HL Deb 15 March 1976 vol 369 cc104-21

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. As a Welshman, it is a pleasure for me to speak in support of the Coity Wallia Commons Bill. These commons are situated in the delightful Vale of Ogmore and are within the confines of the Ogwr Borough Council. That is the reason why the Bill is promoted by the Ogwr Borough Council as such. The Ogwr Borough Council took this initiative because the Conservators of the Commons have no powers to promote a Private Bill. It should, however, be carefully noted that the Ogwr Council took this step after consulting the Welsh Office. Furthermore, the Welsh Office were duly consulted during the whole preparation of the Bill. I have no doubt that this action by the Council was noted with satisfaction by the members of the Committee to whom the Bill was committed. In this connection, it is well to note that if Clause 14 of the Bill is carried into effect, the Conservators as such will be able in future to promote Private Bills if the occasion arises.

I find that the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society has laid a Petition, and I believe it is true to say that the chairman of that society is the noble Lord, Lord Foot, who will be speaking in support of the Petition. I know that the noble Lord is as broad-minded as the rest of his illustrious family, including his late famous father, Isaac, and I hope that he will, therefore, pay heed when I come to deal with some of the Petitioners' objections and when I shall feel bound to point out that the Petitioners have not always been quite fair about what has been actually proposed by the Promoters. Such criticisms will also apply to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who will be moving an Instruction later.

Let me deal as briefly as I can with the proposals of the Bill. The Bill proposes to alter the constitution of the Conservators, as well as conferring additional powers of management and regulation for the commons, which extend to about 2,800 acres. This area is noted for its high scenic quality. The present constitution of 1919 affords two representatives each for the Ogwr Borough Council, together with four parish or community councils in which the commons lie, and also the Lords of the Manor. It is now felt, and the Bill provides for this, that there should be six more representatives on the Committee. These additional six persons should represent the farming and the commoner's interests. For this purpose, two each will be appointed by the Farmers' Union of Wales and the National Farmers' Union and also two by election of the registered Commoners themselves.

It will be clearly seen that the new body will not only be a most democratic institution but also a fully representative body which would safeguard the interests of the commons. These alterations of the constitution are intended to give statutory effect to informal arrangements operated by the Council in recent years, whereby representatives of the farming and commoners' interests have participated fully in discussions at meetings of the Conservators. This aspect of the Bill has been the subject of detailed consultation over a considerable period with the interests concerned. This is why I suggested earlier that I do not think the supporters of the Petition have been quite fair to what is proposed by the Promoters, for they do not even refer to this precious consultation which has taken place. It is also rather surprising that issues which are raised in the Petition were not once mentioned in the course of these detailed consultations. Let me also emphasise that the Borough Council contributes, under the order of 1919, almost the whole of the income for maintenance of the commons, but by this Bill it is desired to afford substantial representation to the users of the commons in discharging the function of management and regulation. The borough council has, I believe, proved itself to be most magnanimous.

The other proposals in the Bill include, in Clause 6, the regularisation of the status of three small areas of land on the commons, which have been used for some 40 years for the carrying on of local garage and bus service undertakings, and to enable the Conservators to derive an economic rent while this use continues. Clause 7 relates to the provision of car parks on the commons, and Clause 8 is also directed to preventing the indiscriminate driving of vehicles on the commons, causing injury to the turf and affecting general amenity. The clause would enable vehicle access ways and garages to be provided for certain dwellings on the commons which have no access to a highway.

At the risk of repetition, I feel obliged to emphasise that during its preparation copies of the proposed Bill were supplied to the approximately 300 members of the Coity Wallia Commoners Association, with the obvious purpose of allowing those members to think of any suitable amendments to the Bill. Indeed, meetings were subsequently held with the Association in order to consider their views, and amendments were made to meet certain of their points. That is why the Promoters of the Bill feel so satisfied with all its contents.

Lastly, I come to the main criticism of the supporters of the Petition. They criticise the use of the Private Bill procedure, rather than the provisional order procedure under the Inclosures Acts, as incorporated in the Commons Act 1876. Knowing both the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as I do, I cannot believe that they can do this with their hands on their hearts! I would respectfully remind them that only 35 schemes of regulation under the procedure of the Commons Act 1876 were ever made, and the very last was the provisional order of 1919 regulating Coity Wallia Commons. A procedure which has never been used for 57 years has manifestly been found wanting.

In the interim period, numerous Private Acts relating to commons have been passed by Parliament. Between the years 1958 and 1974, no less than 13 Private Acts relating to commons were passed by Parliament, and in the last of them—namely, the Ashdown Forest Act 1974—the provisional order of 1885 and the award of 1887 relating to that common were severely truncated, and a variety of powers were granted by Parliament to the Conservators of Ashdown Forest under their Private Act. Noble Lords will readily see that the provisional order procedure is now as dead as the dodo. I may mention in addition that the cumbrousness of the procedure is illustrated by the fact that although the Coity Wallia Commons Order was made in 1919, the award of the valuer appointed was not made until 1936; that is, 17 years later. Can one think of anything more archaic? Again, the requirement of "benefit of the neighbourhood" in the Commons Act 1876 has been acknowledged, by all the authorities who have considered it, to constitute, in practice, an artificial bar to many improvements of commons management, rather than a safeguard against their misuse.

Finally, I would remind your Lordships that in their Report of 1958 the Royal Commission on Common Land acknowledged the inadequacies of the available procedures under that legislation, and proposed its repeal and replacement. It is high time for that Report by the Commission to be put into effect. I hope that I have said enough to justify the presentation of this Bill, and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Maelor.)

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, for having introduced this Bill so clearly, carefully and persuasively, with his usual Celtic charm. I hope I shall find that I have not offended the noble Lord by putting down an Instruction to the Committee, or even by virtue of being an Englishman poking his nose into Welsh affairs! I shall certainly do my best to avoid falling into the obvious trap whereby I will pain the noble Lord; that is, by attempting to give a rendition of the various commons which are affected by this Bill, and which appear in the first paragraph.

One thing I know is that the law relating to common land is extremely complex and sometimes very ancient, and anyone attempting to bring some regularity into it is entering a veritable minefield. This can often work to the disadvantage of common land, to the disadvantage of commoners and, indeed, to the disadvantage of those who enjoy no rights of common at all, but merely happen to live near a common which they enjoy. Therefore, one automatically starts with an inbuilt sympathy for someone trying to modernise, or update, the law relating to a common, so I am not unsympathetic to the motives which prompted the noble Lord to introduce this Bill. But I fear that by so doing he may, inadvertently, have over-ridden the views and, worse still, the very ancient rights which the commoners of Coity Wallia possess. The noble Lord quite rightly said that there have been consultations, but what really matters is what is in an Act of Parliament, and that is why it is appropriate to consider this Bill carefully.

To start with, I think it is right to explain that the "rights" of common over this land are not just an historical and inconvenient anachronism which can impede modern progress and legislation. They are vital to the economic viability of the farms in that area. For every one and a half acres of in-bye land which a holding has, goes with it the right to graze on the common a cow, or a horse, or five sheep. This enables the fields on the farm to be closed for making hay. Without these rights, many of these farms—some of which are very small, and between only 30 and 60 acres—would quite simply he unviable. The rights, and the agricultural value of the common, are therefore vital economic assets to the farmers in that area, and to those who hold the rights of common, and they are the means by which farmers there sustain their livelihood.

In the 19th century, Parliament saw fit to introduce legislation to give protection to common land and to the rights of commoners, as well as to the rights of the public in common land. One of these Acts was the Commons Act 1876 which allowed schemes of management to be introduced on common land, and if the owners of the soil and one-third of the commoners approved of the idea of having a scheme, then they had the right to apply to Parliament for a provisional order. The Secretary of State would then draw up an order which contained regulations for the management of the common and he would have to satisfy himself on two counts: first, that the suggested regulations were for the benefit of the neighbourhood generally, and, secondly, that the suggested regulations met with the approval of two-thirds of the commoners. When the Secretary of State had so satisfied himself then the proposals would be submitted to Parliament as a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill.

That is of course exactly what happened to Coity Wallia in 1919, when there was passed by Parliament the Commons Regulations (Coity Wallia) Provisional Order Confirmation Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, referred. This vested the general management of Coity Wallia Commons in twelve Conservators, who were nominated or appointed, as the noble Lord has said, by various bodies, most of whom were local councils. The commons have been managed by those Conservators ever since then within the powers of that Act. If the Conservators wished for greater powers than the Act allowed they could, with the approval of one-third of the commoners, apply for a further provisional order and if that, in turn, was shown to be in the interests of the neighbourhood generally and if the proposed new regulations received the approval of two-thirds of the commoners, another Provisional Order Confirmation Bill could be brought before Parliament.

That is the procedure which Parliament has laid down to be carried out, and there are good reasons for it—to protect the interests of the commoners, whose livelihood is vitally affected by what happens on the common. There may well be good reasons why the Conservators wish for extra powers. I would not argue with that. But the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, disregards the existing arrangements and has some very far-reaching proposals in it.

Clause 3 of the Bill repeals entirely the Coity Wallia Act of 1919 under which the commons are at present managed. It has what may be considered an objectionable effect, which is to circumvent the safeguards which the commoners have had over any new proposals for dealing with the commons by removing the obligation of the Secretary of State to ensure that any new proposals meet with the approval of two-thirds of the commoners. Parliament gave those commoners special protection for good reason. That is removed. The Bill goes further. As the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, says, it alters the constitution of the Conservators and it increases their powers. Their numbers go up from 12 to 18 and, as the noble Lord rightly said, the last six have an agricultural interest but only four need be commoners and the existing 12 Conservators continue as previously, mostly nominated by local authorities. At first sight all this may seem reasonable, but the 12 may prove to be what one might describe as "urban orientated". They could therefore always outvote the commoners.

On top of this the Bill makes the Conservators a body corporate with powers under Clause 14 to promote their own Private Bills. So it could well be that in the future the more urban-minded Conservators could get their own way among their colleagues and could introduce a Bill into Parliament altering for ever the use to which the commons should be put, and altering or removing totally the rights which farmers at present enjoy over the common and which thereby could affect or even remove totally their livelihood. The commoners would have no redress against that.

The sting in the tail comes because this Bill, as the noble Lord has said, is not promoted by the Conservators. As at the moment constituted they have no powers to promote Bills. It is promoted by the Ogrw borough council who will pay all the expenses of this Bill through Parliament, but they have popped in a clause—the last clause, Clause 17—which enables the council to claim back from the Conservators all the expenses which they have incurred. I frankly think that is a bit hot. Here is a Bill by which the Conservators may disregard the rights of commoners, which the Conservators themselves are not entitled to promote. So the local authority promote it, pay for it and put in a clause which says, "Yes, but once it is law you, the Conservators, can pay us back"—incidentally, with money that should have been used on the commons. Of course, as I understand it, the Conservators have some £24,000 as compensation from open-cast coal mining.

But, my Lords, that is not all. The justification for this procedure appears in a statement which has been issued on behalf of the Promoters. Right at the beginning, in paragraph 1, they say that that procedure is being adopted "at the suggestion of the Welsh Office". I find the suggestion—and the reasons—curious, and it seems to me that it could well be another example of bureaucracy riding roughshod over the rights of individuals. I hope that the Select Committee will address their minds to that point.

I reckon that the commoners have been "bounced" over the Bill. If the provisional order procedure had been adopted, the commoners' case would have been heard in the locality by the Department, with the Department meeting the costs; but under this procedure the commoners have to see their rights at risk, they have to see their Parliamentary rights by-passed and they have to go to the huge expense of petitioning Parliament—and unlike the Promoters they cannot get their money back from anyone else. They are mostly small farmers—some 200 of them—and so strongly do they feel that, within a period of six weeks, 120 of them signed the Petition.

It is true that there have been other commons—the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, referred to Ashdown Forest—which have been altered by Acts of Parliament and by a Private Bill. But as the noble Lord will know, the Ashdown Forest is 90 per cent. recreational and I think only two commoners were involved in using the rights which they had over the commons. Therefore, I do not think that is an accurate precedent in this case.

I am fully aware that the regulation of the commons is a difficult matter. It may well be that the methods of regulating them ought to be altered and doubtless the Government are considering this. My information is that the Government are likely to introduce legislation, but perhaps not as soon as some people might wish. I am merely expressing the opinion that I think it can be dangerous to proceed piecemeal. It can set a bad precedent because if this Bill is passed other local authorities will see the green light and may follow suit. This would be a pity if it pre-empted national legislation. It might also put the rights of commoners, and the nature of commons as they are at present used, at risk. After all, the procedure for dealing with this typo of case is there and it is still law.

I venture to suggest with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, that it is really not much of an argument to say, "Well it has not been used for several years so let us pretend that it does not exist". The fact is that the Promoters and the Conservators know that if the existing procedures for which Parliament had made provision had been adopted they would not have got the necessary two-thirds agreement from the commoners. That may of course be a very good argument for using this procedure. Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, would agree, it could be a very bad argument.

One thing is clear; that is, that if this Bill does go through as it is, the rights which the commoners have enjoyed and which Parliament has intended they should enjoy will, without doubt, be curtailed. I very much hope that the Committee will satisfy themselves that the curtailment of the rights of the commoners is justified and that the procedure which is being adopted, and which is resulting in these rights being affected, is the correct procedure to use and that it is right that it should be used in preference to the provisional order procedure. That is the reason why I tabled my Instruction, which I intend formally to move at a later date.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has so adequately covered the arguments in favour of the Petition against this Bill that there is little left for me to say. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, that when he invokes the name of my father in the hope that I may show myself to be a fairminded person, he disarms me at once, and I hope I will be able to respond to that appeal. May I say to him that it seemed to me that he moved the Second Reading of the Bill with the utmost fairness and, indeed, with excellent clarity.

The issues arising in this debate are now moderately clear. I do not want to refer in detail to what is proposed to be done under the powers of the Bill. I shall address myself entirely to the general question of principle, which was the matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, ended his speech; that is to say, whether it is right to try to deal with the future management and regulation of the common by means of a Private Bill of this kind, in preference to the procedure of the provisional order. I want to address myself to that, because I believe that a matter of considerable principle is involved. It is not a local matter at all. It is a matter which affects the way in which we legislate. It is a matter which concerns the way in which we conduct our affairs in this House and in Parliament generally, and it is an interesting example of the difficulties of Private Bills, about which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was speaking only last week when talking about the practices of this House and the difficulties presented by Private Bills.

The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, says, and says quite rightly and properly, that the provisional order procedure has not been invoked. The provisional order procedure has not been used for a long period of time. As I understand it—and I have no doubt that the noble Lord is correct about this—the last time it was used was in connection with this particular common, back in 1919. The situation is this. The law of the land is the law of the 1876 Commons Act, an Act of Parliament designed to establish a procedure whereby, if anybody wanted to make regulations for the management of a common, the procedures and rules with which they were to comply were prescribed. That Act of Parliament remains upon the Statute Book today in its full force; it has never been repealed.

Therefore, the first question which arises is a question which, I suggest, one is entitled to address to the Promoters of the Bill: Why is it that you have not adopted the existing, extant Act of Parliament, laid down as the appropriate procedure if you want to introduce a new scheme of management and regulation for a common? I have studied the Bill itself and can find nothing in it to indicate why there has been this departure from the procedures which, 100 years ago, Parliament said were the proper procedures to be adopted for this purpose. There is nothing in the Bill or any explanation as to why this procedure has been adopted. Therefore. I suggest that the onus is upon the Promoters of the Bill to say why they have adopted this procedure of a Private Bill in place of the procedures which Parliament has prescribed. We are still waiting for an answer to that question. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to give it to us in a moment.

My Lords, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, we know why this procedure has been adopted: it is because it enables the Promoters to circumvent the protections which Parliament intended the commoners to have. The two protections were those referred to by the noble Earl. First, under the 1876 Act—which has been amended, because now we have to substitute the Secretary of State for the Environment for the In-closure Commissioners, as they were called in that Act—it is laid down that persons wanting to set up a scheme for the management and regulation of a common have to make an application to the Secretary of State. Before the Secretary of State can make a provisional order, he has to be satisfied upon those two things to which the noble Earl referred. The Secretary of State has to be satisfied, first, that two-thirds of the commoners in number are consenting to it being done. Secondly, he has to be satisfied that what is proposed is for the benefit of the neighbourhood.

Because they have adopted the procedure of the Private Bill, the Promoters are circumventing those rules. They are preventing the commoners from setting up defences which Parliament intended them to have. That is the whole object of the Bill. That is the reason why it is being done by way of a Bill instead of by way of a provisional order. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, that I agree with him—and I hope that that will satisfy him that I am, indeed, being as fair-minded as I can be. I was reading just now in Halsbury's Laws of England that because these procedures under the provisional order system have not been used for so long a time, it might be thought that they are obsolete. That may well be so. It is perfectly true that they have not been used. It is also perfectly true that procedures under the provisional order procedure are, indeed, cumbrous, difficult and awkward. But nothing overcomes the fact, and there is no escaping from it, that unless one adopts those procedures the commoners are denied the protection which Parliament intended them to have.

The second objection to the use of the Private Bill in place of the provisional order procedure is that referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers: that if you go by way of the provisional order procedure, then at the very outset the Promoters or the applicants for an order must satisfy the Secretary of State that two-thirds of the commoners are consenting before you can go any further. If two-thirds of the commoners do not consent, then it is a "dead duck", and cannot get any further.

What is the consequence of that in money terms? The consequence in terms of public and private money is that if it appears from the outset that the order has no chance of becoming a substantive order, becoming confirmed and becoming an Act of Parliament, and it is obvious that it cannot become an order because two-thirds of the commoners are opposed to it, then the Promoters, the applicants—call them what you will—and the objectors are not to be put to all the expense to which they are put in producing a Bill in this House and petitioning against it. It is "killed" from the outset. What is happening now is because the Promoters of this Bill have used this device instead of the provisional order procedure. They have been able to promote this Bill at the expense of the public, although who is going to pay in the end, I do not know.

A Noble Lord

The Conservators.


Yes, my Lords. If they have their way, of course it will be the Conservators, but who is going to pay the Bill of the objectors? Having been told by Parliament 100 years ago that if two-thirds of them objected to a measure it would not see the light of day, why should the commoners be put to all the expense of coming to this House and appearing before a Select Committee in order to oppose a measure which would never have seen the light of day if the law of the land had been observed? That is the basic and fundamental objection.

Lastly, I come to this, perhaps the most important aspect of the whole matter. When the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was making that remarkable speech which he made the other day when we were talking about the procedures of Parliament, he drew attention to the fact that in this matter of Private Bills and Public Bills and so on we have got ourselves into a terrible mess; he drew attention to the fact that during the next seven or eight years, because of the consequences of the Local Government Act 1971, we are going to have an avalanche of Private Bills coming from local authorities. The noble Earl made the point, a vitally important constitutional point, that if only from time to time we passed General Public Acts dealing with matters which are of concern to local authorities we could avoid a great deal of this vast number of Private Bills with which we are confronted and with which we are going to be confronted over the next seven or eight years.

Now, my Lords, what is this Bill in that context? Everybody knows, and it has been declared by the Government quite clearly, that they are intending—and it is already in the womb of the Department of the Environment—to produce a general measure about common land. It will, I suppose, be the first general measure about common land which has been passed in this country since the Act of 1876, 100 years ago. This major proposal for general legislation about commons is going to be produced, and it may not be very long before it appears. When that Bill appears it may well be that it will wholly supersede this particular Private Bill. It may be that some of the clauses and the provisions of the Bill will be in conflict with the general legislation and will have to be scrapped.

If the noble Lord gets his way, and if the Promoters get their way, on this occasion that will, as the noble Earl said, be likely to instigate other authorities to promote their own Private Bills for their commons, and we are perhaps going to have a multiplicity of Private Bills, all in different forms, relating to commons, and then eventually we are going to get the General Public Act which is going to supersede all those Private Bills which have gone through this House at vast expense to everybody. I suggest that on this ground alone there is everything to be said for putting this Bill on one side, and saying to this council, and saying to any like-minded councils who may want to introduce provisions of their own for their own commons, "Wait until you get the general legislation and then you can see whether it is necessary at all to produce a Bill of your own. It may be that the general legislation will cover the point you have in mind."

May I conclude by adding two comments. The first is this. This, in my view, is a very important matter. What you are doing here is taking away rights and protections provided by a General Public Act of Parliament by means of a private Bill promoted by a local authority. In my submission, it is always wrong that we should take away rights granted by Parliament in a Public Act of Parliament, and take them away by the method and means of a Private Bill. The way in which I would conclude what I have to say is to quote, if I may, the words used by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, towards the end of the speech that he made to us the other day. He spoke about the paper mountain of local Acts with which we are likely to be confronted during the next seven or eight years, and he went on to say this: It is therefore vitaly important, if we are to avoid ill-considered legislation and inordinate delay, that means other than the promotion of Private Bills he found to alter the general law where it is shown to be defective in meeting the legitimate needs of local authorities. This alternative is the regular passing of Public General Bills, each such Bill averting a multiplicity of local Bills."—[Official Report, 11/3/76; col. 1433.] Then, a little later on (col. 1434): What I am suggesting is that both Houses of Parliament and the Government should now be seeking ways of reducing the bulk of private legislation and of devising more appropriate procedures to satisfy the legitimate needs of local authorities. My Lords, I welcome that; I entirely endorse it. It seems to me that those words are indeed the condemnation in principle of what is being done under this Bill.

May I add that I would have been minded—I was at one time minded—to oppose this Second Reading altogether because I think this is wrong. But I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, that he will be prepared, if the Second Reading is granted, to accept the direction which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is to move, and that being so perhaps it is proper and fair that this Bill should go to a Select Committee. But if it were not for that direction I think this is a Bill which this House ought to reject. I am quite prepared to accept that it shall go to the Select Committee with the clear direction contained in the Motion the noble Earl proposes to move.

8.7 p.m.


My Lords, I should perhaps declare an interest: I am treasurer of the Commons Preservation Society. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Ferrers a careful, and I think a most damaging, examination of the provisions of this Bill. He has pointed out that the reason that the Promoters of this Bill have chosen to proceed by Private Bill is that they would probably be quite unable to secure these powers and make these changes in the constitution if they were required to satisfy by Provisional Order the requirements laid down by Parliament for dealing with commoners' rights in 1876.

The noble Lord, Lord Foot, in a speech which was equally damaging to the Bill, concentrated rather upon the constitutional position which arises from the fact that the Promoters of this Bill have chosen to proceed by means of a Private Bill. My noble friend Lord Ferrers has pointed out that they would probably have failed if they had proceeded by Provisional Order, and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has pointed out how objectionable it is, from a constitutional point of view, that they should be able to do this. He has also emphasised what we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, speaking with all his authority as Chairman of Committees, that this House is likely to involve itself in very great difficulty in the near future if nothing is done to prevent Private Bills from dealing with rights locally before general provision has been made for the rights of the country as a whole. I emphasise the point to which I think there can be no answer, that it is in principle objectionable that the rights conferred by Parliament upon all and sundry of Her Majesty's subjects should be taken away by Private Bills promoted by particular bodies in particular parts of the country.

In view of those two most damaging criticisms it might be thought that there is no need for me to speak. I should, however, like to take this opportunity quite briefly to raise on the Floor of this House the whole question of the overlapping of the different powers that exist. I put in a submission to the Brooke Committee and they were good enough to recommend to the Government that the proposals I had made for dealing with this matter were worthy of consideration by a new committee. They reported in October 1973, and, so far as I know, none of the recommendations they made in their Second Report has yet been considered by the Government. I naturally take a particular interest in their recommendation that my proposals for dealing with this matter should be further examined.

I pointed out to the Brooke Committee that in the old days any powers of these kinds had to be obtained by Private Bill in Parliament. In 1845 Provisional Order Procedure was introduced in order that there should be cheaper and speedier procedure. In 1945 Special Parliamentary Procedure was introduced, and, in the words of Mr. Herbert Morrison, who was responsible for that Bill, it was introduced because Provisional Order Procedure was slow, costly, and cumbrous. The same has been found to be the case with Special Parliamentary Procedure, and I mentioned to them that Parliamentary agents find Private Bill procedure the quickest of all, and therefore usually recommend it in cases of urgency. In this case it may not have been urged on the grounds of urgency but because they did not think they would get a Provisional Order through.

It is, I think, open to very serious objection, especially in view of the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that it should in many cases be possible for the Promoters of a Private Bill to choose which of three procedures they are going to adopt and to choose the one which is likely to suit their purpose best. The noble Lord, Lord Maelor, said that the Private Bill procedure is "as dead as the dodo". That of course is not really the case. It only may be the case because, under the procedures of the Commons Act 1876, it has not been convenient for people wanting to effect changes to apply it.

My Lords, I take this opportunity of asking again, as I proposed to the Brooke Committee and as they recommended, that there should be an attempt to rationalise and modernise all these three procedures. The Brooke Committee said that their terms of reference precluded them from examining such a wide-ranging proposal, but that they were of the opinion that the need had been established for a review of procedure for objecting to legislation and delegated legislation of a Private Bill nature. This strikes me as being a particular instance which serves to illustrate the importance of having this whole matter reviewed, and I hope that it will be one of those matters which will be considered by the Procedure Committee which is likely to be set up under the Motion carried by your Lordships' House on Thursday last.


My Lords, may I thank the three speakers on the opposite Benches for the fair manner in which they have delivered their views. I am not going to answer one of the objections raised. I see that the Member of Parliament for Ogmore is listening to the whole debate, and I have no doubt that when the Bill goes to the other place he will deal very strictly with all the objections that have been raised. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Foot, for not dividing the House on the issue and allowing it to go now to the Select Committee. I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind that when that Committee have given all consideration to what has been said regarding the Bill they will come down in favour of the Promoters. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom it is committed that they should satisfy themselves that procedure by Private Bill, rather than by provisional order under the Inclosure Acts 1845 to 1899 and the Commons Act 1876, is justified, having regard to the curtailment of the rights of the commoners which Parliament has granted to them.—(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and Fill committed to a Select Committee.