HC Deb 22 February 1967 vol 741 cc1642-51

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.—[Sir Dingle Foot.]

10.52 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I had hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General would introduce the Bill to the House, but my purpose in speaking is, in general, to praise the Bill because it is a very much needed Measure of consolidation.

As I wish to praise the Bill, may I dispose of one small complaint first? It is unfortunate that a print of the Bill was in the Vote Office only this morning at 9.30. It is true that hon. Members have had an opportunity to see the print of the Bill from another place, but that print was amended in the other place and we have not, therefore, had opportunity, except for half an hour before the House sat this morning, to see the Bill which we are now discussing. I hope that on other occasions we may have Bills a little earlier for consideration in the form in which we have to debate them.

If I may say so respectfully, I regard this as a splendid and much needed Measure of consolidation. I think it right to compliment the eminent Parliamentary draftsman by name, Mr. Elliston, who has produced such a valuable consolidation. He started his work of course, under the previous Conservative Government. The outcome is marred, perhaps, by only one or two blemishes, but I would not wish to prevent this Measure reaching the Statute Book before 1st April so that it may have effect for the following financial year. I imagine that it is the Government's intention to endeavour to have the Royal Assent to the Bill in time for it to apply for the coming local authority year commencing on 1st April.

First, as to the form in which it comes before the House, I am delighted to see that there is printed with the Bill a table of comparison showing the derivation of the provisions in this consolidation Measure. We have asked in the House before that such a table of comparison should be printed with a Bill. I think that this is the first occasion on which it has been done in this form, and it is a great help, in studying the Bill, to be able to know where to find the old provisions as they appear in the new Measure.

The Bill is what we have come to call a pure consolidation Measure. I have never known quite what we meant by "pure", but it distinguishes such a Bill from a consolidation Measure which takes advantage of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949, that is, a consolidation Measure containing corrections and minor improvements. As the House knows, when a consolidation Bill is referred to the Joint Committee for the consideration of consolidation Measures, it may be referred as a Bill drafted merely for consolidation and not altering the law or it may be presented to the Joint Committee with a memorandum from the Lord Chancellor proposing certain corrections and minor improvements. In the latter case, that is, following the procedure under the 1949 Act, the Joint Committee will first consider the memorandum from the Lord Chancellor and, if it accepts the Lord Chancellor's proposals to amend the law, correcting it or making minor improvements, we in this House have to accept the result as the law and can no longer question it. But there is in that procedure the advantage that the Committee is able to make minor improvements to the law.

I think it regrettable that that procedure was not adopted in this case. The Bill is pure consolidation and not one in respect of which there was a previous memorandum from the Lord Chancellor and previous consideration of the law and amendments where necessary by the Joint Committee. I think it regrettable for two reasons. One, because a certain desirable correction or minor amendment could have been made, but the Joint Committee felt that on pure consolidation it was not justified in making it. I refer here to Clause 110. Second, something has been included in the Bill which, in my submission, ought not to have been included except upon acceptance of a Lord Chancellor's memorandum; that is to say, it should have been recommended by the Lord Chancellor first. I refer here to Clause 117(1) and Part II of Schedule 14 which deals with the consolidation of Statutory Instruments.

These are two important constitutional points and, if I can keep in order in referring to them, I think it right to call the attention of the House to them. I think that 1 can keep in order, because the question is whether the law should be consolidated in this state without first going through the procedure provided by the 1949 Act and amending it so that the consolidation takes an adequate form.

I wish, first, to deal with Clause 110, concerning the Minister's powers to order inquiries. It says: The Minister may direct any inquiries to be held by his inspectors which he might have directed to be so held under section 61(1) of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 if this Act had not been passed. That therefore keeps alive an old Statute when the intention is obviously to repeal that Act and embody it in this consolidation Measure. Indeed, the whole of the Bill embodies the 1925 Act, yet in Clause 110 it keeps the Act alive to the extent that anyone considering——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is straying from the very narrow and tortuous line he must follow. He cannot discuss the merits of Clauses.

Mr. Page

I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to discuss the merits but to question whether the words satisfactorily consolidate the law.

I hope that I am entitled to refer to the deliberations of the Joint Committee on the Clause and to say that I understand from its Report that, as originally drafted, the Clause dealt with inquiries which the Minister might hold "for the purposes of this Act". Those words came from the 1925 Act, and therefore the phrase referred to that 1925 Act. When transferred to the Bill they referred to the whole contents of the Bill. The Joint Committee felt that that was going too far on pure consolidation and it therefore had to preserve the reference to the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925. That is a great pity. I think that I can question whether the law should be consolidated now when the step could have been taken by the procedure under the 1949 Act to put the law right in that respect before consolidation.

My second point concerns Clause 117(1). Incidentally, I notice that Clause 117(2) states: The following enactments, namely, the Rating (Interim Relief) Act 1964 and section 47 of this Act, are hereby repealed … I do not think that I have ever come across in a Bill a repeal of an earlier Section by a later Section. It seems a rather peculiar form, but I merely comment on that in passing.

I want to deal with the second part of Clause 117(1) which says: … and the instruments or parts of instruments specified in Part II of that Schedule are hereby revoked. The Joint Committee called attention to that in its Report. After reporting that: The Committee have made certain amendments which seem to them necessary to the improvement of the form of the Bill and to bring the Bill into conformity with the existing law. it said: The Bill reproduces the provisions of and in consequence revokes, the whole or part of seven statutory instruments. The Committee are still satisfied that the instruments or parts of instruments in question do no more than make textual amendments to the Acts consolidated, the inclusion of which is necessary for a proper consolidation of those Acts. I have not previously come across the justification in a Report from the Joint Committee that the amendments were merely textual amendments. I find no such phrase in the powers given to the Committee under the 1949 Act or anywhere else. I wonder what is meant by that when one sees from the Committee's Report that one example of a textual amendment was that a statutory instrument altered the figure in a Statute of 1962 from £25 million to £47 million.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman is now getting on to the merits of the Bill which, in accordance with rulings given by a number of my predecessors, cannot be debated on Second Reading. All that we can debate is whether the law should be consolidated.

Mr. Page

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not dealing with the Clause's merits. I was trying to interpret the Committee's Report to the effect that it has made certain amendments in the law which it describes as textual amendments. I was trying to see from its Report exactly what it meant by that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think that we can do that on Second Reading. Where we have a Report from the Committee saying that the Bill is pure consolidation we are limited on Second Reading to debating whether or not the law should be consolidated.

Mr. Page

If I may direct my remarks to that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my contention is, as I have contended on previous consolidation Bills which have consolidated Statutory Instruments, that the consolidation should not take place until those Statutory Instruments have been given the force of statutory law by a separate Bill before this House.

A Statutory Instrument is always subject to question in the courts; its validity can always be questioned on the grounds that the Minister did not have the power to make the Order. The courts can set aside a Statutory Instrument on the grounds that the Minister exceeded his powers in making the Order. Therefore, whenever a Statutory Instrument is consolidated into a Statute there is a substantial change in the law because there is a change in the rights of the citizen to question that delegated legislation. It is no longer delegated legislation but becomes part of a Statute, the validity of which cannot be questioned in the courts.

My argument on Clause 117 is that such a substantial change in the law and the rights of the citizen should have been done by the procedure under the 1949 Act, that is, on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. The precedent for that is the National Insurance Bill, a pure consolidation Measure, when the point was first raised with such force. It has occurred in later Bills, particularly the New Towns Bill, which was not a pure consolidation Measure but a Measure under the 1949 Act procedure. The 1949 Act procedure should have been adopted for the consolidation Measure before us, and to that extent I think that I am entitled to say that the consolidation should not take place until the law has been substantially altered in respect of the Statutory Instruments by the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. My final, perhaps minor, point is to question what we are consolidating, which again concerns Clause 117. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will tell the House what is meant by two paragraphs of Clause 117(5). The Clause says: Subject as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, nothing therein contained shall affect— (a) the principles on which hereditaments are to be valued or any privilege or any provision for the making of a valuation on any exceptional principle;…". It seems to me—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going out of order. Once we permit hon. Members on Second Reading to address themselves to the contents of a consolidation Bill, discuss its terms, and ask Ministers what it means, the door is opened to a wide range of discussion which is quite out of order on a consolidation Measure.

Mr. Page

I accept your guidance and ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but my question was aimed in this case not at the merits of the Clause but to try to ascertain what is left out of consolidation and therefore directly on the point of whether the Bill should be before the House now without taking into account other matters which should be consolidated. Supposing there were some 20 enactments on one particular subject and there came before the House a consolidation Measure dealing with only 10 of them. We would be entitled to ask why only 10 were included and whether it was right for us to consolidate without the others.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may make that point in a sentence, but one certainly could not discuss the contents of these enactments, whether being consolidated or not. The rule has been laid down quite expressly over and over again that it is out of order on Second Reading of a consolidation Bill to examine any of the contents of the Bills being consolidated. All that can be discussed is whether they should be consolidated or not.

Mr. Page

I take your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in one sentence ask what we are leaving out of consolidation in Clause 117(5,a and d). These are the points that I wished to put before the House in connection with the Bill which, I repeat, is a very welcome consolidation of Statutes covering 366 years. The Measure, to the general practitioner in this subject as well as to the public in general, will be of the greatest use.

11.13 a.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

It is a matter of regret to traditionalists that the Bill should set about repealing an Act of Queen Elizabeth I —the Poor Relief Act, 1601. It is of course, to many people the Poor Law and something to be got rid of, but to me it is the Poor Relief Act and means that since the days of Queen Elizabeth I the relief of the poor has been a matter of concern to this House, and I am proud of that. It is sad to see the Act go. Nevertheless, it is preserved in Clause 16, the wording of which derives from the Act of 1601.

The wording refers to lands and houses to be rated. Land in fact includes houses, so it is completely unnecessary to have the word "houses" and I take it that it is included purely in order to preserve the traditions of 1601. Shops and offices are also included, as are houses, in "lands", under the Interpretation Act, 1889.

Although the Bill contains provisions regarding valuation, it does not contain provisions as regards water rates and other forms of rates beyond the general rate, which seems a little odd. It is some regret to me, because I dislike the procedure under which some water rates are levied by percentage whilst all general rates are levied by poundage. This means that there is a great deal of annoyance if one wants to work out what rates were two or three years ago without the actual rate demand before one. One has to work out both the percentage and the poundage, carrying out two separate sums whereas otherwise one sum would do.

Though I realise that this is purely a consolidation Measure without any amendment and therefore that it would have been necessary to have a separate Bill for water rates for the system to be altered as I would like, at least we now have a comprehensive statement on general rates and valuation. As a past member of a local valuation panel I appreciate this because it can be a nightmare trying to determine just what the law is in the more difficult aspects of rating.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

This is an important Measure which deals with rates and one would have thought that it was of great importance and interest generally to the House. I notice, however, that all the speeches have come from this side of the House while there is no one on the back benches opposite. Local elections are coming up, but hon. Members opposite are so little interested in rates that they have not the interest to come here today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can only address himself to the question of whether the law should be consolidated in this Bill or not.

Mr. Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I notice that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) has come in, but the fact is that, this being a consolidation matter dealing with general rates, I would have thought that it was worthy of attendance in view of the local elections coming up.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)

I point out to the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. K. Lewis) that I have been in the Chamber this morning for much longer than he has. He himself has just come in.

11.20 am.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

I join the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in the welcome he has given to the Bill. As he says, it represents a very considerable achievement in consolidation. I also join him in the thanks he expressed to Mr. Elliston and his colleagues for the immense amount of labour which must have gone into the preparation of this Measure. As has been pointed out, the Bill goes back to the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and no fewer than 35 Statutes are enumerated, parts of which are consolidated in the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman also pointed out —taking some credit to his party—that the draftsmen must have started work on the Bill under the previous Government. That may well be so, but, with the general quickening of all political and administrative processes since October, 1964, their work must have been greatly speeded up under the present Administration.

The hon. Member always raises the point—I make no complaint—about whether we should have pure consolidation, consolidation with amendments or amendment of the substantive law before we consolidate. He is probably aware that the Bill follows the Local Government Act, 1966. It was originally intended that the Bill should be accompanied by a Memorandum under the 1949 Act, but the opportunity was taken when that Act was before Parliament to make the Amendments required in the substantive law, so that it is now possible to proceed with a pure consolidation Measure. lb/> The hon. Member particularly mentioned Clause 110. What he wants could not have been done under the 1949 Act. I cannot pursue that any further without transgressing the rules of order. He also referred to Clause 117 and Part 2 of the Schedule. They represent no changes in the law requiring a Memorandum——

Mr. Graham Page

This is the very point which I was questioning. The hon. and learned Gentleman says quite baldly that it does not need a Memorandum but there is what might be called an improvement in the law by altering the effect of a Statutory Instrument—not its merits or what it contains, but its effect. We ought to record the fact and decide that that ought to be done through the 1949 procedure of the Lord Chancellor's Memorandum.

The Solicitor-General

No, I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that these Sections in the law reproduce the law as it is. He made a somewhat separate point about Statutory Instruments being embodied in legislation. I take the point and appreciate what he says about the challengeability of Statutory Instruments in the courts, but Statutory Instruments have formed part of the law for a considerable period, which no one has challenged up to now.

We are not depriving the citizen of a right of any value when we consolidate the whole of the law. Of course, consolidation is a matter of general convenience——

Mr. Page

I am sorry to interrupt again. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that there have been Statutory Instruments as part of the law for a very long time, but in Part II of Schedule 14 the last two references are to 1965 and 1966.

The Solicitor-General

But even in those cases, there would have been ample time for anyone to challenge them, and no one has done so.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) felt somewhat nostalgic about the 1601 Act. I entirely share his feelings but this is, of course, a Consolidation Bill. Section 1 of the Poor Relief Act of 1601 is still the rock on which the whole structure of occupier's liability rests and the broad categories specified in that Section reappear in Section 22 of the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, which is reproduced in Clause 19. That is the basic provision about valuation.

The hon. Gentleman's point was considered by the draftsmen, but they reluctantly concluded that if we attempted to bring the broad categories of the 1601 Act more into line with the more detailed classification of hereditaments in later Acts, we would run the risk of effecting some change in the substance of the law. I hope that that meets the hon. Gentleman's point.

I cannot take up all the points raised without transgressing your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you have ruled, the only issue before us at this stage is whether it is expedient that the law should be consolidated. I think that there is complete agreement on its desirability and that we all broadly welcome the Measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee tomorrow.