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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

Indeed, or use it. There is a serious issue of demoralisation in a literal sense—de-moralisation. The more law you have, the more you take from the citizens of the state, in whatever situation, the need to reach their own decisions or to think through the consequences of acting in this way or that. In effect, you provide a rule that all must abide by, and too often the statutory rule is the rule. As I said, it discourages businesses, societies and organisations from taking responsibility for their own affairs, and all that has had an indirect impact on the public service ethos. I do not think it is at all contentious to remark that in this age community life is under severe attack. There is a real dilution of the strength of communities throughout our land, and those communities are the building blocks of a good society—I do not think that anybody disputes that. Consider today how few of what one might call the natural elite are engaged in their communities. My own profession which used to be the classic pillar of local communities is today far less engaged in community life than it has ever been—to the great loss of community life and lawyers as a group because there is huge fulfilment and respect to be gained. It is not just lawyers, but everyone. This is a deep matter.

I shall finalise by quoting from When Laws Become Too Complex. Its conclusion is headed:

“Conclusions and a Vision for Good Law … Mitigating causes of complex legislation”.

It states that,

“there needs to be a shared ownership of, and pride in, our legislation”.

How I agree. Consultation today is too often superficial, if not insincere. Too often Governments of all persuasions make their minds up and at the last toss of the dice say, “We’ll consult”. They do and vast numbers of people reply, but nothing changes and the legislation goes on. We have consulted ha, ha. The conclusion continues:

“There also needs to be a stronger incentive on all involved in the process to avoid generating excessively complex law, or to act positively to promote accessibility, ease of navigation, and simplification”.

That is from the parliamentary draftsmen who too often are blamed in this House and the other place for the state of our Bills when more often than not it is our fault, not theirs. Despite those unanswerable recommendations by the draftsmen, we need to look much more at implementation and enforcement of the laws that we have. It seems to me that we legislate because we have not implemented what is already there, or implemented it fairly, effectively or comprehensively.

Education in citizenship is not a voluntary or optional extra in our schools. If we have created a society of such barbaric complexity that very often we ourselves cannot understand quite where things are, how can we expect ordinary, decent young kids to feel part of this enterprise, to feel ownership of it or to feel responsible for it, if we do not equip them with the basic amount of information, knowledge and understanding to grapple with it and develop a will to be citizens? It is not just a name. I hope that in our deliberations over the next few years we will try always to think how Bills will impact on the good, ordinary citizens of this country and how we can improve.

Lastly, I must say a word about enforcement on legal aid. I shall not labour the point as my noble friend Lord McNally has had enough of it. He and the Government have said that they are committed to looking carefully at the impact of the legal aid changes that we have made. I think that after a year there is a commitment to look at sensitive aspects, and I hope that we will do that. To have all this law, which is not voluntary or optional, and then not provide citizens in most need with legal help, and without which the rights we legislate for them are cynical, is the worst of all worlds.