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Consolidation Bills

  • In areas of law where there have been a significant number of Acts over a period of time, the Law Commission may recommend a Consolidation Bill, to bring all of the relevant provisions into a single Act.
  • These Bills may either be purely to consolidate existing legislation, or they may also make some minor amendments such as tidying up past errors and ambiguities, though without making any changes of substance.
  • Similarly, the Law Commission may propose Statute Law Revision Bills and Statute Law Repeal Bills.
  • These Bills must be approved by Legislation Committee before introduction, but are then subject to special procedures in Parliament, involving scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses and other stages being taken formally.
  • Contacts/Further Guidance: Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (020 7210 6629), Legislation Secretariat (020 7276 0242/0135), Government Whips' Office in the Lords (020 7219 3131), Law Commission (020 7453 1220)

What is a Consolidation Bill?

43.1 In many fields of legislation a series of Acts will build up over time, each amending, adding to, or subtracting from the previous ones. The point is reached when it is very much in the public interest that this series should be consolidated into a single Act (of course this in no way prevents the consolidated Act from itself being amended by further Acts). Recommendations for consolidation are the responsibility of the Law Commission and the Law Commission for Scotland. The Minister in charge is the Secretary of State for Justice. Consolidation Bills are always introduced in the House of Lords; the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice usually takes them through the Commons.

43.2 Included in the category of “Consolidation Bills” are:

43.4 Bills that include some consolidation or simplification as part of a larger amending Bill (i.e. where the amendments stem from Government and represent a significant change in policy, rather than amendments recommended by the Law Commission which are likely to be smaller in nature and probably fairly technical) are not considered to be Consolidation Bills and must follow the normal procedures.

43.5 The purpose of Law Commission recommendations is to tidy up errors of the past, remove ambiguities, and generally introduce common sense on points where the form of drafting in the past appeared to lead to a result which departed from common sense; though not to introduce a substantial change in the law or one that might be controversial – indeed, nothing that Parliament as a whole would wish to reserve for its own consideration.

43.6 The Law Commissions will work in co-operation with the relevant department. The Minister and policy divisions are not likely to have to devote much time to this work; legal advisers may have to devote a good deal more. It may however be necessary for a policy division to express a view on matters connected with a consolidation. If, for example, an amending Bill dealing with the same subject matter is planned, a decision will be needed on whether the consolidation should await the passage of the amending Bill or proceed before the Bill is introduced. The attraction of consolidating first is that there will then only be one Act on which the amending Bill needs to operate, so that the amending Bill can be a good deal simpler.

Procedural differences applying to Consolidation Bills

43.7 The responsible department (usually the Ministry of Justice) does not need to bid for legislative slot for a Consolidation Bill as with other Government Bills, but must make the Bill available to all departments before introduction, in other words must ensure that other departments are given an opportunity to suggest any additions to the Bill.

43.8 A Consolidation Bill and its explanatory material must however be approved by Legislation Committee before introduction, normally through correspondence.

43.9 The Ministry of Justice will play an oversight role in relation to the programme of consolidation Bills introduced each session, and together with the Government Whips' Office in the Lords will advise departments on the appropriate timetable.

43.10 Explanatory Notes are not normally provided for pure Consolidation Bills, or for that part of a “Consolidation Bill with amendments” which consists of pure consolidation; other explanatory material should be provided instead. The documents to be presented to the Joint Committee are the drafter's notes explaining issues arising from the consolidation process, the table of origins (the source of each of the provisions in the consolidation) and the table of destinations (setting out where the existing statutory material appears in the consolidation). Together, the two tables show that the contents of the Consolidation Bill represent only the contents of the Acts being consolidated. On Royal Assent the tables of origins and destinations should be sent to HMSO for publishing alongside the Act, as would otherwise be the case with finalising the Explanatory Notes.

43.11 If the legislation being consolidated was passed after the obligation to make a Section 19 statement of compatibility with the ECHR came into force, it should not be necessary to prepare an ECHR Memorandum for Legislation Committee, unless it is considered that the relevant human rights law has changed significantly since the Section 19 statements were originally made, but the department should explain to Legislation Committee why it has not prepared an ECHR Memorandum. If the legislation being consolidated was passed before the obligation to make a Section 19 statement came into force, an ECHR Memorandum should be prepared as for other Bills.

43.12 The following special procedures apply to Consolidation Bills:

43.13 When a Consolidation Bill is passed, bodies specially concerned in that field of law, and the public so far as they may be affected, need to be informed that the law is now contained in a new statute and that it has not (as they might assume) been substantially changed. See Further action after Royal Assent for more detail about the type of explanatory material which may be needed, though probably on a reduced scale from what is described there for amending Acts.

Law Commission Bills that would represent a more significant change in policy

43.14 The Law Commission may also, as part of its rolling programme of work, recommend changes to the law which go beyond clarification or consolidation, and prepare a draft Bill. If the Government wishes to accept these recommendations and take forward legislation, the responsible department must bid for a legislative slot, collectively agree the policy proposals and clear the Bill through Legislation Committee before introduction in the normal way. However, if the proposals are non-controversial, once introduced to Parliament such a Bill may be able to follow a special, accelerated procedure which is being used on a trial basis in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 sessions.

43.15 The pilot accelerated procedure for substantial Law Commission Bills of this kind is available only for Bills that are concerned solely with implementing Law Commission recommendations, not for Bills which include Law Commission recommendations among other things. The Government would need to agree with the usual channels that the Bill was a suitable candidate for the accelerated procedure. If the proposals are at all controversial, normal Parliamentary procedures must be followed.

43.16 Bills using the accelerated procedure must be introduced in the Lords. The stages envisaged for the Lords are as follows: First Reading; Second Reading Committee (functioning like a Grand Committee, with no provision for divisions) followed by motion for Second Reading being taken formally; Special Public Bill Committee; remaining stages in the usual way.

43.17 Note that there is already provision for Law Commission Bills of this type (non-controversial Bills concerned solely with implementing Law Commission recommendations, not implementing Law Commission recommendations among other things) to be subject to accelerated proceedings in the House of Commons (consisting of Second Reading Committee) – it is the special proceedings now envisaged for the House of Lords which are new. For further advice, contact the Cabinet Office Parliamentary Advisor on 020 7276 0351.