§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, this is a short procedural Bill, a trifle lacking in sensationalism, but useful none the less. The Special Procedure dealing with Statutory Orders was introduced by an Act in 1945, and there are more than 40 Public and Local Acts under which orders may be made subject to this procedure. It has, in fact, proved to be very serviceable and useful. One feature is that when an order subject to this procedure is laid before Parliament, there is a period of fourteen days for Petitions, and a succeeding period of fourteen days during which Parliament may bring the provisions of the order before it. The reason for the latter is that orders subject to Special Procedure are in general orders involving some question of policy and also applying to private interests. In the field of orders they are rather like hybrid Bills in the field of legislation. Both those periods are enlarged by this Bill to 21 days from the fourteen days in the original Act.
The next change is this. The original Act required the Chairman of Ways and Means in another place and the Lord Chairman of Committees here in examining a Petition to find "a substantial ground of objection to the order". If there was no such substantial ground, they could not deal with the Petition. This has in fact proved unnecessary. It is not required by the two Chairmen, who have a full responsibility in the 798 matter, and this Bill takes out the words, "a substantial ground of objection to the order". I may perhaps be relieved of considering what "a substantial ground of objection to the order" may be.
The third point is a rather more complicated one. The two Chairmen are to have between them a power to refuse to let a Petition go on—a power, in effect, to refuse a Petition for amendment to be certified as proper to be received—if that Petition involves amendment of the order of such a kind that if the order were a Private Bill what is called an additional provision would be required. Broadly speaking, if I may put it in general terms, the point turns on the possibility of an amendment to an order prejudicing the interests of persons who would not have been so prejudiced by the original order. This arises in oases where several interests are involved: if I may give the House one very simple instance, in an amalgamation of various water undertakings under the Water Act, an addition to, or subtraction from, the number of undertakings to be amalgamated may well affect some outside interests. The Bill would therefore provide the power which I have just mentioned; that is to say, wholly or partially to strike oat the Petition in so far as it contains an element that would call for additional provision were a Private Bill involved. This is a highly technical point, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, and the language of the amendment has caused us a certain amount of concern. I have had the benefit of discussing this matter with the Lord Chairman of Committees, who, with his colleagues in another place, is, of course, involved.
I think there is a case for examining subsection (4) of Clause 1 of the Bill very carefully. We may have to introduce some Amendment at a later stage, and I would say this about it. Though, so far as I can see, no deep question of principle is involved (for that matter, perhaps, there is no question of principle in the whole Bill) it is none the less possible that Standing Orders might be useful for this purpose—there are such Standing Orders—instead of the legislation here proposed. I am referring only to one subsection and one point, and that is subsection (4) of Clause 1 of the Bill.
I should like to say, if I may, with great respect to the Lord Chairman, how 799 indebted I am personally to him—he who has, of course, an unrivalled experience on these matters—and his colleague in the Commons. He is concerned, I feel sure (I felt sure the more when I spoke to him) in seeing that this small business is attended to in the most practical and just way. There is a question of justice, because it may involve people who were hitherto outside the order being brought within the scope of its provisions.
The last point is on subsection (5) of Clause 1, and is simply a question of the cases in which a Petition which objects to an order generally should go to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. The position at present is that the Petition is not referred to such a Joint Committee except on an Order of either House. The amendment is that the Petition normally goes to such a Joint Committee, but that either House may resolve against its so going—that is to say, it enlarges the scope of this particular provision, which is, I think your Lordships will agree, a provision for the protection of the individual, and also a provision to secure the rights of the Legislature against the Executive.
I hope I have explained an extremely complicated matter with sufficient clarity. It took me a long time to understand it myself. I well remember that some years ago there was a considerable row on the question of Special Procedure, because somebody thought that one particular borough had abused the procedure. The Bill has a considerable practical importance, though I am tempted to say that it is not wildly exciting as a subject for debate, and I hope your Lordships will feel that this Bill, which is, I believe, non-controversial, might be allowed a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for his very clear explanation of the Bill, with which we agree. He has confessed that, as I quite understand, he has taken a long time to prepare his speech in trying to deal with the Bill. If I may say so, he has done so in a very full and entirely adequate way, and he will perhaps be relieved to hear that I have nothing to add to what he has said. I hope your 800 Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (LORD MERTHYR)
My Lords, I should like to say a few words, because the noble Lord, the Minister, who introduced this Bill, was good enough to mention me. I should like to thank him for his consideration and courtesy in dealing with a point, which is not a very easy one, about subsection (4) of Clause 1 of this Bill. I will not trouble the House by going into it further this evening, but the noble Lord has kept the door open by what he has said and has allowed for the possibility of an Amendment to be further made to the Bill. For that I am much obliged, and I wanted to say so before the Bill passed its further stages.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.