Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, perhaps I could interrupt the noble Baroness for one moment. Would she agree that the European Commission of Human Rights is not the same as the European Court of Human Rights; that the European Court takes precedence over what the Commission has said; and that the Court has not yet spoken?

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I said--or certainly intended to say--that the matter had gone before the Commission and would go before the European Court of Human Rights if domestic legislation was not changed. That clearly justifies the Government taking action to promote legislation, albeit on a free vote in both Houses. But there is more to it than the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights. One must also consider all the social implications to which reference has been made in today's debate. When this matter was debated last April I was struck by the views of the two youngest Members of this House: the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, who has spoken briefly today, and the Earl of Clancarty, who is no longer with us. They both spoke for their generation. In particular, the Earl of Clancarty said

11 Apr 2000 : Column 154

that if the issues dealt with that day had been debated by the under 25s they would have taken a different and much more realistic view of the situation.

Lord Monson: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that not many people under 25 are yet parents, still less grandparents?

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, certainly not many of those under 25 are grandparents but a great number are parents. Regrettably, many of them are single parents, which is one of the problems related to the matter that we are now debating. I was impressed by the contributions of those two young Members of your Lordships' House. We must remember that in the 21st century we are legislating for the young people of this country whose views and needs should guide our decision on this Bill.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Brightman: My Lords, I am the last speaker before the gap at my own request. I am grateful to whatever usual channels have arranged that privilege for me. My reason is that I wish to speak to a matter of importance that arises on this Bill, although it has nothing whatever to do with sex. I wish to enter a strong protest at the way in which this Bill is drafted. I sincerely hope that I shall not cause any offence to parliamentary counsel, for whose skill I have the greatest respect. I do not expect the Attorney-General to reply to anything that I say, unless he wishes to do so, because I have not warned him in advance.

This Bill deals with the Sexual Offences Acts 1956 and 1967 and comparable legislation that affects Scotland and Northern Ireland. I shall confine myself to Section 1 of the 1967 Act by way of example. Section 1 as originally enacted contains seven subsections. If a Bill seeks to amend a section it can do so in one of two ways. It can amend the section in piecemeal fashion by inserting a word here and taking away a word there; or it can repeal the section in toto and re-introduce it in the amended form which it is intended to take. If the section has already been heavily amended by previous Acts of Parliament and is intended to be further re-amended, obviously the time will come when the only sensible course is to repeal the section and substitute a new one.

Section 1 of the 1967 Act has already been amended in eight respects by the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 1982 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is now intended to amend it a further five times by this Bill. In consequence, if the Bill reaches the statute book in its present form and someone wishes to read the whole of Section 1 of the 1967 Act, as amended, he will need to proceed as follows. For subsection (1) the reader must first go to Schedule 11 to the 1994 Act to amend line two. The reader must then go to Section 145 of the 1994 Act and Clause 2(3) of the Bill for the remainder of the subsection. Subsection (2) is unaltered. For subsection (3) the reader must go to paragraph 34(a) of Schedule 1 to the 1982 Act to amend lines one, two and eight. The reader must then go to paragraph 34(b) of Schedule 3 to the

11 Apr 2000 : Column 155

1982 Act to insert a new subsection which is numbered (3A). Subsection (4) is unaltered. For subsection (5) the reader must go to Section 146 of the 1994 Act to learn that it has been repealed. For subsection (6) the reader must back-pedal to Section 145 of the 1994 Act and then go to Clause 1(2) of the Bill for the final words of that subsection. Subsection (7) is unaltered.

Your Lordships will see, therefore, that in order to discover the text of Section 1 in the amended form that it is intended to take under the Bill the reader will have to cope with amendments spread over the text of three Acts of Parliament and two schedules. In my respectful submission, that is not fair to the public, to lawyers who have to advise the public or to anyone else.

The reader may think of turning to what used to be called the Notes on Clauses (now the Explanatory Notes) to discover the text of Section 1 in its amended form. He would be ill-advised to do so. Page 11 purports to set out the subsections amended by the Bill and identify the subsections which continue unaffected by the Bill. Subsection (5) is included as a provision which is unaffected by the Bill, but that subsection has been repealed by Section 146 of the 1994 Act. Furthermore, subsection (7), which continues unaffected by the Bill, is omitted from the list of subsections unaltered by the Bill, and the reader will therefore think that it is not there.

If the editor of Notes on Clauses cannot get things right, what hope is there for the rest of us? Why on earth does the Bill not repeal Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act and set out a new Section 1 in its amended form and save everyone a great deal of trouble and the possibility of making mistakes. I do not place any blame on the editor of Notes on Clauses. I found it a difficult and tedious task to build up Section 1 into its intended final form. It is extremely easy to make a mistake and I made several mistakes before I got it right.

If I had the opportunity I would table an amendment to the Bill in the form of a Keeling schedule setting out the section in its amended form. The contents of the schedule could then be removed at a later stage and placed in the body of the Bill. This happened with the Trustee (Delegation) Bill of the last Session. The Bill as drafted amended Section 25 of the Trustee Act 1925 which had already been heavily amended. I tabled a Keeling schedule which rewrote Section 25 in its amended form. The Government accepted the amendment in principle, repealed Section 25 of the Trustee Act and set out the amended Section 25 in full in the body of the Bill. I refer to Hansard, 9th March 1999, at col. 125. However, having regard to the rubric which is printed at the top of page 1 of this Bill, I doubt whether this course is practicable in the present case.

Finally, the guidelines for the drafting of Community legislation produced under the Treaty of Amsterdam state:

    "To make texts more readily comprehensible, references to other Acts should be kept to a minimum. Cross-references ... should be avoided ... Amendments should take the form of a text to be inserted in the Act to be amended".

11 Apr 2000 : Column 156

When I inquired not so very long ago, I was told by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel that there were no guidelines here for the drafting of Bills. In my respectful opinion it is high time that there were.

I apologise for taking up so much of your Lordships' time on a matter which is peripheral to the substance of the Bill. But as the Bill is one of the most extreme cases of piecemeal amendments which I have encountered, I felt that I should not allow the occasion to pass without comment. As the guidelines for Community legislation say:

    "Clear, simple ... drafting ... is essential if it is to be transparent ... and readily understandable by the public".

That ends my protest, and I hope that I have not caused offence to anyone who has been involved in the formulation of the Bill.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, for reminding us of the virtues of the Keeling schedule. It is something which should be employed more often.

We on these Benches have a free vote. Thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I do not need to elaborate that point further.

One or two points struck me from the debate. For me the high moment of the debate was the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, emulating Nell Gwyn by throwing open the windows of the carriage and saying, "Good people, I am the Labour Young".

I return also to the matter of the Berkshire Health Authority which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reintroduced. I have an official press release from the health authority dated last Friday. Its exact words are these:

    "Circulation of the newsletter was recently extended to personal health and sex education advisers in Berkshire schools and student counsellors in colleges. This is to give people in key positions information about sources of help and advice to assist them in their work. It has not been circulated directly to school pupils".

That seems to be an official statement which demands at least some degree of attention.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. I never said that it had been circulated to school pupils. I said that it had been sent to the headmistress. That is what she said to me.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page