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Clause 2 — Protocol about the Law Commission's work

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:55 pm on 16th October 2009.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 1:55 pm, 16th October 2009

I assure my hon. Friend that those of us on the Front Bench, watched over with eagle eyes by those in the Whips Office, use virtually every spare moment of our time to prepare for government. Our team is looking at the Law Commission's recommendations and preparing Bills for the first Queen's Speech, in the event of our winning the election-we are not allowed to say "when"; we are saying "if", because we need to win the public's confidence and people's trust.

Clause 2 would insert a new section 3B into the Law Commissions Act 1965, which would introduce a protocol designed to provide a framework for the relationship between HMG and the Law Commission. Clause 2 also says:

"The Lord Chancellor must lay the protocol...before Parliament."

I would simply ask whether the clause is really necessary. It cannot cover any new powers or functions; rather, it relates only to existing powers and functions. It creates neither new powers in respect of the Lord Chancellor or the Government, nor any directly enforceable rights and obligations. I would therefore ask whether such a protocol is necessary. If we can get Departments working with each other more closely and taking the Law Commission's work more seriously, the protocol will probably be a waste of time. Indeed, it is a bit of an insult to what should already be a close and positive relationship between the Law Commission and the Lord Chancellor.

We welcome some of the recent changes introduced by the Government, particularly the recent internal reorganisation of the Ministry of Justice into five divisions, including one covering democracy, the constitution and law. The Law Commission now sits within that pillar, rather than coming under the courts division. That definitely makes sense, and the Government need a pat on the back for making that change. In April the House of Lords finally approved a special procedure for non-controversial Law Commission Bills, which was also a good step forward.

Recently the Ministry of Justice belatedly upgraded the ministerial committee for the Law Commission, which always used to comprise junior Ministers from different Departments. I believe that the intention now is for the committee to have much a wider reach than over the past, say, 10 or 12 years. I hope that that will address the disconnect between Departments and the Law Commission, as well as the problem that we are all so concerned about, which is that numerous excellent reports are simply sitting on shelves gathering dust and no one is taking them seriously.

Today's Bill is a small step forward. We wish it well and hope that it gets through as quickly as possible, because although it is modest, it is an important step in the right direction.

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