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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, the only disadvantage that occurs to me of having subject days for the debates on the Queen's Speech is that it puts an issue that over-arches all the subjects into an impasse. I shall speak about over-legislation, which is a profound issue. Before doing so, perhaps I may first say briefly that I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for her comments on identity cards, which is an issue close to my heart and to these Benches. I was grateful, too, that my noble friend Lord Goodhart referred to legal aid and the potential impact on the integrity and independence of my profession of solicitors by allowing solicitors' firms to be capitalist entities—that is, owned by unrelated investors.

The Charities Bill is covered by tonight's broad subject area and, as one who sat through 34 hours of debate, I view its return with some ambivalence, although it is better that we have that Bill on the statute book early. Many amendments and improvements to it were made and I hope that they will greatly shorten our further deliberations.

The quantity of legislation tends to be overlooked as we plough through Bill after Bill. The Queen's Speech mentioned 43 Bills and six draft Bills. There are nine Home Office crime Bills of one type or another to add to the 35—or is it 40?—that have been introduced since 1997. If legislation alone achieved its purpose, we would have no crime today. The volume of criminal legislation and the creation of new criminal offences has been profligate. We would have no need for further legislation. But in truth there seems to have been an inverse proportion between legislation and the ills to which much of it is addressed.

I went to the Library today to obtain the latest statistics, which are in respect of 2003. In that year, we passed 13,407 pages of new law—4,073 pages of Acts, 9,334 for subsidiary legislation. That represents between 8,000 and 9,000 pages of net additional new law. One does not need to be a soothsayer or a wise person to realise that no culture can withstand, year after year, that level of new law making, because all of it creates new demands on the segments of our society to which it is directed and the creation of more advisers, consultants and so on.

Statistics are not easily found for the Continent, but we legislate at about two-and-a-half times the rate of Germany, three times the rate of Switzerland and five times the rate of Sweden. I have not found any country that has anything like our level of legislation. Why has that come about? It is due to a grossly over-centralised state, a governmental and electoral system that delivers disproportionate majorities, a patronage system, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that ties in a large number of men and women in the Commons, a whipping system and production line
 
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legislation that supports a "phoney mandate", whereby huge manifestos are justified in terms of the vast amount of law that comes in their wake.

The broad effects are of complication, intrusiveness, bureaucracy and an immense increase in specialist advisers and consultants. We are creating a world fit for lawyers and not all of us are happy about it. The impact on the citizen is crucial and the bulimic legislative tradition that has become ours is responsible for much citizen disenchantment and lack of democratic health.

So much of the legislation that we pass is indigestible and incomprehensible. The impact can be disabling when its intent is to help and enable, and it is distancing and disconnecting. The impersonality and lack of ownership of so much legislation is itself a problem that we have not begun to contend with.

So much of our legislation is unjust in that those who are eventually caught and prosecuted feel resentful that the world at large has been untouched. It is commonplace that the police and other enforcement authorities are in a great bind when trying to keep up with the law that we thrust on them.

I have observed the parliamentary impact even in my short seven years here. Legislation—particularly subsidiary legislation—is not properly scrutinised. Parliamentarians feel increasingly incompetent to take an active part in the passage of Bills.

What should we do? First, we need to take a long hard look at the impact of so much of the legislation that we produce. Although I am reluctant to suggest a royal commission, I believe that the difficult and fundamental series of interlocking problems might warrant the creation of one. We had the Renton report in 1975 and the Hansard Society report in 1992. We have had major debates in this place in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2001, but we have not come near to cracking the cultural problems that I am trying to address.

We need to consult more. We need to get out the protocol on consultation that the Government nobly passed a couple of years ago and make sure that it is applied. It is not being applied at the moment. We need to ensure that consultation goes down to the grass roots because too often the only consultation is with umbrella groups that are frequently not truly representative of the people they purport to represent.

The time scale for consultation is wholly unrealistic in many cases. We need to deliberate more, and more effectively in Parliament. The proposals for a 60-day rule and many of the proposals in the Hunt report are more a reflection of the managerial ethos of the present Government than of the wisdom of what we should be doing.

We need to give more attention to public citizenship education. I pay tribute to the Government for having put that into schools, but more needs to be done. We need to have citizen summaries of new law. We need to make sure that those issues that are of popular concern are understood by the public, and that time, money and effort is spent on ensuring that that happens.
 
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Many of the problems in relation to the European Union have to do with the complete incomprehension on the part of most people as to how that barbarically complicated set of interlocking institutions actually works. Unless we do something about that, it is a farce in democratic terms. Above all we need to be practical in our understanding of how the legislation we pass in this place will work.

I return again to the issue of decentralisation without which we will never get near to controlling the extraordinary outpouring of legislative effluent which year by year showers on the unsuspecting public.

Finally, I come to respect. It is a big word. Yes, we need respect, but we in this place also need to respect the public. I do not honestly think that we do that. If we respected the situation in which the vast majority of the public find themselves in relation to the laws that we so merrily pass, we would not be quite so cavalier in our approach and in the volume of laws that are passed. Inflation of legislation is as dangerous as inflation of money. To pretend that by laws passed in this place we can cure every social ill is about as wise as saying that one should take an antibiotic for every cold and illness. Ultimately antibiotics become ineffectual, as has so much of our legislation.

8.59 pm

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I enjoyed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He repeats a theme that was introduced by the Front Bench spokesman who described what the Lord Chancellor said as a "veritable blizzard of legislation".

I listened with care to what the Lord Chancellor said and was proud of the programme which he announced. Let me remind your Lordships of some of the Bills which are forecast. First, identity cards—are we all interested in them? The answer is yes, but whether we get the legislation we want is another matter. On immigration, is there a need for legislation to change the rules? I say that there is and we will have a good debate on them. The word "respect" has a resonance in many areas and it was touched on by the Lord Chancellor. I am certainly interested in that. He also mentioned safety and security issues; violence and firearms; binge drinking; incitement to religious hatred; corporate manslaughter; and fraud and fighting it.

I am not an expert on any of those issues, but I am interested in them. I believe that subject to careful consultation the Government are entitled to say to the people of this country and to this House, "These are our views on how to tackle those problems". My noble and learned friend also mentioned sentencing; probation; legal aid and the cost of criminal defence; bringing the legal profession up to date; the compensation culture; and electoral administration.

On none of those subjects could I possibly compete with the vast range of specialist speakers to whom I have respectfully listened. I appreciate that and, as always, I shall try to listen to as many of the debates as possible. However, the Government are entitled to
 
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take some credit for deciding that these issues need to be tackled in this Session. They may be right or they may be wrong—we will have to see.

We then heard about the range of issues which will be covered by reform of the House and its procedures. The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, is a long-time friend and member of a club, with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and I, of former Chief Whips with experience of getting legislation through. We are all figures men. When Michael Cocks in the Whips office used to tell us, "This is the issue of the day", someone might ask, "What about the principle?". He would say, "Principle! Principles in the Whips office? Get out there and get them through the Labour Lobby". As far as he was concerned, it was all to do with numbers.

In this place, overwhelmingly it is all to do with numbers. Let me remind your Lordships of the situation which existed when Labour came to office in 1997. In this place, 481 Conservative and 116 Labour Members then took the Whip. Just reflect on that. An incoming party was faced with the fact that it had only 116 Members while its main opposition had 481. The Liberal Democrats had 57 and the Cross Benches had 320. The tautology of those percentages is ludicrous.

After all the changes in 1997, 1998 and 1999, in 2001 Labour still had only 193 Members while the Conservatives had 173. But with the addition of the hereditary Peers—the main plank in what is to happen—Labour had 197 Members and the Conservatives 225. Labour had 197 Members of this House out of a total of 679. The situation was beginning to shift. However, can anyone tell me that, if they were in government and inheriting such a situation, they would do nothing—like the main party opposite did nothing for 18 years?

I asked the Library to give me some figures, so let me give your Lordships the number of government defeats in this House when Labour was in power between 1974 and 1979 and the Conservatives had those majorities. Of 119 Divisions in 1975, the Government lost 103. In 1976, of 146 Divisions, the Government lost 126. In 1977, out of 45 Divisions, the Government lost 25. In 1978, out of a total of 96 Divisions, the Government lost 78.

Members opposite can say, "Well, that's the way it was". Well, that is the way it was, but it is not the way it is going to be. It will be changed. Whether or not there is blood on the carpet, no self-respecting party which has been returned three times with overwhelming majorities would ignore it. There are people who would question a 66 majority; but, my goodness, there are parties all around the House which would think 66, or even 26, was a decent majority.

One then moves on. During the years of the Conservative government, when they controlled the Commons as well as this place, one comes across situations such as occurred in 1984: of 237 Divisions, the Government lost only 20. In 1987, there were 80 Divisions and the Government lost three. In 1991, of 104 Divisions, the Government lost 17. That situation changed in 1997, when a Labour government came to
 
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power. All of a sudden, this House became more effective in defeating the Government. In 1997–98, of 179 Divisions, the Government were defeated in 39. In the following year, of 99 Divisions, they lost 31. In the year after that, of 192 Divisions, they lost 36.

I come to the past four years. In 2001–02, of 172 Divisions, the Government lost 56. In 2002–03, of 226 Divisions, they lost 88. In 2003–04, of 176 Divisions, they lost 64. That is the pattern. I respect the fact that many colleagues on all sides of the House are faced with the prospect of losing their place here because they are hereditary Peers. I genuinely feel for them and their families because they are losing a privilege that, in some cases, they have enjoyed for hundreds of years.

My family has had the privilege of containing a Member of the House of Lords for the past 20 years and that is all. If I look in the eye people who have been represented in this place for 300 or 400 years, I say to them, "You can have too much of a good thing". It is not a threat; it is a reality. We have the opportunity to make changes and we should do that. It is our right; it is our opportunity, and I certainly intend to support the Government in doing it in that way.

In a third term the Government could be expected to slow down or run out of steam, but I believe that the programme which we have heard described—I have listened to many of the speakers, but not all—tackles real problems. I say to the Lord Chancellor and his ministerial colleagues that I accept the fact that it will take courage, vision and realism. It is a programme not for the past, nor the present; it is one for the future. I commend it to the House.

9.8 pm


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