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House of Lords

Tuesday, 18th April 1995.

Reassembling after the Easter Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

Law Commission Reports: Implementation

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

    For how long each Law Commission report with a draft Bill has awaited parliamentary consideration; and how they propose to implement necessary and urgent law reforms of a non-controversial nature.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, the information requested by my noble friend is set out in Appendix 6 to the 29th annual report of the Law Commission. The recommendations in five Law Commission reports were implemented in the last Session of Parliament and it is anticipated that at least eight reports will be implemented this Session. The oldest report on which the Government have yet to announce their decision is that on Liability for Chancel Repairs, which raised a number of technical difficulties. The use of the Special Standing Committee procedure for non-contentious Bills, as recommended by the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, offers the prospect of implementation of Bills which otherwise might not find a place in the legislative timetable. It has already been used to good effect in relation to Bills implementing Law Commission reports.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that exceedingly encouraging reply, particularly with reference to the Jellicoe Committee on non-controversial Bills. Can my noble and learned friend confirm that between 1988 and 1993 only three Law Commission Bills reached the statute book; that in 1994 five reached the statute book, and that in 1994-95 it is expected that eight will reach the statute book? And will that gathering of momentum be continued in the future?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as my noble friend says, momentum has gathered; and I am extremely glad that that is so. The principal reason for the gathering of that momentum is the new procedure suggested by the committee chaired by my noble friend. I hope that procedure will be appropriate for many of the Law Commission Bills. There may be some for which it is not appropriate.

My noble friend referred to "non-controversial" Bills. In this context one is really speaking of Bills that are non-controversial in a party political sense. There is normally a matter of controversy in most Law Commission Bills. The procedure suggested by my noble friend's committee proved admirable in helping

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regarding the technical issues on which controversy arose. However, the House decided some questions of controversy in a way different from that which commended itself to the Law Commission originally.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I assure the House and the noble and learned gentleman on the Woolsack—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am not sure why I am being howled down.

Lord Peston: He is not a gentleman; he is a noble Lord.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is always a gentleman; he is also ennobled. When people howl at one they should make clear what they are howling about. In so far as I transgressed, I apologise. I was merely trying to suggest to the noble and learned Lord sitting on the Woolsack that we on these Benches regard the progress being made with Law Commission Bills as distinctly encouraging and heartening. We hope that it continues.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for both formulations after the intervention. I am particularly grateful to the Opposition Front Benches for the way in which they supported moves to have the Law Commission Bills of the kind I described taken through the new procedure. I am grateful to Members from all parts of the House who participated in the work. It is quite exacting in terms of time commitment, but I hope rewarding in terms of the satisfaction of seeing good legislation of this type reaching the statute book.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, are there not long-outstanding Law Commission Bills dealing with a married woman's rights in the matrimonial home and in its contents? They go far to rectify the extraordinary situation whereby a married woman who stands by her marriage is in a worse position in those respects than a married woman who divorces.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there are recommendations from the Law Commission dealing with the property of spouses. I hope that in due course we shall be able to make progress with reforming the law in that regard. We have to consider a degree of priority in this matter. At the moment I am seeking to bring forward consideration of Law Commission proposals that deal with divorce.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that the Government's success in bringing forward Law Commission Bills, especially the Bill implementing the report on domestic violence, has been very widely welcomed? Is he further aware that his praise for the Jellicoe procedure is shared by those who are sticklers for the Committee of the Whole House procedure in general? Is he willing to agree that where

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there is such general agreement, the Private Peer's Bill may be a suitable means for taking some of these reports forward?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. The Jellicoe procedure was really intended for government Bills. So far it has been used only for government Bills. It may be that it would be suitable for Private Members' Bills also but hitherto I have not had to seek to promote any of these proposals by that route.

Earl Jellicoe: My Lords, I acknowledge with appreciation the not inconsiderable progress which has been made in this matter since it was touched on in the report of the very select Select Committee of your Lordships' House. Perhaps I may ask my noble and gentlemanly friend on the Woolsack whether he is aware that there is now an agreed procedure whereby once a year the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place and the Law Commission meet to discuss and review progress in this area? Might it not be a good thing to establish similar machinery between the appropriate committee of your Lordships' House and the Law Commission with a view, in the words of the chairman of the Law Commission,

    "to discussing possible ways in which the machinery might be fine-tuned to help move the backlog more quickly and to keep the momentum of these reforms going"?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place has a general responsibility for overseeing the work of the Lord Chancellor's Department. It is right that the Select Committee should have an opportunity of reviewing that aspect of our work. I pay tribute to the way in which the Select Committee's review of this work has helped it forward. So far as this House is concerned, I am anxious to do anything I can further to promote improvement in the methods of dealing with these matters. So far, speaking for myself, I have not identified any particular procedural reform which it would be desirable to implement. So I am content with the way matters have been handled so far. If a matter of procedure emerged, the committee on procedure of this House would be the appropriate channel in which to consider it further.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, I wonder whether I can help the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. He said that he was not aware of any procedural suggestion which might be made to facilitate the flow of these Bills through Parliament. Will he initiate discussions through the usual channels to see whether the Private Bill procedure might be adopted or adapted whereby a Bill of one Session could be carried over to the next so that there could be a greater spread throughout the Session of Law Commission Bills that are not party politically contentious?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am grateful for that suggestion. I am particularly anxious to get Bills through as quickly as possible. The opportunity for, as it were, continuing the Bill may not be entirely conducive to that aim. The pressure of the end of the

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Session looming sometimes has beneficial effects in getting the Bill through. Therefore, while I am grateful for the suggestion, so far the need for that change has not been demonstrated in the work that we have been doing.

London Underground: Funding

2.47 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to London Underground's statement, in presenting their annual plan on 16th March, that passengers are likely to be faced with a "patch and mend" service unless there is additional funding over the next five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the Government's current funding plans for London Transport should allow London Underground to make significant progress towards improving the overall state of the network as well as maintaining or enhancing existing levels of service. London Transport's corporate plan for the next five years will be carefully considered as part of the process of determining future levels of government grant.

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