HC Deb 13 May 1968 vol 764 cc983-6

Order for Second Reading read.

10.4 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill has received the consideration of the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. It is pure consolidation and represents existing law.

There are two points which I think it right to mention. I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will interpret it as some tribute to him that I endeavour in this fashion to anticipate what would be fair comment upon matters arising under the Bill.

It will be seen that Clause 60(2) provides that This Act shall come into force on 1st August, 1968. The original intention was that these provisions should come into force on the day appointed under Section 106 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, for the coming into operation of Part V of that Act.

That would have been very convenient, but the two matters got out of step, as inevitably happens from time to time in developments of this kind. The firearms provisions of the Criminal Justice Act came into force on 1st May last. When it was no longer possible for the Bill now before the House to come into force on the same day as the relevant provisions of the 1967 Act, it was thought convenient to have a fixed future date. It is in that way that the date of 1st August has found its way into the Bill, and it is thought that that date will afford to those concerned with the matter a reasonable interval of time in which to consider the provisions of this Measure.

The second point which I think it right to mention at this stage is that the Theft Bill in its present form proposes to amend this consolidation Bill. I readily acknowledge that it is always a pity when a consolidation Bill has to be amended soon after it is passed. It is the kind of point to which the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must not tempt himself to go out of order. We are discussing whether the original Measure should be consolidated under this Bill. We cannot discuss the effect of the Bill on the Theft Bill or vice versa.

The Solicitor-General

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker. I was seeking, I hoped within the rules of order, to indicate a matter which I thought would be helpful to the House, but in view of your Ruling I shall not pursue it.

It is clear from what I have said that the Government have had that aspect of the matter in mind. It is a point to which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has drawn our attention from time to time, namely, that when there is consolidation it should as far as possible be effected at a moment in time in the development of legislation when there does not necessarily follow an early change in the law. In view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I shall say no more about that, and merely recommend the Bill to the House.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The Solicitor-General anticipated some comments that I might make on Clause 60(2). If I understand his remarks concerning the Criminal Justice Act, 1967,—which I gather were in order—we can take it that all the provisions of that Act which are included in the Bill have come into operation. I think I am correct in thinking that, and therefore it is purely consolidation of those provisions.

Even though it may be necessary at some future date to alter the Bill when it becomes an Act, I do not criticise that on this occasion because I think that it is essential to have a consolidation Measure before those who have to put the firearms law into operation. That was undoubtedly in the Government's mind in bringing forward this Measure now.

I hope that I shall be in order in raising one point in connection with Clause 6. When consolidation Measures enact a Statutory Instrument within the Bill, that alters the law in that the Statutory Instrument can no longer be questioned in the courts as being ultra vires. The House normally accepts that in a consolidation Measure, but perhaps the Solicitor-General can help the House in connection with Clause 6(3). There is, in the margin, a reference to a Statutory Instrument and in the text to an Order made under Section 9 of the Firearms Act, 1920, (the former enactment corresponding to section 18 of the Firearms Act 1937 and this section); incidentally, the 1937 Act will be repealed by this Bill, but it seems misleading in form to quote the Statutory Instrument in the margin.

If it is re-enacted in this Bill, this should be clearly said and this should appear in the repeals Schedule as an Order repealed and converted into a Statute. As the matter stands, it is neither one thing nor the other. I cannot say whether the effect of Clause 6(3) is to consolidate a Statutory Instrument—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that on Second Reading we cannot discuss the effect of subsection (3). We are deciding, on the Second Reading of this Bill, which is a pure consolidation Bill, whether the Measures which are consolidated in it should be consolidated or should be treated as separate Bills.

Mr. Page

Is it not permissible, Mr. Speaker, for me to point out an ambiguity in the Bill and its form? In this Bill, there is mentioned in the text an Order which is not repealed in the repeals Schedule, and there is a reference quoted in the margin. There is merely a question of the form of the Bill and an ambiguity, as to whether it consolidates that Statutory Instrument. If it does, it changes the law—and the House should be so informed—in that that Statutory Instrument cannot then be revoked nor its validity questioned in the courts.

Perhaps the question of whether it can be revoked is the most important, since one would not expect its validity to be questioned after 47 years or so. This should be explained and not perpetuated in this ambiguous form—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, this is an old battle between the hon. Gentleman and myself, as he knows. This is a consolidation Measure. A number of Measures are proposed to be consolidated and the only question on Second Reading is whether they should be consolidated or whether they should remain as existing, separate enactments. The hon. Gentleman knows that.

Mr. Page

I wish neither to labour the point unnecessarily, Mr. Speaker, nor to appear not to accept your Ruling on it. I do not have the reports of the debates before me, but we have debated before the question of Statutory Instruments included in consolidation Measures, and it has been said in those debates that this fact should be drawn to the attention of the House. If this is not done by the Consolidation Committee itself, it is right for someone to call it to the attention of the House on Second Reading. That is all that I have been doing.

The Solicitor-General

This matter deserves looking into. I think that the marginal note setting out the relevant Statutory Instrument had effect only as a matter of reference to delineate the words …an order made under Section 9… and that it had no effect beyond that. That would be my interpretation now, but the matter will be looked into.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Fitch.]

Committee Tomorrow.