Private Bill Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 9 Mawrth 1945.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East 12:00, 9 Mawrth 1945

As the House is aware, the Chairman of Ways and Means is primarily responsible for the conduct of Private Bill legislation. The Standing Orders dealing with Private Business make a formidable code of some 160 pages. While there have been piecemeal additions and alterations from time to time, including some substantial changes in the time of my predecessor, now Lord Hemingford, there has actually been no thorough revision for nearly 70 years. The desirability of such a revision was made clear to me at a very early date in my occupancy of the office.

There were two courses open to me. One was to ask the House to appoint a Select Committee to undertake the necessary revision. The other was to ask a number of officials and experts to do the somewhat laborious preliminary work, for subsequent submission to a Select Committee. Upon inquiry, I found that the circumstances were particularly favourable to the second course being adopted. It appeared that Mr. O. C. Williams, Principal Clerk in the Committee and Private Bill Office, had, as a result of many years' research, just completed a detailed history of every one of the Standing Orders in question, and further that we could have the great advantage of the services of Sir Frederick Liddell, the former Counsel to Mr. Speaker, and a man of encyclopaedic knowledge on the subject, and that we could at the same time avail ourselves of the services of Sir Cecil Carr, the present Counsel to Mr. Speaker, with his very wide experience. It also seemed to me that this valuable piece of work could best be done at a time when not many Private Bills were coming before the House.

I ventured, therefore, with the approval of Mr. Speaker, to ask a small committee of officials and experts to make a systematic review of the whole code, Order by Order—the most extensive examination it has ever undergone—as a preliminary to the submission of the matter to a Select Committee if the House so ordered. That committee of officials consisted of Mr. O. C. Williams, Sir Frederick Liddell and Sir Cecil Carr. I also invited Mr. C. E. C. Browne, acting Honorary Secretary of the Society of Parliamentary Agents, to join in the work, on the understanding that his inclusion would not commit that important body of practitioners to any final decisions but so that he might represent their views and interests in a general if informal way. Finally, as it is obviously desirable that the Standing Orders of the two Houses should bear some general relationship to each other, two officials from another place were present as friendly observers, by agreement with the Lord Chairman, who has similar responsibilities to mine in another place. The committee's work took some 10 months and the committee eventually reported to me. The House then set up a Select Committee to revise the Standing Orders relating to Private Business. I was elected Chairman, and I then laid before the Select Committee the report of the informal committee which the Select Committee adopted as the basis for their revision.

I am now asking the House, in effect, to approve the Report of that Select Committee. I ought, perhaps, to make it clear that the object we have all had in mind has not been to introduce any novelties of principle or practice but solely to cut out obsolete and duplicated provisions, to put the Orders into a more logical sequence, to harmonise the language and generally to tidy the whole thing up. Not having been revised for so long, the present code inevitably contains a lot of dead wood. If I may, for one moment, take up the time of the House I would like to give just one or two illustrations. Two of the Standing Orders are devoted to Bills for reviving lapsed patents. They have been quite superfluous since 1907, when Parliament enacted a much simpler procedure in place of a Private Bill for the purpose. Several Standing Orders relate to Railway Bills. They date back to the railway boom of a century ago, when the House had to check promoters, some of whose proposals for fresh railway lines were merely intended to bring pressure to bear upon existing companies to buy them out. All those Orders have been obsolete for years, and certainly since the Railways Act of 1921. There were also a number of Orders about Inclosure Bills, and they were even more antiquated, as most of them dated from 1801 and were superseded long ago by a simpler form of procedure.

All those Orders have been cleared out of the way and with them the Orders relating to the deposit of money, technically known as Parliamentary Deposits, which the promoters of certain classes of Bills have hitherto been required to make. All the Ministries and Government Departments have been consulted. The Report of the Select Committee was unanimous. It contains, as the House will have seen, a complete re-draft of the whole code, with a double index and with sufficient explanation and notes to show how and why any existing Order has been omitted, altered, re-stated or re-grouped. One result is to cut the existing code down by about one-sixth, reducing it by some 27 pages and 43 Orders.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, it might be convenient if I said one word with regard to the consequential Amendments to the Standing Orders relating to Public Business which, I understand, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will shortly move, as they arise out of the Report of the Select Committee. The first Amendment is a mere transference from the Private Bill Standing Orders of a paragraph which should clearly belong to the Public Bill Standing Orders. It is fully explained on page 17 of the Report. I do not think I need go into any further detail. The second and third Amendments of the Standing Orders relating to Public Business which the Committee recommended are consequential on Amendments to the Private Bill Standing Orders, and remove a difficulty as to the setting down of Motions contingent upon opposed Private Business which has been deferred—" de- ferred" is the right word and not "postponed"—by the direction of the Chairman. I think I have now dealt in substance with all the questions before the House.

All the steps which have been taken are in accordance with ancient precedent and I have reason to believe that, as has always happened in the past, parallel action will be taken in another place. If so, while I cannot promise that all the technicalities of the Standing Orders relating to Private Business will be translated into words of one syllable, we shall, at any rate, have done our best to help our Private Bills, which are likely greatly to increase when the war is over, to go forward under a code of provisions which are simpler and a good deal shorter than those in use at present.

In conclusion, I should like to pay tribute—as did the Select Committee and as I am sure the House would wish me to do—to the members of the informal committee for the arduous and valuable preparatory work which they did, work which I am confident will redound to the credit of the House and will be even more greatly appreciated when its results are seen.