I beg to move,
That this House
notes the far-reaching constitutional implications of the changes to the machinery of Government announced in the Government reshuffle last week;
deplores the total lack of consultation before the changes were announced and the confusion that has ensued since;
is gravely concerned that the Prime Minister is abolishing the historic office of Lord Chancellor without any idea of what will take its place, and, in particular, how the independence of the judiciary is to be maintained;
is unclear about the relationship between the spokesmen for Scotland and Wales in the House of Commons and the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, who appears to have executive responsibility for the functions of the Scotland and Wales Offices;
regrets that the Prime Minister clearly regards the jobs of the Secretary of State for Transport and Leader of the House as part-time;
further notes that the NHS in England and Wales is now to be run by a Secretary of State who has no control over health policies in his own constituency, and whose constituents will not be affected by the decisions he takes as Secretary of State for Health;
and calls on the Prime Minister not to proceed with his plans for change until he has properly consulted on them.
I begin by welcoming Peter Hain to his new position as part-time Leader of the House. I sincerely congratulate him on his marriage on Saturday, and wish him many years of happiness—and at least a few weeks as Leader of the House.
Last Thursday, the Prime Minister's press office announced sweeping change to our constitution and our system of justice as a half-baked afterthought to the most botched and shambolic reshuffle in living memory. Since then, Mr. Speaker, as you are very well aware, the Prime Minister has not deigned to come to the House to explain what it all means. I suspect that he cannot explain because he does not know what it means, and he will not explain because I doubt whether he cares very much, either. But now he has left it to the poor old part-time Leader of the House to pick up the pieces.
As a result of what the Prime Minister cobbled together between his trips overseas, the separate and distinct voices of Scotland and Wales in the Cabinet have been utterly confused and downgraded; a Scottish Member of Parliament is in charge of health in England, imposing on England a foundation hospital system that was rejected in Scotland, yet no English Member is allowed a say on health policy in Scotland. Another Scottish Member is responsible for transport in England while defending the interests of Scotland, yet is apparently reporting to an unelected English Minister in another place. Last Thursday—[Interruption.] Indeed, that Minister also happens to be a Scot, but I shall not hold it against him.
I would like to help the right hon. Gentleman. With the Scottish Parliament in its second term, a case can be made, once we have tied up the legal niceties—[Interruption.]—I use the term "niceties" in its scientific sense. When we have disposed of some of the remaining functions—some to the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh, some to the appropriate Department in Whitehall—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time to make the Secretary of State for Scotland redundant in due course?
After that, the right hon. Gentleman deserves a position as the Prime Minister's spokesman on the matter.
Last Thursday, the West Lothian question became the Westminster question—a question about the competence of the Prime Minister, his openness and honesty with his own Cabinet colleagues, and the accountability of Ministers to Parliament. We now have chaos, confusion and conflicts of interest everywhere. However, Downing street's first task was to explain whether the Lord Chancellor still existed and, if not, who or what would perform the vacant role.
The timetable of the sorry saga went something like this. On Thursday, the Government announced that a Department for Constitutional Affairs would replace the Lord Chancellor's Department. Lord Irvine, the Prime Minister's former boss, who objected to the changes, was sacked, and Lord Falconer, his former flatmate, was appointed to the new role of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs—not Lord Chancellor. As part of the changes, the post of Lord Chancellor was to be abolished and his responsibilities as head of the English judiciary, Cabinet Minister and Speaker of the House of Lords reallocated.
According to the Downing street website on Thursday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that in the transitional period, Lord Falconer would not fulfil either the judicial function of Lord Chancellor or the role of Speaker in the House of Lords. On Friday, however, Lord Falconer had to be dragged to the Woolsack to assume his place there as Speaker, and he was forced to admit that he was, after all, the Lord Chancellor. Then, on Saturday, Lord Falconer said:
"I will continue to be the Lord Chancellor and exercise his powers until such time as statutory arrangements can be made to replace it".
That was always made clear. He then added graciously:
"As long as the House of Lords wish the Lord Chancellor to sit on the Woolsack, I will continue to do that."
We must pay tribute to him for that.
There was then a need to explain plans for a supreme court and the Government's commitment to consult widely on their proposals. On Thursday, the Prime Minister announced the creation of a supreme court to replace the Law Lords. The role of the Lord Chancellor as head of the English judiciary would be "reallocated". A judicial appointments commission, an independent body to select new judges, would take over the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor. Can the part-time Leader of the House tell us whether it will be six weeks after the Prime Minister's announcement of the creation of the new bodies before the consultation papers are published—or will it be more? Apparently, that was the timetable that Downing street produced.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise these words:
"I must accept that we would need a supreme court of the kind that the United States has. I believe that the Supreme Court has served the US extraordinarily well and has, on occasion, been radically and robustly independent from both the Executive and the legislature".—[Hansard, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 653.]
They are his own words from 1999 [Hon. Members: "Oh!"]. Does he recognise them?
Yes, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that this subject is a matter of legitimate debate and that what should happen now is contingent on proposals for the other place. The difference in our positions is that we believe that this matter should be properly debated, that a Green Paper and a White Paper should be published, that full discussion should take place and decisions be taken in conjunction with the consideration of both Houses and the reform of the upper House. What we cannot have is the Prime Minister announcing the creation of a supreme court without any of those processes whatever taking place.
The right hon. Gentleman will not have to wait many months for the Government's response, because the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform had various things to say about a supreme court. It is customary for the Government to respond to such a report within two months, which would take us to
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman believes that the Prime Minister's response is either appropriate or based on very much thought—I shall leave it for him to decide. However, let me quote what Mr. Marshall-Andrews, who is acknowledged as something of an expert on such matters, said on Friday:
"If you are going to change 1,500 years of constitutional history, you do it carefully, you have a consultation, a white Paper and experts, and then finally you bring it before Parliament, because Parliament decides the way we are governed, not the Prime Minister on the back of an envelope in Downing Street. What we have here is a botch, which looks as though it has been put together in panic. It totally lacks coherence and clarity."
On Sunday, speaking on "Breakfast with Frost", Lord Falconer himself said:
"As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the effect of the announcement on Thursday is that we would have a Supreme Court but the detail of that has to be worked out after proper consultation."
Meanwhile, the Government's claim that the proposed judicial appointments commission would make judicial appointments impartial was queried by Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, who said:
"You can have an Appointments Commission which is independent of the executive, but nevertheless is tailor-made to produce an entirely different kind of judge who perhaps would be more acceptable to the Home Secretary".
I wonder whether that is what the part-time Leader of the House meant by what he said in Tribune in 1984—[Hon. Members: "1984?"] I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman remembers what he said, but I am going to remind him. He said:
"The next Labour Government should appoint only judges who have clear socialist or libertarian leanings."
Let us now turn to the sad story of the fast-diminishing representation of the people of Scotland and Wales. On Thursday, the Downing Street press briefing read:
"New arrangements will also be put in place for the conduct of Scottish and Welsh business. The Scotland and Wales Offices will henceforth be located within the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, together with the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales."
On Friday, the Downing street press briefing described Mr. Darling as
The briefing went on to say, most helpfully, that the Prime Minister's official spokesman could not give
"a precise breakdown of Alistair Darling's schedule and it would be wrong to do so, but . . . one of the reasons Alistair Darling was made Secretary of State for Scotland was that he was Scottish."
Asked whether he was saying that
"in respect of Wales and Scotland, given the progress of time in relation to devolution . . . these were no longer full-time jobs, so they were being combined with other roles."
When asked to whom the civil servants in the Scotland and Wales Offices would answer, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that they would come under a single permanent secretary, Sir Hayden Phillips, but would work for their respective Secretaries of State. Asked whether the permanent secretary would be answerable to Lord Falconer, the Prime Minister's spokesman said that he would.
After all that, I think that we can all agree with the conclusion of Friday's Downing street press briefing that
"some things had been a little hazy".
However, that was not the view of the part-time Leader of the House, who told BBC Radio Wales on Friday:
"The Wales Office is not being abolished, I stay as Secretary of State for Wales."
He went on to say, in a rare moment of honesty:
"I readily admit that in the comings and goings yesterday, this whole issue could have been communicated far more effectively from Downing Street."
I hope that he will expand on that when he speaks.
Before we get too deep into the knockabout, which we are all enjoying, can we be clear about the policy substance? From what the right hon. Gentleman has said so far, I understand that Conservative party policy is that they would be happy with both a supreme court and a judicial appointments commission. Is that the case, or will he confirm that—in the unlikely event of his being in government—he would abolish either or both of those institutions?
I wish that we had some substance to discuss. My whole point is that we do not. The hon. Gentleman asks a reasonable question and our response is that these are very important matters. They are constitutional and judicial matters. They deserve the appropriate treatment. We say that they deserve thought, a Green Paper, a debate, consideration and consultation. Then Parliament, in both Houses, should determine the matter. That is our policy and that is the approach that we would take. If any Labour Members have a problem with that, they should tell us. I hope that the part-time Leader of the House will tell us if he has a problem with that approach when he speaks.
The whole point is that these are not simple issues. They are complex issues relating to our constitution, which has served us so well for many centuries. If Labour Members think—as the Prime Minister obviously does—that these are simple issues to be worked out on the back of an envelope, that is the difference between us.
The shadow Leader of the House said, rightly, that these are ultimately matters for Parliament, and I hope that we would all agree with that. However, he is speaking at the Dispatch Box for the Opposition, so would he be kind enough to put on record the Opposition's policy on a judicial appointments commission and a supreme court? [Interruption.] I am glad that he is getting some advice from the Leader of the Opposition, but I ask him to clarify the Conservative party's policy for the record. If the Conservatives came to power, would they abolish a supreme court or a judicial appointments commission, or is this only a lot of hot air with great entertainment value?
Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to the debate that took place on the reform of the House of Lords. We set up a commission, we consulted, we took advice, we published some thoughts, we had debates and we then published our policy. That is the process in which we believe, as opposed to the Prime Minister, who believes in doing none of that. Our policy is to have mature discussions on these important issues, to consult and to debate.
I shall get the hon. Gentleman into Hansard by replying to his sedentary remark—that is how kind I am. He is correct: we do not know yet. That is the distinction between the Prime Minister and myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends. [Interruption.]
On Saturday, Lord Falconer said:
"Of course I am not their boss . . . There is still a Scottish Office, the officials work in my department, but politically those offices are led by Peter and Alistair, there is still a very strong voice in the Cabinet for Scotland and Wales".
"I am working for Alistair Darling as a junior minister in the Scotland Office which is part of the constitutional affairs department . . . A great deal of the day to day activity will be done by me anyway, Alistair and I have discussed that".
As the Scotland Office website now reads:
"This site is currently under redevelopment."
The right hon. Gentleman has clarified his position on a supreme court—which is that he does not know—but will he now clarify his party's position on Scotland? Will he abolish devolution or will he accept the scaling down that follows?
The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that perfectly well. My hon. Friend Mrs. Lait, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, will set our position out when she replies to the debate. We have accepted the settlement following the referendum in Scotland. We have accepted the role of the Scottish Parliament, but we also believe that there should be a Secretary of State for Scotland. The presence of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland is living proof of that, and I hope that that is enough for the hon. Gentleman.
Today's debate is about more than constitutional confusion—bad enough as that is.
"Head of Department at the former Scotland Office."
Despite what the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, says, may we conclude that the Scotland Office is a dead parrot?
Or a dead macaw, perhaps. I defer to the hon. Gentleman in that he has pointed out that what is in today's Order Paper is the only official declaration that we have had, because we have no official list of the Government. Therefore, we are all in the dark about the position of various Departments and Ministers.
The serious issue is the loss of, or reduction in, representation for the people of Wales and Scotland. It is about the loss of democratic accountability for the acts of this Government in regard to those vital parts of the United Kingdom. What are the roles of the Scottish Secretary, the Welsh Secretary and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs? For example, does a Scottish Member with a concern go to Mr. Darling or to the Lord Chancellor, as he is known for the time being? What happens if those two Secretaries of State disagree with each other? What happens if one Secretary of State gives a civil servant a different instruction from the other? Is the Scotland Office part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs as we were told on Thursday, or is it not, as we have been told since?
Would my right hon. Friend care to speculate on what would happen if the part-time Leader of the House should choose to disagree with the part-time Secretary of State for Wales?
Perhaps the bicephalous right hon. Gentleman could tell us that when he makes his own contribution—[Interruption.] Yes, I thought that that might tax some Labour Members. On a serious point, if Mr. Milburn felt obliged to resign from a job as one Secretary of State, how can others be reasonably expected to do a job as two?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I have in front of me a copy of his early-day motion. It reads:
"this House believes that the Secretary of State for Wales performs a vital role in the government of the United Kingdom; and further believes that this office should be retained as an individual cabinet post as envisaged in the Government of Wales Act 1998."
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I doubt whether Government Front-Bench Members are.
Last week began with the Government saying no to a referendum on the new European constitution. The Government started this week with a pledge of referendums on regional assemblies. We began last week with the Government running away from a referendum on the destruction of the pound, but we ended it with them promising emergency legislation in another place to allow referendums on the use of fluoride in water.
My final question concerns the role of the Secretary of State for Health—Dr. Reid—and the West Lothian question. The absurdity of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment is that we have a Member of Parliament who represents a Scottish constituency telling us how to run the NHS in England, when he has no say over health policy in Scotland because the issue is devolved. The Father of the House is, as ever, in his place. Of this appointment, he said:
"It is an extraordinary piece of casting to put a Scot in charge of the English health service. Dr. Reid has no say whatsoever in health matters pertaining to those who sent him to the Commons."
That is a view from north of the border, and we respect it, but—lest it be thought that that is the only view on the matter—I shall also quote Andrew Mackinlay, who said:
"I am not happy that the health ministry, which is almost totally an English ministry, is headed up by a member of parliament representing a Scottish constituency."
So two highly respected Labour Members—one from north of the border, and one from England—have both made the same point in their very individual ways.
The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he opposes a Scottish MP being the Secretary of State for Health. However, he also made it clear that in the next Conservative Government, a Conservative Member with an English seat would be Secretary of State for Scotland. That is a ridiculous position.
No. I must press on, as I am very conscious of the passage of time.
The Secretary of State for Health will have the task of pushing through the House the Bill establishing foundation hospitals in England—the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill—even though the proposal has been rejected by the Labour-run Scottish Assembly. Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten what Mr. Cook—a Scottish MP—said just before the 1992 general election, when he was shadow Health Secretary? He said:
No. I invite the hon. Gentleman to re-read his early-day motion before he stands up again.
The Prime Minister has been guilty of breathless arrogance and supreme incompetence. This is a time when our public services are in crisis and in dire need of real and radical reform, when one in four children leave our primary schools unable to read, write or count properly, when 30,000 children leave secondary school without a single GCSE, when there are still a million people on hospital waiting lists, and when 300,000 people feel obliged every year to pay for their own hospital treatment. Our pensions are in crisis and our roads are congested. The British people spend longer commuting to work than any other people in Europe, and one train in five are late. Gun crime is spiralling out of control—and what does the Prime Minister come up with? He decided that the country needed a shambolic reshuffle on which no one was consulted and which no one understands. He announced his plans, and then asks us to agree to them. The trouble is, which version does he want us to agree to—the Thursday night version, the Friday morning version, or the version given over the weekend?
No wonder no one trusts what the Prime Minister says any more, that we do not know what to believe, or that he cannot deliver any more. I want to ask the part-time Leader of the House the following questions—
No. This is my peroration—as if the hon. Gentleman did not know. Obviously, I will have to give Labour Members a signal when I am perorating.
Here are my questions to the part-time Leader of the House. Have the key decisions been taken on the role of the Lord Chancellor, on the creation and role of a supreme court and on a judicial appointments commission, or will there be genuine consultation and debate? Does anyone understand the roles and responsibilities of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, to say nothing about those of the Scotland Office and the Wales Office? What about departmental Ministers and officials? For example, will the right hon. Gentleman say who is the Minister for Constitutional Affairs in the House of Commons?
"The lesson of previous Parliamentary change is that it has to be carried out with care and sensitivity."
Those are not my words, but the words of the present Prime Minister, spoken in 1996. How can we possibly have confidence in a Prime Minister who has obviously forgotten any lessons that he claimed to have learned, and who now tries to impose this shambles on our Parliament and our country? There needs to be consultation, debate, thought and care over such matters, as we are showing today. If the Government will not do it, we will.
I call the Leader of the House to move the amendment.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"welcomes the Government's continuing drive to modernise the constitution and public service by creating a new Department for Constitutional Affairs focused on improving the criminal justice system, by consulting on establishing an independent Judicial Appointments Commission, by consulting on establishing a Supreme Court, and by consulting the House of Lords on the appointment by the House of its own Speaker, and putting in place better arrangements for the conduct of Scottish and Welsh business after the successful bedding-down of devolution;
further welcomes the continued accountability of the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales to the House;
further welcomes the appointment of the new Secretary of State for Health who will continue the drive to reform and modernise the National Health Service;
and supports the Government in its continued commitment to invest and reform the public services."
Well, well, well. That was an exercise in Tory self-inflated cant, bombast and hypocrisy by Mr. Forth, cheered on by the grinning idiocy behind him. Even Comical Ali would have been proud of that performance. The right hon. Gentleman lashed out wildly, missing his target every time—except when he congratulated me on my wedding; then he was spot on, and I am very grateful for what he said.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was interesting for one reason. It was all process, and no substance—[Interruption.]
Order. Opposition Members are far too noisy. They must allow the Leader of the House to speak.
Why was the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst all process and no substance? It was because he is frightened of substance and of the fact that the reform and modernisation of our democratic system are popular and welcomed by people right across the country.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. [Hon. Members: "The part-time Leader of the House."] The right hon. Gentleman just said that the speech of my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth was all process and no substance. What does he think that a constitution is about if it is not about process?
That really was a devastating question. Every time this Labour Government propose a sensible constitutional reform, widely supported by public opinion in the country at large, the Tories oppose it and claim that the end of the world is nigh. The Opposition go on about procedure and process, and I shall deal with those claims later, but basically they are against change. The Opposition are stuck in the past, on the side of privilege and patronage. They are the same old Tories, the same old reactionaries: whatever the reform, they are against it.
Did my right hon. Friend notice that the shadow Leader of the House refused to answer the question that I asked him about the policy of the previous Leader of the Opposition? In March 2001, Mr. Hague said the following about the post of Secretary of State for Wales:
"Instead, the position, which is currently held by Paul Murphy, could be merged with roles such as Leader of the House in an effort to create 'smaller government'".
Is my right hon. Friend surprised that Mr. Forth was not willing to answer my question?
I am going to remind the right hon. Gentleman about that in a moment.
Whatever the reform, the Opposition are against it.
The original target was that the office would continue for about 18 months, but it is a matter for consultation—[Interruption.] The proposals are all about consultation. There will be consultation about the situation following the replacement of the Lord Chancellor, about the independent judicial commission, and about establishing the supreme court.
The shadow Leader of the House made much of that issue; he said that there had been no consultation. Let us consider the major reorganisations conducted by the Conservative Governments of the 1980s and 1990s. The Department of Trade and the Department of Industry merged to form the Department of Trade and Industry—no consultation; the Department of Health and Social Security split into the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health—no consultation; the Department of Energy was abolished—no consultation; the Department of Employment was abolished—no consultation; and the post of Deputy Prime Minister was created and the post of President of the Board of Trade was reincarnated—no consultation.
The Conservatives have been out of office for so long that they have forgotten how government works, so I shall remind them that in a reshuffle, naturally, decisions are announced on the day, but consultation on the detail follows—
I am grateful to the part-time Leader of the House for giving way. His is truly a chronic speech from a discredited Minister in a devalued Labour Government. Given that Opposition Members at least recognise that the constitution of this country is not a piece of putty to be moulded according to the passing whim of a Government but something that has evolved over generations and should be treated with respect, why does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government's fatal conceit is to imagine that their own internal and short-term machinations are either the same as, or more important than, the long-term interests of the people of the United Kingdom?
The long-term interests of the people of the United Kingdom lie in having a reformed, modernised, efficient structure, widely supported across all shades of opinion.
I will give way in a moment, but I want to make some progress before I take any more interventions—[Interruption.]
Order. We must have more order in the House. Hon. Members are being unfair to the Leader of the House.
I shall be happy to take interventions if I can make a bit of progress first.
Whatever the reform, the Tories are against it. They wanted to keep hereditary peers. They were against the Human Rights Act 1998, and against a London Mayor and Assembly. Yesterday, they were against regional government for English regions that vote for it. They were against devolution for Scotland and Wales—"It would mean the break-up of Britain", they screamed.
It was the Tories who nearly broke up Britain, with their arrogant centralism and their disastrous policies. Labour, through devolution, has saved the United Kingdom and neutered the separatists. Who would now want to abolish the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales and go back to Tory direct rule? I challenge the Conservatives to campaign for a referendum on ditching devolution.
My right hon. Friend is being excessively generous in saying that there should be 18 months or so before the post of Lord Chancellor is abolished. Is the explanation for the delay in enacting that policy that my right hon. Friend discovered from the remarks of the shadow Leader of the House that the Conservative party does not have a policy on the supreme court, the lord chancellorship or the judicial appointments commission? In fact, is my right hon. Friend giving the Conservatives long enough to devise a policy?
That is a good question.
On the time period, legislation is needed and consultation has to take place beforehand, and that will occur.
I am grateful to the part-time Leader of the House for giving way. Why was it announced, last Thursday evening, that the Scotland Office and the Wales Office were to be abolished, yet on Friday morning it was announced that they would be retained? Did some key consultation take place between Thursday night and Friday morning? Will he answer those simple questions?
I have before me the press statement issued by No. 10 on Thursday and I should be happy to read it all to the hon. Lady. It makes it clear that the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales would remain and that the Scotland and Wales Offices would remain.
I am grateful to the part-time Leader of the House for giving way. He has just said that there will be a Lord Chancellor for an 18-month transition period, yet on Thursday the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that Lord Falconer would not fulfil the role or function of Lord Chancellor. Who exactly did he intend should fulfil that function?
I am honoured that the Leader of the Opposition chose to intervene on a Minister who is well down the food chain and I welcome him to the debate. I shall quote from the statement issued by No. 10 on Thursday:
That is absolutely clear.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that although the speech of the shadow Leader of the House was vacuous nonsense, it was very witty? At least it has united the Tories on one issue: they have realised their true potential as clowns. Of course, we already knew that.
I want to make some more progress and then I shall happily take other interventions.
The truth is that devolution has been a success. One of its successes is that decisions in Scotland and Wales are being made closer to the people of Scotland and Wales, through the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. As a result, there are fewer decisions and fewer duties for the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland. That is self-evident. It is thus a perfectly reasonable step to combine their duties with other Cabinet posts, as we have done.
The position is clear, as it has been since the reshuffle—as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and others would know if they had bothered to find out the facts. As the Secretary of State for Wales, I am accountable to the House, as before, for Welsh business, and I represent Wales in Cabinet. My duties remain the same. My oversight of all primary legislation affecting Wales remains the same. The Wales Office remains open for business as usual and its staff serve me and my deputy, Mr. Touhig, as before.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is accountable to the House for Scottish business, as before, and conducts it in Cabinet. As before, we each have an Under-Secretary in respect of Welsh and Scottish business, also accountable to the House. The only difference is that we combine those duties with our other Cabinet posts and the Scotland Office and Wales Office staff will come under the umbrella of the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, giving them better career certainty and opportunity.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Over the past couple of years, he has said many times that the success of the devolution settlement will rely entirely on the partnership of him and his Under-Secretary in introducing legislation from the Welsh Assembly. That will now be extremely difficult. At what point did the Prime Minister or his office realise that to abolish the functions of the Secretary of State for Wales would be breaking the law, according to the provisions of the Government of Wales Act 1998?
Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is completely confused about the situation. I have just carefully and patiently explained that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I continue to discharge our functions in exactly the same way as we did before Thursday. Furthermore, I remind the House that the hon. Gentleman and his party want to abolish both the post of Secretary of State for Wales and the Wales Office because they believe in independence for Wales, and that that would mean that a Secretary of State no longer had a function.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, if the Conservatives ever form a Government, they intend to introduce a rule that would prevent any Member representing a Scottish constituency from voting in this place on matters that apply specifically to England and Wales. That is a massive constitutional change on which they held no consultation, yet for 50 years the Conservatives not only tolerated but welcomed a situation whereby Northern Ireland had its own Parliament while continuing to send MPs to this place. Was not the reason for their pragmatism then the fact that Ulster Unionists accepted the Conservative Whip?
If what the part-time Leader of the House says about the positions of the Welsh Secretary and the Scottish Secretary is true and we should all have known that their roles would be merged, why did the Government say, in March 2003—just three months ago—in their response to the second report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, which suggested such a merger, that the Prime Minister
"has no plans to merge either the roles of the territorial Secretaries of State or their departments. Each territorial department is a discrete centre of excellence in the relevant settlement"?
Order. The House must come to order and allow the right hon. Gentleman to speak.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a perfectly straightforward question; I am giving a perfectly straightforward answer. [Interruption.] Well, he may not understand that there is a separate Secretary of State for Scotland and a separate Secretary of State for Wales and that the Scotland Office and the Wales Office remain, with exactly the same staff, doing exactly the same duties. He obviously has no comprehension at all of the facts that stare him in the face.
On Thursday evening, a major announcement was made in my constituency that could have jeopardised several thousand jobs. I was privileged to be able to take that information to the Secretary of State for Wales that evening and to have it acted upon. There was no confusion, but there is confusion in the line of the motion that says
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why item 11, Scottish Affairs, on today's Order Paper quite clearly says:
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain who is responsible for that? [Interruption.] I will even give him a moment to read the prompting note that his officials have had to pass to him. Perhaps he can tell us whether the same official who gave that information to the custodians of the Order Paper is now giving him his further instructions.
No, I have got some good company on this one. Of course, the reference is to a former House official, and the wording of the Order Paper was drawn up by the House authorities, rather than by the Government.
"I don't think anybody who hasn't been on Planet Zog or exploring the Antarctic for the past three or four years thought that the jobs of Secretary of State for Wales and Scotland, as they were before 1999, were going to go on exactly the same as before into the great blue yonder once you had a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly."
I am a generous man, so let me make one retraction. A moment ago, I said that the Conservative party had opposed all our constitutional reforms since 1997. That was deeply unfair, and I plead forgiveness and your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Hon. Members: "Wait for it."] Conservative Members better wait for it, because they will not like it. In fact, there is one reform that they have positively supported and, indeed, actively advocated—yes, merging the roles of Welsh Secretary and Scottish Secretary with other Departments. No one would have ever guessed from the peroration of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst—from all that self-inflated, puffed up indignation and apoplectic doom-mongering about the end of civilisation—that that merger was in their manifesto.
Hon. Members should listen to this for a moment, and I shall then take some more interventions.
"Scotland must be represented in Westminster and in the Cabinet. We will keep the position of Secretary of State for Scotland with the holder of that position also having an additional UK role within the Cabinet."
On Wales, the then leader of the Conservative party, Mr. Hague, could not have been more explicit:
"To take account of the changed role of the Secretary of State for Wales, I shall, as Prime Minister, give the incoming Secretary of State for Wales an additional United Kingdom role within the Cabinet"
If that was not clear enough, the following day, BBC News online—no doubt, briefed by the Tory leader's office—named the office of Leader of the House of Commons as the most likely post to be merged with that of the Welsh Secretary or the Scottish Secretary. So here I am, the embodiment of perhaps the only Tory policy at the last election that made sense. What have the Tories done? They have recanted, which is total hypocrisy and total opportunism.
It would have been better to say that all this was a blunder. The idea that this embarrassing chaos was planned is absolutely mind-boggling, but let us get back to what is on the Order Paper. The Leader of the House made the serious suggestion that House officials had been inaccurate in describing Mr. David Crawley as
"Head of Department at the former Scotland Office."
Let the right hon. Gentleman be specific: is he saying that House officials have made a mistake; or is it a result of the Government's embarrassment and blundering?
I made no reference to a mistake; I said that the wording was drawn up by the House authorities. I made that absolutely clear.
I will not give way again to someone who wants to destroy the United Kingdom and separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman can wait a moment.
Does not my right hon. Friend feel that he is being a bit unfair to the shadow Leader of the House because he is trying to pin on him the policy of the previous short-term leader of the Conservative party, and the present short-term leader of the Conservative party has made it clear that he does not have a policy?
Indeed. We searched in vain for a policy from the leader of the Conservative party, even on something to which he said he has been committed in the past: a supreme court.
Not for the moment. I have taken a lot of interventions, and I am happy to take more.
The Liberal Democrats' leader in Wales was on the radio yesterday, huffing and puffing. Perhaps he has forgotten his party's manifesto at the last election and, a few months ago, its evidence to the Richard commission advocating the abolition of the Secretary of State for Wales and the Wales Office.
No one will take seriously the other cause taken up by leader of the Conservative party—the opposition to any change in the role of the Lord Chancellor. Again, what we are doing is a sensible, measured act of constitutional modernisation.
In a moment. Let me finish this point.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on Thursday evening a full and open process of consultation on proposals leading to three reforms. First, we will consult on establishing an independent judicial appointments commission to recommend candidates for appointment as judges. Scotland already has an independent Judicial Appointments Board, and one is being set up for Northern Ireland. That reform has strong support among the judiciary. It will boost judicial independence and the transparency of the appointments process, and it is fully in keeping with the trend across all public appointments.
The Opposition have made much of the part-time nature, as they call it, of the posts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the primary responsibility of any Member of Parliament—whether or not he or she is a Minister—is to represent his or her constituents, and that to diminish any ministerial post by describing it as "part-time" is to ignore an MP's primary responsibility? The people of this country believe that the real problem is that many Opposition Members have part-time jobs, instead of representing their constituents?
I could not agree more. On the part-time issue, I made it clear on accepting the Prime Minister's invitation that I did not want to carry on as President of the Council. As I have been informed by predecessors and others, those duties, undertaken in recent times by the Leader of the House, could account for up to a third and sometimes more of the week's diary time. That responsibility has been transferred to the Leader of the House of Lords.
The purpose of getting rid of the Lord Chancellor is to lead to a separation of powers, which is deemed to be desirable in the interests of judicial independence. Can the right hon. Gentleman therefore explain how it is in the interests of judicial independence that for a period of at least 18 months, if not longer, the discharge of the function of the appointment of judges has been transferred to a Minister who does not want to take on the responsibilities of being Lord Chancellor, with the independence that that implied, and has been transferred to the Department for Constitutional Affairs and to a Minister who shows every sign of simply wanting to be the lackey of the Prime Minister in that respect?
That really was hard work as a question—[Hon. Members: "Answer."] I will happily give the hon. Gentleman the answer. The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs has made it clear that he will not sit as a Law Lord—
Obviously, because that is the existing system, and it takes a bit of time to reform. That process of reform, which the Conservatives do not like—they do not like modernisation or reform, and they want things to stay the same for ever and a year—will be in a context of consultation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that the way in which the Government are tackling this matter is like throwing tacks on a cricket pitch? He knows all about that. When he answers, will he also tell us how he will apportion his time between his two jobs?
As it happens, for the record, although I am not sure that it is relevant, I never threw any tacks on any cricket pitches.
A long time ago, the right hon. Gentleman talked about informed opinion outside this House and a coalition of interests against reactionary forces that were frustrating reforms. Informed opinion outside the House was very interested in the concept of a ministry of justice deriving some of its powers from the Home Department. Reactionary forces within the Home Department threw their toys out of the pram and said that that would not happen. Will there be a proper debate about that and proposals to take powers from the Home Department and give them to the Department for Constitutional Affairs so that it becomes a genuine ministry of justice?
Again, I think it best that the hon. Gentleman reads the press release issued by No. 10. If he wants to initiate a debate along those interesting lines using Liberal Democrat time in the House, that will no doubt prove fruitful.
The right hon. Gentleman talks a great deal about consultation, but at the same time he talks about the Government's plans as though they were set in concrete. What will they do if the results of the consultation are inimical to their current apparent policy?
I want to make some progress in explaining some of the detail, as some Members clearly have not followed it.
I will then happily take more interventions, including one from Mr. Salmond.
Secondly, we will consult on the establishment of a supreme court to replace the existing arrangement of the Law Lords, who operate as a Committee of the House of Lords. That will take the Lord Chancellor, a politician and Minister as well as a judge, out of the final court of appeal and establish it on a fully independent basis. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, although he refused to confirm it, agrees with us. He said that
"I must accept that we would need a supreme court of the kind that the United States has. I believe that the Supreme Court has served the US extraordinarily well . . . we would have nothing to fear from that."—[Hansard, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 653.]
We have already concluded the first stage of reform of the House of Lords, and we await the second stage. What does the right hon. Gentleman believe? Does he believe in a supreme court or not? What does the Leader of the Opposition believe? What is the Opposition's policy? They do not have a policy any more.
This debate, although entertaining, shows how out of touch the Opposition are with the British people. Not many people in my constituency will lose sleep over the Government reshuffle. What they are concerned about is the health service, education and antisocial behaviour. Why will the Conservatives not discuss those subjects?
Because they are frightened of doing so.
The supreme court idea, too, is a sensible measure of constitutional modernisation, supported by, among others, none other than the senior Law Lord, Lord Bingham. In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on
"I am wondering whether it— the judicial appointments system—
"could not all be brought more into the open . . . by having a different system for example a judicial appointments commission."
He has also said:
"I think there is a very strong case for having a supreme court that is in the same position constitutionally"—[Interruption.]
As I was saying, Lord Bingham has also said:
"I think there is a very strong case for having a supreme court that is in the same position constitutionally as the supreme courts of every other country in the world, whether it be in the US, Canada, Australia, India or France".
Furthermore, he has said, "To modern eyes"—[Interruption.] I have already referred to the grinning idiocy on the Opposition Back Benches, and we are seeing it being displayed again. His comments were:
"To modern eyes, it was always anomalous that a legislative body should exercise judicial power, save in very restricted circumstances . . . The law lords are judges not legislators and do not belong in a House to whose business they can make no more than a slight contribution . . . My own personal preference would be for . . . a supreme court severed from the legislature".
That was the leading Law Lord, Lord Bingham, supporting the Government's policy.
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard Geraldine Smith say that her constituents are not at all bothered about the matters being debated in the House today. I must say to her, that my constituents—and almost everyone in the country—are deeply bothered that the one thing over which a Government have complete control, a reshuffle, this Government have utterly botched. If they cannot run their own reshuffle, they certainly cannot run the country.
Again, the Opposition concentrate on process and not on substance. They are afraid of modernisation, and they do not like the idea of a supreme court—or perhaps they do. They should make up their minds. Do they like the fact that, in future, judges will be appointed by an independent commission rather than by a member of the British Cabinet? Surely such modernisation is to be welcomed by everybody.
This may not be the occasion on which to consider the serious constitutional moves that were made last week, but there must come a point at which all Members of the House will look back on the announcements that were made last week, one of which—the creation of a supreme court—will remain outstanding. That is a monumental move forward by the Government on which I congratulate the Prime Minister. Should not all Members of the House consider that proposal with great seriousness, because the legislature will need to have a role of some description? Is it not appropriate that all Members should consider that? Is it not appropriate that even Her Majesty's loyal Opposition should get their act together—even if they are allowed 18 months to do so—to decide their policy on a supreme court, which may involve ratification or interview?
I very much welcome the opportunity that the process of consultation will give my hon. Friend, with his expert interest in this matter, to make his views known.
The third reform we propose is to invite the House of Lords to select its own presiding officer, rather than having a Minister imposed upon it by the Government of the day, as happens now. In any rational world, that is something the Opposition should welcome with open arms. Do they agree with that or do they not? In any rational world, that is something that everyone should welcome. Indeed, many in the House of Lords welcome it. Why is it suddenly such a terrible idea? The answer is: because we are proposing it. Tories always react to change and reform like scalded cats.
We have pledged to consult on all the reforms. My right hon. Friend Lord Williams, the Leader of the Lords, has begun consulting Members of the House of Lords on a new independent presiding officer for that House, and my right hon. Friend Lord Falconer will publish consultation papers before the summer on a judicial appointments commission and the supreme court.
Once these reforms are in place, we will abolish the post of Lord Chancellor, but not before—as, again, was made clear in the statement issued by Downing street last Thursday that I have already quoted. I will quote it again for the Opposition's benefit. It stated explicitly:
"For the period of transition, Lord Falconer will exercise all the functions of Lord Chancellor as necessary."
The purpose of the reforms is to make properly independent all parts of our judicial process and put the relationship between Executive, legislature and judiciary on to a modern footing. The former Lord Chancellor's Department, now the Department for Constitutional Affairs, has nearly 12,000 civil servants. With the prospect of a unified courts administration, and with the essential task of administering the criminal and civil court system, legal aid and a range of tribunals now and a unified tribunals service in the future, the Department must in future focus on those essential tasks, with the Secretary of State based in the Department that he is running and not always in the House of Lords. That is sensible modernisation and radical reform, except to the demented hysterics in the Conservative party.
I am grateful to the part-time Leader of the House for giving way once again. If everything is such sweetness and light is so clear, why on earth did Downing street refer to the new arrangements as being a bit "hazy"?
I believe that these reforms are a good thing, but the way in which they came to light last week was not a good thing. There should have been proper consultation beforehand. I for one know that many judges will agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. However, does not declaring that the office will go in 18 months skew the whole consultation process?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would have expected nothing less from him. He, like me, wants radical reform of the structure of government. He is not stuck in the past, unlike the Conservative Opposition. The hon. Gentleman agrees with the substance, and in respect of the process, the difference between us is perhaps that we are in government. When one is in government, one reshuffles Ministers, as the Prime Minister does from time to time out of choice or necessity, and one then consults on the implementation of the subsequent detail—which, incidentally, the Conservatives did not do in respect of any of the departmental reorganisations that they undertook.
I never described reform of the European constitution as just a tidying-up exercise. [Hon. Members: "You did."] I never said that it was just a tidying-up exercise; I said that it was a tidying-up exercise and a process of reform and modernisation. Given that more than three quarters of the clauses in the new constitutional treaty come from the existing four treaties, how else would one describe the reform other than to say that those clauses are tidied up into the new constitutional treaty?
Is not the truth of the matter that, although most ordinary members of the public are far more interested in issues to do with crime, health and education than in whether we have a supreme court, they will look to the House for a serious debate on how we separate politics from the judiciary in this country and will be a bit depressed by the pantomime that we have seen from Widow Twanky and his colleagues on the Opposition Benches?
Indeed. On the point about crime, my hon. Friend's constituents, like mine, will be more interested in crime and the problems of crime—[Interruption.] That remark came from a supporter of a Government who doubled crime during their period in office. This process of reform and modernisation will help to tackle the problems of crime and the operation of our criminal justice system, because it will make it more modern and transparent and separate the judiciary from the Cabinet.
I have been very generous in taking interventions, and I have more than used up my time.
The reforms are part of a continuing process of change to ensure the modernisation of our criminal justice system, and should be seen alongside the new criminal justice laws, the reform of the Crown Prosecution Service and the changes to the Home Office that will see its functions on the constitution progressively reallocated to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so that it, too, can focus on its core work, fighting crime and changing our asylum and immigration system. All this is common-sense constitutional modernisation, which is why the Tories oppose it.
We look forward to the next election and to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst campaigning on that great issue of the 21st century—to bring back the Lord Chancellor, complete with wig, breeches, trainbearer, wallpaper and outdated role as politician, judge and Government-appointed Speaker of the House of Lords all rolled into one.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have listened to this appalling speech for quite a long time, and I would be grateful if you could address the serious question raised by Mr. Salmond about what appears on the Order Paper. I understand that the contents of the Order Paper are the responsibility of the Government and not the occupant of the Chair. I would therefore be grateful for guidance as to how Members of the House can establish whether the words "former Scotland Office" on the Order Paper are accurate.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House suggested that the passage on the Order Paper is inaccurate. If it emerged that the description and information on the Order Paper came from Government Departments, would we be told and would it be regarded as a serious matter?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that it would be in order for hon. Members to table parliamentary questions to get to the bottom of the matter? A serious matter of trust is developing between the Government and the House authorities, and I know which side most of us will be on.
The right hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and will know that it is entirely up to hon. Members to go to the Table Office and table a question, where they will be advised accordingly.
Those exchanges were instructive. What are Conservative Members concerned about? They are not concerned about the big picture of radical reform and the modernisation of our antiquated constitutional structure. I pledge to the House that we, the Labour Government, will battle for better public services, including a better courts and criminal justice system, which the people of this country want and which will be advanced hugely by the radical reforms announced by the Prime Minister last week.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Some of us take a particular interest in the procedures of the House. Would you be kind enough to ask Mr. Speaker to ensure that a full list of ministerial responsibilities is published prior to the delayed sitting of the Committee of Selection on Thursday?
I welcome the new Leader of the House and congratulate him on both his personal and political change of circumstances over the weekend. He will recall with great affection, as do I, the time when we were young Liberals together and he was truly radical. I regret that he has become more reactionary in his older age.
I enjoyed the excellent speech by Mr. Forth—I am sure that the whole House did—which was clearly a leadership bid. I noted a reference to the Lord Privy Seal. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is also confusion about that because no one is sure now who the Lord Privy Seal is. I think that I am right that he is not a Lord, a privy or a seal, but one of those categories might change.
In business questions last Thursday, I anticipated the then Leader of the House's change of status to Secretary of State for Health. It was one of my nightmare scenarios but it came true in a matter of hours. I asked the then Leader of the House:
"is it not extraordinary that the Prime Minister can dramatically change the geography—the structural architecture, if you like—of Whitehall without any reference to the House at all? We find major Departments of state changing their responsibilities with major implications for the way in which we can hold such Departments to account."—[Hansard, 12 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 834.]
That foreshadows the critical issue for the House—not the longer-term changes, some of which we welcome, but the way in which the changes have come about.
If there is one clear lesson from the past five days, it is that the cavalier constitutional carve-up that has taken place is demonstrable evidence that the Prime Minister is frankly not interested in the implications of constitutional change. That goes right back to 1997, because I remember when my party and the Labour party were in opposition and we reached agreement on major constitutional changes, which saw fruition in the so-called Cook-Maclennan agreement. The Prime Minister elect—the Leader of the Opposition as he then was—was frankly not interested in such changes and he must regret losing the previous but one Leader of the House from his right hand because Mr. Cook is extremely interested in such matters and has a long track record of interest in constitutional reform.
The agreement in 1997 touched on these issues, so I reject absolutely the idea that they are suddenly new to the House. The issue of the supreme court goes back more than 100 years and enjoys support among all parties, but that is not the subject of the debate. Labour Members who try to say that it is relevant have not read the Order Paper.
There are important issues to consider. First, as was implicit in the Cook-Maclennan agreement, we must protect the judiciary from real or perceived political interference. Secondly, my colleagues and I have believed for a long time that we must separate the ceremonial role of the Lord Chancellor from his real political role. Thirdly, we must ensure that the House of Lords is given more democratic legitimacy so that it can complement this House's scrutiny role. Finally, we must follow through the devolution agenda to reduce interference from Whitehall. It is clearly absurd to pretend that everything is precisely the same as before. We have heard that all parties, including the Conservative party, have accepted the need for review, but that is not the issue.
It is true that the matter has not caused great concern in the public bar of the Sailors Arms in my constituency. I am sure that the public are not greatly worried about the fate of an elderly gentleman robed in a red dressing gown and wearing silk stockings and a miniature duvet on his head while sitting on an overgrown cushion, but that is not the issue. If the public are worried about that, they are clearly nostalgic about Gilbert and Sullivan or the Whitehall farce. Indeed, now that Lord Rix is in the other place, perhaps he can take to the stage again in the role of presiding officer having left the other stage.
The most welcome feature of the discussions—I hope that we will have discussions rather than diktats from No. 10—that can be dimly discerned through the past few days' fog of confusion is the fact that a proper separation of powers among the Executive, the judiciary and legislature will be implemented at last. Goodness knows that the process will need careful handling after 100 years of confusion if we are to prevent future confusion. I think that all hon. Members accept that point and I am sorry that Mr. Allen is not in the Chamber because he has given the matter much thought. Even he would accept that the House and the general public have not yet had the opportunity to think through the consequences.
Getting rid of the Lord Chancellor's role after 1,400-plus years will clearly be complex and difficult. We will have to unravel a pervasive presence throughout statute—I am informed that there are some 500 references to the Lord Chancellor in statute—and the process will require primary legislation. Unless the entire 2003–04 legislative programme is devoted to the Lord Chancellor's abolition Bill, we will be in big trouble. It is only right for the House to be invited to participate in discussions.
The hon. Gentleman seems to agree with the basic principle advanced by the Prime Minister in creating the Department for Constitutional Affairs. He also agrees that there should be a process of consultation in this House and the other place. How could he possibly vote for the Conservative motion given that it objects to those actions?
That is simply untrue. If the hon. Gentleman reads the motion carefully, which I have—I always approach Conservative motions with care—he will notice that it stresses the need to consult on how we proceed. I agree with that. He should think carefully about the problems that we will incur if the process is pushed through with the excess energy and urgency that was apparent last week. That caused confusion on both sides of the House, including among Ministers.
In a moment.
Before I address how we should deal with consultation, I want to emphasise the huge number of ancillary issues that are involved. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Lord Chancellor is patron of a large number of Church of England livings. That has to be unscrambled, as does his role as "Keeper of the Queen's Conscience". It may be that that is not a difficult or time-consuming role to fulfil for the present incumbent, but who knows what the future holds? It may become an onerous responsibility. All that has to be undone. A great number of jobs will have to be unravelled through primary legislation.
I have read the motion and am unclear about what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. Is he proposing that we follow the Canadian example, by which central Government cannot be reconfigured without legislation?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. As things stand, primary legislation will be required to undo the role of the Lord Chancellor. If he examines the detail of the role carried out by the Lord Chancellor after so many years of our constitutional development, he will find that to be true. That is a fact of life.
Is not this a prime case of needing first, a White Paper, and secondly, a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny on which we can take evidence? Surely one solution is to retain the Lord Chancellor with his non-political, yet still important, ceremonial roles and to distribute the others. There are many ways of responding to the problems raised.
To my amazement, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I suspect that he has looked over my shoulder at my script. I want to make precisely that point, which will worry him because we are not usually on the same side on matters of radical constitutional reform.
If the intended objective of last week's flawed rearrangement of the deck chairs was truly a radical realignment, many hon. Members on both sides of the House would accept it as necessary to meet 21st century needs. However, it was clearly bungled in both its implementation and the complete lack of appreciation of the possible consequences and of the need for consultation and explanation. A much more successful outcome, with which many of us would be hard put to disagree, could have been achieved by following at least one of the options that my colleagues and I, and it would seem others, propose.
We could retain the ceremonial role of the Lord Chancellor and his role as the presiding officer in our second Chamber, which is not an onerous responsibility as Members of the House of Lords constantly remind us, but make it clear that he or she would have to be elected by the membership. That is one option. It would involve removing all political functions, leaving only ceremonial functions—for example, in relation to the Crown.
Clearly, we would have to create a separate and independent judicial appointments commission. That is probably a commonly accepted policy. It would demonstrate once and for all that we are truly and obviously preserving the independence of the judiciary, which is not clear under the present dispensation. We should appoint a new Secretary of State, accountable to the House and, through us, to our electorate, for such matters as those to which the Leader of the House referred. It is extraordinary that the Home Office, in the person of the Secretary of State, was able to block the most important reform of all, which would have brought together the administration of criminal and civil justice in one new Department. That is quite absurd. The Leader of the House implied that the new Department will bring those functions together, but that is not true. It is yet another confusion. The Home Secretary managed to block that and it is outrageous that No. 10 caved in to such pressure.
We should take account of devolution and find new machinery to ensure that the devolved Assemblies are properly linked to this place. Those responsibilities that are reserved to Parliament should be properly accountable to this place either through a new Secretary of State for the devolved Assemblies or a Cabinet Office Minister with a seat in the Cabinet. Once the Northern Ireland Assembly is up and running that, too, will require representation in the House on that basis. In due course, if the legislation proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister comes into effect, the English regional assemblies will also require a similar linkage. Surely we should enable the devolution process to evolve in such a way that we give manifest effect to reducing Whitehall's interference, which would mean a reduction in the number of not only ministries, but Ministers. We have far more Ministers today than when the British empire existed and we were responsible for large parts of the world.
What happened on Thursday was no carefully thought through strategy to achieve that aim; it was a series of slap-dash afterthoughts. Is transport a part-time job? Anyone who sat through Transport questions an hour or two ago will know that it is a full-time job, and so it should be. Is the Leader of the House underemployed? If he thinks that that is true, he does not know what is coming to him when he tries to organise next year's business. I have explained the scale of the pressure on our business if the Lord Chancellor's position is abolished.
There is also the extraordinary example of a Member who represents a Scottish constituency having responsibility for the NHS in England. I remember only too well that when Labour Members were in opposition they used to make fun of a Welsh Secretary, Mr. Hague, who came not from Wales but from Yorkshire. They still do that, but they should not if they want to contend that the new arrangement is the proper way to hold a Minister to account.
If part of the package included real movement on the role of the House of Lords, we would see a grain of consistency in the package, but that is not the case.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's interesting speech, but how do we link in, as he put it, one legislature to another? That subject troubled the House for many Sessions, both in 1978 and 1979, and subsequently in the late 1990s. It is easier said than done.
I agree with the Father of the House, but there are two roles to consider. One is the responsibility for matters that are not devolved but are reserved to the House. Those are variable in terms of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The second role is, as he said, the linkage between the legislatures. Other countries have succeeded in finding a way of doing that. I am not going to make a full suggestion off the cuff, but I accept the point that he articulated. I hope that he, too, will take seriously the lack of consultation on this exercise and will respect the motion.
The Labour party manifesto for the last general election committed it to ensuring that the Lords become "more representative and democratic". In that context, we need to look carefully at the role of the Law Lords. We have no misgivings about working towards the establishment of a supreme court. I do not like the name and hope that we find another one, but I am sure that there is widespread support for such a body, not just in the legal profession, but outside it and across the House. As we heard, Conservative spokespersons are firmly in favour of it. It has been more than a century since the reform was promoted as necessary.
I hope that the Prime Minister will understand, if he takes the trouble to read the debate, that Members on both sides of the House and in both Houses share the same objective. What they object to is the manner in which the reform has been carried out—as if it were a game of musical chairs in which the pianist is only interested in ensuring that his friends stay on their respective seats while the others are pushed off the end. That is not a proper way to monkey with the British constitution.
The evidence given by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and the noble Lord Strathclyde shows that the Conservative party is not opposed to reform even though it has been characterised as such. I am glad about that. Some Conservative Members might not want to reform anything, but on the whole there is a consensus that reform must take place. That is particularly true of the issue of a supreme court. I pray in aid the words of Lord Howe, the former deputy leader of the Conservative party, who said in the Lords yesterday that
"all the measures comprised in the package presented on Thursday have had substantial and growing support for a long time".
Lord Howe could not have been more specific. I do not think that he would love me if I described him as a dangerous radical, but he is probably broadly attuned to the views of many members of the House of Lords. He went on to say that objections arise because
"this package of proposals, whatever their intrinsic merits, arrives in the form of a pre-emptive bunch of products produced as a misguided political change of governance."—[Hansard, 16 June 2003; Vol. 649, c. 540–41.]
I cannot see how any Government Member can deny that that is true.
There has been a complete lack of effective consultation. Even now, there is an extraordinarily vague approach to the issue of consultation. We must find a way of reintroducing cross-party discussion of these important issues and the consequences not foreseen by No. 10. Is there nobody in No. 10 with any constitutional or historical perspective? Taken with the Prime Minister's last-minute U-turn about the composition of a reformed second Chamber, that surely suggests that, at the very least, he is badly advised.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to argue not about elections in the House of Lords but about elections to the House of Lords. He is still arguing that we should have reform and consultation; the only thing that is wrong is the reshuffle last week, which led to the process in which we are now engaged. However, the only way to start putting together a package of proposals is to create a Department that will eventually take on the new responsibilities.
That is clearly absurd. However, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall deal with what we should do next. Let us be positive and, as he may play a role in this, perhaps he will listen carefully.
All is not lost. The House will recall that the Prime Minister was belatedly persuaded to accept that a substantial constitutional change to the Lords required a cross-party consensus. Very belatedly, after every other attempt to reach sensible conclusions, he permitted the appointment of a special Joint Committee—this is where Mr. Bryant may come in—which is still in existence. It has nothing to do at the moment because the Government have effectively blocked any further development of proposals on the reform of the House of Lords. However, it includes distinguished former Ministers from all parties—except my own, sadly—in both Houses. They are currently on stand-by—they are not doing any work because of the mess that No. 10 has got itself into—but they may well be prepared, given an appropriate remit, to look at the wider constitutional options created by the bungled changes of last week. They could then give guidance to both Houses about what should happen next, especially in the second Chamber, whether reformed or not.
I hope that the Leader of the House will confirm that he is on record as a democratic reformer of the Lords. I appreciate and welcome the fact that, unlike the former Lord Chancellor, who will now have more time with his pension, and the previous Leader of the House, he is committed to an elected, democratic and representative House of Lords. If we see a wider picture of reform, we may realise that there is more sense to modernising its operation, to which he has referred in media interviews, and the other proposals that will apparently be introduced. It would be wrong to start fiddling with the responsibilities of the House of Lords without looking at its constitution and composition.
Meanwhile, the newly established Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend Mr. Beith, could look at the judicial changes that have been proposed. That is the proper parliamentary way in which to make progress—it is not achieved by diktat by No. 10 over a weekend to try to satisfy the aspirations and ambitions of colleagues. I very much hope that there will be a return to parliamentary governance to deal with these issues, rather than the diktat of an overweening and powerful Executive.
The motion rightly emphasises the Government's failure to consult and to appreciate the consequences of that. I hope that this House and the Lords will rise to the occasion. I am indebted to Mr. Tyrie, who is sadly not in the Chamber but takes these issues seriously, for the following quotations. In 1908, when Henry Chapman MP claimed that the House of Lords was the "watchdog of the constitution", my erstwhile Liberal colleague Lloyd George responded that it was "Mr. Balfour's poodle." In the next few weeks, we shall learn which House deserves which epithet from the way in which we respond to this opportunity.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate, but shall confine myself to the implications of the reshuffle for the Secretary of State for Wales and the Wales Office. Those who believe that the Secretary of State for Wales is no more and that the Wales Office is dead and buried need mourn no longer. Reports of their deaths are premature and, Lazarus-like, both have risen from the grave after untimely obituaries appeared in the press last week. The headlines rang loud and the editorials even louder, but they rang false. "The Welsh Office is dead," say the press and the Opposition, but I say, "Long live the Welsh Office.
We have had an interesting few days. Regrettably, there are no Welsh nationalists in the Chamber at the moment, although I am sure that they will be back. They periodically wax lyrical about the lack of workload in the Wales Office, but they were suddenly convulsed by fits of rage when their punch bag was taken away from them. All of a sudden, instead of portraying staff in the Wales Office as people who sat on their hands and whiled away the hours until home time, nationalists talked about them as dedicated staff who do not have enough hours in the day to cover the important issues in Wales. The Wales Office was transformed in the teary eyes of the nationalists into a dear family home that they had loved and would miss, and the Secretary of State was transformed into a dearly loved relative. Such tears were wept as have not been seen in many a Welsh funeral.
The nationalists' sadness was eased by their realisation that the change could provide a convenient argument for the further transfer of powers, including primary legislation, to the National Assembly for Wales. Surely, they whispered, there was a cunning plan by No. 10 to introduce primary powers for the National Assembly by the back door. Without a Secretary of State and a fully staffed Wales Office, they argued, there was an unanswerable case for primary powers for the National Assembly, as well as better drafted and considered Welsh law. The nationalists dried their eyes, and saw that that a step had been taken towards their holy grail—the establishment of an independent Wales for an independent Welsh people.
The nationalists will of course deny that that is the case, and I am sure that they will take issue with me. They do not mention the I-word any more. New members of the party are screened to ensure that "independence" does not pass their lips. Older members drift away from the party in disgrace or dismay, but if they stay, they have to swear solemn oaths and forbear ever uttering the words, "Independent Wales". The nats are happy that the reshuffle has resulted in the misunderstood prospect of a step in the right direction. They went into overdrive, and some of members of the Welsh press followed them like lemmings—"What do we want? More powers! When do we want them? Now!" It all looked so good on Thursday, but there was a problem—they had it all wrong.
It was soon clear that there was still a Secretary of State for Wales, and a merry band of men and women in the Wales Office. On Thursday, as I told the House in an intervention, I had to deal with a case in my constituency involving a threat to several thousand jobs. I raised that on Thursday evening in the Lobby with my hon. Friend Mr. Touhig, who assured me that he would consider the matter, and I await a favourable response.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could answer this question: is it not a feature of our ministerial system that Ministers are accountable for the actions of their officials? That is a central pillar. In those circumstances, how can the Secretary of State for Wales, or what is left of him, be answerable for the actions of his officials when he does not have any responsibility for them, as they are within the domain of another Minister in another place?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that can be dealt with very simply. For the purpose of Welsh questions, the Minister will be here at the Dispatch Box. For the purpose of Welsh issues, I as a Welsh Member will raise them directly with him. There is no confusion, except on the part of the Opposition.
Indeed. I have no difficulties with that. It was a policy advanced by the Opposition. Let me elaborate. I was one of the signatories supporting the retention of a Secretary of State for Wales. That is why I am happy, since Thursday evening when the position was made clear, and from subsequent discussions with the Wales Office, that that remains in place.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's response. The early-day motion that he signed stated:
"That this House believes that the Secretary of State for Wales performs a vital role in the government of the United Kingdom; and further believes that this office should be retained as an individual cabinet post".
Clearly, that is not the case. There is one person doing two jobs. The Lord Chancellor takes partial responsibility for Wales. The hon. Gentleman should read early-day motions before he signs them, because since the reshuffle he has clearly changed his mind.
Not only can I read an early-day motion, I can be instrumental in drawing one up. The Secretary of State retains his position as an individual Cabinet member. He is also Leader of the House of Commons. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that there are advantages for some of us with Welsh seats in having a Leader of the House who is also Secretary of State for Wales.
My hon. Friend knows that some Welsh nationalists and, I think, Scottish nationalists, have been arguing that the major constitutional follow-on in Wales from last week is that full law-making powers should be given to the Welsh Assembly. Does he believe that, if we were ever to go down that route, we should have a referendum?
Absolutely and categorically. I shall return to that in a moment. It is important to the reshuffle and what it meant in the eyes of Back Benchers for constitutional issues for Wales, and what it seemed to mean for Opposition Members, particularly in the nationalist community.
How did the nationalists, the Tories and everybody else who jumped on the passing bandwagon manage to get it so wrong, as was exemplified once again today from the Opposition Front Bench? It is a problem familiar to all those who leap to conclusions, rather than waiting for the full story to emerge. It is a condition referred to in political, if not clinical, circles as premature extrapolation.
The hon. Gentleman scoffs at people, who, he says, have got it wrong. That includes almost every observer of the political scene, as well as almost every participant in the political scene, including many newly appointed Ministers. Does it occur to him that the reason why people are confused about the situation is that it is the most God-awful mess?
I can only speak from a personal perspective. At the moment when several thousand jobs in my constituency were at risk, I had no difficulty knowing where to address my concerns—and that was on the evening of the announcement. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman was present earlier when I intervened. It may be a good idea to provide an aide mémoire or idiot's guide to clarify the current position.
It is not entirely clear to me which is the more striking phenomenon: the hon. Gentleman's loyalty or his ambition. Doubtless that will become clear in due course. I understand his focus on Welsh matters. Given that he is one of a handful of defenders of the Government present today, can he answer the straightforward question whether the Scotland Office is former or current?
The answer has already been given by the Secretary of State, who is far worthier than I to give it. The hon. Gentleman directs his question to the wrong person, but I can tell him categorically with respect to the Wales Office, which seems to be a source of confusion among Opposition Members, that the Secretary of State's position still exists and that he is an independent Minister.
What are the constitutional implications of the reshuffle for Wales? At present, despite the speculation in the press, they are zero—zilch, nothing. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary continue in their roles and, at Welsh questions, the House will have a Welsh Minister at the Dispatch Box. Their staff can sleep secure in their jobs. [Laughter.] For accuracy in Hansard, I should rephrase that. The staff will sleep well in their beds after completing a hard day's work at the Wales Office. In the Welsh Grand Committee and at the Welsh Affairs Committee, the Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend Peter Hain and the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr. Touhig, will display their customary surefootedness. When issues in Welsh constituencies arise, I and fellow Members will know on which door to knock—Gwydr house is still standing.
Meanwhile, the Richard commission continues with its work, taking soundings on the future of the Welsh Assembly, the powers it should have, whether it should have more, when it should have more powers and so on. Does the reshuffle have any impact on the Richard commission? Not immediately. The commission should not discard the evidence that it has taken so far, because at this time nothing has changed.
One would not believe that if one read the letter from a leading nationalist figure, a former Member of the House and the Assembly, Cynog Dafis, in The Western Mail today. Its relevance is such that the House may allow me to read a short extract. He writes that "It follows"—from the reshuffle—
"that the National Assembly should, as a matter of urgency, at least get full legislative powers in the areas of its competence, and preferably responsibility for additional policy areas and powers of taxation as well."
One can see there the problem of premature extrapolation in action. One can also see hidden behind it the missing I-word—independence for Wales.
The nationalist camp should come clean about their aspirations and be honest with the people of Wales. Their vision is not of a strong and powerful Wales within the United Kingdom, but of an independent Wales. They should not hide behind calls for increased powers in the National Assembly. They should come out of the closet, be proud of the ideals on which their party was built, be proud to be nationalists, and stop hiding behind a smokescreen of clever words and pseudo-socialism.
There may well come a time when increased powers for the Assembly are appropriate. I believe that that time will come, but we should not rush at it. We should take one step at a time. Let us prove to the people of Wales that the Assembly can maximise the powers that it currently possesses. Then, and only then, let us argue the case for more powers. If we are to go forward with further devolution of powers—not after a reshuffle, and I am one of those who believe that that will and should happen—let us go forward with the backing of the people of Wales. There is no consensus at present, but that may change, and it may change sooner rather than later.
For now, the existing profitable partnership continues—a Labour Secretary of State for Wales and a Wales Office that works closely with the Labour Welsh Assembly Government. I make no apologies for emphasising the Labour nature of those positions and institutions, if for no other reason than to remind the Lib Dems of their futile and shameless showboating as a minor coalition partner in the Assembly. It was credit for everything and blame for nothing.
Those Labour politicians and Governments, working closely together for the betterment of the people of Wales, will continue, following the Government announcements. That partnership has delivered devolution, objective 1 funding, a Children's Commissioner for Wales, welfare to work targeted at the areas of highest unemployment and economic inactivity, massive investment in schools and hospitals, financial settlements year after year that far outstrip any hypothetical tinkering with the Barnett formula, retention of community health councils, the national minimum wage and huge advances in workers rights. This is a very Welsh and very Labour partnership, and it is a very fruitful one for the people of Wales.
The motion suggests that the reshuffle is a shambles. I suggest without fear of sensible contradiction that the motion is a sham, and I urge the House to reject it emphatically. The reshuffle has, in constitutional terms, provided this country with an opportunity to move confidently forward with reforms that were so long overdue that the bailiffs were coming to enforce them. The Tories would have us tear up constitutional reforms and return to a golden age of yesteryear. I regard those views fondly, sentimentalists as Opposition Members are, living in a world gone by. The nationalists would have us tear up the Government of Wales Act 1998 and put in its place measures to introduce independence—a word that they only whisper. Even though that word is only whispered nowadays in dark corners of nationalist meetings, I look on nationalists fondly, romantics that they are, living in a world that will never be. One party is in the past; another in a fantasy future.
While I look with tenderness on the misplaced aspirations on the Opposition Benches, I look for realism and direction from the Government. The ongoing constitutional arrangements continue to provide the very best for the people of Wales while recognising that devolution within the parameters of the Government of Wales Act is fluid and not fixed over time.
Yes. In the near future, the hypothetical situation that the hon. Gentleman posed is inconceivable. Should it come about, it will need to be dealt with, but at this moment, it is inconceivable.
I urge colleagues not to view Opposition Members too harshly. As I hope that I have explained, they aspire to inhabit a very different world, so the motion is somewhat detached from reality. Please treat Opposition Members gently, but send the motion back to the realms of fantasy whence it came. 2.42 pm
That was a most elegantly written and beautifully delivered speech, but it was pretty high on the grovel scale. We are discussing a very important matter this afternoon, and I have to say something that I said a fortnight ago when we held one of those short foreign affairs debates. I deeply regret the fact that neither the part-time Secretary of State nor the very full-time shadow Secretary of State is in the Chamber for the duration of this debate. In short debates, there is no reason why the principal participants should not stay. I hope that that will be registered.
We have to try to make sense of one of the most chaotic reshuffles in British political history. Mr. Tyler was right that this debate is not a question of discussing the detailed merits of the proposals, putting to one side the fact that we do not know precisely what the proposals are. The manner of their introduction was an insult to this House and to the other place. I wonder whether the Queen was told. We shall never know, but, frankly, it was thoroughly insulting to play around with the constitution in this way.
I wonder how it happened. I do not think that the Prime Minister is a malicious or malevolent man. I think that he has no real sense of history and no real regard for this place. He regards us as a bit of an inconvenience and encumbrance, and we distract him from the vision thing. I think that last Thursday he was sitting in his office at No. 10 and talking about the new Ministry of justice, for which we had all been prepared by the spin doctors. Then, Sir Humphrey, or whoever plays that role, said "Well, Prime Minister, the Home Secretary won't stand for that; you can't do it." The Prime Minister said "Oh dear. Well, I can't upset David, can I?" The reply was "No, Prime Minister, you can't upset David, it wouldn't be right", so he said, "I know what we'll do. There's my friend Charlie. He's a proper Charlie. We'll give him the job." So the flatmate was sent for and given a very good job.
The only problem was that nobody else principally involved had been informed of what was going to happen, and the Prime Minister himself had not for a moment thought of the implications. So there followed the extraordinary stream of announcements that my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House read out to us in his inimitable fashion in a brilliant speech. First, the office of Lord Chancellor was to be abolished. We were going to have a Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Wales Office and the Scotland Office were to be subsumed. That seemed to the Prime Minister to be "a good thing", in the words of "1066 and All That", but he had not thought it through. He had not realised that one cannot abolish an office that, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall said, is mentioned in no fewer than 500 current statutes. One cannot abolish the other two offices either, as they are again mentioned in a significant number of current statutes.
I would not dare to be cruel to such a delightful hon. Gentleman.
One cannot simply abolish things in that way, so there was backtracking, corrigenda were issued and we were told that the office of Lord Chancellor had not been abolished. I was standing at the Bar of the House of Lords last week. This House had adjourned at six o'clock, so I went to the House of Lords to see how it would receive the changes and what it had been told. As I told you, Madam Deputy Speaker, when you so kindly dealt with my point of order on Friday morning, it had been told nothing. I think that it was Lord Onslow who raised a point of order and moved the Adjournment of the House. It was absolutely plain from the sparsely populated Government Benches that nobody had a clue. The Leader of the House of Lords, amiable Welshman that he is, came bustling in and tried to be emollient—I had a pleasant little chat with him afterwards—but he did not have a clue either. He made the best of a very bad job with his carefully chosen words, but nobody knew what was happening or what the implications were. Nobody knew whether there was a Lord Chancellor and what the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs was going to do, or otherwise.
Much as I was enjoying the hon. Gentleman's musings about what might or might not have happened at No. 10 Downing street last Thursday afternoon, and much as I am now enjoying his Stanley Holloway-like monologue on his Bar time encounters in the House of Lords last week, I wonder what his position is on the supreme court. After all, that is one of the most important of the constitutional implications that we are meant to be talking about.
Frankly, we are not meant to be talking about that. The motion makes it plain—we are talking about processes of consultation and a botched reshuffle. There will come a time for discussing other issues and I shall be very happy to debate the need for a supreme court or otherwise. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will not be entirely surprised to hear that I am an innate conservative and that I do not believe in change unless it is absolutely demonstrated that it will be for the better. I believe that there is a perfectly coherent case for a supreme court and for divesting the Lord Chancellor of many of his responsibilities in the way mentioned by the hon. Member for North Cornwall, but I think that that needs to be debated in detail.
We need a White Paper setting out the Government's proposals. Personally, I believe that it is such an important matter that I would go through all the stages—a Green Paper, a White Paper, a draft Bill that could be examined, with pre-legislative scrutiny so that witnesses could be called, and then the Bill itself. At this stage, I cannot say to Mr. Bryant precisely what line I would take on the question of a supreme court. I am truly open-minded about that, although I have a slight predisposition in favour of not changing.
I am following closely what the hon. Gentleman says, and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. Has he had an opportunity to read yesterday's exchanges in the other place, where it became clear, as the discussions proceeded, that a great many important issues have not yet been faced? Perhaps even more significantly, there has been a full discussion in the other place, but we still have not had one—we are hoping to get one tomorrow.
Precisely. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I raised a point of order yesterday to ask for it. In response to my having alerted Mr. Speaker to the fact that I was going to do that, he said that he had been in touch with No. 10 and that we would get our statement tomorrow. We are all very grateful to Mr. Speaker, but frankly it is still not good enough: we should have had it yesterday at the same time as the statement in the Lords.
In those exchanges, many of the implications of the changes were discussed. They range from the very profound, such as the fact that—as even the hon. Member for Rhondda would acknowledge—the Lord Chancellor's ancient office has attached to it some exceptionally important functions that must be discharged by somebody, to what some would consider trivial, such as who presents the Queen with the speech at the state opening of Parliament. [Interruption.] Well, somebody has to do it: it is an important minor role in our constitution. None of those things has been thought through.
Another aspect that I deeply resent is that the Government have done exactly what they allege that they do not want to do—they have politicised the role of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs are now, and for an indefinite period, one and the same person. Lord Falconer will sit on the Woolsack and preside over the House of Lords for what could turn out to be a long time. He will have the job of appointing judges—an important part of the Lord Chancellor's role, which, I rather agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall, should go elsewhere. All the while, he will be a highly political member of the Cabinet, wearing his dome-like hat as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, with a relationship that has not yet been worked out with his two underlings, the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland. Are they, in fact, underlings? Again, we do not know.
In the first flush of happiness from his new marriage, on which we all congratulate him, the Secretary of State for Wales may think that he is about to enter a double honeymoon—one with his wife and the other with Lord Falconer. However, I wonder how long the latter will last, and what he will do when real issues of substance crop up between them. I also want to know—the Secretary of State did not reply to this part of my intervention, but the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Leslie will no doubt tell me—how much of his time he envisages devoting to being Leader of the House and how much to being Secretary of State for Wales. Similarly, how much time will the Secretary of State for Transport decide to devote to that role and how much to being Secretary of State for Scotland?
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's contribution, but does he acknowledge that the proposition that more than one post should be in the hands of a particular individual was first posited by the previous Leader of the Opposition? How much time did he feel should be spent on those respective posts?
I was the party's spokesman on constitutional affairs at that time, and I did not think that the system worked all that well, to be honest. [Interruption.] I said so at the time. I have never been one to hide my views. After all, a fortnight ago I was the one Conservative Member to march into the Government Lobby to support the Prime Minister on the inquiry into Iraq. My hon. Friends probably believed that I was profoundly mistaken, but I thought that I was right, so I did it.
It was a perfectly understandable experiment for an Opposition party to enter into, especially at a time when it had been so decimated at the polls, but it is not a good long-term constitutional answer to the problems of the United Kingdom and, in particular, to those of Scotland and Wales.
Absolutely. I want to mention one very tragic example: please God nothing like it will ever happen again. I remember Aberfan. What would a Secretary of State be able to do other than to devote every hour of every day to an issue such as that? Nobody would criticise him for so doing.
If the right hon. Gentleman will just contain himself for a moment, of course I will.
There is no more important job in the House of Commons, other than that of Speaker, than Leader of the House. Having been shadow Leader of the House, I know a little bit about the role. The Leader of the House should be available at all times to all Members of the House. He should not have time to do any other significant job. One either says that being Secretary of State for Wales is an unimportant job with no duties—I do not believe that that is the case—or that the post of Leader of the House has been demoted.
I tried to intervene earlier to prevent the hon. Gentleman from going down a blind alley. He clearly does not understand what has happened as a result of devolution. The First Minister of Wales and the First Minister of Scotland deal with such matters now. In the event of a tragedy, they would be responsible for the police service and all the emergency services: they would be on-site. The Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland have responsibilities, but they are principally here in the House representing those countries.
Speaking as one who has a son who stood for the Scottish Parliament, I am afraid that I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. If he thinks that in the aftermath of an Aberfan or a Dunblane the Secretary of State for Wales or for Scotland could stay in England and escape criticism, he is absolutely wrong. One should either get rid of the office entirely or, if one keeps it because one thinks that it is important, give it to somebody who does it full-time.
No, the hon. Gentleman has had his turn.
I come back to the role of the Leader of the House. It is a role of prime importance. The Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs is not the Leader of the House's new deputy—he will wind up the debate because of his responsibilities for constitutional affairs; it is all very confusing—but he can at least pass this on to the right hon. Gentleman. If the Leader of the House is to make a success of his job, and I hope that he will, he will have to try to be a little less partisan than he was this afternoon. The great Leaders of the House in my time here—good gracious, it is 33 years tomorrow—have been able to put their party allegiance at a little bit of a distance. The greatest of them was probably John Biffen.
John Biffen was able to distance himself a little. Not all Leaders of the House have done it as well. Ann Taylor, who currently chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, was a good Leader of the House in the Government's first year. However, let us not discuss personalities. If the new Leader of the House is to do his duty properly, he will not have time to be Secretary of State for Wales, whether he receives a salary for both jobs or not.
I shall now give way to my exuberant and irrepressible hon. Friend.
I want to underline the significance of my hon. Friend's point. Many of us have long admired some of the political talents of Peter Hain. However, this afternoon, he gave as hesitant and unpersuasive an account of himself as I have ever had the misfortune to hear.
My hon. Friend is developing his thesis on the role of the Leader of the House. Does he agree that the right hon. Member for Neath could usefully learn from the dedication to the role of Margaret Beckett and, whatever we think of his decision, Mr. Cook? Both were Leaders of the House of impeccable quality.
That is entirely fair. Both spent a great deal of time here and listened to debates in which they did not participate. Leaders of the House must do such things. The performance of the current Leader of the House reminded me of the wonderful remarks in "Pickwick Papers"—weak case: abuse plaintiff's attorney. That is what the right hon. Gentleman did all afternoon.
At least some of us can try to do that, whereas others sit, po-faced and smug, and make irrelevant sedentary interventions.
I should like to consider the constitutional implications of the appointment of the new Secretary of State for Health. I am delighted that the Father of the House, the author of the West Lothian question, is here. I hope that he might be moved to utterance and that, if he wants to utter, he will have the good fortune to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. He knows, probably better than the rest of us put together, the implications of appointing a Minister with a Scottish constituency and no say in anything to do with health in Scotland to dictate what will happen to the national health service in England and, to some extent, Wales. Although I appreciate that Wales has a measure of devolution, it is not as complete as in Scotland.
Again, the appointment is insensitive. I also believe that it was insensitive of the Prime Minister to remove the good doctor so quickly from the post of Leader of the House. He had barely arrived. I have the honour to be a member of the House of Commons Commission, and I believe that he attended only one meeting. That was not his fault, but how can one become knowledgeable about a job in only eight or nine weeks? That is unacceptable.
I have a higher regard than most of my colleagues for the Prime Minister. I greatly admire his courage in recent months, and have said that on many occasions. However, I believe that his attitude towards the House of Commons, whether intentional or not, is one of contempt. Moving Dr. Reid so quickly is further evidence of that. It is not as though the Prime Minister did not have talented Ministers.
I appreciate the blow to the Prime Minister that the resignation of the previous Secretary of State for Health must have been. I believe that he resigned for the honourable reasons that he stated, and I wish him every happiness with his family, but it must have been a blow to the Prime Minister. However, he could have called on others to fulfil the role without disrupting the affairs of the House or creating another constitutional problem.
Last week's episode was characterised by bumbling ineptitude. We must now live with the botched consequences of that. It was instilled in me from birth that everyone has a better instinct, and I have to believe it. I therefore appeal to the Government and the Minister who will wind up to progress gently and properly. Let us have a Green Paper and ascertain what the Government want to do, if they now know. After consultation, let us have a White Paper and draft legislation. Let us call witnesses, including the Lord Chancellor and Lord Bingham, who was prayed in aid this afternoon. Let us ask them searching questions through a fairly large Committee as a pre-legislative exercise. After that, we should have a Bill.
Nobody can pretend that such a measure would not be constitutional legislation of a high order. It should therefore be considered on the Floor of the House. Perhaps then we might reach some solutions that do not violate 1,000 years of history and retain the best of what we have and embody change only for the better. The Government have a historic opportunity. If they do not take it, they will deserve to be castigated evermore for their actions last week.
I hope that Sir Patrick Cormack will forgive me if I do not pursue the issue of the appointment of a Scot to the English Department of Health. That may be a matter for another day.
I have been sitting here since 12.40 pm and I did not intend to speak. However, I am becoming increasing troubled about a specific matter: the relationship of the civil service with some of the new Ministers. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs has a good record on serious civil service problems and I am especially glad to speak to him quietly.
The Secretary of Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend Mr. Darling is my parliamentary neighbour. He is one of the most competent Ministers and has always been superb at organising his time. No one in the House organises time to greater purpose than my right hon. Friend, whom I know well. I am bothered not about time but about civil service responsibility. I am worried about a civil servant in one Department being responsible to a Minister in another and vice versa. Mr. Grieve mentioned that in an intervention.
Given our tradition of Departments, what is the position of Scotland Office civil servants who are responsible to another Department, yet have a Minister in a third Department who answers questions in the House of Commons? There is a genuine difficulty with that. There may be a solution, but it is currently convenient that the Secretary of State for Transport is an extremely competent Scot. That may not always be the case; Ministers change.
What will be future of the Scotland Office? Residual powers exist. Even my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes will confess that some reserved powers have to be tackled in the House. We might have different views on other aspects of devolution, but surely we are united on that.
The issue is who exercises these powers. If, by chance, there is a suitable arrangement at a particular point in time at which the Secretary of State for Transport is in a position to do the job of Secretary of State for Scotland because he is a Scot and because he is intellectually and organisationally able to do it, that is fine. But this is not a built-in situation that will continue for ever. In all seriousness, therefore, I ask the Minister to tell me—possibly when he winds up, or possibly later—how we are to reconcile something which so far as I know is absolutely new to British constitutional politics? That is the situation in which a civil servant regularly—not on an emergency basis—has to be responsible to a Minister in another Department. If that is the case, there will have to be changes in the way in which the Government operate. We have a system, but a fundamental difference is now being introduced. I just want to know how this question is to be resolved.
Like my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack, I regret the absence from this part of the debate of the new Leader of the House and continuing Secretary of State, who has taken both his presences elsewhere. I should have liked to take the opportunity to congratulate him in person on his happy event last Saturday, and on the acquisition of another job. In the private sector, that is known as "going plural". It would be interesting to know at what point he proposes to draw the line, and whether he is going to acquire more offices along the way.
I also agree with what my hon. Friend said about the tone of the speech of the new Leader of the House today. I felt a good deal of sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman, and I have quite a high regard for him, but, for him, it was like being put in to bat on a wicket, and going out to the middle of the pitch only to find that the captain of his own team had dug up the whole pitch. I think that that is as unhappy an experience as he will have had. He is normally an assured performer, but he was most ill at ease today. And rightly so, because he is being put in to bat to defend something that is very hard to defend.
I also regret that he tried to smear almost everyone who was raising these issues as being somehow reactionary. Frankly, it is a long time since I have been called a reactionary; the normal term of abuse for me is "moderniser". I certainly see nothing sacrosanct about 1,400 years of history that would make it impossible to contemplate change. Plenty of things were commonplace 1,400 years ago which have now happily been got rid of. The idea that an office that has existed for that length of time should be preserved simply on that basis is plainly absurd.
However, the current situation is a very unhappy one indeed. I rather wish that the new Leader of the House had done today what he has done in many other circumstances, and been bruisingly honest and admitted that this had been a cock-up, and that the whole process had been abrasive and insulting and had alienated huge numbers of people both in the political world and outside who might, if it had been approached in a more intelligent and sensitive way, have been garnered into a gathering consensus. There is not much in the proposals that is inherently objectionable; it has just been done in the most crass way. It would have been better for the Leader of the House, on his debut event, just to admit that and say, "Let's start again, draw a line and see what we can rescue from this wreck."
I should like to separate out some of the ingredients of this dog's breakfast. There are a number of issues involved which are not linked to each other. First, let me deal with the issue of the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland. I do not regard it as improper for their roles to become part-time and to be undertaken by Ministers carrying other responsibilities. It was pointed out in what I think was meant to be a killer point that that was our policy at the last election. It seems perfectly sensible to do that as part of the upshot of the working out of the devolution settlement, and I do not see that as inherently difficult.
There is confusion on this issue, however. The point made by the Father of the House just now—the only point that he made in his short speech—was very important. There has been—to my mind, there remains—a good deal of confusion about how the new arrangements will work. In what sense will the Wales Office and the Scotland Office be in the new Department for Constitutional Affairs? Will there be physical co-location? Apparently not. We are told that the staff are not physically going to move in there. Is it simply that the civil servants will become part of the broader structure within the new Department? That might have something to recommend it, and it was certainly the only justification that the Leader of the House raised for this issue. I would have no particular objection to that proposal, but it has not been made clear whether that is to happen.
Who is the permanent secretary to whom those civil servants will report for pay and rations? That raises an important point about accountability, because civil servants do not report to Ministers for their pay, rations and promotion; they very properly report to other independent, impartial civil servants. What is the route of responsibility and accountability for those civil servants? It ought not to be impossible to devise something that makes sense, and with which the House would be comfortable, but we are nowhere near having had this made clear to us. This is another example of how this issue was dodged up as an expedient to sort out some personnel issues for the Government, rather than being a well-planned, well-thought-through development of the devolution settlement.
To help the right hon. Gentleman, may I tell him that the new Department for Constitutional Affairs will have a permanent secretary, Sir Hayden Phillips? He will also be the permanent secretary for the Scotland Office and the Wales Office, whose officials will to all intents and purposes come under the Department for Constitutional Affairs in terms of pay and rations, to use the right hon. Gentleman's phrase.
I am grateful to the Minister for making that clear, but that does not address the problem that is inherent in that arrangement—namely that the civil servants have to report for their pay, rations, promotions and conditions to the head of one Department, while their political responsibility, in policy terms, is to the head of another Department. It should not be beyond the wit of man to resolve that problem. It has not been resolved, however, and it needs to be.
Was my right hon. Friend not further disturbed by the fact that the Secretary of State earlier justified this constitutional change-around by saying that it would provide "career certainty" for civil servants? That may or may not be a good reason for reorganising a Department, but it is certainly not a good basis for reorganising the constitution.
I gave the Leader of the House credit for having made a slip of the tongue at that point. I am sure that he did not quite mean "career certainty".
It is true that these vestigial Departments are unlikely to have a large enough group of civil servants for there to be meaningful career paths for them, so there is a case for putting them into a larger group for those purposes. There is, however, an issue that is as yet unresolved about how to reconcile a reporting line for career purposes that goes in one direction with a reporting line in terms of policy that goes in another.
As I have said, it should not be impossible for these arrangements to be worked out. However, we now have a new set of arrangements that is, so far as I am aware, unprecedented in Whitehall, and people need to know what is happening. I would be surprised if the First Division Association were not pretty concerned about this, and were not raising the issue with the Government even as we speak. That is yet another example of issues that have not been thought through properly, and need to be resolved in a way that will comfort both civil servants and the House.
The position of the Secretary of State for Health is a new departure as well. The Secretary of State for Transport is a Scottish Member of Parliament, but most transport responsibilities in Scotland have been devolved, although a number are genuinely UK-wide. For the first time, we are faced with the much-anticipated scenario of a Scottish Member of Parliament effectively presiding as an English Minister over matters that do not affect his constituency in any way. This is not quite the West Lothian question; rather, it is an extension of it.
There is no constitutional impropriety in the situation. It is not morally reprehensible. But it is another arrangement that has not been thought through properly and will introduce tension. It is likely to cause growing resentment. Our unwritten, evolving constitution has been able to adapt and respond to anxieties and resentment among those whom we are elected to govern.
As my hon. Friend says, the Labour party was very critical indeed. The situation is slightly different now, however. In those days we were being governed, for better or worse, as a unitary country, with no devolved legislatures or assemblies. Any new legislation affecting Scotland or Wales—on health, for example—had to be passed by the House of Commons, and all Members were able to vote on it here. Now the Secretary of State will not be able to vote on any legislation affecting his constituents, but will propose and implement legislation affecting the bulk of the United Kingdom—in other words, England. As I have said, that is not constitutionally improper, but I predict that it will be an increasing source of tension, anxiety and resentment.
The right hon. Gentleman, who is making some intelligent and sensible points, seems to accept that the reshuffle has no moral implications. His central charge, like that of the shadow Leader of the House, seems to be that by its very nature it has led to constitutional changes. But every reshuffle in the House's history has led to constitutional changes. A major change took place in 1940 when Stafford Cripps was made ambassador to Moscow, and there was no consultation beforehand.
There was a war on at the time. The appointment of a sitting Member of Parliament as an ambassador has never been repeated in peacetime, because it would be constitutionally improper. No permanent change was made in the constitutional arrangements then. However, I do not want to be drawn down that path.
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that reshuffles have frequently involved changes in the machinery of government. I do not criticise the Prime Minister for deciding to make changes in dispositions in Whitehall: that is a perfectly proper prime ministerial function, which is carried out by means of Orders in Council and implemented swiftly afterwards. What has been done in relation to the Secretaries of State for Wales and Scotland could have been done in the same way had it not been for the quaint idea of putting their offices in a newly created Department. That does not fit neatly into a system of changes in the machinery of government to which we are entirely accustomed. I am not saying that this is the end of the world—the constitution is not tottering—but the position is needlessly unclear, and the opportunity to garner a consensus for some of the changes has been lost. That is regrettable.
I have no deep-seated belief that nothing in the Lord Chancellor's role can be changed. There are some perfectly proper issues involving the separation of powers which have never caused any great problem, but those who like things to be neat and to conform to a constitutional textbook have been agitated by such developments in the past, and they present a tempting target to those who like fiddling with constitutional matters.
One reason why no major problem has been caused in the past is that the office of Lord Chancellor has something to do with the arguably absurd ceremonial and dress involved, which confers a certain "otherness" on the holder of that office. The Lord Chancellor has never been an ordinary politician. He may have been one once—many Members of the House of Commons have been elevated to the other place and become Lord Chancellor—but once the robes of office are assumed, he takes on responsibilities that differ from those of an ordinary Cabinet Minister.
I have no particular objection to the establishment of a judicial appointments commission. I would have some concerns over who sat on the commission and whether it was pursuing a particular agenda, but I think that a properly designed system that had been subject to proper consultation could work quite well. One reason why bias and partiality in the appointment of judges has never been a major issue is the fact that the Lord Chancellor, who is responsible for making those appointments, makes them in a detached way, not as an ordinary member of the Cabinet. If anything, Lord Chancellors have tended to compensate for the possibility of being accused of making partial appointments by veering in the other direction.
The existing system has worked very well. I do not object to the new system, whatever it may be, but we should not justify its creation by saying that a huge problem exists and needs to be resolved. It is at the most a third-order issue.
I am sorry that I was not present for the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department—if it is still called that—visited Edinburgh this morning, and met members of the Judicial Appointments Board of the new Scottish Executive. The system works up there: it is possible to have a separate judicial appointments commission instead of the previous post of Lord Advocate. In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, does he accept that we should have such a body, and is that now Conservative party policy?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that what I utter is not necessarily Conservative party policy, although it may become it. I am merely reflecting, as the motion invites us to do, on what took place last week, and which has—whatever Labour Members may say—caused a minor explosion among those who are concerned with the state of our government and our constitution. It is not necessary to have perfect answers to such matters.
The hon. Gentleman defends the new system in Scotland by saying that it seems to work all right—or some such phrase—but frankly, that is not praising it to the skies. He says that it has not been a disaster, and there is no reason why it should be; however, the old system was not a disaster, either. There has been what the new Leader of the House would doubtless describe as a modest tidying up; it does not affect matters hugely.
The question of a supreme court is something of a third-order issue. What is a supreme court, other than the highest court in the land? The exception is a country with a written constitution, in which such a court is actually the guardian—the custodian—of that constitution. We do not have a written constitution, and the new supreme court will not have that function as such; it will simply operate, as the House of Lords currently does in its appellate role, as the highest court in the land. That will look neater and more like other systems, but in fact the current system has worked perfectly well.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we do not have a written constitution, but it is more accurate to say that we do not have a comprehensive written constitution. Of course, several issues have been addressed in statute, such as devolution to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London; and now, conceivably, devolution to regional assemblies will be so addressed. Indeed, our relationship with Europe, which will be written down, may well be a constitutional issue in future. I accept his general point, but he is not being quite fair in his analysis.
We do not have a formal, comprehensive written constitution, but if the new European constitution is implemented, we will for the first time have a written constitution; it will simply not be one designed and made in Britain. That is a pity, really, but be that as it may. The supreme court issue is a relatively minor one, but it will please constitutional aficionados.
My main point concerns not the detail of the proposed changes, some of which have been made and all of which are perfectly defensible, in their way. In fact, if the Government had approached this issue in a sensible and sensitive way, they could easily have gathered together some consensus for such changes. However, the way in which this has been handled is redolent of a Government who are losing the plot. When the Prime Minister reflects on the aftermath—the harvest—of last week's reshuffle, he may conclude that this was the time when the dusk started to come in.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow Mr. Maude. His contribution was rather more measured than that of the shadow Leader of the House, which was an appalling, roustabout affair that was unworthy of this House. The same was true of his many interventions yesterday, during the debate on whether Mr. Speaker should have a day off. That made a mockery of this House, and the shadow Leader of the House does himself, the House and his party no service in the way in which he addresses the House on occasion.
Today, the shadow Leader of the House was deliberately stirring things up and obfuscating the entire issue. He was obviously creating a stooshie—a phrase that we use in Scotland—to make the situation seem more awful and dramatic than it really is. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Horsham discussed the issues in a measured and sensible way, and although that will not be so easy for me, I shall try to do the same.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I remind him of his comments to the press last week, in which he described the new arrangements as inelegant. What did he mean by that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—it is almost as if he were a plant whom I placed here—as I was about to mention that point. I was a little critical of the fact that, initially, the situation was—if I am allowed to quote No. 10 spokespersons, as I undoubtedly am—"a little hazy". As the right hon. Member for Horsham said, we should be honest and say what we think, and the situation was indeed a little hazy. However, now that it has been clarified—[Interruption.] Mr. Evans laughs, but is he not personally a constitutional outrage? He represents Ribble Valley, yet the Leader of the Opposition has purportedly appointed him shadow Secretary of State for Wales just because he has a Welsh accent—a very Welsh accent. But that is no reason why he should hold that post while representing Ribble Valley. The issues are now clear, and I am one who supports all the changes.
The right hon. Member for Horsham was coming round, albeit reluctantly, to accept that the separation of the powers is a good idea. Lord Chancellors may have managed to separate their roles, because of their distinction or age, but I recall that Lord Hailsham had some difficulties forgetting that he was a Conservative.
The right hon. Gentleman is always an honest performer and would not want to perform a stooshie on the House—[Interruption.] In those circumstances, can he explain what possible advantage would be derived from abolishing—or semi-abolishing—the Lord Chancellor's post, when all that was necessary was to announce a new Lord Chancellor who could start a consultation procedure that would lead, in due course, to the creation of a supreme court?
The position has been clarified, and that is exactly what is happening. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be honest about that. We both sat on the Committee considering the Proceeds of Crime Bill and he was an intelligent contributor. Now that we know what is happening, I hope that he will acknowledge that the separation of the powers is a good thing. The House of Lords will now be able to elect its own Speaker, instead of having someone forced on it. I would have thought that the other place would be up in arms—no, raising their arms and cheering, rather than being up in arms. Cheering is what their Lordships should be doing. They now have the power to elect one of their own number as Speaker, which is a great step forward.
Having an independent judicial appointments commission is also good. My hon. friend Keith Vaz is absolutely right. In Scotland, such a system is working not just adequately, but extremely well. It was proposed under a Labour-Liberal coalition, so I hope that the Liberal spokesman will agree that it was a good idea. In fact, the Deputy First Minister, also a Liberal, introduced it.
My right hon. Friend is right. It is clear from Select Committee discussions that the system is working well in Scotland. The only problem is that all the judges still seem to come from the Edinburgh academy.
I have raised that matter on several occasions and it certainly requires further exploration, but on another occasion.
The House of Lords will be able to choose its own Speaker and we will have an independent judicial appointments commission answerable to a supreme court. Those are surely steps forward. It is also now clear that we shall have a strong Scottish voice in the Cabinet. My right hon. Friend Mrs. Liddell did extremely well at arguing the case for Scotland during her tenure as Secretary of State for Scotland, and I am sure that the new Secretary of State for Scotland—my right hon. Friend Mr. Darling—will do the same. As my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell said, he has the time and the ability to do so.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Department for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend Mrs. McGuire, will carry out the donkey work. I know that it is always the No. 2 in the Scottish Office who carries out such work. I did it all, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts agrees. I sat on the performance and innovation unit in the Cabinet Office, which dealt with energy issues and energy policy for the country for the next 50 years. I enjoyed it very much, and there was a Scottish input. As I said earlier, I also sat on the Committee considering the Proceeds of Crime Bill in 2001 to help ensure that Scottish interests were pursued. I worked with the deputy Chief Whip, who was then the Minister, on behalf of Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling will continue to do that, acting effectively for Scotland within the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
Not only will the Secretary of State for Transport be able to carry on with that job and be the Secretary of State for Scotland, he will be able to keep the hon. Gentleman in his place at Scottish questions. Just wait for it next week.
We also have a strong Welsh voice in the Cabinet and I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will be able to carry out the two functions.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, which has been underplayed today in discussion of the Wales Office, about the role and workload of our eminent colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr. Touhig, who used to be the Under-Secretary in the Wales Office. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has also contributed massively to the Convention on the Future of Europe, and that has not been a problem.
My hon. Friend is right, and that reinforces my argument. We have also seen a lack of understanding of what devolution is about. Sir Patrick Cormack showed that he does not understand it and I invite him to visit Scotland or Wales to see how it is operating. Things have changed. The Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland do not have the same range of responsibilities that they did at the time of Aberfan or Dunblane, both of which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
Even the SNP does not understand devolution. The SNP Whip, who is in his place, alleged that the Secretary of State for Transport, who is also the Secretary of State for Scotland, would have trouble negotiating with himself on the amount of money to be allocated to railways in Scotland, but that job is done by the Scottish Executive now, so there is no conflict of interest.
I am sorry that I was not in the Chamber earlier to hear more of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, to which I am listening with great interest. He has given a clear explanation of how the Secretary of State for Transport and the Leader of the House can also easily handle responsibilities for Scotland and Wales respectively. In the event of the renewal of devolution in Northern Ireland, to which Department could the Northern Ireland Office be linked?
I shall think about that. There have been many complaints about my right hon. Friend Dr. Reid being Secretary of State for Health, but one of the best Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland that we have had is a Welsh Member of Parliament. He is doing a very good job. This is a United Kingdom, and I would have thought that a Unionist would have understood that in this Parliament we are all equal and, therefore, any Member from the governing party can become a Minister in any Department.
I have pointed out the irrationality of having the hon. Member for Ribble Valley as the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Even more ridiculous is having Mrs. Lait as the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. What does Beckenham know about Scotland? The hon. Lady may have a Scottish accent and go on occasional day trips to Scotland, but her appointment is another constitutional outrage. That is why we take the stooshie—[Interruption.] Not, sushi—that is Japanese. "Stooshie" is the Scottish word. We take the stooshie that has been raised by the shadow Leader of the House for exactly what it is. He is a stirrer. He was stirring yesterday on the motion about Mr. Speaker's absence—and caused you a lot of trouble, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and he has been stirring again today.
The position is now clear. We have the separation of powers, powerful voices for Wales and Scotland in the Cabinet and one of the best operators—I was going to say fixers—as Secretary of State for Health, so we are moving forward positively.
Yes. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am honest. Perhaps that is why I am on the Back Benches, not the Front Bench. I said that the reshuffle was not elegant and that it was hazy, but it has worked out right in the end. I hope that he will also be honest. In his speech, he appeared to take the view that although the reshuffle had not been managed in the most elegant way, we have ended up with a good solution. It is good for the civil servants, including my excellent old friends in the Scotland Office. They are now together with the civil servants from the Wales Office in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and that will provide a career structure for them. That is a move in the right direction.
We have clarity now, and I hope that when the hon. Member for Beckenham comes to reply, she will remember which constituency she represents and more careful than the shadow Leader of the House. She should accept that we are moving in the right direction. Interestingly, the shadow Leader of the House was asked again and again about the Tories' policy on separation of powers and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Answer was there none. I hope that when the hon. Member for Beckenham replies to the debate, she will do more than merely continue to snipe away at the Government. The shadow Leader of the House offered only obfuscation, but we need to hear what the Tories would do in respect of reform. I think that the reforms move in the right direction. I hope that we will move even further.
As always, it is a pleasure to follow Mr. Foulkes. At the outset, I want to say that this has turned out to be one of the most truncated ministerial reshuffles in modern history. I should like to see the back of the envelope on which the Department for Constitutional Affairs was cobbled together. I want to know what was crossed out, and see all the improvised additions. The Department is already quite an achievement. In one fell move, the Prime Minister has managed to outrage public opinion in Scotland and Wales, and the opinion of the legal establishment in England as well.
I also want to make it clear at the start of my speech that there is no wailing or lamenting in the streets about the demise of the former Scotland Office, and that no one is especially upset about the removal of the former Secretary of State for Scotland. Just the opposite: there is a quiet sense of satisfaction that we are now part of the way into the process of abolishing the Scotland Office once and for all, and of getting it out of the way.
However, who would have believed that the opportunity to move on constructively from devolution would end in this Heath Robinson Department that has been cobbled together and which serves absolutely no one? Yet one thing at least is certain—even though the detail has seemed to change almost on a daily basis, the exercise has proved to be an unmitigated disaster for this discredited Labour Government who are now struggling to fill Cabinet seats, for the devolution settlement, and for the Scottish people, whose economic and social interests continue to be let down by the way in which they are governed from London.
It is heartening to see the Government throw off the shackles of spin, but who would have thought that they would do so with such aplomb? The Government pride themselves on presentation, but they seem to have forgotten about that entirely when making this announcement. They seem to have swapped spin for total political incompetence.
I always believed that we might get something of more substance if the Prime Minister concentrated less on political presentation. I could not have been more wrong. Even at this late stage of the reshuffle, it is difficult to know exactly what has been announced or who is in charge of what. If this is a job-share arrangement, I should like to see the job description involved.
How have we got here? On Thursday evening, we were told that there would be a new Health Secretary and the new Department for Constitutional Affairs. There was no mention in any of the press releases of the Scotland Office or the Wales Office. I think that it was presumed that both would be abolished, but someone forgot to tell that to the new Leader of the House. He told the assembled media—anyone who was prepared to listen—that he was still Secretary of State for Wales. Apparently, it had also been forgotten that the Government of Wales Act 1998 requires there to be a Secretary of State for Wales.
Overnight, we got a clarification: the Wales Office and the Scotland Office were not going to be abolished. What an absolute and utter disaster. It was business as usual. That was definitive—there was not going to be any reduction in the size, quality and role of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It was a matter of, "Move along, there's nothing to see here." Behind the doors of the Scotland Office, however, officials were working on the substance of the proposal—a fact that was confirmed by officials in that Department on Friday.
On Friday afternoon, everything was crystal clear. Downing street said that matters were a bit hazy. It seemed that the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales would still be in place, although neither would have a Department, budget or staff. An unelected peer would be in charge of the new Department for Constitutional Affairs. It seemed—although we are still not sure—that he would speak for that Department in the Cabinet, with Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales still present.
It has been suggested that the Secretary of State for Transport is a capable chap. I have no reason to deny that. He has proved himself in the Chamber and is a master of his brief, but he is very busy trying to fix the crumbling mess that is the UK's transport infrastructure. It has also been suggested that he is less than thrilled about acquiring what Mrs. Liddell described only last week as a full-time job.
The Secretary of State for Transport has been made Secretary of State for Scotland solely because he is Scottish, available and in the Cabinet, but what happens if he is reshuffled? What happens if he follows the example of the former Health Secretary, Mr. Milburn and decides to spend more time with his family? Will the job of Secretary of State for Scotland follow the right hon. Gentleman around the Cabinet? If he decided to leave the Cabinet, would it leave with him through the Cabinet Office's exit door?
The situation for Wales is even more precarious; only two Ministers speak for Wales, so I am sure that my Welsh colleagues will be checking on their health.
Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the position of the Scottish National party? He complained when there was a full-time Secretary of State for Scotland; now he complains that that responsibility is shared with another Cabinet post. Would he prefer it if there was a separate individual to argue for Scotland at the Cabinet table, in which case the SNP has reversed its view, or is his way of standing up for Scotland to take Scotland's voice completely away from the Cabinet?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We have a Scottish Parliament, with grown-up Ministers who can act on behalf of Scotland because they represent Scotland. The Parliament can deal with things effectively.
I remain concerned about my colleagues from Wales because there are only two Ministers. What if anything happened to them? Would the job of Secretary of State for Wales disappear?
The solution is neat and simple: to return the powers reserved by the Westminster Parliament to the Scottish Parliament where they belong. Rather than a half-baked solution with a part-time Secretary of State, Scotland needs that transfer of powers, with the functions of the Scotland Office returned to the Scottish Parliament. That is what I want; that is what we require in Scotland and that is what will enable Scotland to move forward.
Scotland's economic growth is half that of the United Kingdom as a whole. We have the worst unemployment in the UK—[Hon. Members: "That is not true."] We need to transfer powers to Scotland so that we can move forward—[Interruption.]
I am grateful to be described as the representative of the nationalist community, but it is clear that Plaid Cymru has argued coherently that a Secretary of State will be required until primary legislative powers are transferred to the Welsh Assembly. That position is clear and I have seen press releases to that effect; it certainly makes sense to me.
Before that transfer of powers can take place, something else has to happen immediately: we must ensure that the £7 million for the operating costs of the former Scotland Office is transferred to the Scottish Parliament as a priority. That money must be put back into front-line services—the people's priorities of education, health and crime reduction. Those funds must not be transferred to a strange cobbled-together Department, which will not represent Scotland or ensure that it receives a good share.
Rather than appointing part-time politicians to meaningless posts, the democratically elected Scottish Parliament should take full responsibility for its own affairs. That solution would be transparent and democratic; the Government's plans are neither.
Just as it is undemocratic that an unelected peer is at the head of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so it is undemocratic, as many hon. Members have mentioned, that a Member representing a Scottish constituency is in charge of the health system south of the border. The new Secretary of State for Health can introduce all manner of unpopular reforms, such as foundation hospitals, and then escape to Scotland where such innovations have been rejected by the Scottish Executive. We have had the West Lothian question for the past 30 years; now we are moving on to the Hamilton, North question.
Are those the actions of a modern, forward-thinking and visionary Government? Are they the actions of a Government who are putting the interests of the people of Scotland at the heart of the major constitutional decisions that they are taking on our behalf? The qualifications for leading the vanguard of constitutional reform and taking our political institutions into the 21st century seem to be based on being the Prime Minister's flatmate and golfing partner.
The Government's solution suits no one; it is completely unsustainable. The First Minister for Scotland has already talked about moving on from the arrangements. I cannot support them and that is why we in the nationalist community will vote against the Government this evening.
I shall speak as quickly as possible; indeed I shall gallop—something we do a lot in my part of Leicestershire.
The debate has been strange, not least for the remarks of Mr. Foulkes, with whom, to some extent, I agree. I do not take the apoplectic view that to have a Secretary of State for Health who happens to represent a Scottish constituency is something to be ashamed of or worried about, any more than I complained, when the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley was Under-Secretary at the Department for International Development, that he did not represent overseas. Such arguments can be put on one side. I am more concerned about whether the Secretary of State for Health and his Government's policies are any good. I suspect that they will not be.
I am also concerned about the way in which the changes have come about and the consequences that they may have for us all. One has only to look at the way in which the Government amendment to the Opposition motion is phrased to see how parlous the state of affairs is. I compare that with the way in which the military campaign was planned and executed in southern Iraq by the British armed forces. While the reshuffle was going on, I was visiting the British armed forces in Iraq, and I got back at the weekend to find the mess that the Government had dished up on the Thursday.
If the military campaign had been planned and executed in a fashion similar to the way in which the Government reshuffle was apparently planned and executed, the military mission would have been an unmitigated disaster. Thank goodness, it was not, for the obvious reason that the military planners had got their heads round the issues rather more carefully than the political planners at No. 10.
One goes on to look at the exact wording of the amendment and one sees all the usual new Labour-speak, which is no more than drivel, and it is supposed to be a defence of the Government position. One looks at expressions such as
"welcomes the Government's continuing drive to modernise the constitution . . . focused on improving the criminal justice system" and
"consulting on establishing an independent Judicial Appointments Commission".
[Interruption.] The intellectual rigour with which the matter was considered is reflected in the remarks and rather sad jeers of those who apparently represent the Government. If I had the time, I would continue with a clause-by-clause description of the lacklustre amendment.
The problem with the Government is that they think that words such as "modernise", "focus" and "consult" are the answer to the issues that we face. On reading the amendment, one can smell the burning oil, the grinding gears and the binding brakes of the Government desperately trying to alter course, having been made such a fool of over the weekend.
I do not think that the relevant Secretary of State is here at the moment.
No, poor dear.
The position is made yet worse by the Secretary of State promising consultation, while anticipating the outcome by already reaching a conclusion that will not be the subject of consultation. He says that a judicial appointments commission is a good idea and one will come into being. It may or may not be a good idea, but what is the point of the consultation if he has already reached a conclusion?
I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to reply to the debate for 15 minutes; I have only about four minutes to get across a speech that could have taken half an hour, so he should consider himself lucky that I am confined to four minutes.
As I was suggesting, the Secretary of State has already reached a conclusion irrespective of the consultation that he promised, so we see yet again that the expression, "Government consultation" is no more than an inelegant oxymoron.
I suspect that the cheers from Government Members about the changes to the Lord Chancellor's office have nothing whatever to do with the constitutional good sense of the reforms, but everything to do with the personality of the previous Lord Chancellor. Probably from day one when the Government took office in 1997, the previous Lord Chancellor made a fool of himself through his inability to behave in a politically and diplomatically sensitive way. That is not his fault. He is a man of huge intellect and great legal experience and expertise, but he was wholly unsuited to the delicate role required of a Lord Chancellor.
It is not even a fact; I was appointed a silk by Lord Mackay.
All that lies behind the antagonism of Labour Back Benchers for the office of Lord Chancellor. I suspect that their complaint has more to do with the personality of the occupant of the Woolsack rather than the role itself. Subsequently, perfectly respectable arguments—on which Mr. Tyler and my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack touched in outline—have been deployed for adjusting the role of the Lord Chancellor within the constitution. I suspect that a problem has arisen not only because of the character of the last Lord Chancellor but because of how his Department has grown from being simply that of the so-called Speaker of the House of Lords, the head of the judiciary and the judicial representative within the Executive to take on additional responsibilities way beyond those imagined possible or sensible by previous Lord Chancellors. The Department's budget is now measured in billions rather than the tens of millions that it used to be. All those factors, which I wish that I had further time to develop, have informed the way in which this debate has come about.
The short point that time allows me to make is that I am afraid that this is a cack-handed piece of reshuffling. It has constitutional implications about which the Government appear to be utterly careless. I am afraid that they will reap the whirlwind, and all of us will be disadvantaged by the way in which this matter has been handled.
In starting to sum up one of these debates, it is traditional to congratulate those who have taken part in it. In the current circumstances, I wonder whether the use of the word "traditional" is correct. We have had a debate that started by pointing out the farce of the Prime Minister's reorganisation but that has descended into tragedy.
We started with the part-time shadow Secretary of State for Wales and shadow Leader of the House—[Hon. Members: "Shadow?"] The confusion created by the Prime Minister's reshuffle is such that we are not sure whether or not he is a shadow. The part-time Leader of the House and part-time Secretary of State for Wales started by desperately running out of the Chamber to try to find a list of Ministers, which he has promised will be in the Library by the end of this debate. We look forward to getting it. He could not answer when we pointed out that today's Order Paper makes it clear that Government Departments clearly believe that the Scotland Office is a shadow of its former self. Furthermore, we are wondering to which press release from No. 10 the part-time Leader of the House and Secretary of State for Wales was referring when he was trying to explain what happened last Thursday and Friday.
It is a great shame that the part-time Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for Scotland has not been present for the debate at all—there were certainly circumstances to explain that, because we understand that he was at the Scottish Affairs Committee—but I am afraid that the said gentleman has added to the confusion about what happened last Thursday and Friday. As we understood it, the part-time Leader of the House said that the Scotland and Wales Offices would remain with the same staff and the same duties. Today, however, in the Scottish Affairs Committee, the part-time Secretary of State for Scotland said that there would be substantial changes in the staff in the Scotland Office, but that Ministers would talk to the staff first. He went on to say that the Scotland Office is to be a separate department within the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Nobody is any the wiser about the impact of all these changes.
In welcoming the former full-time Secretary of State for Scotland, Mrs. Liddell to the debate—we send her our commiserations on her retirement to the Back Benches—I note that it may be a sadness to her to learn that Friends of Scotland has been rapidly passed over to the Scottish Executive on the ground that there is a clear duplication.
Is the confusion in the Government's mind not highlighted by the anecdote that the caretaker in Dover house went straight out of the front door last Thursday and unscrewed the sign that said "Scotland Office"? He took it inside only to be told on Friday that he had done wrong and that he must put it back up again.
Is not another bizarre aspect of the reshuffle the fact that we were told at the time that the Department for Constitutional Affairs was set up that it would have some responsibility for driving forward the Government's radical agenda for reforming the criminal justice system even though that does not appear to be within the Department's immediate remit? The Home Secretary then said, "No, it won't have that responsibility. That's our job." However, the Government amendment to the motion commends the Department for Constitutional Affairs because it is
"focused on improving the criminal justice system".
We wish the new Lord Chancellor well—particularly while he is wearing his wig and tights—for the next three years, or is it perhaps 18 months? Or, as the chairman of the Labour party said on the "Today" programme on Saturday, will there be consultation in time for a Bill to appear in this year's Queen's Speech? As my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier pointed out in his excellent contribution, there is concern about the reality of the Government's consultation. I hope very much that, at some point, we will have clarification as to how long the consultation will last.
Perhaps this botched reshuffle resulted from the fact that, when the previous Lord Chancellor gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department, he said that the Lord Chancellor
"does not want to be bullied by the Executive".
Perhaps that is why he is now spending more time with his family. For the health of our democracy and our constitution, we need to know what the Government's proposals are in their consultation papers. Will we see more of Tony's cronies on the judicial appointments commission? Will the Minister tell us when the consultation papers will be published, who will be consulted and for how long?
I am sure that the obsession of the hon. Lady and the Conservative party with this process is shared by dozens of people throughout the country. When it comes to the consultation on the future of the Lord Chancellor and a possible supreme court, will she make a commitment to taking part? What will be the basis of her submission?