HL Deb 13 May 1907 vol 174 cc560-5

Bill read 3a (according to order).


moved to insert, as a schedule to the Bill, so much of the text of the Destructive Insects Act, 1877, as had not been repealed or varied by subsequent Acts of Parliament.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before the Bill passes I would like to call your Lordships' attention to the terms and method in which it is drafted. They are singular and carry the practice which is known as legislation by reference a step or two further than it has ever been carried before. I have no doubt I shall be told that the proposal which I have placed on the Paper is without precedent. I shall not be alarmed at that, if I can show your Lordships that to make a new precedent would be for the convenience of those humble persons who have to understand the statutes which this House passes. If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that the only operative clause provides that— The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries may for the purpose of preventing the introduction into Great Britain of any insect, fungus, or other pest destructive to agricultural or horticultural crops or to trees or bushes, and for preventing the spreading in Great Britain of any such insect, fungus, or other pest, exercise all such powers as may be exercised by the Board in relation to the Colorado beetle under the Destructive Insects Act, 1877. The first point is that the Board of Agriculture had no powers under that Act, because the Board did not then exist. I suppose the powers have been transferred from the Privy Council to the Board of Agriculture by a subsequent Act, but the whole of the Act of 1877 refers to the Privy Council. The powers given under that Act for the particular purpose of it are of the most arbitrary: nature. The Privy Council are empowered to regulate or prohibit the landing in Great Britain in any way that it chooses.

My point is this, that any person purchasing a copy of this Bill as it stands, should it become a statute, would find himself but a very short distance on his way to understanding it. He would find that he had to pursue his researches into the Act of 1877. Having purchased that Statute he would again find himself no further, because parts of it have been repealed by three subsequent Statutes—the Acts of 1878, 1889, and 1898, though the last only refers to Ireland, and he would have all this trouble because the draftsman or the Department for some reason or other finds it more convenient to refer in the present Bill to the original Act of 1877. I hope the Bill will not be opposed on its merits; but in the name of everything that helps the understanding of it, why is not so much of the Act of 1877 as is not repealed or varied set out in a schedule. It does seem to me inadvisable to put a wholly unnecessary burden upon market gardeners and agriculturists to understand unknown powers in the hands of the Department. I venture to make my protest against this method of legislation and to move the Amendment standing in my name.

Amendment moved— To insert as a schedule so much of the text of the Destructive Insects Act, 1877, as has not been repealed or varied by subsequent Acts of Parliament.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I am glad to find that the Amendment is noved only with the object of initiating a discussion, and to show the desirability of consolidation. With that object, I think we shall all agree, but I might point to a great many Acts where the need for consolidation is greater. I would respectfully ask my noble friend not to press his Amendment, for the Bill is urgently needed, and has been approved on both sides. As to the comments on the manner in which the Bill is drawn, I ask the noble Lord what would be the useful result, if what he desires were carried out in schedules to small Bills of this sort. I do not think the noble Lord is himself absolutely innocent in this matter. He will remember that in 1901 he brought in a very useful measure which was called the Burgh Sewage, Drainage, and Water Supply (Scotland) Bill. The Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1888; the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892; the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1894; the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897; and the Town Council (Scotland) Act, 1900, were all referred to by name in the measure for which the noble Lord was himself responsible. I hesitate to think what would, have been the result if all the Acts affected had been scheduled in that case.


That is not my proposal. My proposal is simply to schedule one Statute so far as it is unrepealed; not the Acts mentioned in the Bill.


What the noble Lord proposes is that there should be inserted as a schedule to this Bill so much of the text of the Destructive Insects Act, 1877, as has not been repealed or varied by subsequent Acts of Parliament. Upon that principle all the Acts referred to in that Scottish Bill would have been inserted. I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied with the discussion, and not check the progress of the Bill, which might have most serious results to agriculture.


I rather hope the noble Lord will not be satisfied, and that either in this form or in another he will obtain for the House and the country some wording which will explain the meaning of the Bill. We are not now discussing the question of burgh sewage. I daresay that the noble Lord when he was Secretary for Scotland may have committed the iniquities to which the noble Earl has just referred, but what we want really to know is what is the meaning of this Bill. If the course which is now proposed by Lord Balfour is not the most convenient, surely there ought to be some means of explaining to the public and to the Houses of Parliament what the object of the Bill is. Can the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture tell the House what are the powers which may be exercised by the Board in relation to the Colorado beetle under the Destructive Insects Act, 1877? If he will not consent to the Amendment it would be easy to prefix a Memorandum to the Bill, stating the effect of the proposals, and for that purpose we might adjourn the next stage of the Bill for a few days.


My Lords, I think that so far as this particular Bill is concerned my noble friend the Minister for Agriculture has made good his ground. The Amendment would not, in my opinion, add to the clearness of the Bill, the perplexity of which would remain very much as it is. My noble friend said, with perfect truth, that the practice of legislation by reference is not confined to one side or to any Department, and it has been the frequent subject of protest by myself in the House of Commons during the last fifteen or twenty years. I hope that good may result from the discussion, for the practice has been carried to an extent which makes it difficult for plain men to understand the statute and tends to confine to the members of the legal profession the interpretation of Acts of Parliament. Probably the real source of the practice is the immense pressure of business in Parliament. In your Lordships' House it is possible to carry out consolidation in Bills, but in the other House they cannot do so.


I think the difficulty which arises is that many of your Lordships are not quite sure what the powers are that may be exercised by the Board of Agriculture in relation to the Colorado beetle under the Destructive Insects Act of 1877. The noble Earl is, of course, perfectly well aware what those powers are, and I think it would facilitate the passage of this Bill if the noble Earl would tell us in a few words exactly what those powers are.


As there is no response to the request of Lord Cawdor, I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.

Moved, That the debate be adjourned.—(The Earl of Camper down.)


I hope your Lordships will not stop the progress of this Bill, which confers great benefit on the agricultural population. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has stated his view in regard to the question of legislation by reference. I appeal to the House not to let agriculturists, who are affected by these pests, suffer because of the usual, though inconvenient, method of drafting being adopted in this instance.


I quite agree with the noble Marquess. There is no desire on my part to check the progress of this Bill. I have carefully examined the Statute to find out what, portion of the Act of 1877 is repealed or altered, and it would have saved much trouble had the effect been shown. Perhaps the noble Earl will give an assurance that a Memorandum shall be prefixed showing the result.


I will have that done with pleasure.

Motion for adjournment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Amendment (Privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.