HL Deb 13 February 1980 vol 405 cc276-306

8.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a Second time. After the economists have kept your Lordships' House entranced for some four to four and a half hours, finding it necessary, so far as I can understand them, to quote Tacitus's Agricola in order to understand economic problems of 1980, I feel that we lawyers must be happy to have waited until those discussions have concluded before, even at this late hour, we come and ask this House to sit even later into the night. My one ambition tonight is to make sure that the Second Reading of this modest little Bill concerned with law reform will be able to demonstrate one thing at least: that lawyers need not be as long-winded as economists.

The Bill is, indeed, modest both in its purpose and in its scope. It offers no more than a limited degree of statutory intervention in the practice of statutory interpretation by the judges. It has two purposes: first, to improve communications between Parliament and the Judiciary; and, secondly, to assist the judges towards a clearer understanding of Parliament's legislative intention when construing Parliament's enactments. Modest though the Bill is, it is clear from that statement of its purpose that it challenges, to a certain extent, established judicial thinking. It has been axiomatic among lawyers and, indeed, in our legal professional thinking for a very long time that the interpretation of statutes is a matter for the judges; it is not a matter for legislation.

To this extent the Bill is, within its limits, an attempt at a fundamental new approach in law reform. However, I would ask your Lordships to think of this Bill not so much as an attempt— and, of course, it is an attempt— to help judges in their task of interpreting statutes, as an attempt to save and relieve Parliament from the frustration of judicial interpretation by judges not sufficiently guided or informed as to Parliament's intentions.

There really are dangers to Parliament if judges are not given sufficient information to enable them to construe statutes according to the intention of Parliament.

The Law Commission, in a report to which I shall be referring, quoted a passage from a book by my noble and learned friend Lord Devlin, talking on the subject of the interpretation of statutes. My noble and learned friend said: The law is what judges say it is. If the House of Lords were to give to an Act of Parliament a meaning which no one else thought it would reasonably bear, it is their construction of the words used in preference to the words themselves that would become the law". It is in an attempt to help judges avoid putting that sort of construction upon the enactments of Parliament that this Bill produces a few measures, which I shall explain in a few minutes. Nevertheless, it is an immense power that the judges have interpreting statutes, and I think that it was the immensity of this power and the ancient tradition that it is a power belonging to the judges that led my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce to say in a debate in this House in November 1966: Statutory interpretation is what is nowadays popularly called a non-subject". The noble and learned Lord said: I do not think that law reform can really grapple with it. It is a matter for educating the judges and practitioners and hoping that the work is better done".— [Official Report, 16/11/66; col. 1294.] This Bill is a little more than an educational exercise for the judges. It is a little more than an expression of hope that they will improve their practices and their rules for the interpreting of statutes. Nevertheless, that purpose is inherent in the Bill. When my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce said in 1966 that he thought it was a "non-subject" for law reform, because of the history of the subject as well as of the difficulties in legislating, we did not then have the benefit of the Joint Report on the Interpretation of Statutes produced by the two Law Commissions in 1968. This Bill is no more than the embodiment of the draft clauses which the two Law Commissions, in their joint report, put forward in 1968.

Since 1966 we have also had the report of the Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation. That committee reported in 1975. Its report includes an extremely interesting and penetrating assessment of the draft clauses put forward by the two Law Commissions in 1968, the clauses which are embodied in this Bill. The committee came to the conclusion in 1975 that an early enactment of a suitably modified version of the Law Commission's draft clauses was desirable.

I have spent a little time on the background and the history because it may be said, when one looks at this Bill in detail and when one looks at current judicial developments since 1969, that there really is now no need for this Bill at all; that the judges have developed the law since 1969 and events therefore have passed by the Law Commission's report of 1968. That was not the view of the Renton Committee in 1975. I suggest that it would be unwise to think that, because there have been certain favourable developments in the judicial attitude to statutory interpretation since 1968, there is now no longer a need for this Bill.

I turn to the Bill. It is an extremely short Bill. It does not, of course, pretend to be a code of rules and principles governing the whole business of the judicial interpretation of statutes. It does not purport to alter, or amend, or restrict the common law on this subject. It supplements the existing law. It produces new aids to interpretation. The Bill consists of only five clauses. Those five clauses incorporate the four clauses which were the joint recommendation of the two Law Commissions.

The fifth clause is an important clause. It is the clause which would extend the operation of this Bill to Northern Ireland and Scotland. That is wholly proper, bearing in mind that the Bill is based upon the recommendations of the two law reform bodies who, between them, are responsible for law reform throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. The one clause of principle in the Bill is the second clause. That declares two principles for the interpretation of Acts of Parliament. Of course, these are not exclusive of already existing principles. They are to be included among the principles already applied by the judges in interpreting statutes.

I think that nobody could criticise either of these principles, save some might say they were unnecessary because the judges have gone that far already. The two principles are, first, that a construction which would promote the general legislative purpose underlying the provision which is the subject of interpretation is to be preferred to a construction which would not. As the Renton Committee commented, it would be valuable to have that guidance laid down by Parliament; that indication as to the priorities in interpreting statute laid down by Parliament however far the judges have already taken the case law in that direction.

It is valuable because judicial fashions, like other fashions, change from generation to generation. It is possible that in the last 10 or 15 years one has seen a more liberal approach towards the interpretation of statutes among the judges than was to be noticed in the preceding period. One knows of course in the United States of America how you get a Warren court or a Burger court. In this country nothing quite so sensational; certainly no name dropping of that sort. Nevertheless, judges from generation to generation vary. The old habit of sticking to the literal meaning of the words used, and refusing to depart from them even when they produce a result which is clearly inconsistent with the intention of Parliament but no departure because the words are clear, is still lurking in the back corridors of the legal system, and must be exterminated and can be exterminated and laid to rest forever only by a statutory provision such as is to be found in Clause 2(a).

The second principle in the clause—and these are the only two principles in the Bill, and again the same observations I made on the first principle apply equally to this—is that: … a construction which is consistent with the international obligations of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom is to be preferred to a construction which is not ". I suggest that those two principles—both of them recommended by the two Law Commissions; both of them winning the approval and support of the Renton Committee— are appropriate guides for Parliament to lay down; guides for the judges indicating the approach which Parliament wants and requires to its enactments. One must bear in mind that the judges' job is to obey the will of Parliament as expressed in its enactments.

If Parliament can give guidance to the judges in the approach that it expects of them towards its legislation, then constitutionally that is appropriate and practically it will help to ensure that Parliament's enacted intentions are indeed fulfilled in the application and enforcement of the law by the judges.

So much for Clause 2. The clause which may create most controversy in the Bill is Clause 1, and of course there are Committee points to be made on that clause and on the very separate provision with which I will deal shortly, Clause 4. Clause 1 sets out a number of aids to the interpretation of statutes. The great difference between judicial interpretation of statutes in this country and judicial interpretation of statutes in America and most countries of Europe is that our judges are confined to the context, the words, of the statute. As a general rule they may not go outside the words of the statute to determine the intention or purpose of the legislation or to decide what is the meaning of the specific provision which is under review at the time.

That is very different from other countries. In America, the legislative history is of course always available to help the judges, or perhaps some would say sometimes to confuse the judges, as to the intentions of the legislature. Both in America and indeed in Europe explanatory material is provided, committee reports are looked at and very often specific memoranda are produced and referred to in a preamble, and the judges and indeed the public are told they may have resort to those memoranda in the interpretation of the particular measure.

We have the very strict rule which I have described. This Bill, if enacted, would not take us anything like as far as our European neighbours and American brothers have gone in developing aids to interpretation outside the words of the statute. But even in this country the strict rule that you may look only at the provision in its context is subject to an exception, and the exception is that one may look to previous reports and to the previous state of the law before the enactment under consideration to determine what the mischief was which Parliament was seeking to remedy. That is still the law today but it is a rule which is very often not observed in practice; and judicial practice in regard to referring to material outside the words of the statute in order to discover its meaning is very divergent in this country, and we have not as a body of judges as yet established what are legitimate aids to interpretation outside the statute and for what purpose they may be used.

Even in the small gathering of this House tonight we have a number of distinguished judges who were recently concerned in a case in the House of Lords in its judicial capacity. Some of them said, "The mischief rule is the only rule by which we can look at committee reports or other material preceding the Act to explain the Act. We may not use it", said some of these judges, "as an aid to the construction of the statute". But others, also in this House tonight, in the same case said, "On the contrary; we are going to and we can use these preliminary reports as an aid to construction". One noble and learned Lord, who is in this House tonight, said: What else can you do as a matter of commonsense? Are you going to allow a judge to read a report in order to discover the mischief which Parliament was seeking to reduce or diminish, and then tell him that when the report reached the recommendation stage he must close his eyes? Must he selectively read it, and then go blind when he comes to a recommendation? Judges are widely divergent in their practice in the use of explanatory material. One could say that they fall into three classes. There are those in the strict class, who will go outside the context only to discover a mischief. There are the liberals who go far enough to use relevant reports as an aid to construction. Then, it will not surprise your Lordships to hear, there is a third class: the do-as-you-please judges, who will look either openly or secretly at whatever material they think appropriate in order to get at the purpose of Parliament.

It is with those considerations in mind that I ask your Lordships to look briefly at Clause 1. I am not going to weary the House with Committee points. I think that some of these provisions in Clause 1 could be tightened up: but see the sense of them, my Lords: In ascertaining the meaning of any provision of an Act … the following matters may be considered. First,

all indications provided by the Act … including cross-headings, punctuation and side-notes …". The old law is, just the words. Judges cannot help looking at side-notes. They cannot help looking at cross-headings, or noticing the punctuation. They are there to help them, and they are helped. How absurd it is that they must disregard those matters, even though they may be of very light weight indeed in guiding them. But how can they be asked to disregard them?

The clause also refers to:

any relevant report of a Royal Commission Committee or other body which had been presented or made to or laid before Parliament …". I have dealt with that. The clause goes on to mention any relevant treaty or other international agreement … of which copies had been presented to Parliament … Any other document bearing upon the subject-matter of the legislation which had been presented to Parliament by command of Her Majesty before", the passing of the Act. These aids are already used by the liberal and the do-as-you-please judges. They are used to a very limited extent by the strict school. Is it not better to legitimise the practice, to put it above board so that we know where we are, and in doing that provide the judges with valuable and helpful material?

There are two safeguards. The first is that the judge shall remain the arbiter of the weight to be attached to these matters when construing the Bill. This of course is of the utmost importance. An old report, a comma, are matters which may have very little weight. A Law Commission Report, with clauses attached, those clauses being part of the Bill or the Act which has been passed, obviously are of very considerable weight.

The other safeguard is that the Bill continues the prohibition of any reference to Hansard. Nothing in the Bill shall be construed as authorising the consideration of reports of proceedings in Parliament …". We will therefore avoid any practice of reading into the work of Parliament for the record speeches which can later be used by judges or counsel in interpreting or twisting the meaning of statutes.

There is only one final provision, which is quite separate from those that I have discussed, and which I have not yet mentioned. It is Clause 4 of the Bill, which deals with a presumption in regard to the enforceability of a breach of statutory duty. It provides that: Where any Act passed after this Act imposes or authorises the imposition of a duty … it shall be presumed, unless express provision to the contrary is made, that a breach of the duty is intended to be actionable … at the suit of a party who has been damaged by its breach.

My Lords, that sounds a mouthful, but what it is all about, in fact, is this. At the end of the 19th century the courts had to consider whether breaches of the Factory Acts gave rise, or should give rise, to an action for damages. It was decided in 1898 that they should. The reason given was that there should be a remedy available for a breach of statutory duty if, on a view of the statute as a whole, such a remedy could be said to be intended. That was the reason given by Lord Justice A. L. Smith in the case of Groves v. Wimborne. Twenty-five years later the problem was considered by the Court of Appeal, including Lord Justice Atkin, in the Britannia Hygienic Laundry case. This time, Lord Justice Atkin propounded a somewhat different test. Then, later, in a case concerning the Wandsworth Greyhound Stadium, the matter was considered again and a different test was propounded. The law is now so confused that Lord du Parcq once said that surely it is not asking Parliament much to say, when it imposes a statutory duty, whether it intends that statutory duty to attract civil liability at the suit of someone who is damaged by the breach of it. All that that clause is intended to do is to meet that very reasonable requirement voiced by Lord du Parcq after the Wandsworth Stadium case.

My Lords, I have been longer than I should have been at this time of night, but this Bill is a piece of law reform which, though in a strange area for law reform, could do an immense amount to improve communications between Parliament and the judges, and to enable the judges to know what material they can look at and what principles Parliament is asking them to apply when interpreting their statutes. My Lords, I beg to move.

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

9.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, for introducing this Bill. As chairman of the Law Commission he fathered it about 11 years ago, and it is obvious that he still has tender feelings for his offspring. It is right that Parliament should review and consider the difficult problem of the interpretation of statutes, and if extraneous aid in that difficult task could be obtained from Parliament by legislation it would indeed be very welcome. In these days of dramatic disagreements with regard to the interpretation of statutes, not only between judges but regularly between the Court of Appeal unanimously, on the one side, and the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House, on the other, if I thought that the introduction of these legislative proposals would tend to reduce rather than multiply those differences, I am sure all the learned Members of your Lordships' House who are here would welcome it. But the real question is whether it would help.

The report upon which it is based I read again after an interval of 11 years, and I found it enormously stimulating and full of constructive criticism and analysis of the existing law and practice of the courts, and indeed also of the legislative process. It points out that statutory interpretation is not a topic where there are any clear-cut defects for which, once diagnosed, legislative intervention can promise a dramatic cure. I suspect that that will be a generally accepted view; and your Lordships will have heard with interest the observation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, when he described statutory interpretation as a "non-subject". But the Law Commission concluded after long discussion, consideration and consultation that a limited degree of statutory intervention was required in this field for the purposes set out in the report-and this Bill is the consequence.

As I see it, the task is to strike a balance between the advantages to be expected for a limited number of cases from enabling the courts to refer to material which might be relevant on a question of interpretation and the price to be paid for a change which might impose additional uncertainties on those who are concerned with the effect of legislation and with litigation and would lead to extra work in the machinery of Government. We considered this matter carefully when I was in office, but I confess that at that time the disadvantages seemed to us then to outweigh the advantages. But it is a matter that, certainly, I am very anxious should be considered by the House again and by the expertise which is available here to analyse it.

The heart of the Bill, as the noble and learned Lord has indicated, is in Clause 1. If it became law, I think that the scope for argument on the meaning of a statutory provision would tend to be increased rather than diminished. Not only will that argument turn on the wording of the statutory provision itself but it will be necessary also in the course of that interpretation, or, at the very least, desirable, to consider the relevance and content of Royal Commissions and other reports which may be relevant, international agreements and other documents. It will also have to consider how much weight it would be appropriate to give to this material in the circumstances and what is revealed by this material in identifying the underlying purpose of the statutory provision; and, in regard to the provision regarding the treaties, what, on its true interpretation, are the Government's obligations under a treaty or other international agreement.

I notice that Clause 1 does not include, as was sometimes rumoured to be the intention — and it was examined carefully by the Law Commission—the use of Hansard. I was charmed on reading the report to see the comment about this matter which reads: … the process of enacting legislation is not 'an intellectual exercise in the pursuit of truth but an essay in persuasion or perhaps almost seduction', and that, in these circumstances, 'to appeal from the carefully pondered terms of the statute to the hury-burly of Parliamentary debate is to appeal from Philip Sober to Philip Drunk'."— attractive but perhaps harsh words upon the proceedings indeed. At any rate, "Philip Sober" has apparently prevailed and we are not to take the advantages of opening the doors of Hansard in the problem of interpreting statutes.

Other doors, as Clause 1 indicates, are indeed to be widely opened. One wonders with regard to the reports whether there is a time limit as to the date on which the referrable reports would be thought to be helpful. There is no indication to that effect in the Bill. I understand for instance, that a Bill on industrial relations is about to be laid before Parliament if the "hawks" and "doves" in the Cabinet can agree upon its terms. It will be interesting to reflect whether if this clause operated it would be appropriate to refer to the Donovan Report and even to In Place of Strife in the consideration of the new Bill when it comes before the courts, because they would be relevant matters in the consideration and interpretation of such legislation. However, perhaps there will be some restraint upon the time element when it comes to the test.

I confess that I fear that if the clause did beome law it would lengthen Parliamentary proceedings in the consideration of Bills in the Committee stages and I think the burden on Government could be considerable. I wonder, too, about this. If the clause became law a good deal of the legislative task would have been done before Parliament was ever seized of the matter, for Parliament could clearly make no change in the contents of the report whose relevance and use would be introduced by the introduction of the Bill.

These are the kinds of factors which filled us with anxiety in the prospect of giving effect to the Bill. Points of detail in the Bill, like Clause 1(1)(a), allowing the courts openly to take account of punctuation and side notes, seem to me to be very helpful. I wonder what is meant by the phrase "all indications", but perhaps that is a point of detail for the Committee stage when we come to it. Clause 1(1)(d) raises a matter of importance to which I might refer at this stage. It says: any other document bearing upon the subject-matter of the legislation which has been prseented to Parliament by command of Her Majesty before that time". Does that include White Papers, Green Papers or Green Papers with white edges? Presumably it is intended to do so. I cannot help thinking that as far as the parliamentary draftsman would be concerned, if the Bill was preceded by a White Paper they would be having to look over their shoulders in the drafting of the Bill at the White Paper in their work of construction. It would probably be prudent to ask parliamentary draftsmen also to draft the White Papers and the Green Papers; but perhaps not. I have certainly known of occasions when proposals in a White paper, not finalised, not fined down to a legislative point, proved very embarrassing indeed when the Bill came to be drafted. That possibly never happens in the Administration of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, but it can come to pass. I wonder what the result would be. Those difficulties will be far more serious if the White Paper is to be part of the record after the Bill is published, and to be examinable by the courts in interpreting Acts of Parliament.

I wondered what Clause 1(1)(e),

any document … which is declared by the Act to be a relevant document for the purposes of this section", was intended to cover. But again perhaps that is a matter for later enlightenment. Is it intended to provide for an explanatory memorandum or for some supportive document of that kind?

I find Clause 2 acceptable, but I think that judges already apply the principles set out in it. Whether advantage is gained by giving them express statutory authority, I know not. I should have thought it might not be very advantageous, but they are such admirable principles that I would certainly not quarrel with them for that limited purpose. I now want briefly to come to Clause 4. I wholly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, that the present position with regard to statutes imposing a statutory duty is very unsatisfactory, because of the wide area of doubt which has arisen about whether or not the imposition of a statutory duty carries with it a civil remedy. But I think that the clause as it stands is extremely wide and, on the face of it, covers the breach of any statutory duty; for example, the breach by a Minister of a duty to make a scheme or hold an inquiry. I do not think it could really be contemplated that civil action should lie in all such cases.

What I fear might be the result if it became part of the law would be that the provision has to be excluded in nearly every case in which a new duty was imposed costing parliamentary time and causing difficulty. There would, indeed, be a host of cases and it could be merely automatic to exclude it, including most of the statutory duties that are imposed upon Ministers. Indeed, I fear that its more or less usual exclusion might become so automatic that it would defeat its own object. It may well be that the better course would be to inverse the provision of Clause 4.

Your Lordships will see that I certainly lack enthusiasm for this Bill, but I do not lack enthusiasm for the need for us to consider whether there are possibilities by legislative means of limiting the differences that arise in the interpretation of statutes. Unfortunately, I cannot see any myself and we shall have to rely on the kind of approach that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, whose early recovery to health we all greatly wish, identified in his intervention 14 years ago.

9.39 p.m.


My Lords, before I came into the Chamber, I took the opportunity of looking at the standard text book on this subject, of which the first edition was published in 1875. The twelfth edition is now in force. It has 375 pages and cites about 1,500 cases. I suppose that two-thirds of the work of the Appellate Committee of this House involves disputed questions on the interpretation of statutes. It is a subject with which I am familiar and which, I am bound to say, I dislike. I am looking at what is proposed as a new statute, now before this House. In view of what my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones has said, I think I can express my views upon it very briefly, because he has made most of the points which have made him view the Bill with what he calls a lack of enthusiasm but which in my case I can express as strong dislike.

The Bill falls into three parts. Each one of them, so far as they do anything at all, would in my view do more harm than good. Part of the defect is that the date of drafting, which was in 1968, is now 12 years ago and, perhaps very significantly, before this country entered the European Economic Community, a matter which would be required to be taken into consideration when one is looking in the future at the interpretation of statutes.

Clause 1 lists a number of documents which one is to look at, for whatever weight they are worth. What is not clear to me is whether this Bill intends one, when the words of the provisions you are construing are quite clear and unambiguous, to go and look at a large list of documents to see if you can find there some excuse for finding an ambiguity in the plain words of the statute. I still think that the public is entitled to look at the legislation to see what it says. It will be a temptation to the courts and to counsel before the courts to go into a large number of documents. I am perfectly confident that if this were done we should be spending our time construing the documents which we were asked to look at as well as construing the Act itself.

With regard to Clause 2, it lays down principles. They are already applied by the courts, but again they will not overrule the clear words of the statute. Finally, Clause 4 lays down a presumption. Of course, it would be helpful if Parliament, when it imposes a statutory duty, were to say whether or not it intends a right of action for damages to take place. But Parliament, despite long and frequent pleas from the judiciary, has failed to do that. I doubt whether putting in a presumption will make it any more conscious of the desirability of doing it, with the result that one will get quite unreasonable results because Parliament has failed to make the exception; whereas looking at the statute, as a matter of common sense and as one construes it now, one would say that of course Parliament did not intend that there should be a right of action for a breach of this kind of duty. My Lords, it is a modest Bill. I have not wanted to take any Committee points about it, but I would urge this House to say: Do not let us have a Second Reading of it; this is a matter which is not a subject for legislative interference.

9.44 p.m.


My Lords, I yield to no one in my admiration for the scholarship and the clarity of mind of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman. It was with that usual clarity that he moved tonight the Second Reading of this Bill. I also yield to no one in my admiration for the work of the Law Commission, of which he was such a distinguished chairman, and whose report, as we have been told, some years old, is the background to the Bill now before us. Having said that, my Lords, I find myself quite literally in the midst of my lords and masters, since I am the only practitioner who is in fact speaking in this debate tonight, and I am surrounded by those so much more learned and experienced than I am, namely the noble and learned Lords who have spoken and who are about to speak in this debate. But I think it is right that a practitioner should speak.

If I may try in very simple terms to put what is normally in the minds of the practitioners as principles which ought to govern the matter of interpretation of a statute, I would say that there are three propositions. The first one is that Parliament must be the supreme lawmaker and the judges supreme interpreters and enforcers of that law as made by Parliament. There must be no confusion of functions. Over the last few days we have seen a possible example, to which my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones referred with some subtlety, of where confusion can lead. The cloud was no bigger than a distinguished judge's hand; but we must not allow it to be turned into an overcast sky.

The second proposition that I would put before your Lordships is that the interpretation of an Act of Parliament is not just the job of the courts; it is the almost daily job of my profession in advising ordinary citizens, and that power to interpret must not be beset by measures which make that interpretation uncertain or cumbersome or expensive.

My third proposition is—and I can, and do, put it most respectfully in this House—that Parliament must do its job properly and legislation must be clear and careful. In that context I bemoan the day, if ever it should occur, when there is not a second Chamber such as this in order to assist in the examination of legislation which comes from another place in order to make that legislation clearer, as so often your Lordships' House has managed to do.

Having said that, I would be the last person in the world to advocate that this Bill should not have a Second Reading. But I want, if I may, to turn to Clause 1 of the Bill, which has been discussed, especially in relation to reports of Commissions, and so on, which the judges will have to take into account if the Bill is passed in its present form.

I have an idea that there is a reason—not the usual reason of delay—why this report that we have been discussing tonight, which was issued in 1969, only now emerges into a Bill, some 10 or 11 years later. The Renton Committee has been referred to, and indeed the Renton Committee advocated that when the Interpretation Act 1889 was brought up to date then, as a comprehensive measure, any matters dealing with the interpretation of legislation should be brought into it. That Interpretation Act was brought up to date in 1978, but Parliament, in its wisdom or otherwise, did not take that opportunity of incorporating any new rules in regard to the interpretation of statutes.

When we come to Clause 1, and especially to subsection (1)(b) and (d), I must bring to your Lordships' attention a fact that I believe has not so far been referred to; namely, that the Renton Committee, whose report was published in May 1975, in fact disagreed, for reasons which were set out in paragraphs 19.15 and 19.23 of their report, with the recommendations in Clause 1. I do not intend to bore your Lordships at this time of night by repeating the reasons why the Renton Committee did not approve of those important recommendations, which one might say are almost the meat of this Bill in the sense that other provisions here, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said, were already existing law.

My Lords, the additions that I want to make to those points are the following: that I believe it is impracticable and most unwise that the interpretation of statutes should be made for the ordinary practitioner that much more difficult, and more expensive for his client, by the practitioner himself having to take the precautionary step, before advising on a statute, to see that he had available to him the relevant reports and White Papers, in order that he might read them and see whether they could have an effect on interpretation.

I can envisage most definitely the prolongation of trials which deal with the question of interpretation of statutes. I can at this very moment—closing my eyes in order to do it, and not, I assure your Lordships, because I am asleep from boredom at my own speech—hear one astute counsel after another trying to drag from a report of a Royal Commission phrases which would help their interpretation, as against their opponent's, of a statute, and then hearing the other counsel replying and quoting some other phrases.


Both, my Lords, no doubt instructed by a highly assiduous solicitor.


Sitting behind counsel and finding that day after day it is an even more expensive exercise for his client.

I am going to close my remarks, if I may, by trying to give your Lordships—I hope you will bear with me—a practical example as I, a practitioner, see it, of how it would develop if this clause were in fact enacted, and if indeed a judge were to be called upon to interpret a statute in accordance with a reference to Royal Commission reports or White Papers. With your Lordships' permission, I shall quote to your Lordships a case where in fact a very distinguished judge of the Court of Appeal, as he then was, did something of this kind, and he did it at great length; he did it in order to prove that the Royal Commission's report or the Commission's report with which he was dealing had nothing to do with the point he had then to interpret, and he then came to the conclusion that the terms of reference of that Commission would not have covered the point anyway. If your Lordships can imagine what would have happened in that case if indeed everyone could have referred to a relevant Commission report, your Lordships will realise that there is some substance in the point I have been trying to make.

The case is one which will be very well known to the lawyers in this House, and I venture to think it may be of interest not only to them, if I bring back their recollection to it, but also to those in the House tonight who are not lawyers. It was the case of Lucy v. Henley's Telegraph Works, reported in All England Law Reports 1969, volume 3, page 460. Perhaps I may recite the facts very briefly. It was a tragic case where the widow of a workman who contracted cancer as a result of coming into contact with a damaging chemical, brought an action within the proper time against her late husband's employers, who were Henley's. She did it, as I have said, within time. Then, just before the action was due to be heard, Henley's submitted that, if there were any liability at all, it was the liability of ICI. She then found that she was in difficulty in bringing proceedings against ICI because she would have been out of time. She sought to have ICI added as a defendant and argued that that was not, in fact, an initiation of a fresh action.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, has been referred to in the course of the proceedings tonight, but always with the utmost affection and respect, I only wish to quote, if I may, one portion of his judgment in which he says: I cannot believe that Parliament intended that the widows should be in a worse position than the living claimants. Seeing that the living claimants have been permitted to join ICI as defendants, I think that Mrs. Lucy and Mrs. Wild should likewise be permitted. It comes back once again to the ever-recurring question: How should we construe an Act of Parliament? Then he comes in very clear terms to the method of interpreting an Act of Parliament: I have said before, and I repeat it now, that we should so construe an Act of Parliament as to effectuate the intention of the makers of it, and not to defeat it. If they have by mistake overlooked something, we should do our best to smooth it out. We should construe it so as to avoid absurdities and incongruities, and to produce a consistent and just result. This can be done quite simply by construing the words the action ' in s. 3(4) as meaning simply the action which Mrs. Lucy brings in respect of the death of Mr. Lucy'. Not for the first time, not for the only time by any manner of means did that noble and learned Lord—whatever else one may ever have to say by way of criticism of some of his judgments, and one says it respectfully—try to come to the rescue, within a proper interpretation of the law, of somebody who was in distress.

Now I wish to give this example of where we would be getting to under Clause 1 of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Justice Edmund-Davies, as he then was, happened to be chairman of a Commisssion and this is what he said—and I am reading from the report: Claims which fail simply on the ground of effluxion of time since the cause of action arose frequently give rise to a feeling that the claimant has been denied justice … It was to make fairer provision for certain of these cases that the Limitation Act 1963, was enacted". He then goes on: The contents of the 'Report of the Committee on Limitation of Actions in Cases of Personal Injury' cannot, under our present law, be adverted to in construing the Act which followed it within less than a year". I say this with the utmost respect.

The noble and learned Lord then went on to deal with the report: Nevertheless, it is not without interest to note that what the report recommended was that— and he then sets out at length what is recommended. He continued: The report discloses that this recommendation (which was later reflected in s. 1(3) of the Act of 1963) was formulated after consideration of many other proposals. The simplest of these, viz., that the courts should have unfettered discretion to extend the three-year period in any case which appeared appropriate, was rejected"— and he quotes— 'by the practically unanimous opposition of the legal witnesses to the conferring on the Courts of a wide discretion'. He then goes on to consider various aspects of a report of a commission of which he was a distinguished chairman, and then says: This 12-month fixed period of limitation was supported by both the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Confederation". For two more pages of his judgment he goes on to consider the report and comes to the conclusion that the report was irrelevant to the matter before the court, and in any event was not one that could properly be dealt with in interpreting the statutes.

I have referred to this matter only in order to give your Lordships an indication, very humbly, of where this would lead in regard to prolongation of trials and arguments, uncertainty and expense if, indeed, the judges were enjoined to look at Royal Commission reports, White Papers and matters of that sort in interpreting statutes—the example that I have tried to give your Lordships being of a case where the learned judge realised, first, that he was not entitled to do it and, secondly, that it was irrelevant.

10.2 p.m.


My Lords, my noble and learned friend, Lord Scarman, moved the Second Reading of this Bill with a most persuasive speech. He said that it was a modest little Bill with two objectives, with neither of which one could possibly quarrel: to assist in the communications between the courts and the legislature and to assist in the interpretation of statutes. Despite his advocacy, I must say that I think this modest little Bill could, in fact, be productive of a very great deal of harm. When listening to his speech, I thought I detected a gap in his argument, in his failure to demonstrate that the provisions of the Bill would really assist in the task of interpretation.

We all know how difficult that sometimes is. We are all frequently faced with that problem. Indeed, sometimes one wonders whether Parliament has really appreciated what it has done when it has passed a particular provision. We may have had an instance of that recently when Parliament, by enlarging the meaning of the words "trades dispute", considerably extended the application of what I see has been referred to, I think somewhat inappropriately, as the golden rule of immunity for acts done in furtherance of a trade dispute". Reference was made just now to the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, with regard to the interpretation of statutes. They are not very new. It was three centuries ago when Coke said that: a statute was to be expounded according to the intent of them that made it ". The opening sentence of the book to which I think my noble and learned friend Lord Diplock referred, in the most recent edition, is that: that is the fundamental rule of interpretation to which all others are subordinate". Nowadays it is fashionable in some quarters to call that a purposive construction, but that is just another way of saying precisely the same thing. From reading the newspapers one thing I doubt is sufficiently appreciated at the present moment: that our duty sitting judicially is to seek to give effect to the intention of Parliament, whether or not we like what Parliament has done.

I noted the The Times said in its leader last Saturday: … recent decisions [of this House] have tended to extend the area of total legal immunity which the trade unions enjoy. The Times, of course, is not alone in saying that. I did not sit on the cases to which they referred but I should like to say—I hope it will not be improper for me to do so—that that is quite untrue. The Times has got it very wrong and not for the first time when dealing with legal matters. Those decisions did not extend the legal immunity of the unions; they gave effect to the clear intention of Parliament expressed in Acts passed by Parliament. Perhaps The Times—and it may be others, even Members of Parliament—did not fully appreciate what had been done. The decision of my noble and learned friends, as I see it, did not extend the law; it merely stated what it had been for many years.

Now we have this Bill, the purpose of which is to help us in the task of interpreting Acts of Parliament. I do not think that it will. And to help us understand what Parliament has said we have all these paragraphs in subsection (1). I do not think that (1)(a) is really worth enacting. … cross-headings, punctuation and side-notes, and the short title are things that one cannot fail to see when one reads any Bill or Act of Parliament. I know of no authority for saying that a judge must shut his eyes to what is in the Bill or Act that he is reading.

All this Bill does is to say that one must give such weight to them as is appropriate. That, I suspect, is very little because these side-notes, the cross-headings—and Parliament has no control over them—are written in presumably by the draftsman, and while it may be comforting to think that the interpretation one gives to the language of the section is supported by the side-note, the side-note cannot govern the construction nor can the cross-heading. I do not think it is really worth legislating about that.

It is when we come to (b) that we really see the dangers of this Bill, and there I am in substantial agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon: …any relevant report of a Royal Commission, Committee or other body et cetera. Anything which has been presented to Parliament. And at the same time and rightly this Bill excludes reference to Hansard. If one wants to see what was the intention of Parliament and go beyond the language of the Act surely the best guide would be Hansard. But it is quite rightly rejected because no one knows which is the right Hansard to look at. If you have to look at all of them in the Commons, in this House, the proceedings in Committee, the proceedings before a court to determine the meaning of a particular sentence would last a long time at great cost to the litigants.

This Bill rightly says that if you want to find out the intention of Parliament you must not look at Hansard, but you must and can look at any relevant report of a Royal Commission, committee or other body which had been presented to Parliament. Is it to be assumed that Parliament has accepted all that the Royal Commission or a committee said? Only if that can be assumed can the report of a Royal Commission or committee be a reliable guide, aid, to the construction of an Act.

It has been said, and rightly said, that it will be very time-consuming if we have to look at these documents. We really would have to look at any document counsel or solicitors like to put before us, because unless we had seen them we could not say whether or not they were relevant, and, if relevant, what weight they should bear.

It must not be forgotten that these statutes have to be construed not only in this House, in the Court of Appeal, in the High Court and in Crown Courts and circuit courts, but in magistrates' courts throughout the country, and copies of all these things are not readily available. My chief reason for opposing this particular provision is that it will divert attention from what Parliament has said to what a Royal Commission or committee has said, and may lead to a court construing an Act giving effect, as it does so, not to the intentions of Parliament but to those of a Royal Commission or committee.

Paragraph (c) is less objectionable; I do not think it is really necessary when an Act is passed to implement a treaty. The courts can look at the treaty. But to say that copies of all treaties or international agreements relating to the subject-matter of the Act can be considered by the courts, whether or not this country is bound by them, seems to me to be going far too wide. Paragraph (d) is, I think, thoroughly objectionable, for there can be no limit to what the courts will be asked to look at. Again, I think it will divert attention from the real task of the court. Paragraph (e) is of little importance.

My noble and learned friend Lord Scarman referred to the different approaches of judges and divided them into three categories. I think it is the ease —I am sure it is —that some judges, seeing what appears to them a grave injustice resulting from the language Parliament has used, are tempted in order to prevent injustice to cross the line between judicial and legislative functions. That sometimes may happen but, however desirable that object, that in my opinion should never be done. The words of that great judge, Lord Reid, in a case I argued 20 years' ago should not be forgotten. In that case, he found it difficult to believe Parliament ever really intended the consequences which flowed from the contentions I had advanced, and he said: But we can only take the intentions of Parliament from the words which they have used in the Act, and therefore the question is whether those words are of a more limited construction. If not, then we must apply them as they stand, however unreasonable and unjust the consequences and however strongly we may suspect that this was not the real intention of Parliament". If the words used are capable of two constructions, then Clause 2 with its statement of principle applies now; there is no need for legislation, as I see it, on that subject at all.

The main reason why I am opposed to the Bill, and I hope it will not get a Second Reading, is that Clause 1 of it appears to secure that for the purpose of construing an Act the courts can consider all the material which was available to Members of Parliament and to this House in its legislative capacity when considering the Bill which has become an Act, but not of course Hansard. That will, to my mind, increase to a very great degree the danger that judges may be tempted to trespass into the legislative field and to decide not what it was that Parliament intended by the words it used but what, in the light of those documents, Parliament should have done; and that is going beyond the judicial function. This measure, though small, is important, and that is my excuse for inflicting this speech on your Lordships at this hour. I hope that my noble and learned friend, often having ventilated this topic, will think that perhaps, in all the circumstances, he need not press it to a Second Reading.

10.15 p.m.

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, I rather apologise for being here and for playing a part in the debate, but I think that I am expected to do so. This is the second night running that one of my noble and learned friends on the Cross-Benches has proposed the Second Reading of a Bill based entirely, or almost entirely —and I think in each case entirely —upon one of the reports of the Law Commission. Yesterday we had the Matrimonial Homes (Co-ownership) Bill, proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale. This evening we have the Interpretation of Legislation Bill, proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman.

During the hours of pleasure and indeed of entrancement in which I have listened to these successive debates I have wondered what function the Lord Chancellor could at the end usefully perform which would keep those noble Lords who remained in the Chamber away from their beds. In each case I have felt absolutely convinced that my true task was that of advocatus diaboli. Last night we had a chorus of praise for the Bill. Everybody said how enlightened it was, how beautifully drafted it was, how it was in accordance with modern thought and socio-economic development in the 20th century. So I began to point out, I am sorry to say —rather to the chagrin, I thought, of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale —some of the rather bizarre consequences which I thought the Bill might have, and some of the reasons why, if it ever got to another place, it would not get very much farther this Session.

This is almost the mirror image of last night. You see, my Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman has proposed a Bill equally sponsored by the Law Commission, and there has been a chorus of disapproval from the lawyers. But again I feel bound to cast myself in the role of advocatus diaboli. I think that there is a great deal more to be said for this Bill than has been said by other noble and learned Lords who have spoken on it, and I should like to put the case as I see it I do not stress the point, though I repeat what my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman said: that the Bill was, after all, proposed by a Royal Commission some years ago and was virtually —except for paragraph (d) of Clause 1(1), which I agree would be better out of it, on any view of the case —broadly speaking endorsed by the Renton Committee. As I say, I do not do more than repeat the point, and will not elaborate it.

But I think that the Bill has therefore to be taken seriously, and one also has to ask oneself why it has lingered in the pigeonholes for so long. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, gave some indications without lifting the veil of secrecy from the otherwise almost entirely publicised proceedings of the Labour Cabinet. But I shall be equally discreet and say boldly, and as a member of the present Administration and of some Administrations before that of which the noble and learned Lord was an ornament, that it got across the departments and aroused the antagonism of the parliamentary draftsmen. They are a very talented and dedicated body of men, and although I should have thought they have more firsts in "Greats" and in "Mods" than have any other body of men associated together in the Kingdom, none of them has probably ever conducted a case at law, and certainly none of them has ever tried one.

Then, of course, it got across the conservatives in the profession. I need not reiterate any arguments about that because it is a case of res ipsa loquitur tonight, the "res" being the speeches of my noble and learned friends on the Cross-Benches. But I should like to present, if I might, one or two facts which might give a second thought to some of them; I do not say more than that.

The first is that English Acts of Parliament are approximately three times as long as continental Acts of Parliament. I first came across this fact when I was Lord Chancellor before and I met the nearest thing the French at present have to one, named Garde des Sceaux, M. Pleven. He entertained me royally and showed me a draft of his legal aid Bill, which approximately did the same thing as the legal aid legislation of this country, of which my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne was one of the Godparents, so far as I remember, as long ago as 1949. It was about one-third of the length.

Then there was a gentleman called Sir William Dale, who wrote an unreadable but extremely stimulating book about three years ago in which he pointed out that the same was true of the French Copyright Act, which had to say the same thing as the English Copyright Act because both countries were parties to the same convention and had to enact the same law. It was smaller by a factor of three; it was a third of the length. He went on to point out that the same was true of Sweden and, to a lesser but still significant extent, not surprisingly, of Western Germany. Their legislation, saying the same thing, says it in about a third of the number of words as our legislation does. This, I think, should give us food (as it is called) for thought.

The second thing is that the history of the English law on the interpretation of statutes, which was, I thought, lucidly gone into by both my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman and my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, really consists in a battle between two rival schools of thought. My noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne, who quoted from his ancestor, Lord Coke, I think perhaps showed himself false to his lineage because Lord Coke really belonged to what is called the mischief school. The mischief school looks at what is perhaps humorously called the mischief of the Act, which means what the Act was intended to do; whereas my noble and learned friend of course belongs to the literalist school, which is the other school, which says that you must look at what the Act says.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord does me a grave injustice. I do not think he could have listened to my speech. I supported what my ancestor said fully, and I always have.


My Lords, my noble and learned friend quoted his ancestor and quoted him accurately, but exactly misrepresented what he was really about. But the fact of the matter is that there has always been this battle between the literalist school, which says, of course, that the function of judges must really be to construe the grammar of the section and not look outside to see what it was intended to do, and what might be called the purposive or mischief school, which says that you must try to find out what Parliament meant to do and give effect to it. Neither of them upset the relationship between Parliament and the judges —let us get that absolutely clear. Both sides in this battle agree that Parliament's business is to legislate and the judges' business is to interpret what Parliament meant to do. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, was perhaps modestly understating the case when he said that two-thirds of the cases he had to try involved the distasteful task of trying to find out.

I would guess —but I am guessing, and not using research for this purpose —that nine cases out of ten which come before the House of Lords depend in the end upon the interpretation of a statute. It is a pretty rum system we have got if, at the end, we have got to go to the House of Lords to find out what Parliament was really trying to do; and I would venture to think that we might find some greater assistance if we looked to the purposes behind this Bill. Of course, if Parliament makes it absolutely plain what it intends to do, it is the business of the courts to give effect to it; and may I reinforce and underline what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne on that subject.

The Times —and some of the correspondence in The Times even more than the leading articles —have given a totally false idea of the recent series of cases to which allusion, more or less delicate —sometimes more, sometimes less —has been made in the course of this discussion. The decision of the House of Lords was not a question of whether it wanted to do justice or not; and the decision of the Court of Appeal was not according to whether it wanted to do justice or not. The function of the courts as contained in the judicial oath is to do justice according to the law, in accordance with the law and custom of the realm. It is not the business of judges to make law; it is their business to interpret law.

But the question in this Bill is on what principles the judges should interpret the law? And on that, I think, both schools of thought are absolutely agreed. I would venture to suggest that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, was saying no more than the truth when he said that judges do not now follow exactly the same pattern of practice in different cases. Different judges do behave in slightly different fashions. I say "slightly"; perhaps I am understating the case. There is still this undercurrent of doubt as to the extent to which you can look outside the words of a statute to try to give effect to what Parliament really meant.

It happened that today I was talking to a noble and learned Lord who has not made a speech. There are very few of them: but I spoke to one of them; We talked about the debate we were going to hold this evening; we talked about Lord Scarman's Bill. He could point at once to three cases which he had tried as a judge in the course of his not inconsiderable career, in which, without a reference (which he had made in the course of his hearing) to a report, it would have been extremely difficult to find out what the Act meant. But in each case he looked at the report and it completely dissolved his doubt. I heard one very noble and learned Lord, again, unfortunately deceased, who said to me that he could never understand why judges were not allowed to look at Hansard. I have often heard this. I have heard other professional judges who have never been in Parliament, in either House, make the same observation to me. But I have never heard a judge who has ever attended a midnight debate in the House of Commons make the same observation.

I wholly agree that Hansard should be absolutely excluded from all reference in the courts; and I think it is a matter of comity between the courts and the House of Commons (and the House of Lords in this capacity) that no reference at all should be made to Hansard. He was able to show three or four cases where doing the thing which is allowed in Clause 1 of the Bill helped him and that, if he had not done what was allowed in Clause 1, he would not have had it right. I was able in reply to point to two cases, in one of which the House of Lords manifestly went wrong by not looking at the Blue Book which preceded the statute and on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, afterwards had to legislate on behalf of the Labour Government in order to put the error right; and in which, by a curious quirk, the House of Lords (again applying its Scottish jurisdiction, in which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, had not thought fit to interfere) reversed the previous decision of the House of Lords and said it was entirely wrong —simply by looking at the Blue Book. I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, has a very much better case on Clause 1 than other noble and learned Lords have thought. What can happen to this Bill must be for him.

I think that Parliament ought to give attention to the way in which it prepares its legislation. I began this rather rambling set of observations by saying that the thing ran into difficulty with the departments, it ran up against parliamentary draftsmen and met with the conservatism of the profession. One at least of the reasons why other countries manage to legislate in shorter and more intelligible language than England is that they take greater care about the preparation of their statutes. They have what are called in France the travaux preparatoire, which are very much more than blue books and reports like those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I believe that we ought to consider our legislative process very carefully before we get enmeshed in this web of words which every year we churn out in the form of public and general Acts.

I only want to remind the House of one rather terrible fact: the Liberal Government of 1911 was supposed to be a great radical reforming Government. It passed 450 pages of public general legislation. I shudder to think of what will be said of us in 12 months' time, so do not think I am making a party point here because I know what the come-back will be in 12 months' time. But the last time looked at the products of the Labour Government they had passed 3,000 pages of public and general legislation at a time when they had a majority of one at the most. In addition, there were 10,000 pages of subordinate legislation.


If the noble and learned Lord will allow me, I hope that he is preparing for August sittings of the House!


There is no telling to what terrible lengths the tactics of the Opposition may drive us. The point is that we are suffering from a form of legislation which leads to a degree of verbosity which is not basically tolerable because the total addition to our statute book is cumulative, and the number of repeals, except for spent and obsolete Acts, is negligible compared with the net addition to our statute book. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, talked about the woes of the practitioner. How I sympathise with him! Even the specialist cannot keep up with the flow of legislation which emerges from this cloaca maxima that we call the Mother of Parliaments. I feel that we ought to consider whether the way we are setting about things is a good way.

I am not here as an advocate of my noble and learned friend's Bill. I am bound to tell him, as I told my noble and learned friend last night, that unfortunately the state of the legislative programme along the corridor is such that he has not the hope of an icicle in June of getting this Bill through this Session; I do not know about the next one. I hope that he will not be too discouraged by that. I think that he has done a very real public service tonight by introducing a very interesting and important topic. I only wish that there had been more noble Lords on both sides of the House who had heard him and had heard the debate. I am not going to waste the time of the House any more.

10.35 p.m.


My Lords, this modest little Bill has certainly spurred the heavyweights of the House into the gayest and most frolicsome dance that I have watched for a very long time. That such a slight thing could provoke such heady fun at this late hour speaks a lot for the Bill, for the democratic process and for the endurance of your Lordships. I think that the Bill has come through the dance without suffering too many bruises on her toes. They have kept off it.

But one thing is quite clear. While the two principles of interpretation to be found in Clause 2 are regarded as quite acceptable, and indeed the only criticism that was made of them, as I suspected, was that they really are necessary, Clause 1, which provides the suggested aids for interpretation, has come into a storm of criticism of one sort or another —criticism, perhaps, more to be expected at the Committee stage than at this stage.

The interesting development in the debate, which came with the encouraging speech from my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, has been that it is very difficult to look at the problem of improving aids to the interpretation of statutes, and developing principles for the interpretation of statutes, without at the same time looking at the other side of the fence; that is to say, the business of preparing and drafting legislation. I was very struck, when I read the Renton Committee's report, with their proposition that what was needed was a comprehensive measure which would contain proposals relating to the preparation and drafting of legislation, as well as proposals dealing with the interpretation of legislation.

The longer my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor continued, the more I came to think that the correct course is for us to be giving thought, and perhaps for the Law Commissions and others to be giving thought, to a more comprehensive measure than the one which I have had the honour of introducing and moving tonight. In view of what the Lord Chancellor said about the opportunities for this Bill to be considered, and in view of the interesting points made in the course of the evening's debate, I think that the course which I shall take, with the leave of the House, is to beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Second Reading.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.