Thursday, 15 February 2007
Statute Law Revision Bill 2007: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, and the officials from the Attorney General's office and his own office for the work on the Bill. We have all developed great affection for the Bill during the time we have dealt with it. It is odd to have affection for legislation, but that is how it has turned out for us and others listening to the debate and commenting on it.
The task set involved a massive amount of work. Any colonial country, or any country which was overrun — we might as well make it plain — must have much of this type of work to do. Whether they have made as much progress as we in Ireland have, I do not know, but whoever decided to undertake this task did not fully realise the path they were beginning to tread. It is clear the work is only beginning. We see this not just with regard to the Acts to be repealed but also with regard to those which are being retained because they might affect a component of a present Bill or a component of life. That is another task which must be undertaken.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, for giving the House so much of his time. I recommend that the work should continue. When so much work has been begun, and so enthusiastically and learnedly, it would be a pity and a waste if it did not continue. I hope the Government, if it is returned, or some type of alternative, would recommit itself to this work. While it is a massive task, it is necessary. Any country is bound by laws, but these should be modern and up-to-date, as befits a modern democracy, which we are. We are a young democracy in terms of breaking free, particularly so within Europe, given that daily life is governed by strictures, directives and all the rest. To clear the undergrowth of centuries past is a positive step. I commend the Bill and commend the Minister of State, the Department and those who helped the process.
On behalf of the alternative, as the Leader called it, I reaffirm our commitment to the process should we find ourselves on the other side of the House in a few months' time. It is necessary, no matter who is in Government, that this work continues. Great credit is due to the Minister of State, his officials, the Attorney General's office and the specialised unit that was established some time ago. I am glad they have dealt with this issue in such a comprehensive way and made themselves so available to all Members of the House when queries were raised.
Those queries were raised in a genuine way. It is important — this was explained to me by an official yesterday — that we err on the side of caution, particularly in respect of Schedule 1. We do not want to simply take out of commission a statute or piece of legislation which could still have a modern-day application, difficult as that may be to foresee. An excellent job has been done and those responsible for the legislation have used common sense and erred on the side of caution. The job will continue and we hope to be in a position where all the legislation referred to in Schedule 1 will be repealed in future Bills that come before the Houses.
I thank the Government Chief Whip. One wonders whether he will be remembered in history as the man who obliterated virtually all pre-independence legislation in one fell swoop.
Indeed he would. Nonetheless, I congratulate all involved. The Bill is not normal legislation where the Opposition would produce amendments on Committee and Report Stages. We gave the Bill a fair hearing and had a useful debate on Second Stage. No doubt, queries raised in respect of specific Acts were heeded and good advice was given to the specialised unit dealing with the issue over recent years. I congratulate all involved and encourage the other House to dispose of the issue before May or June is uponus.
I support the comments made. The legislation is a journey through our history. I wondered what I had got myself into when, as leader of my party in the Seanad, I was presented with the Bill, but when I began to read it, I wanted to read more about it and the interesting questions it raised. The production of the explanatory document may not have done much other than slow us down and give us more to talk about but it was very helpful. I intend to hold on to it because it is full of information.
I am still intrigued by the fact that we intend to retain legislation going back as far as 1204. One of the earliest pieces of legislation included in Schedule 1 dates to then and is retained because a court action taken in connection with it might involve the courts having to adjudicate all the way back to then.
Not many countries in the world have gone through a process similar to this, where after 700 or 800 years of being governed from another place, the country set off on its own. I can think of other countries that were colonised for 100 or 200 years but we had a form of colonial relationship for 700 or 800 years. Therefore, there is an enormous amount of legislation. The work is worthwhile and the trawl through history is fascinating. The information provided to us by the Minister of State and officials, both in his Department and the Office of the Attorney General, was interesting and stimulating.
I wish the Minister of State well in the work. It is a great service to the country to simplify and codify the legal base of our State. It may mean lawyers may have to be paid a little less in the future as they will not have to trawl back through 800 years of legislation.
I only make this comment out of good humour. I am still intrigued by the fact that we must retain a Bill about the tithing of turnips severed from the ground. I am intrigued that perhaps this may have something to do with the production of forage foodstuff for livestock. It is entertaining that we must hold on to such legislation.
I wish the legislation well. I am sure it will not get as good debate in the other House.
It may not even get debated in the other House, judging by the pile-up of legislation from the Seanad waiting for debate there. I wish the Minister of State well with the legislation which is worthwhile but which will not bring him a single vote in his constituency. None of us will get a vote on that basis either, but it is still more than worth doing.
I disagree a little with the literal accuracy of what has been said. I raised the issue of the Erasmus Smith Trust in which the Abbey school in Tipperary is involved and I received a thorough reply giving the legislative basis, post 1660, on which it is based and which I think will be very useful to the school. This is an indication of the thoroughness which has gone into the work on the legislation. What is involved is not just a matter of glancing at titles and knocking them off our list. An in-depth study has been carried out. I thank and congratulate the Minister of State and his team and the Office of the Attorney General for undertaking the work.
I wish to return to a reference I made last night to Victorian legislation.
I will not hold up the House. An obvious example of what I mean is the Offences against the Person Act, which deals with the abortion issue. Until we are ready to legislate for this ourselves post independence, that legislation will stay on the Statute Book. This raises issues which are anything but simple, straightforward or uncontroversial. Some pre-1922 legislation presents us with knotty issues with which we must deal.
Another point implicit in what has been done is that certain foundations and charities value their legislative base, even though it may arise from pre-independence legislation. Out of respect for them and the ethos of their traditions, such Acts should not necessarily be repealed.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Senators for their comments. It has been an honour to be here. This is our second time round on this process.
What we are doing with this legislation is truly historic. The Bill will repeal 3,188 statutes, which is far more than any previous statute law revision measure and is more than the entire number of public general Acts of the Oireachtas enacted since Ireland achieved independence in 1922. This Bill is different from what we did previously which repealed previous legislation. Now we have a white list which we will retain, which consists of 1,348 Acts.
Senator Ryan mentioned the tithing of turnips. We could speak all day and night on such issues. I did not get the opportunity to respond to the Senator last night, but as someone who was involved in education, I agree with him that we should try to link with schools on this topic. I will ask officials to follow up on the suggestion made last night that we try to link with students on this subject. If I were a student again, I would love to have the opportunity to delve into the subject. We will do our best to try to link up with the education system. The white list contains all the statutes that will continue in force after the enactment of the Bill, but these statutes will be re-enacted.
I agree the work should continue. The process has been very much driven by the Taoiseach and the Attorney General. I thank our team of officials and those involved in the process over the past two years. They have done tremendous work and provided a great service to the State. We are eternally indebted to them for that.
The Bill is not the end of the process of modernisation of our Statute Book but it is an important step in the process and will provide a blueprint for future measures, not just of statute law revision but also of substantive statute law reform. Our ultimate objective, as Senator O'Rourke stated, is to provide the Irish people with a single legislative code that is clear and accessible. That code will contain only laws enacted by the democratically elected Oireachtas or under European law, Ireland being a member of a Community of equal nations. The Bill will be a major step towards clarity and democratic credibility in the Statute Book.
Clearly, we are dealing with the flow of new legislation and the existing stock, which one might term the "dead wood". It is important to repeat that the flow of new regulations is being tackled through regulatory impact analysis, something introduced across all Departments in June 2005. The approach requires them to consult each other extensively before regulating and to analyse in greater detail the likely impact of Bills and significant statutory instruments before presenting them to the Oireachtas. It is obviously important to state that the Taoiseach and the Government are very keen. Having put in place a good system for the flow of new legislation that has been supported by both Houses, we are now dealing with such dead wood in a very comprehensive fashion.
I sincerely thank the Seanad. We have debated the Bill here several times, and although we did not attract a major audience in the Gallery, we have left our mark on this legislation, and I am privileged to have had the opportunity to steer the legislation through this House.