HC Deb 27 March 1946 vol 421 cc383-540

Order for Consideration (as amended in the Standing Committee), read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of the new Clauses and the Amendments in Schedule 1, page 12, lines 23, 25 and 48, page 13, line 6 and page 16, line 27 standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Bevan and the Amendments in Clause 6, page 7, line 47 and page 9, lines 4 and 15 and the new Schedule standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Westwood."—[Mr. Key.]

3.35 p.m.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

I rise to oppose this Motion on a point of principle. It appears to me that this procedure which is being initiated by the Government is a waste of the time of the House. May I explain why I make that statement? When the House last had this Bill before it, it was remitted to a Standing Committee to be examined there; to that Standing Committee were appointed the Minister of Health, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, and under the Order of the House the' Solicitor-General and the Lord Advocate were entitled to attend. During the nine days we were in Committee the Minister of Health and the Minister of Town and Country Planning never once attended. Let me say at once that the Parliamentary Secretary, although deserted by his colleagues, did nobly in attempting to deal with the points raised, but he also was without legal advice. The Solicitor-General flitted in and out on occasions, giving legal decisions on his first flit which, on his second flit, he had to say were wrong.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)

On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member in Order in discussing what happened upstairs?

Mr. Speaker

On this Question one must confine oneself to the Amendments which are before the House. A general review of all the proceedings of the Committee upstairs would be going too far.

Mr. Turton

With great respect, Sir, I submit that under Standing Order 40, I am allowed to give a brief explanation of why I oppose this Motion for recommittal, and one of my reasons is the behaviour of the Government in Committee upstairs, so that I should be allowed briefly to refer to it. Erskine May—page 415—says that I am allowed to refer on the Report stage to what happened in Committee, when the Chairman of the Committee has reported to the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is quite right. On a limited recommittal he is entitled to make a case. On an unlimited recommittal, he is not allowed to make other than a short statement.

Mr. Turton

I am much obliged. Let me turn to the details of these three main new Clauses. Hon. Members know that i never deal with Scottish points about which I know nothing, so I leave out the two Scottish Amendments and confine myself to the English Amendments, about which I do know something. The first new Clause we are asked to deal with concerns inquiries. It happens that in Committee I raised this point myself, in support of an Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison). The Lord Advocate, the only legal adviser whom the poor Parliamentary Secretary could summon, rejected the idea of amending the Local Government Act of 1933, as the Government are doing now, and said that in his view of the English law it was quite unnecessary. The matter went to a Division and we were defeated by 16 votes to six.

The second new Clause deals with rights of way. On this point the Parliamentary Secretary had to give a legal opinion, and he declared that in Clause 2 the Government had no intention of affecting public rights of way at all. We were not quite satisfied with the legal opinion of the Parliamentary Secretary, much as we appreciated his ability, and we asked the Lord Advocate to give an opinion. He said that he was unable to give any answer to a question on English law. The Solicitor-General being otherwise engaged, the matter was left in that unsatisfactory state, although it was suggested that on the Report stage we might have more legal assistance. The third Amendment deals with the National Trust. That was the very Amendment that I moved myself in Committee. We went to a Division and were defeated by 13 votes to eight, and the Government refused to help us. I suggest that this is a very frivolous way of dealing with a Committee. The Minister of Health, who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place today—I had hoped he would be here— did make an allusion to what was happening in Committee, and he said that a certain number of frivolous Amendments had been moved. He may have regarded them as frivolous then, but now he has to come to the House and move the very Amendments which he described as frivolous at an earlier stage, and against which he ordered his colleagues to vote in Committee. For these reasons, and in the hope that we can get business conducted more expeditiously in the future, I oppose this Motion.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I also oppose this Motion. It is very difficult, if, having sent Bills upstairs to Standing Committee, we then have to recommit them to a Committee of the Whole House. We have not had a word of explanation either from the right hon. Gentleman in whose name the Motion was put down or from the hon. Gentleman who is supporting him. There is a new Clause which, obviously, should have been dealt with in the Standing Committee. If Standing Committees are of any use, and if they are not being overloaded with work, it is their duty to consider such matters as these. Here we have a series of Amendments, some of them of considerable importance, apart from this new Clause, and finally a whole new Schedule presented by the Scottish Office. I see the Lord Advocate here, but I see here no other representative of the Scottish Office.—[HON. MEMBERS: "There is."]—I am glad to see there is one here at last. The hon. Gentleman may be able to give very excellent reasons for that new Schedule, but when I rose to speak there was no sign of him. The Government are now laying upon the House an extra burden of work which should have been done upstairs in the ordinary way by the Committee. Apparently there was some misfortune there because either the Ministers or the Standing Committees are being overloaded. The result is we now have what might almost be called—indeed, this may come to pass on some occasion—a whole new Bill to deal with on recommittal and Report.

I certainly protest very strongly against the treatment of the House on this occasion. There is no good whatever in sending Bills to Standing Committees if we have to recommit them on a wholesale scale in this way. When we have to do a thing of this kind I think it is the duty of the Leader of the House to be present here and to explain why the House should be put to such inconvenience. He should be here and should pay attention to the ordinary courtesies to the House. If there is a Division on it, I shall certainly vote against this Motion. If the Bill has to be recommitted at all. it should, if possible— I repeat, if possible—be sent back to the Standing Committee. Members of the Government on Standing Committees should be told quite clearly by the House to do their job properly, and not to inconvenience the House like this.

3.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)

I suppose this is a typical example of Conservative gratitude. In the Committee upstairs two or three points were raised. One was the question of the bearing of expenses for inquiries under this Bill. I said then that I felt that the Bill was satisfactory, as far as that provision was concerned; but that I would undertake to look into the matter before the Report stage, and that, if I felt it necessary, I would take the necessary steps on Report to meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Also with regard to the stopping up of public paths, I said the provision in the Bill, in my opinion, did not apply to public footpaths; but that if I felt it necessary I would make the necessary provisions on Report to meet the case that had been put forward. Again, with regard to the National Trust, I gave the same undertaking. Between Committee and Report stage, consultations have gone on with the National Trust on what we should put into this Bill to make safe the position of the National Trust. In carrying out these undertakings, I am supposed to have done something wrong. It seems an extraordinary business that that should be the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I can only say what I said upstairs, that this is another example of the effort to fritter away time quite unnecessarily.

Mr. J. S C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)

We cannot allow that to pass. The hon. Gentleman does not appear to realise that the gravamen of the charge against him is twofold. First, he knew weeks in advance that these matters were to be raised, but, owing, no doubt, to his Department being overworked, he did not prepare his stuff before the Committee stage. He ought to have had these Amendments ready for the Committee stage, and ought not to have had to put them off upstairs and to put them off here again now through not having his work up to date. That is the first point. I really do not think the hon. Gentleman should talk about gratitude—

Mr. Key

No, I do not think I should.

Mr. Reid

These Amendments are not being made, I presume, and not being accepted on this side, as concessions to our party, or to the Opposition. They are, presumably, put down in the public interest as improvements in the Bill. I am willing to accept gratitude for having assisted the hon. Gentleman to improve his Bill, but the fact that Amendments are put down on the Paper does not indicate that he is giving us presents of some sort. It shows rather that he has accepted our view that, in the public interest, these Amendments are necessary.

Ordered: That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of the new Clauses and the Amendments in Schedule 1, page 12, lines 23, 25 and 48, page 13, line 6 and page 16, line 27 standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Bevan and the Amendments in Clause 6, page 7, line 47 and page 9, lines 4 and 15 and the new Schedule standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Westwood.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

  1. Major MILNER in the Chair 44,433 words, 8 divisions
  2. cc499-518
  4. cc518-31
  5. EDUCATION (GRANT REGULATIONS) 5,389 words, 2 divisions
  6. cc531-40
  7. PRISONERS OF WAR 3,705 words