HC Deb 16 January 1984 vol 52 cc12-3
24. Mr. Winnick

asked the Attorney-General whether the Lord Chancellor will satisfy himself that future appointments to the judiciary are drawn from a balanced and wide background.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

The Lord Chancellor appoints or recommends for judicial appointment the best candidates from the available field, regardless of background.

Mr. Winnick

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that if a large majority of judges came from a background associated with, and had the political viewpoint of, the Labour movement, there would be considerable disquiet on the Tory Benches? Does he therefore recognise our concern about the present position? If the practice is to be that senior civil servants consult senior judges over controversial legislation — such as occurred recently in connection with industrial relations—is it not all the more necessary for judges to have a wider background in all respects than is the case today?

The Attorney-General

If one examines the appointments made by Lord Chancellors since the war—the time during which I have been observing whom they have appointed—one finds that they have come from all sides of the political spectrum Labour members have been appointed by Conservative Lord Chancellors and vice versa. It is necessary to have to perform this important task those who are best qualified in all ways.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the British public want no changes whatever in the system for the appointment of judges—[Interruption.]— that the judges are truly independent, that they are, as Bacon said, the lions under the throne, and that we wish them to stay where they are?

The Attorney-General

I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Skinner

If the Attorney-General, in line with his colleagues on the Government Front Bench, wants to carry democracy a little further—and believes that trade union leaders and others must be elected every 10 years and that there should be ballots for this, that and the other—why do we not have ballots for judges, recorders and magistrates, instead of many of them being appointed to the higher echelons of the judiciary straight from the Tory party and the freemasons?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair, and I think that he knows it, although his remarks are in line with what we expect from him. We have seen, in some countries where the system of the election of judges is followed, the disasters that can occur. Our system, which we have had for many years, is effective and fair and I should not like to see it changed.

Mr. John Morris

I appreciate the personal interest which the Attorney-General has taken in giving practical encouragement to young people to come to the profession. Is not the heart of the matter for the long-term future the need to widen substantially recruitment to the profession? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consult the Secretary of State for Education and Science to see how the present system of discretionary grants is working and whether it might be extended and improved to enable people of all classes, including those with very limited, or no means to enter the profession?

The Attorney-General

As for university grants, those intending to read law are treated in exactly the same way as others intending to obtain degrees at universities. We might look again at grants from local authorities to people who have done a short period of post-school educational work and then intend to take up the law. I have had some cases in my constituency where applicants have perhaps been unfairly treated.