House of Lords ‘spring cleans’ statute book

The House of Lords has launched a major clean-up of meaningless and defunct laws from the Statute Book.

Hundreds of Acts of Parliament have been reviewed by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission leading to all or part of 328 Acts likely to be removed under the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill, which had its second reading yesterday (18 March).

Lord Chancellor and Justice secretary Jack Straw said the move is a “necessary and overdue Parliamentary spring clean”.

“Laws on turnpikes, workhouses, and the Peterloo massacre are rightly of interest to historians, but there is no need to retain them on the statute book.” said Straw. “Obsolete laws can raise people’s expectations and invite costly and pointless legal activity.”

The turnpike law Straw referred to dates back to a time when roads were maintained locally and travellers had to pay a toll to cross a turnpike, while the 1819 acts after the Peterloo Massacre, where 11 people lost their lives, labelled any meeting for radical reform as “an overt act of treasonable conspiracy”.

Lord Bach, leading the debate, said the removal of these redundant and sometimes absurd pieces of legislation from the statute book helps to simplify and modernise the law.

Giving examples of the legislation he felt the need to be struck off the statue book, Bach said: “They include six Acts to finance the building of workhouses in the London area, including an 1819 Act to build the one in Wapping mentioned by Charles Dickens in ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’.”