§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
On Thursday, we announced changes to the office of Lord Chancellor and changes in respect of the posts of Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Wales.
At present, judges are, effectively, selected by the Lord Chancellor. It is increasingly anomalous for a Minister—and an unelected one at that—to choose judges in that way. Following the Human Rights Act 1998, such a system is particularly outdated. The selection of judges should be by a transparent process, independently conducted. We propose to establish an independent judicial appointments commission to recommend candidates for appointment as judges on an open basis—something long advocated by many inside and outside the legal profession. There is already such an independent commission in place for selecting judges in Scotland and one forms part of the agreed settlement in Northern Ireland. The Lord Chancellor will also cease to sit as a judge, and the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords will become a fully independent supreme court.
As we said on Thursday, all those proposals will be subject to extensive consultation processes, with consultation papers issued prior to the summer recess. Both require legislation to pass through both Houses, so there will be ample time to debate them.
There is one further change. Again, virtually uniquely of any major democracy, the Speaker of the Upper Chamber is a member of the Cabinet appointed by the Prime Minister, but we are now inviting the House of Lords to choose its own Speaker by a process that the House itself should determine. That will enable the speakership to be independent of the Executive, as is the Speaker in the House of Commons.
This will have a further consequence. At present, the Lord Chancellor spends many hours in every working week fulfilling his official and ceremonial duties as Speaker. However, following changes introduced by the Courts Act 1971, he is also the head of an extremely important Department of Government. He is in charge of our courts system, both criminal and civil. He manages a large part of the tribunal system, including asylum and immigration appeals, and he is also in charge of a legal aid budget of £9 billion.
We need to see major changes in our courts. The judiciary has made heroic efforts to run the courts more effectively in recent years. The former Lord Chancellor also made important and lasting improvements to each part of the system, but the continuing task of reform is immense. Thousands of trials each year collapse because defendants or witnesses do not appear, and far too much police time is wasted waiting in court for cases that cannot be heard. We still do not have a proper information technology system that links courts, prisons, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. We need hugely improved co-ordination between all parts of the system. There are real problems with the way victims and witnesses are treated: in too many parts of the country, they are still put in the same waiting areas as the accused.
The Department is a major public service department with nearly 12,000 civil servants. Yet, because of his duties in the House of Lords, the Lord Chancellor—and 358 his predecessors—did not, until last Friday, even have his private office and permanent secretary in the Department, but rather in the Palace of Westminster.
For all those reasons, it is surely better that the Minister responsible for that Department concentrate on running the Department rather than on being Speaker of the House of Lords, sitting as a judge and selecting the judges. The size of his task will expand with the creation of a unified courts administration and a unified tribunal service. He will continue to ensure the independence of the judiciary and will also work to ensure that the court system provides an increasingly efficient service to the public.
As for the posts of Secretary of State for Scotland and Wales, following devolution, there is no longer a requirement for there to be Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales who hold only that office: their roles can be combined with other posts. The civil servants in the Scotland Office and the Wales Office will be part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so as to ensure that they do not move should the Cabinet Ministers change. The new Department has responsibility for the devolution settlement and the new Secretary of State, like the Lord Chancellor before him, will remain chairing the main Cabinet Constitutional Reform Committee. Oral and written questions will continue, as now, to be answered by the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales.
The reforms that I have outlined are essential acts of constitutional modernisation. They follow on the success of devolution to Scotland and Wales, the Human Rights Act 1998, freedom of information, and the removal of 90 per cent of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords. All those changes are now seen—at least on this side of the House—as welcome and permanent changes to our system of government. I am confident that the changes I have set out today will in time be regarded in the same light. I do not believe that any party in this House will reverse any of those changes, and I commend them to the House.
§ Mr. lain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)
It is customary on these occasions for the Leader of the Opposition to thank the Prime Minister for making his statement, but the person who deserves all our thanks today is Mr. Speaker, who forced the Prime Minister to come to the House to account for the most botched, bungled and damaged reshuffle in modern times. Today is a humiliation for the Prime Minister. Today he stood up and attempted to justify the decisions that he made last Thursday by saying that it is all just a consultation process.
The reality is that the Prime Minister has already made up his mind. The fact is that not one word of what he has just said was available on Thursday when he made his decisions. He could have used this reshuffle to sort out the public services. We all know what is needed, and so does he, but the reality is that he did none of that. Instead, he used his reshuffle to charge headlong into change for change's sake, to launch a series of rushed measures that he has now accepted he has not thought 359 through, and which were determined by infighting and refusal by members of his Cabinet—[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister has abolished by decree the office of state referred to specifically in statute 500 times and which has vast powers over the daily lives of every single person in the entire system of justice—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. The House will listen to the Leader of the Opposition with the same respectful silence as it listened to the Prime Minister. We have to maintain a calm attitude, not only for the better prosecution of business, but so that those who watch our affairs will be suitably impressed.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The truth is that the Government are running scared. Every one of their lackeys has been briefed to act as an air-raid shelter for the Prime Minister. Last week, the Prime Minister ripped up the constitution in a matter of hours, without consultation. He made monumental changes on the back of a Cabinet reshuffle, as though our constitution were the Prime Minister's personal plaything and as though only he had the right to make the final decision. He wants people to believe that this is a fuss about nothing and that somehow everybody else is scared of change, but we are not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, you are."] Oh, no.
Every political party accepts that the British constitution is constantly evolving, not only under Labour but under other parties. That is its great strength—the evolution of the constitution. The point is not whether the constitution should change, but how it should change. Our constitution should be changed only after thought, consideration and proper debate, both inside and outside Government. The constitution is not owned by one political party or even by the Prime Minister. It cannot be changed by whim.
Those are not just our words. Lord Donaldson, the former Master of the Rolls, was asked whether there had been consultation. He said:As far as I know, there's been absolutely none. I think that it is totally topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderland stuff.Indeed, as Lewis Carroll wrote, "Sentence first—verdict afterwards." That is just what the Prime Minister has given us.
I have a question for the Prime Minister. What will he do if the changes that he has put forward today are rejected in the course of the consultations? He has made his mind up already. Is he going to withdraw the changes? Is he going to admit that he is wrong? Is he going to say that he is sorry? I doubt it.
Even today, almost a week after his reshuffle took place, there remain very serious questions for the Prime Minister. On Thursday, his Downing street website said:The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said that in the transition period Lord Falconer would not fulfil either the judicial function of Lord Chancellor or the role of speaker.So can the Prime Minister explain why Lord Falconer on Friday was hauled to the Woolsack to admit that he was both Lord Chancellor and Speaker of the House of Lords?
360 On Thursday, we were told that the Lord Chancellor's job had been abolished. On Friday, we were told that Lord Falconer was Lord Chancellor after all. Yesterday night, the list of Ministers was finally issued, five days after the reshuffle. This is what it said about Lord Falconer's post:Lord Chancellor (for the transitional period)".That is the Lord Chancellor's new position.
Will the Prime Minister tell us how long the transitional period will last? What time scale is involved? Lord Falconer said that the transition would take three years. The part-time Leader of the House said on Tuesday that it would take 18 months. How long will it take?
Will the Prime Minister also explain how the independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by an appointments commission that will be appointed by him? How will that happen? What role will the Home Secretary play in appointing the members of the commission?
If the Prime Minister is so serious and sorted-out about this matter, perhaps he can say how he will separate himself from his own power to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen who should fill the Law Lords' positions. Will the right hon. Gentleman, as part of the changes, now get rid of that power that he holds—yes or no?
I turn now to the Department for Constitutional Affairs. Will the Prime Minister explain why the Scotland Office said last Friday morning that it had been abolished and was now part of the DCA, while the Wales Office stated that it had not been abolished and remained independent? I quote from the Wales Office statement:Across the road at the Scotland Office, they are rudderless and there is confusion on their part. They are taking down their old signs but we are not.Later that day, the Scotland Office suddenly decided that it existed after all, and changed its statement. It stated:Alistair Darling has confirmed the Scotland Office still exists but has been merged into a bigger department. I don't have any more details, we are still trying to get to grips with all of this.I tried to get to the bottom of the—[Interruption.] Labour Members can shout as much as they like, but they will not escape the fact that this reorganisation is botched, bungled and totally wrong.
Today, I went to the Downing Street website—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ooh!"] I went to the website to find out just what the Prime Minister thought about whether there was a Welsh Office or a Scottish Office. This is what it said:We are sorry.That is not a bad start.The page you are looking for cannot be found. It might have been removed, had its name changed, or may be temporarily unavailable.In fact, today the Prime Minister has contradicted what his right hon. Friend the part-time Secretary of State for Wales said yesterday. What the Prime Minister has said is completely different:The civil servants in the Scotland Office and the Wales Office will be part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so as to ensure they do not move should the Cabinet Members change.361 On Tuesday, the part-time Leader of the House said:I have already answered that question. The Scotland Office exists. It exists as it did before Thursday, as it does now, and as it will in the future, as does the Wales Office."—[Official Report, 17 June 2003; Vol. 110, c. 237.]That is yet another change in 24 hours—more chaos, and more confusion.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House whom the civil servants will report to? Will the two part-time Secretaries of State report to Lord Falconer? What are the statutory functions of the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs? Where is his budget coming from, and under what authority? [Interruption.]
Labour Members do not want to listen to any of those questions. They simply do as they are told by their master's voice—any decree, any time, any place will do for them. But there are serious questions. [Interruption.] Who, ultimately, will take decisions—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
Does the Prime Minister agree with the former, full-time, Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who said when he was shadow Health Secretary that once health had been devolved to the Scottish Parliament,it is not possible for me to continue as Minister of Health, administering health in England.Does the Prime Minister agree that it is bizarre that the new Health Secretary for England will push through policies that have been rejected by the Labour Administration in Scotland and which will not affect his own constituents? Is the Prime Minister really telling us that not one English Member among all the lackeys behind him is capable of running the Department of Health?
The Prime Minister did not bother to tell his own Cabinet—[Interruption.] Well, let me ask him this: when did he discuss the changes with his Cabinet? On what day did he do that, and with whom? [Interruption.] When did he discuss them? Most of his Cabinet do not have a clue what he said. His own Home Secretary said that he thought that the comings and goings on Thursday and Friday could have been communicated more effectively.
What I say to the Prime Minister is this—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. These are important matters that should be heard with equal fairness on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
The Labour party does not care about the constitution. All it cares about is gerrymandering the constitution so that it can have its people in the right place at the right time. That is the charge. The Prime Minister is guilty of fiddling with the system without consultation. He has sacked his boss, promoted his flatmate and fiddled throughout.
362 The one clear message coming from the Government from last week's botched reshuffle is that neither this House nor the British people can have any faith in the Government. We cannot believe a word the Prime Minister says any more.
§ The Prime Minister
Let us first deal with consultation. We said on Thursday that there would be consultation papers by the end of the summer on the independent judicial appointments commission and the fact that the Lord Chancellor would no longer sit as a judge in the House of Lords. Of course, both changes would have to be subject to Acts of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman asks how long the transition will take—it will take as long as the Acts of Parliament. Of course, we will have a full debate in both Houses of Parliament about it, so the idea that there is no consultation or chance for debate is plainly absurd.
As for the speakership of the House of Lords, again, as we said on Thursday, that will be subject to their Lordships' wishes—it is up to them. I would have thought that they would welcome the chance to have an independent Speaker in the House of Lords, nominated by them. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks why we do not ask them. We are asking them. That is exactly what we are doing. That is why, until they agree, we cannot change the position, but we want them to agree because it makes sense for the modern world.
Let us suppose that the Speaker in the House of Lords was elected by that House at present and I said, "I'm going to change that. I'm going to have a Cabinet Minister doing that job." Imagine the outcry that there would be then. All we are proposing is that the other House have charge of selecting its own Speaker as we do here. How that is a move to dictatorship baffles me.
The one thing that I never heard from the right hon. Gentleman was his position on the changes. He says that I am perpetrating this terrible constitutional outrage. Does he agree that there should be an independent judicial appointments commission? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] Let's have some quiet. He said that there has been no consultation. I am consulting—I am asking him now. Does he agree with an independent judicial appointments commission? He cannot tell us—[Interruption].
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has made a statement and the questions are put to the Prime Minister. I think that we will make more progress if we maintain that traditional balance.
§ The Prime Minister
We do not know either whether the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) agrees to the Lord Chancellor being a member of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. What is the Conservatives' position? We do not know, but we do know their position on the Secretary of State for Scotland—in their last manifesto, they advocated getting rid of that as a separate office.
As for the right hon. Gentleman's statement about how much he wants all Scottish affairs to be dealt with by Scotland and all English affairs to be dealt with by 363 English Ministers, who is his shadow Secretary of State for Scotland? The hon. Lady in question sits for a constituency in the London borough of Bromley. Here we are with this great constitutional outrage and the Conservatives cannot even tell us whether they are in favour of the changes or against them. They are outraged "don't knows". It is no good the right hon. Gentleman pointing his finger. He should give us his position.
The fact is that these are sensible, modernising changes, which have been sought for many years. They involve the Prime Minister giving away power rather than keeping it. They are of a piece with the changes that we have already made. Of course, when we proposed devolution, the Conservatives said that it would lead to the break up of the United Kingdom—now, they support it. When we proposed the Human Rights Act, they told us that it was a constitutional disgrace—now, they support it. When we told them that we wanted hereditary peers out of the House of Lords, they said that it was terrible—and they still think it terrible. Now, the right hon. Gentleman wants to fight to the death to keep the Minister in charge of our court system in a full-bottomed wig, 18th century breeches, and women's tights, sitting on a woolsack rather than running the Court Service. That says a lot more about the Conservative party than about the Labour party. If that is the centrepiece of the right hon. Gentleman's electoral strategy, roll on the election.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)
My colleagues and certainly those on the Labour Benches will be relieved to know that I simply want to put some brief questions to the Prime Minister. Of course, that is a reflection of my own inadequacies as I have not benefited from the tremendous mechanism known as the No. 10 website.
The Prime Minister is well aware, as is the House, that the Liberal Democrats have long been urging further constitutional reforms upon the Government. Our two parties co-operated in opposition and we saw the fruits of that when Labour came to power, and we would like the progress on constitutional reform to continue. Therefore credit is due for the package that has been announced. As Ministers have indicated, however, that has been somewhat overshadowed by the confusions and fracas that accompanied it. Listening to the Prime Minister make his statement I thought that the more its content was analysed, the greater the case became for having had a proper White Paper with an accompanying consultation process.
First, the move towards the creation of a supreme court is both overdue and very welcome. The Liberal Democrats' only regret is that it does not go far enough. We would prefer the establishment of a department of justice, bringing criminal and civil justice together under one head. Will the Prime Minister say whether he has ruled that out in his own mind or whether it could be a legitimate part of the consultation process, even if it means renewed debate with the Home Secretary and the Home Office as a whole?
364 The Government have a practical difficulty in that there are no fewer than 500 different references in statute to the existing role of the Lord Chancellor. The Prime Minister says that we can make good progress. In abolishing the role of Lord Chancellor, how long does he envisage that it will take to delete or amend those references accordingly? There are a lot of them.
Of course we welcome the independence of judicial appointment for judges, but will the Prime Minister also acknowledge that the present system tends to favour unduly barristers who appear regularly in the higher courts, thereby discriminating against solicitors, women and those from ethnic minorities? Does he agree that that is a pertinent question that should be considered in the consultation process?
On the changes to the Wales Office and the Scotland Office, would it not make more sense to create a department of nations and the regions? In the context of the statement made this week by the Deputy Prime Minister—we certainly welcome the moves towards consultative referendums and the hope of more regionalism within England—could not all those be brought together in one huge territorial department in the longer term?
On the proposal that there should be a department for constitutional reform, is it not something of an anomaly that that would be presided over by a Cabinet Minister who is not answerable to the elected House of Commons? We want to consider the anomalies associated with the role of Lord Chancellor, but we must also be conscious of the anomalies that the proposals would create.
Finally, will the Prime Minister acknowledge that there is one yawning gap in the plans outlined for further constitutional reform? It is the predominantly unelected nature of the upper House. Now that he has appointed a new leader of that House who is himself in favour of a democratically elected second Chamber, will he give his backing to that further move in that direction? Can the consultation process involve a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament, and obviously all Opposition parties? If we had had a greater and more sensible level of consultation, could we not have avoided some of the difficulties of the past few days? Is not that one of the important lessons to learn from this recent episode?
§ The Prime Minister
First, I take it from that that the Liberal Democrats are basically in favour of the proposals. I therefore find it odd that so many of them voted with the Conservatives against the proposals last night. Anyway, perhaps that should not really be a matter of surprise.
In respect of the point about the supreme court, that will be part of the consultation process. We announced last Thursday that two consultation papers on each of these major issues will be put to people before the summer recess. The proposals will have to be introduced, of course, through an Act of Parliament, which must go through this House with debate and through the upper House with debate. Therefore, the idea that there will be no debate or consultation is patently absurd, because of the process that we need to go through.
As for a ministry of justice, I am not in favour of that. Let me explain to the right hon Gentleman why that has never been proposed by the Government or me. It is 365 important that we keep the criminal law and criminal justice system with the Home Secretary in respect of police fighting crime and other issues. What we have been trying to do over the past few years is to move out of the Home Office some of the constitutional functions so that it can concentrate, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing so well, on law and order, fighting crime, antisocial behaviour and asylum and immigration issues. That is why the Lord Chancellor's Department is obviously going to deal with many of the constitutional issues that the Home Office has been dealing with up to now.
In relation to solicitors and ethnic minorities, the right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. That is one of the reasons why people have thought that it is better to have a more transparent and open system.
I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this because I was going to point this out if he did not. He has put forward the Liberal Democrat proposal in relation to the Secretary of State for Scotland and Wales, which effectively means getting rid of those posts and having one Secretary of State for the nations and regions. Of course, that is one possible avenue. The reason I do not think it is the right one, however, is that it would be very odd then in circumstances where, let us say, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was Secretary of State for the nations and regions, to go up to Scotland as Secretary of State for Scotland, effectively speaking for Scotland— [Interruption.] There is a debate about those issues, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman can see that there would be anomalies in the position that he puts forward, too.
In relation to the issue of an elected upper House, I have already said that that should be a matter in which Members of Parliament should have a free vote. There will be different views: different views exist in the Cabinet, and, I am sure, in the shadow Cabinet. There are different views in the right hon. Gentleman's party, too. The most important thing, however, is that we have a debate as Members of Parliament and that we decide. My preoccupation on this issue has always been that we must not end up replicating the House of Commons in the House of Lords. That would be a mistake, and it would not help our constitution.
§ Mrs. Helen Liddell (Airdrie and Shotts)
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that, with the constitutional changes put in place last week, the unfinished business of John Smith and Donald Dewar is now finished? There is now a stable constitutional arrangement for Scotland. strengthened within the United Kingdom with robust arrangements that ensure that, regardless of the political upheavals, that relationship will remain strong. In addition, with declining electoral support for the Scottish National party in Scotland, the job of nat-basher-in-chief is no longer needed, as the nationalists do it very well themselves.
§ The Prime Minister
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. I also thank her for the part that she played in making the devolution settlement successful. It is worth pointing out that, when we first advocated devolution, we were attacked by the nationalists, who wanted separation and who wanted to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom and still do, and we were 366 attacked by the Conservatives, who told us that it would lead to the break-up of the UK. What has happened is that the devolution settlement has worked, and support for nationalism is at an all-time low.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
Cannot the Prime Minister pause for a moment, reflect and realise that many of those who have admired his leadership over Iraq, in all parts of the House, in both Houses and outside—and who have given him unstinting support for which he has been grateful—think that on this matter he has behaved with cavalier disdain? He has treated both Houses of Parliament with contempt and has announced changes and then said that consultation will follow. Cannot he just admit for once that he has got it wrong?
§ The Prime Minister
First, whatever I say to the hon. Gentleman, I say it with respect for him, not merely for the support that he has given me over Iraq but for the work that he has done in the House for a very long time. Of course, when the Government believe that certain changes are necessary, we make the announcement saying that these are changes that we wish to make. Issues are bound to be raised, however, and I ask him to bear it in mind, as we said last Thursday, that there will be two consultation papers: one on the independent judicial appointments commission and the other on the role of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the courts. In relation to the speakership of the House of Lords, we have made it clear that we can only make those changes if the House of Lords agrees. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that there will be the opportunity for detailed consultation and debate, as there should be.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
In relation to the Lord Chancellor, it was a good proposal but with poor presentation. May I consult my right hon. Friend on one idea that might flow from it? Would he consider—I hope that he will have an open mind on this—a reform whereby Ministers of either House could appear in either House, rather than Members of both Houses having to rely on parrots replicating Ministers' utterances at questions? It seems to me that the architects of legislation should pilot that legislation in both Houses. For example, Baroness Amos should be subject to scrutiny and able to answer in this place. Allowing Ministers to appear in both Houses would be a very good reform that I would hope he would support.
§ The Prime Minister
I apologise for not having been radical enough in the reforms that we have put forward. I am afraid that I can see some difficulties with what my hon. Friend suggests, but I have no doubt that he will have an opportunity to discuss it with other Members and build up support for it.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
Earlier this afternoon, the Prime Minister told the House that these proposals will be subject to extensive consultation. Like so much that the Prime Minister has said recently, that is patently untrue. In the first line of his statement, he says, "We announced the changes". He knows that he has announced the changes and that the consultation is meaningless. The Prime Minister has delusions of grandeur, but he is not the Head of State. There is a 367 Head of State. When did he consult her and inform her that he was going to abolish 1,400 years of constitutional history?
§ The Prime Minister
Consultations have taken place in the normal way. In respect of the point made by the hon. Gentleman at the beginning, it is obvious that if the changes that I have announced must proceed through an Act of Parliament, both Houses of Parliament, of course, must agree to that. I do not know how else we announce the Government's position but by announcing it. That is what we believe. What I still do not quite understand about the extraordinary outrage of Opposition Members is whether they agree with the propositions or not. Surely their outrage must in some shape or form be determined by whether they think the proposals are right or wrong.
In respect of the point about 1,400 years of history, it is correct that the post has existed, in different ways, for 1,400 years, but it is also correct that, occasionally, we should evolve and change our constitution. The question is therefore whether the change is sensible or not. Before the change comes through, the House will be able to make its decision known, and the other place will be able to make its decision known, exactly in accordance with our constitution.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware that some time ago the Welsh Assembly Government established the Richard commission to look at the workings of devolution from the point of view of the Welsh Assembly. In the light of his announcements on Thursday and developments over the weekend, will he set up an ad hoc committee of this Parliament to look at the devolution process from the perspective of this Parliament?
§ The Prime Minister
I understand entirely my hon. Friend's point. Of course, we will await with interest the outcome of the Richard commission. I must say, however, that it is probably better to discuss this matter in the usual way in government.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)
What possible reason could there have been for rushing the reshuffle through last Thursday, when clearly it had not been properly thought out in detail and has caused the Government great embarrassment? Was the Downing street spokesman correct when he said that it had to be last Thursday because of Lord Irvine? Why could not Lord Irvine have stayed in place a little longer?
§ The Prime Minister
First, let me specify again the changes that we are proposing. They are changes to do with an independent judicial appointments commission, the fact that the Lord Chancellor should no longer sit as a judge and that the speakership of the House of Lords should be held by an independent person, nominated by the House of Lords. I do not think that there is any great confusion about those proposals; they are perfectly simple and straightforward. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with them or not? I do not suppose 368 that we shall be told. On consultation, as I have pointed out, the latter proposal can be carried out only with the agreement of the House of Lords and the first two require an Act of Parliament, therefore it is a little odd to say that I am rushing them through without consultation when actually both Houses of Parliament will have to agree them.
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
I welcome the proposals, in particular that for a supreme court, which was recommended in a recent report from the Public Administration Committee. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proposals mean that the Government now have their second wind in respect of constitutional reform, so that on issues such as Lords reform and civil service legislation, we shall see the same decisive radicalism?
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
Bearing in mind the nature of the devolution settlement in Wales, does the Prime Minister realise how important a strong Wales Office is to the passage of Welsh legislation? After all, this place is the only Chamber that can legislate for Wales. Does he realise that it is extremely offensive to Wales to sweep away the Wales Office as he has done, and that his four sentences today have compounded that offence?
§ The Prime Minister
The Secretary of State for Wales will occupy his office and carry out his post with another job—
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Gentleman is in favour of getting rid of the job altogether. He cannot come to this place and tell me that the job is not full-time enough. If the Welsh nationalists had their way, Wales would not even be part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
Apart from the important and mistaken decision to put the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in the wrong place, I am entirely supportive of the measures that the Prime Minister has proposed, and I do not normally say that. However, has not my right hon. Friend put the cart before the horse? Should not we have debated the possibilities first, so that the error in the appointment of the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs could have been avoided?
§ The Prime Minister
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his support for our proposals, which is all the more gratifying for its rarity.
Secondly, as I have pointed out, there may have been a misconception. The independent judicial appointments commission and the question of whether 369 the Lord Chancellor sits as an appellate judge4 in the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords have to be dealt with by legislation. There will be ample time to debate those things in the House of Lords and, obviously, in the House of Commons, too. That is why the notion that what happened on Thursday was somehow all suddenly implemented by Monday is not right.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Can the Prime Minister tell us the costs of the changes that are already going through and of the changes that he would like to put through? Could it be that this is rather an expensive way of getting rid of an old man in tights? Might it have been cheaper to buy him a pair of trousers?
§ The Prime Minister
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman exact details of the costs, but I hope that he will agree that making sure that the Lord Chancellor is actually concentrating on the core business of running the courts system is actually a far more efficient use of his time.
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I welcome the changes, which are long overdue, but can my right hon. Friend explain why the appointments that he made last week include people with titles such as Vice-Chamberlain and Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard? What on earth does the Master of the Horse do? Clean the horse? Is not it time that, in a mature democracy such as ours, we got rid of such Ruritanian titles and jobs, the wigs, the gowns and the swords, including in the House of Commons?
§ Mr. A.J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the Prime Minister realise that these important and necessary reforms will get off to a pretty bad start if it remains unclear whether he is talking about a supreme court in the American sense of a constitutional court, or merely removing the Law Lords to sit in another building? There are certainly genuine anxieties at present about just how independent the judicial appointments commission will be and they could remain, especially when we have a Home Secretary who says:"I just like judges who help … us to do the job.
§ The Prime Minister
I think that is unfair on the Home Secretary, who has said that he fully supports the independence of the judiciary.
With the greatest respect, people cannot have things both ways. There are issues to be resolved about the precise nature of the supreme court. That is why we said that a consultation paper would be issued before the recess. It is also why debates will be held in both Houses. All the issues can be resolved then.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
On the point about rushing to judgment in this matter, does my right hon. Friend agree that, 10 years ago. as shadow Home Secretary, he won the Labour party conference over to a judicial appointments commission, a ministry of justice, judicial independence and a Select Committee 370 on legal affairs? It is rather like saying that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister was rushing into regional government when he made his announcement earlier this week when, in fact, he started campaigning on the issue more than 20 years ago.
In the week when those policies have finally come to fruition, I urge my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to stay with the big picture and leave the pygmies opposite to suck up the media trivia. He should re-read the speech that he made 10 years ago, when he stated thatLabour would abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a"—democratic second Chamber—with a new electoral system".My right hon. Friend is at his best when he is at his boldest.
§ The Prime Minister
It is always worrying when previous speeches are quoted back. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that many of the changes that we are advocating have been advocated for a long time by many people inside and outside this place. I come back to the main point. The whole basis of the changes that we are making—rather like the devolution changes—is not that we retain power, but that we give it away. I am going to be giving away the ability to nominate the Lord Chancellor, who sits in the Cabinet, is the Speaker of the House of Lords and appoints the judges. I find that proposition odd in today's world, when, surely, there should be clear separation between Executive, legislature and judiciary.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
In the light of the nature, tone and content of the Prime Minister's statement, is it right that the principle of the supreme court and the judicial appointments commission is a given and that the consultation exercise will simply be about the mechanics of the principles that he has announced?
§ The Prime Minister
We have set out what we want to do as a Government. That is how Governments announce their policy. They say, "That is what we want to do." There is then a consultation process, which we shall initiate with the consultation papers. After that, there will be a debate in both Houses—I emphasise "both". Of course there will be debate.
We have set out our view that there should be an independent judicial appointments commission, but it will be for this House and the other House to debate the details of that. For the life of me, I cannot see why that is a wrong process.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Will the Prime Minister give us an assurance that he would not contemplate appointing Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales from English constituencies such as Beckenham and Ribble Valley?
§ Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)
The people of Scotland know that this botched reshuffle has done nothing to address the problems of the Scottish 371 economy or our air transport problems. In concluding the consultation on air transport, does the Prime Minister expect his part-time Secretary of State for Transport to advocate more use of the London hub airports, or his part-time Secretary of State for Scotland to advocate more direct flights to Scotland? What will happen if they disagree?
§ The Prime Minister
I thought that the hon. Gentleman did pretty well. He should be shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, but he is not because someone sitting for Bromley has that post.
On the part-time point, I remind the hon. Gentleman that he was elected on a manifesto that stated:We will keep the position of Secretary of State for Scotland with the holder of that position also having an additional UK role within the Cabinet.I have just implemented the policy on which he was elected.
§ Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)
The British constitution has many pantomime elements, but is the Prime Minister surprised by the pantomime antics of the Tory party? Yesterday, we had Widow Twanky and today we had Buttons, who could not recognise a decent constitutional change if it was lying in his bed when he came home at the end of the day. Is not the truth that, when we were redrafting the German constitution in the 1940s, this country insisted on precisely the changes that we are about to see, and that what was good for Germany in the 1940s is good for Britain now?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think that we will take that too far. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend has got Conservative Members on a sensitive point. Of course, the point that he makes in relation to the constitutional changes is right, and I would simply point out that the Conservatives opposed the constitutional changes in respect of devolution, that they opposed the minimum wage and that they have opposed virtually every constitutional change. We still have not heard—perhaps someone will ask them at some point in the next few days—whether, if these changes are so terrible, they are pledged to reverse them. We should be told.
§ David Burnside (South Antrim)
Will the Prime Minister inform the House what advice he received from his Cabinet. Secretary before he announced these constitutional changes? When the Prime Minister is formulating his strategic planning for constitutional change, which role model does he prefer: the constitution of the first French Republic after the revolution, or our constitution after the Glorious Revolution of 1688?
§ The Prime Minister
It is a bit much, when 1 am giving away the power to anoint—appoint, I should say. 372 [Laughter.] It is a bit much, when I am giving away the power to appoint the Speaker of the House of Lords, to say that it is the equivalent of the French revolution. That is a somewhat extreme statement, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, would have welcomed the fact that I will have given up power if these changes go through, which is why I hope that he and others will support them.
§ Vera Baird (Redcar)
Can my right hon. Friend convince the Leader of the Opposition that women cannot have great faith in a judiciary that is 95 per cent. male and that ethnic minorities cannot have great faith in a judiciary that is almost 100 per cent. white and excludes anyone like them? Are not the Tories simply being reactionary? They want judges to carry on being picked, by secret soundings and tittle-tattle in Pall Mall clubs, from among white men from the upper middle classes—a group only a little less representative than they are.
§ The Prime Minister
To be fair to my right hon. Friend the former Lord Chancellor, he made many changes in this area, but the point that my hon. and learned Friend makes is right, and it is one of the reasons why things should be transparent and open. Frankly, I believe that that is the way that virtually every other western democracy makes its judicial appointments, so that it is done in an open way. I commend to the Opposition the speech recently made by Chris Patten. [Interruption.] He is a bit of a no-no for them now. He used to be chairman of the Conservative party in the days when it was roughly sane. He said that it is very important to realise that, in this day and age, it is not acceptable for judges to be appointed by a process that, as he put it, was a bit akin to the old magic circle that used to appoint leaders of the Conservative party. It is worth reflecting on that. Surely, in this day and age, it is better to appoint judges by an open and transparent process. How that is dictatorial, I do not know.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
Was it Lord Falconer's performance as a flatmate or as Minister in charge of the dome that particularly recommended him for promotion?
§ The Prime Minister
If the hon. Gentleman reflects on the job that my right hon. Friend did, not merely in respect of housing and planning, but on criminal justice and the police, he will see that he did an absolutely superb job.