Skip to main content

Legislation Committee: Constitutional Renewal Bill

Volume 708: debated on Thursday 26 February 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answers by Lord Bach on 26 January (HL Deb, cols 4–5), what consideration the Legislation Committee gave to the rule of law and other constitutional principles prior to the presentation of the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill to Parliament.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I declare an interest, having devilled at the behest of the Lord Chancellor on draft Bills before presentation to Parliament some time ago, and I tabled the amendment for the statutory retention of the Great Seal.

My Lords, the Lord Chancellor is a member of the Legislation Committee and has a statutory duty to uphold the rule of law. In addition, the committee considers the compatibility of legislation with EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I ask whether it is evident from the report of the Joint Committee that the approval sought in relation to the combined appointment of the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice, which was on their own draft Bill, was granted in fundamental error and was deviant from due process. Should it in fact be removed? Is it not apparent that the rule of law and other constitutional principles—

Is it not apparent that those principles were not entertained by the Legislation Committee? I apologise for stumbling.

Perhaps I may ask—

My Lords, I know how strongly the noble Lord feels on this subject, but I am afraid that I have to disagree with him. The past usage and custom to which the noble Lord referred has already moved on and, arguably, had fallen into abeyance well before 2005. I repeat that the L Committee or Legislation Committee is one on which the Lord Chancellor sits, as does the Attorney-General, the Advocate-General for Scotland and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they give their advice on any legal or constitutional issues. That is the first point. The second is that the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 gave statutory effect to two duties of the Lord Chancellor; one is to uphold the rule of law and the other, which of course is connected, is to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for that explanation, but whatever may be the workings of the Legislation Committee, the precedent for establishing the Joint Committee of the two Houses to consider the Bill enabled Parliament to consider some of these questions extensively, with good external and objective evidence. Did the Government, and do the Government, take to heart the recommendation of the Joint Committee that the Bill, far from being a constitutional renewal Bill, is a miscellaneous provisions Bill, and that the only part of it that is really ready for legislation is that which would put the Civil Service on a statutory basis? Consequently, will the Government now consider separating that part of the Bill from the rest—which raises other issues that might be considered, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, suggested—and get on with the reform of the Civil Service?

My Lords, I am afraid I have to leave the noble Lord in a state of some anticipation because, as he knows, we plan to introduce a constitutional renewal Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows; we hope that that will be later this Session. The noble Lord will have to wait to see, if the Bill comes forward, what form it takes. We are, of course, still considering very carefully the report of the Select Committee on the draft Bill. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice previously offered an interim response from the department but that offer has not been taken up. However, I hope the full response will come at about the time the Bill is published.

My Lords, if the Bill to which the Minister referred impinges upon the nature of this House, will the Government recognise the fundamental importance of bicamerality in our parliamentary democracy, and will he undertake that consideration of powers will take place alongside consideration of membership?

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, was asking me about the Constitutional Renewal Bill. That Bill, at any rate in its draft form, has no relevance at all to the reform of this House.