HC Deb 19 May 1952 vol 501 cc1-2
1. Sir Edward Keeling

asked the Attorney-General whether he will make a statement about the work of the Statute Law Committee during the past year and its programme for the current year.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

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

Sir E. Keeling

I quite agree, but may I ask a supplementary question? Although Parliament would, I think, be willing and anxious to pass even more consolidation Bills if they were presented to it, does my hon. and learned Friend think the progress made is satisfactory considering all the difficulties?

The Attorney-General

I think that the progress can be regarded as satisfactory. I feel I can say a word of appreciation of the work of the Committee having regard to the fact that I attended only my first meeting, so far as I am concerned, the other day.

Following is the statement:
  1. 1. As explained in previous statements, the tasks set before the Statute Law Committee 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. During 1951 the resources available for consolidation were employed largely on the three exceptionally large undertakings mentioned in the statement made on 19th February in that year, relating respectively to Income Tax, to Customs and Excise, and to magistrates' courts.
The Bill relating to the Income Tax Acts was introduced on 6th November, 1951, and received the Royal Assent on 28th February, 1952. This Bill was among the largest ever presented to Parliament, consisting of 532 Clauses and 25 Schedules. The work done on it was commended by the Chairman of the Committee on Consolidation Bills in terms of unusual warmth. The Customs and Excise Bill, of 321 Clauses and 12 Schedules, was introduced in this House on 30th January, 1952, and is awaiting re-committal after having been before a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. The Bill relating to magistrates' courts has been completed and has been favourably reported upon by a Departmental Committee composed of persons expert in this subject. This has been an undertaking on a scale similar to that of the two Bills just mentioned. The Bill consists of 134 Clauses and six Schedules, but it is proposed to deal with a large part of the subject, namely, the whole of the provisions that are distinctively procedural, by Rules under Section 15 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, a draft of which was prepared concurrently with the Bill and submitted with it to the Departmental Committee. 3. In addition, work on 10 other consolidation Measures has been completed or nearly completed. Bills relating to midwives (England and Wales), midwives (Scotland), nurses (Scotland), and dangerous drugs, have been passed. Bills relating to prisons and to costs in criminal cases are now before Parliament. Bills relating to the Port Office, to births and deaths registration and to the registration service in England and Wales, and to prisons in Scotland, are at an advanced stage of preparation and we hope that they may be passed in this Session. 4. Taking account of the Bills mentioned above, 30 consolidation Bills have been passed since the reconstitution of the Statute Law Committee in 1947. 5. The utility of the Procedure Act of 1949 has been further demonstrated during the past year by recourse to it for the purposes of the Magistrates' Courts Bill, of the two Bills now before Parliament, and of the four Bills which are at an advanced stage of preparation. 6. My predecessors have not in previous statements sought to forecast the outcome of future work on consolidation; to promise to deal with particular subjects might interfere with employment of resources to the best advantage as opportunity presents itself. I can, however, give some general indication of what is at present proposed. Progress has already been made with Bills for consolidating the Supreme Court of Judicature Acts, the Food and Drugs Acts, the Savings Bank Acts, and the enactments relating to the Auxiliary Forces; I hope that it will be possible to press on with some at least of these and in particular with the first of them. Consolidations of the Electricity Supply Acts and of the enactments relating to the sale of intoxicating liquors in England and Wales have been urged by the Ministers concerned and are likely to be taken in hand at an early date. It would be convenient to deal with the Dentists Acts comprehensively as soon as possible after the amending Bill now before this House is passed; and the Minister of Health has told the Committee that both the members of the professions and administrators would derive much practical advantage from consolidations of the Medical Acts and of the Acts as to nurses which apply to England and Wales. Another subject which we hope to take in hand is that of burial and cremation, where the statute law is in a peculiarly diffuse and ill-ordered state. We do not propose to embark this year on any undertaking of magnitude comparable with that of the three measures mentioned at the beginning of this statement because we desire to keep resources available in the near future for an overhaul of the Highways Act, which we are not in a position to undertake this year.
7. With regard to the second part of the work entrusted to the Committee the position is as follows: 8. As was mentioned in the statement of 19th February, 1951, 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 early in 1951. There was published at the same time a small book which contained simple directions for noting the effect of subsequent legislation in the Edition and in the Annual Volumes of the Statutes for years after 1948; these "Annotations to Acts" are being issued annually, and the latest, for noting the effect of 1951 legislation, was published in March of this year. 9. An edition of the Chronological Table of the Statutes, covering the Acts to the end of 1950, was issued in April, 1951; and a further edition, covering the Acts to the end of 1951, was issued at the beginning of this month. Publication of this work will be annual in future. 10. The Index to the Statutes in Force, which included all Acts to the end of 1950, was issued at the end of last year. The next edition is ready for the printer, but it is considered that its publication in the next month or two would follow too closely on the last previous issue. A further edition indexing the statutes to December, 1952, will be published early in 1953. 11. The issue of the Third Edition of Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised is nearly complete. This work comprises 25 volumes, of which 23 have been issued, and the remaining two are expected to be out within the next few weeks. The closing date of the Edition is 31st December, 1948, but its last volume contains various tables, including a Table of Effects giving particulars of amendments, revocations, etc., to 31st December, 1951, which affect both the instruments contained in the Edition and those made between 1949 and 1951. This Table of Effects will be brought up to date and republished annually. 12. The Guide to Government Orders (previously issued under the title "Index to the Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments in Force") has been published recently and covers the period up to the end of 1951. It has been improved by the addition of a table of statutes showing the subject headings under which the powers are noted. This up to date publication, which it is hoped to produce annually in future, is a complete guide to all statutory provisions conferring power to make Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments, and to all general Instruments made in exercise of them. 13. A handbook on Subordinate Legislation was prepared in the Statutory Publications Office and published in May, 1951. 14. An edition of the consolidated Index to the Local Acts covering the period from 1801 to 1947 was issued in 1949: work has proceeded throughout the year with the preparation of a further edition. 15. The Statute Law Committee have made special efforts to secure that all their publications are produced as early as possible after the close of the periods to which they relate. The 1951 Volume of Public General Acts was published in March and the annual Index to the Local Acts in mid-February. Everything possible is being done to facilitate publication of the 1951 volumes of Statutory Instruments and it is hoped that they will be available not later than August: last year the 1950 volumes were published early in September. 16. Work in the Statutory Publications Office is now so organised as to ensure that whenever a new edition of Statutes Revised or of Statutory Rules and Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised is required it can be put forward for printing at short notice.