My Lords, I was a Member of the Committee on the Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill. While I do not wish to oppose the Bill, I want to place on record our disappointment that the Government have not taken steps to consolidate the legislation in this important, if technical, area.
In brief, the perpetuities legislation sets limits on the period during which a person may set conditions applying to his or her estate. It applies to every will made in this country, so it is potentially very wide in its application. This Bill will raise the perpetuity period from 80 to 125 years, so it is long lasting. Indeed, it was suggested by one of our witnesses that the Bill committee should be asked to reassemble in 2135 to see whether the Bill had stood the test of time.
Perpetuities and accumulations legislation was last revised in 1964, a mere 45 years ago—the twinkling of an eye in these matters. We will now have three different sets of legislation applying to perpetuities and accumulations: the legislation applying pre-1964; the legislation applying between 1964 and 2009, or whenever this Act comes into force; and this legislation, applying hereafter. It is a great shame that the Government have not taken the chance to consolidate all this legislation into one statute.
It is inherently unsatisfactory to have legislation on important issues dotted about all over the place. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House some reassurance that at least the Law Commission, whose Bill this very largely is, will be asked to bring forward a consolidated measure in the very near future.
My Lords, I should like to take a slightly different attitude to the Bill from that taken by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I am very pleased that the Bill is about to go through your Lordships’ House. It is the first Bill that has adopted the new procedure originated some years ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, when she was Leader of the House. The procedure will enable more technical Bills of this kind, which result from work done by the Law Commission, to get through. As I think most of us know, there has been great delay in getting totally uncontroversial Bills through your Lordships’ House because of the time that they take. I hope that this Bill is the precedent to a number of others where the same process will be adopted.
My Lords, it might be appropriate if I were to add one or two words about the procedure adopted, to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has just said. I know that Lord Kingsland would have wanted to put on the record the fact that he appreciated that this procedure was appropriate in respect of the Bill. It is an innovation; as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, it was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. In practice, the procedure has only recently been approved by the Procedure Committee of this House, albeit under certain conditions, one of which is that the whole House should at some stage have the opportunity to participate in debates on the Bill, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson has just done; the other condition is that, if at any stage a Bill proves to be controversial, there should be a way of ensuring that the procedure does not go ahead. It is perhaps a mark of the success of all those who took part in every stage of this Bill that it has generally received a warm welcome.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the opposition Chief Whip, for her remarks. She is absolutely right. This Bill has been under the new procedure and has worked extremely well, not least because of the expert chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, when witnesses gave evidence at a Committee of this House over two or three sittings. The Committee also received written representations from very distinguished lawyers about this subject.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who has taken a keen interest in this Bill from Second Reading onwards, for not attempting to disrupt the proceedings of the Bill at this stage, if I may put it that way. I have heard his point and I take it on board. I shall certainly be in touch with the Law Commission as a consequence of what he has said today.