HL Deb 04 July 1927 vol 68 cc44-7

My Lords, I desire to ask the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture why the Regulations in regard to small holdings and cottage holdings, laid on the Table on May 25 last, are not available to Peers. The Question I am raising is one in which a number of your Lordships will, no doubt, be interested, because Regulations that are now laid upon the Table of this House are very important indeed. Some of your Lordships may be aware that the Lord Chief Justice said some very strong things the other day in regard to the way in which Government Departments now make Regulations which very often quite alter the Act of Parliament itself under which they are made. The particular Regulations to which I am referring were made on April 27 by the Ministry of Agriculture and laid on the Table of your Lordships' House, where they now are, on May 25, so that from to-day there are only seven days before they will come into force and in which objection can be taken to them. I think your Lordships will see that it is rather an important Order. I have only a type-written proof of the Regulations, but that contains twelve closely typed pages.


Will the noble Lord say when the Regulations were actually laid?


They were actually laid on May 25, though they were made on April 27. They were not, therefore, laid until nearly a month after they had been made, and then they were only laid on the Table in proof form. The Regulations are stated to have been made by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries with the approval of the Treasury under a section of the Small Holdings Act. It is a very important matter and I think an opportunity ought to have been given to county councils of seeing what the Regulations contain. I applied for them some ten days ago and sent them to the county council of my county. As chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the County Councils Association I had intended to bring them before them in order to see whether there was anything of which they disapproved or which they desired to have modified, but I found it impossible to do so as there was no copy available. There seems to be a good deal of irregularity about the matter. If your Lordships look at the Memorandum, which says that "this Order was laid on May 25," you would imagine that it was the Order itself that was laid, but it was nothing of the kind, it was merely a proof.

It is curious to notice, too, that although the Order is signed by the Permanent Secretary, Sir Francis Floud, there are not added the words "authorised by the Minister." I also hold in my hand another Order of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries which is signed, but underneath the signature are the words "authorised by the Minister." I suppose that is only quite natural because the Minister does not authorise words until they are approved; he does not authorise words which may afterwards be altered. And it is rather interesting to notice that the Regulations have to be approved by the Treasury. Apparently they were approved by the Lords of the Treasury, but the signatures seem to have been only copied in by some clerk. I should think it is open to question whether the whole thing is not ultra vires. What I would suggest is that in future we should not have irregularities of this sort. I may be told that if application had been made to the Ministry direct we could have seen typewritten documents, but surely that is not a proper thing, and I am sure the noble Marquess would not say that it was a proper way in which noble Lords should be treated. When Regulations are laid on the Table of your Lordships' House we ought to have before us the actual Regulations approved by the Minister. I should like to ask whether it might not be desirable in this case that the Regulations should be relaid. The noble Lord may say, of course, that that would be awkward on account of time. If so, then all I would ask is that if objection is made to the Regulations the technical point should not be taken in this House, but that we should be allowed to move alterations or move for the withdrawal of the Regulations notwithstanding that the twenty-one days had elapsed.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bledisloe has asked me to reply for him and to inform the noble Lord that there was not the least intention on the part of the Ministry to deny noble Lords information which they might quite rightly desire. This trouble arose very largely from a misunderstanding. The Regulations in question had been approved in the first instance as Provisional Regulations, as it was necessary to advertise them for a period of forty days in conformity with the requirements of the Rules Publication Act, 1893. After the period of forty days had elapsed, the Regulations were formally made and sealed on behalf of the Ministry and the Treasury. They were then laid before both Houses of Parliament for a further period of twenty-one days as required by Section 2 of the Act of 1926. Up to this stage the Regulation, for reasons of economy, had not been printed but were only in typewritten form. For this reason copies of the Regulations have not been available in the ordinary way to members of either House, although copies could have been obtained by any person interested direct from the Ministry, and, in fact, large numbers of copies have been so applied for and distributed. The Regulations are being printed as a Statutory Rule and Order, and it is hoped that copies will be available for your Lordships' House during the next few days.

I would like to state in reference to the point incidentally touched upon by the noble Lord, that county councils have had copies of the draft Regulations for some weeks, and to point out again that although no copies of the final form have been circulated, the final typewritten form has been available at the Ministry. Owing to a misunderstanding, arising from the fact that these were typewritten documents and not printed, copies were not available to members of your Lordships' House. I most fully apologise on behalf of my noble friend for any inconvenience arising out of this, and I will promise on his behalf that in future at least half a dozen copies will be available at the same time as originals are laid on the Table. As regards the question of signatures, I do not suppose that the noble Lord wished to imply that there was any irregularity or that the signatures were not well authenticated. I speak subject to correction, but I understand that responsibility of the Minister ceases after laying before the House a properly authenticated document, and that the question of the genuineness of signatures has not hitherto been raised. If the procedure is not, in fact, in compliance with the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House it is open to the noble Lord to move that the procedure should be altered.


My Lords, I am not going to speak on the point raised in this Question. All I wish to point out is that four-fifths of what was said by the noble Lord was totally inaudible.


My Lords, I am sorry if my noble friend behind me has been placed in any inconvenience in this matter, but I am quite sure that there was no intention to keep back any of the relevant facts. I understand that my noble friend opposite complains that a Paper, which by Statute has to be laid before Parliament for a certain number of days, was in fact only laid in manuscript and was not circulated to noble Lords. On that complaint I will give him my personal assurance that I will go into the matter and see exactly how the facts lie. I need not tell him that I have been in the past, and that I still am, most anxious to maintain the full rights of your Lordships' House in controlling Orders laid before Parliament. I will see what the facts are and will communicate with my noble friend.