HC Deb 30 October 1980 vol 991 cc862-8

Order for Second Reading read.

11.27 pm
The Solicitor-General (Sir Ian Percival)

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

I propose to say a litle more about this Bill than about the previous two Bills, because it raises a number of questions that I know to be of interest to right hon. and lion. Members whose constituencies are in the Province. They have been good enough to indicate what those questions are, and I should like to say a word about each, albeit briefly, because I do not think that any of them requires long explanations.

It is important that the House should realise that this Bill is different from the previous two. It is a conventional statute law revision Bill making a number of detailed repeals in the statute law of Northern Ireland. It is important, too, to realise the difference between this and a statute law repeal Bill, which can contain repeals of provisions that are still effective but are considered to be of no further practical utility. In other words, such a Bill necessitates value judgments, whereas a statute law revision Bill deals solely with the repeal of statutory provisions that are clearly demonstrated to be obsolete, spent, unnecessary or superseded"— to quote the long title. It is with the latter kind of Bill that we are now concerned.

The Bill has been considered by the Joint Committee on the consolidation and statute law revision Bills. I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—in connection with a motion that was before the House just a little time ago—express the satisfaction that we all feel with this as a method of scrutiny. That Committee found that all the repeals effected by the Bill fell within the long title.

The Government are most grateful to all the members of the Joint Committee, and in particular to their noble and learned Chairman, Lord Keith of Kinkel, for the truly marvellous work that they do on Bills such as this. One has only to look at the notes on the Bill, which extend to 103 pages, to realise the labours that the Members of this House have been saved. If it were not that the Committee had gone through this, item by item, and had assured us now that every part of the matters referred to are obsolete, spent and so on, that is a task which would fall on the House. We owe an immense debt to the Committee for taking that burden off the shoulders of the House.

The Bill effects a considerable number of detailed repeals, and I do not think that the House would wish me to mention more than a few. I shall give some idea of the sort of thing that is dealt with. All the specific items repealed are set out in the schedule, which consists of a large number of different parts. Part II is entitled "Appeals" and lists 13 different Acts in which repeals are being made. The provisions being proposed for repeal allow persons to appeal against certain convictions and orders of magistrates' courts.

When those Acts were passed in the nineteenth century and the early part of this century, it was necessary to include such provisions as there was no general enactment which had the same effect. However, sections 140 and 143 of the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 now authorise appeals against sentence or conviction and from other orders made by magistrates' courts in Northern Ireland. The earlier provisions, having been superseded by sections 140 and 143, are no longer needed.

Part XIV of the schedule effects repeals in a miscellany of Acts. It was referred to in the minutes of evidence as being open to the description of a ragbag of different and assorted statutes. One entry which is repealed is the residue of the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1900. All the substantive provisions of that Act have already been repealed by earlier legislation. The only provisions in it which are still alive consist of the short and long titles. Obviously, those provisions are no longer necessary in view of the earlier repeals.

Might I say a word about one aspect which I know is of importance to the right hon Member for Down, South? I have spoken about the differences between statute law revision and statute law repeal. It is important to remember that the differences are of two kinds. One relates to the content of the two different kinds of Bill and the other relates to the procedures to which the two different kinds of Bill are subject. I need say no more about the difference in the content. The important thing is that, while the one does not entail any kind of value judgment, the other does, because statute law repeal Bills are repealing provisions which have some effect in law but which it has been decided have no practical utility. That is the difference.

I can now limit myself as to the difference in procedure. There may he some misunderstanding here. With the statute law repeal Bill there are two possibilities. I am speaking now of Northern Ireland. These possibilities were referred to by the draftsmen in giving evidence to the Joint Committee when it was considering the Bill. Where it was desired to repeal a provision which would be the subject of a statute law repeal Bill rather than a statute law revision Bill, there were the two choices. Either the draftsmen could seek to persuade the Law Commission to include it in a Bill being put forward by the Law Commission or it could be done by Order in Council. I believe that to be right, although it means that the position is slightly different in that respect in Northern Ireland. It does, however. mean that there are the two possibilities. As far as I know, there is nothing lost by having these alternatives. If the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues feel that there is, I shall be glad to discuss that with them.

As to English statute law revision Bills, there has not been one since the Law Commission was established. The last one was in the 1965–66 Session. I have looked it up. There have been two statute law revision Bills since then. but they were both Northern Ireland matters.

The right hon. Gentleman is aware of how a statute law revision Bill is dealt with. There have been two previous statute law revision Bills in the 1970s. In each case, what has happened is that the draftsman has had, so to speak, a free run up to the Joint Committee stage or up to the Second Reading in the other place. Then the Joint Committee has received the Bill together with very comprehensive notes on the Bill, as in this case, and the very valuable process of scrutiny by that Committee has taken place. There has not been a statute law revision Bill since the 1965–66 Session and, therefore, no procedure has been established as to how the Law Commission would deal with it.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this is a task to which a good deal of parliamentary draftsmen's time must be allotted. When a parliamentary draftsman is asked to produce a statute law revision Bill, he has to go backwards and forwards through the statutes seeing what he can include in it. As the right hon. Gentleman also knows, there are parliamentary counsel seconded to the Law Commission, and it would be a very obvious task for them to undertake. We do not know exactly how it would be done, because it has not arisen yet. What we do know is that, however the Bill is initiated and promoted, it would still be subject to the vital procedure, which is scrutiny by the Joint Committee about which we have been speaking. I think that those are the differences and that on examination they will be seen to be probably differences of form rather than of substance.

Perhaps the most important feature and purpose of the Bill is that it will pave the way for a second edition of "Statutes Revised" in Northern Ireland. That is its purpose. If we get all these statutes out of the way, the revised edition will be that much shorter and that much less cumbersome and that much easier for the practitioner to use. The purpose of the work of the draftsmen in the two previous Bills and now in this one, if the House approves it, is to have a revised edition of the statutes without all this surplusage. It is for that reason that I commend the Bill to the House and express the hope that it will have a speedy passage.

11.39 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I am very grateful indeed to the learned Solicitor-General for having propounded the Bill in a much less than perfunctory manner and, indeed, for having at an earlier stage, through correspondence, sought to remove some of the anxieties which my hon. Friends and I felt on being confronted with this legislation and attempting to understand its character and purport and the extent to which we might ourselves be required by our duty to give it close scrutiny.

The statute law of Northern Ireland is of a much more multifarious origin than the statute law of this part of the kingdom. A glance at some of the parts of the schedule to the Bill reminds us of the various components of that statute law. I notice that many of the statutes cited in those parts go back not only to the Parliament of Ireland but to the Parliament of Ireland before that of 1782, known as Grattan's Parliament, which, though short-lived, was the Parliament eventually absorbed into this Parliament in the year 1800.

So there is the legislation of the Parliament of Ireland both before and after 1782; there is the legislation of this Parliament, specifically relating to Northern Ireland, while this Parliament was the only legislature for Northern Ireland up to 1922; there is, after 1922 and up to 1972, the legislation both of this Parliament in respect of Northern Ireland and of the Northern Ireland Parliament; finally, there is the legislation of that short, ill-fated experiment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, though I do not expect that any of its deeds have got around yet to requiring revision. That being so, the convenience and desirability of an edition of the "Statutes Revised" is self-evident; and, as the Solicitor-General said, the essential case for this Bill is that it makes possible a better edition of the "Statutes Revised"—I understand there is anxiety to bring one out now as soon as possible—than would otherwise have been available.

Though it was originally proposed to treat this as a consolidation measure, and although the Leader of the House twice before the Summer Recess erroneously referred to it in reply to the business question as a consolidation measure, the Bill is not consolidation, as the Solicitor-General made clear. The fact that it goes to the Joint Select Committee may, perhaps, have given rise to the error of the Leader of the House; but the title of that Committee is Joint Committee on Consolidation &c. Bills, and it is under the "&c." that this Bill received the very valuable attention, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, of the Committee.

It is legislation to deal—I am sure that this is not a legal expression, but I found it helpful—with objective obsolescence. A repeal Bill might be required to deal with subjective obsolescence; but in so far as this Bill removes what is obsolete, it removes what is objectively obsolete, or at any rate is intended to do so. A study of the notes on the Bill prepared by the Office of the Legislative Draftsman at Stormont should satisfy any inquirer upon the nature of the revision contained in the Bill, of which two particularly drastic examples were given by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

I cannot say—his speech has rendered this admission much easier for me—that I have worked my way through all the items in the schedule with the assistance of the notes on the Bill; but I can say that I have compared sufficient of the two to grasp the nature of the revision process and to join the Solicitor-General in expressing the appreciation of my colleagues and myself for the work done for us by the Joint Select Committee.

I think it is a pity, though probably there is no way of remedying it, that the public, and probably even the legal public, in Northern Ireland do not realise that in work of this kind the Parliament of the Union is working for Northern Ireland as it works for the rest of the kingdom. Maybe that understanding would be of more value and reassurance to the public in Northern Ireland than many other sorts of statement which, unfortunately, receive more publicity.

The Solicitor-General distinguished this type of Bill from a repeals Bill; but he gave no indication as to whether there might be, in preparation or on its way, a Northern Ireland statute law repeals Bill. I see the faint trace of a negative upon the countenance of the Solicitor-General; but that may be an expression of mere nescience rather than a direct negative.

What the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech left open, and what remains for study between now and that indefinite date, is what will prove to be the best procedure when that task has to be tackled; for we do not have a separate Law Commission for Northern Ireland, and the use of the Law Commission at one stage in producing a Bill rather than procedure by Order in Council would clearly be preferable from the point of view of Northern Ireland.

I hope, therefore, that there may continue on this subject the helpful contact which has been established in the context of this Bill between the Law Officers and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I again express my appreciation to the Solicitor-General for the great care that he has devoted to it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

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.