HL Deb 28 February 1861 vol 161 cc1058-60

in moving the second reading of this Bill said, that it consisted of only one enacting clause of a very few lines, but that clause referred to a schedule containing a vast number of statutes and parts of statutes to be repealed. It was admitted that the statute law was in a most unsatisfactory condition. Since Magna Charta there had been upwards of 14,000 public Acts passed, and of that ponderous collection many had been repealed, many had expired, and many had become obsolete. Now by our law, although an Act of Parliament might become obsolete, it was not thereby repealed. Desuetude did not effect repeal, and any obsolete Act might at any time be brought into operation by any person. The object of the present Bill was, first, to expurgate the ponderous volumes in which this immense mass of statues was contained, expressly repealing those that were really no longer practically in force. This was no doubt a difficult and delicate duty, for no lawyer, however laborious had been his studies, could take upon himself to state what statutes were now in force, and what had been repealed; particularly after the vicious mode of passing Acts of Parliament, by which statutes were repealed, not expressly, but by simply enacting that all statutes inconsistent with that particular Act should be repealed. The difficulty, of course, was to decide what statutes were inconsistent with it. This Bill was the result of the investigations of Mr. Reilly and Mr. Wood, two gentlemen of great learning, ability, and understanding. Copies had been sent to all persons who were likely to take an interest in the subject, and they had been asked whether any of the Acts in the schedule were in force or ought to remain unrepealed. There had been one or two useful suggestions in reply, but generally the answer was that all might safely be swept away. If it were done a step would be gained, and the statutes would collapse into a fifth part of their present bulk. An expurgated edition would be most useful to the Legislature, the Judges, and the magistrates, and would enable us afterwards to carry on the work of consolidation with greater advantage to the public.


said, the subject was a very important one, and he congratulated his noble and learned Friend on having introduced this measure, which would produce a very great improvement in the present condition of our statute-book. He had the pleasure of the acquaintance of the two learned gentlemen to whom the matter had been entrusted, and he thought the House might repose full confidence in their competency and fidelity.


said, the question here was not so much whether they ought to read the Bill a second time, but what they were to do with it afterwards. He understood his noble and learned Friend to propose that the House should trust to the accuracy and fidelity of two gentlemen, whose qualifications he would be the last to disparage, who, he said, had gone over the statute book, and had selected those statutes that had been either virtually or expressly repealed. But would it be right that the House should trust so entirely to these two gentlemen as to pass the Bill without any other examination? He understood his noble and learned Friend to say that he had not himself gone over the Bill; and for his own part he could not pretend that he had the time to go through it. If the noble and learned Lord could pledge himself as to the accuracy of the Bill, their Lordships would have no hesitation in accepting it; but it was impossible that he could go through it, and therefore it had better be referred to a Select Committee. He thought it was especially a case for a Select Committee, for he was sure there could be no satisfactory result from an examination of this Bill in a Committee of the Whole House.


said it was utterly impossible to make any progress with Bills of this sort unless some faith were placed in the accuracy of those who had made themselves responsible for it. He could not pretend to have gone through the Bill, but he would pledge his word thus far, that, in his belief, the House might adopt the Bill with perfect confidence. He would recommend his noble and learned Friend to follow the practice adopted in assaying coin, take a specimen here and there, and judge by it of the accuracy of the mass. [Lord CHELMSFORD said he had done so already.] He hoped his noble Friend had found no inaccuracy in those portions he had examined.


thought this was a very unsatisfactory proposal. Here was a measure of the highest importance, which neither the Lord Chancellor had gone through, nor, as he underderstood, the Attorney General, but they were asked to adopt it on the authority of two learned gentlemen who were wholly responsible for its correctness. He thought the Bill ought to be sent to a Select Committee.


said a Select Committee would be a mere shadow and a delusion. If the Committee sat day after day for six months it could not examine the Bill thoroughly.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.