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 Alexander Walkden Mr Alexander Walkden , Bristol South 12:00, 9 Mawrth 1945

In supporting the Motion which, in effect, approves this very excellent Report, I would like to say that having perused it carefully, and having had something to do with Private Bills from time to time for a good many years, I feel that it is a very good piece of work. The Chairman of Ways and Means and his helpers have performed a very good job of work, and I would like to express our appreciation of their labours. This is a very important matter both to the public at large, and to this House. It is true, as the Chairman of Ways and Means has said, that we have not had many Private Bills recently, but in normal times I have known as many as 80 in one Session, working through their course, quietly and nicely as a rule. Undoubtedly, such Bills will come again. Probably we shall have as many as 100 when we are again free to carry on the work of the nation unhindered by war circumstances.

These Orders are very elaborate but I would not say that any of them are unnecessary. On the contrary, I think they are all necessary. Needless to say they are in lovely, limpid, legal language. I like legal language; it runs so well and if one has plenty of time and patience and also an opportunity of reading it carefully is nice and easy to understand. But we on these benches feel that something more should be done to assist public authorities to get the necessary permission from Parliament, without this elaborate procedure. If an authority wants to promote a new enterprise, it has to come to this House for a Private Bill and spend a lot of time and money, to get permission to do something which is legitimate, and which other public authorities have probably already done. In order to minimise the heavy labours of this House and of public authorities who are doing so much useful work throughout the country further simplification should take place. I think we must endeavour to devise some expedient by which a Minister, say the Minister of Health, may give any public authority a certificate or permit to proceed with same proper enterprise which it wishes to undertake, provided there is a good precedent for it. For example, Birmingham has an excellent municipal savings bank, which is of great benefit to the citizens. No other municipality can have such an institution without coming here for a Private Bill, and going through all these Orders to get the authority to do so. One would like to see that method simplified.

I make a further, and perhaps larger, suggestion that it would be a good thing for this House to carry a great enabling Bill, under which local authorities could proceed with enterprises scheduled in that Bill and, by the House as being proper for public authorities to undertake, thus diminishing the number of these Bills, and reducing the labours of this House and the people upstairs. I submit that for general consideration. I hope we shall have it in our minds as time goes on, and see, as opportunity arises, what we can do to help in that direction. There is an example in this present Session of the same kind of thing. Permission has been given to the Minister of Health to hold inquiries, through a Commission, into boundary questions. Boundary disputes involve a lot of time and trouble if they have to pass through the Parliamentary mill. There may be much strife and trouble on these premises about boundary questions, arising hundreds of miles away, in that part of the Kingdom known as Scotland. The Minister can now require his Commissioners to hold local inquiries into these boundary questions, and I believe that these inquiries can pretty well settle the thing on the spot, and the Minister can authorise any extension that is recommended. I speak rather warmly about that because Bristol wants to expand. All its centre has been blown away by those people who, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes)—he is not here this morning—ought not themselves to be bombed. Bristol does not want to fill up that centre but to make a great park, but the authority cannot carry out their plan within their own boundaries. They must go outside to provide homes for their people. I hope that the Boundary Commission will help in that regard.

It is most interesting to look through this Report and note how many new Ministries have come into existence in our time. All the Ministers concerned must get copies of these Bills to which I refer so that they know what is proposed, and are able to see whether it affects their powers and prerogatives. There is the Air Ministry, which is new, the Ministry of Labour is also a new one, and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning is the newest. I think it is brought in specially. Then, there is the Ministry of Fuel and Power, another new one, and the Forestry Commissioners, I am not quite sure whether they are continuing or not. But this shows how wonderfully our country has expanded in social and industrial activity. The fact that we are becoming a stronger and finer country is brought out in this very interesting book.

I cannot help noticing that these Standing Orders affect many enterprises which are really public services, but are carried on by private companies and corporations who come to this House for permission for their activities. I am very pleased to know from paragraph 174 that there appears to be no tendency whatever under these Orders, to impinge upon the ancient right of this House to discuss the affairs of any promoters who come here for further powers. Any promoter who has an enterprise in the nature of a monopoly and a public service, who comes here for further powers, is not to be immune from the traditional right of criticism which we have always exercised That is an ancient Parliamentary right and is also in accordance with modern policy. There are all manner of these enterprises, and they are increasing. Some new ones of a most interesting character have been brought into existence. I cite one, the London Passenger Transport Board, rather a peculiar body. The seven directors constituting the Board are not appointed by this House or by Ministers, but by queer bodies which have nothing to do with London Transport, people like the accountants and the lawyers and the Bank of England, I believe. Certainly the London County Council has some concern in the matter. But this Transport Board does not have to report to this House. While the Minister of Transport is good enough to answer Questions about it he has no authority over it, and we cannot discuss here what it is doing and not doing. That is strange; I think it is wrong. The Board should be associated with the Ministry of Transport, and it should be open to us to consider its operation. The only opportunity which arises for that is when it comes here seeking further powers. It is proper that we should have an opportunity of raising any points that are considered unsatisfactory.

That applies equally to a water company, to the Manchester Ship Canal Company or the Port of London Authority. All these numerous bodies have grown up in our English way, empirically, inconsistently, illogically. But they work. Parliament should however have an opportunity of surveying their activities when the appropriate occasion arises. I hope that all these considerations will be borne in mind. Even if the work has to be done in the old archaic way, under the Standing Orders, instead of in greater freedom under an enabling Bill, we should maintain an intelligent and lively interest in the enterprises represented by these Private Bills.