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House of Lords Hansard
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Law Commission: Funding
10 July 2018
Volume 792

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of comments made by the Chair of the Law Commission that reductions in the Commission’s funding could put its independence at risk.

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My Lords, the Law Commission’s independent status is protected in law. Following reductions in its core budget, the commission has undertaken more funded projects. It is for the Law Commission to decide which projects it recommends are taken forward.

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My Lords, the commission’s website proclaims that it is a statutory body that aims,

“to ensure that the law is as fair, modern … and as cost-effective as possible … to conduct research and consultations … to codify the law, eliminate anomalies, repeal obsolete and unnecessary enactments and reduce the number of separate statutes”.

The commission’s budget has been cut by 54%—£2.1 million—since 2010, resulting in projects being delayed and, even more worryingly, in the words of the current chair, Sir David Bean, “elbowed aside” in favour of projects commissioned by the Government. Will the Minister confirm the commission’s independence and its right to select projects without being obliged to prioritise unduly work commissioned by the Government?

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My Lords, I have already sought to underline the commission’s independence with regard to these matters. The Government continue to value the important work of the Law Commission and recognise that it must retain the ability to make independent choices about reform projects that it chooses to take forward. There are, of course, circumstances in which departments of government will, as it were, seek to instruct or seek approval for particular projects to assist with the Law Commission’s budget. At this point, I pay tribute not only to the work of the Law Commission but to its outgoing chair, Sir David Bean.

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My Lords, it is a question not just of funding. For the Law Commission to ensure that the law is fair, modern and clear, as it must, the Government must implement its recommendations. Yet, in spite of the duty to report annually to Parliament, only two-thirds of the commission’s 227 reports since 1965 have been implemented. Some 10% still await a government decision, including the reports on cohabitation and intestacy for cohabitants from 2007 and 2011, which are the subject of my Private Member’s Bill. Even the uncontroversial 2010 report on the High Court’s criminal jurisdiction has had only a holding response in 2015. Do the Government regard these delays as acceptable?

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My Lords, the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s recommendations has been extremely good. The commission has produced 228 sets of law reform recommendations. Of those, 65% have been accepted and the recommended reforms implemented in whole or in part by government. In addition, since the introduction of the special procedure for statutory provisions from the Law Commission, we have brought forward eight different Acts through that accelerated procedure.

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My Lords, has there been an estimate of the extent of the diminution in the quality of the commission’s reports because of lower funding?

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My Lords, I am not aware of any diminution in the quality of the reports produced by the Law Commission over the past few years. Indeed, there is no suggestion that that is the case. Although there have been reductions in the Law Commission’s budget, its anticipated core funding for 2019 remained in excess of its anticipated running costs.

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My Lords, I declare an interest in that I started my career at the Law Commission under the late great Lord Scarman, who created it as a model that is admired in the rest the world. Will the Minister accept that the quality of much of the legislation passed in this House and in the Commons is due to the Law Commission’s work, and that we depend on the Law Commission for quality and innovation in law reform? We have a special procedure for rushing through proposals by the Law Commission that are uncontroversial. Will he tell the House what plans there are to implement more Law Commission proposals that remain unimplemented and which we need, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has drawn attention to?

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My Lords, I am obliged for the observations of the noble Baroness, and I entirely endorse those about the significant contribution that the Law Commission makes to the quality of legislation that passes through this House. As I indicated before, since the special procedure process was introduced we have passed a total of eight Acts, in diverse areas. They are not potentially controversial and therefore proceed at speed through the legislative process. In addition of course, it is open to the Law Commission to bring forward consolidation recommendations with regard to legislation, and it is carrying out considerable work on sentencing. However, that will require some groundwork through primary legislation, and we are looking at that at the moment in the hope that such consolidating legislation can be brought forward.

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My Lords, in 2014 I had the privilege of chairing the Joint Committee on the Draft Deregulation Bill. After three months of taking evidence, we then had three Ministers in front of us from the coalition Government, who showed utter disdain and contempt for the work of the Law Commission. Their attitudes were all wholly and incredibly negative, even in the face of positive information that Law Commission legislation does not take the time of this House or the other place, simply because the work is done for us.

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I am not familiar with the evidence to which the noble Lord refers, but I assure him that at present Ministers have the highest regard for the work of the Law Commission, and that I have the highest regard for those who carry on that work. We are always amenable to its proposals. In its current, 13th programme, we were happy to approve a list of 14 projects that it submitted.

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In that case, why have one-third of the recommendations not been implemented?

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Not every recommendation made by the Law Commission is accepted by the Government as appropriate for legislation. There may be circumstances in which the Government have a policy on legislation that is not entirely in parallel with its recommendations. That does not take away in any sense from the quality of the recommendations made.