§ 10.1 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the provisions of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945, cease to apply to the following orders under the Public Health Act, 1875, that is to say—Perhaps for the convenience of the House, Mr. Speaker, this Motion could be discussed together with the following one:
- (a) any order made under Section 303 of that Act
- (b) any order made under paragraph (5) of Section 297 of that Act other than an order for the repeal, alteration or amendment of an Act confirming a provisional order made under Section 279 of that Act.That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments that they consider all orders which are subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure.since both relate to the same matters.
§ Mr. Rippon
The purpose of and the reasons for these Motions are set out in the White Paper, Command 1610, which has been presented to the House and which also includes a draft of the proposed Order in Council. This is, I think the House will agree, a matter of some constitutional importance.
The House will recall that in the discussion which took place on 23rd April, 1959, on the Leicester (Amendment of Local Enactments) Order, 1959, criticism was made that the special Parliamentary procedure was being applied to Orders of a legislative character that went beyond the scope of the original intention that the procedures should be applied to Orders of 1454 an essentially executive character providing for the local application of a general policy already embodied in a Statute.
The criticism was made by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), who speak with authority on these matters. They were particularly concerned about the lack of detailed scrutiny of Orders which were akin to Private Bills and, indeed, of the total absence of scrutiny in the case of certain unopposed Orders.
As a result, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was then the Minister of Housing and Local Government, undertook to hold an inquiry. We have now made a very thorough and, I think, very detailed examination of all the Acts and Orders to which this procedure can conceivably apply. I should like to acknowledge that in this we have had considerable assistance from Officers of the House. Hon. Members will appreciate that it has not been an easy task to inquire into all these matters, and it has taken some time, but the result was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in answer to a Parliamentary Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover on 1st August.
The position is that the Government now fully accept that the special Parliamentary procedure is not suitable for Orders such as the Leicester Order, which was made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875. Those Orders made under Section 303 are essentially legislative in character. Section 303 gives the Minister power by Order to amend or alter a host of local Acts which relate to the same subject matter as is found in the 1875 Act. The 1875 Act itself is now regularly read with a number of Public Health Acts from 1875 to 1932. Section 303 in addition has been specifically applied to local Acts which deal with the same subjects as the Public Health Act, 1936, the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, and certain parts of the Highways Act, 1959. In consequence a situation arose in which the Minister could by Order, in effect, amend 1455 any part of a local authority general powers Act. In the case of the Leicester Order it amended Acts going back a hundred years.
It is a very useful method of tidying up local legislation and bringing it into line with modern practice. There is no evidence that it has ever been abused. On the other hand, it is not entirely appropriate for special Parliamentary procedure. Therefore, the Order in Council which is the subject of the present Motion will have the effect of applying once more to these Orders the Provisional Order procedure under which they came before Parliament up to the coming into operation of the Statutory Orders (Special Parliamentary Procedure) (Substitution) Order, 1949. As hon. Members know, this means they will be scheduled to a confirming Bill which will be treated for all practical purposes as a Private Bill.
Each one of the Order-making powers to which the special parliamentary procedure applies has been examined, and it has been concluded that the only comparable power under Section 303 of the 1875 Act is to be found in Section 297 (5) of the 1875 Act, which contains a complementary power to amend Provisional Order (Confirmation) Acts and special procedure Orders. For the most part these are Orders which have already been made under Section 303.
So, subject to one minor reservation to which I will refer in a moment, it does appear that Orders under Section 297 (5) should also revert to the Provisional Order procedure.
The reservation is this. Section 297 (5) is the only power under which Orders made under Section 279 of that Act for the setting up of joint boards can be amended. Section 279 has, in fact, been repealed, and replaced by Section 6 of the Public Health Act, 1936, but there are still in existence 16 joint sewerage boards set up under the old provision. Orders under Section 6 can be amended by Order under Section 9 of that Act. These Orders are essentially of an executive character. I am sure that the House will agree that it is sensible to provide the same sort of procedure for both the new and the old joint sewerage boards.
I hope the House will, therefore, feel that the proposals to revert back to the 1456 Provisional Order procedure under Section 303 of the Act and, with the one reservation, Orders under Section 297 (5) of that Act, will meet all the criticisms which were raised in the discussion of the Leicester Order.
Coupled with this is the proposal that it should be an Instruction to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments that it should examine all Orders subject to the special Parliamentary procedure in the same way as the Committee examines all other Statutory Instruments. This suggestion has been put to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, whose terms of reference, as hon. Members will know, require the Committee to consider whether there is anything in a Statutory Instrument to which it should draw the special attention of the House. The Select Committee has been good enough to say that it is prepared to undertake this task.
There still remain some matters which will remain to be looked at in the future. They are referred to in the statement made on 1st August—for example, whether there should be an extension of the period for making Petitions, or for putting down resolutions, and whether petitions of general objection could be more easily sent to a Joint Committee. But, apart from such modifications, which would need legislation, and, perhaps, can be considered on a future occasion, the Government have come to the broad conclusion that the special Parliamentary procedure is a suitable procedure for the Orders to which it will continue to apply, that is to say, Orders of comparatively limited scope whose purposes are the application of a general policy to local circumstances, the general policy having been formulated within a framework laid down by Statute. They are quite different in character from the Orders made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, to which the main criticisms were directed in the debate which took place in 1959, criticisms, which, I trust, the House will now think have been largely met by the action which it is proposed to take.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I should have thought that the House would not have much difficulty in concluding that the Minister has made out his case for the two Motions. I think that it will be 1457 generally recognised that the Special Procedure Act, 1945, has worked successfully. The old Provisional Order procedure, whereby Orders had to be scheduled to Bills, was generally accepted as being cumbersome and expensive. It has long been recognised that the Act of 1945, in substituting for the old procedure a far more simple and expeditious procedure, served a very useful purpose and has worked well over the years. But when it was introduced, it was recognised, I think on Second Reading, as being somewhat experimental in character. It made rather a big break with the existing procedure and the House accepted it on the understanding that its operation would have to be reviewed as the years went on.
I do not think that any serious complaint could be made of that Act, subject to the complaint that was voiced when the Leicester Local Act Amendment Order was before the House and when it was pointed out that, under the procedure which was laid down by the Special Procedure Act, it was perfectly possible for an Order with far-reaching consequences to be made by a Minister and to become law without any Parliamentary consideration being given to it.
That could happen under the terms of the Special Procedure Act if no Petition were presented. Even if a Petition for Amendment were presented, the scrutiny available to the House was limited. It was not possible for the House to range far outside the immediate topic covered by the Order. As a result of that Order, there was voiced the opinion that the Special Procedure Act had loopholes and that that sort of thing might happen if a petition against the Order were not presented.
No doubt that did not matter much if the Orders in question were simply Orders of the type to which it was originally intended that the Special Procedure Act should apply, namely, Orders which were primarily executive in effect and applying to a given situation a general provision contained within the framework of some larger enactment. When it was that sort of Order it did not matter so much, although, even so, executive acts should on many occasions be subject to some degree of Parliamentary scrutiny.
But it did matter when one had an Order such as the Leicester Order which 1458 had the far-reaching effect of amending local enactments. The net result was that a Minister, by making an Order, and without subjecting it to scrutiny by Parliament, could by his ipse dixit amend a number of Acts of Parliament on the Statute Book. Clearly, that was a situation which the House could not contemplate with equanimity, and it is for that reason that the Government have brought forward the first of these two proposals, and I should have thought that the Minister had amply made out his case.
I had intended to ask the Parliamentary Secretary two questions, which I think he has answered in advance to my satisfaction. As he explained, the first proposal relates to Orders under Section 303, and with one qualification to Section 297, of the Public Health Act, 1875. The reasons why those two Sections are brought within the scope of the Government's proposal have been made very plain. What is the case, however, is that by an Order in 1949 the scope of the Special Procedure Act was considerably extended.
As originally passed, this Act applied only to Acts then on the Statute Book which provided for the making of Orders subject to Provisional Order procedure, and it substituted in that case the special Parliamentary procedure for the more cumbersome Provisional Order procedure. It did, however, apply to two further Acts which were contained in the Schedule to that Act, and when the Order of 1949 was made in this House the special Parliamentary procedure was extended to no less than eight other Acts.
Those other Acts, if one had considered the matter and had not known that the Government had given careful thought to the question, might be said also to confer power on Ministers to make Orders which were not purely executive in character, but the Minister satisfies me when he says that he and his Department have given careful thought to the question of whether the Order-making power in those Acts ought to be brought within the scope of the present procedure. I have not any particular ones to point to in respect of which I feel I would be able to differ, but I think that the Parliamentary Secretary recognises that the question 1459 was worthy of consideration, and, indeed, he has answered it.
The second question I intended to ask relates to his second proposal, namely, that all Orders subject to the special Parliamentary procedure are now to be referred to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I would have desired to know whether in making that proposal we should not be unduly overburdening the Select Committee. One knows that it already has a large volume of business to transact. There are many Statutory Instruments at which it has to look, and the examination of them must constitute a considerable burden. The question, therefore, is whether in adding this additional burden to the work it already has to undertake it might be asked to undertake an excessive amount of work.
From what the Minister said, it appears that he has been in communication with the Chairman of the Committee, and has received the answer that the Committee thinks that it can undertake this work. If it can, I think that this is a satisfactory situation. It means that all papers which are subject to special Parliamentary procedure will be scrutinised by the Select Committee, and the remainder will go back to the old Provisional Order procedure which, cumbersome as it is, at least produces the result that every Order will be carefully scrutinised by Parliament. My advice to the House would be to accept the Minister's proposals.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Parliamentary Secretary for implementing the promise made by his predecessor. As my hon. Friend said, in April, 1959, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House prayed against the Leicester (Amendment of Local Enactments) Order, and we sought certain alterations, which my hon. Friend has described, in the procedure of the House which would give Parliament greater control. We then received specific, but I must say limited, assurances from the Government. But, so far as I am concerned, I am satisfied that this draft Statutory Order fulfils those 1460 assurances as far as they went. I am grateful to the Government for having done that.
The fact that we are discussing with the draft Statutory Order the Instruction to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments that it considersall Orders which are subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure",widens the scope of the debate beyond merely those special procedure Orders made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875. It is to this wider aspect that I wish to address the few remarks that I propose to make.
On Second Reading of the Trunk Pipeline Bill, on 27th April last, I drew attention to the fact that… except for the handful of Special Procedure Orders where objection is raised, parliamentary scrutiny is actually less than that given to Statutory Instruments subject to annulment. This is because, in the first place, Special Procedure Orders are not referred to the Statutory Instruments Committee of the Commons and, in the second place, the time for their annulment by a Resolution of either House is only fourteen days compared with forty days for a Statutory Instrument."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April. 1961; Vol. 639, c. 710.]We are also discussing.That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments that they consider all Orders which are subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure.The question that we must ask ourselves seems to me to be whether this is adequate. In my view, because of the rigid and cramped time limits within which special procedure Orders operate, it is not. The Statutory Instruments Committee normally meets only once a fortnight. Special procedure Orders, unless petitioned against, take only twenty-eight days from the time they are presented to the time that they come into force. This gives the House considerably less time to take action on an unfavourable Report of the Statutory Instruments Committee than in the case of a normal Order where the "praying" time is forty days.
At present, the time for "praying" against a special procedure Order might be almost non-existent in a case where, say, an Order is presented just after the Committee has met: the Committee meets fourteen days later when the Resolution period has expired; its unfavourable Report appears a few days 1461 after that, and Standing Order 95A, which prohibits Prayers starting after 11.30 p.m., then operates during a period of late night sittings.
I further suggest that the Government's Motion does not go far enough in that it does nothing to allow Petitions against Orders to be presented out of time as is allowed in the case of Private or Provisional Order Bills. It is encouraging to see in the Explanatory Statement that the Government have in mind as a "minor modification" that they may consider bringing in legislation to allow Petitions out of time.
Some ridiculous cases have arisen as a result of the present rules. I refer to just three of them. A Petition against the Newquay and District Water Order, 1957, was received from California, but arrived at the wrong address. By the time the Petition had been readdressed, petitioning time had expired. Such a Petition would almost certainly have been received by a Committee on a Private Bill, but under the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act it had to be disallowed.
The second case is that of the Maidstone (Extension) Order, 1954. After that Order had been laid it was desired to make a small boundary alteration which had been agreed. A Petition was presented against the Order but subsequently withdrawn as the expense of proceeding with it would have been out of proportion to the object. In the end the alteration was made by an amending Order later in the same Session.
The third and last case I wish to quote is the fact that the agents for the Cwmbran New Town Compulsory Purchase Order No. 9—The Garw—failed to serve a notice in time. As a result, a Petition was presented after the time had expired. Although this was admitted to be the fault of the applicant the Petition had to be certified as "not proper to be received." In this case the Order was withdrawn and a new Order was presented and certified as proper to be received.
I now turn to another matter in which, in my view, the Government's proposal falls short of what is desirable. It does nothing to make it easier for Petitions of General Objection to be referred to a Joint Committee, though I 1462 am glad to see that this, too, is a "minor modification" which the Government have in mind.
The present position is that a petitioner must, all in the space of fourteen days, and I apologise for again quoting one of my own speeches:consider the effect of the Order on himself and his property; take any necessary professional advice; draft and deposit his Petition in conformity with a complicated list of Rules and Standing Orders; contact two Members of Parliament or Peers, one to put down a Motion to annul the Order, the other to put down an Amendment to refer his Petition to a joint Committee, and finally, still within the fourteen days, obtain a majority of Peers or Members to stay late at night and vote for him on a complex local matter, outside their constituencies and almost certainly against the advice of the Government Whips."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 712.]I should now like to refer to the distinction drawn by the Explanatory Statement in paragraph 2 between the Leicester type of Order, made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, and "the great majority of orders" whose purpose the Minister claims is "the application to local circumstances of a general policy formulated within a framework laid down by Parliament." This seems a wholly invalid distinction. All local Orders are merely the application of policy decided by Parliament to local circumstances. The policy involved in any Order is embodied in the Act under which the Order is made, and no petitioner seeks to challenge that. What he wishes to challenge is its application to his property or interests in a particular Order.
It seems that the reason why the Government, in 1945, did not accept the reference of all Petitions to a Joint Committee was that it was considered essential to prevent private interests from holding up Government action. In practice, however, the few cases that have gone before a Joint Committee have been preceded by a local inquiry, so that the delay and opportunity for obstruction caused by a hearing before a Joint Committee cannot be regarded as decisive.
As to the contrast between private interests and Government action, petitioners against special procedure Orders have proved to be for the most part local authorities. This conflict has not, I suggest, proved to be a very real one 1463 in practice. As for the special procedure being cheaper, claimed as an advantage in the Explanatory Statement, this could easily be overcome by reducing the cost of Provisional Orders; for example, by waiving or drastically reducing the House fees and printing requirements involved. These, incidentally, were reforms recommended by the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure on which I had the honour to serve. The recommendation, however, has never been implemented.
This debate is a most useful one. I welcome the fact that these two Motions are being discussed together, because it enables those of us interested in parliamentary procedure to discuss how in this limited field we can best improve Parliamentary control. I have had cause to refer to some of those items referred to by the Government in the Explanatory Statement as "minor modifications", but I do not regard them as "minor". They are, I suggest, important safeguards which should be introduced without delay to protect the liberty of Her Majesty's subjects and to ensure proper scrutiny by Parliament of Statutory Orders. It seems to me that this will still be absent until further legislation is introduced.
Having said that, I wish warmly to welcome the step the Government are taking and the clear way in which my hon. Friend has introduced the Motion.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
The Parliamentary machine cannot be said to have been working at its most efficient, or very speedily, because it is now nearly three years since the promise was given by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government that this matter would be looked into and we have been waiting since then for action to be taken.
It is also six months since the former Minister of Housing and Local Government made his statement to the House and we have been waiting since then for this Order to be presented. Since I was concerned in the proceedings on the Leicester Bill which brought to light the problem, I wish to say a few words about the Order and the Instruction. A flaw was found in the Statutory Orders 1464 (Special Procedure) Act, 1945, as extended by the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Substitution Order, 1949 in that there was found to be no adequate Parliamentary control. In fact, in some cases there was no Parliamentary control at all and it was only when there was a Petition against an Order that the Chairman of Ways and Means or the Lord Chamberlain in another place was brought into the picture.
On this question Erskine May is rather optimistic, for on page 1025, we find:The origin of the provisional order method is to be found in the desire to lighten the expense of promoters, … of private bills which come before committees of both Houses. The aim of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945 was to make application for statutory powers still less expensive and to expedite procedure while still maintaining effective Parliamentary control.As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) said, the Act was extremely useful and achieved, at any rate, the first two objectives in making the application for statutory powers less expensive and expediting procedure, but, obviously, it did not provide that adequate necessary Parliamentary control. I am prepared to accept that there was effective Departmental control, but the responsibility for legislation rests upon Parliament.
Lord Morrison, then Mr. Herbert Morrison, when moving the Second Reading of the 1945 Act, said:… the new procedure is experimental and … we shall have to watch how it goes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th Oct. 1945; Vol. 414, c. 1379.]Whichever Government had been in power after 1945, this or a similar Act would have to be put on the Statute Book because a similar Act was introduced in, I think, March, 1945, by the National Government, but, because of the dissolution of Parliament, it was not possible for it to go through all its stages. The Act has an excellent purpose and no one wants to stop the good work that has been done by it.
Matters were brought to a head by the Leicester Amendment of Local Enactments Order, 1959. Since there was no Petition against it, there was no provision for any Parliamentary control at all. This Leicester Order was like a Bill. If I remember rightly—I am speaking from memory—it had at least 1465 twenty Clauses amending many previous Leicester Acts, some of them going back, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, a hundred years. No hon. Member merely looking at the Order and reading it through could possibly know what it meant. We were assured that everything was in order, but to bring to the attention of Parliament this flaw, as I would call it, in the Act we decided to pray against the Order, not with the intention of defeating the Order but to call attention to this lack of Parliamentary control. In that debate, as has been said, an undertaking was given by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, that they would look into the matter and bring suggestions before Parliament.
Shortly after that—that is, nearly three years ago—I put a suggestion to the Minister of Housing and Local Government which I thought would have dealt adequately with the problem. I should like briefly to refer to that suggestion, because it brings out one of the criticisms which I have of the Order. I submitted a scheme to the Minister of Housing and Local Government that the consideration of all Orders be submitted for consideration to the Committee on Unopposed Bills, which is experienced in dealing with the same sort of problems as arise on these Orders. I do not know whether that solution was too simple for Parliament—or was it that Orders against which there were Petitions would be considered by a Committee which dealt only with Bills which were unopposed?
That very same problem arises in the case of Special Procedure Orders, which are to be submitted to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I shall have more to say on that matter. My suggestion would have been simple, it would have been easily understood, and all Orders would have been dealt with in the same way, and, consequently, there would have been no need to return to the Provisional Order procedure for orders made under Sections 297 and 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, which are provided for in the Order which we are considering.
From time to time Questions were put down to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but it was not until 1466 1st August, 1961, that the Minister was able to make a statement, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot). But as on that occasion the hon. Member for Dover did not rise to ask a supplementary question, and as, unfortunately, I was unable to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, no supplementary questions were asked. The statement which was made by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government dealt only with Orders under Section 303, but this Order goes a little further than that and has includedany order made under paragraph (5) of section 297 (repeal, alteration and amendment of provisional order Acts) other than an order for the repeal, alteration or amendment of an Act confirming a provisional order for the formation of a united district made under section 279 of the said Act of 1875.That is the one extension which has been made to the suggestions which were put forward by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government.
I should like to quote from the last paragraph of that statement:It has been suggested that each House might be helped if their attention could be drawn to any special point raised by an order subject to special Parliamentary procedure, and that this might be achieved by means which do not involve legislation. I am taking this up with the appropriate House authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1961; Vol. 645, c. 1122–3.]I assume that the result of the Minister taking that up with the appropriate House authorities is that we have on the Order Paper today this Instrument and the other Orders which are subject to special Parliamentary procedure and which shall be submitted to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments.
Perhaps it would shorten my speech if I dealt with the other points I wish to raise by way of putting a number of questions to the Parliamentary Secretary on the Order and the Instrument. The Minister said that the question of whether any other Orders should be subject to the same procedure as Sections 303 and 297 had been gone into carefully. But I wonder whether they have convinced themselves that it was the only way of dealing with the problem and securing Parliamentary control?
What happens to Petitions in the case of Orders which are subject to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments? I am not quite sure whether the Minister 1467 should not take back this Instrument for further consideration, because there are one or two points about the position which would arise that I do not think have been thought out. At present, in the case of Petitions—as I said earlier—the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Lord Chairman in another place come into the picture. But this merely says that they have to be submitted to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. Are the Petitions also to be submitted to that Committee, or are we to have two different procedures when there is a Petition? There is no mention of this.
I think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover merely assumed that the fourteen days would be the amount of time allowed under the new procedure and he referred to the fact that ordinary Statutory Instruments have forty days. What is to happen? Have the special procedure Orders which are to be submitted to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments to be restricted to the fourteen days of the special procedure Orders, or are they to have the forty days of the Statutory Instruments. These are matters which must be looked into.
I should also like to know whether this Order dispenses with the advertisement in the London Gazette. In a Statutory Instrument under the Schedule it refers to advertisements in a local paper. Not that I am particularly worried about this, but I do want to know more about it.
Concerning the Orders which are subject to special Parliamentary procedure and which are submitted to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, what happens to maps or plans which are referred to in Standing Order 239 (a)? Would they be submitted to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments? If not, I do not see how the Select Committee can do its job. But there is no indication as to what is to happen.
I should also like to know whether consideration has been given to whether there is need for an alteration of the Standing Orders—and I refer to the Orders which are subject to special parliamentary procedure under Sections 237 to 248 (a). When is it intended that this Order should be put into operation? I 1468 do not want to argue on this point, but I am not sure whether it is correctly laid. I understand that when a Statutory Instrument is laid it has to state the date, and on this one there is not a date. I should like to know when it is to come into operation.
I have criticisms both of the Order and of the Instructions. I shall not ask anyone to vote against them, though I think that further consideration will have to be given to the Instructions. As I say, certain problems are not solved merely by putting in that those Orders subject to the special procedure shall be sent to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I am glad, however, that something has at last been done, and even though I do not very wholeheartedly support the Order or the Instructions I am glad that we have at least achieved some measure of Parliamentary control.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) asked whether we might not be overburdening the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments by accepting this Motion. As a member of that Committee, and paying great tribute to the Speaker's Counsel and other Officers, whom we have to assist us there, I think that the Committee can cope with the work. It is a great advance in Parliamentary procedure to have the special procedure Orders investigated by such a Committee. At the same time, like the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn), I think that certain other amendments should be made, apart from merely placing those Orders before the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments.
In particular, there is the question of the time between the consideration of the Order by that Select Committee and bringing it before the House—if the Committee reports on it to the House. Hon. Members will know the procedure. All that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments can do is to make a report to the House if it is dissatisfied with an Order put before it. It may well be that the Order would come before the Select Committee towards the end of the period of fourteen days and if there were something wrong with it there might not be very much time to bring it to the notice of the House.
1469 I regret that the Government were not able to bring forward legislation at the same time as this to extend the period for resolution. It is said in the draft:It does not appear to the Government that there is an urgent need for legislation, but they consider that, if the occasion presents itself, further consideration might be given to three possible changes. …One of the changes was to extend the resolution period, which I should have thought was urgent. I am not so concerned with the other two changes.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked what would happen to the Petitions, and my bon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) asked about the time for Petitions. The vital thing is to bring the Order before the House if it is unsatisfactory in some respect, and there really is not time under the Special Order procedure, as compared with the time given to the Statutory Instruments Committee, to do so in every case. The difference between fourteen days and forty days is a serious matter.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said that the purpose of the Special procedure Order was to expedite procedure and to make it cheaper, and there must be some temptation to a Government to use the special procedure on occasion. In 1949, it was extended by the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) (Substitution) Order to another eight or so statutes.
I put this question to my hon. Friend. Are this Order and its memorandum a preparation for an extension of the special procedure Order process to other subjects? It has been mooted lately that the special procedure Order would be appropriate for pipelines. The House will recall that we had a Private Bill dealing with trunk pipelines which many hon. Members on both sides thought was an unsatisfactory way of dealing with that very important subject. It has been suggested since that perhaps some General Clauses Act, plus special procedure Orders, might be the proper procedure. I myself think that that would be very unsatisfactory. In my view, the Provisional Order procedure would be far better and give far more opportunity for the House to consider a subject of that kind.
1470 If there is any suggestion that the special procedure Order should be extended to such things as pipelines, where do we stop? The House has before it now a Private Bill dealing with the storage of gas under Winchester. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) in his place. It may be found convenient to store gas underground in other places. This is much the same subject as pipelines, and again it has been mooted that the special procedure Order might be suitable there. This is a very serious matter.
If the only way in which matters of that kind are to come before the House is by a procedure giving fourteen days between the Order being laid, the Statutory Instruments Committee having looked at it and having reported to the House, and an hon. or right hon. Member noting the report and taking it up, then this will not, in my opinion, be the right way to deal with those important subjects.
I want my hon. Friend to give an assurance that this Order and memorandum are not in preparation for the extension of the special procedure Order process. If they are, then we want new legislation on the lines indicated in the memorandum giving the extended Resolution period.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Rippon
If I may speak again, by leave of the House, I shall try to reply to some of the points which have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) made criticisms which go to the heart of the whole procedure. It is our view that it does serve a valuable purpose, and the experimental period, if such it may be called, has proved that. I suggest that it was a procedure introduced as much for the benefit of applicants and petitioners as to expedite business in the post-war reconstruction period.
My hon. Friend spoke about holding up Government action. It is not really the purpose of the procedure to expedite Government action. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) foreshadowed it, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) said, in a statement he made in 1944 arising out of the White Paper, "A National Water Policy." My 1471 right hon. Friend then went so far as to say that it might replace the whole Provisional Order procedure.
Apart from being simpler and cheaper—which I think it is—this procedure has two substantial advantages. First, of course, these Orders will be brought forward at any time, not restricted to the timetable for the Provisional Order Confirmation Bill, which has to be introduced before 15th May. Secondly, hearings will be before a Joint Committee and not before separate Committees of each House. I think that that aspect of the procedure is one which makes it difficult to apply the suggestions which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has in mind.
I suggest that the reasons leading to the adoption of this procedure for Orders which were of an, executive character, are as valid now as they were in 1945. It is the best procedure which can be adopted when the issue is the local application of a general policy. That can be best illustrated by the regrouping of water undertakings. Sixty-six of the 72 Orders which were made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in the 1960–61 Session, and which could have become subject to this procedure, related to water supplies. Here, I would suggest that it is right that the question of national policy should be left to be defended by the Minister on the Floor of the House upon a Petition of general objection. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover would like to see it made a little easier to put a Petition of general objection before the Joint Committee, and that, as the Government statement says, will be considered in due course.
What would certainly be wrong would be to send Petitions of general objection automatically to the Joint Committee. If the Minister regards an Order as being so critical to his policy that he is prepared to introduce a Bill, as he can under Section 6 of the 1945 Act, even if the Joint Committee upheld the Petition of general objection, it would obviously be quite wrong to put a Petitioner to the expense of going to a Committee.
My hon. Friends the Members for Dover, and Crosby (Mr. Page) were both concerned about the timetable being at 1472 present too rigid. Not only is the period of fourteen days for introducing a petition and fourteen days for putting down a Resolution rather short, but there is no possibility of entertaining a petition out of time. However, I think that that should allow sufficient time for the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments to consider the matter because there is normally a gap between the two fourteen-day periods, so there would be perhaps about five weeks altogether in which this could be considered. At the same time, I frankly agree that the time-table is difficult, and we shall consider introducing legislation in due course.
It ought, of course, to be remembered that before the Order is made the whole case will be considered and the public will have an opportunity of making objections which may lead to a public inquiry. So, really, people who are likely to object to an Order are put on notice rather far in advance and can move fairly swiftly.
Under the special parliamentary procedure, many Orders do not come under any scrutiny unless there are objections. It is to meet the criticism about the lack of any scrutiny at all of an unopposed Order that tit is suggested that they should be scrutinised by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. I do not think that there will be any conflict between the two procedures, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested. The Select Committee will not have power to repeal or amend the Order. It will not be able to consider Petitions. What it will have is this important right to refer the matter to the House within the Resolution period, which will remain at fourteen days, and then, of course, there could be a debate.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Does it mean that the Select Committee will not even know whether there is a Petition or not?
§ Mr. Rippon
The Select Committee would not, I think, be affected in its consideration of whether the Order was a proper one by whether or not there was a Petition. If there were a Petition of amendment or general objection, then there is, of course, some scrutiny. When there is no Petition, it is felt that it is right that there should be some scrutiny by the Select Committee to make sure 1473 that everything is in proper order. The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments would have an opportunity to study any maps and plans, as Iunderstand the position. I agree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde that that is really essential.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde asked about the position regarding advertisements in newspapers. That will be as set out in the draft Order—advertisements in two local newspapers. The hon. Member will see that the Schedule to the Order provides under Section 297 of the 1875 Act for two procedures—a procedure which will be applicable to Orders subject to the special Parliamentary procedure, and a procedure which is restored by Article IV (3) in the case of Provisional Orders.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Yes, but under the 1945 Act there had to be advertisements in the London Gazette and in the case of the Scottish Orders in the Edinburgh Gazette. I take it that that has now dropped out altogether, that it is merely left to one local paper?
§ Mr. Rippon
Yes, it will provide for advertisement in the local newspapers in these cases.
I think that most of the criticisms arise from a misconception of the nature of these special procedure Orders. The ones we are now considering are not akin in any way to Private Bills. I would suggest that it would be more correct to regard them as in the nature of negative Resolution Orders with this additional procedure for Petitions tacked on. The absence of any scrutiny, unless there is a Petition, can then be seen in its true perspective, because, after all, where we are concerned with the negative Resolution there is no procedure for scrutiny in a Committee.
I do not know that I have answered every point raised by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. Any matters I have not covered I will write to him about, and give him a fuller and perhaps more accurate description of the procedure as it will now apply.
§ Mr. Rippon
Of course, the Statutory Instrument is not laid. That is not a requirement of the Act. It is a draft which is included in the White Paper 1474 for the convenience of the House to enable this debate to take place.
§ Mr. Rippon
I think that we can put it into operation speedily, following acceptance by the House of this Motion tonight.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the provisions of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945, cease to apply to the following orders under the Public Health Act, 1875, that is to say—
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.
§ Instruction to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments to consider all orders which are subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure.—[Mr. Rippon.]