HC Deb 12 July 1971 vol 821 cc103-6

Order for Second Reading read.

7.11 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

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

The Bill repeals a number of Statures which are no longer of any practical utility. They are set out in the Schedule. This is part of the process of reviewing the Statute law which is designed to ensure that the Statute Book is not cluttered up with provisions which no longer serve any purpose beyond confusing members of the public and their advisers. I gladly pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who now sit opposite for designating a system whereby the Statute Book can be slimmed and there can be cut and excised from it various provisions which are completely spent.

The Statutes which are recommended for repeal in the Bill have been studied by the Law Commission after consultation with various bodies. The ecclesiastical Statutes have been considered by a committee appointed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York. The banking Statutes have been studied by committees of the London Clearing Banks, the Scottish Bank's general managers and the Bankers' Association of Northern Ireland There is in Part I of the Schedule the repeal of enactments relating to Irish peers, which is based on the decision of the Committee of Privileges in the Earl of Antrim's Petition, and the advice which was given there by three of the Law Lords was that the right to elect Irish representative peers no longer exists.

It may be that some hon. Members will feel sad at the demise of ancient Statutes, but it is obviously sensible that there should be cut from the Statute Book, with which advisers to citizens have to work, those Statutes which are spent. It is for that reason that the Bill is presented to the House, on the advice of the Law Commission, having been studied by the Joint Committee.

7.14 p.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I welcome the Bill, which is the product of the work of the Law Commission. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the tribute that he paid to my noble Friend Lord Gardiner and others whose work enabled the Law Commission to apply itself to matters of this kind in addition to the more major problems to which it addressed itself. It is clearly of value that a great deal of material which is no longer of any use should be cleared off the Statute Book, and a large step forward has been taken in that direction in the Bill.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Irish peerage, which has caused a great deal of dissension in recent years. As I understand it, a Select Committee of the other House found quite clearly that the right of representative Irish peers to take their seats in the other place had gone. In those circumstances, the Bill gives statutory effect to that, and I agree that it is right that that should be so.

There are some interesting features amongst the legislation that is repealed. I draw special attention to the provision in Part IV of the Schedule which repeals Mr. Speaker's Retirement Act, 1895. Perhaps I might advise you, Mr. Speaker, that that does not mean that no Speaker will be allowed to retire in future. It applies only to one of your predecessors, the legislation now being spent.

Parts VI and VII are of some interest. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may wish to give consideration to this point. They cover the various Expiring Laws Continuance Acts year by year from 1962 to 1968 in Part VI and, in Part VII, the Consolidated Fund Acts and Appropriation Acts between 1963 and 1969. As I understand it, once the year in question has expired, the Act is spent. For that reason, we are now repealing a number of these wholesale.

It occurs to me to wonder whether, rather than leaving it to a Statute Law (Repeals) Bill, after a number of years it might not be possible to adopt the practice that succeeding Expiring Laws Continuance Bills or Consolidated Fund Bills automatically repealed those of their predecessors which by then had been spent, so saving having to deal with them in this way after a period of time. I do not know whether that is practicable. No doubt the right hon. and learned Gentleman might be able to consider that point for the future.

I hope that the other matter to which I wish to refer is not too much of a Committee point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might like to look at it. It is the wording used on page 13 in relation to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1954. It says :

In section 69(1), all the definitions other than such of the following as are in force at the passing of this Act, namely those of —and then it sets out a number of them. I understand that the wording was suggested in the course of the proceedings of the Joint Committee on Consolidation and other Bills as being desirable to govern a situation which had arisen owing to uncertainty as to when the Mineral Workings Bill would reach the Statute Book. No doubt that was a good reason for using those words at the time, but the words themselves, taken without that explanation, are not easy to understand. One wonders whether someone looking at this collection of repeals in future years will be able easily to follow what is repealed and what is not repealed in Section 69 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1954. If at this stage it is possible, by reason of events which have supervened, to adopt a rather more intelligible form of wording, it will be to the benefit of generations to come.

I support the Bill generally and welcome it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee tomorrow.