HC Deb 04 November 1993 vol 231 cc591-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.—[The Attorney-General.]

8.17 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Unlike the previous Bills, the one before us is not a consolidation measure, but a recommendation from the Law Commission which I welcome. I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the draftsmen and the Law Commission on the extent to which all the Bills, including the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill, simplify the law, and make it more accessible and easier to understand for non-lawyers as well as lawyers.

I do not wish to go into the detail of the Bill—I think that part X of the first schedule deals with the re-edification of cities in the reign of Henry VIII, so no doubt there were inner-city problems even then. I congratulate the Government on bringing the measures from the Law Commission to the House rapidly—always with the Opposition's co-operation. However, I regret that other Law Commission recommendations involving law reform —which is not consolidation or statute law repeal—are not so readily introduced. Those measures would often command the support of almost every part of the House, yet necessary measures of law reform are often neglected. I only wish that the Attorney-General and the Government showed as much enthusiasm for the other Law Commission reports as they do for the measure before us, which I welcome.

8.18 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I shall not detain the House long, but I believe that the legislation should not pass without comment. The last time that I prepared myself to speak on a report and legislation proposed by the Law Commission was immediately prior to a debate in the House on the secretarial office allowance about a year and a half ago. As a new Member, I hesitated to delay the business of the House as the Benches were packed and hon. Members were anxious to begin that debate.

I hesitate to rise now, bearing in mind that the next business relates to something which preoccupies many of my hon. Friends. Nevertheless, while congratulating the Law Commission on its work and on the entertaining and well-documented report which accompanies the Bill, the House is failing in its duty to scrutinise a detailed piece of legislation if the Bill is allowed through on the nod. That is not proper law-making.

I will demonstrate by pointing out that clause 2 of the Bill remedies an error which the Law Commission admits to in a previous repealing Bill. That demonstrates that the work of the Law Commission is not an exact science, and that the House is not doing its job properly in terms of scrutinising such legislation. It would be much better if such repeal legislation came in salami slices, rather than in one heavy document which we are expected to approve on the nod.

Clause 2 recognises that, in an earlier Bill, an Act of the time of King George III was repealed. The Law Commission subsequently admits that it discovered that the Act should not have been repealed at all and, at a stroke, they now wish to reinstate it in the statute book. That does not seem to be appropriate use of the Law Commission's power. This part of the measure is not one of repeal but rather one of reinstatement. If the job of the Law Commission is the removal of clutter and the need to modernise the statute book, how can it be right to restore to the statute book an Act of Parliament passed at the time of George III?

I commend hon. Members who wish to pursue the matter further to the document prepared by the Law Commission on this issue. The report states: In 1978, when the repeal of the Enfield Chase Act was recommended, the trustees were not consulted because the Law Commission was not aware of their existence or of their reliance on section 60 of the Act. Consequently the difficult issues that are involved were not canvassed then. For this reason we are recommending, at the request of the trustees, that the position that obtained before the 1978 repeal should be restored by deeming the Enfield Chase Act not to have been repealed. That is the restitution of the George III Act. I think that that demonstrates that the job was not done properly by the House in absorbing many repeals in a large Act of Parliament. I hasten to suggest that this time there will be other serious errors because of the sheer volume, and because this Bill is being discussed on the last day of the Session and before another measure that will obviously exercise a number of hon. Members because of its importance to Opposition parties and to the democratic system. I hope that the Law Commission bears that in mind.

I am concerned that a substantial section of the Bill relates to repealing Acts of Parliament which appear to relate exclusively to areas that are now in the Republic of Ireland. The measures are detailed in group 2, part XVI of the Bill and include such measures as the River Suck Drainage (Provision of Funds) Act and important measures that relate to the Dublin corporation. While I appreciate that the measures are no longer of importance to hon. Members, it is not clear that the Government of the Irish Republic—the Dail Eireann and Senate—has been consulted about the repeal of these measures. I think that they should have been consulted. [Interruption.]

The matter may be of some levity to some hon. Members but it is a matter of consistency. When we repeal measures that relate to other jurisdictions, such as legislation relating to the Isle of Man, it is clearly indicated in the documentation that the Government of the Isle of Man and the Tynwald have been consulted and have given their approval. Is it not consistent therefore if we repeal legislation relating to other jurisdictions that the Parliament and or the Government of those places should first be consulted?

Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)

The hon. Gentleman's point is a serious one, and is not light at all. As there can be no attempted exercise of jurisdiction over Southern Ireland, it does on the face of things sound peculiar to repeal the legislation.

Is it not probably the case that the Law Commission —taking a narrow and utilitarian view—is simply reducing the number of volumes to be printed when current statutes are printed? In other words, is it not purely an exercise in pruning?

Mr. Mackinlay

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point, and I am disappointed that such a distinguished lawyer does not know the exact title of the country to which he referred. It is no longer Southern Ireland, and has not been since at least 1948. It is in fact the Republic of Ireland.

I am not arguing against the fact that statutes should be reduced in terms of convenience and to diminish both costs and waste; it is the principle that the Government of the Irish Republic should have been consulted if these measures still form part of its statutes. It is inappropriate that these measures should be repealed in this way without the proper consultation.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I am interested in the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He will allow me to observe that only 30 per cent. of the statutes are available in their currently amended form. That is a matter of great concern to hon. Members who are anxious to ensure that statutes are available to the public so that they can be studied in their up-to-date form.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Page 201 of the Law Commission's report lists a number of Acts of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland, but does not provide any cross-references with the schedule. We therefore have no way of knowing exactly which of the Republic of Ireland Acts referred to at page 201 of the report relate to the measures that are repealed in the schedule. That is both unfortunate and inappropriate, and I hope that that will be taken into account in any future repeal Bill documentation.

Given that part XVI of the schedule to which I referred earlier appears to relate exclusively to matters affecting the Republic of Ireland, I was surprised to find on the first page of the schedule reference to the repeal of the whole of the Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1866. I should have thought that it, too, would appear in part XVI. The Law Commission report tells us that the Constabulary (Ireland) Act has now been overtaken by Northern Ireland legislation and by the abandonment of the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1922. I understand that, but I seek an assurance that the Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1866 does not form part of the current statute book of the Republic of Ireland and if it does, the Government and Parliament of the Republic of Ireland were consulted about its repeal. We should be mindful of the fact that they inherited our statute book and that such consultation would therefore be appropriate.

I will not detail the House longer, but I give notice that if, in future, there is a stitch-up whereby important Law Commission legislation is placed before the use before other matters that are also of great importance to the House, I shall not feel constrained from moving amendments that seek to delete certain provisions, because it seems to me that the House is failing in its basic and most important law-making function.

8.28 pm
The Attorney-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has reminded us of the debt that we owe to the Law Commission and to the Scottish Law Commission for the work that they have carried out on all the Bills that we have considered this evening, especially this one. The report to which this Bill gives effect recommends the repeal of enactments that have been identified after detailed research and consultation as spent, obsolete, unnecessary or otherwise no longer of practical use.

It puts the work of these bodies in perspective when I tell the House that more than 2,600 such enactments, including 1,414 whole Acts, have been repealed as a result of 13 previous reports, and this Bill will add the repeal of 159 whole Acts and the removal of redundant provisions from 462 others.

I know that the hon. Member for Thurrock was not carping in any sense, and I associate myself too with the thanks expressed by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). If there is an occasional mistake, it serves merely to highlight the diligence with which the commissions have gone through their work. I shall draw to the attention of the commission, which will doubtless read our debates, the point about Irish legislation. The hon. Member for Thurrock can be confident that we are not affecting the affairs of the Republic in any way. Courtesy is courtesy; the hon. Gentleman's points will not go unnoticed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

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. 75 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.