HL Deb 23 November 1967 vol 286 cc1144-50

3.25 p.m.

THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL) rose to move, That the Select Committee to whom the Bill is referred may hear evidence other than that tendered by the Promoters. The noble Earl said: My Lords, your Lordships may remember that when I spoke during the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, and on the Instruction moved by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, I said that it was my intention to report to the House, under Standing Order No. 92, that in my opinion the Bill, though unopposed, should be proceeded with as an opposed Private Bill. The effect of this is that the Bill has been referred to a Select Committee although, of course, there are no Petitions against it.

In a Select Committee on an opposed Private Bill, the Committee are limited to hearing evidence from the Promoters in support of the Bill and from the Petitioners in opposition to the Bill. Private Bill Standing Order No. 124 provides that: A committee on a Private Bill shall not, without express authority from the House"— and, of course, it can always go to the House for such authority— hear evidence other than that which may be tendered by any parties entitled to be heard. Your Lordships will appreciate that in the case of this Bill the Committee might be at a disadvantage, and might find themselves fettered if they were to hear only evidence submitted by the Promoters, who of course will be the only parties to appear before the Committee. The purpose of this Motion, to which I am asking the House to agree this afternoon, is to give the Select Committee on this Bill the authority to hear evidence, should they wish to do so—it is entirely a matter for their own discretion—in addition to that of the witnesses called by the Promoters.

Several noble Lords have quite recently told me that they wish to know whether there is any precedent for this Motion. The answer is that, so far back as my inquiries have been able to go, which is only up to the end of the last war, there is no precedent for such a Motion. But your Lordships are usually willing to depart from precedent if there is a good reason for doing so. The reason in this case is that the Select Committee are asking for what is admittedly an exceptional power because they consider that otherwise it may not be possible for them to hear all the evidence which they regard as relevant to the Instruction that has been given by the House to the Committee.

My Lords, this is an unusual Bill, with an unusual Instruction, and the procedure that has been suggested is also unusual. I hope that the House will consider that it gives the Select Committee the greatest possible opportunity to hear all the evidence which they regard as relevant, both to the Bill and to the Instruction. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Select Committee to whom the Bill is referred may hear evidence other than that tendered by the Promoters.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether or not those who are, or might be, opposed to the Bill have already had ample opportunity to present a Petition if they so desired?

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman, has moved this Motion. After all, this is a most controversial Bill. There are matters to be investigated in relation to it, and I think the Report to this House of a Select Committee when they had heard evidence only from the Promoters would be of far less value than one where the Select Committee had been able to hear and test the evidence not only of the Promoters but of the opponents. The case for this Motion is absolutely overwhelming. It may be that there is no precedent for it. I am rather in favour of creating new precedents sometimes, and I think this is clearly a case when a new precedent should be created because, as I have said, the Report of a Select Committee when it has gone into both sides thoroughly will be of far greater value to your Lordships' House than the Report of a Select Committee based on evidence tendered by the Promoters alone.


My Lords, I find myself in general agreement with what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, but I should like to make a suggestion. I feel that it is putting the Committee in a rather awkward position if they have to be both judges and, to a certain extent, advocates—at any rate, examiners of one particular side. This has been met in American cases by having a counsel for the committee—what we in England call amicus curia,. I am quite aware that my noble friend Lord Lindgren does not always like lawyers, and I hope that I shall not be accused of trying to find jobs for them, but they have their uses. I should have thought that in a case of this kind an amicus curiœ would perform a function both useful to the public in general and useful to the Select Committee which had to consider the matter.


My Lords, as the mover of the Second Reading of the Brighton Marina Bill, perhaps I should say that I am prepared to accept the Motion, provided that the Lord Chairman of Committees will give me an assurance that it is limited to the intention that the Select Committee will be able to call before them an expert witness to give evidence falling within the scope of the Instruction and on which the Promoters have not given evidence; also, that it will not be used to enable opponents to come before the Select Committee since they have already had ample opportunity to put in Petitions against the Bill and have failed to do so.


My Lords, I am still not convinced of the need for the Motion, but I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to go as far as that, although I feel that the Bill has already received full attention. It has been to another place, it was resolved by a very small majority to send it to a Select Committee, there was a good deal of contention and there has been ample opportunity before now for objectors to put their case to the Select Committee. However, in view of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, perhaps one should not press the matter any further.


My Lords, I hope that the Motion moved by the Lord Chairman of Committees will be accepted. Whatever the circumstances of the Instruction, the Instruction was given to the Select Committee and they were asked to investigate. I think that we must leave it to the Select Committee to decide what they think they want in order to perform the function put upon them by this House. I have very little to add to the excellent and clear speech made by the Lord Chairman in commending this Motion to the House. It seems to me that it is not for us to judge and to tell the Committee what they are to do. If the Committee are to carry out the instructions to serve this House in the best way possible, it must be left to them to judge what it is they require. This Motion, as I understand it, simply enables the Committee to function as that Committee themselves wish to function.


My Lords, I most certainly shall not oppose the Motion, but I feel rather diffident about carrying a Motion of this kind. We have well-established practice as to what is the position and as to how the Petitioners can object to what is contained in any Private Bill. In this instance the Bill has been before the Commons and we here in this House have had a discussion of the merits or demerits of the proposal. I should like further clarification from the Lord Chairman of Committees why he feels that the well-established practice and the precedents which exist should be varied on this occasion. As I see the matter at the moment, there has been ample time for the opposition to this Bill to prepare their Petitions in a proper way. Other people who object to Private Bills have to prepare their Petitions in a proper manner, and it seems to me that the people who are interested in this matter are not just ordinary householders, but people who are knowledgeable in our procedure. I will not oppose the Motion so far as to vote against it, but I should like some further clarification. This would, I feel, establish a precedent and it would be as well to lay down, as a guidance for the future, the principles in regard to any further alterations which might arise.


My Lords, I understand that I am going to be Chairman of this Committee, and in the words of Alice in Wonderland it is becoming "curiouser and curiouser". I should like to say how I see the situation. We have no Petitioners, and I believe that it would be wrong to allow Petitioners to come forward of their own wish in this Committee. As I understand it, our role will be to hear the evidence of the Promoters; to discuss that evidence between ourselves; to decide whether we shall call any other witnesses of our own wish, so that we may clarify any points on which we are not satisfied, and then in the future to report to your Lordships' House our decisions.


My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, because I am sure that what they have said will be of great use to the Select Committee and that they will give very careful consideration indeed to remarks which have been made on this matter by noble Lords. I should like to say first, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that the question of whether or not the Committee call counsel is a matter that should be left to the Committee to decide, and this of course must be decided in reference to Standing Orders.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, the Lord Chairman of Committees, but do I understand him to say that he thinks this Committee would be empowered to employ counsel to act on their behalf to question any witnesses who might appear before them? If that is so, it is clearly a tremendous departure.


No, my Lords, I think the noble Lord has slightly misunderstood what I said. He is quite right that this is not the practice of our Select Committees. What I said was that if the Select Committee thought that they required help of this kind, they should refer to Standing Orders to see whether they could do so.

May I now reply to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who put a direct question? He wanted to know whether the witnesses who would be called would deal exclusively with the Bill and with the Instruction which the House has given to the Committee to consider in relation to the Bill. Of course, that is in fact—and I am authorised to say this by the Chairman of the Committee—what the procedure will be. The Promoters naturally will call their own witnesses and will be unfettered by the Committee in regard to the witnesses whom they wish to call; but the Committee, in deciding, if they should so decide, to call other witnesses, would do so only in relation to the Preamble to the Bill and in relation to the matters raised in the Instruction. I think this will go a little way to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell. The procedure adopted by the Committee may make it completely unnecessary to call any witnesses other than those called by the Promoters. I understand that the Committee intend to hear first the witnesses called by the Promoters, and clearly if their evidence is sufficient to cover all the matters contained not only in the Bill but in the Instruction, then the Committee will not wish to call any further witnesses.

All this Motion does is to give the Select Committee the right, if they feel that they have not heard all the relevant evidence when the witnesses called by the promoters have stated their views, to call other witnesses. But in the event, and as it is the intention of the Promoters, I understand, to call witnesses to deal with the Instruction as well as the Bill, it may be that the only witnesses who are heard are those who are called by the Promoters; and, therefore, that the power given to the Committee by this Motion will not be used at all.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, before we leave this matter, I do not know whether I shall be in order—