I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 before the House. It received a thorough and interesting debate in the Seanad as well as cross-party welcome. The Bill is being introduced by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform further to the commitment made in the programme for Government to progress the statute law revision project to enhance public accessibility to the Statute Book.
The Bill deals with local and personal Acts from 1851 to 1922 and private Acts from 1751 to 1922 and is the final element of the review of primary legislation enacted prior to Independence and, as such, clears the way for my Department to proceed with other measures of statute law revision, for example, the review of post-1922 legislation and the large body of secondary legislation that predates Independence.
The Bill identifies 796 Acts that are not suitable for repeal at this time and will be retained on the Statute Book. It will repeal all other legislation within its scope. It proposes expressly to repeal 2,983 Acts in total, including 1,358 obsolete local and personal Acts and 1,625 private Acts, while implicitly repealing a further 18,953 Acts. If the implied repeals are included, this Bill is the largest and most extensive repealing measure not only in the history of the State, but also the most extensive single statute law revision measure ever introduced in any jurisdiction.
As the House will be aware, the need for a pre-Independence process of statute law revision arises from the terms of Article 73 of the Saorstát Constitution and Article 50 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which carried over all pre-1937 law, including statute law. The Bill signals a profound change. Following its enactment, it may no longer be said that all pre-Independence primary legislation has been automatically carried forward without analysis merely by virtue of Article 50 and legal inertia. All primary legislation that remains in force will have been specifically assessed and a deliberate decision will have been made by a sovereign Irish Parliament to retain the Acts in question.
Statute law revision concerns the removal of obsolete legislation from the Statute Book that is no longer relevant, whose purpose is exhausted or that has ceased to be in force otherwise than by reason of express repeal. The "Statute Book" is an informal term used to describe all primary legislation, including public general, local and personal and private Acts and all secondary legislation, including orders and regulations that have not previously been repealed or revoked. Primary legislation consists of public general Acts - already reviewed by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 - as well as private and local and personal Acts. Private Acts are those concerned with the affairs of a single individual or body. Such Bills are enacted using a different procedure from that used for public and general Acts. The private Acts listed in the Bill include many naturalisations, divorces and provisions for certain landed estates. Local and personal Acts are concerned with matters affecting a 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 the same way as public general Acts, they contain rights, duties, liabilities and obligations and, therefore, require careful analysis to identify those with ongoing relevance and application.
It is important to note that the Statute Law Revision Bills are only concerned with removing from the Statute Book laws that have become spent or obsolete. The complementary process of statute law reform involves changing the content of laws to modernise them, for example, by repealing old laws but re-enacting them with amendments in modern form. In respect of the pre-1922 Acts retained by the Statute Law Revision Acts, the process of statute law reform is under way in several areas through the medium of subject-specific legislation. There are several reasons it is undesirable for spent or obsolete legislation to remain on the Statute Book. In simple terms, without clarification, it is misleading for users who may believe that solely by virtue of an Act remaining on the Statute Book it retains some modern effect or relevance. A user of the Statute Book may undertake the time-consuming task of carefully analysing several statutes only to come to the conclusion that they are, in fact, spent or obsolete. Accordingly, the removal of legislation which has lost its relevance provides valuable assistance in modernising the Statute Book. The removal of such obsolete legislation, therefore, renders the Statute Book clear, concise and more accessible for all users and facilitates the process of regulatory reform.
The statute law revision project was first established by the Taoiseach's office in 2003 and has been accommodated since by the Office of the Attorney General. It is now located in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Attorney General's office and the relevant Departments which have worked assiduously on the project since 2003. It is an evolving process. We have been deliberately working through the statutes and Acts concerned to radically modernise statute law. This work has occurred in other countries and is important in modernising our entire body of law. There has been significant engagement between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General to prepare the Schedules. Each of the 23,000 Acts was assessed individually, which highlights the extraordinary work that has been done.