Clause 58 confers a power on Ministers to amend legislation by order to spell out dates described in it. Clause 58(1)(a) specifically allows a Minister to replace in any Act of Parliament references to
“the commencement of a provision with...the actual date on which the provision comes into force”.
It will often be convenient to make the amendments at the same time as making the commencement order. The power could, for example, be used once the commencement date is known but before the provision has actually come into force.
A similar provision was included in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which was welcomed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which said:
“We welcome the facility introduced by clause 7(2)(a), as we can see some real advantages for users of legislation in the replacement of references to commencement dates.”
The advantage was that the legislation could be amended to state the actual day on which the provision came into force once it was known.
Clause 58(1)(b) provides a more general use of the power. It can be used to replace a reference in legislation to the date on which any other event occurs with a reference to the actual date on which that event occurs. For example, this could be used for a sunset clause where a provision ceases to have effect at the end of the specified period, beginning with the day on which it came into force. This is both a simple and sensible measure that supports the Government’s good law initiative. It will help users of legislation to see relevant dates on the face of the legislation, rather than having to search through commencement orders to find out when a provision came into force. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.
I shall be quite brief. I welcome the clause. It really is in the portfolio of the Deputy Leader of the House. Despite his best efforts, the exact process was not as clear to the many people watching our deliberations today. May I tease out from the right hon. Gentleman exactly when such changes will be made? Will it be during the passage of the Bill? Will it be subsequent to Royal Assent? If the Minister could briefly outline it in a way that a simple person like me can understand, that would be most beneficial to our process.
Indeed, and it may also help if I comment on the amendments as well. The Government amendments simply ensure that the power to spell out dates described in legislation cannot be used to amend subordinate legislation made under Westminster Acts by the Welsh Ministers. The clause already prohibits the use of the power in order to spell out dates in any legislation made by the Assembly. The measures reflect the desire of the Welsh Government.
I think the hon. Gentleman was after some worked examples, so it might help if I give him some. First, section 4(7) of the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, with which he may be familiar, says:
“This Act expires at the end of the period of 10 years beginning with the day on which it is passed.”
After the Bill is enacted, subsection (1)(b) will allow us to amend that provision to say, “This Act expires at the end of the period of 10 years beginning with 12 November 2009.” And it is possible to add further explanation, such as, “the day on which this Act is passed.”
Another example, which I hope will help to clarify the intent, is found in section 73 of the Charities Act 2006:
“The Minister must, before the end of the period of five years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, appoint a person to review generally the operation of this Act.”
After the implementation of subsection (1)(b) we could amend that provision to say, “The Minister must, before the end of the period of five years beginning with 8 November 2006, the day on which this Act was passed, appoint a person to review generally the operation of this Act.”
It might also help if I explain a little about how the information will be made available to the public. It should be possible for general users—as opposed to specialists, who will use commercial services—to access legislation online through www.legislation.gov.uk and see legislation that is up-to-date and therefore includes those specific commencement dates. The advantage of that will be that general users will see the relevant commencement date embedded in the legislation, rather than have to locate it. I hope that explanation is helpful.
That, indeed, is my understanding, but if I am incorrect in that, I am sure I will be corrected.
It is worth adding a little more information about when changes can be applied. The legislation is flexible. Changes could be made after Royal Assent, at the time of commencement orders for particular provisions or retrospectively to spell out dates in existing legislation, as with the two examples that I walked through with the hon. Gentleman.