HL Deb 07 July 1966 vol 275 cc1224-9

5.19 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It was in another Session—indeed, in another Parliament—that your Lordships gave consideration to a Bill almost identical to this one: but, despite that, it was a very short time ago. I think, therefore, I should be justified, in my remarks at this stage of the Bill, in commenting only on the points of difference between this Bill and its predecessor—and these, fortunately, are not many.

The first is in Clause 3, and is little more than a matter of drafting. The clause empowers Her Majesty, by Order in Council, to vary the amount of wages protected from arrestment by the Wages Arrestment Limitation (Scotland) Act 1870 as amended. In the first Bill, we provided that this Order in Council should come into effect one month from its being made. The Editor of Statutory Instruments has pointed out that if we make this rigidly one month it could, on occasions such as holidays, make for difficulties. The intention is that it should come into effect approximately one month after being made and the alteration in the present Bill is to make the period not less than one month.

The other change in Clause 9 is of rather more substance. This clause deals with appeals by stated case in summary criminal proceedings. As the clause stood in the previous Bill, it enabled the High Court of Justiciary on application to extend the five-day period within which an appeal must be lodged. Noble Lords will remember that these provisions were introduced at the suggestion of the Scottish Law Commission which felt that the peremptory nature of the periods might cause unjustified hardships. During the proceedings on the previous Bill representations were made from the Law Society and from the Glasgow Corporation that the periods in the 1954 Act were, in themselves, unnecessarily short and might well be extended. It has therefore been decided that these periods should be extended and we are substituting in the present Bill ten days for the previous five. This obviously will have the advantage that it may well reduce the number of occasions on which the High Court would be asked to exercise their discretion. It would not necessarily eliminate them entirely and, of course, we retain the discretionary provision although the period has been altered to ten days. These are the only changes.

I should like to mention two other points which arose on the previous Bill. On the Second Reading then, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Guest, expressed doubts about a provision declaring that the statutory restrictions on accumulation applied in a case where trustees were permitted to accumulate income but were not under a duty to do so. He considered that this would represent a change in the law that might give rise to practical difficulties, and he proposed that the relative provisions should be dropped until some such body as the Scottish Law Commission had the opportunity of considering the matter. This was done and the Government have recently received the Commission's advice. I am at present in communication with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Guest, and I hope to be in a position to put down an Amendment for consideration at the Committee stage which would put into effect the advice we have received from the Law Commission.

The second point relates to the law of marriage. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, introduced a clause on runaway marriages and withdrew it on my indication that the Government were discussing, or would discuss, with the Scottish Law Commission the question of reviewing the law of the constitution of marriage in Scotland. It has now been decided that a Departmental Committee should he set up for this purpose, and the Government and the Law Commission are discussing suitable terms of reference and how the Commission may most effectively co-operate in the review. Should very much have liked to be able to-day to announce the final arrangements, hut on a matter so important as this it is obviously both desirable and essential that the terms of reference should be got right in the first instance, and it has not been felt wise to rush a decision on the matter merely to give me the pleasure of making the announcement to-day. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, in due course reads these remarks he will feel that he did not on the last occasion cast his bread on the waters.

As I indicated when the earlier Bill was before your Lordships, the Government welcomed suggestions for improvement which were made and, in reintroducing the Bill, we acknowledge the value of the work that has already been done in your Lordships' House. I think I may add in commending it that the prompt reintroduction of the Bill is an indication of the importance which the Government attach to maintaining progress in the law reform field. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hughes.)

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, it is really a pity that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has had to leave the Woolsack for the moment because it would seem to me that, whereas, in regard to the last Bill but one with which we dealt, he was complaining about matters being trotted out on Report stage as opposed to the Committee stage, here we have had an opportunity to look at a number of rather complicated matters of Scottish law and even at this stage have found that not everything is quite right.

I would not wish to depart from the admirable example set by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, or to do anything other than to comment on a few of the matters that he himself raised. The rest of the Bill was accepted by these Benches with a variety of enthusiasms according to the different matters and the different clauses which were dealt with last time. I see no reason to suppose that there has been any change of opinion, but I think we should be grateful for what has been said by the noble Lord this afternoon in making further explanations.

He says that the provisions of Clause 9(1) are new, as indeed they are; and this, I think, is a matter which requires general re-examination wherever it occurs. These very circumscribed time-limits for appeals and so on do cause trouble, and where they are very short and there is no power in the appellate court to grant a dispensation by way of application—where for some reason or another, very often not the unfortunate appellant's fault at all, the time limit has been exceeded—this is a matter which requires general reexamination. I hope that the Scottish Law Commission when it put forward this particular matter to be dealt with found this the only matter in Scottish law which requires similar reform. If there are others, no doubt we shall have another of these splendid hotch-potch Bills before very long to deal, among other things, with them.

I do not think that any comment need be made about the change in Clause 3. But I should like to say this about a matter which I do not think the noble Lord specified and which I think appears in Clause 6(2). As I understand it, the matter which purports to be declared by that subsection is not the same as that which the last Bill purported to declare; nor is it, indeed, what the law finally is at this moment—or so I understand from having read the debates and from what the noble Lord has said. I think, therefore, that we shall be interested to hear what he has to say if an Amendment is produced on the Committee stage. But we are doubtless extremely glad that on this matter he is still in consultation with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Guest, and perhaps also the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, because in that way we shall get it right, for they will be of much more help than I on this particular point.

I will draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, to what the noble Lord has said about runaway marriages. I think the noble Lord is quite right in saying that the terms of reference are very important in this case because, as I recall it, not only was the particular matter discussed twice on two stages of the Bill and found to be of almost unbelievable technical difficulty, but we also considered whether the idea should be to try to bring Scottish law into line with English law in this matter or vice versa. I hope that the Committee which is going to look into this will keep in touch with the various bodies concerned in England. so that we do not find that this Committee in Scotland and whatever body will consider it in England are working in divergent directions. I think this would be only a renewal of the sort of trouble that was envisaged when my noble friend's Amendments were being discussed last time. Subject to that, I think my noble friend will be happy with what the noble Lord. Lord Hughes, has said; and I will certainly see that it is brought to his attention. With these comments. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and speedily pass the remaining stages, subject to the one remaining matter that still has to be cleared up.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be proper to add to what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has said in welcoming the Minister's statement about a Departmental Committee which is to inquire into the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I should like to supplement what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, about the importance of keeping in touch with the various bodies concerned in this intricate and urgent matter. At the same time, I agree that the very urgency of it should not interfere with the utmost care being taken in drafting the terms of reference. I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I think that all I need say in reply to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, on the subject of the Departmental Committee to look into the marriage law is that I think this will not be a committee which will necessarily produce conclusions at lightning speed. The fact that consideration will be going on over a period, and at a time when consideration of the problem of marriage is being examined also in England and Wales, will inevitably produce a desire to have the marriage law of both countries brought as nearly as possible together. It does not follow that in every item it will be capable of being resolved on a basis of identical solutions, but I am quite certain that both bodies in both countries will be seeking to minimise the differences rather than to maintain any historical difference.

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