HL Deb 14 April 1954 vol 186 cc1233-50

2.37 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the adjourned debate on the Motion for consideration of the Commons Message of the 18th March last: That they have come to the following Resolution to which they desire the concurrence of this House, viz.: "That it is expedient that the Kent Water Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lord and Commons."


My Lords, the Question is that the Commons Message be now considered.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not concur with the Commons in the said Resolution. Your Lordships will expect me to explain my reasons for making this recommendation, and I am afraid that I must do so rather fully, because the question of sending Private Bills to a Joint Committee is both important to those concerned and somewhat complicated. The opponents of Private Bills have the undoubted right to present Petitions against such Bills to both Houses of Parliament, and normally they expect to be heard separately in each House. Moreover, it seems to be generally agreed that committal to a Joint Committee favours the promoters of Private Bills. It is therefore not surprising that Joint Committees on Private Bills are by no means frequent. There have been only about twelve of these Committees in the last fifty years, and they were all either on Government Bills affecting private interests or on inter-related Bills in regard to which it was Obviously desirable to secure uniformity. In two cases since 1900 a Motion to refer a Bill to a Joint Committee has been agreed to by one House and disagreed to by the other.

In 1908 this House resolved to refer three London electricity supply Bills to a Joint Committee, and this was disagreed to in another place on the Motion of Mr. Lloyd George, as he then was. I will, if I may, quote from his speech. He said: If these Bills go to a Committee of the Lords and are examined there carefully, I think that by the time they come down here, the parties will be in a better position—I will not say frame of mind—to consider the best way of putting something through that will ensure general consent. That is one reason why I think it will not be facilitating inquiry into this subject to have a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. If a Committee of the kind suggested in the Resolution were set up, what would happen? The Bills would go to that Committee who would arrive at some conclusion with regard to them in the course of the next few weeks, probably before opinion has matured for the full consideration of this problem from the broader point of view. The other case was in 1929, in connection with the London County Council (Co-ordination of Passenger Traffic) Bill. After a Division on a Second Reading debate the House of Commons divided again on a Motion that the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee and resolved by a majority (incidentally, it was a Conservative majority) that it should be so referred. The Resolution was disagreed to in this House on the Motion of the Chairman of Committees, Lord Donoughmore, whom so many of your Lordships will remember with affection and esteem. In the course of his speech on that occasion Lord Donoughmore said: Your Lordships have always proceeded on very definite lines in proposing, or agreeing or disagreeing with the appointment of Joint Committees. I think I am right in saying that we never agree to a Joint Committee unless one of two conditions is present, and possibly both. Firstly, of course, your Lordships would always agree to a Joint Committee if His Majesty's Government announced that in their view a Joint Committee was desirable in the public interest. All other reasons must go in that case. I would almost call that the second condition, because it is generally the second to come before us in point of time. The other condition is that your Lordships are agreeable to appoint a Joint Committee if the promoters and a substantial body of the opponents are agreed in asking that a Joint Committee should be substituted for the usual procedure—namely, two inquiries, one in each House, one after the other. My Lords, there is, I think, a third instance—namely, that Bills dealing with the same subject-matter and introduced at the same time are normally referred to a Joint Committee so as to secure uniformity of treatment. No doubt every case must be considered on its merits, but after giving the whole question much anxious consideration I now very much doubt whether the Chairman of Committees, who is an independent Officer of the House and has the duty of maintaining an even balance between the promoters and opponents of Private Bills, ought himself to move that any such Bill should go to a Joint Committee unless the promoters and a considerable majority of the opponents favour that course, even if the Government of the day say that a Joint Committee is in the public interest. But the Government can themselves, of course, move a Resolution to that effect and justify it to the House.

There is one more passage from Lord Donoughmore's speech which I should quote. He said: I know of no case where your Lordships have insisted on a Joint Committee in the teeth of the opposition of all or most of the opponents. In the present case there are twenty-five petitioners against the Bill, and, so far as I know, not one of them wants it to go to a Joint Committee, while the majority strongly oppose that course. The real argument of the promoters in favour of a Joint Committee was, as I understood it, that it would save a good deal of expense. On this question of expense, I should like to say, in relation not only to this Bill but to all Private Bills, that reference to a Joint Committee would by no means necessarily lessen the cost, though it might often do so. In many cases objections are not proceeded with in the second House, either because the opposition have succeeded in the first House, or because they have realised that their point is not at all likely to be well received in the second House. In other cases the promoters, during the interval between the two hearings, offer compromises which are accepted. And some opponents wait to see what has happened to the Bill in the first House and may never petition against the Bill at all, although they would be almost certain to do so if the Bill went to a Joint Committee. Therefore, it would be an illusion to think that the appointment of a Joint Committee would have the cost of Private Bill legislation, or would always diminish it; and it would, I believe, be equally misleading to say that a Joint Committee would necessarily lead to greater expedition.

In the present case, after hearing fully the representatives of the promoters and of the opponents of the Bill, and with the greatest respect for the opinions of those who take a different view, I do not myself feel that the promoters have discharged the onus which undoubtedly lies upon them to justify a departure from the normal procedure. I have therefore no choice but to move the Motion which stands in my name.

Moved, That this House do not concur with the Commons in the said Resolution.—(The Earl of Drogheda.)

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, in the remarks which I venture to offer, I feel sure that I can count on the generous indulgence which it is your Lordships' tradition to extend to those who address you for the first time. I fear that I shall need a double measure of indulgence, as I am a beginner in speaking—and a late beginner—and also, because, to my concern, I find myself in disagreement with the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, for whose judgment I, in common with your Lordships, have a deep respect. I suppose that a procedural Motion like the one before your Lordships usually goes through with few words, especially after a speech such as that to which we have just listened. But I beg your Lordships to bear with me if, nevertheless, I make an earnest plea for the reconsideration of the proposal contained in the Message. I venture to do so because your Lordships' House is still "the freest place in England." I shall endeavour not to abuse the opportunity that it offers.

Let me say at the outset that I am not concerned with the merits of the Kent Water Bill, but only with the question of procedure—what kind of Committee it should go to. The choice is not merely between a single Committee stage and double Committee stages: it is also between two kinds of Committee. If the Message from another place is not concurred with, the Kent Water Bill will go to an ordinary Private Bill Committee, which is primarily a judicial body adjudicating between private interests. The judicial nature of the tribunal is shown by the requirement that all Members hear all the evidence, and that they sign declarations that they have no local or personal interest. In contrast, the Joint Committee—that is to say, a Select Committee of each House sitting as one Committee—is organized to inquire into questions of public policy, though it can do the work of an ordinary Private Bill Committee as well. The arguments for and against the Joint Committee and the Private Bill Committee gravitate chiefly round the question of one Committee or two Committees. I will deal with those arguments first, and come back, if your Lordships will bear with me, to arguments concerned with the differences of organisation of the two Committees.

A Private Bill Committee is generally regarded, as the Lord Chairman has said, as against the interests of the promoters and to the advantage of opponents of Private Bills. For the opponents of the whole Bill there is a double chance of killing the Bill. For the opponents of particular clauses, the interval between the two stages affords an opportunity for concessions and compromises. There are also constitutional arguments, also mentioned by the Lord Chairman, that the petitioner shall not be deprived of the right of being heard by both Houses; and that, as opponents stand for private rights and thestatus quo, there is a strong presumption against changing the normal procedure to their disadvantage. There is another argument for the Private Bill Committee, and that is that the Joint Committee sacrifices some of the merits of the two-Chamber system. The second House—that is to say, your Lordships' House, for Bills originating in another place, and another place for Bills originating in your Lordships' House—is of great value as a Revising Chamber. This value is greater for Private Bills than for public Bills, since the Committee stage is, in practice, the only stage at which a Private Bill which is heavily amended by the first House can be tidied up and put into shape. Even at some sacrifice of flexibility, it pays, according to the orthodox view, to keep the procedure of a two-Chamber Parliament strictly bicameral. These are the chief arguments for the normal procedure of double Committee hearings, and I hope that I have stated them fairly.

I now pass to the arguments for a Joint Committee. Since it was re-invented ninety years ago, the Joint Committee has found wide support as a time-saving simplification of procedure. Parliament itself has incorporated the Joint Committee in the machinery devised for summary procedure in private legislation—as, for example, in the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899, the Public Works (Facilities) Act, 1930, and the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945. If the single Joint Committee is not a saving of time over the two Private Bill Committees, how sadly misled Parliament has been! And yet experienced persons say that the Joint Committee does not save time. This opinion has now been honoured, with qualifications, by the endorsement of the Lord Chairman.

The arguments that the Joint Committee system is no quicker than the double Committee system are based on practical observation. Partial opponents—that is to say, opponents of particular clauses—are said to be unlikely to use more than one of their two opportunities for appearing before the Committee. The figures given in evidence in 1930 to a Select Committee on Procedure in another place support this assertion. In the eleven Sessions from 1919 to 1929, the number of Lords Bills opposed in another place, acting as the Second House, was 50 out of 354—one-seventh of the whole. I have figures for a later period. In the seven Sessions from 1946–47 to 1952–53, only 17 Lords Bills were opposed out of 124, again one-seventh of the whole. Opponents of the Preamble or the Bill as a whole are naturally very persistent, and they appear regularly in both Houses. Taking opposed Bills altogether, it seems to me that the argument that there is no saving as between one Committee stage and two has been overstated. I am willing to believe that in practice one plus one does not equal as much as two—as it should on paper—but I find it hard to convince myself that one plus one equals one, or even one-minus. Probably the truth is that the Joint Committee does not halve the time of two Private Bill Committees, but still saves some time.

Then there is the argument that the Joint Committee saves expense. This stands or falls with the time argument. It has always been a standing grievance against the Private Bill system that costs are so high. The principal opponents of the Kent Water Bill are local authorities, and all, I understand, prefer keeping to the normal double Committee procedure. On the other hand, it has been stated in another place that all the eighteen representatives of Kent there are unanimously in favour of a Joint Committee. Among the eighteen are four Ministers, including the Minister responsible for water. The conclusion I draw from the survey of the arguments on both sides is that they are strong but not conclusive. What we want is a test for deciding the sort of Bill which is specially suitable for Joint Committee. Certain sorts of Private Bill are generally held suitable—for instance, Consolidation Bills, competing, Bills and Bills (especially if pending in both Houses) which deal with single definite subjects or apply a common principle. The Kent Water Bill is not one of these.

The Lord Chairman referred to the well-known Donoughmore tests, one of which is that the Government should desire a Joint Committee. Now it is no secret to your Lordships that so great is the authority of the Government—any Government—in another place that it is inconceivable that a Message proposing a Joint Committee could have been sent from another place without at least the tacit assent of the Government. So the Government are at least neutral. But the Minister who is responsible for water was one of the eighteen Members for Kent whose support for a Joint Committee was announced in another place. Can the Member for Bromley signify his support for a proposal without committing the Minister for Housing and Local Government? If not, how is it consistent with Cabinet unanimity that the Government should reject a Joint Committee, or even be neutral? It hardly seems logical, in the circumstances, either to ignore the Donoughmore test or to use it against a joint Committee.

With great diffidence, I venture to suggest that there is a substantial reason, not yet mentioned, for sending Bills to a Joint Committee; that this reason is supported by precedent and applies to the Kent Water Bill. The reason which I venture to suggest is a good one is that a particular Bill raises an issue of public policy. The precedents I have in mind are the Bills of 1928 and 1929, in which the railway companies asked for road transport powers and air transport powers respectively. The question then arises: Does the Kent Water Bill raise an issue of public policy? Surely, a Bill which creates fewer and bigger units of water supply, and forces amalgamation on unwilling water undertakers, may well seem to your Lordships to raise an issue of policy. I am not informed, of course, on the point, but I should be prepared to guess that the Kent Water Bill has not reached Parliament without the Minister having considered whether he should not himself exercise his Order-making powers, rather than leave it to the Kent County Council to promote a Private Bill.

Then the question arises: Why should a Private Bill Committee not do equally well, even if the Bill does affect public policy? As I said before, a Private Bill Committee is a court for adjudicating between contending private interests represented by counsel. It is not primarily concerned with the public interest or equipped to find out what it is. No doubt on certain provisions of Private Bills reports are presented by the public Departments. But it is broadly true that such reports, and the officers who attend to explain them, deal with matters of detail and not with questions of policy. In a Joint Committee, on the other hand, the emphasis on private and public is reversed. A Joint Committee is a sort—I might call it a superior sort—of Select Committee. It is primarily organised for dealing with public matters, but it is a flexible instrument and can do all that a Private Bill Committee does as well. It is given the powers of a Select Committee to secure what evidence it pleases, whereas a Private Bill Committee is confined by Standing Order to the evidence tendered by the parties. Also, its Report is a reasoned document, often of public importance, and the evidence it takes is printed as a Parliamentary Paper and is available to the Press and the public, whereas the Report of a Private Bill Committee is a formal document of conventional pattern, and the evidence it takes is printed at the expense of the parties and is not generally available. It is the greatly superior equipment of a Joint Committee for inquiring into the implications for public policy of a Private Bill's provisions that makes it, in my humble opinion, the proper instrument for the Committee stage of such a Bill as the Kent Water Bill.

In view of what has been said by the noble Earl, I recognise that it is too much to hope that your Lordships will accept my plea on the present occasion. But I trust that your Lordships will seriously consider, for application to similar Private Bills in the future, the principle that Private Bills raising issues of public policy should always be sent to a Joint Committee. I apologise for detaining your Lordships at such length. I am most grateful for the forbearance you have shown me.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, I count myself fortunate, at any rate in this one respect, that I rise immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Campion; and so it falls to me to congratulate him, as I do most heartily, on so successfully coming through the ordeal of a maiden speech. Those of us who sat in another place knew his face well. When we were in trouble about any particular matter, we used to go to him and ask privately for advice. He always gave it most readily. It sometimes occurred to me that, when the Speaker was in a little difficulty as to what ruling he should give, there was a hurried whispering going on between the noble Lord and the Speaker. The Speaker then gave his ruling which was, of course, always right, no doubt in part due to the advice of the noble Lord.

Having said that, and being fortunate in that respect, I must confess that I am unfortunate in another respect. I had intended to say, when I rose, that this House always accepted the advice of its Lord Chairman, particularly this Lord Chairman, who has obviously given most judicial consideration to this matter. I felt that there was no more to be said. Now, I confess, I am a little embarrassed at the fact that these two great pundits on this matter take different views. When these two great men differ, what line shall very ordinary people, as most of us are, take? Speaking for myself, I confess, without claiming any expert knowledge, that I am sorry that the Lord Chairman has felt it necessary to give us the advice which he has given us. It is The fact that all the Kent Members of another place, on both sides, have expressed their views that we ought to have a Joint Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campion, that there are rather strong reasons, in that this is a matter of public policy, why there should be a Joint Committee; but the Lord Chairman thinks that the claim that expense is saved by a Joint Committee is, to a large, extent, or at any rate sometimes, illusory.

It is difficult for me to say. I once had a considerable practice before these Committees, and I am hound to tell your Lordships that I used to receive briefs, not inadequately marked—not sufficiently marked, but not inadequately marked—when I used to have to appear before the Committee in another place; and then, when that was all over, I used to receive another corresponding fee to appear before the Committee in the House of Lords. I can only say that this proposal for Joint Committees is received with absolute horror by the Bar. I am surprised to hear that a Joint Committee does not mean a considerable saving of expense to the promoters, but certainly I can say that, so far as legal expenses are concerned, I am quite sure that it would mean a considerable saving, which perhaps is a matter for regret—but that is a matter of opinion.

It seems to me that this Bill does raise a question of public policy. That question of public policy, broadly speaking, is this: since Kent is in some difficulty about its water supply, the proposal is that the various water supplies should be taken into one central body, rather than that there should be a lot of competing authorities. That I understand to be the broad outline of the Bill. All I would say is that that seems to me to raise a matter of public policy. If I am right on that, it commands my general support and assent. I do not propose to ask your Lordships to divide against the Lord Chairman—I have much too much regard for him to do that—but I confess that I rather regret that we are taking a view against the Commons in this matter. I like, if I can, to agree with them. Of course I realise that having one Committee halves the chances of the objectors. Under the suggested system they would have one right to object instead of two, but I hope that we shall have great regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Campion, said in his most interesting speech. If we can, in any way whatever, lessen the expense of this Private Bill legislation, I feel sure that we ought to try to do it, although I believe that our system, both of ordinary law and of this Private Bill legislation, is better than that, to my knowledge, in any other country. Yet, equally, both systems are very expensive, so I feel quite sure we should do anything we can to lessen the expense. The Joint Committee procedure seems to me a method which, at any rate—I do not think the Lord Chairman would dispute this—may tend to lessen the expense. Therefore, in view of the unanimous opinion of all the Kent Members, on both sides of the other House, and the recommendation of the Commons, I concur only with very great reluctance in this Motion.

I do not know whether the Government will say a word on one other point. The noble Lord, Lord Campion, pointed out—and I think it is a fair assumption—that the Government must have known what was going on, and it is hardly conceivable that this proposal for a Joint Committee was put down without their tacit approval. The noble Lord also pointed out the odd consideration that arises from the Minister concerned being one of the Kent Members. I do not say that the Government apparently are not prepared to assert that it is in the public interest that this Bill should go to a Joint Committee. If the Government have that responsibility then, as the Lord Chairman pointed out, as I understand, they would move appropriate Motions and then, I presume, the House would carry it as a matter of course. The Government do not go to that length; at any rate, it is pretty obvious that they did not dissent from this proposal being made. That is another reason why I personally am sorry that we are not going to oblige the Commons in what seems to me to be the reasonable request, having regard to the nature of this Bill, of having a Joint Committee.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition in congratulations to my noble friend Lord Campion on his maiden speech. As the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken has said, we who served in another place owe Much to Lord Campion's knowledge, to his wise guidance and to his help, extended to us on every occasion on which we asked for it, over many years. The noble Lord, Lord Campion, said that he was a beginner in speaking. I can only suggest to your Lordships that, having listened for many years, he learned much in silence.

Unlike the noble and learned Earl who has just spoken, I am glad that the Lord Chairman of Committees has moved this Motion. Two weeks ago on the Order Paper, your Lordships had a Motion, "That this House do agree with the Commons." The Motion is now, "That this House do not concur with the Commons" in their Resolution. It is not for me to express any views, because I have no knowledge of what deliberations have gone on during the last two weeks. I would only say that, in my view, reason and fairness have triumphed. The noble and learned Earl who has just spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Campion, made something of the point that all the Kent Members, including four Ministers, had agreed to the proposal for a Joint Committee. I have no knowledge of the representations which were made to, and the replies which were made by, the Kent Members of Parliament, but as one who represented part of East Kent for sixteen years I have been approached by the local authorities of my old constituency—and indeed by local authorities in other parts of Kent outside my own Division—in the strongest terms to object to the proposal for a Joint Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Campion, said that he was not concerned with merits but only with procedure. With respect, I suggest that he must consider merits as well as procedure. This is a Bill promoted by the Kent County Council. It compulsorily amalgamates thirty-nine water undertakings, reducing the total to fifteen. Here I would interpose to say to your Lordships that, like so many of these Bills, it contains no provision for more water, and it contains no indication of any economy in the water rate for the ratepayers of Kent. It is an administrative measure, and Thanet towns object strongly, in that they have been able, with great success, for fifty years and more, to meet the peculiar needs of the water supply for fluctuating populations in holiday resorts, while one of the local authorities—namely, Sandwich—has for over 600 years been able successfully to supply the water needs of its population. There are twenty-five Petitions against this Bill— thirteen by local authorities, ten by water companies, and two by other bodies. It was conceded in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campion, that undoubtedly a single Committee gives an advantage to the promoters over the objectors. Therefore, I submit to your Lordships that, in justice and fairness to this great number of Petitioners, there is a strong case for not penalising them by having a single Committee. As your Lordships know, the second Committee gives, as it were, a second ballot; it gives time for consultation between the various interested parties during the interval between the two Committee stages. I submit to your Lordships that the mere thought of there being two Committees tends to bring the parties together to reach a compromise on matters where there are differences.

The noble Lord, Lord Campion, said that this matter had been considered on various occasions. I would remind your Lordships that the Select Committee on Private Bills in 1930 went into this question, and I will read to your Lordships but one paragraph of their summary. It is this: Your Committee conclude that in the main opponents are satisfied with the treatment they receive both from promoters and from Committees in the First House, and do not usually need to incur further expenses, to both sides, by fighting again in the Second House. In view of this your Committee cannot feel that any advantage would be derived from an attempt to extend tie system of Joint Committees. The question was examined again more recently, in 1945,when, in the White Paper on local government in England and Wales during the period of reconstruction, the Committee came to the conclusion that a Joint Committee was applicable where there had been a previous inquiry by a Government Department. That provision does not, of course, operate in this particular case, where there has been no inquiry by a Government Department. I am not competent to say anything on the ground of the claim of economy, but I would reject the simple proposition that two Committees mean double expense and one Committee half the expense or that two Committees mean twice the time, and one Committee half the time. Your Lordships' House, of which I am a comparatively recent Member, has a great reputation in its Committee work for judging these issues fairly. This is not a case, I submit, which should be, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Campion, a test case for a Bill to go to a Joint Committee. This is essentially a case where there are powerful minorities objecting. It should therefore not be made the subject of an experiment but should have the full advantage of the judicial review which your Lordships always give to Private Bills. For that reason, I am glad that the Lord Chairman of Committees has put down this Motion, and I hope that your Lordships will support it.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with what the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition has said about the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campion. I bring before your Lordships only one consideration, which has not so far been mentioned. The experience of the long years that I spent living in the country has taught me one thing: that about half the quarrels, and almost all the bitterest quarrels taking place in the country, take place over the question of water. That being so, and water being such a difficult and thorny question, I think it would be a great mistake if, on this occasion, any objector were allowed to feel that all the resources which he thought he had at his disposal to enable him to be heard were not at his disposal. Therefore I hope your Lordships will support the Lord Chairman of Committees.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I regret that I have not heard the whole of the debate, but I should like to join with those who have paid a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Campion, with whom I was associated in another place for so many years and for whose opinion I have the greatest regard. I gather, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Campion, was himself of the opinion that it was perhaps not desirable to make a change from the normal practice in this particular instance, but that the matter might well be considered in The future I am sure all your Lordships would agree that some form of inquiry might certainly be set up into future procedure in connection with private Bill Committees, but your Lordships may not think this is a case where the advice of the Lord Chairman of Committees should be disregarded. It seems to me that the normal practice of having an opportunity of appearing before a Committee in both Houses has worked exceptionally well. I know, from my occupancy of an office in the other place, that there was very little difficulty, and I have yet to hear of a single really valid reason why the normal procedure should be departed from on this occasion.

The noble Lord, Lord Campion, gave as a reason that here there was a question of public policy. Well, in my experience there is hardly any Private Bill dealing, as most of them do, with lands, properties, works, waterworks, and extensions and so on, which does not in some degree involve questions of public policy, and I have no reason to think that any special question of public policy is involved here. I express no opinion on the merits. If I had to do so I imagine that most of us might think it was probably a good thing to join together a number of waterworks undertakings and to have one large undertaking in lieu thereof. But I am speaking purely on the procedural aspect.

There is one very strong argument for two Committees, and that is that most frequently it is not until the matter arises in the first House that the full arguments for a particular course or proposal are disclosed, and it is often difficult at short notice for the petitioners or objectors to provide the arguments or the evidence to deal with that particular question; whereas if there is the opportunity of going before another tribunal, the petitioners can have no complaint—they have every opportunity of preparing their evidence, and there should not be any bitterness or feeling such as has been suggested, and as we know exists, by the noble Lord who has just spoken. The petitioners might, if the normal procedure were departed from in one special instance, have some complaint. That seems to me a fairly good reason for proceeding with the normal course of business. I express no opinion what ever On the merits of the case, abut I would submit to your Lordships that it is not desirable, in this single instance, at comparatively short notice, to depart from the normal procedure. But at an appropriate time some steps might be taken, if so desired, to set up some form of inquiry into Private Bill procedure, and to reconsider the question of Joint Committees. So far as the present matter before the House is concerned, I hope that the Motion of the Lord Chairman of Committees will be supported.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, it is with considerable trepidation that I enter into this contest of giants. The noble Earl, Lord Drogheda, and the noble Lord, Lord Campion, are neither of them men with whom one would easily disagree on matters of this kind. Certainly, I who sat for so many years in the House of Commons have a long recollection of the wisdom and the learning with which Lord Campion used to advise those who went to him in the other place, and we are very happy to have him here with us now. But I think I must say something because the House will, presumably, expect some view from these Benches on the interesting and important issues which have been raised by this discussion. No doubt, in all cases of this kind we have to come to our conclusions on a balance of considerations. The arguments are seldom all on one side. Therefore, I do not suppose that there is any of us who would complain if certain differing views have been expressed to-day.

As already stated earlier in this discussion, the decisions we take on questions of this kind, here in this House, have been governed for a considerable time now by what is known as the Donoughmore rule or the Donoughmore test—I think Lord Campion said that—which has been expounded by the Lord Chairman of Committees. I must confess that when I first looked at this question, I thought there was a comparatively even balance of considerations, but further examination of this particular Bill and further examination of Lord Donoughmore's tests have convinced me that a case for a Joint Committee of both Houses—which is, after all, an extremely exceptional and unusual procedure—has not been made. It would be, I think, necessary for us to accept the view that it is in the public interest that a Joint Committee should be appointed. I cannot regard that view as having been proved by anything which. I have heard this afternoon.

Lord Campion undoubtedly adduced important arguments. He used what may be called the time argument and what may be called the money argument. Both of those, of course, have great substance—everyone wants, so far as possible, to save the time of Parliament and to save money—but I do not think we can regard those two arguments as conclusive. Our main concern in this House, as I see it, is that there should be, and should appear to be, justice for all concerned. That ultimately overrides every other consideration. Anything that could appear to impair that justice ought to be eschewed. As pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and others, I think it is generally agreed that two Committees are regarded as giving a fairer chance to the petitioner than one Committee.

Nor am I entirely convinced—though I say this with very great deference—by the arguments of Lord Campion, that this Bill raises questions of public policy. I think that is probably true. But that is true of a great many Private Bills. Yet it does not seems to me that that is an issue we have to decide. We have to decide the issue whether, looking at it in the broadest sense, it is to the public interest to have a Joint Committee on this Bill; not merely whether a question of public policy is raised, but whether it is to the national or the public interest to have a Joint Committee. And, for the reasons which I have already expressed, I would not accept that contention. Therefore I say that, in spite of what has been said with such great authority by Lord Campion—and, of course, we must respect any views which he expresses—I feel bound to concur in the views expressed and the decision announced by the Lord Chairman of Committees. I believe that in the difficult circumstances with which we are faced it was the right decision.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, if I may say a word or two, I do not think that, as Lord Balfour of Inchrye said, there was on the Order Paper a Motion that this House should concur with the House of Commons in the Resolution. I do not think that that was ever on the Order Paper. What was down was merely that this House should consider the Commons Message. I should like to thank the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for what he said. I do not think I said it was an illusion to say that the cost would be diminished; what I did say was that it: was an illusion to say that it would be halved. I do not think he would say that it was for the Chairman of Committees to say that a Bill was in the public interest, because I do not believe the Chairman of Committees would have the knowledge. May I conclude by saying how much I regret having found myself in this case in disagreement with Lord Campion, whose maiden speech we were so glad to hear.


My Lords, before the House makes a final decision on this question wish to say that I thoroughly agree with the argument raised by my noble and learned Leader as well as by Lord Campion, but I am certainly not going to try to prevail: a decision at which clearly the majority of your Lordships want to arrive. I will only say, for the purposes of the record, that when the vote is taken on the matter of dealing with this Message from another place, I make vocal utterance that I am against it.

On Question, Motion agreed to; a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.