HC Deb 26 July 1938 vol 338 cc2919-20W
Mr. Keeling

asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered a memorandum on the evils of legislation by reference submitted to him by a number of Members; and whether he has any statement to make?

The Prime Minister

I have every sympathy with the hon. Members who submitted a memorandum to me in their desire to find a method of making legislation by reference more intelligible. I have considered the memorandum with interest, and I am grateful to them for their suggestion, which is more promising than many that I have previously considered. The suggestion made is, in effect, that a Bill amending or applying an existing enactment by reference should contain a Schedule setting out the enactment as it will read when amended by the Bill and showing by typographical devices the Amendments proposed. This method is not, I understand, put forward as a panacea to be used in all cases, and I think it is conceded by all who have studied this question that it would be quite impracticable to attempt to lay down any standard method of uniform application. For instance, in many cases the suggested Schedule would be misleading because, owing to intervening legislation and other causes, the reproduction of the original enactment as amended by the Bill would not state the law as it would be when the Bill passed. Moreover, in other cases, the amendment proposed by a Clause can be made intelligible to any reader by adopting the well-known practice of inserting in the Clause words in brackets describing the effect of the enactment to be amended.

There are, however, undoubtedly some cases where the method suggested by the memorandum would be both practicable and advantageous; and I have instructed the Parliamentary Counsel to proceed experimentally on the lines suggested in suitable cases. I hope that as a result some progress may be made towards making amending legislation more readily intelligible, but I cannot allow my hope to become too sanguine because I realise that much of our amending legislation has to be grafted into so complex a body of existing law that it cannot always be expressed in such a way as to be easily understood without specialised knowledge and some research, if it is accurately to produce the desired result.