HL Deb 08 February 1977 vol 379 cc1036-9

2.55 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill gives effect to the Eighth Joint Report of the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission on Statute Law Revision. It proposes the repeal of 222 whole Acts of Parliament and one Church Assembly Measure—the earliest of which has been part of our law for a little less than 500 years—on the ground that they are no longer of practical utility. It will also repeal parts of 210 other Acts and four Church Assembly Measures. A glance at Schedule 1 to the Bill gives some indication of the massive work which has gone into preparing it. I am sure that the House will be grateful to the two Law Commissions for their valuable, continuing and indeed increasing work in this field, which, if this Bill is enacted, will have resulted in clearing no fewer than 723 obsolete Acts from the Statute Book.

The Bill is an historical treasure trove. No fewer than 437 enactments are proposed for repeal in whole or in part. They include the Act of Attainder of 1605 entitled: An Acte for the Attaindors of divers Offendors in the late moste barbarous monstrous detestable and damnable Treasons. Your Lordships may think that the language of this Title is somewhat intemperate even by modern standards. But the treason in question was the Gunpowder Plot, which, had it been successful, would have effected a more radical alteration in the constitution of your Lordships' House than any which is proposed today. But, as your Lordships will know, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were executed on 31st January 1606 on a spot close to where your Lordships' House now stands. Since then, this Act has been of historical interest but not of practical utility, and it is for this reason that its repeal is proposed.

I am also glad to say that the Act of Attainder of 1534 concerning one of my most illustrious predecessors, Sir Thomas More, is also proposed for repeal; although, to redress the balance a little in favour of Henry VIII, I should perhaps mention that the Bill contains three Acts showing his short-lived generosity to his wives. The Acts of 1533 and 1536 "concernyng the Quenes Joynture" conferred property rights on Anne Boleyn, and Jane Seymour respectively; but, alas! they did not live long to enjoy them. The "Acte for the lady Dowager" of 1533 provided that Katherine of Aragon was to be known as the Princess Dowager and gave her a life interest in certain property. The Bill mentions a number of Victorian Royal Personages, too, and the Act for the Naturalisation of His Serene Highness Prince Albert in 1840 is amongst those which can now be safely repealed.

The historian may also find it interesting to note the Act of 1777 which established a nightly watch, of watchmen and night constables, within the Hamlet of Mile-end Old Town, a fore-runner of the modern police system. The Act required the watchmen, under the supervision of the night constables: in their several turns or courses of watching [to] use their best endeavours to prevent fires, murders, burglaries, robberies and other outrages and disorders; and to that end…arrest and apprehend all night-walkers, malefactors, rogues, vagabonds and all disorderly persons". In view of your Lordships' very proper concern with the maintenance of law and order, I think it only right that I should point out that this Act became obsolete following the formation of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829. If the Bill is given a Second Reading, it will of course be referred to the Joint Committee in the usual way.

3 p.m.

Viscount ST. DAVIDS

My Lords, one small point when repealing these essential Acts of Attainder. I do not know what care has been taken, but I presume that great care has been taken. On many occasions these changes re-create old rights and sometimes indeed old titles and if the Attainder is repealed they then come back into existence. This can cause great embarrassment. One case I know in my own family. When the Act of Attainder against Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, was repealed—quite rightly—it re-created the Plantagenet Earldoms of Warwick and Salisbury. Presumably, if we ever cared to claim them (which, thank God! we do not) they would probably lie somewhere between my noble relative Lady Loudoun and myself. There are also ancient property rights which may reappear if these Acts of Attainder are repealed. Is this taken into account?


My Lords, I cannot promise that every detail of the ancestry of the noble Viscount has been taken fully into account. It will no doubt present a fascinating study to those who are that way inclined. I can assure him that, so far as I am credibly informed, any relevant Act of Attainder no longer has any practical utility.

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