HL Deb 04 June 1998 vol 590 cc472-4

3.38 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

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

When the last Statute Law (Repeals) Bill was before your Lordships' House in 1995, I said, for the Opposition, that my party was committed to the reduction of the statute book and the simplification of legislation. I am now pleased to bring forward this Bill, which will make further progress in the modernisation of the statute book.

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission have a statutory duty to promote the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary laws. Over the past 29 years the two commissions have presented to Parliament 16 reports on statute law revision, with draft Bills attached. The 15 previous reports have led to the repeal of more than 4,000 enactments, including about 1,800 whole Acts. The present Bill proposes the repeal of 180 whole Acts or orders and the removal of redundant provisions from about 200 others.

The repeals in this Bill are set out in Schedule 1. They are in 10 parts. These range from the administration of justice, ecclesiastical law and education to obsolete enactments concerning inclosures and the slave trade. The Law Commissions' continuing work in rationalising local authority legislation bears fruit in this Bill in Part V of the Schedule. This contains repeals of legislation affecting Hereford and Worcester. Over 70 Scottish local Acts, set out in Part VII, are also repealed.

Although these provisions no longer have a place in today's statute book, there is of course much historical interest in some of them. The oldest group of statutes to be repealed are the Ecclesiastical Leases Acts of 1571 to 1575, which were passed to prevent the continuing dilapidation of ecclesiastical property that had occurred during the reformation. I might also mention an Act of 1662 to repair Bengeworth bridge in the county of Worcester—a reminder of the damage and disruption caused during the Civil War.

Your Lordships will wish to know that there has been full consultation with interested bodies on all the proposed repeals. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join me in paying tribute to the two Law Commissions for their thorough and painstaking efforts in this important work of modernising the statute book. I should also thank those who have been consulted by the commissions, for their contribution, and in particular those who have been involved in the work on local Acts. If your Lordships are content to give this Bill a Second Reading, it will be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills in the usual way. I commend the Bill to the House.

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

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition I join the noble and learned Lord in congratulating those of your Lordships who serve on the joint committee. Its work is hardly the stuff of newspaper headlines; and yet it is a necessary burden for both Houses to bear. The work that your Lordships do is greatly appreciated.

Looking through the list one finds some remarkable relics of our past; for example the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797. The Government of India Act 1935 is redolent of a great imperial responsibility, and—I trust the noble and learned Lord will agree—not undertaken in vain.

I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord say that he supported the principle of simplification in the drafting of Bills. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the Opposition also support that principle. I think it was Viscount Falkland, writing over 300 years ago, who stated famously that if it is not necessary to do something, it is necessary not to do it. Some adaption of that phrase might well be an appropriate instruction to the parliamentary draftsmen; namely, if it is not necessary to say something, it is necessary not to say it.

However, if there is an even bigger problem than that of an Act of Parliament saying too much, it is the problem of an Act of Parliament saying too little. Here Her Majesty's loyal Opposition must own up to their own failings. Consider, for example, the Environment Act passed in 1995. We have now waited nearly three years to see Part IIA of that Act become effective in law because the necessary statutory guidance that will give that Act meaning has not yet emerged from the Civil Service.

During this parliamentary Session we have already been presented with a number of Acts which are but bundles of bare bones and which will not acquire meaning until the appropriate statutory guidance is issued. This is no way to legislate in a representative democracy. I trust the noble and learned Lord, in contemplating the opening remarks that he made to your Lordships this afternoon, will also bear that problem in mind.

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