HC Deb 30 October 1980 vol 991 cc860-1

Order for Second Reading read.

11.22 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)

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

The Bill consolidates the law relating to the limitation of actions in our courts of law. It was last consolidated in 1939, since when we have had four important amending statutes, the latest of which was in 1980. The Bill is pure consolidation. It has been considered by the Joint Committee, to which we are always so much indebted. It is satisfied that the Bill represents the existing law and that there is no point to which the attention of the House should be drawn. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

11.23 pm
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

If I say a word of welcome to the Bill, I hope that it will not be thought to imply any disrespect either to the previous Bill or to the next Bill. It means only that I think that once is enough at this time in the evening.

This is an especially welcome consolidation measure. The law on the limitation of actions has grown piecemeal since 1939 as various sorts of hardship have revealed themselves over the years. The provisions in the Bill are found in the Limitation Acts of 1939, 1963 and 1975, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 and the Limitation Amendment Act 1980. It is high time that we were able to find all the provisions on that subject in one place.

I rose especially because an interesting feature of the Bill is the courage with which the draftsman has departed from the language of previous statutes where that seemed appropriate and has said the same thing in a different way. We are sometimes afraid of using different terminology in case we inadvertently change the law. But the language of the law is not enshrined in holy writ, and on occasion there is something to be said for changing either the order in which something is said or the actual terminology used for saying it.

But the draftsman has not fallen into the converse trap of thinking that technical legal terminology can be changed into the language of the market place That is not always possible because, understandably, legal concepts sometimes require familiarity with the history and background. Speaking personally, I should hesitate to attempt to pilot a space rocket with the help of a do-it-yourself manual which attempted to turn the equations of nuclear physics into monosyllables.

I echo what was said in the Joint Committee, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson). It is important that the meaning of words should be known to those who have to apply them. For that reason, I think that the drafting techniques that appeal to the House should be commended by us so as to encourage draftsmen to adopt them on future occasions. If we have to wait for action on the recommendations of the Renton committee, perhaps at least we can encourage draftsmen in well-doing.

There may be provisions in the Bill that will require amendment in the light of future experience—for example, the provisions relating to latent damage—but we cannot delay consolidation until the law is perfect for the next decade. Sufficient unto the day is the complication thereof. As I said on a previous occasion, the Opposition will do all we can to facilitate proper measures of law reform or consolidation when the Government find the time for them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Berry.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.