I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill is being introduced within the context of broader work on better regulation in Ireland as articulated in the 2004 White Paper, Regulating Better. This work encompasses measures to address both the "flow" and the "stock" of legislation, with the ultimate aim of reducing regulatory burdens both on business and the citizen.
The introduction of regulatory impact analysis in 2005 has provided a means for the flow of legislation to be managed more carefully. It requires Departments to engage in consultation and to assess all the relevant costs and benefits of various options in advance of bringing forward legislative proposals. In parallel, significant progress has also been made in recent years on the stock of existing legislation. For example, the Government has committed to reducing existing administrative burdens on business by 25% by 2012 and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is overseeing the programme aimed at achieving this target.
Considerable work has also been done on the consolidation of legislation in high-profile areas such as land law and company law. A specific statute law revision programme has been pursued by the Taoiseach and the Attorney General to remove obsolete legislation from the statute book and to modernise Irish law.
Statute law revision refers to the process of removing legislation from the Statute Book that has lost its purpose and relevance. The term "Statute Book" is a loose and non-technical term referring to all primary legislation — statutes or Acts, as they may be called — and secondary legislation — orders, regulations, rules, schemes and by-laws — that have not been repealed or revoked. Much material remains on the Statute Book simply because of inertia and this material is obsolete or has long since served its purpose. However, until it is actually removed, it will clutter up the Statute Book.
The continued presence of redundant legislation is misleading for the user who may believe by virtue of it simply remaining on the Statute Book that it still has some modern effect or relevance. The user of the Statute Book may have to undertake the time-consuming task of carefully analysing a statute only to come to the conclusion that it is obsolete or spent. Accordingly, the removal of legislation which has lost any practical utility or is obsolete helps to modernise the Statute Book, leaving it clearer, shorter and more accessible.
On another level, the reform of our Statute Book is an expression of this country's independent, democratic outlook. It is not appropriate that laws from the pre-independence era remain in force here indefinitely. This Bill is a further step in a process that will ultimately see pre-independence legislation removed from the Statute Book, even though some of it will be reproduced in a modern form and in language that more appropriately reflects the conditions of a sovereign, independent Ireland in the 21st century.
The Statute Law Revision Act 2007 was one of the most innovative Acts of recent years. This House will recall that it expressly repealed more than 3,000 statutes and was the largest such Act either before or after independence. Upon its enactment, it repealed more Acts than the total number of public general Acts passed since independence. It has brought clarity for the first time to the public general Acts enacted prior to independence by listing in Schedule 1 all public general acts not repealed. This central feature of a scheduled "white list" of Acts not repealed has again been adopted in the present Bill.
The Statute Law Revision Bill 2009 is the third measure in the current phase of statute law revision and deals with private Acts up to and including 1750 and local and personal Acts up to and including 1850. While the 2007 Act dealt with public and general Acts, a significant number of local and personal Acts and private Acts remain on our Statute Book. This is part of the general body of statute law which continued in force by virtue of Article 73 of the Constitution of Saorstát Éireann and Article 50 of the Constitution of Ireland.
Private Acts and local and personal Acts together with public general Acts encompass the three categories of primary legislation. The 2009 Bill will do for private Acts enacted before 1751 and for local and personal Acts enacted before 1851 what the 2007 Act did for the public general Acts enacted before independence.
Private Acts are those concerned with the affairs of a single individual or body. They are enacted under a different procedure entirely from that used for public and general Acts. The private Acts listed in the Bill include many naturalisations, referred to as "denizations" in some of the earlier Acts, which amounted to approvals of marriage settlements and divorces. The Bill contains a number of private Acts enacted by the Irish Parliament between 1534 and 1750. At the time when these private Acts were enacted most would have been in manuscript form and not printed. By 1922 the original papers of the old Irish Parliament were kept in the Public Records Office situated in the Four Courts complex. Unfortunately, the original texts for the private Acts did not survive the destruction of the Public Records Office in 1922. Extensive efforts have been made to track down copies of the texts of these Acts but despite this it has become apparent that for several of them no text remains in existence in any form. Records of the subject matter of many of those private Irish Acts indicate that they are now spent or obsolete. However, because of section 27 of the Interpretation Act 2005, any rights, privileges or obligations that may exist under those Acts would be saved when those Acts are repealed. Consequently, it is proposed to repeal those private Acts up to 1750 for which no surviving copy can be traced.
Local and personal Acts are concerned with matters affecting a very limited section of the community such as a single local authority, local area or company. Local and personal Acts were published in a separate series between 1797 and 1922. Prior to the enactment of company registration law in 1844 and the introduction of limited liability for companies in 1855, most commercial companies were incorporated by an Act of Parliament. While local and personal Acts and private Acts are not of general application in they way public general Acts are, they still require careful analysis to identify those with ongoing relevance.
The statute law revision project under the ambit of the Office of the Attorney General has carried out extensive analysis, research and consultation prior to the publication of this Bill. Some 3,182 pre-1750 private Acts, including 175 private Irish Acts, and 7,543 pre-1850 local and personal Acts make a total of 10,725 Acts potentially coming within the scope of the Bill. Of these, some 8,965 Acts were assessed as not applicable to Ireland. Of the applicable Acts, 138 have been identified as not suitable for repeal because they contain provisions which may have ongoing relevance. The remaining 1,351 Acts have been assessed as suitable for repeal on the basis that they are spent or obsolete. As with the pre-1922 public and general Acts dealt with by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007, it is intended that the private Acts and local and personal Acts that did not apply to Ireland will be implicitly repealed by their not being saved and referred to in Schedule 1 to the Bill.
Each of the 10,725 Acts within the scope of this Bill, were individually assessed. Except for the Irish Acts this was carried out in respect of their applicability to Ireland. The assessment was also to determine whether they had already been repealed and those deemed applicable to Ireland and not repealed were analysed to determine their suitability for repeal.
An Act was deemed to apply if it had a tangible connection to Ireland. As a result of this cautious approach, some Acts appear in the Bill that on a reading of the short title or subject matter alone, do not appear relevant to Ireland. These Acts were deemed to be applicable as they contain provisions relating to Ireland. For example, some Acts applied to Irish ships, or to all ports in the United Kingdom or contain a provision which allows the Act to be enforced in the Irish courts of the time. Other Acts related to the status of persons born outside of the United Kingdom and provided that they were to be deemed natural born citizens. As Ireland was part of the United Kingdom at the time of the passing of the Acts in question, these Acts automatically apply to Ireland.
A cautious approach was also taken in the decision whether an Act was suitable for repeal. Acts are only listed for repeal where they are obsolete or spent. If it became apparent that any of the provisions of an Act may have some ongoing relevance or effect, the Act is being retained. As already indicated Irish private Acts for which no copy can be traced are proposed for repeal but this will not affect the saving provisions for right, privileges and obligations, etc. contained in section 27 of the Interpretation Act 2005.
The decision to repeal or retain an Act was taken in conjunction with a process of consultation. For all Acts listed in the Bill, the statute law revision project engaged in widespread consultation with all Departments and local authorities. Relevant semi-State bodies and other parties were also consulted on individual Acts. Public notices were placed on the Office of the Attorney General's website and in several newspapers. The complete list of the subject matter and short titles, if any, of all pre-independence private Acts and local and personal Acts is also available on that website. Including the 10,725 Acts considered in the context of this Bill, there are 33,333 pre-independence private Acts and local and personal Acts listed on that website. The consultation process formally ran from September 2007 to 13 February 2009.
Before I outline the main provisions of the Bill I recognise that what I have read through is riveting to most people but there may be some interesting snippets. I commend the people who worked on the Bill. I realise Deputy Deasy and others have a background in history and given the day that is in it — this may be of interest to the Acting Chairman, Deputy Charlie O'Connor — it is interesting to note that one of the many Acts coming within the scope of assessment for the Bill dates from 1814 and is related to the commons situated at St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. Thereafter access to the green was restricted to the public. However, in 1877 Sir Arthur Edward Guinness was responsible for the re-opening of the green to the public owing to his financial contribution. That Arthur Guinness was the great-grandson of the Arthur Guinness being celebrated internationally today. The Bill covers much of the period during which Arthur Guinness was alive between 1725 and 1803. Many of the Acts would have impacted on him and his business. I recognise the Acting Chairman was born in the shadow of the great edifice associated with the company. I refer to a local and personal Act of 1901 not covered by this Bill, namely, the Dublin St. James's Gate Brewery Tramways Act 1901, which authorises Arthur Guinness and Son & Company to construct tramways in connection with the St. James's Gate brewery. The Act required the company to remove snow from the track and prohibited the company from carrying anything but its own traffic.
Another interesting Act is that of 1726 enacted under George I and it related to the naturalisation of George Friedrich Handel and others. This Act provided for the naturalisation of George Friedrich Handel and others and it extended to them all of the duties, rights and privileges of natural subjects of the kingdom of Great Britain as if they were born in said kingdom. I refer to another Act of 1826 enacted under George IV. The American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company Act amends an earlier act for facilitating steam navigation between the United Kingdom and the continent and islands of America and the West Indies. The earlier Act created the American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company. The purpose of the Act was to facilitate the beneficial removal of the surplus population of Ireland to a healthy and thinly-populated country.
The Prince of Wales and Trinity issue is probably in the public domain. The 1714 Act enabled the Prince of Wales to qualify himself in Great Britain for the legal enjoyment of the office of Chancellor of the University of Dublin. In Schedule 1 there are many Acts relating to old railway lines and routes, some of which have been opened again. If Deputies have time for it, it makes absolutely fascinating reading.
I will go through the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 provides definitions of local and personal Act, private Act and relevant statute. The definitions of the series of statutes are necessary to distinguish them from statutes of a public general nature which are not affected by the Bill. It can be noted that definitions relate only to statutes and therefore do not include charters of a local and personal or private nature; thus, such charters are not revoked by the Bill.
Section 2 is a central feature of this Bill and will provide for fundamental clarification and simplification of the Statute Book by explicitly repealing all local and personal Acts up to and including 1850 and all private Acts up to and including 1750, with only two exceptions. These exceptions are the Acts listed in Schedule 1, that is the local, personal and private Acts still relevant and the pre-1922 Acts which have already been saved by Schedule of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 and which are still in force.
It is necessary to include reference to the public general Acts in order to ensure that the scope of this Bill dovetails with that of the Statute Law Revision Act 2007. Some of the Acts in the 2007 Act were published or listed both as public and private Acts.
For reference purposes, section 3 provides for the list in Schedule 2 or statutes revealed by section 2 which are wholly or to some extent applicable to Ireland. Section 4 will assign Short Titles to any Act saved by section 2 which does not already have a Short Title. Section 5 makes provision for the amendment of any unconventional or inappropriate Short Titles in respect of Acts saved by section 2 in order to facilitate the citation of these Acts in future.
Section 6 provides for standard saving clauses for clarity, as with the Statute Law Revision Act of 2007. Reference has also been inserted to the application of statutes in order to ensure the saver clause is wide enough to preserve statutes which have been applied to Ireland by statutes repealed by this Bill. Subsection (2) of section 6 is designed to preserve the status of bodies which may have been established by a charter made consequent on a statute which is being repealed by this Act. Section 7 provides for a Short Title and collective citations, and these are standard form provisions.
Schedule 1 provides a list of pre-Independence statutes for each period concerned which are not being repealed. Those periods are before 1 January 1751 for private Acts and 1 January 1851 for local and personal Acts. Schedule 2 lists the Acts specifically repealed by the Bill. These are the Acts which, while applicable to Ireland, have been identified in the course of the review as appropriate for repeal because they are spent, have become obsolete or are otherwise unnecessary.
Other local and personal Acts and private Acts for the periods concerned that do not relate to Ireland or have only a tenuous and indirect connection with Ireland will not be included in Schedule 2 but will be repealed by virtue of the general repeal provision in section 2. Accordingly, this approach — also adopted in the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 — will clarify as to the repeals relevant to Ireland and greater transparency with respect to relevant repeals.
This Bill, in tandem with the Statute Law Revision Act 2007, constitutes one of the most extensive statute law revision programmes ever undertaken anywhere in the world. This Bill when enacted will, for the first time provide a complete list of all private Acts up to 1750 and local and personal Acts up to 1850 that have not been repealed. I am quite satisfied, from the work undertaken by the statute law revision project, that the Acts specified in Schedule 2 to this Bill are no longer necessary, their purpose having ceased. The time has come to remove them from our Statute Book and with it to take a step closer to our ultimate aim of a clear, concise, coherent and accessible Statute Book which reflects the needs of a sovereign, independent and democratic state in the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.