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House of Lords: Reform

– in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 20th June 2006.

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Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative 2:50 pm, 20th June 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the consequences for the House of Lords and Parliament of the prospective disqualification of the Law Lords from active membership of the House, and the possibility that retired judges of the new Supreme Court will not be Members of the House.

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, the Law Lords contribute significantly to scrutiny and debate in this House. The Government believe that the quality of this House's work will continue to be high when the Supreme Court begins to sit, as it will continue to have access to Members who have experience and expertise in the law, including retired judges.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that every body that has looked into reform of this place, including the royal commission, has paid tribute to the contribution made by the Law Lords and by former Law Lords to our work both in Committee and on the Floor of the House? Is it not rather absurd that, when the Supreme Court is set up, the Law Lords will be kicked out for no better reason than to emphasise the independence of the judiciary, which was never in doubt until the noble and learned Lord introduced his legislation, and to reinforce the doctrine of separation of powers, which was never part of our constitution? Surely we should try to save something from the wreck that the Government have created and at least make sure that, in any reformed House, there is room for at least some retired Supreme Court judges.

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 agree with the noble Lord's statement that everyone who has looked at the work of the Law Lords in the House has paid tribute to it, but the Government took the view that if you are to be appointed to the final court of appeal you should be appointed to a court and not to a parliament. That is a view that Parliament, in both Houses, in passing Section 137 of the Constitutional Reform Act, agreed with. This House currently has 100 Members who have legal or judicial experience, including 18 former Law Lords. I hope that they will continue to make the contribution that they have made in the past, and I believe that they will ensure that the House has access to expert legal opinion and advice.

Photo of Lord Borrie Lord Borrie Labour

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that former and current Lord Chief Justices in recent years have made a particularly notable contribution, for example in our consideration of criminal justice Bills? Perhaps my noble and learned friend would consider that it would become almost automatic that they should be appointed on retirement to be Members of this House. The same point could apply to former Law Lords who would be willing and interested to take part in the legislative work of the House.

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 can see no objection whatever to retired Lord Chief Justices, not just from England and Wales but from Scotland and Northern Ireland, coming to this place; equally in relation to retired Supreme Court justices. We made provision in the Constitutional Reform Act for the Lord Chief Justices of the three nations to be able to address the House, so that we could be informed by them. I remain of the view—as do the Government and as does Parliament—that when you appoint someone as a judge, you appoint them as a judge and not as a Member of the legislature.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that there are quite enough of us lawyers in your Lordships' House already, with or without retired Law Lords?

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Spokesperson in the Lords (Shadow Lord Chancellor), Constitutional Affairs, Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, is it not reasonable to assume, following what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said, that at least former Presidents of the Supreme Court and former Lord Chief Justices are likely to receive life peerages in the same way as former Cabinet Secretaries? To have all retired Law Lords here automatically would be to overweight their presence.

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 was profoundly distressed by the approbation shown in all parts of the House at the suggestion that it had too many lawyers. I agree that there should be a place in this House for retired Supreme Court justices and retired Lord Chief Justices, but I am not sure of the precise number.

Photo of Lord Wakeham Lord Wakeham Conservative

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree that there is a difficulty in picking some retired judges and putting them into this House but not others? It might be thought by some a favour for being a compliant judge. Might the best plan be for all Supreme Court judges to become Members of the House on appointment but not take their seat until they retire from 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, I agree that it would be invidious to select some but not others, but not with the noble Lord's conclusion that one should become a Member of the House on appointment. I think that one has to wait until one has ceased to be a full-time judge. That is the view expressed in the Constitutional Reform Act, approved by Parliament.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, my noble and learned friend said that a judge—someone appointed to the judiciary—did not have eligibility to remain in Parliament. How does that stack up against having bishops, who have a theological responsibility, sitting in this House?

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, the House of Commons has always excluded judges from being Members; the House of Lords did it in the Constitutional Reform Act. It would be unwise of me to step into theological areas at this point. I hope that the noble Lord will excuse me for saying nothing about the bishops; I am happy to see two right reverend Prelates in their place today.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, I very much hope that the noble and learned Lord will not allow himself to drift into the notion that the legislation, in which he had a role, was universally welcomed or applauded. Is he aware that some of us see that development as part of an attempt by the Government to diminish the stature of your Lordships' House?

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 is continuing opposition to the legislation, but the important thing about it is that it was passed. We now have to give effect to it.

Photo of The Bishop of Peterborough The Bishop of Peterborough Bishop

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor ventured into the realm of theology, might he reflect on the fact that the psalm that we read earlier this afternoon stressed the continuing importance of justice in the enacting of law?

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, one of the great benefits of attending Prayers every day is that it allows me to reflect on the psalms. Indeed, it was the very thought that I was reflecting on after Prayers this afternoon.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, now that my noble and learned friend seems to have introduced exceptional categories such as judges, ex-judges, bishops and possibly retired bishops, how does he propose in future that that should square with his general views on democratic impulses for this House?

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, the views that I have expressed on the reform of the House do not exclude there still being an appointed element to ensure that one gets the benefit of expertise and wisdom from people who would not wish to stand for election. As I say, I have tried to avoid straying into anything other than the position of judges and ex-judges, so if the noble Lord does not mind I will not comment further.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Shadow Minister for Constitutional Affairs & Legal Affairs, Constitutional Affairs

My Lords, exactly how much will it cost to transfer the Law Lords from here, and what will be the extra costs of having them operate from a different place? I ask in a genuine spirit of inquiry.

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 do not have available the capital costs for Middlesex Guildhall, where subject to planning permission it is proposed that the Law Lords be housed, or the additional resource costs, but I shall write to the noble Lord.