HC Deb 03 March 1965 vol 707 cc1298-301
4. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Minister without Portfolio if he will now state what measures of law reform are to be introduced during the current Session.

Sir Eric Fletcher

The measures of law reform introduced this Session include the Protection from Eviction Act, the Administration of Justice Bill, the Criminal Evidence Bill, the Trades Disputes Bill, and the Backing of Warrants (Republic of Ireland) Bill. The honourable Member naturally cannot expect me to anticipate other measures in the Government's legislative programme which have not yet been introduced. In addition, the Law Commissions Bill is, of course, a major contribution to law reform and is designed to prepare the way for a series of law reform measures.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Can the Minister say when the Law Reform Commission is likely to produce reports which will lead to legislation, and, in particular, when does he think the Committee to which he referred in the previous Question will report and lead to legislation on the question of imprisonment for debt? There is a great deal of public interest in the matter.

Sir E. Fletcher

With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I have just announced the setting up of the Committee. I hope, as we all do, that it will get down to work speedily and act with despatch. The Law Commissions Bill has had a Second Reading in the House, and it is now before the Standing Committee. It is the intention of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to appoint members of the Law Commission as soon as the Bill has obtained the Royal Assent, and we hope that shortly thereafter it will be in a position to make recommendations.

Sir B. Janner

Can the Minister give us any idea when the reform of the jury system is likely to be brought before the House?

Sir E. Fletcher

I am not at the moment in a position to make any statement on that subject.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Can the Minister say whether there is included in the ambit of the law reform, in the contemplation of his noble Friend and himself, a study of the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as a prelude to formulating and initiating proposals for a Commonwealth Court of Appeal for the consideration of our Commonwealth partners?

Sir E. Fletcher

That subject will certainly not be excluded from the mat- ters which the Law Commission will be able to consider and make recommendations about if it wishes.

Mr. Lipton

Is consideration being given to the proposal brought forward in the last Session of Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) in relation to marriage law reform which would enable parties to a marriage, separated for many years, to take divorce proceedings for the termination of the marriage?

Sir E. Fletcher

That is a subject which is constantly in the minds of all hon. Members.

8. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister without Portfolio if he will make a statement on the nature of the law reform he plans to introduce in the next six months.

Sir Eric Fletcher

The Law Commissions Bill has had its Second Reading and is now in Standing Committee. The Law Commissioners, when established, will be closely concerned with the introduction of further measures of law reform. I think it would be better not at this stage to anticipate what their proposals will be.

Mr. Hamilton

Does that reply mean that we have to wait until the Commission reports before any action can be taken in any field at all in the next six months? Can my hon. Friend say whether there is an order of priorities, within the knowledge of the Government, about what will be done in this field in the next six months? Can he indicate specifically whether the Government have any intention of facilitating the Measure and enabling the House to modernise the law on abortion, which is causing increasing concern on both sides of the House and in the country?

Sir E. Fletcher

One of the first tasks of the Law Commissioners will be to make recommendations with regard to questions of priority, but the rapidity with which measures of law reform can be introduced depends to some extent upon the Parliamentary timetable.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Does not the Minister agree that a great deal of work has been done over the years on the whole question of law reform? Will he say what is being done to try to simplify the timetable of the House of Commons, which is the real hold-up to further measures of law reform? Can he further say what is being done to try to secure more skilled Parliamentary draftsmen?

Sir E. Fletcher

In answer to the first part of the noble Lady's supplementary question, the Select Committee on Procedure is considering this question. I gave evidence before it recently. It would obviously be wrong for me to attempt to anticipate its report, but I hope that it will be received at an early date. The question of an adequate supply of skilled Parliamentary draftsmen is a matter which has engaged the attention of my noble Friend and myself. We are satisfied that some of the fears that have been expressed on the subject are exaggerated and that there will be no difficulty in recruiting the services of a sufficient number of Parliamentary draftsmen to enable the measures of law reform which we envisage to be drafted.

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