HC Deb 04 March 1929 vol 226 cc23-6

asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the suggestion for the setting up of a Sessional Joint Committee to scrutinise all Statutory Rules and Orders issued by His Majesty's Privy Council or by public Departments; and whether he is now in a position to make any announcement on the subject?


The answer is rather long, but the day is yet young and so, perhaps, I may be allowed to read it. I have given careful consideration to my hon. Friend's suggestion and have come regretfully to the conclusion that it is impracticable.

The present safeguards against possible abuse of the power to make Statutory Rules and Orders are two:

First, if the Courts find that any Rule or Order was beyond the powers of the Rule-making author by they will treat it as void;

Secondly, it is open to any Member of Parliament, while such Rules or Orders lie on the Table of the House, to move for their annulment on the ground that they are inexpedient or unjust, or upon any other ground he pleases, and most Members will have had experience of the energy shown by outside organisations affected by these Rules and Orders in bringing to the notice of individual Members any complaints they may have to make about them.

Presumably my hon. Friend does not propose to affect the powers of the Courts in these matters, but the setting up of a Sessional Joint Committee would tend to restrict the efficacy of the second of the two safeguards I have mentioned, unless it could be made certain that the investigation made by the Committee would be so thorough as to absolve individual Members from their duty to scrutinise and, if need be, to complain of the Rules and Orders laid before Parliament. This could not, I think, be effectively secured owing to the large number of Statutory Rules and Orders made in every year, to the variety and complexity of the subjects with which they deal, and to the fact that many of them are necessarily issued during the Parliamentary Recess.

Some idea of the annual number of Statutory Rules and Orders issued may be gained from a comparison with the number of Acts annually placed on the Statute Book. Taking the last three years, which were quite ordinary years in both respects, the average number of Acts passed was 50.6, the average number of pages in the official volumes being 539.0, but the average number of Statutory Rules and Orders issued was 1,408.6, the average number of pages in the official volumes (which are more closely printed than the Statute volumes) being 1,844.0.

A glance at the official volume for any year will he sufficient to show that practically all of the Statutory Rules and Orders deal with matters of great detail, often of a highly technical nature; moreover, such is the variety of the subjects dealt with that the growing experience of the Committee would not help to lighten its labours as is the case, for instance, with the Public Accounts Committee.

Having regard, therefore, to all these considerations, it seems clear that the proposed Committee would not only have to be in almost constant session, but would be unable effectively to scrutinise the material before it without hearing a mass of technical and other evidence, not only from the officials of the Departments concerned, but also from outside organisations and private individuals, and I am satisfied that the results of setting up such a Committee as is proposed would not be commensurate with the expenditure of time and money involved.


May I thank my right hon. Friend for the consideration which he has given to this matter, and may I ask him whether the second part of his answer does not refer exclusively to the period during which Parliament is in Session, and whether it would not be possible for this proposed Committee, by Resolution, to sit during the Recess?


I think even my hon. Friend will find it difficult to ask supplementary questions after just hearing an answer of this kind without having had an opportunity of studying it. My own impression, from having gone very carefully into this matter, is that such a Committee would be constantly occupied, both during the Parliamentary Session and during the Parliamentary Recess.


Has the right hon. Gentleman taken into consideration the practice as regards Gas Orders and numerous other Orders that are put on the Paper of this House, and will he consider whether it would not be better that this House should be required to pass a positive Resolution, by assent, in respect of these Orders, instead of leaving it to the chance of a private Member to move a negative Address in his own time?


I will study that when I get my OFFICIAL REPORT, and see whether it could be done.

Commander BELLAIRS

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been cases where Orders-in-Council have not been published in the "London Gazette," and will he see that the old custom of all Orders-in-Council being published in the "London Gazette" is maintained, so that the public may know of them?


I must confess, with infinite regret, that the "London Gazette" is one of the few publications that I do not read.

Commander BELLAIRS

Will my right hon. Friend answer my question as to whether he will carry out the original custom that all Orders-in-Council should be published in the "London Gazette," so that then the Press can study the "London Gazette "?


With respect to my hon. and gallant Friend, I should like to verify his statement.


Does not the very complexity and number of these Orders, as well as the fact that so many of them are issued while the House of Commons is in Recess, indicate the extent to which they have got outside Parliamentary control, and, therefore, support the necessity for some such organisation as is suggested by the hon. Member?


Can my right hon. Friend find time for a Debate on this interesting subject?