HC Deb 24 February 1966 vol 725 cc746-9

Considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.37 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I should like to ask the Solicitor-General to correct something that he said on Second Reading. He assured the House on that occasion that the Bill involved no change whatever in substantive law. He asserted that the Joint Committee had certified that the Bill does not represent any change whatever in the law. It is purely a consolidation Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 1665.] If that goes on the record as being an authoritative statement about Statute Law Revision Bills, I think that in future the House may be precluded even from asking for an explanation of the contents of such a Bill. A Statute Law Revision Bill does alter the law. It is not merely a consolidation Measure, and perhaps I might use an example from the Schedule to the Bill. There was a certain amount of comment in the Joint Committee on the first enactment referred to under the heading "Transport Repeals". It concerns the repeal of Section 31 of the London Hackney Carriages Act, 1843. This is the Section which provided that Nothing…shall be deemed or construed to authorise any hackney carriage to stand or ply for hire opposite to the General Post Office in Saint Martins le Grand…. That provision is to be repealed because it is obsolete, and not because it is no longer law. It is not put into operation. It has been certified by the Joint Committee as being obsolete and unnecessary, and quite correctly so. But it would be wrong to say that this is not a change in the law, and that it is merely a matter of consolidation.

If a Statute Law Revision Bill is treated merely as a consolidation Measure the House will be precluded even from asking for an explanation of its contents. If, however, we recognise that such a Bill alters the law, having been told via the Joint Committee what laws are obsolete, spent, unnecessary or superseded, we are able to ask for an explanation of the contents. The Bill may repeal some Section which the House would think ought not to be repealed, and to that extent the House might reject the Bill altogether. Unless we can ask for an explanation of such a Bill we are put to great inconvenience in trying to discover what it contains.

When the Bill was published in another place it had an Explanatory Memorandum on the front of it. That was very helpful. It was possible to read through it and to find what the Bill was about, and what Statutes were to be repealed. Unfortunately, when the Bill was published in this House it did not have that Explanatory Memorandum, so we had to seek out the print of the Bill in the other place and read it through to find out what we wanted to know.

I therefore ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to correct what he said in the Second Reading debate, and to confirm that his view of a Statute Law Revision Bill is that it repeals obsolete, spent, and unnecessary provisions, and in doing so necessarily alters the law.

9.42 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is quite entitled to draw a distinction between a Statute Law Revision Bill and a consolidation Bill pure and simple, such as that we are about to consider. But I submit that this is a distinction without a difference. The effect of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Statute Law Revision Bill is that it makes no difference whatever in substantive law. The Committee said: The Committee have considered the…Bill….The Bill is confined to the repeal of obsolete, spent, unnecessary or superseded enactments and there is no point to which they think that the attention of Parliament should be drawn. That means that it is not making any change in the law as it affects anybody. There was a long Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill as published in another place, which said: The only unrepealed provision of the Appropriation Act 1870 sets out certain conditions for the receipt of half-pay. The system of half-pay to which the provision was originally relevant (e.g. for ' reduced' officers) has long disappeared; and the provision is spent Further down, we are told that the Pensions (Commutation) Act, 1876, contains an exception from the Pensions (Commutation) Act, 1870, in favour of officers who had held "saleable commissions". The sale of commissions was ended in 1871 and nobody is alive to whom the 1876 Act could apply. Then there is the particular provision to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention—Section 31 of the London Hackney Carriages Act, 1843, which provides that nothing in that or any other Act shall be deemed to authorise any hackney carriage to stand or ply for hire opposite the General Post Office in St. Martin's le Grand. It is obsolete, and the Postmaster-General agrees to its repeal.

Therefore, we are dealing throughout with Acts which are still on the Statute Book, but none of which can have any application to anyone whatsoever—

Mr. Graham Page

If, for example, the right hon. and learned Gentleman decided to take a private prosecution against a taxi-cab plying for hire outside the General Post Office, could the courts really refuse such a prosecution? The law exists. It is right that it should be repealed because it is obsolete, but it is not entirely an academic argument.

The Solicitor-General

I am saying that here is a law which has long ceased to affect anyone. What the Joint Committee have done is to deal with this in the same way as they deal with a strict consolidation Bill, and they have reported in the terms which the hon. Gentleman himself quoted. We are merely dealing here with spent and obsolete legislation, and this is being taken out of the Statute Book.

My point, which I made on Second Reading also, is perfectly valid, I submit—that when we are dealing with a substantive law—a law actually in operation and which has an effect on some one or other—this Bill makes not the slightest difference. That is the issue which was canvassed by the Joint Committee. They were perfectly satisfied and they therefore reported to the House in the sense that they did. The hon. Member for Crosby says that if we did not draw a distinction between Statute Law Revision and a consolidation Bill in one way or another, the House may be prevented from questioning any of the provisions; in any of these Bills.

I am sure that the House will never be precluded from examining these Bills as long as we have the good fortune of having the hon. Member for Crosby with us.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without Amendment.