HC Deb 20 October 1975 vol 898 cc201-5

Order for Second Reading read.

11.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department (Mr. Arthur Davidson)

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

This is purely a consolidation measure and consolidates five Iron and Steel Acts of 1949, 1953, 1967, 1969 and 1972.

Very briefly, the first three Acts were the Acts that nationalised, de-nationalised and re-nationalised the Steel Industry. The Acts of 1969 and 1972 are the Acts which are concerned with the financial structure of the British Steel Corporation.

The Bill has been through the other place and it has been subjected to the close scrutiny of the Joint Consolidation Committee, which has certified that this is a pure consolidation measure which represents the existing law.

11.41 p.m.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

I appreciate that the Parliamentary Secretary has properly put the facts before the House tonight, and I would quibble only with his initial comment that the Bill represents, as he said, five Acts. According to Schedule 7, there are 11 Acts, including the Gas Act, the Fair Trading Act, and so on. I wish it to be clear that he is covering all the Acts listed in the schedule.

I should also like to take this opportunity of sounding out the Parliamentary Secretary for a little more explanation. I know of his willingness in matters of this kind because earlier in this year, on the Social Security Act, he was helpful to other hon. Members in giving more background on the Government's thinking.

I know from the advice I have had from the Table and from yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the narrow limits within which we operate in this matter, but I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that the question about which we wish to be clear is whether the consolidation Bill we have before us would be better as a consolidated Bill or left in a number of different statutes.

I appreciate that this has been considered by the all-party committee, and I in no way intend to challenge the judgment of my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) or the Committee as a whole, but I think that the question whether we should have before us a consolidated measure or whether the matters covered in the Bill should be left as a number of different statutes is important.

I ask three brief questions. First, could the Parliamentary Secretary give us the Government's thinking on why consolidation was felt to be necessary to cover these 11 Acts of Parliament?

My second and specific question illustrates the reason why one is inclined to the view that separateness of legislation appears to have benefit to the House and the country. If we take Clause 2(1), which places on the Corporation the duty to operate efficiently and economically, this duty seems to be in some sense somewhat different in the 1967 Act from the 1949 Act, where Clause 4—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. I have been silently congratulating the hon. Gentleman on keeping within the rules of order on such a narrow issue, but once he begins to look at the contents of clauses he is asking for trouble, I fear.

Mr. Marshall

With your profound knowledge, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the advantage I have had of seeking advice from you and the Table, and appreciating your advice, I am simply seeking to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, who is also very helpful in these matters, to give us a little more clearly the Government's thinking on them. As an illustration of the apparent virtue of retaining separate statutes rather than consolidated legislation, I was citing the apparent contradiction—which I am willing to believe is outside our terms of reference but must have played some part in the Government decision to consolidate or not to consolidate—between the need to produce iron and steel economically and at the same time to produce it in the national interest. I leave that aside because I do not wish to cause difficulty about the narrow rules, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with which we operate.

I turn now to my third question, which reflects on the way in which Clause 5(4) covers the British Steel Corporation's need to make an annual report. This, as consolidated, appears to be a clear-cut requirement which we can all understand. It relates to the 1949 Act, but once more if we look to the 1967 Act we see that the Secretary of State has powers to call for reports at any time, at his will.

These apparent contradictions seem to me to bring the point clearly home that we would be happier in this House, and the country would be better served, if the apparent contradictions under which the Iron and Steel Corporation had to operate were made clear to all concerned.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary tell us why these totally differing objectives should be brought together under one Bill? We would then be very much clearer, although we would perhaps still feel some doubt whether the consolidating Bill could take us very much further forward. With these reservations and worries in mind, I hope to receive an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity and also on taking part in a debate which does not exactly fill the House to capacity and on a subject which does not arouse the interest of many people.

All I can say—and I am trying to be as helpful as I can because it is a very narrow subject, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, made clear—is that this is a consolidation measure. The purpose of consolidation is to put into one Act existing law that is at present in several other Acts. Therefore, it obviously simplifies the law. It makes it easier for people to know and find out what the law is, and to that extent it is bound to make the law more simple, and easily understood by the layman as well as by lawyers.

I hope that explanation has helped. This has been certified as consolidating legislation. Helpful as I should like to be, and delighted as I was with the hon. Gentleman's reference to my previous kindness, I do not think I can be any kinder or more helpful than that.

11.47 p.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his clear explanation. He will be relieved to hear that I have no questions to ask. We do not oppose the Bill. This is a measure of pure consolidation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Harper.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Mr. GEORGE THOMAS in the Chair]

The Chairman

I suggest that the Committee should follow the usual practice in dealing with consolidation Bills, namely that the Question on the various clauses should be put in blocks. If any hon. Member has any point to raise on any clause he will, of course, rise in his place. I will put the clauses in blocks with the permission of the Committee.

Clauses 1 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 14 to 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 29 to 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 7 agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.

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