I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am delighted to bring the Statute Law Revision Bill 2016 to the House. The purpose of the legislation is to repeal spent and obsolete public general Acts enacted between 1922 and 1950. As the first comprehensive review of Acts enacted by the Oireachtas, this Bill will result in a significant reduction in the size of the Statute Book for this period. In total, 301 Acts, accounting for 43% of the 707 in force Acts enacted between 1922 and 1950, are proposed for repeal.
This Bill is the sixth statute law revision Bill in a programme aimed at ensuring Ireland has a modem and accessible Statute Book. Previous Acts in this regard have dealt with legislation enacted pre-Independence. The Bill was introduced in the Seanad where it received cross-party support. It has been the case that all previous such Bills have received broad support from both Houses.
Statute law revision involves repealing statutes that are no longer of practical utility. When Ireland gained Independence in 1922, it passed an Act to inherit all laws that had previously applied to the jurisdiction. This means that we have been left with a complex stock of legislation, with enactments from the Parliaments of Ireland, England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom as well as our own Oireachtas.
The purpose of statute law revision, therefore, is to modernise and simplify the Statute Book, thereby reducing its size and thus saving the time of lawyers and others who use it. This in turn helps to avoid unnecessary costs. It also stops people being misled by obsolete laws that masquerade as live law. If a law features still in the Statute Book and is referred to in textbooks, people reasonably assume that it must mean something.
Statute law revision, therefore, serves to cut red tape and lighten the compliance burden on businesses and citizens. This in turn should have a direct effect on our national competitiveness due to cutting the associated costs involved to businesses and industry in establishing their legal rights and obligations. Likewise, it should greatly assist individual members of the public in establishing the exact nature of their rights and obligations, which may be currently either unknown or unclear.
The statute law revision programme was initiated in 2003. It formerly operated within the auspices of the Office of the Attorney General and is now contained within the Government reform unit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The programme is already responsible for five distinct but complementary Statute Law Revision Acts between 2005 and 2015, which have successfully repealed all obsolete primary legislation enacted prior to Independence and, in addition, has revoked all obsolete secondary legislation made up to 1 January 1821. To date, more than 60,000 pieces of legislation have been either expressly or implicitly repealed under the programme. This Bill, when enacted, together with the five previous Statute Law Revision Acts, will collectively be the most extensive set of repealing measures in the history of the State and the most extensive set of statute law revision measures ever enacted anywhere in the world.
The importance of simplifying this complex stock was noted with approval by the OECD Review of Better Regulation in Ireland 2010 which reported that initiatives such as the Statute Law Revision Acts were impressive efforts to address the challenge and improve accessibility.
In addition, the programme is a specific element of the Public Service Reform Plan 2014-2016 and feeds into broader public governance initiatives, such as Ireland's participation in the global Open Government Partnership.
As I stated in my opening remarks, the Bill repeals 301 public general Acts enacted between 1922 and 1950 which have been determined to be spent and obsolete. The list of Acts for repeal gives a fascinating historical insight into the early years of Irish Independence. It provides us with an opportunity to recognise the efforts of the politicians and civil servants of the time in ensuring that the new State progressed and developed and emerged as a fully independent nation onto the world stage. The period covered was a time of war and uncertainty, both at home and abroad, and this is reflected is some of the Acts proposed for repeal.
The obsolete Acts listed for repeal include the Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Act 1923, enacted following the outbreak of the Civil War, which granted far-reaching powers and created additional offences aimed at ensuring public safety, including the imposition of the death penalty or penal servitude for anyone found guilty of an armed revolt against the Government of the Irish Free State or certain associated offences; a number of Acts which amended the now defunct 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State, including the Constitution (Removal of Oath) Act 1933, which removed the requirement for members of the Oireachtas to take an oath of allegiance to his Majesty King George V and his heirs and successors; the League of Nations (Guarantee) Act 1923, which provided for Ireland to join the League of Nations; the Eucharistic Congress (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1932, which provided for the hosting of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin that year; the Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Act 1937, which carried into execution the international obligations of the Free State in relation to the civil war waged in Spain and prohibited citizens of the Free State from participating in that war; and the Emergency Powers Act 1939, which granted wide-ranging powers at the outbreak of the Second World War, including the power to suspend the operation of any law.
The methodology adopted by the programme is based on the procedures used in previous Statute Law Revision Acts and involves the identification and analysis of all legislation within the scope of each Bill. Each piece of legislation is individually analysed and then assessed as to suitability for repeal or revocation.
The assessment has been accompanied by a process of consultation and the inviting of submissions from the public and stakeholders. This included the publication of draft lists of Acts to be repealed on the website of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. All Departments and relevant local authorities have been consulted and advised on Acts of relevance to that Department and relevant bodies and organisations are made aware of the legislation being assessed for revocation.
The statute law revision programme has proceeded on a phased basis to review legislation chronologically. It is necessary to review in chronological order for a number of reasons. In particular, reviewing out of sequence creates difficulty in the context of assessment of Acts that amend earlier Acts and instruments made under previous Acts. It would not be possible to assess the later amending Act or instrument unless the original Act or enabling legislation had been assessed first.
Turning to the main provisions of the Bill, section 1 is the central feature of the Bill and provides for the repeal of the 301 Acts listed in the Schedule. It includes a small number of Acts which were listed for repeal in previous enactments but the repeal, for a variety of reasons, was never commenced. Following consultation with officials in the relevant Departments, it was confirmed that these Acts were suitable for repeal and will now be repealed in this Bill. When the Bill was published in January, 297 Acts were listed in the Schedule. In the intervening time, an additional four Acts have been confirmed as in order for repeal and these were added to the Schedule on Committee Stage in the Seanad.
The approach taken with this section differs from that of previous Statute Law Revision Acts. With the previous Acts, it was the practice to deem all statutes of a particular category to be repealed with the exception of those statutes listed in the Schedule. This was because these Acts repealed several thousand statutes, leaving only a handful in force. It was reasonable, therefore, to list only the legislation that was being retained on the Statute Book. In this case, it is more reasonable to list the spent and obsolete Acts in the Schedule and provide for their repeal in the Bill, and that is what has been done in this section.
Section 2 provides a number of savings clauses. Section 2(3) provides that the inclusion of an Act in the Schedule shall not be construed as meaning that the Act, or any provision of it, was of full force and effect immediately before the passing of this Act.
Section 3 was inserted in the Act during Committee Stage in the Seanad. It provides for an amendment to the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 to reinstate a public Act dating to 1800 and entitled An Act for Incorporating the Association for Discountenancing Vice and Promoting the Knowledge and Practice of the Christian Religion. This association was formed as a voluntary society in 1792. The 1800 Act was passed by the old Irish Parliament and provided for the incorporation of this association. This Act was repealed in its entirety by the Statute Law Revision Act 2007.
It has recently come to our attention that this association is still in existence and continues to function. It supports the publication and distribution of religious educational material and provides religious educational support for the Church of Ireland. The association is registered as a charity under the name of the Association for Promoting Christian Knowledge. It appears that the association has used both names interchangeably throughout the years. However, the association's name was not officially changed. This may explain why its continued existence was not uncovered during the process of researching the statutes proposed for repeal in the 2007 Act by the Attorney General's office or during the public consultation on same.
The effect of the repeal of the 1800 Act has been to abolish the association's existence leaving no body or persons who can deal with its affairs or property. The individual members of the association still exist but do not have the power to organise its affairs. The legal limbo that the repeal has left the association in is an unfair interference in its rights. The association is entitled to remain in being according to its 1800 form and in the circumstances should be reinstated by statute, as is being provided for in this section of the Bill. If the continued existence of the association had been known about in 2007, the 1800 Act would never have been proposed for repeal.
This section of the Bill therefore makes provision to put the association back in the position it was prior to the enactment of the 2007 Act by repealing the repeal effected by the 2007 Act and deeming it never to have taken effect. This will ensure there was no interruption in the life of the association and things done by it between the enactment of the 2007 Act and the new legislation would thus have been validly done. The Attorney General is satisfied that such a retroactive provision would not be constitutionally objectionable.
Section 4 provides for a Short Title for this Bill when enacted and collective citation for all the Statute Law Revision Acts to date.
This Bill is rather technical legislation but important and necessary. It represents another step in the journey we are on to tidy up and simplify the Irish Statute Book. Its enactment will clear away the redundant and obsolete Acts clogging up our Statute Book and deliver benefits in creating a modern and streamlined Statute Book, which is more accessible to citizens and businesses as they go about their business in their daily lives.
I commend the Bill to the House.