HC Deb 13 February 1967 vol 741 cc5-15

Order for Second Reading read.

10.14 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I rise briefly to call the attention of the House to three matters. First, it will be observed that we are in the somewhat unusual position of having two Reports from the Joint Committee. We had the Third Report and then we had the Special Report. This Bill is, of course, a consolidation Measure which embodies certain Amendments which were proposed in a memorandum from the Lord Chancellor.

After it had considered the Bill and the Amendments, the Joint Committee reported that this was pure consolidation and represented the existing law and it considered that there was no point to which the attention of Parliament should be drawn. It took the view that, as it had already amended the earlier Acts by the procedure under the 1949 Act, this was pure consolidation.

That view was challenged in the Committee by the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), who thought that there should be a reference to the corrections and minor Amendments which had been embodied in this Measure. His view was not shared by the rest of the Committee, who decided against it. Later on, the matter was reconsidered and it was concluded that the hon. and learned Gentleman was right and so we had the Special Report, which reads: Your Committee are of the opinion that the Bill as amended consolidates the existing law with such corrections and minor improvements as can properly be authorised under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act. 1949. They consider that there is no point to which the attention of Parliament should be drawn. This is the first time that this point has arisen and therefore I thought that I should bring it to the attention of the House. We should also express our indebtedness to the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South for the vigilance he has shown in this matter.

The second matter to which I should refer is the question of byelaws. The position is that, under the Statutory Instruments Act, two procedures are laid down for dealing with Statutory Instruments. There is the negative procedure under Section 5, whereby when an Instrument is laid it comes immediately into effect. Of course, it can be annulled by a vote of either House within a certain period of time. Then there is the other procedure under Section 6, whereby an Instrument is laid in draft and lies on the Table for a certain period during which the matter can be debated and the Instrument can he disapproved by either House. But, of course, the Instrument does not come into force until after the time has elapsed.

But under the existing law we have a somewhat anomalous provision. Section 2 (2) of the Forestry Act, 1927, which provides for the laying of byelaw's, states that before it comes into operation …a draft thereof shall be laid before each House of Parliament … and if either House, before the expiration of that period, presents an Address … praying that it shall be annulled, no further proceedings shall be taken thereon … One has this unique provision that, although the draft is laid and lies before Parliament in the ordinary way, it will already have come into effect. The Committee dealt specifically with this point and now we are to have the normal procedures under which a byelaw will be laid in draft and will not come into force until the normal number of days has elapsed.

The only other point to which I should draw the attention of the House at this stage is that, in Committee, I shall have to invite the House to accept one or two Amendments as a result of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Dissolution) Order, which was passed with enthusiasm from both sides of the House last week. It will be necessary to move certain Amendments to show which Ministers are responsible for which particular functions. I do not think I need trouble the House at this stage with details of the Amendments.

10.19 a.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I gather that it is not in order to say very much on this occasion, but it is not often that we have before the House legislation governing forestry. I believe that it would be in order to query whether it is wise to perpetuate in a Consolidation Measure certain things which are clearly out of date in the old Forestry Acts.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We can debate whether the items the hon. Gentleman refers to should be consolidated in this Measure, but we cannot debate whether they should be perpetuated.

Mr. Digby

I was going on to argue that it was premature to consolidate certain of the items governing the Forestry Commission which were already out of date and that it would have been preferable to amend them first and get the up-to-date concept of the Forestry Commission before we went on to consolidation, useful though consolidation is. As an example I cite Clause 1(3) which refers to the general duty of the Forestry Commission as being to promote "adequate reserves of growing trees". That relates to the old defence concept that wars would last a long time and that one would require a lot of trees in reserve for war-time needs, as we did in the last two wars.

A further example is given in Clause 2 in which is set out a list of the various persons who are eligible to serve on the Commission. As the House well knows, that is a little out of date now owing to the recent Measures of the Government. I do not wish to labour this point too much, but it is a pity that the opportunity was not taken to restate the law regarding the Commission. This has never been completely done. The Commission has now been in operation for 40 years or more, and the general nature of its work is changing from that of being a planting body to that of a body that has timber coming forward much more rapidly to sell.

I do not have much to say about the other three points raised by the Solicitor-General. Although this is a Consolidation Bill, I hope that at a later stage the various improvements in the Bill, to which the Solicitor-General has referred, will be set out. It is not easy for the House to go through a Bill like this and to itemise the improvements one by one, because it can be done only by reference to the various Statutes which are consolidated.

Regarding the special procedure which is being abolished, there is an advantage in bringing it into line with our normal negative procedure. On the other hand, there must have been special reasons why a procedure of this kind was incorporated in the 1927 Act. I should have thought that in a subject like forestry, which does not promote tremendous public interest, there might still have been some advantage in that. Perhaps we can be told why it was decided to jettison that provision.

I do not think the House will quarrel about the Amendment needed because of the dissolution of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I might say, in passing, without getting out of order, that it is a little disappointing for those who are interested in a minor industry such as this to find it being shot backwards and forwards between one Ministry and another. I hope it will stay with the Ministry of Agriculture now that it has got back there.

10.22 a.m.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General will recall that about two years ago there was a very interesting Report of the Estimates Committee on the Forestry Commission. Two things were talked about, one relevant to Clause 2 of the Bill, the composition of the Forestry Commission, and the other to the method of accounting by the Commission, which was found to be somwhat lacking in various respects and did not give enough information.

We are now consolidating the previous laws about forestry into this Consolidation Measure. Am I right in thinking, therefore, that the Bill takes no account whatever of what was suggested in the Estimates Committee's Report? Is it felt that the Report on the composition of the Commission and its methods of accounting will need any future legislation? If it does not lead to future legislation, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) said, it would be very much better if we did not consolidate the forestry laws at the moment, but waited until we could have a new Bill on the subject and then subsequently brought in a Consolidation Measure. I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could answer that point.

10.25 a.m.

Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)

We are grateful for the brief explanation which the Solicitor-General gave, but I should like to ask why the Government have chosen this point in time to produce this Consolidation Bill. Is there any connection between this timing and possible negotiations for entering into the European Economic Community, because, clearly, a Consolidation Measure like this would be of great help to us in assessing what, in fact, we are allowed to do in the of Government support for this industry in relation to the E.E.C? Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can throw a little light on this, and say whether this is perhaps a prelude to the Government's investigation of a levy system to take the place of what we have been used to in the past.

I should also like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he can confirm that this is, in fact, a purely Consoli- dation Measure, because, when I look at Clause 2, which concerns the constitution, administration, etc., of the Commission, I wonder how it is that something which was apparently put into force about a year ago, in the way of changes to the constitution of the Commission, does not appear in the Bill in the way that it was put forward at that time. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can also throw a little light on that point.

Regarding the winding up of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, which move, as the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said, has received more or less unanimous support, the opportunity should perhaps be taken to study very seriously the possibility of substituting a Ministry of Rural Affairs, which would enable all these matters to be covered.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This does not arise on whether we shall consolidate these Measures or not.

Earl of Dalkeith

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. That brings me to my conclusion.

10.27 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General raised three very important points in connection with this Consolidation Bill. I refer, first, to the Long Title of the Bill, in that it is a Bill to … consolidate the Forestry Acts 1919 to 1963 with corrections and improvements. … As I understand the procedure, we are obliged to accept the corrections and improvements to the existing law as proposed in the Lord Chancellor's Memorandum to the Joint Committee, and as accepted by the Joint Committee.

It was most important that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) raised a question at the end of die first Report—it appeared at the end of the first Report of the Joint Committee—about the wording of the Committee's Report to the House.

We are precluded from debating a Bill of this sort on its merits. We are precluded from debating the question or the merits of the provisions in the Bill. We are precluded from discussing the Amendments which the Committee is allowed to make according to the procedure under the Act empowering them to do so. Therefore, it is right that the attention of the House should be drawn very definitely, in a Report from the Joint Committee, to the instances where they have authorised and approved Amendments to the existing law; and, indeed, there are one or two important corrections and improvements which they made to the law. I should like to mention them, but I should soon be out of order in doing so.

The procedural point which was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South before the Committee, and eventually accepted by the Committee, gives the House the opportunity of appreciating that Amendments have been made to the existing law by the Committee, and that they ought to be studied by hon. Members even if they cannot be debated in the House. It was a most valuable point to make and the House must be grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South for raising it.

The second point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman put before the House was in connection with the power of the Forestry Commission to make byelaws. The Commission has some extraordinarily strong powers to create law. As can be seen from this Bill and from that to which the House has just given a Second Reading and which refers to Forestry Commission powers, the Commission has power to create law by Orders many of which do not come before the House. Those to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred are byelaws which come before the House and which previously came before the House in a form which was not recognised by the 1946 Act, and it was therefore right in consolidating the law on this subject that it should be brought into line with the 1946 legislation laying down the proper procedure for Statutory Instruments which are subject to Parliamentary approval or disapproval.

My only criticism of this is the way in which this point has been covered by the Bill. I think that I shall be in order in questioning the actual wording of Section 46 (4) which merely states: Byelaws under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and a draft of a statutory instrument containing any such byelaws shall he laid before Parliament. It may be that the 1946 legislation dealing with Statutory Instruments implies into a provision so worded that there may be a Prayer for the annulment of such a Statutory Instrument within 40 days of its being laid before the House, but it would have been a better consolidation of the law to have stated the full law in the subsection and to have said that the draft on a Statutory Instrument shall be laid before Parliament and shall not be made into an Order if, within 40 days of its being laid, either House passes a Motion disapproving of the draft. Anyone reading the Bill as it stands with only those three lines in subsection (4) would say that the procedure was not clear, and it ought to be made fully clear.

I am encouraged to make that suggestion for an Amendment at a later stage because the third comment of the hon. and learned Gentleman was to say that he intended to bring forward Amendments to the Bill at a later stage. I have endeavoured on several occasions to amend consolidation Bills, always with utter failure. I have been able to find only one Amendment which was in order and that was to postpone the date of the operation of the Bill. I shall be delighted to find the procedure by which the hon. and learned Gentleman manages to bring before the Committee and to bring in order any Amendments to the Bill.

These Amendments arise, of course, out of the dissolution of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. We have become only too accustomed to the excessive trouble which that Ministry has given to the House, excessive trouble when it was created, all through its career and when it was dissolved.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think I need say no more. The hon. Gentleman must return to the Bill.

Mr. Page

It was the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the subject as the reason for the Amendments which he proposes to bring forward. That only shows that it is possible to amend a Consolidation Bill and, secondly, that it is the dissolution of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources which has produced this extraordinary phenomenon of an Amendment to a Consolidation Bill.

The only sort of Amendment which I have succeeded in even tabling to a Consolidation Bill has been one to postpone the operation of the consolidation. This will be an important matter to consider in connection with this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) called attention to the need for reforming the Commission and questioned whether the law should be consolidated at this time before the House had had an opportunity to consider the reconstitution of the Commission and its powers.

There is a powerful argument for this. Before consolidation of the law relating to the Commission, the House ought to have had the opportunity of considering the law and the powers and the administration of the Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) mentioned suggestions by the Estimates Committee strengthening the argument that the composition of the Commission and its form of accounting ought to have been considered before we embarked on a consolidation of the law. I cannot say whether, as my hon. and noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) suggested, there is any ulterior motive behind this, any international reason for introducing consolidation at this time, but perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman can set our minds at rest by giving us an assurance that, having got the law into this neat consolidated form, the Government will not pause, but will use that as a springboard for proposing reforms in the composition and constitution of the Forestry Commission.

10.38 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

By leave of the House; we are all inhibited in a debate of this kind and we cannot go into the merits or into the substance of the law. We are all rather struggling against that disadvantage and I have every sympathy with all those hon. Members who have spoken.

I can tell the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) that although this is a Consolidation Measure, that does not mean that it is the last word. Obviously, I am not in a position this morning to hold out hopes of future legislation in the near future. However—the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will recall that we have had this issue raised before—the fact that we are consolidating the law as it exists does not mean there is to be no more reform of the law for a long time. Indeed, if we are to deal with reform of the law affecting this subject, it may be convenient if we put the existing law in this consolidated form.

Because this is a Consolidation Bill, some of the changes which hon. Members have mentioned cannot be made in this Bill. For example, the hon. Member for Dorset, West referred to Clause 1(3) which provides: The Commissioners' general duty includes that of promoting the establishment and maintenance in Great Britain of adequate reserves of growing trees. He pointed out, quite correctly, that that has an historical reason going back a very long way.

It may or may not be outdated, but there is a substantive provision of the law. To have excluded it would have made a very considerable change of the law, and would have been outside the functions of the Joint Committee, which is concerned simply with consolidation and minor corrections and Amendments. I have to give the same reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis), who raised certain considerations, which had been brought to the attention of the House, I think that he said two years ago, by the Estimates Committee. Those considerations must await future legislation, as they are not matters which could have been dealt with by this Committee within its somewhat limited functions. I must give the same reply to the hon. Member—

Mr. Brewis

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is missing the point that these reforms have been put into practice, but the law has not yet been changed.

The Solicitor-General

It may be. I do not know precisely what measures the hon. Gentleman has in mind and I have not got the Report of the Estimates Committee before me, but if they involved any considerable change from existing statute law, they would have been outside the purview of the Joint Committee, which is limited to the functions I have mentioned.

The noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh. North (Earl of Dalkeith) went on to ask whether this Measure represented pure consolidation, or consolidation with minor corrections and Amendments. We must take that from the Committee. It has examined these matters with great particularity and has reported that the Bill consolidates the existing law with corrections and minor improvements. We cannot go behind the Committee's findings on that matter.

I return to the observations made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby. We always look forward to his interventions on these occasions. He referred particularly to Section 46 and to byelaws, pointing out that it is not specifically provided that these byelaws can be annulled by Parliament. I would advise him that that is covered by Section 6 of the 1946 Act, which contemplates legislation of this kind. The point is therefore met, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to put down an Amendment I will certainly consider it.

Mr. Graham Page

I quite appreciate that if one reads the 1946 Act with this Section it has that effect, but it has been the practice in recent legislation to spell it out in full in the empowering Clause.

The Solicitor-General

I quite see the hon. Gentleman's point, and I should like to have the opportunity of considering it. Although I am making no promises, I am not ruling out an Amendment at a later stage. The hon. Gentleman should never be discouraged in these matters. I am sure that he never will be and I am sure that, for many years ahead, at any rate during the lifetime of the present Parliament, we shall have a series of Amendments or attempted Amendments to Consolidation Measures coming from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby, and we look forward to those occasions.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee Tomorrow.