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Clause 2 — Protocol about the Law Commission's work

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 16th October 2009.

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Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 2:03 pm, 16th October 2009

I, too, welcome the Bill on behalf of my party and congratulate Emily Thornberry on getting it this far and, I hope, to its final destination in a few moments.

However, I would not want people to think that because a lot of Law Commission reports are about technical law they just do not have political or policy consequences. Every one of them has some political or policy content. There are gainers and losers in almost every proposal, even if they are simply in the legal profession. Therefore, non-implementation of a Law Commission report is not automatically a bad thing. There might be a genuine political difference between the assumptions made by the Law Commission and the Government of the day. However, the Bill does something important: it forces the Government to give their reasons.

Hon. Members might remember the attempt when the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 was going through to reform how Law Commission reports come forward. The Government insisted that they would never obstruct a non-controversial proposal-they said that they would use the powers in that legislation only for non-controversial proposals and would not put through controversial ones-but could never offer a definition of what was controversial.

This Bill does something much more reasonable, which is simply to say to the Government: "If you're not going to implement this proposal, you'll have to say why." That might involve financial reasons, or a disagreement with the moral basis of a Law Commission report-that might well be the problem with the report on cohabitation. The Government will not, however, be allowed not to give a reason. It is possible that the Government's real reason may not be a proper reason. For example, they may fear the way in which a matter could be reported in the Daily Mail. They would not give that as their reason, of course; they would be forced to give a different one.

I believe that there will be occasions when the Government, faced with the choice of either giving a reason other than their real reason or simply getting on with it, will choose simply to get on with it. For that reason, the Bill, even though it looks modest, might have some real-world effects. Some Law Commission reports might go through because the Government decide that it is not worth giving a false reason for not implementing them. I welcome the Bill. I do not think it is quite so modest as Mr. Bellingham thinks it is. I believe that it will have good effects in the long term and I wish it well.

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