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House of Lords

Monday, 25th January 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Tributes to Lord Denning

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who reached the great age of 100 last Saturday. Born on 23rd January 1899, he was educated at Andover Grammar School and Magdalen, Oxford. He saw service on the Western Front in France from 1917 to 1918. He was called to the Bar in 1921, took Silk in 1938, became a High Court judge in 1946 at the age of 45 and went to the Court of Appeal in 1949. He came to this House in 1957 and in 1962 became Master of the Rolls, an office that he occupied for 20 years until 1982 when he resigned in his 84th year.

He was appointed by Her Majesty to the Order of Merit in November 1997 in succession to Sir Isaiah Berlin. Only one other lawyer this century has been similarly honoured, my distinguished predecessor Lord Haldane.

The noble and learned Lord ranks in distinction with the greatest judges this century in the common law world: Lords Atkin, Reid and Devlin in the United Kingdom, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Benjamin Cardozo and Felix Frankfurter in the United States, and Owen Dixon in Australia. His contribution to the development of the law in this country has been vast. He is a lawyer of massive intellect, erudition and imagination. True, there were some maverick decisions, but when he adopted an unorthodox line, as he often did, he was frequently vindicated by later decisions or even statute.

Throughout his long public service as a judge he displayed an acute sense of justice as a moral value and of law as the protector of the rights of the little man. He was in the van in the post-war development of administrative law. Government's discretionary powers were to be exercised within the framework of the rule of law. The individual's rights were not to be overridden at the whim of those in authority.

He invented the concept of the deserted wife's equity in the matrimonial home. In commercial law he was ahead of the field in appreciating that the law should impose liability for negligent misstatements where the maker assumed responsibility for their accuracy. Whole new doctrines now accepted were developed by him. Almost single-handedly he invented the concept of a pre-judgment court order to prevent defendants dissipating their assets before judgment could be given against them.

Throughout most of his career he was probably the only judge of whom the mass of the population had ever heard. His judgments were models of lucidity. He wrote

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in simple pungent prose that anyone could understand. He humanised the law and freed it from anachronistic precedents. He was an evangelist without equal for the common law throughout the Commonwealth. He was also a model of how a judge should behave: unfailingly courteous, understanding and expressing counsel's arguments better than they could themselves.

I have an abiding memory of the noble and learned Lord's kindness to litigants in person in his Court of Appeal. Most of the time he had to turn them down but they always left feeling that they had had a fair hearing and therefore justice. The noble and learned Lord is one of the greatest living Englishmen. On behalf of the whole House I salute him today.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Ackner: My Lords, essentially on the basis of alphabetical merit, I rise to associate the judges with everything that my noble and learned friend said. The senior Law Lord and his colleagues are hard at work and accordingly they are not here to reply.

Having reached the age of anecdotage, perhaps your Lordships will allow me one short story about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. The Canadian Bar Association used to invite a judge to its excellent get-together. I was one who was so invited. Some years later I was told that a number of very young Canadian lawyers were visiting the high spots of Europe and wanted, no doubt for good fiscal reasons, to have a serious party. I laid on a garden party in the Middle Temple. All of the judges who attended that party had been guests of the Canadian Bar Association. Tom Denning had been several times. One very young Canadian lawyer pulled me by the sleeve and asked, "Is that Lord Denning?" I said, "Yes, that's Lord Denning". "Gee", he confided in me, "Do you know we still read his father's judgments?". I repressed saying that perhaps the father is more reliable than the son.

I therefore join with all the judges who last Friday wished the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, many, many happy returns.

Rail Freight: Local Transport Plans

2.43 p.m.

Lord Cadman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why there was no mention made of rail freight in the draft guidance document issued to local authorities by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in respect of their obligation to produce a local transport plan by July 1999.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we fully recognise the importance of ensuring that rail freight is given proper consideration within local transport plans. We acknowledge that the draft guidance was incomplete when we issued it. Our priority was to circulate interim advice sufficient to enable authorities to make a start on their plans.

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There are gaps in the draft guidance. Those will be covered in the revised version including advice on how local authorities can encourage rail freight transport.

Lord Cadman: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. Does the Minister agree that it was a serious omission, given the investment presently being made in the rail freight industry with its consequential increase in tonnage carried? Can the noble Baroness enlighten the House further on the Government's plans to encourage and persuade local authorities to provide within their local transport plans facilities for rail freight as identified by the rail freight industry?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lords' question allows me to state publicly how pleased we are that the doubling of expenditure on freight grants to £30 million in our first year in office has resulted in a very great increase in the use of rail freight.

We shall issue revised planning guidance to facilitate the moving of more freight by rail. Local authorities will be expected to consider and protect opportunities for rail connections to industrial sites. We are delighted to give the support that the noble Lord seeks.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of a rail freight group. I welcome the noble Lord's Question and the Minister's Answer.

When the revised guidance is issued, I hope that my noble friend and her colleagues will take into account the need for other types of freight transport, including road freight. There is little in the document about deliveries to shops, factories or offices. Much is written about re-allocation of road space and motorists responding in many ways. When the document is reissued, I hope that my noble friend will take into account that the number of people on buses, bicycles and walking need to be counted rather than the number of cars.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as the guidance acknowledges, local authorities must consider measures to promote walking and cycling. They could include the reallocation of road space. I am delighted to say that the detailed guidance will draw attention to the importance of local transport plans, including the follow-through connections from road to rail to which my noble friend referred.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to quantify her phrase "a very great increase in the use of rail freight" as a result of the increased grants to which she referred?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will be pleased to know that government action coupled with the work of the freight companies--they provided their own ambitious targets--has reversed the previous decline. We saw a

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12 per cent. growth in freight tonne kilometres on the railways during 1997-98--the first such increase in many years.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that rail freight is likely to be used for medium or long distances, and the former government's destruction of the regional or metropolitan local authorities, will the regional development authorities be the lead authorities in terms of rail freight; and will they receive appropriate planning guidance from the Government?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the fragmentation which occurred in the recent past. The strategic framework for local plans will be provided by the regional transport strategy contained in regional planning guidance. Those strategies will ensure a coherent and complementary approach across and between regions.

The closest possible co-operation with the regional development agencies will ensure that the system is integrated.

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