HC Deb 26 July 1967 vol 751 cc910-4

Question proposed, That this be the Fifth Schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Graham Page

I wish to raise a question on the last item of Part I in this Schedule. This Schedule relates to enactments repealed because they are consolidated. In the last item of Part I of the Schedule we repeal the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967, which is not an Act as yet. This is anticipating that it will receive the Royal Assent before the Royal Assent is given to the Bill which we are now discussing.

In the third column against "Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967" there is reference to the repeal of Section 52(9). That subsection states: In the application of this section to Scotland 'police fund' has the same meaning as in the Police Pensions Act 1921. This deals with the fixed charge for removing vehicles from the road and states that the fixed charge will be paid into the police fund; and then it defines what the police fund is by reference to the Police Pensions Act, 1921.

In the Bill before us that definition of "police fund" is to be removed. I cannot find the definition anywhere else in the consolidation Measure. We now seem to be removing the definition from statute law and putting nothing in its place. Nowhere else in the Bill is this mentioned. We have the repeal of a number of Sections relating to the chief officer of police, the police area and so on, and, indeed, definitions are within the consolidation Measure for these particular subjects. But there seems to be no definition included for the police fund, and there seems no reason for removing the definition from the consolidation Measure, the Road Traffic Regulation Act, which has so recently passed through this House. I would be grateful if we could have some explanation.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman will agree, I think, that if the Royal Commission dealing with these matters confirming the Queen's Assent is coincidental, then, of course, the similarity of the reference to the Bill which is here called an Act and this consolidation Measure will fit in. This is our intention.

On the second point, which is much more serious, about the reference to the 1921 Act and the fear that we seem to be leaving the definition unsecured, I am advised by the draftsman that we are leaving the definition intact. But, knowing the hon. Gentleman's assiduity, I will have a look at this again and see if the draftsman is right in his confidence or if the hon. Gentleman is right in his suspicion. If, as I think, the draftsman is right in his confidence, all is well. If the hon. Gentleman is right in his suspicion, I regret to say that there is little that we can do at this stage.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)


Dr. Mabon

What else could we do but withdraw the Bill? Would the hon. Gentleman like us to withdraw the Bill? I have had no notice of this—not that I am complaining about it—so I cannot give an answer straight off the cuff, but I am advised that the draftsman is confident that he has done his job correctly. This is not an argument of political policy; it is an argument of the draftsman's confidence.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

That is not a very satisfactory answer. We are in Committee. If there is an error, there is plenty of time to amend it, provided that we do not rush through the next two stages of the Bill. I cannot see how the draftsman can be right. Only last week we passed a consolidation Bill with a subsection in it saying that the police fund is the fund described in the Police Pensions Act, 1921. A few lays later, we remove that. If it were being replaced with another definition of the police fund, there would be an explanation, but nowhere in the consolidation Measure is the police fund defined. Are we to look back to the 1921 Act? If so, why did we try to wipe it out in the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967? Having abolished it there, we proceed to bring it back a few days later and then remove it again. It is most confusing It all arises from rushing through two consolidation Bills at the same time and having to amend one of them after having passed it through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

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

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I congratulate the Minister on presenting to the House a consolidation Bill which has at least four unusual features. That ought to go on record. First, by its title it is stated to be a Scotland Bill but in fact it applies to a large part of England—all the Border counties. The Title may be very misleading. It is unfortunate that we have in the Title in brackets "No. 2" and also in brackets "Scotland", when the Bill refers to a large part of England. I hope that it will not be misleading to textbook writers and will not be left out of the Laws of England to which we frequently refer.

The second unusual feature is that it has utilised two functions of the Joint Committee—the function of consolidation and the function of Statute law revision. It is a good Bill in that respect and it is good that it makes a clear distinction in Schedule 5, Part I and Part II, between the consolidation part of it and the repeal of enactments which have been spent. The Government have managed to do without the reference which used to be made to the Joint Committee. Erskine May records that as far back as 1947 the Joint Committee was empowered to deal with Bills for re-enacting, in the form in which they apply to Scotland, the provisions of an existing statute". and Erskine May added that the experiment was not repeated after 1947. The Government have managed to consolidate the law relating to Scotland in the Bill without that reference to the Joint Committee.

The third unusual feature is that the Bill includes substantial references to something which does not exist—the Road Traffic Regulation Act, which is still the Road Traffic Regulation Bill. This causes some confusion because it repeals something which we have only recently passed through the House.

The fourth unusual feature, although I do not know that it is very unusual in connection with consolidation Bills, is that the Government are unable to explain their own Bill. They brought it before the House with some peculiar provision in the Fifth Schedule which is still unexplained on Third Reading, the last stage of this Bill through Parliament. It has been unamended so that it cannot go back to another place. We have to accept it, therefore, with an unexplained provision in it which seems to me to be quite wrong from the point of view of drafting and law and only adds confusion to the law.

11.20 p.m.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

May I, with permission, reply to the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page)? I am surprised that he tried to make some advantage out of this matter. All these provisions derive from previous Acts. When he talks about reference to England, he must recognise that these are born of previous Acts listed in the Schedules in considerable detail.

I have had enough time to look at the point which the hon. Gentleman raised about Section 52(9) and his reference to Section 104. I am sorry to say that he is wrong. My advice is that this is quite proper. I am sorry that I did not report to him at an earlier stage in the Bill. I always thought that these consolidation Measures, by general agreement, went through without much difficulty and that if there were any questions of considerable detail we should, as a matter of courtesy, be given notice of them. After all, the Bill went through the other place quite well.

I should have thought that if it was proposed to raise new points we would have notice. Neither my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State nor I have had such notice. The hon. Gentleman is usually extremely courteous. I am sorry that tonight he has chosen to be querulous. No doubt he is tired at the end of the Session. I forgive him, and I am glad that he agrees that we should give the Bill a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

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