Seafarers’ Wages Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:29 pm on 20 July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 4:29, 20 July 2022

My Lords, as I rise to address your Lordships for the last time, I am standing immediately behind the place from where I made my maiden speech in 1979, moving an amendment in a Scottish criminal justice Bill—which, I am glad to say, was accepted. A short distance may make a big difference in status, as your Lordships have noticed.

I thought, if your Lordships will permit me, it might be of interest to give a summary of the responsibilities I had in the two offices I held, which have now completely changed. Before doing so, I wish briefly to support this Second Reading. For most of the time since 1972, I have been a member of a lighthouse authority with concern for the vital importance of seamen and their terms of service. Our legislation can regulate these for seamen who serve within our territorial waters but, if part of that service is outside those waters, special provisions will be required. This Bill deals neatly with such a case and I give it my full support.

With your Lordships’ permission, I now come to say a little about the two offices I held. The first was the Lord Advocate of Scotland, with the first two responsibilities I will mention shared with the Solicitor-General for Scotland. The first was the representation of the Government in the courts of Scotland, advising the Government on Scots law and, in conjunction with the Attorney-General, on European law, which applied throughout the United Kingdom at that time. To assist in that responsibility, there was a staff of lawyers and other civil servants in the Lord Advocate’s office in London. We had responsibility for drafting Bills for Scotland and those parts of United Kingdom Bills that required special attention to conform with Scots law requirements.

My second responsibility was for the prosecution service in Scotland, consisting of the Procurator Fiscal Service throughout Scotland, the Crown Office in Edinburgh staffed by members of the Procurator Fiscal Service, the Crown Agent at the head of that service and advocates who are appointed from the Scottish Bar to make judgments on the most important cases. Two Members of your Lordships’ House—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead—were in that team. I personally took some of the fatal accident inquiries and prosecution litigations that were the responsibility of my office. That concludes the responsibilities that I shared with the Solicitor-General for Scotland.

I was invited by a number of departments to assist in this House with their legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Hacking, earlier gave at least one example of that happening. This gave me an opportunity to know those departments extremely well and I cherish that experience. I was also nominated by the Attorney-General, then Sir Michael Havers, to represent the Government in cases in this House and in the Court of Justice of the European Union. In representation in this House, in one case I had the advantage of having the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, as my junior. Needless to say, we won. As I said, I was invited by a number of departments to assist in this House with their legislation and that was important for developing my chances in later times.

After five years in the office of Lord Advocate, I was nominated by the then Secretary of State for Scotland to be a judge in the Scottish courts. When that became known in this House, I happened to be paying my bill in the Peers’ Dining Room and Lord Elwyn-Jones said to me, “James, I’ve just heard that you have been appointed a Scottish judge. I’m very sorry; I had hoped for better things for you.”

I was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1985 and served in that capacity until October 1987, when I was invited to become the Lord Chancellor as my predecessor and excellent friend, Lord Michael Havers, had resigned on the ground of ill health. So I become the Lord Chancellor, an unprecedented experience for a member of the Scottish Bar who had not been a member of the English Bar.

The first responsibility of that office was to officiate in this House, and that I did for almost 10 years. This involved taking part as the Lord Chancellor independent of the Government when I sat on the Woolsack or stood in front of the Woolsack, but it also involved representing the Government, and when doing so, I stood two steps to the left. It was the Liberal Democrats who were there at that time. Things have changed in that respect, as your Lordships know.

In the House, the Lord Chancellor presided. He represented the House on ceremonial occasions, taking part where appropriate. He received new Members on their introduction, first in his office and then in the House in a ceremony while wearing a hat that Matthew Parris described as a Cornish pasty. He received and visited foreign Speakers of Parliament, Presidents, Prime Ministers and senior judges. He attended meetings of Commonwealth and European Speakers in company, usually, with the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Clerk of the Parliaments or an official of his department. He also attended other ministerial meetings. As noble Lords have heard, he read Prayers if the Bishop was prevented from attending—I think I had three opportunities to do that in the 10 years when I was Lord Chancellor.

The Lord Chancellor was a member of the Cabinet. I was given fourth place in the Cabinet on appointment. When Mrs Thatcher retired, I sat next to the Prime Minister and paid her the Cabinet’s tribute on its behalf, the draft being kindly prepared by Robin Butler—the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. I was in the Cabinet as a member of the judiciary and the legislature, the others being members of the legislature.

As a law officer, I had not been a member of the Cabinet. It was a tremendous honour and heavy responsibility to represent the judiciary in the Cabinet, but I felt that it was a very necessary and important responsibility, and I was anxious to discharge it properly. I had the responsibility for the civil law that was not already the responsibility of another department. This included organisations such as the Law Commission, the National Archives and the Land Registry. I introduced to this House legislation that was in accordance with the government policy for the Lord Chancellor’s Department and also other legislation which the Ministers concerned invited me to lead on in this House. I think that the most important of the Bills that I had responsibility for were the Children Act 1989 and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. They have both stood the test of time in their structure ever since. Looking back on it, I think that is due to the amount of consent we got in this House and in the House of Commons—of course, I was primarily concerned with the House—and were able to work up in the course of negotiation here.

I also introduced, at the request of the then Home Secretary, a Bill that mentioned the Security Service publicly in Parliament for the first time. I was responsible for various legal aid and other enactments and statutory instruments. I introduced the Courts and Legal Services Bill, which has already been referred to and which came along as a matter of some controversy with the Bar and some of Her Majesty’s judges. I do not intend to describe the detail of that any further than has been done already. I am glad to say that it went through both Houses of Parliament with very little amendment and, so far as I know, nobody has tried to amend its principles since it became an Act.

The Lord Chancellor was head of the judiciary and responsible for the court system and provision for the judges—for example, for training and accommodation on circuit. Toward the end of my time in office, responsibility for magistrates’ courts was transferred to the Lord Chancellor. Like Lord Hailsham before me, I presided over a substantial number of sittings of the judicial committee of the House or of the Privy Council.

I had the responsibility of nominating the senior judges to the Queen and the most senior to the Prime Minister. To assist me in that responsibility, there was a small group of officials in the Lord Chancellor’s Department. This time is sometimes referred to as the “tap on the shoulder” time, but I have to say that I have no memory of tapping anyone on the shoulder as a preliminary to seeking to nominate him or her as a member of the senior judiciary.

The circuit judges and other judges were also appointed on the nomination of the Lord Chancellor and, again, the group in the department assisted. I took the view eventually that it was right that it should be done by a committee interviewing the candidates, including a magistrate, because I thought it important that the judicial quality of the person would be estimated. I made it my business to try to estimate that as carefully as I could. I sometimes had the opportunity of hearing candidates when I was sitting as the presiding judge in a session of a judicial committee, but I also had opportunity to study that in other ways. All the judges I nominated came to this House to be sworn in by me. My wife entertained them and their families in the River Room to tea or coffee as appropriate. I do believe that particular service was much esteemed by the people who got it. I do not think it continued.

As direct rule operated in Northern Ireland, I had similar responsibilities there for the court system and judicial appointments. A senior judge had been killed, the Chief Justice had been shot at and a judge’s home had been blown up, so these appointments were a solemn responsibility. I am humbly thankful to Almighty God that no further damage was done to the judiciary in that way, although the risk continued. I should also like to mention the wonderful way in which the court service in Northern Ireland dealt with its work. On one occasion its headquarters was damaged by an explosion at the weekend, and first thing on Monday morning they were clearing up the broken glass.

The Lord Chancellor had the responsibility of nominating Queen’s Counsel for England and Wales. Again, he was assisted by the group in the department. I consulted the senior judges and considered it right to have regard not only to success of advocacy in court but to the importance of sound advice to clients that might prevent them having to go to court.

This concludes my summary of the responsibilities I held in office. All are now changed, so I hope a record of them may be of interest. I handed over to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who I regret to say is now on leave of absence on account of his ill health.

This House has a special place in my regard and I wish to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all the Members of this House, past and present, who have shared with me membership of it. I feel the same for all the staff of the House. It applies to the Clerk of the Parliaments and all the staff in the offices, the staff of the usual channels, the committee staff, the expenses staff, the doorkeepers and the attendants; it applies to those who help us in the restaurants and in banqueting and with computers and telephones, the police and security, the engineers and the people who help us in many other ways including, of course, the cleaners. I particularly want to mention those ladies whose job it is to clean the huge number of books that are covering our corridors. I have spoken to them very often and it is wonderful to see how cheery they are, considering the nature of their employment. They really do a great job, and I would like to thank all the staff for the help that they have been to me.

I wish to thank my family for all the support they have given me. Above all, I have to thank my dear wife of 64 years for her devoted support and wonderful patience. I have been twice appointed a Life Peer and, having reached 95 years of age, am now being given the opportunity to retire from membership. I do it with gratitude, and the happiest of memories, on 22 July.

I believe that I have been sustained until now by answers to what we pray for at our opening every day. Thank you very much.