HL Deb 05 June 1980 vol 409 cc1585-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many legislative draftsmen there were in the parliamentary counsel office on 5th May in each of the years 1975, 1979 and 1980, including those engaged on Consolidation Bills and those seconded to the Law Commission; and what steps are being taken to implement the (6th) recommendation of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, that all available methods should be used to recruit and train more draftsmen as a matter of high priority.

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames)

My Lords, on 5th May 1975 there were 22 legislative draftsmen working full-time in the parliamentary counsel office, including those engaged on Consolidation Bills and those seconded to the Law Commission. The corresponding numbers for 5th May 1979 and 5th May 1980 were 24 full-time and two part-time, and 20 full-time and three part-time respectively. Since May one additional draftsman has been recruited and three more are expected to be in post shortly.

We are, of course, constantly watching the staffing levels in the parliamentary counsel office.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that unexpectedly, partially satisfactory reply, I should like to ask whether he is aware that, in almost every Session of Parliament—whichever Government are in power—the parliamentary counsel are under great pressure and we need more and more consolidation? It takes five to six years to train a parliamentary draftsman so that he is fully competent to take charge of a major Bill. With those facts in mind, will he press on with this?


Well, my Lords, I do not think that we are doing badly. If I am partially satisfying my noble friend Lord Renton, then that is already something. As regards pressing on, I do not honestly believe that the real trouble as regards Bills flows from the number of parliamentary draftsmen and parliamentary counsel. I think that noble Lords on both sides of the House will agree that frequently the faults lie with those of us who are Ministers who very often expect miracles from parliamentary draftsmen.


My Lords, is not the real mischief too much legislation? It well becomes me to say that in the presence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who fulminated against it during the last Administration. It is worse under this Administration and your Lordships' House must bear the brunt of it for the rest of the summer.


My Lords, I cannot totally disagree with the noble and learned Lord's sentiment. He has put his finger on a very tender pressure point, but it will be better next year!


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that those of us on both sides of the House who have had many years of experience know that the euphoria of a party winning an election often tends to overload the legislative programme? Nevertheless, I think that from this side of the House some of us who have had to read the hard work of these draftsmen would like to pay a tribute to the years of work and the meticulous understanding of semantics which these people possess.


My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and I of course associate myself with what he has said. I think that the work that they do is absolutely miraculous considering all the pressures that are put upon them.


My Lords, will the noble Lord cause some consideration to be given to the Finance Acts and the taxation statutes which really are, in many respects, I hope he will agree, so obscure that it takes years to understand even a couple of clauses?


My Lords, it is quite something for me to know that the noble Lord opposite shares my view and finds it difficult as well. It is quite something to know that it is not only me who finds them difficult to understand. However, I would ask the noble Lord to be understanding to me, because he has asked a rather far-reaching question, whereas the original Question concerned how many parliamentary draftsmen there were at a particular date.

Back to