Supreme Court

– in the House of Lords at 2:43 pm on 15th March 2004.

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Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 2:43 pm, 15th March 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider siting the new Supreme Court in the Millennium Dome.

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative

My Lords, may I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that Answer? Is he aware that I was just trying to save him from having two monuments to his folly? But he prefers to have two follies as a monument—

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative

Given the Government's record on the Scottish Parliament building and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's own involvement in the Millennium Dome, how can anyone have any confidence in the costs that he has put forward as estimates for the building of the new Supreme Court? Given that he said that the costs of the building will be defrayed by charges to the users of justice, can the noble and learned Lord explain why it should be right for the users of the court to carry the risk that the costs of the court will, judging by past experience, most likely be exceeded twice, five times or even 10 times?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

No, my Lords, I was not aware that the noble Lord was seeking to protect me from myself. As to his second point, yes, there have plainly been other occasions when costs have been greatly exceeded, but that is not a reason for the Government not to embark on a course that is otherwise right. Thirdly, in relation to ensuring that the costs are properly estimated, a very thorough process, including the Treasury's Green Book process, is being gone through in detail to ensure that there are proper costings.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord accept that the fundamental objection for setting up the Supreme Court and removing the Appellate Committee from your Lordships' House is not for some of us a question of cost?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I recognise that there are other very considerable issues apart from costs. There is a real issue as to whether, as we contend, the constitutional arrangements should reflect the reality—namely, that when one is appointed to the final Court of Appeal, one should be appointed to a court, not to a legislature.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, has the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor forgotten that Parliament is the High Court of Parliament?

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Shadow Minister (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Other Whip, People With Disabilities, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor consider making a study available of how the Dome was brought in on time and of the problems that we had as regards doing something with it afterwards? In that way, we would have something to study and recommendations to make for all future projects to ensure that we do not have the same sort of success then followed by disaster.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure that there are many lessons that we can learn from the Dome. The National Audit Office has already written one report in relation to it and will write another one after the sale process is completed. When we have seen that second document, we can consider what further lessons can be learned.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor accept that at the present time the House of Lords is in fact the final Court of Appeal for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, although not for Scotland in respect of crime? It may be, as he says, that it is a legislature, but it is not only a legislature. Is it not also a judicial body? I know that the noble and learned Lord wants to change that.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, of course I accept the current arrangements. My point in answer to the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was that essentially Parliament is a legislative body, although I accept what the noble and learned Lord says about the current arrangements.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, or rather his department, has no doubt been looking at a number of possible sites for the proposed new Supreme Court. Can he tell us what discussions he has had with English Heritage about some of those possible sites?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, we looked at a large number of sites. In particular, we are focusing on six sites. In so far as English Heritage is involved with any of those sites, we shall have discussions with it. We have not had legal discussions with that body so far.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is there not a good compromise that would satisfy most of the Government's objectives, most of the judges and most of everybody else—namely, to maintain the reading of judgments in this Chamber, which would give them dignity and the force of tradition? The Government might also retain the informality of the Judicial Committee's work, which is unique—no wigs, no palaver—while obtaining the extra space, which everybody agrees is needed, by acquiring premises in the immediate vicinity at a very modest price.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, if there are premises in the immediate vicinity for a very modest price, I would be interested in knowing what they are. I have absolutely no doubt that the new Supreme Court will be able to conduct its proceedings with both appropriate dignity and the degree of informality appropriate to its proceedings. I know that the Law Lords are very keen to achieve that.

Photo of Lord Ackner Lord Ackner Crossbench

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord prepared to draw a distinction between costs up to the Court of Appeal and costs in the Lords? Litigation in the House of Lords or the Supreme Court is designed to develop and clarify points of principle and is not concerned to the same extent with a dispute inter partes? In those circumstances, is it not right that the state should pay the costs in the House of Lords or the Supreme Court?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, civil fees currently make a contribution to the court system, not to the final Court of Appeal. It is appropriate, if one seeks to invoke the civil court system, that one makes a contribution to the cost, even if one never gets to court at all, for example. Most civil cases never get to court, yet they make a contribution to the cost. That is the right approach.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Chair of Labour Peers

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that in addition to the many good arguments for the changes that he proposes, there is one other? The general public, whose servants after all we all are, is totally unaware of the distinction between this place as the legislative Chamber and this place as a court. I would invoke the fact that during the Pinochet hearings many people asked me how I was going to vote on the future of General Pinochet. I pointed out that I had no opportunity to do so—and that it would not be proper. Does my noble and learned friend agree that in order that the public understands what we are about, the separation of the legislature from the Supreme Court would be beneficial and would lead to transparency?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I think that one effect of creating a Supreme Court is that it will make much clearer the distinction between the final Court of Appeal and Parliament. I also think, separately, that once there is a proper Supreme Court building, it will be easier for members of public to come to see the proceedings of the final Court of Appeal.

Photo of Lord Millett Lord Millett Crossbench

My Lords, may I be naive enough to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a question in the desire to obtain information? I should like to ask him whether Somerset House has been ruled out as the location for the Supreme Court; and, if that is so, can he say why?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, in relation to particular sites, I have said that it is wrong for me to identify the position we have reached. I have said that I will inform the Select Committee in another place where we have got to, so that my negotiations with other sites are not prejudiced.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative

My Lords, the main reason for the escalation of prices of buildings in government contracts is surely the fact that either the commissioners or potential users change their mind before the contract is complete. Can the noble and learned Lord give us an assurance that he will not change his mind?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure that one reason that leads to an increase in the costs of any building is that we learn more about our requirements as time goes on and, as a result, are in a weaker negotiating position in the middle than at the beginning of the process. Whatever we commission, whether it be by way of refurbishment or a new building, we will do our level best to ensure that all the requirements are provided at the earliest possible stage. I cannot guarantee that we will get it absolutely right but, plainly, the noble Lord's point is a good one.