HC Deb 22 March 1965 vol 709 cc276-9

2.45 a.m.

Sir J. Hobson

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 3, line 45, at the end to insert: Provided that no person shall be so appointed who is or who is intended to perform the functions of a Parliamentary counsel or draftsman. I heard the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) say that the country should know what is going on. What is going on is the discussion late at night, at the instance of the Government Whips, of a very important Bill. On business last week we asked whether it was right to take the Bill at this hour, and we understood that the debate would proceed for only a reasonable time of two hours or so. We have not objected to continuing the consideration of the Bill, for the Government's convenience. This is an important Bill, and every Amendment moved has been important. When the Bill is being sensibly discussed it is not right that it should be objected to, seated, by an hon. Member. If he does not like sitting at this late hour, he should go home.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us not be deflected by interventions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should speak to the Amendment.

Sir J. Hobson

The object of the Amendment is to secure that the rare and valuable skills of Parliamentary draftsmen and Parliamentary counsel are not dispersed but are kept together as a team and that they should be part of that team throughout their activities. They are highly skilled individuals who are difficult to find and take a long, time to train. There is no doubt that the Law Commissions will need skilled help from Parliamentary draftsmen in proposing Bills, and the Amendment was put down to ensure that this particular skill is not dispersed.

It will be possible for Parliamentary counsel and draftsmen to be attached to the Law Commissioners but still remain part of the team of Parliamentary counsel. There is a great deal of co-ordination to be done in the work of Parliamentary counsel; there is not only the Government's demands on them but there will still be in existence the Statute Law Revision Committee, probably the existing Law Reform Committee and the Home Secretary's Criminal Law Reform Committee, and all these will require the services of Parliamentary counsel. It must be part of the Government's duties, and of the Treasury in particular, to see what use is made of these important and rare, skilful individuals.

Because it was felt that the Government should keep control in that way, the Amendment was put down to see that we do not send to the Law Commissioners a number of these gentlemen and that the Law Commissioners do not become a factory which begins producing on its own, with a different mystique and different skill, and by different methods, Bills which might be in a different form from those which would be prepared by Parliamentary counsel as part of a team.

It may be a small point, but it is nevertheless important. We must see that this new machinery does not disturb the arrangements which we already have from Parliamentary counsel and the way in which Bills are drafted and brought before the House. I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment which deals with one of the acknowledged bottlenecks in all law reform—the provision of Parliamentary counsel. I hope that the Minister will give some indication of how the Government see the relationship between the Law Commissions and Parliamentary counsel, bearing in mind that it will be possible for one Parliamentary counsel to be attached to a Law Commission—but attached only.

Sir Eric Fletcher

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was quite right to raise this important point, but I cannot invite the House to accept the Amendment. I am sure he will appreciate that the Amendment is really inconsistent with the duties of the Commission under Clause 3(1,d), where one of the specific duties is to …undertake the preparation of draft Bills pursuant to any such programme approved by the Minister and the Commissioners will want some Parliamentary draftsmen to fulfil these duties.

While I cannot accept the Amendment, I agree that this is an important matter and assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it has had the most careful attention of the Lord Chancellor. My right hon. and noble Friend appreciates, as must a member of any Government, the importance of conserving and making the best use of the limited number of Parliamentary counsel and their skill, and of Parliamentary draftsmen, and the importance of keeping them together as a team.

In parenthesis, I do accept that always, in every branch of the law there must be one, and only one mystique of Parliamentary draftsmanship, but I would point out that even at present some three or four of the total number of Parliamentary draftsmen, limited though their number is, are always engaged in the work of consolidation. That is, not always the same persons, but the same number, and we are very conscious of the great importance of preserving the homogeneity of the team of Parliamentary counsel, whether engaged on work emanating from the Law Commission or on the ordinary work of legislation on which they are now engaged.

Although it is often said that this is a bottleneck, my own opinion is that the talk of the bottleneck has been considerably exaggerated. We are satisfied that we shall be able to recruit the necessary number of Parliamentary draftsmen to carry out at least the English duties expected of them.

Sir J. Hobson

The Minister says that the existing team circulates in being attached to the present Statute Law Revision Committee, and other bodies. This is what I envisaged—namely, that they would be attached, but would circulate as Parliamentary counsel, and not be directly employed as members of the staff of the Commission. That was the only purpose of my Amendment. If the Government are thinking along those lines, I should be glad to hear.

Sir E. Fletcher

This is really a Treasury point and it depends on whose Vote they come under. While I do not claim to know the final answer, the point is that the team will be kept together.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Would the Minister go just a little further and say that, in fact, this team will be kept together and seconded to the Commission where necessary? This may seem a small point. I agree that Amendment No. 17 may not be suitable, but so long as the Minister will give the undertaking that this will be done, perhaps in another place, and since he has referred to Clause 3 (1, d), it will go a long way towards meeting us if he will agree that this small, but important, matter will be studied.

Amendment negatived.

Bill read the Third time and passed.