HC Deb 12 March 1875 vol 222 cc1698-703

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the inconvenience resulting from the existence, in many cases, of numerous and undigested Acts relating to the same subjects, and to the expediency of making better provision for the consolidation from time to time of such Acts, and to move the following Resolutions:— (1) That it is expedient that when any new Act is passed amending or incorporating any former Acts (other than General Clauses Acts) the new Act and the former Acts should be printed for the House so soon as may he, in such form as to show what parts of the said Acts respectively are in force: (2.) That it is expedient that when any new Act is passed materially amending any former Acts relating wholly or partly to the same subject-matter, a Bill should be introduced by Her Majesty's Government in the next Session of Parliament, or so soon after as conveniently may be, for consolidating into one Act so much of the said several Acts respectively as relates to the same subject-matter: (3.) That it is expedient that when a Consolidation Bill is introduced into this House it should be referred to a Select Committee, who shall report how far the Bill differs in effect from the Acts or parts of Acts proposed to be consolidated, and that no amendment should be allowed to be offered upon any part of the Bill which, according to the report of the Select Committee, does not differ as aforesaid, except such amendments as may be consequential upon alterations made in other parts of the Bill. said, although it was true that a Committee had been appointed that week to consider the subject, they had so often been disappointed by the results of Committees instructed to consider schemes for the improvement of the mode of conducting the Business of the House, which had now largely outgrown its forms, that he had felt it his duty to submit the Resolutions of which he had given Notice, and by which he hoped a remedy might be supplied for at least some of the inconvenience at present experienced. The present was a time peculiarly fitted for the business of consolidation, inasmuch as there was no great public measure to which the House was obliged to devote a large portion of its time. Persons who wanted to know their rights and duties as defined by the most recent legislation had the utmost difficulty in doing so, inasmuch as that legislation was to be taken in conjunction with former Acts. Indeed, he might say that few laymen, and sometimes not even a lawyer, could understand referential legislation—that was to say, Acts of Parliament which incorporated, by mere reference to them, other Acts or parts of them, and some of which were obsolete and others actually repealed. "What he proposed was a work in the character of an editing or publishing of the Acts; and no men of business or lawyers would doubt its great practicability and usefulness. The Local Government Board Act, for instance, enumerated no fewer than 30 Acts, and the Factory and Workshops Act 16. As to the Poor Law Act, it would be dangerous to say how many Acts were not included. Chitty specified 100 Acts dating from the time of Elizabeth down to 1874, and then there were the Licensing Acts and other Acts that were in the same unsatisfactory state. He would also mention the Master and Servant Act, which dealt with a subject on which it was essential to the interests of employers and those whom they employed that the law should be a model of clearness. Digests of the statute law had been attempted, but accurate digests would be impossible until they had so far modified the law as to remove its inconsistencies. He thought it ought to be within the capacity of that House to work his Resolutions, and to publish from time to time revised and corrected editions of the Statute Book. What he practically wished to propose was, that a standing Committee of the most experienced Members of that House should be appointed, to whom all Consolidation Bills should be referred; and as it would be necessary for such a Committee to have the best legal advice, it would be most wasteful and unwise economy to hesitate to secure as the adviser of such Committee one of the very first lawyers who could be found not already on the Bench. This arrangement would give far more time for the consideration of the new matter submitted. The Committee would report how far the Bill differed in effect from the Acts proposed to be consolidated, and his suggestion was, that no amendment should be allowed which according to the Report of the Select Committee did not so differ, except such amendments as might be consequential upon alterations made in other parts of the Bill. It had been almost invariably found that when they attempted to consolidate any great mass of law there were Courts which were inconsistent with other Courts, and many things, especially in the old laws, were altogether obsolete; and, there-fore, it was hardly possible to bring in a Consolidation Bill which had not in it some small portion of new matter. His proposal would not interfere with the right of Members of that House to introduce fresh legislation, but would only rule that the opportunity of so doing should not be taken on the introduction of a Consolidation Law, and that it should be done in a separate Bill. Hon. Members would lose little by such an arrangement, because until some such scheme was adopted by the House there would be rare opportunities of introducing Consolidation Bills at all. He thought that the Resolutions, if adopted, would provide a simple remedy for a great and increasing evil; would remove many contradictions, inconsistencies, and incoherences in our legislation, diminish the bulk of that legislation, and make it more clear and understandable, and thus allay the discontent that prevailed, not only among the public, but also among the legal profession, as to the unsatisfactory state of our Statute Book. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved the first of the Resolutions of which he had given Notice.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he believed that the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) asked the attention of the House to a subject which was well worthy of its consideration. The matter had been thoroughly thrashed out for the last 20 years; first by the Royal Commission on Statute Law Revision which was appointed in 1856, and then by a Select Committee which sat in 1868. The Commission and the Committee had both reported, Departmental memoranda had been issued, and the House had also been enlightened on this subject by the opinion of Parliamentary draftsmen and other distinguished officers who had given their time and thought to it. In an article in The Quarterly Review, attributed to the Parliamentary draftsman, it was truly said that— Parliament will not consent to the passing, without complete discussion and investigation, of Consolidating Bills containing new and disputable matter mixed up with old law. It was, therefore, of the highest importance to devise some tribunal, Parliamentary or ex-Parliamentary, which should have the power of eliminating from Consolidation Bills all matters which were in dispute, for thus the cause which at present prevented the introduction of such Bills might be mitigated, if not altogether removed. Hon. Members now avoided Consolidation Bills, because they knew that questions which had already been thoroughly "thrashed out" might again give rise to protracted discussions. He did not say that the proposal of the hon. Member for Liver-pool was one which the House was bound to adopt, although it involved the principle of the very tribunal he referred to, as being required to correct an evil, to which the Judges had over and over again called attention, as the had also done to the mischief which resulted from the confused way in which the law was now consolidated. He admitted that the blame with regard to the language of our legislation was not to be thrown altogether upon the Parliamentary draftsman, and that it rested to some extent with Parliament itself for not taking measures with the view of remedying the existing state of things. He trusted that if the Government should not see fit to agree to the Resolutions which had been submitted to the House, they would take care that the matter formed part of the reference to the Select Committee which the Attorney General had given Notice of his intention to bring forward.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is expedient that when any new Act is passed amending or incorporating any former Acts (other than General Clauses Acts) the new Act and the former Acts should be reprinted for the House so soon as may he, in such form as to show what parts of the said Acts respectively are in force,"—(Mr. Rathbone,)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


remarked that on Friday last the House resolved to consider whether any means could be adopted to improve the manner and language of Acts of Parliament, and it would be his duty on Monday next to move the appointment of the Members of the Committee on that subject. The name of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) would be on that Committee. This was a subject which could not with advantage be discussed in detail in a full House—at any rate, not until it had undergone a greater amount of investigation than it had at present received, either by the Royal Commission of 1856 or the Select Committee of 1868. The Resolutions pointed to two things—one, the Amending Bill, and the other the Consolidation Bill. With regard to the last, the consolidation of Acts of Parliament had been under the serious consideration of the Government for some time past. A correspondence upon it had passed between the Lord Chancellor and the Committee for the revision of the Statutes, and within a short time Papers upon the subject would be placed upon the Table of the House. Under those circumstances, he hoped the hon. Member for Liverpool would feel content for the present with having called attention to the matter, and that as it would shortly come before the Committee, he would withdraw the Resolutions.


said, that after the explanation of the hon. and learned Attorney General he would withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.