HL Deb 14 June 1979 vol 400 cc716-22




The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order paper. These four major general powers Bills have been carried over from the last Session and I am asking your Lordships to agree to set up a Select Committee to consider the unopposed clauses of these Bills and the three Instructions that are attached to them. These three Instructions, your Lordships will remember, were agreed by the House when these Bills received their Second Reading on 19th February last. Of course, the Select Committee will make a special report to the House in due course. I am happy to say that the noble Lords, Lord Aylestone and Lord Nugent of Guildford, haave agreed to serve with me on the Select Committee, if your Lordships agree to set it up. I beg to move.

Moved, That those provisions in the Bills against which no Petition has been presented, or if presented has been withdrawn in whole or in part, or which become unopposed by reason of any of the provisions of Standing Order 113 be committed to a Select Committee together with such Instructions agreed to by the House on the 19th February last as relate to those provisions and that the quorum of the Select Committee be two.—(Lord Aberdare.)


My Lords, I wonder whether I might make a few remarks about this Motion which, as the Lord Chairman of Committees has said, deals with the four Bills in the second batch of those brought forward as a result of the provisions of Section 262 of the Local Government Act 1972, which provided that all local legislation then in force, with a few exceptions, was to be repealed on certain dates from 1980 to 1984. To the extent that the powers contained in those Acts were still needed, the local authorities had to bring forward fresh legislation for enactment. There was an inheritance of what the Lord Chairman of Committees called a "hotch-potch of powers". It was to tidy up that "hotchpotch" that Parliament required the new local authorities to come back and prove again the need for such powers as they wished to retain.

It was considered that some of the matters dealt with in the old local Acts would be better dealt with in public general legislation. The then Government introduced for that purpose the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which became the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, when referring to this Act on 12th July last, said that, useful though it was, it did not go far enough. It is not at all clear to me why many of the common clauses in the Bills now before your Lordships which are in the model general powers Bill were not included in that measure, or, indeed, why it was not possible to introduce a further miscellaneous provisions Bill now.

The Select Committee on Opposed Common Clauses of the four first Bills to come forward as a result of Section 262, expressed the opinion that provisions such as they had considered should be enacted by public general legislation. The noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees said, in moving that the House take note of the Select Committee's report, that the procedure being followed was the best option in the absence of public general legislation. The only reason given for the continued absence of that legislation was the lack of parliamentary time, although I should have thought that in the long run, if all the local authorities had to bring forward separate Bills which would have to be dealt with in each House in batches of four like this, seeking identical or similar powers, surely more time would be consumed.

I realise, of course, that the miscellaneous provisions Bill was not as uncontroversial as some people had hoped. Also, your Lordships had decided on a previous occasion that even if it were considered that a provision which was brought forward in a Private Bill would be more appropriately dealt with in a Public Act, it would not in itself justify denying that power to the local authority in question. That was the effect of an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, when the South Glamorgan Bill was before your Lordships on 9th December, 1975. Nevertheless, I hope that the Select Committee may reaffirm the opinion which they expressed previously on this matter, in the hope that the new Government will be more receptive of their advice and will bring forward a miscellaneous provisions Bill in the near future.

At the same time, as a result of this procedure I am afraid there will be a sacrifice of the uniformity or consistency which it is the aim of this procedure to achieve. I am sorry to say that the consistency is not even achieved as between Bills in the same batch, let alone as between the first and second batches of four Bills which your Lordships have considered. What does it mean, this uniformity or consistency? The noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees said at the outset of the proceedings on the first batch—and I quote from the transcript: … the so-called 'common clauses' exercise, which aims at achieving as much uniformity as possible between the Bills where they seek powers of the same kind …". He went on to say later: In the new circumstances produced by the Local Government Act, however, the desirability of achieving as much uniformity as possible has taken on an entirely new dimension. We do not think it would be acceptable to this House if provisions in the four Bills conferring the same sort of powers emerged from our proceedings in a form that varied appreciably from one Bill to another except so far as the variations were attributable to genuine differences in local need. Later, however, the noble Lord the Lord Chairman said this was when the report of the Select Committee came before your Lordships' House—that "uniformity" was not quite the right word, and that what Section 262 of the 1972 Act really sought was consistency. If uniformity was to be the general rule there would be no argument whatsoever for the provisions in question being dealt with in private Acts rather than in public general Acts. The noble Lord added that in county council Bills, at any rate, a degree of uniformity should be sought, whatever differences were appropriate as between one district and another within a county.

It seemed to me, on reading these debates, that what is concealed by the terminology is the lack of any fixed principle in deciding whether to accept particular clauses or variants of them. That was illustrated very well in the case of the public processions clauses which we had dealt with in an Instruction that I moved on the Greater Manchester Bill but which your Lordships at that time did not see fit to accept.

If one looks at the old local Acts, one finds that the vast majority of authorities which did require notice of processions were content to make do with 24 hours' warning, in the case of 43, or 36 hours, in the case of 56. A mere seven required two days' notice; two required three days and two wanted longer than three days. If one looks at a few examples of the local authorities which had these provisions, there are inexplicable variations between them. Oxfordshire had 36 hours' notice; Cambridgeshire had no notice; Rochester had no notice; Chatham required 24 hours; the West Riding of Yorkshire, 36 hours, the East Riding, none; Derby, 24 hours and Leiecster, 36. So it appears that up to 1972 very many councils did not find it necessary to have these powers at all, and the ones that did have them were, in the very large majority, content with either 24 or 36 hours. Apparently it never occurred to the Governments of the day to consider whether, in general, it was a good idea to lay a statutory obligation on the organisers of processions, which the overwhelming majority of them would have been quite happy to do voluntarily, in any case.

There is a danger, once a provision of this kind has appeared in a large number of private Acts, that that will be taken as sufficient justification for its continuance in one form or other. We find in these Bills which are now appearing that the length of the notice has been increased to three or seven days. Three days is the period which is suggested in the General Powers Bill Common Clauses; seven days is the period of notice which is required in Northern Ireland. I think that that is where the local authorities which have chosen this period got the precedent from; but, of course, the circumstances in Northern Ireland are totally different, as I think your Lordships would agree.

Of the Bills that have been considered in your Lordships' House so far, four have gone to the Commons—the West Midlands Bill, where the notice clause has been taken out on an Instruction of the House; the West Yorkshire Bill, where the promoters have stated their intention of withdrawing the notice clause; the Merseyside Bill, where the promoters have agreed to reduce the notice from seven days to three, and the Cheshire Bill which still has to have its Second Reading, but it is rumoured that the promoters will agree to three days.

In the case of the four Bills which we now have, and which have been referred to the Committee, the Tyne and Wear Bill has no notice; the Isle of Wight Bill has seven days; the Greater Manchester Bill has seven days and, in the case of the South Yorkshire Bill, I understand that the promoters will agree to withdraw the clause requiring three days, when it get into Committee.

So that there are these tremendous variations between one Bill and another. I realise that the Select Committee, which is concerned with unopposed clauses, will be dealing only with the Isle of Wight, but it will no doubt have regard to the fact that it now looks as though no authority will have seven days' notice and, in many cases, even three will be abandoned. If the promoters of the West Midlands Bill do not seek to restore the clause which was knocked out by the Instruction, when that Bill comes up for Report in another place, then four out of these eight Bills, which are at various stages in each House, could have no notice at all, and it would be necessary to probe the necessity for it in the others even more closely than the Select Committee would have done otherwise.

If I may say so, the general approach of the Conservative Party to legislation, with which I have a certain amount of sympathy, is that we have too much legislation, and that whenever opportunities occur of striking out redundant provisions from the Statute Book, then we should act accordingly. It is for that reason that I have ventured to make these remarks this afternoon, not only because I respectfully hope that the Select Committee might take note of them, but also with the object of saving the promoters time and money by reducing the areas of controversy.


My Lords, it might be of assistance to the Lord Chairman of Committees if I told him that in the Isle of Wight we should be perfectly happy to have three days period of notice. I should perhaps add that we share our police force with Hampshire, so that additional policemen have to be brought over by boat which does not run all the time and not so much at night. So we do require this extra warning, and anything less than three days would make it difficult for the Hampshire police and their administration.


My Lords, I have listened with interest to what has been said by both the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I can assure them that what they have said will be brought to the notice of the Select Committee. May I just say, so far as uniformity of legislation is concerned, that that is obviously a case for public general legislation and it has nothing to do with me. But I am quite sure that the noble Lord the Leader of the House has been listening avidly to what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said.

Where I agree with the noble Lord is that where a promoter has shown that he has a need for a particular power, then it is desirable that that power should be consistent between one local authority and another. Of the eight Bills that the noble Lord mentioned, none of them has yet completely passed through both Houses of Parliament, and I am sure that in both Houses we shall be trying to achieve as much consistency as possible.

On Question, Motion agreed to.