HC Deb 22 February 1967 vol 741 cc1902-5

12.13 a.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 11, to leave out subsection (3).

The purpose of the Amendment is to ascertain briefly from the learned Law Officer why it was necessary to include this provision in a consolidation Measure. If the Solicitor-General would be kind enough to refer to the debate in the Select Committee on 23rd November last when Clause 8 was considered, he would see these words by the Chairman: There is a late Amendment"— if it comes in late, it naturally gets off to a bad start with all lawyers and Chairmen— which is similar to the one which we considered with regard to the Forestry Bill, and that is the one dealing with the Greater London Council. It is a far stretch of the imagination that the Greater London Council has anything to do with any of the previous Measures which are being consolidated. The Chairman dealt with the proposed Amendment and said that he thought it was identical with the point on the other Bill with regard to the Greater London Council". Mr. Carter, the counsel concerned, then said: My Lord, it is identical and I would not have thought there was any justification for it in this Bill if it had not been for the fact that it was desirable in the Forestry Bill, in as much as these two consolidations are plainly associated. Then he went on to say: It is inherently unlikely ever to have any effect whatever. My point is that this is just so much lawyer's mumbo-jumbo and quite unnecessary. This was not in the original Acts. It was brought in for this Bill, and Mr. Carter, who was there to advise the Committee, said in plain language that it was so much rubbish. It is for this reason that I wish to see subsection (3) left out.

12.15 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. When I first saw this Clause I wondered what the purpose was, but I will endeavour to explain it, although it is a matter of extreme technicality.

In many places in the Statute Book, anyone who looks will find a power which enables subordinate legislation to tidy up miscellaneous provisions in past Acts. These powers are invariably inserted in consequence of some major legislative change, such as the reorganisation of London government. The changes which are likely to be considered appropriate for the use of such a power are those which are too detailed and too numerous to be accommodated in the Statute itself.

It follows that every Act passed before the relevant date specified in the power is subject to amendment by a subordinate instrument under that power. The object of consolidation is to reproduce the whole of existing law without change of principle or of detail. The consolidation of a provision which has been subject to amendment in this way involves its taking effect in a new Act passed after the date specified in the power to amend.

Accordingly, the power to amend could, without a technical saving in the consolidating Act, be abolished. That would involve a change in the law and would represent inaccurate consolidation. In that same consolidation, the general subject matter as well as the detailed provisions consolidated are such that existing powers to amend may be treated as purely theoretical and capable of being disregarded as a matter of substance.

I give an example. If one looks at various Statutes for the coming independence of former Colonies or for creating a republic within the Commonwealth, one finds that there is a general power to amend by order the provisions of other Acts of Parliament. No one would suppose that that power would be used to alter the law in some respect which did not concern the former Colony or the republic concerned, but theoretically, of course, it might be.

In the case of the Forestry Act—and here I come to the matter the hon. Gentleman referred to—it was observed that an exemption from compulsory purchase in the case of land belonging to the L.C.C. was not by the London Government Act, 1963, extended to the G.L.C. The Act contains just such a power as I have described. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has discovered it, but it is to be found in Section 83 and Section 84 of the Act. Both these Sections contain a power to amend Acts passed before 1965, and the power is so framed that this exemption could be restored to the G.L.C. by order and that order might, among other things, amend the definition of local authority which is contained in Section 5 of the Forestry Act, 1945.

It is not necessary to go back to that Act, because hon. Members, if they are interested, will find that Section appears in Clause 40(2)(c) of this legislation. When the Bill becomes law, Section 5 of the Forestry Act, 1945, will be Section 40 of the Forestry Act, 1967. This provision will, therefore, without such a saving as is contemplated in Section 8(3), mean that there is no power to amend the Forestry Act in such a way as was conferred by Sections 83 and 84 of the London Government Act of 1963. The necessary saving was put in the Forestry Bill for the purpose of preventing any change of the law in relation to it.

I have had to refer to the Forestry Act because the two must be looked at together. There are references in the present Forestry Bill to the other Bill which we are now considering, and the two are intended to operate together. Hon. Members should not be Confused if they understand that that has always been the intention.

I do not want to go into a lot of detail, but, in view of the close relationship between the Plant Health Bill and the Forestry Bill, it was considered advisable, as a precaution, to insert a similar saving in the Plant Health Bill in order that we should avoid any argument being founded on an apparent discrepancy in this respect between the two Bills. An Amendment would have involved a risk—I accept that it might have been only minimal—of doubt arising as to what was the existing law. We put this in as a matter of precaution. It may not be necessary, but it can do no harm and, as a sensible precaution, it should be accepted.

Mr. John Wells

One cannot but help admiring the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General. Here we are discussing the Plant Health Bill, and, one should point out, a specific Clause of it, but the Solicitor-General has kept harking back to the other Bill. I know that is what they did in the Select Committee, and the hon. and learned Gentleman says the two Bills must be taken together. Yet the Plant Health Bill is, one might say, the subsidiary of the two Measures so far as the specific point goes. There can be no question here of a compulsory purchase, and the only Statutory Instrument on trees has arisen in recent years from legislation which has been consolidated. I think it was concerned with watermark disease in Hertfordshire.

I seriously suggest that all this is totally unnecessary verbiage. This Order was originally put down for consideration at a morning sitting, and I sat all through the debate last Wednesday morning anxiously hoping that we would come to it, but here we are on the following Wednesday—or rather Thursday morning —still on the same point. This is unnecessary lawyers' verbiage which took up a great deal of time in the Committee, and it is thoroughly bad practice which, I am sorry to say, is growing.

My point is that the Parliamentary draftsmen, and all the producers of mumbo-jumbo, are putting things into our legislation which mean nothing to anybody, and never will. I therefore urge the right hon. Gentleman to have second thoughts. Presumably he will not take Report stage tonight. Perhaps when the Bill has a Report stage he will take a leaf out of my book and delete the subsection.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.