HC Deb 04 August 1965 vol 717 cc1825-32

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This Clause is a blot on this Consolidation Bill, and I think it is a blot on the precedents for consolidation Measures. As the Long Title includes the words with corrections and improvements made under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act 1949 I think that under the rules of order I am precluded from moving any Amendment even as to the date of commencement of the Bill, and therefore the only form of attack I can make on this thoroughly objectionable part of the Bill is to oppose this Clause, and I do so. I think the Government have been thoroughly lax and lazy in putting it into the Bill.

Subsection (4) amends a number of statutes which are set out in Schedule 5, and the first nine of those statutes are general statutes in which hire-purchase agreements happen to be mentioned and the relevant Sections have been amended so as to bring them into line with this Bill, but the tenth statute in the Schedule of Enactments Amended is the Hire-Purchase Act, 1964, the very Act which one might assume was the main subject of this consolidation. In fact it is being amended and not repealed and only part of it is being consolidated in this Measure.

Clause 59, and in particular subsection (5), repeals the statutes specified in Schedule 6, and in Schedule 6 we see that the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938, is wholly repealed, the Hire-Purchase Act, 1954 is wholly repealed, but the Hire-Purchase Act, 1964, is only partly repealed, and in that partial repeal there appears a reference to the Advertisements (Hire-Purchase) Act, 1957. That Act does not appear itself either in the Schedule of Enactments Amended or in the Schedule of Enactments Repealed so it will remain in force after this so-called consolidation Bill becomes operative.

What emerges from this is that Clause 59 ensures that this consolidation Measure leaves untouched two important branches of hire purchase law. The first is the law relating to the unauthorised disposal of motor vehicles by hirers under hire purchase agreements, that Clause contained in Part III of the Hire-Purchase Act, 1964.

Clause 59 will, I submit, cause the utmost inconvenience by, as it were, leaving a part of the law which is being consolidated and a part of the statute which is being consolidated out on a limb, out in the cold, a sort of Cinderella of consolidation. I know that Part III of the 1964 Act, which deals with the disposal of hire-purchase motor vehicles, is concerned with the rights of third parties and not parties to a hire-purchase agreement. But that does not take it out of hire-purchase law. Would not anyone, whether he is a layman or a lawyer, expect to find that subject in this consolidation Act?

The second point which emerges from the Schedules and subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 59 is that Clause 59 ensures that the Advertisements (Hire-Purchase) Act of 1957 remains untouched. Again, anyone, either a layman or a lawyer, would expect to find that branch of hire-purchase law within this consolidating Measure. I know that it does not directly affect the civil rights as between the parties to a hire-purchase agreement; it creates certain offences. But, none the less, it is an integral part of the hire-purchase law, and one cannot help suspecting that there has been undue haste to get the Measure on to the Statute Book in order, perhaps, to boost the Government's much publicised legislative score of so many statutes per so many dynamic days. To drag in consolidation Bills in that is unfair to members of the public which have to look at the Bills and try to understand the law from them.

Clause 59 is even more suspect in that respect, when one turns to subsection (1). It says: This Act (including the repeals effected by this section) shall not have effect in relation to any hire-purchase agreement, credit-sale agreement or conditional sale agreement made before 1st January, 1965. Not only is the independent existence of two important branches of hire-purchase law preserved by Clause 59, but the whole of the existing statutes relating to hire-purchase law is preserved in respect of agreements which were made before 1st January, 1965.

Would one suspect from the long title of the Bill that that part of the law was being excluded from the Bill? It is An Act to consolidate certain enactments and not the law relating to certain agreements. I must say that Clause 59, subsection (1) seems to me to leave consolidation in chaos and confusion.

In any ordinary statute dealing with the form and validity of contracts, it is normal to say that the reforms made will apply only to contracts after the date when the Bill comes into operation and will not apply retrospectively to contracts made prior to the Act. That is what was done in the Hire-Purchase Acts of 1938, 1954, 1964. As a result, there are now three codes of hire-purchase law. First, there is the law as it was contained in the Hire-Purchase Acts of 1938 and 1954 applicable to hire-purchase agreements made before 1st January, 1965, being of a kind unaffected by the Hire-Purchase Act, 1964.

Then there is the second code of hire-purchase law which again is contained in the 1930 Act and the 1954 Act and again is applicable to pre-1965 hire-purchase agreements, to those agreements which are of a kind which are affected by certain provisions of the Hire-Purchase Act, 1964. Finally, there is the third code of hire-purchase law as contained in the 1938 and 1954 Acts, as amended by the 1964 Act, as applied to hire-purchase agreements made on or after 1st January, 1965.

It is only the third of those three codes which is consolidated in the Bill, and anyone who has a pre-1965 hire-purchase contract and who wants to know the law relating to it will have to refer to repealed Acts which, for all I know, may be out of print very soon. They are certainly repealed by the Schedules to the Bill so far as future contracts are concerned, and Clause 59, by keeping the other codes alive in other statutes, destroys the proper working of consolidation. Of course those codes must be kept alive. We cannot, in a Consolidation Bill, after the law relating to contracts already made. The hire-purchase agreements may last for four, five, six, or even more years, and the pre-1965 code will be needed for at least that length of time.

The proper consolidation device for doing this is to set out in a Schedule to the Consolidation Bill the law as it applies to the different kinds of contract. In the present case two Schedules would have sufficed, containing the first two codes that I mentioned. The Schedules would merely say that for such and such a contract Clauses so and so of this consolidation Bill apply, but the following are substituted for the remaining Clauses of the Bill.

But Clause 59 discards that device. No one can rely on this Consolidation Bill as containing the law relating to all hire-purchase agreements. Let us suppose that one is dealing with a contract made last year. One will still have to collect together the law relating to that contract, which will be in the 1938, 1954, 1957 and 1964 Acts. If no consolidation had taken place, that would be so, and one could not complain, but the whole point of consolidation is to get the law together into one instrument, and the existence of a Consolidation Bill such as the one before the Committee is misleading, because one looks at the Schedule and sees the enactments repealed, the 1936 Act gone, the 1954 Act gone, the 1964 Act nearly gone, and then there is the trap. There is Clause 59 which keeps the old law in existence in respect of contracts made prior to 1st January, 1965.

What is going to happen about two or three years hence? Will Her Majesty's Stationery Office still print these repealed Acts which will still apply to pre-1965 contracts? I am sure that the device of Schedules for obsolescent laws should have been adopted in this case. I do not think that such schedules would have been either long or complex in this case, but even if they were, that is not a reason why they should be omitted. In fact it is probably a reason why they should be included, because if they tend to be long and complex, surely it is an admission that the law which is left unconsolidated by the Bill is itself long and complex, which is a very good reason for consolidating it and bringing it into the Bill? I want to quote two sentences from the OFFICIAL REPORT. The first, on 28th July, reads: It is far better, not only for the legal profession but also for the general public, to be able to find the whole law on a subject in one instrument, preferably in one statute."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 635.] On 2nd August there was this passage: It is for the convenience of the public and those members of the public who are particularly affected, so that if they want to find the law they can find it in a single Instrument."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 1222.] Both those gems of wisdom fell from the lips of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General within the last week. Yet he asks the Committee to accept Clause 59, which wholly fails to achieve that object; in fact, it does just the opposite. If the draftsman had been given more time I am sure that he would have adopted the normal course and produced a proper consolidation Measure.

The passion of this Government for trying to advertise its dynamism by chalking up a large score of statutes going through the House has led to a rush over this Consolidation Bill, and has meant that the draftsman has failed to consolidate the law properly. He has left out of the Bill a vital part which any member of the public having to deal with this subject would expect to find in it.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

No one will accuse the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) of a lack of diligence. We are indebted to him, because he has brought to our attention, night after night, features of various consolidation Measures. His first complaint was that this matter had been rushed—that we had not taken sufficient time. Why is it that we bring forward this Consolidation Bill at this time? It is to meet an undertaking which was given in the former Parliament by the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). In this respect the hon. Member's quarrel is not with us; it is with his own Leader.

I remind the House what was said by the right hon. Gentleman on 18th February, 1964, dealing with the question of hire purchase. He said: We have tried to hold a balance between the interests of purchasers, on the one hand, and traders, on the other. I hope the House will agree that at this stage the Bill gets the balance right. It is obvious from what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has said that when the Bill becomes law it will be appropriate to consider the consolidation of legislation dealing with hire purchase, and I hope that this can be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1964; Vol. 689, c. 1048.] This is precisely what has been done.

The hon. Member made various criticisms of the Bill, which were really directed at the Consolidation Committee. Neither the hon. Member nor I were members of that Committee, but various colleagues of the hon. Member, including the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), were. The hon. Member is saying that the Committee has not adequately done its work, and I feel that I must come to the defence of that Committee.

The hon. Member for Crosby has failed to observe what the Bill is about. He has complained that we have not included in it all the provisions in the Hire-Purchase Act, 1964, and in the Act of 1957. But certain parts of the 1964 Act deal with matters with which we are not here concerned. Part III of that Act deals with motor vehicles on hire purchase. The law, which is set out in Part III of that Act, does not in any way affect the rights as between the hirer, the owner and other parties to a hire purchase agreement. That is what we are concerned with in this Measure.

We are concerned simply with the contractual relations between the hirers and the purchasers and the other parties to the contract. That is what this consolidation Bill is about. Similarly, the Act of 1957 deals with advertising, which, again, is something which is not done in this Measure. Under the 1964 Act, Part 3 is concerned with the sale of goods. It provides the exceptions to what lawyers know as the nemo dat rules and the objective of that Part 3 is to regulate the legal position as between the owner under a hire-purchase agreement and the person who has acquired the motor car, or whatever it may be, in good faith. That is to say, we are assimilating that branch of the law to the law relating to market overt. Part 4 of the 1964 Act improves the Act of 1957 in relation to advertising.

These are entirely different provisions, which are in no way covered by the Bill. We are dealing with a particular aspect of hire purchase, that is, the contractual rights between the parties to hire-purchase contracts. That is the only respect in which the law is consolidated.

The other matter which the hon. Member raised was Clause 59. He criticised the Clause—as he did on Second Reading—in particular, because it refers to the date, 1st January, 1965. After all, the task of a Consolidation Bill is to consolidate the law and, in this case, it is simply consolidating the law as it was passed by Parliament under the last Government in 1964. The 1964 Act made certain considerable changes in the law regarding hire purchase and, of course, there had to be a date when those changes came into operation.

The date which is set out in the 1964 Statute is 1st January, 1965. There is nothing novel about this. For contracts before 1965, the law is the law as it then existed. After 1st January, 1965, the law governing hire purchase is the law as it is set out in the Act of 1964 and as it is consolidated in this Act. That is a perfectly natural and logical distinction. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that there is no substance whatever in the hon. Gentleman's criticisms.

Mr. Graham Page

The Solicitor-General has referred to an undertaking given by the then Government on the passing of the 1964 Act. I am sure that, had those who gave the undertaking—particularly the right hon. Gentleman who gave the undertaking—had the conduct of the Consolidation Bill he would have seen that it really did consolidate the law relating to hire-purchase agreements, and not only part of the law. He would have provided for a proper consolidation Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that I was complaining of an offence by the Joint Committee. Not at all. The Joint Committee is not charged with reporting to the House what is not being consolidated. It is for this Committee of the House to consider that. This Committee is entitled to consider the subjects which are being consolidated and which ought to be consolidated under the long title of the Bill.

The hon. and learned Gentleman explained that the consolidation is intended to be only one relating to the contractual rights between the parties, but anyone reading the Long Title and the Short Title of the Bill might assume—I think, correctly—that it deals with hire purchase law as a whole, that it consolidates hire-purchase law. This is why I say that the Bill is misleading in calling itself a Consolidation Bill and not consolidating the whole of the law.

As the Solicitor-General said, the task of a consolidation committee is to consolidate the law, but what it has done in this case is to consolidate only that law relating to agreements entered into on or after the 1st January, 1965. That is my complaint about it. It only consolidates the law relating to certain agreements, and it is thereby misleading to the public in that it does not by means of Schedules, which are common in Consolidation Bills, deal with the obsolescent law relating to previous agreements. I still think that the Clause is a blot on a Consolidation Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 60 to 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules agreed to.

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