Clause 3 — Legal qualifications

Part of Orders of the Day — Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords] — 1st Allotted Day – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 31st January 2005.

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Photo of Siôn Simon Siôn Simon Labour, Birmingham, Erdington 10:00 pm, 31st January 2005

Regardless of whether Opposition Members are preponderantly lawyers, their argument that in order to be Lord Chancellor one needs to be a lawyer is absurd. Mr. Redwood characterised my hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird and me as having argued that anybody can be Lord Chancellor. I am arguing that anybody can be anything. Anybody can be Prime Minister; anybody can be Home Secretary. One does not have to have specialist knowledge or professional expertise to run a Government Department. That much ought to be obvious. I cannot imagine what people in the real world think when they see Benches stuffed full of lawyers arguing that the only people who can head a law Department are lawyers. One does not have to be a teacher to run the Department for Education and Skills, one does not have to be a doctor to run the Department of Health, and one does not have to have been to Prime Minister school and gained 12 years' experience to be Prime Minister. It is self-evidently not the case, therefore, that one must be a lawyer to run the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

Mr. Garnier keeps telling us that the Government are intellectually dishonest, because they have changed the nature of the job while keeping the name of Lord Chancellor. There can be few constitutional jobs that have changed more while keeping their name. It is ridiculous to argue that the difference between the next Lord Chancellor and Lord Mackay of Clashfern is greater than the difference between the present incumbent and the Lord Chancellor who, 500 years ago, did a completely different job in a completely different environment.

The Lord Chancellor does not need to be a lawyer nor, as the Minister said, do we need to put such a requirement into statute. Indeed, it could be argued that it would be better if the Lord Chancellor were not a lawyer. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar argued, if the holder of the post is a lawyer, it may, heaven forfend, make the Lord Chancellor look like a "producerist", defensive protector of the interests of the legal profession. Lawyers are not necessarily interested in the impartial, efficient and admirable administration of justice—some of them may be interested in their own enrichment and vainglory. The notion that we should legislate to guarantee that they have one of their own to speak for and defend them is not just wrong but ridiculous.