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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 10:00 pm, 31st January 2005

It has been useful to hear the arguments adduced in favour of clause 3, because, as with clause 2, they are thin and threadbare. Indeed, clause 3 is a step backwards in time. There is no statutory requirement at present for the Lord Chancellor to be a lawyer. That is simply a convention. Enshrining in statute a requirement for 12 years of senior legal practice or two years' experience as a judge makes the process of appointment more rigid and less flexible. It is strange that none of the Members who spoke in favour of clause 3 could suggest why the reformed office of Lord Chancellor, even if they do not like the way in which will be shaped, should be different from the post of Health Secretary or Education Secretary. The shadow Health Secretary, Mr. Lansley, has no medical qualifications, yet he would make health inspector appointments. The shadow Education Secretary, Mr. Collins, has no teaching qualifications, yet he hopes to make school inspector appointments. It is not axiomatic that the person holding the ministerial job of Lord Chancellor should have legal qualifications.

My hon. Friend Keith Vaz said that it is desirable that the Lord Chancellor is a lawyer, but he accepted that clause 3 is too rigid. Conversely, my hon. Friend Mr. Simon argued that it might even be better if that individual were not a lawyer so we do not have what he characterised as a producer interest in the post. I do not seek to say whether it is, or is not, a good thing, but I dislike the mandatory requirement for the post to be held by an individual with a particular qualification.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington argued that anyone could become Prime Minister or Home Secretary. It is almost like the famous American dream: "One day, even you, young fellow my lad, could grow up to be President of the United States." What that individual needs is character, integrity, strength of judgment and so forth. We should recognise the fact that the ministerial post of Lord Chancellor belongs not to a certain profession, but to all the people. Legislation should not set in stone such unnecessary exclusivity. We know what the qualifications for that ministerial office need to be: competence, judgment, character and accountability.

Mr. Redwood asked whether the Prime Minister would appoint lawyers in future. My answer is that he must ask him at Prime Minister's Question Time, but the Prime Minister will certainly be held accountable for any appointment that was deemed to be irrational or illogical, or involved not appointing the right person for the job.

Given the reformed status of the office of the Lord Chancellor and the fact that that individual will no longer be head of the judiciary or a Law Lord who sits as a judge, the post holder can sit in either House of Parliament. There is no longer a rational requirement for any legal qualification, and I hope that the Committee will reject clause 3.