Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clearing out the law books

For anyone who doesn't appreciate the sound of a brass band in full cry, it will come as disappointing news. A little-known law backing irritated householders who try to shoo away a noisy ensemble is one of hundreds of pieces of legislation being scrapped by the Government.

The 1839 law, which allows for a 40-shilling fine on street musicians who decline a request to move on, was introduced to deal with a proliferation of Victorian brass bands and street organs.

Also featured in the "spring clean" of 328 outdated or obsolete laws is legislation banning servants from impersonating their master or mistress, as well as laws covering turnpikes, Dickensian workhouses and even a 1960s Channel Tunnel plan.

Also to go is an Act of 1819 prohibiting unauthorised assemblies for the purpose of weapons training, passed to prevent a repeat of the Peterloo Massacre, when 11 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Manchester after cavalry charged on a political meeting.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Jack Straw said: "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.

With 35,000 unrepealed Acts and with Parliament churning out 3,000 pages of new law a year, updating the statute book is a daunting task.

Labour peer Lord Bach said: "The removal of these redundant and sometimes absurd pieces of legislation from the statute book helps to simplify and modernise the law."

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