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Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Volume 712: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

“The Government have today published the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. The Bill includes the following reforms, to:

1) The Civil Service

Place the Civil Service and Civil Service Commissioners on a statutory footing, and enshrine the Civil Service's core values in statute.

2) Treaties

Enshrine in statute the procedure for pre-ratification scrutiny of treaties by Parliament, and give legal effect to a vote against ratification.

3) House of Lords

Phase out the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, by ending by-elections for hereditary Peers; provide for the disqualification from the House of Lords of Peers convicted of a serious crime or subject to a bankruptcy restrictions order; enable the House of Lords to expel or suspend its Members in certain circumstances; and provide for Peers to resign and disclaim their peerages.

4) Demonstrations around Parliament

Repeal Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, removing the requirement to give notice of demonstrations around Parliament, as well as the offence of holding a demonstration without the authorisation of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The Bill will instead enable the police to be given proportionate, alternative powers to maintain access to Parliament.

5) Human Rights—“Somerville

Reconcile the time limit for human rights claims under the Northern Ireland Act 1988 and the Government of Wales Act 2006 with that in the Human Rights Act 1998. Due to the interface between this Bill and parallel provision for Scotland in an Act of the Scottish Parliament which has yet to receive Royal Assent, the same provision for Scotland will be introduced by amendment at the appropriate time.

6) Judicial Appointments

Remove the Prime Minister from the process of making appointments to the new Supreme Court. This complements non-legislative measures ending his involvement in the appointment of other members of the senior judiciary of England and Wales; and remove the provision enabling the Judicial Appointments Commission to assume responsibility for magistrates' appointments.

7) National Audit Office

Provide a modern governance arrangement for the National Audit Office, and change the tenure of the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

8) Transparency in accounting for NDPBs

Align the spending mechanisms of non-departmental public bodies with the existing budgetary treatment.

The Bill follows the proposals in the Governance of Britain Green Paper of July 2007 (CM 7170) and the publication of a draft Bill (published in March 2008, Cm 7342-11).

The issues covered in the draft Bill were the subject of examination by three Select Committees:

the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill (report of 31 July 2008, HL Paper 166-I, HC Paper 551-I);

the Justice Committee (report on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill (provisions relating to the Attorney-General), HC 698); and

the Public Administration Select Committee (report on Constitutional Renewal: draft Bill and White Paper, HC 499).

The Government are very grateful indeed for the work of these committees, and are publishing, today, their response to these reports.

On 3 July 2007, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made a major Statement on the case for constitutional reform. Alongside this, more detail was given in the Governance of Britain Green Paper. A number of subsequent separate consultation papers were published, including on the role of the Attorney-General (CM 7192), judicial appointments (CM 7210), war powers and treaties (CM 7239) and protest around Parliament (CM 7235). The draft Constitutional Renewal Bill was published on 25 March 2008 (CM 73423-2) and a Joint Committee of both Houses set up to consider the draft Bill.

The Government have taken full account of the responses to the consultation and the reports of the Select Committees in finalising the proposals in the Bill.

A fundamental aim of the governance of Britain agenda has been to reduce the power of the Executive, including by ending the use of relevant royal prerogative powers, and to enhance the role of Parliament. The provisions in respect of the Civil Service and treaties mark a major move in that direction. The Government have already announced that they would ensure that the Commons will have a pivotal position in determining whether the United Kingdom goes to war by means of a war powers resolution. Drafts of this have already been published and will go before Parliament in the autumn.

House of Lords

Detailed work on the reform of the Lords had been undertaken in parallel with the governance of Britain agenda. A White Paper was published last July (2008. CM) building on the decisions of the Commons in February 2007 in favour of an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House of Lords. No proposals in respect of the Lords were therefore included in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill.

However, in view of recent events and increased interest in the Lords’ reform agenda, the Government have decided to include in the Bill reforms to:

c) end the hereditary Peers by-elections, thus phasing out the hereditary principle, and

d) provide for the resignation of Peers and powers for their expulsion, suspension and disqualification in certain circumstances.

The Government are fully committed to comprehensive reform of the Lords, based on four principles, all of which were endorsed by the cross-party group—see White Paper, An Elected Second Chamber, July 2008, Cm 7438:

the primacy of the House of Commons, enshrined in the Parliament Acts, and in rules and convention;

independence of Members, supported by their serving a single, non-renewable term of three normal-length Parliaments, and, as set out originally in the 2007 White Paper, The House of Lords. Reform, Cm 7027, by a system of election which prevents a single party gaining an overall majority,

direct election, such that the second Chamber has a democratic mandate underpinning its revising role, but one that is never as a whole more up to date than that of the Commons, and

sensible transitional arrangements in respect of existing Peers.

There remain outstanding questions, which the Government will seek to answer in final proposals after the summer, with draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny as soon as possible. The two key issues are the electoral system and the size of the elected element—80 per cent or 100 per cent. The Government are giving careful and active consideration to resolving these questions in such a way as to make best use of a transitional period.

Attorney-General

The draft Constitutional Renewal Bill contained provisions in respect of the office of Attorney-General, following the Governance of Britain Green Paper, which set out the Government's commitment to enhancing public confidence and trust in the office, and the Government said that they would listen to the views of all those with an interest. A consultation paper was subsequently published on 25 July 2007. Of all the matters covered in the draft Bill, this was been the subject of most extensive comment, with bespoke reports from the Justice Committee and the Select Committee on the Constitution and extensive treatment—including minority views, with support from across all three main political parties—from the Joint Committee on the draft Bill.

Those reports disclosed a wide range of views on the direction that reform of the office might take. For example, the Justice Committee favoured separating the Attorney’s legal and political functions; a majority of the Joint Committee disagreed; and the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution noted that “there are a number of different ways in which the post of Attorney might evolve, providing an overview of the different options and arguments.

In the event, the significant, necessary reforms to the role of Attorney-General are being achieved without the need for legislation. For example, the Attorney has reached a new settlement with the Directors of Public Prosecutions, the Serious Fraud Office and Revenue and Customs Prosecutions to improve relationships, guarantee prosecutorial independence while ensuring an appropriate degree of accountability and to improve transparency about the relationship, as reflected in the new protocol setting out the respective responsibilities of the Attorney and the directors. This builds on the Prime Minister's Statement in July 2007, that the Attorney-General has herself decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases. Furthermore, the new protocol makes it clear that the Attorney-General will not be consulted in any case which concerns an MP or Peer or where there is a personal or professional conflict of interest, other than where her decision is required by law. This protocol will be published by the Attorney very shortly. Furthermore, the Attorney-General now only attends Cabinet when matters affecting her responsibilities are on the agenda.

Given that it has been possible to make these reforms to the office of Attorney-General without legislation, the Government have concluded that it is not necessary to include legislative changes in respect of the Attorney-General.”