HL Deb 17 December 1987 vol 491 cc828-30

11.22 a.m.

Lord Renton

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

The Question was follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Statute Law Committee or a sub-committee thereof will be given the responsibility of keeping the structure and language of the statutes under continuous review and of reporting to Parliament not less often than every three years.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate told the House on 11th November, the Government doubt whether any great practical benefits would flow from having the Statute Law Committee, or a sub-committee of it, keep the structure and language of the statutes under review.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that unfortunately rather short reply. Is he aware that his Statute Law Committee which has been operating since 1868 and is responsible, as I understand it, for advising him on legislation is composed of very eminent people who normally meet only once a year? With the help of one of its sub-committees, would it not be of tremendous value if the Statute Law Committee were to consider statutory trends in the drafting and structure of legislation and what further improvements might be made? It should bear in mind that there is widespread anxiety about the quality of our legislation. Would it not he a good idea if its reports were laid before Parliament from time to time?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it is certainly true that the Statute Law Committee consists of very eminent people. At the present it supervises the work of the statutory publications office and the production of statutes in force. It receives reports from the Law Commission which has to a large extent taken on the function of consolidating and revising the statutes which the committee formerly had. The committee's secretariat has set up two specialist groups to consider the technical aspects of printing statutory material and the creation of a database of legislation.

As regards the other matters to which my noble friend Lord Renton has referred, I believe that they depend very much on the detail of the particular statute. I doubt very much whether any general supervisory function has any particular value. On looking at the detail of particular statutes, your Lordships have shown supremely that this House has a very important function and I doubt whether anyone has so far developed an institution which could replace it in that respect.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aware that there is a joint committee composed of Members of both Houses charged with the function of examining statutory instruments and in particular whether their drafting appears to be effective? If it is considered desirable, which it is, that there should be scrutiny of the drafting of subordinate legislation, is it not equally, if not more, desirable that there should be scrutiny of the drafting of primary legislation?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I believe that the reason for scrutiny of delegated legislation is that the attention of Parliament is not devoted to delegated legislation in quite the way it is to primary legislation. The function of the committee to which the noble Lord has referred is to draw the attention of Parliament to any particular matters of importance that its scrutiny of the delegated legislation reveals.

On primary legislation, the assumption is that Parliament in both Houses, and no particular committee of it, will examine the whole of the legislation and consider whether there are any points which require amendment. As your Lordships know, this is a very important and continuously discharged function for both Houses.