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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Tories hail lord chancellor vote
Lord Falconer
Falconer played down the disagreement
The Tories have hailed peers' decision to reject government plans to abolish the historic post of lord chancellor.

A vote in the House of Lords on Tuesday saw peers back a Tory amendment to the Constitutional Affairs Bill by 240 to 208 leading to a government defeat.

Conservative Alan Duncan said the plan, which was not in Labour's manifesto, had been "dumped on Parliament".

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said the vote had turned into one about the job title rather than his role.

All in a name?

"One of the striking things about the debate this evening was there didn't seem to be much disagreement about what the role of the lord chancellor should be," the current incumbent told BBC2's Newsnight.

"It was agreed that he shouldn't be a judge any more. It was agreed he shouldn't be head of the judiciary any more. It was agreed a Judicial Appointments Commission should appoint the judges.

There didn't seem to be much disagreement about what the role of the lord chancellor should be
Lord Falconer
lord chancellor

"The issue was about what he should be called... It's about a name."

Mr Duncan meanwhile told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that peers had made the right choice.

"It was not in the manifesto. The prime minister did not even tell his Cabinet. There was no inkling it was being contemplated.

"It was just dumped on Parliament as the product of a tantrum.

"It was designed to rid the prime minister of his old chum Lord Irvine and replace him with his new chum Lord Falconer."

Future defeats?

Peers will continue to debate the bill in the autumn and may defeat the government on its proposal to create a Supreme Court to take over the judicial functions of the House of Lords. It will then go to the Commons.

The lord chancellor is the country's senior judge, a government minister and speaker of the House of Lords.

The bill had proposed his jobs be split between a cabinet minister for the constitution, a more powerful lord chief justice and speaker in the House of Lords.

An alliance of Tories and crossbenchers opposed the government plans because they said it would threaten judicial independence.

'Stunning setback'

During the debate, former Tory minister Lord Howe said the abolition of the post "could be almost compared with the events of September 11".

He described it as the "cornerstone of the constitution".

The changes were announced as part of last year's Cabinet reshuffle, but the government was thwarted by the Lords when peers voted to send the bill to a select committee.

Speaking after the vote a Constitutional Affairs Department spokesman accused peers of "politicking" and said the house had taken a very serious step.

The BBC's Melissa Bell
"Peers accepted that the Lord Chancellor will no longer be head of the judiciary"

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