HL Deb 20 December 1932 vol 86 cc489-502

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the, House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Stanhope.)

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF' ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clauses agreed to.


1. Session and Chapter. 2. Short. Title. 3. How far continued. 4. Amendment Acts.
20 & 21 Geo. The Public Works Facilities Act 1930. The whole Act.

LORD RANKEILLOUR moved to omit the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930, from the Schedule. The noble Lord said: The effect of this Amendment is to leave out from the Schedule the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930. I move it on the ground that this Act cuts deep into the system of Private Bill legislation which at present exists. It gives power to local authorities to frame certain schemes which, if necessary, after inquiry, but on the order of the Minister concerned, may come to Parliament and escape their Committee stage. There may be many criticisms to be made of the system of Private Bill legislation for which, along with the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, I was for some time responsible. It doubt is somewhat lengthy, and it is somewhat expensive, but at the same time it may be said that a fairer and more searching and, I may add, a cleaner system does not exist, and I think your Lordships should be very careful not to allow its working to be impaired by side winds.

The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, the other day said that this would only lie used in small schemes, and schemes that were unopposed; but the point I want to make is that even in unopposed schemes the Committee stage is often of great importance. I think you may sometimes latet doles in concordia; where things arc agreed it does not necessarily follow that they are right. On the unopposed Bill Committee in another place very frequently an unopposed Bill was found to embark upon somewhat dangerous ground. For example, there was a Water Bill under which the promoters took power to acquire a considerable extent of land in order to guard their supplies from pollution. The Bill was unopposed, but it came out on examination that some of this land was very valuable and attractive land, and that there was nothing on earth to prevent the promoters of that Bill from turning themselves from a statutory water undertaking into an ordinary land development company under power that had been given to them under Statute. That was stopped. In another case of a Dock Bill the undertakers sought to get compulsory powers to be used solely for their own advantage without any corresponding service to the public. That again was an unopposed Bill. In another case—the case of a very old and well-established and flourishing statutory company—provisions were proposed, again unopposed, which would have created a most mischievous precedent, for there were strange and privileged terms under which large issues of money might be made. The Bill was unopposed. There was some real mischief in it which could only be detected by Parliamentary examination.

There is another point. Undoubtedly there is a steady tendency for Departments to encroach on the province of Parliament. I do not say that this is deliberate; I am inclined to think it is not, but it undoubtedly does exist. It probably arises from the hard-working men at the head of Departments thinking out what would work quickest and be most convenient. Undoubtedly the Parliamentary procedure is sometimes a matter of annoyance to them. It delays their schemes, or it may delay them, and it requires the attendance of somebody to lay the case before Parliamentary Committees. If this Bill is passed as a mere item in the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill a. further unfortunate precedent would be created. This Bill was first brought in at a time of emergency as part of the effort of the Government of the day to deal with the emergency of unemployment. That emergency, unhappily, has not passed, but I think it is quite clear that this Act has not been of much value. There were a certain number of schemes in the first year, but in the second and third years only one was promoted.

I do not think we should on any punctilio decline to give assent to anything which the Government on their responsibility seriously regard as for the mitigation of unemployment, and if the noble Earl who represents the Government tells us that he regards this as an important provision to that end, I would say that in that case it ought to have been brought in as a separate Bill for renewing the lapsing Act as was done in the case of the Rent Restrictions Acts and other Acts, the importance of which prevented them from being put in the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I think it is necessary to prevent a further precedent being created, and for that reason I ask your Lordships to take serious notice of this matter.

Amendment moved— Page 4, leave out lines 38 to 40.—(Lord Rankeillour).


As I raised this question on the Second Reading of the Bill here it is perhaps my duty to add a few words to what I said on that occasion, and so I am taking the rather unusual course of addressing your Lordships while the Bill is in the Committee stage. This procedure is, of course, entirely exceptional procedure—that is admitted on all sides—but we are living in exceptional times and under exceptional circumstances. I am sure that if that is made perfectly clear you will have no hesitation in agreeing to this prolongation of the Act. But I think we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, for raising the question, because your Lordships are very jealous of the procedure of this House and will not make any alteration therein without being perfectly certain that it has had the fullest consideration both specifically and particularly.

The two points which were raised by my noble friend Earl Stanhope on the Second Reading were the advantages of expedition and of economy. My noble friend Lord Donoughmore, my predecessor, speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill when it was originally introduced, mentioned to your Lordships that the elasticity of procedure in your Lordships' House made it possible for Bills to be passed at considerable speed. It is rue, as my noble friend Earl Stanhope said the other day, that an ordinary Private Bill is governed by dates fixed by Standing Orders. It must be introduced in the autumn and then it will get the Royal Assent some time in the following year. There is, however, a procedure known as the late Bill procedure by which a Bill may be introduced at any time. All that is required when a late Bill is introduced is that there should be sufficient time for it to go through its stages in both Houses. Therefore, it is perfectly possible for a Bill to be introduced in May or even later and receive the Royal Assent by July. In the case of a late Bill both Houses are asked to suspend the Standing Orders as to dates and that is done whenever reasonable cause is shown.

Your Lordships will remember that my noble friend Lord Donoughmore said on the Second Reading of the Public Works Facilities Bill that the advantage of this particular Bill was possibly greatest at the end of July. The Government might have a lot of schemes ready which could be proceeded with during the Recess and then, under the provisions of the Act, they could pass immediately Parliament met in the autumn. Of course, no scheme can go through without Parliament sitting because confirmation has to be given by Parliament in a Bill. We were told by my noble friend Earl Stanhope that it was not intended to bring forward opposed schemes under this procedure but only to deal with small matters and unopposed schemes. He referred to three which the Minister of Health had in mind. As far as I can see those schemes might be proceeded with by the late Bill procedure, and I do not think that much time would be lost. They could be brought in as soon as they are ready—I gather they are Lot yet ready—and it would be possible to pass them without any emergency procedure.

I would like to mention also the question of economy. I think it is rather dangerous to lay too much stress on economy in these matters. We are all very anxious indeed for economy, but we must be rather careful, I think, of stressing the advantages of economy too far where our procedure is concerned. After all, you might make a great many economies by altering the procedure of this House, but whether they would be desirable or worth making is a very different question. I think myself that stress should be laid on expedition and other advantages rather than on the advantages of economy in this particular instance. I would like to give your Lordships a few details as to the difference in cost as between this procedure and procedure by private Bill. I find that the cost of printing in both cases would be approximately the same. Agents' fees vary according to the size of the Order or of the Bill. They would be about £120 or more. Under this; emergency procedure they might be a little less, perhaps £100. The great economy effected by this procedure is the saving of fees in the two Houses. These amount to about £220. The emergency procedure would be about £200 cheaper than ordinary Private Bill procedure. Those are the points on which I thought your Lordships would wish to be informed.


There are two points to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention. The first is that when the Bill was originally introduced into the House of Commons it was stated that it was to last until the end of 1933. In Committee, Sir Kingsley Wood introduced an Amendment whereby "thirty-three." was left out and "thirty-two" inserted. Further, it was an agreed Amendment because there was no argument and the Government accepted it. Then, when this Bill was before your Lordships on July 28, 1930, the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, then Leader of the House, said: The powers are only conferred for that purpose and the powers altogether come to an end in the year 1932. It is not as though we were superseding for all time the well-known forms of procedure that the noble Earl the Lord Chairman has referred to. We are bringing in a Bill providing a form of procedure which he, with all his experience, knows to be a valuable means for dealing with unemployment, but only for that purpose, and which is not to he in operation in any ease beyond 1932. That is a very strong statement for the Leader of this House to make and one which doubtless induced your Lordships to allow the Bill to pass. I hope your Lordships will support my noble friend if he goes to Division.


I am well aware that this House is very jealous as to its procedure and I am certain that no one on the Government Bench would desire to cavil at the description given by the noble Lord of the value of Select Committees either in this House or, perhaps as we think, to a less degree elsewhere. If this were an Act to abolish our Private Bill procedure, I doubt very much whether I should find myself standing at this box, and at least I should feel very uncomfortable. But that is not the question. As I said on the last occasion, this is only for use for minor Bills.


It is not limited to minor Bills.


I admit that, and I can only repeat the statement of the Minister of Health that he does not intend to go outside minor Bills under this procedure. Nothing except minor Bills has so far been produced by this method. If, of course, a major Bill were brought up the House has complete control over any Bill under this procedure. What happens is that the Bill is presented by the Minister of Health and it comes before both Houses as having passed Committee. The first stage at which it appears before either Honse is the Re- port stage, but, as your Lordships are aware, you can make any Amendment on the Report stage, and of course throw out a Bill or make further Amendments on the Third Reading. The House has therefore complete control over any Bill. Although it does in fact miss the critical examination referred to by Lord Rankeillour, these Bills are examined because, if any objection is raised to them locally, then the Minister of Health holds a local inquiry at which any objections are made; the Minister considers the report of that inquiry and is required to submit that report to both Houses when he lodges his Bill. Your Lordships therefore get the advantage of the inquiry made by the Ministry of Health when the Bill is presented before you. I do not pretend that that is likely to be as critical an examination as the inquiry upstairs of your Lordships, but anyone with a real objection to a Bill has ample opportunity to obtain a hearing in one or other House of Parliament and to have the point fully discussed.

The Public Works Facilities Act is not confined to one clause. There are other clauses of value. It is true, as the noble Chairman said, that not many schemes have been brought forward under Clause 1—I think eight schemes by the Ministry of Health, five by the Ministry of Transport and three by the Scottish Office. Under Clause 2 power is given to make orders authorising local authorities and statutory undertakers to purchase land compulsorily for certain purposes—aerodromes, amongst others. It enables land to be compulsorily purchased without a Provisional Order. I understand that a Provisional Order takes from twelve to eighteen months to come into effect and therefore the saving in time where a Provisional Order would be necessary is considerable. That is of real value, and so far from there having been only a few schemes I understand the Ministry of Health has made something like 200 orders under this clause.


May I be permitted to ask whether all these schemes of which the noble Earl speaks were with a view to helping unemployment?


I think under Clause 2 not entirely, because there was a prospect of making aerodromes, which probably would not give much work to the unemployed although on the other hand they might. But under the whole scheme of the Act the general idea is to assist employment by schemes likely to help in that matter. As regards Clause 3 that enables local authorities to obtain easements over land where it is necessary to make a bridge over a statutory undertaking—that is to say, over a railway or a canal. The Ministry of Transport is very anxious to try to abolish level crossings and to make corners easier where there is considerable traffic. This enables land to be acquired or schemes to be made by a much simpler procedure than before. There is a small amendment which enables the Minister to make schemes in regard to the Electricity Commissioners. Where an objection is made which is not withdrawn and the Minister is satisfied that it is a trivial objection or that it has been met by amendments in the scheme, he can make an Order allowing the Electricity Commissioners to go ahead. In that particular case it is obvious that no assistance would be given as regards obtaining employment for the unemployed. I hope that my noble friend will not press his Amendment because the Act is really of considerable value in small ways in which we are able to help unemployment. He suggested that it ought to be put forward again as a separate Bill, as was done in the case of the Rent Restrictions Act, but Part II of this Schedule shows that the Rent Restrictions Act is actually in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.


I think some of the earlier renewals were not.


That is because they were so framed that they could not be, but here is the Rent Restrictions Act in this Schedule. I know that it is not in Part I but in Part II, but at any rate it does appear in the Bill. I submit that, as I have already pointed out, if a scheme came before you which you thought was dangerous you would have complete power both to amend it and to reject it, and if at any time you found that the Ministry of Health or any other Ministry was taking advantage of this Act to cut across the procedure of your Lordships' House and to dodge (if I may use the expression) the Select Committee procedure, you could at any time move that such an Act should then be dropped out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and that Act would then come to an end. I hope very much, after the explanation I have given, that my noble friend will not press his Amendment.


I have not infrequently heard discussions rather of this description upon this stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but I do think that perhaps those who sit on dm Treasury Bench—I have had some experience of it—forget the kind of way in which those who are not on the Treasury Bench regard the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. For what happens is this. A Bill or some measure of a controversial character to which a good many people object, and in regard to which there is a great deal to be said on both sides, is submitted to Parliament and comes to your Lordships' House; and, in order to get the Bill through, a clause is put in, either in the original draft or in the course of the Bill through Parliament, which limits the duration of the Bill for a certain period. That is done continually, and then Parliament is assured: "You are not pledging yourself beyond such and such a year; do not be uneasy. This is purely a temporary Bill. After all, no great harm can happen in two or three years"—or whatever the period named may be. "We think your Lordships may without any uneasiness pass this Bill."

We are all very innocent people, and we always accept not only the good faith—of course, we accept the good faith of what we are assured—but also the foresight of the Ministers who give those assurances. And so the Bill is passed. And then, when the period comes to an end, do your Lordships imagine that the Bill is allowed to drop? I was almost going to say very seldom, but at any rate continually it does not drop. It is then nut into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and all the assurances that have been given as to its temporary character are forgotten, laid aside, and we are asked to go on with the Bill just as if it had never been given a temporary character.

The noble Earl just now mentioned the Rent Restrictions Act. That, of course, was a temporary Act. That has always been put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill—over and over again. Although it would not be in order for me to discuss it, I believe we are going to discuss a Rent Restrictions Bill shortly. That has a limited duration, and no doubt your Lordships will be told when the Bill is going through that we need not be uneasy, that its provisions are all of a temporary character, and that it will not be for ever. But no doubt when the time comes it will go into the same receptacle as this Act is going into now—into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Of course, I do not snake complaint of Ministers doing this. Very often it has to be done. But I would suggest to them that unnecessary action of this kind is gradually deteriorating and depreciating the value of the assurance which is made that a Bill is of a temporary kind. Very soon you will not get anybody to believe it at all. Even the most innocent of your Lordships—if I may venture to use the phrase—will not be misled.

Then we turn to the Bill itself. I must say that as I listened to my noble friend I realised hat he, on behalf of the Government, laid considerable store by the, passage of the Bill, and that must have great weight with your Lordships; but still there were several things that he said which made me uneasy, because it appeared in the course of his argument that the Act which we are now to continue was not wholly directed to unemployment. But I think unemployment was the only argument to be used in its favour. There may be some other argument, but I was not convinced that, because the Minister of Transport wanted to snake bridges over canals and over railways, that was a reason why the ordinary procedure of Parliament should be dispensed with. It appeared to me that, to be consistent, according to the arguments of my noble friend the clauses which would enable the Minister of Transport to do this ought to be left out when we re-enact the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I think he said something about an aerodrome. There does not appear to be any reason why we should facilitate the procedure of establishing aerodromes and dispense with the ordinary protection of Committees upstairs.

I am sure your Lordships will not despise the protection of the Committees upstairs. My noble friend said, as he was quite entitled to say, that, even if this procedure is continued, there will always be the Report stage and the Third Read- ing stage here. It is quite true it will always be here, but everybody knows that in matters of intricate detail which these Private Bills, or Bills analogous to Private Bills, deal with, the procedure on the floor of the House is quite inappropriate. You cannot go into the detail, neither can you examine the witnesses whose evidence is of importance. I do not know that I need have said this because you have got the assurance of what I might perhaps call the two greatest authorities on Private Bill procedure in your Lordships' House. There is the Lord Chairman himself, who has called your attention to the importance of our ordinary procedure, and there is my noble friend who has moved this Amendment, who was for years responsible for exactly the same procedure in another place. Therefore both are able to assure you of what I think most of us know—how important this procedure of the Committees upstairs is. Unless you are going to scrap the whole of our procedure it is of the greatest importance for the protection of public and private rights to preserve this procedure.

Therefore I am rather uneasy at several of the remarks which my noble friend made in his speech. What it comes to is this. Do the Government say that, for the purpose of checking unemployment, it is necessary to continue this procedure? Do they say that, for the purpose of making all due effort to restrict unemployment, this procedure is necessary? If they say that, I for one have nothing more to say. The situation in regard to unemployment is so grave that I think none of your Lordships would desire to interfere with any adequate remedy which may be proposed. But if this is merely one more effort on the part of the Department to short-circuit the procedure which is so necessary to protect private rights, and also the public interests, then I should very much regret if this Act were continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. As far as I am personally concerned, it all turns on that. If my noble friend, or any other member of the Government tells us on the responsibility of the Government that the continuance of this Act is really important for the purpose of checking unemployment, I should myself assent to its being continued in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but, if not, then I hope your Lordships will cut it out.


My noble friend Lord Salisbury has asked a direct question of the Government, and therefore I think probably it is appropriate that I should seek to answer it. May I say a word or two about his preliminary remarks? For a moment I thought he was going to discard that innocence which he claimed and approach something very near cynicism when he discussed the views or misdeeds of those who sit on the Treasury Bench. He seemed to have some consciousness, probably, of uneasy recollection of lapses of his own whim he used to occupy the place which I so unworthily fill. There are one or two preliminary points to which I wish to refer. It is quite true that some of the later sections, with regard to aerodromes, are sections which I cannot say very specifically refer to unemployment, but equally it is true that those are not sections which interfere with the procedure of this House. They are matters which accelerate work which ought to be gone on with. They limit the time with regard, for instance, to obtaining Provisional Orders, but they are not matters which deal with the procedure of this House under which we investigate Private Bills.

There is this further observation which I would make. It is perfectly true, as pointed out by the noble Marquess, that a Bill goes through for a limited period and then, possibly, when that time elapses it may take its place in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. It is true to say that the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act has been very drastically cut down from the dimensions which it reached two or three years ago. I think we can have that accounted to us for righteousness, that we have very drastically limited and reduced the Bills which appear there. There is this advantage about the limited character of an Act of Parliament, even if it is afterwards included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and that is that it comes up for review by Parliament and it is for Parliament to say whether it shall go on or not. It is easier then for either House to say that this Act ought not to go on any longer, than it would be in the case of an Act without any limit of time. It ensures that the matter shall be reviewed, and conveniently reviewed, and put an end to if either it has not worked well or the particular emergency which it was intended to meet has come to an end.

Dealing now with the particular section to which attention has been called, it was avowedly brought in to deal with an emergency created by unemployment, and I know I shall have the assent of all your Lordships when I say that that emergency is certainly not less grave today than when the Act was passed three years ago. I have been asked a specific question—namely, can I say, as a responsible member of the Government, that it is necessary, in order to check unemployment, to continue this Act? If by that is meant that some tremendous catastrophe would happen, and there would be a very grave increase of unemployment, if this Act were not continued, I could not give you that assurance; but I can give you this assurance, because I have had the question specifically put to the Departments concerned, that they do regard this provision as very useful in dealing with unemployment, and would regard it as a matter of very considerable regret if Parliament did not see fit to continue the Act for the current year. I want to put the thing absolutely frankly and not too high. I venture to think that that assurance of the Ministers more directly responsible does exactly represent the position of the Government, and I venture to hope that it is sufficient to induce your Lordships to allow this Act to remain in the Schedule for another twelve months.


With regard to the observations of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, they seem to me to be an excellent argument Why this Act should be brought in as a separate renewal measure. It may be that it includes clauses to which my argument does not apply, but we have to take or reject the Act as a whole and one cannot leave good clauses and take out bad ones. It is simply a case of the acceptance or rejection of an Act, and therefore I do hope that if he is in the same place at the end of next year the noble Earl will not be in the position of defending this provision as an item in the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but will be in the position of proposing an amending Bill. I think it would be most unfortunate if there was any suggestion that this House had done anything to reject something which might mitigate the horrors of unemployment, and after the assurance of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, I will ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.