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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I shall pass on the noble Lord's comments to the parliamentary draftsman. I am sure that what he has said will be read and noted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 71 [Existing debt]:

Lord Hardie moved Amendment No. 28:

Page 31, line 18, leave out ("This section applies") and insert ("Subsections (2) to (4) apply").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 28, I shall, with the leave of the House, speak also to Amendments Nos. 29, 30, 31 and 78. These are technical amendments. Their purpose is to allow provision to be made to ensure that outstanding debt owed by the Registers of Scotland Trading Fund to the National Loans Fund is repaid after devolution when the Registers of Scotland become part of the Scottish administration.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland is responsible for maintaining various registers. He exercises those functions through the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency. It operates as a trading fund under existing trading funds legislation. That legislation will cease to apply to the Registers of Scotland when it ceases to be a United Kingdom government department and becomes part of the Scottish administration on devolution. That would leave outstanding debt owed by the trading fund to the National Loans Fund in limbo.

The effect of the amendments will be to enable the Secretary of State to order that the existing debt which is deemed to be owed by the trading fund to the National Loans Fund be treated as an advance from the Secretary of State to Scottish Ministers. The Scottish Ministers will have to continue to repay the debt on existing terms and conditions and the Secretary of State will pay the proceeds into the National Loans Fund. This will ensure that the outstanding debt can continue to be repaid to the fund. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation. I think it is a good job he did not say that it is a drafting amendment. It certainly sounded fairly technical and seemed to have some connection with debt relief, which is very fashionable these days. However, it sounded all right. I suspect that I shall have to read it fully to understand and appreciate it. I think we are content with the amendment.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right in saying that this is a technical amendment in the sense that it deals with the technicalities of advances from the Treasury. However, it is on the face of it a substantial amendment. In fact,

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the whole of page 4 of the Marshalled List is made up of government amendments. So that calls for us to think what has happened.

When the Bill was introduced into this House it had already gone through the other place. However, it was still 96 pages long. The Bill we are now considering, as amended on Report, is 111 pages long. Most of the increase--15.5 per cent.--arises from government amendments; and so today we are adding more and more government amendments. We are bound to ask why we are in the position of constantly inflating the statute book from stage to stage. Even after the Bill has been considered by one House, we go on making it longer and longer at the instance of the Government. The reason is that we try to draft in an over-elaborate way.

The matter was referred to by the Renton Committee on the preparation of legislation. In fact, it was referred to under the title "Over-Elaboration". In paragraph 6.5 of the report the committee quotes with approval a memorandum from two great Scottish judges, my noble and learned friend Lord Emslie and the late Lord Wheatley, who at the time were Lord President and Lord Justice Clerk. This is what they said:

    "Most of the problems encountered by the Courts flow directly from the tendency of Parliament to ignore the virtue of enacting broad general rules in which the principal and over-riding intention can be readily seen, and to try to legislate in detail for particular aspects of the mischief which presumably the statute is intended to curb. It is an eternal truth that one can seldom foresee every combination of circumstances which may arise, and the practical consequence of attempting to do so and of drafting a statute so as to concentrate unduly on foreseen examples is more often than not to conceal the general intention and the ambit of that intention in a welter of detached provisions which leave one in doubt as to whether a particular combination of circumstances not expressly provided for was intended to be covered at all. It is probably the case that legislation in detail is resorted to because Parliamentarians harbour the suspicion that judges cannot be trusted to give proper effect to clear statements of principle. This, with respect to them (the Parliamentarians), is wholly unfounded. Indeed, so far as Scots judges are concerned, the strength of their common law system lies in its reliance upon broad statements of principle, and there is no reason to suppose that similar broad statements of principle in statute law would not, in their hands, be applied to the facts of any given case, to achieve the will of Parliament".
That is precisely true also of English common law principles, as I am sure the noble and learned friend will bear out, and why this Bill in particular is so massive and has grown and is still growing. That brings me back to ask the noble and learned Lord why that should be so.

Noble Lords will remember that Sir Robert Andrew, who was asked to advise on the Government Legal Services, advised that parliamentary counsel should be responsible to the Law Officers. That was his only recommendation that was disregarded. The same recommendation was made by an authoritative committee of the Hansard Society on legislation and its preparation under the chairmanship of the late Lord Rippon. I ask again: when will an important body of lawyers in the Government be made responsible to someone other than the Prime Minister, to whom at the moment they are solely responsible; for example a legal officer such as the Lord Chancellor or the Attorney-General who will ensure that the drafting does

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not continue in this over-elaborate way but lays down general principles as recommended by the Renton Committee?

Lord Renton: My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. It is important that he reminds us of the views of the committee which are just as applicable today as they were as long ago as 1975 when the report was published.

The noble and learned Lord has pointed out that since the Bill came before the House a tremendous number of government amendments has been tabled. I am surprised by that, bearing in mind that the intention to legislate on this matter was expressed in the Queen's Speech as long ago as May 1997. In Scotland the Law Officers who advise the Scottish Office are responsible for parliamentary counsel. It is only in England and Wales and in general that parliamentary counsel in Whitehall are responsible to the Prime Minister but in Scotland it is different, and I believe wisely so.

This was not an easy Bill to draft and I am not surprised that there have been a number of government amendments, but I believe that the matter should have been considered in much greater depth at an earlier stage, even before the Bill reached another place. In another place legislation is not considered with the thoroughness that noble Lords display in this matter. I believe that to be due in part to the fact that the other place does not have the same degree of expertise and legal learning. Therefore, noble Lords have a very important task in considering the further amendments that the Government have introduced and, on their own initiative, improving the Bill in general as they have tried to do.

I am very reluctant to criticise the Lord Advocate because I believe that he has done great service to us in the course of this Bill. But I believe that there is a general matter for consideration here which applies especially to this Bill that devolves powers to Scotland. As the noble and learned Lord said, this is of very general application. I hope that in future sessions the Government will bear in mind that legislation is of vital importance, difficult and requires a great deal of consideration before Parliament is ever asked to consider it.

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, and to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for their interventions. While the question of accountability of parliamentary draftsmen is a matter of general interest and importance, it goes beyond the scope of this amendment. Further, the procedures in the Scottish parliament, once it is established, for pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee will be a vast improvement on the present procedures in Westminster. I believe that to be a positive advantage of this Bill which I hope noble Lords will acknowledge.

I turn to the question of why this amendment is required. I apologise to the House if I have not already explained the matter. In the transitional period the Government are anxious to ensure that the registers can continue to operate broadly as they do at the present time.

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5.30 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord will allow me to intervene, we were not complaining of the noble and learned Lord's explanation. We were complaining about the length of the amendment introduced at this stage.

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