New clause 20 — Lords Justices of Appeal

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 4th November 2009.

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Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:30 pm, 4th November 2009

May I start by welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Anderson? You have assumed it since we began this debate, and although that might seem like a long time ago, I would still like to take this opportunity to welcome you to it.

I congratulate Mr. Bellingham on his marathon tour of the horizon, as I think the translation goes. He ranged very widely indeed. I congratulate him in particular on his accomplishment of spending 30 minutes advocating what he described as a modest step. If I take it rightly, the reason he spent so much time on it is that he was treating the issue as a microcosm of what he and some of his colleagues who intervened on him see as wrong with the Government's constitutional reforms. He was right to treat the issue as a microcosm of different attitudes towards constitutional reform, because his approach, as seen in his colleagues' interventions on him too, reflects precisely the problems with the Conservatives' approach to constitutional reforms: a mistrust of the British people, a mistrust of change and a misunderstanding of the consequences of their own advocacy.

Jeremy Wright, who has now wafted off somewhere- [ Interruption. ] No, he is still here, on the Front Bench. He said that he thought that the issue was a microcosm of how the Government did not know where we were going. He is wrong, because we know precisely where we are going in all the areas covered by new clauses 20 and 22. What lies at the heart of the arrangements that the new clauses seek to alter is the principle of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary from the Government, which is fundamental.

The hon. Gentleman may not recognise those principles; he may not think them important. But we recognise them and we think that they are fundamental to the health of our constitution. They are particularly important now, in what many commentators have described as a constitutional crisis. People have lost trust in the processes of their democracy, including those in this House, and in Members of this House. We know that, and every Member knows that we have to change that.

One of the key things, as we take forward a programme of constitutional reform that all parts of the House recognise has to be undertaken, is that power should never be concentrated in one place. The best protection against the arbitrary or absolute use of power is the separation of powers-in other words, the diffusion of powers.

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