HL Deb 10 February 1857 vol 144 cc451-3

THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved to refer the second Report of the Statute Law Commission to a Select Committee, in order to consider the propositions in that Report for the adoption of means to improve the manner and language of current legislation. The Statute Law Commission was one whose duty it was, according to the terms of their appointment, not merely to consolidate the existing statute law, but to devise means for obtaining simplicity and uniformity in future legislation. In their second Report, presented last year, they expressed the opinion that a great advantage would be derived from a better supervision of Bills while in their progress through Parliament, that in truth a great portion of the evils of our statute-book arose from the language of the Acts being unnecessarily verbose and perplexed, and from the fact that Bills were passed without due consideration of the mode in which the existing law affected them, and in which they affected the existing law. That was an evil that existed when they were originally introduced; and it was still more aggravated by alterations innumerable being made in them in their progress through Parliament. The introducer of a Bill was often troubled with applications from a variety of parties, and when he found that he could conciliate opposition or gratify supporters of his measure, by adopting some new clauses, he was apt to do so, and material alterations were made not contemplated at the time the Bill was drawn. He proposed that an officer should be appointed, with a sufficient staff—at least one or two assistants under him—whose duty it should be to attend to all Bills that were referred to him, and to report exactly what the state of the existing law was, and how the proposed alterations would affect it. With that advantage, Members might more satisfactorily come to a decision whether measures ought or ought not to pass. It would also be pre-eminently part of the duty of such officer, after a Bill had been through Committee, to examine it, and report immediately to the House what had been done by the Committee. The most discreditable mistakes were made for want of some such supervision. Only in the very last Session of Parliament (and he took shame to himself, for the Bill came more or less under his own cognisance) a County Court Act was passed, which said that the Judges should receive the salaries mentioned in the schedule. They were enumerated in the schedule, and sums set against their names; but by some oversight, the salaries of two were omitted. The Bill passed the other House in that form; and it came back to their Lordships with nil opposite the names of two of the Judges; and as that House had no power to remedy it, questions of money belonging to the House of Commons, it passed in that form. That was a most ridiculous oversight. He knew not how the Treasury had dealt with those persons, whether they had assumed that they were to have the same salaries as their colleagues or not. He was ashamed to say, that in the same Session an Act had been passed for improving the Scotch Bankruptcy Acts, in which certain proceedings were to be carried on according to the form in the schedule set forth. But there was no schedule at all in the Act, and consequently the Act could not be put in operation. The clause in question, no doubt, had been put in in Committee. In 1851 or 1852 an Act was passed, which was to come into force on the last day of next Trinity Term. It passed in Trinity Term, so that it referred to Trinity Term in the next year; and it was necessary to pass another Act to set it right. Besides these blunders, there was a very inconvenient custom of thrusting clauses into Bills with which they had no connection whatever. In the 20 Geo. II. a Bill was passed for the better collection of the duties upon windows; and in that Act was introduced a clause, "enacting that, wherever in any Act of Parliament England is mentioned, it should be deemed to include Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed." Not long ago, Lord St. Leonards had complained that a certain Bill referred in its enactments to England only, not mentioning Wales, this old enactment having escaped the recollection even of one of the most profound lawyers in the House. This was an anomaly that ought to be remedied. Again, at present there was a mass of legislation passed every year, of which a very small portion consisted of Acts that were to be a permanent guide of conduct, the rest consisting of local and personal Acts, Acts relating to certain departments of the Government; and all these formed part of the statute-book. According to a calculation made by Mr. Coulson, that applied to nearly four-fifths of the legislation of the year. Therefore, it was proposed that the Bills should be classed, so that those which were permanent rules of law should be separated from the rest. These again would be subdivided, according as they related to England, Ireland, the United Kingdom, or the Colonies; so that our yearly legislation might not be that confused mass which it was now too apt to be. With a view to introduce this Amendment, he proposed that both Houses should appoint sessional Committees of legislation, empowering those Committees to communicate with each other. The great object would be to have the same officer attached to both Houses, so as to reduce the expense, and prevent collision between the two Houses. He trusted that this was a move in the right direction; and though it might not seem a very important measure at first, he hoped that, in its immediate and ultimate operation, it would lead to the very best results. Moved—"That the Second Report of the Statute Law Commission be referred to a Select Committee, to consider the Propositions in that Report for the Adoption of Means to improve the Manner and Language of current Legislation.


said, that he gave the proposal his unqualified approbation. Their bungling mode of legislation had brought discredit on legislative assemblies. Questions relating to the common law which were brought before the Court of Queen's Bench were very soon settled, but those which turned upon the statute law—the settlement of the poor, or the statutes relating to highways and prisons for instance, occasioned the court great trouble and inconvenience, in consequence of the deplorable laxity with which the different Acts were framed. He anticipated that great advantage would result from the adoption of his noble and learned Friend's proposal.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned to Thursday next.