HC Deb 17 February 1860 vol 156 cc1238-40

said, he wished to ask the Attorney General, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any measures for the consolidation of the whole of the Statute Law?


said, at the close of the last Session the House had declined to continue the Statute Law Commission—a decision in which he was not unwilling to concur. He immediately, with the approbation of the Lord Chancellor, took steps for arranging a plan with a view to the consolidation of the statutes. He secured the services of three gentlemen—two of whom were to undertake the Civil, and one the Criminal Statute Law. In this latter work considerable progress had been made, and they were greatly indebted to the labours of the late Government, and especially to his right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Dublin. With regard to the Civil Law Statutes it appeared to him most desirable that, in the first place, they should ascertain with accuracy of what the Statute Law of England now consisted, and after some delay, he had been able to obtain the consent of the Government to the employment of two gentlemen, under the superintendence of the Lord Chancellor, who had been directed to form what might be called an index of the Statute Law as it stood; in this also considerable progress had been made, some of the labours of the old Statute Law Commission having been adopted. It was intended to bring into one comprehensive index all the statutes that had expired, become obsolete, or had been rescinded, partially or entirely. The result would be to reduce the statute-book to a very few volumes. He proposed, then, to have the statutes arranged in a general way, under particular heads, and he hoped to be able with the consent of the House, during the present Session, to pass a preliminary measure for the purpose of sweeping away from the statute-book all that, on an accurate examination, should turn out to be no longer part of the statute law. The gentlemen employed, under the superintendence of the Lord Chancellor and the law officers, were proceeding with an expurgated edition of the statutes. They would be arranged under convenient divisions, each statute printed so as to bear on the face of it, in foot-notes, evidence of the manner in which it was affected or operated upon by subsequent statutes not expressly repealed, and in that way he trusted, proceeding regularly from the present reign backward, he would be enabled, in a very short time, to lay before the House a reduced and expurgated edition of the statutes. The House must be aware that the very small staff placed at the command of the Lord Chancellor and the law officers would forbid the hope of any great expedition. The whole sum devoted to this great work was not to exceed £3,000 a year; the limited nature of the supply would therefore render it impossible to make as much progress as might otherwise be expected. With regard to the criminal law, matters were more fortunate, for more had been done with it. Probably the hon. and learned Member was aware that Bills consolidating the Criminal Law had already been brought into the other House of Parliament; they were laid on the table, and he durst say would, in a very short time, come down to the House of Commons. He trusted that the whole subject of the consolidation of the statutes would be committed to a Board. A Resolution in favour of that proposal had already passed the House. He had had the honour of submitting a plan for carrying that Resolution into effect, which was favourably considered. The consolidation of the statutes, after the expurgated edition was completed, would be very much facilitated; but he thought the consolidation should be committed to a Board composed of more members than the small number of gentlemen who were now able to give their time to it.


said, the question of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth was whether the whole statute law was about to be consolidated. He (Mr. Whiteside) thought if they began in that wholesale way they would get little done. It was much better to proceed gradually in the matter, taking the statutes that related to one branch of the law first, and when they had consolidated them to proceed seriatim until the whole work of consolidation was completed. It should also be recollected that the Board would have no power to change or ameliorate the law, and he wished to call the attention of the Attorney General to Bills for the Abolition of the Punishment of Death and the Consolidation of the Statute Law of England and Ireland, which had been laid before the late Government, and had met with their approval. These measures should be brought forward on the responsibility of the Government. It was decided by the late Government that the first subject for consolidation should be the criminal statute law, and after that the commercial and then the real property statute law; because if they got the criminal and commercial law and the laws relating to landed property consolidated, they would have that portion of the statute law simplified which concerned men in the ordinary affairs of life.