HL Deb 20 May 1901 vol 94 cc536-9

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


Before the Third Reading is moved, I should like to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland a question as to the procedure in the case of these Confirmation Bills. Section 9 of the Private Legislation (Scotland) Act, 1899, provides, in respect to an opposed. Order, that, before the expiration of seven days after the introduction of the Confirmation Bill in the House in which it originates, a petition may be presented against the Order, and that it shall be lawful for any Member to give notice that he intends to move that the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee. If this is done, the Bill, instead of going in the ordinary course through all its stages, has to be read a second time, and then referred to a Joint Committee. The Bill now before the House, and the other Bill standing in the name of the noble Lord—the Ayr Harbour Order Confirmation. Bill—have passed the House of Commons, and now come up to your Lordships. They were read a first time on Friday last, and the noble Lord proposes to read them a third time to-day. It is quite clear, if it was intended by the Act that anyone should have an opportunity of opposing these Bills in the second House, that an interval of seven days would be required, and, of course, in this case; would not be given. I confess I have some doubt whether there is any intention of allowing opposition in the second House. It would be quite impossible of course to refer a Bill a second time to a Joint Committee. At the end of the clause there are those words— When such Confirmation Bill has been read a third time and passed in the first House of Parliament, the like proceedings shall, subject to Standing Orders, be taken in the second House of Parliament. I admit that I am not quite sure what those words mean, and I should be glad if my noble friend would tell me whether he has taken legal advice as to their interpretation. I apprehend, on the ground that it would be ridiculous to refer a Bill a second time to a second Joint Committee, that Parliament could hardly have meant to give an opportunity for opposition in the second House. The point is important, and I venture to ask this question, because these are the first Bills confirming Scottish Orders that have come before the House, and it is desirable that the question should be clear. I am inclined to think that in any case it would be well to allow an interval of seven days between the first and third readings of the Bill, so as to give any peer, even if there is no opposition, an opportunity, which I do not suppose would be often taken advantage of, of saying anything with regard to the Bill.


I think the conclusion which the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees has arrived at is the right one, although I should certainly stand here to expound the law with great hesitation in the presence of so many noble Lords learned in legal matters. But, as the noble Lord supposed, I would not act in this matter without having taken advice. I did ask the Lord Advocate what his construction of the Act was, and he assured me that the construction which the noble Earl himself is inclined to put upon it is the right one—that the Act does not require a second interval of seven days in the second House of Parliament. For what it is worth, I have no hesitation in saying that the intention of Parliament when the Bill was passing was that there should be one interval of seven days, and that that should take place in the House in which the confirming Bill originated. I am not prepared to say that the matter is altogether free from doubt, but I think the proper interpretation of the subsection is that the provision for an interval of seven days is to apply only in the House in which the Bill originates. I hope, therefore, on this occasion the Bills will be allowed to proceed. The history of the words "subject to Standing Orders," which are in the last lines of the clause, is this. It was thought not right to regulate the procedure of either House of Parliament by Statute, and these words were inserted to give each House power to regulate by Standing Orders the procedure on this class of Bill. If the noble Earl thinks that by Standing Order the House ought to provide for a longer interval in the second House than is provided by the Statute, I should not be inclined to oppose it, provided the interval is not made too long. But no such Standing Order has been passed, and as the promoters are anxious to get these Bills through their final stages as quickly as possible, I hope under the circumstances they will be allowed to proceed. As the noble Lord said, this is the first occasion on which any of these Bills have come before the House, and I think there is one point in respect to which the procedure might be amended. The Statute provides that seven days shall expire after the introduction of a Confirmation Bill before the next stage is taken. There is nothing, either in the Statute or in the Standing Orders, to provide that those seven days shall not be allowed to expire during a recess. If, therefore, the Scottish Office had chosen to take advantage of that, which, of course, they would not have thought of doing, they might have presented the Bill on the day the House adjourned for the recess, and there would be no power to accept a petition on the reassembling of Parliament. The noble Earl ought to take steps to prevent anything of that kind occurring.


The point which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has raised is a very important one. The Act of 1899, it is true, only applies to Scotland, but already a proposal is before Parliament to extend this procedure to Ireland. Therefore I think Parliament ought to consider very carefully the procedure which is adopted in this case. I do not propose to attempt to interpret the Act, but your Lordships have heard from the statement of the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland that there is a great deal of doubt regarding it. The question is, quite apart from the Act itself, what was really the intention of Parliament in this matter, and what is the proper procedure to adopt in a case of this sort. The Provisional Order, after being inquired into by the Commissioners, is returned to the Scottish Office. It is then em- bodied in a Bill, and that Bill is laid before Parliament. In this case the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons, and lay there for seven days, no petition being presented against it. Then it came to your Lordships' House. It was read a first and second time and passed through Committee on Friday last, and ordered to be printed. It has not been printed because, of course, there has not been time, yet it is proposed to read it a third time to-day. Just see what is the result. In consequence of no opposition having been taken in the first House your Lordships are precluded from discussing the Bill at all. A person wishing to present a petition, if he allows the period of seven days in the first House to elapse, has no chance of presenting a petition in the second House. I admit that if he had petitioned in the first House, and the matter had been considered by a Joint Committee, it would be clearly improper that any proceedings should take place in the second House. The question is, Is it the intention of Parliament that in the first House only shall a petitioner have an opportunity of opposing? That is a matter for Parliament, and more especially, I think, for your Lordships to consider. I must say, having listened very carefully to the Bill as it went through its various stages, that I did not understand that there was to be no opportunity of opposing in the second House. It seems to me that if there has been no opposition in the first House, it is not a very hard thing to say that these Bills should lie for seven sitting days on the Table of the second House after being presented, and that if a petitioner has lost his opportunity in the first instance he should not be too late to take it in the second House.

Bill read 3a (according to order), and passed.