§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is evidently not given either to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) or myself this morning,the applause of listening senates to command,but I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend and I together—because I apprehend that we shall agree about this Bill—will persuade you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, that this really is a, commendable little Bill. It is a procedural Bill, a technical Bill, which is intended to provide machinery, if not to reform the statute law, at any rate to facilitate tidying it up. We have, from time to time, commented on the deplorable and chaotic state of the Statute Book and the uncertainty of our law generally, circumstances which are exemplified by the fact that the Court of Appeal now sits in four divisions and is at present heavily over-burdened with work.
Two of the main criticisms which I think may be directed against our laws are these. First, in many fields—I am going to refer to one or two in particular—the law itself is extremely unclear. Secondly, I think it can be said of certain branches of it that, even when the law has been clarified, whether by the process of codification or that of going up to the Supreme Appellant Tribunal, the substance of it not infrequently requires reform. This Bill, of course, deals only with the question of clarification. In many cases, in order to ascertain what the law may be on a particular point, it is necessary to examine a dozen or more different statutes, all dealing with the same matter. In connection, for instance, 1362 with the solemnization of marriage—and I take that subject because that is one of the branches of our law which will be affected by this Bill if the House passes it—there are no fewer than 32 different Acts of Parliament or Measures of the Church Assembly affecting different aspects, and most of them, indeed, the same aspect, of this field of law.
Many of the statutes, not only in regard to that matter, but in regard, I am afraid, to many others which are still on the Statute Book, ought really to go altogether, either because they are completely obsolete or archaic, or because the ground has been substantially covered by later Measures. I am not saying, of course, that even if all the statutes dealing, for instance, with the law of marriage, or any other particular field of law, were brought together in a single statute—and that is the purpose of the consolidation of the statute—the law would be clear. There might, of course, still be innumerable judicial decisions and interpretations to be taken into account, and even when that had been done the law as finally ascertained might be quite inappropriate to modern circumstances. In the process of improving and clarifying the state of the law generally—and it is very important that it should be improved because, in certain fields, in which charities is one, and I think the law relating to Revenue matters is another, it really is in a shocking state—there are two necessary stages, the first one, the consolidation of the existing statute law, and, the second, the reform and codification of the law as it ought to be.
This Bill is concerned with the first of these two processes—the consolidation process. In 1947 His Majesty's Government initiated steps which were intended in time—because this is a lengthy process —to reduce the state of the Statute Book at least to some form of order, although without reforming its content in any way. A separate branch of the Parliamentary Counsel's Office was established to deal with consolidation matters, and the Statute Law Committee was reconstituted; in the result last year we had, I think, four consolidation Bills passed through Parliament dealing with matters of some importance. There was the Companies' Act which consolidated no fewer than 12 statutes, all of them passed during or since 1929. There was the Agricultural Wages Act. Then there was the 1363 Agricultural Holdings Act; that consolidated 11 statutes, all of them comparatively modern, passed since 1923. There was also the Military Service Act. Many other important consolidation Measures are already in an advanced stage of preparation and we hope to be able to introduce them from time to time to the House.
In this first stage of the process of law reform, one serious procedural difficulty has been encountered, and it is this. As the House will know, the existing procedure for passing these consolidation Bills practically without any debate at all on the Floor of the House after they have been examined in a Joint Committee, is a procedure which is very well established; it is useful, and it is one with which we do not intend to interfere in the slightest degree in those cases where the enactments which are to be consolidated together can be consolidated without any kind of amendment at all. That is, in fact, the position in the case of most modern statutes, and that is why we were able to consolidate the statute law in regard to the four matters to which I have referred in those four Acts passed last year, because they dealt with comparatively modern legislation, and no amendment was necessary.
But in the present procedure which we follow it is essential that the draftsman who gives evidence before the Joint Committee considering whether or not the Bill before them is, in fact, no more than a consolidation which represents the existing law, should be able to cross his heart and say to the committee, "This Bill does no more—not a bit more—than reproduce precisely the statute law as it exists today." If it differs from the statute law as it exists today in the numerous statutes that it is seeking to consolidate, if it differs from it by one jot or tittle, the consolidation Measure cannot go through under our existing procedure.
When, therefore, consolidation has been attempted by the draftsmen in regard to some of the matters which are affected by older statutes, it has been found that there are anomalies in the various statutes or that there are certain drafting amendments which it is really essential to make before sensible consolidation can be effected. I take just 1364 two from the legislation in regard to the solemnisation of marriage as an example, and I take that subject because, as I have said, we have a Bill in an advanced stage of preparation dealing with the consolidation of this particular branch of the law. Section 18 of the Marriage Act, 1836, requires that a certificate of registration of a building shall be on parchment or vellum. It is impossible at at present time to comply with this requirement, and accordingly we desire in consolidating these statutes to substitute for that provision the words "on durable materials." That is an insignificant amendment of the law, but it just cannot be done under the existing consolidation machinery. Section 40 of the same Act makes it an offence for a superintendent registrar knowingly and wilfully to register a marriage declared to be null and void. The fact is that marriages are not registered by superintendent registrars at all but by ordinary registrars, and consequently in consolidating the law we want to substitute registrars as the persons who become guilty of this offence, in order that the law may be made operative in regard to these matters.
That cannot be done under the existing procedure, and the result is that if one wanted to produce consolidation of the statute law in regard to this branch of our law or in regard to any other branch affected, as many are, by the same considerations, we first of all must have a consolidation Bill which reproduces the law exactly as it is today with the requirement relating to vellum and with the provision that the superintendent registrar may be guilty of an offence in regard to matters with which he does not deal at all. Then we have to pass through Parliament amending legislation rectifying the law in regard to those two matters, and then we have to have a third consolidation Measure consolidating the law as it exists after that amendment.
This little Bill proposes to short-circuit that wholly unnecessary and circuitous process, and under the procedure which this Bill would lay down the matter will be dealt with in the following way. First, the law will be examined in the ordinary course by a Parliamentary draftsman, and where in the course of preparing his consolidation Measure he comes across ambiguities, anachronisms and minor anomalies of the kind that 1365 I have indicated, which would prevent the re-statement of the law in a clear and modern form, he will draft Amendments of the existing enactments so as to remove those anomalies and anachronisms, and he will then proceed to draft has consolidation Bill as if those Amendments had already been passed into law. But, of course, they will not have been passed into law, and it is necessary that Parliament should be informed of the fact that those Amendments are contemplated.
Accordingly, the Amendments—and they are to be confined to corrections and minor improvements of the nature defined in Clause 2 of the Bill—will be embodied in a memorandum which will be issued under the authority of the Lord Chancellor, or the Secretary of State in the case of Scottish Bills, together with an explanatory note. That memorandum and the explanatory note will go forward, together with the consolidation Bill embodying the Amendments contemplated, to the Joint Committee. At that stage the Joint Committee will then go through the memorandum. They will have the draftsman before them as a witness. They will consider the proposals for these minor corrections and they will receive representations, the matter having been advertised in advance, whether from Members of Parliament or from anybody else in regard to the Amendments which are proposed. In a proper case, no doubt in the case where a Member of this House or of another place desired to make a representation, the Joint Committee would indeed hear witnesses, and eventually, having considered the proposed Amendments contained in the memorandum, they would inform the Lord Chancellor and you, Mr. Speaker, which of the Amendments in the memorandum they were prepared to approve.
§ Mr, Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
My right hon. and learned Friend says that the Bill and the memorandum would go forward to the Joint Committee. Will he be good enough to explain by what procedure the Bill and the memorandum would go to the Joint Committee? Would it go as a result of a Resolution of this House and the other House? At the time when that Resolution was being passed would there be an opportunity of discussion?
§ The Attorney-General
No. It would be committed in the ordinary course of consolidation Bills to the Joint Committee, but at that stage the memorandum would not be before this House. The memorandum will go first to the Joint Committee. It will eventually come to this House, but in the first instance it will go to the Joint Committee for discussion. We do not propose to alter the procedure on the Floor of the House in regard to these matters. The place where procedure is altered is the Joint Committee, and it is altered in the respect which I have indicated to the House.
The Joint Committee, having indicated that it itself was prepared to approve the Amendments, or perhaps not all of them but certain of them, the Lord Chancellor and you, Mr. Speaker, would be asked to concur in the approval of the Joint Committee, your concurrence and your approval being directed to the point that the Amendments contemplated did not in any way go to the merits, were minor Amendments and corrections within the definition of Clause 2 of this Bill, and were not of such importance that they ought to be separately enacted by Parliament.
If that approval were given, the Joint Committee would then proceed to consider the Amendments themselves and the consolidation Bill together, and if they then were satisfied that the consolidation Bill did no more than to re-enact the existing law, together with these minor corrections and improvements which had previously been approved by it and which had been approved by the Lord Chancellor and by you, Mr. Speaker, they would report to the House accordingly and, thereafter, the Amendments and the minor corrections, as thus approved by the Joint Committee, by the Lord Chancellor and by Mr. Speaker, would, for the purpose of any further proceedings in Parliament, be deemed to have become law. I say, for the purpose of any further proceedings in Parliament; they would not be law and would be quite unenforceable in the courts at that stage.
But as a matter of procedure in Parliament they would be deemed to have become law, so that from that stage onwards, Parliament would be able to treat the Bill as not doing more than any other consolidation Bill did, which was to con- 1367 solidate the existing law. There would be no question of any further Amendment or alteration on the Floor of the House although, if Parliament in its wisdom disapproved of the Amendments which had been embodied in the Bill by this procedure by the Joint Committee, it could oppose the Bill itself in its remaining stages. In this matter, as in every matter, Parliament would have complete control and would have the final word in regard to it.
This proposal has been very fully discussed with representatives of all sides of the House and I venture to commend it to the House as a really useful little Bill which will help us to get ahead with the difficult but useful work on which we have already made a start. If this Bill does so commend itself and is passed in this Session, we hope even in this Session to be able to introduce some further consolidation legislation. As I have said, we have one on the question of the solemnisation of marriage already in an advanced stage of preparation—I have the draft here—and there are other Measures in hand. The passage of this Bill will certainly assist us not only in regard to these Measures but also in the more formidable tasks of clarification and codification of such branches of the law as those which relate to Revenue—a matter on which we have already made a start—and other branches.
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
Although this Bill is concerned with machinery, we on this side of the House consider that it is an important test of one facet of the work of the House, namely, making our laws clear and understood by the people of this country. I wish to deal very shortly with three points. The first is the reason for the Bill; the second is the safeguards which are in the Bill on the important point that changes in the law are being made without an amending Bill; and the third is the question of whether this is, as I believe it is, a legitimate use of the system of subsidiary legislation, which is one which this House must watch if it is to perform its own functions and perform the task of maintaining Parliamentary control of the Executive, of whatever party that Executive may consist.
1368 On the first point, I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman as to the need for consolidation generally. It is most unfortunate that in so many spheres of our law anyone who wishes to find out the legal position has to consult a congeries of statutory odds and ends before he can get to the final point. I do not think that anyone objects to the procedure for passing Consolidation Bills almost without Debate after they have been examined by a Joint Committee of both Houses. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman made clear, there is no intention to disturb the working of that system, which has worked admirably in the past. I think that on a non-controversial Bill like this, I might be permitted to take the somewhat unusual course of saying, as one who has worked with him in the past when he was Chief Parliamentary Counsel, how much I welcome the fact that Sir Granville Ram is devoting what we all hope will be the long evening of his years to this most important task. We are grateful to him and we wish him well in it.
We wish to see consolidated not only the modern enactments, such as those which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us have been the subject of this procedure, but to deal with subjects which have their roots among comparatively ancient Statutes where the worst tangles exist. We agree that consolidation is practically impossible until corrections have been made in the Acts to be consolidated. On the other hand, we agree that in the vast majority of cases—and very many cases they are—these corrections are of so trifling a nature—and affect matters on which there can be no possible controversy—that an amending Bill would not be worth the Parliamentary time involved. The problem with which we have to deal is that in that field consolidation has been deferred for years because of the failure to solve the problem at present in front of us. Of course, while recognising that, it is the duty of the Opposition on this, as on every Bill that comes before the House, to consider whether the safeguards are sufficient, because it is a devolution, if not an abdication of our duties in the House when we permit amendments in the law to be made without discussion in the House.
As I see the safeguards, they are these. First, there is the definition in the Bill 1369 which confines this operation to ambiguities, doubts, obsolete provisions and small anomalies. The second safeguard is that the Lord Chancellor has to be satisfied that the corrections and minor improvements fall within that category. It is only after he is so satisfied that he makes the memorandum of corrections and minor improvements, of which notice has to be published in the "Gazette"; and it is laid before Parliament, and that gives to persons who may be affected, or have views, both inside and outside the House, the opportunity of making representations upon it.
The next safeguard is that the Bill will be referred to a Joint Committee, but there will be, as I understand it, a month before the Joint Committee considers the Bill for these representations to mature, if it be desired. Then we shall have the examination by the Joint Committee itself. As I understand it, Mr. Speaker, you have been good enough, and the Lord Chancellor with you, to enter upon this scheme, and the next step will be that the results of the deliberations of the Joint Committee will come to you and the Lord Chancellor, and eventually it will be reported to the House that the Bill, with its contents, which have been in the memorandum, has been approved, not only by the Joint Committee, but by you, Mr. Speaker, and by the Lord Chancellor; and the three approving bodies or persons will say that they consider that the corrections and minor improvements do not require an amending Bill. It is only after that has been done that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has stated, it will be considered, for the purposes of further proceedings in Parliament relating to the Bill only, but not for any other purpose, to be in the same position as if there had been an amending Bill. The final safeguard is that if Parliament does not like it, Parliament can throw out the Bill.
When one considers the problem, which I have endeavoured to put very shortly before the House, and the improvement that it will make in the Statute Book, and having considered the matter with such care as I can give, I believe that these safeguards are sufficient. Let me give just one illustration of this problem. In the State of Victoria in Australia they have consolidated all their enactments up to 1928. Even so, for Victoria alone, one only of the States of the 1370 Federation, there are over 5,000 Acts on the Victoria Statute Book. That shows the extent of the problem in what one may call, with the greatest affection and no disrespect, a young country, which has not had a sixth of the period that we have had to get our Statute Book in a tangle. Its legislation has been consolidated, and it still leaves that great field for people to consider when they are trying to understand the law. When one considers that, one sees the extent of the problem with which we are faced here.
The third point which I conceive it to be always the function of the Opposition to consider, when subsidiary legislation is used to any extent, is whether it is proper for the House to take that course. In this case, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has explained so clearly, the change in the law is deemed to have been enacted only for the limited purpose of the remaining stages of the Bill. Before that is done, as I have endeavoured to underline, there is the notice of the amendments in the "Gazette," and the laying before Parliament, with the opportunity for recommendation; there is the Joint Select Committee; and then there is the opportunity for the final decision on the Bill. I do not think that even the severest critic of the use of subsidiary legislation—and I have endeavoured to be a reasonably austere critic of it myself in my time—could object to this use of it, I consider that it is valuable to adopt a procedure which gives, first of all, opportunity for consideration, and, secondly, consideration by a Committee of this House. Therefore, I feel—and many of my right hon. and hon. Friends feel as I do—that it is a most important matter. The House should never devolve its functions without serious consideration, but, having approached it from that angle, we believe that this is a legitimate and proper method, For these reasons we welcome the Bill, and are prepared to give it a Second Reading.
§ 11.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Heywood and Radcliffe)
As one who had the privilege of serving on the Consolidation Committee—and it was a privilege to serve under the chairmanship of Lord Reading—I welcome this Bill, as I think most other hon. Members will. I do not think any of us will dissent from what 1371 the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) has just said.
There are two questions to which I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend to address himself when he replies to the Debate. The first is this. So far as I can gather, the terms of reference of the Consolidation Committee have always been a little vague in the past. So far as my researches go, they lead me to believe, that that Joint Committee of the two Houses has been sitting since 1892. The point which is puzzling me today, and which I am afraid my right hon. and learned Friend's speech did not answer, is why it is necessary to embody these changes in the procedure in an Act of Parliament. It seems to me that it is substantially a matter of internal procedure in another place and in this House, and I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend to tell us why it is necessary at this stage in the history of consolidation to embody these particular proposals in a Bill placed before the House.
The second point is this. I gathered from the speech which the Lord Chancellor made when introducing this Measure in another place, and from my right hon. and learned Friend today, that the concurrence of all three bodies—yourself, Mr. Speaker, the Lord Chancellor, and the Committee itself—will be necessary before any of these minor changes can be made. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will look at Clause 1 (5). I am not a lawyer, but I am a little worried about the word "or" which appears in line 28. If my right hon. and learned Friend will look at that subsection, and assure us that the concurrence of all three parties named is necessary, I shall be much obliged.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
This Bill was promoted by the Statute Law Committee, and I should like to invite a tribute to the work of that Committee. I hope that one of the results of this Debate and this Bill will be to make its work better known. If the Statute Law Committee blushes at all, it blushes unseen. The Committee is presided over by the Lord Chancellor who, unlike so many presidents, actually does preside at 1372 most of its meetings; and the chairman, who presides in the Lord Chancellor's absence, is Sir Granville Ram, until recently Parliamentary draftsman. It was Sir Granville Ram who inspired and drafted this Bill, and I was very glad that my right hon. and learned Friend paid a tribute to him. The Statute Law Committee also includes the Attorney-General, the permanent heads of many Government Departments including the present Parliamentary draftsman, your own counsel, Mr. Speaker, Lord Simonds—one of the Lords of Appeal—and three Members of this House, namely the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. T. Reid), the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Donovan)—both of whom I am sure would have been present today had their other duties permitted—and myself.
The Statute Law Committee meets two or three times a year and, as the Attorney-General said, concerns itself with the form and with the publication of Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments, with the indexing of them, and, far and away its most important task, the consolidation and codification of the law. As has already been remarked, the statute law is in a shockingly tangled state, and attention has been drawn to that fact ever since the Middle Ages, particularly by the courts which have to interpret it. But no task is too great for the Statute Law Committee. The proof of that is that it has recently taken in hand the consolidation of the Income Tax law, which for complication and confusion, and even contradiction, is second to no other branch of the law. As was mentioned by the Attorney-General, the Statute Law Committee has in hand the consolidation of many other parts of the law. The question is whether consolidation can ever overtake and keep pace with legislation. Anyhow, this Bill will certainly help very much to that end.
I could not understand the suggestion of the hon. Member for Heywood and Radcliffe (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) that this Bill was unnecessary. After all, in this country, we are still, thank God, governed by the rule of law, and it would be quite impossible to carry out the changes contemplated by this Bill without an Act of Parliament to do it. I commend this Bill to the House.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I should like to add a few words from the back benches in support of this Bill, and to say that for myself—and I think I am speaking for at any rate all Members of the legal profession—it will be very generally welcomed. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on having introduced it into this House. It has for a long time past been a sad reflection on the state of our law and the Statute Book that on a number of subjects it has been necessary, in order to ascertain the law, to search through a multitude of statutes. I think this Bill is very desirable, and indeed necessary, if a serious attempt is to be made, as I hope it will be, to straighten out and improve branches of the law which for a long time past have remained in a state of chaos.
After this Bill has been passed, I hope the Government will be able, as the learned Attorney-General suggested, to take in hand the overdue measures of consolidation required in several branches of the law. I hope, too, not only that the Government will be able to deal with such matters as the laws relating to marriage and the Revenue laws, but that it will be possible to take an early opportunity of dealing with the laws relating to rent restrictions. At the moment, the law on this subject, which must affect almost millions of people in the country, is so unsatisfactory that it produces great hardship. I hope that will be one of the early fields in which consolidation of the numerous existing statutes can be undertaken as a preliminary to the reform and changes that are called for.
Having said that, I want to ask my right hon. and learned Friend three questions. The first is a minor one. He indicated that in connection with the laws relating to marriage there are at present, I think he said, 32 statutes and Measures of the Church Assembly. Can we be assured that, in so far as any revisions are necessary in Measures of the Church Assembly they can be dealt with under the procedure under this Bill, without reference to the procedure of the Church Assembly? May we be assured that, if there is to be a consolidation statute dealing with the laws relating to marriage which affects not merely Acts of Parlia- 1374 ment but also Measures that have been passed by the Church Assembly they can be dealt with under the procedure proposed by this Bill?
Secondly, will the Attorney-General make quite clear what are the functions still left to this House and another place under the provisions of this Bill? Are we right in thinking that where this procedure is used, both the memorandum from the Lord Chancellor and the Bill itself will be automatically referred to the Joint Committee of both Houses without any opportunity of discussion about it before it is so referred? I gathered from what my right hon. and learned Friend said in answer to my interjection that the answer to that question will be affirmative.
Then what is the position when the Bill containing the corrections and minor improvements which have been approved by you, Mr. Speaker, by the Lord Chancellor, and by the Joint Committee, comes back to this House? Is the position that this House will merely have an opportunity of either accepting or rejecting the Bill, or will there be an opportunity for discussion? I am not very clear, either from the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend or from the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), what the procedure will be; but it is important that it should be clear and that we should know whether, when a Measure which is to be enacted under this consolidation procedure is passed, this House will have any opportunity of discussing it, or whether it will merely have the right of accepting or rejecting the Measure.
If, as I rather understand, the only right this House will have is the final right of either acceptance or rejection of the consolidation Measure, then it seems to me—I am not quarrelling with it, but I think it ought to be clearly understood—to mean that the final judgment whether any minor improvement in the law should be made will be taken away from this House and delegated to the Joint Committee. It also means that, in respect of a particular Measure embodying certain minor improvements the majority of which the House will desire to incorporate but one of which the House will think is not a minor but a major improvement or might not think is an improvement at all, this House will have no opportunity, under the 1375 procedure contemplated in the Bill, of eliminating the one suggested improvement of which the House disapproves. We shall have no alternative but that of rejecting or approving the whole consolidation Measure.
If that is to be the result, I cannot feel entirely happy about it. I should have thought that, either under our own procedure which I suppose can be changed at any time without any necessity of making amendments to the Bill, or at some other stage, this House and the other place ought to have the opportunity of discussing the memorandum, when it comes from the Joint Committee, containing the suggested improvements. The House ought to be able to say: "We readily approve the majority of these changes but we would like the opportunity of eliminating one particular change."
Might I ask a final question? Are we to understand that the memorandum, which to all intents and purposes will have the force and the effect of a Statutory Instrument and will, in substance though not in form, be a very important Measure of delegated legislation, will, or will not be one of the matters which are referred, under the procedure of this House to the Committee of this House which deals with Statutory Instruments and is colloquially known as the Scrutiny Committee and which performs a useful function?
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ The Attorney-General
Perhaps I may deal with the last point of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) first. I would correct at once what appears to be a complete misapprehension in the mind of my hon. Friend. This is not delegated legislation. This is not subordinate legislation. This memorandum does not make law. No question whatever arises of submitting it to the committee of this House which examines Statutory Instruments of that nature. All that the memorandum is intended to do is to provide that, for procedural purposes only in this House and another place, those amendments set out in the memorandum shall be treated as if they were the law when the law comes to be consolidated in a single Bill. I would not like it to be thought for a moment that this proposal extends in any 1376 way the practice of delegated legislation. The courts will know nothing of this matter. Outside the House this memorandum will be of no effect whatever and its consideration subsequently by the select committee would be wholly inappropriate.
My hon. Friend asked what function will be left to the House if the Bill is passed into law incorporating a consolidation Measure. Its first function will be to decide on Second Reading whether or not consolidation of this particular field of statute law is desirable, and if it is, the Bill will be referred to a committee for that purpose. The second function, and this will be discharged through the Joint Committee, will be to decide whether amendments of the kind contemplated by the memorandum are within the definition, that is to say are minor corrections and improvements, and to ascertain whether you, Mr. Speaker, and the Lord Chancellor concur in the view which the committee themselves will take that the amendments are of a kind so insignificant that it is not desirable or necessary that they should be enacted by way of a separate Bill and through the ordinary processes of legislation.
Finally, the House itself will decide whether the Bill, with such amendments as have, after that process, been embodied in it by the Joint Committee, should be passed into law. At that stage, the report and Third Reading stage, it will not be open to the House to embody in the Bill further amendments of the Measure as it has come down from the Joint Committee. That is the position in regard to any consolidation Bill. The reason for it is that a consolidation Bill is, as its title provides, a Bill to consolidate the existing law. We may have an amendment in regard to the day on which it is to come into operation or matters of that kind, but we cannot move an amendment to do something which does not affect the consolidation of the existing law. We cannot take out of the Bill part of the existing law because that would be outside its title and its scope. It would no longer be a Bill to consolidate the existing law. Nor can we add something to it which is not already part of the existing law.
So, under the new form of procedure as under the old, when the matter comes down to the House on Report, the House 1377 will not be able to amend the Bill because the amendments that have been embodied in it in the Joint Committee will, under this procedure, be deemed to have become part of the actual and existing statute law. That being so, this House will then decide whether or not the Bill embodying those provisions should be passed into law or not. If the House does not approve of the amendments in any particular it can say so and refuse to pass the Bill through its remaining stages. If it does that, it will mean that consolidation in that branch of the law will be impossible. The whole purpose of the consolidation procedure, both as it exists at the present and as it will exist under the Bill, is to avoid the possibility of amendments being introduced into the substance of the law, which is the process of codification or reform of the law. That is not the purpose of consolidation.
I would add only that if there is a feeling on the part of any hon. Member that a particular amendment is inappropriate, that it goes beyond what is contemplated, or that it is mistaken for one reason or another, that hon. Member will-have an opportunity, because the memorandum embodying the amendments will be laid for at least a month before the matter comes to be discussed by the Joint Committee, of making his representations to the Committee. I have no doubt that if he so desires he may be heard by the Joint Committee. So, indeed, will any member of the public who desires to make any point in regard to the matter. I think my hon. Friend will be satisfied that the interests of the House and of the public are fully protected by the procedure which is laid down.
I come at last to the first point which my hon. Friend raised, dealing with the Measures of the Church Assembly. It will be possible in such matters to consolidate with the statute law Measures which may affect the same field of law. The matter has been discussed with the authorities of the Church Assembly. They considered that the proposals which we are placing before the House in this regard are not inappropriate. I hope that the House will be prepared to give a Second Reading to the Bill, which will move us one stage forward in the process of making the law a little clearer.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Would my right hon. and learned Friend address 1378 himself to the two questions which I put to him?
§ The Attorney-General
I am so sorry. I hope my hon. Friend will acquit me of any discourtesy. I cannot attempt to deal further with the point which the hon. Member made as to the necessity for the Bill. That has already been dealt with by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). I am afraid I must have been at fault in my first speech about this matter to the House in not making the necessity for the Bill clear. I did my best in my second speech. I hope my hon. Friend appreciates that unless it is possible to make these minor drafting Amendments in the law, consolidation itself is impossible. That is the necessity for the Bill.
As to the word "or" in Clause 1 (5), subsection (5) has to be read with subsection (4), and in the ordinary course one would read subsection (4) first and one would find there that the approval of the Lord Chancellor and of the Speaker is required. Subsection (5) deals with the possibility that while the Lord Chancellor might take one view the Speaker might take another, but subsection (4) makes it perfectly clear that the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker and indeed the Joint Committee have all to concur in taking the view that the Bill deals with minor amendments only such as need not go through the ordinary Parliamentary procedure.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Pearson.]