§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, this Bill has the great merit of being both short and readily intelligible, and I hope that it will be found to have the additional advantage of being entirely uncontroversial. There is not a great deal I need to say in commending the Bill to your Lordships, but I hope that a few words of explanation will not come amiss.
The system with which we are all so familiar of giving Acts of Parliament chapter numbers related to Sessions of Parliament identified by the regnal year in which the Act receives the Royal Assent dates from the time when it was customary to reckon all time by reference to the regnal year—that is, the year commencing with the anniversary of the Accession of the Sovereign. More than three centuries ago a learned mathematician and astrologer in a book which he dedicated to Sir Edward Coke spoke of the "inconveniences that happen to vulgar wits and mean capacities" through reckoning time by the regnal year. Of course this has long ceased to be the general practice, and the last 989 trace of it is to be found in our present method of numbering Acts of Parliament.
There, however, the old practice has lingered on in a way which is inconvenient to all who have to do with the Statute Book. So much is this so that it was not until the year 1940 that the Statutes began to be published in annual volumes containing the output of each calendar year. Before that they had been published in volumes related to the regnal year, which was a throughly inconvenient system. But although this practice has been abandoned, we still number our Statutes by reference to the regnal yeas in which they receive the Royal Assent.
Accordingly, the first Act of 1960 is numbered not as Chapter 1 of 1960 but as 8 & 9 Eliz. 2, Chapter 10, while the last Act of that year is identified as 9 Eliz. 2, Chapter 6. To add to the confusion, the last six Acts in the volume of Statutes for 1960 which are numbered 9 Eliz. 2, Chapters I to 6, were, in fact, the first six chapters of the Session 9 & 10 Eliz. 2. However, since it could not be predicted at the time these Acts were passed that the Session would continue beyond the anniversary of Her Majesty's accession on the 6th February the Acts in question could not be numbered in this way.
But these difficulties are as nothing compared with those which arise where a demise of the Crown takes place, or where a Session runs into three regnal years, or where the normal timing of Sessions is disturbed by an Election. Thus the Acts of 1952 are, for the most part, chapter numbers of 15 and 16 Geo. 6 and 1 Eliz. 2, while some of the Acts of 1948, and all of those of 1949 belong to the Session 12, 13 and 14 Geo. 6. It is plain that this system of numbering and citation is intolerably complicated and inevitably leads to confusion. Sir Cecil Carr, who was for many years the Counsel to Mr. Speaker and is the acknowledged authority on this subject, has described the present system as requiring a Mansfield Park standard in knowledge of history. Your Lordships will remember that Julia and Maria Bertram were held up in the schoolroom to the admiration of little Fanny Price who was ten years old and had never heard of Asia Minor.How long ago is it, aunt"—990 asked one of Fanny's cousins—since we used to repeat the chronological order of the Kings of England with the dates of their accession and most of the principal events of their reigns?'Yes', added the other, 'and of the Roman emperors as low as Severus, besides a great deal of the heathen mythology, and all the metals, semi-metals, planets, and distinguished philosophers.''Very true indeed, my dears, but you are blessed with wonderful memories, and your poor cousin has probably none at all.'".As Sir Cecil Carr has said, this immortal dialogue must awaken sympathy for all of us who lack the full Mansfield Park equipment for citing Statutes.
The inconvenience of the present system has been recognised for a long time. Indeed, when the Bill which subsequently became the Interpretation Act, 1889, first came before Parliament it proposed that citation by calendar year should be expressly authorised. This provision survived consideration by a powerful committee, but it was subsequently dropped for reasons which I have been unable to discover.
The proposal has recently been reconsidered by the Statute Law Committee, of which I am chairman, and whose duty it is to keep the form of the Statute Book under review. That Committee has consulted those who are primarily concerned with these matters, including Mr. Speaker, Her Majesty's Judges, the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Church Assembly, all of whom agree in supporting a change to a system of numbering and citation by reference to the calendar year. This convenient practice has already been adopted by the great majority of the countries and States within the Commonwealth, including Northern Ireland, which passed an Act to give effect to it in 1943. I hope therefore that your Lordships will agree that we should not be acting precipitately if we now follow suit here and rid ourselves finally of a practice which really has nothing whatever to commend it. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, after the very clear and charming way in which this Bill has been introduced by the noble and learned Viscount, it needs very few words from me to express the 991 cordial support for this measure which I am sure the House will give it. It will of course be of immense value to practitioners of the law, and I can speak from personal experience of the occasional inconvenience which the use of the regnal year has caused. The only wonder is that the noble and learned Viscount was not able to explain to us why, when this thing was first thought of in the year of my birth, 72 years ago, it has taken all these years to bring it into operation. I calculate that normally the period of gestation between a good idea and the time when it is implemented is about twenty years. Why this particular matter was not introduced at least fifty years ago, I cannot conceive. But better late than never, and I cordially welcome this measure and hope that we shall be able in the year 1963, as this Bill predicts, to use the ordinary calendar year instead of the regnal year.
My Lords, may I as a non-lawyer speak without authority in welcoming this Bill as what is obviously a very good measure to simplify matters. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has been implemented with great success after 72 years, and I am also glad to see that this Bill is coming on the Statute Book.
There is one small point about which I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount would enlighten me. I should feel some regrets if the name of the Sovereign were not in future to be used in the title of a Bill. I quite understand about the numbering of the Bills, but could the noble and learned Viscount let us know whether or not the name of the Sovereign of the day is to be used? With those few words, my Lords, I should like to express my full approval and support of the Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have offered their assent. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, has said that he is not a lawyer, but in view of a certain prophecy as to the occupancy of the Woolsack an "out law" has every claim to speak. On the point that he has raised, this Bill, of course, concerns a matter of numbering and of citation. The introduction to a Bill, which deals with the procedure by which a measure becomes law, will remain the same, and I do not think he need have any qualms 992 about that. As to the actual numbering and citation, as I tried to show, it will be of great value to do both these things, numbering 'and citing, by reference to the calendar year. I would conclude only by thanking your Lordships for your patience in listening to my somewhat lengthy introduction, and by thanking you again for the reception you have given the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Presented, and read 1a.