HC Deb 23 May 1950 vol 475 cc1954-9
Colonel Clarke

I beg to move, in page 10, line 31, to leave out from "and," to the end of line 34, and to insert: and no regulations shall be made unless a draft thereof has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. This is a perfectly straightforward Amendment which should have been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Pickthorn), who unfortunately is indisposed. The question of Statutory Instruments is a matter in which he has always been very much interested. One curious thing is that, whereas in Clause 14, it is laid down that any such statutory instrument shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament, in another part of the Measure, in Clause 1, an affirmative Resolution is required. There is a certain conflict there. But there is also the general principle that in a Measure of this importance all Statutory Instruments should be under the affirmative procedure and none under the negative procedure. The Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, lays down the method and machinery of Statutory Instruments, but no indication is given of when one type should be used and when another should be used. That is left, apparently, to the draftsmen or the Department concerned.

Although I have referred to several books, including Erskine May, I could not find a distinction of the circumstances in which one procedure should be used or the other. Generally speaking, I think that on matters of lesser importance the negative procedure is usually followed. For example, in today's Votes and Proceedings there is an Instrument which says that a copy of the prescribed Order dated 17th May, 1950, which authorised the landing of one European bison at the port of Harwich, is to lie on the Table. I quite see that that is an Instrument which could come under the negative procedure. But in a Measure of this importance the affirmative Resolution procedure should be adopted and I hope that a change will be made.

With an affirmative Resolution there is a better chance of debate. It comes up at a reasonable time, whereas everyone knows that Prayers usually come on at very unreasonable hours. Also, whereas a Prayer very often starts in a bad atmosphere, an affirmative Resolution may be discussed in a much more moderate and reasoned debate. That is the sort of debate we want on anything which arises under a Measure of this kind, which is not a matter of party, but one in which all parties are striving to produce the best results. We would get much more reasoned and moderate debates under the affirmative than under the negative procedure in regard to Statutory Instruments.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Of course, we are in full agreement with the hon. and gallant Member that on almost all really important matters of policy and substance in such a Bill as this, if an order is to be made it should be by affirmative Resolution. That is why the proviso to Clause 1, to which he referred, lays down that the affirmative Resolution shall be used because a change in the rateable value of a house coming within this Bill would be a matter of real substance and great importance. But this Clause deals only with the details of the machinery by which notice shall be put in. Since the Committee have agreed to the Amendments I moved to Clause 13, notices under that Clause disappear and there are only notices under Clause 5.

Under Clause 5 the Regulations to be made will prescribe the time within which and the manner in which a notice must be given to the Board of subsidence damage and the price to be included. That is under Clause 5 (1). Under Clause 5 (2) the Regulations will prescribe the manner in which a notice is to be given to the Board by an owner who proposes to carry out repairs himself.

8.30 p.m.

It is clear that this is really only a detailed matter of machinery. It would be contrary to all reason, doctrine and precedent to require an affirmative Resolution for such things. Of course, they are all open to Prayer, and are all subject to scrutiny by the committee which, I think, is called the Scrutiny Committee and which looks at all Orders and Regulations. If we had affirmative Resolutions for such matters as these, I venture to suggest that our Parliamentary Business would be congested in a way which we should all find intolerable.

Mr. Powell

I think that the Minister has very much under-estimated the importance of the Regulations which will come under this Clause. At an earlier stage in the Debate today, there was a lengthy discussion on Clause 5, and the Committee only parted with that Clause upon the understanding that the Regulations referred to would contain substantial safeguards. We have not, of course, yet seen the Regulations; but the safeguards, both to provide for exceptional cases where longer notice will be admitted, and to enable cases of damage which happened prior to this Bill, but since 1st January, 1947, to be brought within the scope of compensation, depend upon these Regulations. I think, therefore, that the Committee should recognise that these Regulations, though perhaps not quite so important as those made under Clause 1, are such as this House should have the opportunity of examining with a thoroughness which only the affirmative Resolution permits. I venture to hope that, even now, the Government will undertake to reconsider this matter.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)

I wish to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has said. I think that the Minister has been rather skating over this matter, because Clause 1 is the major point on which claims can be made. It has been agreed on both sides of the Committee that the people who are going to make these claims will be small owners, people who have no large organisation to press their cases, or to make someone move a Prayer to annul a Regulation. It will be very difficult for such people, in the circumstances proposed by a negative procedure, to know anything about what is going to happen until the particular Regulations have become law. If it is of sufficient importance for the procedure under Clause 2 concerning ratings to be subject to an affirmative Resolution, surely it is even more important that the claims of small people who are to be subject to Clause 5 should be submitted to the same procedure.

I cannot see why there should be any difference between the principle which governs the determination of award and the conditions under which the people are to receive that award. Where we admit one, there we ought to admit the other. The Minister's argument was very weak when he said that these matters, which affect not only the conditions in which but the time within which these claims could be made, are simply going to be subject to a negative Resolution, and that it was insufficient to satisfy this Committee. I suggest to hon. Members opposite—who know far more than I do about the conditions covering the type of claim that is going to be made—that they should be as anxious as we are to see that every person is given the time and the opportunity to make a case. That can only be guaranteed if we have an affirmative Resolution. If we leave it to the negative Resolution, it is bound to be left to somebody on either side to raise it by means of a Prayer.

We are dealing with poor people who often do not see these things until they are passed and have become law. We all know what happened under the Town and Country Planning Act. It is far better that we should lay down the safeguard that the Minister, when he proposes to do something affecting these people, must come to the House and move an affirmative Resolution instead of leaving it for someone to pick up the matter and deal with it by way of a negative Resolution.

Mr. Oliver

The hon. and gallant Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosth-waite-Eyre) appears to attach some importance to Regulations made under Clause 1, but it seems a rather strange point to make that all Regulations should be treated alike, those which deal with major matters and those which deal with minor points. The whole purpose of affirmative and negative Resolutions is to deal differently with Regulations of different importance.

The affirmative Resolution that falls under Clause 1 relates to a matter of some substance. The Regulation under Clause 14 may contain a number of important things, but the negative Resolution does not preclude hon. Members raising any point in which they are interested. If the Regulation contains something which they feel ought not to be there, they are not debarred from raising the matter.

If the course proposed would deprive hon. Members of some of their rights, I should be in favour of the affirmative procedure, but in this case on the assumption that the Regulation will appear, why should a Debate be initiated on a matter on which no one is prepared to disagree? If the regulations contain matter on which there is general agreement, why should they not go through the House without debate? Members opposite suggest that whether the Regulations contain matters of importance or not a Debate should be initiated. They have not drawn a correct distinction between affirmative and negative Resolutions and the purpose of the two types.

Mr. Bracken

I greatly regret the absence of the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver) from the Front Bench. He is suffering from some of the disadvantages of not having been at the London School of Economics and at both Eton and Harrow. Such persons are quickly dropped from the Government. In an indirect way he rather supported the view of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New Forest (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre). Never since Moses struck the rock and found water has there been anything more remarkable than the conversion achieved by my hon. and gallant Friend, because the Minister now says that, on the whole, he is in favour of the affirmative technique. That is important to this House. Despite the fact that the hon. Member for Ilkeston, in his own loyal way, tried to support the Government, he knows perfectly well there is the sharpest of differences between the two.

I feel, however, that as we have converted the Minister—and we are more than willing to baptise hon. Gentlemen in platoons, if necessary, to our point of view—we ought not to dwell too long on this. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke), having achieved such good work, will soon, if he has your eye, Sir Charles, address the Committee.

I want to end on a very small point. It is that we have had two Ministers sitting here all the afternoon. The kitchen resources of the House of Commons are not, perhaps, as good as we want, and I notify one or other of the Ministers that they should go and have something to eat, because we are going to deal with a Prayer soon, and party demands that they should be present. One or other might take some refreshment now. I am doing this out of humanity. It has nothing to do with the contents of the Bill.

Colonel Clarke

I think this short Debate has had the desired effect of impressing upon the Committee the importance that where possible, in a matter of this sort, the Statutory Instrument should be by affirmative Resolution. Sometimes that may not be the case. But with the assurance which the Minister has given, that he appreciates the importance of using the affirmative method wherever possible, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.