HL Deb 05 December 1983 vol 445 cc871-3

2.37 p.m.

Lord Tweedsmuir

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have received the latest report of the Council on Tribunals produced upon their twenty-fifth anniversary.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, the annual report of the Council on Tribunals for 1982–1983 was published on 2nd December. The report is made to me and to my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate. This might be an appropriate moment for me to express my appreciation and that of my noble and learned friend to the chairmen and members of the council from time to time for the valuable work which they have done in the 25 years since the council was set up. There can be no doubt that the public have benefited constantly from the work of the council and, in particular, from improvements in the procedures of tribunals and inquiries which have resulted from their recommendations. I would add, if I may, that my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir made a distinguished contribution to the work of the council during his seven years as its chairman.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, may I join the noble and learned Lord in expressing our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, who has so fittingly put down this Question, bearing in mind his notable contribution as a former chairman. Is it not the case that since the council was set up by the Labour Government 25 years ago it has rendered great service in safeguarding the independence of the 60 kinds of tribunals and inquiries which it supervises and, so far as it can, in seeking to ensure that individuals affected are treated fairly? Would the 25th anniversary of the setting up of the council not be a suitable occasion for extending legal representation in tribunals? Is this also not a time for the House to be given an opportunity to review the work of the council?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for all those remarks. The question of debate is not for me, but for the usual channels. Obviously if there were such a debate, and I was so invited, I should be very glad to take part. As regards the setting up of the council by the Labour Government, if the Labour Government had done only that in the past 25 years I might almost join the noble and learned Lord's party. I note what he says about that one episode of Labour policy.

In relation to legal representation on tribunals, there are tribunals and tribunals. Some have the right to legal representation. The noble and learned Lord has referred to the 60 kinds of tribunal—certainly a large number. This development, which has largely, though not entirely, taken place since the war, was originally designed to do without lawyers. The tribunals were set up in this informal form to prevent what is called a happy hunting ground or paradise for lawyers. The question of legal representation has been considered case by case and in the light of constraints on public expenditure and manpower resources.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, if I may, I shall declare a past interest as chairman of the Council on Tribunals. May I ask the noble and learned Lord whether he is aware how much members of the council have always appreciated the help and co-operation given by him and by his noble and learned predecessor, the Lord Gardiner? Moving on from that, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether his consideration and encouragement would extend to a sentence in the leader of The Times of today, which says that the council has a good claim for further support, if it is to be able to develop its role and increase its usefulness in the future? Can the noble and learned Lord offer to all of us interested in the Council on Tribunals some encouragement in that sphere?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I remember in a previous incarnation congratulating and thanking the noble Baroness herself for the part that she had played. I think that the House would wish to add their appreciation to the noble Baroness to what I have already said to my noble friend. I hope that what she says it true about both my noble and learned predecessor and myself. We find our co-operation with the Council very valuable. It helps us perform one part of our task which otherwise we might be rather ill-equipped to perform, and therefore we find it very valuable, indeed. I did see, but I am afraid, only scanned, the leading article in The Times. I am certain that I shall give it all the support I can, bearing in mind the usual provisos.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack say whether Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that the council has enough resources to carry on with the fairness and impartiality which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as its workload has increased two and a half times over the last 25 years?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords I suppose that none of us has all the resources that we should like in order to do all the things that we should like to do, but the Council on Tribunals has only got to come to me and discuss any particular requirement that it may feel it needs and I will see what I can do for it. I cannot make promises instantly on my feet.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether his attention was drawn to a recent BBC radio programme which appeared to show that there were appalling delays in industrial tribunals which amounted to a denial of justice for some appellants? Did the noble Lord hear that programme and, if so, can he say what he is doing about it?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am afraid that the answer is, no, I did not hear it. I will inquire into the matter and perhaps write to the noble Lord if that is convenient.