HC Deb 21 April 1959 vol 604 cc302-5

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

May I enter a protest Sir Charles, from this side of the Committee at the way in which this Bill is being dealt with? I entered this protest on Thursday when we had the Second Reading, and now we are confronted with an Amendment Paper on which there are a considerable number of Amendments. There was no intention indicated to us on Thursday of tabling Amendments and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary spoke only briefly. We feel that the House has not been treated with the consideration it should have received when we are dealing with such a long Bill. We are suddenly confronted with a large number of starred Amendments on the Amendment Paper and there has only been a very short time between the Second Reading and the Committee stage.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I wish to join with my hon. Friend in protesting about the way in which this Bill has been placed before us. We are told that this is a consolidation Measure, but throughout the Bill is speckled with Amendments of the existing law, some of which are far-reaching. For instance, Clause 4 almost revolutionises the relationship between county councils, claiming authorities and so on. If I liked, and if you allowed it, though I do not intend to ask you to do so, I could go through the Bill and point out these difficulties. For example, if one tried to leave out Clause 4 one would find oneself involved in at least half a dozen other Amendments to different parts of the Bill.

It would have been better for the Government to have introduced these Amendments in an amending Bill and then to consolidate the law when the Amendments had been separately considered. I think it is an abuse of the procedure which we sanction for consolidation Bills to attempt to foist this one upon us as a consolidation Measure.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I hope that I shall not leave any impression on the Committee that we intended to treat hon. Members with discourtesy or to leave them no opportunity to discuss the Bill adequately. As I explained on Second Reading, we are following a special procedure to deal in what is substantially a consolidation Measure, with some Amendments which were, in the opinion of the expert Reading Committee and of the Joint Select Committee of both Houses, not of substance, and therefore it is possible to treat this Bill as an agreed Measure.

It is true that this is an unusual procedure, but I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is familiar with it, though it has not often been used here. However, it has enabled the provisions of this long and complicated Bill to consolidate the mass of highway legislation into one coherent form instead of being in about 70 Statutes, and, at the same time, to tidy up the form and generally to make the law more convenient for the local authorities and others who must frequently turn to it.

I confess straight away that I had relied in the main on the report of the expert Committee in commending this procedure to hon. Members, but I have been fortified in finding opposite to me the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) who was able to commend this Measure to the House in equal terms because he was a member of the expert Committee and therefore knows far mare about it than I do.

Mr. Ede

Is the Minister proposing to leave the defence of the Measure to my hon. and learned Friend?

Mr. Nugent

I think it would be in safe hands if I did so. I hope that what I have said is enough to show that this Bill is being presented in a sensible way, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that in the light of those expert views this form is not amending the law in substance. Such changes as have been made are of a small nature and not such as to alter the law substantially, and, therefore, I hope hon. Members will agree that this is a proper way to deal with the matter.

On the point made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), the Amendments in the name of the Government are, of course, all Privilege Amendments, which cover the sections of Clauses, or the ones which are down as new Clauses, which have financial implications and which therefore touch upon the Exchequer. In those circumstances the other place could not deal with them. They are all in the Bill as drafted, but because of that fact we had to deal with them by the procedure of putting them down again as Privilege Amendments.

There is nothing new that the Government are putting before the Committee today. The only new business before us are the Amendments put down by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and his hon. Friends. So we are not seeking to change the Bill, and because it had been agreed by common consent that this was an agreed Measure, and therefore we were not intending officially to deal with Amendments of substance, the short interval had not seemed to us to be a matter which would put either side to inconvenience. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my apology if it has put him to any inconvenience, for that was certainly not our intention.

Mr. Ernest Davies

It seems to me that as we discussed the Bill on Thursday it might have been possible for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to explain to the House then that the procedure necessitated these Amendments being put down. Does he appreciate the position of hon. Members? Many of us this morning were attending Standing Committees, as he is aware, and when we collected the Notice Paper later, we found these Amendments. We had other matters to attend to and could not necessarily immediately realise that these Amendments were privileged. It would seem to me to have been only courteous to hon. Members to say that this procedure would be followed or, alternatively, it would have been possible to put the Amendments down on Friday so that hon. Members could see them over the weekend.

After all, the Minister expected his Bill to go through on Thursday and did not think it would be thrown out. I feel that hon. Members have been treated in such a way that it has made unnecessary work and labour fall on the shoulders of some hon. Members.

The Chairman

If there is to be a debate someone should move to report Progress, because that is out of order on this Question. Does the Minister wish to report Progress?

Mr. Nugent

I had hoped that in the light of the explanation I have given and the apology I have made if the House suffered any inconvenience, the Committee might be ready to accept the Clause.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I was wondering whether I might put a question to the Minister arising out of what has already been said. This Bill comprises 313 Clauses and 26 Schedules in 300 pages. I am wondering if the Minister could tell us that there is in it anything of which it could not really and truthfully be said that it is consolidation. It is impossible at this period of time to look at each one of these Clauses with care. If we could have the assurance that there is really no substantial new matter in the Bill, and that it is in truth a consolidation Measure, I, for one, would be completely happy about the whole proceeding.

Mr. Nugent

I readily give that assurance in the terms in which it has been given to me, first, by the expert Committee under the chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Reading and, secondly, by the Joint Select Committee of both Houses. Both of them have given us the assurance that the changes which have been made do not in any respect amount to changes of substance, that the Bill is to present a mass of legislation in a more convenient form, and that, therefore, these changes are suitable to be dealt with in this way as an agreed Measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.