§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which arises from the Resolution which the House passed by one vote on the night of Thursday 27th May. You, Mr. Speaker, suspended the Sitting of the House that night thereafter, for grave disorder, and on the next day requested hon. Members not to raise any further points of order at that Sitting. This is, therefore, the first opportunity to raise with you the following matter, following the precedent that a point of order should be raised at the first opportunity that presents itself after the occurrence of the event which precipitates it. Though I have given you notice in broad terms of the point which I wish to raise with you, work on the final form of this submission has continued, even during Question Time today, and prevented me, therefore, from submitting it to you in advance in transcript form.
The motion passed by the House on the night of Thursday 27th May referred specifically to the effects of further delay and uncertainty in relation to proceedings on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill as a reason for dispensing with certain unspecified Standing Orders. In that context I must respectfully submit that no such considerations can 948 properly carry any weight with you, for the following reasons.
The decision to attempt to bring into public ownership three different industries in one Bill was a decision taken by the Government, not by Mr. Speaker and the Officers of the House and not by me. The decision so to draft the Bill that the contents were scrambled, thereby preventing Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of a Committee of the House from ordering that the Bill be divided, necessarily meant that if any one part of the Bill encountered difficulties during its passage through the House, the whole Bill would be delayed in consequence. But that was a decision taken by the Government; not by Mr. Speaker and the Officers of this House and not by me.
The decision to exclude from Part I of Schedule 2 of the Bill Marathon Shipbuilding Company (United Kingdom) Ltd. was a decision taken by the Government; not by Mr. Speaker and the Officers of the House and not by me. The decision, once Mr. Speaker had ruled that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was a hybrid Bill prima facie, to prevent the Bill from being then sent to a Select Committee and petitions lodged against it to the Examiners and thence to a Select Committee to follow the procedure laid down for hybrid Bills, was a decision taken by the Government; not by Mr. Speaker and the Officers of the House and not by me.
In suffering the natural consequences of their own decisions, the Government do not thereby generate the right to escape those consequences which result from their own incompetence, and not from any shortcomings of Parliament itself.
I now make to you, Mr. Speaker, the following formal submission.
First, on 14th February 1949 the Journal of the House shows, on page 112 in the right-hand column, that the House resolvedThat the recommendations contained in the Report from the Select Committee on Hybrid Bills (Procedure in Committee) in Session 1947–48 be approved, subject to the qualification that a Bill against which no petition has been lodged may be committed either to a Committee of the Whole House, of to a Standing Committee as the House may determine.Second, this Resolution of the House is still in force.
Third, in so far as the Resolution of the House recorded in the Official Report for 949 27th May 1976, columns 765–66, dispensed or purported to dispense with anything, it dispensed with certain Standing Orders relating to Private Business, and did not dispense with, suspend, modify or otherwise nullify the Resolution set out in item one.
Fourth, the recommendations of the Select Committee which were accepted by the House in item one include the following propositions, in page ix, paragraph 19 (a):Since a hybrid Bill by definition affects particular interests in a manner different from all other interests in the same category, an opportunity must be provided for those interests which have been singled out to state fully their case for amending the Bill in order to secure their protection or compensation. This seems to your Committee to be the purpose of committing a Bill to a Select Committee.Sub-paragraph (b) states,This confirms your Committee in the view that the peculiar function of a Select Committee on a hybrid Bill is to hear those affected parties who petition and to reduce as far as possible the hardship and inconvenience which would be inflicted on them if the Bill passed into law.Fifth, petitions against the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill have been deposited, and the qualification contained in the latter part of the Resolution of the House, recited in item one, does not therefore apply to proceedings henceforth on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.
Sixth, notwithstanding the Resolution aforementioned in item three, the Resolution cited in item one entails the House ordering that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill be referred to the Examiners and a Select Committee appointed to hear petitions in due form against the Bill and seeking redress.
Seventh, should the House, notwithstanding its obligation pursuant to the Resolution cited in item one, fail to order that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill be sent to the Examiners and a Select Committee be appointed to examine the petitions and report to the House what amendments should be made to the Bill, or other redress that it deems suitable granted or afforded, then the petitioners have a right to petition at the Bar of the House, to present their case by counsel at the Bar of the House, and to call witnesses to testify and answer 950 to questions put to them at the Bar of the House.
Eighth, this right of audience at the Bar of the House to petitioners against, inter alia, a hybrid Bill, being petitioners of good locus standi, still exists. It is founded in what is known as lex et consuetudo Parliamenti, which is analogous to the common law. It can be extinguished, altered or dispensed with by Act of Parliament; but it cannot be so extinguished, altered or dispensed with by the Resolution of either House of Parliament. As another example, the inability of the House of Commons to fine those whom it finds guilty of a contempt of the House cannot be swept away by a Resolution, though it could by an Act of Parliament.
Ninth, the existence of this right to petition at the Bar of the House was recognised by the Select Committee on Hybrid Bills (Procedure in Committee) aforementioned when it reported to the House, at page xi, paragraphs 26 and 27, in the following terms:Your Committee's recommendation that, in the absence of any instruction or indications from the House to the contrary, the onus of proving the expediency of the bill should be considered to have been removed from the promoters, makes necessary an alteration of the present order of proceedings in the select committee. As the purpose of the select committee is to hear the case of the petitioners for amending the bill to secure their protection and compensation, your Committee believe that this case should be stated at the outset. The agent or counsel for the petitioner should open, calling witnesses who would be examined, cross-examined and re-examined. The agent or counsel for the promoters would then reply to the case made out by the petitioners, and their witnesses would be examined in the same manner. If the promoters called witnesses or put in documentary evidence (but not otherwise), the petitioner would be entitled to a right of reply. This method of proceeding, which would be a return to the older practice when petitioners were heard against bills at the bar of the House, seems to Your Committee to possess two decisive advantages.Tenth, it has been the unvarying practice of the House to set a date by which petitioners should present their petitions against a hybrid Bill, after reasonable notice.
Eleventh, it is Mr. Speaker who himself questions witnesses at the Bar of the House, and through him hon. Members of this House themselves put questions to witnesses or petitioners at the Bar of the House—see "Erskine May", 17th 951 edition, page 700. For those who can afford £25—that does not include me—it is page 691.
I ask you to state at your convenience, Mr. Speaker, when petitioners should present themselves with their counsel and witnesses at the Bar of the House, so that the House can hear them and their witnesses, and the proceedings properly pursuant thereto, before the House proceeds further to consider the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, against which the said petitioners desire their petition to be heard.
Twelfth, alternatively, Mr. Speaker, I request that you should make known, on behalf of the House, to the petitioners against the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill by what date their petitions should be presented to the House by an hon. Member, or otherwise, so that the said petitions may proceed to the Examiners, and thence to a Select Committee, whose report would be received by the House before it gave further consideration to the Bill.
Lastly, Mr. Speaker, at 11.40 this morning I accompanied the Parliamentary Agent acting for C. H. Bailey Limited and Bristol Channel Ship Repairers Limited, to the Private Bill Office. There the petition of C. H. Bailey Limited and Bristol Channel Ship Repairers Limited was handed to the Clerk on duty, who expressed himself as a little uncertain as to the position.
As I was entering the House before Question Time, Mr. Speaker, with the intention of giving you a copy of the submission I wished to make several hours later—now, in fact—I was given a letter marked "Urgent, by hand" by the said Parliamentary Agent, Mr. J. A. Durkin, of Lewin, Gregory and Co. The letter reads:Dear Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop, After you left the Private Bill Office this morning the Clerk expressed considerable doubt about the competence of his office to receive the Petition. It was arranged that the Petition would be left with him and that he would confer with his colleagues.I have just heard that the Private Bill Office consider that, in the absence of an order from the House, they are not competent to receive Petitions and they base that view upon a passage in 'Erskine May', (19th edition), at Page 556.The Petition has not, therefore, been deposited, but the Public Bill Office were at 952 pains to point out that they were not ruling that such Petitions could not be deposited in the House, but only that the Private Bill Office was not competent to receive them. I tried to telephone to discuss the point with you but I was unable to contact you. I hope, however, that this letter reaches you in good time.It did just that.
My final submission is that, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 14th February 1949—that Resolution being still binding on the House, Mr. Speaker—it constitutes a valid instruction to the Private Bill Office to receive petitions, and the House would in fact be contravening that Resolution, which it has not suspended, if the Leader of the House does not place on the Order Paper a motion sending the Bill to the examiners, appointing a Select Committee, and also declaring a date by which petitions must be submitted to the Private Bill Office.
I believe that the last such order tabled by the Leader of the House was in respect of the Channel Tunnel Bill, when 40 days' notice was given from laying the order before the House—which passed it—until petitions had to be received. The shortest time I have been able to find in my researches is seven days; therefore clearly a reasonable period of time lies within that bracket.
I referred to the Resolution of the House of 14th February 1949, when, incidentally, the names of the then hon. Members for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), for Sunderland (Mr. Willey), and for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) appear in the Division List, together with the name of Mr. F. Beswick, who is now Lord Beswick and who is hoping to be chairman of one of the bodies set up under the Act.
If violence is done to that still extant Resolution of the House, Mr. Speaker, may I ask you to direct that the petitioners may present themselves at the Bar of the House to exercise their right, so that we may, as a House of Commons, comply with our duty to them?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) for the care that he has taken in presenting his point of order. It would be an understatement to say that I require time to consider it, and therefore I hope to give my judgment on the matter tomorrow.