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Clause 1

Part of Law Commission Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 8th July 2009.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury 10:00 am, 8th July 2009

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dr. McCrea. I have not done so before, and I have certainly never been the first person to speak in a Public Bill Committee.

The Law Commission was established in the 1960s and charged with the duty of ensuring that our citizens are subject to clear, accessible and up-to-date law. Since then, the commission’s recommendations have resulted in the repeal of more than 2,000 obsolete Acts in their entirety and the partial repeal of several thousand others. However, it does not just play the role of the grim reaper of out-of-date law. It has been responsible for 90 new Acts of Parliament, which have affected all aspects of life in Britain.

However, far too many of the commission’s excellent reports have been mouldering away on shelves in Whitehall. Some of them have never been seen again, while many have taken too many years to implement. I wish to highlight that fact with three examples, the first of which members of the Committee might remember. A homoerotic poem about Christ was published in the Gay Times, and Mary Whitehouse took exception to it. A private prosecution took place for blasphemous libel. The whole team at the Gay Times was prosecuted, and the editor was fined and given nine months’ imprisonment suspended. An appeal to the House of Lords failed, but the House made it clear that the law was very unsatisfactory. As a result, the Law Commission reported back on the issue in 1985, but its recommendations were not implemented until 2008 under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

Another example is the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the original report having been published in 1995. It dealt with the difficult issue of what to do when people lack mental capacity to make decisions, including those relating to managing their finances. The Law Commission went away and thought about it, and made recommendations, but they took 10 years to be implemented.

My third example is more current. It is a favourite with the Law Commission, so perhaps I can plug it on this occasion. The report was published in 2006 and its recommendations are important at a time of an economic downturn. It was about the termination of tenancies, particularly in cases of commercial rent, when there might be a dispute between landlord and tenant. If the tenant ends up not paying the rent, but the argument still goes on, as things currently stand the landlord has the power to go in, repossess the premises and change the locks. That method of ending a tenancy is most often used by landlords of commercial premises where no one is living, but it can seriously disrupt the tenant’s business. Among many things, the report recommends the replacement of the current law with a modern strategy scheme designed to encourage the negotiated settlement of disputes at an early stage and, clearly, we hope that the Government can implement such a provision in the near future.