House of Lords
Wednesday, 27 June 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Young People: Parenthood
Asked by Lord Northbourne
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are satisfied that all young people, both girls and boys, when they leave secondary schools in England or Wales understand what their responsibilities will be if they become parents.
My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting good parenting, but we do not believe that it is the Government’s role to tell parents exactly how to raise their children. As such, we are funding services that offer advice and support to all parents, but we do not plan to prescribe how or what skills schools need to teach their pupils, or to test pupils’ knowledge about parenting when they leave school.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that amount of comfort, but does he not agree that responsibility for the quality of parenting in our society is basically shared between the parents of the child and the state in its various forms and through its various agencies? It is essential that parents should understand the responsibilities for which they are responsible. The obvious place for them to learn that is in secondary school as they grow up. However, as the noble Lord confirmed when I asked a Question on 17 May, the Government are determined that secondary schools should not be obliged to teach parenting skills. I hope that I can persuade the Government to think again on this subject, both on the question of whether those skills should be taught in school, and secondly on the urgent need for a cadre of teachers to be developed that is skilled in dealing with that subject.
My Lords, I agree very much with the point the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, makes about the importance of parenting. He is absolutely right that schools can play an extremely important part in helping to prepare young people and helping them to understand some of the issues that he discusses. Our difference of opinion is over the degree of prescription that there should be. As he knows, rather than adding things to the national curriculum, we are trying to take things out of it, partly to provide more space for the teaching of these sorts of issues that he refers to.
My Lords, while welcoming the Government’s recent statement that they intend to try to ensure that when a family breaks up, both parents have the opportunity to fulfil their parental responsibilities to the child—after all, that is the child’s right—will my noble friend the Minister confirm that in any legislation the safety and best interests of the child will remain upfront and centre?
My noble friend is exactly right in both her points. We should try to have a legislative framework whereby the involvement of both parents in the upbringing of children is made as easy as possible. She is absolutely right that the core and underlying interest in all this legislation is to make sure that the interests of the child are at the heart of whatever arrangements one makes.
I believe that the parenting trials to which the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, refers are being delivered by well established and well respected providers. It is important that what is provided is, as far as possible, evidence-based. I take that point. If I can find out more information about who the providers operating the trials are, I will make sure that the noble Baroness has it.
We should say many things to young children in schools. For all education, my starting point would be the importance of English and maths. A decent grounding in those matters is most likely to lead children to have successful lives, and many of the desirable outcomes that we all want from education are more likely to appear.
My Lords, while I accept that English and maths are extremely important, does the Minister accept that the public have an interest in the upbringing of children, because if children are not well brought up we pay for it in all sorts of ways? Consequently, in so far as citizenship or anything akin to citizenship is taught in schools, will the Minister not consider whether parenting should be part of citizenship?
Certainly, I agree with the noble and learned Baroness’s underlying point that we all have a shared interest in making sure that children are brought up as well as possible. It is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made as well, so we have a common interest. On the specific point about citizenship and the content of that within the curriculum, as the noble and learned Baroness will know we are looking at the whole question of the national curriculum. I will relay her point to my honourable friend Mr Gibb for him to reflect on.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood report in which parenting features considerably? Is he further aware of the number of primary schools that already offer parenting courses for pupils’ parents? Is his department able to tell us how many schools across the country offer such parenting classes?
I do not know how many schools offer that and I do not know how easy it would be to find out, but I will certainly ask the question. I am aware of how much work is being done in primary and secondary schools and the way in which many schools, particularly primary schools, are finding ways of bringing parents into schools and educating them at the same time as the children. I agree with him on the importance of schools developing ways of encouraging that.
My Lords, given the changes in the benefits regime and the ideas being floated over the past few days about further changes that will affect in particular young people and their lifestyles, and given what the Minister has already said about not moving on parenting advice, will he say whether there is any intention to draw these changes to the attention of young people? Will he also say whether some thought might be given to giving some well placed advice on servicing tax liabilities and responsibilities at some point, too?
Poverty: Developing Countries
My Lords, widows and their children are among the poorest and most vulnerable in societies across the world. The Government have put girls and women at the heart of their development assistance. We provide targeted support to widows at country level and through programmes supporting women’s economic, social and political empowerment more broadly.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for her Answer and I am grateful for the consideration that the Government have given to this Question. However, the Answer does not tell the whole story. Does the Minister recall that the UN has designated 23 June as International Widows’ Day as a global day of action to end all discrimination against widows, to facilitate wide economic empowerment, and to enable them to enjoy their full human rights? Does the Minister accept that part of future aid budgets relating to women should be ring-fenced for widows who suffer discrimination and disadvantages?
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for all his work in this area, in particular through the Loomba Trust, which supports widows and their children in many developing countries, and for his work in securing that UN designated day for widows on 23 June. I recognise his point about double discrimination. Although it would not be appropriate to ring-fence money specifically for widows, it is extremely important that we identify in-country those women who are suffering from that double discrimination in the way that he indicates so that they can be supported.
My Lords, ever since the inception of the Loomba Foundation in 1988 by Raj Loomba, I have chaired its advisory council. On International Widows’ Day on Saturday, 23 June, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, made the best speech that I have ever heard him give.
In that speech, he asked why no one had highlighted the plight of widows around the world until Raj Loomba did all those years ago. Can the Minister tell us what the Government’s priorities are, where DfID is concerned, in the billions of pounds of aid that we give every year to help the 245 million widows and the 500 children, particularly with the education of poor widows’ children around the world?
I am glad that the noble Lord heard yet another stunning speech from my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Of course, my right honourable friend was quite right, as is the noble Lord, that the Loomba Foundation has done a huge amount in emphasising the particular challenges faced by widows through double discrimination. As my noble friend mentioned in the previous Question in relation to the United Kingdom, it is absolutely right that education is so important in terms of children’s prospects. We recognise that internationally as we as we do nationally. We are especially aware that when somebody is widowed or loses their partner for any other reason, it is girl children in particular who suffer. That is why DfID emphasises the support of girl children.
My Lords, about 40 per cent of adult women in the eastern Congo are widows. Many of them have suffered from sexual violence during the conflicts that have occurred in that region. What are the Government doing as part of our bilateral aid programme to the DRC to ensure that the rights of those widows to shelter, security and in particular to land are able to be used by them in a way that gives them the opportunity to rebuild their lives following the conflicts in that area over the past 30 years?
The noble Lord is right. DfID does indeed identify the particular problems of widows in the DRC and has programmes to support them. Again, he is right that widows often lose their land when widowed, and one of the programmes that DfID is carrying out not only in the DRC but elsewhere is to support the rights of women in that situation to land when widowed.
My Lords, I think that it is the turn of my noble friend Lady Gardner.
Returning to my point, I was for many years the chairman of the UK branch of PLAN International, which has a programme of helping to educate children and also provides great help to widows in many countries. I am glad that the Minister mentioned that the Government are doing what they can but one very big problem arises in countries where all inheritance goes to a male relative. Women find that they suddenly have nothing because their husband’s brother or one of their husband’s brother’s sons has inherited everything. I hope that she will press the Governments of the world on this matter. I think that Uganda has changed this law and that has made a dramatic difference to women. Will she press Commonwealth countries and other countries in general to look into this further?
My Lords, can the Minister give at least some detail of specific DfID policies designed to tackle the abuse and discrimination faced by widows of all ages, their children and their grandchildren, for whom they are often also responsible? The Minister mentioned focusing on women and girls but are the challenges faced by widows an integral part of DfID’s policy? Finally, what specific data does DfID have on the situation of widows and their daughters, and will she place those data in the Library of the House?
I will answer the noble Baroness in detail through a letter but I can tell her and noble Lords that DfID has programmes in Rwanda, Pakistan, India and the DRC, as well as elsewhere, targeted specifically at widows. However, given the time, I shall write to her with many more details.
Armed Forces: Discrimination
My Lords, the Armed Forces covenant sets out the principles that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether regular or reserve, those who have served in the past and their families should face no disadvantage compared with other citizens and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most, such as the injured and the bereaved. Any discrimination against members of the Armed Forces community is to be abhorred, and we will continue to be alert to any cases which are brought to our attention. I believe that the vast majority of the population are hugely supportive of those who defend them.
My Lords, I agree with the Minister about that wide support. Saturday is Armed Forces Day. It will be a day of celebration. Never in recent times has the level of approval of the Armed Forces been so high. Nevertheless, despite the efforts of both parties, some members of the Armed Forces still have problems. The splendid report of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft—I never thought that I would find myself saying that—found that in the past five years 20% have suffered verbal abuse, 5% have suffered violence or attempted violence, 18% have been refused service in hotels, pubs and elsewhere when wearing the uniform in the UK, and more than 25% have been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card. My right honourable friend Jim Murphy, the shadow Secretary of State, wrote to the Secretary of State on 27 May to urge him to hold cross-party talks on how to end discrimination against our Armed Forces and their families, including the option of introducing new legal protections for the services community. Will the Minister assure the House that this request will receive the fullest possible consideration?
My Lords, we thank my noble friend Lord Ashcroft for his very helpful report and are reassured by the high level of support for the Armed Forces that he mentions. The report provides pointers to areas requiring attention. We believe that education rather than legislation is the most effective way to combat discrimination. We can lead this if we work together on a cross-party basis in Parliament to celebrate the contribution of our Armed Forces. An example of this is having troops marching into Parliament on their return from Afghanistan and being given refreshments and tours by MPs and noble Lords. This is the initiative of the All-Party Group for the Armed Forces. In his letter to Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State said:
“I would welcome a discussion with you on how we can ensure that everything we do in Parliament emphasises our cross-party support for the Armed Forces and the people who serve in them”.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not now that is the problem, as the Armed Forces have a high profile since they are engaged in combat and we have casualties coming back? We must do something that guarantees that we continue to take an interest when this conflict is over because discrimination usually increases during times of ignorance. Peace in Afghanistan may well bring this.
My Lords, the worst discrimination I ever suffered was shortly after meeting my wife, when she told me that the two most useless things in a sailing boat are an umbrella and a naval officer. Joking aside, the Minister referred to education. We need to educate young people about the importance of the services and one of the best ways of doing that is the cadet forces. Are we going to put more effort into getting CCF and other units into a broader spectrum of schools to try to encourage this?
My Lords, first, I would tell them to get in contact with their chain of command, which will work closely with the civil police or other bodies, as appropriate, to address any problem. I understand one of the problems that they encounter is with mortgage lenders. Service personnel facing credit-rating difficulties because of time spent abroad should approach prospective mortgage lenders, and all prospective landlords or letting agents, to instruct their credit reference-checking agencies to undertake a manual check of the individual circumstances.
Does the Minister agree that discrimination can take many forms? With the repositioning of Armed Forces personnel from Germany over the coming years, one area of concern may well be about the opportunity for their children to have access to the schools that their parents want them to go to and to get on the doctor’s list in the area that they wish. Does he agree that we may need to review the covenant, which is an extremely good initiative, to ensure that the families of Armed Forces personnel are not indirectly discriminated against?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. A great deal can be done by local communities. Community covenants are voluntary statements of mutual support between the civilian community and its local Armed Forces community in the form of a written pledge. These local partnerships are usually made between the Armed Forces in an area and the local authority and joined by local business organisations, charities and other public bodies as appropriate.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take in the light of the finding of the Care Quality Commission’s recent unannounced inspections of care homes and treatment centres for people with learning disabilities, that around half of those inspected were not meeting essential standards of care.
My Lords, the CQC’s findings show unacceptable levels of care. On Monday a Department of Health report set out 14 national actions to improve care and support for people with learning disabilities or autism and behaviours that challenge. All parts of the health and care system have a role to play in driving up standards, stopping abuse and transforming local services.
My Lords, in its inspection of care homes and assessment centres in the light of the serious abuse and appalling standards of care at Winterbourne View hospital for people with learning disabilities, the CQC found that of the 150 inspections it carried out, independent healthcare providers were twice as likely to fail to meet the required standards as NHS providers. How does the Minister account for that? Can he say specifically what steps he will be taking to ensure that clinical commissioning groups tackle the problems the commission found over lengths of stay in services, failure to review care plans so that residents can be moved on to community-based services, and the very worrying overuse of restraint of patients?
My Lords, it is true that CQC inspectors found that for the kind of services they inspected, there was more non-compliance in services run by the private sector. But the information the CQC gathered for its report does not enable it to analyse the reasons for that. I would simply say that all providers of services, whether in the independent sector or the NHS, need to ensure that they comply with essential standards. The noble Baroness summarised a number of the areas where the CQC found failings and I endorse her view that there is a fundamental failing across the system, not just in providers but in terms of commissioning as well. The examples of poor care show up a fundamental need for commissioners to review commissioning plans and care plans, and make sure not just that the providers are capable of offering and providing care to the right standards but that they are actually doing so at the right level for the patients and service users they look after.
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, is trying to get in.
My Lords, in 2008 the Joint Committee on Human Rights produced a shocking report which highlighted some of the most degrading experiences endured by adults with learning disabilities in health and residential care settings. Four years on we are debating the same human rights abuses—this time highlighted by the CQC report, which shows excessive use of restraint and seclusion in assessment and treatment facilities. Will the Minister assure us that he will return to the JCHR and CQC reports and tell us what measures the Government will take now to protect the liberties and safety of this highly vulnerable group so that we do not sit here again in four years debating how we have failed for a third time?
The noble Baroness’s remarks will resonate with many noble Lords. We have been here before. One of the emerging issues from the review is around poor practice on the use of restraint, as she rightly mentioned. CQC inspectors found that only 73% of locations met requirements on physical intervention or restraint. There was ineffective monitoring of restraint data and learning from incidents. Staff were not always trained and restraint was not always delivered in line with the care plan. There are real lessons to be learnt by providers about the use of restraint. We have flagged this up as one of the actions that we will take in the department to work with the Department for Education, the Care Quality Commission and others to drive up standards and promote best practice in the use of positive behavioural support and ensure that physical restraint is only ever used as a last resort. The report published on Monday is an interim report and we will be publishing a final report later in the year.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that this report calls into question the role of local safeguarding adult bodies? What are they doing now while people are being mistreated in a way that the CQC has uncovered? Does the Minister think that it is time to revisit the legal bases of those organisations?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to call that matter into question. My department will be working with the NHS Commissioning Board Authority to agree by January next year how best to embed quality of health principles in the system using NHS contracting and guidance. Those principles will set out the expectations of service users in relation to their experience. We are taking a range of other action—the 14 national actions to which I referred in my initial Answer—which I would suggest my noble friend looks at. We are clear that there is a need not just for providers but for everybody in the system to focus on their responsibilities and to work together to drive up standards in the way that we all wish to see.
My Lords, given the number of years that have passed since we saw the Mencap report Death by Indifference, and the fact that these reports show an inadequate level of improvement, I find myself in the strange position of asking my noble friend if he would please reconsider a proper register, professionally supervised by those working in the care industry?
My Lords, as my noble friend knows, we committed in the Health and Social Care Act to facilitate a voluntary register for care workers and health workers. We believe that the system should be tried before we think about any statutory regulation. However, I understand the urgency and strength of feeling around this issue and it is a matter that we will keep under regular review.
British Waterways Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 2012
Inland Waterways Advisory Council (Abolition) Order 2012
Motion to Approve
That the draft orders laid before the House on 29 February be approved.
Relevant documents: 58th Report from the Merits Committee, Session 2010–12; 43rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, Session 2010–12; 1st and 4th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 25 June.
Justice and Security Bill [HL]
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Justice and Security Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 15, Schedules 2 and 3, Clause 16.
European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I know that other important business awaits so I will be very brief. However, there is a procedural question of some importance under the European Union Act 2011, which we are discussing, and the Explanatory Note relating to referendums.
Treaty referendum is becoming a very live subject now that the Finance Minister of Germany has announced that there could be a referendum on a rather more urgent timescale than has been considered—presumably in relationship to the single European banking supervision system which is being proposed by some people. However, my point goes much wider than that. Under the circumstances, it is possible for a Minister under the simplified revision procedure to make a statement under Section 5 of the Act that, although a transfer of power from the UK to the EU falling within Section 4 of this Act has taken place, the proposed change is considered not significant. There are circumstances in which it might be very urgent, during the present crisis over the eurozone, for the British Government to give powers, and I think that they have overall adopted a very conciliatory attitude to those members of the eurozone to the effect that we do not wish to stand in their way on making changes that we may not ourselves wish for but which are related purely to the eurozone. So it is quite possible that a decision might come that is not considered significant in terms of the Act, but if passed by this House would allow the European Union treaties to be amended and action to take place urgently. That might be helpful.
However, in the same circumstances, the Government, not using the 2011 Act, might consider that the implications of these changes are of such importance that they wish to call a referendum under the general powers, although not in a way that would stop the rest of the European Union living under the treaty amendments they had agreed. When the Bill comes back on Third Reading, will it possible to clarify the not-significant clause in a helpful way towards the European Union? We could also hold our own referendum under different legislation which, if you like, would deal with our own political problems but would not stand in the way of a resolution to the eurozone crisis, which we might all agree might be necessary in a matter of days.
My Lords, the noble Lord has raised wider issues of great importance, ones that your Lordships will no doubt wish to debate. Indeed, it is possible that he may have an opportunity to raise them at Third Reading. However, this Bill is concerned merely with amending Article 136 of the Lisbon treaty, and there being no amendments to it on Report, I beg to move.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, it has been agreed that the Statement which is about to be given by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde should follow the extended procedure for Back-Bench contributions. Perhaps I may remind the House that this means that after my noble friend has made his Statement and the Leader of the Opposition has made her speech, my noble friend will respond to her. At that point we shall have 40 minutes for the Back-Bench speeches—
Questions—I am prompted on an absolutely correct point. We want to include as many participants as possible in this debate, and I know that many noble Lords are keen to ask questions. In Statements we normally ask two questions for elucidation; we do not make speeches.
When we reach the 40 minutes for questions, it has been decided that it would be helpful to the House if we followed the normal procedure for extended debates whereby the first person to ask questions will be the Convener of the Cross Benches, followed thereafter by a right reverend Prelate. Today I understand that it will be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. Following him will be my noble friend Lord Dholakia, and then the noble Lord, Lord Richard, as the chair of the Joint Select Committee.
My Lords, I am glad to be able to announce that, as will shortly be made clear on the annunciator, the proceedings in Grand Committee will not go ahead until 4.45 pm, which permits those noble Lords who intend to take part in the first day of the Committee stage of the Civil Aviation Bill to be present in the Chamber.
House of Lords Reform Bill
My Lords, the Government have today published our response to the report from the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill of last Session. We have reflected, and we are now in a position to introduce a Bill. The House of Commons has today given a First Reading to a House of Lords Reform Bill introduced by the Government and copies are available in the Printed Paper Office. The Government, after a White Paper, joint pre-legislative scrutiny and many debates, have taken the next step in the legislative process and put the proposals before Parliament. The Government will ask another place to give the Bill a Second Reading before the Summer Recess.
The development of the Government’s Bill has benefited from the detailed scrutiny of the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill so valuably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The Government are grateful to the Joint Committee for its report. We have considered its report and we have accepted many of its conclusions and recommendations.
I hope it might be helpful for me to set out the key respects in which the Bill introduced today differs from the original draft Bill, and to identify the central elements of the Bill that have not changed. The Joint Committee and the Government are in agreement on key features of our proposals. We are agreed that 80% of members of the reformed second Chamber should be elected on the basis of proportional representation; that the reformed House should be smaller than the current House of Lords; that Members should serve for a single 15-year, non-renewable term; and that there should be no change to the powers and functions of the two Houses.
We have none the less made a number of significant changes to the Bill we have introduced today. The draft Bill recommended reducing the size of the House to 300 Members. The Joint Committee recommended 450 Members, and we have accepted its recommendation. The Joint Committee also recommended that the 90 appointed Members should not necessarily be expected to attend the reformed House every sitting day. The committee argued that allowing individuals to maintain relevant professional expertise would strengthen the reformed House, as it does the present House. The Government have accepted this recommendation, and consider that the same logic should apply to elected Members. To reflect this, the Bill provides that IPSA must pay Members according to their level of participation in the work of the House.
On the recommendation of the Joint Committee, we have also significantly altered Clause 2 of the Bill. It is no longer a declaratory statement that nothing in the Bill affects the primacy of the House of Commons, the powers of each House and the conventions. Instead, it now clarifies the continuing application of the Parliament Acts in the context of a reformed second Chamber.
A further substantial change intended to provide a clear differentiation between the role of MPs and that of elected Members of the reformed House is that the areas from which elected Members will be returned are now larger regions rather than the smaller electoral districts proposed in the White Paper. Using these regions means that there will be a larger number of seats in each district, which in turn would have led to significant practical issues if an STV system had been used. The Government share the Joint Committee’s view that the complexity of the electoral system is an important consideration, and that voters should have the option of simply voting for a party. The Government therefore consider that the most appropriate electoral system for the reformed House in Great Britain is a regional, semi-open list, and that is what is now proposed.
In many other respects the draft Bill and the Bill introduced today are the same. Elections to the second Chamber will happen in thirds to coincide with general elections. There will be a transitional period with existing Members leaving in thirds, as each set of elected Members arrives. Membership of the reformed second Chamber will no longer be linked to the peerage. There will be a continuing role for Church of England bishops, but in reduced number. A statutory Appointments Commission will make nominations for the 20% of appointed Members who would be expected to be non-party political. The Bill includes provision for Members of the House to be able to resign, it provides for disqualification from membership of the House, and it gives the House a power to suspend or expel Members.
Finally, the fundamental principle behind the Bill has not changed. The Government believe that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom the laws apply, and that a democratic mandate—obtained through direct elections—would afford the House greater legitimacy and thereby enhance the House’s ability to perform its core functions of revising legislation and holding the Executive to account.
I am conscious that Members around the House have taken a close interest in the cost of the Government’s proposals for reform. As promised, the Government have today published their full cost estimates alongside the impact assessment for the Bill. These, too, have been placed in the Printed Paper Office.
I hope that this overview has served to highlight the main respects in which the Government’s proposals have evolved since the publication of the draft Bill and the publication of the Joint Committee’s report on that Bill. I reiterate the Government’s thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the other noble Lords who served on the Joint Committee, whose report has had a significant influence on our final proposals.
I said before that there is only one way to test whether a consensus on the second phase of reform of this House exists or can emerge, and that is to introduce a Bill and allow Parliament to take a view. Today, that process is under way.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for making a Statement to your Lordships' House on the Government’s revised House of Lords Reform Bill, which has been introduced today in the other place and given a First Reading. I am grateful, too, for an advanced sight of the Statement. I thank the Leader and the government Chief Whip for offering to extend to 40 minutes the normal period for Back-Bench contributions to the debate today.
This country is facing enormous difficulties. We are in a double-dip recession; we have no economic growth; unemployment, especially youth unemployment, remains high. The Governor of the Bank of England did not mince his words yesterday when he spoke of the depth of the economic crisis. Further efforts will be made this week at the EU summit to try to resolve the eurozone crisis. We need jobs and we need growth; we need a change of economic strategy. Those are the country’s priorities and those are the Opposition’s priorities. What are the Government’s priorities? Apparently, they centre on further reform of your Lordships’ House. Not only is reform of your Lordships’ House not at the top of the priority list of the people of this country; it is not even at the bottom of the priority list. In fact, it is not on the list at all, because it is not a priority. Even the most positive polling figures suggest that less than a fifth of the people of this country regard further House of Lords reform as in any way urgent. Yet this is what this Government have placed at the heart of their legislative agenda; this is what the Government are focusing on today. Why are the Government making reform of your Lordships' House such a priority in the light of the economic challenges facing us?
We do not from these Benches say that constitutional reform is unimportant. From 1997 onwards in government, we brought forward a serious programme of constitutional reform, including major changes such as devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Constitutional reform, including further reform of the House of Lords, goes to important questions about how Britain is governed. We on these Benches did not seek a Bill on further reform of your Lordships' House to be included in the Government’s legislative programme, but it has been; it is there; and we as the Opposition must respond to it.
Labour’s commitment to a fully elected second Chamber was explicit in its manifesto at the last general election. Labour has a long commitment to reform and has enacted that commitment. We want to see reform, but we want to get that reform right. For the Labour Party, that means a fully elected second Chamber. It means getting the powers and role of the House of Lords right, not only in itself but in relation to the House of Commons. We believe, too, that the issue is of such importance that it should be put to the people of this country in a referendum, a commitment which is strongly supported by the public according to opinion-poll evidence.
We will want to examine in detail the Government’s revised version of the House of Lords Reform Bill. The first version of the Bill, published last year, was a bad Bill. We thought so; the Joint Committee on the Bill thought so; and the alternative report from the Joint Committee’s minority group thought so. Pretty well everyone thought so, apart from the Deputy Prime Minister.
The Government are proposing their revised Bill in the face of serious and searching criticisms of their first attempt. We will need to consider how far this version gets in dealing with the very big questions which need to be resolved, including those about the primacy of the House of Commons. The Government’s revised Bill today attempts to shore up in various ways the wholly discredited Clause 2 of the original Bill, on Commons primacy, by scrapping the provision entirely and replacing it with a statement in the Bill about the applicability of the Parliament Acts. The Bill also repeals the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911. Are there any further constitutional implications of repealing the preamble? I look forward to hearing the views on this issue of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and of my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith.
On the applicability of the Parliament Acts, can the Leader of the House explain why, in the Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee, which has also been published today, they refer on page 7 to their response to recommendation 84 of the Joint Committee, on the Parliament Acts, when their responses to the recommendations go from 82 to 86, without recommendation 84 being included at all? That is interesting.
There are also questions about the powers of the second Chamber; about the exact proportion of elected Members, the length of their terms, whether they should be renewable; about the system of election; about the relationship between the Lords and the Commons, about the position of this House in relation to the outcome of a referendum in Scotland on independence; about the place of bishops or other religious representation; about transitional arrangements, and about the costs of the Government’s reforms.
On the question of costs, the Government have, as the Leader of the House said, finally published the costings today on their revised proposals. I note that these include provision for a number of allowances for Members of an elected House, including an accommodation allowance and a staffing allowance. The costings do not, however, include the cost of elections for the House, put separately by the Government at £85.7 million for each of the elections proposed. Will the Leader tell the House what the Government believe the total net cost of all their proposals will be?
Can the Leader of the House explain to Members of your Lordships’ House what the position will be in an elected House in relation to remuneration? The Government have been briefing the media heavily in the past few days that Members of the new elected House will not be paid a salary but will instead have a daily allowance before tax of £300. However, new Section 7A of Clause 46 of the Bill specifies that,
“members of the House of Lords are to be paid … on a monthly basis in arrears”.
Will the Leader of the House clarify which is correct?
Of huge importance to my party and to the Joint Committee, the revised Bill does not contain a referendum. There is little logic in a position which says that we have referendums to decide whether we have city mayors, but not to decide whether to alter radically the composition and structure of our Parliament. We shall see whether the Government’s present non-inclusion of a referendum in the Bill survives whatever parliamentary processes the Bill faces. However, can the Leader of the House say why he believes that 55%—according to the latest opinion poll—of the people of this country are wrong in wanting to have their say on these matters in a referendum?
On these matters, Labour, whether in the other place or in your Lordships’ House, will seek as an Opposition to scrutinise, amend and improve the Bill during its passage through Parliament. Lords reform is a serious issue and we expect the Government to take Parliament seriously, too, in considering it. That is why we want to see proper scrutiny of the Bill in the other place, where it will be taken first. That is why we will oppose in the other place the proposed timetable for the Bill, which would, effectively, guillotine debate. However, we are a party in favour of reform, which is why Ed Miliband also announced yesterday that Labour in the Commons will be voting for a Second Reading of the Bill. For a Bill about which we have real reservations, this is an unusual step for an Opposition. There is indeed plenty of precedent for legislative proposals being opposed at this stage.
For example, in 1999, the party opposite, including 11 members of the current Cabinet, proposed and voted for a reasoned amendment and against the Second Reading of the Labour Government’s 1999 House of Lords Bill on hereditary Peers. We know that there are members of my party, both in this House and the other place, who would wish to vote against the Bill for reasons of principle. I respect those who hold this view, but the shadow Cabinet, of which I am a member, disagrees with them, and Labour will vote for a Second Reading in the other place later this month.
It is next month, forgive me. It is not July—hell.
We know, too, that there are great differences of opinion—vast gulfs of opinion—between the constituent parties of the coalition, and within the ranks of the Conservative Party, both in the other place and in this House. As the Prime Minister said in the other place earlier today, there are those in all parties who oppose further reform of the House of Lords, just as there are those who support further reform. We shall see how those differences emerge as the Bill goes through its Commons stages.
It is likely that those stages will be protracted. The Bill is, I suspect, many months away from coming before this House, if indeed it manages to get out of the Commons. Given the dates for Second Reading in the other place, it is likely that the House of Commons will go into Committee on the Bill when it sits in September. Recently the noble Lord the Leader of the House all but issued as a threat the possibility that this House would have to sit in September to deal with the Financial Services Bill. Can I inform him that in order to deal with a range of matters, such as the Government’s legislative programme and their record on jobs and growth, we on these Benches would welcome sitting in September when the Commons will be deliberating on this Bill. I ask the Leader of the House to arrange now that this House should indeed sit in September to consider these important matters.
On the overall matter of further reform of your Lordships’ House, there are wide differences of opinion across the House. That was clearly demonstrated right across the House in the days of debate we have had on the issue recently, both in considering the report of the Joint Committee and the alternative report and in the days devoted to the constitutional issues during the debate in this Chamber on the gracious Speech. However, what was also demonstrated in those debates was a seriousness about this issue—a determination that it should be considered properly, and a clear intention to scrutinise fully whatever proposals the Government place before Parliament. Can the Leader of the House give us a commitment that if this Bill does get to your Lordships’ House, the Members of this House will have all the time they need to scrutinise the proposals fully and properly?
We have revised proposals before us today. In this House we have time—possibly a good deal of time—to consider these proposals while they are in the House of Commons. That is what I expect that many individual Members of this House will wish to do. For our part, both in the other place and, if necessary, in your Lordships’ House, we will ensure that the Government’s proposals are properly debated, properly considered, properly questioned and properly scrutinised. That is the job of the Opposition; and starting from the publication of the Bill today, that is the job that we will be getting on with.
My Lords, having read what Mr Miliband said in support of the prospect of reform, I was surprised by much of what the noble Baroness said this afternoon. I was very impressed with what Mr Miliband said yesterday. He pledged the Labour Party’s support for the Second Reading of the Bill, even before he had had an opportunity to see it. Perhaps when he has read it, he will decide to support a programme Motion to rush it through the House of Commons and into this House as quickly as possible.
The noble Baroness asked whether this should be a priority. It has been hanging around for so long that we have to get around to it at some stage. It started in 1998-99 as a great priority of the previous Government. They published their last White Paper in 2008. I dare say that if the Labour Party had won the election it would have brought forward a Bill. This coalition has decided that it is time to bring this debate to an end and to ask Parliament what its view is, and it is right that we should do so.
There is also the bizarre suggestion that when important things are happening, Parliament cannot decide on other important issues. It is worth reflecting that on 6 and 7 June 1944, the House of Lords was debating the all-important Butler Education Act on Second Reading. Of course, getting growth into the economy is important, but that is not going to be done just in Parliament; it is going to be done by businesses and entrepreneurs up and down the country.
The noble Baroness reiterated the Labour Party’s view that what is most important in reform is that the House should be 100% elected. Respectfully, we disagree, as did the Joint Committee. Although she did not say that the powers between the Houses should be codified, I think that is what she meant. Again, respectfully, we disagree. She said that there should be a referendum. We see no case whatever for a referendum on the issue. Parliament should decide. It would cost £80 million to have a referendum on this issue, which was included as part of all three main parties’ political manifestos. I urge the Opposition to have more confidence in their manifesto, which is only two years old. I hate to point out to noble Lords opposite that there were no referendums in 1958 or 1999, when the composition of the House was changed, and we see no case for one now.
On the question of primacy, it is true that the Joint Committee had a substantial debate on Clause 2, helped by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the Government reflected on that. That is why we have changed the Bill in this way. This is in part because this Bill is about the composition of a reformed House of Lords and the transition arrangements for getting there. It is not about the functions, powers and role of the two Houses, which we would like to see remain unaffected by that change. The Bill clearly states that the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 will continue to apply after the introduction of elected Members.
The Parliament Acts underpin the primacy of the House of Commons in statute. They limit the legislative power of the Lords and ensure that any Administration with a majority in the Commons can ultimately pass legislation without agreement of the House of Lords. We are not aware of any further constitutional implications of repealing the preamble to the 1911 Act.
On the questions of cost raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, she rightly pointed out that the cost of election was excluded from the cost of the House; it stands at £85.7 million every five years. We believe that at the end of the transition period the projected additional annual cost of the House of Lords will be £13.6 million. Of course there will be other associated costs during the course of transition. As for pay, there is something inherently useful about the current arrangements whereby Peers have a daily allowance, and we wish to replicate that through a per diem salary that would be paid monthly in arrears but would be assessed on daily attendance in this House.
In the course of the next few months, there will be many opportunities to discuss some of these issues, but it is also right for the House of Commons now to take its view. I have no idea when the House of Commons is going to discuss these issues, and whether it will be early or late in the autumn. We also have work to do and we should get on with that before dealing with the Bill when it gets to us some time in the winter.
My Lords, for the avoidance of doubt can I say explicitly that if my Government had been in power now and had faced the economic situation which the country faces now, this would not have been at the top of our priorities and we would not be discussing this Bill in the House of Commons today?
My Lords, I will be brief. I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating this Statement on a Bill that will clearly repay careful study, and for agreeing to this extended time of questioning.
It was entirely understandable that the new coalition Government introduced a full and challenging legislative programme that required an extended first Session. Inevitably some of that legislation was controversial. Does the Leader agree that every one of those Bills was carefully scrutinised in this House? Does he agree that, thanks to the hard work of colleagues from all around the House, each one of those Bills was greatly improved, so much so that during the period of scrutiny the Government had time to reflect on points that had been made and brought forward very many changes to their own legislation? As a starting point, does the Leader agree that this House has demonstrated time and again its ability to fulfil its responsibilities in the scrutiny and improvement of legislation?
Secondly, does the Leader agree that the House has changed greatly in recent years, and that time and again it has shown its willingness to change? Indeed, across the House there is agreement that further incremental change is still there for the taking.
Thirdly, will the Leader accept that my colleagues and I welcome that the Bill will endorse that 20% of the membership of the House will be appointed, but will he assure the House that the appointed Members will be genuinely independent and without any party political allegiance?
My Lords, I am grateful for the Convenor’s questions. Of course I agree with him: the House of Lords, not just since the general election but broadly since 1999, has done a good job of scrutiny and worked well on Bills. I have put on record many times that this is not about the current effectiveness of the House of Lords, which is recognised as having done its job extremely well and having improved legislation. The Government’s view is to improve the legitimacy of the House—indeed, to strengthen its ability to hold the Government to account and to challenge the decisions of the House of Commons.
On the noble Lord’s second question, yes, the House has changed substantially throughout the 20th century, most recently in 1999, and has always accepted such changes. Many of my colleagues in the coalition regard the transitional period as being extremely long. There was no transitional period, or not a very big one, in 1998-99, but there will be a substantial one for the new House to get used to the new arrangements over three electoral cycles.
I confirm that the 20% appointed Members will be appointed by a statutory Appointments Commission, as laid out in the Bill, and will be non-party political Members of this House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader for his clarification of the Government’s proposals. We on these Benches recognise the need for some reform of this House, and welcome the opportunity that the Bill will give for a thorough debate about the future of Parliament. In particular, we are pleased to see that the Government endorse the Joint Committee’s recommendation on the continuing contribution of the Lords spiritual to a reformed House, albeit that the decision to raise the proposed size of the House to 450 from the original proposal of 300 suggests that the proportion of Bishops, at the number of 12, may be too low if the total number is revised upwards.
We have always said that we will assess the proposals on the basis of what makes for the good governance of Britain. I therefore raise two questions. First, as a member of the Joint Committee, I remained puzzled throughout the course of its work about how the Government’s expressed desire for a more assertive House could be squared with the confident assertion that a reformed House could be relied upon to exercise the necessary self-restraint required to guarantee the primacy and effectiveness of the House of Commons. Will the Leader help us to be as certain as he appears to be that the Parliament Act will prevent the serious risk of dysfunction in the relationship between the two Houses?
Secondly, as your Lordships will be aware, the Church of England has always argued for diverse religious representation in this House so that it properly reflects the diversity of civil society as a whole. The Government appear not to have accepted the Joint Committee’s recommendation that it is necessary for the Bill to make explicit reference to the inclusion of major faiths in a reformed House. How is it proposed that the Appointments Commission can ensure that a reformed House will reflect the religious heritage and cultural diversity of Britain today?
My Lords, I reiterate a view that I have long held and which the Government also hold: the Lords spiritual play a valuable and important role in the House and make an important contribution. The right reverend Prelate wonders about the numbers. I think it was the Joint Committee that suggested a reduction to 12 Bishops. The proposal in the Bill is that there should be five named Bishops and Archbishops, and then seven others chosen by the Church of England.
On two key questions of self-restraint and how this can be achieved, of course nothing can be guaranteed. It depends on the House evolving, and its new relationship with the second Chamber, which either will or will not change. It will be up to the new House, and the House of Commons, to decide how best to govern itself.
On the second question the right reverend Prelate raises, he is right to point out that we have not accepted that there should be an explicit condition on the statutory Appointments Commission to put in Peers of other faiths and make sure they are represented. There is no such view on the current Appointments Commission, yet it works extremely well. Other faiths have been introduced into the House, and I hope that that will continue.
My Lords, I did explain at the very beginning and I repeat that it has been the custom of these extended debates for a senior member of the Liberal Democrat Benches to speak after the noble and right reverend Bishop. It was my error in saying “my noble friend Lord Dholakia”. I apologise; I should have said “my noble friend Lord Tyler”—which I did say—followed by “the noble Lord, Lord Richard”.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dholakia is not able to be here, and I have been asked to respond. I am very sorry if I am holding up the noble Lord, Lord Richard, because I am looking forward very much to his response. He and other members of the committee will agree that the Government have in the main responded to our report.
Has my noble friend the Leader noted very intriguing variations in consistency on this issue? He will have noted, I think, that David Cameron and George Osborne voted for the 80/20 hybrid House as long ago as February 2003, as indeed I did. However, a great many others seem to have changed their minds since. I particularly welcome—and I think that other members of the Joint Committee will join me in this—the fact that the Government have taken such trouble with a very robust and comprehensive analysis of the cost projections to lay to rest the otherwise very speculative scaremongering expenditure estimates that were given to us previously. That is very helpful. That also responds to the report recommendations.
May I ask my noble friend the Leader to expand in due course, not necessarily now, on the true comparison between the Government’s proposals in this very useful document on the projection of cost and what would otherwise happen if the Government’s proposals did not go through? If the size of the House continued to expand, the cost of this House would of course also increase dramatically.
Yes, my Lords, we most certainly can. My noble friend is entirely correct. There has been a very robust analysis of the cost, including an examination of what the cost might have been if no reform had taken place—it would increase substantially. I said in reply to the Leader of the Opposition that the net cost in the first year after transition would be an extra £13.6 million per year, and I stand by that amount. I am very happy to write to my noble friend about how the costs have been robustly examined. I think the House will find that when it looks at the Explanatory Memorandum and the reply to the Joint Committee of both Houses, it will see very clearly how those costs have been reached and how they are substantially different from the ones proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey.
My Lords, it was indeed a privilege and a pleasure, although perhaps not a treasure beyond measure, to have been asked to chair the Joint Committee. It was a fascinating experience, and I greatly enjoyed it. We exposed a very large number of issues in the course of it, some of which I am happy to say the Government have taken on board. It is now proposed that the size of the House should be 450 rather than 300. That is thoroughly sensible. However, the main issue that the Joint Committee spent a great deal of time on was raised by the noble and right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester: namely, the primacy of the House of Commons and the relationship between the two Houses.
The Government are quite right to put in the provision clarifying totally the issue of the Parliament Acts. There was a lacuna there, and it was clearly pointed out to the Joint Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. The Government have put that right, and that is to be welcomed, but I am not sure whether merely dealing with primacy in that way, and only in that way, in the Bill will be sufficient. I ask the Leader of the House whether he will look at this issue of primacy again, and at whether there are ways in which one could perhaps not exactly buttress the primacy of the House of Commons but at least harden it.
There was one Joint Committee recommendation which the Government did not accept, and I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could tell me why. It came originally from the Cunningham report, and was that you could not codify the conventions dealing with the relationship between the two Houses and that you should not put them in statute. That I entirely agreed with. On the other hand, as we suggested, each House could almost simultaneously pass resolutions in identical terms spelling out what that relationship is and what the conventions underlying that relationship were. In other words, you would have a concordat spelt out in two documents between the two Houses that would set out the basic relationship between the two. I am not suggesting that that is immutable and can inevitably last in perpetuity, but I do say that although you cannot guarantee the primacy of the House of Commons in perpetuity—it cannot be done—you can produce a set of proposals that make it far more likely that that primacy will last than if you do not have those proposals in the Bill.
The Government should therefore perhaps look again at whether you cannot harden that part of the relationship between the two Houses, and I ask the noble Lord to look at it.
My Lords, the noble Lord is of course entirely correct that a large part of his report and the evidence that he received was on precisely this point about powers and primacy. There is a difference of opinion. My view, and the Government’s view, is that we should not worry too much about this at this stage. There is no need to do so. What could be a potential outcome of this? We could end up with an elected House having less power than the current House. That would be completely absurd. In the Bill, the Government have protected the current rights and privileges of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and have asserted that the Bill is about composition and not about powers at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, has made an entirely sensible observation: that one way around this is to look again at the conventions that exist between the two Houses, and to ask each House to pass some sort of resolution. Well, maybe that is exactly what will happen, but there is no need for it to happen now or before Royal Assent of this Bill, or indeed before 2015, which is the anticipated date of the first elections. However, it is certainly a suggestion that a successor House may well wish to look at sensibly.
My Lords, I appreciate the way that the Government have taken on board the main principles of the Joint Committee. I note that the Bill now overlaps in most significant respects with the recommendations of the royal commission chaired a few years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, but with one significant difference. The Wakeham commission allowed for the possibility of at least a few experienced politicians being appointed to the new second Chamber. How does the Leader of the House envisage providing, under the Bill, for people who have perhaps stood for election to the House of Commons two or three times and who would not necessarily be tempted to stand again for election to this House but who have a huge amount to offer in the way of political experience and wisdom? If there was no such provision in a new Chamber, would he not say that this was a significant loss?
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, makes two valuable points. First, he is entirely correct that there is a firm line of thought between the conclusions of the royal commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham, the White Papers produced by the Labour Party when it was in government, the draft Bill and, indeed, the Bill that we have published today. That is why I have said that very little is new in all this; the noble and right reverend Lord is entirely correct. The second point that he raises is more difficult and more intriguing. It is right that unless former distinguished Members of the House of Commons were prepared to stand for election under their party label, we would lose some of that expertise. Having said that, I do not think that it would be beyond the terms of reference of the statutory Appointments Commission to select a small number of most eminent politicians—a very select few—who might be interested in serving the nation and this House without a party political label.
My Lords, my noble friend will surely remember that it is only a few years ago that the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons concluded that the principal cause of today’s widespread public disillusionment with our political system is the virtually untrammelled control by the Executive of the elected House of Commons. The committee reached important conclusions. First, that there is a need to ensure that the domination of Parliament by the Executive, including the political party machines, is reduced and not increased and, secondly, that,
“the second chamber has to be neither rival nor replica … but genuinely complementary”,
to the Commons, and therefore, “as different as possible”. On that very sound basis, coming from the other place, would my noble friend take note of the fact that the principle underlying this Bill is one which will have to be examined critically and seriously, because it is fundamental to the good working of this constitution as we have enjoyed it for so many years?
My Lords, I agree with my noble and learned friend that this Bill should be fully examined and I know that it will be. I agree with the examples that he uses: the control of the Executive in another place, the domination of Parliament by the Executive and the need for differences between this House and the House of Commons. However, I come, and the Government have come, to a different conclusion. I see these reforms as strengthening this House by giving it the authority of the electorate to be more assertive and occasionally to be more beastly to the House of Commons, to hold it to account and to challenge the decisions that it takes. This House will be able to do that far better having been elected than simply having been appointed.
My Lords, I have no wish to extend discourtesy in public life, as the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, did when he described my costings of the Richard report as complete nonsense. I will not apply those words to the Government’s costings. However, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept that their costings of £220 million omit a large number of costs that will certainly arise under the Bill—for example, the costs of election—and therefore do not stand a moment’s close scrutiny? If he will not, will he agree to refer those costings to an independent referee, such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which can examine their costings of their proposals and my costings of the Richard report, and give the public the correct assessment of the costs that they will have to pay through their pocket as VAT, income tax and so on?
My Lords, the underlying assumptions and cost projections are in the public domain today. I fully expect that they will be given robust scrutiny by the IFS, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Labour Party and anyone else who wishes to examine them. Of course, the Government will reply to any questions raised on costs, which I believe have been reached in a robust manner.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the decision to have a list system will mean that this House would be in effect appointed by the political parties in many cases? The people they would appoint would be those who would not in other circumstances be chosen for this House. Many of those who work in this House would not wish to fight an election in those circumstances. This proposal makes for the worst conceivable kind of appointment to this House. That is why, above all, we should look at this Bill extremely carefully and, I hope, recognise that that which is, although illogical, is better than that which would just be fatal.
My Lords, apart from powers, one of the key areas will be the electoral system, which is different from the one originally proposed in the draft Bill. It is different from what was suggested by the Joint Committee, although the committee suggested some improvements to the original system on which this is based. Under this system, it is difficult for independents to be elected, which is why we have reserved 20% of the House to independents who will be put here through the statutory Appointments Commission. It is beyond doubt that it is a proportional system. Therefore, there will be no natural majority for any Government, which will preserve one of the strengths of this House.
Will the Leader of the House at least consider that, after the White Paper and all the deliberations, consultations, and discussions he has made a bad Bill worse? First, as has just been pointed out, the new senators will be less independent than originally proposed because not only will the list system make them more loyal to parties but they will have to be determined on the list by the party leaders. Secondly, they will be more likely to intervene in the legislative process and the work of the House of Commons because they will have no constituency work to do and can spend all their time dealing with matters of politics and legislation.
Thirdly, I am sceptical about the cost. I do not know what the Leader of the House would think of any new company which starts up with 450 employees and bases its overheads and costs assessment on the hope that they would not turn up to work, which seems to be what he is doing. Above all, will the Leader of the House explain—if he knows it but Members of the other House do not—that you cannot ring-fence by regulations or by law the natural dynamic of politics? If you choose 300 senators with constituencies 10 times as big but with no constituency work for a term three times as long, whatever the regulations that will become through the dynamic the primary House. If there is scepticism from the Members of the House of Commons about this cast-iron guarantee that they have been given, will he refer them to the cast-iron guarantees that were given by Mr Straw that the Freedom of Information Act would be ring-fenced so that it did not apply to MPs allowances?
My Lords, the noble Lord says that Peers elected under this new system will be even less independent. We are not calling them senators at the moment: we are not calling them anything. I think that the Bill calls them Members of the House of Lords, but they will not necessarily be Lords.
The noble Lord’s charge is that they will be less independent than they are today. I am not sure that that holds water at all. At the moment, Peers get appointed by their party leaders and presumably act accordingly. Under this arrangement they will be elected by the electorate, but once they are here they will not need to be reselected to stand again because it will for one term only. Do I agree with the noble Lord that they will intervene in improving scrutiny of legislation? I think they will. This Bill is now in the House of Commons. It is up to Members of the House of Commons to decide whether the noble Lord is right and whether that will aid the scrutiny of legislation or improve it. I believe that it will improve it and that elected Members of this House will be more assertive than the current House.
My Lords, I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that there has been a long tradition that when Law Lords retired they made a significant contribution to the deliberations of this House and that it is an important tradition to maintain. Will he tell me whether the special position of the Law Lords has been given consideration in the present Bill? It seems to me that it will be very difficult—if not impossible—for former Law Lords to become Members of this House through the appointment system.
Law Lords do not retire at a particularly youthful age. If the application for appointment to this House is to be made subsequent to their retirement, as one would expect, the prospects of obtaining Law Lords in this House is going to be remote. I understand that at present the appointment of independent Cross-Bench and other Members is at the rate of four a year. That will be reduced to two a year, which is hardly consistent with dealing with a category of that sort.
My Lords, I have every sympathy with what the noble and learned Lord says because I am one of many who voted against the constitutional vandalism of tearing out the Law Lords from this House five or six years ago. However, it is a bit like toothpaste; you cannot put it back into the tube. I think we miss the Law Lords and I think they probably miss us, which is why the noble and learned Lord is suggesting that we should find a way back. I have to tell the noble and learned Lord that there is no guarantee that they would be appointed by the Appointments Commission. However, I do not believe that because they are old they are of no further use to Parliament and to the nation, and after 2015 it may be that particularly eminent Law Lords will still be appointed.
My Lords, my noble friend has repeatedly told the House that at the last general election all parties had some form of commitment to election of this House in their manifestos—they were markedly different, I would remind him. That being the case, no elector in this country had the opportunity of expressing concern on this issue. How, therefore, in all logic can someone who prides himself on his democratic credentials—namely, Mr Clegg—possibly argue against the validity and fairness of a referendum on this very important constitutional subject?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister is really not at all convinced that there is a strong case for a referendum on this matter. Earlier, I said that the cost of a referendum would be around £80 million. At a time of economic austerity, this seems—
It is all very well noble Lords laughing at this. The public will see that they are laughing at a huge amount of public money being spent on a referendum when all three parties and the coalition manifesto said that there should be reform of this House.
On the contrary, I think that noble Lords were probably laughing at the transparent inadequacy of the answer. We now see on page 36 of the Bill the enormous constituencies that are proposed for electing Members of this House. There are eight of these huge constituencies and it will take the votes of millions of people to send Members to your Lordships’ House in the future. Does the noble Lord the Leader of the House really think that people sent here for 15 years with the backing of millions of votes are going to defer to Members of the House of Commons, who will be sent to represent constituencies with electorates of no more than 80,000 on a minute proportion of the votes for only five years? Self-evidently, Members of this House will be much more powerful than colleagues at the other end of the Corridor. I hope that the noble Lord will answer that in terms of how it will automatically affect primacy. I do not think that Members of this House will go on deferring to the Members of that House in the way that we do while we are unelected and they are elected.
My Lords, I agree with some of what the noble Baroness says: I think that elected Members will probably defer less than is the case with the current House. That of course is something that the House of Commons will need to take into account when it comes to its conclusions on this, and it is right that it should do so. There would be no point in doing this if this House were less assertive than it currently is. The fact that Peers will have been elected will give us an authority and legitimacy that we do not have at the moment. However, I think it will be argued by Members of the other place that the House of Commons has ultimate legislative supremacy because of the provisions of the Parliament Acts, because the Government of the day is formed from the party or parties that can command a majority in the House of Commons and because the House of Commons has control of financial matters. These are the protections for another place.
My Lords, I strongly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has just said. Certainly, if I am elected to this House, I shall be very assertive. However, looking at the way that the list system operates, I am not sure that the Prime Minister will put me on the list, thereby completely destroying the independence of this House, upon which our constitution depends. I say to my noble friend that it is very important that this debate is conducted in accurate terms. I therefore ask him and his colleagues to desist from saying things which are simply not true; for example, the assertion, as contained in the Statement, that those who make the laws should be elected. This House does not make the laws; the other place makes the laws. Nothing gets passed into law without the agreement of the other place. If this is the principle upon which the Government are founding their ridiculous Bill—that those who are elected must make the laws—then does the reverse apply? If it does, how on earth can the primacy of the House of Commons be maintained?
My Lords, I have made the point about the primacy of the House of Commons and I stand by it. Of course it is an essential principle of democracy that those who make the law should be elected and of course it is true that this House makes the law, as we are going to be doing later this afternoon. My noble friend is right. No law becomes law without the agreement of the House of Commons. This afternoon, this law cannot become law without the agreement of the House of Lords.
My Lords, I am aged 78 and I expect personal decomposition before we ever agree on the composition of this House. I welcome what is in the Bill about the independent Members and the statutory commission but I raise one single question. How can the noble Lord the Leader of the House justify the phrase in the Bill that,
“present party political activity or affiliation does not necessarily preclude selection”,
as an independent Member? I do not think that that is right.
My Lords, I think the whole House would agree that the noble Lord looks to be in robust health and I wish him continuation of that for very many long years. The line he takes is the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. It is our view that non-party political Members will be appointed. There may be a case for saying that former eminent politicians who have no interest in continuing a party political role could be selected by the Statutory Appointments Commission, but it is a statutory commission and not one which is guided by party politicians.
My Lords, why did the Government ask Her Majesty the Queen to appoint a record number of new life Peers, all of whom are of course personally very welcome, so that we now have a record number of some 660 life Peers? Why did they do that when they were already planning to reduce us so drastically, perhaps to some 300? What has the Government’s logic been in this process?
I do not think that there is any difference. We decided there should be a transition arrangement over three parliamentary terms. That will give the existing House, including any new Peers appointed since 2010, the opportunity to remain here until 2025 if they survive that long and if they survive the process of transition.
My Lords, will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he gave just now to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth? Will he accept that there are few, if any, who dispute the principle that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom the laws apply? But in the interests of ensuring that the Deputy Prime Minister does not mislead the House of Commons or the country, will he undertake to find an opportunity to explain to the Deputy Prime Minister that Members of the present House of Lords do not make the laws of the land but confine themselves to advising those who do—the elected Members of the House of Commons? Therefore, the whole project of this Bill is based on a fallacy, and a dangerous fallacy at that, because it would confuse and diminish the present clear-cut accountability of the Government to the people through their elected representatives in the House of Commons.
My Lords, all I can say is, you could have fooled me. I have seen the noble Lord robustly defend or indeed attack a piece of legislation in this House. But I meet with the Deputy Prime Minister very regularly and I shall draw the noble Lord’s remarks to his attention.
I think we will hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Saltoun.
My Lords, what makes the Government think that, if this House is to continue to do what it is doing at present, 300 Members will be sufficient to service the committees and the offices that have to be serviced? I have worked out that 300 would not be nearly enough and that it would take 450 Members to do the job. Would the noble Lord care to comment?
Crime and Courts Bill [HL]
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.
Schedule 12 : Judicial appointments
117: Schedule 12, page 168, leave out line 42
My Lords, in moving Amendment 117, I shall also speak to Amendments 118, 131 and 132, which address an issue of constitutional concern. The Bill would allow the Lord Chancellor to sit as a member of the appointments commission for the posts of Lord Chief Justice and president of the Supreme Court. The amendments would deny the Lord Chancellor such a role. The amendments are also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, former chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, who is the distinguished chairman of the Constitution Committee, all of whom I am pleased to see in their places.
At present the Lord Chancellor can ask the appointments commission to think again about a proposed appointee, but the Lord Chancellor is not a member of the commission. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 rightly recognised the need for a clearer separation of powers between the Executive and the judiciary. The change proposed by the Government would regrettably go back on that and it would have substantial disadvantages. First, it would increase the danger of political partiality in the appointment of a senior judge. I recognise, as I am sure will all noble Lords, that the present Lord Chancellor would not contemplate acting in such a manner, but even Mr Kenneth Clarke cannot continue in political life for ever. He is already above the retirement age for judges—a matter that we will be discussing later this afternoon. It would be highly undesirable to give a future Lord Chancellor the power so actively to influence the appointment of the senior judiciary.
The second disadvantage is that the Government’s proposal would undermine the appearance of political independence of the senior judiciary. There is a real danger that a new president of the Supreme Court or a new Lord Chief Justice would be undermined in the eyes of the public by being seen as the Lord Chancellor’s man or the Lord Chancellor’s woman. That would be most regrettable. Appearances matter in this context. There is a third disadvantage, which is that the Judicial Appointments Commission would inevitably find it more difficult to conduct an objective assessment of the rival candidates if it has the Lord Chancellor as one of its members. Indeed, the Bill implicitly recognises the dangers involved because it provides that the Lord Chancellor, if he does sit as a member of the appointments commission, may not chair it. It is unnecessary to give the Lord Chancellor the power to sit on the appointments commission with all the dangers that I have identified.
The Lord Chancellor undoubtedly has a proper interest in the appointments process and needs to work with the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chancellor and the Government need to have confidence in the president of the Supreme Court. However, the Lord Chancellor’s and the Government’s interests are fully met by the ability of the Lord Chancellor to be a consultee during the appointment process and by the current position which gives him the right of veto.
Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, conducted an inquiry into judicial appointments, on which we reported in March. The conclusion we reached in that report has been repeated in our report on the Bill, which was published on 18 June. In each of those reports, we stated, in relation to the role of the Lord Chancellor in the appointment process that any closer involvement—that is, closer than currently exists,
“risks politicising the process and would undermine the independence of the judiciary”.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I expressed my concerns about this provision in the Bill at Second Reading, so I will not repeat them this afternoon. However, following the Second Reading debate, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, very kindly copied me into the letter he sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, which explains in more detail the Government’s reasoning behind the proposed change. I read it very carefully and I am not convinced by the rationale it advanced. The issue in question is the appropriate involvement and accountability of the Lord Chancellor. In my experience, the current arrangements work fine. If the consideration or rejection of the recommendation is based on clear and sound reasons, this presents no difficulty. Indeed, it helps to concentrate the minds both of the selection panel and the Lord Chancellor. It is very helpful to the parties concerned. Furthermore, the Lord Chancellor has appropriate involvement in the course of the selection process as he is consulted at relevant stages.
Under the proposed changes, the Lord Chancellor might choose to sit on a panel and lose his veto or choose not to sit on the panel in order to retain his veto. On what basis will the Lord Chancellor make that decision? I fear that his decision to sit on the selection panel will raise questions and suspicions which may not be healthy—both for the selection process and for the perception of why the decision has been made. I am therefore concerned both on constitutional and practical grounds. I do not see why we need to disturb the finely crafted balance of accountability and involvement that was arrived at in 2005.
My Lords, the role of the Lord Chancellor is very different from that which existed before the 2005 Act came into effect. We have no certainty at all that future Lord Chancellors will take an equivalent role to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who was an outstandingly strong and determined Lord Chancellor. The role of Lord Chancellor is now entirely different because it is, in effect, as ordinary a role as a Minister of the Government. It is not a role equivalent to that of the Lord Chancellor before the 2005 came into force.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what has been said so far about the inappropriateness of altering the Lord Chancellor’s position from that contained in the 2005 Act. I do not propose to repeat the reasons for that, since they have already been given. I will try to identify, however, one or two further reasons why the same conclusion should be reached.
The relationship between Parliament and the judiciary is central to the operation of our constitution and the Lord Chancellor’s ability in the future. I endorse what has been said about the present Lord Chancellor and I recognise his good motives, but the constitution as devised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and myself, first in the concordat and then in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, referred specifically to the role of the Lord Chancellor being limited to giving either an affirmative response or applying a veto. That was done because it needed to be clear beyond peradventure that he had the responsibility of saying no to a recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Commission, if anyone was to do so. Because of that, if he did not exercise that power, the situation would be one where it could not be said afterwards that the Government of the day had not given consent to an appointment which was in fact made.
Secondly, there is a provision in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which provides that if the Lord Chancellor decides to exercise his veto, he has to do so openly and give reasons for it. If he is a member of the commission responsible for the appointment, the part that the Lord Chancellor plays will not be known. The experience in other jurisdictions is clear. One of the problems of having an independent appointments commission is that deals will be done. For example, if the Lord Chief Justice and the president are both up for appointment at the same time, it is only human nature for the commission to come to a decision. If the members of the commission do not all agree, they will give the Lord Chancellor either the Lord Chief Justice or the president, as long as they have the other appointment. That would be highly undesirable.
For example, it can be seen clearly in other jurisdictions that the Executive can control what the judiciary does if it can only achieve a senior judge who is sympathetic to its cause. I will cite but one example. One could assign a judge who is regarded as giving unhelpful decisions to parts of the jurisdiction that are unattractive in which to operate. So far, that has not happened here. We do not want to make it easier for it to happen than is the position at the present time.
My final point is this. The amendment must be looked at in conjunction with the amendment we considered on Monday whereby the Lord Chancellor would give up any responsibility for the appointment of the great majority of judges. We are going to have a situation where he does not exercise any powers in regard to a large number of judges and, in addition, he does not openly take an active part in the appointment of very senior judges. I suggest that such a position would be a retrograde one, and therefore the amendment is one that the Committee should look upon favourably.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord in the constitutional points that he and others have made in supporting this amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, summed it up very well in his Second Reading speech when he said that if this provision in the Government’s Bill went through, the Lord Chancellor would be in a position of giving advice to himself, which in itself is anomalous, if nothing more.
As other noble Lords have made the constitutional points most effectively, I wonder whether I could raise just an administrative question with the Minister. It seems to me surprising that the Government should propose such a potentially flexibly arrangement for the Lord Chancellor in relation to these very senior appointments as it seems to be the Lord Chancellor’s personal choice whether he takes part in a selection panel or not. As far as I can make out from reading the Bill, this may mean that he decides to sit on appointment body “A” but not on appointment body “B”. A question arises about the consistency of the appointing panel’s approach. There is also the rather bizarre question about what happens if the Lord Chancellor decides that he will not be a member of that panel and the panel has been constituted, as we understand it, in the legislation. Who replaces him, how is that replacement chosen, and to whom is he responsible? For all the reasons that noble Lords have given, I suggest that this is both constitutionally and administratively inappropriate. That is why I would be very happy to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, should he ask the Committee to give an opinion on it today.
I make one further point to reinforce the point which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was making about the change in the Lord Chancellor’s position. This was confirmed in the hearings that the Constitution Committee held on this matter by the present office-holder himself, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, when he said:
“I think that we will have a Lord Chancellor who is not a lawyer. The lawyers that we have, including me, will not be as senior and distinguished as they used to be ... A better understanding of my role would be to describe me as Secretary of State for Justice”.
That seems to underline the points about potential politicisation, which other noble Lords have made.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what has already been said but I wonder whether I might add another point. I refer to a situation where a Lord Chancellor is not a lawyer or a very senior person but perhaps wants to make his mark in the political world and is much more overtly political than the present Lord Chancellor, who is very distinguished in his own right in the law. I ask the Minister to visualise the meeting of the commission. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the commission. He has a role as the Secretary of State for Justice, but he is only a single member among a number of people. Either he is going to be very powerful and he is going to override what everybody else wants, or he is not going to be very powerful, and he is going to be very dissatisfied with not being able to carry the commission with him. Either way would be extraordinarily unsatisfactory for someone who is head of the administration of justice in running the courts and has some responsibility for the judiciary. It is yet another point that leads me to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
My Lords, I too wish to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I see this part of the Bill as being one of those ideas which starts with good intent but has risks attached to it: it is the law of unintended consequences. I can understand that those who have looked at the appointment of senior judiciary and have seen the absence of women, for example, have thought that perhaps if somebody—the Lord Chancellor—were sitting on that panel, he would be able to represent more vociferously public concerns about the way in which appointments are recreating the same people. I can see that that was the intention of giving a role to the Lord Chancellor in the current appointment procedures.
However, we must be very conscious of the risks. We should be concerned about the way in which this could be detrimental to our constitutional arrangements and could be the beginning of a much more politicised role for the Secretary of State as Lord Chancellor sitting on such committees. I say this because, regarding the slide to such things, we always say, “Oh, it could not happen here”. I have just heard the decision made in Europe today that the new judge to be appointed to the European Court of Human Rights will not be the preferred candidate coming forward from Britain. The person appointed was pushed by the Conservatives in Europe and supported by Russia and Serbia. The best candidate, Ben Emmerson, one of our most distinguished human rights lawyers, did not get that role because of politicking of the ugliest kind. He was considered to be too protective of human rights.
We should be ashamed of what has happened in that appointment process and we should be aware of what happens when politics enters the fray in judicial appointments and how it can often lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. I raise this as a warning because it happens all too easily. The best candidate has been lost to the European Court of Human Rights and it has happened because of an ugly form of politicking.
My Lords, I fear that I will be in a minority of one, which is always a rather brave position, but it is important to put another perspective. That is what the House of Lords is very good at, so I rise to put that other perspective.
The Government’s position is essentially about whether the so-called nuclear option is the way forward or, as I would put it, whether the power to reject after the process, or influence, is the right way forward. I should have declared at the outset that I, too, am a member of the Constitution Committee, but I was not a member when its most excellent report on judicial appointments came out earlier this year.
I note the Constitution Committee’s recommendations in this regard. It states that the Lord Chancellor’s inclusion on a selection commission risks politicising the process, an argument which we have heard today. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the text of that report, which shows that the committee’s witnesses were in two camps; it was not a straightforward matter even at the time. There were those who thought that the current system was the only way to preserve the independence of the judiciary and there were those who believed that the political angle was invariably part of the greater balance of considerations. Among those who felt that the Lord Chancellor should have an increased role were Lord Justice Goldring, Jack Straw MP, a former Lord Chancellor, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale.
Even when resisting greater involvement, the Constitution Committee states at paragraph 25 of its report that it is important to maintain the connection between Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary partly so that,
“the government cannot entirely wash their hands of what is happening”—
I believe that those were the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—
“and partly to enable the Lord Chancellor better to defend the judges from attack by taking responsibility for the system which appointed them”,
which I believe were the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The issue then is the extent to which the independence of the senior judiciary will be compromised if the Lord Chancellor sits as a non-chairing, non-voting member of the selection commission. We are talking of two instances only. We are talking of the positions of the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice.
Six years to evaluate the current system is a very short time—I am talking about the six years since the Constitutional Reform Act—but, in the longer term, a given Lord Chancellor may wish to exercise the right to reject or ask for reconsideration of a nomination. We also need to remember, in that context, that this Lord Chancellor, whoever he or she may be, will get only one name coming forward. He will not have a choice of three candidates, hierarchically or non-hierarchically ordered, and make a judgment as to which of those two or three might be the best candidate. He will have the very stark choice indeed of exercising the nuclear option—rejection—and I suggest that, as things stand under the Constitutional Reform Act, it would be virtually impossible to exercise that nuclear option. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, himself explained to the House that you have to give your reasons in writing for doing so.
To describe the question of rejection or reconsideration as “the nuclear option” is not really appropriate because it is part of the process. I would use the word influence. In fact, the Lord Chancellor has the opportunity to discuss the process, is consulted at appropriate times during the process and is able to give a view of the kind of person he or she would like. So it is not right to call it a nuclear option. He has the opportunity to be involved and have a say in the process.
I am afraid that, unusually, I have to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. It is widely referred to as a nuclear option—we could call it the veto, perhaps, but it is very well known that it is a veto and a very final kind of veto, in that not only does one exercise the veto—if one chooses to do so—but one has to give reasons in writing for arriving at that decision. It is a very tough position to take. The pool from which the candidate would be drawn is so small and so intimately known to one another—the judges of the Supreme Court, for example—that a rejection would be known and would, indeed, indicate a significant level of political interference. It would inevitably get out that a veto had been exercised and people would draw their own inferences as to what had happened. I suggest that that would indicate a huge level of political interference. It would probably leak to the media; there would be wide speculation in and around the legal profession. It would truly be seen, I am afraid, as a nuclear option.
The reality of this provision is that it gives power to several other entities, but not to the individual who is, in the words of the Constitution Committee report, at paragraph 26, responsible and,
“accountable to Parliament for the overall appointments process”.
Taking up what the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, as I understand it this is not just a question of a name going to a Lord Chancellor who has no idea what has gone on before. If there was to be the slightest doubt that this candidate was not suitable, there would have been enormous discussions at a much earlier stage. It is almost inconceivable that somebody would go forward who was known to have reasons for not being acceptable and unless those reasons are such that the Lord Chancellor felt that he could say that, they ought to have been known already.
This does not work in isolation; the judges and the Lord Chancellor discuss a large number of matters extremely carefully over quite a long time. There is no isolation of the Lord Chancellor and his team from the senior judiciary and the appointments commission which is discussing this. I think that the noble Baroness is assuming that the Lord Chancellor is in an ivory tower, not knowing anything until the name comes to him. That is not the position.
I say to the noble and learned Baroness that if that non-transparent process that she describes, which sounds like the old game of clubbing together to fix it all up, is indeed accurate, there should be no reason for the amendment. In that case, if it is all so chummy, why not have the Lord Chancellor sit on the panel?
The power to veto seems to contradict Section 3(6)(a) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which places a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to defend the independence of the judiciary. Not for the first time, one part of an Act—the duty to defend the independence of the judiciary—sits uneasily with the process as defined. Moreover, the process requires the Lord Chancellor to put his reasons in writing. I have already commented on that. It would be far better in increasing transparency and enhancing accountability for the Lord Chancellor to be a member of the selection commission —listening, participating and evaluating the candidate being questioned, without a veto over the appointment—than, after the fact, disagreeing with the selection commission.
In conclusion, I touch on the point made that either a very powerful Lord Chancellor would sit on the commission panel and influence it to go in the direction that he wanted; or, if the Government got their way, that the Lord Chancellor, having sat on the selection panel, could not persuade the panel of his views on an individual candidate and would be deeply dissatisfied because he did not carry the selection panel with him.
I argue that his potential for dissatisfaction would be greater if he had not exercised the veto and was therefore stuck with someone he found it difficult to work with. In fact, it could be said that he would take greater responsibility for working with a candidate with whom he did not entirely agree if he were on the selection panel and had been overruled. He would have been part of the decision-making, he would have been there and heard the argument why the majority of the commission wanted to go in a certain direction and would therefore have to suck it and see. On that basis, I have a lot of sympathy with the Government on the amendment.
My Lords, going back some 25 years, I remember being warned in 1987: “You realise, don’t you, that Mrs Thatcher has never appointed anybody as a High Court judge who has been overtly political?”. I was about to stand for the 1987 election. I stood; I lost for the eighth time; but that did not dissuade me. My point is that then, how the system worked was completely opaque. You did not know what recommendations were being made. You did not know when you had scored a black mark. I recall a close colleague once seeing his file in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, which said in terms that he had fought and lost eight elections as a Liberal candidate—he was so close a colleague that he had been mixed up with me. I am sure that that held him back for a long time from obtaining the appointment that he ultimately did.
I was slightly shocked to hear that we still have a non-transparent system whereby the Lord Chancellor is consulted and becomes involved in the appointment of judges, although there is nothing formal about it. I did not know that. It is opaque. The Bill makes it absolutely transparent that the Lord Chancellor will play a part, and I think it is very good that he should. He should listen to other people who are high in the profession and to what a lay person thinks of a particular appointment. His view may change. I do not think that the Lord Chancellor would necessarily dominate such a selection committee, certainly not if he has a political angle. There may be a toing and froing of views within that committee but we will know that it is happening because he is on it. Consequently it will be a far more satisfactory system than what we have heard is happening now: the Lord Chancellor, without it being in any statute, is involved in some way. That is wrong and I think that the Bill is preferable.
I was rather appalled by the mischaracterisation by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said. My experience as Lord Chancellor, when not making the appointments, was that I remained regularly in touch with the judiciary. If I had not remained regularly in touch with the judiciary on issues such as the funding of courts and the difficulties that the judges were facing, I would have regarded myself as not performing my job as Lord Chancellor correctly. If you are a Lord Chancellor—or now, Secretary of State for Justice—who does not know the leadership of the judiciary, that would be a very bad thing. Indeed this idea expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—that it is in some way a sort of secret-sounding basis—is wrong. I am sure that his misunderstanding was not deliberate. He was looking back to a time 20 years ago when he was looking for a position.
This side of the Committee supports the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. We earnestly ask the Government to think again about this provision. Perhaps I may explain why we take that view. The basis of the settlement reached and approved in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 was that the time had come for the appointment of judges to be clearly depoliticised. The justification for the process that then existed was that although the Lord Chancellor was Labour or Tory and appointed by the Prime Minister, he nevertheless had especial independent roles that made it possible for a political appointment to appoint the judiciary.
We in the then Government took the view, supported by the Liberal Democrats and endorsed by both Houses of Parliament, that in a period of time and a generation where people had to have complete confidence that the judiciary was not being appointed on a political basis, there needed to be a structure in which people would have confidence that you were appointed on your merits as a respected judge. That was the basis of the constitutional settlement reached. Those who considered it in detail were of the view—and I agreed with this view—that the state, the Executive, had to have a stake in the appointment of judges so that there was part of the Executive in Parliament that would defend the system and defend the appointments. That is why the Lord Chancellor has the power to veto some appointments and to reject others.
It is incredibly important for the standing of the judiciary and the separation of powers that that essential separation—that essential constitutional settlement—not be affected. The proposal made by the coalition goes right to the heart of that constitutional settlement. Bringing the Secretary of State into the process would not even have the redeeming feature of the old-style Lord Chancellors, which is that they had an independent role as a judge as well as being a politically appointed Minister. What Ken Clarke said about his role—my noble friend Lady Jay has quoted it—exactly reflects what the constitutional settlement envisaged; namely that he should be a member of the Cabinet with a particular statutory duty as imposed in Section 1, but essentially a political Minister without anything else to distinguish him from other Ministers in the Government. The two roles that we are talking about here are the president of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice. The president of the Supreme Court is probably the most important judge for the whole of the United Kingdom. The Lord Chief Justice is undoubtedly the most important judge for England and Wales.
The proposal envisages that the commission appointing the president of the Supreme Court should consist of one person who is not legally qualified, one judge of the court, one member of the Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales, one for Scotland and one from Northern Ireland, and, if he chooses, the Lord Chancellor. I know Ken Clarke well and admire him greatly. I have absolutely no doubt that, in a group such as that, he would have no difficulty in ensuring that his choice was obtained. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is shaking his head, but I tell noble Lords that Ken Clarke’s choice would prevail. It would not just be a matter of appearance; it would be a matter of actuality. Go forward in time and imagine someone not of the ethical quality and standard of Ken Clarke as Lord Chancellor. For example, there is the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws: “I don’t want the best lawyer; I want the person who is most against the Human Rights Act”. That is a perfectly conceivable position for a Lord Chancellor to take.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, says: “Oh well, let’s make it all more transparent”. She was not listening to the detailed evidence given to the Constitution Committee—actually, she may not have been on the committee, so I withdraw my suggestion that she was not listening—about the occasion when my successor specifically objected to the appointment of a particular head of division where he had a veto. I am not going to go into the detail of the case but it was transparent, and the views of the appointment panel eventually prevailed. What was absolutely clear was that there was an independent process judging who was the best among the candidates, with absolutely no political interference of any sort. The Lord Chancellor expressed a view, there was then a discussion that was recorded in correspondence and the original view prevailed—absolute transparency. The noble Baroness suggests, “Oh, let leaks and newspapers provide the transparency”. Sorry, she disagrees; what was being suggested?
That is absolutely not what I said; that is a mischaracterisation entirely. I said that if a Lord Chancellor exercised a veto and rejected a candidate and, as he would have to, gave his reasons for doing so in writing, given that it is such a small and intimate community, not only would everyone else know that this had happened but inevitably it would leak into the legal papers. That is what I was saying. I was not saying that the transparency would come from the leak but that huge damage would be done by that happening.
Forgive me. I am describing what could potentially happen; I am not saying that that would be transparent. All I am trying to say is that very few vetoes are exercised. There are vetoes in other positions as well—the Prime Minister has the power of veto over several other appointments, for example—but apparently they are seldom used; I could find the figures for the noble and learned Lord. I think that one of the reasons why they are so infrequently used is the damage that it might do if it got out that they had been used.
I think that there is a misunderstanding here. As I understand it, the noble Baroness is saying that when the veto is used it is kept secret. It is not, so there is no question of gossip. The Lord Chancellor is willing to use that veto where appropriate. I have no problem with that and it does not cause difficulty. In the proposed system, there would be no transparency about the role that the political Minister had played; indeed, it would be assumed that he or she was the person who had dominated the process. It would profoundly undermine the settlement. At the moment, I can see no benefit from it. I have not had the pleasure and privilege of reading the letter that was sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I have heard the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, which was very persuasive in many respects. However, I am unable at the moment to see the basis for departing from a constitutional settlement that is intended to ensure the sanctity of the process. It is an independent process in which one is judged on one’s merits, and it keeps politics out of it except for the exercise of a transparent veto.
Would the noble and learned Lord not agree that it was not the best moment in the appointment of the judiciary, and that it does appear that political influences were coming into the question of who was to be appointed? Would it not have been better for the difficulties and the problems between the Lord Chancellor and the appointments commission to have been sorted out in a committee, such as that proposed in this Bill?
Game, set and match to this side. As I understand it, the noble Lord is asking whether it is so wrong that people might think that political influences have been brought to bear on the appointment, because the Lord Chancellor, performing a constitutional role, says explicitly “I don’t want”, or “I am thinking of vetoing”, the choice that has been made on legal merits. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, are saying, “Let’s keep all the political influences secret”. The noble Lord is shaking his head; I am not sure what he has in mind.
If the Lord Chancellor said “I want this candidate” and persuaded everybody, none of that would have been apparent. People would doubt the independence of the appointment from the political situation, or the political influences on the position. Do not be under any illusion; if the Lord Chancellor proceeds with this proposal, those people who have had dealings with the constitutional settlement will think that he is, without properly understanding it, going against the basis of the constitutional settlement which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, worked so hard to get through. As he said on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was one of the main Liberal Democrat architects of the constitutional settlement, as was, as he also acknowledged on Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. What on earth is the reason for so undermining the political independence of the judiciary?
For these reasons we support the amendments that are being made. If, as I think is unlikely, they are put to the vote today, we will support them. I earnestly ask that the Minister reconsiders the Government’s position on this, and the Lord Chief Justice’s position. It would be a really bad idea if people thought that a Conservative or Labour Secretary of State for Justice, not the Lord Chancellor, had appointed the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the Supreme Court.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this, which is an interesting and important debate on a very important constitutional issue. I am not sure that I share the analysis of these proposals. As I said before, the Lord Chancellor is determined to defend the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. We are committed to the constitutional settlement that was brought in by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, when he was in office. But, as I said earlier, we are making proposals which, with the passage of time, improve on that settlement. The debate today is part of that.
Interestingly enough, I was flicking through Hansard for Monday evening. The noble and learned Lord is always passionate and eloquent, but he was particularly passionate and eloquent then. He was urging us not to take the Executive out of decisions on appointments in the lower courts. Well, that is what it says.
Indeed I was. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was agreeing with me that the way you do it is to have an independent process of appointment which the Executive must endorse, or not, so that there is somebody responsible in Parliament to defend it. Does the noble Lord agree with that approach?
The noble and learned Lord was saying that the Executive should be kept in the process. The noble and learned Lord is marvellous; he spends half his interventions twisting the words of people who disagree with him, and when anybody tries to put him right, he starts protesting.
Of course the Lord Chancellor is accountable to Parliament. That is central to the settlement. He is responsible to the public for the overall process of judicial appointments and the effective working of the judicial system. It is important, at this very senior level of the judiciary, that as well as possessing first-rate judicial skills, candidates for the leadership roles are alive to the management and administrative issues that affect the administration of justice and are able to work with the Government on developing the system. This is an area where the view of the Lord Chancellor is likely to be of particular importance. This is therefore a legitimate role for the Lord Chancellor to play in the most senior judicial appointment.
I know that the noble and learned Lord has a kind of sense of ownership of the constitutional settlement.
Well, if he is happy to change it, perhaps he will listen to the argument for making just the smallest tweak in the perfect construction that he left for us. That means that it should be balanced appropriately against judicial and lay input into the process. It should respect, as I have said, the independence of the judiciary.
Lay input is how you get management experience, I agree. What is wrong with the non-legally qualified person, the member of the Northern Ireland commission, the member of the Scottish commission and the member of the English commission? There is a quite substantial balance of lay people already.
We had a very vigorous discussion about this when we had a second go in front of the Constitution Committee. Looking at those three top jobs—the presidency, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor—I was struck by the fact that it is not just judicial excellence but a whole fingertip interrelationship that makes those three jobs work. That is why the Lord Chancellor is arguing, and I am convinced of this—it is not just a matter of me saying, “The Government believe”—that an input into the selection process at the selection board—
I speak as one of the three the Minister refers to. Does he not agree that there is a danger of those three being too cosy? That would be in a situation where they do not feel that they can take a separate line from the Lord Chancellor, who controls the resources and is particularly powerful. All I can say is that if he does take that view, he should remember that my very distinguished predecessor, on one particular occasion, refused to see the Home Secretary of the day and the Home Secretary was deeply offended. That was because he did not think much of that sort of cosiness, which I know to the Minister is very attractive. With my experience, I am bound to say that he is wrong. He should listen; there are times to be cosy and times not to be cosy. That is something that needs to be taken into account.
This is my problem as a simple lad dealing with these Silks. I have never used the word “cosy” about the relationship. I have had a chance look at the relationship in the last two years; the last way I would describe the relationship between the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, is “cosy”. It is businesslike; it is working; but it has an interrelationship which I think is important.
Giving the Lord Chancellor a role in these appointments is not new. As has been said, he already has a role in deciding whether to accept or reject the recommendation of a selection panel. The question is, therefore, how should that input be realised? I understand the different views put forward in the debate, but the Government’s view is that, for these two most senior appointments, given their significant role in the administration of justice, the most appropriate way of achieving this input is to allow the Lord Chancellor to sit on the panels. He can then consider the views of other panel members, submit his own views and engage with the panel members in a meaningful discussion about candidates.
The current system allows the Lord Chancellor to veto a selection panel’s recommendations. This is in itself a major role, but may be viewed as something of a nuclear option—that is what it says in my briefing notes. I think that that option is the one that could only be used in exceptional circumstances and with potentially a heavy price for the relationship with the judiciary and perception of political interference. I do not necessarily agree that these perceptions would be justified, but they are certainly factors which would inhibit the use of the veto. In place of the veto, Schedule 12 provides for a more effective engagement.
A fear has been expressed that this would give the Lord Chancellor disproportionate influence and that the present Lord Chancellor would dominate the proceedings. Perish the thought. Being on the panel, or even having that Lord Chancellor on the panel, would not necessarily mean that the Lord Chancellor would ultimately get his way on the individual appointed, but it would mean that he would have the opportunity to be engaged in the process and make his views known to the other panel members. We are talking about a panel of heavy hitters—a lay chair, plus senior members of the judiciary and appointment commissioners who are strong and independent-minded individuals. They will not simply fall into line with the Lord Chancellor of the day. The Lord Chancellor would have an opportunity to make his case but could also be persuaded of a contrary case by other panel members. However, where the Lord Chancellor does make a persuasive case of the merits of a particular candidate, this could be weighed in the balance in the same way by other panel members.
There are, of course, other possible ways of securing the input of the Lord Chancellor, but we do not consider that any are as effective as our proposal. We could, for example, allow the Lord Chancellor to select a candidate from a shortlist, or through some form of parliamentary hearing. However, we consider that the risk of politicisation of the process from these options is far more acute.
Another option would be to consult the Lord Chancellor at the start of the process. There is nothing wrong with that, but we consider that this is not as effective as having the Lord Chancellor be a member of the panel and be able to put forward his views, listen to the views of others and engage with them in a meaningful way.
I wonder whether the Minister could answer a point that he has not yet answered, which has been made by several people. There is a perception that if the Lord Chancellor is on the panel, the appointment will be politicised. For those who do not know the process but see that the Lord Chancellor has been one of those who has appointed the Lord Chief Justice, there will be a perception, certainly among lawyers and much more widely, that the Lord Chancellor has had a very large part to play in making that person the Lord Chief Justice and that it would be the sort of person who would suit him.
I was about to come to the interventions of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I do not think that my noble friend Lady Falkner got it wrong at all, despite her being bullied by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, who I have never thought of as someone who it was possible to bully. However, if the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was under that impression, that just goes to show how wrong perceptions can develop.
I do not want to go into detail but, as the noble Lord knows, I had the privilege of being involved in some of these selection processes. When a selection panel is set up, there is a proper, transparent way of consulting at the appropriate time. There were no nudges and nods. In my initial submission, I said that I think that the present system works because, if there is a rejection or a reconsideration, it focuses the mind and is done in an open way. It is the inability of the people to be discreet that muddies the water. It is a most gossip-ridden world. In other worlds, when appointments are made, people respect confidentiality. However, the process was very open and transparent. Therefore, there is no question of nudges and nods.
I am a non-lawyer who, I am glad to say, was not part of the constitutional settlement in 2005. If the noble Lord described himself disingenuously as a simple lad, I am even worse as a simple laddess. I am trying to get a vision of this construct that the Minister has explained of either my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer or the present holder of the office of Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, being subdued members of a totally egalitarian panel on which the merits of the candidates are discussed in a constructive and totally relaxed way, and the subdued and reticent Lord Chancellor finds himself in a minority. Should the panel recommend that Judge X becomes a member of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chancellor, having been this subdued and reticent member of the panel, could feel that it is wrong. What, then, are the prospects for effective working between them?
Quite often in politics, in the law and in other parts of life, one finds oneself working with someone whom you do not particularly like. The difference this time is that there would be no political veto to that committee’s decision. It is worth putting on record that this would be a Lord Chancellor withdrawing his veto from those appointments. Yet, with his silken sophistry, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, implies that this is an extension of political power. It is just the opposite of the extension of political interference.
It is simply not true, and anyone who is looking at this sees that it is a move away from a politician being able to exercise a veto to a politician transparently taking part in a process. If the Members of this Committee cannot see that, we will presumably withdraw it or take it back.
I have explained before that this unique triumvirate is very important, and that that is why we have adopted a very distinctive way of making this selection. I am not sure how far I can take the Committee, except perhaps to read from the letter that I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said he had not had the pleasure of sharing. In that letter I said: “At the present the Lord Chancellor decides at the end of the selection process whether to accept or reject the name put forward by the panel or to ask for the panel’s decision to be reconsidered. In practice, under these current arrangements it may be difficult to make use of the veto in these high-profile cases without risking perception of politicisation of the process. This difficulty was acknowledged by Lord Phillips and others in their evidence to your committee”—that is, the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. “The Government therefore considers that allowing the Lord Chancellor to sit on the panel will enable his accountability to be exercised in a more direct and effective way. You will, of course, be aware that the Lord Chancellor’s involvement as a member of the selection panel was supported in evidence to the Constitutional Committee by both the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the UK Supreme Court”. So I am not isolated in this view.
My Lords, is it not more difficult for the Lord Chancellor to object to someone publicly rather than to discuss the appointment in a group of which he is a member? Does that not mean, therefore, that if the Minister tries to remove the person, he will do so only if there is very strong evidence to show that it is an unsatisfactory appointment, whereas if he is part of a group, the other members of the group might be more likely to go along with what the Minister says at that point?
I have to say that if I was a member of a body charged with selecting a Lord Chief Justice or a president of the Supreme Court, no Lord Chancellor, however strong willed, would make me change my views unless his arguments were extremely persuasive; and I would expect the same respect for my views. We are not talking about a group of pussycats; we are talking about some very senior figures with great experience. I can see that those who have attended this Committee do not agree, but the simple fact is that we consider that our proposals strike the right balance in providing both the legitimate accountability for the executive in these roles and an independent and transparent process. They take away a political veto and put in its place a transparent involvement in a selection. I have set that out very clearly for the Committee.
I am sorry to ask the Minister this, but surely the presence of the Lord Chancellor on a committee of selection is a political statement in itself. It is worrying that the Minister should say that it removes a political presence. It just moves the position from what is a very public veto if, at the end of an independent process, the Lord Chancellor decides that he does not wish to go along with a recommendation to something that is less public but just as political. I find that really worrying, and I know that I am on record as saying that it is a constitutional disgrace.
That is the noble Baroness’s opinion, but, again, she is suggesting words that I never used. I did not say a “political presence”. What I said was that, to me, the political veto was the intrusion into the process. It has been acknowledged by a number of contributors that if the Lord Chancellor is not in this narrow world where the decision and the selections are made, he will be the elephant in the room. This process gives the Lord Chancellor the chance to have an input in a selection but, as opposed to what the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, suggested, he will not have a veto. When the panel makes its decision, there will be no political veto. I should have thought that that would be welcomed by this Committee.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister about one point on which I would like clarification. It has been fascinating to listen to both sides of the argument. The Minister mentioned a lay chairman or chairwoman. From what walk of life would a lay chairman or chairwoman come?
I thank the Minister for giving way. I now want to turn to another point on which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, asked a question. The provision states that the Lord Chancellor “may” sit on the panel. If that is the case, on what basis will he decide to sit on the panel? If he decides to do so, will that not send a different signal? Will it not suggest that there is a reason why he wants to sit on the panel or a reason why he decides not to do so? I think that that will create an unhelpful perception.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, mentioned that I also raised a point on this matter. If the Lord Chancellor decides not to sit on one of these panels, does he not retain the right of veto, and that therefore the disappearance of the veto, on which the Minister has been relying so greatly, is not in fact universal?
No. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness because I should have clarified this point. The Bill says that the Lord Chancellor “may” be a member, but we intend to bring forward regulations setting out that the Lord Chancellor “will” be a member of the panel. This will not be able to be changed other than by a new regulation, which will be subject to affirmative procedures and agreement and to the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the Supreme Court.
I shall take that question back. In the mean time, the Government’s case has been set out. The trouble with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is that he listens only to himself and is then convinced by all the arguments that he hears. I have listened to others in the Committee. We are in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for stimulating such a debate. However, if he wants to divide the Committee, I am reasonably confident that he will lose.
My Lords, before the Committee sat I informed the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that I was fairly relaxed and neutral about his amendment. However, the more I have listened to the argument, the more I have come down on the Government’s side. I recall the very unseemly row when the former Lord Chancellor’s veto was exercised in relation to an appointment, and I believe that I put down a Parliamentary Question. I think that he reversed his decision before I got the Answer, but I certainly tabled a Question about it. There was a furore at the Bar and I was approached by many people to do what I could to defend the reputation of a person who was considered to be the best judge in a particular division. It was extremely unseemly and the Lord Chancellor backed down. What did that say? He had given his veto and then he withdrew it and the appointment went ahead. All these matters should have been sorted out but not in such a public way as to damage the reputation of the person concerned and damage the reputation of the Lord Chancellor, if it needed to be damaged any further. It did not resolve the situation.
I have heard the debate and, as I understand it, the Lord Chancellor does have discussions behind the scenes with the Appointments Commission. That is what was said in terms by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I do not think that that is right. I think we should have an open system. She said that it was open and transparent. It was not—I did not know about it, although I was sufficiently involved to put down a Parliamentary Question about the matter in issue.
The fact that it is happening is transparent. That is where the argument can be held and not in public, which damages people’s reputations. The noble Lord said that the Lord Chancellor will always have his way. What sort of a pushover does he think these people in the commission are that they will simply bow down to a political figure? I do not believe that the chairs of the Judicial Appointments Commission in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales are going to follow a political lead because the Lord Chancellor does not like someone on political grounds. He may have some knowledge that does not involve the politics of the matter and that would persuade the other members of the commission, but I do not think that he would persuade them on political grounds, which is what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said. He nods. Perhaps he was a very persuasive Lord Chancellor in private.
Why did he exercise it? We do not know. Did he say so at the time? He did not say, “For political reasons I do not want that person as the head of the division”. He did not give us his reasons. It was not discussed with anybody. He just vetoed that appointment and it was unfairly damaging to the person concerned.
I am grateful to the Minister, who says that he has been listening. I am sure that he has been, and I have listened to what he has said. I will certainly want to reflect, as I am sure the House will, on what the Minister described as a very important debate—and he is right. This goes to the heart of the relationship between the Executive and the judiciary. The Minister said that it is important to keep the Lord Chancellor in the process because the Lord Chancellor is responsible to Parliament and these are appointments at the very apex of the system. The Minister is right and no one disputes that the Lord Chancellor must have a role. The question is whether that role is best fulfilled as a member of the appointments commission.
The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, emphasised that the veto is a nuclear option. There are two points to make about the Lord Chancellor’s existing powers. First, the fact that the veto is so difficult to exercise in political terms is highly material to the influence that the Lord Chancellor currently has. We need to be very careful about expanding the political role of the Lord Chancellor, or at least the political potential for involvement, through an appointments commission process. The second point, which has been made very forcefully by noble Lords who know how the system works, is that the Lord Chancellor at present does not just have a veto which is difficult to exercise. He can and does make his views known to the appointments commission during the process of consideration for appointment to these posts. There is nothing improper or secret about that. It is not a question of nudges and winks. It is called consultation. Plainly, the Lord Chancellor is entitled to be consulted by the special appointments commission that is going to appoint to these highly important posts. If the current system has defects, the alternative proposed by the Government is far worse, for all the reasons that have been pointed out, and no more transparent.
I will certainly reflect on this debate and I am sure the whole House will want to reflect on the matter and return to it on Report. I hope that the Government will reconsider this question over the summer and I am sure that if, as we have been told today for the first time, it is the Government’s intention that the Lord Chancellor will sit on the appointments commission, it is highly desirable that the Bill expressly makes that clear so that we all know what the Government intend on this matter of fundamental constitutional concern. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 117 withdrawn.
Amendment 118 not moved.
119: Schedule 12, page 169, line 26, leave out “Prime Minister or”
My Lords, I can be relatively brief with this group of amendments as they are essentially technical in nature. Amendment 123 modifies amendments to paragraph 11 of Schedule 12 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which concerns the appointment of the vice-chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission. As drafted, paragraph 19 of Schedule 12 to the Bill amends the 2005 Act to provide that the Lord Chancellor may, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, make regulations to provide for the appointment of the vice-chairman. On reflection, while we continue to believe that greater flexibility is needed for determining the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission, provisions about the chairman and vice-chairman are matters which ought to appear in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. This amendment restores the requirement that the vice-chairman must be a judicial member. As now, the vice-chairman will continue to be the most senior judicial member of the commission. Determining which judge is the most senior will be done by reference to regulations made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
Amendment 123 also retains the current restriction that the vice-chairman cannot deputise for the chairman in relation to his or her role on selection panels relating to appointments to the most senior judicial offices. This is because in these instances the role necessitates a lay rather than judicial member. Additionally, the vice-chairman will be unable to exercise the functions of chairman where the function is one specified in regulations to be made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
Amendment 124 amends paragraph 27 of Schedule 12 to the Bill so as to add to the list of judicial appointments below the High Court for which responsibility for making a decision on a selection by the Judicial Appointments Commission is to be transferred from the Lord Chancellor to the Lord Chief Justice. The appointments in question are those for a senior district judge or chief magistrate and a deputy senior district judge or chief magistrate. The other amendments in this group, namely Amendments 119, 122, 125 to 130 and 133, make minor and technical changes to the provisions in Schedule 12. I can provide further details of these amendments if needed. I beg to move.
Amendment 119 agreed.
119A: Schedule 12, page 172, line 26, at end insert—
“8A Section 35(3) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 is repealed.
8B A judge of the Supreme Court shall vacate that office on the day on which he attains the age of 75.”
My Lords, this amendment is in my name and the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and two former Lord Chancellors, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Mackay of Clashfern. It concerns the retirement age for judges of the Supreme Court. The Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 lowered the retirement age for the judiciary from 75 to 70, with an exception for those first appointed to judicial office before 31 March 1995. There is a strong case for raising the retirement age back to 75 for Supreme Court judges.
Judges are joining the Bench at a later age than their predecessors. It then takes time for them to rise up the career ladder to reach the Supreme Court, typically in their early to mid-60s. Since those appointed to the Supreme Court are, by definition, the very best of our judges, it is particularly unfortunate that we are disposing of such valuable resources after they have served a short time in office. This argument is specific to the Supreme Court. It is not the case that if the retirement age for Justices of the Supreme Court was to be raised to 75, the same must follow for the magistracy and for all levels of the judiciary in-between. The fact of the matter is that judicial wisdom and experience at the highest level is being lost to our courts, although not to the field of arbitration where retired judges from the Supreme Court are very much in demand for much higher fees than the Lord Chancellor’s department is prepared to pay.
There is no basis for concern that judges tend to lose their mental and physical powers after the age of 70 and up to the age of 75. It is important to recall that these judges are not hearing exhausting witness trials but considering stimulating points of law. Nor is there any basis for concern that a retirement age of 75 in the Supreme Court would result in a court that is less attuned to modern society. Experience is to the contrary. The Appellate Committee of this House and now the Supreme Court are far more innovative than the Court of Appeal, where the average age of the judges tends to be a decade younger.
Nor is there any basis for concern that a retirement age of 75 would hinder the promotion of diversity, an important value that we discussed last Monday. Despite most of the members of the Supreme Court retiring at 75 in recent years—the same was true of the Appellate Committee—there has been a steady flow of vacancies. The appointment of only one woman to the Appellate Committee and to the Supreme Court and of no one from the ethnic minorities, regrettable though that is, has been caused by the perceived lack of suitable candidates and not by any lack of vacancies. Indeed, increasing the age limit to 75 may well enhance the prospects for appointing more women, as so many female judges and lawyers have taken many years out of their careers for family care reasons and may find it more difficult than men to rise to the top by their early 60s.
In our report in March, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee recommended that the retirement age be increased to 75 for Supreme Court judges and for Court of Appeal judges. We advised increasing the retirement age because,
“proven judicial quality and experience are at a premium in the development of the law”.
This amendment focuses only on the Supreme Court because the arguments are especially strong at that level. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the Government’s view on this important topic. I beg to move.
I support the amendment for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I must declare two interests. First, I was a member of the Constitution Committee and heard the evidence and, secondly, some of my best friends are between the ages of 70 and 75. The evidence showed that there was a real risk that we were losing substantial talent from the Supreme Court. There was one particular example of losing someone just at his prime. It would be wrong for the Supreme Court to lose people of enormous proven energy and ability when they have just got into the driving seat of their full power, and to lose talent of that sort when people have risen to that point with only a limited time available to them in the Supreme Court itself.
My Lords, I do not accept my noble friend’s comments. As the noble Lords, Lord Hart of Chilton and Lord Pannick, said, we went into this in some detail in the Constitution Committee. For all the reasons advanced very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I support the amendment, particularly because of the potential for increasing diversity both in the Supreme Court and, indeed, further down. Both noble Lords have expressed the potential for opening up more opportunities for people who have come through what is described as the non-conventional career path to reach the top of the profession. I—and many members of the Committee —have a personal interest in the concept that 70 is the new 50, so 75 should be the new 55.
My Lords, if 70 had been the retirement age for Supreme Court judges, particularly the judges in the House of Lords, we would have lost Lord Bingham before he even got to the House of Lords. We would have lost the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, the present president of the Supreme Court, who goes at 75. He is almost the last of those who are entitled to stay until 75. The first solicitor to get to the Supreme Court, who was of enormous value to it, left after 18 months because he was caught by being aged 70. He was as valuable as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, but he went at 70.
The Supreme Court is losing people who cannot even get there, or who get there for 18 months if, as has already been said, we allow time for people to get through the High Court and the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court. I think only two judges have gone straight through and one judge came straight from the Bar. Normal process means that we are losing people who are extremely valuable. This has been brought up in Question Time on a number of occasions and the Government really should be looking at it. The previous Government were asked to look at it but, if I may say so, they pushed it to one side. It would be very good if this Government would take it up.
This has been a most exhilarating debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to use this experience to talk to other colleagues in government about why, for example, a non-executive director on a board has to have annual re-election once over 70. Recently, an Oxbridge college appointed a principal who is 72 and the articles of association had to be changed. I declare an interest because the late Lord Bingham’s son is the best person who works for me in my professional activity so I am, of course, brainwashed in this regard. I never thought of the Lords as pioneers of radical equality measures but I feel that this debate has great potential for professional groups across the economy and society, and certainly across government.
My Lords, I support the amendment for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, gave. However, I would suggest an alternative. If we are not going to go to 75, the alternative is to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who have not gone through the processes of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and so on. We have the power now, apparently, to appoint people to the Supreme Court who have not been in the Court of Appeal. It was interesting that, on Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said, “Of course, members of the Supreme Court will have come from the Court of Appeal”. I do not think that that is necessary. I think that the pool should be broadened. There are people in academic life and lawyers at the Bar who would be appropriate as members of the Supreme Court. The age of 70 is ridiculously low. If it is to stay at that, people should be appointed in their 50s—early 50s perhaps—to the Supreme Court without having to go through the cursus honorum required at present.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. It is an important amendment on a matter that is already causing difficulty. The loss of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Collins, from the Supreme Court was a direct result of the reduction in the retiring age. The Government now have an opportunity to do something about that, because this is a legislative opportunity.
My Lords, this is probably the last Chamber on earth where Ministers should be defending a retirement age of 70. I have listened very carefully to what has been said. I understand and sympathise with some of the frustrations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, just referred to the case where someone comes to senior judicial office for a very short term. I also acknowledge that, in many cases, those judges would be able to continue beyond the age of 70 in terms of their intellectual sharpness. In such cases, they can be a costly loss to the judiciary. I am not sure that I go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in advocating no retirement age at all—I have always been a strong supporter of a retirement age for this House. However, that goes into a different issue. I see that the noble Lord is about to come up for air.
I am much obliged to the Minister for making reference to my remarks. All I can say is that I have listened to the debate with great care and I have not heard a single reason put forward for a retirement age for judges. Everyone says 70, 75, 80, 85—just picking figures out of the air. It is a nonsense. I am not a candidate for a position in the Supreme Court, but I see no reason at all why there should be any statutory limit for a candidate aged over 85 like me. Could we have a reason?
As I said, this is hardly the audience for arguing or expecting support for retirement at 70. Indeed, sometimes when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, tells me about his itinerary for the following week, I realise that his idea of retirement is something quite different from that of most normal people. I am well aware that people can make a contribution.
The amendment is astute in singling out the Supreme Court, as it is in this court—which may be the pinnacle of a long career—where taking up office is more likely to occur when a judge is in his or her 60s. This can give rise to particularly unfortunate individual cases where a judge’s term of office may be rather shorter than we would have liked to see. I understand the arguments and the case that has been made. However, these individual cases need to be balanced against the bigger picture and the advantages of a uniform retirement age of 70 across the whole of the judiciary.
Mandatory retirement ages for judicial office-holders have played an important role in ensuring that the judiciary is, and is seen to be, independent. Quite rightly, once appointed to a salaried position, it is difficult to remove a judge from office before retirement. This, of course, is constitutionally correct and removes any risk of unwarranted interference from the Executive. While many judges may be able to continue to work, and to contribute as fully as ever, beyond the age of 70, that will not always be the case. Without the mandatory retirement age, if a judge beyond 70 insisted on continuing, there would be no way of removing him even where his colleagues considered that he was no longer quite as sharp as he used to be. Therefore, a standard retirement age, set at the right level, is needed. I do not think that anybody disagrees with that principle.
The Government consider that 70 is the right level. Indeed, this is at the higher end of international comparisons. It is also important in this context to consider the impact on public confidence in the justice system. The age of 70 strikes a balance between the desire of judges wishing to serve and the public interest in sustaining a judiciary that is fully effective in discharging its responsibilities. The amendment seeks to make a special case for the Supreme Court, so that the mandatory retirement age should be increased to 75. However, the reasoning for the age of 70 applies to judges of the Supreme Court as it does to other judges. People are people, whichever court they are sitting in. The age of 70 is, in our view, the right one—notwithstanding that it may seem premature in individual cases.
The retirement age also contributes to the need to bring in newer judges. Turnover in the senior judiciary is not significant as many judges remain in post until retirement. Given the statutory limit on the numbers of judges who can sit in senior courts, in particular the Supreme Court which is limited to just 12 judges, the opportunity to promote talented members of the judiciary from the lower courts is limited. Extending the retirement age to 75 in the Supreme Court would further limit movement from the Court of Appeal, which would, in turn, reduce opportunities for promotion to the Court of Appeal and have a trickle-down effect through the courts. This would also have the effect of delaying some of the positive impact on diversity, which that we would otherwise see through promotions from the lower courts.
Furthermore, it would be very difficult in practice to sustain a different retirement age just for the Supreme Court. Court of Appeal judges would be very likely also to make the case for extended retirement. A Court of Appeal judge who considers himself or herself a good candidate for appointment to the Supreme Court may find it difficult to accept that he or she had to retire at 70 if the Supreme Court were made up of judges who would automatically go on for another five years. If the age of retirement for the Court