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Legislation: Lord Chancellor

Volume 707: debated on Monday 26 January 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what the role of the Lord Chancellor is in tendering advice to the Cabinet and to a Secretary of State about the presentation of Bills to Parliament.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, having declared my interest on the fourth day of the debate on the humble Address.

My Lords, the Lord Chancellor is a member of the Legislation Committee, which considers all Bills before they are introduced into Parliament.

My Lords, why has it been sought to foreclose on the role of the Lord Chancellor to tender his advice, which has been established and retained by usage and which has not been abrogated by statute, by setting up a combined appointment with conflicting functions which has presented the constitutional renewal Bill to Parliament? Would any Lord Chancellor exercising that role have withdrawn or substantially amended that Bill before presentation to Parliament, as advised in the report of the committee?

My Lords, changes to the process for approval of legislation for introduction into Parliament long pre-dated the reforms of the office of Lord Chancellor in 2005, let alone the creation of the Ministry of Justice in 2007. The usage and custom to which the noble Lord refers have already moved on and, arguably, have fallen into abeyance. As has been pointed out in this House fairly recently, the Lord Chancellor’s functions in relation to the rule of law are now on a statutory basis. The Lord Chancellor himself remains a member of the Legislation Committee which approves legislation before its introduction and, therefore, has the opportunity to raise any concerns he may have at that stage.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and I, other Members of the House and MPs sat on the Joint Committee for many months examining a draft constitutional renewal Bill. What has become of that Bill? We could be discussing this issue if we were now debating that Bill. What has become of the Prime Minister’s programme for the governance of Britain, which he announced at the very beginning of his premiership when he wanted to do all sorts of good things to improve the accountability of both Houses of Parliament? Does the Minister not recognise that this is not a luxury that we can leave until the end of the recession? It is urgent. The public are losing confidence in both Houses of Parliament, and the events of the past few days have not helped the reputation of Parliament generally and of this House in particular.

My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to be patient. We plan to introduce a constitutional renewal Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. We expect that to be later this Session. We remain committed to the programme of constitutional renewal, which we announced in the Green Paper. As part of that programme we issued a draft constitutional renewal Bill for consultation and we are looking at the final composition of that Bill. I pay tribute to the noble Lord and to other Members of the House who served on the Joint Committee.

My Lords, will the Minister deal with the point arising from my noble friend’s Question; namely, that it was the independent political status and professional reputation of the Lord Chancellor, before that office was reformed, that enabled his advice on the constitutional significance of any Bill brought forward for approval in Cabinet to be almost universally accepted? Now that that safeguard has been dismantled—to use polite language—are we not already seeing some unfortunate results?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that the safeguard has somehow been dismantled. The Lord Chancellor now has a constitutional duty in relation to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and, as an important member of what is commonly known as the L Committee, he has an important role to play in looking at whether Bills conform with the various treaties and other obligations which the UK Government have. I remind the House that all Ministers, not just the Lord Chancellor, are required to respect the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law at all times.