HL Deb 06 June 1994 vol 555 cc951-2

3.2 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take to deal with the substantial delays now occurring in placing Law Commission proposals before Parliament.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Government have to consider the claims of such Bills to a place in the legislative programme against the competing claims of other important and desirable measures. The principal difficulty in bringing Bills before Parliament relating to Law Commission proposals is the amount of parliamentary time for legislation generally. It is always open to Members of this House and Members of another place to promote such Bills if they wish to do so.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that reply. May I draw his attention to the recent report of the Law Commission which drew attention to its anxieties about the ever-lengthening queue of proposals from the Law Commission that have not been implemented by Parliament? Is he aware of its view that the gap between published reports and implemented reports has widened since 1985 and increased remorselessly since 1989? What action does he propose to take to change that situation?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Law Commission's annual report, to which the noble Lord drew my attention—it is of course not the first time that my attention has been drawn to it—lists some 30 unimplemented law reform reports. Of those, 15 have been accepted. Of the 15 accepted reports, six are presently before Parliament, two of which were introduced in another place as Private Members' Bills, and the third was an amendment to a government Bill by a Peer in your Lordships' House. Nine reports have been accepted but have not as yet secured a parliamentary place. So far as the other reports are concerned, they are under consideration. I hope that decisions in respect of a good number of them will be capable of being intimated before the end of this year. It must be remembered that, in addition to proposals for law reform, the Law Commission initiates proposals for consolidation and statute law repeal. In the five years prior to the current Session, 23 consolidation Bills or statute law repeal Bills emanating from the Law Commission were enacted under the special procedure rules.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords., will my noble and learned friend consider two aspects of this rather urgent and important matter? First, many of the reports of the Law Commission which are held in abeyance are without party political or controversial content. Through the Procedure Committee or by some other means, could they be given, if I may coin a phrase, a fast track treatment, possibly on the analogy of the Second Reading Committee in another place? Secondly, will he bear in mind that the Ministers carrying responsibility for some departments, particularly the Department of Trade and Industry and the Home Office, are not under the supervision of my noble and learned friend and are becoming rather more out of date than they should be in some matters?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it is certainly true that Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry and at the Home Office are not under the supervision of the Lord Chancellor. As Members of the Government, they are responsible for matters within their areas of responsibility. With regard to the first matter, your Lordships have approved, as an experiment, a new procedure for dealing with Bills such as Law Commission Bills under the Jellicoe procedure. We are seeking to implement a Bill along those lines at the present time. I hope that if that is successful, it will meet the kind of concerns expressed by my noble and learned friend.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, does the speedy implementation of the Law Commission's proposals for the radical reform of the archaic 19th century offences against the person legislation have a high priority for the noble and learned Lord in seeking space in future legislative programmes?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as was mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint. Marylebone, the policy responsibility for matters such as that is not with the Lord Chancellor. The priority associated with it is a matter for the Home Secretary to determine. For my own part, I believe that the Law Commission has done a very valuable piece of work. It is highly desirable that it should be enacted. So far as I am concerned, from my personal perspective it has a high priority.