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5.44 p.m.

Lord Wilberforce: My Lords, I am always glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I am particularly happy to be able to associate myself with everything he said about the three very interesting maiden speeches we have heard.

In previous debates on the Address--last year and in 1992 --I have ventured to argue the case for greater implementation of Law Commission reports. I gave your Lordships--at great length, I fear--particulars of reports and the need for their implementation. Last year, I also suggested that there should be a specific reference in the gracious Speech to law reform in order to draw attention to the importance of the subject. I am very happy that both points have to some extent been met, with the very valuable support of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

Five Law Commission reports were implemented last year, and we hear from the noble Baroness that a number of other reports accepted by the Government may be implemented this Session. I was sorry not to hear among those she listed--perhaps my hearing was defective--any mention of offences against the person, on which the Law Commission produced a magnificent report last year. That is a field where reform is urgently necessary. Such reform, says the Law Commission, would save a great deal of judicial time and money. Perhaps there may be second thoughts on the matter.

I was also glad to hear that the Government accept the usefulness of the special procedure of the Public Bill Committee which enables the reports, if technical and uncontroversial, to be implemented rapidly. I was glad too to see the reference at the end of the gracious Speech, in somewhat laconic terms, to further measures on law reform.

I shall not weary the House further with elaboration on particular Law Commission matters which should be taken up. I wish merely to take up two points. The first is that law reform is not limited to Law Commission reports. In my belief, throughout the country there is great pressure from many directions for other measures of law reform going well beyond technical and non-controversial measures such as are suitable for the revised procedure.

I should like to quote two passages. The first is from the Law Commission president in his introduction to the latest report. He says:


I confess to having used a good deal of sticking plaster in my time.

In its last report the Law Commission says:


    "Laws which so many people have to use, often at great personal expense, remain unsimple, unmodern, inaccessible and unreformed".

Those are impressive words. They should remind us of the depth of the need.

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Our law does indeed require constant attention in the way of active modernising to keep up with technological and social movements in such areas as embryology and information technology, changes in culture and many other areas. That was clear in the debates on the criminal justice Bill last Session. Taking advantage of the very wide terms of the Long Title, a considerable number of amendments for changes to the law having little or no relation to the objectives of the Bill, which were law and order, were nevertheless brought forward by various noble Lords and Members in another place. It was called the "Christmas tree procedure" of hanging packages on the tree but was criticised as being an abuse and for its effect of placing a burden on Ministers. However, it reflected the great pressure brought about by the genuine need for reform.

Apparently we are not to have a criminal justice Bill this Session. We are not to be given our Christmas tree. However, we still want our packages, tree or no tree. If those are brought forward, as they may well be, from whatever source, I hope very much that the Government will give them careful thought and support.

Perhaps I may mention two matters which fall outside the common area of Law Commission reports. One has been mentioned in a number of speeches. I refer to the criminal cases review committee. I swim a little against the popular tide. I am glad that it is being brought forward. I commend the Government, contrary to criticism that they have received, for taking time to produce the Bill. It is one thing to produce a general recommendation by a Royal Commission for procedure to correct miscarriages of justice. It is quite another to set up a careful and workable procedure. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He pointed out that we have to get the personnel, procedure, chairmanship, terms of reference, and so on, right. We shall have to consider the matter carefully when it comes before the House.

I hope that the Bill justifies the high hopes put on it. However, surely more important than correction of miscarriages of justice is the avoidance of miscarriage of justice in the first place. That has to be worked on, with careful examination of police procedures, the right to silence, effective confessions, corroboration and the conduct of trials. Those factors are being worked on carefully in existing legislation and procedure. One must hope that such endeavours bear fruit in due course.

The second Bill I wish to suggest for inclusion in the legislative programme concerns arbitration. I argued for it last year and was told that there was no legislative time. The subject is a matter of great importance to trade and commerce. Arbitration procedure is an extremely valuable export industry. A Bill has been drafted and widely circulated. Consultation has taken place; it surely must be ripe for introduction. The Bill should be brought in. It would be a good candidate for filling the Post Office gap.

Secondly, I wish to refer to the form of legislation. I shall refer to only one aspect because I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale will speak later and may make more effective points. Our legislation is far too long. To prove that one has only to

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look at the shelves in the Library. It seems that our statutes and regulations have got into the wrong compartments. Statutes are now drafted as though they were regulations with all the details that one should have in regulations. Regulations are given the sanctity which should be given only to statutes. We need simple legislation and regulations that we can debate. We are not unique. The Bill which President and Mrs. Clinton drafted on health care and which was presented to Congress contained no fewer than 1,340 pages. That is about the length of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. We cannot live up to that, I am afraid. But we did not do too badly with the Finance Act 1994 which contained 464 pages--about the equivalent of a non-prime ministerial biography. However, 464 pages on a non-controversial Bill is a bit much.

I extend a hearty welcome to an initiative taken outside official circles by a body concerned with fiscal legislation of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, is president. That body has taken up the task of examining fiscal legislation to see whether it cannot be made shorter and more intelligible, in particular in the approaching age of self-assessment. I hope very much that if the Government have the chance they will support that initiative either morally or, if necessary, with finance. I hope that such an initiative may be extended to other areas.

With those brief comments, I am happy to support the Government's programme of legislation and to support the Motion.

5.57 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, my few remarks follow rather aptly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I wish to say a word about possible developments on the devolution of decision-making to Scotland and in particular to draw your Lordships' attention to implications that are emerging for the whole of the United Kingdom.

During the 1992 general election campaign, your Lordships will know that the major issue north of the Border was Scotland's place in the United Kingdom, whether the Union was working as well as it should, and what could or should be done. One important outcome of that vigorous debate was that of the 72 Members of Parliament elected for Scottish constituencies, 69 had fought on manifestos in support of the Union. Only three were for breaking up the Union.

During the campaign my right honourable friend the Prime Minister showed great sensitivity to the strength of feeling in Scotland. He gave an undertaking that, if re-elected, his Government would carry out a review, would take stock of how the 300 year-old Union was in fact operating and would come forward, if possible, with proposals for improvement.

Those proposals were published in March 1993, as Cm 2225, entitled Scotland in the Union, a Partnership for Good. Noble Lords who have had the opportunity to study the document will know that the Government concluded that the working of the Union indeed needs updating. The document makes a number of practical proposals varying from ideas for raising Scotland's profile in Europe, making the Scottish Office more

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accessible, increasing and clarifying answerability of Scottish Office Ministers to the Scottish people, and improving the handling of Scottish legislation. Under that last heading, one interesting proposal arises now from the gracious Speech. Briefly, the proposal is that the Committee stage of certain Scottish Bills should be taken by a Special Scottish Standing Committee sitting in Scotland under an existing procedure. That existing procedure would allow evidence to be taken from relevant voluntary and other organisations, for example, or from Ministers. Before the Committee examines the Bill, line by line, such evidence would be taken. There is also the possibility that the Second Reading debate might be taken in Scotland by the Scottish Grand Committee which consists of all Scottish MPs, with the Bill returning to Westminster, if necessary, for the formal vote.

I understand that the Children (Scotland) Bill--the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, spoke about it--is likely to be published this week. At a conference yesterday, my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie stated that that Bill is a candidate for the new procedure. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish can say whether there is agreement in another place that the new procedure will be used for the Committee stage of that Bill. And what about Second Reading? When replying perhaps he will answer the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, regarding time. The noble and learned Lord thought that six weeks would be required by voluntary organisations between publication of the Bill and the beginning of the Committee stage of the procedure. Will that time period be available? It would be interesting to know that.

The new procedure will need the agreement of the usual channels and all the participants, but, if it can be achieved, it would be the first Bill to be discussed in Scotland since the Scottish Parliament was adjourned in 1707. There would be enormous interest in both the procedure and the Bill.

To return to the general election, your Lordships will remember that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had as the centrepiece of their Scottish manifesto the setting up of a Scottish parliament. Two weeks ago Mr. Tony Blair, on his first visit to Scotland as Labour Party leader, reaffirmed his commitment to the Union and pledged that should a Labour Government come to power they would legislate in their very first year of office for a Scottish Parliament which would,


    "have control over exclusively Scottish affairs".

But Mr. Blair's plans are not confined to Scotland. He has himself given that indication, and the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, has made it even plainer in this House. Speaking from the Labour Front Bench during the Committee stage of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, he discussed how the Labour Party planned to overcome the so-called West Lothian question which had haunted him and his colleagues in another place during the passage of the doomed 1978 legislation. The question, your Lordships may recollect, is: why should Scottish MPs be entitled to vote at Westminster on exclusively English matters when

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English MPs would not be entitled to vote on exclusively Scottish matters because those would be dealt with in the Scottish Parliament?

At col. 668 of Hansard for 28th June 1994, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, said:


    "The situation now is different. A Labour government intend to establish regional assemblies as well as a Scottish Parliament and a Parliament for Wales. So the West Lothian question will not arise. There is now an answer ... which I freely admit did not exist in 1978".

So there we have it. The West Lothian question is to be solved--and it has to be solved--by establishing assemblies all over Great Britain and, by implication, they would have to be assemblies with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament. As I asked the noble Lord, Lord Lester, do the English regions want such assemblies? What would happen to the West Lothian question until such bodies were set up? Or is the intention of the Labour Party to legislate for the whole package in a Labour Government's first year?

Likewise, there is the proposed method of funding. Mr. George Robertson, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, in a speech last Friday said that the current proposals are that Scotland would retain all the income tax and value added tax collected in Scotland, that there would be a grant from Westminster to make up the balance to meet the current need under the so-called Barnett formula which is used at the moment, and a Scottish parliament would be able to add three pence to or reduce by three pence the basic rate of income tax set at Westminster.

Would that be a recipe for the stability of the Union? As Scots found themselves paying three pence above or below the basic rate of income tax which everyone else was paying in the United Kingdom, that would soon be attributed, surely, north and south of the Border, not to the Scottish Parliament's decision-making but to the size of the grant decided at Westminster. Imagine the divisiveness. Or does Mr. Blair have it in mind to use the same funding system for all the assemblies all over Great Britain?

These are important questions and sooner or later they and many more will have to be answered. Opinion far beyond Scotland will have to be tested about many unavoidable implications across the United Kingdom for what is done in Scotland.

In an article in this week's Scotland on Sunday newspaper, under the headline,


    "In this battle, don't forget the Tories"

Mr. Kenny Farquharson wrote:


    "Of the systems on offer to the people of Scotland the Tories' is the one that has evolved most since the general election".

To an extent, that is true. But it seems to me that the Government are not proposing or implementing any new system. They are simply asking parliamentarians of all parties or none to forgo a few of their traditional habits and procedures, and to join in updating the way we all work within the Union. It seems that happily most people are prepared to co-operate.

Whether, added to that kind of process, there will ever be great changes to structures will depend, I suggest, on the nature of the structures proposed--we still know little about those that are being proposed by the parties

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opposite --and also how the electorate of the whole United Kingdom sees them, as well as the electorate in Scotland. There is still a long way to go.


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