HL Deb 09 December 1980 vol 415 cc642-4

2.53 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

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

Moved, That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the Lords following, together with the Chairman of Committees and any one Lord of Appeal, be named of the Select Committee on Hybrid Instruments:

—(Lord Aberdare.)

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, before the House approves this order, I should be grateful for the guidance of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees as to the procedure which will be followed in dealing with two orders: the Merseyside Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1980 and the London Docklands Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1980. In the Minutes of Proceedings of 2nd December, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees reported that in his opinion they would require to be enacted by a Private or Hybrid Bill; in other words, that they were hybrid orders.

Before turning to the substance of the matter, a minor, preliminary matter arises from the form of the Motion. It sets out the names of the members of the Select Committee and reads: together with the Chairman of Committees and any one Lord of Appeal without indicating that the Lord of Appeal will be the chairman of the committee, which would be in accord with Standing Orders. I apprehend that in Standing Orders no amendment of the Motion is required to put the matter in order, but perhaps the noble Lord can assist us about that.

If I may turn to the substance of the matter about which I desire the guidance of the noble Lord, no public inquiry of any kind has been held in relation to the proposed setting up of these development corporations. I am particularly concerned with that which relates to London's Docklands as I had the honour to represent for a great many years part of the Newham constituency. As the House will remember from our discussions during the various stages of the Local Government Bill, the orders give to the Secretary of State unprecedented powers to enable the land and powers of several local authorities to be acquired and taken over by a Quango appointed by him. Hardly any individual or interest in the area will not be affected by the proposed powers that are to be granted.

Absence of any previous inquiry may well be a matter which the Hybrid Instruments Committee may take into account in considering whether there should be a full inquiry into these orders by a Select Committee. Those who will be petitioning against the orders are anxious to know what the procedure will be should a Select Committee be set up and an inquiry take place. In such a case it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State or the Government, whoever will have the responsibility for dealing with the orders, to be required to seek to justify the orders in respect of the designated areas by such arguments and evidence as may be thought fit to be brought forward. It would then be the turn of the petitioners to challenge that case and to bring forward such evidence as they in turn require.

This procedure would accord, as I am advised and verily believe, with the procedure followed by previous Select Committees which have considered previous hybrid orders. The most recent was the Solus Petrol (No. 2) Order. It is a matter of great importance for the petitioners, preparing as they now are for the subsequent stages of the proceedings before Parliament. I should be grateful to the noble Lord if he could give such guidance to me and, more importantly, to them as to the course of events that is likely to be followed.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord for having put this question. I will certainly do my best to explain the procedure, although it is somewhat complicated. As the noble and learned Lord has correctly said, what has happened so far is that the orders have been laid and that I reported on 2nd December that in my opinion both orders were hybrid. Under our Standing Orders this means that petitioners now have until 16th December to petition against the affirmation of these two orders. I apprehend that such petitions are likely to be laid, in which case these petitions, and the two orders, will be referred to the Hybrid Instruments Committee, which is the committee I am seeking your Lordships' approval of this afternoon.

I can confirm to the noble and learned Lord that the chairman of that committee will be the Lord of Appeal, whichever Lord of Appeal sits upon it. I am very grateful to him for pointing this out. There is no need to amend the Motion, but on future occasions we will ensure that the Motion is put in such a way that it is quite clear that the Lord of Appeal will be the chairman of the committee.

The procedure then is that the Hybrid Instruments Committee consider the matter. First they have to consider the locus standi of the petitioners. If they agree that the petitioners have a locus standi, they then go on and eventually advise the House whether in their opinion the orders should be investigated further by a Select Committee. If the House so decides, that Select Committee will consist of five Lords. The names will be proposed to the House by the Committee of Selection.

When the proceedings take place before the Select Committee, it will be the first time that such a procedure has happened since the fairly recent establishment of the Hybrid Instruments Committee. But it would be appropriate for them to follow the same procedure as used to be followed by other Select Committees to whom hybrid instruments were referred as a result of a report of the old Special Orders Committee, and the one that the noble and learned Lord referred to, the Solus Petrol (No. 2) Order 1966, was the last of those.

But we now have a different committee, the Hybrid Instruments Committee, and under that procedure I am sure that the Select Committee should follow the same procedure, which is to say that the onus would be on the Government to show the grounds on which the order had been made. In other words, probably they would have to make their case first. This follows from the fact that these are affirmative orders which the Government would have to ask the House to approve before they could take effect. So I think I can confirm all the points that the noble and learned Lord made.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, with leave, I should like to thank the noble Lord for guiding us through this somewhat difficult course, full of potential hazards on the way, and I thank him very much for his help.

On Question, Motion agreed to.