Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Bill 2004: Second Stage.
The Statue Law Revision (Pre-1922) Bill provides for the repeal of 91 Acts that predate the foundation of the State. These are statutes that were enacted before 6 December 1922 that are no longer in force and are considered to be spent or are still in force but are no longer of practical utility.
This Bill is intended to help streamline the Statute Book and it forms part of the Government's overall commitment to better regulation and regulatory reform. When the Taoiseach announced his intention last year to bring forward this legislation, he noted that when it comes to the Statute Book, we tend to add and never subtract and that we need to remove the dead wood from the pre-1922 Statute Book. This is a sentiment that many of us agree with as elected representatives who have had occasion to piece together the law in particular areas. If Senators and Deputies — and indeed public officials whose job it is — have difficulty at times sourcing and interpreting the law in particular areas, what chance has the ordinary citizen, small company or community group? The introduction of this Bill takes a step towards improving the overall accessibility of the Statute Book and it represents delivery of a key commitment in the Government's White Paper, Regulating Better, which was published in January 2004.
Before outlining the substance of the Bill, it might be useful if I provided a brief background to the wider better regulation agenda and, as part of that, the contribution that Statute Law revision can make. Better regulation is increasingly used in EU and OECD countries to describe government efforts to improve the quality and, where necessary, reduce the quantity of regulation. Regulation is generally taken to include both primary and secondary legislation as well as subsidiary rules including administrative circulars and red tape. It is important to stress that better regulation is not simply deregulation. In some cases, removing regulations may be the answer while in other cases greater regulation or regulations which are more easily understood, may be required.
At the core of better regulation is the idea that we need to tackle both the flow of new legislation and rules and the existing stock of laws and regulations. The principal way in which the flow of new regulations is being tackled is through the introduction of regulatory impact analysis. This approach involves Departments consulting more widely before regulating and analysing in greater detail the likely impacts of Acts and statutory instruments before presenting them to the Oireachtas. In this way, proposed Bills and statutory instruments will benefit from being subjected to comment by interested parties and will be fully evaluated in terms of downstream impacts.
The second element of a good regulatory system is managing the stock of existing laws and rules and this is where today's Bill fits in. While it is critical to improve the quality and even stem the flow of new regulations that are coming on stream, we must simultaneously tackle the body of existing laws and regulations. Some of these laws and rules are archaic and are a heavy burden on the economy and society as a whole. That is why the Taoiseach asked the Attorney General last year to examine if it is necessary to carry forward into our Statute Book laws that were enacted as far back as the 13th century. The Bill presented today is the first step towards removing some of the redundant legislation — the dead wood.
Statute law revision is the process of removing legislation that has lost any modern purpose from the Statute Book. As Members of this House will know, the term "Statute Book" is a loose and non-technical term referring to all primary legislation — statutes or Acts — and secondary legislation — orders, regulations, rules, schemes and bye-laws — currently in force.
The Bill being discussed today, however, deals only with primary legislation. While we would all like to see as much as possible of the dead wood being cleared away, including obsolete statutory instruments, this process is resource intensive and time consuming. For the moment, resources have been focused on primary legislation but in time the Taoiseach and the Attorney General both wish to see similar measures being taken with regard to secondary legislation.
Unlike the process of law reform, law revision does not change the substantive nature of law. Its primary objective is to facilitate the users of the law, including judges, lawyers, officers of registries and bodies and the public generally. Furthermore, all Departments and the drafters of our legislation also benefit and Members of these Houses stand to gain from statute law revision.
For example, where a statute has been on the Statute Book for quite some time, and needs to be modernised or otherwise amended in the normal course of business, extensive research of subsequent statutes has to be undertaken to see if they have any effect. This involves time consuming examination of statutes many of which may be spent or otherwise deleted but which are technically unrepealed. Unless they have been formally repealed, for example by way of a Bill such as the one we are debating today, there is no way of knowing their status, short of examining them.
Ultimately, law revision facilitates the administration of justice, the enforcement of law and order and the management of the public and private sector. Removing the dead wood facilitates the process of regulatory reform and contributes to the maintenance of an updated, relevant and coherent Statute Book. It enables the legal system to operate more efficiently because it reduces time spent locating and consulting the Statute Book to determine the law on a particular point. Given the rapid growth in the size of the Statute Book, the value of statute revision can probably most usefully be seen by considering the likely size of the Statute Book in the future if nothing is done.
The pre-1922 statutory provisions comprise a complex mosaic of Acts of Irish, English and British Parliaments and Parliaments of the United Kingdom that are not available electronically. The principal sources of this legislation, consisting of public general statutes, can be divided into different periods during which the law was enacted by different parliaments as follows: Irish statutes passed by Parliaments sitting in Ireland before the union with Britain between 1200 and 1800; English statutes passed before 1495 which were applied to Ireland, largely by virtue of Poynings Law in 1495; a small number of English statutes passed between 1495 and 1707 which were applied to Ireland; a small number of British statutes, namely, statutes passed after the union of England and Scotland in 1707 but before the union of Britain and Ireland in 1800, which were applied to Ireland; and Acts of the late United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland passed after the Act of Union in 1800 but before the establishment of Saorstát Éireann in 1922.
This general body of statute law was continued in force by Article 73 of the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann and Article 50 of the Constitution of Ireland, subject to that Constitution and to the extent to which it was not inconsistent therewith. Legislation, therefore, spans as far back as 1200. Most of this legislation was enacted by the Parliament of the former United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The industrial revolution and the development of trade in the 19th century led to increasingly detailed trade protection laws. The butter, coal, linen, tobacco and hosiery trades were all regulated during this time. From the mid-19th century onwards legislation began to reflect greater concern for individual welfare and legislation was passed dealing with a wide variety of topics such as chimney sweeps, bath and wash-houses, accidents during dangerous activities and tuberculosis.
Only a few statute law revision measures in the past two centuries have been enacted to clarify, repeal and reform the entire body of law remaining on the Statute Book. Several major statute law revision Acts in the Victorian era repealed a considerable quantity of pre-union Irish legislation. This type of omnibus repealing legislation was not repeated until 1962 and 1983. The Statute Law Revision (Pre-Union Irish Statutes) Act 1962 covered the years 1459 to 1800 and the Statute Law Revision Act 1983 dealt with English and British Acts which were passed during the period from 1235 to 1796 which by one means or another applied in Ireland.
Other efforts to clarify pre-1922 law included the Fisheries (Statute Law Revision) Acts of 1949 and 1956 and the Short Titles Act 1962. This latter Act assigned short titles to certain pre-union Irish statutes and English statutes that applied to Ireland in order to facilitate their citation.
Some attempts have been made to reform the post-1922 law and some legislation has updated these laws, for example, the Canals Act 1983, the Stock Exchange Act 1995 and the Criminal Law Act 1997. Ten major consolidation Acts have also been enacted which replaced a significant quantity of pre-1922 legislation.
The need for statute law revision in Ireland was recognised through the establishment in 1999 of the statute law revision unit in the Office of the Attorney General. The unit was responsible for drafting the Bill which represents the first broad-ranging statute law revision exercise for over 20 years. In the United Kingdom, more than 2,000 Acts have been repealed and at least 2,600 more partially repealed by the statute law (repeals) legislation drafted by various law commissions.
The process of repealing large amounts of legislation was made possible by the systematic undertaking of the work involved since 1965. Other EU and OECD countries have initiated similar programmes to streamline and codify their respective statute books. Senators may recall commitments made by various administrations in the USA to reductions of the order of several thousands of pages of federal regulations and even of reductions in pounds weight of internal administrative rules. In recent times, the European Commission has given commitments to the reduction by 25% of the acquis communautaire, which is the existing body of Community treaty and subsidiary law. The process of weeding out redundant EU directives and regulations is ongoing.
The Bill deals exclusively with those statutes passed before 6 December 1922 which are no longer in force and considered to be spent or which remain in force but are no longer of practical utility. Many Acts from the period continue to form the cornerstone of Irish law including the Conveyancing Act 1634, the Statute of Frauds 1695 and the Sale of Goods Act 1893. These Acts will not be affected by the Bill.
When the initial review was launched, it was decided from the point of view of time and resources to confine the exercise to an audit of legislation that was available only from The Statutes Revised, a UK publication. It was also decided to exclude private, local and personal Acts. The main source of pre-union Irish statutes was a revised version also known as Cullinan's Irish Statutes 1310 to 1800, but other sources going back to 1200 were also examined. The cut-off year of 1922 is, of course, the date from which the Irish State began to legislate for itself.
The process followed involved an examination by the statute law revision unit of The Statutes Revised to ascertain the extent to which the legislation outlined was still in force in Ireland by reference to the chronological tables pre and post-1922. The tables show how and when legislation has been amended since its enactment.
As a result of the review, a list was compiled of all legislation identified as being in force which dated from the period between 1200 and 1922. It was decided to exclude from the review areas legislation known to be the subject of active policy consideration by Departments or part of the programme for Government such as criminal law, conveyancing and land law, revenue law, liquor licensing law, water services law, consumer law, merchant shipping and fisheries law and the law relating to harbours and railways. Some 800 Acts were therefore isolated by the initial review, of which approximately 110 were identified by the statute law revision unit to be in possible need of repeal as while they were still in force, they were not, on a preliminary view, of practical utility.
The next step was to hold consultations with the public and Departments. An Internet-based public consultation process was undertaken which lasted several months while Departments were supplied with a list of Acts relevant to their respective areas of responsibility and asked for agreement with the preliminary view formed by the review unit on those Acts proposed for repeal. In many instances, multiple consultations with many officials and sections within Departments were required. It was also essential in various instances to consult subsidiary bodies and agencies with responsibility for or an interest in particular legislative provisions. It often transpired that Acts which no longer appeared to be of practical utility were, in fact, still in use. Officials were also invited to make suggestions on the modernisation of that legislation which remained in force. The result of the exercise was the list set out in the Schedule to the Bill of legislation which it is now proposed to repeal.
Since the publication of the Bill on 25 November 2004, the Office of the Attorney General has continued its detailed research on legislation which could be repealed. To determine the exact status of each Act enacted prior to 1922, the office undertook a demanding exercise of re-examination of the comprehensive source The Statutes of the Realm which now comprises the annual volumes of United Kingdom legislation. This is a more comprehensive source than The Statutes Revised as it contains, for example, the texts of Acts which may have been repealed in the United Kingdom but remain in force in this jurisdiction. The revised edition did not include those Acts. As a result of the more detailed analysis, it is expected that a significant number of additional Acts will be included for repeal in the Bill. This will be effected if the House permits by the amendment of the Schedule on Committee Stage. A draft list of additional Acts will be published over the coming days on the website of the Office of the Attorney General. Senators will have more interestingly named Acts to consider than they do already.
A separate exercise would be needed to repeal legislation enacted after independence which remains in force but is no longer of practical utility. While there are no firm plans to undertake such an exercise, it would be a very useful continuation of the Bill's streamlining approach which could be undertaken if resources permit. Work could also be undertaken to review local, personal and private enactments, secondary legislation and charters or other instruments dating from before the establishment of the State which do not take the form of statutes but nonetheless have, or potentially have, statutory effect.
The Bill before the House is short but effective. Section 1 provides for the repeal of pre-1922 legislation which consists of the public general statutes enumerated in the Schedule. Section 2 is a standard saving section and section 3 is the short title. As I indicated at the outset, the Bill should not be viewed in isolation. It is merely one step in an ongoing programme of reform of the Statute Book and the wider better regulation initiative.
The Government plans to introduce a number of other measures including a project which has commenced within the Office of the Attorney General to devise a comprehensive database of all pre-1922 public general legislation. The database will provide a template for future revision and will be electronically accessible by the public. Projects to assess pre-1922 local, personal and private Acts and pre-1922 secondary legislation will be devised after the completion of the study of public and general statutes. It is envisaged that a programme of repeal of pre-1922 legislation and re-enactment in modern form where necessary will be commenced on a Department-by-Department basis.
The repeal of the Acts identified in the Bill and of any additional Acts included for repeal on Committee Stage will create a more accessible, coherent and transparent Statute Book. The Bill falls squarely within the Government's agenda for better regulation which will bring benefits to society and the economy through lower legal and transaction costs while increasing the credibility of the legal system. The complete updating of the Statute Book is a significant task which will best be accomplished through a phased programme of measures. The Bill is an important first step and I commend its enactment to the House.
Despite the fact that we spend most of our time debating Bills and Acts, it is rare that we get an opportunity to discuss legislation in a general sense. I very much welcome the Bill and the opportunity to discuss the state of our Statute Book and the ways in which it might be improved. Special mention must be made at the outset of Mr. Edward Donelan, the director of the statute law revision unit, who has brought the pre-1922 project to fruition against the odds. The Bill is a testament to his commitment not only to public service life, but to the improvement of the Statute Book.
While the Bill which seeks to improve the Statute Book will not solve the problem of inaccessible legislation, it is undeniably a step in the right direction. It focuses on the period prior to 1922 and removes a significant amount of dead wood from the Statute Book. Sadly, its purpose ends there. The purpose of such legislation in England is to pave the way for the publication of a new edition of revised statutes. Just as textual amendments are neatly and precisely made to the mythological Statute Book in the hope that the changes effected will some day be incorporated in their intended locations, statute law revision Acts are passed to ensure that any newly-published series of statutes is more relevant and reflective of contemporary statute law. The central point is that the benefits of a Statute Law Revision Act can never be fully appreciated until a set of revised statutes is published. It is evident from the Statute Book that many Acts have been amended and many others have been repealed. The difficulty for users is that we have to piece together all of the different Acts on a given topic before we can know what is the law. The publication of revised statutes would fully address this matter.
The Minister will tell me that statute law restatements are the answer to this problem, but that is not the case. Codification is not the answer either, or at least not at the rate at which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform produces it. In 2002 he promised to codify liquor licensing legislation and criminal law. Three years later, there is still no sign of either.
The reality is that for the Government and successive Governments, improving the Statute Book takes a back seat to everything else. The Interpretation Bill is a case in point. It was published in 2000, yet five years later it still has not been enacted. This is a demonstration of the Government's commitment to the Statute Book.
Improving the Statute Book has never been a political aim as it does not garner votes for any party. The task of tidying up the Statute Book does not lend itself to immediately visible results and it is a tedious and expensive task. The level of finance expended on this task is not always fairly reflected in the amount of progress that is apparent. The high cost of rendering some order to the Statute Book can provide ammunition for those who are cynical about the merits and effect of such efforts.
The pre-1922 statute law revision project which gave rise to this Bill could not have commenced without the support of the Attorney General and, possibly, the Taoiseach also, but it should not end there. A great deal more work must be done if real improvements are to be made to the Statute Book. I welcome this Bill, not as an end in itself but as a tool towards improving the Statute Book for the future. Go raibh maith agat.
I welcome the Government Chief Whip, Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt. When he was Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs he was regularly in the House but we have not seen him since his appointment to the Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence. It is nice to see him. He has come on a mission which is entirely practical and overdue.
I remember when the concept of better regulation was launched. The Minister's speech was most practical, succinct and understandable and I commend whoever compiled it. One does not often get that. Many ministerial speeches come in weighty tomes without a beginning, middle or end. Today's speech was most concise and well put together.
As the Minister of State outlined, better regulation does not mean deregulation. In the course of the general election in the UK it has been proposed to wipe thousands of kilos of legislation off the British Statute Book and do away with this and that regulation. In many cases this does not in fact happen. It is not about deregulation but better regulation. This Bill marks an important step forward in that process.
I am most interested in this issue in which I was involved from the start. We embarked on such a programme when I had ministerial responsibility for labour affairs, trying to consolidate various items of legislation which were out of date. When I read the Bill yesterday I was struck by the names of the Acts that are scheduled to be repealed and how instructive they could be in terms of a social and commercial history lesson. I was especially interested in the many Acts on minerals in Ireland, such as the State Minerals Act. I would not have considered that we were rich in minerals although Parnell did write on his mineral finds.
The legislation from 1310 to 1800 was most interesting and led me to consider the people who enacted it. One can just imagine the clothes they wore as they rode to Parliament, and the mores they adopted and encapsulated in law. It is heartening in terms of continuity to know that legislation has been enacted for the betterment of people from the beginning, albeit that much of it is no longer relevant. I refer, in particular, to the Mining Leases Acts, the Spinners Act and the Burning of Bricks (Dublin) Act 1770. We talk about vandalism now and how it affects urban life. The Long Title of the Burning of Bricks (Dublin) Act 1770 was An Act to Prevent the Pernicious Practice of Burning Bricks Within the city of Dublin — they had alliteration then. Senator Norris will be interested in that law.
The Act stated that the inhabitants of the city were grievously annoyed and the lives of many "weakly" persons have been lost as a result of the large quantities of bricks being burnt. One would wonder where they got them or if they were lying around. Did bad builders leave material piled up on the pavement?
I was looking for the Pavements Act but I could not find it so we must be keeping that. It must be deemed necessary.
The Pillory Abolition Act is being repealed. Pillory was a punishment where a person was locked in stocks with his or her head and hands sticking through holes, and turnips or whatever else people could spare were thrown at him or her. Perhaps it would be good to still have that practice. One could have a great time sticking one's enemies into the stocks and throwing whatever one wanted at them.
I also think of the people who drew up the legislation and their job in Parliament. Women did not have votes until much later. One must pay tribute to the legislators of those days for the way in which they wished to better the lives of people, as exemplified in the regulations relating to chimney sweeping. One had to be under the age of 21 to work as a chimney sweep. Various movements in Britain at the time attempted to outlaw some of these pernicious practices in which children were employed. An example of such legislation was the Children (Dangerous Performances) Act 1879. If one was under 14, one could not be in a public exhibition or performance where the life or limbs of a child could be endangered.
I loved the Captive Birds Shooting (Prohibition) Act which prevented one from releasing captive birds for shooting. We often think of royalty and members of the aristocracy out shooting. Perhaps they do not shoot captive birds.
All of those Acts are most interesting. Some of the titles which appealed to me were enacted during the so-called Act of Union. The National School Teachers Residences (Ireland) (Amendment) Act 1884 is interesting. Some schools in rural Ireland still have residences attached, where the principals have adjoining living quarters. In some instances they are physically joined to the schools, while in others they are detached. Just imagine that such a small matter as building a residence for a school principal had to become an Act. There must have been an earlier Act, because it is an amendment that I am reading about here. In an historical sense this is very interesting. All of the 19th century was interesting since many of the great figures such as Daniel O'Connell and Parnell had to soldier over and back across the Irish Sea to make their way to Parliament at Westminster and pass laws.
There was the Employment of Children Act 1903 and the Street Betting Act 1906. Then there was the Tuberculosis Prevention (Ireland) Act 1906. Perhaps Senator Mansergh can tell me whether that was the time when Gladstone——
——when Asquith was endeavouring to improve the lot of the people. Earlier, there was the whole period of killing Home Rule by kindness, with the Irish being bombarded with wonderful legislation on harbours, etc., when they were to become compliant and very demure, not harbouring seditious thoughts against the British Government. They were expected to be so pleased over what was being done for them, but of course they were not and did not lie down.
The Post Office (Sites) Act 1885 was about getting sites for post offices all over the country, many of which are still there, I am quite sure. Then there was the Wicklow Harbour Advances Act 1897. Many harbour laws were introduced in that period for the betterment or the building of new harbours and piers. This was also part of the killing Home Rule by kindness strategy as were various Acts brought in at the time.
There were two interesting Acts passed in 1909, the Labour Exchanges Act and the Irish Handloom Weavers Act. Then there was the Local Authorities (Ireland) (Qualification of Women) Act 1911. I do not know whether that was about the vote for women or women going forward for election. It may have had to do with the poor law guardians legislation. There are so many Acts which trace the progress of history and that is really interesting.
The Charitable Pawn Offices (Ireland) Act 1842 would have been passed in Daniel O'Connell's time. I wonder what he said about it. One would love to follow all of that up to see what the various pieces of legislation provided for. There was the Mining Leases (Ireland) Act 1848, the Bridges (Ireland) Act 1850 and the Betting Act 1853. Then there was an Act about the adulteration of tea and later one about the adulteration of coffee. I do not know whether one is meant to feel guilty about drinking those beverages. The Adulteration of Coffee Act 1718 set out that even "disposed persons have, after the roasting of coffee, made use of water, grease, butter, whereby the coffee is rendered unwholesome and greatly increased in weight to the prejudice of the health of subjects". A considerable penalty of £20 applied. I am very interested in that because this would have been an enormous fine in that period. I do not know what the present-day equivalent is, but it is a great amount of money — for adding substances to coffee or tea. It does not specify that whiskey could not be added or a drop of brandy, which might greatly improve the coffee or the tea.
There is an honesty Act——
I am sorry, that should be Hosiery Act, specifying I suppose, what type of hosiery one could or could not wear. There was a wide variety of legislation on piers, harbours, tolls, etc. The general thinking was that Ireland would be a better place with all those Acts in place, but it was part of the whole strategy to kill Home Rule with kindness. The Irish were to be quiet and demure and accept the status quo because great things were being done on their behalf. There was the National Health Insurance Act and the National Health Insurance (Prolongation of Insurance) Act, both passed in 1921, and the Treaties of Washington Act 1922. This is a minefield of wonderful adventure.
Two minutes out of 15 minutes — I could go on for ages. This is a minefield of social and commercial history. When we reflect on all that happened in Ireland since 1300, we think of Poynings Law, the Statutes of Kilkenny, Cromwell and his Roundheads, the Famine period, the commercial activity and the people who made laws. Even then legislators were imbued with a sense of the common good, as reflected in the laws that were passed to deal with what needed to be corrected within the community.
It is an amazing corpus of legislation because of what it evokes in the historical memory. The Government is right to appeal those Acts and I am quite sure the Attorney General has paid great attention to what might still be relevant in the old legislation. I hope he has because there might be pieces of legislation that are still relevant and we would not be any better off by repealing them. He is very thorough, however, so I am quite sure he has spent much time in deciding whether legislation should be replaced or incorporated into a new Bill for enactment.
I congratulate the Minister of State. He is sponsoring an efficient, historic and interesting Bill. I am pleased that he is here and that I have had the opportunity to use more than my allotted 15 minutes in responding.
I congratulate the Leader in rising so magnificently to the challenge posed on this side of the House when it was suggested — with an impertinence I find breathtaking — that she might not find the resources to fill the 15 minutes. As she pointed out, rubbing it in beautifully in her final comments, she took some extra time and could have gone on forever, as she said. Let this not be a surprise. I regard this afternoon, where I am making only a short contribution, as one of the treats of legislative life. We followed the delightful antiquarianism that so seduced the Leader down the byways, with increasing interest, as she painted such an historic picture.
In many of these pieces of legislation we do in fact enter historic periods. We enter, with the Chanceries Act into the world of Dickens, "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" and the endless peregrinations of the law. I am very glad that tribute was paid to Mr. Edward Donelan from this side of the House. I did not know he was the person involved. He was a student of mine in Trinity for a period and he managed not to be too damaged by that experience. I have spoken to him unofficially about various legal matters and always found him to be the soul of courtesy and scholarship. I am very glad that tribute was paid to him here today.
The principle involved in this legislation is the one enunciated by an interior decorator in the 1920s, namely, "less is more". The less the legislation the more effective it can be. I am glad to see this happening. It makes matters more accessible and user-friendly. It is more logical. Perhaps we could have achieved more by taking the direction the French took under Napoleon, namely, codifying the whole law. That would have been helpful, but it is an enormous undertaking. Nonetheless, I hope this State will embark upon it at some stage.
I will follow on the coat tails of my distinguished Leader, Senator O'Rourke, in just looking at a couple of these intriguing and delightful titles. It is like a core sample going down through the earth where all types of strata are picked up. The Bill is a general broad sweep moving from legislation brought in under Poynings Law, that was restrictive of the Irish, to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. It moves from a period of oppression to a moment of the liberation of suppressed classes in society.
Within my lifetime, I was intrigued that the utterance of the phrase "Crom abú", the war cry of the Ormonde Butlers, was a capital offence. They were the traditional enemies of my Gaelic Irish family on my mother's side. Has that law been excised or have I, in the precincts of Parliament, committed a capital offence?
I have been pilloried before only in the metaphysical sense, never in the physical sense. There is just a chance I might enjoy the attentions of those armed with vegetables. It might be a particularly recondite and spicy pleasure.
The Burning of Bricks (Dublin) Act 1770 was not introduced to prevent citizens pulling bricks out of buildings and setting them on fire. Without being arrogant, I believe this concerned the manufacture of bricks. During the Dublin building boom of Luke Gardiner, there was a huge demand for bricks and several unlicensed brick yards were set up. All over Dublin there were brick fields, many of which still exist in name. The noxious vapours caused in the industrial process of manufacturing bricks were the subject of this legislation.
I admit I am not sure what the Statute of Winchester refers to but it sounds lovely.
That will be a treat.
The Leader took some of the other plum titles in her speech such as the Adulteration of Coffee and Tea Acts. However, it must be remembered tea was an expensive commodity. I have an 18th century porcelain tea caddy, passed to me by my great-grandmother. Tea was kept in it under lock and key and doled out in small amounts because it was so expensive. That explains why the adulteration of tea and coffee was a serious offence. Does it not take us back to the time of Addison and Steele and the London and Dublin tea and coffee houses?
How interesting. The Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act 1840 sounds charming, recalling the song "Chim Chimney, Chim Chimney, Chim Chim Cheree". However, the activity was unspeakable with small children forced up chimneys to dislodge the soot with their bodies. They were so thin and developed the most grotesque cancers from exposure to the hot soot. Despite, the fun one can have with its antiquarian aspect, this was a shocking and disgusting period when people were brutally exploited.
The Adulteration of Seeds Act is still appropriate as we deal with Monsanto and genetically modified food. People are again worried about what is happening with seeds. The Street Betting Act reminds me of the Dublin phenomenon, now gone because we have become so prosperous, when corner boys, small gangs of out-of-work stevedores and navvies played pitch and toss for money. The minute a garda appeared they disappeared. This practice has ended in my lifetime.
While the Tuberculosis Prevention (Ireland) Act 1908 was introduced by a particular political administration in London, the motivation came from Ishbel, the Countess of Aberdeen and wife of the viceroy. She was a do-gooder and busybody but a remarkable woman who has not been sufficiently recognised for her efforts. I have letters from her, although not directly addressed to me, dating from when she established booths in the Phoenix Park where the citizens of Dublin were treated to free orange juice and cocoa. She was a tremendous campaigner against TB before the efforts of the wonderful Noel Browne knocked it on the head. She was gallant, good and decent and deserves that little bit of credit for her efforts. In light of the terrible beauty that was about to be born, she seems to be irrelevant.
Tuberculosis was a terrible scourge then which, unfortunately, may well be on its way back. We need more legislation in this area partly because of the development of drug resistant strains of TB and partly because of sophisticated AIDS infections. Other factors contributing to this include demographic changes and the relaxation of our own habits. One now sees many people spitting on the street, many of whom are new arrivals as well as our own people spitting chewing gum. When I was young, there was a real campaign against spitting because of TB. I believe we must revisit this area.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Tom Kitt, and his officials. Senator Norris took us back to his favourite period, Edwardian Dublin. Dr. James Deeney also deserves credit for the eradication of TB, which he wrote about in his memoirs.
The Bill has a practical purpose, a clearing out of the attic. However, that type of exercise is carried out sporadically with some zeal and then left for long intervening periods. Senator Norris is correct that the Code Napoleon is a model for all legislators. However, Napoleon was assisted by the French Revolution that had reduced the customs of the ancien régime to rubble, allowing him and his legal collaborators to build from scratch. Previous speakers are correct in that the Acts addressed by this legislation are part of our social and political history. The term "late lamented" is used when referring to somebody who has died. I note the Minister does not say the Acts of the late lamented United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
I was fascinated by the earliest of these Acts, not realising we still live under 13th century legislation. By its very name, the Statute of Winchester sounds like an important enactment. However, I looked up one of my books on medieval Ireland to assess the general political context. According to that book, inefficiency was now made worse by official corruption and there was little anyone could do about it. In 1284 it was said that all the clergy, the people and the common rumour of the country demanded an investigation into the condition of the lordship, and the king was forced to act. A commission of four was established with wide terms of reference. It appears the tribunal culture dates back several centuries.
A Franciscan friar, Michael of Limerick, wrote that one special blessing of Ireland was the absence of poisonous animals. However, he said that the poison which God denied to the spider or the land He allowed to rule in human nature. As an instance of this, he cited the ministers and bailiffs of the king. That is the political context for the Statute of Winchester.
This statute was important legislation. The period concerned covered the reign of the three Edwards, a time marked by unparalleled violence, crime and continual wars. Edward I, the "Hammer of the Scots", built large castles throughout Wales so that when a map was published at the beginning of the 17th century, Wales was marked as part of England. He did not get to grips with Ireland to the same extent.
The Statute of Winchester was dedicated to the growing crime problem. It directed sheriffs to take up hue and cry against this scourge and to keep arms and horses ready for the purpose. It is considered the foundation Act of the watch system in the towns. The night watchman could, if necessary, detain strangers until the following morning.
Only one section of this statute, I believe it is section 6, is extant. It provides that neither fairs nor markets be held in churchyards for the honour of the church. I have no wish to raise fears but I hope that by repealing this legislation, we will not now encourage fairs or markets to be held in church yards.
My attention was particularly caught by the Burning of Bricks (Dublin) Act 1770. It is a wonderful description. I am tempted to use it in my column next week in The Irish Times as evocative of an activity that is both damaging and unproductive. One wonders if the Adulteration of Tea Act 1776 has anything to do with the Boston Tea Party. I also note the Tolls (Ireland) Act 1817.
We should recollect in our newfound enthusiasm for tolls that laissez faire, laissez passer, which was the philosophy of economic liberalism, was about getting rid of tolls and other barriers. We should be careful how and where we put them in place.
I note that the title of another Act, the Inferior Courts Officers (Ireland) Act 1858, would not be used in legislation today because it would sound too derogatory.
Presumably. The National School Teachers Residences (Ireland) Act also caught my attention. My great great grandfather founded a national school and the first people employed were a husband and wife. The wife was to be a seamstress for the girls. I presume they lived at the school. The Chaff-Cutting Machines (Accidents) Act sounds funny but is probably about something sad, the accidents affecting young people in an unprotected climate.
I also note the Assay of Imported Watch-Cases (Existing Stocks Exemption) Act 1907.
An Act which has not yet been mentioned has considerable significance given the time of the year and the fact that many Members will go to Arbour Hill shortly. It is the Dublin Reconstruction (Emergency Provisions) Act 1916. The historical connection must be quite clear.
While the rationale for this Bill is obvious, many of us might have a little of Edmund Burke lurking inside as we wonder if we are doing away with curious pieces of history and whether it is sometimes better to let these things accumulate like layers of silt. In the final analysis, however, the head must rule the heart and we must bid farewell to these pieces of history.
I welcome this Bill. The Labour Party has long advocated that we update the Statute Book. It is unsatisfactory that this independent republic still relies on laws passed by, for example, Henry VIII. The Labour Party favours the establishment of a Statute Book in which all the pre-1922 legislation is repealed. This Bill is a good start.
The Minister indicated that more Acts might be added to the Schedule on Committee Stage. While we are generally critical of additions being made to legislation on that Stage, we would welcome the addition of Acts to the Schedule of this Bill. The Minister should not be restricted in amending the Bill in detail in that regard. We encourage him to do so. It could also be done on Report Stage or even in the Dáil. It is important that we take this opportunity to remove as much dead wood as possible.
The Government should go beyond this Bill and undertake comprehensive statute law revision. The next step must be to repeal all pre-1922 statutes except those currently in use. There should be a comprehensive programme of repeal and re-enactment in a modern form. The Minister should also examine the local, personal and private Acts, the body of pre-1922 statutory instruments and post-1922 legislation with a view to conducting a complete review of the Statute Book. The Labour Party favours a Scandinavian type code of law where all positive law is codified into a single volume, or volumes, which is updated on an annual basis. I suspect that a number of volumes would be required but we should aim for that ultimate goal.
I have a question about section 2(2). It states: "Where any enactment not repealed by this Act has been confirmed, revived or perpetuated by a repealed enactment, such confirmation, reviver or perpetuation by this Act is not affected by the repeal." Should this not state "such confirmation, reviver or perpetuation by the repealed enactment"? Perhaps this legislation effects the confirmation, reviver or perpetuation but I am not sure. Is that the correct way to phrase the provision?
The Labour Party supports the Bill and I acknowledge the work of the Minister, his staff and the Attorney General on its preparation. We hope that work will continue.
This is my first opportunity to wish the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, well in his new role. I listened carefully to the debate, particularly the contribution of Senator Norris. The Senator has such a knowledge of background information and I respect his knowledge and training. I never heard of the term "Crom abú" and I would like to speak with him about that at a later stage.
I thank the Minister of State for giving us a thorough explanation of the background to this Bill, as well as its contents. The process of revision of pre-Independence legislation will give clarity and certainty on the state of the law today. This Bill is an important part of that process. The principle underpinning the Bill is important as it is a democratic principle of a modern constitutional system. The principle is that our laws should be enacted by the representatives of the people. Some of these laws were enacted by entirely foreign parliaments. The parliament in Great Britain passed the laws which are set out in parts two and three of the Schedule to this Bill. Many of the laws which we are now repealing, listed in part four, were passed by the United Kingdom Parliament after the Act of Union. This was a parliament which had some Irish MPs, but which was certainly not representative of the Irish people and did not enjoy the support of the majority of people of Ireland.
Many of the Acts being repealed in this Bill were passed by parliaments from which Catholics were excluded. Nearly all of these Acts were passed by parliaments in which women were forbidden to sit. These are not statutes which enjoy any great democratic credentials. There is also a fundamental problem with our modern State maintaining so many laws on the Statute Book that were not signed by our elected President, but which were assented to by a foreign monarch. These are laws from an imperial era which have no place in a modern republic. Of course, it is not possible to rewrite the entire Statute Book overnight. There were very good reasons to maintain pre-existing statutes in the early days of the State, until modern laws could replace them. In the last eight decades, a great number of pre-1922 statutes have been repealed. This has not only occurred in the major revision Acts of 1962 and 1983, but also in some of the very important pieces of consolidating legislation which have been enacted in the Oireachtas.
We have finally reached a stage where we can look forward to the complete modernisation of our Statute Book. This Bill is only part of that modernisation process. It repeals laws which no longer have any use or effect, but there are still many laws on our Statute Book enacted before Independence which still have an effect. These must also be modernised. I am glad the Taoiseach has made it a priority of his to carry on this project. Many people are working on this project, such as the experts in the Law Reform Commission who are preparing a Bill to modernise our land law system. It is appalling to think that laws relating to contracts for the sale of land date back to penal times. Our land ownership statutes were passed in the 19th century, during the heyday of the landlord class. These laws were modernised in Britain many decades ago, but they still remain in force in Ireland. It is surely time that these be replaced with modern laws. I thank those experts who are working hard to achieve that goal.
I thank the Minister of State for giving us such a comprehensive explanation of this Bill. I hope that the momentum will be maintained and that in a short number of years, Members will be able to state they have swept away the last remnants of the empire.
What an interesting debate this has been. I welcome the Minister and his officials here today. I particularly welcome the words he used which were repeated by Senator Ormonde. I was impressed by the Minister's reference to the regulatory impact analysis that is to take place, following the publication of a report on this topic last year. What will happen in 100 years time when people look back on the Bills being passed now? The Leader's entertaining examination of the various Bills was such that I would like to touch on some of them. The Assay of Imported Watch Cases (Existing Stocks Exemption) Act 1907 was passed less than 100 years ago. Other Acts include the Hosiery Act 1845, the Adulteration of Coffee Act 1718 and the Burning of Bricks (Dublin) Act 1770, about which Senator Norris spoke. It is not that long since the Oireachtas passed legislation on dog muzzling. I have been told that in the 1950s, there was a proposal that neon lights were likely to make one bald and that legislation should be passed banning it. Of course, that did not happen.
We occasionally make the mistake of rushing legislation through these Houses. The point was made that less law is sometimes better law. We do not automatically believe that because we pass legislation we are doing good.
I have no problem with the 90 Acts that are being repealed, but it does raise a question. How many pre-1922 statutes will remain in force after this measure takes effect? I ask that question because, ideally, the answer should be none at all. However, I know that is not the answer I will get to the question. I take the view that 83 years after independence, the only laws to which we should be subject are our own laws and those of the EU. Quite frankly, I feel that way due to nationalistic reasons. I am uneasy about British laws still being in force in this supposedly independent State. Nonetheless, from a more practical point of view, there are two reasons we should not be governed by any pre-1922 laws at all. First, we are living in the 21st century and it is unlikely that any laws passed in the 19th century will still be fully appropriate to our needs today. Second, any law passed since 1922 is readily accessible on our Statute Book, even more so in recent years because that book is now available on CD-ROM and on the Internet. The same is not true of laws passed before 1922. Indeed, they can be very hard to find, especially for the lay person. That is not a good situation, as I believe fundamentally that our laws should be readily accessible to every citizen.
While welcoming this Bill, I have to make the observation that the cleaning up of our Statute Book seems to have a very low priority with the Government. The Oireachtas is still processing the Interpretation Bill, which was published in 2000. It seems to have disappeared into a limbo between Second Stage and Committee Stage. What is the reason for this delay? It is not as if we were overburdened with work in this House. Another way to clean up the Statute Book is to consolidate Bills more often. I have spoken before of the difficulties we create for citizens by passing laws in a piecemeal manner, by amending previous Bills that amended previous Bills and so on back in a chain that sometimes seems to go on for ever. This approach reduces greatly the accessibility of our legislation, which is a bad thing.
There are two obvious candidates for consolidating legislation. One is the case where there has been an extensive reform of the law on a particular subject, but for one reason or another that reform has been split up into separate Acts. I believe that when the reform is concluded, we should go back and consolidate all the individual Acts into a single piece of legislation that people can access easily whenever they want to find out what the law is on that subject. A prime example of that is to be found in the area of family law where, for practical and perhaps even tactical reasons, we tackled reform in dribs and drabs. In this instance, legislation is spread over a large number of separate Acts. We should consolidate them into one Act.
Another example of where consolidation is needed is where the law on a subject is continually evolving with frequent new Acts that amend the principal Act. We already have the practice, of which I fully approve, of consolidating our tax laws, which I understand happens every ten years. We should extend that practice, however, to the field of company law.
On the question of company law, the Minister has referred to last year's document on better regulation. Company law has changed almost as often as the tax laws. Tomorrow we will be taking Second Stage of the Investment Funds, Companies and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2005, which is the latest amendment to company legislation that was passed by the Oireachtas last year. The need to make company law more accessible is strengthened by the fact that it now impinges on a wide range of businesses which are crucial to our future economic success. Compliance with company law is a big issue for most businesses and it starts with an added cost if legislative measures are spread all over the place, as they are now. Like family law, company law should be accessible in one place so that a person can find out about all the relevant law on a particular subject.
Every time I mention consolidating Acts, I am told that this will no longer be necessary since we have the restatement facility in place, but do we? I remind Members who may understandably have forgotten, that restatement is the process of publishing an unofficial consolidation of Acts, which can be used in the courts without the process of passing through the Oireachtas. It is a good idea, which we all applauded at the time. The Statute Law Restatement Bill was published in 2000 and was finally enacted on Christmas Eve 2002 but that was the last we heard of it. Nobody expected that such legislation would appear overnight but none of the restated laws has seen the light of day in the past two and a half years. That is not good enough. It underlines my earlier point, that cleaning up the Statute Book seems to be a very low priority for the Government. While welcoming this Bill, I regret that is the case and therefore urge the Government to pull up its socks on this matter. I would like to see a little more action in this area.
However, I am pleased to see the Bill before the House, including the measures it envisages. It was good to have our eyes opened by the history lesson from other speakers, particularly the Leader of the House.
Many matters have arisen as a result of this debate but if I do not get a chance to reply to all of them, I will do so on Committee Stage. I thank everybody who contributed to the debate, which afforded us an opportunity to consider the historic nature of the work we are doing. It has been a fulfilling hour because Senators, including the Leader, have referred to old Acts which conjured up Dickensian images of how life was in earlier times. I enjoyed sharing that journey with Members of the House. While it is interesting and even entertaining to consider such historical aspects, the other side of the coin shows how harrowing life was for many citizens in those times. The 1840 Act regulating chimney-sweeps, for example, penalised a person who allowed a child or young person under the age of 21 to work as a chimney-sweep. Other speakers referred to the Children (Dangerous Performances) Act 1879.
That legislation conjures up the circus coming to a village. The purpose of the Act was to regulate the employment of children in places of public amusement. It outlawed "the use of children under 14 in public exhibitions or performances where the life or limb of such a child shall be endangered". The debate has been beneficial in outlining how far we have come. As Senator Quinn said, we can also imagine that in decades to come other politicians will look back on our legislative period.
I hope they will not be laughing at us. They may be entertained but I am sure they will realise, too, that we were doing our best. The bottom line is that old legislation is being replaced by modern health and safety legislation. The Leader and I had the privilege of serving in the then Department of Labour which dealt with legislation covering many such issues. Some animal welfare legislation has also been updated, so much progress has been made.
The Leader referred to the useful research that has been undertaken in this regard, for example, by students who have taken an interest in this area. As I said in my opening remarks, a website was used during the consultation process concerning this legislation — not just within Departments but also involving the public. I am interested in pursuing this aspect with regard to our own modus operandi for modern legislation. I am sure Senators will agree that it is useful to engage the public in some way. I have made an initial decision, subject to the co-operation of the other Whips, that as soon as possible, we will consult with members of the public regarding a pilot Bill via Internet websites — a modern means of communication — to get their input on legislation, perhaps on Committee Stage. In that way, members of a select committee would have an opportunity to hear the views of the public. In particular, I would like to engage with students on the right type of legislation but we will return to that issue on another occasion.
As regards the Bill before the House, it would be useful to share these great stories of the past with members of the public and hear what they have to say. I will ask my officials to see if they can provide a summary of the relevant legislation, which would show the tremendous research that has been undertaken. I thank my officials for the research work they have done in preparing this legislation.
I wish to share with the House as much as possible the information that is available. I will briefly go through some of the points that were raised during the debate. Senator Cummins referred to revised statutes but unfortunately we do not publish or prepare such material. Consolidation, restatement and the annual chronological tables are the current tools. The statue law revision unit is aware of this position, as is the Attorney General.
Senator O'Rourke spoke about the relevance of each Act. The Attorney General examined each statute in full and in case of any doubt they have not been repealed but will be re-examined at the next stage of the programme. Much work remains to be done and we will keep moving on that. Some Acts have been replaced by post-1922 legislation.
Therefore, although we removed some Acts, we may have current equivalent modern legislation instead. For example, we repealed the old statutes on tuberculosis and food safety, which have been replaced by modern legislation.
Senator Norris referred to re-codificiation. The current programme covers various areas, such as customs, liquor licensing and employment rights within Departments. Work is already under way to consolidate and reform such legislation. Senator Norris and Senator Mansergh also referred to the Statute of Winchester which deals with fairs and markets in church yards. I will endeavour to obtain as much information as I can on other items of legislation.
Senator Tuffy referred in particular to section 2(2) and I am aware of her expertise in this respect. I will examine the point she has raised to see if there are any deficiencies and will revert to the matter on Committee Stage.
Senator Quinn asked about the number of pre-1922 statutes. We are counting them at present. There is a very large number of them. I will try to get precise figures. If we can, we will compile a full and exact list in the Office of the Attorney General.
Statute law restatement is different from revision. It does not repeal old Acts but is a faster administrative consolidation which helps the user of legislation but does not use up valuable Oireachtas time and resources. The Statute Law Restatement Act 2002 enables the Attorney General to make available up-to-date versions of Acts of the Oireachtas in a readable form. These versions, known as restatements, do not alter the substance of the law in any way but present the text of a particular Act as it has been amended since enactment. Accordingly, they are not reforming or revision Acts but simply represent the updated versions of existing Acts.
The policy and procedure of restatement also fall within the Government agenda on regulatory reform, with the objective of making legislation more user-friendly and accessible. Further information on the policy and process is set out on the website of the Office of the Attorney General. Four restatements have already been certified: the Sale of Goods Act, the Defence Act, the Succession Act and the Tourist Traffic Act. They are available on the website.
Like Senator O'Rourke, I have much experience of consolidation work in that Department and I agree with the comments she has made on consolidation and the need for much more work in this area. This has been a useful exercise and an interesting debate, where we have cast our minds back and have rightly discussed the historic nature of some of the old legislation. As Senator Quinn said, this is a reminder to update our legislation, to make it user-friendly, to consolidate and reform. This is all part of a broad regulatory agenda pursued by the Government and by the Taoiseach in a determined manner. I thank Senators for their contributions.
I will check that and revert to it on Committee Stage. I apologise for omitting to tell the Senator that. We will have an opportunity to go through the Bill in more detail on Committee Stage and I look forward to that. It is a short Bill which deals with a limited number of Acts, though we are finding more. It represents an important first step towards streamlining the Statute Book. I thank Senators and the Cathaoirleach for giving the matter the attention it deserves.