HL Deb 12 October 1976 vol 375 cc281-4

6.25 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR rose to move, That the Bill be re-committed to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I should explain briefly to your Lordships the reasons why I propose this small departure from the normal procedure for Consolidation Bills. Your Lordships' House gave this Bill a Second Reading on 17th May, and it was referred to the Joint Committee in the usual way. The Joint Committee considered the Bill on 19th May. Shortly after that—indeed, a week later—the Supplementary Benefit (Amendment) Bill was introduced in another place. It has completed all its stages there and is now awaiting Second Reading in this House. If that Bill becomes law, it will necessitate a large number of consequential Amendments to the Bill which we are now considering.

Since we depend so heavily on the scrutiny, expertise and advice of the Joint Committee as to whether a Consolidation Bill truly represents the existing law, and in view of the very large number of changes now required, having regard to the Supplementary Benefit (Amendment) Bill which I have mentioned, I think that it is right to propose that the Bill should be referred back to the Joint Committee where these matters can be considered in detail with the draftsman. My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was kind enough to intimate to me privately earlier today that he approved of what I proposed. I am greatly strengthened by that expert advice and approval. Accordingly, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be re-committed to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I venture to think that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has taken entirely the right course. As this matter originally appeared on the Order Paper, it involved no fewer than 67 Amendments, which must be quite unprecedented on a Recommittal stage after consideration by the Joint Committee. Some of those Amendments, though extensive in number, were within the sort of quality of Amendment which can properly and desirably be made at this stage; but some arose out of the Bill mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, which has not even yet had a Second Reading in your Lordships' House, and was not, indeed, introduced into Parliament until after the Joint Committee had considered the consolidation Bill. It involves a substantial rewriting of a very difficult Schedule. I am sure that the second thoughts of the noble and learned Lord are better, and that the matter ought to be considered by the Joint Committee. We will do our best to deal with the consolidation Bill and pass it into law this Session, although it will be rather a tight schedule.

My Lords, perhaps I might venture to draw two lessons from what has happened. The first is that it ought to be quite exceptional that there is any attempt at consolidating a measure that is currently before Parliament. When it is done, very careful attention should be paid to the order of introduction of the current measure altering the law, and the consolidation measure. The second is that what has happened on this Bill is another example of the ills we suffer when we attempt to over-legislate.


My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity of supporting what the noble and learned Lord has said. In our experience in the courts of the proceedings relating to consolidation—and f have had the privilege of being a member of that Committee for very many years under the excellent chairmanship of many people, not least of whom was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale—we have endeavoured to carry out the functions which have been placed in our hands, to consolidate measures which have already been passed, and not to interfere with legislation that is already on the Statute Book. Certain exceptions are allowed but they are very small in extent. We are particularly anxious that we should not overstep the duties that are placed upon us, to consolidate what is in fact the law of the land. As my noble and learned friend (I hope I may call him) Lord Simon said, the Amendments proposed here, putting it mildly, go far beyond anything that a Committee like ours could be expected, dare I say, to tolerate. I hope that in future note will be taken of this. We are restricted to our particular duty, which is to consolidate Acts and not to participate in amending legislation.


My Lords, from this side of the House I should like to welcome what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has said, and echo the thoughts of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I think it is very clear, looking at the Bill before us, that the Schedules, taken together with the tables of derivations, amount to no fewer than 40 pages. In an area where legislation is comparatively recent—when I say "comparatively recent" I mean it is over the last 25 or 30 years—this is an astonishing amount of legislation. If we look at Schedule I, we see that the over-complication is such that no other course could possibly be taken than to follow the advice of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. The proposals made in the Amendments are to place certain limits on the benefits, and to seek that the powers given to the Secretary of State are necessary, and in the circumstances they could be taken to be desirable. I believe that what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said is the predicament in which we find ourselves, and I hope it will not be repeated again another year.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the response given to the Motion which I have moved, if only because I have been spared the pleasure of steering 66 Amendments on Consolidation through Committee. I take note of the cautionary note which has been struck, but I hope that it will not discourage the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, from soldiering on with the task of consolidation. I do not know that that comes into the category of over-legislating to which the House normally refers. Consolidation renders a very great service to the state of the law itself and the users of the law. So I hope this experience will not in any way discourage the excellent work that is done by the noble and learned Lord and by his Committee, with such distinction. I agree, of course, that the purpose of consolidation is to state the law. On the other hand, we have recently had experience, on the basis of some precedens, of using consolidation to deal modestly with a bit of spent law as well. I do not regard that as a dangerous innovation. I hope, therefore, salutary as this experience has been, that it will not in any way discourage further progress towards consolidation.