Mr. J. Wells
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, to leave out "or otherwise relating to".
The Amendment is aimed at making the Bill a little more precise. I cannot help feeling that it is too vague altogether at the moment. Section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act, to which we referred earlier, has a rubric ending with the word "etc." It is this sort of vagueness that my hon. Friends and I dislike in legislation.
I do not like "etc." and vagueness of any kind. If the words "or otherwise relating to" were deleted, the Clause would be much more precise and would read:The Secretary of State may by regulations impose as respects any prescribed class of goods,—(a) any such requirements, whether as to the composition or contents, design, construction, finish or packing of goods of that class….The words "or otherwise relating to" represent a glorious bit of waffle and, as such, would be better kept out of the Bill. Any extra precision that can be given to the Measure is desirable, and I do not wish to detain the House for long since I am myself urging greater precision and fewer unnecessary words. I hope that the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) will accept the Amendment in order to make the Bill simple and straightforward.
I accepted the explanation that was given on my previous new Clause and I thought that that explanation was reasonable, as a result of which I withdrew it. Until hearing that explanation I had thought that that new Clause was reasonable. Equally, I consider this Amendment to be reasonable, and I offer it to the hon. Member for Bilston as a definite constructive improvement to his Bill, because we have discussed at some length today the problems of the small trader. The words "or otherwise relating to" are woolly and unnecessary. I urge the House to accept the Amendment.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
I support the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) summed it up by saying that the words "or otherwise relating to" are woolly. I suggest, with the greatest degree of humility, that if the Under-Secretary wishes to put some other definition into the Bill, that definition could possibly be inserted in another place.
The words proposed to be left out spoil an otherwise well-drafted Clause. The House would be well advised to accept the Amendment and to leave out these rather indeterminate words which do not enhance the quality of the Measure. My hon. Friends and I consider that, as drafted, the Bill is too vague. The removal of these words would result in more precision and better definition.
I see the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) shaking his head. I do not know whether he agrees with me so, in order to clear the matter up, I hope we shall have some learned comments from my hon. and learned Friend on the Amendment. The Amendment would in no way spoil the Bill. It would enhance it. I agree with the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone that if additional words are thought to be needed, they should be inserted in another place.
§ Mr. Darling
Perhaps there is some substance in what hon. Members have said about these words being somewhat unnecessary, but since we are thinking ahead to regulations that may be imposed on articles that have not yet been invented, the definition at present in the Bill may prove to be necessary in the future. It may be desirable at some future date that more regulations should be introduced, and hon. Members will be critical of themselves if, by including any limiting words, or by deleting any comprehensive words, they find that they are unable rapidly to bring in additional regulations.
While it is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) is the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend will not have to administer it. It will have to be administered by the Under-Secretary's Department, and I should like to hear the views of the Under-Secretary on whether this rather wide definition is required for the purposes of the Bill.
§ 1.15 p.m.
Mr. J. Wells
Hon. Members can surely think of many articles that might be dangerous—even an unthought of article, if it is possible to think of the unthought of. It has contents. It was designed. It has construction, finish, and it might possibly have a packing. Surely there can be nothing more comprehensive than that. The hypothetical razor mentioned by the Under-Secretary undoubtedly had contents—its electrical works. It was obviously designed and it obviously had construction, even though that hypothetical razor was perhaps of bad construction. Possibly the finish was bad, and, no doubt, before it was used, the razor had packing. Surely this definition covers every eventuality of every item it is possible to sell.
§ Mr. Renton
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) has done a service by drawing attention to these words. They are somewhat vague, although comprehensive, and hon. Members will agree that the Government should legislate as accurately as possible in order to cover the circumstances which we want to anticipate when legislating. These very general and vague words "or otherwise relating to", useful though they may be, are the sort of words which should, if possible, be avoided.
We have so far advised the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) that if we were to delete these words it might unduly reduce the scope of this power which is contained in Clause 1, I must concede that it is difficult to think of an example for a need for the retention of the words, but we have to face the fact that the range of possible hazards is so varied that a fully comprehensive enabling power is desired.
I suggest to the hon. Member for Biston that, although this Amendment should not be made to the Bill at this stage, he should consult a noble Friend in another place with the view possibly of inserting such words as "characteristics," "propensities," or "properties"—or words which indicate only the composition or contents of the goods—not even the size, design and construction of them—or words which relate to what the goods may or may not do.
It might be found that the help of the draftsman, which I gladly offer, would enable the use of an expression such as 1791 "characteristics," which would serve the same purpose as the words my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone wishes to leave out. If that course is acceptable to the hon. Member for Bilston, it would be the best way of meeting the situation.
§ Mr. R. Edwards
Needless to say, I do not desire to reduce the scope of the Bill. We have had a lot of co-operation so far, and, if the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) is prepared to accept the suggestion of the Under-Secretary, I will willingly give my promise to ask for co-operation to find new words to meet the point he has made. If the hon. Member is willing to withdraw the Amendment on that understanding, I will happily give him that assurance.
Mr. J. Wells
In view of the assurance given by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) and the generous co-operation of the Joint Under-Secretary of State in providing the necessary drafting assistance, and in the hope that the Bill will be made clearer in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 2, line 9, to leave out from the second "shall" to "House" in line 10 and to insertnot have effect unless approved by resolution of each.I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) has had to be absent and is unable to move this Amendment, which he put on the Order Paper. As I understand his mind, the purpose of the Amendment is to provide that regulations made under the Clause should be subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Hon. Members who served on the Committee on the Bill will recollect that I spoke about Prayers in the House. As a relative newcomer, I have never been greatly impressed by the efficacy of Prayers against regulations, and I should like to see the affirmative Resolution procedure required here. Both the present Opposition and the Conservative Party when in opposition have used the procedure of Prayers to the best advantage, but in the past the procedure was not found very satisfactory and we 1792 have new procedure. I doubt the power of a back bench Member of the Opposition to get anywhere very successfully with the present procedure.
As this is a Private Member's Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter is anxious that regulations made under it should be open to control by private Members. It could be unfortunate if the Prayer procedure were the only procedure available. Very wide powers are being given in the Bill to the Secretary of State, and it is imperative that the regulations should not be brought into effect until approved by both Houses. The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) said that he intends to make use of another place in the later stages of the Bill, and the work of another place is much in the minds of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I urge the hon. Member to accept the Amendment. I have tried to be as reasonable as possible in the last two debates by withdrawing my new Clause and my Amendment, but this is a matter of greater substance. As his party are in opposition at the moment, he should agree with what I have said this morning and in Committee.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
I very much support my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in what he said. The Amendment could go a long way to meet many of our fears on this subject. If the regulations were the subject of affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, then every facility would be given to all Members of both Houses to examine the regulations closely and, if they thought fit, to reject them.
I have not been in the House for very long, but it seems to me that this machinery would be much more effective than the Prayer procedure. The powers given under the Bill are very wide, for they relate not only to marking, quality and the type of goods but to a wide range of specifications of goods and to dangers which may be involved. Very sweeping powers are given. If the regulations were subject to the affirmative Resolution, it would go a long way to meet some of our fears.
I do not think that hon. Members opposite will disagree with me when I say that, especially as this is, or is supposed to be, a Private Member's Bill, 1793 we should be reluctant to see regulations made without sufficient check. The affirmative Resolution of both Houses gives Parliament the chance to supervise the regulations. I am sure that the regulations will be sensible, but it is essential that in a busy and rushed Session we should have the opportunity to examine very carefully any regulations which are made.
I think that both the Joint Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Bilston said in Committee that very few regulations would be made under the Bill. That lends great strength to the argument for the Amendment, because it means that the affirmative Resolution will not often be required and that both Houses will not frequently be troubled by having to consider such regulations. I urge the hon. Member for Bilston to go as far as this with us and to institute these checks which a number of my hon. Friends think desirable.
§ Mr. Darling
Generally speaking, and particularly on the Opposition side of the House, hon. Members prefer the affirmative procedure in dealing with Statutory Instruments, but I will suggest briefly that there are two very good reasons why the procedure laid down in the Bill should be retained.
First, the regulations which will be introduced will be regulations for which a need has been proved. People will have been injured or killed by some kind of appliance or product on the market and there will be a general desire for speedy action by the Government to dealt with the situation. But before the Government can do anything at all, the officials in the appropriate Departments must have consultations—and they would have to have consultations even if Clause 1 (5) were not in the Bill. They must have consultations with appropriate bodies including, I imagine, in every important case, the British Standards Institution. Those consultations will be largely technical, perhaps of an engineering or scientific character.
1794 1.30 p.m.
Then there is the draftsman's job to put these technical provisions into regulations which eventually come before Parliament. With all the urge for speed, it would be wrong at that stage to go through the slower procedure of an affirmative Resolution. The provisions in the Bill provide for the fullest consultation with everybody concerned, including Members of Parliament. Many of us would be associated with the campaign to get something done and, therefore, to some extent, would be associated with the consultations. At least, we would see what was happening—
Mr. J. Wells
Does the hon. Member recollect what length of time was taken on the Oil Burners (Standards) Bill, which was new legislation starting from scratch, a most important matter on which everybody felt a great sense of urgency?
§ Mr. Darling
Whatever the time was, it was too long in the circumstances. In any event, the present Bill arises from our experience in that situation, when it was desired that instead of passing a separate Bill whenever the need for regulations arose, we should have this comprehensive Bill to get the job done more quickly. That is the purpose of the Bill. The fullest consulation would be held. Consultation takes a little time. The need for urgency would be present throughout and my view is that the procedure as laid down in the Bill should be retained.
§ Mr. Renton
I agree with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and with the two reasons which he has put forward, although there are two other reasons which I find even more compelling. The first is that the affirmative Resolution procedure, which, as the hon. Member said, is slower than the negative procedure, is appropriate only where the enabling Act has delegated to a Minister the power of making a Statutory Instrument when he has important policy-making powers to exercise in that delegated legislation. In those circumstances, Parliament quite rightly reserves to itself the right to give its positive, affirmative approval to the subordinate legislation.
In the present case, the Bill does not do that. It does not give broad policy-making powers to the Secretary of State, 1795 because the Bill itself embodies the principle of policy that safety standards should be imposed in appropriate cases. It leaves to the Secretary of State the detailed decisions as to the particular classes of goods in respect of which standards should be imposed and what standards, which may be of a technical nature, should be imposed in relation to those goods.
The second reason is that owing to the technical nature of the content of the regulations—we anticipate that they may often be very technical—the regulations themselves may have to be amended from time to time to keep abreast of technical developments. If the affirmative Resolution procedure had to be carried out every time we had an amending regulation, it might take up too much of Parliament's time as well as being much too slow. For these two additional reasons, my hon. Friends would be well advised not to press the Amendment. My advice to the promoter of the Bill and to the House would certainly be not to accept it.
§ Mr. Ede
I support the line advocated by the Under-Secretary of State. I assure the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), whom I heard the Under-Secretary earlier urge not to lose faith in the procedure of the House, that the Bill requires the Secretary of State to make the regulations. Once they are made, they are Government policy. No matter whether it is the negative or the affirmative procedure, the Government Whips will be on. The hon. Member need have no fear about what would happen in those circumstances.
This is the usual sham battle that we have when it is desired to delay the procedure of a Bill. I am interested in Orders Nos. 11, 12 and 13 on today's Order Paper and I am anxious to get to them. I hope, therefore, that we may accept the position that whether it is the negative or affirmative procedure, the Government Whips will ensure that the regulations submitted shall be adopted and that we can make as much progress under one method or the other. I hope, therefore, that we need not spend much more time on a matter that has been discussed, during my membership of the House at least, a thousand times with the same result on each occasion.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
If there was anything that would have convinced me that I was right in putting down the Amendment, it was the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). It is monstrous that powers should be sought under a Private Member's Bill whereby the only opportunity of defeating the regulations is that they should be prayed against, especially when the Motion will be debated with the Whips on. Had this been a Government Bill, there would have been considerable Amendments by the party opposite. They would have been thrashed out during the week when masses of hon. Members were present, keen and alert to ensure that no injustice could befall anybody. Here, however, we have a Bill which is discussed on a Friday, when only a handful of Members are present. It will give the Government power to make regulations and the Government will use all their power and authority with the Whips on. This will make it much more difficult to upset the regulations by praying against them.
I was interested to hear that the right hon. Member for South Shields is interested in the Obscene and Profane Words Bill—
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I am glad to have your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, against any verbal assault of the right hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, however, that Bill is rather a long way down the list and I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) is here to move the Second Reading of his Bill—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
The hon. Member cannot discuss another Bill which comes later.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I realise that I was completely out of order, but I was merely making a small point against the right hon. Gentleman.
If the procedure of having to pray against the regulations is accepted as the system by which the regulations are to be annulled, we shall come up against the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in 1797 Standing Committee C on 8th March, when he said thatPrayers are tabled for a variety of exercise purposes, but they are seldom, if ever, tabled for the serious purpose of the Opposition or back bench Members indicating genuinely that they dislike the Order against which they are praying."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 8th March, 1961; c.119.]I think that is true. I think it is absolutely right. If we are to have regulations made under this Bill, they should have to be subject to affirmative Resolution of the House. I agree that if the Government bring in a Bill which is adequately threshed out in the House with a full attendance that is certainly different from all those long, dreary sittings of Standing Committee A or B or D or E upstairs which, I am glad to say, I am not on this year; and if it is thrashed out here in a full House then it is right that the Government should be able to table regulations which can be prayed against only, and that we should rely on the opposition to see that any unfair regulations are prayed against.
But these are to be regulations as the result of a private Member's bit of legislation. There is no question about it that this is a Private Member's Bill. I have already said in Standing Committee C that I do not accept the suggestion of some people that this Bill came out of the Government Whips' Office. If it did come out of the Government Whips' Office then I think it monstrous—monstrous that such a Bill could come out of the office of the Whips of a Government made up by the Conservative Party. No, this is the Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards). He has done very well, but it has had completely Socialist support. No Government Member of the House, I think, has supported it, and, in my view, it should probably be looked upon as a party Bill. I do not object to that at all, but if it is only a Private Member's Bill which one side only of the House of Commons supports then I think we are right to say that any regulations made under it should be subject to affirmative Resolution.
Moreover, this is such a comprehensive Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields, at least, will remember the late Sir Stafford 1798 Cripps saying that what they wanted when the party opposite got in was an enabling Bill. This is very nearly just such an enabling Bill. People could be put out of business by this Bill if the Secretary of State should make regulations sufficiently ruthlessly. If the party opposite were in power we on these benches should find it very difficult to pray, at any rate with any hope of success of throwing them out, against regulations made. I am not going to support this suggestion that it should be possible under the Bill to make regulations which could be prayed against only. I think that that is quite the wrong approach. If we are to have regulations issued under Clause 1 of the Bill they should be subject to affirmative Resolution of the House, and that would do something to stop the Government issuing too many regulations.
I believe that earlier we were told that not many regulations would be issued under this Bill, that there would be discussions going on with all the people interested, that masses of groups would be consulted, and that there would be no injustice to anyone. If the Government are going to do all that there will be not much chance of issuing many regulations; they will issue only three or four a year. If they are going to do that, I think it is right that the Government should have to come to the House of Commons, too, and should have to put down their regulations so that we can examine them and discuss them on either side of the House and vote upon them and perhaps throw them out.
I hope that if regulations are made under this Bill and they are debated here we shall not have the Whips on, because this is a Private Member's Bill and I do not think it right that the Government should make regulations under a Private Member's Bill and then stick the Whips on. If my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will get up and indicate that there will be no Whips on when regulations made under this Bill are debated here I shall be very pleased indeed to support the Bill and, perhaps, to support the regulations when they come out. It would be a very amusing exercise. I have for a long time wanted to be in Opposition, but I cannot get there. I am always living in hopes that one day the party 1799 opposite will heal the breaches in its ranks and succeed in being elected to Government thus enabling me to make my statements from that side of the House.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am sure you are right.
As I said, I believe that these regulations should be subject to affirmative Resolution. I do not think that it is so very much that we ask. After all, if this Bill is to become law, very great powers will accrue to the Secretary of State for the Home Department as a result. I think that if we are to have this Bill passed into law it is not very much for us to ask that the regulations made under it—after all, only three or four a year, we have been told: everybody is going to be consulted, and there will be no unfairness—should be subject to affirmative Resolution. That is all we ask, that the Government should come down to the House with their regulations, when they make them, and put them on the Table of the House of Commons, and give us an opportunity to vote upon them. That is all we ask.
That is a very different thing, as the right hon. Gentleman for South Shields knows quite well, from the negative procedure, for, as he knows quite well, regulations are constantly being issued, and he knows that it is very difficult to keep track of them when they are subject only to the negative procedure. It is difficult to keep track of them and to pick them up and to stick down a Prayer to annul them.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
There is a point I should like my hon. Friend to enlarge on. It is a very different thing if the Bill is a Government Bill. Then, I think, we would all be prepared to accept it. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) quite appreciated what I said. There is a difference between having a Private Member's Bill and having regulations made under that, and having a Government Bill and regulations made under that.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
There may not be any distinction in law but there is a distinction in the minds of some hon. Members of this House. We know jolly well that Acts of Parliament which begin as Government Bills are introduced after discussion by the Government with their supporters in the House of Commons and very often as a result of an appeal to the country; but a Private Member's Bill is introduced at the whim of the Member concerned.
I do not use the word in any offensive way. I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston has done a good job in introducing his Bill. I disagree with the fact that it can apply to the retail trade, though let me say at once that I have no axe to grind and that I have no personal interest in the retail trade. I do think, however, that he has gone right off the beam when he has made his Bill apply to the retail trade.
That is why I want to see regulations issued under Clause 1 of the Bill made subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure of the House of Commons. I do not want to repeat myself because, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will very rightly call me to order, but I think that the regulations issued under Clause 1 of the Bill should be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure and not to Prayer only for their annulment. I think that is quite wrong, and I hope, therefore, that the House will see fit to accept the Amendment.
I wonder if my hon. Friend would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to the second part of my remarks which he quoted and which I made in Standing Committee 1801 C. They exactly bear out what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman should support us in this matter.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
I willingly do that. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is always prepared to accept advice from whatever quarter it comes.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
A very subtle difference, but still the right hon. Gentleman does listen to advice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maid-stone, having been interrupted by the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater), went on to say on that occasionIt happens occasionally, I admit, but not often. Therefore, to say that Parliament can reject rules that it does not like simply is not true. We have no power of scrutiny. Invariably, the Whips are on for all Prayers, and that is the end of the matter. That is most unfortunate.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 8th March, 1961; c.119.]Certainly that last sentence must be very true. So the right hon. Gentleman will see that my hon. Friend and he are in agreement upon that point. Of course, that is the burden of the appeal which I have made to the House today.
I must confess to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston that he has shown great skill, that he has put his points very well, both in the Standing Committee upstairs and again here on the Floor of the House. I say that even though I disagree with him, but I think, with great respect to him, that legislation of this nature, under which regulations can be issued, should not be private Member's legislation, and that regulations of such a nature as this should be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure so that we should not have to rely simply on praying against them to have them annulled.
§ Mr. R. Edwards
Far be it from me to delay the proceedings, but one of two points arising on the Amendments demand a reply. Hon. Members opposite keep harping about a Private Member's Bill and its relation to the Government, but this point does not seem to me to be at all valid. It happens frequently in the life of Parliament that an hon. Member who is fortunate enough to come early in the Ballot decides to consult 1802 with those who have the power to make legislation on what social problems are urgent.
Indeed, the House takes a poor view of an hon. Member who comes up early in the Ballot and then decides to promote a Bill which has no chance of becoming an Act. It is almost sacrilege. It is like playing a saxophone in a cathedral, and if an hon. Member promotes one or two Bills of that kind it is regarded as pure propaganda. I felt that I had some responsibility because I came second in the Ballot. I have many majestic ideas that I would enjoy writing into a Bill, but I accepted my colleagues' advice that I should be practical.
The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) seems to overlook the fact that an important Committee on consumer protection is still sitting. In April, 1959, it submitted an interim report. This Bill is based on the recommendations in that Report. As this was a Government Committee and I wanted to promote a Consumer Protection Bill, I of course consulted the Government indirectly. That is not a crime. There is nothing wrong with it. I hope that it will always be done.
I am pleased to say that we who are interested in the Bill received the very active support of the Government and of the Home Office in drafting it. My Bill was originally aimed at many more targets than this Bill is aimed at, but in the process of indirect discussion the Bill was very much reduced to take in the interim recommendations of the Molony Committee's Report.
The very fact that if the Bill becomes an Act the Government will have power to issue regulations will make it quite unnecessary for the House to be flooded with regulations. The very fact that the Government will have sanctions which they do not now possess will limit the number of regulations. If that is so, as I am certain it is, it makes nonsense of our determination, accepted by both sides of the House, to protect the consumer against the known hazards from faulty and dangerous appliances, if we want to make it difficult for regulations to be submitted and for protection to the consumer to be provided. For these reasons and for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) 1803 and by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department I must resist the Amendment. My hon. Friends and I cannot accept it and I hope that it will be withdrawn.
Mr. J. Wells
As I had the honour to move the Amendment on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), I hope that I may be permitted to say a few words about it now. I listened closely to the arguments of both the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) and my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, whom I am sorry to see has had to leave the Chamber. The argument of my hon. and learned Friend which impressed me most nearly was the point which he made stressing that an affirmative Resolution is normally resorted