Constitution

– in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 3rd July 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:00 pm, 3rd July 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, all Members of this House and all the people of this country have a shared interest in building trust in our democracy. And it is my hope that, by working together for change in a spirit that takes us beyond parties and beyond partisanship, we can agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people. "Change with a new settlement is, in my view, essential to our country's future. For we will meet only the new challenges of security, of economic change, of communities under pressure—and forge a stronger shared national purpose—by building a new relationship between citizens and government that ensures that Governments are a better servant of the people. "Let me pay tribute to the contribution to our thinking and the wider constitutional debate already made by parliamentarians on all sides of the House. And because I want this process to be one in which we consult and involve not only all political parties but also all the people of this country, what I propose today is not and should not be seen as the final blueprint for a constitutional settlement, but a route map towards it. "This route map seeks to address two fundamental questions: to hold power more accountable and to uphold and enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizen. "And while constitutional change will not be the work of just one Bill or one year or one Parliament, I can today make an immediate start by proposing changes that will transfer power from the Prime Minister and the Executive. For centuries they have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people and their elected representatives being consulted. So now I propose that in 12 areas important to our national life, the Prime Minister and Executive should surrender or limit their powers, the exclusive exercise of which by the Government should have no place in a modern democracy. "These are: the power of the Executive to declare war, the power to request the dissolution of Parliament, the power over recall of Parliament, the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament, the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny, the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services, power to choose bishops, power in the appointment of judges, power to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases, power over the Civil Service itself, and the executive powers to determine the rules governing entitlement to passports and the granting of pardons. "I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st century British democracy. Let me set out the measures, the details of which are included in a Green Paper published today by my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary. "While constitutional change should never limit our ability to deal with emergencies and should never jeopardise the security of our forces or any necessary operational decisions, the Government will consult on a resolution to guarantee that, on the grave issue of peace and war, it is ultimately this House of Commons that will make the decision. I propose, in addition, to put on to a statutory footing Parliament's right to ratify new international treaties. "We will also consult on proposals that this House of Commons would have to approve a resolution for any dissolution of Parliament requested by the Prime Minister, and that while, at present, Members of Parliament cannot decide whether the House should be recalled, for the first time, a majority of Members—and not just the Prime Minister—should have that right, subject to your authority, Mr Speaker. "The House of Commons should also have a bigger role in the selection of key public officials."I propose, as a first step, pre-appointment hearings for public officials whose role it is to protect the public's rights and interests, and for whom there is not currently independent scrutiny. This includes the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Local Government Ombudsman, the Civil Service Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. For public offices where appointments are acknowledged to be market sensitive, the Chancellor will set out today how pre-commencement hearings will apply to new members of the Monetary Policy Committee, including the Governor of the Bank of England, and the chairman of the Financial Services Authority. I propose that we extend pre-commencement hearings to utility and other regulators; that we review the arrangements for making appointments to NHS boards; and it is right that this House of Commons vote on the appointment of the chair of the new Independent Statistics Board. "Mr Speaker, I can announce that from now on the Government will regularly publish, for parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, our national security strategy setting out for the British people the threats we face and the objectives we pursue. I have said for some time that the long term and continuing security obligation upon us requires us to co-ordinate military, policing, intelligence and diplomatic action, and also to win hearts and minds in this country and around the world. So, following discussions over the last few months, I have decided to establish within government a national security council, charged with bringing together our overseas, defence and security but also our development and community relations effort, and sending out a clear message that at all times we will be vigilant and we will never yield in addressing the terrorist threat. "As the security agencies themselves recognise, greater accountability to Parliament can strengthen still further public support for the work they do. So while ensuring necessary safeguards respecting confidentiality and security, we will consult on whether and how the Intelligence and Security Committee can be appointed by, and report to, Parliament. And we will start now with hearings, where possible, held in public; a strengthened capacity for investigations; reports subject to more parliamentary debate; and greater transparency over appointments to the committee."The Church of England is, and should remain, the established church in England. Establishment does not, however, justify the Prime Minister influencing senior church appointments, including bishops. And I also propose that the Government should consider relinquishing its residual role in the appointment of judges. "The role of the Attorney-General, which combines legal and ministerial functions, needs to change. And while we consult on reform, the Attorney-General has decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases. "To reinforce the neutrality of the Civil Service, the core principles governing it will no longer be set at the discretion of the Executive but will be legislated by Parliament—and so this Government have finally responded to the central recommendation of the Northcote-Trevelyan report on the Civil Service made over 150 years ago in 1854. "The frameworks for granting pardons and for issuing and withdrawing passports should also be set not by Government but by Parliament. And I propose that we reduce the advanced sight that government departments have of the release of statistical information from as much as five days currently to just 24 hours."Mr Speaker, even as we reduce the power of the Executive, we will also increase its accountability. Following my decision to revoke the provisions which previously allowed special advisers to give orders to civil servants, I am today publishing a new ministerial code which provides for a new independent adviser to supervise disclosure and who I can ask to scrutinise ministerial conduct, including conflicts of interest. "I propose that we reinforce the accountability of the Executive to Parliament and the public with a Statement in the summer prior to the Queen's Speech on the provisional forward legislative programme and annual departmental reports debated in Parliament, beginning this summer."But just as the Executive must become more accountable to Parliament, Parliament itself must become more accountable. "Given the vote in this House in March for major reform of the House of Lords as a second and revising Chamber with provision for democratic election, a Statement will be made before the Recess as we press ahead with reform; a Statement on the reform of local government will propose a new concordat between local and central government; we will fulfil our manifesto commitment to publish our review of the experience of the various voting systems introduced since 1998; and the House will have a full opportunity to discuss in detail and vote on the legislation that flows from the European Union amending treaty."Just as we have appointed Ministers for each region of England, I propose that, to increase the accountability of local and regional decision-making, the House consider creating committees to review the economies and public services of each region, and we will propose a regular question time for regional Ministers. "But while we will listen to all proposals to improve our constitution in the light of devolution, we do not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws which would create two classes of MPs—some entitled to vote on all issues, some invited to vote only on some. We will do nothing to put at risk the Union."The right of all the British people to have their voice heard is fundamental to our democracy and to holding public institutions to account. "Britain is rightly proud to be the pioneer of the modern liberties of the individual, and I think it right to make it a general rule that in this area there is independent oversight of authorities and accountability to Parliament. I also encourage this House to agree a new process for ensuring consideration of petitions from members of the public. "Disengagement is too often reflected in low turnout in elections. Britain is unusual in holding elections on weekdays when people are at work and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will announce a consultation on whether there is a case for voting at weekends. "The Government will also bring forward plans to extend the period of time during which parties can use all-women shortlists for candidate selections and to give more time for all parties in this House to take up this new right if they choose. And while balancing the need for public order with the right to public dissent, I think it right, in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Parliament, the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and civil liberties groups, to change the laws that now restrict the right to demonstrate in Parliament Square. "The measures that I have just announced represent an important step forward in changing the way that we are governed. But it is possible to do more to bring government closer to the people. While our system of representative democracy—local as well as national—is at the heart of our constitution, it can be enhanced by devolving more power directly to the people and I propose that we start the debate and consult on empowering citizens and communities in four areas."First, powers of initiative will extend the right of the British people to intervene with their elected local representatives to ensure action through a new community right to call for action and new duties on public bodies to involve local people. "Secondly, there will be new rights for the British people to be consulted through mechanisms such as 'citizens' juries' on major decisions affecting their lives."Thirdly, there will be powers of redress—new rights for the British people to scrutinise and improve the delivery of local services. And, fourthly, there will be powers to ballot on spending decisions in areas such as neighbourhood budgets and youth budgets, with decisions on finance made by local people themselves."At the same time, we must give new life to the very idea of citizenship itself. All of us in this House would acknowledge that there are very specific challenges we must meet on engaging young people and improving citizenship education, and I hope that there will be all-party support for a commission to review this and make recommendations. While the voting age has been 18 since 1969, it is right, as part of this debate, to examine, and hear from young people themselves, whether lowering that age would increase participation in the political process. "Consultation will take place with you, Mr Speaker—and, through the Leader of the House, this House—as to whether the Youth Parliament, and the Youth Parliament alone, should be invited here in this Chamber, once a year and on a non-sitting day."What constitutes citizens' rights, beyond voting, and citizens' responsibilities, such as jury service, should itself be a matter for public deliberation. As we focus on the challenges that we face and what unites us and integrates our country, our starting point should be to discuss together and then, as other countries do, agree and set down the values, founded in liberty, which define our citizenship and help define our country. There is a case that we should go further still than this statement of values to codify either in concordats or in a single document both the duties and rights of citizens and the balance of power between Government, Parliament and the people."In Britain, we have a largely unwritten constitution. To change that would represent a fundamental and historic shift in our constitutional arrangements. So it is right to involve the public in a sustained debate about whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and Duties, or for moving towards a written constitution."Because such fundamental changes should happen only where there is a settled consensus on whether to proceed, I have asked my right honourable friend the Secretary for Justice to lead a dialogue within Parliament and with the people across the United Kingdom by holding a series of hearings, starting in the autumn, in all regions and nations of this country. He will consult the other parties on this process."The changes that we propose today and the national debate that we now begin are founded on the conviction that the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy. It is my hope that this dialogue of all parties and the British people will lead to a new consensus, a more effective democracy and a stronger sense of shared national purpose. I commend the Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament 4:17 pm, 3rd July 2007

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. It was a long Statement, and rightly so: the subject is massive and there have been enormous changes over the course of the past few years. Does she recognise that this House regards these matters with a great deal of importance and will she use her good offices to provide us with time for a debate on the issues and on the Green Paper at some stage—perhaps after the Summer Recess?

The Government have a new adviser on these matters whom they have found on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has advised on the Statement and perhaps even the noble Baroness discussed it before reaching conclusions.

There was a great deal in the Statement that was welcome, but to listen to it, you would not think that the man who made it had been the second most powerful man in the country these past 10 years. The main message from the Statement was an attempt to distance the present Prime Minister from his predecessor's cavalier treatment of our constitution. That is why there is such a great need for change and thought as outlined in the Statement.

Of course we welcome a willingness to reach out to other parties, which I hope will embrace some of the enormous experience of the Cross Benchers sitting here in your Lordships' House. We welcome the ending of the shameful Order in Council giving political appointees power to give orders over civil servants. We welcome ideas to give more power to Back Benchers in the House of Commons. That echoes the Conservative programme for Commons reform. We welcome also many of the controls on operation of the Executive through the prerogative, but there are practical considerations in issues as diverse as the declaration of war and the appointment of bishops which will require careful consideration. Can the noble Baroness say whether the extra powers to be given to Parliament over the ratification of treaties will cover the powers of this Parliament over EU legislation?

There was much in the Statement about extra roles for the other place. I also welcome that. But as Leader of this House, can the noble Baroness say whether this House will be given any role in hearings before the appointment of senior public officials? This is a two-Chamber Parliament. Will the noble Baroness act to ensure that this House, with its unparalleled experience, plays its part in this and other new initiatives? One has only to think of the authority that the US Senate has in these matters to realise the potential importance of that to this House.

If the Prime Minister genuinely wants discussions with other parties, will the noble Baroness accept that we will take part in a practical spirit, just as we have in talks on the future of this House being led by the Secretary of State for Justice? The principles that should apply are clear but sadly have been ignored by this Government over the past 10 years. Change to the constitution should be based on consensus. It cannot be imposed by a one-party majority in one House. It cannot be designed to be to the benefit of one party or two; the interests of the country must come first. The consequences of every change must be carefully thought through before change is made. We want no repeat of the disastrous attempted abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor. Parliament must emerge stronger from any change, unlike too many changes over the past 10 years that have drained power from Parliament and given it to a range of other bodies, many of which are shamefully not even elected.

The astonishing thing about the British constitution is that since the middle of the 18thcentury we have, alone among advanced countries of the world, enjoyed over 250 years without civil war, without revolution, without overthrow of governments, except by a vote of the people in this Chamber or in another place. Yet, at the same time, we have accomplished massive social change. Change was made possible by an unwritten constitution, rooted in convention, that gave unprecedented flexibility, and by a doctrine of parliamentary primacy, the rule of law and constitutional government. This was a prize beyond belief. Now we are being asked to have a fresh look at all of this.

After 10 years of unilateral action the Prime Minister wants a multilateral approach to help sort out the mess. Well so be it, but can the noble Baroness tell us why this so-called new constitutional settlement fails totally to address the scandal of Scottish MPs voting on English laws when English MPs have no say on similar matters in Scotland? The Prime Minister says this will create a two-tier class of Members of Parliament. That two-tier class already exists today. Why does the Statement not consider apportionment of resources between parts of our kingdom? If, as Scotland's First Minister says, Scotland's resources finance England, or if, on the other hand, the Barnett formula works to the disadvantage of England, why should these issues not now be studied? Why is there no proposal to review use of referendums in the United Kingdom? There is talk of removing power from Government, so why will the review not look at who decides whether we have a referendum and what the rules will be? What is the noble Baroness's view on the right balance between the referendal principle and parliamentary democracy? If we cannot have a referendum on the transfer of power from this Parliament to Brussels—something explicitly promised in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos—is there any case for referendums at all?

I welcome talk of a review of our damaged voting system, a system once trusted beyond doubt and understood by everyone, now riddled with confusion and tainted by corruption. Will it end the use of three or four different voting methods on the same day? This has demonstrated the weakness of proportional representation and we see no case for importing that system to Parliament.

We will take part in discussions on a written constitution and other ways of asserting individual rights. But as the Prime Minister says, this would represent a major change in the way things have been done in this country. Much recent constitutional change has been lawyer-driven and lawyer-made and it has not always been well made. Does the noble Baroness see any dangers in subjecting constitutional decisions of this Parliament to judicial oversight?

Surely what we need most of all is a fundamental reverse in the dragging of power to the centre. Where in the Statement is the real return of authority to local government and local communities? Where is the return of power from the quangos and unelected regional bodies to elected local authorities? Where is the scrapping of targets and controls from the centre, not only in local government but across the public sector as a whole? Will the noble Baroness confirm that there will be a full-blown Civil Service Act? Perhaps she might tell us whether it will be introduced in the next Session. If her answer is yes, we very much welcome it.

Before we define the new rights, should we not stop to consider what happened to the old ones, such as habeas corpus, privacy, a citizen police force, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and the freedom to travel without signing up for an ID card, which once made this country the envy of the world? No one had to write down the freedoms of the British people then; they were inborn.

What we now need is a massive programme of repair to our constitutional arrangements. We will play our part, and with the conviction and resolution that this House and the noble Baroness would expect. Our conviction is rooted in a deep love of liberty and freedom, and our resolution will be twofold: to give back to every individual, every family and every local community more power and say in the things that affect their lives; and to restore to this House and to this Parliament their central place in the key decisions that shape the future of our society and our country.

T

Quite right, too. How can the new Prime Minister seriously talk about constitutional reform without mentioning the West Lothian Question or the Barnett Formula?

For the Prime Minister to be trying to revive regionalism with regional ministers and committees suggests he is not serious about anything other than abolishing England.

Tom Waterhouse
Campaign for an English Parliament

Submitted by Tom Black Read 3 more annotations

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:26 pm, 3rd July 2007

My Lords, I thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement and for the Green Paper, which was published simultaneously. Some months ago, when we debated the reform of the House of Lords, I said that I detected the thunder of reform coming down the Corridor from the other place. There was some laughter from Members on the Conservative Benches when I said that. I hope that they will at least concede today that my hearing was not at fault.

As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, the devil is always in the detail when it comes to constitutional reform, and I will not try to cover everything in the very long and detailed Statement. I note, however, that there are symbolic signs of momentum in any cause. I see three such signs here. First, this is a prime ministerial Statement. Constitutional reform cannot be carried through without the whole-hearted commitment from the Prime Minister of the day, so I find it very encouraging that the Statement comes from the Prime Minister himself. Secondly, it is also encouraging that Mr Jack Straw has been left in post. Others speculated that he might have wanted grander prizes. It is very encouraging that he has decided, and the Prime Minister wishes him, to stay the course in carrying through this programme of reform. Thirdly, it is also encouraging that the Prime Minister has asked the Leader of the House to come into the heart of these negotiations.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the need for consensus. That is to be welcomed, but not at the expense of progress. If we had waited for progress, the Member for Old Sarum would probably still be sitting in the House of Commons and we would probably still have 700 hereditary Peers in this place. Constitutional reform, too, needs momentum and commitment, but, again, there are good signs. The Government can draw on the excellent power report that was produced under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and an excellent paper that was published this week by Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit of UCL—my old college—which proposes a nice agenda for government. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, there is the Power to the People report by the Conservative Democracy Taskforce, which is chaired by Mr Ken Clarke. There is also the policy paper of the Liberal Democrat policy working group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Tyler, and I ask the Lord President to get off the shelf and dust down the excellent report on voting reform by my distinguished predecessor Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. It would make excellent reading for the Prime Minister. While making this list, I also include the excellent initiatives already taken by our Lord Speaker in her outreach role.

I have a few questions for the Lord President. I see no mention in the Statement of the Freedom of Information Act. Can she assure me that that Act will not be amended unless there is post-legislative scrutiny by a committee of both Houses which allows both those who wish it strengthened and those who wish it weakened to put their case?

I am interested in the references to Civil Service reform. Although the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, is not in his place, I am sure, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he would want me to ask whether that means a Civil Service Act. If so, we on these Benches certainly welcome that redemption of a pledge made by the first Gladstone Government.

The interesting comments and proposals on security and the royal prerogatives give tremendous new powers to the House of Commons. In taking on those new responsibilities, will there be parallel reform in the House of Commons to make it fit for purpose? On House of Lords reform, will the noble Baroness ensure, as Leader of the House, that reform is not a euphemism for weakening the House? Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his new position does not entirely fill me with confidence. I would trust him with the National Health Service to my dying day; whether I trust him with the constitution remains to be seen. I quote to both of them the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart: unless this House retains the right to say no, it becomes a debating chamber and not a legislature. We must retain the right to say no.

It would be churlish not to recognise the Statement for what it is: an historic Statement, a bold Statement and one that should give people in all parties, and in none, the opportunity to address some of the real challenges and worries about our society. We need democrats to make a democracy work. All of us involved in politics know of the shortcomings of recent years. The devil is in the detail, but the Prime Minister has thundered today and we welcome him for that.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:32 pm, 3rd July 2007

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome. I agree that it is as if thunder has indeed arrived. I am also grateful for the approach of both noble Lords and their desire to search for consensus as far as possible. I echo those sentiments. It is important that we all engage in the process that my right honourable friend has set out for us today.

Although I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is indeed offering his advice to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, and although today is his birthday, he has not played a role in putting together this Statement. It has come from the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, with input, as noble Lords would expect, from members of the Cabinet.

I am grateful that we will have an opportunity to consider these proposals in the future; I have no difficulty with debating these proposals in your Lordships' House. I am sure that, with the Leader of the Opposition and with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, we shall find time to do so, as noble Lords would wish. Part of that debate will be to take forward these proposals. As I said at the beginning of the Statement, it is important to see these in the context of genuine consultation, genuine proposals and by no means the end of the story. I agree too that the devil is in the detail. As the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, said, we need to take forward practical considerations. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister would concur with that. He has set out the objectives and the direction of travel. It is for us to contribute to the process of ensuring that the practicalities are considered properly.

The Ponsonby rule will apply for European legislation, as noble Lords would expect—the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about that. Hearings for public appointments would be very much down to the consideration of the elected Chamber, but I have already said to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice that I would want to discuss with him what role the House of Lords and its committees might play, not necessarily in that part of the deliberations but more generally. As Leader of the House, I will report back on those discussions.

As I indicated, it is important that we have discussions with other parties. I believe that this is a moment to rejoice, to quote a former Prime Minister. It is important that we consider the proposals as being about making our democracy and Parliament stronger and more accountable to the people. That is a fundamental part of what my right honourable friend has indicated.

We have no intention of doing anything to destroy the union. We will not do that. We can have as many debates as your Lordships wish about English and Scottish MPs, but we believe that the union makes us stronger and that the right level of devolution has occurred with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The debates and the process will continue, but we are not moving one inch from where my right honourable friend the Prime Minister indicated that we would be.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is now wedded to referendums. I am delighted to hear it. However, there are many ways of consulting the British people and involving organisations, politicians of all sorts, local government, voluntary organisations, local people, young people and Parliament itself. That is what we should do. As for judicial oversight of constitutional issues, those are important considerations, and in looking at what should be codified and written down we should consider the consequences for the role of Parliament and the judiciary.

I was asked whether the measures would be part of a Civil Service Act. Our proposal is on page 22, in paragraph 43, of the document published today:

"The Government believes that, as part of the legislation it intends to bring forward in the next Session, it is right to include measures which will enshrine the core principles and values of the Civil Service in law".

That is how we will seek to do that. The Freedom of Information Act is not mentioned. I agree that, if any changes were to be discussed, they would have to be taken very carefully in considering exactly what ought to happen. Noble Lords will know that, as a former freedom of information Minister, I feel strongly about that.

My role is to make sure that I lead for the whole House, as I indicated yesterday. In participating in debates with my right honourable friend I will make sure that that is the role I perform.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench 4:37 pm, 3rd July 2007

My Lords, yesterday I welcomed the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to her new post but I did not then know how short the honeymoon would be. We have here a substantial and major Statement, on which a large amount of work will be needed over a long time.

I cannot speak for 205 independent Cross-Benchers and, in any event, I have only had a short time to look at this important Statement, but I would like to make one or two comments. Our Benches will certainly be favourable to the idea that power should be more accountable. That is the first point in the Statement. Some of the 12 points listed may be disagreed with, but the principle of making power more accountable will be welcomed, I am sure, as will a bigger parliamentary role in some areas, such as key public appointments, including the Civil Service Commissioner and the Local Government Ombudsman.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we will ask first whether Parliament means both Houses or one. We believe that it should mean both. That question will come up in due course. Also under that heading, I think that my colleagues will welcome the reinforcement of the core principles of the Civil Service not being at the discretion of the Executive but in legislation by Parliament. We will come back to the important point on whether there will be a Civil Service Act.

Secondly, I am sure that there will be strong support for enhancing the rights and responsibilities of citizens, including at the local level—while it is often felt that they ought to be there, in practice they are not always. That will also be greatly welcomed.

The third point is that this document rightly refers repeatedly to involving the public in a debate on important issues such as whether there is a case for a British bill of rights and responsibilities and whether we should move towards a written constitution. On this, the theme among my colleagues will certainly be, as the Government state in this document, that we must proceed only with a settled consensus. That is the vital element of such an important issue.

I am extremely glad to see that the Prime Minister has carried through his reputation for prudence in the sense that there is very little in the Statement about this House. How prudent that is. None the less, we look forward to a Statement before the recess.

I do not have many questions for the noble Baroness, but I think these comments are needed on such an important document.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his comments and questions. Both are extremely valuable as we consider this important document. I agree with the thrust of his remarks about greater accountability and that there is an issue about the two Houses of Parliament. But the Houses are different, so let us not begin by assuming that we have the same role as the elected place. We will have to consider what our role should be in an appropriate manner. That will form part of the discussions and deliberations from the Ministry of Justice, to be led in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, whom I would certainly entrust with anything to do with a new constitution, or indeed any other aspect of government policy he was willing to take on. As I indicated, I will work closely with him. I am also pleased that the noble Lord mentioned the local dimension. There is much that we need to think about regarding engagement with people at the local level.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham Bishop

My Lords, we are most grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister's historic Statement. I am sure noble Lords will wish to know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England, has today welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister regarding changes to the process by which diocesan bishops are appointed. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice consulted the most reverend Primate about his intentions, which we believe are in accord with the declared wishes of the Church of England. Indeed, the church being the decisive voice in the appointment of bishops was called for by the General Synod of the Church of England back in 1974—not quite 150 years ago.

The Church of England is grateful for the Prime Minister's thoughtfulness and his overt support for the role of Her Majesty the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the establishment by law of the Church of England, which has been quite strongly reiterated in the Green Paper. Further, the church is grateful for the way in which the Prime Minister has confirmed the valued relations between church and state.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the right reverend Prelate and for his work with the Church of England. I am also delighted that we are now catching up with the General Synod of 1974.

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, I do not want to sound unduly churlish, particularly in the light of the magnificent way in which the noble Baroness has handled her presentation of this brief this afternoon, but does this not proffer a mammoth menu of measures, many of which have a genuinely modish appeal to them but risk being a case of Utopian overindulgence? Is it not likely that no institution in the country will remain unruptured by the consequences of what has been set out? It amounts to material for a dozen or so Queen's Speeches and two or three general elections, put forward by a Prime Minister who may well be said to require a mandate before he starts on such a mammoth task. More seriously, and worst of all, does not this huge agenda risk overloading in general and in detail a Parliament that already struggles to handle competently its workload? I regret having to say it, but is this not an overambitious agenda from an understandably impatient man?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, about the way in which I put forward the Statement. However, I have to say that having a "modish appeal" is not something I associate with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; indeed, that is not how he would wish to be seen. He has considered very carefully where he believes we need to strengthen and move forward our democracy and he has put those issues in a Green Paper today, at the beginning of his premiership, for consideration in Parliament and in the country beyond.

I began the Statement by saying that this is not about one Bill, one year, one Parliament. Indeed, my right honourable friend has laid out the beginnings of a process, which I hope noble Lords will embrace, but not in a way that suggests that all this is about legislation or the things that Parliament has to do; rather it is an entire process of looking at how we can strengthen our democracy through the engagement of our young people, supporting people at a local level, thinking about our institutions more carefully and considering how best we can deliver for the people of this country. I believe that is what we have done.

Photo of Viscount Bledisloe Viscount Bledisloe Crossbench

My Lords, I seek two assurances from the noble Baroness, the very welcome Leader of the House. First, do the Government accept the unanimous recommendations of the Cunningham committee, which they and this House unanimously accepted, that there should not be legislation to lay down the conventions of this House? Secondly, do they also accept the unanimous view of every government spokesman on the subject since 1999, that the independent Members are a vital element of this House which must be preserved in any reform?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, in considering the future of your Lordships' House it will be important to look at the recommendations put forward and to note, as I do, the strength of feeling within them. We will take account of them in our considerations. As regards the independents, noble Lords will know that we have had several votes in your Lordships' House and in the other place, and they will know in which direction my right honourable friend the Prime Minister voted. The issue will form part of my discussions in considering the future of the House. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will work on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in your Lordships' House to consider how best to take the matter forward.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I think it is the turn of the government Benches and then the Liberal Democrats.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Statement will be greeted with enormous enthusiasm by all parties who care about the quality of democracy in this country, particularly because it focuses on the often-ignored concept of citizenship. It defines and hardens the notion of our people as citizens and not simply as subjects.

First, although it is rightly said that we do not have a written constitution, it is far more written than it was. Is this not a major step further towards a written constitution, which many of us would welcome? Secondly, this Green Paper of 63 pages does not have the space to mention the word "devolution". Is this significant?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, on the latter question, there is nothing significant in that; we have been very clear about our position on devolution, which I referred to earlier. As to a written constitution, I have made it clear in the Statement that there are issues to consider about what should be written down and what should be codified that will require the kind of consensus we have described. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Morgan for raising the very heart of what is being proposed: citizenship.

Photo of Lord Maclennan of Rogart Lord Maclennan of Rogart Spokesperson in the Lords, Scotland, Spokesperson In the Lords (With Special Responsibility for Civil Service Reform), Cabinet Office

My Lords, I begin by expressing great satisfaction that the Prime Minister has shown such openness about the process of modernising our constitution and recognising that consent will ensure that it is well established. In particular, his unrivalled 10 years' experience of Government at the top makes him better equipped than any previous Prime Minister to introduce a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform.

Is it recognised that transferring power from the Executive to Parliament is entirely welcome because that enhances accountability and so increases the potential effectiveness of government, reflecting better the will and values of the people? If power is to be transferred to Parliament, let it also be transferred to a reformed second Chamber. Otherwise, the risk of overload would be repeated in another form.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who has a long and distinguished history of being concerned about constitutional reform. I agree with his comments about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, his 10 years at the top and his ability to consider what now needs to be done. I agree that this is about increasing the effectiveness of Government. Part of that is considering the roles of your Lordships' House and another place, and ensuring that we consider how they can best serve the people.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I ask the Minister for reassurance on an important point. In the discussion on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I see that various things will be done in the future that will be considered and discussed. However, the Statement says that,

"we will start now with hearings, where possible, held in public; a strengthened capacity for investigations ... and greater transparency".

I suggest that that is an extremely dangerous thing to do without further consultation. First, what you say to your friends your enemies also hear. Everything that is said in public is heard by our enemies as well as our friends. Secondly, I assure your Lordships that the difficulty in recruiting agents will increase substantially. I can think of no agent who will wish to be recruited if they know that there is going to be public discussion of intelligence matters and operations. I seek reassurance that that too is for consideration, and is not going to happen at once. I am worried about the words,

"we will start now with hearings".

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness immediately that only those issues that it is appropriate to be able to discuss would be taken forward. My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General has just said in my ear that we will need to be, and will be, extremely judicious in the way we approach this. The comments of the noble Baroness, with her long experience, are well made and well understood.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, the Statement refers to the House of Commons having a greater role in the selection of public officials,

"whose role it is to protect the public's rights and interests".

On the face of it, that would include judges; indeed, it is a good description of what they spend most of their time doing. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm that there is no intention of holding pre-appointment sessions in the House of Commons or anywhere else in the appointment of judges?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, to my knowledge there is absolutely no intention of so doing. We have described a discussion we wish to have to consider our residual role in the appointment of judges, but that is not about transferring it to another place.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend, particularly on the inclusion of the proposal to limit the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament. Is she aware that the deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations said to me that the United Kingdom was the only member of the UN not to have parliamentary ratification for international instruments? This will certainly remedy a democratic deficit. Can she confirm that international treaties include all international legal instruments, not just treaties; for example, conventions and protocols to conventions?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am not entirely certain whether it is accurate to say that we are the only country, but the point is well made by my noble friend. I will write to her about exactly what will be included, for she has reasonably raised issues that I am not certain about and I would not want to mislead the House.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, when a Statement is made before the Recess about elections to this House, I beg the Leader of the House, first, to make sure that there is no suggestion that a House with greater democratic legitimacy should have fewer powers, because that would be completely absurd. Surely it should have greater powers to protect the public from precipitated action by a Government with a temporary majority. That is one of the most important functions that the second Chamber can perform and any new constitutional arrangement should certainly include a prohibition on further curtailment of the delaying powers of this House without this House's consent.

Secondly—and quickly—instead of appointing Ministers for each region and creating committees to review the public services of the regions, is the priority to increase the authority of local government by devolving more power to it? Regions may be much loved by governments but they often do not reflect any community of interest and they do not command the loyalty or affection of citizens in the way that local government does. If the Government are serious about devolution, devolution should be to existing local authorities and not to the regions.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great passion. There is no question within the Statement that I have described of the idea of a concordat between local and central government and we need to think carefully about what that should include, but there is a desire for those involved in regions to be able to express their views, to look at services and so on, and a regional committee is a proposal that may enable us to do that. As for powers, I know the strength of feeling in your Lordships' House; they would be part of the discussions that we need to have.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Women & Equality, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities

My Lords, the Lord President referred to my new role as independent advisor to the Secretary of State for Justice on some aspects of constitutional reform. I am grateful for the intervention and this is a birthday present for me today. May I clarify my role? Although I am not a Christian I hope that the right reverend Prelates will forgive me for saying that I regard myself as instructed by the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 verse 24:

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth".

I am certainly not serving wealth because I have an unpaid post and I do not regard the Prime Minister as God. My role is to be independent and to seek in the best way I can to serve the wider interests of the people of this country. That is how I see my role without betraying my Liberal Democrat colleagues and any of the principles that I hope that I adhere to. I would like to explain that I have not had any part to play in the document and I would like to ask the question: am I right in thinking, because I have not read the document before, that there is no intention on the Government's part to repeal the Human Rights Act or to weaken the European Convention as recommended by the Leader of the Opposition, described by his colleague as constitutionally illiterate and xenophobic?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I have always been a long believer that in your Lordships' House we have people of talent whom we should utilise and I am delighted that the noble Lord is available to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice in the way that he has described. There is no question at the moment of looking to repeal anything. What we have said within the document is that we want to look further at what else might be done and it would be in that context that we will explore the issue.