Table of Acts finished after 20 years' work

A CHRONOLOGICAL table of every private and personal Act passed by Parliament in the past 460 years has finally been completed after 20 years.

The 450-page table – a joint project by the English and Scottish Law Commissions – lists 11,000 Acts passed between 1539 and 1997.

The Acts range from the banal – allowing the town of New Deal to have a water supply – to the bizarre, most notably one allowing two people called John to be divorced.

Of the divorce of John Gordon from John Norris Fisher in 1773, Law Commission researcher Jessica Speight says: “When we first saw it we thought it must have involved two men. Examination of the original manuscript has shown that this is not a misprint, but John Norris Fisher was evidently a woman.”

The table marks the first time an authoritative record of all public, general, local, private and personal Acts has been made available.

In a joint statement, the Law Commission chairmen Mr Justice Carnwath (England) and Lord Gill (Scotland) say: “It will be a basic tool and an important source of information for anyone who wishes to ascertain the effect of private legislation. It will be of particular use to lawyers in advising clients, librarians in answering queries and to anyone carrying out historical research.”

450 years of odd acts

1712: An Act in this year enabled Symes Parry to change his name to Symes Symes.

1726: The naturalisation of George Frederick Handel from German to English-one of the last constitutional Acts passed by George I, to enable Handel to take part in the coronation of George II.

1694: It is hardly water into wine, but in this year MPs obviously suffered delusions of grandeus when they passed an Act “making saltwater fresh”.

1697: The Law Society might not now be housed in such salubrious surroundings, had not the Bishop of Chichester been allowed to grant leases of property in Chancery Lane…

1698: …and lawyers might have had a long walk to wrk had an Act not been passed to allow Chancery Lane to be made into a convenient walkway in order to reach Lincoln't Inn Fields.

1980s: They may have been the butt of a billion jokes, but at least two men in this decade obviously loved their mother-in-laws enough to seek Acts of Parliament to allow them to marry them.