HC Deb 05 December 1966 vol 737 cc1027-49
Mr. Percival

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, at the end to insert: 'after the elapse of one month from the coming into operation of this Act'. According to the Notice Paper, Mr. Speaker, you have been good enough to select this Amendment and Amendment No. 2, which indicates that Amendments No. 3 and 4 might conveniently be discussed with Amendment No. 2. My hon. Friends and I would be agreeable to the four Amendments being discussed at the same time.

The Attorney-General

I agree with that suggestion. Indeed, I commend it.

Mr. Speaker

If the House has no objection, so be it.

Mr. Percival

This series of Amendments has the objective of certain Amendments which were moved in Committee. At the same time, these proposals overcome the objections which were advanced by the Attorney-General to the earlier Amendments. As I understood that debate, the Attorney-General did not quarrel with the merits of the objectives, but with the manner we had chosen for achieving them, because, he said, they created difficulties of timing and definition. I hope that by telescoping—which is the word I was looking for a few minutes ago—that part of what I want to say I do not fail to do justice to the Attorney-General's arguments in Committee.

7.30 p.m.

As I said, he put forward the grounds there that our Amendments would create difficulties of timing and administration. It is to be hoped that this House will always be chary of arguments based on administrative convenience, especially when its own opportunities for control of the Executive are being whittled away on that ground, an all to frequent an occurrence. Nevertheless, in arriving at these our latest proposals as set out in the Amendments now under discussion we have—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is very difficult for an hon. Member to make a speech to the House when there is so much conversation.

Mr. Percival

Mr. Speaker, I was saying that I hoped that the House would always be chary of arguments based on administrative convenience especially when the opportunities of the House to control the Executive are being opposed on these grounds, but, nevertheless, as I was saying, in arriving at these our latest proposals as set out in these Amendments we have given greater consideration to the questions of administration put forward by the Attorney-General in Committee as being objections to our previous Amendments.

The question of timing, the other ground called in aid by the Attorney-General, was, we felt, much more valid an objection to our proposals, and is largely the reason why the proposals we now put forward are substantially different. I hope to satisfy the House, in quite a short time, that the Amendments which we are now discussing do meet all the valid objections whether they be based on administration or timing.

It would, perhaps, be convenient if I were now to say what I am not going to say and then I can get on to what I am going to say. Amendments No. 3 and No. 4 are consequential. Subsection (3) of the Clause raises an entirely different question from that which is dealt with in subsection (1). We felt that rather than complicate what we were seeking to do, which is to improve the Bill, nothing more, nothing less, by seeking also to have full provision as to when Section 12 should apply or not, it was better to leave that to the discretion of the Ministers, and not complicate our other arguments by getting into one about that. That being so Amendments No. 3 and 4 are purely consequential on Amendments No. 1 and No. 2. Therefore the Ministers are left under subsection (2) with discretion to say to which Section 12 should apply.

We on this side of the House are, and always have been, and have always made it clear, fully in sympathy with the object of this Bill. Potentially, it is a very useful one. But the operative word here is "potentially". As was said in another place, it may mean a great deal or it may mean very little indeed. How right that observation was. This Bill itself does not bring a single inquiry or hearing within the purview of the Council on Tribunals.

Nothing happens under this Bill till an order is laid and one can see what will happen when the battles have been fought out between the Ministers—and we fully understand there are some—who want to bring inquiries into the purview of the Council on Tribunals and the Departments who still do not want that to happen; then orders will have to be laid saying which inquiries are to go within the purview of the Council.

But the battle will be over by then. We on this side of the House say this is entirely wrong, that it is the wrong approach, that the right approach is to include all inquiries and hearings except such as are expressly excluded by order. It may be asked, what difference does it make whether an order is one including or excluding—it comes to the same thing in the end? In a way that is true. From the point of view of administration that may well be so.

We are told that there are at present some 200 inquiries and hearings which do not come within the purview of the Council. It is an astonishing figure. However, as long ago as May of this year the Lord Chancellor said that as a result of the work then done it was thought that about 150 were fit for inclusion and about 50 were not. So, even then, quite a long way had been travelled in deciding which should come in and which should be out. In Committee, the Attorney-General thought a recent check had confirmed those earlier figures. Therefore there appears to be no doubt about it that we have at last got to the stage of having an Order and an idea of how many we put out and how many go in. The Attorney-General also said that there was still much to be done when all the answers, on what must be presumed to be the final stage of the preparation, have been received—already from two-thirds of the Departments; that much preparatory work had been done.

It would seem, therefore, that there may perhaps at the outset be something like 20 doubtfuls. If as long ago as May there were 150 which were appropriate and about 50 which were not appropriate and that has been confirmed by a recent check, and two-thirds of the answers from the Departments are already in, then it appears reasonable to assume that the area of doubtfuls has been very well whitted down already, and so I take the figure of, say, 20 doubtfuls, which appears to be fairly generous against the background of those figures.

If that is the situation, or if the situation is anything like that, then it may very well be that, so far as administration is concerned, it makes little or no difference whether one does this by way of inclusion or exclusion—with one possible difference. The one difference which may be implicit in our proposals in so far as there are the doubtfuls is that the administrators might have to make their decisions on those doubtful ones a little more speedily, but even the Attorney-General may agree that that would be no bad thing.

So much for administration. It is very difficult to see why it would make any substantial difference, but when one looks at the position of this House, the question of whether the orders are to be orders including or orders excluding makes all the difference in the world, and it is with the position of this House in relation to these matters that we on this side are now principally concerned. It is true that under the Bill as it stands this House would have the right to pray against orders made under it, but who, one may ask would wish to pray against an order bringing an inquiry within the purview of the Tribunal? It is a wholly illusory right.

What this House wants and ought to have—and we express the hope that it might be given it even at this late stage —is the opportunity to express its views about the inquiries which are to be excluded, not the inquiries which are to be included about which it is unthinkable that there could be any difference of opinion. Under the procedure provided in this Bill this House will not have that opportunity. If I am wrong about that, no doubt the Attorney-General will correct me, but I do not think I am. The right to pray, which is the only right that the House will have on this Bill, is an illusory right in the circumstances of what we are considering, for, as I say, no one could conceivably wish to pray against an order bringing an inquiry into the purview of the Council. Of necessity, if this Bill stands in its present form, all will be decided outside this House and it will not really be brought to the House at all unless a Prayer is laid.

All will be decided outside. That is bad. We shall have no oportunity either to propose inclusions or to criticise or oppose exclusions. This is not just a matter of words or of making a debating point—far from it. It is very bad when one has that situation, and it is a situation that this House should not accept if there be any practical alternative. In our view, there is such an alternative ready to hand—indeed, so ready to hand that this House could debate it, pass it and use it in a very short space of time.

The evil here arises from the choice of including orders instead of excluding them. In Committee we proposed the simple remedy of reversing the process. There is no evil in simplicity. Quite often some of the simple things are the best. But we suggest here that that proposal was perhaps a little too simple. The principal objection raised by the Attorney-General was that in that case it would be necessary to postpone the operation of the Bill until the exclusions were finally decided. The effect of that might be that the one thing we wanted to happen, namely, that certain inquiries and hearings would come within the purview of the Council, might be put off. That is a good objection and it is one which we have faced. I hope to satisfy the House that these Amendments meet that objection fairly and squarely.

Here I must refer to the wording of the Amendments. I think this will show how closely knit these Amendments are and why I took the liberty of suggesting that it might be for the convenience of the House to discuss them all together. Amendment No. 1 could not be shorter or more simple. It gives a month locus poenitentiae, or simply for making up one's mind before anything happens. That did not seem to be unreasonable. The end of the world will not come if no inquiry is to come before the purview of the Council for a month. But it will enable the Attorney-General to decide. It will give him a month for that purpose.

We are not unmindful of the fact that in more spheres than one a month goes very quickly; in fact, in both spheres in which I have the honour to speak from time to time a month is considered but a short time, though it may be that the present dynamic Government would manage to do a great deal in a month, including deciding the 20 doubtful points which they have been considering since May. However, in case it is not enough, Amendment No. 2 provides that if they are still in doubt, Ministers may make a blanket order excluding for three months those on which they have not yet made up their minds. Then in the remainder of the three months they must make up their minds. It is not much to expect them to do. Having made up their minds, they can then make orders of exclusion without limitation of time.

7.45 p.m.

We submit that the advantages are both obvious and substantial. But lest they may not be quite so obvious to some as they are to those who have had the opportunity to consider and draft them, I should like to give a word of explanation of how they would work in practice. Let us suppose that within the first month Ministers have made progress and have reached the stage of dividing the 200 into three lists—those that are definitely in, those that are definitely out, and those which are neither in nor out but are doubtful. It does not seem much to ask the Ministers to reach that stage within the first month. At the end of the first month they will be in no difficulty as to the first list of those that are in. Without any further action on their part, those that are in will automatically come within the purview. All that they will be bothered about will be those which are out and those which are not yet in or out.

Here there are two alternatives. The Ministers could either lay one order including all of these—those which they have decided are out and those on which they have not reached a decision—or they could Lay final orders relating to those on which they have made final decisions, and one, blanket order under the first part of the proviso setting out the doubtfuls as to which they want to preserve the position for three months. In either event this House would then have an opportunity to discuss on a Prayer the merits and demerits of the exclusion.

I suggest there are two real advantages here. First, especially if the course were adopted of laying an order just for the doubtfuls, the House would be given an opportunity to discuss something before the final decision had been reached. I believe it is certainly right that the House should be given an opportunity to discuss matters like this. It is even better if the right can be given to discuss them before a final decision has been taken. It is pleasant to find the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who does not usually think much of what lawyers have to say, apparently agreeing with part of what I am saying. I hope that we may have some support from him later.

The second advantage is that it would give the Departments concerned the opportunity to hear the views of this House, and even—dare I venture to say?—consider the advice offered in and by this House. I hope that we have not yet reached the stage where it is to be assumed that we neither wish to have that advice nor to pay heed to it.

The Attorney-General said in Committee that there would be difficult decisions to be made on some of the inquiries in the 200. Is that not all the more reason for using a procedure which would enable the difficult cases to be discussed in the House, so that Members may express their views, and the Ministers and Departments concerned may have the benefit of knowing those views and such other views as could be given before they reach their final conclusions? All who have the interests of the House at heart would feel that those opportunities to enable the House to express its views and have its views considered, which are the heart and soul of the Amendments, are precious things that should be given the most careful consideration.

I have been dealing with what has to be done within a month to preserve the position. Within the rest of the three months the final decisions could be taken and implemented by orders. That is the procedure we ask the House to adopt. It is very difficult to see any administrative difficulty or objection to that, other than the fact of someone having to make up his mind in three months. If he is taking longer the spur which could be given by the Amendments may be very useful.

The Attorney-General was courteous enough to give a full reply in Committee. He referred to the following part of our proposals and I want to add not repetition but a further point about it: in the case of final orders we propose that each inquiry or class of inquiry should be the subject of a separate order. The Attorney-General suggested that this would lead to a plethora of orders. I am not sure whether he gave full weight to the fact that in our proposals we referred to exclusions, whereas he was referring to inclusions. It is to be hoped that the number of inclusions will far exceed the number of exclusions and that there will not be so many exclusions that to deal with each by a separate order would lead to a plethora of orders.

A much more serious issue is at stake than the number of orders. It is the right of the House to voice its criticisms, and what is at stake is the right of the House to vote against something it does not like. Unless the Government depart from the procedure provided in the Bill and adopt the Amendments the House will be completely hamstrung in both respects.

The Attorney-General said in Committee that our proposals were too wide and would even include Private Acts of Parliament. Not having the resources of all the Departments to assist us in working out whether that would necessarily be a bad thing, we have not had time to decide on that, but as a sort of quid pro quo, in the hope that the Attorney-General may offer something in exchange, we have excluded—in the last proviso in Amendment No. 2—inquiries held under powers conferred by Private Acts of Parliament.

The Amendments in total are designed to improve the Bill, to put teeth into it and to strengthen the hands of those who want to see it work. Many people have paid lip service to it. Our proposals would produce a Bill which went into operation straightaway after the period of one month. We are doing much more than paying lip service to it in two principal ways; first, by a change of emphasis. Under our procedure all the emphasis is upon justifying exclusions. That is right and proper since that is where the emphasis should lie. That gives a great deal of strength to the hands of those who want to see the Bill properly implemented.

Secondly, our procedure introduces an element of Parliamentary control and ventilation. Let Ministers who seek to justify the exclusion of inquiries set up by them state their reasons here, and satisfy the House that they should be excluded. If they have good grounds they will have no difficulty, but at least the arguments would be ventilated. If their grounds are bad they may be discouraged from coming here. If, nevertheless, they come, we can at least express our views and vote if we feel sufficiently strongly about it.

Those are the objects of the Amendments. I hope that the House will appreciate and accept, even at this late stage, that it is in its long-term interests that those objects should be regarded as important and be achieved.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I must first apologise to the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) for not having heard the first few minutes of his speech, but if they were as persuasive as the last three quarters of an hour it would hardly be necessary for me to intervene. I do so because I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a series of extremely important matters which should be adequately examined by the House as a whole and I am most grateful to him for having done so.

If I follow his lead in this matter he must not take it as a precedent, but in my opinion this is the most formidable example of Parliamentary opposition we have seen from the Official Opposition in the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman has always been my candidate for the Conservative Party leadership, and he has greatly strengthened his support by what we have seen today. I therefore feel that on both sides of the House we owe him a debt of gratitude for the way in which he has moved the Amendment. I hope that he will not take my remarks as being in any way flippant, because he raised many points to which I would like to refer.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that some of the points he made were obvious. If he had not told us we would not have known, but I shall leave those points on one side. Those matters which he said were so evident that he did not think it necessary to underline I will not attempt to underline either. I shall leave it to the good sense of the House. We do not need to go over those parts of this argument which are accepted on both sides of the House, and even the Liberal Party—though we have not had its support thoughout the evening—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are Liberal hon. Members?"]—will concur.

The most powerful part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's case was his argument for trying to ensure that if action were to be taken under the Measure the Government should have to explain their views to the House. It is on that that I wish to speak. He specified the time limits prescribed in the Bill and in the new Clauses—a lapse of one month under new Clause No. 1 and a period of three months under new Clause No. 2.

8.0 p.m.

The hon. and learned Gentleman argued that either the period of one month or the period of three months should be sufficient for the Government to make up their mind and to come to the House and state their view. I entirely agree with him, particularly as it has been said of some members of earlier Administrations that once they had firmly made up their minds on a matter there was no power on earth which could make them change it. I should not apply this to members of the present Administration, but perhaps in years to come we shall not be blessed with the same Administration. There might be changes made in the present Administration, for all I know. The personnel might be changed after ten years or so. Some of us might welcome it. Some of us might think it superfluous that any changes should be made over decades. But it is always conceivable, even in this Government, that there shall be changes in personnel.

Therefore, we seek to provide what might or might not be done, not only by Her Majesty's Government in their present immaculate shape, but by a future Government, even a Labour Government precided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) in some future decade or century. We may need safeguards which are not necessary today.

I am glad to see the Attorney-General back here. He is an extremely busy man. I wish that he would tell us what he has been doing recently. That would make it unnecessary for me to make a speech or, what would be even more satisfactory, quite unnecessary for the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) to make a speech. That would have produced unanimity on both sides of the House. It is a great courtesy to the House that the Attorney-General should speak on this Bill, which none of us understands, particularly after the proceedings we have had so far. We should like him to apply to these problems the same good will and acute intelligence which he applies to these other problems. If he gets a little mixed up in what lie says—any little indiscretion which he may commit—we shall be only too happy to accommodate him. It might relieve the unutterable boredom of the proceedings with which we are now blessed.

There are many other Bills which could have been pushed through in this time. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Iron and Steel Bill."] That is another Measure which I should like to be adequately discussed. This is why I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Southport in his proposals.

I am amazed—to put it as strongly as I can—and staggered that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not draw attention to the fact that one of the reasons why we have this shoddy legislation to which Amendments have to be proposed at this late hour is that this Bill comes from the House of Lords. What can we expect of Measures started in another place? It does not seem to have examined even a trivial Bill of this sort.

One of the main cases made for the House of Lords is that these elderly gentlemen who have been given life peerages to preside over our fortunes should be able to sit down coolly without pressure being put on them from any quarter and examine every Bill with the utmost consideration. They have all the time in the world to apply to every Measure which comes before them. They are not pressed for time as we are in this House. They do not have one Bill pouring after another.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone) rose

Mr. Foot

I give way most willingly to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He speaks not only as the Member for St. Marylebone but as an ex-member of the House of Lords.

Mr. Hogg

Although it must seem odd that Bill coming down from the House of Lords need structural changes at this late stage, the hon. Gentleman has no idea what a mess Bills coming up from this House look like in another place.

Mr. Foot

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not be so wanton in his strictures on this House of which he is an honourable Member. He should restrain his tongue, if he can. What I am discussing is the Bill before us.

We have been told by the hon. and learned Member for Southport, speaking for the official Opposition, that this is a Measure in which the most obvious matters have apparently been overlooked. "Obvious" was the word which he used. The claim which he made for these Clauses was that they were obvious. They may be obvious to him. Why were they not obvious in another place? These matters should have been dealt with before. We have a crowded legislative programme, although nobody would hardly believe it, and we expect Measures of this nature to be dealt with entirely by the House of Lords. Instead, at this late date, it is only because of the vigilance and opportunism of the hon. and learned Member that the matter has been remedied.

For all we know, this Bill might have swished through the House of Commons without these matters being dealt with. Then we should never have known what were the facilities under the Bill for Ministers to report on them. All this business of whether these matters should be included or excluded would have gone forth without any consideration having been given to them.

I hope that after the experience we have had tonight no one will again tell us that the House of Lords is a fitting instrument to act as a sieve for these Measures. I hope that no more Measures will be started there.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I hope that my hon. Friend, who is showing great discernment in telling us about what the Bill contains, will not sit down before he deals with that most pungent part of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) in which he dealt with the question of the inclusions versus the exclusions. This was the strongest part of his speech, and we must give it the weight which it deserves.

Mr. Foot

Powerful though that part was, there was an even more powerful part. What the hon. and learned Gentleman said was that the purpose of the Clauses was to put teeth in the Bill. Why should we have been set this toothless, gutless Bill? That is what we have had served up to us. The Attorney-General is a very busy fellow. He has many things on his mind and many matters to attend to. He has to waste his time by being brought here to try to assist in putting teeth in a Bill with which the House of Lords should have dealt properly.

Mr. Percival

I am sure that in his enthusiasm the hon. Gentleman will not overlook the fact that from wherever the Bill came it is a Government Bill and that if it has no teeth in it this is attributable, not to where it came from, but to who started it.

Mr. Foot

The hon. and learned Gentleman must not provoke me to move on to other pleasant themes. I am critical not only of the House of Lords but of the Government. He need not think that that is an inhibition on me. I applaud many of the Government's Bills, but sometimes they make a mistake. Occasionally, Measures coming from the House of Lords are tolerable, but when these two get together, look what they achieve. The hon. and learned Gentleman need not think that he can distract me from discussing the Clauses by a remark of that nature.

This is a tuppenny ha'penny Bill which has been shoved in by the Government. I do not know whether they do it to fill out time, but every now and again we find a Bill on the Order Paper which comes on late at night and which nobody takes much notice of. All of us know that because we are all waiting for another pronouncement proper consideration is being given to the Bill. I am not begrudging the hon. and learned Member for Southport the opportunity which he sees of ensuring that the House debates it properly. I am not criticising him in any way. But he knows as well as any of us that had it not been for the accident of other events for which we are all waiting this Measure might well have gone through the House at 11, 12 or 1 o'clock. It might have been——

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Toothless to the end.

Mr. Foot

Yes, toothless to the end.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I am listening with very great interest to my hon. Friend, but I am not quite clear about his attitude to the Amendments. Does he regard them as tigers' teeth or artificial dentures?

Mr. Foot

I do not use filthy language like that.

I try to discuss these matters in the same plain legal terms which were used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

When I was nodding agreement with something that he said, he observed that I was not always in agreement with lawyers—or something to that effect. I could express my opinion about lawyers very much more strongly than that. The greatest journalist who ever sat in the reporters' gallery of the House of Commons was William Hazlitt, who said that the only thing that gave him any respect for the House of Commons was the contempt that it had for lawyers.

That is an opinion that I generally hold, except for the exclusion of the Attorney-General, who is in a class all on his own. As I indicated previously, he would not be wasting his time here if we ordered our business properly.

Hon. Members

What about the Solicitor-General?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether the Solicitor-General is still a member of the Government or not. Once he gets out of the Government I shall really tell him what I think, but while he is still there the Government might accuse me of making a personal attack. I think that, according to his lights, the Solicitor-General is doing fairly well. I am not criticising the Solicitor-General, and nobody will distract me into attacking him. There are lawyers enough on the opposite side of the Committee to distract me if I were to be distracted.

All I say is that a Bill of this character should be properly treated and cared for before it is sent to us, and, despite all the temptations from hon. Gentlemen opposite, this is an occasion when, to my mind, the arguments are so balanced that I must come down on the side of the Government.

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), in a delightful intervention, has spoken of the rôle of lawyers in Parliament. I would respectfully remind him that there have been lawyers in the House of Commons right through the history of the House. So far as I know, the only exception to that was a Parliament which excluded them, and it has gone down in history as the Mad Parliament.

In his spirited intervention, my hon. Friend has shown a detailed knowledge of the technicalities of this Measure, which evoked the usual admiration that I have for him. Whether there are to be teeth in the Bill or not, it is splendid to find that there is no lack of bark in my hon. Friend.

What I found surprising in this debate, which started in such dramatic circumstances—never did I expect to see so eminent and large an audience for the intruction of this modest Measure—was the gibe of the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival), who moved the Amendment, about the Government considering this matter since last May. This gibe comes, indeed, curiously from the Opposition. The fact is that the Government's object in bringing the Bill forward is at long last to meet complaints which have been voiced by the Council of Tribunals in successive annual reports since 1960 about the inadequacy of the present definition of a statutory inquiry. The Council complained about that in 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963, and yet the watchdogs for the individual, who are supposed to be sitting on the other side of the House, did precisely nothing about it in those years.

8.15 p.m.

I want to make it very clear at the outset that the Government have introduced the Bill precisely because they want to strengthen the rôle of the Council on Tribunals as a watchdog for the individual. We have before Parliament now the Bill creating a Parliamentary Commissioner, and this is part of the Government's rôle in introducing measures to protect the rights and liberties of the individual citizen, and this Bill is aimed at remedying the defect in the Act dealing with inquiries. It is the Government's intention to give effect to the principle of Clause 1 of the Bill as early as possible by making the necessary orders bringing within the jurisdiction of the Council on Tribunals all discretionary inquiries which are appropriate for this treatment.

As the hon. and learned Member has pointed out, there are as many as 200 different kinds of discretionary inquiry at the present time, and it is thought, after the studies that have already been made, that about 150 of these could be brought within the scope of the Council on Tribunals and that about 50 ought not to be brought within that scope.

It might help if I indicate the kind of discretionary inquiry which we think ought not to be brought within the ambit of the Council on Tribunals. Perhaps I can give an illustration from inquiries which are held by the Ministry of Labour under the Conciliation Act into the causes and circumstances of differences between employers and workpeople, where the essential rôle of the Ministry of Labour is a conciliating rôle and where rules and regulations which would be appropriate to other kinds of inquiry would obviously be quite inappropriate. So the Government are proposing to introduce orders bringing within the scope of the Council on Tribunals the discretionary inquiries which ought so to be brought.

The purpose of the four sets of Amendments tabled is to bring within the scope of the Council on Tribunals all discretionary inquiries except such as may be excluded by Ministerial order. We are anxious to introduce this Bill and bring it into effective operation as soon as possible, and with that object in mind the various Departments concerned have been working very hard in the last few months considering the discretionary inquiries which ought to be brought within the scope of a Ministerial order or orders to be made under Clause 1.

It is not an easy task. Parliament has frequently conferred on Ministers the power to hold inquiries into a great variety of different matters, but not imposed a duty to do so. Our Statute Book over the last half-century is littered with these provisions, and it is not at all easy to be sure that one has ascertained all the relevant statutory provisions. The matter is made more difficult by the fact that some of them are, as I said in Committee, to be found in Private Acts of Parliament. I agree that the Opposition have tried to deal with the question of Private Acts by one of their Amendments to the Bill, but, unfortunately, they appear to have gone too far.

If we were to accept the Amendment which is proposed, it would have the effect of covering all hearings and inquiries held under any power conferred by any Private Act of Parliament. We think that that goes much too far. It would make it impossible for Ministers to bring within the scope of the Council on Tribunals any hearing or inquiry held under a private Act.

The main objection which has to be met against these Amendments, in my submission, is that they go the wrong way about tackling the problem. As I have said, it appears that about 50 different types of inquiry will probably be unsuitable for inclusion in a Ministerial order. Under the terms of the Opposition Amendments, it would be necessary for 50 separate orders to be made by Ministers. That would be an appalling expenditure of time, money and effort, and I submit that it is quite unnecessary.

My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will be consulting the Council on Tribunals in the near future, and I think that he has already sent it copies of the first draft Order. He will be sending it a first list of the orders which it is proposed should be excluded from the Council's jurisdiction, and that list will be made up under the headings of the responsible Departments, so that the Council on Tribunals, which will be quick to take advantage of this, will be discussing with the Departments concerned any inquiry which it thinks has been wrongly included in the Order or in the list.

I do not need to remind the House that it is the Council on Tribunals itself which has asked for this additional burden to be placed on its shoulders. It is right that it should have an opportunity of discussing both the draft Order and the draft list. I am not suggesting for a moment that this House should not have the principal and, of course, the leading responsibility in determining the content of subordinate legislation, but, in the circumstances of the problem, it seems more sensible and practical now to let the Council on Tribunals first tackle the work with its own particular expertise and experience.

Accordingly, the view of the Government is that there is no reason why the operation of this Act needs to be postponed for a month after Royal Assent. The drafting of the first Order is already far advanced. We want to get on quickly with this additional protection for the citizen which it is the object of the Bill to confer. It is intended that a second Order should be made two or three months after Royal Assent to deal with any inquiries on which a decision has not been made in time for inclusion in the first Order.

These Amendments will have merely a delaying effect on a useful Measure to bring within the scope of the Council on Tribunals a wide range of inquiries which are presently excluded. Whatever the motive of the Amendments may be, the effect of them will undoubtedly be merely to delay bringing about the introduction of a valuable piece of legislation.

Sir J. Hobson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with this point? If certain inquiries were to be included within the scope of the Bill which subsequently required to be excluded, it would not matter, because the Bill only gives the power to make orders, rules and regulations, and that power need never be exercised. It does not matter if all inquiries are put into the Bill and there is some delay in excluding certain of them, because, in the interval, neither the Lord Chancellor under Section 7A nor the Council on Tribunals under Section 1 need take any action.

The Attorney-General

As I say, the effect of what is proposed by the Opposition is that, if all these discretionary orders are included in an all-embracing provision, exclusion involves the introduction of a wide range and a large number of Prayers, and that would be contrary both to the convenience of the House and to good administration.

I wish that I could feel that this subject has the undivided attention of the House. I repeat that I cannot recommend the Amendments and that they would be contrary to the purpose which unites both sides of the House in seeing that the Council on Tribunals is given the powers for which it has asked for the last six years.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am sure that the House is grateful to the right hon. and learned Attorney-General for the explanation that he has given, which was far more clear than that given by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). The hon. Gentleman assured the House that he was discussing the Bill, but no one would have known unless the hon. Gentleman had told us, although he was holding the Bill in his hand at one stage. It was a very entertaining speech. The hon. Gentleman managed to say nothing so brilliantly that it is quite astonishing that he is still below the Gangway.

During his discussion of the Amendments, the hon. Gentleman forecast a change, but he hardly commended himself to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister by his attack on the Bill and by his support of the very good Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival). His attack on another place will not commend himself to any promotion there, although I am sure that he would not wish to go there, anyway.

This is a very simple point. I start from the basic fact—

Hon. Members

Get on.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I understand what is in the minds of hon. Members, but we must get on with our business.

Mr. Graham Page

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker.

In considering these Amendments, I start from the basic fact that all inquiries should come within the scope of the Council on Tribunals. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, with his contempt for lawyers, might find himself—and I wonder whether he might not have said what he did had the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General been in the Chamber at the time——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) must come to the Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

Mr. Speaker, I was directing my remarks to the Amendment so ably moved by my hon. and learned Friend.

The Amendments endeavour to ensure that the House will know what statutory inquiries do not come within the scope of the Council on Tribunals.

As the Bill stands, it is possible for the Government to decide that a great number of statutory inquiries shall not come within the scope of the Council on Tribunals. The purpose of the Amendment is that the House shall be informed of those statutory inquiries which the Government have decided shall not come within the purview of the Council. Surely there is every reason why this should be brought before the House in the Statutory Instruments which are suggested in these Amendments, namely, that the House should know the decisions which are made? As the Bill stands, it means that there will be many statutory inquiries which will still be not subject to any rules of procedure, and still be in a raw state so far as the Council on Tribunals is concerned.

Under these circumstances, I commend the Amendment to the House, and I trust that it will be accepted.

8.30 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

My purpose in intervening in this debate is precisely the same as that of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I hope that this will be the last time, as well as the first time, that this occurs, and it may be that in pursuance of this purpose he and I could join as Tellers in supporting the Amendments against the Government.

To my mind, these Amendments are really largely drafting. When I look at the principal Act, I do not find that it contains words which are to be found in the Clause as drafted. The Clause contains the words references to a statutory inquiry", but when I read the principal Act I do not find any reference to a statutory inquiry. All that I find are certain words in parenthesis, namely, being the tribunals constituted under or for the purposes of the statutory provisions specified in that Schedule… That does not seem to be a proper definition of what is contained in the principal Act.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must address himself to the Amendment.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Mr. Speaker, I thought that it was necessary to introduce what I was going to say by a reference to these matters, because, as I see them, the Amendments are intended to give a different kind of definition from that proposed in the Bill, and therefore one must look at the Bill to see what it is trying to define. And, as it is a Bill which is defining by reference, one has to look back to the principal Act, and it is there that one finds the words which it is seeking to define. I hope that I have made myself clear.

The Bill proposes to add certain tribunals other than those referred to in the principal Act.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I hope that my potential fellow teller will not find himself too much out of order at this stage of the debate.

The Bill proposes to add certain other tribunals to those included in the principal Act. Its method of doing so is by permitting such other tribunals as may be proposed by Ministers of the Crown, and it defines who those Ministers are—the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State.

The Amendments propose an alternative method. They propose to add all tribunals, and then to allow Ministers to knock out, so to speak, those which they do not wish to include. This seems to me a nicer and more enjoyable method of doing it, and I hope that the Amendment will commend itself to the House.

The Attorney-General

I am afraid that the learning of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) was not successfully conveyed to this side of the House. I venture to think that the House may not be principally preoccupied at this moment with this fascinating Measure. But in its concern for the rights of the individual citizen, the House may nevertheless be refreshed by the knowledge that this little Bill is intended to advance the citizens' protection.

In its wisdom Parliament has created a vast plethora of administrative tribunals and has given Ministers power to introduce varying inquiries, but no duty to create such inquiries, and there is this enormous range of discretionary inquiries which it has been found exceed two centuries. Were the purpose of my speech merely to take up the time of the House it might very well be done by listing the enormous quantity of such discretionary inquiries.

Mr. Speaker

We are not yet on the Third Reading. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must direct his remarks to the Amendments.

The Attorney-General

Mr. Speaker, I was applying what I am pleased to call my mind to the Amendments, to the best of my ability in the circumstances presently prevailing. Whilst the Amendments propose ought to be unattractive to the House, for the reasons that I have already indicated, namely, that they would have the practical effect merely of delaying a Measure which both sides of the House welcome. They would involve reversing the considerable administrative procedures which have already been carried out through the different Departments in ascertaining what inquiries are amenable and suitable for inclusion within the category of the inquiries which should come within the ambit of the council and which should not.

Mr. Graham Page

The right hon. and and learned Gentleman has said that this would give an opportunity to consider what inquiries should not be included. In fact, as the Bill stands is it not true that the House will not have an opportunity of commenting on the exclusion; that it will be entirely for the Government to decide without any reference to the House which of those plethera of statutory inquiries will be excluded?

The Attorney-General

These matters will take time, and the initial stage will be the process of embodying in an order the inquiries which manifestly call for immediate inclusion within the ambit of the Council's work. If, when this operation is concluded, there are indications that, for some protective reason, any Ministry is excluding discretionary inquiries which ought to be included, there is no lack of Parliamentary processes by which such a Ministerial device could be called to account, and the Minister himself called to account.

Accordingly, I invite the House to reject these Amendments as serving the opposite purpose to that which the mover has in mind, namely, quickly to extend the protection which the Council on Tribunals gives to a citizen who may be affected by the proceedings of inquiries and tribunals of inquiries.

Amendment negatived.

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