Clause 3 — Legal qualifications

Part of Orders of the Day — Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords] — 1st Allotted Day – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 31st January 2005.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East 9:30 pm, 31st January 2005

He is one of three who have occupied that position over the past 15 years or so.

I think the Minister should understand our concern in the House of Commons about the type of figure who could occupy this post. This is not to do with an age qualification; it is not necessarily to do with the fact that someone should have been a Member of this House for a number of years. It is to do with the fact that this is a very important office in the land, and even the office of Secretary of State—without the judicial functions and the Speakership of the Lords, which will go—remains a very important post in Government.

I had the privilege of serving the two most recent Lord Chancellors, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the current one and, in the case of the last one, as a member of the Government. They were—Lord Falconer, of course, is still there—big figures in the legal establishment. Before the current Lord Chancellor became a Member of the House of Lords he was a very senior and highly successful member of the Bar, and I believe he commands enormous respect in the professions and among the judiciary. The same applied to his predecessor, Lord Irvine, and to Lord Mackay. They are big figures, who have occupied big positions in Government.

I hope that when the Prime Minister comes to make this appointment, he will not choose anyone for the job just because he or she meets the minimum criteria and qualification requirements. I hope that he will choose someone with the seniority that would be expected for the post. I think that he will choose a lawyer, because it is an obvious post for a lawyer—and let us face it: there are an awful lot of lawyers for him to choose from. Of course he can choose someone else if he wants.

However, given the views of the Committee and given the need for that person to interact on a constant and continuing basis with the high judiciary, it is important to have a lawyer in that position. That is why I was happy to go along with the consensual words of the Chairman of the Select Committee. They are not absolutely decisive, as I said at the start. They are not saying, "As this clause says, it must be this, that or the other," but they indicate what we hope will be the case, and that is good enough for me.