§ Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
To some of us, this is a provision which requires a certain amount of amplification and explanation. It covers a very wide field of history, and we are entitled to know something more about the Acts 931 which are being repealed in the Schedule. I do not wish to traverse the very large list of Acts contained in the Schedule. I will content myself by asking for an explanation of a few of them.
The first is the American Colonies Act, 1766.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must make it clear what is in order. The hon. Gentleman is not in order in asking for particulars of what is in the Acts being repealed. All that the Bill does is to repeal certain Acts. The hon. Gentleman cannot ask for an explanation of what is in the Act.
§ Mr. Hughes
Do I understand you to rule, Sir Robert, that I am not entitled to ask why these Acts are being repealed?
Generally. But I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can go into detail on all the Acts being repealed.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is far from my intention, Sir Robert. I want to know why the American Colonies Act, 1766, is being repealed. This Act was passed at a time when there were certain differences between ourselves and the United States, and when this country regarded George Washington in rather the same way as Americans regard Dr. Castro today. I should like to know the implications of the repeal of this Act. I should like to know why the Liberated Africans Act, 1853, and the Slave Trade Act, 1876, are being repealed.
I do not want the details and ramifications of why the various consolidated Acts and appropriation Acts are being repealed.
I turn to that part of the Schedule dealing with ecclesiastical enactments. May we have a short explanation as to why the Queen Anne's Bounty Act, 1714, is being repealed?
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General one very simple question? Why were not these Acts repealed long ago?
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)
This part of the Bill, as the Committee will appreciate, revises the 932 Statute law by repealing obsolete, spent, unnecessary or superseded enactments. The Bill comes before the Committee pursuant to the Third Report of the Joint Committee of this House and of another place. At the start of a Session it is proposed that there should be a joint committee to consider spent, obsolete or superseded enactments so that the Statute law can be revised and that there can be the consolidation of enactments under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, which was passed by the Labour Government after the War.
That Joint Committee has been established under the chairmanship of a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and on it sit a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, an expert in Scottish law, and Members of this House, such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) and the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner). The Committee examines the Bill and the proposals set out. The Committee proposed, and this House accepted on Second Reading, that the Acts and Measures specified in columns 1 and 2 of the Schedule should be repealed because they are obsolete, spent or unnecessary. Clause 1 of the Bill does that.
The American Colonies Act—if I am in order to refer to it at all—was an Act which voided resolutions in the colonies and plantations in North America denying the authority of Parliament. That is of no effect in the United States and is superseded as regards Canada by the North America Act, 1867, and it is appropriate that it should be repealed. The Slave Trade Act, 1876, which now relates only to the enforcement of certain provisions in the Indian penal code as in force in 1936, is obsolete, and it was therefore one of the enactments which it was recommended should be repealed.
I can only say in reply to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), in order to stay within the bounds of order, that these Measures have been examined by the Joint Committee of the two Houses and that Clause 1 puts into effect its recommendation that these Acts should be repealed.
In answer to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), this is the third Report of its kind in 933 this Parliament. This is a process which I am sure he and every hon. Member will encourage. It should be continually carried out so that the Statute law can be brought up to date.
§ Mr. Mitchison
By leave, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he remembers that for many years there stood outside the entrance to the Estate Duty Office in the Strand two large notice boards, each of which said, so appropriately, "Dead Slow"? Is not the machinery set up to deal with this kind of thing functioning rather slowly? I should not have thought that the nature of the Acts which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) mentioned called for a very long and detailed examination. It is nearly a hundred years since the British North America Act was passed, and the Boston Tea Party was long before that.
It is unlikely, of course, that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will be charged with the duty, but, upon whomever it lies, ought we not as a House to see that this kind of machinery functions a little more rapidly? It seems a trifle absurd. I quite realise that this has to be done as a technical task by a Committee of the House and with people with expert knowledge to assist it, and I make no great complaint about it as far as it goes. I see that this is the third or fourth Report. It is obvious from the nature of this Schedule that there is a good deal more to be looked at yet. We shall have to consider this in a moment. One does not wish to divide the House against it, but I feel that it is not greatly to the credit of Parliament as an institution that we cannot clear this kind of obsolete junk out of the way in less than a hundred years or so.
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. and learned Gentleman is extravagant in his language as in his hopes. It is quite clear that if it is anyone's task to deal with more of these Measures it will be my right hon. Friends who will be doing it. Most of these Acts referred to are modern Acts, for instance the Appropriation Act, 1948, the Consolidation Acts of 1951 and 1952, and the whole of the third page deals with a whole 934 series of Acts which were dealt with in the 1950's. The same with page 4. On page 5 we deal with Acts of the 1960's.
We obviously have to set up these Committees. They have a great deal to do and it is appropriate, when they are sitting, for them to be given a whole mass of legislation which has been spent or superseded and which has to be dealt with. This is a constant task. It owes—I will give a little credit to the hon. and learned Gentleman—a little to the initiative of the first Labour Government who started it, but it has been carried on with energy continuously in the past few years.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I have one question to put to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He did not deal with the question about the Queen Anne's Bounty. Could he give some indication why this Act has been repealed?
§ The Solicitor-General
The Sections to the Queen Anne's Bounty Act are repealed because those, too, are spent. The hon. Gentleman might get some assistance if he looks at the Appendix to the Select Committee's Report which sets out each particular Act and details relating thereto.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment: read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.