HL Deb 04 April 1967 vol 281 cc916-54

6.18 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to ask the Chairman of Committees whether it would not be desirable to change the rules on locus standi so as to allow amenity societies to petition against Special Procedure Orders. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Lord Chairman of Committees the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Question arises out of the Petition of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Ramblers Association, the Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales), the Dartmoor Rangers Club, the Dartmoor Ramblers Club of Plymouth and the Exeter Rambling Club, who laid a Petition and general objection against the North Devon (Meldon Reservoir) Water Order 1966.

It is the task of the Lord Chairman and of the Chairman of Ways and Means to consider, under the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Acts 1945 and 1965, whether Petitions are proper to be received. It will be my first submission that in refusing locus standi to these Petitioners the Chairmen fell into error. They were the more likely to fall into error owing to a mistake for which I do not think the Parliamentary agent could be held to be blamed: that the Parliamentary agent was not present when the two Chairmen met to consider this question of locus standi. In considering the matter the two Chairmen could turn to two precedents which might be held, and no doubt were held, to justify refusing these Petitioners locus standi. The more recent one was in 1910, the Bradford Corporation Bill. I do not think that I need go into the details of that, beyond saying that it is not clear on what ground locus standi was refused. The next most recent precedent was one in 1902. Since then, so far as I can ascertain, all the precedents are in favour of granting locus standi to amenity societies.

At the risk of wearying your Lordships, I quickly will read the outline of the nine cases. There was the Swansea Corporation Private Bill in 1954–55, when the Gower Society was able to argue against the Bill. There was the British Transport Corporation (No. 2) Bill, in 1955–56, when the Inland Waterways Association, the Kennet and Avon Association and others were granted locus. There was the Fylde Water Bill, in 1955–56, when the Ribble Fisheries Association and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, Lancashire branch, were allowed to petition. There was the Liverpool Corporation Bill, in 1956–57, when the Council for the Preservation of Rural England was allowed to petition. And then, perhaps the most remarkable of all, there was the North Devon Water Bill, in 1958–59. Not only was the Dartmoor Preservation Association, which your Lordships will remember was one of the Petitioners in this case and the one perhaps most locally and intimately affected, allowed to petition against the Bill, but as a result of the Petition the Bill was, I think, rejected.

In 1961–62 the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, the purpose of which was to restrict commoners' rights in Epping Forest, was petitioned against by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Commons Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society joining with them. There was the Welsh Shipping Agency Bill, in 1963–64 to authorise extensive marine works in the Bristol Channel, and in this case the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, with two local authorities, were allowed to petition against the Bill.

More recently, there was a Bill which I am sure is very present in the memories of your Lordships, the Tees Valley and Cleveland Water Bill, introduced in 1965–66, when a large number of amenities societies were allowed to petition. Then, most recently of all, there was the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill of 1966–67, where the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Commons and Open Spaces Protection Society were allowed to petition and secured the removal from that Bill of a clause which would have allowed tents and caravans to occupy public open space in Hainault Forest. These—and this point will be of importance in my argument—were all Private Bills. I know of only one precedent where an Order under the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Acts 1945 to 1965 has come up, and in that case the High Wycombe Rye Protection Society were allowed to petition against the Order and were successful in defeating it.

My Lords, with this strong body of precedent over the last twenty or thirty years, it is at any rate arguable that the two Chairmen, without the assistance of a Parliamentary agent to draw their attention to these precedents, fell into error when they denied locus to these amenity societies, some of whom were national and some of whom were local. The decision may have been correct. If the decision was correct, then I would say that it is necessary to amend Standing Order 117. The Lord Chairman has, I think wisely, declined to give reasons for the decision. The Chairman of Ways and Means has been a little more forthcoming in a letter written to a Member of the House of Commons. I should like to read to your Lordships Standing Order 117, which states: Where any society or association sufficiently representing any trade, business, or interest in a district to which any Bill relates, petition against the Bill, alleging that such trade, business, or interest will be injuriously affected by the provisions contained therein, it shall be competent for the Select Committee to which the Bill is committed, if they think fit, to admit the Petitioners to be heard on such allegations against the Bill or any part thereof. It would appear that the Dartmoor Preservation Association is not deemed to be an association, and therefore is not deemed to have an interest in the district to which the Bill relates. I should have thought that to be a perverse construction to put upon the words.

Why do I make so bold as to claim that, if the Chairmen's decision was correct, the Standing Order should be amended? First of all, because it is completely contrary to the assurances that were given by the then Government at the time of the passing of the 1945 Act. I should like to deal with the contention of the Chairman of Ways and Means that the same considerations do not apply in the case of orders under the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Acts as under Private Bills. Speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill on October 18, 1945, the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth (then Mr. Herbert Morrison, at that time Lord President of the Council), said—and I quote from col. 1381 of the Commons OFFICIAL REPORT: … it is contemplated that the procedure will not differ substantially from that under which Provisional Orders and Private Bills are now examined by a Committee of either House, that is to say, the petitioners and other persons having a locus standi will be entitled to be represented and place their cases before the Committee.

I contended that as, under that Act, a Petition of general objection could be referred to a Committee upstairs only if a Private Member of the House of Commons was able to carry a Motion to that effect, this put an almost intolerable burden upon Private Members. It meant that a Private Member had to keep the House up until late at night in seeking to persuade some of his friends to support him in what might be a local constituency matter; and it would be almost impossible for him to do so effectively if the Government chose to use their powers.

The late Mr. Arthur Greenwood said on November 14, 1945, OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, at column 2180, in answer to my representations upon the subject: I cannot speak for any future Government, least of all for a Government drawn from the opposite Benches, but I can speak for His Majesty's present Government. I do not want to mince my words at all, and I give the most specific assurance that we do not regard this Bill as a weapon with which to beat down opposition or to carry proposals through without due regard to all the interests who ought to be considered. I think it would be wrong to use the Bill in that way, and so long as this Government continues I can assure hon. Members that this specific pledge which I have given will be honoured to the full. I would once more express my appreciation to the noble Earl the Leader of the House and to the Government for the very fair and generous way in which, faced with that quotation from a previous Labour Government, they have acted in withdrawing the Order.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much.


Mr. Greenwood went on to say that it would be necessary to draft the Standing Orders carefully, in order to give effect to the intentions of the Bill. At column 2183 he said: On the point of Standing Orders"— I am leaving out a few words, but without altering the sense— … It is vital that the two chairmen… should have guidance as to how they should conduct and carry out the very heavy responsibilities… which will be cast upon them… It is the intention of His Majesty's Government that those Standing Orders shall be such that no Petitioner's rightful claims shall ever be rejected. I cannot use any stronger language". For twenty years it was generally thought that the amenity societies had a locus standi for petitioning under this Special Parliamentary Procedure, just as they had under Private Bills. In 1965 the present Government, as a result of suggestions made by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, did what I had asked should be done in 1945, which was that a Petition of general objection should go almost automatically to a Committee upstairs. Again, when the Parliamentary Secretaries are speaking we have the clearest possible indication that it was never the intention of the Government in their amending Act of 1965 in any way to narrow the rights of Petitioners—quite the contrary.

Mr. MacColl said this on February 24, 1965, OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, at column 531: This is a measure which… is designed to strengthen our proceedings in connection with Special Orders and as a protection to the public who are affected by those Orders. Then he went on to describe the change to which I have referred. When it was suggested to him that perhaps the powers of the Chairmen to disallow Petitions had been unwisely extended, he said on the same day at column 538: If there is any doubt about a Petition, let it be sent to the Committee and let the Committee throw it out. On the Third Reading, Mr. Mellish, his colleague, in explaining the Bill, said: … the bias in future will be towards allowing a petition of objection to go to a Joint Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 4/5/65; col. 1188.] Therefore, it seems to be perfectly clear that the intention of both Governments when they were legislating, and the understanding of Parliament, was that very full rights would he given to interests affected to petition against an Order.

My second argument is this. If in the case of a Private Bill a statutory undertaker who wishes compulsorily to acquire somebody else's land has to justify his action to a Select Committee and to do so in the face of the arguments of amenity societies, it would indeed be an abuse if, by choosing another kind of procedure—that of the Special Parliamentary Procedure—he was able to do so without the Petitioners being heard. I am quite sure that Parliament would not tolerate a state of affairs in which a person, seeking compulsorily to acquire somebody else's land, was able, by resorting to one expedient rather than another, to diminish the rights of Petitioners to put forward their case.

But it is even worse than that. It is argued by the Chairman of Ways and Means that if, in fact, the Promoters of practically any of these Private Bills had chosen to question the locus standi of the amenity societies, the Court of Referees of which he is Chairman would have disallowed the Petitions of the amenity societies. It is said that it was out of the generosity of mind of these statutory undertakers that they did not object to the Petitions of the amenity societies being heard. I really cannot quite swallow that story. I really cannot believe that when a statutory undertaker is trying to acquire land he deliberately abstains from questioning the locus standi of amenity societies. The fact of the matter is that, until this decision, it was clearly thought by those engaged in practice at the Parliamentary Bar that amenity societies would be granted locus standi to object.

And what of the future? Once this decision has been given, it will follow as the night the day that in all future cases when a statutory undertaker proceeds by Private Bill he will object to the locus standi of amenity societies, and we are told by the Chairman of Ways and Means that the locus standi will probably be refused by the Court of Referees.

Let us just look at the way this will work out. Let us take the case of the Tees Valley and Cleveland Water Bill, which occupied Committees of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords for no less than 32 days. We are now told that had the Cleveland Valley Water Board chosen to question the locus standi of the large number of amenity societies petitioning against it there never would have been any proceedings upstairs. The amenity societies would have been told that they had no business to appear there and to argue the case.

My next argument is that this line is contrary to the policy of Parliament over the last 100 years. The Commons Preservation Society was founded 102 years ago for the purpose of preserving for public use commons in the London district. Three of its most conspicuous and earliest successes were preventing the Lord of the Manor of Hampstead Heath from selling it as building land, similarly in the case of Wimbledon Common and similarly in the case of Ham Common. Does it really make sense that now, 100 years later, the same Society should be told, as it has been by the Chairmen, that it has no locus standi to object to Okehampton Common being compulsorily acquired and submerged under water?

I take another point. If that has been the line of Parliament for 100 years, what about the general tendency of thought in Parliament (and outside Parliament, too) during the last few years? Surely the whole tendency under the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951, under the Conservative Administrations— although some of the decisions given by them were open to correction—and under this Government has been that the preservation of the countryside is a matter of the greatest interest. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside legislation, with which the name of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will always be honourably associated, was intended to give protection to the countryside, and to preserve it for the present generation and for posterity; and there is a White Paper which the present Government have presented, Leisure in the Countryside, in which we are promised there will be legislation next year. A decision of this kind, that the amenity societies are not to be heard in Petitions, is completely against the whole current of opinion, both in Parliament and in the country.

Those are the reasons why I say that if, in fact, the decision of the Chairmen is correct, then the Standing Orders affecting these matters must be amended. The Order will be relaid, and the Chairmen will have to sit again to consider the locus standi of the Petitioners against the Bill. I hope—there is no harm in hoping—that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will don the white garments of a penitent and that the decision on the next occasion will be different from that on the last. For that reason I do not want to make his position in any way more difficult. I have ventured, because I think it is only right, to criticise the decision at which he and his colleague arrived on the last occasion. I do not expect him to answer my arguments in detail "off the cuff". He will be sitting in a quasi judicial capacity on another occasion, and I think it would be quite unreasonable if I expected him in any way to express any opinion as to whether, on another occasion, the decision might be different. I shall not at all regard him as evading the issue if he does not say much upon this matter. But, my Lords, if the Chairmen come again to the same conclusion, then, in my submission, the Standing Order must be amended. It must be so amended as to give effect to the intentions of the Government and of Parliament when the Act of 1945 was passed, and to establish what has in fact been the practice during the last twenty years.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that everyone who has heard the noble Lord's speech will wish to congratulate him upon the way in which he has presented this very difficult case, upon, the amount of work and effort he has put into preparing it, and upon his public spirit in bringing this matter forward. He has dealt with the thing so thoroughly that he has left me with very little to say. But in the first instance I should like to put to him that, unfortunately, the decision of the Chairman of Committees was a correct one if one takes Standing Order No. 117 literally. I think it is remarkable that, in spite of the vicissitudes of many years, this Standing Order has remained as it is. The noble Lord read it out earlier in his speech, but for the benefit of noble Lords who have forgotten it may I say that it says that those who are concerned with trade, business or other interests and who are injuriously affected have a right to lodge a Petition. Unfortunately, reading those words from a legal point of view, "other interest" can mean only an interest similar to trade or business.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way one moment, I would point out that Standing Order No. 117 says: …trade, business, or interest…", The noble Lord inserted the word "other", and said, "or other interest". I am to follow him, and I shall be glad to do so, but I do not think the ejusdem generis rule applies at all.


I am at a great disadvantage in arguing with a noble and learned Viscount who is a former Lord Chancellor, but I am entitled to my own view, and I am expressing only my own view and not the noble and learned Viscount's. My own view is that these words are ejusdem generis. I was hesitating to use that language, but I think they are; and I think that is the way in which it has been interpreted over the years from time to time. I say "from time to time" because the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has quoted a number of cases where the Committee have taken a different view. There are certain other cases. Therefore, while in my view there seems to be no doubt as to the literal meaning of Standing Order No. 117, the fact remains that over a number of years the Committee have not acted in accordance with that Standing Order, but have waived it in a way which seems to me quite irrational. For that reason, there is no doubt at all that we ought to put this thing right, have the Standing Order looked at again, and amended in a way that will meet the wishes and convenience of the House. If we do that, I have no doubt at all as to the lines upon which this amendment will be made.

The present position is, of course, a highly illogical one. It is devoid of any common sense to say, for instance, that those who are engaged in the preservation of Dartmoor—the Dartmoor Preservation Society—have no interest in the preservation of Dartmoor. It is just plain nonsense to say that they have no right to make representations. This is a society which was set up deliberately to protect the amenities of Dartmoor. Yet when a scheme is proposed which, in their view, is going to be injurious to the amenities of Dartmoor, under the Standing Order, literally interpreted, they have no right to make representations or to lodge a Petition.

I think Lord Molson's Question is very relevant. If it means that we are going to be told that this matter will be considered by the Procedure Committee and that a new Standing Order will he considered which will be more in line with present-day thinking and with some of the decisions of the Committee in the past, then the debate will have been worth while. I am not seeking to establish—and I do not think the House is seeking to establish—that my noble friend, as Chairman of Committees, has acted improperly. I do not think he has; nor do I think if he had seen and discussed it with the agents concerned and or had even heard the precedents that he need necessarily have come to a different conclusion. Once his attention had been drawn to this Standing Order and to what it means, I think he had no other alternative. But the fact remains that this is wrong and devoid of common sense; it is inequitable and, I am sure, contrary to the wishes of everyone who has given the matter a moment's thought. I hope in these circumstances we shall get a favourable reply to the Question put by the noble Lord.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to speak in your Lordships' House for the first time, may I ask for your tolerance and indulgence, and may I also express my great appreciation of the privilege of being a Member of this House? I certainly do not count myself in any sense qualified or worthy of this privilege, and I fear that by the time I have sat down many of your Lordships may agree with me. I speak as a farmer; and it may seem surprising therefore that I should choose to make my maiden speech on so technical a subject in the company of such distinguished lawyers. Indeed, I am not competent to go into the technicalities which noble Lords who have spoken hitherto have elucidated so cogently; but I am concerned about where all this leads. May I here be allowed to join with the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, who paid tribute to the late Lord Williams of Barnborough. As a farmer and as a member for many years of the National Farmers' Union, and having worked closely in years gone by with the late Lord Williams of Barn-borough I, too, should like to pay my tribute to a great man. This is a tribute to which I am sure the whole of the agricultural community would subscribe.

My Lords, as a farmer I speak for those who are usually on the rather rough, receiving end of these Orders. Certainly, so far as trade and business interest is concerned, we are very much involved—to the tune of some 50,000 acres per year, remorselessly, year by year. It is a very serious and grave national problem. I know that in speaking here as a farmer I am by no means unique. I know there are a great many Members of this House who have both extensive knowledge and deep interest in the industry of agriculture, as anyone reading or listening to the debates on Agriculture Bills in this House would quickly be aware. We feel very keenly the position in which we are liable to be placed if there is too great an opportunity, too freely and frequently used, for interests to be prosecuted which are important but which, I suggest, are subsidiary to the main interest and purpose of land, which is clearly the production of food.

I would not for one moment seek to belittle the importance of amenity. Indeed I would claim as a farmer that I am in a calling which, with our partners, the agricultural landlords and the agricultural workers, with their skill and craft, is the greatest preserver of the beauty of the British countryside. It is not the preservationists who present the beautiful face of rural Britain; it is the farmers and their men and the landlords who have done so much for the beauty of this country. This is not to show any lack of sympathy with the preservationists; but I took the trouble—because I thought the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was going to propose the annulment of the Order—to go down to Devon to see Meldon Valley. I am bound to say that, if this is the sort of case on which the preservationists feel so strongly, if this is something that really inspires them to a great crusade, having been involved over a good many years in a good many cases all I can say is that I have never seen a case where the affront, the damage to the various interests, was more minimal than it is in this particular case.

I may be out of order in discussing the merits of this particular proposal, but I use it as an example. It is a steep defile; the amount of land that would be taken is of no consequence at all; it is a minimal amount of land, of minimal value to agriculture, and there are no agricultural objectors. So far as amenities and beauty are concerned, this is a matter of opinion. In my opinion it might well add to the scenic beauty. I do not believe it would be despoiling. So far as agricultural interests are concerned, there is no question: I do not suggest that this is a serious case in which the Gorhuish alternative would take vast amounts of land, but there are these 14 farmers who would be seriously affected, there are 115 acres of good land, and as much more of land which is mostly capable of improvement. That is the basic condition.

I do not believe there is any justification for this. On principle, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has argued most eloquently, cogently, and learnedly. I do not seek to challenge those arguments. What I say is that in the interests of progress we cannot allow this question of amenity to get out of perspective. There is the amenity of those who need water; there is the amenity of those who have to earn their living—and a hard living, too, in those areas. The whole of the farmers in the N.F.U. there are agreed that the Meldon Valley scheme is sound. I do not speak for the other interests. I can only say that I firmly believe that this is a case in which the North Devon Water Board have shown the greatest prudence, the greatest good sense and the greatest consideration.

There has been a public local inquiry. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, has not really touched very much on the public local inquiry procedure in which all these interests have nut their points of view; and this, I think, may not have been contemplated when the procedures of 1945 to which he referred were being discussed in Parliament. That I do not know, but certainly this procedure has been thoroughly gone through. I believe that if there is delay it will only create additional expense and more work for many people who are already hard worked, and that we should be going again over ground which has been thoroughly explored and about which all the interests have had a very full opportunity to express their views. I would rather have spoken on the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has now withdrawn. That would have been more appropriate. I have tried to observe brevity, and I hope that I have not been too controversial. I thank your Lordships for listening to me.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House would wish me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, upon successfully accomplishing the task and surviving the ordeal—it is a great ordeal—of speaking in this House for the first time. I am sure, too, that we shall look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future. There cannot be many noble Lords who have taken the trouble to travel from London to Devon in order to brief themselves thoroughly before making their maiden speech.

As I listened to the noble Lord I thought that he was putting himself in some danger of being called as a witness for the Promoters if in fact this Order—the North Devon Water Order—should be referred to a Joint Select Committee, because he gave very valuable testimony in favour of the Order. For all I know, my Lords, he may be quite right. In all these cases there is a balance of interests which has to be assessed. Sometimes the damage to the amenities is so excessive that other interests have to take second place. Sometimes it is necessary that the amenities should be damaged rather than other interests, such as agriculture. It may well be the noble Lord is right about that. I understand that after this public inquiry the inspector reported one way and the assessor who was sitting with him reported another way; so it would appear that they regarded the arguments as pretty evenly balanced. But, my Lords, the question we now have before us is not the decision about where this reservoir should be. The issue is, who should have the right of appearing to put forward their grounds—be they good grounds or bad—for consideration by Parliament? It is only on that subject that I wish to say a few words.

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Government on taking what I think is a very proper course. The Lord Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means have reached a decision, to which I shall refer in a few moments, the effect of which has been to deprive these Petitioners of any right to be heard and to put forward their grounds for the consideration of Parliament, be they good grounds or be they bad grounds. What now is to be the position? The Order will be re-laid. Presumably the Petitioners will lodge their Petitions again. It may be—one does not know—that the Promoters, the Ministry and the North Devon Water Board, will object to the Petitions on the ground of locus standi. It may be that they will not: they did not the last time. I gather that no objection was raised. And so the question must come again before the two Chairmen to determine whether or not these petitioning bodies have a locus standi.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, expressed his view with that clarity and firmness which we all expect from him. I interrupted the noble Lord because he was misquoting the relevant Standing Order; and the wording of that Order makes a difference. The Order reads as follows: Where any society or association— and these are all associations— sufficiently representing any trade, business, or interest in a district to which any Bill relates… My Lords, it is for the Chairmen to determine in every case whether an association sufficiently represents a trade, business or interest. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asserted that those words, if taken literally, justified the Chairmen's decision, because these associations could not be regarded as representing a trade, business or interest within the meaning to be given to those words in the Standing Order.

I confess that I completely disagree with the noble Lord. "Interest" is a word of the widest possible content. It is not defined in this Standing Order, and it does not form a class with the words "trade" and "business". As I see it, its interpretation must not be narrowed because it is preceded by the words "trade" and "business". Therefore I would say that, provided that the representation was, in the view of the Lord Chairman, sufficient, it would be wrong to exclude these associations from being heard on the ground that they did not represent a trade, business or interest within the meaning of the Standing Order. The Standing Order does not say that the interest must be one connected with trade or business. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is seeking to read into the Standing Order.

The Order goes on to refer to an: interest in a district to which any Bill relates. The Society may: petition against the Bill, alleging that such trade, business, or interest will be injuriously affected by the provisions contained therein… I see a real difficulty, not about the words "trade, business or interest", but on the question whether the interest is injuriously affected. Those are words which are terms of art and usually involve the payment of compensation if there is any acquisition, payment under the Lands Clauses Act. I should therefore think it much more likely that the associations would not be able to establish that they had an interest which was injuriously affected than that they would not be able to establish that they had an interest coming within the Standing Order. Therefore there is a case for clarifying this Standing Order.

That, my Lords, brings one on to the next, and I think the most important, question. My noble friend Lord Molson quoted a long list of precedents where amenity interests had been allowed to object to Bills under this Standing Order. If this Standing Order has the meaning which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, thinks should be attached to it, those interests ought never to have been allowed to be heard by Parliament. As I understand it—perhaps I shall be corrected if I am wrong—it has been the regular practice of the Court of Referees never to make any inquiry as to locus standi unless there is an objection by the Promoters to the Petitioners' being heard, with the result that these precedents which my noble friend has quoted will be cases where, rightly or wrongly, for one reason or another the Promoters have not objected to the Petitioners' being heard, and the Petitioners have been heard.

It seems to me very wrong and anomalous that a right of being heard under the Standing Orders of either House—and the Standing Orders of the two Houses are the same in this respect—should depend, not on the decision of the House, or of anyone appointed by the House, but on the question whether or not the point is taken by the Promoters of the Bill. I ought to add that in this House, not having a Court of Referees, we have a Select Committee to decide locus standi, and presumably that Committee acts in the same way as the Court of Referees. It seems to me wrong that there should be this disparity. It is very unsatisfactory.

When we come to Orders under the Statute passed in 1945, I would remind the House of the assurances given during the passage of that Bill by Mr. Herbert Morrison, as he then was, and by Mr. Greenwood. The object of that measure was to save time in getting the proposals through Parliament. It was deliberately not intended to restrict the rights of Petitioners more narrowly than they were restricted in relation to Bills. If the subject matter of this Order had been contained in a Bill, there being no objection to the locus standi by the North Devon Water Board or by the Ministry, under the long-established practice that has existed the Petitioners would have been entitled to be heard.

What is the position with regard to these Statutory Orders? The Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means have to act as servants of either House in accordance with Standing Orders. I have no doubt at all that the noble Lord the Lord Chairman thought it was his duty, under Standing Order 208(2), to take this question of locus standi, even though it had not been taken by the North Devon Water Board or by the Ministry, and I have no doubt the Chairman of Ways and Means thought so, too. I would say straight away that at first sight I thought that the Standing Order was capable of that construction; but on consideration I feel that it is wrong.

I venture to take up the time of your Lordships' House on this matter because this may be an important question, should the North Devon Water Board and the Ministry take the line they have taken so far, of not lodging an objection to these bodies' being heard. Standing Order 207 provides for the lodging of a Memorial by the Ministry or the applicant for the Order: …objecting to the Petition being certified as proper to be received, or, if it is presented as a Petition for amendment, objecting that it is a Petition of general objection, and stating specifically in either case the grounds of the objection. The reason for that is that under the 1945 Act there were two kinds of Petition—a Petition of general objection to an Order and a Petition for amendment. A Petition of general objection could not be referred to a Committee without a Motion from either House, as my noble friend has said. But a Petition for amendment went straight to the Committee. That provided an incentive to people to try to get their Petitions of objection, which went to the principle of the Order, labelled and passed as Petitions for amendment, so by-passing the requirement of a Motion. Obviously it was right that the two Chairmen in either House of Parliament should have power to stop those tactics, if they were adopted. And under Standing Order 207 power is given to the Promoters to draw the attention of the Chairmen to the adoption of the tactic of putting forward a Petition of general objection as a Petition for amendment, or if it were the case that the Petition was not proper to be received.

Standing Order 208(2) provides: If no such Memorial is deposited, but the Chairmen are not satisfied that a Special Procedure Petition should be certified as proper to he received, or, if it is presented as a Petition for amendment, are not satisfied that it is such a Petition, the Chairman shall give notice in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments of the time and place at which the Chairmen will further consider the Petition. That gives the two Chairmen power to act, in certain circumstances, on their own initiative, even though no objection has been received from the Promoters. Obviously, that is right, to stop the adoption of the device to which I have referred.

I do not dispute for one moment that when a Memorial is lodged by an objector it may contain an objection as to locus, but Standing Order 208(2) does not deal with locus standi at all. If that Standing Order stood alone, the Chairmen would not be given power to deal with questions of locus. The power to deal with this is given by Standing Order 208(3), which states: The Chairmen shall have power to determine questions of locus standi in connection with their examination of Special Procedure Petitions, and to decide as to the rights of the Petitioners to be heard upon such Petitions. Surely there is a distinction to be drawn between the question whether a Petition is proper to be received, which is dealt with in paragraph (2) of the Order, and the question whether the Petitioners have the right to be heard upon such Petitions, which is in paragraph (3). The question of locus standi deals solely with the question of entitlement to be heard, whereas the question of whether a Petition is proper to be received deals with the form and content of the Petition.

When we look at Section 3(3) of the Act of 1945, it becomes to my mind as clear as it could be that that is the right construction of Standing Order 208(2), for there we find these words: As soon as is practicable after the expiration of the said period of fourteen days, the Chairmen shall take into consideration all the 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. My Lords, that section shows as clearly as any section can what is the meaning of the words, "Petition proper to be received". It is a Petition which complies with the Act and with Standing Orders, and which shows a substantial ground of objection. So it is only in those respects that the Chairmen of the two Houses can, in my submission, act on their own initiative under Standing Order 208(2) of this House and the corresponding Standing Order of another place.

I hope that I have made myself clear. I am not in the least seeking to criticise the Lord Chairman or his advisers, because I think it is clear beyond doubt that the Standing Orders themselves might have been more clearly expressed. None the less, I feel that, upon their correct construction, it certainly is not open to the two Chairmen themselves to take points about locus standi when they are not taken by the Promoters. If they are taken by the Promoters, as they have to be—and had to be for many years before the 1945 Act was passed—before they are considered by the Court of Referees, then it is right and clear, and the Standing Orders of this House make provision, for the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means to determine and decide whether the Petitioner shall be heard.

I venture to intervene in this debate for the reason that I hope that consideration may be given to what I have said when the task again falls upon the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means to determine whether or not these Petitioners have locus standi, and whether or not, in the absence of objection by the Ministry and by the Promoters, it is right for the Chairmen to take upon themselves the duty of inquiring into their locus. In my submission no such duty was imposed upon them by Parliament; and, indeed, if that duty had been imposed upon them by Parliament, then the assurances given by Mr. Herbert Morrison and by Mr. Greenwood would be robbed of a great deal, if not of all, of their content.

I come back to this. Whether or not the Petitioners are entitled to put in Petitions and to appear, whether they have a locus standi, must depend upon Standing Order 117. And if there be any doubt as to the true meaning to be given to that Standing Order, then I should hope that it would be possible to secure that that Order should be clarified before the matter again comes before the two Chairmen, because if it is not clarified before then there is a risk of delay which might be avoided if steps were taken before then to get those Orders put right, if wrong they be at the moment.

Whether I am right, or whether the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is right, in the interpretation that we give to that Standing Order—and I still think there is much difficulty about the words "injuriously affected"—at least, it should be made clear so that this kind of situation does not arise again. I hope that that can be done, for this reason. If the Petition is lodged; if it goes again before the two Chairmen; if they then think their duty requires them to say there is no locus standi, then my noble friend Lord Molson will address the House, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will, I shall, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, may (I hope he will), and it may be that we shall then have to consider a revision of the Standing Orders and the whole of this matter will be delayed for months. Therefore I put forward the plea that we in this House should try to get our Standing Orders clearly to express what I believe are the general desires of noble Lords on all sides of the House.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, as a member of the National Farmers' Union, it gives me great pleasure to be able on behalf of your Lordships to congratulate my erstwhile Union boss on his maiden speech. I certainly hope that we shall hear him often in the future.

I feel extremely humble to-day, because I have heard such learned discussions that I must confess I have been left standing. My only reason for presuming to intervene in this technical matter is my doubt as to the locus standi of the particular organisation which is behind this debate; namely, the Dartmoor Preservation Society. I come from the edge of Dartmoor. From the age of 11 I have walked over it, ridden over it, fished in its rivers, shot over it, climbed from the River Dart to Buckton Beacon and read the Ten Commandments carved in stone thereon—whether for the good of my soul or my body, I do not know. My family has been connected with it for hundreds of years; it is even mentioned in Arthur Bryant's Charles the Second. I mention this to show that I give way to no one in my love for Dartmoor and my wish to preserve it. But in the way that this particular Society is behaving I do not think it has its priorities right.

I bring this question up from the point of view of asking who is going to decide what is the locus standi on an area which is still referred to by the Duchy of Cornwall and a lot of my old maps as "The Forest". Yet these people oppose anybody planting a tree. There is a continual abuse of Her Majesty's Services. There is a perpetual irritant to the public services and local government officials. Then it is called an amenity society. In regard to this particular case, everybody I have met considers that it would be an amenity to have a reservoir there. It is an area which is marred by some ugly quarries, and a viaduct which I am informed will be falling down before long, and some ugly Victorian railway cottages. It is my submission that it would be an amenity to have a reservoir there. However, that is the position.

So far as we in Devon are concerned, the joke of the year was when we heard that somebody was complaining that this Society had not been heard. We never get a moment's rest from hearing about them. I could go into detail, and probably will when this Order is laid again. They were heard in January, 1962—admittedly the snow around Widecombe kept one of the most vociferous away at that time—and they were heard again from March 9 to 11, 1965. All I can say is that if this type of amenity society is going to have the right to appeal on all these occasions, then there ought to be some other criteria of what is a representative amenity society. In other words, I support the decision that was made by the Lord Chairman. I should like to make one reference to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. He mentioned Okehampton. In this particular case all 35 councillors are in favour of the Meldon reservoir.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than three or four minutes. I am not going to be drawn by the two speeches which have been made on behalf of the farmers into an argument about the merits of the North Devon Water scheme. However, I should like to say this. It is too often assumed that there is no virtue in preserving a waste or wild stretch of country. That was argued most interestingly in this House in the debate on the Tees Valley Water Scheme. It was said at first that that Scheme would submerge an area of desolate, barren moor, but when the Order reached the Joint Committee, or at any rate the Committee of your Lordships' House, counsel was very quick to abandon that argument and to say that it was a magnificent stretch of wild country. In America they have a much keener sense than we have for enabling urban populations to have access to what they call wilderness. But, apart from that particular argument, there are many arguments for and against this particular scheme, and they seem to me to be precisely those arguments which ought to be weighed in a Committee of your Lordships' House. I hope that, after considering all the points which have been raised in the debate this afternoon, the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means may yet feel that they have grounds for finding that these Petitioners have, after all, a locus.

However, let us assume that they repeat the decision which, perhaps without all the light that has now been thrown upon the subject, they came to before. In that event I would submit that there is an unanswerable case for revising, and revising very quickly, the Standing Orders. Surely, my Lords, it is going to be impossible to maintain a position that anyone who has some trade or business interest, perhaps to the extent of being entitled to pasture a pony or cut a few turves of peat, is to be held to have a locus if it is desired by some Promoter to interfere with substantial areas of Dartmoor, Exmoor or Snowdonia, while the tens of thousands of people, and the associations representing them, who resort to those areas for recreation are to be told they have no interest at all.

I was very much impressed, if I may say so, by what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said: that the difficulty might not be so much in proving an interest as in proving injurious affection. Again, in the Tees Valley Water Scheme the botanists and scientific interests surely would have been able to show that they were injuriously affected if the whole objects of their study were going to be submerged. Whether ramblers or walkers, or riders over tracks of Dartmoor, could say that they were injuriously affected if they were denied those opportunities, being merely presented with the privilege of rowing themselves across some reservoir in a boat, I do not know. But the fact that there are these uncertainties in the existing Standing Orders seems to me to make an irrefutable case for their very prompt revision. If that were not done, there would be immense disappointment and frustration among millions of people in this country who increasingly want to find means of recreation and study in our countryside; and it would run clean contrary not only to the trend of opinion in your Lordships' House but also to the whole policy of the Government if they are sincere, as we believe them to be, in wanting to preserve and give better access to the countryside.

So, my Lords, I hope that on further consideration it may yet be found that in this particular case these petitioners may be given a locus. But if they are not—or, indeed, even if they are—the uncertainties of the present position should be removed, because a strict interpretation of these Standing Orders is that only someone who has some perfectly tangible financial or commercial interest can raise his voice for the preservation of our great natural scenery, even in a National Park. That position surely would not be tolerated by public opinion for very long, and all those people who look to your Lordships' House as one of the protections for these wider and more civilised outlooks would be bitterly disappointed.

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, I have never been to Meldon, and in the few minutes that I may take up your Lordships' attention I am not going to refer in any way to the merits of the Order, which I understand has now been withdrawn, but I wish to support my noble friend Lord Molson. There is at present great uncertainty and inconsistency in our Standing Orders, and we ought to look at them again, in order to ensure that it is clear how amenity stands as grounds for a Petition; and here I would go rather further than he has done, and say whether the Petition is put forward by any society, an amenity society or an individual with connections with such a society, even if not actually representing them.

Here I would declare a personal interest. I recently attempted to present such a Petition and while I am not in any way questioning the Lord Chairman's powers under Standing Order 208(2), when he disallowed my Petition, I hope that it will not be considered inconsistent with the traditions in your Lordships' House if I say, none the less, that I think we ought to struggle to ensure that we have consistency of procedure between Petitions presented against Private Bills and Petitions against Special Procedure Orders. That, I think, not only is in the interest of the Petitioners themselves but also has a much wider interest. The present state of uncertainty has I think been brought out in the debate this evening, and I will not go into those points further.

It is not a good thing to elaborate a case of personal interest too far, but it is relevant to say that I tried the other day to amend the Manchester, (Ullswater and Windermere) Order 1966, and I thought that I had as close an interest as anyone, and in this interest amenity played a big part. It was a long-standing interest, too. I was a Member of Parliament for the area for 19 years; I am President of the English Lakes Tourist Board, Chairman of the Lakes Defence Co-ordinating Committee, a body formed by the four principal local societies concerned with abstraction of water from particular areas of the Lake District. I am also a local resident, a landowner, and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that I am also a farmer—and here I would add my congratulations on his excellent speech—in the Lake District; and, of course, what Manchester does in the Lake District to-day, other local authorities try to do tomorrow. However, my Petition was refused.

If I had based my Petition on none of these grounds, but none the less, as I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, if I had been the owner of a holiday cottage where perhaps I had not been for several years, but where there was a risk of water flowing across my back kitchen floor, I should have had incontestable locus standi and my Petition would have been received. I am not questioning the Lord Chairman's powers at all in this, but I think it right for us to take notice that in the case I quote local feeling did not feel that justice was done. Under Standing Order 208 I was properly asked to appear before the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means and, though here again I intend no personal criticism, while I was trying to explain my case the thought—perhaps a wicked thought—came into my mind: I wondered how different the meeting was from the Star Chamber of old, because I knew that at the end a decision would be given without any reasons. We should concern ourselves with the problem of how far the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of Ways and Means should try to be consistent in their rulings with the decisions of the Court of Referees.

I have a second point, and it is a brief one. While I was preparing this Petition it became clear to me that some of the staff of both Houses of Parliament were not so full of encouragement to me, or to a Member of another place who was also presenting a Petition at the same time, doing this personally. I believe that this had not been done personally for a great many years, but I cannot see why it is not proper to do something merely because it has not been done for a great many years. I can see clearly that where major representations are concerned the help of counsel may be not only necessary but even vital, as well as the help of Parliamentary agents. But when some outside interest is concerned only with a small amendment I cannot see that recourse to counsel is necessary. I am sure the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will confirm that members of his profession do not appear on these occasions for a handful of small change—and why should they? But if we do discourage Members of both Houses, and then encourage Petitioners to be represented by counsel, we shall create a situation where there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. There must be many individuals and local interests which have no great resources to draw on, and where it is quite unnecessary for them to have recourse to professional representation, since a Member of one or other House of Parliament could do it just as easily.

My Lords, I hope that we shall have a close look at the whole question of amenity grounds of any Petition and ensure that it is clear to all concerned what the procedure is, both as regards the propriety of their Petition, the locus standi of the Petitioner, and the most inexpensive way in which it can be done, especially when the matters concerned are of no great complication.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I shall endeavour not to detain your Lordships for many moments tonight, but first of all I should like to join with those other noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, on what I thought was a most helpful and well-informed speech. I was interested to hear the noble Lord say that we must not allow amenity to get out of proportion. I am one of your Lordships who made the journey to Devonshire. I must not tell your Lordships what I saw there, because I should be out of order if I were to do so. There may be a later opportunity to discuss these matters.

The whole question with which we are concerned to-night turns upon the interpretation, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, of Standing Order No. 117. That Standing Order has been read twice tonight, but I will read the first words of it again before I make my comment. The Standing Order provides: Where any society or association, sufficiently representing any trade, business, or interest in a district to which any Bill relates, petition against the Bill… and then it goes on to say that the Select Committee may allow the Petition or disallow it. For our purposes the important words are contained in the first two lines: Where any society or association, sufficiently representing any trade, business, or interest… There is a well-established rule of construction which is applied to the construction of Statutes and other documents and which, where general words are preceded by particular words, requires the general words to be limited in their meaning to matters of the same class or character as the particular words. Applying that rule of interpretation to the words "any trade, business or interest", it is quite clear that "interest" is the general word, and that "trade" and "business" are particular words. Therefore the rule requires that the Standing Order shall be interpreted as restricting the interests to matters of the same character or the same genus as "trade" or "business".

I do not think my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne disagreed with that interpretation, and indeed the rule of interpretation is so well established that I do not think it would be possible to disagree with it. It may be right or it may be wrong: but that is the manner in which Statutes and other documents have to be construed, and construed in that way the operation of Standing Order No. 117 is restricted to those interests which have some common factor, some common relationship or some common characteristic with a trade or business.

I think it is quite clear that the intention of Standing Order No. 117 is to restrict in some way the right to petition your Lordships' House. It is not intended to give unlimited and unrestricted rights of petition. If we apply the rule of construction to which I have just referred to these words, the Standing Order is given a restricted meaning which I submit to your Lordships is what the Standing Order is intended to have. This Standing Order has been one of your Lordships' Standing Orders for many years, and it may well be that the restricted interest is out of date and does not fit in with modern wishes or requirements. If that is so, we must take steps to see that it is amended, but until it is amended we must try to adopt the proper legal interpretation which it ought to have.

With the second point that was made by my noble and learned friend I find myself more in agreement. Standing Orders Nos. 207 and 208 deal with the powers of the Lord Chairman and the Chairman of the Court of Referees in another place to allow or disallow in certain circumstances Petitions against Special Procedure Orders. Both those Standing Orders are governed by Standing Order No. 117, and it is not open to the Lord Chairman or the Chairman of the Court of Referees to accept the Petition of a person who is excluded from petitioning altogether by the operation of Standing Order No. 117. That is the difficulty which these two Standing Orders present; the difficulty of placing upon them the interpretation for which my noble and learned friend contended. Both of them are a little complicated in their meaning, but I think it is quite clear that under neither of them can a Petition be admitted which would be wholly out of order under Standing Order No. 117.

I pass from the interpretation of Standing Orders for a moment to a more agreeable topic. There appears to be general unanimity to-night among your Lordships that the Standing Orders have got somewhat out of date and that they call for revision. Whether they will be revised before this Motion is introduced into your Lordships' House again I do not know, but I think that almost every one of your Lordships who has joined in this debate has agreed that the Standing Orders are in need of revision. It is not only in relation to the scope of the Standing Orders that revision is called for; it is called for in respect of other matters as well.

In recent years the number of amenity societies has increased; it has increased in a quite remarkable fashion. Perhaps I have some personal interest here, because I happen to be the President of one of the oldest of all the amenity societies, a local one and a very old one. In the case of this Order there were eight different Petitioners against the Order. It is quite true that they acted under good Parliamentary advice and combined in a single Petition, but still there were eight parties interested in it: the Dartmoor Preservation Association, the Commons Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Ramblers' Association, the Youth Hostels Association, England and Wales, the Dartmoor Rangers Club, the Dartmoor Rambling Club of Plymouth and the Exeter Rambling Club.

Those eight bodies joined in a single Petition. I make no comment about their numbers, but I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the number of these Societies and their activities is increasing very rapidly, and if we are to amend the Standing Orders we may also have to amend them so as to make it possible to regulate in some practical fashion the number of societies who are admitted to Petition. It may well be that the Lord Chairman of Committees should be given power to consolidate Petitions which appear to him to be in the same interest. We had the same experience a short time ago with the Tees Valley and Cleveland Bill, where there was a very large number of objectors whose objections were all very much of the same sort. I think they were finally reduced to two to appear before the Select Committee.


My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend, in both these cases there was a single Petition, and all the amenity societies co-operated in that. I do not know what my noble friend is complaining about.


My Lords, that may be, but that is because they acted under good Parliamentary advice. There is no guarantee that amenity societies of all sorts will continue to act in that way, and if we are to broaden the possibilities to Petition then your Lordships ought to consider whether there ought not to be some power to consolidate—not to exclude, but to consolidate—Petitions which appear to be in the same interest.

There is one other thing I should like to say. Whatever is done I hope will be done quickly. This Water Order has taken over five years to reach your Lordships' House. I think it is more than two years since the first application for powers was made. We have had a number of Bills of this sort where major and important public works are sought to be carried out in which the delay has been really most unreasonable. The Manchester Corporation Bill I think was one; that perhaps was a speciality. The Tees Valley Bill was another. I have been interested in one or two Orders concerning the reorganisation of local authorities where there has been a prolonged delay. I hope that if we are going to amend Standing Orders in any direction we shall try to amend them in some way which will make it possible for these Orders and Bills which seek authority for major public works to be dealt with more expeditiously than is possible under the present procedure.


My Lords, I shall not take more than 45 seconds. May I remind your Lordships that at the end of his most able and excellent speech the noble Lord, Lord Molson, ventured to hope that when the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees came to consider this matter again he might perhaps don the white garment of penitence. Perhaps it is a happy omen that throughout this debate the Lord Chairman has been occupying a seat where a white garment is habitually worn.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I make a brief comment before the noble Lord the Lord Chairman replies, and begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, on his admirable maiden speech. Lord Woolley is a very old and valued friend of mine. I should like to congratulate him on the content of his speech and on the courage with which he launched on to what we regard as somewhat troubled waters for a maiden voyage, and how skilfully he navigated his barque safely to the shore. We all look forward with pleasure to hearing him in the future.

May I congratulate my noble friend Lord Molson—and I feel sure that your Lordships would wish to congratulate him—on bringing this matter before this House. It is obviously a very important matter indeed, and whatever the correct legal position may be—and we have had the benefit of great authority of legal views this evening—I think there is no doubt at all that we all feel that the answer that we received, of these Petitions being disqualified, is not the answer we wanted. I am certainly 100 per cent. with my noble friend Lord Molson in thinking that.

I hope, of course, that the noble Lord the Lord Chairman will be able to take the very weighty advice given to him by my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne: that he has made a mistake; that he is not obliged to take the position that he did; that he is not obliged to take the responsibility for ruling on locus standi in the case of Orders under the Special Procedure; and that he may accept the view that Lord Dilhorne expressed with regard to the particular meanings of paragraphs (2) and (3) of Standing Order No. 208.

Of course, different views have been expressed by other legal luminaries, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, courageously expressed a different view from that of my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne. For myself, I am not a legal luminary, and I do not think I have to express an opinion. I felt that my noble friend Lord Ilford had some very valuable comments to make about what, at any rate, as a layman I feel are the limitations of Standing Order No. 117; and I imagine that when the Lord Chairman comes to reply he will tell us that these are considerations that have weighed very heavily with him. My own understanding of this—I would say this particularly to my noble friend Lord Inglewood—is that it is not only the amenity societies that are at risk by the implications of this decision; it is every sort and kind of national association or local association. Therefore the implications are very far-reaching indeed. What the matter really turns on is the interpretation of this word "interest" and, as I understand it, the restriction that Standing Order 117 places upon it.

I imagine that the noble Earl the Lord Chairman, when he comes to reply, will tell us something about the underlying philosophy: that what are matters of public interest are matters for Parliament, for this House and the other House, for Peers and Members of Parliament, to deal with in their debates, and that what this procedure is providing for is private interest, and where private interest is involved giving Petitioners the opportunity to express their views. But having said that, I feel most strongly that there is no doubt at all that public opinion generally has been under the impression that these societies, and indeed individuals, have a right to petition both on the Private Bill procedure and on the Special Orders procedure, and that it would be quite contrary to the whole trend of public opinion, which is trying to give every opportunity possible for the expression of complaint and grievance (indeed, the Government are putting the Parliamentary Commissioner Act on the Statute Book for just such a similar philosophy) and a most extreme reversal, if we were now to find that a procedure that we thought was available is not so.

I have the impression that the Government themselves are most interested in this. My noble friend Lord Molson congratulated them on their immediate withdrawal of the Order in order to avoid prejudicing the position. But I hope that the Government would feel that this cannot be entirely the responsibility of the Lord Chairman, and that the Government's reputation is at stake in this matter as well. If this was the end of the matter and these Petitioners were to be permanently disqualified, this would be a situation which I feel sure noble Lords on all sides of the House would feel was completely unacceptable. So this leaves a quite hot potato on the noble Earl's plate, but I am sure he will deal with it most ably.

I would say to the noble Lord sitting on the Front Bench on the Government side that I hope he accepts that the Government have a long-stop responsibility here which I am sure they will discharge. We wish to see the noble Earl accept Lord Dilhorne's advice or, if he cannot do that, to give us some indication of how the Standing Orders might he dealt with. But one way or another a solution is required to give us what we believe we had.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will be proper for me, although it is rather unfamiliar, if I start by joining with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, who is such a distinguished figure in the farming world, on his maiden speech. I thought it was refreshing evidence of moral courage for a maiden speaker to speak without any notes, a thing that it is most difficult for seasoned speakers to do—certainly it is something that I have never succeeded in achieving.

Perhaps I might start my reply by trying to answer one or two of the points that have been made in the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon. I have noted the names, in the reverse order, of the noble Lords, Lord Nugent of Guildford, Lord Ilford, Lord Inglewood, Lord Hurcomb and Lord Silkin, all of whom were asking for a review of the relevant Standing Orders of this House, because, among other of what they regarded as lesser defects, they took the view that in their present form the Orders are too restrictive from the standpoint of amenity societies. I should like to assure all these noble Lords that if this is the view of the House—and it certainly appears to be the view of the majority of the speakers in this debate—I will do everything I can to facilitate such a review.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who with great courtesy told me that he could not stay until the end of the debate, and whose interpretation of our Standing Orders we are bound to respect, seemed to me to take a different view of the construction of Standing Orders 117, 207 and 208 from the view taken by the two Chairmen. Without going into the question as to whose construction of these Standing Orders is the right construction, I think we shall all agree that there must be a considerable doubt about the clarity of the wording of the Standing Orders, and the question of whether or not in their present form they are ambiguous is clearly one that will have to be carefully considered.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for initiating this debate, which has been extremely interesting and instructive, and, I think, has showed your Lordships' deep concern for the rights of individuals and societies in coming to Parliament. I should also like to thank him for giving me notice of the points that he proposed to raise in his speech. I will answer them as fully as I can, without of course saying anything that would be inconsistent with my responsibilities in this House. I know that he appreciates that.

He complained, I think, that the Petition which was presented when the Order that has just been withdrawn was heard by the two Chairmen was heard in the absence of the Parliamentary agent. This must have been startling to some of your Lordships, and I think I should explain exactly what happened. The Parliamentary agent representing the Petitioners was given the same notice as is always given on these occasions, of the time and place of the meeting when the two Chairmen would consider the Order and the Petitions against it. The Parliamentary agent did not come to this meeting, although of course he had had notice that it would take place. Therefore we followed the practice of the Court of Referees in the House of Commons, who consider the locus standi of a Petitioner if that Petitioner has not the benefit of an agent's speech on the statement regarding locus standi in the Petition itself. That was the course that we were, I think, obliged to adopt in these circumstances.

The House has just heard (or heard quite a long time ago, because this has been rather a longer debate than most of us expected) an undertaking given by the Government that the North Devon (Meldon Reservoir) Water Order 1966 will be withdrawn and re-laid. In so far as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in asking his Question has referred to the decision of the two Chairmen refusing locus standi to the Petitioners against the Order, any answer I give must be confined to the general question of locus standi, and not deal with the particular reasons underlying the decision I have just referred to. Of course, the reason for that is that if, as is likely, Petitions are deposited against the new Order, the Chairmen will in due course be called upon to consider whether the Petitioners have a locus standi.

Noble Lords will, I am sure, appreciate that in deciding the question of the locus standi of the Petitioners against Special Procedure Orders the two Chairmen are acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, used this precise expression—and I was most grateful to him for emphasising the function that we have to discharge—in his opening speech, thereby showing that he appreciated our position and, of course, so that there could be no misunderstanding later on.

Before I deal with some of the specific points raised by the noble Lord in his Question, I think that it will be for the convenience of the House if I explain, as briefly as I can, what is involved in the passage of a Special Procedure Order through Parliament. This will also enable the House to see why the question of the rules on locus standi of Petitioners against Special Procedure Orders is a matter of joint concern to both Houses. I hope it will become evident that the same rules must be applied by both Houses, and, therefore, that no alteration to the rules should be made by one House without the agreement of the other House to make a corresponding alteration.

Orders subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure as prescribed in the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act 1945, are laid before both Houses, and are subject to a Petitioning time of 21 days from the date of laying. If no Petition is deposited, and subsequently no Resolution to annul the Order is carried in either House within a further period of 21 days, the Order then comes into effect. If a Petition for amendment or of general objection to the Order is deposited, and the Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means certify that the Petition is proper to be received, the Order and the Petition are referred to a Joint Committee consisting of three Members of each House. This Joint Committee has power to report the Order to both Houses with Amendments, and, if there is a Petition of general objection against it, to report that the Order be not approved. It is at the stage when the two Chairmen, under the provisions of the 1945 Act, are required to consider all Petitions against the Order, that the question of the locus standi of a Petitioner arises. For the Chairmen are required to certify in respect of every Petition, if they are satisfied that the provisions of the Act and of the Standing Orders have been complied with, that it is proper to be received. Before they reach their decision they are bound to examine the locus standi of the Petitioners.

There is here a very important difference in procedure between Special Procedure Orders and Private Bills, which I should like to emphasise. I am not altogether sure that this difference in procedure was quite appreciated by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, but perhaps if I make it absolutely clear we shall know whether or not we are in agreement. In the case of Private Bills the Promoters and their opponents are all private parties, and it has been the practice of the House not to interfere between the parties in matters of locus standi except at the request of the party promoting. It is only when the Promoters of a Bill challenge the locus standi of a Petitioner that, in this House, the matter is referred for decision by the Select Committee set up to consider the Bill. In the House of Commons it is not a Select Committee but the Court of Referees which has to decide such a question. The precedents in the House of Commons are these. Whenever the locus standi of an amenity society has been challenged by the Promoters of a Bill in the House of Commons it has been disallowed by the Court of Referees. It is because their locus standi has not been challenged in this House that amenity societies have been able to petition against such Bills as the Tees Valley and Cleveland Water Bill, an important Bill which was before the House this Session. They are able to appear against the Bill because, in effect, the Promoters allow them to do so. That was an important point which was made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne: that whether or not the Petition of an amenity society can be heard depends upon the Promoters' not objecting to the Petitioner.


My Lords, it would perhaps allow them to do so, but I must emphasise that it is at immense cost—and we must not forget this point in regard to this procedure—whereas with other procedures, such as the one which I put forward, it could have been done at a mere fraction of that cost.


My Lords, I appreciate the point of the noble Lord. It is far cheaper to appear in person than to pay for an agent to represent you. The larger and more complex the Bill, the more that has to be paid in legal costs. I am sure the House will appreciate the important difference in procedure here. I will summarise it in this way. In the case of Special Procedure Orders the locus of Petitioners has to be considered by the two Chairmen; in Private Bills, on the other hand, it is only considered if it is challenged by the Promoters. I hope I have made it clear why the Chairman of Ways and Means and I have decided that we must determine whether Petitioners have a locus standi.

The next question is what rules concerning locus standi are applied by the Chairmen. Neither the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Acts 1945 and 1965, nor the Standing Orders of both Houses indicate what does or does not confer a locus standi to Petition against a Special Procedure Order. The only possible answer to this question appears to us to be that locus standi must be decided in the light of the Standing Orders relating to locus standi of Petitioners against Private Bills. The relevant Standing Orders in this House on this subject are Nos. 117 and 118. Standing Order No. 117 has been extensively quoted and well explored, and different interpretations have been put upon it by different noble Lords. These two Standing Orders give discretion to Select Committees to allow locus in certain circumstances to societies, associations, local authorities and inhabitants who are injuriously affected by the provisions of the Bill.

I do not think I need weary your Lordships by summarising the contents of these two Standing Orders because they have been so frequently referred to in the course of this debate, but I would point out that they provide the rules which are applied by the two Chairmen in these cases. They limit locus standi to cases where the Petitioners can show injurious affection, and Petitioners must be a large number of the local inhabitants of the area affected by the Order. Those are the two essential conditions—injurious affection and injurious affection to the inhabitants of an area which is pre-judiciously affected by an Order. The only case in which an amenity society could be granted a locus standi to petition against a Private Bill would be if the society represented the inhabitants of the area, the whole or any part of which was alleged to be injuriously affected by the Bill. That is to say, the Petition would have to be that of the inhabitants speaking through the society, and not the Petition of a society, such as a national society, which happened to include in its membership some of the inhabitants.

I would conclude by saying that it is, of course, for the House to regulate its own Standing Orders. These could be amended to admit national and local amenity societies as Petitioners against Special Procedure Orders, but such a decision would have to be taken by both Houses, and any Amendments proposed to the Standing Orders would have to be in the same terms and agreed to by each House. It will also be apparent that any Amendment, to be acceptable, must conform to the provisions of the 1945 Act. I would only say that in my view the Standing Orders could be changed without necessity for amending the 1945 Act. I have listened with the greatest care to all that has been said in this debate, and to-morrow I shall study Hansard very carefully to note anything which I may have missed. I can assure my noble Lords that I shall ask my right honourable friend the Chairman of Ways and Means in another place to read and study this debate with the utmost care, and I will also ask him to consider the question of the appropriate Parliamentary machinery for the revision of the relevant Standing Orders in both Houses.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past eight o'clock.