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Statute Law (Repeals) Bill Lords

Volume 888: debated on Tuesday 11 March 1975

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Order for Second Reading read.

12.31 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I think that I can deal with this matter even more briefly than with the earlier measure. This Bill repeals 40 whole Acts and parts of other Acts, all of which are no longer in practical use. They range as far back as the year 1495. Like the consolidation measure it flows from the work of the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission. The measure has also been through the other place and has been considered by the Joint Committee. I commend the Bill to the House.

12.32 a.m.

1 shall not make a long speech. This is a consolidation measure and we welcome the brief way in which it was introduced by the Minister. The matter was fully discussed in Committee. We wish to raise no objection to the measure; indeed. we welcome it.

12.33 a.m.

I am grateful for this opportunity to take part in the debate. I wish to say how disturbing it is that this measure should be launched on a sea of platitudes. It may have been scrutinised by a committee, but the point of Parliament is that we are a legislative Chamber and are expected to exercise a degree of scrutiny.

I must point out that the Minister's introduction to this measure was less than I expected. I hoped for a more comprehensive explanation. After all, the House is not geared merely to those hon. Members who have Adjournment debates. We are here to discuss matters which affect the nation. Some of the provisions of this measure— measures which obviously are being discussed with great haste and not before what one might call an "assembled throng "— could have serious consequences.

No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister who introduced the Bill is fully capable of explaining what is happening, but I want to be proud of my hon. Friend. I want to tell my constituents what a grand job he is doing. I should like him to give a much fuller outline of the legislation with which the House is dealing. I do not think that that exercise has been satisfactorily carried out this morning.

Parliament is not a rubber stamp, and 1 hope that it never will be. I certainly hope that, following the charade in Dublin, this Parliament will never become the rubber stamp that Brussels would no doubt like us to become.

12.34 a.m.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has, not for the first time, got it all wrong. If he wished to assist the House in its deliberations, he should have taken a look at the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Bill. In that case he would have had something to complain about, since nearly 500 clauses went through the House virtually on the nod. That was a consolidation measure.

On this occasion I can give this Bill an unqualified welcome. I am sure the hon. Member for Keighley will agree that the Bill with which we are now dealing seeks to repeal certain statutes. It seeks to get rid of 40 Acts which are no longer applicable. My only regret is that we have proposed the abolition of only 40 existing Acts of Parliament, some of which go back hundreds of years. The work of the Joint Select Committee would be better directed towards getting rid of obsolete, useless law, with less time being spent on the codification and consolidation of existing Acts, which are often out of date days after we consolidate them, such is the pace at which we pass new laws.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that because of a slight technicality I was robbed of the chance to say a few words on the previous Bill. Therefore, my words concerned the general tenor of legislation, and were not specifically directed to this Bill.

I shall not refer at length to the device by which the hon. Gentleman has managed, in his few words on this Bill, to speak of his objections to an earlier Bill.

The Joint Select Committee exists to receive recommendations on what substantive existing law should be considered for repeal, and then to recommend to both Houses those matters which it considers should properly be put before them for repeal. It is a most valuable process. Unfortunately, each year we repeal fewer Acts than the number of new ones we put on the statute book. That is not progress. More consideration should be given to a higher output of repeals by the Committee, with less codification and clarification.

12.37 a.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stan-brook) made a reasonable point when they suggested that when consolidation or repeal measures are put before the House we should be given, despite what has been done in Committees, the benefit of the essence of the wisdom of the Government and Opposition Front Benches. For example, the Bill of Rights — enshrining the principle of no taxation without representation— has already been repealed by our accession to the European treaties, but it has not been mentioned. We look forward to the time when we revert to having no taxation without representation.

I make no complaint against my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, for whose ability and diligence I have great admiration. Together we have tried, on many occasions, to put the Tory Government right. It is only to be regretted that when we have a Labour Government we are not sufficiently to the Left. My hon. Friend has breadth of knowledge and the inspiration that we have come to expect from him, yet we do not know from him exactly what the Bill does.

12.38 a.m.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) told me in a nutshell more about the Bill than the Parliamentary Secretary had said in introducing it. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) was right to stress that legislation should not go through the House without proper explanation, and with discussion where necessary. He was honest enough to admit that by a technicality he was speaking not simply to this Bill but to the previous one. His remarks also applied to legislation that completed its passage through the House yesterday— the Finance Bill— on which there was little opportunity for proper discussion. Those remarks should be noted by his right hon. and hon. Friends.

12.39 a.m.

For about 10 years I have served on the Joint Consolidation Committee— the driest Committee of the House. I often think that the Members who serve on it deserve, if not the Victoria Cross, perhaps the Iron Cross for their services to the House. As one who has served on the Committee, I am glad that at long last an interest is being taken in the work that we do. I am sorry to hear hon. Members complaining now that they are not told enough about what we do.

As for this Bill, when I am asked in years to come what I did in Parliament, I shall say that I reduced the size of the statute book by about 100 pages. When I think of all the excitement aroused by an hon. Member who puts one simple measure on the statute book, I am convinced that serving on the Joint Committee on Consolidation, removing statutes, is a much more valuable exercise. I think that I am of more use to the community doing that than are those who put measures on the statute book.

12.40 a.m.

As another member of the Joint Committee on Consolidation, I am pleased to agree with the Minister and with the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson).

It is clear from the interest being shown by the hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) in the activities of the Committee that their names should be put forward for service on it. I should consider it a great pleasure and honour to do that. I am certain that they could make a substantial contribution to its deliberations.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and I have the utmost confidence in the ability of the hon. Members at present serving on the Committee? In my view, they deserve not the Victoria Cross but the George Cross for the hard work that they do. What we are saying, however, is that when a Bill is presented to this House after the Committee's deliberations, we should be given a fuller explanation than simply that it concerns one statute — going back to the fifteenth century— which should be repealed.

12.41 a.m.

I hope that I did not give the impression just now that such was my impatience to proceed with my Adjournment debate that I was not paying proper respect to these proceedings. But I assure hon. Members that I shall not use my own legal expertise to detain the House for very long on this measure.

The hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) would impress us more by their thirst for knowledge of this Bill if they had bothered, before coming into the Chamber, to read even the Short Title or the Explanatory Memorandum. The hon. Member for Keighley destroyed his point by making it clear that he had no idea of the subject matter of the Bill. It is obvious, therefore, that he would receive no illumination if the Minister had given a detailed explanation of it.

I commend the work done by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson) and his colleagues, but I have doubts about the effort which goes into these consolidation or repealing measures. I share some of the misgivings of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), although he slightly overstated his case on the Scottish measure.

The Law Commission, the Joint Committee and the parliamentary draftsmen spend a great deal of time producing consolidation measures or repeals, but I fear that the practical consequence is slight for those who practise law. Consolidation measures are overtaken constantly by events. Repeals of this kind are unnecessary. What it comes to is that we are amending 140 Acts of Parliament which were doing no harm. No one has cited any of them for 100 years. They have never interfered in the process of the administration of justice, and they have had no effect on any adjudication made by the courts.

It may offend someone's sense of neatness that there are on the statute book provisions about the appointment of rectors to various parishes in Lincolnshire, and so on, but they do no harm. The skills of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East, to say nothing of those of the parliamentary draftsmen, would be better employed devising some improvement in the new legislation being turned out from this House, which causes constant trouble to those practising the law because it is so ill-drafted and so little understood.

With those few comments on the work of this great Committee, I trust that the matter has been adequately debated, that the Committee proceedings will not be too protracted, and that important matters may be reached on the Adjournment.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—( Mr. Thomas Cox.)

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.