Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 13th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour 2:30 pm, 13th July 2004

That is a matter for our own consciences. How effective were we when we debated the ouster clause in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill? It was changed. It was far more important that that happened than that we did not debate adequately or fully at the time the provenance of these changes.

I want to finish. Having discussed how this guarantee can be honoured, the ultimate guarantor in parliamentary terms is us, but in terms of government it is the Minister. What kind of cheapskate politics do we anticipate will occur when a Minister with a constitutional duty will ignore his duty? It is difficult to accept that we should approach our constitution in such a way.

Lastly, if the Bill is given its full reforming effect, the Lord Chancellor's office has come to an end—an honourable end—but the new start is a better start. A combination of constitutional guarantees, roles of the Lord Chief Justice and so on make it better. To continue the role would be to preserve a name. It would be confusing and unhelpful. It would certainly be undemocratic to require such a Minister to be a lawyer and from this House. It would certainly anticipate a lack of calibre that I do not accept in politics: Roy Jenkins, not being a lawyer, presented the first Prevention of Terrorism Bill in the other place with distinction, as many other non-lawyer Ministers have done with complex litigation. Above all, it is unnecessary.

The concordat indicates at paragraph 5 that the new arrangements should reinforce the independence of the judiciary. In the previous debate in this House, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice himself said that the Bill had his firm support in implementing the concordat because it would ensure the continued independence of the judiciary.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is right. This is a dramatic change in constitutional life. But what is the choice? Is it to be a practice vague to discern, dependent upon the strength and personality of a Lord Chancellor to make it effective; and to be effective in circumstances about which we know next to nothing? Or should it be a principle writ large in a constitutional chapter; plain to read; readily understood; and thereby much more enforceable?

The chapter of our constitution that the Bill represents is an occasion for necessary change. It is an occasion when this House should support this Bill, whether it sadly leads to the end of the Lord Chancellor or not.