HL Deb 09 June 2004 vol 662 cc259-63

3.2 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their present plans for rehousing the Lords of Appeal.

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, following a detailed evaluation exercise, two options remain under active consideration. They are Middlesex Guildhall and the new wing of Somerset House. We shall continue to investigate the relative qualitative and financial merits of those two buildings in consultation with the Law Lords before announcing a final decision in the autumn.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree, or feel in his heart, that what he presented at first as a thoroughly well thought out and complex constitutional reform is now looking a little fly-blown and frayed at the edges? The fact that the Government still have no idea about where they are going to put their Supreme Court, the fact that there has been a lack of consultation and the fact that the Government were totally unaware of the consequences of abolishing the Lord Chancellorship all enhance the impression that there was no forward thinking. In the circumstances, I wonder whether the spectacle of the noble and learned Lord—the holder of the office which, a few months ago, he set out to abolish—sitting contentedly on the Woolsack is not becoming something of a joke.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I think that I should put aside my personal comfort on the Woolsack in dealing with these important and complex issues. The noble Lord is absolutely right: these are complex issues. As a result of referring the matter to a Select Committee, we have the opportunity to consider the issues in detail in this House and to consult widely. The Government can listen and consider how they can be improved. I do not accept the epithets that the noble Lord gave to our programme—namely, "fly-blown" and "unthought out". I agree that the matter is important and complex. We need to consult and to listen so that the scheme is as detailed and appropriate as possible.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, do the Government intend to implement the provisions which will translate the Law Lords into Supreme Court judges without first obtaining suitable alternative accommodation? If that is the intention, what rights and privileges hitherto enjoyed by the Law Lords, such as the use of your Lordships' Library, the attendance at debates here and catering facilities, can still be enjoyed by the former Law Lords?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I hope that it will be possible to implement the proposals for the Supreme Court—that is, to make them effective—at the same time as a building is available. I cannot guarantee that that will be the position and therefore I can give no assurance in that respect, but I hope that that would be the position. Once a Supreme Court is established, the current Law Lords will be its first members. We would propose that they lose the right to sit and vote while they remain full-time Supreme Court justices. I believe that their rights in relation to the Library and catering facilities are a matter for this House to decide thereafter.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that a room on the Committee Corridor of your Lordships' House is a wholly inappropriate place to house the highest court in the land?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do agree with that proposition. I think it is important that the final court of appeal in this country should be available in a building of its own—visible and accessible to all.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, when the Government are seeking to persuade 20,000 civil servants in London and the south-east to uproot themselves and move to other parts of the UK, does my noble and learned friend not agree that it is important that we have role models who are prepared to participate constructively in relocating their offices? Perhaps if he agrees with that sentiment, he would be prepared to convey it from this House to the judiciary, and we might seek the opportunity to see them setting an example to others.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree with the principle that relocation all over the United Kingdom is appropriate for very many bodies. But I believe that the appropriate place for the final court of appeal of the United Kingdom is in the capital of the United Kingdom, and I think that that is the best argument for it staying in the capital. That does not mean that the final court of appeal would not be able to sit outside the capital of the United Kingdom as it—the final court of appeal—thought appropriate. But it is for that court, rather than for us, to decide when to sit outside the capital.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say when the Government will stop wrecking parts of the constitution and calling it modernisation?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, we are seeking to improve the constitution and see it evolve with time. That is the debate that we need to have.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, in view of the response from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor regarding the complexity of the problems and the lack of consultation that took place initially, will he now concede that perhaps the matter was originally dealt with a little in haste and that perhaps we have reached the stage when more haste and less speed is required?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not dissent from the proposition that the announcement may have been made hastily to start with. But we have now had, and are taking, the opportunity of consulting as widely as possible on these proposals. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is chairing a Select Committee at which the detail of the proposals is being scrutinised very closely.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

My Lords, while the House will be glad to hear that the search for a building for the Supreme Court will be complete in August, as I understand it, can the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor inform us when the search started and how much it has cost so far?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the search started very shortly after 12 June 2003. I am advised that thus far the professional fees are in the region of £200,000. I cannot tell the noble and learned Lord how much one should attribute to the efforts of my department in relation to that, but I shall try to write to him about that. I think that time and money should be spent in looking for an appropriate building for an organisation which is important as the final court of appeal of this country.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, what exactly is wrong with the Middlesex Guildhall? It seems to me to be perfectly adequate because it is a mock Victorian gothic building and very suitable for such an organisation.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I shall ignore the epithet of mock gothic. As I hope I indicated in my initial Answer, the Middlesex Guildhall is one of the two sites that are under active consideration. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, spoke of August as being when the decision will be made, whereas the reply I gave was that the decision will be made in the autumn.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, the stated motive for the Government's proposals for the Supreme Court was that the public were confused by the role of the final appellate court being in your Lordships' House. As I understand it, the noble and learned Lord is now suggesting that if a building is not ready by the time the Bill is enacted, the final court of appeal will be called "the Supreme Court", but will still sit in your Lordships' House. Will that not create even greater confusion than the alleged confusion that exists at the moment?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

No, my Lords, I do not think so. It is important to make it clear that the policy is that the final court of appeal should be a separate organisation from Parliament, so that people can see where the courts are and where Parliament is. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, when giving evidence to the Select Committee, said that after the Pinochet trial, people abroad wondered whether the politicians or the court had reached a decision in relation to the case. It is very important that there is clarity in our constitutional arrangements.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, in view of the welcome given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to the work of the Select Committee, would he care to remind noble Lords whether he advised the House to vote for the setting up of the Select Committee or whether he advised against the setting up of the Select Committee?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I advised against it. The deliberations of the committee show how wrong I was.

Forward to