HL Deb 25 June 1980 vol 410 cc1591-4

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been and is being made with regard to the consolidation of legislation, and what steps will be taken to accelerate it in accordance with Recommendation 53 of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation (Cmnd. 6053).

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, I am happy to tell my noble friend that good progress is being made. Apart from measures relating only to Scotland, 13 Acts were passed in 1979. So far this year, six Acts have passed and a further six Bills been introduced. All that can be done to further consolidation is being done, but my noble friend will, of course, appreciate that it is not at present possible to deploy additional resources on this work.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble and learned friend for that most encouraging reply. May I ask him whether, in order to maintain and perhaps even improve upon the present momentum in this vital work, he is quite satisfied that enough parliamentary counsel are being devoted to it?


My Lords, in terms of draftsmen, there are four full-time and three part-time draftsmen at the Law Commission. The senior full-time draftsman is not involved on consolidation work, but almost all the time of his colleagues is devoted to it. In addition, consolidation Bills are oc- casionally drafted in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel when circumstances permit.

My Lords, my noble friend asked me whether I was satisfied. I think that the answer is: No, but I am doing my best.


My Lords, although there is never room for satisfaction in this or in many other fields, is it not the case that the output of consolidation legislation has been unprecedently good in the last two or three years? Is not a tribute due on this occasion to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills? As the noble and learned Lord will know, the task that falls on that committee is very great indeed. Although we can never be satisfied that enough is being done, this is a field of law reform where enormous progress has been made.


My Lords, I am very encouraged by what the noble and learned Lord has put to me. Since the beginning of 1975 some 53 consolidation Acts have reached the statute book, even leaving aside purely Scottish measures. As I said in my original Answer, 13 Acts were passed in 1979, and there will be a possible 12 this year. I do not think that we should be complacent, but I share with the noble and learned Lord, and I am sure with the whole House, our sense of gratitude to the Consolidation Bills Committee. I think that I can say with the noble and learned Lord, that a measure of congratulation should be reserved for the Lord Chancellor's permanent staff.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that those of us who were members of this Committee and who spent several arduous years on it are very pleased to hear that such progress is being made? Will he not further agree that if some of the other recommendations were put into operation, it would mean that there would not be such a need for consolidation in future years?


My Lords, the noble Baroness, whose name betrays a long and fruitful connection both with my family and my office, has put a very good but complicated question. I should like to see further progress made in implementing the recommendations of this committee and, indeed, of the Law Commission in this respect. I was a little disappointed at the reception which the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, received earlier this Session, when I did my best to redress a balance of almost universal disapproval for it, which I did not share. It is a little difficult to say. The use of the Keeling schedule is, of course, a very valuable device, but it depends on a good deal of very detailed work; and how difficult it is will, I think, emerge when I come to deal with the Highways Bill in Committee later this afternoon.


My Lords, while presuming to congratulate the Government, the Law Commission and the Joint Select Committee on the momentum of consolidations, I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord two questions which may appear technical but which I think are of constitutional importance. Will he ensure that the Joint Select Committee is not bypassed by the use of the Keeling schedule, to which he referred, for the consolidation of multiple enactments? Secondly, will he ensure that the draftsmen do not arrogate to themselves the right to decide, without reference to the Joint Select Committee, whether enactments are ripe for repeal on the ground that they are of no further utility, as that involves, not infrequently, a political judgment?


My Lords, I should have to think rather carefully before answering either of those two questions in a positive way. I know that we do not want to bypass the Joint Select Committee. That would be a retrograde step. The Keeling schedule is probably a valuable device and probably does not require separate Committee scrutiny, because all that a Keeling schedule does is this. Supposing that a subsection is to be added to a Bill, you reprint the section with the proposed amendment in a schedule to the Bill. I would rather question how far Joint Select Committee reconsideration was necessary for that, but my noble and learned friend should not think that I am turning down that part of his question.

What is and what is not an arrogation by the draftsman of a political judgment can be a matter of degree and opinion, but I would agree that in general where a question arises it should be resolved by putting it to the Joint Select Committee. I think we shall see later this afternoon, when I come to deal with Amendment No. 8 of my Bill, an example of what I do not think really requires a judgment because it went to the Law Commission first, but it will none the less effect a small alteration in the law. I am anxious that the Joint Select Committee should not be bypassed.

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soames)

My Lords, there are the usual four Starred Questions on the Order Paper. I suggest that perhaps we ought to move on to the second one.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Foot has been trying very hard to get in a supplementary question.


My Lords, the question is not perhaps of all that importance, but I was going to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he considers, as a matter of English grammar, that you can accelerate a process of consolidation.


My Lords, I think all processes can be accelerated in principle, but as a matter of English grammar I must submit myself to the judgment of the House.

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