HC Deb 31 October 1949 vol 469 cc11-6
19. Mr. Keeling

asked the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement about the work of the Statute Law Committee since the revision of its terms of reference two years ago.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

The statement asked for in the Question is necessarily rather long, and with the permission of the hon. Member I propose to have the answer circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Keeling

Besides the Consolidation Bills already before Parliament, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what consolidation of other branches of the law is in preparation?

The Solicitor-General

Nothing can be added to what is contained in the written answer: namely, that work is now proceeding on three large undertakings—the law relating respectively to Income Tax, Customs and Excise, the work of the magistrates' courts, and also housing in Scotland.

Sir J. Mellor

On a point of Order. With reference to Question No. 16, in order that this matter can properly be discussed, I beg to give notice—

Mr. Speaker

We have passed Question No. 16. We have got on to Question No. 19 now.

Sir J. Mellor

I am raising a point of Order, and giving notice that I shall move to annul Statutory Instrument, 1949, No. 1973, in the course of next week.

Mr. Fernyhough

Further to that point of Order. Will any hon. Member of this House be in Order when a Question has been passed to refer back to it and say that he gives notice of a Motion?

Following is the answer to Question 19:

  1. 1. The tasks set before the Statute Law Committee in 1947 fall under two main headings:
    1. (a) that of consolidating scattered enactments, so that the statute law may more easily be found and understood; and
    2. (b) that of reducing the bulk of the published volumes of the Statutes and Statutory Instruments and keeping up to date the necessary Indexes to them, and of providing means whereby they may readily be noted up annually.
  2. 2. In the Parliamentary Session, 1947–48, four Consolidation Bills were passed: The Companies Bill, The Agricultural Wages Bill, The Agricultural Holdings Bill and the National Service Bill. Although only four Bills were passed during that Session, it should be noted that the Companies Bill was among the largest ever presented to Parliament consisting, as it did, of 462 Clauses and 18 Schedules.
  3. 3. During the early part of the present Session the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Bill, designed to provide the machinery for making minor corrections and improvements in Acts which are to be consolidated so as to facilitate their consolidation, was presented to Parliament on the recommendation of the Committee. This Bill received the Royal Assent on the 31st May, 1949, and two 13 Bills—the Marriage Bill and the Vehicles (Excise) Bill—have already shown the advantages of the new procedure.
  4. 4. During the present Session, Consolidation Bills relating respectively to civil aviation, marriage, taxation of vehicles, patents, registered designs, agricultural wages in Scotland and agricultural holdings in Scotland, and two Bills relating to the law of elections, have been presented to Parliament. It is also proposed to present two others, a Bill dealing with air corporations and a third Bill dealing with elections. This makes a total of eleven Bills, of which the three dealing with elections will form a trinity setting out the statute law relating to elections in compendious form for the first time in history. Mention may also be made of the Marriage Bill which, with the assistance of the new procedure, will reduce the exceptionally chaotic statute law on this subject to a form which is surprisingly short and simple.
  5. 5. The present position may, therefore, be summarised by saying that if this Session's consolidation programme is completed, as may confidently be expected, 15 consolidation Acts will have been passed since the Lord Chancellor announced his proposals for Statute Law Reform in July, 1947. These 15 Acts will take the place of 62 Acts which will be repealed by them, ranging in date from 1540 to 1949. In addition to this, there will have been gathered into these 15 consolidation Acts numerous scattered provisions, relating to the subjects with which they deal respectively, which will have been culled from no less than 115 other existing Acts.

Work is now proceeding on three large undertakings, namely, the law relating respectively to Income Tax, Customs and Excise, and the work of magistrates' courts, and also on housing in Scotland.

6. With regard to the other side of the task entrusted to them, the Committee considered that, in order to reduce the bulk of the published volumes of the Statutes, it was necessary to produce a third edition of "Statutes Revised" at the earliest possible date. In order to prepare for this, a Statute Law Revision Bill has recently been passed, and another is expected to be introduced almost immediately. It is intended to produce this edition of "Statutes Revised" in 33 volumes, which will all be published together. These volumes will contain the living Public General Acts from the beginning of Parliament to the end of the calendar year 1948, and all Church Assembly Measures in force on that date.

The Committee considered it to be of great importance to secure that all the volumes of this edition should be published simultaneously, and as soon after the end of 1948 as possible, and hopes were entertained that publication might be possible before the end of this year. It will, however, be appreciated that the simultaneous editing, printing and binding of so many volumes, each requiring a high standard of accuracy in detail, involved close timing of the work done by a large number of people. The fact that simultaneous publication had not been attempted before with any comparable undertaking of this kind made the necessary printing arrangements very difficult, and, owing to delays which could hardly have been foreseen, it seems unlikely that the work can be published before the end of August next year. The date of publication will be announced as soon as possible. This edition when it is issued should be of great practical value to all concerned with the Statute Law.

7. When the new edition of "Statutes Revised" has been issued, it will obviously be of advantage to those who possess it to be able to have it kept noted up to date without the necessity of employing skilled persons to do the work. The copies of the Statute Book used in the Statutory Publications Office are, of course, kept noted up by highly skilled persons, and the Committee gave instructions for the annual publication of a volume of "Directions for Noting" in a form so simple that with its assistance anyone in possession of the volumes of the official Statute Book can keep them noted up, in the same form as those in use in the Statutory Publications Office itself. The volumes published for 1949 and subsequent years will, of course, relate to the new edition of "Statutes Revised."

8. The other publications relating to the Public General Acts for which the Committee are responsible are the annual volumes of the Statutes, the Index to the Statutes and the Chronological Table of the Statutes. Arrangements have been initiated for securing that all these volumes are published as early as possible after the close of the years to which they relate. Some improvement in this respect has already been accomplished, but it is hoped that it may be possible to secure, in future, even earlier publication dates. The next editions of the Index to the Statutes and the Chronological Table of the Statutes will be published as companion volumes to the Third Edition of "Statutes Revised," and will bring the Index up to the end of the year 1948 and the Table up to the end of 1949. In January, 1949, the Chronological Table was published in an improved form which facilitates reference; and the subsequent edition will, of course, also be published in that form.

9. The Committee is responsible for the publication in volume form of Statutory Instruments and of the Indexes thereto. No revised edition of Statutory Rules and Orders has been published since 1904, and the Committee decided that a new edition of this work should be published as soon as possible. Accordingly, preparation of the third edition of "Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised" has begun, and the complete set will comprise about 28 volumes. As the Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments comprised in this work are arranged in order of subject matter, and not in chronological order, it is not necessary that all the volumes should be published simultaneously. It is expected that the first volume will be published early in 1950 and that subsequent volumes will be published at intervals of a month or two, and it is hoped that the whole edition will be completed during the next two years.

10. In the past, great difficulty has been experienced in producing the annual volumes of Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments within a reasonable period after the close of the year to which the volumes relate. Endeavours are being made to effect certain alterations in the lay-out of the annual volumes of Statutory Instruments with a view to facilitating printing and consequently earlier publication.

11. The Index to Statutory Rules and Orders was normally a triennial publication, but this work had to be suspended during the war, with the result that in 1947 there was no index covering a period later than the year 1939. In March, 1948, the sixteenth edition, covering the period up to the year 1946, was published, and another edition is in preparation.

12. The Committee is also responsible for the publication of an annual Index of Local Acts. That for 1947 was published in May, 1948, and that for 1948 was published in May, 1949. When the Committee was reconstituted in 1947, no edition of a consolidated Index to the Local Acts had been published since 1900. A new consolidated Index is now in course of being printed and it is expected to be published next month.

13. The position with regard to Statutory Publications may therefore be summarised by saying that, during the period 1947 to 1949 three large enterprises have been undertaken; namely, the production of the third edition of "Statutes Revised," of the third edition of "Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised," and of the second edition of "Consolidated Index to the Local Acts," and that with respect to other publications appreciable progress has been made in reducing the arrears which inevitably accumulated during the war.