§ 3.30 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD ELWYN-JONES)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships will recollect that a similar Bill, based on the Law Commissions' Fifth Report on Statute Law Revision, was given a Second Reading in the House on January 24, but shortly afterwards the Bill fell with the Dissolution of Parliament. I need not, therefore, describe its contents in any detail, though I will, of course, endeavour to answer any questions your Lordships may address to me with regard to it.
The Bill marks a further stage in the continuing process of Statute Law revision resulting from the systematic review of the Statute Book by both Law Commissions. It does not include quite as many exotic Statutes as some of the earlier repeal Bills, but your Lordships will observe that among others it includes an Act of Parliament of Scotland, the Dovecots Act 1617; but I understand that this will not have an adverse effect on the existing dovecotes in Scotland. A 1033 detailed explanation of the Bill will be found, as before, in the Law Commissions' Report, subject to one change which I will mention.
There is one substantial difference between this Bill and its predecessor, which has the effect of reducing its size by three pages of print, an event which in itself will, I suspect, not meet with any displeasure in the House. The explanation of the fact that the Bill is shorter is that it no longer repeals the financial enactments which made up Part II of the Schedule to the previous Bill. Those enactments related to certain taxes, such as the special contribution of 1948, the excess profits levy and excess profits tax, which have not been in force for many years. It is, however, still possible for assessments to be made for the years when they were in force, if liability has been concealed over the years by fraud or by wilful default, and the Schedule to the previous Bill contained a saving provision to that effect.
When this matter came before the Joint Committee, which held its first meeting on the Bill just before the Dissolution, the Committee doubted whether it was right to include those provisions in a Bill of this kind. In the circumstances I have described, with an abundance of caution, the Committee hesitated to classify those provisions as being "of no practical utility", as the Long Title requires, even with the specific saving I have mentioned. The Law Commission have since reconsidered the matter and their advice, with which I agree, is that those provisions should be omitted from the Bill. There is one exception for Section 45(8) of the Finance (No. 2) Act 1915, which relates to a profits duty of the First War. This is wholly spent and reappears in Part II of the Schedule to this Bill. Otherwise the other taxing provisions remain. It may be possible to deal with the rest on some other appropriate occasion, but not in a Statute Law Repeals Bill.
I know that some of your Lordships will share the interest in the statistical result of this operation which was reflected by my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner. The effect of this Bill is that it now repeals 54 whole Acts and 310 parts of Acts which were passed into law between 1581 and 1972. It will bring the total of the statute repeals covered by the 1034 Law Commissions' programme up to 369 whole Acts of Parliament and 692 parts of Acts, so that 1,061 statutes are affected in all. But your Lordships may or may not be gratified to know that the Statute Book is not exactly denuded. There were approximately 3,480 statutes on the Statute Book on January 1, 1974; in 1964 there were 3,680. To have reduced the total number by 200 over a period of ten years which has seen so much new legislation is a commendable achievement, for which our thanks are due to the Law Commissions. The Bill continues the process of pruning the Statute Book which, as my predecessor pointed out, is far from finished yet. Indeed it may well prove to be a perpetual exercise.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, may I just say that, exotic or not, the House should, I think, take this opportunity of saying a word of thanks to the Joint Committee, which has already had one meeting on this Bill and it will have some more. It is a very laborious task in fact to go through the long list of repeals in the Schedule. The substantive part of this Bill is very short; it is all in the Repeals Schedule. Each of them has to be checked to see whether or not it is justified for repeal. I am glad that the teeth of the Joint Committee have been bared in the case of the financial provisions and its judgment has been proved right; it growled correctly in the night, and the noble and learned Lord has now dropped those provisions.
The only other point I should like to make is that I hope the noble and learned Lord would agree with me in this proposition, that although at this stage of the Bill we need not be particularly concerned whether or not the "doocots" in Scotland will be denuded by the repeal of the 1617 Act, it is open to any noble Lord on the recommittal of this Bill to raise that or any other repeal on merits, so that we can discuss it, even if it is passed through the Joint Committee. That is the procedure which applies to these Bills, and a very salutary one it has proved to be in the past. If that is right, it might be of interest to noble Lords to know that they all have a chance to take part in this process, if they wish.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the noble Viscount for that guidance and information, and I am grateful to him for the pronunciation of "dovecotes" in a fashion unfamiliar to a Welshman, if I may say so. Our thanks are also due, as the noble Viscount pointed out, to the Joint Committee, and indeed it is a great relief to me, if I may say so, that it will fall to them to consider the minutiae of the various appeals.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.