HC Deb 28 July 1965 vol 717 cc642-5

Order for Second reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This Bill contains matters of more difficulty than those of the Bill which we have just passed without discussion. It raises difficulties on four matters. The first concerns the consolidation of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, and parts of the 1946 and 1962 Acts. It is a good thing perhaps that the 1944 Act is consolidated in this Bill because it was repealed by the 1946 Act except in so far as it applied to new towns. Considerable difficulty in reference was caused when there was an Act which was repealed for every purpose except one and which disappeared from some of the books of Statutes. The Consolidation Measure will prove helpful in that respect.

However, I call attention to Clause 8(3) which, by consolidation, makes it clear that special Parliamentary procedure in connection with the acquisition of land applies in all cases in which a local authority or the National Trust is concerned, or where a part of a common, open space, fuel or field garden allotment is concerned. The Joint Committee considered that this was an alteration in the law well within the description of minor alteration, but it is something of some importance and perhaps the Joint Committee might have reported on it specifically.

The third point is that this Bill must receive the Royal Assent after the Compulsory Purchase Bill, because it is here assumed that the Compulsory Purchase Bill is law and some of it is embodied in this Bill, or there is legislation by reference to it.

The fourth point is concerned with with Clause 55. This is a matter of some seriousness, because it takes us back to the issue of a Statutory Instrument being embodied in a Consolidation Measure. Clause 55 inserts into the Bill a Statutory Instrument which has been passed only this year—the Secretary of State for Wales and Minister of Land and Natural Resources Order, 1965, which came into operation on 1st April, 1965, and transferred certain powers from the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the Secretary of State for Wales and certain powers from the Minister of Transport to the Secretary of State for Wales.

While it was an Order, it could be changed by another Order and there was flexibility to that extent and I should have thought that it would have been better to leave that Order to be altered, if necessary, by another Order rather than to embody it into a Statute and make it permanent, so that if it is altered by another Order, it will be difficult for the ordinary reader of the Bill to know that that has happened. If one Order repeals another, the first can be torn up and forgotten, but when an Order seeks to repeal a Section of an Act, it is not so easy for the reader of the Act to know that that has happened.

I am not sure—and I hope that the Solicitor-General will inform the House—where we find the power by Order to alter what will be Section 55. Clause 55 is a repetition of a Statutory Instrument and unless we are reserving the power to alter it by Order, we must surely be altering and not consolidating the law. Where is the power to make what will be the Act capable of being altered by Order? I know that under the Transfer of Functions Act the functions of any Minister can be altered by Order, but that applies to that Act. When we have embodied an Order dealing with the transfer of functions in the Bill, I cannot see how we shall be able to alter it by Order and so keep that flexibility.

I trust that if the functions of, perhaps, the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales are abolished, and it was necessary to transfer them back to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, we shall not have to have a Statute to do that. We have always done it by means of a simple Order, but it looks to me that, now we have put Clause 55 in here in order to alter any of those powers, we shall need an amending Statute and not merely an amending Order.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present—

12.22 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), dwelt particularly upon Clause 55. What he was suggesting, as I understand it, is that again we are putting what was contained merely in an Order, into the form of a Statute. I should have liked to have notice of the point. I invite the attention of the House to the Report of the Joint Committee. The House will recall that when we were dealing with the National Insurance Act, the Joint Committee drew the attention of Parliament to the fact that certain subordinate statutory provisions—that is to say, certain Regulations—were being embodied in statutory form.

No such warning has been issued so far as this Bill is concerned. If the House cares to look at the Sixth Report of the Joint Committee, they will see that the Committee is wholly satisfied with this Bill. It does not suggest that it raised any constitutional issue whatever. I did not know that the hon. Member for Crosby was going to raise this point, but I do not want to be dogmatic about it.

I am speaking now from recollection, without reference to the Statutes, but I think he will find that under the Statute law which governs the various Departments, it will still be possible to transfer functions from one Department to another. I am speaking off the cuff and I do not want to be absolutely committed, but I will communicate with the hon. Gentleman on this point when I have had the opportunity to consider it. I again emphasise that if there had been some startling change, such as the hon. Gentleman suggests, one would certainly expect that our attention would have been drawn to it by the Joint Committee.

Mr. Graham Page

May I just call attention to the paragraph on page 19 of the Report which refers to this? I agree that it is said there quite definitely that when this is so incorporated it will be just as amendable by any subsequent transfer of functions Order as before, but nowhere does the learned Parliamentary counsel who was saying that say how that happens. I could not find it anywhere in this Consolidation Bill, nor could I find that the Transfer of Functions Act gave power to amend another Act. It certainly gave power to make Orders under the Transfer of Functions Act, but not once one has embodied the rights of a Minister in some other Act.

I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for saying that he will look into the point. I hope that there will be some opportunity, before the Bill passes through all its stages, to have the matter before the House. It is not much good writing to me, if I cannot do anything about it when the Bill has finished all its stages in the House. When the hon. and learned Gentleman has looked up the point, if he will make sure that the House has an opportunity of dealing with it in the House or in Committee, I will leave the position like that.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Lawson.]

Committee this day.