HL Deb 18 October 1966 vol 277 cc10-4

My Lords, with permission, and for the convenience of the House, I will make a Statement about the two Motions standing in my name seeking the approval of the House for the Solus Petrol Order 1966 and the Solus Petrol (Amendment) Order, 1966. As your Lordships will be aware, your Special Orders Committee found on July 26 this year that the main Order, made in respect of Total Oil Products (G.B.) Ltd., was a hybrid Order and therefore subject to the petitioning procedures of your Lordships' House. The company failed to lay a Petition until August 10, 1966. The Petition was thus out of time and your Lordships' Committee has recommended that the Petition should not be received.

The procedure for hybrid Orders is not only a complex one but is invoked comparatively rarely and certainly not so often that it must be familiar to anyone who might be affected by it. The time within which the petitioners had the right to make their voices heard was fourteen sitting days from the laying of the Order. Your Lordships will remember that we labouredrather longer than usual this summer. Had we dispersed from Westminster nearer to our usual date, petitioning time would have run on into the autumn. As things were, the petitioners were thus faced with an unusual Parliamentary timetable, as well as the complexities of the hybrid procedure. My right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade and I have reflected very carefully about the consequences for the petitioners. We are in no way shaken in our conviction that the Solus Petrol Order was fully justified, and that Total must be asked to fall in line with the undertakings given by their competitors in this country. But the hybrid Orders procedure was designed to protect the rights of the individual and to enable your Lordships to be satisfied that you are not being asked to approve an Order which might appear to discriminate against the individual. My right honourable friend and I are not only satisfied about the merits of the Order; we are satisfied that there is no unjustifiable discrimination in this case. We should not, however, wish it to be argued that we have secured our case by virtue of a technicality. Therefore, having regard to the complexities of the procedure and the peculiar circumstances affecting our business before the Recess, I wish to inform your Lordships that we propose not to ask for your approval for these Orders this afternoon. They will accordingly lapse on October 20.

My noble friend the Leader of the House has asked me to stress that the action proposed must not be regarded as a precedent. The fourteen-day petitioning period provided for by Standing Order 216 creates some difficulty when an Order has to be approved by both Houses within 28 days of its being laid. In the case of your Lordships' House it certainly requires the Petition to be heard with expedition. I am sure the House would agree that the fourteen-day period in the Standing Order should not be breached by accepting the existing Petition against the Order, although out of time. The action proposed by the Government in regard to these two Orders is recommended because of the unusual circumstances of last August. It is the intention of my right honourable friend to make an Order to the same effect which would enable the company concerned to avail themselves of the petitioning procedure and your Lordships to hear any Petition which may be made.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, for the Statement which he has just made and to welcome the decision he has announced, which certainly resolves an unfortunate dilemma. On the one hand there is no doubt that the Special Orders Committee were justified in refusing to consider a Petition against the Order which was out of time. There can be no doubt in my mind that unless the fourteen-day rule for the laying of Petitions is observed, the whole Affirmative Procedure, under which Orders lapse unless approved within 28 days, is undermined. I may say that the 28-day procedure is also undermined unless the Board of Trade ensures that the Order is laid the day after it is made, and not six days after, as in this case.

On the other hand, this is an Order which raises no issue of Party politics and one which it is particularly desirable the Special Orders Committee should examine and advise your Lordships whether it raises important questions of policy or principle and how far it is founded on precedent. I am sure that the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, has made will commend itself to the House, because it resolves the dilemma in far the best way possible, by allowing everything to start again from the beginning; and it allows the company to re-present its Petition and to be heard. I think that the noble Lord is giving yet one more example of the fact that in this country we do not attach ourselves just to the letter of the law, but to fair play.


My Lords, as the Motion on the Order Paper in my name is now redundant, may I express appreciation to my noble friend and to the Board of Trade for the action they have taken, which puts the matter on a sound basis? At the same time, for the benefit of those who in the future are likely to be associated with what might be a hybrid Bill, can he tell us exactly what constitutes a hybrid Order.


My Lords, until recently I always thought that the word "hybrid" had to do with hybrid tea roses. If I may, I will give the words of other people upon this matter which are better than mine. A hybrid Bill is a public Bill, whether introduced by a member of the Government or a Private Member, which affects the private interests of particular persons or corporate bodies as distinct from the private interests of all persons or bodies in the particular category to which those individuals or bodies belong. The procedure of both Houses gives particular interests affected by a Private Bill or a hybrid Bill an opportunity to make a Petition directly to the Legislature. The House of Lords procedure, but not the House of Commons procedure, gives an opportunity in respect of hybrid Orders.


My Lords, in view of the Statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes. I hope that the House will agree that it will not be necessary for me to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.


My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, explain one thing to me? I see in the Special Report of the Special Orders Committee the following Statement: If the Committee decided that there should be such further inquiry the probability is that the Special Order would have expired before the Select Committee had concluded its inquiry. So far as I can see from the Order, at which I have only just glanced, it deals with a period of five years. Can the noble Lord give an assurance that this inquiry by the Committee, if it takes place, will be likely to be concluded before the Order expires?


My Lords, I think that the answer to that question would come better from the Chairman of Committees. He knows more about that than I do.


My Lords, perhaps I ought to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, has said by assuring the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that the Special Orders Committee will make every effort to hear any Petition, if a Petition is put down to the new Order, as expeditiously as possible.