Constitutional Renewal

In our Opposition Day debate on 15 May 2007, we called for the strengthening of Parliamentary approval of international treaties. 

Our own Democracy Taskforce, chaired by My Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe, has proposed that international treaties should be exempt from the Royal Prerogative and should be required to be laid before Parliament with an explanatory document.

But why does the Government believe that statutory change is necessary, when a resolution of the House of Commons would be adequate?

The consultation document says that proposals on Parliamentary approval would relate to "new international treaties" - but what about existing ones?  The EU Constitutional Treaty, signed by the Prime Minister in Lisbon last week, which this House will have a chance to vote on, is nonetheless not being put to a vote of the people. 

Given the frequency of deployments and the controversy that this has created, there is a growing consensus in this country that the decision to go to war requires democratic legitimacy.

We have already said that Parliamentary assent, such as a resolution of the House of Commons, should be required to commit troops to war, international armed conflict or peace-keeping activity.  We would favour this being done by the development of a parliamentary convention.

The consultation paper proposes that apart from informing this House, there would be "no requirement for any further Parliamentary procedure". 

But if the Government really wants to strengthen Parliament, should not this House be able to have a decisive say if the Government makes the wrong call?

Of course there are serious issues to do with the potential for a negative vote when troops are already in the field, but there should be no blank cheque.  In matters as critical as these, the public would expect that when there is a major deployment in an emergency, why should there not be an opportunity for retrospective approval - not just an obligation on the Prime Minister to inform Parliament?

Mr Speaker, it is right that this House should vote before troops are committed to military action overseas. But we had a vote in March 2003 before the war in Iraq.  And this House was not given a full and accurate account of the position. Does the Lord Chancellor not appreciate that what has caused a haemorrhaging of public trust in government is not the failure to give Parliament a vote, but that the government of which he was Foreign Secretary misled the public on the issue.

Mr Speaker, we welcome moves to strengthen the Intelligence and Security Committee. Can he confirm, therefore, that appointments to that committee will not be in the gift of the government whips?

Mr Speaker, we welcome the measures to allow protests around Parliament. Indeed, I said at the time when this reprehensible legislation was being passed that it was more appropriate to Tiananmen Square than Parliament Square.

Could the Minister explain how exactly such a flagrant attack on freedom of expression was not found to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act?  Was this not the example of this act, which has interfered with our ability to deal with terrorists and serious criminals, but has not secured important civil liberties?
Mr Speaker, it is unfortunate that the Government find themselves in the position of trying to ensure greater independence for the appointment of judges, when they have only recently done far more to threaten the independence of the judiciary by forcing the judges - without prior consultation and still without their agreement - into a Department where their budget is imperilled by the prisons crisis.

Can the Lord Chancellor now tell the House when he will be able to make a statement on negotiations with the judiciary on protecting their independence in the new Ministry of Justice?
We welcome measures to limit political involvement in judicial appointments. Does the Secretary of State now accept that ensuring judicial independence is far more important than gestures like moving the judiciary to a different building on the other side of Parliament Square - an exercise that the Government now admit will cost more than £100 million to set up and £12.3 million a year to run when the current arrangements cost virtually nothing.
However, 'independence' is not the only principle which guides judicial appointments. It is quite right that judges should have to be competent, diligent and people of the utmost integrity. Above all, as the paper says 'linked to independence is the principle that judges should be appointed on merit'. How does the Lord Chancellor reconcile that principle with the commitment to ensuring that judges are drawn from diverse communities - can he now rule out any suggestion of any kind of quotas or positive discrimination in judicial appointments?

Mr Speaker, all three of the consultative documents which the Government has published today are welcome, and we will engage fully in debate on them.

The Governance of Britain green paper says that the Government wants to forge a new relationship between government and citizen. But does the Lord Chancellor not understand that there will be no such new relationship until trust is re-built?

Talking about strengthening Parliament will count for nothing if Parliament is undermined, as it was when the Prime Minister cynically made his announcement of troop withdrawals to the press.

Talking about giving people more power will count for nothing if the Government puts party interests ahead of voters' interests, as the Electoral Commission found that it did in relation to the Scottish elections.

Talking about trust will count for nothing if promises are made and then broken, as they were broken yesterday by the Prime Minister when it became clear that foreign national prisoners are not being deported when he pledged that they would be.

Isn't the uncomfortable truth for the Government that their pretence of embracing a new politics has already been undone by their addiction to spin?

And today's limited announcements, worthy though they may be, aren't enough to change that fact.

Nick Herbert