HL Deb 10 December 1985 vol 469 cc111-4

3.4 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Your Lordships will be aware that one of the functions of the two Law Commissions—that is, respectively, the Law Commission for England and Wales and the Law Commission for Scotland—is to promote, the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary enactments, the reduction of the number of separate enactments and generally the simplification and modernisation of the law". There have been a number of reports which they have presented to Parliament from time to time with these ends in view. This Bill arises out of the 12th such report of the series. The 11 previous reports resulted in the repeal of 2,300 enactments, including 1,086 whole Acts. The present Bill proposes the repeal of 135 whole Acts or measures and the removal of redundant provisions from 240 others.

The Bill deals with a particular aspect of the work of modernising and improving the statute book, the other aspects being of course consolidation and substantive reform. I do not need to stress the importance which I attach to the task of bringing our statute law up to date. It is work that needs to be regularly done, and substantial progress has been made in recent years to reduce the backlog that had previously built up.

Your Lordships will see that in Part I of Schedule 1 to the Bill several provisions of the recently enacted County Courts Act 1984 are now proposed for repeal. That Act was a reconsolidation of Acts going back to 1846 and more recent research has shown that Section 141, which relates to the abolition of an old privilege as to venue, should have been repealed as long ago as 1888. That example—which is only one of many in the Bill—neatly illustrates the kind of problem that is apt to arise in consolidation and the need to identify and remove provisions that are obsolete or have served their purpose. The process of identifying redundant law often involves a considerable amount of research and attention to detail, and it is work that has to be done if we are to get the statute book right.

Your Lordships will recall that during the last Session two important consolidations of the law relating to companies and housing were passed. Because the necessary research and consultation had been done in time, it was found possible in both cases to remove a good deal of redundant material with a view to achieving a satisfactory consolidation of the current law. It is often more convenient to undertake the repeals in advance of the consolidation process, particularly in the case of legislation going some way back in time. In the present Bill there are, for instance, proposals relating to the Representation of the People Act 1948. These will pave the way for a satisfactory and simple consolidation of the law relating to parliamentary constituencies. There are also detailed proposals which would facilitate future consolidations of the law relating to Government stock, which was last consolidated in 1870, and that governing the administration of the Metropolitan Police Force—which has never been consolidated.

If this Bill is given a second reading, it will be referred in the usual way to the Joint Committee. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord for explaining this obviously valuable piece of what is rather more than consolidation legislation, as the noble and learned Lord has said. The progress in this field has really been admirable, and of course the House has had its own part in it. It is highly desirable that the dross that still surrounds some of our laws should be removed and the size of the statute book should diminish. It is only regrettable that the volume of legislation sometimes catches up with the size of the statute book. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will bear in mind his earlier observation to that effect, which he made before he occupied his present place and which perhaps is not honoured in the observance so fully as even he would have liked.

At any rate, regarding the immediate measure of consolidation and repeal, we naturally welcome it. I reflect with pleasure upon the fact that my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner had such a part in it. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say that he is still well and I am sure he would have liked to have been here today.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may very briefly join in that welcome. This is a very important piece of pruning which improves the statute book and shortens it. My noble and learned friend and those who, within his responsibility, do this work deserve congratulations upon it.

I should like to make just two points. If my noble and learned friend is able to tell us by how many hundred, or possibly thousand, pages the statute book will be shortened by this work, it will be very interesting to have one's curiosity satisfied. The other point that I want to mention is with regard to the transitional provisions. We find increasingly and necessarily in fairly recent statutes over the years that the number of transitional provisions seems to grow; and of course they are necessarily, in the nature of things, of limited duration. I am wondering if my noble and learned friend can tell us to what extent there is now a conscious effort to cut out these transitional provisions as soon as they are spent.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and to my noble friend Lord Renton, who have welcomed this Bill. I fully acknowledge that my work of resisting all legislation, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, referred, is carried on now within the Government rather than from the Front Opposition Bench. So long as that is true, I cannot satisfy any curiosity on his part as to how far I have gone in that respect. But I do not think that I have changed my general views about the size of the statute book.

I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord very much for what he has said about the two law commissions, and I am happy to renew a tribute that I have often paid in the past to the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who was responsible for the institution of these two bodies.

That leads me rather to my noble friend Lord Renton. I am afraid that I cannot give him statistical information about pages. Unfortunately, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has pointed out and as I pointed out when I was sitting about where he is, although the number of statutes has been reduced considerably if one takes it statute by statute, the pages tend to catch up because we are passing, I am sorry to say, something like 3,000 pages of primary legislation a year in our worst years. This does not assist to the business of making the statute book a shorter thing in numbers of pages.

I do not think that without consideration I ought to answer my noble friend's question about transitional provisions. Statutes often require such provisions. Obviously we deal with them as best we can by providing suitable commencement dates, and of course transitional provisions would not be introduced if they were not necessary from time to time. If my noble friend wants any further information on that point, I think that we had better communicate in some other forum. I am very grateful to both noble Lords. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.