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Office of Lord Chancellor (Constitution Committee Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:57 pm on 7th July 2015.

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Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 4:57 pm, 7th July 2015

I am grateful to my noble friend. He makes a very fair point, which I entirely take: the constitution needs to be considered at a moment of any prospective reform but, none the less, the Government have a continuing duty to maintain constitutional integrity.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and other Cabinet Office constitution Ministers are currently dealing with some difficult constitutional policies, including English votes for English laws, devolution, English decentralisation, the EU referendum and the British Bill of Rights. There is a significant area of potential reform but I absolutely accept that the role those who are charged with looking after our constitution have goes beyond reform.

We could spend quite a lot of time dealing with the definition of “rule of law”. I am of course aware of the comments made in speeches by the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Steyn, and the discussion in Lord Bingham’s book The Rule of Law of whether parliamentary sovereignty really is the governing principle. At the moment, however, the supremacy of Parliament is generally considered to be the predominant constitutional principle and the capacity of judges in certain circumstances to strike down, as it were, an Act of Parliament is one that has not yet been taken advantage of.

In conclusion, we recognise that the office of the Lord Chancellor is an ancient one. During its time, the role has been occupied by individuals of varying skills and experience, reflecting the contemporary demands of the office and the somewhat quixotic choices made by Prime Ministers, which have sometimes haunted the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and others. Some have been colourful characters, some have attracted criticism and some have even met an untimely end. The changes introduced in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 were significant, albeit that they came about in rather an unusual way. They emphasised the independence of the judiciary and defined the new nature of the relationship with the Executive and Parliament.

The Lord Chief Justice said in his speech of the week before last:

“What appears clear is that over the first ten years since the reforms of 2005, the judiciary has evolved a new way of working. It has developed a capacity and a will to lead reform. It has forged a new method of engagement with the Executive and Parliament in this task so that all can work together to bring about an overhaul of the administration of justice”.

The House is very clear that the office of the Lord Chancellor will continue to be a key office of state, with very real and important duties that have a constitutional importance and underpin judicial independence and the rule of law. This Government are very grateful to the Constitution Committee for its clear and thorough report. I am sorry that there has been so much criticism of the inadequate response. I reassure the House that what has been said in that report, and what has been brought to the House’s attention in this debate, will be considered very carefully by the new Lord Chancellor. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this excellent debate.