HC Deb 19 February 1952 vol 496 cc65-81

Order for Second Reading read.

5.20 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill has been recently considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses, which reported that it was pure consolidation and represented the existing law. In those circumstances no Amendment is possible which would have the effect of making any substantial alteration in the law. The question is simply whether the House approves of the principle of consolidation in this particular case. I therefore propose to confine myself to one or two brief points of explanation and comment on matters about which I think the House might like to have a word.

When there are such augean conditions in the law as at present exist in the case of the Revenue law, it is necessary to have two separate stages when cleaning up. The first is to secure a clear view of the law as Parliament intended it, and that, of course, is the process of consolidation. The second stage is the stage of codification, which involves the reform of the law and its re-statement.

This Bill is only concerned with the first stage. I should be merely deceiving the House if I left it under any misapprehension or allowed it to believe that codification is anything but a very long way ahead indeed. After all, a Royal Commission on Taxation is now sitting, and it may very well be that they will make proposals which will require careful consideration. But I think the House will agree, when it appreciates what has been done, that a great task has already been performed, and that we have taken a real step forward.

In the spirit of today I should like to emphasise the non-partisan character of the whole enterprise which has lead to this Bill. In 1947 the late Government, much to their credit, revived the Statute Law Committee. That is one of those essential non-party bodies which contribute so much to our work in this place. One of the prime movers in the Committee was the former Lord Chancellor, and another prominent member was my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). I hope he is here today, because he can speak with so much more knowledge of these things than I can. There are other Members also involved.

In his Budget speech in 1949 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, said: I should have liked to be able to tackle the Income Tax Acts, but that is too large a task for the moment. I hope, however, we may get ahead towards their consolidation, which must be the first step in their reform and simplification."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 2087.] Immediately afterwards the work was put in hand, and a great many people, both inside and outside this House and both inside and outside Parliament, took part in it. One of them was the present Lord Chancellor. It took the Parliamentary draftsmen two years to produce the first draft, which appeared in a White Paper last year and met with general approval throughout the country. Then when the present Government came into office, they immediately referred the Bill, which was being prepared, to the Joint Committee, which considered it in November and December with the results which we know.

No one with any knowledge of the Revenue law as it now is will be surprised that it took so long to produce the draft. After all, today, and until the Bill becomes law, any unfortunate person who has a tax problem has to consult this volume which I hold in my hand, or, I should say, in my two hands, because it will not go into one. It is a great green book issued by the Stationery Office, and has about 150 pages plus a large number of supplements. Anyone consulting that volume to find out the law will discover that it starts with the Income Tax Act of 1918 and that there are 55 other Acts of Parliament in it. If he is lucky enough to find out the answer to his problem he will very likely discover that the answer is the wrong one anyway.

The new Bill is not a small one. I have a copy of it here in my hand, and it has something like 508 pages and weighs something over a pound. It has to be borne in mind, however, that we have in a single document the law set out in logical order, and except for certain very limited purposes a person can now hand over those 55 statutes to the waste paper collectors. The only people I think who will really regret the contents of this Consolidation Bill are the tax experts, because now it will be possible for anyone to start trying to find out in this Bill what the Income Tax law is about. Previously I always felt, as one who approached these matters with a comparatively vacant mind, that it was extraordinarily difficult to find out what it was all about.

I think that in those circumstances the House will think it right that credit should be given where it is due. I mentioned the Statute Law Committee, which is the origin of the whole thing and without it it could never have taken place at all. But the work in this case was done by the Joint Committee with the assistance of those who were responsible for advising and guiding them. The Chairman was Lord Radcliffe. The House will agree that we were very fortunate in having his assistance and advice. He did a tremendously hard job of work, and, while it would be impertinent for me to make any reference to his outstanding personal qualification, or the work that he did, I have been particularly asked by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay tribute to Lord Radcliffe and to the inestimable value of the work he did on that Committee.

There were others who worked with him. I know it is unusual in this House for public servants to be mentioned at all; it is even more unusual to have anything pleasant said about them. However, on this occasion I think it proper if I were to mention, not by name but by description, two gentlemen in particular who rendered most signal services to the Joint Committee after having worked very hard on this tremendous job for two years. One of them was the Assistant Secretary to the Board of Inland Revenue and the other is the Second Parliamentary Counsel. I am quite sure that the Members of the Committee will be able to speak much better than I can of the value of the work they did.

I find myself particularly interested in the second of these two gentlemen, the Second Parliamentary Counsel, because a great many years ago I had the privilege of sharing with him the educational advantages of a certain university establishment. From what I knew of him then I have never been surprised at his subsequent career, because I found him at that time to have what I think might be described as not only the classical but the Biblical qualities of a Parliamentary draftsman—the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, the legal inspiration of Moses and the cunning of the Serpent. There is no doubt that the work which has to be done by the Parliamentary draftsmen is of a most exacting character. They get little credit, and this is one occasion when we can all give them some.

It has been emphasised to me that the Bill should not be regarded as a work of art from the draftsman's point of view. It is not possible to do that kind of thing in this kind of surrounding. The Bill is put forward as a sound, workmanlike job. I hope that the House will accept the Bill as such, and will be prepared to give this consolidation Bill a unanimous Second Reading.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

When the Attorney-General was mentioning those to whom credit should be given, I thought of someone who ought to be included; that is the Counsel to the Speaker, Sir Cecil Carr. His work on the revised statutes is one that should be remembered by this House.

5.32 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield, Neepsend)

I was just about to mention the name of Sir Cecil Carr at the beginning of my speech, and I am very glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has done so. I should like simply to add to what the Attorney-General has said that I very warmly associate myself with him—I hope that all my hon. Friends will join —in the words of tribute which he has paid to the various persons who were instrumental in bringing this Bill into existence.

As the Attorney-General has said, it is a long step from consolidation to codification. Whether it is possible, in the nature of things, to codify Income Tax law with the general finance law is open to question. Only optimists would confidently say that it is possible. I hope that ultimately it may be done; but whether it is done or not and to whatever extent it is found possible to do it, we must all welcome this first step, the consolidation in manageable form of the very many statutes which at present go to make up our Income Tax and Surtax code. It is to be hoped that the consolidation ultimately undertaken will include, for example, that part of our legislation which deals with Purchase Tax, Profits Tax and the other taxes. I hope that that will be taken in hand.

I am very glad that the present Government have been so well schooled and tutored by its predecessor as to follow them in the paths of consolidation. Without in any way wishing to tread upon controversial ground I would say that few Governments undertook so much consolidation work as did the last Government. The present Bill forms in a sense the keystone of a number of other consolidation Measures running into many hundreds of pages and equally bringing other phases of our law into a form in which they give ready access to the ordinary person who wants to see how he stands in relation to the law.

All those who took part in the work of the Statute Law Committee and of the Joint Committee, particularly its chairman, and last, but very far from least, the Parliamentary counsel who were engaged upon the preparation of this work, deserve the warmest thanks not only of both sides of this House but of the country as a whole. Our tax law has been getting progressively but unavoidably into a state in which it is more and more difficult not only to find things but to understand what one finds—and perhaps I might add even to understand where to find them. The step we are now taking brings it into the compass of one single volume.

I do not think it will be right for me to delay the House further, except to say that the problem we have to consider is whether we approve this consolidation Measure. I hope that we shall all do so, and I join the Attorney-General in com- mending the Bill to the House. I hope it will have a unanimous Second Reading.

5.35 p.m.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

As one of those who were chosen by this House to be members of the Joint Committee to consider the Bill, I thank the Attorney-General for the graceful tribute of thanks he has given, not only to the Committee—the Committee only did its duty—but to its Chairman, Lord Radcliffe, who was a completely outstanding figure. He not only took the chair but did a considerable amount of work behind the scenes.

I rise to call the attention of the House of Commons itself to the fact that the Bill sets up a record. It is the longest Bill that has ever been passed—I believe it will be passed—through the House. It has 532 Clauses and 25 Schedules. That is a matter for some note. As the Attorney-General has said, it is a Consolidation Bill. It consolidates the Income Tax Act, 1918, and more than 50 other Income Tax Acts, or at any rate Acts of Parliament which deal with the Income Tax. Broadly speaking, it does not affect other parts of our tax law, although it is bound to impinge on other aspects of tax law where Income Tax is involved.

The Bill purports to describe the existing law, but anybody who has read the proceedings of the Committee will see that even in the Committee it was clear that the law is not always clear even after consolidation. If I may express a hope it is that the Royal Commission on Taxation will not only read the Bill, but will read the confidential note, consisting of 168 pages, which the Committee was given. The Commission are considering the amending of Income Tax law and bringing it up to date, as well as making clear doubts which still exist on the Income Tax law as it stands.

For instance, in some decided cases there has never been a clear decision. The taxpayer sometimes loses and sometimes the Revenue loses. In other cases, there never has been a decided case to clear up a point. It would be an advantage to the taxpayer and to the Revenue in future if the Royal Commission made it quite clear in their Report on which side of the fence they were going to come down.

I commend the Bill to the House as a monumental Measure by more than 100 devoted civil servants, a few of whom have already been mentioned. The Bill has had wide publicity given to it in technical circles and it has been accepted by all the technical people. It deserves the unanimous Second Reading which I believe it will get.

5.40 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

This Bill will be welcome not only to members of the legal profession and to members of the accountancy profession and to Her Majesty's judges, but perhaps even more welcome to the large number of civil servants in the Inland Revenue Department whose duty it is to administer the law and who have for so long found difficulty in interpreting the law fairly to the citizen because of the large accumulation of Income Tax law since the last consolidation Measure.

It is 34 years since we last had a consolidating Bill on Income Tax law, and though this new Bill is necessarily long it will be infintely more convenient for reference for all who have to go to it. All who have read the first Report by the Joint Committee of both Houses will have been struck by the fastidious care with which the Committee were guided by the principles of consolidation Measures and resisted, however strong the temptation—and I am sure it must have been—to alter the law, however slightly, to make it more intelligible or more equitable. But, as one noble and learned member of the Committee said, "Our job is not to resolve difficulties but to consolidate doubts."

There is no doubt that the new Bill consolidates quite a lot of doubts, though I am happy to say that one which would have weighed heavily on my own mind the Committee removed. I discovered that long ago when assessors of taxes were part-time officials, there was some discipline imposed upon them in the shape of a forfeiture of £10 if they neglected to carry out certain duties in connection with assessments under Schedule A.

Now, under the Finance Act, 1946, that kind of assessor was abolished and his duties under the Act were transferred to full-time inspectors of taxes and collectors of taxes employed by the Board of Inland Revenue. I had no idea that they were still exposed to this forfeiture of £10 if they neglected to carry out certain of their duties which rested previously upon assessors. I am grateful to the Joint Committee for having taken their courage in both hands and for having decided that they could not ask an entirely different kind of assessor to forfeit £10 should he neglect the duties which were imposed previously on an entirely different kind of officer.

I see, however, that the Committee resisted another temptation, that of straightening out the law with regard to allowances to taxpayers who have housekeepers. There is something for the committee on codification or for the Royal Commission to do because, strangely enough, the law says that if a widower has a relative keeping house for him she must be resident. Yet the law does not say quite so categorically that if the same taxpayer employs a housekeeper she must be resident with him. The Joint Committee have observed the dictum of the noble and learned member of the Committee who said, "Our job is not to resolve difficulties, but to consolidate doubts," and that is one of the doubts which has been consolidated.

I shall not detain the House for more than a minute or two more, but it is interesting to observe, in passing, that when this consolidation Bill becomes law, many notable and familiar landmarks in Income Tax law will have shifted their position. Take as an example Section 34 of the Income Tax Act, 1918, that comfort to men successful in business or at the Bar who embark on a much less successful venture on the land, who probably find that Section 34 of the Income Tax Act, 1918, provides a hidden subsidy for farming loss which they incur with impunity in order to support perhaps a higher standard of life than is given to the rest of the community.

The dinner-jacket farmer will pray for the retention of Section 34 somewhere else in this consolidating Measure, and I will tell him straight away that he will now find it in Clause 341. I think there is something very touching indeed in maintaining in the new Clause the figures "3" and "4" which have been so familiar to those who have found their way about the Income Tax Act in the past.

We find rather by contrast that Rule 9 of Schedule E will become Rule 7 of the Ninth Schedule. There we see the harsher doctrine applicable to those of us who hold offices of profit and who incur expenditure in the performance of our duties. There the law says that against such emoluments or profits only such expenses as are wholly, exclusively, and necessarily incurred in the performance of the office shall be admissible as allowance against Income Tax liability. There we have, as it were, the two poles of the treatment of taxpayers: those under Section 34, now 341, and those under Rule 9 of Schedule E which is now Rule 7 of the Ninth Schedule.

There was in the Finance Act of 1951 a menacing Section in the eyes of many, Section 27, with regard to the disclosure of bank interest of over £15 a year. Well, that has riot been moved very far in the consolidation Measure, for it goes only two Clauses further on.

I end with a suggestion to the Attorney-General if I may, which perhaps he will carry to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is that when the consolidation Measure is published, it would be of great help to all who may have to consult it if there were a Schedule of the old Sections and the new in order to make it easier to find one's way about the new Bill. There is a need for some guide to consolidation. I see that certain publishers are already offering that kind of help to their clients and are promising that it will be available very quickly after the Bill becomes law. I hope, however, that Her Majesty's Stationery Office, in conjunction with the Inland Revenue, will not be slow to provide the fullest possible help to all consultants of the consolidation Measure who will wish to discover anew some of the old mysteries and probably some of the fresh mysteries of Income Tax law.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Edward Keeling (Twickenham)

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), referred to the desirability of a table of comparison showing how the old enactments re-enacted by the Bill are to be found in it. There is already such a document, which I think the hon. Member can get. It is numbered 55–1.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Angus, South (Captain Duncan), said that this is the longest Bill that has ever been presented to Parliament. As almost necessarily follows, it is also the heaviest. The 625 copies which were distributed to hon. Members of this House weighed nearly half a ton. I only mention that because the Statute Law Committee, of which, as my hon. and learned Friend said, I am a member, has embarked on an intensive campaign of consolidation, which I think the House will agree with me is a good thing. It occurs to me to suggest that it is really a waste of paper to circulate half a ton of it, used for a single consolidation Bill, to all the Members, when probably very few Members look at it. It might suffice to circulate a slip saying that the Bill is obtainable at the Vote Office on application.

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend has very much more experience in these things than I have, but is he quite sure that there is not a rule which makes it necessary to circulate the Bill to all Members?

Mr. Keeling

I have inquired about that and am told that there is no such rule. If there were such a rule, it would obviously apply in another place, but, in fact, in another place there is no such circulation.

5.51 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I am always most reluctant to intervene in one of these mutual admiration societies, which are so moving when we hear them and which move me emotionally also. We have heard the lawyers congratulating the lawyers on both sides with a felicity and grace, and, indeed, with an enthusiasm that on the whole I find very charming. We have heard Members of the Committee making passionate tributes to the Members of the Committee.

We have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), to whom I always listen with pleasure, speaking with special enthusiasm and passing special tributes to this long, voluminous, turgid and incomprehensible Measure, although I had begun to think that Income Tax had been abolished and I cast a rough glance at the appropriate Clause to find if that had been done. Of course, there is a reason for all this; that under the rules of the House we cannot talk about the Bill, and we must talk about something. That places us in a little difficulty, but there are some questions of procedure referring to the Bill which are important and to which the attention of hon. Members should be called.

The Attorney-General exhausted his list of Biblical characters in his opening remarks. I should have thought that the first one he would have called to mind in reference to the Bill would have been Lot. It is right and material to say that I must almost divide the House on the question of the weight of the Bill. I have checked it very carefully. It weighs 1 lb. 7 oz. in the Vote Office here, and 2 lb. 7 oz. on my wife's kitchen scales, which is, perhaps, accounted for by the fact that the recent diminution of rations has been noticed by us only in the process of checking and not in digesting.

If we enlarge this into a mild debate, it is perhaps right to point out that in 1951, under the aegis of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell), when the Bill was printed on good quality paper, was bound and contained a notice as to procedure and interpretation, it was priced at 10s., whereas under the present Government, without any binding and note, it has gone up to 13s., which is rather a tragic commentary on the way things are drifting generally.

This is an exceedingly serious matter and one to which we ought to be able to give some serious attention. The Bill was printed in March, 1951. I missed it at the time because it was printed with one of the most charming notes I have ever seen appended to an Act of Parliament. There was a specific invitation by my right hon. Friend for us to write and make any suggestions as to what to do with the Income Tax Acts, and I am bound to say—[Laughter.] Yes. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did you write?"] I missed it at the time. It said: Any suggestions for the correction or improvement of the draft should be sent to the Secretary, Board of Inland Revenue … I am bound to say, having had my own personal troubles over this matter in the last few months, that had my attention been called to that I would have made suggestions as to the disposal of the matter, which, no doubt, would be out of order if delineated with any regularity on the Second Reading of the Bill.

Unfortunately, another thing has happened—and here I want to make a serious point. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is not here to hear it. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is here."] In that case, I feel reinforced at once, and I apologise that the fiery totems will be passed around the clans tonight after I have had to call attention to a very grave matter which has occurred in connection with Clause 114 of the Bill. In Clause 114 as originally drafted, one finds these important words: Any mortgagee or creditor in any heritable bond or wadset in possession of the lands, tenements, hereditaments or heritages mortgaged or secured … By referring to the notes of the considerations of the Committee, it will be found that the Committee passed Clause 114 without Amendment—nothing happened to it at all; but somewhere or other someone has decided to Anglicise it. There are times on Scots Question days when I feel that there may be an argument for some limitation on the exclusive rights of North Britain, but now we get Clause 114 in this form: Any mortgagee or creditor in any heritable security in possession of the lands… In the first place, that is a great extension of "wadset ". The Attorney-General will know at once—he will be waiting to burst in and correct me on this—that a wadset is a peculiar, limited form of mortgage. It has a very respectable antiquity, and can be found in Acts of the 15th and 16th Century and indeed in Scott's Waverley Novels. If any more formal authority is wanted for the point I am making, it will be found in Burns' election poems: Here's a little wadset, Buittle's scrap o' truth, Pawn'd in a gin-shop Quenching holy drouth. I hope I have got that point quite clearly understood. It seems to me a regrettable thing that, somewhere or other in the background, someone should be anglicising the very brilliant and native language of the Scots, without anyone knowing when it happened and without the attention of the Committee being called to it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I am not quite sure what this has to do with the consolidation of the Acts.

Mr. Hale

I am very glad to explain, although I may have to develop the point. We are considering two things under the rules: First, whether we consider at all, and second, whether it is consolidation. I am asking for an explanation of the process that has gone into this matter. If there is any doubt, I will willingly quote a number of other examples. There are a great number of other Clauses which, according to the minutes and evidence of the Committee, appear to have been passed unamended, but which, when we get them here, have had considerable alterations made.

If I may refer the attention of the Attorney-General to what may appear to him to be a more substantial point, he will find that in Clause 210 there is an Amendment dealing with National Insurance pensions payable to married women who are insured in their own right. That comes from Section 27 of the National Insurance Act, 1946, and it was not in the original draft. So far as I can trace from the minutes, it was never considered by the Committee. It is a quite important Amendment.

I do not, however, want to be unfair. It may very well be that it does not alter the existing law; it is done in such a way that it is very arguable whether it has any effect. Anyone who wants to know what has happened to Section 27 of the 1946 Act will find that half of it is left in Section 27 and half of it is in Clause 210. This sort of thing creates difficulties.

The Attorney-General

I am most reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I should like to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I have with me the Report of the Joint Committee, being a Report on the Income Tax Bill [H.L.]Ordered to report that:— The Committee have considered the above Bill and have heard evidence thereon. They have made certain amendments which seem to them necessary to the improvement of the form of the Bill and they are of the opinion that the Bill, as amended, is pure consolidation and represents the existing law. In those circumstances, is it in order for the House now to discuss whether—

Mr. Hale


The Attorney-General

—a particular Clause is consolidation or not?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is not in order to do that on Second Reading. The only question before the House on Second Reading is the consolidation question.

Mr. Hale

I am sorry about this because I had just concluded my remarks and was about to resume my seat, but we have another purported consolidation Measure without such a certificate. Part of its title is to consolidate the law relating to customs and excise, and therefore it is a purporting consolidation Measure.

We must have a rule, and Erskine May is perfectly clear. The question before the House is whether to give the Bill a Second Reading or not. The matter we are to consider is whether it ought to be given a Second Reading, and one of the matters to be taken into account is whether the results of the work of the Committee have been in our view successful and satisfactory or not, and it is precisely to that point that I am directing my attention. I can imagine no more serious point being made than that there are certain matters, especially the words inserted in one section that do not appear in any section of the Acts being consolidated. The Attorney-General will find that special commissioners are mentioned in one section, but they do not appear in any of the Acts consolidated. Now that comparative calm has been restored and no one is challenging me, I will come to the final point I wish to make, which I think is important.

The principle of consolidation is a very important one, but it is important only as a preliminary to codification. We are entitled to some explanation. We know the difficulties and know that it is a difficult job, but this Measure only seeks to consolidate Acts from 1918. It is a little remarkable that in the next Bill we are to consider tonight we shall be talking about the Finance Act of 1895 and the Tobacco Act of 1863. That consolidation has been a mighty job which no one will underestimate. There is always a risk about consolidation without codification, a perfectly genuine risk. The course followed on the Companies Act was a very good one; one first consolidated the old Measures and said, "This is the law," and then went through that from the point of view of consolidation and considered what could be done to put it right.

Today the Attorney-General said that all we have to do is to refer to that green book and there we will find the law, which of course is true. But one has to have recourse to a whole library of books and many people will be put to very great cost to find out what it means. There are many Clauses which are so incomprehensible that two experts would give completely conflicting opinions and some Clauses which no human being can reasonably read without a wet towel round his head and without taking a serious risk of mental results following any prolonged attention to the document.

What are we to do about it? It may be that in the course of some months there will be a consolidation of the law relating to customs and excise. We all hope that this Bill will have a Second Reading and will go through and become part of the law. It is a great advantage and a step forward to have this consolidation, but the whole task of codifying the law is a complex one. One of the difficulties on this very point of codification is the number of statutes to be consulted. But, even if it is a long list, it should not involve a tremendous amount of research into our ancient laws, the sort of thing which, generally speaking, is needed for an effective consolidation Act.

One of the very real difficulties that occurred even here was the attempt to take in the Finance Act of 1951 in the course of the proceedings. We produced the original draft in 1951 and then we had the Finance Act which made some amendments to the Income Tax Law, some exceedingly important consequential amendments in relation to allowances and so on. That, of course, adds to the task and it means that every year that goes by there is a considerably added difficulty to the task of codification. The sooner it is embarked upon the better—the better for the community at large. I press the Attorney-General, before we leave this Measure, to tell us what are the functions of Her Majesty's Government in the matter. I note that he shakes his head from east to west. Does that mean, "No, I cannot," or does it mean. "No, I shall not"?

The Attorney-General

I did say when I addressed the House before that I would be misleading the House if I gave any reasons for supposing that codification would be in the near future. I gave the reason that in the first place the Royal Commission on Taxation is now sitting and discussing the matter and I thought that no one could suggest that we could start setting out a new Income Tax law until that has been done. I thought I made it quite plain that I can give no possible undertaking.

Mr. Hale

I shall not for a moment dispute the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that and what he said was quite plain, but it did not add much to our fund of knowledge. After all, there was always a committee of some sort discussing some aspect of taxation and the terms of reference of the Royal Commission are fairly limited and they will not be called upon to cover the whole range of inquiries. All we are asking the Attorney-General is when the job is to be started? Everyone knows that it will be a long job, but it is important that we should know something about it. He has paid a very justifiable and glowing tribute to the work of his predecessors in office in this connection. I know that the previous Lord Chancellor played a very large part in this, and it was a matter very much after his own heart that he should take the preliminary steps to consolidation followed by codification.

I think we should know whether this is to be subject to cuts or whether it is to go on and whether the Committee is to be enlarged, to remain as it is, or to be reduced. There is still that east-west shaking of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's head which I find difficult and deceiving. It is important that he should tell us this, and I think the House is entitled to an answer. Is the work to be carried on without remission by the full staff appointed; is there to be sufficient money made available for this exceedingly important work in connection with our Statute Law to proceed, or is it to be cut? Very naturally we view with some foreboding almost any statement about any sort of social activity. This is really a rather serious matter, and if the Attorney-General wants to get up and say that he does not know—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

On this Bill we cannot survey all the other social activities.

Mr. Hale

On that I must disagree with your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and venture to put my reasons. The Attorney-General said that consolidation is normally the prelude to codification, and that is the point I am making. That is precisely the matter the House is considering; are we consolidating with a view to codification, or not? The Attorney-General, in fact, to an extent said "Yes." It is purely a "Kathleen Mavoureen" procedure at the moment: It may be for years, Or it may be forever. It is not clear whether it will be before the Committee or not. We have not relaxed our determination to tackle the problem by some Measure. How many people are grappling with the problem at the moment we cannot say, and whether more people or fewer people will be grappling with it we cannot say at the moment. At that stage I come in and say that the House really thinks it discourteous if the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not give a little more information on this point and take the opportunity of telling all those who believe in an understandable Statute Law. I think that if he wishes to say it is a matter for the Treasury to decide we shall hear that with sympathy and in silence, but on a matter of this kind he ought not to sit back quietly sulking like an Achilles in his tent but give a little information to the House to enable us to agree to give a Second Reading to the Bill, as think most of my colleagues would without further controversy.

6.10 p.m.

The Attorney-General

Out of courtesy, I should like to say that I leave it in the hands of the House to decide whether I have been discourteous or not. I have given the best answer on the matter that I can. That is all I have to say.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.—[Mr. Butcher.]