HL Deb 11 December 1945 vol 138 cc547-52

4.18 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a —(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 3:


(3) As soon as practicable after the expiration of the said period of fourteen days, the Chairmen shall take into consideration all petitions referred to them under this section, and if the Chairmen are satisfied with respect to any such petition that the provisions of this Act and of Standing Orders have been complied with in respect thereof and that the petition discloses a substantial ground of objection to the order, they shall certify that the petition is proper to be received and is a petition for amendment or a petition of general objection as the case may be.

LORD RANKEILLOUR: moved, in subsection (3), after "satisfied," to insert "having heard counsel, if they think fit, representing the parties concerned." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Amendment that stands in my name, and in doing so I should like to ask whether the noble and learned Lord Chancellor could say anything more about the procedure by the two Chairmen. Will there be any opportunity for hearing the petitions by the parties, with or without counsel, or will the whole of the proceedings be conducted on written statements and without any publicity at all? I submit that in many cases that is very undesirable, because these questions of locus, petitions against the Bill and objections to the petitions on the part of the promoters, are sometimes extremely complicated. Of course, I quite realize that on many occasions it would be obvious to the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Committees that either the petition was relevant to the Bill or that it was not; but there are other cases where it may be very doubtful. I therefore suggest that the Chairmen shall have the opportunity of hearing counsel even for their own guidance. Otherwise rather too much of a burden may be put upon them. I think they will be only too glad in certain cases to have the aid of counsel in arguing the matter before them. I have had a certain amount of experience in these matters, and I do say that very often dissatisfaction will be caused if the parties or petitioners are not heard. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 36, after (" satisfied ") insert (" having heard counsel, if they think fit, representing the parties concerned ")—(Lord Rankeillour).


My Lords, if you look at the Bill you will find that Clause 9 deals with the question of the Standing Orders which may be made. This is typically a matter which, I think, will best be left to Standing Orders. The procedure is, quite frankly, to a large extent experimental. Clause 9 provides that "Standing Orders may be made for any purpose connected with the provisions of this Act." Paragraph (c) deals with "regulating the proceedings of the Chairman in connexion with the examination of petitions under the Act;" and (d) deals with the locus standi. I, like the noble Lord, have had some experience of locus standi questions. I quite agree with him that the majority are quite simple, but some may be very difficult. The House of Commons has a Standing Order saying that it may hear one counsel; one counsel can appear, and sometimes does appear. I am very anxious that we should keep this in subject to Standing Orders, so that we may adjust and amend our Standing Orders and learn by experience.

It is certainly contemplated that Standing Orders will enable the Chairmen or their deputies to hear parties either by themselves or by their agents and, if they think fit, to hear representatives of the Departments responsible for the order. I am not sure whether it will prove to be desirable in any way to restrict the right of counsel to appear at these proceedings. It may be that it will be thought better to emphasize the informality of the proceedings, or, on the other hand, it may be considered desirable to have more for- mal proceedings. That is typically a matter for Standing Orders and I suggest to your Lordships that that is the right way in which to deal with it.

With regard to the locus standi point, there again, as I have pointed out, there is an express provision for Standing Orders to be made. I hope very much that we shall give the proposed system a trial, that is to say, to let the Chairmen examine questions of locus standi at the same time as they examine the petition. We quite realize that experience may prove that that is casting an undue burden upon the Chairmen and that some more formal proceeding is necessary. It may be found necessary hereafter to adopt the procedure of either a Locus Standi Committee or an Unopposed Bill Committee, similar to that in the House of Commons. That again will be dealt with by Standing Orders. I think it would be a pity in any way to restrict ourselves by putting words into the Bill such as the words proposed by the noble Lord. I would prefer to leave the whole matter to the Standing Orders which are contemplated by Clause 9 of the Bill.


My Lords, I accept the explanation which the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has given. It relieves my mind on some of these points and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4:

Proceedings consequent upon report as to petitions

(3) If during the Resolution period neither House has resolved that the order be annulled, and no petitions relating to the order stand referred to the Joint Committee under this section, the order shall come into operation at the expiration of that period, or on such later date, if any, as may be specified in the order.

4.25 p.m.

LORD RANKEILLOUR moved, in subsection (3), to leave out all words after "operation" and insert "on a certificate of approval by the Lord Chairman and the Unopposed Bill Committee of the House of Commons, with or without amendment." The noble Lord said: My Lords, my next Amendment is that in the case of an unopposed Bill there should be some detailed hearing in public as there is in the House of Commons at present. The fact that a Bill or order is unopposed does not mean that it may not have serious difficulties in it. As I read the Bill—new points are always coming out and I may be wrong—an unopposed order will he subject to no special examination at all. Unopposed Bills or orders may often contain some vicious principle or precedent. I remember a Water Bill which was unopposed. However, when we looked into it we found there was no provision at all for the powers of the Bill not being abused. The promoters said it was necessary to acquire certain land to prevent the pollution of their supply, but there was nothing whatever to prevent them turning themselves into a land speculating company and selling parts of that tract of country, which was very considerable in area and which contained beautiful sites for building purposes We found other abuses, such as, for instance, a compulsory power to acquire something for no public benefit at all, but simply for the benefit of the company.

Therefore I do suggest that these unopposed orders, which apparently nobody is qualified to amend, should be subjected to some detailed examination. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord Chancellor can say whether they will receive proper attention in those respects in some other way; but merely to suppose they will simply by one vote of each House of Parliament, cannot be at all a satisfactory way of dealing with this somewhat critical question.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 46, leave out from (" operation ") to end of subsection (3) and insert (" on a certificate of approval by the Lord Chairman and the Unopposed Bill Committee of the House of Commons, with or without amendment '').—(Lord Rankeillour.)


My Lords, this is, I am afraid, a very dull and complicated question. It is quite impossible to accept this Amendment; it comes in the wrong place and deals with the wrong period of time. As your Lordships see, there are three periods of time here. There is, first of all, the first fourteen days; then there is the period when the Chairmen examine the petition; and then there is another fourteen days, the Resolution period, during which a negative Resolution may be moved. I can quite understand the view that it is desirable to have a scrutiny at the earliest stage so that the House may be in a position to make up its mind whether or not it should move a negative Resolution. At that stage it would be possible for your Lordships, by Standing Orders, to provide that all such orders should be so referred. Whether or not the Government would approve that course, I do not pretend to say at the moment. I can myself see considerable difficulties in so doing, but it would be possible.

What is proposed here, however, is something quite different. After the Resolution period, that is to say when the Bill provides that these things shall automatically become law, it is provided by this Amendment that the Chairmen and the Unopposed Bill Committee of the House of Commons may then look at it, withhold approval or not as they think best, and actually make Amendments. There are no provisions in the Bill for what is to happen if the Minister does not agree with the proposed Amendments. Clause 6 (2) of the Bill as drafted provides for what is to happen if the Minister does not agree with the Amendments proposed at that stage, but at this stage, if we put these words in here, there would be nothing to give the Minister a chance to object to the Amendment. If we insert these words we shall simply be giving the Chairmen power to make Amendments to which the Minister must assent, or, further than that, to withhold their consent to the unopposed order. That is entirely contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill.

The purpose of this Bill is that the Second Reading objection, if I may use that phrase, should be taken on the floor of the House. You might have the Chairmen, by this Amendment, objecting to the order on a Second Reading point and withholding their consent. This procedure is a combination of Private Bill procedure and what I may call the negative order procedure. In a Bill which is subject to a negative order, there is no question of amendment at all; there never is, and there is never any chance whatever of correcting small technical errors. By this procedure we have the great advantage that we can, if we think fit, either negative the whole policy of the order on the floor of the House, or send it upstairs so that Amendments may be considered. By accepting this Amendment we should destroy the purposes of this Bill. I suggest that the noble Lord might consider whether or not he would advocate the passing of a Standing Order providing for scrutiny at an earlier stage, but I must not be taken as giving any pledge that His Majesty's Government would agree to that. It is, however, a possible course, which is not open to anything like the objections to which this Amendment would be open. We cannot accept the Amendment.


Could this matter be dealt with under Clause 9 by a Standing Order, as in the case of the former matter which I brought forward?


It would not be under Clause 9, but under the general powers of the House to deal with the matter by Standing Order, by providing a scrutiny for all these Bills at an earlier time, to enable the House to make up its mind.


My Lords, I will not press this matter, and I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.