§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [21 October],
§ Question again proposed.
§ So much of the Lords Message considered accordingly.
§ 7.1 pm
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I beg to move,That this House doth concur with the Lords in their Resolution.I should explain to the House that the purpose of the motion is to enable the promoters of the Hampshire and Nottinghamshire Bills to suspend proceedings on them in this Session in order to resume them next Session at the stage which the Bills have now reached. In recent years this House has allowed the promoters of local authority rationalisation Bills to carry them over in this way so that the ratepayers do not have to bear the expense of serving new notices. If the motion i.s agreed to, the House will have a full opportunity to debate the merits of the two Bills in the next Session.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the first amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Andrew F. Bennett), with which the hon. Gentleman's second amendment may be discussed.
§ 7.2 pm
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
I shall speak to the main Question and not move the amendment at this stage, although I understand that, because of the procedure motion, I would be in order to move the amendment later if either of the promoters of the Bills were happy to see the Bills split.
I wish to persuade the House that it must examine carefully the principle of carry-over motions. I question whether the House agrees to carry-over motions far too easily. The practice has been growing to such an extent that it is altering parliamentary procedure. One could even argue that the practice weakens parliamentary procedure and that we should not make exceptions and regularly agree to carry-over motions without debate. I also wish to show that local government Bills such as those before us should not be allowed to go through this procedure.
There are two procedures for carry-over motions that promoters can use. The procedure attempted tonight is to put down a motion in the old Session asking for the Bill to be carried over to the new Session. The alternative procedure, which is much more appropriate, would be to put down a motion in the new Session reviving the Bill. Much difficulty would be caused if such a motion were lost through insufficient time for full debate at the end of the Session. But if the promoters put down a proposal for a reviving motion in the new Session, which would have exactly the same effect, they would have sufficient time for debate. The custom of the House is to put down a motion to carry over a Bill to the new Session when it is deemed necessary. One puts down a reviving motion only after the dissolution of Parliament, when a Bill is stopped in midstream. However, either procedure could be used It would have been much more appropriate if the promoter 1093 of this Bill had moved a reviving motion next Session rather than the present motion, especially as there are time difficulties.
After the dissolution of Parliament for a general election it is reasonable that a Bill should be carried over and I would not argue that the motion should not be passed. The promoter has no control over the dissolution of Parliament and cannot anticipate an election, so he cannot push along his business so as to avoid the problem. However, with most of the carry-over motions that have been put to the House recently, the promoter controlled his Bill and decided how long the measure should take. The promoter usually chooses whether a Bill should take up much time, because he may decide to include controversial issues. However, he could remove those issues in order to speed the progress of the Bill. If he decides to include controversial matters, he is inviting the House to spend a long time debating the matter. If the House agrees regularly to carry over Bills, promoters assume that they can spend as long as they wish and include as many controversial issues as they wish without the discipline of time that is imposed on most other measures.
There may be a growing abuse of the procedure on carry-over motions, so the House should say that it disapproves of them and that they should be used more sparingly. From the records we can see that carry-over motions were uncommon, although private Bills used to be much more common than they are now. In the nineteenth century, no carry-over motions were allowed and some Bills were presented in three or four Sessions before they were allowed to progress. I recall reading about the Bill on the Manchester ship canal, which was advanced in three Sessions. In the first two Sessions it failed to get through and the promoter had to restart the procedure before the Bill was eventually passed.
In the early part of this century there were few carryover motions. In 1903, 1905, 1907, 1908 and 1909 there were no carry-over motions. When there were such motions they resulted usually from general elections. The promoters did not anticipate the need to get a move on with their Bills and they were taken unawares by elections. Everyone accepted that they were doing their best to get their Bills through and following the elections there were general orders which revived the Bills and enabled them to continue as if there had not been a general election.
In 1911, 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1917 there were no carry-over motions. In the 1920s and 1930s there were very few. In 1945 and thereafter they were rare and, more often than not, associated with the dissolution of Parliament or a general election. In 1955, 1956 and 1957 there were none. After that there seems suddenly to have been a spate of them. In 1957–58 there were seven motions and they were not associated with a general election. That was one of the first years when the principle was used. After that the use of it seems to have fallen back. It was not used in 1960–61, 1961–62 and 1962–63. Although the practice was beginning to grow, it was not the common practice until 1977–78, when there were eight carry-over motions. In 1979–80 there were eight and in the last Session there were eight.
It appears that suddenly the House has started to agree to carry-over motions without carefully weighing the consequences. In the past five or six years they have apparently become a normal practice.
1094 What are the consequences of carry-over motions for the House and for legislation? One of the firm principles governing most of our legislation is that measures have to be passed through the House in one 12-month period. This has many attractions for Parliament. I argue that when we pass bad legislation it is usually legislation that has been rushed through the House in a very short time without proper debate. The opposite is also true. If we allow a measure to drag for one or two years—in some instances when a general election has occurred and it has been allowed to remain before the House for three parliamentary Sessions—there is a great danger that it will suffer as much as rushed legislation.
We require proper debate but we do not want measures to be allowed to drag on and on. Members of Parliament must be able to keep track of them so that they can debate them properly, and outside groups must be able to do their lobbying and make their representations. It is a requirement of Governments and of individual Back Benchers when promoting a Bill to get it through the House in one parliamentary Session. That is a useful encouragement to the Government. It provides also some encouragement for the Opposition because they have the legitimate weapons of time and delay. If we make the legislative process completely open-ended, there will be no restriction on time, we shall cease to concentrate the Government's mind and we shall cease to offer the Opposition the many opportunities to argue and to use the weapon of delay.
If these are good principles to apply to Government legislation and to individual Back Benchers needing Private Members' legislation, they are equally good for the promoters of Private Bills. I hope that those who will argue in favour of carry-over motions will state why they should be allowed to let their measures drag on for 12 to 18 months, and sometimes for more than two years. When that happens most people tend to lose track of the debates that have taken place. It becomes extremely difficult for outside groups to lobby their Members of Parliament and to keep their lobbies relevant and effective.
If we allow legislation to continue for a long time, we discourage the principles of compromise and we make it extremely difficult for the legislation to be prepared effectively. There is some evidence that the preparation of some general Bills has been ineffective. Part of the reason for that is that the promoters have not had the discipline of time which is applied to Government legislation and which tends to insist that the Government get their legislation right, that they meet the various pressure groups and that, having done so, they make a critical judgment. When there are carry-over motions there is a tendency for that discipline to be missing and for there to be a reluctance among the promoters to iron out difficulties with all the groups which might wish to object before they start the parliamentary process. Instead of bringing forward a measure which, as near as possible, is satisfactory to all groups, they introduce a measure that is still the subject of a great deal of lobbying.
If we examine the progress of many of these general Bills, we find that they are changed greatly. The effect of the rather archaic procedures that are applied to private Bills is to prevent them being expanded. They can only be thinned down. Although many in the localities to which the Bills apply would like to see improvements put into them, they find that they cannot insert new measures. They can only put in measures which were publicised by 1095 the promoters at the beginning. When measures have been dropped in these Bills as a result of the lobbying process, they cannot be revived except under strict procedures which effectively stifle debate.
There are strong reasons why we should apply to private legislation the principles that are applied to public legislation. Private legislation is supposed to be local and basically non-controversial politically. The procedures are designed to take that into account. It is important that private legislation should make speedy progress through the House, yet we find that many private Bills make dilatory progress.
The procedure is that promoters have to hold local meetings and to pass their Bills through local councils. The Bills are then laid before the two Houses and we have the right to present petitions against them. Many of the petitions can be anticipated. If the promoters were doing their job of getting full agreement from the people in the locality, many of the petitions would not be presented in the first place. They would not be necessary because satisfactory compromises would have been reached. Had that process taken place, there would be no need for the promoters to have clauses in their Bills that provoke petitions.
Once the petitions have been presented, a decision has to be made whether a Bill is to start in another place or in this place. It is one of the mysteries of the process and I am never sure why a Bill starts in another place or in this place. I have not been given a satisfactory explanation. It seems that, depending on the nature of a Bill, it is allocated to one place or the other. If they wish, hon. Members can have a Second Reading debate and then the Bill will go to Committee. The procedure followed in that Committee is different from that in a Public Bill Committee. It consists of four Members who are pressured to attend. The petitioners then present their case.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Does my hon. Friend accept that there may be a case for introducing a hearings system for local authorities so that proposals are subject to public open hearing before a Bill is brought before the House?
§ Mr. Bennett
That is an interesting proposition. I think that Private Bills are subject to that procedure. I believe that promoters of local government Bills have to have a town meeting at which the issues are aired, although that procedure might have been abolished recently. Proposals certainly have to go to the locally elected council.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
To the best of my knowledge town meetings or county meetings certainly do not apply to the Hampshire Bill.
§ Mr. Bennett
My knowledge of that is hazy. I was an Oldham borough councillor some years ago and I remember attending a town meeting on a local Bill.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
My recollection is hazy because it is 18 years since I sat on a local authority, but I remember town meetings. They were town meetings and the principles involved were probably different in the county context. The rules of the game were often different.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Does my hon. Friend accept that if town meetings or local authority hearings had been 1096 held to discuss some of the clauses in these Bills, the promoters would not have included them and we should not have had to have tonight's debate?
§ Mr. Bennett
I accept that the promoters have a duty to try to produce a Bill which carries a consensus of local support and does not contain controversial measures. Bills containing controversial measures should be introduced as Private Members' Bills or as Government measures and therefore should not be subject to this procedure.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
That would be even more true if local authority Bills were at variance with propositions which applied uniformly in general legislation on law and order, for example.
§ Mr. Bennett
My hon. Friend leads me further than I wish to go. Later I wish to discuss jumbo Bills and to argue that they are inappropriate for such legislation. Such propositions should be dealt with in a miscellaneous provisions Bill. Most local authorities will agree with that, although I am not sure whether parliamentary agents would be as enthusiastic.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a large section of the Hampshire Bill was removed because of the passing of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act? In the original Hampshire Bill sections on sex shops and other matters were included, but they were deleted when the Government's measure was passed.
§ Mr. Bennett
That is a valid argument. One of the problems is that copies of Bills still retain such sections. If they proceed they will have to be reprinted.
After Second Reading on the Floor of the House a Committee hears petitions against the Bill. The Committee consists of four hon. Members who are required to attend because in a sense they act as a court and adjudicate on petitions. That presents difficulties because hon. Members who serve on such Committees are supposed to have no interest in the area involved. That can lead to odd results. If a Bill contains some controversial proposals an hon. Member who does not have an interest in the area can argue on Second Reading that a clause should be left out of the Bill and then, in a send-judicial Committee, he can adjudicate between the promoters and their representatives and the petitioners and their representatives on whether the clause should remain in the Bill. That is odd.
That procedure is suitable only for non-controversial Bills which contain no party political issues. Usually the Committee adjudicates between groups with property interests. In the last century private Bills were used for the promotion of railways and canals. Then it was a simple question of adjudicating between the property interests of individuals. Jumbo Bills are different.
After Committee a Bill i.s considered on Report and then on Third Reading, like any other Bill. That procedure, which is repeated in both Houses, is satisfactory for Bills with no major political consequences. It is not suitable for Bills involving major political controversies.
Time limits encourage compromise. The promoters know that unless they get a move on and thrash out compromises with the objectors it will be difficult to pass the Bill. A deadline concentrates minds and encourages compromise. If we agree to the motion we take that away and remove the requirement of the promoters to move quickly and compromise.
1097 When I served on Oldham council I thought of many provisions that should be included in legislation. The argument was always that although such provisions would be good for Oldham, they would be controversial, upset a pressure group, shopkeepers or employers and therefore were unsuitable for a local Bill. That is a good principle which has applied for a long time. If people want controversial legislation they should not use the private Bill procedure, which is designed for non-controversial measures, but persuade individuals, political parties or the Government to promote it.
Once the procedure is made open-ended one reduces opportunities for compromise and the requirement for promoters to prepare the Bill carefully by a meeting, through local discussions or by negotiating with those who object to it. We are in danger of reducing the promoters' need for efficiency. There is always the possibility that one can put off a meeting, and put off pressing the Clerk of the House to put down a date for the Committee stage.
Once the requirement to get the legislation through quickly is removed, a conflict of interests may be produced between promoters and their agents and counsel who represent the agents in Committee. There is a tendency for the promoters to want the measure passed quickly but for their agents—conscious that their fees will depend on the amount of work and time involved—to go more slowly. If one has watched learned counsel arguing on behalf of the petitioners and replying for the objectors one wonders whether counsel are on a penny-a-word or some such fee.
One talks to people who have sat on Committees and heard how they react, with the result sometimes that whoever puts the briefest case wins. Some counsel do not have their clients' best interests in mind. This debate has increased the promoters' costs. If they had moved diligently and quickly less expense would be involved. We have all received a copy of the promoters' statement as to why they want the carry-over motion. If they had known at the beginning of the Session that there would be no carry-over motions they would have ensured that the non-controversial parts of their Bills had passed through both Houses long ago.
The principle that existed for a long time, that we do not agree lightly, if at all, to carry-over motions should be re-established. The exception would be if there were a suspension of Parliament as a result of the calling of a general election. The re-establishment of that principle would ensure that the promoters would not put one or two controversial clauses into the middle of a non-controversial private Bill. However, if they put them in they would ensure that they met the objectors immediately and reached a compromise with those objectors. In Committee they would confine themselves to putting over the essential points without being overelaborate, and the proceedings would be much more efficient.
It is important that the House makes it clear—if not by voting against the carry-over motion, by some other method—that it does not approve of carry-over motions.
We must look at the nature of the Hampshire Bill 1982 and the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill 1982. I believe that those Bills abuse the procedures of the House. They were necessary because of the local government reorganisation in 1974. For over 200 years before, local Bills contained most of the topics contained in the two 1098 private Bills that we are discussing tonight and some other topics. There was some haphazard local legislation, that varied from parish to parish, borough to borough and county to county. With the new local government boundaries of 1974 it was argued that that legislation should be rationalised. In the Local Government Act 1972 a section provided that local provisions would lapse after a certain period unless they were re-enacted.
§ Mr. Bennett
That limit has been extended because of the slow progress made by some Bills. The proper procedure—following that reorganisation—would have been for the Government to present a local government (miscellaneous provisions) Bill which could have dealt with 90 per cent., if not more, of the measures contained in jumbo Bills. Belatedly, the Government presented such a Bill that removed some of the clauses contained in the Hampshire Bill 1982 and the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill 1982. Eighteen Local Government Bills have wound their way laboriously through the House, and that is an abuse of the procedure.
If we had had one local government (miscellaneous provisions) Bill in 1974 or 1975 it could have dealt with most of the common clauses without abusing the private Bill legislation procedure. We did not. They were all set out in individual private Bills. The argument for an individual private Bill is that it can be specific to a locality. However, most of the private Bills have common clauses. The first four private Bills were passed slowly because they were supposed to be piloting model clauses approved by the various Government Departments.
If model clauses are contained in every local government Bill, the Government should present a local government (miscellaneous provisions) Bill rather than expect each local authority to promote a private Bill. If the Government insisted on that, there is a strong argument for those private Bills to be for local needs specifically, and they should not contain common clauses.
That has produced a major problem. The private Bills have taken up far more time on national rather than local issues, which is why we have had more carry-over motions. Whole areas of the private Bills were unsatisfactory. They contained provisions for taxis, night trading and processions. The latter is the one that I find most unsatisfactory.
Many of the clauses have been removed from the various private Bills as a result of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. Some of the Bills went through the House and were then overtaken by national legislation. We have other private Bills with clauses that still need to be overtaken by national legislation. There is a clause that deals with stray dogs. In most local authority areas it is the responsibility of the police to deal with stray dogs. Under that proposed clause local authorities would take over that responsibility and appoint dog wardens to carry out those functions. I cannot accept that that is appropriate for a local Bill, nor do I accept that provisions for stray dogs should be different in Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester or any other part of the country.
Although the local authorities repeatedly asked the Government to do something about this problem, the Government have done nothing. As a result, a local 1099 authority must promote this provision in Bills such as these, and must do so in an unsatisfactory form because it is already embodied in common clauses.
I could list many other unsatisfactory examples that do not meet the requirements of local Bills. Part II of the Hampshire Bill deals with employment opportunities, an area that has been severely vetoed by the Government. The measure also deals with highways, public health, public order—
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell
I have a suspicion that the hon. Gentleman has an old copy of the Bill, because the revised copy that I recently got from the Vote Office lists these provisions in a different order.
§ Mr. Bennett
My copy was provided by the Vote Office just before the recess. I accept that many of these clauses have now disappeared as a result of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, but they were in the Bill originally, and they were controversial issues.
These Bills also dealt with night cafes, entertainment clubs, the licensing of music and the control of sex shops, all of which I believe are inappropriate. As a result of procedures in the other place, most of the issues have been removed. The clause dealing with street processions should also have been removed and included in national legislation—either that, or the provision should have been specifically local. The clause should have taken into account particular circumstances in Hampshire. For example, there may have been one requirement for Southampton and Portsmouth and another for most of the rest of the county, which is predominantly rural.
Instead, a common clause was inserted. It was not the common clause proposed by the Government or even the one agreed in respect of earlier Bills. It was a clause that was inserted as an unsatisfactory compromise in the West Midlands Bill. It was inserted then because of the delaying tactics used in the House and the need to thrash out a compromise. Sadly, the chief constable of the West Midlands said that it was completely unsatisfactory. It was also unsatisfactory to people concerned with civil liberties. I understand that that provision has not been invoked.
Such a provision should have been the subject of a parliamentary Bill. In fact, I believe that the Government suggested that they intended to bring forward a public order Bill that would have dealt with this issue. In those circumstances, I do not know why the promoters of these Bills did not drop the common clause. Had they done so, the Bills would have made rapid progress. It would not have been necessary to put down petitions against them or to take up such time discussing them. There would, therefore, have been no need for this carry-over motion. Because the promoters included a clause that was clearly controversial, they delayed the passage of their Bills and increased the cost to their local ratepayers. I hope that the ratepayers of Nottinghamshire and Hampshire are conscious of the fact that the decision to include a politically controversial clause has increased costs and led to delay.
All the provisions to which I have referred appear early in the Bills and are, I believe, wholly inappropriate. Part XI of the Hampshire Bill deals with the Itchen bridge and part XII deals with the ferry from Gosport to Portsmouth. There are also provisions dealing with Southampton, Portsmouth, Gosport and Fareham—all wholly 1100 appropriate measures for a private Bill of this sort. They are local and specific to Southampton and Hampshire, and it would be totally illogical for the Government to introduce legislation dealing with issues such as the lichen bridge.
The jumbled nature of these Bills has led to the difficulty. The fact that they have proceeded so slowly has created the precedent of carry-over motions. They take away the effectiveness of time concentrating the mind, by which good local compromises are thrashed out on the sort of issues that appear at the end of the Hampshire Bill.
I understand that good local compromises were thrashed out a long time ago which would have reduced the time taken in the House of Lords and the time that is likely to be taken in the House of Commons next Session if the motion is agreed tonight. That could have been achieved had the 13ills concentrated on local issues and not contained the controversial issues, some of which have been overtaken by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. Some of those controversial issues still remain and might well be overtaken by legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech.
The House should make it quite clear that it does not approve of the general principle of carry-over motions, which ought to be used sparingly. Normally, such motions should occur only when a general election has been called unexpectedly. In such circumstances, a carry-over motion is acceptable. It is, however, unfortunate that carry-over motions should now be used so regularly.
I hope that on this occasion the promoters will get rid of the controversial clauses, especially on street processions. By doing so speedy progress could be made, and the people of Nottinghamshire and Hampshire could get many of the provisions that they undoubtedly require. Were the promoters to do so, they could get the Second Reading on the nod without any difficulty. They could well find that there will be no petitions against the Bills, as a result of which the Committee stages need only be short and formal. By moving in that direction, the promoters could well get their legislation by Christmas.
If they insist on including controversial clauses, discussion next Session will take much longer and the local authorities will face greater costs. Members of Parliament will be forced to use more time to discuss these issues. After all, time is the only means by which we can press for compromise. 1 therefore hope that someone on behalf of the promoters will make it clear tonight that they will drop the procession clauses and other areas of controversy so that the legislation can progress speedily next Session.
§ Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)
I support the procedural motion before the House, which will give us an opportunity to discuss the matters which the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) obviously wishes to discuss at some length. In my view, it is unworthy of him to suggest that the agents and counsel may have deliberately delayed or lengthened proceedings for their own financial gain. If that is what he is suggesting in the case of the Hampshire Bill, I refute it and suggest that he withdraw the comment.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I was not making any imputation against either of the promoters in this case. I chose my words carefully in that part of my speech I suggested that there can be a conflict of interests between 1101 their duties to get the Bill through quickly and their duties to look after the financial viability of their practices. I have never had any evidence that the parliamentary agents have ever behaved in an inappropriate manner. However, I have evidence that, on occasions, some of the counsel who have been employed to argue cases on behalf of the petitioners do not seem to have felt that there was any urgency to get on with the case, and at least raised the suspicion—no more than that—that they were being paid a penny a word.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman did not cast aspersions in the case of the Hampshire Bill. The suggestion that this practice may have occurred elsewhere is a reflection on hon. Members of this House and of the other place who have served on Opposed Private Bill Committees. I have had the pleasure of sitting on only one of those Committees, and I know that the hon. Member of this House who was Chairman of that Committee would not have accepted dilatory proceedings without drawing that matter sternly to the attention of those concerned. If I may say so, it ill behoves any hon. Member to talk about those who promote complex and difficult Bills having a lack of proper preparation, when that hon. Member arrives here with an out-of-date copy of the Bills concerned and lists the wrong numbers of clauses in the Bill—which is what has happened.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett rose—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I shall not give way. I shall finish this point and then, if the hon. Gentleman wishes, he may comment on it.
The hon. Member used the phrase "jumbo Bill". One reason why these Bills are relatively complex is that they contain much material which is basically noncontroversial in that it is simply consolidation of previously existing byelaws. Nevertheless, it is perfectly proper for the promoters to put forward detailed proposals for measures which they may not be in a position to anticipate will be included during the passage of their Bill in measures promoted by the Government at the same time. Therefore, to criticise the promoters for lack of preparation is unfair. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to intervene now.
§ Mr. Bennett
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of it, but one of the duties of the promoters is to ensure that Bills are available in the Vote Office. I asked for the Bill at the time when I understood that carry-over motions were likely to go down, which was the last week before the Summer Recess. It is not my fault if the wrong copy was in the Vote Office; it is the fault of the promoters. I should not wish to raise the matter as a point of order.
§ Mr. English
I will. I think the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) is referring to another office of another place; not to the Vote Office of this House.
§ Mr. Bennett
The promoters therefore have a duty to see that correct copies are there. I accept that, in the case of a reprint during the recess, it is a matter for them, but if I am preparing myself for a debate such as this it is not a matter for me to be aware of the fact that they have produced a reprint unless they carry out the clear duty to tell people that there has been a reprint.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I accept that it is incumbent on the promoters to make sure that Members of this House and of the other place are properly informed and provided with the materials that are necessary for them to make a proper decision. I do not dispute that for a moment.
However, I dispute the suggestion that the proposal to have a carry-over motion in some way means that we have open-ended legislation. It does not mean that. Like all other legislation, this Bill would lapse at the end of the Session if it were not subject to the carry-over motions. The very fact that we can have this debate tonight shows that the matter is not open-ended, merely that it is a measure which, because of the pressure on the time of both Houses of Parliament, cannot easily be completed in one Session.
I followed the historical analysis given by the hon. Member for Stockport, North of the process of introducing carry-over motions. I noted that they were uncommon in the early nineteenth century. At that time, the pressure on parliamentary business promoted by the Government was much less than it is today. Some of us may regret that, but certainly the situation today is very different. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman was less than fair in his opening remarks when he suggested that the time that it would take for the Bill to pass through the Houses of Parliament was controlled by the promoters. He suggested later that if they took out controversial measures there might not be much opposition and the Bill could go through quickly. An innocuous Bill could go through quickly, whereas a controversial Bill would take longer. However, that should not be taken to mean that the time taken on debate in either House is within the control of the promoters. It is not. If there is not enough time for the Bill to be passed before the end of the Session, a carry-over motion is perfectly reasonable.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Will the hon. Gentleman say on what basis he believes that a Ten-Minute Bill should have less priority for support by a carry-over motion than private business of the kind that we are discussing this evening?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I answer in a general sense, that business promoted by the Government or by an individual Member—for example, a Private Member's Bill, or a Ten-Minute Bill—has the great advantage of being the direct responsibility of persons who are determined to explore every avenue to carry the Bill through as quickly as possible. It has the advantage of having the immediate personal attention of Ministers or individual Members. The promoters of a private Bill depend on the good will of the House for a measure to pass. They can therefore expect that it will not necessarily receive the priority that a Government measure would receive.
The hon. Member asked me about Ten-Minute Bills, but perhaps I would be out of order if I were to go into detail on the matter. I suggest, however, that many Ten-Minute Bills are not serious proposals when they are brought in during the last few days of a Session, as, I understand, has happened on occasions. It is known that those Bills will fall. Promoters of private Bills such as the Hampshire and Nottinghamshire Bills have a major discipline which the hon. Member for Stockport, North did not recognise, and that is the financial discipline of the costs that they have already incurred. There is the incentive to ensure that the Bill is presented properly so that it can make rapid progress through the House.
1103 The hon. Gentleman made much of the point that if a Bill contained nothing controversial it would make rapid progress. Perhaps I should say that it is almost impossible to think of anything that would not be controversial in the House. The hon. Gentleman suggested that if one clause were removed, both sides, all parties, all hon. Members, would pass the Bill on the nod. Was he authorised to make such a statement? It is highly unlikely that he speaks for everyone who might wish to object to parts of the Bills. It is not fair to make such sweeping statements. That is why I object to the manner in which the hon. Gentleman has presented his case tonight. He was ungenerous to the promoters and to the House which will deal with the matter.
§ Mr. Bennett rose—
§ Mr. Griffiths
No, I shall not give way again.
All we are asking tonight is that a measure which was properly considered, which meticulously met the legal obligations within the areas from which it was promoted, the broad content of which has been known for a long time so that it could be considered in advance, should be made available for consideration in the House in the next Session.
The hon. Gentleman said that people might lose track of the argument if Bills were to run on for such a period. That will not happen. When the measure comes before the House, there will be the fullest opportunity, if hon. Members so wish, for a series of discussions—first, on the broad principle and, secondly, on the details. I have greater confidence in the hon. Gentleman's powers of memory than he appears to have.
If the carry-over motion is not carried tonight the ratepayers of the counties will be put to inordinate and unreasonable expense for no purpose whatever because the same measures will have to be brought back and the same issues argued in future. There is no way in which the motion reduces any hon. Member's right to look critically at and discuss the measures contained in either of the Bills as long as is proper within the rules of the House. I for one would wish to consider the matters closely and to debate them at a later stage. We are asking for something perfectly reasonable, for which there are adequate precedents and on which the House should not divide.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and I agree with much of what he said. There is a danger in the excessive use of carry-over motions. Nobody who thought about it would dispute that. I would slightly part company with him when he says that they should happen at dissolutions. If he thinks about it, he will see that it would depend on which House the Bill had been in. Although the other place is unaffected by a dissolution, this House may completely reverse its political views and therefore it may be undesirable to carry a Bill in one direction over a dissolution. It does not matter if the Bill has been through the other place, because that remains unchanged, but it might matter if it had passed through this House but not through the other place.
Apart from that, my hon. Friend is right to say that carry-over motions have increased and should be diminished. However, there is a separate case to be made for what my hon. Friend described as "jumbo" Bills. The 1104 Act which reorganised local government, which was passed some 10 years ago, was crude in several ways, as hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree. In particular it was crude in the way in which it prospectively abolished all private legislation and left everybody to return to the House to reinstitute it.
I must part company with my hon. Friend who was unfair to the promoters, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) said, although my hon. Friend did try to explain that he did not mean what he started out by saying. I can speak for the Nottinghamshire Bill. It was in the other place that the Bill took a long time. There were reasons for that which I need not go into, but, upon reflection, my hon. Friend may realise that the other place must bear some share of responsibility as well as the promoters. It is the procedures in the other place that are involved here, just as if a Bill took a long time in this House it would be partly our responsibility, not merely that of the promoters. My hon. Friend was unfair in trying to off load all the responsibility on to Nottinghamshire county council or Hampshire county council, the promoters of the Bills.
I disagree with my hon. Friend's remarks about controversial Bills. The whole purpose of the House is not merely to pass non-controversial legislation but to pass controversial legislation. It must resolve—in what used to be called "the grand inquest of the nation"—controversy in a democratic way without using bullets.
I cannot remember whether the original Act setting up a police force was public or private, but I know that it applied only to Cheshire, where it came from, so I strongly suspect that it may have been a private Act. However. I do know that the early railway Acts were private. To take a slice of land from Liverpool to Manchester or from Bristol to London at a time of revolution could not have been done by Government legislation. In 1832 when Brunel was putting his proposals to the Bristol city council the troops were outside firing on the crowd and the Government had much more important matters to consider. Railways were built only because they were promoted by private legislation. If my hon. Friend thinks that it was non-controversial legislation, he should know that the first Great Western Railway Bill was thrown out by the House because the landowners from Bristol to London objected. It was the second Bill that got through and that was not simply as a result of compromising with everybody. The principle of controversy must remain in our lives.
Having stated that as a principle I must also say that my hon. Friend was unfair about Nottinghamshire. He did not make the same points on the other Bills that did not contain the clause to which he principally objects—the processions clause. I should explain, as nobody else has, that the processions clause does not enable processions to be banned—that is and should be in a public Act because it is a matter of deep concern to civil rights. It merely asks people to give notice of their intention to process. It does not take away from them the power to do so. That is all it does. It is not controversial in Nottinghamshire, only lo my hon. Friend, because the provision has existed in Nottingham since 1929.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is my hon. Friend aware that there have been several debates in the House when the matter has been raised and there has been dissent? It i.s seen as a controversial issue and the consensus amongst 1105 hon. Members to whom I have talked—not exclusively Labour Members—is that national legislation is required with the support of the full House, not localised powers. Because an authority once had such legislation does not mean that it is right.
§ Mr. English
It does. But for the Local Government Act 1972 the provision would have continued and nobody would have mentioned it because it is not controversial in Nottingham.
In 1929 the city of Nottingham obtained such a power. People elsewhere in the county did not want it. I doubt if people then processed through the lush countryside of Nottinghamshire as frequently as they did through the city. However, in 1951, with the growth of suburbs, the county council obtained such a power. It differed only in the length of notice. The power that we are now discussing also differs in the length of notice that is required, which I would willingly discuss with my hon. Friend at an appropriate stage. For example, perhaps the length of notice set out in the Bill should be changed.
However, those are details. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North may think that the measure is controversial and other hon. Members may think so, but they do not represent Nottinghamshire constituencies and the Bill is not controversial in Nottinghamshire. As it applies only to Nottinghamshire, there is something to be said for allowing Nottinghamshire county council, and for that matter Hampshire county council, to have their way.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich)
I hesitate to intervene in this discussion among friends, but I have long cherished an ambition to dispense some advice to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), as I have quite often been the recipient of such advice over the years. I respectfully remind my hon. Friend that the Chamber is a national Chamber and debates laws that apply—or that it may be thought should apply—throughout the country. We are not here merely to scratch round our own backyards—desirable as that might be in Nottinghamshire or even West Bromwich.
§ Mr. English
I am always ready to take advice from my juniors. On Second Reading it would be fair to use such an argument. However, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North objects to only one clause and that he allowed the carry-over motions on all the other Bills to go through. If he objects to only one clause, he should raise the matter at the appropriate stage, which—in the case of private Bills—is the Committee stage for those who are not Members of Parliament and the Report stage for hon. Members. It is unnecessary to increase the promoters' costs, which will ultimately fall on Nottinghamshire's ratepayers and the country's taxpayers. It is unnecessary to increase their costs merely to deal with a Committee point that could easily be dealt with later if the motion is passed.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Does not my hon. Friend accept that in these days of social and economic tension, Bills that include such clauses are of far more national importance than they might have been years ago, when they may have been less important to local authorities and more acceptable to the wider public?
§ Mr. English
Yes, but will not my hon. Friend accept that I know far more about the social tensions in 1106 Nottingham than he does? The Bill concerns Nottinghamshire and it should be carried over into the next Session so that such points can be discussed at the proper stages.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
I am in a somewhat unusual position, because I am defending the passage of a Bill that is required by a Labour county council—my local county council—against the wishes of one Opposition Member in particular, the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). I entirely agree with my colleague from Nottinghamshire, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English): this is a matter for Nottinghamshire. Some of us greatly resent the fact that the hon. Member for Stockport, North should choose to mount a campaign about public processions under the pretext of objecting to one of the clauses.
Like my colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, I speak only for Nottinghamshire. My colleagues from Hampshire can speak for themselves. I shall speak purely to the Nottinghamshire Bill. It is largely a consolidation measure. Of course, the scope of the original Bill was greatly reduced by the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1981. Nevertheless, 22 substantive clauses remain which are law in Nottinghamshire. Nottinghamshire wants that law re-enacted.
The hon. Member for Stockport, North made a great noise about slipping in controversial clauses that some hon. Members might not like if they knew about them. However, the law in Nottinghamshire is as it is today, and it is as required in the Bill. It came ill from the hon. Gentleman to complain about the verbosity of the Bill's promoters when he took over 45 minutes to make a couple of points.
There is nothing unusual or new about this county council Bill. All that we in the county, regardless of party, ask is that it should be carried over into the next Session and should not be allowed to lapse with the end of this Session. We are not even asking that it should be accepted without qualification or debate. We ask only that it should be carried over so that the controversial point can be discussed on its merits at the next stage.
As the hon. Member for Nottingham, West pointed out, much time, money, research and expense has gone into the Bill and in promoting and perfecting it as far as is humanly possible. There will be great anger in our county—a Labour-controlled county—if the Bill is not carried over and if the thousands of pounds spent on promoting it are wasted because of the prejudices of the hon. Member for Stockport, North about giving advance notice of street processions.
The Bill is wanted in Nottinghamshire. We in Nottinghamshire do not want ratepayers' money to be wasted by refusing to carry over the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Nottinghamshire and Hampshire Bills will be carried over and considered on their merits at the appropriate stage in the House and that they will not lapse at the end of the Session.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) has been much criticised, but I congratulate him on raising this issue so that it can be debated in the Chamber. I was interested 1107 to hear his historical account of carry-over motions, which went back to the last century. I suspect that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) was right to say that there were fewer carry-over motions then than there are now because there was less legislation. However, I cannot support the hon. Member for Stockport, North. If there is a Division I shall support the carry-over motion.
The Bill was originally deposited in the other place in November 1981. It is not the promoter's fault that the House has not yet discussed it. However, I agree with the hon. Member that Hampshire county council—I can speak only for Hampshire—has been unwise to include in a private Bill a clause that it knew would be controversial. I object to the clause just as much as the hon. Member does and so do many other hon. Members. Hampshire county council knew that the clause would delay the Bill's passage through the House. Indeed, it will do so even if the carry-over motion is accepted.
I wrote to the county secretary in Hampshire, Mr. Leyland, over a year ago, when the Bill was deposited, and I told him that. Of course, no notice was taken. The trouble with Hampshire is that it is a one-party State and a rather arrogant one at that. It does not take kindly to representations from minorities, whether they are political parties or individuals. It always thinks that it knows best. I repeated that warning at a meeting that is held once or twice a year between Members of Parliament for Hampshire and the chairmen of the committees. Hampshire county council chose to ignore that warning and that is its affair. However, the ratepayers of Hampshire will ultimately pay more money to have the Bill enacted than might otherwise have been the case.
It would clearly be wrong to stop the Bill now and force the promoter to produce a whole new Bill, as that would be extremely expensive. Nevertheless, the promoter will find unfortunately when we reach the later stages of the Bill's passage that unless it is prepared to compromise on this point—it is not a vital issue—it may not get the Bill until this time next year. As the hon. Member for Stockport North said, if the clause were dropped the whole thing could he over by Christmas or shortly after. I hope that that message will be taken back to Hampshire county council.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, West said that he was happy with the clause in relation to Nottingham. That is fair enough. Nottingham can speak for itself, but in Southampton there are certainly difficulties. I shall not go into this in detail, but there are particular difficulties about giving 72 hours' notice of processions in a sea port. About a year ago, people from the "QE2" wished to march through the streets of Southampton to the Cunard offices to protest at the proposed sale of the ship. They could not possibly have given 72 hours' notice, as they did not know at what time the ship would come in. There is no guarantee that a ship will come in on time.
It would be quite wrong if marches of that kind were prevented. It may be all right if one has an excellent chief constable, as we have at present, and an accommodation can be reached, but not all chief constables are as good as ours and problems may arise for us later.
§ Mr. English
I did not say that I was entirely happy with every clause in the Bill. Indeed, I suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that I should be happy to discuss with him the details of the clause to which he objects and it might well 1108 be that it should he altered. I do not intend to do that on the Floor of the House. This is certainly not the proper stage to do it.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I shall not go into that too deeply, as we shall be debating the substance of the Bill at a later stage. It is also important that the carry-over motion be passed today because a number of items in the Bill—most of them purely local—are matters of considerable importance and urgency. I shall not go into the merits of any of them, but I wish to show that one or two of them are urgent.
There is, for example, a provision to restrict the speed of vessels on the river Hamble, where there have been accidents. If the Bill is delayed for a further nine months, more accidents may occur before the restriction comes into force. There is also a provision relating to the power to close Mayflower park in my constituency for an increased number of days. Southampton now has the second largest boat show in the country and it is improving all the time. Next year the organisers wish to lengthen the period of the boat show. That would involve closing the park to public access for a certain period. That is controversial in itself, and I believe that there was a petition against it locally. The important factor, however, is that it takes a long time to plan a boat show and the organisers need to know whether they can extend the boat show next year. For that to be possible, the Bill will certainly have to be passed soon after Christmas.
Therefore, a number of very desirable provisions are being held up due to the stubbornness of Hampshire county council in insisting on one clause when everyone knows that a number of hon. Members object to it. There may be other clauses to which individual hon. Members object, but a number of hon. Members object to that one and the Bill will have a sticky passage through the House if it remains in the Bill.
I shall vote for the carry-over motion if there is a Division, because otherwise the 99 per cent. of the Bill concerning provisions that I wish to see in operation cannot come into force and because it would cost a great deal of money to the ratepayers. Nevertheless, even at this late stage I suggest that the promoter should drop this clause—nothing would be lost as a result—so that we may proceed rapidly to get the Bill through the House in the next Session.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
It may assist the House if I intervene briefly at this stage to outline the Government's view.
As has been mentioned, the Bills are promoted by the county councils of Hampshire and Nottingham primarily to save legislation which applies in their respective areas and is regarded as essential but which would otherwise lapse under section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972. The case for supporting the motion has been eloquently made by my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) and there is no need for me to repeat what they have said.
I should stress that a considerable amount of hard work and money has been expended by the authorities concerned with the promotion of the Bills, and the Government's view is that the Bills should be allowed to continue their progress through Parliament and that it 1109 would be a waste of resources both for the local authorities and for Parliament if the Bills had to start their passage afresh.
The view of the Government is that the Bills should not be allowed to fall simply because of objections to individual provisions. There are more appropriate occasions in the progress of the Bills through Parliament when these individual provisions can be discussed, considered and, if necessary, opposed—for example, in Committee.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is it not an affront to the House for a Minister to suggest that the saving of money in the pursuit and success of legislation is a matter that should be taken into account by the House in its deliberations on legislation?
§ Sir George Young
It is no such thing. I know that the Opposition have no concern about public expenditure, but we take very seriously the impact of the suggestion that has been made on the ratepayers concerned.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could it not be argued that the point that I made in my intervention is a valid point for the Chair? The proposition has been put to the House that to interfere with the process of legislation in any way at a cost to the local authority would be irresponsible.
§ Sir George Young
I in no way detract from the remarks that I made. I believe that the House, being accountable for public expenditure, must take into account the consequences of not rolling the Bills over. It would mean that a certain amount of money would simply go down the drain. That may be of no consequence to the Opposition, but it is of consequence to us.
In my view, and in the view of the Government, it would be unfortunate if the House were not to agree to the motion. I therefore urge the House to allow the Bills to be carried over in the usual way and to agree to the motion.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
In the past hour and a half we have had a fairly full debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) whose concern about legislation in the House in general and about civil liberties throughout the country in particular is well known and appreciated, certainly by Opposition Members. I remember an occasion—I think that it was in 1978—when my hon. Friend spoke at some length about similar legislation on very much the same grounds as he argued today because of his desire to preserve civil liberties throughout the country. That is an extremely creditable act on his part and the fact that he took forty-five minutes of the House's time reflects credit on him and on the procedures of the House rather than leaving him open to criticism.
The sponsors of the Hampshire Bill have been told emphatically by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) that he considers the clause to be controversial. It is a perfectly legitimate use of the procedures of the House to record those objections. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North at no time in his speech indicated that he would vote against the Bill. 1110 That is a matter for him to decide, but I hope that he does not. Certainly, he has left the promoters of the Bills in no doubt where he stands and where other Opposition Members stand if the two fairly objectionable clauses remain in the Bills in the next Session.
It was pointed out by the promoters in their statement that 15 Bills have been promoted for other counties where it has been found necessary to carry over the Bills into a second Session by procedural motions passed by both Houses. I echo a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). If there are carry-over procedures for private Bills there should be such procedures for other proposed legislation, such as yesterday's Ten-Minute Bill on concessionary television licences and other important matters. In a rather throw-away line, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) said that Ten-Minute Bills were not important but were more for propaganda purposes than anything else. Ten-Minute Bills of great importance including those introduced by hon. Members on the Conservative Benches have found their way on to the Statute Book. The procedures adopted for county council Bills put them in a more fortunate position than other legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North said earlier that the time taken up by the Bills, particularly in another place, would mean perhaps that people would lose track of some of the important issues. No one would ever suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport would lose track of these matters, regardless of how long the procedures took. He rightly said that it should be the duty of the promoters of the Bills to ensure that they can be passed in one Session. Promoters are tempted to spatchcock everything into such Bills because of the procedures that have been adopted in recent years. Agents and promoters can decide to put virtually anything they like into such Bills. They might think that it does not matter how controversial the Bills happen to be because the House of Commons or another place will give them the right to carry over into the next Session of Parliament. Therefore they might believe that the more they include the better. I shall not suggest that the more they include, the bigger the fee, because hon. Members on the Conservative Benches became angry earlier when it was suggested that a penny per word, a pound per word or a guinea per word might be the .going rate. Certainly, the temptation exists to include as much as possible in the Bills because of the rather generous procedures that are adopted for county council Bills and only for county council Bills.
§ Mr. English
Since the subject has been mentioned, I believe it is worth pointing out that one of the principal causes, if not the principal cause, of delay to the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill in the Lords was the objection by a national lobby on behalf of the providers of sports services. They objected to the county council installing in Nottinghamshire an invention of our leisure services officer. They did not see why that should be done. One cannot foresee controversies of that nature. I suggest that my hon. Friends who are criticising the delay might consider the delay is worth while.
§ Mr. Snape
There is a difference between the type of controversy outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and what should be a national concern for civil liberties expressed by my hon. 1111 Friend the Member for Stockport, North. Two other Bills which came forward at the same time—the Cornwall County Council Bill [Lords] and the County of Lancashire Bill [Lords]—passed through the House seven days ago without comment or opposition, precisely because the offending clauses had been withdrawn. If the promoters are anxious to see the Bills on the statute book, again they should look at the offending clauses.
As my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Itchen said, if the clauses are left in, in the debate in the next Session there will be considerable opposition and the prospect of getting the Bills on to the statute book sooner rather than later will be considerably diminished. Hon. Members on the Government Benches might object, but the House of Commons is here to protect civil liberties and adequately to debate such legislation.
It was implied by the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) that it is a purely parochial matter and nothing to do with hon. Members who do not reside within the particular county. It is a sad day when that can be said. Earlier, perhaps before the hon. Member for Newark joined us, when we were dealing with a controversial clause in a Bill promoted by a Labour-controlled county council—the West Midlands county council, where my constituency lies—the Conservative Opposition took the unprecedented step of issuing a three-line Whip to ensure that their Members voted against it. Let us have no nonsense about its being a parochial matter.
I hesitate to cross swords again with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West, but the fact that the provision for giving notice of processions has been law in Nottingham since 1929 is not a logical argument in 1982. Many things may have happened in Nottingham in 1929 that we should frown upon today. There should be standardisation throughout the country on the crucial question of civil liberties and processions.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The clause applying to Nottingham will be different in time, but if it is the same provision that applies in many other counties, it has never been invoked. I wonder whether it has ever been used in Nottingham. I suspect not, and that if questioned the chief constable would say that he had never dreamt of using it.
§ Mr. English
In Nottingham it is regular practice for anyone wishing to organise a procession to give notice of the fact. The provision is used every day. I suspect that no one has ever been prosecuted for not giving notice, but I should have to check that.
§ Mr. Snape
Misgivings have rightly been expressed in the debate, and that is the purpose of the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North will not take the issue to a vote. If the motion fell it would cause considerable expense to the ratepayers of Nottinghamshire and Hampshire. After what has been said about the desirability of removing the clauses, from my sketchy knowledge of the procedures of the House, I believe that there may be no less than six opportunities for my hon. Friend to debate the clauses in the next Session. I know that I speak for both sides of the House when I say how much we look forward to that.
I hope that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Itchen will allow the proposal to go forward. We can resume the debate in the next Session.
§ Sir David Price (Eastleigh)
I should like to follow the trenchant comments of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell).
It is worth pointing out to the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) that the Hampshire Bill, and, I believe, also the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill, were deposited in another place early in the Session in November 1981. Neither this House nor the promoters can be held responsible for the fact that the Bills have not completed all their stages. That raises issues about how complicated private Bills are handled in another place. However, that fact should not be held against the promoters of either the Hampshire Bill or the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill. The matter could be taken up on another occasion by the Select Committee on Procedure.
I should like to make this point about what is controversial and what is not. I understand that no objection was taken in another place to the offending clause 7 in the Hampshire Bill. There was no petition. Not until it came to this House was there an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his views known. However, as has been said, the hon. Gentleman will have ample opportunities to express his disagreement.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the National Council for Civil Liberties has petitioned against clause 7. It has found the process of putting in a petition to the House of Lords and the House of Commons expensive. Therefore, recently it has made its petitions to the House of Commons rather than to the House of Lords. Thus, if the clause remains in the Bill there will be a petition to the House of Commons.
§ Sir David Price
The hon. Gentleman has given full notice of that. The promoters will take that into account. I was saying that the fact that the clause was not petitioned against in another place cannot be held against the promoters. They are not responsible for the delay: hence the request for the carry-over. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is not making a good point. He has given plenty of notice of his objection. That is what the procedure is all about. I am tempted to discuss the offending matter with the hon. Gentleman but I might go out of order if I did so. He will have a proper opportunity to express his views.
The hon. Gentleman was right to say that there have been that number of large-ish county council Bills needing carry-over provisions. The figure quoted is 15. The reason is not a desire on the part of county councils to take special powers to themselves. It arises out of the Local Government Act 1972, and for that reason alone I hope that when this phase is over—we are nearly at the end of it—there will be a diminution of Bills requiring carry-over provisions. We should not have to have so many of them. The current circumstances arise from the Local Government Act 1972.
The hon. Gentleman said that local authority Bills should deal primarily with local matters. If he looks through the revised Bill he will find that the vast majority of the provisions are very local. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen and I both know the importance of the Itchen bridge, the Mayflower Park—
§ Sir David Price
—and the Hamble river. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's water skiing will be much safer if the Bill is passed.
Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Stockport, North will see that it is right and fair that he should agree to the passing of this motion this evening.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
One of the great strengths of the House of Commons is that when something seems routine and ordinary there is always someone, as has been notably demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), who picks out important aspects and refuses to allow the House to become a rubber stamp for procedure. That is important, because too many of our elected and appointed bodies up and down the land, which should protect people's rights and which have duties and obligations, tend to deal with matters too cursorily. If promoters of Bills feel that the House of Commons would accept a carry-over motion cursorily and in a routine fashion on the last Wednesday of the Session when there is no great attendance and when the business that is being dealt with is essentially of a regional character, they had better think again. The debate has demonstrated that there is cause for concern and that the promoters should understandably understand that this is a legislative chamber and not a body that automatically accepts proposals.
I see that the Minister has just left, having uttered his three or four sentences. I am sorry that he has done so. He said that not to pass the carry-over motion would be a waste of the resources that have already gone into making progress on the Bill so far. I am fully aware of that.
The Opposition are anxious to see resources far better distributed than the Government allow. We are not a spendthrift Opposition. We want resources to be moved away from the people who will buy Britoil shares, for example, when the Government bonanza that was announced today is instituted, towards working men and women and their families. Of course we are examining resources but against that we must bear in mind any potential loss of civil liberties that might arise from the legislation. Inevitably, one must make a judgment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) rightly protested that expenditure incurred by two Administrations because they had misjudged the legislation they were promoting could not be an overwhelming objection that would allow legislation to be given carte blanche—a nod and a wink and a few reservations. We must make a judgment. We must say, "All right, there has been some expenditure but is the loss of civil liberty greater?" That is much more important than the amount of money that has been spent by the local authority.
I was interested to learn that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen has already pointed out to Hampshire county council, the promoters of the Bill, that the processions clause would cause difficulty. If hon. Members are to judge whether to debate or to oppose a Bill, they must bear in mind that it is not simply a matter of expenditure. It appears from the debate so far that it is Hampshire county council's wilful insistence on the inclusion of this clause that has caused opposition and delay. I hope that that point is noted.
I do not wish to go into the merits of the matter. The controversial public order clauses that are common to both 1114 Bills—clause 6 in the Nottinghamshire County Council Bill and clause 7 in the Hampshire Bill—are matters for universal legislation. It is absurd that someone in Nottinghamshire should be placed under different requirements for a procession than he would be in West Yorkshire or in the West Midlands.
Many of the clauses in the Hampshire Bill have become otiose purely because it has taken so much time. Moreover, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 has overtaken the legislation and imposed universal standards. I was on the Standing Committee that considered that legislation. One of the points made to the Committee about the powers of local authorities concerning sex shops was that several different standards would be proposed in private legislation. The Government felt that it was desirable to have a common standard for the whole of the United Kingdom. That legislation was therefore put on the statute book.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall the "People's March for Jobs". Its organisers had to satisfy 10 sets of regulations to give proper notification of that procession.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend underlines my point. Local authorities, through their associations, can make representations to the Government about such matters, rather than insisting on public order clauses in their private legislation. I well understand that a county council may have a particular problem for which it requires additional powers fairly rapidly. It is sensible that it should take into account the desirability of universal legislation and also the fact that the Government are regularly in correspondence with, and hold regular meetings with, local authority associations. At those meetings, local authorities put forward matters of concern which require general legislation in a Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I have no doubt that such an item of legislation will be put forward in the next Session of Parliament, which begins on 3 November. I hope that the promoters will bear that in mind. We are conscious of the needs of local authorities.
If a local authority insists on controversial measures, which, it can be strongly argued, reduce the civil liberties of residents, and which, on past experience, will put the residents at a serious disadvantage, the desire for local authority powers to deal with local matters is obviously subordinate to its insistence on the public order requirement. It insists on that requirement, even though the Government recognise that it must be the subject of national legislation. Such points should be considered in any carry-over motion.
The two clauses that we are considering—and I do not wish to discuss the merits—contain provisions that provide subordinate powers to a chief constable to produce codes of practice. I am not sure that that is entirely desirable because such codes would have a semi-legal status, much the same as the codes that have been legislated for in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which the Health and Safety at Work Commission produces. It is an important issue if private legislation provides what amounts to subordinate powers to an individual official without any degree of accountability. It also gives rise to a great deal of controversy, ambiguity and, inevitably—if a matter must be decided—gives power to the courts to make a decision.
1115 Where there is such a doubt, such a clause is better removed so that local authorities concentrate on what they can do best. As elected bodies, they are there to look after the needs of the local electorate. It is a matter of paramount importance, which local authorities should bear in mind.
§ Mr. English
I shall certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's views are conveyed to the promoters before the clause reaches the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. That is very helpful. I am sure that the debate will be read by the promoters and our words borne in mind. There will be further opportunities to debate the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North naturally wishes to see local powers developed for local authorities where a good case can be made, but we must also point out that we are keen to scrutinise local powers. Should controversial clauses be contained, we must discuss in detail the relative values that local authorities are placing on public order clauses in relation to their local requirements. We must discuss in great and lengthy detail the provisions of the legislation. Our debate provides a good opportunity to guide those who are seeking those powers. We recognise the importance of the legislation but we also recognise the importance of preserving civil liberties such as the right to demonstrate. For example, mothers who are angered because a child has been injured on a pedestrian crossing may wish to give vent to their anger by marching to their local county council offices immediately.
The rights of people in a democratic society to march in procession have been debated extensively when we considered local authority legislation in the House and such rights will be debated again, unless, of course, local authorities feel that legislation for them should concentrate primarily on local need and local order clauses that are brought into line with other local authority legislation.
This debate has provided a good opportunity for several hon. Members who feel strongly about civil liberties to point the way to our future conduct.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
The purpose of the debate is not to discuss clauses in the Bills before us but to decide whether the House should approve the carry-over motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) made a brilliant exposition on carry-over motions which we all found informative. It is a pity that more hon. Members were not present to listen to his speech. Much of what my hon. Friend said was new and hon. Members would have found it helpful in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) clarified what would happen in the event of carry-over motions coinciding with a general election and the complications that might arise depending on the stage the Bill had reached.
The present method by which legislation falls if it has not completed its stages through the House by the end of the Session is excellent, but I cannot understand why certain business takes precedence. Some of the Private Members' Bills on the Order Paper today, whether they be standard Private Members' Bills or Ten-Minute Bills, do not invite the same treatment as the Bills that we are considering. The Bills on the Order Paper today include the Disposal of Public Assets (Commercial Information) 1116 Bill, the Water Rates (Provision of Rebates) Bill, the Leasehold Flats Reform Bill, the Antiquities Bill and a Bill especially interesting to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West—the Succession to the Crown Bill that my hon. Friend introduced and that I am sure he would wish to see continued by a carry-over motion. However, my hon. Friend's Bill is obstructed by the legislative process, whereas this measure is supported by it.
I have listened to the entire debate, but I cannot understand the difference between the two types of Bill. We have the Falkland Islands (British Citizenship) Bill, the University Grants Bill, the Trade Union (Amendment) Bill—dear to the hearts of many Tory Members—the Mobile Homes (Amendment) Bill, the Hearing Aid Council Act 1968 (Amendment) Bill, my own Bill, The Competition Act 1980 (Amendment) Bill, the Maritime Safety Bill and the Registration of Commercial Lobbying Interests Bill.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend has provided a useful illustration. The Registration of Commercial Lobbying Interests Bill received assent from both sides of the House. It was a startling exposition based only on commercial lobbying interests' documents and their influence. That Bill should have been granted the benefit of a carry-over motion in order to protect the good name of Parliament. I am at a loss to understand why the Government did not grant a carry-over motion on that Bill and on the Bill presented yesterday to give concessionary licences to old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. Before the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is carried too far down that route, may I remind him that we are dealing with the Lords resolution and not with action that the Government might take?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am sure that you would accept, Mr. Deputy Speaker., that it is appropriate to draw parallels. The procedure that applies to the measures that we are debating should also apply to those that I listed, but it does not. Other Bills are of importance to my hon. Friends from Scotland. The Scottish Parliament Bill would invite comment from my hon. Friends because they support it passionately. The concessionary television licences Bill was carried yesterday by a majority larger than for any other Bill carried by the House since I have been a Member. It had a majority of 187, which should ensure that it is carried over to next Session. However, that is not to be the case. We are required to carry over a measure that many of us find positively objectionable. I am sorry to say that, because it was promoted by a Labour-controlled authority.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) believes that many issues must be discussed this evening. He may be aware that last year my county brought the Cumbria Bill before the House. Throughout the proceedings on that Bill we were aware that the deadline was the end of the Session. Some hon. Members may be interested to know that we would have compromised on that Bill had we been pushed to the last few days of the Session. By providing a carry-over motion, the House has enabled two county councils to avoid taking a decision that they would otherwise have taken. If those councils had known that they would lose the processions clauses in the private Bills they would have agreed to a compromise and we would not be here tonight.
§ Mr. English
I have already told the House that that was not the reason for the delay of the Bill in another place. The reason for the delay was that the civil engineering contractors did not wish the county council to instal an invention which its own leisure services officer had invented. The hon. Member's technique is a tool that can be put to uses, of some of which the hon. Gentleman might disapprove.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Even in the Cumbria Bill, some caravan clubs used their lobbyists in the House to obstruct our legislation. We had to accept that. It was the way of the House. We had to take that into account in whatever decisions and deliberations took place. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West and his friends in Nottingham must accept that that is the way that this place works.
§ Sir David Price
Am I correct in saying that the Cumbria Bill had come to this place a second time?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
It may well have done. If it was brought before the House before I was elected to this place, that is something of which I was not aware. In this instance, I am aware only of what has been brought before the House since I have been a Member of it.
The question remains "What will happen next year?". I am one of those who religiously takes his place at Question Time, especially during questions to the Leader of the House, which are put to him on a Thursday afternoon every week. I notice that when hon. Members ask for time to be given for waiting debates to enable them to take place the right hon. Gentleman always talks about the pressure of time. He talks about these matters being considered, being under consideration or of thought and consideration being given to them. Invariably the answer is "No, time cannot be given". If Nottinghamshire county council and Hampshire county council had been aware of the pressure that is on us as Members, they would have thought it wise to withdraw the clause and to allow the measures their expeditious passage through the procedures of the House.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I ask for the leave of the House to speak again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not move the amendment at the beginning of the debate and it does not seem that it would help the procedures of the House if I were to move it now. It will be far better if we do not vote against the proposal that is before us, but I hope that the promoters of the two Bills will have taken notice of the feeling in the House. I hope that promoters generally will note that we should not regularly carry Bills over from one Session to another.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House doth concur with the Lords in their Resolution.
§ Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.