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Breakfast with Frost
BBC Breakfast With Frost Interview: Lord Falconer Constitutional Affairs Secretary on Sunday 15 June 2003.

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

Lord Falconer, Constitutional Affairs Secretary
Fundamental reform of the legal system was "very, very, necessary".
DAVID FROST: Well now, the reshuffle news may have trickled out over two days and it's been greeted by the papers as a bungled operation. Yesterday's Independent talked of the clumsy shake-up, made references to charges of cronyism attached to the new Cabinet minister who summed up the reshuffle as displaying a growing sense of drift. The same story has been reflected as we heard earlier, in paper after paper today. But the winner, the winner, was announced as, good morning Charlie.

LORD FALCONER: Hello David.

DAVID FROST: Lord Falconer, who is the head now of the Department of Constitutional affairs and maybe, with all the confusion in the papers this morning, it may well be that you are the one person who can explain exactly what's gone on. It's been a bit of a farce. Let's start with the point about Wales and Scotland. We heard the announcement first of all that you were going to be in charge of Wales and Scotland, then that the spokesman in the House was going to be Peter Hain for Wales and Alastair Darling for Scotland. Now, who reports to who? Do they have to clear what they say to you as the boss of Wales and Scotland, or do you have to clear what you say with them.

LORD FALCONER: No, of course I am not their boss. What has happened in relation to Scotland and Wales is simply that as a result of the devolution settlement the parliament in Scotland, the Assembly in Wales, but much, much less is done in London and much, much more is done in Cardiff and Edinburgh. As a result the jobs of the Secretary of State for Wales and Scotland get much less and that is reflected in the sensible administrative changes that were made on Thursday.

DAVID FROST: But what were those changes? Because first of all we had that then the spokesman saying the two posts had been abolished and we had this quote that the sign was being taken down outside the old Scottish Office because they thought there wasn't one any more. And then they put it back because there was one. Is there still a Scottish Office?

LORD FALCONER: Yes, there is still a Scottish office.

DAVID FROST: And are you the boss of it or are they?

LORD FALCONER: The officials work in my department but politically those offices are led by Peter and Alastair. There's still a very strong voice in the Cabinet for Scotland and Wales. And that was always the intention of the changes on Thursday.

DAVID FROST: I see, but Charlie, if you disagree on something. You and Alastair, you and Peter, not that you ever would of course, but if you did. Who wins? I don't see who wins.

LORD FALCONER: The officials supporting Alastair and Peter are for sensible administrative reasons in the constitutional affairs department. But the Secretary of State, the voice for Scotland and Wales, is Alastair and Peter. I doubt there's going to be any difficulty about that at all. It is simply recognising what are the consequences of the devolution settlement.

DAVID FROST: So what do you do about Wales and Scotland?

LORD FALCONER: The officials are in my department. Scotland and Wales are dealt with by Peter and Alastair. If there are issues about the detail of devolution, not about Wales or about Scotland, but the constitutional aspects. And there are none on the horizon and that will be dealt with by my department. But the interests of Scotland and Wales are dealt with by Peter and Alastair. And I don't think there's even been any difficulty in relation to that.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time everyone's very worried because Alastair Darling has got arguably the toughest job in the entire Cabinet, trying to sort out transport. And now he's going to be a part-time Transport Minister because he's got this job as well.

LORD FALCONER: He's going to be very fully focused on transport and it's clear that he'll be able as well to do that which is necessary to be the Secretary of State for Scotland. It's a perfectly possible and sensible arrangement.

DAVID FROST: It sounds fraught with terrible difficulties

LORD FALCONER: I don't think so. You can make it sound fraught with difficulties but it was something that very many people were calling for and it's a sensible reflection of the devolution settlement.

DAVID FROST: What about the Supreme Court we heard mentioned over there. Who's going to appoint that? Who's going to be the head of appointing that?

LORD FALCONER: Well as far as the Supreme Court is concerned the effect of the announcement on Thursday is that we would have a Supreme Court but the detail of that has got to be worked out after proper consultation. The critical change in relation to the judiciary is that they must be independent and their independence must be effectively preserved. The current situation is that a Cabinet Minister can sit as a judge which is ridiculous. That needs to be changed and that was the effect of the changes that were announced on Thursday. Again the precise detail of how it is done must be fully consulted and that's what we will be doing.

DAVID FROST: But that's what everyone's bewildered about. Why didn't the consultation take place first? Almost everything you have to say, well we're going to work that out in time. We've announced the Supreme Court but we've got no bloody idea how we're going to run it.

LORD FALCONER: Most people agree with the principle of what was announced on Thursday. Everybody agrees that profound consultation is required on the how. But the idea of properly embedded and enduring methods to appoint judges which are independent of the Executive is very very important and that's what the commitment on Thursday represents. I don't think that's an issue. An issue is how you do it.

DAVID FROST: But in this situation Charlie, there was a briefing on Thursday that said there is now going to be no longer a Lord Chancellor and then you were a Lord Chancellor and how many, you've got three titles now. Or maybe another one today.

LORD FALCONER: It was made clear on Thursday that the Lord Chancellor's role could not be abolished straight away, therefore I would continue to be the Lord Chancellor and exercise his powers until such time as statutory arrangements could be made to replace him. And that was always made clear.

DAVID FROST: What other posts? You are still Speaker of the House of Lords?

LORD FALCONER: For as long as the House of Lords wish the Lord Chancellor to sit on the Woolsack I will continue to do that. It's a matter for the House of Lords to decide whether or not they do want a Government Minister to perform that role. I think that again it's not right that a Government Minister should be the person who is, as it were, arbitrating on the issue about what goes on in the House of Lords.

DAVID FROST: Whereabouts, do you inherit Derry Irvine's salary?

LORD FALCONER: No I don't.

DAVID FROST: Oh dear!

LORD FALCONER: Thank you for your commiserations. I am taking the salary that's paid to Cabinet Ministers in the Lords, not the salary that's paid to the Lord Chancellor.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the change in the legal set-up in this country, what do you think this whole mish-mash of things is going to achieve?

LORD FALCONER: Two things. One, it is absolutely going to embed in an enduring way the independence of the judiciary. But separately from that, it is very, very important that the justice system and particularly the criminal justice system, works in a way that delivers for the people who use the system - the victims, the witnesses and the public. All the time I think I've got to be focusing on, is the system working for the public it's supposed to serve. It's got to be focused on that and not focused on, as it were, the providers within the system.

DAVID FROST: And did this whole department of constitutional affairs, did that come about because it was in fact David Blunkett wouldn't have a justice ministry, or because Alan Milburn shocked everybody with his resignation and threw everything into chaos, I mean, was it a last minute idea on the back of an envelope.

LORD FALCONER: No it was not. And ...

DAVID FROST: A big envelope!

LORD FALCONER: No, and the way you are describing the reshuffle is by reference to all of the speculation in the papers that have gone before and you know better than I that in relation to, for example, who got jobs in the reshuffle, 99.99% of that speculation was wrong. So to judge it by that is the wrong approach. The right approach is to say what is it that is achieved by this reshuffle. It is a fundamental reform of the legal system and that was very very necessary.

DAVID FROST: A couple of the papers today Derry Irvine doesn't altogether agree with it himself.

LORD FALCONER: He in his letter of resignation to the Prime Minister indicates he thinks the time has come for him to leave the government. He has been one of the greatest reformers in the government over the last ...

DAVID FROST: Does he support these reforms?

LORD FALCONER: He absolutely supports the idea of ensuring independence of the judiciary and that was made absolutely clear in the correspondence between him and the Prime Minister.

DAVID FROST: But does he support this new department? Do you think, you don't know?

LORD FALCONER: He has always been a keen supporter of reform. The precise detail of what happened will depend upon the consultation.

DAVID FROST: Well you've been almost one of the most popular men of the House of Lords and I think you're going to have a very good sense of humour in sorting all this stuff out in the near future. You were once the Prime Minister's flat-mate, how has he changes from then till now?

LORD FALCONER: He has remained very very similar to how he has always been and one of the greatest characteristics he's always displayed is keeping his feet firmly on the ground with his family.

DAVID FROST: We'll take a break.

NEWS HEADLINES.

Thank you for being with us Charlie this morning. One final question, can you say to me with a completely straight face, everything about this reshuffle has gone perfectly according to plan?

LORD FALCONER: Look at the substance, David, of the reshuffle. That's the critical thing.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS.


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