§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Government Chief Whip rose to speak. Are you not going to allow him to speak?
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
With respect, I wish to raise a new point of order. Throughout these proceedings I have backed Mr. Deputy Speaker 100 per cent., but when you say, Sir—I am sure it was a slip of the tongue, and I admit that I was not here at 10.30 this morning—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It was not a slip of the tongue. It would not be in order for the Chief Whip to take part now.
§ Mr. Channon
I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
We can now proceed on a rather calmer basis. I make no comment about what has just taken place. The feelings of the House are clear.
I shall speak briefly so that other Bills may be reached this afternoon. There is little dispute about the Bill, which deals with the possibility of taking evidence abroad. Evidence for proceedings before the courts must often be obtained from witnesses outside the jurisdiction of the court where the evidence is required. There has been some difficulty about this. Therefore, in 1968 the United Kingdom ratified The Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters.
Incidentally, I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for being with us at short notice.
The Bill, which will allow the United Kingdom properly to ratify the convention, has several clauses. Those to which I should draw attention are the earlier ones.
At present, the powers of the United Kingdom courts to obtain evidence for the benefit of foreign courts are regulated by an Act of Parliament of the last century which falls short of the requirements of the convention. Therefore, legislation is necessary to confer the powers required. Our courts can at present take evidence only by way of oral statement, whereas the convention covers other forms of proof, such as obtaining samples, analysing materials and photographing.
There are a number of other minor matters, but if the Bill is allowed to go to Committee, as some Bills were fortunate enough to be allowed to do today, they can be explored further there if hon. Members wish.
I hope that the House will give this modest Bill a Second Reading.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Mr. Peter Archer)
Now that the House is back in its normal good temper, it is a pleasure to welcome the Bill on behalf of the Government.
There was a period when the machinery for law reform depended on public-spirited people who worked in their spare time with inadequate resources. In recent 2210 years that situation has been greatly improved, though still the Law Commissions have no shortage of material for their consideration. But the problem now, perhaps, is not so much to see what law reform is required but to find parliamentary time for it. Therefore, we should all be grateful when an hon. Member avails himself of good fortune in the Ballot to initiate a measure of law reform.
As the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said, the immediate occasion for the Bill is the need to ratify The Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters, by which the States parties undertook to give mutual assistance one to another in the taking of evidence. Having recognised the necessity to amend our domestic law for that purpose, the hon. Gentleman has seized the opportunity to codify most of our law on the subject of taking evidence outside the jurisdiction, including the taking of evidence as between different parts of the United Kingdom. That has the effect of reducing the burden of looking in different places for one's law, which is no inconsiderable burden for those who have to operate it, particularly the legal profession.
I do not wish to take up the time of the House, but I should like to say a personal word, particularly in view of some speeches I made from the back benches. It is a particularly happy occasion when one can welcome a measure which recognises that the world is a unity and that civilised standards are indivisible. At a time when there is so much to divide the nations, and when there are those who emphasise what divides the United Kingdom, I commend a proposal which recognises that the rule of law is an interest which we all have in common, and which is designed to make the rule of law more effective as between different jurisdictions. One particularly welcomes a proposal designed to ratify an international convention in which the world community pledged itself to that end.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his initiative. I welcome the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage to the statute book.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.2211
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).