HC Deb 04 May 1934 vol 289 cc623-30

(1) The Minister of Transport may hold inquiries for any of the purposes of this Act or the Electricity (Supply) Acts, 1882 to 1933. (2) Where any inquiry is held by, or by the direction of, the Minister under this section or any provision of the said Acts—

  1. (a) sub-section (1) of section twenty of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, shall apply in relation to the inquiry as if it were an inquiry held under that sub section; and
  2. (b) the Minister may make such orders as to the payment of the costs incurred by him in connection with the inquiry (including such reasonable sum not exceeding five guineas a day as he may determine for the services of any officer engaged in the inquiry) by such party to the inquiry as he thinks fit, and the Minister may certify the amount of the costs so incurred, and any amount so certified and directed by the Minister to be paid by any person shall be recoverable from him either as a debt due to the Crown or by the Minister summarily as a civil debt.—[Lieut.-Colonel Headlam.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.6 a.m.


I beg to move,

"That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause is necessary because under Clauses 2 and 10 of the Bill, the first giving power to break up private streets and the second dealing with the attachment of brackets and so on to buildings and bridges, the Minister has to determine certain questions which it may be impossible to settle without a local inquiry. Under the Bill as it is it is not possible to hold such an inquiry, and this Clause is therefore necessary for that purpose. The Clause is similar to Section 47 of the Road and Rail Traffic Act of last year and is in common form.

11.7 a.m.


Is it in common form? The Minister gave us no particular reasons to show that it was. Let us take paragraph (b) dealing with the payment of costs. That may be in other Measures, but I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to explain whether the five guineas costs is an inclusive sum, because this is liable to cover a great number of cases where the inquiries may be very small, and in those circumstances we should know definitely whether the five guineas will cover all costs or whether travelling or other expenses will be added. I should like to refer to Sub-section (1) of Section 20 of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919. As I understood the Minister, the main reason for this new Clause is a more recent Act, but here is an instance where they are going back to an Act 15 years old, and he did not explain how that was. This is a very bad instance of a citation Clause, in which they are citing at least three different Acts. The Minister referred to the 1933 Act, I have just mentioned the 1920 Act, and there is still the 1882 Act cited. We have heard nothing about that, however, and as it is beyond the confines of my Parliamentary life, I think we ought to know the reasons for its citation.

The reason for the new Clause in connection with Clause 10 is most admirable, but the promoters of the Bill did not offer any explanation as to whether this new Clause fits in with their ideas, and I think it is unfair on a Friday afternoon for the promoters to accept new Clauses of this kind from the Minister without giving the House the least idea as to whether they fit in with the scheme of the Bill. I believe there has been an inquiry of some sort into this matter by people of ability, but we have not been told whether this new Clause fits in with their recommendations or not. Bills are sent upstairs to Committee to relieve the House of new Clauses of this kind, and to put half-a-dozen new Clauses on the Order Paper now is, I think, rather infringing on the privileges of private Members on a Friday. I therefore regret that the Minister did not move this new Clause during the Committee stage, although I am sure his omission to do so must have been for good reasons.

11.10 a.m.


The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has asked a question as to the attitude of the promoters of the Bill towards this Clause. The Clause is not moved by the promoters, and they do not mind whether it is in or not, but I think it is drawn in somewhat wide terms. We are familiar with these inquiries that take place, and naturally the people concerned should have the opportunity of putting forward their views. There is only one part of the Clause to which I think some exception might be taken, and that is the absolute power of the Minister to certify the costs incurred and by whom they are to be paid. We are all familiar with costs in the Law Courts and elsewhere, but those costs can always be moderated, taxed, or gone through, and if they are unreasonable, they can be disallowed, and there is an appeal to a Judge from the costs which are allowed by a taxing master. In these circumstances, I regret that this new Clause has been drawn in such wide terms. It is significant that in brackets it authorises the Minister to allow reasonable costs not exceeding five guineas a day for any officer engaged in an inquiry, but there is nothing about the costs having to be reasonable when they are incurred by somebody else. I have no doubt, however, that the Minister would act reasonably in the matter.

11.13 a.m.


May I ask if the Parliamentary Secretary will make sure by notification that all the interests concerned can attend. This is rather cumbering what may in many cases be a some what simple operation, but we want to feel that there is no hardship involved to any private individual or small company in connection with these inquiries. Secondly, is it necessary to have the heavy machinery of an inquiry always? Cannot something be done that is a little more expeditious and a little less costly in some cases? I agree with the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) and I think he was right in raising the point—


I would point out that this inquiry is not obligatory, but that it is in the discretion of the Minister.


The power still remains in the hands of the Minister, however. It cannot be decided by anybody else, and we wish the machinery of this Bill to be as simple as possible, having due regard to private interests.


What happens if the Minister does not intervene?


I am asking the same question.

11.15 a.m.


The proceedings this morning seem to be an extension of the work of the Standing Committee. If the Committee had not neglected their work it would not have been necessary on the first Amendment for hon. Members to ask what it means. They may be quicker in the uptake and more competent than the Committee on which I have the honour to sit, but I would doubt it. The Committee upon which I sit took six days on one Clause of seven lines in a small Bill of seven Clauses and did the job properly. The Committee which dealt with this complex and difficult Bill, as I have gathered from the Report of their proceedings, never understood what they were talking about. The password of the Committee which dealt with this Bill seems to be expedition. Ours is competency. We have this morning an extension of the meetings of that Committee, and it is a gross affront to the House that an ill-digested Bill such as this should come up on Report stage. The Bill requires the expert knowledge of the Minister in charge, and although he has tried to make the new Clause acceptable to the House, it does not meet the wishes of the promoter of the Bill, who merely gives the new Clause an impartial blessing. I suggest that it is about time Committees upstairs did their work as well as Committee B and brought properly digested Bills to the House on the Report stage, so that the promoter at least will know whether he likes it or not and those who oppose it will have some inkling of what is proposed by the Bill. I suggest it should be recommitted for further consideration.

11.18 a.m.


The Committee on which the hon. Member and I sat for so many days was, I agree, a very much more intelligent Committee than the average Committee upstairs. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Chorlton) will remember that when we were dealing with the Water Supplies Bill upstairs the Minister inserted a Clause providing that the people affected by the inquiry should be told of the inquiry through newspapers and the official organ of the Government. The new Clause which the Minister has moved now is the ordinary form of Clause in Bills of this kind, and I want to ask him whether it does not follow that he must insert the other formal Clause providing that inquiries shall be announced through the local newspapers?

11.19 a.m.

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

I understand that notice of these inquiries is given in the Press.


What press?

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

In the local press.


Is that provided in the Bill?

Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM

If the House will permit me, I will see if any further words are required to make it clear. If so they could be inserted in another place. With reference to the charges mentioned in the new Clause, they are inclusive with the exception of the cost of conveying the Minister's representative to the inquiry. It is the usual practice for all Government inquiries. It is obvious that there must be something in the nature of this proposed Clause; otherwise, opposition to the schemes might be factious.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time" put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."

11.21 a.m.


We have heard some curious comments on the work of the Standing Committee, and it is difficult to agree to the insertion of a new Clause when there is a feeling that the matter should have been dealt with in Committee. I formally protest against adding the Clause to the Bill in the circumstances and particularly as the Government have moved it with hardly anyone saying anything about it.

11.22 a.m.


The Clause is harmless so far as its effect on this Bill is concerned, but I submit that it is wrong to include the words or the Electricity (Supply) Acts. 1882 to 1933. It is right that the Minister should have power to hold inquiries in regard to any of the ordinary matters referred to in this Bill, but at this late stage it is not right to seek to give power to the Minister to hold inquiries for all the purposes of the Electricity Acts from 1882 to 1933 in the absence of any explanation by the Minister as to all the different things affected by those Acts. It is a surprising procedure in the House on a Friday and on a private Member's Bill without a word of explanation. I suggest to the Minister that he should leave out the words to which I have referred. I should like to hear whether he is prepared to do anything in that direction. If not, I shall be bound to move to delete those words.


It is too late now. It should have been done before I put the Question, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."


Then I should like to suggest that we should have some undertaking that steps shall be taken to limit this power. It is an abuse of the procedure for the Minister to take the opportunity of a private Member's Bill to introduce, without a word of explanation, an alteration of the statute law governing this great industry, and expect the House to accept it without a definite explanation of all its implications. I am afraid we are getting on to very dangerous ground.


On a point of Order. An Amendment could not be put down for the Committee stage. Could not my hon. Friend put down a manuscript Amendment for the Report stage?


The time to move an Amendment to the Clause is when the Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," has been proposed. I have already proposed the Question, "That the Clause be added to the Bill, "and it is now too late to move an Amendment.

Question, "That the Clause be added to the Bill," put, and agreed to.


Before we proceed any further with the consideration of this Bill, I think it is my duty to call the attention of the House to the position in which we find ourselves. I do not know to whom I can refer for any explanation of the situation. I must remind hon. Members that the Committee stage is the stage upon which Amendments should be made to a Bill and that the Report stage is only a stage for what I might call the cleaning up process, for dealing with anything left over from the Committee stage or for dealing with anything that needs explanation, and new Clauses which have been omitted from the Committee stage can also be moved. But here, after the Bill has been through Committee, we find six pages of Amendments brought forward on Report stage. I have been at some pains to look into those Amendments, and I find that nearly all of them are new Amendments, and I ask myself, "What on earth took place in Committee?" I am bound to inform the House that if this kind of thing becomes a common practice it will be an abuse of the procedure of the House, and will bring our procedure into disrepute.


In view of your ruling and of the importance of this new Clause—


I am not talking about the new Clause, but about the six pages of Amendments.


Surely this new Clause is quite a new departure from what happened in Committee, and will not the Parliamentary Secretary give the undertaking which has been asked for by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour)?


We have finished with that new Clause.


Would it be in Order to move to recommit the Bill, so that the Committee upstairs might carry out their work and deal with these Amendments?


It might be in Order, but I do not propose to accept such a Motion.


On that point of Order, as such a long list of Amendments has been brought forward on the Report stage, is it possible to defer the Third Reading of the Bill to another occasion? In the case of a private Member's Bill on a Friday, with only limited time to get through this vast list of Amendments it seems to me rather unseemly that the Report stage and Third Reading should be taken on the same day.


I fully appreciate the observations coming from the Chair with reference to the number of Amendments. There are, it is perfectly true, a considerable number, but I do hope my hon. Friends will not repeat the expression "a vast number," because it is a slight exaggeration to describe it as a vast number. There are a good number, but in the main I do not think any of the Amendments are controversial. Many of them deal with points raised in Committee, discussion on which was brought to an end by the statement that the matters raised would be met on the Report stage. I appreciate that that was not quite the correct way of doing things, but in the circumstances I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will forgive me this time, if I am responsible, and allow this Bill to proceed.


In answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) as to whether we should have the Third Reading to-day after the Report stage, we must first see how we get on with the Report stage, and after we have finished the Report stage it is not for me but for the House to decide whether we should take the Third Reading then or not.