Statute Law Revision Bill 2007 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this Bill to the House. It has already had the benefit of a detailed debate in the Seanad and I know it will receive the same attention in this House.

In the 2004 White Paper, Regulating Better, the Government committed to improving the transparency and accessibility of legislation on the Statute Book. As part of that process, a statute law revision project was initiated, under the aegis of the Office of the Attorney General, to identify and remove all outdated and obsolete legislation that predates the foundation of the State. The first step in this project, the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005, which was enacted in December 2005, removed 206 obsolete Acts from the Statute Book.

The Statute Law Revision Bill 2007 is the second phase of this project aimed at removing all unnecessary legislation from before 6 December 1922 from our Statute Book. However, the provisions of this Bill are radically different from revision Bills previously published in this State. Whereas previous revision Bills simply listed the legislation they proposed to repeal, this Bill approaches the process of repeal from a different viewpoint.

The Bill has two main objectives. First, it positively states those laws that predate 6 December 1922 which will remain in effect after enactment of the Bill. Second, it repeals all other legislation from this pre-independence period not positively mentioned as being listed for retention. For ease of reference, Schedule 2 sets out the legislation being repealed.

The sum effect of the main provisions of this Bill is to provide for the repeal of 3,188 Acts or statutes that date from the period between 1204 and 1922. It is the most significant statute law revision measure ever undertaken. The Bill provides for the repeal of more public and general statutes than were enacted by the Oireachtas since 1922. It also provides for the positive retention, pending further review, of 1,348 Acts that may be of ongoing relevance. Ultimately, these 1,348 Acts will also be repealed and, where necessary, re-enacted in modern form.

As with the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005, this Bill is intended substantially to streamline the Statute Book by eliminating those remaining pre-independence statutes that have no relevance whatsoever to modern conditions. The Bill also contains significant provisions to streamline the rules relating to the production in court of copies of the pre-independence statutes that may still be of relevance and therefore must be retained for the time being.

Before outlining the main substance of the Bill, I will outline to the House the wider better regulation context to which this Bill relates. Since publication of the White Paper, Regulating Better, in January 2004, the Taoiseach has vigorously pursued the better regulation agenda. This Bill represents further delivery of a key commitment in that White Paper to modernise and streamline the Statute Book and to ensure that all legislation in force in the State is accessible.

At the core of the better regulation programme is the view that we must address both the flow of new legislation and also the existing stock of legislation. The flow of new regulations is primarily being tackled through regulatory impact analysis, which was introduced across all Departments in June 2005. This approach requires Departments to consult more widely before regulating and to analyse in greater detail the likely impacts of Acts and significant statutory instruments before presenting them to the Oireachtas. In this way, proposed legislation will benefit from being subject to comment by interested parties and will be more comprehensively evaluated in terms of potential downstream impacts. In the longer term, this process should lead to the drafting of better quality regulation that does not negatively impact on other areas.

Clearly, while we are working to improve the quality of legislation that is coming on stream, we simultaneously must tackle the substantial body of existing laws and regulations and this is where today's Bill fits in. Statute law revision is the process of removing the dead wood from the system, removing legislation that is obsolete or has lost any modern purpose. As even a cursory examination of the Schedules to the Bill shows, some of the legislation that remains on our Statute Book dates back to William the Conqueror. It is clear that removing such archaic, obsolete legislation provides greater clarity to citizens on the legislation that remains in force and removes a significant legislative burden from the economy and society as whole.

The overall objective is to provide the people with a single, clear and accessible legislative code that will contain only laws enacted by the democratically elected Oireachtas or under European law, where Ireland is a proud member of equal nations. This Bill will be a major step along the road towards clarity and democratic credibility in our Statute Book.

The Bill deals with over 4,500 statutes dating from between 1070 and December 1922. Various different Parliaments legislated in respect of Ireland during these centuries, including Norman and English colonial Parliaments sitting in Ireland during the first centuries after the Norman invasion but legislating only for the parts of Ireland they controlled. Latter Anglo-Irish Parliaments legislated for the whole island before 1800, English and British Parliaments legislated for Ireland despite the existence of those Anglo-Irish Parliaments and United Kingdom Parliaments legislated for Ireland and Britain after the Act of Union of 1800.

Article 73 of the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann and Article 50 of the Constitution of Ireland provided for the continuation in force of the general body of such statute law enacted prior to 6 December 1922. This proliferation of Legislatures that passed laws pertaining to Ireland has led to a situation where there is uncertainty about precisely which laws still apply to Ireland. This Bill will eliminate that uncertainty. For the first time ever, Irish citizens will know for certain what laws apply to them. This must be seen as an important and welcome development.

In the interest of establishing precisely which laws from before the foundation of the State still apply to Ireland, officials in the Office of the Attorney General have worked over the past two years to identify and record all legislation passed by the various Parliaments which had authority over Ireland. At present, these records comprise approximately 60,000 examples of pre-independence primary legislation, of which about 26,700 are public and general statutes and about 33,300 are private statues or local and personal statutes; approximately 3,000 are post-independence Acts of the Oireachtas; and approximately 20,000 are secondary legislation from the period before and after independence, including charters, orders and statutory instruments.

The phase of the statute law revision project that has resulted in the Bill before us today relates solely to the research and analysis conducted on the 26,700 pre-independence public and general statutes. The first phase of the analysis involved ascertaining which of these 26,700 statutes applied to Ireland and are still in force. Approximately 4,500 were found to be in that category and the remainder were found either never to have applied to Ireland or to have been repealed. These 4,500 statutes were then examined in greater detail to see which of them had any modern relevance. Initial assessments were made by the legal researchers in the Office of the Attorney General as to which statutes might still have some modern relevance and which were obsolete and could therefore be repealed.

After that initial assessment was made, detailed and extensive consultations were held with the relevant Departments and State agencies so that Departments could specifically approve or reject the inclusion of an Act or statute listed for repeal. The public was also invited throughout 2006 to inspect the various lists of the statutes proposed for repeal and retention, which were made available through the website of the Office of the Attorney General. Over 150 submissions were received from outside bodies and interested individuals on these lists and all of these helped shape the Bill that is before us today.

Where any doubt has arisen as to the suitability of an Act or a statute for repeal, or if there is any possibility that any one of the pre-independence Acts could still be relevant today, then that Act is being retained in force and is listed in Schedule 1 of the Bill. As I have indicated, these Acts will be repealed in due course but this must be done by way of substantial law reform measures; it would not be appropriate to repeal them in a Statute Law Revision Bill. That process of statute law reform is already under way and more than 12% of the statutes listed for retention in Schedule 1 are already proposed for repeal in other legislation currently before the Oireachtas in the current Dáil session. That process will continue until we reach a position when all of the statutes now in Schedule 1 will be repealed and replaced with modern legislation.

In tandem with that process, further measures will be put in place to deal with local and personal statutes, private statutes, post-independence legislation and secondary legislation, and these measure will ultimately come before this House by way of similar legislation to the Bill which is before the Dail today.

I will now explain to the House the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 provides a broad definition of the word "statute". This means that the Bill will not only deal with Acts of Parliament as we would recognise them today, but will also include royal ordinances and similar documents that are recognised as having equivalent force and effect to an Act of Parliament.

Section 2 is the main provision of the Bill. It will provide a fundamental clarification and simplification of the Statute Book by repealing all statutes enacted before 6 December 1922 with the exception of those statutes that are specifically preserved. This includes the 1,348 statutes listed in Schedule 1, which have or may have some modern relevance. These cannot be repealed until they are first replaced by modern legislation.

The other main category of exceptions are local and personal statutes and private statutes. These are statutes enacted and-or published under different mechanisms from the normal. These categories relate to particular places, people or companies rather than to the community in general. For that reason, there are sound legal and logistical reasons to deal with public and general statutes first in the current Bill and return to private, local and personal statutes in later legislation.

Section 2(3) of the Bill has the effect of repealing a part of the Bill of Rights of 1688. This is the only case where an Act is proposed for a partial repeal rather than being repealed entirely. The Bill of Rights may have continuing relevance to parliamentary privilege but certain provisions contain inappropriate religious discrimination and these are being repealed.

Section 3 of the Bill provides for the listing in Schedule 2 of the 3,188 statutes being repealed by the Bill. These are the public general statutes which applied to Ireland, have never previously been repealed and do not have any continuing relevance.

Sections 4 to 7, inclusive, relate to Short Titles. A number of the Acts listed in Schedule 1 do not currently have a Short Title and the Bill provides for one to be assigned to them. The Bill also amends certain existing Short Titles of Acts which are currently unconventional or misleading. The effect of this Bill will be to standardise the Short Titles of all surviving statutes listed in Schedule 1. This will facilitate and simplify the making of references to those Acts in court and in future amending or reforming legislation.

Section 8 provides that copies produced in certain official publications, or copies from publications as certified by the National Library or other specified institutions, may be produced in court. The original versions of many of the ancient Acts have been lost over the years, but copies of these Acts have been published in certain reliable publications.

Section 9 is a savings clause, which is standard for Bills of this type, with some additional provisions. The savings clause is designed to ensure that there are no unintended consequences arising from the repeals effected by the Bill. Section 10 provides for a Short Title and collective citation of the Short Titles Acts.

Schedule 1 lists the 1,348 statutes that are being retained and Schedule 2 lists the 3,188 statutes that, because they are not being retained, are, as a consequence, repealed. The Bill is an historic step toward presenting the State with a modern and coherent Statute Book. It will, for the first time in our history, allow us to know for certain what laws apply here. It will remove more than 3,000 laws dating from 1070 to 1922 which remain on our Statute Book despite having no modern relevance. In the interests of legal certainty and democratic legitimacy, I commend the Bill to the House.

It had a comfortable and interesting passage through the other House. As I did there, I again commend and thank all the officials in the Office of the Attorney General who have done tremendous work on the Bill. We had a great team of young researchers. The Acts listed in Schedules 1 and 2 contain some fascinating historical information, which could usefully be researched by students. I have encouraged the establishment of a process that would allow young students to delve through this fascinating information. It was a privilege to steer the Bill through the other House and I hope it will have a comfortable passage through this one.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Much of this legislation predates even the Minister of State. I stayed up all night going through the Bill and considering the legislation that had been passed before 1922. When I first came to this House, little did I expect to speak about Her Majesty's Treasurer, Henry VIII, Henry V, King Edward, King John and many others.

The Fine Gael Party supports the Statute Law Revision Bill and other initiatives of this kind. An extraordinary number of Acts that predate the establishment of the State still have legal effect here. The size of the Schedules to the Bill is testament to that fact. The Minister of State outlined his admiration for the researchers, with which I concur. I put on the record my support and admiration for the officials and staff of the Office of the Attorney General who have dedicated themselves to this initiative over several years.

Among the Acts listed in the Bill are the Site for Schoolrooms Act 1836, the Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act 1840, the Portumna Bridge 1858 Act — providing for the abolition of tolls and its maintenance — the Margarine Act 1887 and the Lunacy Act 1891. Seeing mention of the Lunacy Act made me think we should bring it back into this House and update it because there has been a lot of that happening over many years.

On reading the Bill, I was astounded that 26,370 Acts had entered into force prior to the establishment of the State. We should be moving towards a situation where all the statutes in force in the Republic of Ireland have been enacted since 1922. I can imagine the people involved in drafting these Bills in smoky rooms with bad light. What we are discussing is really historical.

Several important statutes, particularly from the 19th century, should be re-enacted and revised for modern consumption, including the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act 1851 and the General Prisons (Ireland) Act 1877. In excess of 1,000 statutes will remain in force and have not been included on the list. The volume of statutes that have been adjudged necessary for retention is extraordinary. Hundreds of pre-1922 statutes from the Dublin Fair Act 1252 to the Constabulary and Police (Ireland) Act 1919 have been deemed to be worthy or necessary of retention and not repeal. What could possibly be contained in these Acts that is not in legislation enacted since 1922?

I am particularly surprised at the retention of Acts that pertain to areas that have recently undergone considerable revision in this House. For example, I note that the Bill does not repeal the following Acts concerning road traffic legislation: the Kinsale Act 1819; the Howth and Holyhead Harbours Act 1823; Kingstown Township (Transfer of Harbour Roads) Act 1898; and the Roads Act 1920. I do not expect the Minister of State or his officials to know all these off by heart.

The Deputy has been working hard.

I have been working very hard; as I said, I was up all night. Surely in the 15 road traffic and related Acts that have been passed by this Government and its predecessor since 1997, there was room somewhere to repeal an Act that referred to a place in Ireland that does not even exist anymore — I refer to Kingstown.

Similarly, this House passed the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill 2006 last November. Notwithstanding its substantial reforms of the land law in Ireland and the mechanisms surrounding conveyancing and land registration, that legislation made no mention of repeal of the following Acts: the Drainage and Improvement of Lands Supplemental Act (Ireland) 1867; the Christ Church Lands Act 1481; the Plus Lands Act 1703; the Timber Act 1735; the Harcourt Street Act 1777 providing power to the Archbishop of Dublin to let lands for building; the King's Inns Act 1798; the Crown Lands (Ireland) Acts 1822 and 1845; and the Leasing Powers for Religious Worship in Ireland Act 1855. We still come across disputes over the ownership of and rights to land. I have no doubt such disputes will continue for many years. The Property Registration Authority often needs to consider Acts that predate 1922. It is great to bring such legislation up to date. This is just a selection of the many land-related acts that will not be repealed by this Bill. If not today, perhaps on Committee Stage, the Minister of State might explain what these Acts contain that is so important.

I do not underestimate the task faced by the Minister of State and his researchers in the Office of the Attorney General regarding assessing the potential relevance of historical Acts and statutes to modern Ireland. It is a mammoth area, but it seems to me that there is much more to be done. Fine Gael in the next Government will bring such legislation up to date and will continue what has been started with this Bill. This is an important process for a number of reasons. It is a responsibility of a modern democracy to ensure that its Statute Book and its collection of laws are modern, just and up to date. Those that are not should be cleaned out and reformed. This is particularly clear when we look at the use of words in some of the Acts that pre-date the establishment of the State. The Lunatics Act, the legislation on the prohibition on taking horses of freemen for transport work and the legislation providing free hostelry for Knights of St. John, while all historically interesting, bear no relevance to modern times or modern attitudes. Reference is made to the King's wardships and marriages to be sold for his profit in 1331.

More importantly, we now have a very effective and efficient Statute Book that is available on-line to anyone who wants to access it. In his closing remarks, the Minister of State referred to schoolchildren. It would be great for schoolchildren to know what happened prior to 1922. When I was going to school I did not appreciate the history I learned. It is only afterwards that one appreciates our historical documents. That a considerable number of historical documents were destroyed in the Four Courts when it was burned is soul destroying. Major work and effort has to go into updating what was enacted, all because 90% of our records were destroyed in the Four Courts. I appreciate a great deal of work has been taking place behind the scenes and it is important that continues. This is a resource that is of great use to practitioners, academics, members of the Judiciary and Irish citizens. The Office of the Attorney General deserves credit for putting it on-line and for maintaining and keeping it up to date.

However, it is a database of post-1922 statutes, so anyone who wishes to consult legislation that still has legal effect but was passed prior to 6 December 1922, has no way of accessing electronic copies of those statutes. Perhaps the Minister would examine that issue with a view to ascertaining if this can be done.

Surely, we should be moving towards a stage where all applicable law is easily available to all citizens. The Fine Gael Party supports this Bill, having discussed it at our front bench meeting on Tuesday morning. In the next Government we will endeavour to ensure it is brought up to date. This is something Deputy Jim O'Keeffe would wish to see progressed. I hope this Bill and its successors are a step down that road and I offer the support of the Fine Gael Party in that respect; I hope it has an easy passage through the House.

Unlike my Fine Gael colleague I did not sit up all night burning the midnight oil on this issue. However, I wish to acknowledge the assistance given to me in this matter by the Labour Party legal adviser, Mr. Finbar O'Malley, in researching the area and in helping me to construct a sensible speech on the matter.

This Bill is undoubtedly welcome. It breaks the back of a task that has been poorly attended to for decades and those responsible for knuckling down to the job and producing this end result deserve our thanks. It is important to realise that this is only the start of the job and a great deal of work remains to be done. It could be said "a lot done and more to do".

As the Bill's Long Title makes clear, the concentration here is on repealing pre-lndependence Acts that have either ceased to have effect or have become unnecessary. More than 26,000 Acts were examined for this exercise and it turned out that more than 9,000 had already been wholly repealed. In addition, another 12,500 or so had never applied to Ireland. This left 4,536 statutes still in force here, at least notionally, of which 3,188 will be repealed by this Bill. Significantly, that means there will be another 1,348 Acts remaining on our Statute Book which were not passed by the Oireachtas.

On the plus side, at least those 1,348 Acts have been specifically identified and, for what it is worth, have each been given a Short Title. On the minus side, although we will continue these Acts in force, we have never felt obliged to publish any of them and the State seems unlikely to take on such an obligation at this stage.

It is said that the ancient Roman emperor and tyrant Caligula had his laws written in small script and then posted in the Forum upon high pillars "the better to ensnare the populace". We go one better than Caligula. We do not bother to post our old laws at all. They are all out of print. It is not as if those old laws just rest there inert and decaying. They are applied and enforced. Then we make life even more difficult by amending them. We add, subtract, extend and qualify. But, while we publish and debate amendments, we do not publish either the original laws we are amending or those laws as amended. The public is left to guess what the end result may be.

As an example of what I am talking about, my colleague Deputy Upton recently needed to check up on laws relating to cruelty to animals. In her efforts to find out what is the law at present in force and where one can get a copy of it, she started with the Protection of Animals Act 1911.

The Department of Agriculture and Food indicated that it does not provide copies of the legislation and refers such queries to the Government Publications Sales Office. The Government Publications Sales Office indicated that it refers customers seeking pre-1922 legislation to Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Belfast. Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Belfast confirm that paper copies of the 1911 Act can be ordered by credit card or sterling draft at £2.85. Requests will be processed in three to four days working days.

The help desk which operates the Statute Book in the Attorney General's Office was able to confirm that requests for pre-1922 statutes fall into the top five of its list of requests for help. The on-line Statute Book will tell one, if one is an experienced user, whether and where a pre-1922 Act has been amended but it will not disclose what the original Act looked like before it was amended or, therefore, what it looks like now.

One will find out, for example, that some changes were made to the 1911 Act by the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act in 1965, by the Wildlife Act in 1976, by the Control of Dogs Act in 1986, by the Abattoirs Act in 1988 and by the Control of Horses Act in 1996. But changes to what? One has no way of finding out. The conclusion is that, unless one belongs to a law library or has access to on-line electronic resources, one will not see a copy of the original 1911 legislation. What is worse, even if one does have a copy of that Act, one will then need — with a scrapbook, scissors and paste — to assemble together a facsimile of what the law looks like now by including one by one, all the amendments subsequently made to that law. If one is privileged enough to be a Member of this House, one will have the efficient and professional resources of our Library and research staff to do that job.

It is surely unacceptable that legislation which is enforced on a daily basis should be so difficult to track down for so many of those affected by it. It is incredible that the Oireachtas could at least five times in 50 years have made major amendments to a piece of primary legislation like this without imposing on anyone the obligation to promulgate the law as so amended. It is even worse when those amendments are not made by the Oireachtas but instead are made under ministerial regulations. That has a devastating effect on the integrity of our legal system because it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to know with certainty what actually is the primary law.

The Attorney General and his officials should commit themselves in future, whenever a new Bill involves amendments to legislation that is out of print, to restating in full the law as amended rather than just setting out the amendments. Reading a statute should not be like reading a tortuous detective story, with clues scattered around, some of them misleading, but leading the assiduous to an eventual denouement.

This is, as I have said, the first stage of an ongoing project. We have a list of 1,348 Acts that remain in force. The next stage is to make those Acts available, preferably electronically. There is surely scope here for an all-Ireland approach since, for most of our history, we have shared a common Statute Book. The final stage is to consolidate laws in force so that cross-referencing between decades and even centuries to track down amendments and substitutions becomes a thing of the past.

The Government places a great deal of reliance on the statute law restatement procedure as a means of codifying the Statute Book. Instead of steering consolidation Bills through the Oireachtas, the work can be done and published on an administrative basis. The answer given by the Taoiseach to my colleague Deputy Quinn on 13 February 2007 seems to show that the work is going backwards. Deputy Quinn asked the Taoiseach the number of statute law restatements prepared and published to date by the Office of the Attorney General under the Statute Law (Restatement) Act 2002. He was told that the Office of the Attorney General has managed to publish just four restatements under that procedure since it became law in 2002. Significantly, it had prepared drafts of further restatements. The office stated that "however, due to pending amending legislation and other reasons, the draft restatements were not brought to certification stage".

It seems we in this House, or more accurately, the Government and its Parliamentary Counsel, are busier doing damage to the coherence and accessibility of the Statute Book than another section in the Office of the Attorney General is in trying to repair that damage by putting it together again. The reason they do damage is entirely down to the method of law-making they adopt. It is as if they do not want anyone to know what their laws are about.

For example, let us look at the current Education Bill. Instead of stating or re-stating what principles and rules should apply, it contains sections headed "amendment of section 2 of Act of 1998", "amendment of section 13 of Act of 1998", "amendment of section 53 of Act of 1998" and so on. There is no reason why we should legislate like that. All we are doing is making more work for the statute law restatement officials and making it inevitable that they will never catch up with the damage we do.

It is worth pointing out that the original Consolidation Bill procedure was not a product of legislation but is a product of our Standing Orders. I suggest one new amendment be made to our Standing Orders that might assist in bringing coherence to our laws. Where a Bill is introduced that consists entirely or mostly of amendments to existing statute law, it should be published and debated on Second and Committee Stages in the normal way. There should then be an instruction to the committee that it reports back to the House with a Bill consisting of the old Act as proposed to be amended by the new Bill.

The House would then have a consolidation measure, certified by the Attorney General as such, in front of it. Debate on Report Stage would be confined to the matters that were dealt with in committee, that is, the proposed amendments to the law, but the existing statute law would not be re-opened for debate. It seems that measures like this must be seriously considered rather than leaving it to the restatement officials to catch up with the Legislature.

For good measure, the officials have prepared not only a list of Acts we will retain but also a list of those Acts they can identify which will be repealed. They do not claim to have identified them all, but if a statute is not on the retained list or the repealed list, it will by default be repealed. I am slightly perplexed by some of the Acts being repealed, but no doubt, the Minister will be able to provide some elaboration when he replies on Second Stage.

If it is not thought necessary specifically to repeal Acts which clearly never applied to Ireland, why, for example, are we repealing the Local Government (Scotland) Act, the Sheriffs Court (Scotland) Act, the Trusts (Scotland) Act, the Welsh Church Act and so on? Why are we repealing the Poisons and Pharmacy Act 1908, only two sections of which ever applied to Ireland and which were repealed by the Houses of the Oireachtas in 1961? If pre-independence Acts remain in force only to the extent that they are not inconsistent with our Constitution, why do we think it necessary to repeal Acts dealing with titles deprivation, the regency of the Crown, the demise of the Crown, the pensions of dominion governors and the Civil List?

One could also ask questions about the Acts being retained in force. I would be interested to know, for example, how the Bill of Rights 1688, which pre-dates English union with Scotland, let alone Ireland, but which post-dates Poyning's Law, comes to form part of the Irish Statute Book and why it is being retained in force. Is the Attorney General really arguing that since independence, proceedings in this House have been and will continue to be governed by the English Parliamentary Privilege Act of 1603 rather than by the provisions of the Constitution that deal with parliamentary privilege?

The fact that we are retaining an Act to give effect to the peace treaty with Hungary signed at Trianon in 1921 raises a question as to whether this treaty remains in force, whether this State is bound by it and how many other pre-independence treaties might remain in force. On the domestic level, the Oireachtas will in future know how many statutes from before 1922 are in force. However, at the international level, does the Department of Foreign Affairs have a similar list of treaties that bind us as a successor state to the former United Kingdom?

There are other issues raised in the Bill that ought to have been settled long ago. Can it really be the case, for example, that there may still be extant orders made under the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922? If there are, they relate to the ultimate transfer of functions from the British administration in Ireland to the Provisional Government and then to the Free State Executive Council and its Ministers.

Some of the possibly excessive powers and privileges claimed by the Department of Finance in its dealings with other Departments of State are thought to date from the terms of these old transfer of functions orders. If that is the sole basis for its behaviour, which is not always favourable, it is frail enough. These orders are not published by the Attorney General, but he must know whether any of them are extant. Why not list and publish them?

Ultimately, our agreed commitment must be to make legislation more coherent and more easily accessible to those who need it. As part of this process, the Labour Party welcomes this Bill and will give it constructive consideration on Second and Committee Stages.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Green Party supports this attempt to rationalise the Irish Statute Book. It is unfortunate that the debate we are having is truncated to the extent that due to the scale of the legal instruments before us it would, at least on Committee Stage, warrant more attention than it has been given to date. We are talking about thousands of legal instruments. We must take it on trust that the deletion of 3,000 or so statutes as a result of this Bill will not leave a hole in the Statute Book and that they represent legislation that has been properly adopted since the foundation of the State.

I would like to see more detail in the Bill in respect of the 1,348 remaining statutes. The Schedule is 20 times longer than the Bill. While an attempt has been made to represent each of these Bills in some type of graphic form, I do not really need to know the year, session and chapter in which these Bills were passed. The subject matter is certainly a help, but I need to know the extent to which these Bills need to be retained in the Irish Statute Book because there is no explanation whatsoever there. As has already been mentioned, the inclusion of some of these Bills seems curious, to say the least. They include the early statutes from the time of Richard, Duke of York, to have fairs and markets in Ratoath and the legislation ensuring that Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary is not burnt by rebels. Is the Government saying that somehow there might be a repetition of these events in the near future or that it would like to have this legislation on the Statute Book just in case they occur? Another example of such legislation is one concerning the pardon of fee farm and grant of custom and cocket of the City of Cork to the mayor and commons there. Having been a member of Cork Corporation, which is now Cork City Council, I never knew I had the grant of custom and cocket and would certainly like to know what it is. Somehow, the Government seems to think this legislation is worth retaining.

More sinister perhaps is the retention of the Parliamentary Privilege Act of 1471, which concerns freedom from arrest of Members of the House of Lords coming to Parliament, and their servants, and the Servant of the Prior of the Hospital to be released. I hope the Servant to the Prior of the Hospital has been released by now given it is 500 years later. Somehow, someone has decided that this legislation needs to be incorporated in the Irish Statute Book.

A law from the 15th century has also been retained. The Courts Act of 1476 requires lords to wear their robes in Parliament and judges and barons to wear their habits and coifs in term time. I do not know if the Government is thinking of dressing up Members of this House, but, again, I find it curious that this legislation needs to be retained.

Some of the Bills seem to talk about areas one thought would already have been talked about by legislation passed since the foundation of this State in 1922. There is legislation about the foundation of hospitals that are no longer in existence, for example, Mercer's Hospital in Dublin and Cork Infirmary. I would have liked a more detailed explanation as to why there is a need to retain these items of legislation.

From a purely constituency viewpoint, I note there were several items of legislation before the Act of Union such as the City of Cork (Improvement) Act, which I still think is a good idea. It appears to have been one of the last items of legislation passed by the old Irish Parliament before the Act of Union in 1801.

There is a curious item of legislation from the period after 1800 which the Government wants to retain, namely, the Portumna Bridge Act, relating to the removal of tolls and the taking in charge of that bill for public improvements. Perhaps the only reason this legislation is retained is because the Government considers it might have some application in terms of buying out the West Link toll bridge. Given that it was done in the middle of the 19th century, perhaps the Government would learn something from a previous Government about how a toll bridge can be taken out of existence.

The real problem with the proposed legislation relates not so much to the listing of outdated statutes or even the retention of some legislative items that appear to maintain some type of relevance for the legal code, but to the lack of any kind of intention from the Government to replace the retained 1,348 items of statute. I would like to see a timetable from the Government stating how it intends to replace all these statutes by new legislation. Is it possible to do this in an all-embracing Bill such as this purports to be or does it need to be done by way of individual items of legislation?

It is curious the Government has referred in its legislative programme to the replacement of some Acts on the list that are being retained. Reference to a Curragh of Kildare Bill was a constant feature of the programme in recent years, prior to this year, but the Government has decided to retain the Curragh of Kildare Act dating from the mid-19th century. There are many inconsistencies in the listing being supplied to Members of the House. I regret the information supplied with the draft of the Bill is insufficient. We do not have adequate time to give a proper inspection of the proposed legislation. That said, and all frivolity aside, there is no doubt this is a necessary exercise, one which we would probably need to repeat on a regular basis — perhaps every five or ten years. It would require a great deal of work from the Attorney General's office to keep us up to speed in this regard.

A possible way of circumventing the lack of examination afforded to this Bill is to convene a standing committee of the House, in the same way as we have a Joint Committee on European Affairs to consider the thousands of statutes emerging every year from the European Union, and to try to incorporate them into Irish law, despite the near passage of the European Communities Act which appears to be an attempt by the Government to subvert that process. It would be valuable work for a standing committee of the House to examine legislation that has become outdated and reincorporate it into modern legislation.

The Green Party will not oppose the Bill but we hope much of what has been said in the debate will be taken on board in future legislation in this area.

It is interesting that it has taken so long for us to get to this stage. I would have presumed this would have been one of the first items on the agenda either in 1922 or 1948, to repeal British or English Acts and to replace them with parliamentary legislation agreed by the representatives of this State. Great work is finally being done in this attempt to repeal a number of statutes which have been used or abused over the years because they remained in existence.

As the Bill progresses, we need an explanation and a timetable in regard to the 1,348 Acts which will remain. Like other Deputies, I find it strange that some statutes will remain on the Statute Book. We need an explanation as to why that is the case, a timetable for when we will replace them and proposals for legislation to overwrite and update some of these statutes.

It is interesting to go through the list of legislation, some of it dating back several hundreds of years, and to read the subject matter relating to various Acts. It is probably more interesting again to go through each individual Act. I expect those involved in drafting the legislation had great fun. While we can be frivolous about some of the legislation we propose to repeal or remove from the Statute Book, I question the merit of some of the legislation that remains in place. I hope this work will continue in future years beyond the Statute Law Revision Bill.

One of the remaining anomalous Acts relates to the erection of castles and fortifications in Dublin or the establishment of fairs in Donnybrook — it is a long time since there was a fair in Donnybrook, whatever about Waterford city or Limerick city. The Act is to be renamed from the Fairs Act 1204. A number of Acts are being retained which relate to fairs and markets. It would be a major job in itself to amalgamate all such legislation into a single Act which would give standard rulings on fairs and markets around Ireland and would also continue the privileges which have been granted at various stages down through the years that have become common practice since. It would be a considerable undertaking to deal with grants of licences etc.

Another anomaly is the Taking of Pledges Act. The taking of pledges contrary to the common law was considered a felony. That law dates to 1475 and at this stage, democracy has overtaken this requirement, bar in the Six Counties where people are still being asked to make pledges to the Queen and the like.

The Bog of Allen Act 1478 related to freedom to draw turf from the bog. I thought environmental concerns and subsequent legislation to give licences to Bord na Móna and local people to cut turf would have invalidated this Act. The Marriage (No. 2) Act 1537 remains in place. Likewise, I presumed laws enacted since the foundation of the State would have superseded this. I would be interested to hear the reason it remains on the Statute Book.

I question the need to retain legislation relating to sheriffs, the sale of horses etc. While sheriffs are still part of society, we need to update and modernise the Sheriffs Acts of 1634 and 1707. Reference was made to hospitals that no longer exist. For example, the Meath Hospital no longer exists as a separate entity. Time has made other legislation redundant such as that referring to Dublin improvement, the Rotunda Hospital etc. They related to a specific moment in time and no longer require to be on the Statute Book.

The Registry of Ships is among the Acts retained and I wonder why it has not been repealed. There is probably a reason but we should overwrite these Acts. The Erne Navigation Act is another that I would have presumed had been overwritten, given the navigation channels built in the canal in recent years.

I must examine some Acts that may have implications for my constituency, such as the Poddle River Act 1795. This river runs through my constituency. Every Deputy should examine the implications for his or her constituency. Many statutes date from the Anglo-Norman invasion and the Middle Ages. For the most part, Ireland was Gaelic Ireland and Brehon laws still applied. We have never considered the positive aspects of Brehon law. It would be interesting to see if we have repealed these laws or codified them to the extent that we could examine them when reviewing statutes.

The old Gaelic system had a more progressive attitude to land and property, which was held in trust for the people in the interests of the common good. An aggressive form of private land ownership was introduced by others under the feudal system. Acts that are retained may have an impact in the future. Recently, the royal charter for the city of Derry was used in the courts in the North to thwart the democratic right of the people of the city to use Derry as the official name rather than Londonderry. Retained statutes have effects and implications, which will be examined on Committee Stage. Goodbye to the others, many of which may have served a purpose at one time but are long since redundant.

I have not prepared for this as much as I would have liked because I did not dream that this Bill would be rushed through the Dáil at such speed. It deals with a considerable number of regulations and statutes and must be examined closely on Committee Stage to ensure statutes of value are not repealed. Much history is attached to this Bill. The Minister of State referred to 3,188 Acts and statutes. This should improve the situation by repealing historic structures that have little relevance to today's world. Deputy Stagg referred to agriculture, which is still relevant. It is time this area was tidied up. When new laws are passed, why are older Acts not brought together in a new Bill rather than a Bill that is an amendment to older Acts? This would be neater than removing so many statutes across a wide spectrum.

One welcomes the changes to old laws. The matter of wigs and gowns illustrates this point. The ordinary punter is put off by the importance given to these items. People will sit and speak to a person in ordinary clothes with greater ease than to a person wearing these items even though some younger people appreciate the older structures. Those of us on the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body who travel to London appreciate the origin of some of these old laws and their relevance to that structure. However, we are proud to be a modern State with more modern ideas and we are not afraid to get rid of some of the shackles imposed by these earlier Acts.

We are rushing through this legislation but other important Bills have been ignored by this Government and will not be addressed before the end of this Dáil. I have referred to the Fines Bill several times. It was a simple Bill proposed by Fine Gael to address the stupidity of jailing someone for non-payment of a fine such as a television licence payment. It would be better if the sum was taken from social welfare payments or a salary. Why is this issue not being addressed when it is more urgent than this Bill, which is being rushed in this fashion?

The Minister of State states that the change will "provide a fundamental clarification and simplification of the Statute Book by repealing all statutes enacted before 6 December 1922 with the exception of those statutes that are specifically preserved". I have not fully evaluated this but I hope to do so before this is rushed through Committee Stage. The danger with rushed legislation is that positive measures may be dropped and we do not want that to happen.

A typical example of this is dealing with the Office of Public Works. I received a phone call yesterday about a river. Unless a reference is included in old laws to cleaning a specific river, it cannot be dealt with and this illustrates why it is good to get rid of old laws. Cleaning rivers and canals should be based on need rather than history. A small river beside my home was dealt with under Brehon law by the local council. It was not linked to the water works and it is now nobody's responsibility. Much land is being lost and roads are being damaged because of the lack of drainage and structure. It is vital that we make progress from the archaic system employed in the water works area.

The Minister of State also referred to the need for better regulation, with which I agree. In this Bill we are improving regulation and trying to get rid of some of the archaic systems that existed from 1070 to December 1922. Last week we rushed a Bill through the House giving freedom to Ministers and the civil servants to put through regulations and laws from Brussels that were completely unacceptable. If we are trying to improve the situation we need to re-examine how this House works.

We are at the end of a five year term or almost a ten year term for the coalition in Government. In that time I have tried to speak as much as any other backbencher in the House but the system needs to be changed dramatically if the House is to remain relevant to the person on the street. We come in here for a few days and work by set pieces. We cannot really deal with emergencies as we should, or have proper debate. I have had an opportunity to observe other parliaments and seen that it is possible to have direct and honest debate rather than set pieces and in most cases written scripts read into the record for the sake of the media.

We need to change not just the regulations made before the State was founded but those on how this House operates. For example, in the Adjournment debate if we are lucky enough to be chosen we speak for five minutes and a Minister of State, rarely the relevant Minister, comes in with a prepared script that often has little relevance to the debate that has taken place. That is how the House loses its relevance. This legislation is a step forward although I dislike its being dealt with in such a short period but it is more important to deal with the relevance of this House today, not just to the people who will serve in it after the next election but to the general public.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions to the debate. I agree with Deputy Crawford's last point and as Government Chief Whip I have endeavoured to achieve improvements in the way the House operates by consensus, which is the tradition. I did not succeed in many of the areas where I tried to introduce reform. We succeeded with new technology, so that computers are used in the House, there is webcasting, and we held e-consultation which enabled the public consult on-line on legislation, as it is doing in regard to the Broadcasting Bill. The staff in the House has been involved in these improvements.

Major reforms are needed here. I tried to bring forward the Adjournment debates so that Deputies who wish to raise important national, local or constituency issues could do so early in the day, have the relevant Ministers respond and a better public involvement. Many of those debates late at night are not reported in the media.

Leaders' Questions also needs reform and I do not say this to protect my Taoiseach. When compared with other European leaders he comes out well in respect of the time he spends here. Deputy Crawford's leader said one day "As somebody told me on the way into the House" and went on to question the Taoiseach about the topic. The Taoiseach can be asked about anything, from an issue in the Deputy's constituency or mine to radon. He must be an expert in everything. I am not sure that is the right way to do things.

It probably suits the Opposition at the moment but there are better ways to get better information, by having other Ministers, as well as the Taoiseach, here. Some notice could be given of questions on important national issues and the Ministers could be more involved. Regardless of who is in Government, there are changes we should make. Let us try to do so when the new Government is formed, whoever forms it. Obviously, I hope it will be our side and the Deputy hopes it will be his.

The debate on this Bill is a timely reminder of the ongoing need to update our legislation. I would be happy to provide Deputies with any Acts of interest, and to clarify their concerns between now and Committee Stage. I said this in the Seanad too. There has been significant public consultation throughout 2006 on the Acts. Advertisements were placed in national newspapers, last March and April and in September and October. The list of the Acts has been available at all times on the website of the Office of the Attorney General, www.attorneygeneral.ie. There is a great deal of interest among the public. I am keen to see schools become involved in this because it is fascinating work, not just for us but for people outside the House.

Deputy Kehoe referred to the Howth and Holyhead Harbours Act. This Act vested in commissioners the bridges over the Menai Straits, the River Conway, the harbours of Howth and Holyhead, the roads from Dublin to Howth, and provided for the further improvement of the road from London to Holyhead. The Act has been partially repealed by a series of Acts and the Act may still be relevant to the law of transport and therefore is not suitable for repeal at this stage. The Deputy referred to the abolition of tolls at Portumna Bridge and the provision for its maintenance. The Act that abolished the collection of tolls at Portumna provides that the bridge is to be vested in the counties of Galway and Tipperary, in equal portions, and that the respective grand juries, rough equivalents to county councils, are to provide for its maintenance. The drawbridge and swivel bridge are to be maintained by the commission of public works out of the tolls of the Shannon navigation. Any other Acts for the repair of bridges in Ireland are to apply to Portumna Bridge. The Act may still be relevant to the law regarding the commissioners of public works and is therefore not suitable for repeal at this stage.

Deputy Kehoe referred also to the Roads Act which is an Act to make provision for the collection and application of the excise duties on mechanically propelled vehicles and carriages to amend the Finance Act 1920. The Finance Act 2004 repealed section 6(2) indicating that the residue retains efficacy.

Deputy Stagg referred to the Bill of Rights. He is not here at the moment but he will be interested to know that this Act deals with the rights of subjects and, in particular, makes provision for parliamentary privilege. The Act is not suitable for repeal at this time primarily because it may be relevant to the law regarding parliamentary privilege. Deputy Stagg also referred to the Poisons and Pharmacy Act which regulates the sale of certain poisonous substances and amends the Pharmacy Act. The Act specified that only sections 2 and 5 were to apply to Ireland. Sections 2 and 5 were repealed by the Poisons Act 1961, therefore the residue of the Act, that is, the long title, is suitable for repeal. These are examples of why we are retaining some legislation.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked why there was no mention of the Brehon law in the Bill. The Brehon law was predominantly an oral tradition, rather than statute-based law. The Normans, and later the English, introduced written statute law in Ireland. They suppressed the Brehon law over a long period. Some of the statutes being repealed in this Bill were laws used to suppress the Brehon law, such as the laws of 1210 and 1226 which provided that English laws and customs should be observed in Ireland. By the end of the 17th century, Brehon law had been entirely suppressed and therefore did not survive into the legal system under the constitutions of 1922 and 1937.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked about the erection of the castle at Dublin and the establishment of fairs at Donnybrook, Waterford and Limerick. This is fascinating. This is to be retained. The Act of 1204 had two purposes. First, it commands that the King needs a castle of greatest possible strength with good fosses and strong walls, constructed in a suitable place both to control the city and, if needful, to defend it. The second purpose is to authorise the holding of fairs at Donnybrook, Drogheda, Waterford and Limerick for eight days annually and that merchants may freely attend. This is not suitable for repeal as a High Court action has been initiated by a trader against three local authorities, which may involve the court determining the status of these ancient market rights, despite the fact that Donnybrook fair was suppressed in 1855. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, will be interested in that explanation.

Deputy Boyle asked why we are keeping or repealing Acts. I am happy to provide information on any Act referred to today or on which Deputies would like additional information. I will provide that in advance of Committee Stage. My officials will be happy to help in that regard. Committee Stage will be on 13 March. Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked about the research for the Bill. This legislation follows from the Statute Law Revision (Pre-1922) Act 2005, which I also brought before the House. That Act repealed 206 ancient Acts. As regards further work, the Bill marks a significant step in clarifying what remains to be repealed. The Acts listed for attention will be repealed and work is already under way in that regard.

Restatements are official publications which combine in a single text important legislative measures with all their amending statutes. This means that citizens and practitioners can use a single source for the various statutes, as amended. Restatements of the law greatly improve the transparency and accessibility of the Statute Book.

Deputy Stagg mentioned some of the Acts not applying to Ireland. Any statutes in the Schedules applied to Ireland. Many statutes of the former United Kingdom enacted between 1801 and 1922 never applied to Ireland. There is no reason to repeal these statutes and, as such, they are not included in the Schedules to the Bill. With regard to the question of whether any statutes are missing from the Schedules and what will happen if they are found later, there might be a small number of ancient statutes which have not been discovered in the course of researching the Bill. Such statutes must be regarded as being so obsolete that they cannot have any continuing effect. People cannot be expected to be bound by laws that are so obscure even skilled legal researchers cannot find reference to them. The effect of this Bill will be to repeal all public general statutes except those listed in Schedule 1. Obviously any Act which is lost in history will not be listed in Schedule 1; therefore, this Bill will repeal all such lost statutes.

I thank Deputies for their contribution to this process. If they have particular interests, they should notify my Department between now and Committee Stage. There will be ongoing research in this area and I am anxious to ensure that in holding debates on this detailed Bill there is as much information as possible available to Deputies. I acknowledge the work of the team of officials in the Office of the Attorney General, who have engaged in detailed and considerable research to identify both the statutes for retention and the statutes for repeal. It has been a complex task to identify the Acts that still apply to Ireland and to ascertain whether they are suitable for repeal.

Question put and agreed to.