My Lords, the Law Commission, as I suspect most of your Lordships will know, was the brainchild of Lord Gardiner when he was Lord Chancellor. It has now been in existence for more than 40 years and has done much good work in the field of law reform. But to some extent it has been the victim of its own success. Many of its reports have had to wait far too long to be brought before Parliament. The Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill provides a good example. It was given its First Reading in this House on
Clause 1 imposes the statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to report annually to Parliament. He will give an account of Law Commission proposals that have been implemented during the year. Perhaps more important, he will also have to give an account of those proposals that have not been implemented and the reasons for any delay. This will enable Parliament for the first time to hold the Government to account in relation to the important subject of law reform. Clause 2 is perhaps less important, but nevertheless useful. It enables the Lord Chancellor and the Law Commission to agree a so-called protocol which will in future govern the relations between the Law Commission and Ministers in general.
That, I think, is all I need say about what is in the Bill. In recommending it to your Lordships, I cannot do better than quote the words of the Lord Chancellor:
"Good law is imperative for accessible and modern constitutional arrangements. For 40 years the Law Commission has played a vital role in that respect, but I intend to strengthen its role by placing a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to report annually to Parliament on the Government's intentions regarding outstanding Law Commission recommendations, and providing a statutory backing for the arrangements underpinning the way in which Government should work with the Law Commission".—[Hansard, Commons, 25/3/09; col. 23.]
Those words were spoken when the Lord Chancellor was introducing the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. It was not at all certain at what stage that draft Bill would come into law, so the chairman of the Law Commission, Sir Terence Etherton, had the idea that the short provisions relating to the Law Commission could be hived off from the Constitutional Reform Bill and the Lord Chancellor was very agreeable to that being done. Sir Terence Etherton in particular deserves great credit for all that he has done during his chairmanship of the Law Commission and, in particular, for bringing forward the possibility of this Bill. We now have before us this very short Bill, which might have been part of the Constitutional Reform Bill; it is now a stand-alone Bill, which I have had the honour to introduce and I hope will prove non-controversial. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have very little to add to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has said. I have been an admirer of the Law Commission ever since it was set up in 1964, but it has been handicapped to a considerable extent over the years by the delays in giving effect to its recommendations, even when they have been accepted in principle by the Government. The present Government are taking some steps to help to overcome the problems of delays, and this Bill is one of those steps. It is plain from the circumstances that, although it is being nominally moved as a Private Member's Bill, it is supported by the Government and will therefore, no doubt, get through.
Another very welcome step is the one proposing new procedures to deal with implementing reports, which it is hoped will take up less time in the House and will therefore enable more recommendations to be dealt with, because the problems of parliamentary time has always been acute. That is being tried out next week, with the Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill. I have to say that I probably know more about perpetuities and accumulations than any other Member of your Lordships' House, as I spend rather a long time in my practice dealing with trusts in which they play a fairly important part.
I agree with all the tributes that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has paid to Sir Terence Etherton for his work. I would also add a tribute to the former Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, for the considerable amount of work that she put into getting agreement on the new procedure.
My Lords, I admire the Law Commission in so many different ways but, above all, I admire it for its stoicism. Over the years, since it came into existence in 1965, it has been tasked with many seemingly intractable problems, has grappled with them and produced a solution, only to find that solution spurned by the political classes. It is in that context above all that we can welcome this Bill.
Clause 1 does two things. It introduces, first, a desirable element of certainty and, secondly, an ingredient of accountability. The certainty is there because the Lord Chancellor, from now on, will have to set out the Government's views about the likely implementation of Law Commission reports and drafts. That position will have to be taken publicly. The consequence of that is to introduce into our arrangements an element of accountability for the Law Commission's work by the Government that did not exist before. In effect, the Government have got to put up or shut up about Law Commission proposals. That will concentrate the minds of this and future Lord Chancellors.
As far as the other substantive matter in the Bill is concerned, the question of the protocol, there is no obligation for that protocol to come into force. The word used in the Bill is "may", not "must". I hope that there will be a protocol, because I think that it will have the effect of creating a more intimate, if not necessarily a more harmonious, relationship between the Law Commission and Whitehall; and ought to lead to a better targeting of the work that the Law Commission does. In return, it would be reasonable for the Law Commission to expect that what it has done will be appreciated politically in the future in a way that it has not been in the past.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, on securing a slot for this Second Reading and for bringing forward this important matter.
It is a great privilege for my department to be associated with the Law Commission. The commission, as has been said on all sides, makes a significant contribution to law reform, which is greatly valued by the Government, those in the legal and judicial world and beyond. For example, recently the Justice Secretary announced new proposals on the law against bribery that were drawn heavily from the Law Commission's work. As has already been referred to, the Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill, which I was privileged to introduce into the House at the beginning of April, again derived almost completely from the Law Commission. As the noble and learned Lord said, that Bill is to be dealt with by way of a new procedure in your Lordships' House, aimed at ensuring that more such Bills reach the statute book. Indeed, he was too modest to say that he has kindly agreed to chair the committee under the new procedure for that Bill. I look forward, as I know do other noble Lords who have spoken, to working with him, starting next week.
We need to make sure that the valuable work from the Law Commission results in implementation. Noble Lords might be slightly surprised to hear that the most recent figures for Law Commission reports that have actually been implemented—and these figures are accurate from about two years ago—is around 70 per cent of Law Commission proposals. What that does not say is whether they are the most important or not so important parts of law that need to be changed. We need to improve on those figures and we want to ensure that Law Commission reports are implemented in a timely fashion. I confess—this is probably true of Governments of both colours—that this has not always been the case.
I, too, would like to praise Sir Terence Etherton, the chairman of the Law Commission. I am sure that much more will be said about him nearer his retirement from that very important position, but he has been a force in bringing these matters to the attention of the House.
I was going to give the same quote as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick. I will forgive him for using the quote; it is such good one. However, but the House will be relieved that I am not going to repeat it. Nor am I going to repeat the details set out by the noble and learned Lord' Bill in Clauses 1 and 2. I just say that these measure are key to delivering the Government's objective to strengthen the role of the Law Commission. We value the Law Commission's contribution to law reform. It was one of the finest legal reforms of the second part of the 20th century. In addition, we are very pleased to support the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. He mentioned, incidentally, that he probably knows more about perpetuities and excess accumulations than anyone else in this House. As far as I am concerned, there is no contest.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for his support, and others who have turned up to hear the debate on a beautiful, sunny afternoon. I suppose that those sitting on the government Front Bench had no option over whether to turn up or not, but they have turned up and I am grateful for the Government's support for the Bill.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.