I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Tá an-áthas orm an Bille seo a chur os comhair na Dála and to move the Second Stage debate of the Interpretation Bill, 2000, and to outline its purpose and content.
Most Acts and statutory instruments contain definition or interpretation provisions. They seek to make the legislation concerned more coherent by reducing the need for repetition. They also allow legislation to be shorter and improve clarity. Some interpretation matters arise time and again in legislation. Because of their general application, these have from time to time been gathered together and included in an interpretation Act, which is then applied to all subsequent Acts and statutory instruments. In addition, general rules for interpretation of legislation have been developed by the courts over the years and continue to be developed. They form the part of the law that is called judge-made law or the common law. These general rules have often been given statutory effect, sometimes with improved clarity, in interpretation Acts.
Most jurisdictions have some sort of general interpretation enactment that applies to its written laws. These general interpretation enactments provide a means of setting out rules that govern how the provisions of its written law are to be construed and include defined terms that are commonly used. The first general interpretation Act was the Interpretation Act, 1889. Its purpose was twofold: to simplify the reading of statute law by deleting from each statute and statutory instrument standard definitions and phrases and to improve the clarity of legislation by giving statutory effect to certain standard principles of statutory interpretation developed by the courts. These remain the key purposes of any interpretation Act.
Apart from minor amending Acts, major Interpretation Acts were enacted in 1889, 1923 and 1937. The Bill proposes to repeal and replace all of the former Interpretation Acts except the Interpretation (Amendment) Act, 1997. That Act deals with the enactment of statutes which abolish common law offences and is left as a stand-alone Act as it is not relevant to the interpretation of most Acts. Spent and obsolete provisions, such as definitions that are no longer applicable to the interpretation of legislation are not being re-enacted in the Bill.
The last major Interpretation Act was enacted in 1937. That it has stood the test of time is indicative of its success. However, a new Interpretation Act is necessary to deal with changing circumstances, including constitutional and statutory developments since 1937. It is also necessary for four other reasons. First, to provide new definitions to terms frequently used nowadays in statutes and statutory instruments; second, to consolidate provisions that have been added by Interpretation (Amendment) Acts since 1937; third, to modernise the language used in the Interpretation Act and, fourth, to take account of developments in statutory interpretation by the courts.
The Bill further simplifies the matter for those who have recourse to the Interpretation Act. The practice of having to examine one of three sets of Interpretation Acts, depending on the date of passing of the Act to be interpreted, will not be necessary. Because of the proposed repeal of all previous Interpretation Acts relating to statute law, the new definitions, which are set out in the second part of the Schedule to the Bill, will apply only to Acts and statutory instruments made after the Bill is enacted and comes into operation. The Bill also contains safeguard provisions to prevent the application of a reworded definition if it causes legal anomalies or absurdities when being applied to an existing Act or statutory instrument. The safeguard provisions also preserve the effect of obsolete definitions that have been omitted from the new Act.
Apart from the standard preliminary and general part, Part 1, the Bill is divided into five other parts. Part 2 is new and includes miscellaneous rules to assist in interpreting enactments. Part 3, dealing with citation, operation and commencement of enactments, reflects current law but clarifies a number of matters in that law. Part 4 and the Schedule deal with the meaning and construction of words and expressions. Again, it reflects current law but incorporates a large number of new matters and omits obsolete definitions. Part 5, powers and duties, and Part 6, amendment of enactments, in general reflect existing law but in more modern language. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum accompanying the Bill identifies in detail all the new provisions.
In July 2000, shortly before this Bill was published, the Law Reform Commission published its consultation paper entitled Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language and the Law. In December 2000, the Law Reform Commission published its report on that matter. In the context of the consultation paper and the report, discussions have taken place between the commission and the Attorney General's office, including the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government. It was indicated to this House on 26 June 2001 by the then Government Chief Whip who stated: "Aspects of the Report will be reflected at Committee Stage of the Interpretation Bill". Accordingly, I intend moving a series of amendments on Committee Stage to deal with issues arising from the Law Reform Commission's consultation document and report. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude, and that of the Attorney General, to the Law Reform Commission for all of the assistance and help it has provided in this matter.
An interpretation Act is an invaluable tool for those who draft, use or interpret our laws. It helps by eliminating the need for standard interpretation provisions and definitions to be set out extensively in every new Act and statutory instrument which effectively would clutter up the Statute Book. The absence of general principles of interpretation from each individual Act and statutory instrument allows our laws to be read more easily. It also ensures a coherence of interpretation across the Statute Book that would not otherwise be there. Those who draft, regularly read or interpret our laws can do so with more precision and confidence when the basic rules and definitions of interpretation are of general application, are clearly set out in an Interpretation Act and are well known and understood.
Although the Bill is of a technical nature and of interest primarily to the legal community, I feel it is very important. It will effect a much-needed modernisation and simplification of the language of the rules and definitions found in the former Interpretation Acts and add new rules and definitions. This will have a positive knock-on effect for the drafting and interpretation of our legislation.