HL Deb 18 July 1994 vol 557 cc24-6

13 Clause 17, page 13, line 24, leave out 'procedures established by or' and insert 'proceedings'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13. I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 28, 82, 83 and 87. These are technical amendments which ensure that the Bill is consistent both internally and with other legislation.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13.—(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, your Lordships will not wish to depart from these amendments because the first two each shorten the Bill by three words. It is sad that they were grouped with the other amendments which add, on balance, more than six words. But that must be viewed in light of the fact that your Lordships sent a Bill to the other place running to 92 pages and the amendments add approximately a quarter more to that mass.

Your Lordships are bound to ask why that sort of thing continues. It is not as though we can be sure that it is the end of the Bill. In the Children Act, government amendments were put down at every stage in your Lordships' House. But the Bill came back from the other place with government amendments running to more pages than the Bill contained when sent there. But that was not the end of it. It was found that further amendments were needed and there was a seven-page schedule to the Courts and Legal Services Bill which made further amendments to the Children Act.

Your Lordships will want to know why that happens. When the Renton Committee on Preparation of Legislation reported in 1975, it remarked on the verbosity of statutes—an undesirable wordiness. The statute book at that time ran to three volumes; 10 years later it ran to five volumes with fewer statutes in it. What the Renton Committee complained of had continued at an accelerated rate.

The most undesirable feature is that it frustrates the performance of your Lordships' constitutional role. Lengthy statute discussions continue into the small hours of the morning and we rely on the devotion of one or two noble Lords who are willing to come back after dinner and match their stamina with the remarkable stamina of the noble Earl who has been in charge of the Bill. But it is quite wrong. It means that although they, at some self-sacrifice, manage to scrutinise the Bill, your Lordships cannot amend it because there is a government majority, largely of a payroll vote, waiting outside to shoot down any amendment. So this is perhaps an occasion to draw attention to the undesirability of the wordiness in statute.

Sir Robert Andrew, when he reported on the government legal services, recommended that the draftsman should come under the Law Officers rather than under the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has other things to do besides scrutinising the detail or even the general style of legislation. Of all Sir Robert Andrew's recommendations, that was the one that was not accepted. But sooner or later, unless some control is taken over the volume, the wordiness and the verbosity of legislation, your Lordships' constitutional role will no longer be capable of being performed.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I welcome what the noble and learned Lord has just said. Your Lordships may wonder, as I was the chairman of the committee to which the noble and learned Lord referred, why I have not shown much more zeal in this matter and tried to eliminate more of the verbosity. The truth is that I used to try to do so, but if one were to do so now, with Bills becoming longer and longer and more and more verbose, one could keep the House up for many hours of the night. I do not say that I have surrendered. All I do is complain from time to time. I am glad to support the noble and learned Lord in his complaint today.

Perhaps I may touch on the specific point that he made about the responsibility for parliamentary counsel. I am sure he is quite right in saying that it is asking too much of any Prime Minister, whether legally qualified or not, to consider the contents of every Bill that comes along and that it would be far better done if responsibility for parliamentary counsel were to go to a Law Officer or the Law Officers jointly rather than remain with the Prime Minister, who quite frankly cannot be expected to do this arduous work.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, returns to the subject which is dear to his heart —trying to make statutes brief. I cannot think why he chose this amendment with which to set about the Government. This amendment removes four words and inserts one word.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I did remark on that.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I noted that and that is why I was underlying the fact that this amendment reduces the number of words. If the noble and learned Lord complains about that, heaven help us when we come to Amendments Nos. 16 and 29, which are considerably longer.

Many of the changes which occur here are due to the changes which your Lordships decided to make when the Bill was first before the House. Others relate to the overseas service, which is a fairly technical matter and one to which we have just referred. I have every sympathy with the noble and learned Lord. I think that short statutes are much better. Anything that is shorter is usually easier to comprehend. Therefore, I value that, but if your Lordships would be good enough not to keep altering the Government's Bills too much we would not have these consequential alterations.

The noble and learned Lord said that the Government are frustrating your Lordships' constitutional role and that there was the payroll vote waiting outside to shoot down any amendments. All I can say is that I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord has spoken to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary lately. If he has I think he may find that my right honourable friend takes a different view. The Government produced a certain Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and your Lordships decided to alter it. I do not think that that was the combination of the payroll vote waiting outside to shoot down the amendments. The payroll vote, as the noble and learned Lord so graciously put it, was doing its best not to shoot down the amendments and to keep the Bill as it was. But your Lordships, in the peculiarly independent way which you have and irrespective of what side anyone sits on, decided to alter the Bill, Another place has considered the alterations and the result is more words, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, does not like. I can only say to the noble and learned Lord that if he had heeded my advice when the Bill first came through and had left the Bill alone he would not have so many alterations now.

On Question, Motion agreed to.