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Volume 526: debated on Friday 9 April 1954

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I beg to move, in line 1, after "1677." to insert "and,".

This Amendment is needed to make the Title conform to the Clauses of the Bill as they now stand.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: Leave out lines 3 to 5.

3.52 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

May I say at the outset that I am very grateful to all those who have helped in the various stages in the preparation of this Bill, both in drafting outside and also the assistance which I have had inside the House. Particularly am I grateful to those hon. Members who have taken part in the various stages of the Bill, particularly the Committee stage, and for all the suggestions they have made.

I hope one can say that even the remaining two Clauses of the Bill do constitute a useful piece of law reform, and I cannot conceal from the House the satisfaction which I feel in altering the Statute of Frauds nearly 300 years after it was passed. There is some satisfaction in that, which I hope the House will grant me. Seriously, I think that the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2 bring the law more into accord with the times. The proposals have been made by very weighty and authoritative law reform committees, whose views I have respectfully followed. I gather that one of the ancient universities is not yet printing its law syllabus until it ascertains the fate of this Measure. Future students of law will, I hope, have their labours lightened by the passing of this Measure. I hope that, in its final form, this Bill will afford some assistance to those who have not been able to succeed under the Statute of Frauds, 1677, and the Sale of Goods Act. 1893, in those contracts which the law now requires to be evidenced in writing.

3.55 p.m.

I can only deal now with what is left in the Bill, after the best part was taken out in the Amendment which was before the House on the Report stage. This is not such a good Bill as it was when originally drafted and when it went to Committee.

It will now remove the requirement for written evidence in many contracts. I am sorry to see the requirement in regard to written evidence go. I remember that when I was reading for the law I always counted on this as a safe one for the examination. It had great merits in that it was easily memorable and was absolutely certain to come up in the examination paper. Perhaps the reason why I was ever able to qualify was that this was the only thing I really ever knew. I fear that students will, in the future, be faced with considerable difficulty in having to learn something else.

This alteration of the law has been contemplated for a very long time, but opinion is not all one way in the matter. There are many people who believe that the requirement of written evidence has been of very considerable value in the actions to which it relates, and that it might have been desirable to retain it. I recognise that there is a body of opinion to the contrary, and that is the side which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) has espoused.

One has also to consider whether this alteration will not lead to increased litigation. Many actions have been kept out of the courts by the knowledge that it was hopeless to attempt to pursue them because the requirement was not there. I have no doubt that many litigants have gone to their solicitors and said, "I want to bring this matter into court," but have been advised by the solicitors that they did not stand a chance because the necessary written document was not available.

For further litigation now to be brought about would be a very unhappy event, the courts being already over crowded. Many cases are waiting to come on, and the prospective litigants are anxious, and it would be a great pity if the courts were cluttered up with further cases. No doubt the hon. Gentleman has considered that possibility. Although we recently agreed to pay the judges more money, I think they would be glad to be relieved of many actions which might result from the passage of the Bill, and—

rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put accordingly, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.