HL Deb 13 February 1962 vol 237 cc358-61

2.17 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion for an humble Address, standing in my name on the Order Paper. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the purposes of this Motion and the reasons for it are clearly outlined in the White Paper (Cmnd. 1610) which has been presented to the House. The White Paper contains a draft of the Order in Council which it is proposed to make.

Your Lordships may wish to be reminded briefly about the background, to this Motion. Your Lordships may recall that his matter arises from a debate on April 22, 1959, on a Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Jesse, concerning an Order made by the then Minister of Housing and Local Government under the Public Health Act, 1875. The Order was designed to amend the local Acts of Leicester Corporation. A number of your Lordships, including the Lord Chairman of Committees and the noble Lords, Lord Latham and Lord Greenhill, expressed concern, not so much about the merits of that particular Order as about the procedure under which it was being brought before Parliament. As a result, my noble friend Lord Dundee, speaking on behalf of the Government, promised that an inquiry into this procedure would be undertaken.

The Government have now made a very thorough and detailed examination of Special Parliamentary Procedure, in which they have had the benefit of much assistance from the Officers of both Houses. The subject is not entirely without its complexities and the inquiry necessarily took a longish time. The result was announced by my noble friend the Leader of the House in a statement to your Lordships on August 1 last. This statement is set out in the White Paper to which I have referred. In brief, the Government fully accept the criticisms which were made of Special Parliamentary Procedure during the Leicester debate so far as Orders, like the Leicester Order, made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, are concerned. They agree that Special Parliamentary Procedure is inappropriate for Orders of this extensive nature, and that they should be subject to the same sort of scrutiny as a Private Bill.

The proposed Order in Council will produce that result by applying once more to Orders made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875, the Provisional Order Procedure under which they came before Parliament up to 1949 —that is to say, until the operation of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) (Substitution) Order of that year. This reapplication to these Orders of the Provisional Order Procedure means that in future they will be treated in many respects in the same way as a Private Bill. In particular, it means that they will be submitted at Committee stage to precisely the same sort of scrutiny by the Lord Chairman—and by an opposed committee, if there are petitions to be dealt with—who will have the same powers, as in the case of Private Bills, to amend them or recommend their rejection. As will be seen from the last paragraph of the White Paper, it is also proposed to convert back to Provisional Order Procedure, Section 297 (5) of the 1875 Act, which contains a complementary power to amend Provisional Order Confirmation Acts and Special Parliamentary Procedure Orders. For the most part, this means Orders which have already been made under Section 303.

I should perhaps mention that there is one small reservation to this, again not entirely without its complexity. Section 297 (5) is also the power under which Provisional Orders made under Section 279 of the Public Health Act for setting up joint boards may be amended. Although Section 279 has now been repealed and replaced by Section 6 of the Public Health Act, 1936, there are still in existence sixteen joint sewerage boards set up under the old provision. The modern Orders made under the 1936 Act can be amended by Orders made under Section 9 of that Act which are subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure. We see no reason why the Orders made under the 1936 Act should not remain subject to that Procedure. If that is accepted, it would be clearly right that Orders made under Section 297 of the older Act, to amend any of the old Provisional Orders setting up joint boards, should also be subject to the same procedure—namely, Special Parliamentary Procedure. The draft Order in Council therefore excludes any Orders of that nature from the proposed conversion to Provisional Order Procedure.

Your Lordships will, I assume, not wish to embark at this stage on a general debate on Special Parliamentary Procedure. But I should perhaps emphasise that the Government, as a result of this detailed re-examination of the procedure, have come to the firm conclusion that it is entirely appropriate to the great majority of Orders to which it applies. Indeed, in these cases it has, in the Government's view, substantial advantages over Provisional Order Procedure. The great majority are in fact Orders of comparatively limited scope whose purpose is the application to local circumstances of a general policy formulated within a framework determined by statute. Such Orders are quite different in character from those made under Section 303 of the Public Health Act, 1875. As is made clear in the White Paper, the Government feel, however, that certain modifications might be made to the procedure with the object of making it easier for petitions against Orders to he presented and dealt with. These modifications will require legislation. They will be considered further by the Government as soon as a suitable opportunity presents itself.

In conclusion, I would merely refer to one other suggestion that emerged from the inquiry. It has been suggested that it might be helpful to the House if its attention could be drawn to any particular points raised by a Special Parliamentary Procedure Order. I am glad to inform your Lordships that the Lord Chairman of Committees has very kindly intimated that he would be prepared to undertake this additional responsibility.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the provisions of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945, cease to apply to the following orders under the Public Health Act, 1875, that is to say—

  1. (a) any order made under section 303 of that Act;
  2. (b) any order made under paragraph (5) of section 297 of that Act 361 other than an order for the repeal, alteration or amendment of an Act confirming a provisional order made under section 279 of that Act.—(Earl Jellicoe.)


My Lords, the very clarity with which the noble Earl has explained the complexities of this Order indicates how complicated things can become when procedural matters are under consideration. I recall, somewhat faintly perhaps, the debate which arose on the Leicester Corporation Bill, when it appeared that an anomaly—indeed, an anachronism—existed, and an undertaking to remove that was given by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. That apparently has been done, but I confess that I cannot say whether or not it has been done, having regard to the complexity of the provisions which were quite properly referred to by the noble Earl. But I think we can with a reasonable measure of safety, approve the Order which is now submitted by the noble Earl.

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.