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Blair's rubber stamps

(Filed: 27/11/2003)

Of all the constitutional constraints on Labour's leviathan state, there are only two left: the House of Lords and the judiciary. That is why the Queen's Speech included Bills that will damage both.

The expulsion of the remaining hereditary peers will remove one of the last elements of the Lords that owes nothing to prime ministerial patronage. The creation of a "Supreme Court", which would banish the Law Lords from sitting in the Upper House, will remove the other. The Lords, both in its legislative and its judicial capacities, is being forced to surrender the autonomy without which this country is defenceless, in extremis, against elective dictatorship.

The Government has been rightly accused by the Judges' Council of deliberately exploiting Britain's unwritten constitution to slip through fundamental changes by stealth. In most countries, such reforms would require at least a two thirds majority in Parliament or a referendum. The House of Lords Bill and the Constitutional Reform Bill both propose to set up "independent" commissions to appoint life peers and judges respectively.

Who, though, will appoint the commissioners? Why, the Government, of course. The Lords Appointments Commission will be accountable to the majority party in the Commons in other words, the Government. Its political appointments would reflect the balance of seats in the Commons and the Prime Minister would retain a veto. As for the Judicial Appointments Commission, this would "recommend" names to the Constitution Secretary, who would retain a veto. At least a third of the commissioners would be government-appointed laymen, and the commission would "seek to make the judiciary better reflect the community".

These commissions sound like typical government quangos. Their "independence" is as bogus as the title "Supreme Court". Hardly surprising that half of the Law Lords describe the Constitutional Reform Bill as "unnecessary and harmful". The expulsion of the hereditary peers is unnecessary, harmful and vindictive. If these Bills pass unamended, then in place of an independent revising chamber and an independent judiciary, we shall have two glorified rubber stamps.