HL Deb 03 November 1993 vol 549 cc1083-6

2.57 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will undertake a fundamental review of the legislative procedures, involving a Speaker's Conference if that were generally acceptable.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, the Government have no plans to conduct a review of the kind that my noble friend suggests. We are always ready to consider particular proposals for improvement to legislative procedures. Indeed, only recently the Government supported the setting up on an experimental basis of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, what a pity. Does my noble friend not realise what a comfort it would be to many of us if he would simply agree that there is too much legislation—too many Bills, too long, too complicated and insufficiently prepared—and too much reliance; if I may add this point, on the wisdom of Secretaries of State as yet unidentified and perhaps even unborn?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I have more sympathy with the view that my noble friend expresses than perhaps I should agree to from this Dispatch Box. However, we do our humble best to live up to the standards of the past. The truth of the position is that there is now around five times as much legislation as there was in the days when others remember how we did things. That is at the heart of the problem. There is too much legislation to get it all through. But this is the process of modern government. We have to find ways of dealing with the problem.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House an assurance that the term "legislative procedures" as contained in the Question put down by his noble friend includes those applicable to an ever-growing volume of European legislation? Will he also give an assurance that next year it will be possible for either House of Parliament, or preferably both, to examine in detail the budget of the European Communities which is costing the British taxpayer billions of pounds?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I can certainly give the noble Lord as much assurance as I am able to, but not about the detail of what will be in the programme for next year. However, I have no doubt that he will find ways of raising the issues which he believes to be important and bringing them to your Lordships' attention.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that there is no need for a general review or a Speaker's Conference, but will he bear in mind that in recent years, as my noble friend Lord Peyton has said, legislation has become much too detailed and complicated because departments will try to cover every hypothetical situation which might arise instead of expressing the intentions of Parliament in a general way?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am sure that we should continue to listen to the wisdom of my noble friend's years. However, there are difficulties in not making legislation specific enough. Often the courts then have to interpret the law. I believe that we already have enough legal proceedings resulting from our legislation to want to avoid the courts. So I have sympathy with my noble friend, but I do not believe that we can go quite as far as he suggests.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the Leader of the House take what his noble friend has said very seriously indeed? Does he not realise that Acts such as the Child Support Act and the Criminal Justice Act 1991 have caused considerable difficulties to very many ordinary people? Is he also aware that under the Child Support Act an organisation has been set up which is causing great difficulty not only among men but among second families as well? Does he agree that, if that legislation had been properly thought out and discussed, we should not be in the present difficulties? I urge the Leader of the House to take this matter very seriously indeed and to put pressure on his right honourable friend the Prime Minister to bring forward much less but better thought out and drafted legislation.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the noble Lord knows me a great deal better than he indicated in the last part of his question. He must know perfectly well that I have spent most of my life in politics in the management of business and have never been one to advocate more legislation. I have always advocated less. I agree also with the noble Lord in believing that the legislation we produce should be better. We are not perfect and we struggle as best we can.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, will the Leader of the House think very carefully before—

Lord Hayhoe

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that careful attention is being paid to the report of the Hansard Society Commission, chaired by my noble friend Lord Rippon of Hexham, Making the Law? It involved a very authoritative group of people. Does he agree that the report will help a great deal in dealing with some of the problems raised by my noble friend Lord Peyton?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. The Hansard Society report was very valuable. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister wrote to my noble friend Lord Rippon to thank him for the work that the society had done. I believe that a number of its recommendations may well form subjects which we shall want to discuss in the group which the House recently approved following the Procedure Committee's report. We can have a look at some of the procedures in your Lordships' House.

Lord Cocks of Hrartcliffe

My Lords, will the Leader of the House think very carefully before being hurried into an unstructured response to this Question because the results of the so-called Jopling report on procedure in another place do not inspire confidence?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I certainly take notice of the noble Lord's view that one should not rush these matters. I believe that that is right. It may be an indirect comment on the Jopling report, but I recognise too that any changes in the way in which this House and the other place operate can be undertaken only if there is wide all-party agreement.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that what concerns me more than the procedures—although I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton—is the substance of the legislation? Does he agree that if it were better thought out and less half-baked its legislative passage would be much easier?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I disagree entirely with the noble Lord. The substance of the legislation is excellent. I look forward to support from my noble friend and others on it.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, does not the noble Lord believe that he has given many of us the impression that he is like the pupil who, having received his report, appears before the headmaster and is told, "But your humble best is not good enough; you must try harder next term"?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I feel as though I am appearing before 400 headmasters and headmistresses rather than just one. The fact is that the legislative process is one which we have to continue to try to improve. Also the demands on the legislature and parliamentary draftsmen are infinitely higher than they were years ago because of public demand and changes in our laws. But we shall continue to do our best.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does my noble friend agree—

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I believe that we should go on to the next Question.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, does my noble friend realise how welcome his first supplementary answer was and in what shining contrast it was to his original rather wooden Answer? Perhaps the most reverend Primate is the one to tell him how welcome is a sinner's repentance.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I shall look at Hansard. In view of my noble friend's condemnation of my Answer I shall look to see whether I made a mistake.