HL Deb 23 April 1907 vol 172 cc1534-7


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill to which I apprehend there will be no opposition, because it is in accordance with a series of its predecessors the object of which has been to revise and, if possible, simplify the statute law. If this Bill passes, I hope it will lead to the edition being carried down to the end of the last century, which is nearly co-terminus with the end of the reign of Her late Majesty. The work has been conducted with great care and very successfully handled by the noble Earl who preceded me on the Woolsack. I hope this useful work of revision will be continued.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in reference to this Bill, but not in the least to oppose it. The work was inaugurated many years ago, and has been satisfactorily carried out. The Committee selected for this purpose is, of course, composed of eminent men in whom complete reliance is placed, but in the nature of things, as will be seen from a glance at the enormous Schedule of this Bill, a great amount of drudgery is required and a great deal of attentive and minute examination of a vast number of Acts of Parliament. It could not possibly be expected that the eminent personages on the Committee would themselves, in the first instance, wade through all this mass of material, and I therefore assume that others, who will work under their directions, must be entrusted with the initial duty of examining the statutes. I would venture to express a hope that the gentlemen chosen for this work will be men whose avocations and studies have led them to acquire a mastery of the reading of Acts of Parliament, and that nothing will be done lightly or hastily.

I have no doubt that in the main what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said is entirely correct, that the work has been done with accuracy and care; but in the very nature of things it is inevitable that there must occasionally be mistakes. Therefore it is obviously essential that the most; extreme care should be taken in the selection of those who are given the primary duty of examination. That is a matter to which I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord will give attention. I would like to know whether in the selection of the gentlemen who are to give assistance to the Committee there is any division of labour, and whether the different classes of work are considered. I am more closely associated with Ireland, and I would suppose that someone acquainted by training and knowledge with Irish laws would be employed in reference to the revision of statutes relating to Ireland. The same remark would apply to Scotland. It would also be desirable to secure that statutes relating to important branches of the law should be read in the first instance by someone with special knowledge. That, I think, is an obvious consideration which would suggest itself to the mind of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.

I am aware that the introductory words of the revised edition of the statutes are very wide as to savings and exceptions, and it is not easy to say what is the effect and how far the repeal and revision really operates at present in law. In the full and interesting note which is appended to this Bill it is pointed out that regard is to be had to Acts of Parliament that are superseded and are deemed to be obsolete and so on. But then there is the suggestion that preambles and recitals are to be left out. I am not sure how far that is wise. It may be wise in some cases, but I do not think it is wise in every ease to lay down the rule that you will not in any circumstances print the preambles or recitals. They might be very useful in discussion, it might be desired to refer to them in argument, and they might reasonably be used to elucidate the history of the statutes. It is a matter of great importance that the code of law should be shortened, and I am confident that the noble and learned Lord will apply himself to see that the revised edition proposed in this Bill is brought out in the most satisfactory and useful way.

There is one other point on which I should like to say a word. Judges, barristers, and others connected with the law find it a matter of great inconvenience in some cases that there is no reference at all in the revised edition to clauses that are omitted, and this necessitates in the case of many important statutes referring to the original Act to see what clauses have been left out. I venture to think it would be a great advantage in many cases if the more important clauses that are omitted could be included, with an intimation in red ink that they had been repealed. These are not matters easy to accomplish, but I think the effort is worth something.


My Lords, I think I ought to say that for a good many years this work of revision went on under my supervision, and I have no reason to suppose any different method is being pursued now. Certain expert persons, amongst them very distinguished lawyers, were employed to see what the statutes were which it was intended either to consolidate or to put into form; they were persons in the habit of preparing Bills brought into Parliament on behalf of the Government. After they had prepared their suggestions, a Committee was summoned to consider the suggestions, and each amendment to each statute was looked at with great care. No statute was subjected to revision or amendment without being distinctly brought before the whole Committee, which sometimes included learned Judges and sometimes Members of the other House.

The work of the Committee afterwards came before the House as this Bill does to-night. One result of the work has been that statutes which formerly were in 110 volumes were reduced into ten volumes. Of course I am speaking of the same editions and the same print. The effect of that was valuable in many ways. The work was discontinued because an hon. Member in the House of Commons thought it right to object to this form of producing the revised statutes, and I myself said that if that was the mode in which the matter was to be discussed after it had gone through this process in this House—if, notwithstanding, it was to be discussed as if it were a new Bill—I would no longer be responsible for asking a number of distinguished men to act with me in the matter. From that time, when one of these Bills was rejected in the House of Commons for the reason I have stated, this work has been discontinued. I can only say that I very heartily welcome the renewal of that procedure, and I have no doubt the work will be well and accurately done. The consolidation and correction of the forms of the statute law has been brought down to 1886, and so far as I know not a single mistake has been made. I heartily support the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.