HC Deb 09 November 1949 vol 469 cc1349-61

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the provisions of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945,

Session and Chapter Short Title of Statute Sections and Subsections of Statute Subject matter
24 & 25 Vict. c. 45, and 1 Edw. 8 & 1 Geo. 6. c. 28. The General Pier and Harbour Act, 1861, as modified by the Harbours, Piers and Ferries (Scotland) Act 1937. Section 15 of the Act of 1861 as modified by sections 4 and 5 (1) of the Act of 1937. Construction of marine works.
31 & 32 Vict. c. 45. The Sea Fisheries Act, 1868 Sections 29 and 39. Oyster and mussel fisheries.
38 & 39 Vict. c. 55. The Public Health Act, 1875 Paragraph (5) of section 297 and section 303. Repeal and amendment of local Acts, &c
5 Edw. 7. c. 23, and 14 & 15 Geo. 5. c. 20. The Marriages Validity (Provisional Orders) Acts, 1905 and 1924. Section 1 of the Act of 1905, as extended by section 1 of the Act of 1924. Validation of marriages.
13 & 14 Geo. 5. c. 16. The Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1923. Section 16 (3) and (4). Compulsory purchase or hiring by fishery boards.
Section 37. Regulation of fisheries.
Section 55 (2). Pollution of waters.
15 Geo. 5. c. 15. The Housing (Scotland) Acts, 1925, 1930 and 1935. Section 10 (1) of the Act of 1930 and section 15(1) of the Act of 1935 as read with section 86 of the Act of 1925. Compulsory purchase orders relating to commons, open spaces and allotments.
20 & 21 Geo. 5. c. 40, and 25 & 26 Geo. 5. c. 41.
20 & 21 Geo. 5. c. 44. The Land Drainage Act, 1930. Section 2 (2). Catchment areas.
Section 4 (3). Schemes for Catchment Boards.
Section 8 (3). Variation of awards.
Section 11. Transfer of functions to Catchment Boards.
Section 17 (1) and (2). Drainage districts and drainage boards.
Section 41 (1). Variation of navigation rights.
23 & 24 Geo. 5. c. 51. The Local Government Act, 1933. Section 112(1) Union of distrcts for appointment of medical officers of health.
Section 270(1). Transfers of functions to county or county borough councils.
Paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of section 285. Repeal and amendment of Acts confirming provisional orders.
Section 293 (2). Application of provisions of Act to joint boards and joint committees.

be applied to Orders hereafter to be made under any of the enactments specified in the following table, in substitution for the provisions of any such enactment providing that such Orders shall be provisional only and shall not have effect until confirmed by Parliament.

Session and Chapter Short Title of Statute Sections and Subsections of Statute Subject matter
26 Geo. 5 & 1 Edw. 8. c. 49. The Public Health Act. 1936 Section 2 (2). Constitution of port health districts.
Section 6 (1). Union of districts.
Section 9 (2). Amendment and revocation of orders as to port health districts, union of districts and joint boards.
Section 109 (2). Exemption of industrial processes from provisions as to nuisances.
Section 314 Amendment of orders relating to port health authorities and joint boards.
26 Geo. 5 & 1 Edw. 8. c. 51. The Housing Act, 1936 Sections 29 (1), 36 (1) and 38 (2) as modified by section 143. Compulsory purchase orders relating to commons, open spaces and allotments.
2 & 3 Geo. 6. c. 40. The London Government Act, 1939. Sections 165 (1) and 166 (1) and (3). Transfers of functions between public authorities.
Section 188 (1) (e). Repeal and amendment of Acts confirming provisional orders."

9.37 p.m.

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

I should first explain for the convenience of hon. Members that a draft of the proposed Order in Council was laid before Parliament as a Command Paper last July and that the table which is referred to in the Motion is printed on pages 4 and 5 of that Command Paper and is reproduced on the Order Paper.

Under Section 8 (3) of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945, the procedure of that Act could be applied to orders made under provisions of Acts passed before 1945 provided that an Address was presented to His Majesty by both Houses. We are now seeking to apply this simplified procedure to orders made under some 11 enactments listed in the Motion to which Provisional Order procedure would otherwise apply.

Hon. Members are aware that on this simplified procedure an order which is unopposed goes through without formality after it has been laid before the House, while in certain circumstances an opposed order is referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses. Under Provisional Order procedure the order, whether opposed or not, went to a Committee of each House. The list of Acts to which we propose here to apply the special procedure does not cover all powers to make Provisional Orders. In particular, we did not wish to make the change where some special variation of Provisional Order procedure is provided for in the statute concerned.

The Motion is put down in order to secure a method of obtaining confirmation of orders which is quicker and cheaper, particularly so far as uncontested orders are concerned, and which does not in any way weaken Parliamentary control.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I had hoped to hear the Minister of Health moving this Motion in view of the observations he made so recently as last week in regard to the Special Parliamentary Procedure. It is indeed interesting to hear the Parliamentary Secretary putting forward a proposal that so many Provisional Orders should now be made subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said on the Bill which has recently been under discussion in the House.

The House will recollect that under the Local Government Boundary Commission Act orders made by that Commission were to be subject to the Special Parliamentary Procedure, and when we on this side of the House commended that procedure as being better than the Provisional Order Procedure, which is in effect similar to the Private Bill Procedure, we were told by the right hon. Gentleman that we were wrong and he said, in answer to my right hon. Friend, an order proposed by the Boundary Commission, which was opposed in the House, would go through a most expensive, lengthening and frustrating machinery. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said: It is not so lengthy, and I do not think it is so frustrating and expensive as the procedure to which the Minister is condemning local authorities in this Bill. to which the right hon. Gentleman replied: No."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 500.]

Mr. Blenkinsop

I think my right hon. Friend made clear that it is specifically in the case of unopposed Measures that the new procedure is helpful and we are retaining this Special Procedure for the purposes of the 1933 Act in the Bill which has just passed through this House.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

It is being retained for the purposes of the 1933 Act, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that one effect of repealing the Local Government Boundary Commission Act is that we are thrown back on the Private Bill Procedure in certain circumstances. It was that which was under discussion at that time. We were told by the Minister on that occasion that the Special Parliamentary Procedure was A most expensive, lengthy, frustrating machinery. Yet tonight it is interesting to find the Parliamentary Secretary advocating a wide extension of that Parliamentary procedure without saying one word as to the respective cost of that procedure in contrast with the procedure in relation to Provisional Orders. In my view there is a goad deal to be said for the Special Parliamentary Procedure, both for saving time and expense, and I do not agree with the view expressed by the Minister of Health in regard to it. We have had some experience of this Special Parliamentary Procedure under the Water Act of 1945. I can bear in mind one particular instance where it was perhaps unduly expensive, but that, I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, was due to an initial error made by the Ministry of Health.

By and large, I think this procedure is beneficial and I do not think that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman to the contrary were in any way justified. I am sorry indeed not to have heard him trying to reconcile the statements in support of this proposal with the statement he made on the Second Reading of the Local Government Boundary Commission Bill. With those observations, I have no objection whatever to the proposals contained in this Resolution.

9.45 p.m.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew (Ayr and Bute, Northern)

I could not quite hear whether the Parliamentary Secretary said that the terms of this humble Address have to be published. Did he say so at the beginning of his speech?

Mr. Blenkinsop

It is already published on the Order Paper and the proposed Order has already been issued.

Sir C. MacAndrew

That takes away part of my objection, but in any event under this new procedure the old Provisional Order Procedure which has worked pretty well for 60 or 70 years now is to go, and we are losing certain rights as regards Parliament. Under the old procedure an unopposed Bill to confirm a Provisional Order was referred to the Committees in both Houses which deal with these unopposed Bills. I understand that there will now be no Committee procedure on these unopposed Bills.

Will not the result of that be much less Parliamentary control, so that we are, therefore, giving away by this Motion rights which we have had up to now? It is not so long ago since an Unopposed Bill Committee threw out a Bill from the hon. Gentleman's own Ministry—the Bradford Bill. That right is now to go, and although this procedure is of course agreed to by the 1945 Act, we have at one bound extended it widely; it has not been experimented with. By doing that this House is losing powers of scrutiny over these—

Mr. Blenkinsop

The hon. and gallant Member will recognise the fact that if these orders are unopposed, they have to lie before the House and there is therefore an opportunity for the House to take action upon them.

Sir C. MacAndrew

My point was of course, that the Unopposed Bill Committee could if it liked take action against them, as it has done, although that is very unusual. That power is being lost. I do not intend to divide the House against this proposal, but I consider that the House is losing some of the rights which it has had in the past.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

This new procedure was introduced with the intention of facilitating and expediting the kind of Measure which had previously been dealt with by Provisional Order, and it was introduced for a strictly limited number of Measures. It was first thought of by the late Government as a speedy way of providing public works for dealing with mass unemployment. It was applied to the Water Act, 1945, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, and the Boundary Commission. It may not be entirely a coincidence that on the same night on which the House of Commons has been asked to abolish the Boundary Commission, it is asked by this humble Address to extend the scope of this Special Procedure to many other Measures.

When the procedure was introduced into this Parliament, the Lord President of the Council indicated that it was purely experimental and that it was not intended to extend it until experience had been gain of the working of this new procedure. He said: 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 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. That referred to the change made in the Measure introduced by this Government as compared with that introduced in the last Parliament by the Government of that time. The Lord President went on to say: The matter is better left to commonsense."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 1379.] I oppose this humble Address because it seems to me that sufficient experience has not as yet been gained as to how this procedure will work. So far as my information goes, there has been only one case in which an order under this procedure has been opposed. I think that was the Mid-Northamptonshire Water Board Order, which was got through this House by the Confirmation Bill.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It is true that there is only one case in which it has been opposed, but there have been many cases, I believe some 29 or 30 cases, which have been unopposed.

Mr. Molson

That is perfectly true. The reason I originally opposed this Measure—and I have tried to keep an eye on it ever since—is that it does seriously diminish the right of the subject to have the issue treated in a forensic and impartial atmosphere upstairs. The first reason given by the Government for this procedure was that it would economise time. In the single case of which we have had experience where an order has been passed, the order was first advertised in December, 1947. There was a local inquiry in Northampton in April, 1948. The draft order as proposed was published by the Minister in October, 1948. There was a joint committee of both Houses in February, 1949, and the Bill obtained the Royal Assent on 31st May, 1949. Therefore, this procedure on that occasion took no less than 18 months to become effective, whereas the ordinary time taken by the Provisional Order Procedure was about six to nine months.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The hon. Member is aware that on this occasion there was an abortive local inquiry, and that caused considerable delay.

Mr. Molson

Yes, that is true, but again it was one of the features of this procedure that the local inquiry should take place, and it was thought that by having a joint committee it would be possible to avoid going over the same matter time and again. Therefore, so far as economy of time is concerned, the very limited experience that we have had so far of this particular procedure does not tend to encourage one to extend it to other Measures.

In the second place, under this procedure there can be petitions against the order, which can be of two kinds; either a petition for amendment or a petition of general objection, and the matter is referred to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in your capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means and the Lord Chairman of Committees. On this one single occasion you were of opinion that these were petitions for amendment and therefore the petitions were referred as a matter of course to the Joint Select Committee under Section 4, subsection (2) of the Act. On that occasion a great inconvenience of the procedure was discovered, because it was held—and this was the opinion of almost all the experts upon the subject—that the petitioners who petitioned for amendment to the order had to state their reasons for the amendment before the promoters of the order were required to state the general purposes of the order. It very greatly embarrassed the petitioners that before the real purpose of the order had been explained, they were required to explain why they objected to it. It appears to me to be a case of putting the cart before the horse.

There is also the case of petitions of general objection. That to my mind has always been the kind of case where the rights of the subject, and indeed of the local authorities, have been most seriously diminished under this procedure. After the passage of these four years, as it now is, we have no experience whatsoever as to how a petition of that kind will in fact be dealt with. The procedure, as a further study of the Bill has shown, is extremely cumbrous. It is intended that in cases where there is a perfectly bona fide case to be argued, it shall be referred to a joint committee upstairs. That was made perfectly plain by the movers of the Bill and it was further amplified in committee upstairs. But, as a matter of fact, where it is considered desirable that the matter shall be investigated, with counsel being heard on both sides and plans and drawings produced, and so on, it is necessary for two "stooges" in this House to move the annulment of the order so that those who really intend to have the matter investigated may move an Amendment to the Motion for annulment in order that it may be referred to a joint committee. That is done under the proviso to Section 4 (1) of the main Act.

My criticism of this procedure throughout has been that in cases where there is a petition of general objection, it is unreasonable to expect the back bencher whose constituency is affected by an order of this kind to keep the House and to get someone to move a Motion for the annulment of the order so that he may then move an Amendment to ensure that the matter may be referred for consideration by a joint committee of both Houses. During the passage of the Act, an assurance was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood), who at that time was Lord Privy Seal and acting Leader of the House, that in all cases where there really was need for impartial examination with the help of counsel and all the facilities of a committee upstairs, the Government would not use their majority to prevent the matter from being fairly considered in that impartial atmosphere.

I have no doubt that the Government will honour the undertaking then given. But when tonight we are asked to extend this Special Procedure to a whole list of other Acts at present on the Statute Book, I feel justified in recalling to the Government that the Lord President of the Council said that it was intended that this should be experimental and that it should not be extended until experience had been gained of the working of this procedure. I also feel justified in reminding the Government that there has been only one case in which an order under this Special Procedure has been opposed; that there has been no case where you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or your noble colleague from the other place, have held that it was a petition of general objection; that it is obviously an extremely cumbrous procedure that matters of that kind can only be referred to a Joint Select Committee after a petition of general objection when an Amendment is moved to the Motion for annulment; and that in the case of the one order that has been opposed the time taken by this procedure was about double what it was under the old Provisional Procedure.

Therefore, I say that those of us who have been doubtful about the advantages of this procedure are justified by the one single example that there has been. I very much regret that the Government now propose to extend this procedure in this way, because I do not feel that there has been that delay in order to gain experience of the procedure which was proposed by the Lord President of the Council when he originally moved the Bill.

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) made a very strong argument indeed against this form of procedure, and there seems no doubt that he confirmed the case which was made by my hon. Friend behind me. It is a procedure which, while perhaps not intending to do so, in fact loosens Parliamentary control, because there can be no doubt from experience in these matters that it is impossible for this House, on the examination of these orders, to give the same detailed investigation to them as is possible in a Committee upstairs.

I am assuming that the Parliamentary Secretary would not trouble the House in moving this Motion unless he had some intentions, and I regard the matter with very considerable suspicion. I want to know why it is that the hon. Gentleman desires this special procedure in order to get an order through quickly in regard to some of these matters. What, for instance, is he hatching in the way of an order in connection with oyster and mussel fisheries, and what has he in mind with regard to compulsory purchase orders concerning commons, open spaces and allotments? They are matters which do interest a very wide circle of people and which involve a very great deal of investigation by large organised representative bodies, which ought to have the opportunity which, in my submission, they had under the old procedure to a far greater extent than now, of having their objections properly heard.

Again, what about the validation of marriages? Presumably, the hon. Gentleman is intending to make some orders about that, and we ought to know what he has in mind. Why has he picked on these particular Acts of Parliament under which he proposes to make orders—about 11 of them altogether? Has he chosen them with a pin out of the general Acts of Parliament that are dealt with by his Department, or is there any possible motive lying behind the whole matter? So far as I can see, the selection of Acts of Parliament to which to apply this procedure is just about as confused as the Government's policy in all directions.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

With the leave of the House, I want to say a word or two in response to points raised by hon. Members opposite. I should say, first of all, that we have already had considerable experience of the working of this Measure, and although it is true that in only one case has an order been contested, we have had the experience of 30 other orders which came before the House, and, under the previous procedure, would have been involved in quite costly and lengthy procedure, but which, under these provisions, have been enabled to go through the House under a very much less costly procedure and with greater advantage to the promoters and everyone concerned.

I feel that some hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), have merely repeated the views they expressed to the House on the Second Reading of the main Statute which was dealt with at that time very fully. We feel that, although it is true that if an order is contested the procedure is still lengthy, there is real advantage over the procedure that is supplanted, and particularly is that true under orders which are not contested. It is mainly for these reasons that we feel that it is highly desirable, for the benefit of everyone concerned, that we should now consider this further limited extension. As I mentioned in introducing this Motion, this is not a comprehensive list of Measures, but we have been particularly anxious to avoid including any Measure in this list under which there was any special variation of procedure that we would not in any way wish to alter. I trust, in view of the fact that the original Act was passed by agreement of the House, that we shall have the agreement of the House on this Motion to which I have been addressing myself tonight.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) asked about compulsory purchase orders relating to commons, open spaces and allotments under the Housing Act, 1936. Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there has been any consultation with the amenity societies who are very much concerned with that topic?

Mr. Blenkinsop

The simple answer is that, in fact, this does not affect the opportunity of objecting, or anything of that kind. This is merely adopting a procedure which was felt to be more expeditious and less expensive to everyone concerned.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.