HC Deb 09 December 1949 vol 470 cc2293-7

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion, made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. R. Adams.]

2.8 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I want to raise one question about this Bill. We on this side of the House welcome consolidation Measures, for the reason I have recently indicated. It makes it very much easier for everyone to find out what is the law. But when the law is in process of reconsideration, when discussions are on foot with regard to changes in the law, I think I am right in saying that the usual practice has been to bring in an amending Bill first and then to follow it with the consolidation Measure. That method has the advantage that, when one looks at the consolidation Measure, one finds all the law on the subject.

While I am not opposed to this Bill in any sense, I rather question the timing of its introduction, for the reason that I understand—and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will correct me if I am wrong—that at present negotiations are on foot and discussions are taking place with regard to the licensing of agricultural vehicles. I do not propose to touch upon these discussions, or indeed to argue the pros and cons of the taxation of agricultural vehicles. It is an important question. It may be that, as a result of those discussions, certain changes of the present law will be made. I express the hope that certain changes of the permanent law will in fact result, because I think it is desirable and would be beneficial to agriculture. But if that does happen, we are faced with this position, that if we pass this Bill before Christmas we shall be having an amending Bill very soon after Christmas. Probably it will not be contentious; I hope not. If that amending Bill is passed, one of the values which are to be attached to a consolidation Bill will be almost immediately destroyed, because the consolidation Bill will not in fact contain all the statute law upon that subject.

Therefore, if I am right, as I think I am, as to the fact that these negotiations are taking place with a view to making some alterations in the existing law, while not opposing this Measure I should like ' to ask the Attorney-General to consider whether it would not be wiser and more convenient to everyone concerned not to proceed with this particular Measure now, but to wait till we have amended the law, as I myself think we shall, with regard to agricultural tractors, and things like that, and their licensing, and then bring in the consolidation Measure. It might mean some alteration of this Bill as we now see it. That will depend upon the result of the present negotiations. But the effect of the adoption of that procedure would be to have all the law relating to the licensing of vehicles in one Statute.

I must say that I find it difficult to see what advantage is to be gained by passing this Bill at this moment instead of waiting a few months and making it a real consolidation of all the existing law, because I hope those changes will take place within the next few months. Of course, the Attorney-General may reply "We cannot do that because we are going to hold the election in January or February." That would indeed be a valid reason. But if that is the reason let us hear it, and the argument will not proceed. But on the assumption that the Government feel they can really face the onerous duties of office for just a little longer—

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)

For a long time, after the South Bradford by-election result.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I thought the hon. Gentleman would express that view, knowing how uncertain his tenure at Bedford is.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Not a bit. I shall increase my majority.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I quite appreciate the hon. Gentleman's desire to postpone the day when he must go before the electorate.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

I am ready any day.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The Attorney-General sees the enthusiasm with which his back benchers wish to secure an early change of Government. I have been rather diverted from what I was saying. All I desired to point out was that, unless this reason is put forward, there does not seem to me at first sight to be an adequate reason for carrying through this particular Measure at this moment.

I am sure the Attorney-General will appreciate that I am not opposing this Bill. I am merely questioning the timing of its introduction. I think it is a good Bill, but I should like it to be up-to-date and to contain the results of the present negotiations, which I hope will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion in the immediate future.

2.14 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

The hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right in thinking that in general the practice is that, where it is definitely intended to amend the law in some specific particular in regard to a branch of the law which is otherwise ripe and appropriate for consolidation, the law is amended in that particular first and consolidation follows. That is most certainly the general and manifestly convenient practice. But here the discussions about the possibility of an amendment of the law in relation to the duty on agricultural vehicles have not quite reached that stage. There are discussions about the matter, and the possibility of some amendment of the existing law is under consideration. If eventually it is decided upon, the fact that a consolidation has taken place will not prevent it from being accomplished; it can be, and would be, dealt with by a provision in the Finance Bill. When, at the time it is possible to bring forward consolidation legislation, there is no definite decision as to whether the law should be amended or not, it seems to us on the whole undesirable to miss the opportunity of consolidation.

It is not really a question of Parliamentary time in relation to the General Election. Perhaps I had better not say anything more about that for the moment. The argument the hon. and learned Gentleman put forward could, I think, be raised in regard to any consolidation Measure in respect of which there had as yet been no definite decision to amend the law, but in regard to which there was some prospect that possibly at some date not yet fixed an amendment might be decided upon. I should have thought that where the position was so much in the air as that, it would be better to get on with consolidation, and if necessary to introduce a provision in some other appropriate Bill later on. I will certainly give consideration to the point the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised; I will see how near we are to any agreement in regard to the desirability of amendment of the law; but if it looks like something which is not going to be accomplished in the immediate future, then I think he would agree with me that it would be better to take the opportunity, which fortunately we now have, to consolidate these Acts—of which I think there are 24—into one single Measure while the time is available for it.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

While I agree that where negotiations are not approaching a conclusion there is no objection to consolidation—although I must say I had hoped that they were getting much nearer to a conclusion than that—could the Attorney-General give an assurance that the fact that there has been a consolidation would in no sense be used as an argument against making any further change?

The Attorney-General

Oh, yes, I can quite definitely give that assurance. I am not particularly well informed on the exact state of the negotiations, but if agreement is reached about the matter, it will definitely be dealt with by amendment of the Finance Bill, and the passage of this Bill will in no way prejudice that possibility.