HC Deb 23 April 1964 vol 693 cc1669-73
Mr. A. J. Irvine

I beg to move Amendment No. 192, in page 9, line 24, after "months", to insert: and not more than nine months". It is an odd fact at this stage of the Committee's consideration of the Bill that, according to Clause 14 as it is drafted, the provisions of the Bill, so far as Clauses 1 to 4 are concerned, may not come into force at any future time at all. After all this time and after all this inquiry, the effect of the wording of Clause 14(2,c) is that the provisions of the Bill, even after the Royal Assent, may not come into force for an indefinite period. This seems to me to be the correct reading of it.

Subsection (2) states: The provisions of this Act shall come into force as follows, that is to say— …(c) sections 1 to 4, on such date (not less than three months after the expiration of the last-mentioned period) as the Board of Trade may, by order made by statutory instrument, appoint. There is no date within which the Board of Trade is to make the orders, so it can be indefinitely deferred.

We knew that there were mixed feelings about this Bill on the other side of the Committee, but this would be carrying discontent too far, would it not, to leave it as it stands? I should have thought that we could agree on both sides of the Committee that it was desirable that the Amendment, which would make it mandatory upon the Board of Trade to appoint a date, by order, within a period of nine months, would be an improvement in the Bill.

Mr. du Cann

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) has a very good theoretical point, if I may say so, but a s a matter of practice I can assure him that he has a very bad point. I imagine alit it was that point that he wished me to meet.

He and the Committee can be sure that the Board of Trade has every intention of making this order, and I can further assure the Commitee, which I think is the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman really is interested in, that there will be no unnecessary delay in bringing these provisions into force. At the same time, we do not think that it would be rig ht for practical reasons for the Board of Trade's hands to be tied to any specific time limit, for a reason which I will now explain.

We should not want, for example, the prohibition to take effect until the Registrar's published list of registered goods was substantially complete. I do not mean to imply in any way that in practice this need take longer than the time specified in the Amendment, but we ought to have some discretion in case unforeseen difficulties should arise. Indeed, I hope he will think that what I am saying accords with something that the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. W. Wells) said earlier.

In repeating, first, that the Board of Trade has every intention of making an order second, that there will be no avoidable delay in making that order; and, third, that there is nothing sinister about the fact that there is no final time limit in this Clause, I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Jay

Surely the Minister is taking this a little lightly. I have no doubt that it may be the sincere and virtuous intention of the present incumbents of the Board of Trade to bring this Measure into force as soon as possible, but we have to look at this from the point of view of legislation. What Ministers are asking Parliament to do is to go through this vast process of legislation and cerebration, improving, amending and ex-cogitating an elaborate piece of legislation, and then accept that, of course, it might not come into force for 20 years or even until the end of the next speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) unless the Board of Trade otherwise determine. I have great doubt that we ought to carry our handing over of power to the Executive quite to that extent. It is hardly legislation at all.

We have all these decisions about gateways, exemptions, substantial detriment and the rest, we think we have legislated, but nothing need happen after the Royal Assent until the Minister at the Board of Trade, whoever he may happen to be, shall determine. We ought not to pass legislation of any kind on the assumption that present Ministers will be there eternally or even until the legislation is amended.

There may be a difficulty about the exact period, whether 9 months, 12 months or 18 months, before one can be certain that the legislation should apply, but there is definitely a case in principle for having some sort of time limit imposed by Parliament and not leaving the whole thing to the sweet will of some executive Minister whose identity or intentions we do not now know.

Mr. H. Lever

I am not sure whether I should give my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) the doubtful value of my thoughts on this matter. It seems to trouble him when I intervene in any sense against his own very considerable enthusiasm for the Bill. But in this case, although I deplore the Bill, I agree that, once the House of Commons has taken the decision that it shall come into force, it would be quite extraordinary to leave to the discretion of a Departmental Minister whether the most important parts of it should ever come into effect at all.

Nobody pretends to real anxiety that the Minister would desire to sit back and not bring it into force for some malign purpose, and I of all persons would be the least anxious to hurry it along. I agree also that the Board of Trade should have adequate time to prepare itself. But we must have some sort of time limit to it for the sake of good legislative order. Is there any great difficulty in prescribing a time limit of, say, 12 months from the date of the Royal Assent?

Is there any precedent for making the whole operation of a Bill of this kind dependent purely on the discretion of a Department? I know of none. Cannot we have an undertaking from the Minister—not that we suspect him of wanting the Bill for demonstration purposes only—that he will put in a time limit of, say, 12 months?

Mr. du Cann

In answer to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), it is not a question of saying that this legislation will not come into effect at all. We say clearly, by introducing it, and I have said clearly tonight, that it will come into effect and there will be no avoidable delay in bringing its provisions into force.

Mr. Jay

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is only a statement by him. Although we do not doubt the sincerity of his intentions, he may not have the power, or be in a position, to carry them out. We have no legislative certainty, if we leave the matter as it is, that the Bill will come into force at all.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. du Cann

If there were difficulty of that kind—it is really so remote a possibility as to be beyond serious consideration—it would be perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and to my right hon. and hon. Friends to put down a series of Questions and make a considerable fuss. Parliament has its remedies, which are very much better known to the right hon. Gentleman, with all his experience, than they are to me. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough, however, to acknowledge the difficulty of timing and this is, obviously, a point which is of practical importance.

In answer to the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever), the way in which the Bill is drafted is quite common form, as, I am sure, he knows from his Parliamentary experience. Therefore, in sum, we see no reason for putting in a time limit, but we will of course consider what has been said during the debate. I hope, therefore that the Committee win see fit to reject the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.