HL Deb 06 October 1931 vol 82 cc267-74

LORD JESSEL asked His Majesty's Government whether they can give any information as to the course of proceedings to be taken with regard to the London Passenger Transport Bill. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe I am right in saying that this is the first occasion on which a Public Bill has been carried forward from one Parliament to another. Personally I very much deprecate carrying over Public Bills, whatever may be the case with Private Bills, from one Parliament to another. I should therefore like to ask the representative of His Majesty's Government, and also the Chairman of Committees, if he is kind enough to give me an answer, what are the reasons which have induced the Government to assent to this Motion in another place. I may remind your Lordships that this Bill has had a great deal of opposition, that the London County Council, the great authority in London, is opposed to the Bill, and that there has been considerable dissent, as I hear, among Parties in another place. The Preamble of the Bill was only passed in the Committee by five votes to four. There must therefore be very grave reasons for the course that is now proposed. Though I am not going to oppose this Motion when it comes forward for discussion, I am sure your Lordships will be very anxious to know the reasons which have actuated the Government in taking this unprecedented course.


My Lords, you are aware that the Bill in question has never been before your Lordships' House, except when there was a discussion as to proposing names for a Joint Committee of both Houses. While that Committee has sat and reported, the Bill itself is still before another place. As the noble Lord has no doubt observed, the Prime Minister yesterday gave notice of a Motion to enable the Bill to be carried over to the next Session of Parliament, and it is proposed to invite your Lordships to-morrow to pass a Resolution with the same purpose. I may point out that the result of this will be to leave both your Lordships' House and another place in perfect control over the future stages of the Bill, but it will save the promoters and the petitioners considerable and unnecessary cost in again carrying the Bill through its preliminary stages if it be decided to proceed with it.

As regards what the noble Lord said about it being a Public Bill, I may point out that it is not, strictly speaking, a Public Bill. It is what is called a hybrid Bill; that is to say, although it was introduced by the Government as a Public Bill, it is in the nature of a Private Bill and, by the Standing Orders of Parlia- ment, is subject to Private Bill procedure. There has been one precedent for carrying over a hybrid Bill which I should point out, to the noble Lord. In 1903, when Mr. Arthur Balfour was Prime Minister, a Resolution was passed to carry over the Port of London Bill to another Parliament. It was stated on that occasion that the Resolution was quite enough to cover the event of a Dissolution. As it happened there was not a Dissolution, there was only a Prorogation, and the Bill was carried over to the next Session. We are informed that the Resolution then passed was quite sufficient and adequate to have carried the Bill over and taken it through its stages in the next Parliament.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl to give us a little more information to-morrow upon this matter? It so happens that when I saw that the Motion was going to be made I observed that the Prime Minister said that it would be carried over to another Session of this Parliament. That, I think, has been done before certainly in regard to important Private Bills. If my recollection serves me, I remember that the Manchester Ship Canal Bill, a Bill of great importance in which very large interests were concerned, was carried over from Session to Session. The only illustration the noble Earl has given of a Bill that was carried over into another Parliament is that in regard to which a Motion was passed in 1903. That Motion, apparently, was accepted, but it never became operative because the new Parliament was not elected, as we all remember, until January, 1906.

I have taken a little trouble to look into the books about this point and I observe that on a matter which one night suppose was akin to Private Bills or to legal procedure the wise men of Parliament have had different views at different times. In the case of an impeachment it was at one time thought that that could be carried on from one Parliament to another; but doubts were held about it and an Act of Parliament was passed in 1786 (26 George III) in order to set at rest the difficulties which arose over the impeachment of Warren Hastings. It needed an Act of Parliament to enable an impeachment to be carried over from one Parliament to another and that is expressed in an actual Statute. So far as I know there is no Statute which enables a Bill to be carried over to another Parliament. Having regard to history, it is unlikely that it would be so. We all know that as late as the reign of William IV upon the demise of the Sovereign there was a Dissolution of Parliament. That has been put right now by an Act which was passed in 1867. But if it is necessary to have a Statute to enable an impeachment to be carried over from one Parliament to another, I doubt very much whether the precedent suggested from 1903, which never became operative, is sufficient.

With regard to a Private Bill, per se and properly a Private Bill, in which the Government take no part or concern except so far as to give it a fair hearing, we know quite well that the practice has been to allow it to be carried over. But in such opportunity as I have had of looking into the matter I can see no precedent which covers this, which, after all, means that upon the death of one Parliament the persons who were responsible for the particular Bill and may not be in a position of responsibility in the next Parliament, are to pass on their responsibilities to their successors in office whether those successors are of the same mind or not only venture to make these few observations in order to ask the noble Earl to give a little more information to the House before he can ask the House with confidence to accept the Resolution.


My Lords, if I may add a few words to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Hanworth, I would observe, as he has already stated I think, that the procedure which your Lordships are, I believe, to be asked to adopt to-morrow in regard to this Bill is analogous to that which, as my noble friend has said, is followed in the case of Private Bills. On September 30 last your Lordships, on my proposal, adopted a, course which would allow Private Bills to be carried over to the next Session. That, of course, as my noble friend has said, is a practice with which your Lordships are all familiar. This Bill, of course, is a hybrid Bill; that is to say, it is a Public Bill which affects private interests, in the same way that Private Bills affect private interests. But it is a Public Bill, there is no doubt about that, in the same way as any other Public Bill is a Public Bill—that is to say, technically speaking. I should differ from my noble friend Lord Lucan. I think he said that, strictly speaking, it is not a Public Bill. I should say that, strictly speaking, it is a Public Bill, but in its operation it is far more analogous to a Private Bill than to a Public Bill.

There are various ways in which these hybrid Bills are treated. I do not think they are bound up in the Statute Book in the same way as Public Bills are; they are treated more as Private Bills than as Public Bills. As this is a Public Bill I think the proposal, if made to your Lordships, to allow it to be carried over requires very careful and very special consideration by your Lordships' House. I agree with my noble friend behind me that in this case it is probably desirable to allow this particular Bill to be carried over, because very considerable expense has been incurred by the promoters and petitioners and that expense, or a very large amount of it, would have to be incurred again if the Bill were dropped in this Parliament and reintroduced in another. That being the case, I think that this matter should be regarded as an exception altogether and considered entirely upon its merits. I am not entering into the merits of the Bill, I am not competent to do so, but am speaking simply as to the proposal to carry it over. As regards the question raised by my noble friend Lord Hanworth I would not enter into argument with him, but he says he thinks that possibly an Act of Parliament may be necessary to enable a Bill to be carried over.


By parity of reasoning with the case of an impeachment—by parity of reasoning.


As a matter of fact, I think it is correct to say of the Resolution that was passed in regard to the Port of London Bill that it was held that that Resolution was valid. Of course, it was not operative, so it never was tested.


It never was tested.


I am advised that it would have been operative had the occasion arose, but I am not competent to argue that point. If your Lordships consider it desirable to carry the Bill over—I think probably that is a wise course to take in view of the considerations which my noble friend Lord Lucan has mentioned—your Lordships' House should make it absolutely clear in doing so that you have no intention whatever to create a precedent which might be quoted at any future time (after all, this is the first time the question has arisen for thirty years and it may be another thirty years before it arises again) and that this is an exception which in no way should influence any future consideration of Parliament in regard to carrying over Public Bills from one Session to another and still less from one Parliament to another. If your Lordships would do this I do not think that any great harm would result from acceding to the request of the Government if they should put it before your Lordships to-morrow.


My Lords, it may be that an undertaking could be given that this should not be regarded as a precedent, but it nevertheless will be regarded as a precedent, and, I think, a very undesirable precedent. The question of precedent has been sufficiently dealt with, but I do sincerely trust that the Government will not persist in pressing this extraordinary Motion. It was understood that no contentious business was to be taken by the National Government. One can hardly conceive of any measure more contentious than this one. It is proposed to break a precedent by carrying it over to another Parliament. That it is contentious is sufficiently shown by the fact that it was carried by the casting vote of the Chairman, and it depended, therefore, entirely upon who happened to be the Chairman whether the Bill ever came to the House at all. I must say I think it is an extraordinary proposal, and I trust the Government will withdraw it.


My Lords, I say this is a precedent. The Port of London Bill seems to me to be quite inappropriate to quote as a precedent for this. That was an unopposed Bill, approved by all the great public authorities and all the private interests concerned, and it was most desirable that that Bill, for the purposes of emergency, should be passed at the earliest possible moment. It was passed on, according to the Resolution, to the following Session, not to the following Parliament. It is no good saying that somebody at that time sad it would be possible to carry it into the following Parliament if there was a Dissolution. That is pure hypothesis. The issue never arose then. Accordingly to-day the issue has not been determined. Now we have a considered statement by the Master of the Rolls (Lord Hanworth) that it is quite possible that any Resolution of this character may fail to be binding, and that the argument from the impeachment of Warren Hastings may show later on that an Act of Parliament ought to have been passed.

This is a very contentious Bill, and it is not merely contentious in the sense that an ordinary Private Bill is contentious by incorporating, we will say, a great area into some other local government unit. This is contentious because it raises very large questions of public policy. A great issue is raised. It is now proposed that this should be carried into the next Parliament. What does that mean? It means that members of Parliament of both Houses in the next Parliament shall not enjoy the rights and privileges inherent in every member of Parliament of being able to speak, express and record his opinion on every stage of every Bill that is continued to the next Parliament, because all the anterior stages passed by this Parliament are to be taken as binding upon the following Parliament. At any rate the following Parliament is not to be allowed to express an opinion. I think that is a very serious state of affairs, and if it is passed in this Bill it may be extended to all sorts of other Bills. I hope this matter will be reconsidered.


My Lords, I am sure the considerations which noble Lords have impressed so strongly upon your Lordships will be very carefully considered by the Government. I do not think I can add anything at the moment to the precedents which have been referred to. I can only say, as your Lordships are already aware, that a considerable amount of money will be sacrificed if this Bill has to be dropped, and a large amount of expenditure which has been incurred by the Exchequer will be wasted it the Bill is not proceeded with. I can certainly say that the matter will be very carefully considered before to-morrow, and that the Government will take into consideration all the views which have been expressed by your Lordships this afternoon. At this stage I cannot acid anything more.


My Lords, by leave of the House may I say one word more? I hope the noble Earl (the Earl of Onslow) will not misunderstand me. What I was dealing with was entirely the question of a Public Bill, or a Bill which is differentiated from a Private Bill. There may be cases in regard to a Private Bill, so called, in which the Resolution might stand, but here we have the case of a Public Bill.


My Lords, thought I had made it clear that it was the custom to carry over Private Bills, and that this was the first case of a Public Bill to be carried over, if it is carried over. The Port of London Bill was only a Resolution.


May I by leave of the House point out one thing? I do not know whether the Lord Chairman can give me an answer to what I desire to put. I have searched the Papers of the House for information showing the progress of various Bills, and I have been unable to find any trace in the Papers of the progress of this Bill. What has happened to it? It seems to me strange that nothing: should appear about it upon the Paper. I do not know what the reason is, but it does seem to me an extraordinary thing that you cannot get on the track of this Bill, which has never been on the Paper.


Will the noble Earl before to-morrow ascertain whether it is possible, according to legal advice, for a Resolution of one Parliament to bind another?


That is one of the things upon which I will inform myself.


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, may I say that the answer to his question is that this Bill would not be found in the Papers of this House, because the Bill is only now in the House of Commons, and the next stage that it would go through, if it did survive, would be Committee stage on recommitment, probably in the House of Commons.

House adjourned at ten minutes before five o'clock.