Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative 2:30 pm, 13th July 2004

I shall be very brief. I sought to make the point that paragraph 35 of the report states "in some way" the office must be retained.

The other point I want to make relates to the speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and my noble friend Lord Kingsland, which concern functions. It arises because of the recommendation at paragraph 45 of the report, which makes it relevant to this amendment to consider whether the scope of the retained functions justifies retention of the office.

On the basis on which this was dealt with by the noble and learned Lord, the scope is wholly sufficient to justify retention of the office. That is particularly so if one adds to those functions the prime importance of the constitutional role, which has been dealt with by other Members of the Committee, the retention of the Great Seal, which confers authority, and the exercise of the parliamentary role spoken to by noble and learned Lords, including the Speakership, which stands as the guarantee for self-regulation undertaken according to our extant regime. There appears no reason or justification for change, and no one elected or appointed would have the same authority as the Lord Chancellor.

The other matter is that the office was established before the Conquest and the keepership of the Great Seal was conferred, I believe, when the king was otherwise engaged during the 30 Years' War. That seal is kept in the Purse of the Lord Chancellor at the State Opening of Parliament with the gracious Speech. Is it the idea that Clause 12 is to abolish that ceremony which takes place in your Lordships' House, with the Lord Chancellor attendant on the sovereign?

On two occasions this great office has been abolished by decree—by Cromwell pending the restoration of the monarchy, and by the Prime Minister today pending immediate restoration to enable this House to sit.

The circumstances of that occasion are all well known to Members of the Committee now and have been aptly described by my noble friend Lord Kingsland on another occasion. Those circumstances cannot yet again justify abolition. As regards the interest of the body politic from the speeches which Members of the Committee have heard, do not those circumstances cry out for the retention of the office? It is accepted by all Members of the Committee to whom I have referred, and I totally agree, that there must and shall be substantive reforms. Reforms, yes, but not abolition.

At all events, the Great Seal has to be retained in order to confer proximity with the monarch and the precedents, rank and status which is required to discharge the functions to which I have referred. Members of the Committee may remember the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, of checks and balances as to the use of power. It is reminiscent of Darwin's Mathematical Bridge over the Cam by Queens', which held itself up by the forces of gravity. Once dismantled, no one could put it together again.