HC Deb 07 August 1972 vol 842 cc1444-8

Order for Second Reading read.

12.56 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

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

The Bill consolidates enactments relating to basically three previous Acts on national savings—principally the National Debt Act, 1958, the National Loans Act, 1968 and certain aspects of the Post Office Act, 1969 which was the statute which made it desirable to consolidate these provisions.

The Bill contains three proposals which were set out in the memorandum submitted by my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, one of which appears in Clause 8, one in Clause 15 and the other in Clause 16, and I do not think that the House would wish me to trouble it at this stage with an enunciation of those matters which are of the most marginal significance.

The Bill has passed through all its stages in another place. It has been considered by the Joint Consultation Committee, which expresed the opinion that the Bill consolidates the existing law with such corrections and improvements as can properly be authorised under the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act 1949. The committee said that there was no point to which the attention of Parliament ought to be drawn.

That was the committee's report after its meeting on 5th July, and it is upon that basis that I commend the Bill to the House.

12.59 a.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I do not wish to delay the House for any length of time on the Second Reading of this consolidation Measure, and I hope that it will pass through its various stages with even greater rapidity than the Land Charges Bill, but I must raise for consideration one point on the procedure which has been adopted by the Joint Consolidation Committee.

As the Solicitor-General said, the Bill contains certain minor amendments to the existing law which are dealt with in this way by virtue of the provisions of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949. That Act lays down a procedure which is carefully and clearly set out in Section 1 as to the method which should be employed if Parliament, when it is dealing with a consolidation Measure, wishes to make corrections and minor improvements which have been put before Parliament by a memorandum of the Lord Chancellor. Reading the procedure as set out in that Act and reading the minutes of evidence to the Joint Committee, it seems to me that the Joint Committee, in what I consider a most praiseworthy attempt to deal with the matter expeditiously, has telescoped the procedure authorised by the Act so as to omit the part which the Act requires.

That is my reading of the amendment to the 1949 Act, and my reading may be quite wrong. Certainly it appears from the report of the committee that the procedure employed in this case was a novel one which was produced through the ingenuity of the clerk to avoid the need for the committee having a second meeting to receive the approval of Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor of its report about the corrections and minor improvements that it was prepared to approve before dealing with the Bill. It appears that approval was given in advance, no doubt with the praiseworthy intention of telescoping and short-ciruiting the procedure. The procedure adopted is one which I would not fault in any way when applied to uncontroversial legislation, other than that it does not seem to be in accordance with the provisions of the Statute, provisions which seem quite clear and precise.

Others may disagree with the view I have expressed about that and all that I am arguing at this stage—I am not opposing the Bill—is that this apparently novel procedure should be considered in order that it may be ascertained whether it is in conformity with the Statute or whether it is a departure from it which would not permit the making of the minor corrections and amendments which have been made in the Bill.

1.5 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

By leave of the House, I should like briefly to comment on the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), a point characteristic of the assiduity with which he applies himself to the task of scrutinising these unexhilarating Measures which slink their way through the House at these small hours of the morning.

He is perfectly right to say that the procedure followed by the Select Committee was, as set out in the report of the Joint Select Committee, as a result of the ingenuity of the Clerk of the committee, and it appears from that that it was the first time that that procedure had been followed. The hon. and learned Member advanced the suggestion that it was not in accordance with what was required by subsections (3) and (4) of Section 1 of the Consolidation of Enactments (Procedure) Act, 1949. I am sure that he will not be surprised to know that the course suggested and adopted by the Joint Committee was not adopted or suggested without consideration.

He advanced the view that it was not in accordance with Statute. I would not seek on this much notice to resolve the point, but I should have thought that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that the course taken was legitimate. In the first line of subsection (3) there is a reference to the phrase at or after the time and it later says after considering any such representations and finally before reporting Subsection (3) has three indications of importance being attached to the time scale, whereas subsection (4), which deals with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker in the committee's approval, has no reference to timing one way or the other, and it would appear that the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker could therefore have been expressed or become available to the committee without reference to whether it was a concurrence arising before or after the Committee's approval, or at least that concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker could have been, as seems to have happened in this case, conveyed to the committee, as it were, in escrow in advance of its consideration.

Obviously, now that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the point, it is something that will no doubt have to be considered by the Joint Select Committee and indeed by those who advise it, and the House will be grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his indication that he does not wish to stand in the way of the passage of the Bill. It is worth commenting that this would not vitally affect the operation of the Bill hereafter. The 1949 Act in a headnote says that it is meant to facilitate the preparation of Bills, and the actual process of an enactment is that which takes place in the two Houses through the ordinary procedures of First, Second and Third Readings, Committee and Report stages and so on. Any illegitimacy which there may be, which is denied, in the preparation of this legislative child is overcome by the subsequent legitimisation of its passage through this House and another place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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

Committee this day.