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law revision project was initiated, under the aegis of the Office of the Attorney General, to identify and remove all outdated and obsolete legislation that predates the foundation of the State.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 For ease of reference, Schedule 2 sets out the legislation being repealed.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 Ultimately, these 1,348 Acts will also be repealed and, where necessary, re-enacted in modern form.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.