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Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, I expect to hear from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House that there is a provision in the Good Friday agreement or in some predecessor agreement that explains and justifies the inclusion of the Law Reform Commission of the Republic of Ireland in this little group in Clause 50(4). If there is such a provision, I am sure the noble and learned Lord will identify it. If there is not, I express my support for the amendment. That is

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not out of lack of sympathy for the need in appropriate cases to consult with and to act congenially and consistently with the legal processes in the south, in the Republic. I say "where appropriate" because there will be circumstances where it is not.

Having had some involvement over quite a long time in the negotiations which reach their culmination in what has been described rightly as the great achievement of this Government in 1998, the Belfast agreement, I have long recognised the need, where appropriate, for consistency with what is happening in the Republic; and for bringing into consultation organisations in the Republic.

However, I have also a vivid recollection of the suspicions and anxieties of which the noble Lord spoke in moving the amendment. If there is no specific provision in any agreement which is responsible for and explains the inclusion of the Republic of Ireland's Law Reform Commission in this group, I anticipate that those suspicions will be fuelled. We can all regret the fact that they exist but, equally, I am sure we agree that there is a duty on all of us not unnecessarily to reinforce them.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the answer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, is plain. The document where one finds this recommendation is the review recommendation 245. It is quite plain and unambiguous that that is what should be done and we have accepted that. Whether or not one agrees with every recommendation, the noble and learned Lord's experience of the review is that it was certainly a painstaking and wide consultative exercise carried out with a composition which was widely representative of different views in Northern Ireland. I believe that its conclusion is right. It strikes me as being particularly appropriate because there is a close historic and legal common tradition in different ways—not altogether a tradition of uniformity but a legal, cultural and historical tradition—which has in the past united the Republic, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. Perfectly fairly, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked me why it should not include the Commonwealth or the European Union. My answer is plain. What similarity of legal tradition is there between our legal and judicial system and that of France, Germany, Spain, Italy or Belgium? There is virtually none. They are not accustomed to jury trials. They are accustomed to inquisitorial not accusatorial trials. Their entire tradition, I think I can say about France and Belgium, has been post-Napoleonic. That has not, happily, been our experience.

I suggest to noble Lords that it is necessary to understand that this is not exclusive. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent wider consultation. Indeed, certain state jurisdictions in the United States might be helpful; otherwise the descendants of the Napoleonic code and tradition in the United States would not be suitable. So it is perfectly simple. There is no conspiracy. There is no hidden agenda. The louder I say it, and the clearer and more unambiguously I say it, the better.

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I believe that the noble and learned Lord also asked whether there was interference in any other way in the day-to-day judicial process in Northern Ireland. There is not. If there were any attempt to interfere improperly in any way from any quarter—whether Republic of Ireland, or other—with the judicial process in the Province, I know that the noble and learned Lord would be the first to join me in saying that it would encounter a very prompt bloody nose from the judges. There is no conspiracy. It is perfectly sensible to look at the traditions that we have shared. I have in mind legal traditions that are not entirely uniform; they are sometimes diverse.

The suggestion here is based on recommendation 245, which brought about the requirement in the legislation that these relevant—I stress the word "relevant"—law commissions in countries with a similar common judicial and legal tradition should be consulted. One can find conspiracies everywhere, even a conspiracy of one. But, I am sorry to say, there is no conspiracy—even at this hour of the night.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that I am reassured to a degree by his response. However, under the present arrangement is a High Court appointment bounced off the Irish authorities before it is implemented? Is that what is happening? Is that what this provision in the Bill is intended to perpetuate?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, perhaps I may explain the position again. What we are looking at here is the Law Commission, which has nothing at all to do with the appointment of judges. That is a matter for the Judicial Appointments Commission. However, they share one characteristic—namely, a common noun—but they share no other. I do not believe that I can explain the position any more plainly.

The commission that we are discussing is the Law Commission. It is a scholarly body that seeks to reform the law. I appreciate that it must be regarded as an uphill struggle, because many of its reports in the United Kingdom have not been dealt with for the past 20 years. I repeat: this has nothing to do with the appointment of judges. Law commissions consider the substance, the structure, and the process of law. They do so in a detached, dispassionate, academic and scholarly way. They produce their reports, after which a draft Bill is produced. Then, 20 years later, someone does something about it—on a lucky day with a following wind. At this point, your Lordships will understand that I am not, in any circumstance, talking with a word called "taxi" on my mind.

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When we introduce and act upon the forthcoming excellent "red report" from the Leader's group on working practices, which I commend to the House, and after it has received unanimous acceptance on 17th July, there will be opportunity in September for Grand Committees to sit and scrutinise Law Commission Bills. Indeed, only those—I speak directly to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain—who have a pulsating interest in law reform Bills would be expected, let alone required, to attend.

This provision has nothing to do with the appointment of judges. However—a famous word in your Lordships' House—if it did have to do with the appointment of High Court judges, to use the noble Lord's graceful phrase, High Court appointments are not "bounced off" the Irish Government. They are not the business of the Irish Government, any more than it is our business to try to interfere with who the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ireland is, excellent though he may be in every way.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I believe that the Minister said that this Bill would in no way prevent the Law Commission from consulting any other common law jurisdiction. I have no difficulty with that. However, if that is the case, why specifically put into the Bill the Law Reform Commission of the Republic of Ireland? Why not leave it in the same way as any other common law jurisdiction to which reference could be made?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, under the duties of the commission, as specified in the Bill, it is directed—rightly, one would have thought—to consult with relevant proximate law commissions. That is why the Law Reform Commission of the Republic of Ireland is not singled out; it is included with the Law Commission of England and Wales—an excellent body—and the Scottish Law Commission. I repeat that it is not directed to look at Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium or even Luxembourg because, even with the best telescope in the world, it would be difficult to find any benefit in mandatory consultations with them. So we are looking for proximate and relevant jurisdictions; in other words, the voice of reason is speaking however quietly.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at eighteen minutes before eleven o'clock.

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