
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