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Queen’s Speech — Debate (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 9th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 4:03 pm, 9th May 2013

Plymouth. I thank my noble friend Lord Smith very much for that vital piece of accuracy. I rather get the impression that the turnout throughout the country was hovering at around 30%, on average. If you consider that among voters aged under 30, of whom fewer than one in four turned out at the previous general election, possibly only one in 10 cast their votes last week. I do not think that anyone sitting here believes that we are in our prime as a democracy or a Parliament.

We should never forget that the expenses scandal is not a thing of the past. I did a bit of canvassing this time; and the expenses scandal has marked the mind of the British public much more deeply than we would wish, I fear. We all know well about the Leveson inquiry and what it showed in terms of the press, the police and so on. All in all, we are in a dangerous phase, particularly given the continuing crisis in the financial and banking sectors.

A significant element in this disillusion relates to the astonishing amount of complex law that we churn out from this place, year after year. It may also surprise your Lordships that our Library does not stock a complete set of statutes from this side of 2009. You cannot even obtain loose-leafed copies of statutory instruments from 2010, for example. However, those from 2009 are available. In that year, this place produced in excess of 16,000 pages of new statute law; the split was roughly one-quarter Acts of Parliament and three-quarters statutory instruments.

There are a number of lawyers here; all of us, I suppose, are lawyers of a sort because we legislate this stuff. However, we know very well how extraordinarily complex legislation has become because of the extent to which any new law has to fit into existing law. The situation becomes overwhelming, and I have noticed that in the course of our deliberations on Bills there has been a marked reduction in the number of Peers who sit here trying to grapple with amendments that tax the wisdom of Jove.

For example, since 1984, we have passed more than 100 criminal justice Acts of one sort or another and have brought into existence more than 4,000 criminal offences. I suspect that that represents rather more than were created in the whole of our previous history. EU law finds reference in 10% of our legislation, and on top of that we gold-plate EU legislation to an astonishing extent. These are not my statistics; they come from the fine document by the parliamentary draftsmen to which I referred. They provide an example of directive 2002/42, which consisted of 1,167 words in the English text issued from Brussels. By the time we had ploughed it into our own legislation, it had gone from 1,167 to 27,000 words. What is it about this Chamber, using God’s own language, English, that we manage to produce this—I am tempted to use a very rude word—excess of legislation? So far as the people of this country are concerned, it is oppressive, distancing, expensive, disillusioning, disengaging, centralising and dependency-making—you name it.