HC Deb 21 July 1969 vol 787 cc1401-11

Order for Second Reading read.

11.39 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

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

This is a consolidation Bill which comes before the House under the procedure whereby the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills considers enactments with amendments to give effect to recommendations made by one or both of the Law Commissions. The recommendations in this instance were made in a Joint Report of both Law Commissions, and have been accepted by the Joint Committee subject to minor exceptions with which I think I need not trouble the House at this stage.

What is consolidated are the Trustee Savings Banks Acts of 1954 to 1958. The tables of derivations shows that some eight Statutes have been subjected to the process. The Committee reports that, subject to the exceptions that I have mentioned, the recommendations of the Law Commissions are for purposes of producing a satisfactory consolidation of the law, and it approves them.

The Bill represents a useful consolidation of the law in this field, and I ask the House to approve it.

11.41 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

As the Solicitor-General has said, the Bill comes to the House from the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills; but it is not, as one sees from the Long Title, solely a consolidation Bill. It amends the existing law before it consolidates it.

The amendments which the Bill seeks to make are of particular weight and importance because they originate from the Report of the two Law Commissions. I have no doubt that the House would need some very convincing arguments if it were asked to amend a Bill based on the Report from the two Law Commissions and based upon an examination by the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills stretching over three sessions of that Committee. But I protest at the Government's assuming that the House will rubber-stamp the Bill.

The Bill has been put on the Order Paper at this late hour today for Second Reading, and I understand that it will be put on the Order Paper tomorrow, again at a late hour, for the remaining stages. Quite apart from what may emerge from this Second Reading debate or what thoughts the House may have upon the Bill, even the Joint Select Committee in dealing with one of the recommendations said that it would leave it out of the Bill so that the House could decide whether the law should be changed to the extent recommended by the Law Commissions.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that if any important matters arise from the Second Reading debate on the Bill you will accept manuscript Amendments during the Committee stage tomorrow, because there will be no opportunity of tabling Amendments in the normal way.

There were from the Law Commissions 21 recommendations embodied in the Bill. Each recommendation is a change in the law. I certainly do not wish to delay the House by referring to all 21; I shall be satisfied with five.

I want to say first that I am sure that the House is very grateful for the form of the table of derivations at the end of the Bill which enables us to identify exactly where those recommendations—that is to say, the new law—appear in the Bill.

The first recommendations refers to the point that rules made by a trustee savings bank relating to superannuation for bank employees shall require only the approval of the National Debt Commissioners and not the approval of both the Commissioners and the Registrar of Friendly Societies. That amendment to the law is contained in Clause 2(5) and Clause 6(5), both of which refer to a later part of the Bill which deals with superannuation. That recommendation seems to me to leave the law in respect of superannuation for trustee savings bank employees in a rather complicated state, because the provisions thus amended leave an innumerable number of consents, approvals and even Statutory Instruments to be given in connection with various parts of superannuation funds.

It is very difficult to find out, as the law is now amended in the Bill, who does set up these superannuation schemes and to what extent they come before the House. Perhaps when we come to deal with the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," the learned Solicitor-General can give some explanation of that point.

Recommendation No. 2 of the Law Commission dealt with the Inspection Committee which, by the Savings Bank Act, 1891, was empowered to write its own constitution. Indeed, it did so and set it out in a scheme. The Law Commission pointed out that, if it ever desired to make a new scheme, an Act of Parliament would be required. The Law Commission recommended, and the Joint Select Committee accepted, that, instead of an Act of Parliament, we might in future have a Statutory Instrument. But in inserting that provision into Clause 4(8) of the Bill, it made no provision for the Statutory Instrument to come before the House. If one is replacing an Act of Parliament by Statutory Instrument—or, rather, the normal procedure of legislation by the sub-legislation of a Statutory Instrument—one should at least provide for it to come before the House on the normal annulment procedure.

I come now to Recommendation No. 8. An alteration in the law has been made in Clause 21(5) relating to the repayment of a deposit with a trustee savings bank which does not exceed £500 if the depositor has died and certain alterations are made on the recommendation of the Law Commission in that respect. I am sorry that the opportunity was not taken to increase that figure of £500—the sum which can be paid out without obtaining probate or letters of administration of the estate of the deceased. Surely we could have increased it to something like £1,000 these days.

Undoubtedly under this amendment of the law Regulations will have to be made under Clause 21(5) to accord with the Family Law Reform Act. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman can inform us whether these regulations are in hand and will follow quickly upon the Bill obtaining the Royal Assent.

Recommendation No. 16 of the Law Commission dealt with Section 67(1) of the 1954 Act, which required certain officers and employees of the trustee savings banks to provide fidelity bonds for themselves. The words appear in Clause 67—that an employee shall give good and sufficient security to be approved of by not less than two trustees of the bank for the just and faithful execution of his office or trust. The Law Commission recommended a reduction of the list of those persons required to give that security.

I am shocked to find it in the Bill at all. If a bank requires a bond from an employee, it is for the bank to pay the premium of a normal insurance bond for the fidelity of its employees, and I should have thought that at this stage we could remove it from the Bill altogether.

I come to the fifth and last recommendation which I want to mention, Recommendation 20. This is particularly mentioned in the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills. I quote from the explanation of the recommendation. It was said in evidence to the Joint Select Committee that if a company which is not a trustee savings bank use the title 'savings bank certified under the Trustee Savings Bank Act 1954, the company cannot be prosecuted, only the members of the company can be prosecuted, that is the shareholders. The directors as such cannot be prosecuted or any of the officers of the company unless they are shareholders. The first part of the recommendation is therefore, that the Section should be re-enacted in modern form at it appears in Clause 92 of the Bill. That was then before the Committee but is no longer in the Bill.

The Committee felt that that was going rather far in altering the law and the learned and noble Chairman of the Committee said: The question is whether we ought to make an amendment in what is primarily a consolidating procedure. It is a matter, as this is a recommendation, which can be debated in either House. I think we ought to draw attention to it. Another noble Lord said: I am in favour of taking it out and leaving the House to put it in if it wants to". The Chairman then said: They can always put it back. I suppose. Would you propose that we retain the phraseology of Section 80? That was the old Section 80. As a result, the Committee rejected that recommendation and left it to the House to consider whether it should go into the Bill.

The result is that Clause 92 as it stands makes nonsense. It is not a modern company Clause which makes directors and officers responsible for defaults of the company, and I seriously think that the House ought to take the invitation of the Joint Select Committee and insert the normal Clause. The Committee felt that it should go as far as that. It left it to the House to decide and there seems to be no reason why the House should not decide to modernise Clause 92.

Clause 100 gives us the date on which the Bill is to come into operation. I understand that that date is fixed because it is necessary that this Bill should receive the Royal Assent after the Post Office Bill. I wonder whether Clause 100(2) is still necessary and whether the Bill cannot be brought into operation at once. If not, perhaps the Solicitor-General will say when the Bill will come into operation.

I have referred to the important amendments to the law made in the Bill. I think that I should be expressing the will of the House if I were to say how grateful we are to the Law Commission for their thorough Report, and to the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills which spent so much time to such good purpose in considering the Law Commission's Report.

11.55 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

May I ask the Solicitor-General whether it is the intention that the table of derivations at the end of the Bill shall continue to be printed at the end of the Act? The table is useful in enabling us to ascertain from what previous part of an Act or Order the provisions of the Bill have been derived, and that would also be useful to practitioners who may wish to see what decided cases refer to particular parts of the Bill. I hope that this may be added to the Statute in due course, and I should like to have an assurance to that effect.

The Joint Committee reported that it is of opinion that certain of the Law Commission's recommendations are for the purpose of producing a satisfactory consolidation of the law and, subject to certain exceptions, it approved the 21 recommendations to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has referred. But this means that the Joint Committee disapproves of the five recommendations which are set out in the report. I believe that the main reason for that disapproval is that the Joint Committee regards those recommendations as exceeding the normal function of consolidation. In other words, this is new legislation which is desirable not entirely for the purpose of consolidation but to improve the law.

The late Sir John Hobson strongly held the view that it would be objectionable, under the guise of consolidation, to pass new legislation, and I humbly agree with that view. I am concerned to see that we do not amend the substance of the law under the guise of consolidation, and I should like to have an assurance from the Solicitor-General that the five recommendations to which the Joint Committee objected are not incorporated in the Bill. These recommendations are not objectionable, but probably desirable, and I am concerned to see that they are not passed into law without the possibility of debate in this House.

There are good grounds for saying that our procedure on consolidation Bills needs to be looked at. It is desirable that we should have more consultation than has so far been possible. That should involve minor alterations to see that anomalies in the law are not simply brought forward. I believe that it would be quite simple to devise machinery by which this House could consider these matters, perhaps by a Select Committee or in some other way, on their merits and then recommend to the House that there is no objection to these amendments being made. If something of that sort were done, we should facilitate the work of consolidation and improving the law generally.

I noted the utterances of the Lord Chancellor in another place that he believed that this was not only desirable, but possible, in this House. That, of course, is not the case. We cannot, at the moment, move Amendments to consolidation Bills.

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I help the hon. Member? If we reach the Committee stage of a Bill which is not pure consolidation but, like the present Bill, consolidates the law and also makes amendments, Amendments can be moved in Committee.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am grateful for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I understand, therefore, that it will be possible for hon. Members in Committee, if they wish, to put down any Amendment which they see fit for the purpose of amending a Bill with a Title such as this one. If that is so, the point is met, although I do not know that that news will be very welcome to the ears of the Government or the Solicitor-General. In the meantime, perhaps the Solicitor-General will tell us whether the five excepted recommendations are included in the Bill.

12.1 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I wish to raise only a brief point on Clause 15, which provides that the rate of interest shall not exceed 2½ per cent. I should like to know from my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General whether I am right in assuming that the reason for the rate of 2½ per cent. is to keep it on a par with the Post Office Savings Bank rate of interest.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member can raise that question only if it is a new part of the law. He can ask whether this is an amendment about which the Law Commission has made suggestions. The Bill consolidates a mass of legislation. In the process of consolidation, the Law Commission has made a number of amendments. On Second Reading, all that we can discuss is whether the laws which are consolidated in the Bill should be consolidated or left as separate Acts. The hon. Member may, however, ask about something which is the subject of one of the amendments. I doubt whether the point which he is raising is such a matter.

Mr. Lewis

I was querying, Mr. Speaker, whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading because, as the Law Commissioners have not dealt with the point which I was about to raise, I could not see my way clear to agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

I was going on to suggest that one of the things which should have been discussed before the Bill was brought forward for Second Reading was the rate of interest, as stated in the Bill, of 2½ per cent. I was then going to ask how the 2½ per cent. was arrived at. I assumed that the reason for it was to put trustee savings banks, as in years gone by, on a par with the Post Office Savings Bank interest rate of 2½ per cent.

I was then intending to ask my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General whether, in considering these matters, the Law Commissioners had considered altering the whole basis of the 2½ per cent. interest, because I was told in answer to a Question in the House that this rate was originally fixed—and this may surprise you, Mr. Speaker, as it did me—in 1861 and that to have the same purchasing value today, the rate of interest would need to be 2s. 8.7d. instead of the suggested 6d. in the £.

The Government have now, as it were, set their mind on having high interest rates. They have just floated a new gilt-edge at 9 per cent. Therefore, I wonder; I am rather surprised that neither the Law Commissioners nor the Government have taken the opportunity to bring this 6d. up to near the 2s. 9d., at which it really ought to be, to have some relationship to a like purchasing power. I cannot see that this Bill will achieve its objects if we are to have what I would term the maintenance of an old 1861 percentage which bears no relationship to current market rates or current interest rates—or, indeed, to the rates which the Government themselves this very day are offering with their 9 per cent. ticket. Therefore, perhaps the Solicitor-General would tell me—

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the Bill does not get its Second Reading the Acts which it is proposed to consolidate, one of which the hon. Member seems to object to, will still be in existence.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, Mr. Speaker, but rather than oppose the Bill—I do not want to oppose the Bill—I was hoping that perhaps, if I could explain the position to the Solicitor-General, he would tell me that he would arrange in Committee to put some Amendment to deal with the point. Perhaps he would just tell me that the Government have in mind dealing with this matter, and that perhaps the Law Commissioners discussed it but, for some reason, did not at that stage come to a final conclusion. Perhaps he can satisfy me on that. Then I will not have to call a vote and divide the House.

12.7 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

If I may deal with some of the points which have been raised, I will take first this point put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), affecting Clause 15. My impression is that Clause 15 of the Bill is a straight re-enactment of existing law, and that, by virtue of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I should not be in order in setting out the matter in the fashion which my hon. Friend invites me to do; but if I may say so to the House, I wait to be cautious on a matter of this kind. It is a fairly technical matter, and I should like an opportunity of considering that point further. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be good enough to take it from me that, if the consideration satisfies me that there is substance in the point he has brought forward, we could, perhaps, have a word together.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I thank my hon. and learned Friend. As always, I am willing to accept his kind offer and assistance, which he gives on every occasion, and certainly I will accept it in this instance.

The Solicitor-General

I am very much obliged for that.

If I may deal with the points in reverse order to that in which they came before me, the hon. Baronet the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) asked me first of all whether the table of derivations in the Bill would be part of the enactment. My understanding is that it would be. I agree with him that it is of value. I will try to confirm that matter in the time which is available, but my present understanding is that that will be part of the law, and I share the hon. Gentleman's expression as to its value.

He asked me as to how the recommendations of the Joint Committee had been dealt with in the Bill. My understanding of that is that the Joint Committee received certain recommendations from the Law Commission which the Committee thought it right not to adopt. The Bill now before the House is the Bill printed as amended by the Joint Committee and it incorporates, I under-stand, the outcome of their disapprovals. Where they recommended, for grounds set out in their report, the omission of this provision and that provision, those elements are dealt with in the Bill now before the House.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

In other words, it includes them out.

The Solicitor-General

I am obliged.not for the first time, to the hon. Baronet.

That is my understanding, but I want to check these matters with care when they are brought to my attention.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) raised a number of points. I recognise—there is no point in my concealing it— that the time for Amendments is short, and I express the hope that every consideration and advantage will be given to him and to other hon. Members to put forward manuscript Amendments on matters with which they are concerned. For the Government, I can only say that there is no assumption that the House will rubber-stamp the Bill. As hon. Members know, I attach great importance to the harmonious development of the work of the Law Commission, in association with the Joint Committee and the House in the consolidation of laws and other legal matters, and there is certainly no assumption by the Government that the House will rubber-stamp the Bill.

What I have said in that connection applies to all matters to which the hon. Member for Crosby referred, including the treatment of Recommendation No. 20. He will have the opportunity, I think and hope, albeit in rather shorter time, to put forward Amendments for consideration by the Committee of the House at the next stage of the Bill. I am concerned now simply to ask for the approval of the House in principle of this consolidation Measure and for its Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee this day.