HC Deb 19 February 1951 vol 484 cc857-60
1. Mr. Keeling

asked the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement about the work of the Statute Law Committee since the last statement was made on 31st October, 1949.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

I have been asked to reply. 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.

Following is the statement:

1. As explained in the previous statement circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT for 31st October, 1949, 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. The consolidation Bills presented in the 1948–49 Session have all duly received the Royal Assent. They related to civil aviation, marriage, taxation of vehicles, patents, registered designs, agricultural wages in Scotland, agricultural holdings in Scotland, air corporations and elections.

3. During the 1950 Session ten consolidation Bills were passed relating respectively to the immunities and privileges of international organisations, matrimonial causes, adoption of children, arbitration, shops, the Army Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, milk, dairies and artificial cream, diseases of animals, and the housing law in Scotland.

The Matrimonial Causes Act has now been separated from the Supreme Court of Judicature Acts, which is a useful step towards a better arrangement of the Statute Book.

With two of the Bills of the 1950 Session, the Adoption Bill and the Matrimonial Causes Bill, use was made of the procedure allowed by the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949 (which provides machinery for making minor corrections and improvements solely required for consolidation). Experience has shown the advantages of the new procedure.

4. Work is still proceeding on the three exceptionally large undertakings mentioned in the statement made in 1949—the consolidation of the law relating to Income Tax, to Customs and Excise and to the work of magistrates' courts. Good progress is being made with all three.

The Bills relating to Customs and Excise and to magistrates' courts will not be pure consolidation Bills, for it is expected that some changes must he made in the law which are too structural in character and extensive in range to he dealt with under the new consolidation procedure. In their case, therefore, it will he necessary to adopt the method which proved satisfactory in the case of the Local Government Act, 1933, the Public Health Act, 1936, and the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. Bills are being prepared which, though they do not purport to reproduce exactly the existing law, do represent the substance of it as it works in practice. Each Bill will be submitted to a departmental committee comprised of persons expert in the subject to which it relates. When that method is adopted the Bill when introduced cannot, of course, be passed as a consolidation Bill; but in the past where the Departmental committee has been satisfied that a Bill contains no important or controversial changes it has subsequently proved acceptable to Parliament.

5. Thus, as regards consolidation, the present position is that 25 consolidation Acts have been passed since the Lord Chancellor announced his proposals for statute law reform in July, 1947. These 25 Acts take the place of over 90 Acts repealed by them ranging in date from 1540 to 1950. In addition to this there have been gathered into these 25 consolidation Acts numerous scattered provisions which have been eliminated from about 150 other existing Acts.

6. With regard to the second part of the task entrusted to the Statute Law Committee, the position is as follows. A second Statute Law Revision Bill was passed in May, 1950, and the Third Edition of Statutes Revised (containing all the living Public General Acts from the beginning of Parliament to the end of 1948, and all the Church Assembly Measures then in force) was published this year. As the House is aware, the Statute Law Committee thought it very important to publish all the volumes of this work simultaneously so as to secure a clean start with a complete revised Statute Book which could be kept noted up until the time comes for a new edition. Simultaneous publication of all the volumes of an edition had never before been attempted and it is satisfactory that such a difficult task has been successfully accomplished. Congratulations are due to the Editor, Sir Robert Drayton, on having completed this great undertaking before leaving to take up another appointment. This edition, and all annual volumes since 1948, can be kept noted up without skilled assistance by means of the simple directions for noting which are being published annually under the title "Annotations to Acts."

7. Owing to the unforeseen delay in the publication of the Third Edition of the Statutes Revised the publication of the Chronological Table of the Statutes, which was to have contained the Acts to the end of 1948, and been a companion volume to that edition, was held back. Advantage, however, has been taken of the delay to incorporate in the new edition the enactments passed in the meanwhile so that when it is published next month the Chronological Table will include all the statutes down to the end of 1950.

8. It was intended that the new edition of the Index to the Statutes in Force should also he published as a companion volume to the Statutes Revised, but as the current edition of the Index included no Acts later than 1945 it was felt that publication of a new Index could no longer be delayed, and a new edition was published in December, 1950. It was, however, impracticable to include in that edition Acts later than 1948 and, therefore, a further edition including all Acts to the end of 1950 is in preparation and is expected to be ready for publication during this year.

9. The new (Third) Edition of Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised (the first since 1904) is in process of publication. Eight volumes have been published and another eleven are in the hands of the printers. It is expected that this work will be completed in about 28 volumes by the end of 1951. An inexpensive cumulative publication to enable the Third Edition of Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised to be kept up to date is being prepared under instructions from the Committee.

10. A new edition of the Index to the Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments in Force was published in December, 1950, covering the period down to the end of 1949.

11. A new edition of the consolidated Index to the Local Acts (the first since 1900) covering the period 1801 to 1947 was published in November, 1949, and work has begun on the preparation of a further edition.

12. Thus, of the three large enterprises mentioned in the statement made in 1949, the new edition of Statutes Revised and the new edition of the Consolidated Index to the Local Acts have been completed. The new edition of Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised is up to time and is well on its way to completion. With respect to the other publications for which the Committee is responsible, all arrears have now been caught up and some new publications have been undertaken.

The Statutory Publications Office has been so re-organised as to prevent the accumulation of arrears in future. Statute law revision and the preparation of future revised editions, both of the statutes and of statutory rules and orders and Statutory Instruments, is now being carried out on a day to day basis, so that when the time is ripe for new editions they can be produced at short notice.

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