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Supreme Court Reform

Volume 695: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021

I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a long and keen interest in the Supreme Court. It is entirely legitimate to look, in the wider context of constitutional reform, at the Act that underpinned the creation of that court to see whether it can be improved and updated. I will be open and consultative as that work is carried out, and I will say more at a later date about which aspects of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 I intend to consider.

For 600 years, the House of Lords and, latterly, its Appellate Committee did a superb job of being our Supreme Court. Nobody has ever given a proper cost-benefit analysis of what has been gained by abolishing it, apart from spending so much more extra public money. I doubt that the Government, or any Government, have the guts to abolish this wasteful institution, but will the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor make it clear that we do not have a written constitution? We are not America. The Queen in Parliament —in other words, this House of Commons—is supreme, not the Supreme Court. That is particularly important if the Scottish National party should ever carry out its threat of a unilateral referendum against the wishes of this House of Commons in an Act of Parliament. Will the Secretary of State—

Order. Sir Edward, you should know that it is not supposed to be a speech; it is a question. You have been here so long you should know that.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to decry the rationalist approach that was taken by the then Labour Government to our unwritten constitution. He is absolutely right to warn us against a descent into a United States-style constitutional court, which will do no one, least of all the judiciary, any good. I pay tribute to the members of that august body, but it is right that in the wider context of constitutional reform, we look at all aspects of our constitution to make sure that we get the balance right and to emphasise the point that Parliament is supreme.

The Leader of the House described a Supreme Court ruling on his Government’s plans as a “constitutional coup”, yet we now see the UK Government using the same court to prevent the Scottish Government from implementing human rights legislation. Is the message to judges from the UK Government that they should just stay out of Downing Street’s business, but stand by if needed to prevent the devolved nations from implementing democratically agreed policy? How does the Secretary of State think that that will protect the Union?

Tempted as I am to talk about the particular issue that the hon. Lady raises, there is an ongoing Supreme Court reference. That is a normal use of our constitutional devices to make sure that all parts of the kingdom, including the devolved Administrations, legislate in a way that is consistent with the powers that they have. That is what is happening; it is a very good example of a mature democracy in operation.

With regard to the hon. Lady’s underlying political point about the Scottish Government’s decision to legislate in that way, this country is among the leaders in the world in child safeguarding. No amount of virtue signalling about the incorporation of international conventions that will make no difference to the quality of safeguarding of children in our country will get away from that fact.

Is not one of the key features of our unwritten constitution respect for the independence, integrity and quality of our judiciary? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that we have no intention of going down the American route with any political interference in the appointment of our judges?

My hon. Friend is absolutely on the nail, as ever. He knows that I have long valued the principle of comity, which is that we as parliamentarians respect the independence and role of the judiciary, and that in their work the judiciary likewise respect the position of Parliament. That is what comity is all about, that is what I believe in, and that is what we will embody in our policies as we develop them.