New Clause 6 - Chief Executive of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 12 Chwefror 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

‘(1) The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 48 (Chief executive) omit subsection (2).

(3) After subsection (1) insert—

“(2) The President of the Supreme Court shall appoint the Chief Executive in accordance with the arrangements for the time being in force for the selection of persons to be employed in the civil service of the State.”.

(4) In Section 49(2) (Officers and staff), omit the words “with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor”.’.—(Jenny Chapman.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is very straightforward, colleagues will be pleased to know. It is about the way in which the chief executive of the Supreme Court is appointed. The point of it is to mature the way in which we think about the Supreme Court. It has been a success in most people’s minds. We want now to take it forward to the next stage. The change would be very simple but quite important. The new clause would amend an anomaly. That is how we would describe it.

At present, the power to appoint the chief executive of the Supreme Court lies with the Lord Chancellor, but new clause 6 would provide that that power of appointment was transferred to the President of the Supreme Court. That would ensure a complete separation of powers between the Court and the Executive. As  Members will know, that was the rationale behind the establishment of the Supreme Court. Section 4 of the proposed new clause, in the same vein, provides that the chief executive, who has responsibility for ensuring the effective use of the Court’s resources, is enabled to appoint staff and officers to the Court without the need to obtain the Lord Chancellor’s agreement, as currently needs to happen. It is very straightforward.

The proposed new clause has widespread support and attends to the central issue of the independence of the Supreme Court. The separation of powers, ensuring that the Court is and is seen to be independent of the Legislature and the Executive branch, is a key objective of the Supreme Court. Establishing the Court was an excellent achievement of the previous Labour Government, and it was right that the initial years were spent in getting it off to a successful start.

We think it is now right for it to take on more of its own powers. First and foremost would be responsibility for appointing its own chief executive. The change has significant supporters, as I know the Minister is aware, including the incumbent President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, and the Lords Constitution Committee. The chair of that Committee, Lady Jay, put the argument very succinctly when she wrote:

The Supreme Court’s independence, and the perception of its independence, requires that the Chief Executive owes her primary loyalty to the President of the Court, rather than a Minister.”

She goes on to say:

The Chief Executive is best placed to determine the staffing requirements of the Court, and…should as a matter of constitutional principle be accountable to the President and to Parliament for such issues, and not a Minister.”

This is an issue of significant constitutional importance, and it is right that we take this opportunity to make progress. The Government begged the patience of noble Lords in another place on the assurance that meaningful discussions on the matter were alive and well, with a view to addressing this issue as soon as possible. We are keen to see this happen and are minded to divide if that should be necessary. I hope the Minister will not disappoint us when he updates the Committee on his progress.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) , The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice 2:30, 12 Chwefror 2013

An end-of-term feeling is taking over. In response I can be relatively brief and, I hope, relatively sympathetic. The only point where I part company from the hon. Lady is when she described the new clause briskly as very straightforward. Sadly, it is not as straightforward as that.

As she knows, the Government are open-minded on the measures. She referred to debate on Third Reading in the other place, where we said we were actively engaged in discussion with the Supreme Court with a view to resolving concerns about the exercise of the Lord Chancellor’s functions. I have to disappoint her in that we have been unable to progress those matters to a conclusion, though I am happy to assure her that the discussions are still going on and are genuinely constructive.

There are, as she says, important constitutional issues in play but there are also practical aspects that need to be resolved. For example, all the staff and officers at the Supreme Court, including the chief executive, are civil servants. Therefore, it is important that whatever arrangements are instituted for their appointment and  management are in alignment with general civil service practices. The hon. Lady will recognise that as a way of being fair to those currently doing those jobs. I can reassure the Committee that we are taking serious steps and that we hope—indeed, we need—to reach a conclusion on the matter soon.

I hope the Committee will accept that a full and detailed examination of the issues with the Supreme Court, as we are now undertaking, is a proper and reasonable course to take. In that context, I hope that although I may have disappointed her in some things, the hon. Member for Darlington will be content to withdraw her new clause on the clear understanding that we continue to examine the issues it raises with the President of the Court, with the view to reaching an agreed position very soon. I do not rule out bringing a Government amendment on Report to that end. I ask her to bear with us on this for a little longer.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice)

What the Minister has said is reassuring. He has hinted, if I understood him correctly, that he may be willing to bring something forward on Report. We are a little disappointed because the Bill has been in Parliament since May 2012 and the issue has been raised throughout the Bill’s passage so far; we would say that the Government have had quite a long time to get their ducks in a row on this. I am not going to withdraw the clause today, and I would like to test the Committee’s view on it.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Ceidwadwyr, Dover

In light of the Minister’s assurances, would it not be better for this, and the will of the House, to be tested on Report rather than today?

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice)

No, I don’t think so. I think we are here to make these sorts of decisions. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I would like to disagree with that, and press the clause to a division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 11.

Rhif adran 8 Decision Time — New Clause 6 - Chief Executive of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Ie: 7 MPs

Na: 11 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.