HC Deb 22 July 1969 vol 787 cc1673-8
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move, in page 3, line 28, after "Parliament" insert: and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament". This Amendment deals with a situation to which attention was drawn in recommendation No. 2 of the Law Commission. There is a body called an Inspection Committee with certain powers and duties given to it by statute in relation to Trustee Savings Banks.

The Savings Bank Act, 1891, gave this Inspection Committee the power to write its own constitution, which it did, and in that year it laid a scheme before Parliament. That scheme has remained the same until now. The Inspection Committee has power to modify that scheme. It has never done so. But it seems probable that the power to modify is not a pcwer to make an entirely new scheme.

The evidence put before the Joint Select Committee on Consolidation Bills was: It seems that an Act is required for a new scheme to be made, and that is the main amendment recommended in the recommendation. The noble Lord, the Chairman of the Committee, summed up the matter in this way: So your proposal is really this, that we abolish the rather obscure scheme which is not readily available to the public, and replace it with a statutory instrument which would be laid before Parliament and be available to the public. That is what has been done in Clause 4(8), and it is to subsection (8) that the Amendment is directed. The subsection provides: The power to make a scheme under this section, and the power to modify it, shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall he laid before Parliament …". Where, under existing law, an Act of Parliament would be necessary to amend the scheme of the Inspection Committee or to bring in a new scheme, it will be possible in future to make that new scheme by a Statutory Instrument. But what the Bill does is to leave it to a Statutory Instrument which will be merely laid before Parliament. It does not add the normal Parliamentary procedure that such a Statutory Instrument may be annulled upon a Resolution of either House of Parliament. The Amendment would add that proviso to the power to change the scheme by a Statutory Instrument.

If the Inspection Committee wished to exercise its power to make an order embodying a new scheme, it would have to lay the Statutory Instrument before the House, and that Statutory Instrument would be subject to the comparatively normal procedure of annulment by a Resolution of either House. I might have chosen to ask that the Statutory Instrument should be laid in draft and that there should be an affirmative Resolution before it was accepted, but I have chosen the most innocuous procedure, that of annulment. However, I urge that if we are replacing the need for an Act of Parliament by a Statutory Instrument, that Statutory Instrument should be given the formality of Parliamentary procedure, and it should be possible for any hon. Member to bring it before the House by means of a Prayer.

12.15 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

As the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has just said, the Savings Banks Act, 1891, empowered the Inspection Committee to write its own constitution in a scheme which had to be laid before Parliament. It has power to modify the scheme, and the modification also has to be laid.

The Law Commission did not say that if the Committee ever desired to make a new scheme an Act of Parliament would be required. By exercising its power to modify the existing scheme, the committee could, in effect, make a new scheme.

The Commission's recommendation followed the law in providing that the new scheme and any modification thereof should be laid before Parliament. The change which it recommended was to make the scheme a Statutory Instrument, so that it would become published and readily available.

I recognise the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I have given very careful consideration to it. But it is a rather narrowly balanced matter as far as I am concerned.

First, what is proposed in the Amendment is not in accordance with the Law Commission's recommendation. Second, by the same token, what is comprised in the Amendment has not received the consideration of the Joint Committee. The Law Commission and the Joint Committee have treated the proposal in the Bill as meeting the requirements of the situation, because it provides for the publication of the scheme and achieves the making available of the scheme by the method of a Statutory Instrument.

Bearing these factors in mind, I am inclined to the view that my duty is to recommend the Committee to reject the Amendment, but I want to make it clear that I have given careful consideration to what the hon. Gentleman had to say. There is force in his argument. However, we are dealing with a rather special circumstance; namely, a proposal made in a consolidation Measure which has not been recommended by the Law Commission and has not received the consideration of the Joint Committee.

The Law Commission and the Joint Committee recognise that the desirable objective of the Clause is achieved by the laying of a Statutory Instrument and the publication and ready availability of the Instrument by that means. I therefore recommend the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) moved the Amendment on the ground of its merits. The Solicitor-General has indicated that, on the merits, he has no objection. His reason for suggesting that the Committee should reject the Amendment is that he thinks that there are procedural objections.

It is on the procedural aspect that I am concerned to intervene. We are embarking on what is a totally new procedure; that is, we are discussing Amendments to a consolidation Bill which are outside the sphere of pure consolidation as such.

In a way, it is rather unfortunate that this should be the first of the series of Amendments which my hon. Friend and I have submitted in manuscript. But it is important that the Committee, and perhaps ultimately the House, should decide what is to be our procedure in this kind of case.

The Solicitor-General's argument is that the Amendment is not pure consolidation, and I agree, and that it is not one which has been recommended by the Law Commission or considered by the Joint Select Committee, and I agree with that, too. But if that argument is to hold, it means, in effect, that we are to be limited altogether to pure consolidation, or to matters which have been considered by the Joint Select Committee after recommendation by the Law Commission.

The Law Commission is not a legislative body as such. It may, or may not, make good recommendations, having regard to the will of Parliament. It is important that it should advise us, but all it does is to advise us. The Joint Select Committee is a legislative body, but it considers these matters solely from the point of procedure. It is not concerned primarily with merits. Therefore, we are getting very near the point at which we are amending the law without permitting Parliament to consider the merits of the case at all, and I am anxious about this position.

I do not wish to press the Committee to come to a decision on this matter by voting. I do not think that that will be necessary, but it should be put on record that the position is not satisfactory, that it may happen in future that more important issues than this will be raised. This is the thin end of a very broad wedge. I hope that some note will be taken of this debate, and that those who are responsible for ensuring that the procedure of the House is kept up to date will take steps to deal with this matter.

I am not in any sense criticising the Chair. I am saying that these matters will need careful consideration elsewhere. Before the Amendment is negatived, I wish to put that on record.

Mr. Graham Page

I am disappointed that the Solicitor-General feels that he cannot accept the Amendment. I am disappointed that he has put forward the argument that he has done in rejecting it. As I understand it, the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is that on the merits the matter is fairly evenly balanced, but he is swayed by the fact that the matter was not contained in a report from the Law Commission upon which this consolidation Measure and its Amendments are based, and therefore it was not considered by the Joint Select Committee.

I think that that is a strong argument in favour of the Amendment. It is surely for this House, when it is presented with a Bill of this sort, with Amendments based on the Law Commission's report, not to feel itself bound by the decisions of the Law Commission if it finds that the Commission has recommended one particular point without considering all the ramifications of that point. And if, in this House, we find that there is something further on the fringe of its original point with which we should deal, we should not be prevented from doing so by the fact that the Law Commission did not think of it.

In this case, reading the Law Commission's report, and reading the evidence given to the Joint Select Committee, it is obvious that the minds of all those concerned went only to that point where they were endeavouring to replace the laying of the scheme before Parliament with a Statutory Instrument which would be laid before Parliament, and they did not consider the procedure after that point. Would Parliament then have any opportunity to consider the scheme? It would not have that opportunity, except by an early-day Motion, which is hard enough to have debated, and it is most unlikely that one could arrange any debate through the usual channels, whereas if it is the subject of a Prayer it is the tradition of the House that it should receive a debate.

I do not wish to press the matter any further than to put it on record in this form. We must study the Law Commission Reports as they come through to us, even after they have been considered by the Joint Select Committee, and see whether there is any way in which we can offer some improvements at this stage in a Bill. That is what I hoped I had done in this Amendment. At least we have been able to debate the recommendations of the Law Commission, even if the Solicitor-General is unable to accept the Amendment.

The Solicitor-General

I would wish to make it clear to the Committee that I have taken careful note of what has been said by the hon. Baronet and the hon. Member on this point, which is of some interest. In coming to the conclusion in this instance that the right course is to recommend that the Committee should reject the Amendment I have endeavoured to have every relevant factor in mind and to balance one thing with another. What has led me to the conclusion that I have reached is the aggregate of factors—first, that the Law Commission did not recommend; second, that the Joint Select Committee did not consider the point; and, third, and rather important in the spectrum, the circumstance that both the Law Commission and the Joint Select Committee recognised the extent of the objective, namely, the availability of publicity for the scheme, and that that objective is achieved by the Clause in its present form.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 to 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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