HL Deb 02 February 1971 vol 314 cc1123-7

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The House will see from the Schedule to the Bill that the subjects dealt with by the enactments to be repealed fall into no fewer than seven main categories: first, Irish Peers; second, Ecclesiastical Law; third, banking; fourth, annuities; fifth, war-time and emergency provisions and the renewal of expiring laws; sixth, Acts concerning central Government finance, and seventh, miscellaneous.

The House will be grateful to the Law Commission for preparing the way for Parliament to rid the Statute Book of another parcel—the second this Session—of laws of no further practical utility. The Bill will, of course, go to the Joint Committee concerned, and the Joint Committee will carefully scrutinise the enactments scheduled to the Bill, if by your Lordships' leave it is read a second time. But I would expect the attention of the (House to be particularly directed to Part I, which repeals the provisions relating to the Representative Peers of Ireland, the right to elect whom no longer exists. Some of your Lordships will recall the decision of the House on November 24, 1966, which then approved the Report of the Committee for Privileges of this House.

I do not think there is much I need say about the rest of the Bill. The ecclesiastical enactments in Part II of the Schedule are recommended for repeal by a Committee of lawyers established by the two Archbishops, except for two which do not concern the Church of England. Those two are recommended for repeal by the authorities of the relevant denomination; namely, the governing body of the Church in Wales and the Archbishop of the West Indies. In the Miscellaneous part of the Schedule (Part IX) are some well-known Statutes, including the remnants of the Code preventing the use of children for sweeping chimneys. Your Lordships will see that the Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act 1864 is finally swept away. This, of course, has an historical significance because it represented the reaction of Parliament to the publication of the well-known book, Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley, in 1863. Your Lordships will remember the poignant story of Tom Grimes and the little boy.

There is one provision which I am sorry to say the Bill does not contain, although I should like to see it do so. That is the repeal of Section 9 of the Tenures Abolition Act 1660. Your Lordships will remember that on the Guardianship of Minors Bill the Joint Select Committee drew the attention of Parliament to the unfortunate survival of this antiquated and cumbrous legal fragment; and on Third Reading I told the House that I was considering whether we could do away with it, perhaps in the present Bill. However, the Law Commission, having been good enough to look into the point very fully, have come to a contrary conclusion. For technical reasons, with which I will not weary the House, they found that the matter could not be dealt with in this Bill. All I can say now is that the Joint Select Committee's Report will not be forgotten; the point will be borne in mind against the day when a suitable Bill comes along.

My Lords, I hope the House will approve of this Bill, and will ask the Joint Committee to examine it with usual thoroughness. Then we can see what comes of it. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I think the House will welcome this Bill as another step towards the achievement of a really tidied-up and convenient Statute Book. We all must express our great gratitude to the Law Commission for the prodigious amount of study and research that must have gone into the preparation of the Schedule, covering many pages and going over a wide range of different subjects, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has pointed out. It is possibly useful to dwell for a moment upon the work that is now being done in order to achieve a new form of Statute Book which will contain the law relating to a particular subject under one heading, which will be completely divested of Acts that no longer serve any useful purpose, such as the Acts which we are repealing to-day, and which will follow on the series of already extremely useful Statutes Revised, which many noble Lords may have consulted in the Library.

Noble Lords who are interested in that publication will know that those Statutes went up to and included those for the year 1948 in a form which had been followed for many decades. Your Lordships may be interested to be reminded that as from 1948 the Statute Law Committee, through a sub-committee of that Committee over which Sir Leslie Scarman presides, have been engaged upon this massive reform of the way in which our Statute Law will be presented. I will not trouble your Lordships with the controversy that I think rages, to some extent, as to the merits of what is known as textual amendment as compared with the usual system of referential amendment which is in fact followed by both Houses of Parliament. That is a highly specialised matter which I do not think enters directly within the purview of this Bill.

I believe that in some quarters it has been supposed that the process of removing from the Statute museum pieces, such as the Statutes that are listed in the Schedule we are considering, is little more than an academic exercise. I should like to say, with all the emphasis at my command, that it is a hundred miles away from an academic exercise. The research that has gone into the preparation of the present Bill is essential in order to clear the way for the Statute Law Committee in the formulation of the new type Statute which will appear in Statutes Revised, covering the years 1949 onwards. My Lords, I thought it right to call attention to and to dwell for a moment on the importance of that work, and I do so largely to lead up to what must be my concluding remark; namely, one of deep appreciation to the Law Commission for yet another massive work of research and reform for which I think not only both Houses of Parliament but everybody in this country will be extremely grateful. I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think I need say more than to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, for the welcome he has given to this Bill, and also to thank him for what I might call the "trailer" for the forthcoming Government publication under the auspices of Sir Leslie Scarman and the Committee to which the noble Lord referred. This document will be called Statutes in Force, as distinct from the existing edition, which is called Statutes Revised, for which I do not have quite the same enthusiasm as the noble Lord because I do not find it a very convenient document to use. However, Statutes in Force, when it comes out—and there will be a public statement about this matter in the very near future—will be an entirely new work, constituting what I hope will turn out to be a permanently up-to-date edition of the Statute Law. In general each Act, including new Acts as they are enacted, will be in the form of a separate booklet, and the booklets will be punched with holes so that they can be kept together in a loose-leaf binder. An Act which has been repealed can then be removed, and when in course of time an Act becomes heavily amended the booklet will be replaced by a new booklet incorporating the amendments. An Accumulated Amendments booklet will be issued annually to list all the amendments not yet incorporated in the edition. Thus the result will be, when the whole proceeding is complete, that the Statute Law of England will be permanently in the shape of a loose-leaf notebook which is constantly in course of being revised and kept up to date.

Of course, no one will be able to say in advance how well the new venture will succeed, but I ant glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, has noticed it and given it his blessing. I hope it will be a new departure of great value to practising lawyers and others who wish to find out what the law really is, because it is no good passing new laws if people cannot find out with ease what they say. Therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill. Like him, I do not regard the removal of "lumber" as being wholly academic. I am sure that in the re-publication of the Statutes from time to time it is essential, from the point of view not merely of expense but of saving hours of time, to remove from the Statute Book the spent Statutes and those Statutes no longer of current effect. This can be done only by these efforts on the part of the Committee concerned.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.