§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is not a spectacular Bill, but it does rank fairly high in the list of what are sometimes called useful Measures, and, were it not for the signs of restlessness on the Opposition Back Benches, I should have said that this was a non-controversial Measure, making practical, commonsense improvements in machinery without raising any really serious points of principle. Except on points of detail, this Bill is the same Bill as that presented to the House by the Coalition Government on 28th March last year, and this, as the House may recall, was foreshadowed by the White Paper on a National Water Policy of April, 1944, and promised by the late Prime Minister in answer to a Question on the 20th June, 1944. This is the Bill that was predicted in that statement, and, indeed, it was actually introduced by the Coalition Government, although some modification has been made in it by the present Administration.
The existing procedure originated just 100 years ago in the desire to improve on the Private Bill Procedure as a method of conferring special powers on local undertakings. In 1845, power to make 1375 Provisional Orders was conferred upon the Enclosure Commissioners, and the Provisional Order procedure was widely used in the rest of the century, notably in the Public Health Act, 1875, the Gas and Water Facilities Act, 1870, and the Electric Lighting Act, 1882. Under this procedure, Ministers are enabled to make Orders which are described as beingprovisional only and requiring confirmation by Parliament.These Orders, when made, are scheduled to a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill. Such a Bill is, technically, a public Bill, and Standing Orders relating to the publication of notices, etc., in connection with petitions for Private Bills are, for the most part, inapplicable to Provisional Order Bills. Subject to that qualification, however, a Provisional Order Bill, after introduction, is dealt with in substantially the same way as local legislation. This practice held the field until the early years of the present century, subject to an important modification in its application to Scottish private legislation under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899.
In the present century, increasing pressure for the extension of the public services has made it necessary to supplement Provisional Order Procedure in two ways, which I will mention. On the one hand, a practice, dating from the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, was adopted of making certain types of Orders—in particular those for enabling local and public bodies to acquire land compulsorily—not subject to review by Parliament. On the other hand, shortly after the last war, it became common to provide for Orders being laid before Parliament and requiring an affirmative Resolution of each House before becoming effective. These Orders are sometimes referred to as Special Orders. The House will know that they are then put down on the Order Paper, including those for gas undertakings and electricity undertakings, and usually they are made effective by an affirmative Motion of approval. It will be recollected that, in another place, there is a special procedure under Standing Orders for dealing with them. Thus for Orders of a local legislative character which are subject to review by Parliament there are at the present time, running side by side, two somewhat distinct and separate procedures—Provisional Order procedure 1376 and Special Order procedure. Both these procedures, as I think hon. Members generally will agree, have their disadvantages.
To take the Provisional Order procedure first, I think it will be generally agreed that it is slow, cumbersome and expensive. While a Provisional Order, if unopposed and if lucky in its timing, may not take many weeks, it has been estimated that on average a Provisional Order which is opposed takes some eight months to become effective. In view of the usually limited character of these Provisional Orders, and the urgency with which they often may be required, it seems to His Majesty's Government that this average of eight months is an unduly long time for this class of legislation. The subject matter of the Order has usually been thrashed out at a local inquiry which in itself is often protracted and expensive. The promoters of the Order then have to establish the case for the Order again before a Parliamentary Committee, and, if—as can happen and sometimes does happen—the Order is opposed in the second House, this involves fresh inquiry, fresh discussion and fresh appearances before a second Committee of Parliament. Thus there may be three separate occasions on which the issues are canvassed at great length and in great detail with the assistance of Counsel, expert witnesses and all the machinery of forensic proceedings.
On the other hand, the procedure by which an Order can only be dealt with on the Floor of the House is undoubtedly open to the comment that there may well be cases in which the issues at stake are of no more than local interest—affecting local bodies, statutory undertakers, individual land owners and so forth—and that these ought not to occupy the time and attention of the House as a whole and often cannot be fully and satisfactorily examined without the apparatus of maps, diagrams and so forth, and I think the House will agree that we should find it a little difficult to fit the apparatus of maps, diagrams and so forth into the physical environment of a Debate on the Floor of the House.
Moreover, under the ordinary affirmation Resolution procedure, the Houses are presented merely with an opportunity to accept or reject the Order, and the only way in which Amendments can be 1377 made to meet their views is by withdrawing the Order, and proceeding to make a new one. An attempt has been made in one or two Acts to meet this difficulty by provisions enabling the Houses to approve the Order with amendments, but such provisions are properly rare, because they would break down in the event of a disagreement between the two Houses of Parliament. In the course of preparing that part of the Reconstruction legislation which was dealt with at that time, the late Government were confronted with these two different forms of procedure—neither of them wholly satisfactory nor wholly adequate—the application of which to any particular subject matter depends at present largely on a mere accident, namely, the date of the legislation which deals with the matter. This Bill represents an attempt to combine the best features of both the Provisional Order and the Special Order procedure and, so far as practicable, to avoid the disadvantages of either of the systems.
There is another and still more important consideration which has led to the introduction of this Bill. The White Paper on Employment Policy—Cd. No. 6527—contemplated that the execution of large-scale works, whether by local or public authorities or by statutory undertakers, such as railway companies or public utility undertakings, should play an essential part in the maintenance of expenditure and of a high level of employment. It says, in paragraph 41:The Government are prepared to accept in future the responsibility for taking action at the earliest possible stage to avert a threatened slump. This involves a new approach and a new responsibility for the State";and, again in a latter passage:Public investment, both in timing and in volume, must be carefully planned to offset unavoidable fluctuations in private investment.The words "in timing and volume" are important in this connection: It is hoped that this Measure will be helpful in this respect, and we believe that by it we can convert into weeks, the months of delay which Provisional Order procedure may entail. Moreover, the increased responsibility of the Government, which it is proposed in the White Paper the Government should assume, will make it more necessary than in the past for the Government to interest themselves in proposals, whether for public works or of 1378 other kinds, which have hitherto been regarded as mainly matters of local concern. This is the case not only from the point of view of a full employment policy. For example, the Water Act, which was passed into law in the last Session of Parliament, placed on the Minister of Health a much more direct responsibility for securing the provision of water supplies throughout the country than there was under the previous law. A policy of this kind would be impracticable, unless the Government are in a position to secure that where national interests are involved, the effective responsibility for reaching decisions of policy should lie with the House itself to a greater degree than has hitherto been customary in the realm of Provisional Order and Private Bill legislation. The same considerations apply with no less force to the new conception of Town and Country Planning.
I would next deal with the scope of the Bill. This is dealt with in Clauses 1 and 8. It is convenient to consider the point first in terms of future Acts of Parliament and then in terms of existing statutory provisions. As regards future Acts, Clause 1 of the Bill provides that the procedure laid down in the Bill is to apply to any Order made under a future Act and described in that Act as being "subject to special Parliamentary procedure." Thus it will be for Parliament to determine when a Bill is placed before it in future whether a particular type of Order for which the Bill provides should be dealt with under the procedure which it is proposed to set up under the present Measure.
As regards existing Acts, Clause 8 provides that the Bill is to apply to any Order made or confirmed under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, where the Order is described in that Act as being provisional only and requiring confirmation by Parliament. In effect, therefore, the Bill substitutes the new procedure for Provisional Order procedure in these cases. Similar provision is included in the present Bill for Orders under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1945, the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, 1945, and the Water Act, 1945. None of these three Acts was mentioned in the Bill introduced last Session—it is fair that I should say that—the reason being that they had not then become law, but, in fact, it was the declared intention of the then Government to apply the new procedure to Orders 1379 under the three Statutes which I have mentioned. Certain purely drafting alterations have also been made in Clause 8 and the Second Schedule which deal with the application of the Bill to these four Acts.
Clause 8 of the Bill also provides that if an Address is presented to His Majesty by both Houses of Parliament for the purpose, an Order in Council may be made substituting the new procedure for Provisional Order procedure in the case of Orders made under other Acts of Parliament now on the Statute Book. This provision differs from the corresponding Clause of the earlier Bill by omitting words which would have postponed action for five years. It is curious how we meet this five-year period for the second time in one week—once in taking powers forward and now bringing powers back nearer to the present term of a period of five years. I am sure the fact that it is five years confirms me in my judgment that it is right in this case, as it was in the other.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew () Ayr and Bute, Northern
The right hon. Gentleman is taking it out this time.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, it is two-way traffic, but it is none the worse for that. The present Government agree with the late Government that the new procedure is experimental and that we shall have to watch how it goes. We think also that it may well be wise to defer its further application until some experience of its working has been granted, but we see no good reason for any postponement for so long a period as five years or indeed for any statutory bar at all. The matter is better left to common sense to deal with on the merits of the case, and Parliamentary checks, as I have indicated, will be provided in a suitable form. Clause 2 of the Bill and the First Schedule deal with proceedings preliminary to the Order being laid on the Table of the House. It should be noted in passing that this Clause and Schedule apply to Orders relating to England and Wales; Scotland is dealt with somewhat differently.
The main provisions setting out the new Parliamentary procedure are to be found in Clauses 3 to 6 of the Bill. It may be convenient, without going 1380 through these Clauses Sub-section by Sub-section, to give a general picture of the way in which the procedure is intended to work. An Order to which the Bill applies is to lie on the Table of each House and petitions against it may be presented within fourteen days, The Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means have the duty of examining these petitions and in particular of distinguishing between those which are described as "petitions for amendment," that is, those which pray for detailed amendment, and "petitions of general objection," that is, those which attack the Order generally. If a petition which purports to be a petition of amendment in fact involves amendments whichwould constitute a negative of the main purpose of the Orderthe Chairman must certify it as a petition of general objection or, alternatively, can strike out the passages negativing the main purposes of the Order and certify the remainder as a petition for amendment. The Chairmen are then required to report to the House whether petitions have been presented and, if so, into which class those petitions fall. If within fourteen days after the Chairmen's report—in the Bill described as the "resolution period"—either House resolves that the Order be annulled, the Order falls to the ground—as under the ordinary "negative resolution"procedure—but without prejudice to the making of another Order. A Resolution to annul may be moved whether or not there are any petitions against the Order: If, on the other hand, no Resolution to annul is carried within the "resolution period" and there are no petitions, the Order becomes operative at the end of the period or at such later date as the Order itself may fix. Thus when the House is sitting the period within which an Order can become effective is 28 days, plus the time taken by the Chairmen to make their report, a very substantial saving of time as compared with the Provisional Order system.
Now take the case where there is a petition of general objection or a petition for amendment. In the case of a petition of general objection, if a resolution to annul is moved the House may, if it thinks fit, amend the Resolution and send the petition to a Joint Committee of both Houses which is to be set up by Standing Orders for which provision is 1381 made in Clause 9 of the Bill. The attitude which the Government would adopt if an Amendment of this kind were moved would no doubt depend primarily on two considerations. First, on the extent to which in their view national interests were involved and, secondly, on the question whether the issues raised in the petition had already been the subject of full discussion and consideration in the proceedings preliminary to the making of the Order. In the case of a petition for amendment the petition stands automatically referred to the Joint Committee.
The Clause is in this respect, perhaps, not clear in relation to our intentions. It is proposed to enable a Motion to be moved on the Floor of the House for annulment of an Order, and for an Amendment referring the Order, in relation to a petition of general objection, to the Joint Select Committee. If the Amendment for reference to the Joint Select Committee is carried, it is proposed to introduce words which will make it clear that the annulment Motion has thereby fallen, and is no longer before the House. It then becomes the duty of the Joint Committee to consider the petitions which have been referred to it. Clause 9 of the Bill provides ample powers under which Standing Orders may be made for regulating the proceedings of this Committee. The issues before the Committee will be limited to those raised in the petition or petitions before them, but subject to this it is contemplated that the procedure will not differ substantially from that under which Provisional Orders and Private Bills are now examined by a Committee of either House, that is to say, the petitioners and other persons having a locus standi will be entitled to be represented and place their cases before the Committee.
If the petition under consideration is one for amendment, it will be open to the Joint Committee either to report the Order without amendment, or to make such amendment as they think fit in order to give effect, wholly or partially, to the petition. If the petition is one of general objection, the Committee can do one of three things—either report the Order without amendment or report it with amendment or report that the Order be not approved. The report of the Joint Committe will then be laid before both 1382 Houses of Parliament. If the Order is reported without amendment, it comes into operation on the date when the report is laid or at such later date as the Order itself may fix. If it is reported with Amendments, two things may happen. In many cases the Minister in charge of the Order will no doubt be prepared to accept the Amendments and, if so, the Order in its amended form comes into operation on such date as the Minister may determine. If, on the other hand, he thinks it inexpedient that the Order as amended by the Joint Committee should take effect, he can either give notice that he withdraws the Order—in which case the Order is dead—or he can embody the Order as amended in a Bill. The Bill is then treated as having passed all stages, up to and including Committee, in the House in which it is presented, and if passed in that House goes to the other House and is similarly treated as having passed in that House all stages up to and including the Committee stage.
This procedure Calls for a word of explanation. The House will appreciate that the Minister must have an opportunity of inviting the House as a whole to disagree with the recommendations made by the Joint Committee if he thinks the public interest so requires. This is, of course, so under the existing Provisional Order and Private Bill procedure under which either House at the Report Stage can be invited to reverse the decision of its Committee. But for this purpose, it has been found necessary to adopt the procedure of embodying the Order in a Bill in order to attract the ordinary constitutional method of resolving disagreements between the two Houses. The Bill is to be treated as having passed all stages up to and including Committee in both Houses for the reason that the Older will have in fact been examined by the Joint Committee and a further Committee Stage in either House would be a mere reduplication of procedure. This follows the principle adopted in Section 9 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, a provision which reproduced an earlier enactment of the year 1899.
The position will be substantially the same in a case in which, on consideration of a petition of general objection, the Joint Committee report that the Order be 1383 not approved. If the Minister in charge of the Order is prepared to accept the report, the matter is disposed of and the Order is dead. If, on the other hand, he is not prepared to do this and thinks it right to proceed with the Order, he can embody it in a Bill. In this case the Order to be embodied in the Bill must, of course, be the original Order as presented to the Joint Committee, since the Joint Committee have rejected the Order and not amended it. The Minister would then at the Report stage of the Bill invite the House to reverse the Joint Committee's decision and to pass the Bill embodying his Order with or without amendment.
Now I would like to refer briefly to the Scottish Application Clause—Clause 10. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate is here, and will be able to deal with any Scottish points when he winds up the Debate. I may say, however, as Leader of the House, that I am happy that it has been possible to avoid, on this occasion, a separate Scottish Bill. Furthermore, this is a field—not the only one—in which Scotland has gone ahead of England. Since the beginning of the century the private legislation procedure in Scotland has differed materially from that in England, and the Bill proposes to modify the new procedure in its application to Scotland so as to make use of the system of inquiry relating to Scottish private legislation, which is now governed by the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936. The essential feature of this procedure is an inquiry in Scotland before Commissioners—who are usually Parliamentary Commissioners drawn from panels of Members of both Houses—and the system has now been working well for close on 50 years. What the Bill does is to provide for the tried machinery of inquiry by Commissioners in Scotland to be used, while giving safeguards at least equivalent to those provided by English procedure.
I have mentioned the difficulties of the existing system, and I will now try to answer the question: How will the Bill make these defects good? The answer can be given under three heads. First, the saving of time. The time usually taken at present to secure Parliamentary confirmation of an unopposed provisional Order may roughly be put at about four months. Under the new procedure, as I have explained, an unopposed 1384 Order can, if the House is in Session become operative after 28 days plus the time occupied by the Chairman in reporting as to petitions. This is also the case if a resolution to annul the Order is moved and is dealt with on the Floor of the House. There are substantial savings of time. If the Order is sent to the Joint Committee, the period will, of course, depend on the time within which the Committee report to the House. But there should be a big saving of time and expense here as well. A single examination before a Joint Committee is substituted for a double one before separate committees of the two Houses. What is more, under Clause 5 (1) the Order stands referred to the Committeefor the purpose of the consideration of the petition.In other words, it is not to establish the case for the Order, and neither the responsible Minister nor the persons at whose instance the Order has been made will have to "prove the Preamble" before the Committee.
When the Order is reported to the Houses the further time involved will depend on whether, on the one hand, it is reported unamended or with amendments which the Minister is prepared to accept—in which case it can operate at once or, on the other hand, has to be embodied in a Bill. In the latter case the time taken will of course depend on the state of the Parliamentary time-table.
Time will also be saved—and this is important—because it will no longer be necessary for the Minister responsible for an Order to observe the present time-table under which Orders must be submitted before Whitsun or, in the case of Scotland, at the end of March and the end of November. Under the Bill it will be possible to take advantage of all periods in which Parliament is in session. There should, therefore, be a big reduction in the average time taken to get an Order through, though in terms of days or hours of actual Parliamentary time there may not be very much economy.
Secondly, the Bill will save a great deal of expense on the part of the promoters and opponents of Orders as well as saving much effort on the part of Members of Parliament, officers both of the Central Government and of the local authorities and professional men. Thirdly, there is the question of the Government's responsibility. 1385 I have already referred to the need for the Government to assume greater responsibility in these matters in connection with the various measures of reconstruction and the full employment policy. We believe that the Bill will secure this object without doing injustice to private rights and interests. Where public and private interests directly clash, the former must prevail, but under the Bill the private interest will be entitled to full and fair consideration of its case. As will be seen, the Bill leaves it to the House to decide whether the examination should take place on the Floor of the House or before the Joint Committee.
I think that in describing the Bill I have covered the points made in the Amendment which has been put down by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and other hon. Members opposite. I need not perhaps say anything more about the ways in which the Bill will save the time of all concerned, and the other respects in which it improves on the existing Provisional Order procedure. But I should comment on the other points raised in the Amendment. I am bound to say, however, that they seem to me to be rather thin or over-subtle. It is true, of course, that the private individual is deprived, as the Amendment says, of the absolute right to have his petition heard by the Committee of the House, but surely that is not the point. Surely the point is whether private interests are guaranteed full consideration. And on this I hope that I have shown that the guarantees provided by the Bill are ample, and equivalent to those under the existing procedure. I fail to see myself too, any threat in the Bill to Parliamentary control over delegated legislation. On the contrary, Parliamentary control is, I suggest, fully preserved and safeguarded.
The distinction which the Bill draws is between objections based on broad grounds of policy, and objections based on individual interests. The proper place for broad grounds of policy to be settled is, we consider, on the Floor of the House, and within the decision of the House. Therefore, the Bill provides that in the case of petitions of general objection—that is, petitions which raise the whole policy of an Order—the House can either decide the issue on the Floor, one way or the other, or it can refer it to a Joint Committee. Parliament retains full control, and Parliament is the Tribunal which decides upon 1386 such general objections. The proper place for the second cause of objection, namely, petition for amendment, to be dealt with is, we think, in a Parliamentary Committee. The Bill accordingly provides that petitions for amendment are to be automatically referred to a Joint Committee. Surely there can be no complaint about this either from the point of view of Parliamentary control or of the private interests concerned.
I commend the Bill to the House as a useful Measure which, while fully safeguarding local and private interests, provides a simpler and more flexible system than the Provisional Order procedure. This procedure, valuable though it has been in the past, was designed in more leisurely times, and for the reasons I have given, it is not well adapted to the needs of the reconstruction programme, or the full employment policy. The new procedure will economise time, money and effort, and will be a better instrument of modern economic and social policy. I think this Bill, although not one of the first-class Bills of the Session, is nevertheless a valuable Bill in tidying, simplifying, and, I think, rationalising Parliamentary procedure in a field of which we have had, as I have said, about 100 years experience. I believe that the Bill is sound. I think that it is fair and just, and I think that it provides the proper safeguards and rights for Parliament and for private and local interests outside. I hope the House will give it approval as being a Measure which, on the machinery side, is going to contribute to the proper consideration of various Measures which are incidental but nevertheless vital to the Measures of reconstruction which we shall have to consider during the coming years.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming (Manchester, Withington)
Before the Minister concludes there is one question I should like to ask with regard to Clause 3—the question of the Chairman reporting on petitions. Why is no time fixed for that, in view of the fact that the idea is to speed up procedure?
§ Mr. Morrison
I hardly think that it would be right to impose a time limit on the Lord Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means. We naturally assume that they will act with all proper expedition, but there will be times when there will be an accumulation 1387 of these Orders, and I think it would be wrong, and, if I may say so, not perhaps quite consistent with the dignity of these high officers of Parliament if we were to impose a time limit on them.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I am sure all hon. Members would like to join in thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the very clear and lucid explanation of the Bill which he has just given to the House. With one general proposition which was inherent in his speech, I should like at once to associate the party on these benches. The Conservative Party would never be content to approve social legislation and see the application of that legislation to the lives of the people delayed by any technical difficulties or shortcomings of the procedure of this House. Therefore, we are anxious to see if the procedure in this special field can be improved. We are prepared to consider the proposals for improvement which have been put before us by the right hon. Gentleman, and, although we shall have suggestions to make on various points, as he would be the first to expect, we shall not ask the House to divide on the Second Reading of this Bill.
In considering any procedural Bill, there are, I think, three criteria which ought to be considered and used as touchstones in deciding its work: First, is there a real need for the Bill; secondly, is the scheme proposed workable; and, thirdly, is the price which we are asked to pay either in diminution of Parliamentary control or diminution of the rights of the individual too high for what we are getting in the proposals? It is under these heads, that I shall ask the House to consider the Bill to-day. As I see the problem which it is designed to solve, it is two-fold. In the first place it is to provide an appeal to Parliament where the interests of statutory undertakers and local authorities are affected. They are bodies who have received their powers from Parliament, and they say that what Parliament has given only Parliament can take away, and, therefore, we must have recourse to Parliament with regard to any of our powers. The main problem this Bill raises is the position of this creation of Parliament, the statutory 1388 bodies of the kind I have mentioned. The second main point is the speeding up and improvement of what is still, I agree, a somewhat slow, and, in some characteristics at any rate, a cumbersome procedure, under the present Provisional Order procedure.
Before we consider that, I think it is essential that the House should appreciate the concrete problems with which this Bill on procedure will have to deal. The principal one is probably that raised by the Town and Country Planning Bill that was passed by the last Government, which deals with the question of the compulsory application and restriction of the user on statutory undertakers' land. There, the position is that before the land of a statutory undertaker can be acquired—and it may well be most necessary to acquire it in order to carry out a planning scheme and bring it into proper operation—there has first to be the approval, not only of the Minister of Town and Country Planning but of the Minister who is, so to speak, the godfather of the statutory undertaking—in the case of railways, the Minister of Transport, in the case of water, the Minister of Health, and so on. After that has been approved, this procedure comes into operation. That is, there has to be complete governmental approval, where necessary approval by the Cabinet and always of the Minister specially concerned with the statutory undertaker's position. It should be borne in mind, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate will confirm this point, that in all that section of the field covered by the Bill there are of course appropriate compensation provisions made by the Statute which originally made provision for the acquisition of the land.
That is one section, and there obviously important points are raised. On the one hand, you have the planning necessary in order to make effective the re-establishment of our blitzed areas. It is useless making arrangements for the re-planning of areas if you do not make arrangements to bring services—transport, water and other things—to the homes of the people. Therefore, it is important that we should have a procedure which will provide in the necessary cases for the acquisition of statutory undertakers' land. Secondly, with regard to water, this House has approved a policy which involves amalgamation 1389 and it is necessary in some cases for this amalgamation to be carried out. This House has approved the Local Government (Boundary Commission) Act, and it is necessary that the decisions of the Commissioners should be brought into effect. These are all practical points, and practical needs, which result from the social legislation which the Coalition Government carried to the House of Commons to approve, wholly irrespective of party. It is essential that we should do our utmost to see that that legislation is made effective and is not delayed in its operation.
Then one comes to the question of the workability of these proposals, and of comparison with the present day. There, one can see—and I think it is most important that we should have had the concession made so frankly and freely by the right hon. Gentleman—that there should be an appeal to Parliament in these cases. There is no attempt, and it should be clearly on record that there is no attempt, to seek the procedure by Ministerial Order alone. The right of appeal to Parliament is unquestioned from any quarter of the House, and that will be a matter of great comfort to statutory undertakers who are making their plans for the reconstruction period. That brings me to the alternative procedure which can be suggested if the Ministerial Order is omitted. I think few would say that Private Ball procedure was suitable in these times, and I do not think, so far as my knowledge goes, that has been seriously put forward. But when we consider improvements, in local legislation, like the Provisional Order procedure, then one has to regard the question carefully.
I heard the right hon. Gentleman's statements with regard to the improvements in time. He would be the first to expect that these improvements which he claims make for the saving of time will have to be carefully examined on the Committee stage to show how they are to be brought into operation. But with one point I am sure there will be no disagreement, that is, the substitution of a Joint Committee for the two Committees, one of each House, at the present day. That is a suggestion of long standing, and I am very glad that it has at last been put forward for statutory consideration. That will have the result, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, of decreasing time and also of decreasing expense. I 1390 also heartily agree with the abrogation of the practice by which the Provisional Orders could only be introduced before Whitsuntide, or the corresponding date with regard to Scottish Orders. I venture to prophesy that the right hon. Gentleman will not have any difficulty about that suggestion at any stage in this Bill.
The third point which the right hon. Gentleman made as to the facilitating of the introduction of Government policy and dealing with orders which are now Government Orders is one which requires somewhat careful consideration. I hope he will listen sympathetically to suggestions as to the attitude of mind in which I think it will have to be considered if it is to work successfully in this House. I do not think that, at this stage, the details demand great attention. We want to be quite sure that in the stage before the Order is made in Parliament, by notice, local inquiry, discussion of objections and the like, the fullest opportunity will be given to all parties affected. The actual presentation of the petition presents no difficulty. The division of petitions into those of amendment and general objection casts yet another duty on the Chair. I am sure that the House realises how greatly indebted it will be if the Chair takes on this duty and carries it out as the Bill intends.
The point with which I wish to deal, because it seems to me it is the point of greatest innovation in the Bill, is that a petition of general objection may not be referred to a Committee. I should like to say one or two words about that. As I understand the procedure that will arise, after the 14 days of objection there will be another 14 days during which a Motion for annulment can be put down, and on the Motion for annulment it can be moved by way of amendment, that the Order be referred to a Joint Committee, and it is then for the House to make that decision. That immediately brings us to the old and vexed question of the real power of the private Member on a Motion for annulment such as we have had experience of in the case of Prayers under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act during the war. The classical objection, which is put in all the books on Parliamentary procedure, and which the right hon. Gentleman and I have heard on more than one occasion during the past few years, is that it puts the burden on the private Member of keeping a House, 1391 getting his friends to stay there and introducing a Motion for annulment in a House which is tired after Government Business and wants to get home. That is a fair point which we have to recognise. On the other side, the private Member who moves the Motion for the annulment has the opportunity to open his case, if I may put it in that way, to pitch it high, and as those who have been at the other end of the gun recognise, even confront the Government of the day with a House which is afire with a private grievance, irrespective of any political views.
I have tried to put clearly and fairly all the advantages and disadvantages on both sides. That is undoubtedly one point. The other point which can fairly be made is that it is difficult for a Private Member to work up the requisite technical knowledge which may well be involved in this matter. On this point the procedure will only work if, as I say, the difficulty of the private Member is approached sympathetically by the Government, whatever be its political complexion, and if there is no attempt, either directly or indirectly, to prevent him from developing his case. That is the first point. Then, as the right hon. Gentleman did, it has to be considered from the other point of view. In what way, by what attitude are the Government going to approach the question of whether they will put the Whips on, and have the matter decided by a vote in the House, of which they will naturally be able to command result on almost all occasions? That again, I consider, is a matter of great importance. As far as I can judge at the moment—and one's judgment can only be hypothetical—there would only be two classes of cases which would justify that course. If I might take an entirely hypothetical example, there might be the moving of one of the London terminal stations at very great expense, running to millions of pounds, to another part of London. That is an issue which, by its public interest and size, would probably inevitably have to be decided on the Floor of the House.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Charing Cross railway bridge is an example. In such a case, despite the technical problems involved, the House, if it is to do its job properly, would have to inform itself on 1392 these technical problems, and come to a decision upon them. I do not think that case presents much difficulty.
It is the other case which gives one considerable trouble. That is where the Government say that in the national interest, as they conceive it, Government policy does not stop with the parent Act but expresses itself in a particular Order which is before the House, and where there is a statutory undertaking or a local authority opposing the Order—someone who is really trying to continue in the forensic field an opposition to the policy which is inherent in the Bill. That is a very difficult point indeed. The undertaker will say "I am not trying to dispute the policy in the Bill, I am disputing the particular application of the policy embodied in this Order. I want an opportunity to develop that at length, with all the legal forensic assistance I can command, before a Committee." That Is the point where, in my belief, this procedure can only be workable if there is the most sympathetic co-operation from the Government of the day in such circumstances. A Member is coming forward on a constituency point on behalf, say, of a railway company, a water undertaking, a dock authority, etc., in his constituency, the operation of which is of great importance to those he represents. If he can make out a case that the problem which he is putting up really demands the definition, with maps and plans, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the Minister sees that despite what has gone before there is still a case for further examination, then he must be very ready to allow that to go to the Joint Committee. If this procedure once degenerates into one by which Orders which ought to have further consideration are pushed through on the Floor of the House by the Whips in order to save time, I do not think it will work, and it will certainly not carry out the intentions which the right hon. Gentleman has so fully and eloquently put before the House. That, as I see it, is the main problem which this Bill raises.
It is clear that in a certain class of cases, I agree a limited class but still a certain class, a petitioner against an Order will not be entitled to forensic examination. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that he will get it in every case where there is a 1393 petition of amendment. That still leaves the great field in which the only possible petition can be one of general petition, because the question is, "Do you intend to acquire that land or not?" or "Do you intend to amalgamate these undertakings or not?". I wish to be quite frank with the House. I have examined this point in the hope of being able to find an improvement, and I have not yet, at any rate, any improvement to offer the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman who replies and the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House will consider it sympathetically, and if any improvement can be suggested on that point which will clarify the position as to the rightful use of that power which I have mentioned the passage of the Bill will be expedited, and the contents improved.
I do not wish to delay the House by following the right hon. Gentleman into his praiseworthy explanation of the Scottish private legislation procedure. I noticed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate looked, I will not say with awe and wonder, but with admiration and surprise, at the command of the Scottish private legislation procedure which was shown by his right hon. Friend. It does remind me of one old comment on this question which was made some ten years ago. It had been suggested that the English private legislation procedure could be improved by a closer approximation to the Scottish procedure, and the Committee which dealt with the subject said that there did not appear to be a great demand in England for the English procedure to be made more like that of the Scottish procedure in the same field. The comment was made at the time that this was highly probable, because there were at the outside only about five people in England who knew what the Scottish private legislation procedure was. I am very glad to think that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman there are now six.
It comes to this, that there are three main—in fact, new—points in this Bill. The first is the joint committee with which, I venture to prophesy, there will be very little disagreement. The second is the power to deal with a petition of general objection on the Floor of the House. That does trouble a number of my hon. Friends and, as I say, it will require in any case the most careful 1394 approach by the Government, the most—not conciliatory but, on the Government's own side, watchful—approach, in order to see that no opponent is put in a wrongful position by reason of this innovation. The third point is an adaptation of the Scottish procedure, namely, that the Bill which can be introduced in order to reverse the decision of the joint committee should start at its Report stage. That is an innovation with regard to opposed Orders, although there was a similar provision for unopposed Orders under Scottish procedure. These three points are considerable innovations. With regard to the second two of them, obviously the Bill will require close consideration and careful scrutiny in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman will be the last person to wish to avoid that, and I am sure he will be anxious for all the points to be considered in case any improvements can be found. But with that warning, which I do press on the right hon. Gentleman as being not a mere statement in terrorem, but something that goes to the root of the proper and reasonable working of any improvement in this procedure, I say on behalf of my hon. Friends on these Benches that as far as we are concerned we shall be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading and to co-operate to the full extent of our powers in making it an effective instrument for the purpose which I have stated.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to expedite or improve the present long-established Provisional Order procedure, but deprives the subject of his present absolute right to have his petition heard by an impartial Committee of this House and moreover diminishes the control of Parliament over delegated legislation.When the Leader of the House moved the Motion to set up a Select Committee "to consider the procedure in the Public Business of this House, and to report what alterations, if any, are desirable for the more efficient despatch of such business," it seemed to me that this was just the kind of problem which could with great advantage be remitted to that Select Committee. This is a small but important part of the public procedure of this House, and when the Select Committee was set up to go into this matter I think it would have been a 1395 good thing for this matter also to be referred to it.
This Bill dates back to the last Parliament, and my hon. Friends and I put down the same reasoned rejection when it was introduced by the late Coalition Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House knows that I am not one of those who object to alterations in the procedure of the House or to anything which will reasonably expedite our business. He made a statement on 24th August—and I regard this as being an absolutely unexceptionable statement—when speaking about delegated legislation, in the course of which he was good enough to say some kind words about the line which my hon. Friends and I followed in the last Parliament. He said:The real aim should not be to resist the principle of delegated legislation, but rather"—I will omit some words which he was kind enough to say about my hon. Friends and myself—to devise a Parliamentary check whereby the Government may be prevented from running away with the show."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th August, 1945; Vol. 413; c. 1048.]This Bill which we have before us to-day proposes to amend the present procedure, and there are laid down in the explanatory memorandum principles which are almost identical with those which I have just quoted from the right hon. Gentleman's speech of 24th August. The chief objection which we have to this Bill is that the words which are taken as a criterion in Clause 3 do not, in our view, at all accurately represent the distinction which has been drawn in the explanatory memorandum. As things are at the present time, every individual, including local authorities who are affected by a Provisional Order, have the right of coming to the House and having their grievances heard in a forensic atmosphere upstairs. It is intended in this new procedure to draw a distinction between objections which raise broad questions of national policy and questions of detail affecting private individuals, and with private individuals we include the local authorities who would be specially affected by the Boundary Bill and the Water Bill. When we get to the Bill itself, we find that the two Chairmen are required to draw a distinction between petitions of general objection—but petitions of general objection 1396 do not necessarily raise questions of broad national policy—and on the other hand petitions for amendment. A petition for amendment does not necessarily only raise some small matter of detail affecting an individual; it may also raise quite an important matter of policy. In fact, the chief point which my hon. Friends and I wish to make is that this distinction which is being drawn is on grounds of quantity rather than of quality. What is needed is to draw a qualitative distinction, as is done in the explanatory memorandum, between those which raise questions of national policy and those which merely deal with matters of detail.
Perhaps I may give an example, which is likely to arise before very long, of the kind of Provisional Order which will come before this House and which presumably will have to be regarded as a petition of general objection. In the Water Bill in Section 3 the Minister of Health is given compulsory powers of amalgamation. I take it that if a Provisional Order amalgamated a large number of existing statutory undertakers of local authorities providing water, and if one of them objected to being included in that Order, the Chairmen, looking at the Order and the petition, upon the face of it would regard that as being a petition for amendment. But if the Order happened to apply to only a single one, and there was objection to the whole of the Order, that would be a petition of general objection, and clearly that is not what the Government really have in mind. In both examples it might or might not be the case that the objection which was raised, raised a broad matter of general policy. It might only be a matter of detail affecting a particular locality which did not wish to be included or, on the contrary, did wish to be included in some general scheme. On the other hand, it might have brought up some matter of high policy, for example the inclusion of some waterless hamlet in an existing statutory undertaker's area, and it might involve the whole question of whether those in the existing statutory undertaker's area should be required to pay a higher rate in order to provide water for some other area which is to be included. Therefore, when we come to the Committee stage I hope the Government will be sympathetic to amendments which try accurately to reflect in the Bill the line of distinction which is laid down in the explanatory 1397 memorandum. This is going to be of immense importance in the case of the Local Authorities Boundary Commission Act. It seems to me that it is going to be extremely difficult to draw this distinction if the wording of Clause 3 of this Bill is left as it is.
I come to the next point. The tribunal which is to distinguish between petitions of general objection and those for amendment is one consisting of the Lord Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means. These Provisional Orders are nearly always highly technical and difficult to understand. In the last Session I was a member of the Select Committee on Statutory Rules and Orders, and it was part of the wisdom of the present Leader of the House when he agreed to the setting up of that Committee, to provide that that Committee should have the advantage of an explanation given by the representatives of the Department concerned. The meaning of a great many Provisional Orders would not be plain to any Committee or tribunal unless a representative of the Government Department making the Order was present. Still more in the case of a petition, unless there were counsel present able to illustrate his argument by maps and plans, and perhaps by calling expert witnesses, it would be almost impossible for any tribunal really to understand the point of the objection. That is where we get close to objecting to the principle of this Bill. It is doing away with the right of petitioners to have petitions explained in such circumstances in the seclusion of a committee room upstairs, with the opportunity of passing documents and so on, where it is possible for three hon. Members of this House to look into the whole matter and then report back to the House and explain what really are the issues between the Government Department making the Order and the petitioners who are petitioning against it.
If, after having looked at the form of the petition, the two Chairmen decide that it is a petition of general objection, what is the position of the hon. Member who represents the constituency which includes that local authority or individual? I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the ex-Attorney-General, who has a great and almost paternal affection for this Bill, for the fairness with which he expressed the point 1398 of view of those of us who have put down this reasoned Amendment. Both he and the Leader of the House have had a long experience on the Front Bench, but a very short experience as back benchers, and they are both a little inclined to under-estimate the difficulty of the task of an hon. Member who is asked to oppose a Provisional Order. He has to go round and try to persuade his friends and acquaintances, who are not interested in the concerns of his constituency, to stay behind late at night when a House is being kept by the Government Whips, and then to divide against the Government, with all the approbrium that always involves and the castigations that come afterwards from the Front Bench.
I come again to the further difficulty that will arise on a petition of objection, the difficulty of hon. Members explaining in the House why objection is taken to a scheme for redevelopment, which is technically known in the Town and Country Planning Act as "an area of extensive war damage." My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby, Liverpool (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) made an appeal to the Leader of the House that the Government should set an example of using generously the power that exists of setting up a Select Committee to look into the details of a petition of general objection in all cases where it is obviously desirable and expedient to do so. It is extremely unwise for this House to pass legislation setting up a procedure which enables the Government, if they so wish, to drive legislation or Provisional Orders through the House without giving a fair and adequate opportunity of the petitioner to make his voice heard. That is exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend admitted would be the case if this procedure were not used with great moderation by the Government. We submit that in the Committee stage the Government should be willing to accept such Amendments as may be devised which will give an absolute safeguard against abuse of that kind.
The admission which my right hon. and learned Friend made goes far to justify the statement which we make in our Amendment that it deprives the subject of his present absolute right to be heard in a judicial atmosphere upstairs. The Leader of the House said he did not understand why we suggested that this 1399 procedure diminished the control of the House of Commons over delegated legislation. It does not do so ostensibly, because all these matters have to be referred to the House, but in order to see to what extent any protection is really effective one has to know how the House works. Anyone who has had experience of trying to oppose an Order late at night by means of a Prayer, knows that it is extremely difficult to make that procedure fully effective.
I come to an important point which has not been referred to. Under this Bill there will be nothing to prevent another place from referring any petition of a local authority to a Committee. Therefore, it may well be that Parliamentary counsel will tend always to advise their clients to lay their petitions before the House of Lords. It is the accepted practice of that House to refer to a Committee anything which, on the face of it, appears to involve a greater degree of inquiry than can be dealt with in public Debate. It would be unfortunate if it came to be generally considered by local authorities that it was to the other Chamber of this legislature and not to the House of Commons that they can turn in order to have a full and fair hearing of their petitions.
To summarise my argument as far as it has gone, it is, first, that a petition of general objection does not necessarily raise any particular question of national or Government policy; second, that to decide whether it does, will necessitate an inquiry which, under the Bill, the Chairmen are not authorised to undertake; third, that it will be difficult for the House to understand an Order properly when it cannot call experts to explain it with plans; and, fourth, that is the procedure which is likely to be adopted by another place. That is why we say that this Bill fails to expedite or to improve the present long-established procedure.
I was glad that the Leader of the House admitted that this House does not take long in dealing with Provisional Orders when once they are introduced. I had an analysis made of three Provisional Order Bills in each of the 20 years 1920–1939, and found that the average time taken was 3 1/7 months. If we compare that with the period taken by the Government Departments, we find that that is 1400 where the delay takes place. It was elicited in a Committee of this House upstairs, that, in the case of the Colwyn Bay Water Provisional Order Bill, the first request for an Order was made in February, 1944. A local inquiry was held on 25th May, 1944. The Government then took the conventional nine months of gestation before the Provisional Order Bill was introduced in this House on 25th January, 1945. The legislature had dealt with it and it had obtained the Royal Assent by 25th March. Therefore, when we want to speed up Provisional Orders, it is well that Government Departments should look to their responsibility in this matter as well. It would be possible merely by altering the Standing Orders of this House to reduce the time which is taken upstairs, because it is the custom of Parliamentary counsel to attack the entire Preamble of the Provisional Order in order then to concentrate on a single point; and it would be easy by altering the Standing Orders to confine the point to be dealt with by the Committee upstairs to the actual matter in dispute.
I would like to ask the Lord Advocate to answer this special and important point. Since it is now the intention of the Government under the Water Act, 1945, that the general policy of water development shall be dealt with by Provisional Order, what steps do the Government intend to take to prevent the promotion of Private Bills dealing with this matter? Obviously, we shall not have an orderly development and exploitation of water if, in addition to the policy of the Minister of Health under the Water Act, we are to have the promotion of Private Bills. Is that to be dealt with by opposing the Private Bill on the Second Reading, or will it be done behind the scenes by pressure being brought to bear on local authorities and statutory undertakers by the Ministry of Health? Or in what way will it be done?
I have tried to state a case against this Bill, which does not go to the root of the matter. We are willing to do everything we can to improve and expedite procedure, provided that the effective control of Parliament over delegated legislation is preserved and the right of the subject so to petition the House that his grievances can be effectively made clear to Members, is continued. I would appeal to the Leader 1401 of the House to meet us as far as he can in this matter on the Committee stage. There was a time, when he was Home Secretary during the war, when we regarded him as one who gloried in pouring forth a flood of dictatorial departmental edicts. There have been indications in the last year or so that that point of view has rather changed. He is no longer the administrator intent to get his business through with the minimum of interference from the tribunes of the people which look after the toad under administrative harrow. Now that he is Leader of this deliberative assembly, I hope that he will do all he can to maintain the prestige and the effective control of this House over delegated legislation.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
I beg to second the Amendment.
This is a complicated subject, and hon. Members will agree that my hon. Friend who has so ably proposed this Amendment has made himself master of his case. It is obvious that he has spent considerable time, care and attention in marshal ling the facts he has put before us. The Bill is a legacy left over from the Coalition Government for the new Government, but as my hon. Friend said, some of us were going to oppose the Bill had it been brought forward by the Coalition, I want to emphasise that point, because I do not want any accusations of obstruction which are so often made these days by hon. Members opposite to be made against us. The case for the Bill obviously rests to a large extent on the fact that, because of the proposed legislative programme, there will be great pressure upon Parliamentary time. Therefore some method must be devised whereby that volume of legislation can be passed without prejudicing the scrutiny which this House ought to give to it. I do not want to challenge that in the least, but there is at present sitting the Select Committee on Parliamentary Procedure, and this Bill deals with certain aspects of Parliamentary procedure and Parliamentary machinery. When the Bill was first drafted by the Coalition Government, that Select Committee was not sitting, but now that it is sitting, I feel that this Bill contains points which are very suitable for submission for its consideration.
As I understand it, the Bill is intended to economise Parliamentary time. The 1402 two kinds of petition which have been mentioned are petitions for amendment and petitions of general objection. The first are to be referred to a Joint Select Committee. We do not oppose that at all, we think it is a good idea, but it is in connection with, petitions of general objection that the procedure suggested in the Bill is very different. If there is a petition of general objection the onus of moving that petition in the House will rest upon individual Members of Parliament, and I should like the House to consider how this Bill will increase the duties of Members. I have had some experience in moving Prayers for the annulment of certain Orders, and I know how difficult it is, especially when the Order deals with a constituency matter, to arouse enthusiasm among Members who represent other parts of the country and persuade them to sit late at night to support the hon. Member who moves the Prayer. I know also what it means to have the Whips put on and the whole machinery of the Government opposing the Prayer, and, with the greatest of respect to hon. Members, I know that if petitions were heard before a Select Committee upstairs with the full backing of counsel, the case for the petitioners would be argued considerably better than it could be by one individual Member on the Floor of the House.
I believe that the procedure under this Bill may tend to increase the amount of work already placed on the average Member of Parliament. In order to present an intelligible and reasoned case in support of a petition of general objection, the Member of Parliament will have to hear at great length evidence of a highly technical character. He will have to go into the matter extremely closely with the technical advisers, and to study plans, maps and documents. It will take him a long time and then, when he comes to the House, he is responsible for putting over the case to a lot of hon. Members who have not heard the technical experts, who have not had am opportunity of studying the plans, maps and documents, and the whole burden will rest on the poor individual, the back bench Member. Quite frankly I think that that is too much to ask him to do, and I therefore believe that in those conditions the scrutiny of the House over matters of this nature will compare very unfavourably 1403 with the scrutiny provided by the Judicial Committee sitting upstairs.
Again, I do not believe that it is by any means universal that petitions of general objection will be an attack on broad grounds of policy, and if I am wrong in this I hope I shall be corrected. Let me take a case. Suppose the Central Electricity Board, which is responsible through the medium of the grid system for supplying electricity and for seeing that there are sufficient generating stations sited in suitable places, decides upon a site for a new generating station and an Order is made to that effect. I understand that a petition against that Order would be a petition of general objection. No Amendment would be allowed, and the petitioner would not be able to say, except for purposes of argument, that the generating station might be sited somewhere else, or that there was no real reason for the station to be in that vicinity at all. But that is not a general objection against the electricity Board's broad policy. The matter may constitute a very small part of the business carried on by the Board, and I cannot conceive that such an objection should really be a case of general objection. I believe that we must try to draw some greater distinction between petitions which challenge policy and those which challenge details of the administration of that policy. At the moment they are both to be considered as petitions of general objection which must be wrong.
In conclusion, I do agree that there is scope and need for improvement in speeding up our machinery in this House, but as the new machinery proposed under this Bill gives very wide powers to Departments without, I submit, any proper Parliamentary check, I regard this Bill with serious misgivings, and I believe that it is possible to devise some machinery whereby the passage of these Orders could be expedited without impairing the right of scrutiny of Parliament.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)
I have listened with very great interest to the speech of the Leader of the House this afternoon on this Bill, and while I do not intend to deal with that part of the Bill which concerns the position in England, I would like to ask the 1404 Lord Advocate, when he comes to reply, to give us a little more information with regard to Clause 10, which deals with the position in Scotland. I should like to know definitely what changes are proposed in the present procedure followed in Scotland with regard to private legislation. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, paid a very high compliment to Scotland on the method of procedure which has been in operation for so many years and which has been so successful. As a matter of fact, if we in Scotland had not had this system of dealing with private legislation, this House, long ere now, would have had to face the question of giving us a government of our own, because if all Scottish business had to be discussed on the floor of this House it would take a very considerable time. Under the Private Legislation (Procedure) (Scotland) Act we have been able to facilitate Scottish business that has come before this House.
Occasionally Scottish Bills are introduced without their coming before a Commission in Scotland, and very often such Bills provoke acrimonious discussions when they are introduced here. Those who have been in the House for some time and remember the Debates we had on the various hydro-electric schemes in Scotland will remember also the intense feeling aroused, not only among Scottish Members but also amongst Members in every part of the House. Not all Scottish business comes to the House. We have had in operation the system described by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon and I would like to know from the Lord Advocate what changes are proposed in the present procedure. If it is merely a speed-up, so far as I am concerned I shall not object to that. Neither shall I object if it can cheapen the procedure. But if there is any limitation on the powers of Commission that is appointed to deal with these matters in Scotland, we want to know what the changes are and whether they will be to the advantage of Scotland.
It is a curious thing, but when Provisional Orders have been submitted to a Commission in Scotland and the whole of the opposition has been heard, the Commission has reported to this House and the Provisional Orders have come before this House as Bills, I think I only remember one occasion when any objection was taken to the decision of the Commission. The Commission's decision has 1405 been accepted by this House on every occasion, and on most occasions without any discussion at all. It was considered that, if the Provisional Order had gone through the Commission in Scotland, been examined there and accepted by the Commission, so far as this House was concerned it was prepared to accept the decision of the Commission. If there happened to be a Scottish Member present whose constituency was affected by the Bill that was before the House, and which had formerly been before the Commission in the shape of a Provisional Order, I do not know of any Scottish Member who felt in the least embarrassed by that fact. I can speak with some knowledge on this matter, because I think I am correct in saying there is no Member in any part of the House who has served on more of these Commissions in Scotland than I have. On several occasions I have been chairman of the Commission, so that naturally I am very jealous of any change that may be proposed in regard to this procedure. We want to retain the procedure in Scotland, because the petitions that are presented against any Provisional Order are thoroughly examined by the keenest legal brains that we have in Scotland. The best men who can be got are engaged on both sides. The matter is sifted to the very foundations.
I can remember a number of interesting cases where difficulties and disputes that had gone on for a very considerable time were settled by the Commission. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) was head of a very important corporation, the Edinburgh Corporation, for many years. He knows that that corporation has promoted many of these Provisional Orders. He knows that other bodies in Scotland have presented Provisional Orders for certain improvements in their areas. I remember very well the last Commission of which I was a member in Scotland; I was the chairman of it. For years Edinburgh had been seriously divided over the question of the sites for certain institutions. That dispute went on for years, and then the time came when the Edinburgh Corporation presented a Provisional Order to settle the question. The Commission, which consists of two Members of this House and two Members of another place, settled the matter that had been so long in dispute in Edinburgh, and to this day the Commission's decision has not been challenged.
1406 I am particularly anxious to know what changes are proposed in the system that we have had and which has been carried on so successfully in Scotland. There are, of course, certain proposals which cannot come before the Commission in the form of a Provisional Order and which have to be brought before the House in the form of a Bill. I am very anxious to know what the changes are, and I hope that the Lord Advocate, whom I congratulate on being elevated from the Law Courts of Edinburgh to the Front Bench, will be able to assure Scottish Members that there is no intention of interfering with the procedure that has been carried on so successfully in Scotland for so many years. I agree that there is a case for speeding up matters. There is too much delay in getting a Provisional Order before the Commission, and after it has been passed by the Commission, there is too much delay before it is presented to the House in the form of a Bill. If anything can be done to speed up that procedure, I shall have no objection to the Second Reading of the Measure. I hope the Measure will get a speedy passage, and I hope to hear from the Lord Advocate that there is no intention of interfering seriously with the procedure that we have had in Scotland for so many years.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)
I share with the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. McLean Watson) a certain amount of apprehension about this Bill. When the Bill was first introduced in the last Parliament, I remember pressing my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) to let us have a free vote on it. This is not a party question, it is a question of our procedure here, and it seems to me that such a matter should not be dealt with on a party basis, but on the basis of the knowledge we have gained from our experience of this sort of work. I gather there will be no free vote on this occasion, and no hon. Member is going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I think there are certain improvements which we will have to try to make on the Committee stage.
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is not present at the moment, but perhaps the Lord Advocate will tell his right hon. Friend that he made a joke which appealed even to 1407 Scotsmen about the five years, on which we had a Debate last Monday. I suggest that it would be quite a good idea, having put five years into the other Bill and taken two years out, that as he has taken five years out here he should put two years in in its place. That would give an experimental period. Surely, we ought to try a thing before going in for it wholesale. I hope that perhaps on the Committee stage the two-year period may be inserted. The argument seems to be that what we want to do is to speed up private legislation. I think that the more one knows of private legislation in this House the more one realises that it is difficult to speed it up, as far as Parliament is concerned. As my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) pointed out, the delay is in the Departments and not here. I would like to quote what was said in another place last year on this subject by Lord Hemingford, who, as Sir Dennis Herbert, was Chairman of Ways and Means for many years. He said:It would be correct to say that it is by far the most vital of our traditions that justice should be done between all subjects of the Realm. Having that task before us in Private Bill legislation, it is really impossible to shorten the time very materially.That is his view. Being a judicial matter the thing cannot be pushed through in double quick time. An attempt was made before to speed up the procedure. In 1929 the Labour Government brought in the Public Works Facilities Act. What was the result of that attempt? It was a complete failure. To quote Lord Hemingford again:I must confess that the attempt on that occasion to speed up the execution of useful works by means other than the ordinary Private Bill procedure was a complete failure.One can put things on paper for the speeding up of procedure, but when it comes to practice it is a very different matter. People outside the House, and sometimes hon. Members themselves, talk about the slowness and inefficiency of Parliamentary procedure. I have been interested in Parliamentary procedure for a very long time. It has been built up by experience and practice and I do not think there is very much the matter with it. There may be some things that could be improved, but when it comes to criticising Parliamentary procedure, I think that the more people know about it the less they criticise it. I do not want to 1408 go into details about the Bill, because there will be an opportunity of doing that later, but I would like to say a word about the question of local inquiry. I want again to quote from that great authority. Lord Hemingford:It may be unfortunate but it is the fact that the departmental inquiry by a Government Department is, to use a somewhat slang phrase, thoroughly fly-blown throughout the country. There have been numerous cases where these inquiries have been, from the lawyer's point of view, most unsatisfactory. They are conducted generally by a very excellent and experienced civil servant, who is not a lawyer, who has no legal knowledge, and who has, if I may say so, a very small amount of what I should call the judicial mind in dealing with matters of this kind.Let us be careful where we go with regard to this private legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak said in his very able speech, we are now taking away from the private individual the power to come here and petition. It is a serious interference with the present rights of persons affected by Provisional Orders. Private individuals have lost for the first time their right to be heard in Parliament.
Preamble points are cut out unless someone persuades Parliament otherwise, which means against the wishes of the Government Whips. That seems to be quite simple, but what chance has an individual to get a Prayer carried? We know that the answer is that he has none. I hope the Lord Advocate will deal with that when he replies. There is another thing which I do not expect the Lord Advocate will known about. I do suggest that the Committee of Selection should have some say in the appointment of the Joint Committees and also that the members of the Joint Committees should have to sign the Declaration.
I am sorry if I have been rather critical. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) originally brought the Bill before the House I was rather rude to him once or twice and now apologise, but he was very nice about it. This is not a party matter and it is something that we must watch carefully because it is a question of taking away the rights of individuals.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
I listened, as I am sure all of us did, with great interest to the speech of the hon. 1409 Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) reviewing the case of Scotland. I do not pretend to know anything about the position in Scotland but I was interested to hear the hon. Member say that over a long period of years the method of legislation by Provisional Order has worked satisfactorily without anyone making objection to it. That was the position taken up by the Leader of the House in his opening speech when he very ably reviewed the history of the Provisional Order legislation. As he pointed out, it has been in existence for something like 100 years, and there has been no objection to its working. It has worked satisfactorily from the point of view of both promoters and objectors. The two reasons he gave for introducing the Bill were that it was to speed up something, but what, he does not say. Is he going to say that he is speeding up something which is working, on his own showing, quite satisfactorily? How can that be a question of speeding up when all parties are finding the present position satisfactory? Is it to provide a cheaper and more expeditious form of legislation? The Provisional Order was introduced to give Parliament complete control over matters with which it could not itself adequately deal and which could be referred to committees. As the right hon. Gentleman said, you cannot spread maps and documents before the House itself, and so here is machinery which is both competent and adequate. On its findings a Provisional Order is issued and in due course Parliament has the Provisional Order laid before it and it is made a Provisional Order of Parliament.
Why is it that both this Government and the previous Government want to change what has worked satisfactorily for 100 years? The phrase "full employment," which occurred over and over again in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, on the face of it, had nothing whatever to do with it. I looked through the Schedules to the Bill and there is nothing there dealing with employment at all. Is it intended that some Orders shall be used on some occasions to deal with Acts not now in the Second Schedule of the Bill? That is not clear to my mind. If that be so, then that comes within the reasoned Amendment of the hon. Member for The High Peak Division (Mr. Molson). Clause 7 of the Bill limits the power of 1410 local authorities to make objections. Subsection (3) says:The reasonable costs incurred by a local authority in applying for or supporting an order to which this Act applies, or in opposing any such order, including costs incurred in connection with any local inquiry preliminary thereto, shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister of Health, be deemed to be expenses properly incurred by the local authority.It means that the local authority in future shall not be able to make objection except in so far as it is authorised to do so by the central executive or the Minister. That is an increase of the powers of the Minister. Is that what is intended by the Bill? Why do the Labour Government take over a Bill from this side of the House and seek to pass it into law? I have become familiar with the statement that this is the Bill which was introduced by the "caretaker" Government, with certain modifications and alterations here and there and that therefore the House is asked to pass it.
§ Mr. Morris
Yes, the Coalition Government. I used to speak here for a minority, in fact I have done so every time I have been here, and it may be that the minority may prove right in the end, but it is well that the Minister should remind the House that it ought to be jealous of its own powers and authority and should not lightly put away machinery which has worked in a good, efficient and democratic way.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I feel that when a Measure of this sort has been recommended to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council on the grounds that it is likely to save time, and when it has also had the recommendation of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) on the same grounds—and we all really want to save the time and improve the working conditions of the House—it is our duty, if we see a real defect in their arguments, to try and point it out to the House as a whole. I agree that, as far as this new procedure is concerned, it is likely to save money. I think there is a chance that it may actually save time, though a very little—it has been grossly over-estimated, I think—in putting these Orders through. 1411 But I am absolutely convinced that this is not going to save the time of the House of Commons as a whole. We have had evidence given of the value of Standing Committees and how, if you have Standing Committees, you save the time of the House as a whole. The whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman, speaking on behalf of the Government, was that these things could be discussed on the Floor of the House. It is on the Floor of the House that you take up the time of the largest possible number of Members, whereas if a matter goes upstairs to a committee there are only a few hon. Members concerned. I remember there was the question of evidence on the Colwyn case, with which I had something to do as it was taken in answer to my request. I have had some experience of Bills upstairs, not very much, but enough to realise the amount of time that these save the House. There is usually no objection and they go upstairs quickly. There are very few days during which they are actually passing through the House itself. As far as the Committee upstairs is concerned, as a general rule, they do not take long, although they may at times.
Therefore, it is due to me to warn the House, if the Government remove these Committees, of the danger of having a long discussion on the Floor of the House. They will not save a great deal of time on the whole. To give an illustration, I will take the House back to what happened on an occasion in about 1930. There was a certain Private Bill, which the Government were more or less backing, concerned with trolley buses. The Bill, although opposed locally, was quite harmless and the Government were rather favouring it, but it happened that the representative of the particular division was in some disagreement with the Socialist Government of the day. The Socialist back bench Members, not being very wise, blocked the Bill and wasted half a day of their own Government's time on that Bill. I say frankly that this is a Bill which is not likely to save the time of the House as a whole.
There are two points I wish to emphasise and make clear to the House. We have heard that the main objection to the Bill in interfering with the present procedure under Provisional Orders is that the local authority, or private individual 1412 feels that he has some immediate contact with the House of Commons itself. I can see many Members of Parliament present to-day who have spent an immense amount of time working on Private Bills. The individual or local authority has direct contact with the private Member. This sense of contact will, under this Bill, be removed both from local authorities and other people. We heard that one of the ways in which this Bill would be used would be in the direction of boundaries. I can remember that with regard to Plymouth and Devonport there was a great deal of feeling, although it has passed away in due course. There is likely to be feeling in these matters and that will mean there will be high local controversy, and directly you have high controversy you force Private Members of the House of Commons to take up the question. If we get these Private Bills upstairs where matters are worked out we save a vast amount of the time of the Government, and when the business is done we start them off like a new married couple by sending them off with a sense that at any rate the House of Commons itself has had a very good look into the matter rather than some Department. That is absolutely essential. The sense of contact is something which I would be loath to refuse under the Bill.
I would like to say one thing on Clause 3, and I say it with great respect. I believe that at the moment I am the only Member in the House who can say it with knowledge. That Clause gives the Chairman of Ways and Means or whoever represents him the power of certification. I have never liked the power of certification. The appointment of Chairman of Ways and Means is a Government appointment and always has been. The power of certification is to be simply transferred from one hon. Gentleman to another in the respected position of Chairman. If I were Chairman I would not like to have that thrust upon me. It would be grossly unfair if I did not tell the House that I think that that would be wrong. I personally doubt whether there is any possibility of the Chairman or the Deputy-Chairman, both of whom have an enormous amount of work to do, doing this at a time like this when they will have far more work to do with the additional Bills coming on and whether we are not putting an unnecessary burden upon them. I put these 1413 points with very great respect, but they are points which ought to be put before the House, as they have not been considered. I do feel that it would have been wrong if I had not warned the House that I think it would be out of place to give that power to the Chairman, as I understand is the position.
§ 5.45 P.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am concerned with the Scottish aspect of this matter, and I hope the Lord Advocate will allay my fears when he comes to reply. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) has said, we have had a long and fortunate experience of the Provisional Order system in Scotland, and I have never heard any complaint from any direction whatever, political or otherwise, against this method of legislation. I think it is admittedly satisfactory. The people who come with Provisional Orders, have a full opportunity of stating their case at great length, and I have never known any objection taken to any decision. That being so, I have great difficulty in understanding why we should be expected to effect a change when the system was so universally approved.
I am also concerned with another circumstance and this has special reference to what the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs said. I hope the Lord Advocate will help me in this matter, too. For many years the people of Scotland, particularly in the Fifeshire and Edinburgh areas, have desired a crossing over the Forth, and the principal promoter for many years has been the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs. We have never been successful in convincing the Ministry of Transport of the national importance of this project, but in the last few months the local authorities have decided to promote a Provisional Order in order to achieve this end. Will the Lord Advocate tell me that they will be in a no less favourable position with that Provisional Order than they would have been in before these new proposals were made. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he will have some difficulty in retaining the high popularity which he enjoys in his country if he cannot give us some assurance on this matter. I am suspicious of legislation of this character. I am, by nature, timorous and slow. The kind of system which has worked well for 100 years is good enough for me. Festina lente 1414 is a good motto, if not for Tories, then for those newly-seated in positions of authority. I am suspicious of this legislation because it is adding again to the power of the authorities. I remember an old song which contains the line:Strength aiding still the strongand this is strength aiding still the strong. Are the local authorities going to be strengthened by this Measure? I doubt it, and I support the Amendment.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. R. Thomson)
It is with the utmost diffidence that I find myself making my first speech to this House on the subject of procedure. As the most recent Member of the House, I have been anxiously, and, I hope, diligently, endeavouring to acquire the elements of procedure, but I know that many of the hon. Members who have spoken have a wealth of knowledge and of practical experience which I shall never be able to attain. In those circumstances, my appeal for the indulgence of the House is a heartfelt one.
At present, Orders of a local legislative character, which are subject to review by Parliament, may be carried through by one of two generally accepted methods. They may be carried through either by Provisional Order procedure, or by Special Order procedure. Each of these methods of procedure has certain defects, and the object of this Bill is to provide a new code of procedure which will contain the advantages and avoid the disadvantages of the two existing codes. There is really nothing in this Bill that is truly an innovation. It follows from both the existing codes, and there is at the present moment a real need for this Bill in order to deal with problems of reconstruction, and. particularly, in regard to the time factor.
May I review, for a moment, the scope of the new procedure, because that, I think, in itself, would deal with a number of the points which have been taken? First, the procedure is to apply to any Order under a future Act which is described in that Act as being subject to special Parliamentary procedure. So it will be, in every case, as far as the future is concerned, for Parliament to decide whether the new procedure is to be applied or not. Secondly, the new procedure is to be applied to certain Orders under one or two Acts, which were passed in the course of last year, and, thirdly, the new 1415 procedure may be applied to Orders under earlier Acts, but that must be done by Order in Council. It seems to me, therefore, that the control of Parliament over the delegation of legislation is firmly established, and it is left to Parliament to decide, in the light of experience, to what extent the new procedure is to be used, and it is not proposed to introduce any experimental period. Time and experience will show.
Perhaps the simplest way of answering a number of the points which have been raised would be to give the House a general review of the procedure. The First Schedule, deals with proceedings preliminary to the Order being laid on the Table of the House. That is as far as England and Wales are concerned. This preliminary procedure follows closely the existing system of proceedings preliminary to the making of a Provisional Order. There is no curtailment at this stage of any private rights or interests, and the fullest consideration is given to all these matters. Then, the preliminary stage over, the Order has to lie on the Table of each House, and petitions may be presented within 14 days. The duty is cast on the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means to examine and decide whether these petitions are petitions for amendment, or petitions of general objection. That is a distinction which is very important, and, indeed, is fundamental to the Bill. It is intended to be a broad distinction, and a distinction in quality, but I may say that we will gladly consider any formula which would help to make that distinction clear, because there is no denying that it is a fundamental and important distinction. I also agree that that would assist the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Committees in what may well be a difficult task of discriminating between the two types of petition. The next step is that the Chairmen—
§ Mr. Charles Williams
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a maiden speech, but I did raise a point of some importance on this matter of the Chairman and his powers. With an Order under a Government Bill, what would the position of the Chair be? Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would put that point before the Lord President, and discuss it from that angle. It is very difficult for anyone except myself 1416 to put that point, which I have put forward with very great respect. I would like an assurance that the matter will be borne in mind.
§ The Lord Advocate
I hope it will. I had intended to convey that it is a matter which needs attention, because this distinction is an important distinction between the two types of petition, and needs to be carefully defined. The jurisdiction of deciding into which of the two categories a petition falls, seems to me to involve a delicate definition. That is the impression which I had been hoping to convey.
That step having been taken, the Chairmen report to the House whether petitions have been presented, and, if so, into which class they fall. If, within 14 days after the Chairmen's report, either House resolves that the Order be annulled, the Order falls to the ground. That is the first step, but, where there are petitions of general objection, if the Resolution to annul is moved, the House may, if it thinks fit, amend the Resolution and send the petition to a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is an innovation. A petition does not go automatically, but the question of the principle involved in the Order has to be decided by the House, either on the Floor or through the Joint Committee. It does not go to the Joint Committee automatically; in this matter, it is for the decision of the House. When the report of the Joint Committee is laid before both Houses, three possibilities arise. If the Order is reported without Amendment, it comes into operation on the day when the Order is laid, or on such later date as the Order itself may fix. That is the first possibility. Secondly the Minister in charge of the Order may accept Amendments. If he cannot accept the Amendments, he must either withdraw the Order or embody the Order in the Bill. The course of embodying the Order in the Bill is necessary as the Minister is asking Parliament to reconsider a decision of a Joint Committee, but there is this important innovation—that the Bill, after introduction, will be treated as having passed its Committee stage in each House. That is an innovation which is introduced from Scottish procedure. It has been successfully tried in Scottish procedure.
1417 The third possibility in regard to the Joint Committee's report is that if the Committee on consideration of a petition of general objection reports that the Order be not approved, the Minister has an option. If he accepts that ruling then, of course, that finishes the Order but, if he does not accept it, he is still entitled to embody the Order in a Bill. That gives one an idea of the procedure in so far as it relates to England and Wales.
May I say a word about the procedure as far as Scotland is concerned? I assure the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson) that this procedure makes no innovation whatever in Scottish private legislation procedure. The Bill so far as the application Clause is concerned proposes to modify the new procedure in its application to Scotland so as to make use of the system of inquiry relating to Scottish private legislation which is now governed by the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936. So that all that is proposed to be done is that, in modifying this new procedure in relation to Scotland, we intend to use our established Scottish procedure. The essential feature of that Scottish procedure is an inquiry in Scotland before Commissioners, who are usually Parliamentary Commissioners drawn from panels of Members of both Houses of Parliament, and we shall utilise that procedure which is well tried and entirely satisfactory in the application of this new procedure to Scotland. Since 1900 there have been 223 Provisional Orders under the Scottish procedure, and only 20 of them have been the subject of Parliamentary Debate. In only six of the 20 was there a Motion for reference to a Joint Select Committee, and only in one case was the Motion accepted. So it seems clear that the Scots system of preliminary inquiry has operated very satisfactorily. It gives a full ventilation of the facts, and it is both speedy and economical, so we feel it is entirely appropriate that, so far as the new procedure applies to Scotland, we should avail ourselves of this will tried expedient.
In Scotland the procedure is simply this: It is very similar to the Provisional Order procedure. First, there is advertisement and notice. Where there are objections, the Order must be sent before the Commissioners, and even if there are no 1418 Petitions, it may be sent before the Commissioners. The next step is that if the Minister makes an Order giving effect to the recommendations of the Commissioners, or if an unopposed Order is made without inquiry, the Order will be presented to both Houses. Once that stage is reached, there will be the same opportunity for petitions and the same scrutiny of petitions by the two Chairmen as in the English procedure, but there is this important difference: in view of the quasi-Parliamentary inquiry which has already been held, the Order will be referred for examination by a Joint Committee only if either House so resolves. That is an important difference between the two procedures. Apart from that, the Order may be annulled by either House and when it is referred to a Joint Committee, the procedure will be on the same lines as in the case of the English Orders. Similarly, too, where the Minister concerned disagrees with the recommendations of the Commissioners, he can embody the Order in a Bill which is treated as having reached the Report stage. So I think I can certainly reassure the Scottish Members, first that there is no invasion of our private legislation procedure, and that all we are doing is taking this tried expedient and applying it to the new procedure in so far as it affects Scotland.
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) raised one special point with which I might deal. One cannot prevent local authorities from bringing in private Bills. They may, of course, be persuaded to withdraw them but, if they cannot be so persuaded, then it would seem they would have to be dealt with on Second Reading.
May I say a word with regard to the time factor, which is important in regard to the Bill? An unopposed Order, if the House is in session, can become operative after 28 days plus the time occupied by the chairmen in reporting and obtaining confirmation. The usual average period at present for the securing of Parliamentary confirmation of an unopposed Order is something in the neighbourhood of four months. If the Order is sent to the Joint Committee, the period will depend, of course, on the speed with which the Committee acts, but there will be a substantial saving of time as the Order stands referred to the Committee under the terms of Clause 5 for the purpose of the consideration 1419 of the petition—that is to say, the committee has only a limited objective. The issue which is before the Committee will be limited to the points taken in the petitions, and that should involve a substantial saving of time. Moreover, the examination is a single one before a Joint Committee and not a double one before several committees of the two Houses. When the Order is reported to the Houses, the further time involved depends, of course, upon a number of factors. It depends on whether there are no Amendments or whether the Amendments are such as the Minister is prepared to accept. In that event, of course, the Order can operate at once but if the Minister cannot accept the Amendments and needs a Bill, the Bill will still have to pass the Report and Third Reading stages in each House. But there too, there is a substantial saving of time because of the time saved in the earlier stages.
Considerable importance was attached by hon. Members to the point that under the Bill the subject is deprived of the right which he at present enjoys of having his petition heard by a Committee of this House. Under the Bill that right is no longer absolute, and cannot be so described. The Bill leaves it to Parliament to say in the first instance whether the question of policy is to be discussed on the Floor of the House, or is to be referred to the Joint Committee. That must, of course, always be a question for anxious consideration, and it depends a great deal on how the new procedure operates when the Bill is passed as to the use which will be made of it. However, looked at broadly, the subject has no legitimate grounds of complaint if Parliament prefers to deal with the question of policy itself. Any private interest is fully safeguarded, opportunity is given for due consideration, both in the preliminary procedure and in the petition procedure, and any point which the subject has can be fully brought into consideration. So I claim for the new procedure that it is certainly cheaper, that it is quicker, that it is more flexible than the old procedure, that it is better adapted for dealing with the problems of reconstruction, and, further, that it provides an effective balance between the claims of public and private interests.
§ Sir C. MacAndrew
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us his 1420 assurance that he will try to get his right hon. Friend to arrange that the Committee of Selection here has the appointment of the committee, and also that the members appointed have to sign the declaration? I know he cannot answer that now.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
As one with some experience of the law and little experience of Parliamentary Committees, and a little experience of this House, I would like to take the opportunity of offering congratulations to the Lord Advocate on his maiden speech. With such experience as I have, I can imagine that it was no light ordeal to speak on this particularly technical and rather dull subject, and I am sure the House will agree with me that he has discharged his heavy task very well.
I do not want to say very much about the Second Reading of this Bill, with which the House will, no doubt, now proceed, but I would like to say that it is a useful Bill and I am sure it will help. I noticed, except for the speeches from the Front Benches on either side, that there was a regrettable tinge of conservatism in the speeches that came from all three major parties of the House. I can speak with an air of detachment on the subject, since I do not belong to any of them. Naturally, to me as a Socialist, it was a very regrettable tendency to praise past things. As a Socialist, speaking in a Socialist House of Commons, I do not quite like the tendency to assume, as a matter of course, as was done on all sides, that any interference with the right of an individual to approach the House of Commons, or the Ritz Hotel, or anything else, is necessarily a retrograde step, or a diminution of general freedom and liberty in this country. Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to restrict the rights of the individual depends entirely on who the individual is, what property he has, and what interests he is defending, and no doubt we shall find that we are doing a very great deal of good in the course of this Parliament by restricting the rights of individuals who have property.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.