Second Reading Speech by Second Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong, on the Statute Law Reform Bill
05 Jan 2021 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- Madam Deputy Speaker, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a Second time.”
Sir, this Bill does four things.
(a) First, it supports the revision of all Acts on our Statute Book; (b) Second, it repeals obsolete legislation and makes technical amendments to other Acts; (c) Third, it updates the framework for the delegation of Ministerial functions; and (d) Fourth, it supports the continuity arrangements for Parliamentary sittings.
- I will give an overview of each of these aspects and touch on the key amendments.
II. Amendment to support the universal law revision exercise
- Part 1 of the Bill deals with law revision. Let me set out first some background information so that Members can appreciate the context in which the amendments in this Part are set.
The present Revised Edition of the Acts of Singapore was published almost 35 years ago in 1987.
(a) Since then, many new Acts have been enacted. Many existing Acts have been extensively amended as well. (b) Just looking at the past decade:
i. From 2011 to 2015, 160 Bills were introduced in Parliament, of which 111 were amendment Bills. ii. From 2015 to 2020, 225 Bills were introduced, of which 161 were amendment Bills. iii. The length of each of the Bills has also increased over time.
- This increase in legislation reflects the increasing complexity and also the scope of coverage of legislation, and its role in governance of this countr7.
- At the same time, as the Singapore Statute Book grows in size, it is even more important that our laws remain easy to understand, accessible and navigable by the public.
Since 2014, our law drafters have consciously used plain English drafting techniques for new legislation. The aim is to make language of the law as modern and easy to understand and as simple as possible.
(a) This is the Plain Laws Understandable by Singaporeans initiative or PLUS, which sprang from public feedback in 2013 to AGC’s Legislation Division on how legislation is drafted and presented. (b) Some examples of plain English drafting techniques, which I’m sure Members would appreciate, are as follows:
i. First, the length of each legislative sentence has been shortened, with long sentences and provisions broken up into different paragraphs or sub-paragraphs for easy navigation. ii. Archaic words like “hereinafter”, “hereby” and so on, which lawyers sometimes use all too often, are no longer used as far as possible. The use of “shall” is also reduced. iii. Gendered expressions are replaced with gender-neutral expressions, so “Chairperson” instead of “Chairman” and so on.
For existing legislation, the Revised Edition of the Laws Act provides for them to be revised to be more user friendly.
(a) Law revision is carried out by the Law Revision Commissioners, with the support of AGC’s Legislation Division. (b) In preparing a revised edition, the Commissioners can modernise and simplify the language of an Act or subsidiary legislation, provided that they do not change the meaning. For example: -
i. Lengthy phrases and big words are replaced by simpler ones in the manner which I’ve outlined earlier”; and ii. As far as possible, “shall” is replaced with “must” to signify legal obligations.
(c) The Commissioners also consolidate an Act with all subsequent amendments, so that the amended Act can be read as one unified document. This is particularly important for hard-copy laws. (d) The Commissioners can also supply additional material that are useful to legislation users, such as information about the commencement date of each legislative provision.
The Law Revision Commission is now in the midst of preparing a revised edition of the whole Statute Book.
(a) This is a huge undertaking that started in August 2017, and will be the first universal revision since the 1985 Edition. (b) This will be the 9th exercise that we have undertaken since Singapore has had its own laws. (c) The 2020 Edition is estimated to contain about 510 Acts and about 27,000 pages. (d) By way of comparison, in 1985, that Edition comprised 387 Acts and about 8,000 pages.
- Part 1 of the Bill therefore amends the Revised Edition of the Laws Act to support this universal revision exercise that I have just mentioned. I will take Members through some of the main clauses to illustrate the purport and intent of these amendments.
Clause 4 will give the Commissioners additional powers to make editorial changes to legislation to bring it in line with modern law drafting practices, but without changing the meaning.
(a) This will enable the Commissioners to introduce some of the modern drafting techniques that I’ve outlined earlier. (b) Clause 11(b) makes a related amendment to the Interpretation Act to emphasise that changes in drafting styles are not, in themselves, changes to the meaning of legislation.
Clause 5(b) and (c) will do away with the need to assign Chapter numbers to an Act. These numbers provide limited information about the Act.
(a) Sometimes a Chapter number of a repealed Act is reused for a new Act, and this can sometimes lead to confusion. (b) The Acts in the new revised edition will therefore not have any Chapter numbers.
Clause 5(a) provides for all Acts in force as of 31 December 2020 to be included in the new revised edition.
(a) Legislation coming into force after that date can still be included at the discretion of the Commissioners. (b) The Commissioners intend to bring the entire revised edition into force on 1 July this year.
The Commissioners also intend to use their existing powers to introduce two new features:
(a) First, the short titles of Acts will include their year of enactment. For example, the Penal Code will be cited as “Penal Code 1871”. With the year of enactment, users will immediately have a rough idea of the history and how long ago such an Act was enacted. (b) Second, each Act will also be supplemented with a complete and verified legislative history, tracing an Act’s history from its first enactment and through each subsequent amendment. This will be helpful to lawyers, academics and students alike, and others who need to trace and understand the evolution of a particular provision in the Act.
- The universal revision exercise will support AGC’s move towards providing an authentic electronic Singapore Statute Book that is conclusive, and in lieu of the hard-copy text.
Madam, our laws form the bedrock of our society and economy, and guide how we plan and conduct our affairs.
(a) Just as this House and its delegates make laws, the body of laws needs to be maintained to ensure that it is, and remains, accessible to all. (b) The amendments to the Revised Edition of the Laws Act demonstrate and underscore how much importance we place on the Rule of Law by striving towards ensuring that our laws are navigable, accessible and easily understood by the people of Singapore.
III. Repeal of obsolete laws
- Madam, I turn now to Part 4 of the Bill.
- The universal revision exercise, that as I’ve mentioned earlier, started some years ago, has also led to the identification of various Acts and provisions that are obsolete. Part 4 of the Bill seeks to repeal these obsolete laws. Let me go through the provisions, and cite just some of the obsolete laws, by way of example.
Clause 15 repeals spent or obsolete transitional provisions. These provisions were only intended to operate for a transitional period, and are no longer necessary today.
(a) To give an example, Clause 15(1) repeals section 69(2) of the Accountants Act. (b) That provision allows the Minister to amend any written law which is inconsistent with the Accountants Act. The intention of section 69(2) was to bridge any gap between existing laws and the newly enacted Accountants Act then, at that point in time. (c) Any transitional amendments made by the Minister under section 69(2) would have been made closer to 2004 when the Accountants Act was enacted. (d) Any further amendments to the Act are to be made in the ordinary way, through an Amendment Act passed in Parliament. (e) Indeed, this has been done several times since the Act was passed in 2004. Hence, section 69(2) of the Accountants Act is no longer relevant today and can be repealed.
Clause 16 of the Bill repeals consequential provisions that were superseded by events, and never commenced.
(a) For example, Clause 16(1) repeals section 65 of the CareShield Life and Long-Term Care Act. Section 65 of that Act makes consequential amendments to the Bankruptcy Act. (b) However, that provision had not been commenced by the time the Bankruptcy Act was repealed by the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act, which came into force in July 2020. (c) With the repeal of the Bankruptcy Act, Section 65 of the CareShield Life and Long-Term Care Act has therefore been superseded, and should be repealed.
- I now come to Clauses 17 to 26 of the Bill, which I’m sure Members would have gone though. It seeks to repeal obsolete Acts, or obsolete parts of some Acts.
- Some of these Acts were enacted many decades ago, and are archaic and are no longer applicable today.
For Members’ benefit, for example, Clause 26 repeals the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act.
(a) This Act was enacted in 1941 to establish a compensation scheme for war injuries sustained by workers or civil defence volunteers during World War II. (b) I think by my description alone, one can appreciate why we seek to repeal that obsolete Act. It has been 75 years since World War II ended.
- Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not propose to go into the fine detail on all the repeals. They take a similar vein, as what I have illustrated. But if Members have any specific questions on the provisions, I will be happy to address them in my reply later. IV. Amendments relating to the delegation of Ministerial functions
- Madam, I will move on to Part 2 of the Bill. This deals with the delegation of ministerial functions.
- It is common for Acts of Parliament to confer functions on Ministers, who are ultimately responsible to Parliament for the exercise of executive authority. The Prime Minister then assigns the responsibility for each Act to a Minister.
Ministers, in turn, can delegate their functions under the current section 36 of the Interpretation Act with the President’s approval.
(a) However, the existing framework only allows for the delegation of functions “in the absence of any provision of law to the contrary”. (b) This restriction therefore depends on the context in which the specific enactment is made in the Act. (c) Even if there is no express restriction in the Act against delegation, an implied parliamentary intention or a common law rule could prevent a delegation when it was not intended. (d) The uncertainty as to whether a function may or may not be delegated is at odds with a rule that is meant to make public administration more efficient. (e) If a function is non-delegable, the Minister cannot delegate it at all, not even to a Second Minister in the same Ministry. (f) This is increasingly problematic and unnecessarily limiting.
- To make this clear, Part 2 of the Bill repeals and re-enacts section 36 of the Interpretation Act, to create a two-tier delegation framework.
The first tier provides for delegations by the responsible Minister to a political office-holder in his or her Ministry. This could be a Second Minister, a Minister of State, or a Parliamentary Secretary.
(a) These delegations require the Prime Minister’s approval, because constitutionally the Prime Minister has the prerogative of assigning responsibilities to political office-holders. (b) At the same time, because political office-holders are directly accountable to Parliament, the scope for delegation is also wider. (c) Basically, almost all statutory functions can be delegated under this first tier. This would include statutory appeals that must currently be heard and decided by the Minister himself. There are only three classes of exceptions: i. First, a function cannot be delegated if any Act expressly prohibits delegation. In practice though, this will be rare. ii. Second, the power to make subsidiary legislation, which is already delegated from the Legislature, cannot be further delegated. iii. Third, the power to delegate under this section cannot itself be delegated.
As for the second tier, the responsible Minister may delegate functions to public officers and public bodies. This is not too different from the position that we have today.
(a) Delegation under the second tier of the framework is subject to any contrary legislative intention, which can be expressed, or implied from the statutory context. (b) Whether there is a contrary intention is really a matter of statutory interpretation. Relevant factors will include the nature and gravity of the function, as well as considerations of administrative necessity. (c) The three restrictions that I mentioned earlier, also apply to the second tier. (d) One point to note though, is that the scope for delegation under the second tier is not as broad as the first tier. This is appropriate because the range of possible delegates under this second tier is wider.
Once a function is delegated under the new framework, the delegate will have the power to exercise the function in his or her own name.
(a) With this two-tier delegation framework, statutory functions can be more effectively performed, and where appropriate, by delegates as well. (b) This will help to ensure that public administration is carried out smoothly and efficiently to meet the challenges of the day, and that services are delivered to the public in a timely fashion. (c) I should highlight that the responsible Minister remains accountable to Parliament for how a function is performed by his or her delegate. (d) A delegation also does not prevent the responsible Minister from exercising the function. In practice, the responsible Minister will continue to personally consider the most serious cases, and exercise oversight over his or her delegates.
V. Amendments to support continuity arrangements for Parliamentary sittings
- Madam, I finally turn to Part 3 of the Bill.
- Members will recall that the Constitution was amended in May last year to enable Parliament to sit under continuity arrangements in times of exigency. In such times, Article 64A enables Parliament to meet, with MPs spread out over two or more places appointed by the President.
Part 3 makes two amendments to the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act in consequence of the constitutional amendments.
(a) Clause 14(a) amends the definition of “Parliament” to include not just Parliament House, but also any other place that is appointed by the President. (b) This clarifies that the privileges, powers and immunities of Parliament and its members extend to all places appointed by the President under those continuity arrangements. (c) Clause 14(b) of the Bill makes it an offence for a person to interfere with the communication link between the places where Parliament is sitting, should there be more than one place. (d) This is important as continuity arrangements are dependent on contemporaneous communication links, which allow Members to participate contemporaneously at a sitting from different locations. (e) Any interference with such communication links can be disruptive to Parliamentary business.
Madam, in conclusion, this Bill makes amendments across a number of Acts –
(a) To enhance the framework for the delegation of Ministerial functions;
(b) To support the COVID-19 continuity arrangements for Parliamentary sittings; and finally (c) To support the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ efforts to modernise the Singapore statute book, and improve the accessibility of our laws.
- Madam, with that, I beg to move.
Last updated on 05 Jan 2021