HL Deb 17 July 1978 vol 395 cc10-27

Read 3ª, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.





2.55 p.m.

The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Special Report from the Select Committee on the Opposed Common Clauses of the Bills (H.L. 137). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Your Lordships will remember that I moved the Second Reading of these four county council Bills on 28th February last, and I explained then the procedure by which I proposed to deal with them. The need for a special procedure arose from the fact that there were clauses common to two or more Bills and that the only logical way to tackle these at the Committee stage was for them to be considered by one Committee. This Special Report to which I now draw attention has been made by the Select Committee on those common clauses which were opposed by Petitioners. The Committee was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, and its members were the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, the noble Earl, Lord Lonsdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Westbury.

May I at the very start of my remarks express my own gratitude to the Chairman and to the Committee for the work that they did and for producing this Special Report. They were faced with a formidable task. They were kept hard at work for 12 days and they did a very valuable job, for which I am sure the House will be most grateful. They pioneered the method of dealing with clauses common to several Bills, and obviously it involved them in a most complicated operation. Despite every effort by counsel, by agents and by Promoters, there are bound to be minor differences in the wording of common clauses as a result of special local circumstances, and this results in very complicated paperwork. The Committee themselves record that it was complex and time-consuming. However, they conclude that the common clause procedure for considering future county council Bills of this sort is the best option in the absence of public general legislation. I am grateful for this recommendation, with which I fully agree.

It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that the other Select Committee, which consists of the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and myself, have now completed their task of examining the unopposed common clauses of the four Bills, and we would certainly agree with the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, that the process is complex and time-consuming, but also that it is the only sensible way to tackle this problem.

I should also like to draw attention to the first Report from the Select Committee on Practice and Procedure, which among their conclusions say that the common clauses exercise seems likely to save time in Committee and can usefully be continued. That Committee also recommend that if the modified committee procedure involving the consideration of more than one Bill by a Select Committee adopted this Session in respect of these four Bills proves to be successful, it should be used, when appropriate, for subsequent rationalisation Bills.

May I also heartily endorse the recommendation in this Special Report that provisions of the sort the Committee were considering—that is, licensing and public entertainment clubs, as well as parking in private gardens—should be enacted by public general legislation. The same applies to many of the unopposed common clauses which were considered by my Committee; for example, especially those concerned with assistance to industry. These are powers appropriate to all local authorities and they are of national concern. They should be granted nationally rather than by Private Bill, and I hope the Government will seriously consider legislation to meet this need.

I shall say nothing at this stage about the Amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but I should like to listen carefully to what is said by your Lordships on that matter and to say something towards the end of the debate about Private Bill procedure. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Special Report from the Select Committee on the Opposed Common Clauses of the Bills (H.L. 137).—(Lord Aberdare.)

3 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG rose to move, as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but considers that the Committee should not have refused to make certain of the Amendments asked for by the Promoters of the West Midlands County Council Bill as described in paragraphs 24, 25 and 26 of the Special Report and that accordingly these Amendments should be made to the Bill on Third Reading". The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move my Amendment to the Motion. The House will be aware that this is an unusual procedure, but then this is an unusual circumstance. At the outset I should like to express my gratitude to those Members of the House and the Table for the advice and help that I have had in framing this Amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in moving the Special Report from the Select Committee on the opposed common clauses of these four major local authority Bills has explained why the Select Committee was set up and why it was decided to deal with these four Bills in this way. I should like to express my gratitude for the work that the Committee has done and my appreciation of its task. No one can study the Bills without being aware of the enormous amount of work entailed. I should very much like to lend my support for the continuation of such a procedure.

I begin by saying how much I agree that what is needed is general legislation by the Government. It is a very serious matter that Section 262 of the Local Government Act obliges all new local authorities to revise their local Act provisions and to re-enact those provisions, or else, as I understand it, they will automatically be repealed either by 1979 or by 1984. It is that which is at the centre of our difficulties today.

The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, useful as it is, did not go far enough, hence the House is confronted by these four Bills. I have not the slightest doubt that many other local authority Bills are to follow. It may be helpful to the House if I fill in some of the background to the Bill that I wish to discuss. I am concerned this afternoon to talk principally about the West Midlands County Council Bill. It is not the particular matter of the West Midlands Bill, but the principles that guided the Committee and upon which local legislation is based, to which I wish to draw attention.

It was agreed in the West Midlands County Council that the county council would promote a Bill on behalf of itself and of the districts—that is, the Birmingham City Council; the Coventry City Council; the Borough Council of Dudley; the Sandwell Borough Council; the Solihull Borough Council; the Walsall Borough Council and the Wolverhampton Borough Council. The Bill was deposited in November 1977 along with three other local authority Bills. The procedure for dealing with them was as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. The Committee was set up. All went well until the Committee, as I understand it, came to Parts VIII and IX of the Bill which form part of the common clauses. Part VIII is concerned with night cafés and entertainment clubs; Part IX is concerned with the licensing of public entertainment.

In the course of consideration of those clauses, Birmingham City Council asked that the Bill, as originally deposited, be amended so as to exclude Birmingham from the provisions contained in Parts VIII and IX. The West Midlands County Council, the Promoters of the Bill, gave a specific undertaking to Birmingham City Council that it would seek the necessary Amendments. The case of Birmingham City Council was supported by all the other local authorities and by the Birmingham justices. There was, indeed, a unanimous decision by the local authorities on this point, and an Amendment, which had the effect of excluding Birmingham, was put down.

In seeking to put their Amendments, the West Midlands County Council went through the procedural steps that were well precedented. I do not think that it ever occurred to it, or indeed to anyone among the local authorities, that the Committee of the House of Lords would depart from normal practice and not accept the Amendments that were asked for. But in effect that is what happened. The argument put forward by the Opposed Bills Committee is well set out in its report in paragraph 10. It says: To have enacted such legislation in the form proposed by the Promoters would have meant that the opportunity for rationalisation of local legislation afforded by the Local Government Act 1972 would have been lost". Again, at paragraph 21 it says: One of the purposes of the common clauses exercise had been to achieve so far as possible uniformity in the form of clauses dealing with the same topic, and variations between such clauses defeated this objective to a certain extent".

I can understand the concern of the Committee. Anyone familiar with local government—and there are a great many Members of your Lordships' House who have had extensive experience of local government—knows well that local provisions are a patchwork; they vary from one place to another, rightly or wrongly, because local people believe that their local provisions must meet their local needs. It is not a very tidy patchwork at that, and it could well have been thought that the 1972 Act ought to have tidied up all these local differences.

Looking at all the "briefing" that I have been sent from the different local authorities this is certainly a complicated matter. It is for that reason that in so many respects one is grateful to the Opposed Bills Committee for taking us through so many of the common clauses and dealing with them so well. But the fact is that the Opposed Bills Committee, in taking the decision that it did not allow Birmingham to have functions that it did not seek, has, in fact, gone against one of the Standing Orders of procedure governing Private Acts. The effect of Standing Order 124A of the House is that a Promoter may come to Parliament and prove a need for the powers that he asks for. He may be allowed to do exactly what he asks for, or what he asks for with some amendment, or be not allowed what he asks for at all. What would not be foreseen by a Promoter is that Parliament would impose powers on him as though he had appeared before a committee and said that he did not want them, solely because those powers were included in the Bill as originally deposited.

If, therefore, the recommendations of the Committee stand, local authorities, I suspect, in the future will be put into some difficulties. If the rules are changed, as it were, in the middle of the game, no local authority will know for certain whether or not powers will be imposed upon it by a Committee. It may well be that there is a case for imposing powers on local authorities; but if so it should be done by general legislation which would be argued out, as public legislation always is, and not, I believe, by a Committee of the House. In the second place, I think that it will increase the work of the House because each authority will feel obliged to promote its own legislation.

I believe that the Committee has not really understood the relationships between local authorities, when it says in paragraph 12: This form of long title means that the subordinate councils concerned, rather than each promoting their own Private Bill, had collaborated with the parent county council". In local government legislation district councils are not subordinate to county councils; they are different, but they are equal. I think that it would be unfortunate if the agreement which had been reached between the West Midlands County and the districts were in any way to be upset because the districts were regarded as subordinate to the county. If this line is taken, I suspect that every district will seek to have its own local authority Bill, and there will not be the agreement among the districts and the counties that we have had in these cases.

Finally, there are further dangers of this procedure which have been pointed out to me both by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils. If one takes this situation in reverse, what would local authorities do if it were to be suggested that none of them could have any powers unless there was uniformity among them? This might create enormous difficulties for a number of local authorities, particularly those wishing to act in concert. They reinforce the point that I have made that the imposition of functions on local authorities should really be by way of general legislation and not by way of private legislation. I believe that all of us who are interested in good local government would support this, because the whole of the procedures for dealing with public legislation are, of course, quite different from those dealing with private legislation.

I would not take up the time of the House if I did not consider that a very important matter of principle was at stake. I have not dwelt on the details of the case because, although they are important, they are not really the important issue, which is a constitutional one. I very much hope that the House will accept my Amendment. I think that in this way we can do what the local authorities would like, and I believe that we should be doing what the procedure of the House requires. I am bound to say to the House that it is a matter which I believe is so important that if necessary I would have to press the House to a Division on this point. I would not wish there to be any misunderstanding. I very much hope that that will not be necessary because I am sure that all of us taking part in the debate want, above all, to see good local government. I beg to move.

Moved, as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but considers that the Committee should not have refused to make certain of the Amendments asked for by the Promoters of the West Midlands County Council Bill as described in paragraphs 24, 25 and 26 of the Special Report and that accordingly these Amendments should be made to the Bill on Third Reading".—(Baroness Young.)

The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)

My Lords, the original Question was that this Motion be agreed to, since when an Amendment has been moved: "At end to insert" the words as printed on the Order Paper. The Question I now have to put is that this Amendment be agreed to.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I was chairman of the Committee which considered the opposed common clauses of these four Bills. I am extremely glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has raised this question in the House. I think that most of my Committee knew—certainly I knew—that we were taking a decision on which there was a nice balance. I thought, and 1 still think, that we took the right decision. But when there is so nice a balance to be struck, it is right that the matter should be debated in the House, if only to ensure that future Committees know exactly where they stand.

The Committee was very conscious, as indeed it states in its report, of the principle that a power should be granted to the Promoter of a Private Bill only if he has proved a need for that power. But we were dealing with an unconventional problem, and in the case of the provisions to which the noble Baroness has referred your Committee felt that there were other strong considerations which should be taken into account.

The Committee considered, as the noble Baroness said, four Bills of the Counties of Cheshire, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands. Three of those counties—namely, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands—are of a similar industrial nature. The fourth county, Cheshire, is, in the main, rural. Two of the three industrial countries and three of the divisions in the County of the West Midlands were willing to include in their powers the right of district councils to take over the licensing of certain entertainments: not to take them over immediately, but to take them over at some future date when change was thought to be desirable. I want to emphasise that the clauses recommended by your Committee do not in themselves make any difference whatever to the duties of the licensing justices. They only confer power to make change. Change is made only when such change is thought by the district councils to be desirable.

Your Committee felt that if so many industrial districts in the jumbo-package of Bills which they considered thought that it was wise to include the powers that are in question in their Bills, there was a strong possibility that the metropolitan district of Birmingham, being of a similar character, might feel at some future date that it also needed those powers. If the power is not included in the present Bill, it would be necessary for the City of Birmingham to come back to Parliament with a private Bill at some future date, with all the work that that entails.

Your Committee had before it the report from the Home Office which was to the effect that the Secretary of State intends, when a suitable opportunity occurs, to propose: the replacement of the existing patchwork of legislation on these subjects with national legislation which would confer the licensing function on the district councils rather than on the licensing justices. The Department of the Home Office expressed the opinion that, in general, it would seem that issues of safety, amenity, nuisance and the like are more approporiate for local authorities to deal with than for the courts, and your Committee sympathised with that view.

It was in connection with this proposed national legislation that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in answer to a Starred Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, on 15th February this year, said: My Lords, in the proposals for legislation on public music and dancing which the Home Office circulated to interested bodies in 1975 it was suggested that uniformity should he achieved by placing a responsibility for the issue of licences solely on the local authorities". The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, continued: We are still disposed to regard this as the right course to take, but I cannot say … when"— and I emphasise that he said "when" and not "whether"— there will be a suitable opportunity for such legislation".—[Official Report, 15/2/78; cols. 1442–3.] Your Committee recognised that there was no firm commitment by the Government to introduce legislation, but it was naturally influenced by the statements which I have mentioned. The Committee were conscious that every advantage should be taken of the "clean sweep" which was provided for in Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972. This indeed has frequently been said in debates in this House. Accordingly, powers to deal with a common topic should be conferred by Parliament on the new local authorities and as uniformly and as coherently as is consistent with the characteristics of those districts in so far as they are common.

Finally, in the Second Reading debate on the four counties Bills an indication—not, I emphasise, a direction but an indication—was given to your Committee that it ought to aim at reasonable uniformity. Your Committee respected and gave wholehearted support to this widely expressed desire for reasonable uniform mity. Between now and 1984 Parliament has to enact upwards of 30 county council Bills. As has already been indicated this afternoon, it would have been better if general legislation along the lines of the Victorian "Clauses Bill" could have been enacted. But that was not done. Unless some uniform pattern can be established, separate consideration of more than 30 Private Bills will throw an almost impossible load on this House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, drew attention to the fact that the action taken by the Committee might dissuade county councils from going forward with common legislation, and this was argued to the Committee. But, on the other hand, it was suggested to them that if the Committee allowed variation in clauses where there seemed to be little or no justification for variation, it might encourage county councils in the future to make such variation where variation was unnecessary.

Consideration of the four county Bills was an attempt—and I think a successful attempt—to establish procedure which would lighten the load on Committees of the House. Unless Committees are permitted to imprint a stamp of uniformity on these Bills the load—not on me, because I shall be far too old to be worried by it—on younger Members of the House may become insupportable before 1984.

In the light of these considerations, and for the other reasons given in the report, I hope that the House will agree that the Committee was right in refusing to make the Amendments asked for by the Promoters of the West Midlands County Council Bill which are the subject of the Amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. May I, in conclusion, pay tribute to those county councils, the Parliamentary agents and counsel who were able, with very hard work, to achieve in all cases other than that of the Metropolitan District of Birmingham, a sensible and wise uniformity.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, in venturing to intervene in a debate in which practically every other speaker was a member of the Select Committee I feel rather like Daniel in the lions' den. In venturing to criticise one of the paragraphs of the special report I feel even more like Daniel. This is paragraph 12. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already made the point that when, in the first line of this paragraph, the district councils are described as being subordinate, this is not strictly the case. Certainly it is the view of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities that district councils, although different of course from county councils, are not to be regarded as subordinate.

My main criticism is with the last sentence of paragraph 12, which reads: When a county council promotes a Private Bill conferring powers on district councils, Private Bills Standing Order 124A requires each of the District Councils … to approve … the inclusion of the relevant provision in the Bill". That appears to say that the district council is bound to accept the Bill as promoted on its behalf by the county council. That is not the case, and it is only fair to say that the next paragraph goes some way to clarify the position. But the position is, I feel sure, that the matter is purely adoptive. A district council is only bound by the Bill in so far as it chooses to adopt it. This strikes a blow at the great aim towards uniformity and common clauses, because if it is a matter of adoption and the Bills are not universally adopted, to that extent the search for uniformity is a failure.

I feel that the way to achieve this much desired uniformity and common clauses is by general legislation in the form of miscellaneous provisions Bills. I hope that a decision will shortly he come to on, first, whether to promote another miscellaneous provisions Bill, and secondly, if so, what is to be its scope. I had the honour to be one of the members of the second Select Committee which considered the South Glamorgan Bill. We spent a good deal of our time looking rather uneasily over our shoulder at the miscellaneous provisions Bill of that year, which was at the same time going through Parliament, to try to find out to what extent the matters which the Promoters were urging upon us were being dealt with in that miscellaneous provisions Bill. I should be sorry for the many Select Committees who are going to have to sit upon these Bills between now and 1984 if they have to go through this same experience of wondering to what extent some miscellaneous provisions Bill in the field of general legislation is going to deal with the matters which the Promoters before the Committee are trying to urge upon them.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that if our report stands in regard to Birmingham then the danger will arise that each district would be tempted to bring in separate Bills. I think I have broadly quoted the noble Baroness. I should like to make two points on that. First, if that were done we should never get through all the necessary local legislation by 1984 because if each district brings in a different Bill, God knows (I cannot count) how many Bills there would have to be! We simply could not do it. If the districts did behave in this way, they would be cutting their own throats because a lot of their Bills would not be reached at all. Secondly, on the analogy of our recommendation in our Committee, this danger could only arise if the district concerned changed its mind, as Birmingham did after depositing the Bill, in such a way as to bring its Bill out of line with all the other three deposited Bills.

Our Committee's recommendation—which was unanimous in a very representative Committee of a cross-section of this House—concerning the Birmingham City Council sprang out of what we conceived to be our duty to achieve, as my noble friend Lord Hinton of Bankside said, the greatest possible uniformity, first throughout each area of each county council, and secondly between the county councils. This duty, though not laid on us specifically by instructions, seemed clearly to be implied by the procedure which we were instructed by this House to pursue. That procedure was, as everybody now knows, to consider the opposed common clauses in all four Bills together.

It seems to me that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, did not sufficiently distinguish between Bills sent singly to a Committee and Bills sent all together—four in this case. Had any, or each, of these Bills come before the Committee singly in the ordinary way, then of course we should have applied the normal procedures under which a Promoter may withdraw or alter some clause in the deposited Bill. However, they were not presented to us singly and one by one, as has always been the case, as I understand it, in all previous local authority Bills. They were put to us together, to be considered together; not considered singly. Therefore, it seemed to us to be a natural conclusion that we were to try to make them as uniform as possible.

Secondly, the main purpose of these four Bills was to tidy up the overlapping, differing patchwork of local legislation, not of the normal variety, as the noble Baroness said, but of a special case. It resulted from the amalgamation brought about by local government reforms. Therefore, it was an extraordinary patchwork. It was not the normal patchwork of different districts having different provisions for particular matters. This was not that. This resulted from amalgamating bits and pieces in a great county council so that an unintentional patchwork had arisen. We therefore thought it was the natural conclusion that we should try to get each Bill as uniform as possible within itself. If the noble Baroness's Amendment were carried, both those ends would be frustrated.

As my noble friend Lord Hinton of Bankside said, the Committee is not, in fact, seeking—as the noble Baroness implied, if she did not say so—to force anything on Birmingham. If the Amendment is rejected it would only mean that Birmingham would still have an opportunity if it wished, and only if it wished, to avail itself at some future date of the power to transfer licensing of the activities concerned from the licensing justice to the Birmingham council. There is no compulsion upon it to do this if this Amendment is defeated. It remains perfectly free, if it wishes, not to do these things that are said to have been forced upon it.

Furthermore, if Birmingham should change its mind again, as it changed its mind once before in this matter—whether elections or anything else occurs—it could then do so without the need to introduce a new Private Bill. If, on the other hand, the Amendment were carried, and Birmingham still changed its mind and introduced a new Bill, this would put an unnecessary charge upon the ratepayers. It would put a quite unnecessary burden of expenditure of time and energy upon your Lordships' House. In view of all these considerations, and of others such as those raised by Lord Hinton, and, I do not doubt, by other noble friends of mine on the Committee who will be speaking, I still hope that, in spite of what she said, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will see the wisdom of withdrawing her Amendment. If not, I hope that your Lordships will reject it.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, as a Member of the Select Committee on the four county Bills, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, who is our Chairman. It was, and remains, inevitable that a quantity of detailed legislation should follow in the wake of the Local Government Act 1972. But in enacting such legislation it seems only logical that what is a tidying-up operation should be consistent and, unless a very strong case can be made to the contrary, any legislation should, so far as possible, be uniform throughout England and Wales.

Committing all four Bills to the same Committee was unprecedented, but the object of doing so was clearly to avoid unnecessary discrepancies between the Bills. The Committee realised that it was creating something of a precedent. I venture to think that a good precedent was set by dealing with all four Bills at once. Is it too much to hope that in the future we shall adhere to that precedent so far as possible? I can see no rationale, no common sense, in making differences in detail where clauses of different Bills deal with the same matter. It is only logical that consistent treatment be applied in a uniform manner, unless, as I have said, some very serious reason could be adduced for doing otherwise. I have still not heard of any such reason. I should like to take this opportunity of recording my personal gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, for being so excellent a Chairman—always patient, kind and helpful.

3.37 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, I cannot cap that expression of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, but I should certainly like to echo it. It was marvellous to be intellectually stretched by him, as I think we all were. It was marvellous to have his kindly wisdom, which guided us through a long and very complicated Committee stage. I think that we might, as members of the Select Committee, also express our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for the kind remarks he made about us at the beginning.

It is no wonder, judging by the passion that has burned in the bosoms of the good burgesses of Birmingham, fuelled by this Private Bill promoted in your Lordships' House, that the word "politics" literally means "the affairs of the city". Night cafés, music and dancing are, as your Lordships know, the flames. I think that the need for the licensing of night clubs, night cafés, music and dancing was shown to us in evidence. The need for it in Birmingham would seem to me not very different from the need for it in Coventry, Daventry, Wolverhampton or Dudley, all of which are towns within the same county council area. If there was shown to be a genuine local difference, your Lordships' Committee would of course have accepted this fact and would have agreed to Amendments to the Bill proposed by the Birmingham City Council. However, in this case, your Lordships' Committee found no appreciable difference. It also seemed to us that we were setting a precedent. We knew that we were pioneering. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has just confirmed that we were pioneering in hearing the opposed clauses to the four counties' Bills all together.

Strong assertions have been made that, if these Amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, are not kept, the district councils will be tempted not to co-operate with county councils in promoting Bills. We have had a great deal of assertion on that head, but no evidence. I am sure that we were correct in setting this precedent. We were correct because the dangers outlined by Lady Young seemed to us to melt like the early morning mists on Lake Trasimene compared with the danger of your Lordships' Committee passing what it frankly thought was a Bill which had, for want of a better word, silly facets to it.

There has been a great upheaval in local government and we know that to bring it up to date large numbers of local government Bills need passing. If only we could have an assertion from the Government that they will introduce a general powers Bill or a miscellaneous provisions Bill, then for my part I should say, "Very well. We will go along with you this time", and we would agree with my noble friend Lady Young, in that it is a precedent that is being set. But unless we can have that very firm undertaking, I sincerely hope that Lord Hinton will resist the Amendment.

Please do not let us allow ourselves—we have the reputation of being possibly the wiser of the two Chambers—to permit Birmingham to Balkanise (which in effect is what they are trying to do) new county council legislation. Please let us resist the blandishment of a Conservative Party two-line Whip, which is normally put on only for the Committee stage of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Act and similar horrors introduced by Her Majesty's present advisers.

I hate to say this, but my noble friend Lady Young is wrong. I say "hate" because I genuinely admire her; she may call this flannel, but it is true. We all know that she is a caring and good person with great experience of local government, but on this occasion I must say, having listened to all the arguments in the Committee for 12 long days, she has had a lapse from her normally impeccable high standard of judgment. I therefore suggest that, if it comes to a Division, we should vote for sense and pioneering as opposed to lack of sense and a strict adherence to precedent.

3.42 p.m.

Viscount HOOD

My Lords, in rising to make a few general observations, I hope the House will forgive me for not putting my name down on the list of speakers in this debate. My first observation is one which no member of the Committee could make himself. It has been the custom of this House, which I hope will continue, that reports of subcommittees are not rejected except in very exceptional circumstances. The whole purpose of appointing a subcommittee as distinguished as the one we appointed on this occasion is to remit to them the task of sifting the evidence and making up their minds as between the differing considerations. As I say, the normal course for your Lordships is to accept their view, though it may sometimes be desirable, as on this occasion, that the pros and cons should be ventilated on the Floor of the House.

It is true that the sub-committee have followed an unprecedented course, but we are dealing here with an unprecedent situation, as has been emphasised by every speaker today. We are faced with a very heavy programme of legislation of Private Bills and there is no doubt about the size and urgency of the programme that lies before us. This problem was considered by your Committee on Practice and Procedure—the Lord Chairman referred to that report—and the conclusion reached by that Committee was that Parliament may have difficulty in accommodating the Bills likely to be promoted in consequence of the Local Government Act 1972. The positive proposals made in this report for relieving the problem, and indeed enabling us to cope with it, include, first, general legislation—and on that I hope we may receive some information from the Government spokesman on what the prospects of any such general legislation is—but, failing such general legislation, there remains the device of the common clauses, which the Lord Chairman said seemed to him to be the best option.

The search for uniformity through the common clauses holds out two benefits. First, it facilitates the consideration of Bills by this House—there is the procedural advantage—and, secondly, it helps to promote what was the whole object of the 1972 Act; namely, to introduce uniformity of local law. I believe the Amendment in the name of Lady Young would jeopardise those benefits; if it were carried, the local authorities and Parliamentary agents would probably be less enthusiastic than they have been in co-operating in introducing common clauses and Select Committees in future would be less firm in insisting on uniformity, both of which would be most undesirable.

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