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Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

Volume 669: debated on Tuesday 14 January 2020

8. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the criteria for determining the composition of the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. (900158)

18. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the appointment of a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. (900169)

23. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the appointment of a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. (900174)

Discussions with Cabinet colleagues are at an early stage, but I can say that we want a commission or similar body to examine the issues and make recommendations that restore people’s trust in our democracy and the institutions that underpin it. No decisions have been made yet on the appointment of such a body, its scope or composition. I will update the House in due course.

A key ongoing concern for public law practitioners remains the accountability of constitutional processes and safeguards. To what extent will the commission include consultation with relevant external professions, such as the legal profession, and will they be invited to have substantial input and proper scrutiny?

The hon. Lady asks a very proper question. Indeed, I would envisage the body taking evidence from third parties, outside organisations and civic society more generally to provide a thorough evidence base before any recommendations are made.

May I take this opportunity to welcome you to your place, Mr Speaker?

Following the Prorogation case, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General have hinted that the judicial appointment process might change. Will the Justice Secretary confirm whether that will be considered by the commission?

The commission will look at a range of issues. I think I have made my position about the independence of the judiciary and the integrity of the appointments process very clear. It is nobody’s wish, I think on either side of this House, to see political influence being brought to bear on the appointment of judges. It is important to remember that we do not have a constitutional court, or a US-style system in this country and it is not something I would wish to see replicated here.

It has been reported that the commission is expected to look at prerogative powers. Currently their use can be challenged in the courts, which led to the ruling against the Prime Minister’s Prorogation of Parliament. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is imperative that the courts still have jurisdiction to look at prerogative powers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising an important issue. After the stresses and strains we have all seen the constitution being put under as a result of the tumultuous events of the past few years, it would be wrong of the Government not to pause, take stock and look at the general constitutional position through the lens of the public because it is all about public confidence and the confidence the public have in this place being the ultimate arbiter of our democracy, which is key. But we will take time and do it in a measured way. I very much hope and expect that the commission will come up with some evidence-based solutions.

Members have every right to be concerned about what the Government are up to with the commission, given their previous noises about human rights, judicial appointments, prerogative powers, judicial review and much, much more. Those concerns are shared not just among Members, but across civil society and beyond. Does the Secretary of State agree that in any such commission Scotland’s perspective and experiences must be properly and independently represented, and that any changes proposed to the competences of the Scottish Government and Parliament must have the consent of those institutions?

I am very much aware of the important devolution aspect of this issue. It is about more than devolution, of course—the Scottish legal and judicial system was never devolved because it was always separate, and even when we did not have a Scottish Parliament, it had a separate legislative framework that was legislated for in this House. I fully understand the balance that needs to be kept and I take on board the hon. Member’s comments.

It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair in this Parliament, Mr Speaker. I very much welcome what the Lord Chancellor said about the independence of the judiciary. That is fundamental to this country’s international reputation and we should set at rest any suggestion that that should ever be compromised. Given the wide-ranging nature of the commission, will he also consider that it may be beneficial to have, serving as members of the commission, experienced former members of the judiciary who have the integrity and independence of thought that would increase public respect and regard for the outcome that we all wish to see?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent honour, which is thoroughly deserved after a lifetime in public service, both here and in other elected assemblies. His suggestions are well made. I am already having a number of discussions with ministerial colleagues and thinking very deeply about the range of expertise and individuals that we need, and the diversity of that panel, so that we make sure that the commission, or the committee, is in the best possible place to gather evidence and come up with measured, sensible reforms.