HC Deb 04 July 1962 vol 662 cc576-85

Considered in Committee



5.15 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, to leave out "accordingly" and to insert: by the name of the Sovereign followed by the calendar year and the chapter number". Our object in putting the Amendment down is to seek clarification of what was said in the rather short debate we had when my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General introduced the Bill. What we seek to do by the Amendment—no doubt, I shall have expert advice later on whether it is efficient in fulfilling this purpose—is to keep the Sovereign's name in the numbers of Acts of Parliament. The Sovereign's name has been so included for centuries. I understand that it was there even before we had a system of numbering by Anno Domini, when the only way of referring to an Act was by reference to the regnal year.

I agree that the short description of the regnal year, which can be expressed in longhand, as it were, as the tenth year of our Lord King Edward III, for example, is rather confusing, and the citation which one may find in a book as, for instance, 1 Geo. 6, c. 8 or 1 Edw. 8, c. 12, does not readily convey exactly what the statute is about, nor is it easy to follow. The Amendment is designed to change that method so that the number would be, for instance, "Eliz. 2, 1963, c. 1", and so on.

I understand that the Sovereign's name will be found in many parts of the book of statutes, on the front cover, perhaps, of an Act of Parliament and in various other places, and I dare say that the object of the Amendment will be met to some extent in this way, the Sovereign's name being preserved in parts of the statutes and the volumes of them, but what I seek is clarification of exactly what the position will be.

I was a little alarmed by my hon. and learned Friend's closing words on Second Reading. If I remember aright, he said that the effect of this Bill would be to convert the future volumes of statutes from Books of Kings to Books of Numbers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 1475.] In principle, I do not prefer Books of Numbers to Books of Kings. In the Bible, I find the Book of Numbers much the less interesting book of the two. Moreover, the new method seems a rather soulless way of going about it.

I know that my hon. and learned Friend is not a dessicated calculating machine and he does not want to bring everything down to questions of number, but, if his words on Second Reading indicate the way in which he is starting off in his high office, in which, I know, he will improve his position as time goes on, I tremble to think of what he may do when he really gets his teeth into the business before him. By this Amendment, I seek to find out exactly what the position will be when the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

When the Bill received its Second Reading, I welcomed it without qualification because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has just said, it sought to remove the rather obscure method of citing the date on the name of Acts of Parliament and it proposed to revert to the system which applied in Scotland for many centuries prior to the Union of numbering Acts of Parliament in a simple and logical way by the calendar year and the chapter number. However, I had a hidden regret that the name of the Sovereign would be removed from the official Title of the Bill in question and, as the debate progressed, I became more and more sorry that I had not qualified what I had said. Ultimately my hon. Friends and I tabled this Amendment.

After the debate, I had a word with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who reminded me that in Scotland prior to the Union it was customary to name the Sovereign, the King as it usually was, before bringing in the calendar year, and I thought that a very good compromise which would please not only Scottish Members but English Members as well who had regrets on this matter would be to introduce the name of the Sovereign as well as the calendar year.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

How does the hon. Gentleman expect to please us by drawing attention to Elizabeth II when only one Elizabeth has been Queen of Scotland?

Mr. Hendry

I take the point, but the hon. Gentleman will observe that the Amendment proposes to introduce the name of the Sovereign and not the title of the Sovereign.

Mr. Ross

That makes it worse.

Mr. Hendry

As I was about to say, every Act of Parliament begins: Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled". What is properly called an Act of Parliament is an Act of the Sovereign in Parliament. We are apt to think of Parliament as the Lords and Commons, but the Sovereign is an essential part of any Act. An Act does not become law until the Sovereign's assent is indicated in the usual manner in another place. It is highly proper in the name of an Act of Parliament that the name of the Sovereign who has enacted it by giving his or her consent should be clearly stated.

On Second Reading, my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said that we were adopting a practice which has become customary throughout the English-speaking world. Undoubtedly people in the English-speaking world form a very important part of the world's population, but every country in the English-speaking world is slightly different from the others. I venture to suggest that this country is rather more different than most in that we are not a republic but have an ancient monarchy of which we are very proud and which is a very important part of our constitution. I suggest that, if for no other reason, it is right and proper that in naming the Acts of our Sovereign in Parliament the name of the Sovereign should appear in the official Short Title or in the official citation. For that reason, I have great pleasure in supporting, the Amendment and beg my right hon. and learned Friend to accept it.

The Solicitor-General (Sir John Hobson)

It might be of assistance to the Committee if I explained in a little more detail than I did when moving the Second Reading exactly what are the consequences and effect of the Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) for the moderation with which they have spoken to the Amendment, and for giving me the opportunity to explain in a little more detail exactly what will happen and haw much of the Sovereign's name will remain on Acts and Bills in future.

I would regard it as a matter of the greatest importance and regret if, in future, references in the authoritative editions of our legislative activities were wholly to omit the name of the Sovereign. But, of course, this is not so. All we are dealing with here is the short reference number Which normally appears on the top left hand corner of Bills and Acts of Parliament and the short references on the back of the bound volume of statutes which up to now have always related the references of Acts of Parliament to sessional years. Sessional years have, of course, always been referred to by regnal years.

Up to 1940 the statutes were always bound in volumes by sessions and it was, therefore, appropriate to refer to them by the Session of Parliament, which could only be described by the regnal year of the Sovereign. It was because sessions were so described up to that time and not because of the legislative part which the Sovereign took in our legislative procedure that the name of the Sovereign appeared in the references.

Since 1940, 22 years ago, the Statutes have always been bound in annual volumes. I have here the 1960 volume in which all the Statutes for the calendar year of 1960 are bound up together. This involves binding the Acts of parts of two different sessions, and a very complicated title is necessary on the back of it. It has to be described as 8 & 9 Eliz. II. Chapters 10–69 and 9 Eliz. II, Chapters 1–6". The latter part of 1960 was not the session of the ninth year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Since she has survived beyond the anniversary of her accession, it becomes the session of the ninth and tenth years of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

These complications are very difficult to understand, and it was therefore thought that, for simplicity of reference, it would be much easier to bind up the Statutes and to refer to them simply by their year and to call them the Statutes of 1960 and, within that volume, to refer to each Act by a chapter number, as at present, beginning with the first Act passed in the year and numbering the chapters throughout the year. The effect is that one will be able to refer to an Act of Parliament simply as "1960, Chapter 1", or as the case may be.

Normally, one refers to an Act by the Short Title. Acts like the Finance Act, and the Betting and Gaming Act are generally referred to in the House, in the courts and elsewhere by their official Short Title. But there are occasions when it is convenient to direct a reader to the volume and to the place in the volume by an easy system of reference. It is for this purpose that the numbering and citation of Acts is being altered.

The old style of referring to sessions by regnal years and the chapters of those sessions was little used except in courts, when it was desired to draw the attention of the judges to a particular volume of the Statutes or occasionally in legal documents and opinions. In future, when it is necessary for those few purposes to use what might be called the filing system of reference," it will be necessary to say no more than "1960, Chapter 2."

The Amendment proposes that, for the purpose of a short reference, one should add the name of the Sovereign and expand the example I gave to "Elizabeth II 1960 Chapter 2." I respectfully submit that, if one is trying to devise a short system of reference, it is wholly unnecessary to add words which everyone will imply in order to direct a reader to a particular volume and to a particular chapter number.

I should, however, like to make clear that, while that is the system for short and easy references and citations the name of the Sovereign will still be recognised in the style in which we print and set out our Statutes. First, in the unbound Statutes and Acts of Parliament, the Royal Arms will appear on the front page, as they do at present, and, in addition, the name of the Sovereign will be added above the Royal Arms. In the volumes of 'the bound Statutes, the Sovereign's name will appear first on the spine of the bound volum2, where it at present appears with all the regnal years and reference numbers. This will be simplified and the name of the Sovereign alone will appear on the spine of the volume. In addition, on the title page of each volume of the statutes the sovereign's name will appear as it does at present. At the head of each Act within the volume the enacting words which have already been referred to will remain: Be it enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled and so on. So at the head of each Act there will be the part played by the sovereign in the legislative Act referred to expressly.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Why is a statute necessary for this at all?

5.30 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that it arises on this Amendment. Of course, this is a matter which, to a large extent, concerns the Statute Law Committee, but it was thought that the system of numbering and citation, which is very ancient indeed, had become part of the custom and law of Parliament and that for that purpose it ought not to be changed without the authority of all the three parts of the legislative machinery, i.e., by the sovereign herself with the Lords and Commons together assembled and that, therefore, it was advisable that this custom and practice should be altered by Act of Parliament itself. Some may think it not wholly necessary, but it is far better to be sure than sorry, and it is for that reason it was decided that 'this should be done by Act of Parliament.

The actual lay-out of the heading of each Act and the title page of the volume is to be considered by the Statute Law Committee in the near future, and any suggestions made in the course of this debate will, of course, be very acceptable and will certainly be carefully considered by the Committee.

It is not proposed that Bills should contain the sovereign's name because at that stage of the legislative procedure the sovereign has taken no part and, indeed, a Private Member's Bill might well be introduced that affected adversely the sovereign or it might be a Bill with which at that stage the sovereign would not wish to be connected. For that reason, it is not intended to include any reference to the sovereign's name on any Bills.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make this further explanation as to what is intended to be done and what will be the consequences of this Measure. I hope that in the light of that explanation my hon. Friend will consider withdrawing his Amendment.

Mr. Ross

I hope that the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) will take the advice of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General. I, too, was concerned about the change and realised the importance of it. Indeed, I spoke with considerable feeling on the subject on Second Reading of the Bill. I drew attention to the fact that, belatedly, we were doing something here once again for the United Kingdom and for English law which we had done a considerable time ago in regard to Scottish law. I think that the hon. Gentleman went too far when he said that this was the standard practice relating to Scottish law in ancient days. I think he will find it was more related to the clarification of Scottish law ordered by the House of Commons at the beginning of the century. The citation was done in this way with the sovereign's name followed by the calendar year and the chapter number.

The hon. Gentleman got himself into a difficulty when he said that we had not mentioned the actual Sovereign's name. Had he listened carefully to the hon. and learned Solicitor-General he would have had no doubt about what the Sovereign's name is. It is Elizabeth II, and certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and I welcome this dropping of the Sovereign's name. It is totally unnecessary. The Sovereign's name is there by virtue of the fact that we have chosen hitherto to cite Acts of Parliament by the regnal year. That means the Sovereign's name followed by the year of the Sovereign's reign.

I think that from the point of view of dropping that, we can drop the one without the other and so we are left with the replacement of the calendar year and the chapter. It is perfectly simple. I think it should be welcomed by every Member of Parliament to know the year in which any Bill was passed whereas hitherto we have had to look up to find out what was the regna1 year. I am sure that both hon. Members opposite have had the experience of fumbling about from one volume to another before finally getting the one they want. I am sure that from the point of view of simplicity and the convenience of everyone it is a very desirable change. If we want to add anything, let us add something more informative.

I am deeply disappointed that the hon. and learned Solicitor-General did not take my advice, which was that if we must add something let us give to the legal fraternity and to Members of Parliament some information about the Bill and how it was handled in the House. I suggested that the title of every Bill dealt with under the Guillotine procedure should be followed by a large letter "G". I should have preferred that to this Amendment. I know that that is not the Amendment before us, but if we must have an Amendment, then that is the one I want.

This, to my mind, is an unnecessary Amendment and a quite unnecessary retention of the Sovereign's name, which is not particularly accurate when we remember that there are special Scottish Acts. There is the celebrated Town and Country Planning Act which started as a United Kingdom Measure, but which was so incomprehensive to the Scots that the House of Commons ordered it to be reprinted in Scottish form. If the hon. Gentleman opposite had been prepared to reprint the Sovereign's title in Scottish form we might have had some sympathy with his objective. The Post Office has already done this. So unpopular was the English domination of the citation of the Sovereign's name that the Post Office bowed to popular opinion. Anyone who looks will find that on the pillar boxes in Scotland there is not "E.R. II" but just "E.R." No one has any doubt who is the Queen.

I think that, on the whole, the hon. and learned Solicitor-General is right and that for the convenience of every one concerned it is better that the Amendment, if it is not withdrawn, should be voted down. After all, we have only to look at this Bill to see that there is a reference to the monarch. It states: Be it enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows. I think that this is enough of this archaic stuff without adding anything quite unnecessary. I am sure that no one will doubt that in 1962 the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty thereto referred was Elizabeth.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

This is a quaint Amendment. The Bill really arises out of the co-existence of three separate things— the first, the sessional year, the second the regnal year, and the third the calendar year. The calendar year has certain obvious conveniences for reference purposes, and the intention of the Bill is to shorten and simplify the method of reference.

I should like to take this opportunity, while on the Amendment, of congratulating the Government on much the best Bill that they have brought forward since they have been in office. There is nothing wrong with it for once, and I am sorry, just because it is such a good Bill, that it should have provoked yet another split in the Tory Party. I should have thought that it was rather small beer.

I am glad to see that the hon. and learned Gentleman has dropped these references to Books of Numbers and Books of Kings and has proceeded today direct to Revelations. That was surely the right method of dealing with the matter. There was a little preliminary revelation in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill. It made it perfectly clear what the Bill was doing.

I do not want to deprecate the Amendment too much. It is always interesting to have these revelations of the inner mind of parts of the Tory Party and this was a remarkable instance. I listened with fascination to what was said on behalf of the Amendment and to the grounds on which it was opposed. I should find it difficult to support it. I hope that having said that, I need say no more about the Bill. I hope, however, that the Government will strut away pleased that at long last they have brought in a Bill which contains no errors and which makes extraordinarily little difference and that they have successfully suppressed the impending mutiny represented by the Amendment.

Mr. Kershaw

In view of the very full explanation given by my hon. and learned Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed, without amendment.