HL Deb 07 October 1931 vol 82 cc275-88

Message from the Commons to acquaint the House that they have come to the following Resolution: That further proceedings on the London Passenger Transport Bill be suspended till the next Session of Parliament.


My Lords, after the Message which we have just heard read I beg to move the Resolution which is printed on the Order Paper—namely, That any notices published and served, and any deposits made in respect of the Bill in the present Session, as also the proceedings of the Select Committee of this House appointed to join with a Select Committee of the House of Commons thereon, shall be held to have been published, served and made and to have effect respectively for the Bill if the same shall be brought from the House of Commons in the next Session of Parliament. In moving this Resolution, I hope your Lordships will appreciate that we are not discussing the merits of the Bill. That will be done when the Bill is sent to this House from the Commons, and there will be full opportunity then for all stages of the Bill to be dealt with.

It will be within the recollection of the House that Lord Hailsham, when he was Leader of the House and when the proposal to appoint five of your Lordships upon the Joint Committee was before this House, laid it down emphatically that, in appointing members to that Committee, your Lordships retained full power to deal with the Bill in this House, and were not committed in any way. Your Lordships will also have noticed that this Resolution passed unanimously through the House of Commons last night, and I noticed that Sir Basil Peto, who was one of the members of the House of Commons who sat on the Joint Committee, strongly approved of the Prime Minister's proposal to carry this Bill over. The chief reason which actuated the Government in proposing to carry it over was the great expense that has been involved, and that would be wasted if the Bill died now. It is calculated that something like £40,000 would be charged to the Treasury for expenditure for counsel and other matters during the thirty-five or thirty-six days in which the Bill was considered before the Joint Committee. In the case of the Bill passing, that charge would fall on the new Transport Board, but if the Bill is dropped now the Transport Board will not come into existence, and the large sum of £40,000, which I have mentioned, would fall upon the Treasury. That was one of the Government's chief reasons for asking for a Resolution to carry the Bill over.

As regards the question of precedent, which my noble friend Lord Hanworth and other noble Lords raised yesterday, the Prime Minister quoted a precedent last night in the House of Commons—the occasion when Mr. Balfour moved that the Port of London Authority Bill, which was a Private Bill, should be carried over from one Session to another. I grant that this is not quite the same case. That Bill was not carried over a Dissolution but only over a Prorogation. I also said yesterday—and this was taken exception to—that this Bill is a hybrid Bill. Although it was started by the Government, there were a lot of private interests concerned. It became a hybrid Bill, and thus differed to some extent from what is usually described as a Public Bill. As your Lordships know, by a Motion which the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, moved last week, all Private Bills are carried over. This being a Public Bill, or a hybrid Bill, whichever you like to call it, does not come in the same category, but I hope that, for the reasons I have given, your Lordships will decide to pass this Resolution. The Resolution passed in another place secures that the Bill will be considered again next Session in the House of Commons, and I again remind your Lordships that it is open to you to do exactly what you like with the Bill when it comes up to you. It will be brought here from the House of Commons, and will have to go through Second Reading and Committee in this House. I hope, therefore, that in moving this Resolution I shall meet with your Lordships' support, and that you will agree to it, as it was agreed to in the House of Commons last night. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That any notices published and served, and any deposits made in respect of the Bill in the present Session, as also the proceedings of the Select Committee of this House appointed to join with a Select Committee of the House of Commons thereon, shall be held to have been published, served and made and to have effect respectively for the Bill if the same shall be brought from the House of Commons in the next Session of Parliament. —(The Earl of Lucan.)


My Lords, the Resolution moved by the noble Earl, if I understand its terms rightly, is in the precise form that is applied to an ordinary Private Bill where it is proposed to carry it over from Session to Session, or from Parliament to Parliament. Of course, our Private Bill legislation is of a quasi-judicial character and that procedure has long been adopted and is followed as being prudent and just to the parties concerned; the reason being that, in private legislation, we are really dealing with matters that arise between private bodies, and the matters are referred to a Committee as a matter of course for judicial decision. I think there is no doubt about what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hanworth, the other night that, so far as Public Bills are concerned, no such procedure has ever been followed. There is no precedent that I have been able to find anywhere. I have no doubt that the noble Earl will bear in mind that various members have, from time to time, brought forward in another place the question of carrying a Public Bill over from Session to Session, though I am not aware that it was ever proposed to carry it over from Parliament to Parliament.


The Port of London Bill.


I do not put that Bill in the category for a moment. I am talking of the general principle. It is not a matter upon which we need have any contention. So far as I understand the fact that we have to give a decision is agreed all round. What I am putting to the noble Earl is that those members of the other House who desired that matters should stand over from Session to Session were opposed by people who thought that legislation was easy enough anyhow, and that it was just as well not to give additional facilities for it. I may mention this curiosity of the present decision, that if I had stood up and made the proposal which the noble Earl has brought forward uproar might have taken place. It is suggested that there is a precedent in the Port of London Bill. I do not think that that ever was a precedent. Certainly, it never came to be tested as a precedent in any form, and I agreed with the Chairman of Committees when he said that it is quite a mistake to suggest that that was a precedent for what is being proposed in the present case.

The strength of the Motion as brought forward by the noble Earl is, no doubt, that there has been a large expenditure of time and money and it is a pity that it should be thrown away. We shall all sympathise with that, and although I do not want to go into the merits of the question I am strongly in favour of the proposals of the Bill as they at present, stand, and of the arguments with which it was supported by the then Traffic Minister, Mr. Morrison. It is, however, important in these matters that precedent should be carefully considered. Just as it is said that what is meant by security is certainty of expectation, so what is meant by protection of our free decision is the certainty that our procedure shall be maintained.

I am not going to oppose the Motion of the noble Earl, because I understand that it is supported by the present Leader of the House, Lord Peel, which in my opinion is a very strong matter when this sort of question has to be considered. But why should you have this as a precedent? This Resolution, if we adopt it, and it is adopted by the House of Commons, will not be binding upon another Parliament. You cannot in one Parliament put any restriction whatever upon what is known as the sovereignty of Parliament. Therefore when the next Parliament meets, if it is desired and thought right that the Bill should be taken up and carried on from the stage which it has already reached, it will be within the power of that Parliament to do so, and that is where the question will arise. On the other hand, if the new Parliament adopted the view put forward by some members that considering all the conditions under which the Bill has arrived at its present stage it would not be right to go on without beginning the procedure over again, that, of course, can be done.

Whatever you do now is in the hands of the next Parliament, and whatever you do does not fetter their power or discretion, one way or the other. I dislike what has been called by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, unprecedented procedure. I do not think there is any precedent for a proposal of this kind, but I certainly should not oppose it if the Government in power think it necessary and right, and are prepared to support it. At the same time I hope my opinion will go forward, for what it is worth, that these changes in procedure of an exceptional kind ought not to be adopted, except in very exceptional circumstances, and I doubt whether the present circumstances have that exceptional nature. Subject to that, I have no doubt that the noble Earl will succeed in passing his Motion.


My Lords, I think it is important that you should fully appreciate that what we are discussing is a Resolution relating to a Public Bill. It is of no use saying that it is in the nature of a Private Bill. It is a Public Bill. A Private Bill is initiated and has its birth by very different procedure from that by which a Public Bill is brought forward in this House. This Bill was introduced as a Public Bill and it remains a Public Bill. The mere fact that it has opposed to it some particular interests involved does not alter the character and nature given to it at the time when it was introduced as a Public Bill. You are being asked to carry over that Bill not only to a new Session but to a new Parliament. I think it is very important indeed to make it quite plain that we are talking about a Public Bill, for it would be very unfortunate if any doubt were cast upon the procedure which has been adopted, time and again, in reference to Private Bills, relating to railways, water, electric lighting, and so forth, numbers of which will be found in the authoritative text book of Parliamentary procedure by Sir Erskine May to have been carried over from Session to Session.

You are now asked to deal with this Public Bill and to carry it over not only to a new Session, but to a new Parliament. Yesterday I quoted to your Lordships the fact that on two occasions where proceedings had been commenced by way of impeachment it was found necessary in both cases to pass an Act of Parliament to enable them to be continued, in the case of an adjournment by Dissolution. There is another case to which I think I ought to call attention. In divorce proceedings in respect of misconduct committed in India it was found to be impossible for the evidence to come from India to be dealt with in the same Session or in the same Parliament, and in 1820 the matter was dealt with by Statute, and it was dealt with to enable those proceedings to be carried on in spite of a new Session or a new Parliament. The recital to that Act is as follows: Whereas by the usage and custom of Parliament no proceedings by Bill in Parliament have continuance from one Session to another. The Act was passed.

The matter does not rest there. In 1890, at the instance of Mr. Balfour, a Committee was set up to deal with the rule that at the end of the Session all Bills only partly discussed lapsed completely. The Committee sat. Mr. Balfour was Chairman, and there was a sharp contest upon the Committee. The proposal to carry over the Bills to a new Session—not to a new Parliament—was strongly opposed, and particularly by a minority headed by Mr. Gladstone, who embodied his objections in a Minority Report. The Majority Report was only that of a bare majority. Looking at an authoritative book on the procedure of Parliament I read this: The recommendation was only adopted in the Committee after a close Division, and was strongly opposed by a minority headed by Mr. Gladstone.… As a matter of fact the House has never, to this day, adopted the idea. That is in reference to Public Bills, and reasons are given, with which I need not trouble your Lordships, for saying that it would be a difficult procedure to adopt to the convenience of both Houses of Parliament. But I think I have indicated, from the precedents to which I have referred and from the Report of that Committee, that your Lordships are now being asked to take a step which is doing some violence to the custom of Parliament as so far understood.

The present case is one in which it is said much money would be lost to the promoters. It may be, and indeed I personally think that the procedure of carrying over Bilk from one Session to another might be a useful procedure to adopt. It would, in fact, relieve your Lordships of what is a very embarrassing situation which occurs from time to time at the end of the Session, when a great number of Bills are brought to your Lordships' House, and no adequate discussion is possible. If it were possible to carry over such measures to another Session your Lordships' House would probably have an opportunity of doing extremely good work in amending those Bills. If I may give an illustration of the sort of difficulty in which your Lordships are placed, let me refer to the Landlord and Tenant Bill, which was before this House when the late Lord Cave sat oil the Woolsack. I think it was the Lord Chancellor who, at the end of December, withdrew a whole batch of clauses, agreeing that as they stood they were quite incomprehensible, unworkable, and unwise. Next day he produced another batch of clauses which your Lordships had to take. They were better than the previous ones, and your Lordships accepted them. If it had been possible to carry that Bill over to a new Session, I have no doubt that more mature thought and a better opportunity would have been given to it, and better work would have been done.

I speak, therefore, as in no sense hostile to a considered procedure for the carrying over of a Bill to a new Session. But here we are asked to go even further, we are asked to carry over a Bill to a new Parliament. I do not think there is any real precedent for carrying over a Bill of this sort to a new Parliament—the case of the Port of London Authority is really no case governing the present—and I have intervened only to offer to your Lordships some information which I happened to have the opportunity of finding, and to point out that your Lordships are now being asked to do something which has never been done before. It might be wise to have the procedure, and if it were done after consideration, well and good. I say nothing about that, but I do think it is important that these matters should be placed before your Lordships in debate, in order that they may be made quite plain, and when a new Parliament comes into being that it may recognise that its hands are completely free to do what it likes with a Bill. All that will happen is that the evidence taken before the Committee so far will stand good, if and so far as a new Committee seeks to make use of it. As a matter of fact, the Bill, as I understand, was introduced and carried through, not by the present Government but by the previous Government. The present Government have, so to speak, accepted it filially from the old Government, and now they are going to hand it on to the grandchildren of the originators of the Bill. I hope that these grandchildren will understand that they are as free and unfettered as the younger generation feel themselves always to be to-day.


My Lords, I very much sympathise with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition., because he is quite right in saying what a storm there would have been if he had proposed such a Motion from the Government Benches when he was Leader of the House. As regards this particular procedure, I should like the Chairman of Committees to tell us a little more. I am not quite confident yet that I thoroughly understood that the procedure as regards Private Bills applies not from one Session to another, but from one Parliament to another. Because, to my mind, that makes the whole difference. If that is so, there may be something to be said for saving expense, as this is a hybrid Bill, for, though it is a Public Bill, it is not exactly of the same nature as an ordinary Public Bill. I am sure your Lordships are greatly indebted to Lord Hanworth for the case he stated and pressed. I am afraid I cannot possibly agree with him that it would be a good thing for Public Bills to be carried on from one Session to another. There would be no finality at all. And, as regards carrying over from one Parliament to another, it is unthinkable.

It has been said that this is not a precedent, but may I call your Lordships' attention to what Mr. Alexander, lately First Lord of the Admiralty, said in the House of Commons last night? He welcomed the decision of the Government, but thought it a pity that other Bills on which there had been a large expenditure of time and money, like the Town and Country Planning Bill, the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, and the Consumers' Council Bill, were also carried forward. What a horrible blister that is for the future if such a procedure were to be adopted. As regards this Bill, I quite agree with what previous speakers have said that the case of the Port of London Authority Bill is no precedent at all. That was more or less an agreed Bill.




The noble Earl says "No," and I understand that he will answer that. At all events, this is a most contentious Bill, and, so far from there being agreement, I understand that, although we were told that the railway companies had agreed upon it, the Metropolitan Railway Company are very dissatisfied. The London County Council certainly is not agreed upon this Bill, and other local authorities with which I am acquainted are not agreed upon it. Therefore, there is a great deal of difference of opinion upon this important Bill. But I quite recognise that a great deal of money has been spent upon it, and, whatever Government is in power—I hope it will be the National Government—will have to bring in some sort of Bill dealing with London traffic next Session. Therefore, as I said originally when I put a Question on the subject, I am not going to oppose this Motion. At the same time, I wish to place on record my strong dissent from any proposals that this should be regarded as a precedent for carrying over from one Parliament to another—not only from one Session to another—Public Bills brought in by any Government. Therefore I am very glad that such expressions of opinion have come forth not only from myself but from other noble Lords in regard to the procedure adopted in this case.


My Lords, may I say at once that I entirely and absolutely agree with what has fallen from noble Lords in regard to the extreme undesirability of considering this procedure which is proposed to your Lordships to-day in the light of a precedent for the future. I think the analogy, I hardly like to call it the precedent, of the Port of London Bill need not have any great stress laid upon it. I think the real argument for carrying this proposal through lies in the merits of the case, the saving of the money which will otherwise be put to the charge both of the promoters and the opponents of the Bill, because the petitioners will suffer considerably in pocket. It is perfectly true that this is a Public Bill; strictly speaking it is a Public Bill. Like any other Bill introduced by the Government it is a Public Bill. But it is a hybrid Bill, as I said yesterday, and a hybrid Bill is a Public Bill which is in the nature of a Private Bill. But that does not alter the situation and does not bring it under the consideration of Private Bill procedure.

My noble friend behind me put a specific question to me in regard to what has been done in the past at the time of a Dissolution of Parliament in the matter of carrying over Private Bills. I have in my hand the Minutes of May 9, 1929, which I think was the day before the Dissolution. A Resolution was moved then in regard to Private and Provisional Order Confirmation Bills. It is at page 791 of the Minutes and your Lordships can find it there. I will not read it out as it is very long indeed, but I might read one paragraph which is at the bottom of the page: That the proceedings on such Bills shall be pro formâ only in regard to every stage which the same shall have passed in the present Session; and that no new fees be charged in regard to such stages.


There is no question as regards Private Bills and Provisional Order Confirmation Bills. That has been the procedure for a long time.


Yes, that is what I was saying to my noble friend behind me. I have informed him that the procedure had been in force for a long time. Then on May 10, an alphabetical list of Private and Provisional Order Confirmation Bills was printed. That, I think, answers the question of my noble friend in regard to Private Bill procedure. We are asked really to apply this Private Bill procedure to this particular hybrid Bill, and it might interest your Lordships if I were to say what I am told would happen if your Lordships were not to agree with this Resolution. As your Lordships are aware, a Standing Order has been passed in another place and I imagine the result of that, will be that the Bill will be introduced in another place in the next Session, or It may be considered as having passed all its stages up to that which it has reached at present. If it goes forward it will come to your Lordships' House in the ordinary way as a "Bill brought from the Commons."

Then it would go before the Examiners to see whether it had complied with Standing Orders, and if they reported that Standing Orders had been complied with—I could not say and I do not suppose that the Examiners could say with-out going into the whole matter whether Standing Orders would have been complied with or not—the Bill would go forward. If they reported that Standing Orders had not been complied with, then the Bill would go before the Standing Orders Committee with that Report and the Committee would decide whether it should recommend your Lordships' House to dispense with Standing Orders or to insist upon them. If they decided that it was impossible to dispense with Standing Orders the Report of the Standing Orders Committee would come before your Lordships' House and your Lordships would decide whether to accept the Report or not. If you decided to accept the Report and not to dispense with Standing Orders then the Bill would fall. But really all that would happen in those circumstances would be that you would be rejecting the Bill in the same way as you would be able to reject it on Second Reading; so that the opponents of the Bill are not being put at a disadvantage—at least, that is my humble private opinion.

Your Lordships will observe that the Notice states that in the event of a Message being received from the Commons the Earl of Lucan would move to resolve that any notices published and served, and any deposits made in respect of the Bill in the present Session, as also the proceedings of the Select Committee of this House appointed to join with a Select Committee of the House of Commons thereon, shall be held to hare been published and so forth. I am informed that your Lordships are in no way fettered by this Resolution in regard to what you may wish to do in the next Parliament. You may say that having given the Bill a Second Reading you will refer it to a Select Committee for consideration. It is perfectly open to your Lordships to do that quite regardless of there having been a Joint Select Committee sitting on the Bill in this Parliament. You could appoint a new Committee if you wished to do so, or you could deal with the Bill in any other way that you thought proper. So I do not think your Lordships will bind yourselves in any way. If you saw fit to agree with the proposal, it would be a saving of the expense that has been incurred. If your Lordships take that course I earnestly hope that it may be the general opinion of your Lordships that this shall be in no case a precedent for the carrying over of a Public Bill, but that particularly in a time of crisis you are assisting the promoters and the opponents to fight this matter out—because I gather (I have no knowledge of the merits of the case) that it is a highly contentious Bill—with the least possible cost. That is all I have to say and I think I have answered the question of my noble friend behind me.


My Lords, I have very few observations to address to your Lordships' House. The only reason I have for inflicting any speech upon you is that I do not think I ought to remain silent on a question like this. Let me say at once that I agree with all the remarks that have been made by my noble friends the Master of the Rolls and the former Leader of the House. I particularly agree with the remarks made by the noble Earl and do not differ in a single sentence from what he said. In my view there is no precedent for this proposal. It is entirely unprecedented. But there is another thing which is entirely unprecedented—the time in which we live. I hope that the precedent will never be repeated. I hope even more that the crisis through which this country is passing at the present moment will never be repeated.

We are in great difficulties. Speaking with full responsibility as a member of the Govenment I ask your Lordships to pass this Resolution. I offer no opinion as to whether it will bind any future Parliament; but I will give this opinion and give it to your Lordships quite bluntly—that your Lordships will be in the wrong if you fail to pass the Resolution. Its whole object is the endeavour to save expense. If it is not passed we shall have thrown away thousands of pounds to a quite useless purpose. By passing this Resolution your Lordships do not prejudice your rights with regard to this Bill when it comes before you in any single jot or tittle. What you will do is to prevent the throwing away of thousands of pounds of public money at a time of crisis like this when economy must be the order of the day. At any rate, by this gesture you will show that you intend to do all you can to help the country. I beg your Lordships to pass this Resolution.


My Lords, if I may add one word I would do so, though it is perhaps not necessary after what the Lord Chancellor has said. I listened with great interest to what was said about the precedent. When I was informed that there was a good precedent in August of 1903 in the case of the Port of London Bill I took it upon myself to say that it was a bad precedent and not a good one. I am rather pleased from a legal point of view to find that all the great lawyers in the House entirely agree with me as to that. Nevertheless, I think it is remarkable that a great Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Balfour, did contemplate, in his answer to a question that that Bill should be carried over not only for the Session but after the Dissolution. He was asked a question as to whether the Bill was carried over for a Session of the existing Parliament, or, in the event of a Dissolution, to a new Parliament, and he stated that the carrying over was quite irrespective of a Dissolution. No doubt, that is not a precedent, but it is rather remarkable that such a course seems to have been contemplated with equanimity by a great Conservative Prime Minister.

The only other point I should like to emphasise is this. Of course we do retain entire power over the Bill in this House. Our powers are not prejudiced in the least. We shall be able to amend it or throw it out on Second Reading when it comes up, or oppose anything in it which we do not like. Speaking for myself I wish to say that there is nothing I dislike more than setting up any prece- dent for carrying over Public Bills. I cannot imagine anything more disturbing to the whole of our political and national economy than that that should be done. It is with the greatest relief that we see the end of a Bill at the end of a Parliament, and think that the matter is dead and buried for all time. The only reason really on which we base our action in this case arises from the necessities of the situation, and the desire, which is so imperative in these days, to avoid any waste of money. I think after the discussion that has taken place in this House, it must be patent to everybody, to the admirers as well as to the critics of your Lordships' House, that you are determined not to set any precedent for the carrying over of Public Bills, and that if it is done today in this case it is only done because of the extreme necessities of the situation. You are determined and have declared that in no other case will it apply.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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