HC Deb 15 June 1933 vol 279 cc335-9

I beg to move, in page 4, line 1, after the word "Act," to insert the words: the following Sub-section shall be added after Sub-section (4): — (5) The Secretary for Scotland shall as soon as possible cause a copy of every such recommendation to be sent to the petitioners and to any persons who have in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed time objected to the proposed order; and. The purpose of the Amendment is to supply an omission in the Act. When an Order is promoted, the promoters are required to furnish to the Secretary of State for Scotland a draft of the proposed Order, and copies of the draft have also to be sent to some Government Departments. If these Government Departments have any criticism to offer or any objection to take to the Order, they make their recommendations in a report to the Secretary of State. When the Order is opposed, Commissioners are appointed and they hold an inquiry, and the Act especially provides that these recommendations shall be placed before the Commission. Here is the defect which the Amendment seeks to repair. The Act fails to make any provision to secure that these reports shall be made available to the promoters and to any objectors that there may be. It has happened in the past that until an inquiry has actually commenced the promoters or the objectors, or both, may be entirely ignorant of some objection or some criticism made by a Government Department and, had they known of it in good time, it may well be that they would have collected evidence and been able to satisfy the tribunal that the criticism was unfounded. In a Court of Law the ordinary rules of procedure require that all documents shall be made available to the parties well in advance of the hearing. I am told that the Scottish Office have lately adopted the laudable practice of making these reports available, but it is merely a matter of indulgence. They do it ex gratia. The Amendment confers a statutory right upon the parties to have these reports sent to them.


The present position with regard to the matter dealt with in the Amendment is that it depends not upon any statutory enactment but upon a general Order whch is made under the original Statute of 1899. That general Order provides that: Whenever a recommendation relating to a proposed Provisional Order shall have been made by the chairmen, or in a report by any public Department, it shall be referred to the commissioners. Every such report by a public Department shall be made to the Secretary of State as soon as may be and, where an inquiry is directed, at least three days before the date of such inquiry, and the Secretary of State shall cause the same to be referred to the commissioners. Accordingly, there is only a space of three days before the inquiry actually takes place in which these reports have to be made available for those who are interested in them. The present practice is that the Scottish Office sends all the reports to the promoter's agent. It is, I think, a matter, perhaps, of justifiable complaint that the time, three days, is inadequate. My right hon. Friend, therefore, proposes, subject to the concurrence of the chairmen, which is necessary under the Act, to amend the general Order so as to provide for the making of reports of Departments at least seven days before the inquiry by the Commissioners. That, I think, will meet one part, at any rate, of the difficulty which my hon. Friend feels.

As regards the other point, namely, making these reports available to parties interested, the present practice of making them available to the promoters will continue, and, in addition, I am authorised to say that when this new Bill comes into operation, arrangements will be made by which opponents, that is objectors, to the provisional order who have an interest in the subject matter of the reports, will be able to obtain these reports either by personal attendance here at the Scottish Office, or by personal attendance at the Edinburgh Department, or by writing to the Scottish Office here and asking for them. I think my hon. Friend will agree that a combination of that alteration of the general Order, plus administrative action, will really secure the substance of what he desires. I trust that, on those undertakings, he may see his way to withdraw his Amendment, for I think a detailed procedure of that kind is not properly a matter which should be included in the Bill, but is rather a matter for general Order or administrative action.

4.2 p.m.


The matter just discussed by the Solicitor-General for Scotland raises an important point which has been introduced in the Amendment standing on the Order Paper, immediately before the Amendment we are discussing, in the name of the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Jamieson). If is a point which has caused a good deal of discussion as to how it could be arranged that Departmental reports of Provisional Orders should be made available in time to be considered by the parties, and be brought before the Commissioners with adequate opportunity for discussion. I think that the arrangements proposed by the Government to amend the Standing Orders so as to provide an interval of seven days will remove one of the objections at which the Amendment is striking, and the promise of administrative action thereafter to make available to parties in Edinburgh those reports will, I think, do a great deal to remove very largely, if not entirely, the other objection. Accordingly, I welcome and thank the Government for having made this arrangement and given this undertaking, which, I think, will succeed in removing the grievance.

4.4 p.m.


I would like to ask one question. We are here dealing with very complicated questions of Scottish law which raise possibilities of financial considerations. The question I wish to put is, who is going to pay the cost of the production of these additional copies? Provided it concerns the parties themselves, I have no objection whatever to the provision which my hon. and learned Friend is going to carry out, but, in order to safeguard the position of the taxpayer, I do wish for an assurance that there is no possibility of any increased cost of administration in his office which might swell the size of his office, and so bear on the taxpayer. I think it is the primary duty of Members of this Parliament to be very careful of these matters. I would, therefore, ask him that question, which, I feel sure, he will be able to answer.

4.5 p.m.


Perhaps the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) is not aware that promoters at present pay pretty heavy fees, and I venture to think that some expenditure might be obtained out of those fees, and still leave a profit to the taxpayer. But I do sympathise with the hon. Member's point of view very much, because one does not want expenditure to be put on the taxpayer in eases where private interests are concerned. I also desire to welcome the statement made by the Solicitor-General, because I happen to know that in many cases not only is great embarrassment caused at present by the holding up of reports by the Government Departments—not of course the Secretary of State's Department—tout I understand that in certain cases reports do not even come before the Commissioners, or they arrive too late before them, and I trust that no report will be considered by the Secretary of State unless it has been before the Commissioners, or unless it deals solely with some alteration that has been made in the Bill by the Commissioners during the progress of the inquiry.

4.6 p.m.


In view of the undertaking which the Solicitor-General has found himself able to make, which, I think, will be entirely satisfactory to all reasonable people, then, if it be agreeable to the Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.


Before consent is given to the withdrawal of the Amendment, may I ask for a reply to, my question?


I can reassure the hon. Member that there will be no additional charge put upon the taxpayer as the result of the undertaking I have given.


The hon. and learned Member says there will be no additional direct charge, but will there be any in- direct loss which was rather insinuated by the hon. and learned Gentleman?


I am not subtle enough to draw a distinction between an additional charge and an indirect loss. My assurance covers both.

4.7 p.m.


If the proposals in the Amendment are desirable in order that justice should be done to parties, why should not provision be made in the Act rather than by some administrative action, which may be here to-day and gone to-morrow? I should very much like to know the explanation as to why these provisions should not be put into the Act.


I think the explanation is very simple. The grievance arises out of a general Order and not out of any statutory enactment. We propose to amend the general Order and that will substantially remove the grievance.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.