HC Deb 20 January 1971 vol 809 cc1234-6

Order for Second Reading read.

11.31 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

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

The House will appreciate that this is a consolidation Bill prepared under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, which allows only the making of minor improvements in the law, apart from pure consolidation.

In accordance with that Statute, it has been considered by the Joint Committee of both Houses, which has reported, having made certain Amendments which seemed to it necessary to improve the form of the Bill to bring it into conformity with the existing law. The Committee considers that the Bill, as amended, is pure consolidation and represents the existing law.

The Committee drew the attention of Parliament to Clause 8 of the Bill, which contains a reference to an antique statute of 1660. It recognised that that statute had to be referred to in the Bill because it retained a residual implication in relation even to the present law, but the Committee regretted that that had to be so. The marginal note to that Clause has been altered to make it look as unimportant as possible in contrast to the original marginal note.

In addition, the House may like to know that the repeal or other disappearance of the statute of 1660 is currently under consideration by the Law Commission to see whether it can be disposed of.

The other matter which the Bill finally makes clear is that infants in this sphere are hereafter minors. Section 12 of the Family Law Reform Act states that infants hereafter may be called minors, which was an implementation of the recommendation of the Latey Committee. This means that we have said goodbye to what used to be known as "G of I" proceedings, which are now presumably "G of M" proceedings.

The Bill does no more than consolidate. The only question is whether the House is agreeable to such consolidation, which will in fact simplify and make the law on this important subject more accessible and more amenable to such reforms as hon. Members on both sides have from time to time canvassed in the underlying principles to this part of the law.

11.34 p.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his explanation of the Bill. I had half-expected, at this relatively early hour of the evening, that, fresh from the last night or two, he might have been tempted to give us a rather lengthier exegesis of the Measure and, indeed, find it refreshing to escape from the turbulence of the waters of the last couple of days into the relative calm of this uncontroversial Measure.

I was rather looking forward to a lecturette on sockage tenure, but I gather that that is not to be. However, it is a relief to hear that steps are being taken, and very properly, by the Law Commission, as advocated by my noble Friend, Lord Gardiner, in another place, to bring up to date the powers conferred by the Tenures Abolition Act, 1660, which is referred to in Clause 1, and I hope that that progress will be rapid. I hope, too, that there will be progress on the other paragraphs of the Report to which my noble Friend referred.

As the Solicitor-General said, it is a little sad to say goodbye to the "guardianship of infants", but I am sure that "minor" and "minority" are more appropriate than "infant" and "infancy". I am only a little sorry that we have not gone to the logic of the terms used and talked about "major" and "majority" rather than "ceases to be a minor" which the Solicitor-General will find in certain parts of the Bill. However, perhaps that is a pleasure to come.

I conclude by expressing the gratitude of this side of the House to those who have undertaken the task of consolidating a very much larger number of Bills than one usually finds being done. I think that there are parts of 12 different Acts in this Measure, and I express my thanks to the Joint Committee which performed its task so admirably.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee to-morrow.