HL Deb 15 December 1932 vol 86 cc417-22

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which comes before your Lordships annually and it is not customary to make any lengthy speech about it. There are two Acts in the Schedule to which I think I ought to draw your Lordships' attention. The first is the Dyestuffs (Import Regulation) Act, 1920. That was an Act which was put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill by your Lordships two years ago. Your Lordships suggested that the matter should be enquired into by a Committee, and the present Government have now set up such a Committee to enquire into the whole matter. But they feel that it is necessary to continue this Act for a further year while that Committee is investigating the question. The other Bill is the Public Works Facilities Act, which was passed by your Lordships in July, 1930. It is for schemes to relieve unemployment and to expedite the procedure, so that those schemes can be brought into operation more quickly than they would be under the normal procedure of Parliament. I understand that my noble friend the Chairman of Committees wishes to make some remarks about this Act, and perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House that he should first address your Lordships, and then I will endeavour to reply. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Stanhope has said, I think it is my duty to call your Lordships' attention to a provision in the Bill to which he referred, and which your Lordships will find in the Schedule, number (14), at the bottom of page 4. That provision carries on the Public Works Facilities Act of 1930, and continues it till the 31st December, 1933. Your Lordships will remember that this Bill was introduced in 1930 by my noble friend opposite, Lord Ponsonby, who then occupied the post of Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. The Bill, as he explained it, was to shorten the procedure to obtain Parliamentary sanction for carrying out works for the relief of unemployment, arid the proposal, in so far as it was designed to that end, received a welcome in every quarter of your Lordships' House; but the provisions of the Bill, in so far as they affected the procedure of your Lordships' House, met with some considerable criticism, I think I may say, from my predecessor as Chairman of Committees, my noble friend Lord Donoughmore.

He said that this Bill (Act as it is now) was really almost a revolution in our procedure, and he added that he did not think that the provisions with regard to procedure would very greatly speed things up except during the two or three months after the Bill was actually brought in—that is to say, if the Bill was brought in in July, before the summer holidays, he was of opinion that it would speed up matters perhaps during August, September and October, 1930, when Parliament would be in Recess. But he pointed out that Bills which are brought up and deposited at this period of the year are often passed through Parliament long before July, and he added that the procedure of your Lordships' House was already sufficiently elastic to enable unopposed schemes to pass quickly through the House. Therefore, with regard to these particular matters at any rate the shortened procedure would not necessarily be very helpful. Then he dealt with the schemes involving big works over which there might be some controversy. There, he feared, that perhaps speed might be obtained by paying too high a price for it, because the control of Parliament would not be, under this Bill, so satisfactory as under the ordinary procedure, and that might possibly impair the confidence which is felt in the decisions of your Lordships' House.

In fact, under the Bill, Parliamentary control is reduced to a minimum, and this, I think, your Lordships will agree is a state of affairs which can only be justified by the existence of an emergency such as existed in 1930, and which very likely may exist at the present time. Now I venture to turn to the reply which was given by the then Leader of the House, Lord Parmoor, to my noble friend Lord Donoughmore. I see that Lord Parmoor laid stress upon the point that the powers conferred by the Bill were only for the purpose of enabling local authorities to execute work which would contribute to the relief of unemployment, and the powers altogether were to come to an end in the year 1932. Lord Par-moor emphasised the fact that it was not proposed to supersede for all time our well-known and tried forms of procedure. The measure was, therefore, only to meet any emergency, and, he said, was not to be in operation in any case—he used these words—beyond 1932.

I have looked into the operation of this Act, and so far as I have been able to find out—and I think my information is correct—its powers have not been very extensively used, and the experience seems to justify what my noble friend Lord Donoughmore said in his speech on the Second Reading of that Bill in the 1930–31 Session, that the form of procedure under it might help to speed things up for a time. It appears that fifteen schemes were produced in 1930–31, but in the last Session there was only one scheme, and in this Session also there is but one—that is, I think, a Huddersfield scheme. Your Lordships will see, therefore, that last year and this year only one scheme was produced in each Session—that is to say, only two altogether. I think it is my duty to bring before your Lordships these facts, because it was said at the time that the Act was not to be prolonged beyond 1932.

One knows that when Acts of Parliament once get into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act there is rather a tendency for them to remain there. I venture to think that once a precedent is made for altering procedure for one purpose, it is apt to be used for suggesting the alteration of procedure for other purposes. Everyone, as your Lordships know, has confidence in the impartiality of the decisions of Committees of Parliament and in the procedure of this House. Therefore, I venture to ask the Government whether they really think it is necessary to keep this Act on the Statute Book for another Session when it has been so sparingly used. The words of my noble friend Lord Donoughmore, who did not think it would help very much, seem to have been justified. I also think that before your Lordships pass it you really ought to be made aware of exactly what is under consideration so that we may be quite certain the matter will have received the full consideration of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, it is quite true that neither this Government nor its predecessor made very much use of this Act, but we do feel that it is a useful measure and we ask your Lordships to prolong it. There have only been, I think, some thirteen or fourteen schemes, and all of them have been of a minor character. Five schemes have been produced by the Ministry of Transport. One was a Bridge Bill, another a. Harbour Bill. Then there were two Railway Bills and a Trolley Vehicles Bill. Nine schemes were produced by the Ministry of Health, all of which, with one. exception, were concerned with water schemes. The Ministry of Health never has had, and has not now, any intention whatever of using this Bill for any large or contentious proposal. For instance, there will he no idea of any schemes like those relating to Waterloo Bridge or Charing Cross Bridge coming under the provisions of this Bill. But for minor schemes it is of use for two reasons.

It does really materially shorten the time. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health has three water schemes at this moment which he had hoped to bring before Parliament. They are not yet in a state to be put into a Private Bill and therefore they have missed the tide and may be very long in passing into law. Under the proposals here, the Minister will draw up his scheme and put it into a Bill, which will be presented to both Houses at the Report stage. From that stage it will go through the ordinary procedure, but it misses the special Committee stage which I know that your Lordships—and I myself in no less degree than any of you—consider of real value. But for schemes of this character it is felt that that procedure is really not worth while retaining, because they are schemes which are not opposed And are of a minor character. There is a further strong plea which I venture to make. I understand that the cost of Private Bill procedure for a Bill of this character is somewhere about £500. Under this procedure it is only £100. Therefore your Lordships will see that there is a very real economy in regard to these schemes which, as my noble friend has pointed out, contribute to the relief of unemployment. The Government have dropped the policy of stimulating by grants the provision of work for the relief of unemployment. Therefore, schemes of that kind in future, it, far at any rate as this Government are concerned, will be limited to those, such as are now being considered by the Ministry of Health, where the money spent is intended to be of a reproductive character or the schemes are expected to pay for themselves.

I should say that Parliament, of course, keeps complete control because the stages that Bills have to pass through under this procedure enable Parliament to deal with them both on Report stage and on Third Reading, and as my noble friend's predecessor, Lord Donoughmore, pointed out, Parliament at any time can decide to refer them to a Select Committee. I think that is all I need say to your Lordships on the matter. I do not know whether I have succeeded in satisfying my noble friend, but I hope I may point out to him that if at any time any Government proceeded to take advantage of this Act in a way which either House objected to, we have only to drop it from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and it comes automatically to an end. I hope that for the reasons I have given—the saving of time and the saving of money in these days of great financial stress—my noble friend will agree that this Act should remain in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.


My Lords, although I have not refreshed my memory with the record of the introductory remarks made when the Act was -introduced, I desire to support what has been said by the noble Earl opposite and to express the hope that the Lord Chairman will take a favourable view with regard to the inclusion of this Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It is perhaps regrettable that more schemes have not been brought forward under it. it is perfectly true that my noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, who was then Leader of the House, stated that it was the intention of the Government at that time that it should cease to be the procedure after 1932, but I am persuaded by what the noble Earl has just said that this is a very useful method of speeding up the smaller schemes which otherwise might be hung up and so prevent men being rapidly employed in certain work which can be done as soon as the Departments have their Bills drafted and brought forward. I hope, therefore, that the Government will be supported in including this Act in the Expiring Law's Continuance Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.