Amendment of Statutory Instruments Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th April 1970.

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Order for Second Reading read.

3.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

First, the Bill would enable Parliament, if it so desired and if it so resolved, to amend two-thirds of the legislation passed by central Government which at the moment is not subject to amendment by Parliament. It is a representative truth to say that for every piece of legislation passed by Parliament twice as much is passed by Ministers. This is quite apart from legislation introduced by local authorities under delegated powers. At the moment, when we give Ministers power to legislate by Statutory Instrument, we forgo any right other than to accept or reject the result of granting these powers.

If literally thousands of amendments are accepted each year to legislation which passes through the House, it is in the highest degree improbable that no amendment is needed to legislation by Statutory Instrument made by Ministers under delegated powers. Moreover, a great number of the Amendments made by the House to Measures passing through it are not debated. A Minister will rise and recommend an Amendment, either in Committee or in the House, saying merely, "This is a drafting Amendment", acknowledging, in other words, that the Bill as introduced was badly drawn and that, if passed into law, it would have consequences not intended by its originators.

If Bills carefully prepared by Departments are peppered with drafting errors, how improbable must it be that Statutory Instruments produced by draftsmen no more skilled than those who draft Bills can be innocent of these defects. What is more, both by weight and by numbers of pages, there is twice as much legislation made by Statutory Instrument as there is passed by the House through its normal processes in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

Broadly speaking there are two procedures for delegated legislation. First, there is that which requires an affirmative Resolution of the House in order to have statutory effect, and second, there is that which becomes law automatically unless either House of Parliament passes a Prayer petitioning Her Majesty not to confirm it. In the first case, the Measure must come before Parliament; in the second, the negative Resolution procedure, it need never come before the House, although a draft is nominally laid upon the Table. In the first case, moreover, it is the common experience that Ministers, of whatever party allegiance, do not seek to justify the detailed wording of their Statutory Instruments, but, with crocodile tears pouring from their eyes, they point out that the House has no power to amend and must either accept or reject.

Time and again, judges bemoan the fact that Parliament passes badly drafted legislation, legislation which is ambiguous or self-contradictory, which leaves gaps which were plainly unintended, or which covers situations not intended to be covered. Statutory Instruments are just as guilty of this defect as are Acts of Parliament.

We all know that Bills are passed through the House without our individually having read them. I do not believe that there has ever been a Member of Parliament who could claim to have read through every Bill passed during his membership. How much more certain is it that only a tiny proportion of Statutory Instruments can ever be read by Members. We even have the outrageous state of affairs in which we are asked to pass an affirmative Resolution to a Statutory Instrument on which the Statutory Instruments Committee has not yet reported. Thank goodness we are bound by our rules, so that the Chair draws to the attention of the House in this circumstance that a Statutory Instrument has not yet been reported on by that Committee.

In those circumstances, the existence of the Statutory Instruments Committee becomes farcical. If it subsequently reports that a Statutory Instrument is ultra vires after the House has already given its assent, of what benefit is its report? The Statutory Instruments Committee is set up as a safeguard not to report upon the wisdom of any Measure, but whether the powers which the Minister is purporting to exercise in making his Order exist at his behest and command. I should think that that is an adequately limited task for the Statutory Instruments Committee to perform, and it is doubly unsatisfactory that it should on occasion be denied even this limited task.

The second evil which the Bill seeks to remedy concerns the negative Resolution procedure. In private discussions with hon. Members of both sides of the House, it has become clear that very few of our colleagues know the rules which apply to the assessment of the 40 days during which Prayers to annul may be brought before the House. Most of our colleagues know that there are 40 days. What many do not know is that they are largely illusory. They include Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, upon which no Prayer can be entertained—on Saturdays and Sundays because the House does not sit, and on Fridays for procedural reasons.

Moreover, when Parliament is dissolved and a General Election is held and a new Parliament is sworn in, even the days when no business is conducted by the House, except the swearing in of Members, count as part of the 40 days.

To indicate that this is not merely a hypothetical question. I would point out that when the Exeter Order to extend the boundaries of the City of Exeter eventually came before this House, three of the last four days on which a Prayer to annul that Order could have been entertained were actually occupied by swearing in Members. Had that process been a little slower and occupied one additional day, there would have been no opportunity for the House to exercise the right—on which it divided—to pray against that Order. Under the negative resolution procedure, that Order would have become law without any opportunity for the House to debate it. Even had the Leader of the House been persuaded, however strongly, that it ought to be debated, he would have been powerless to give time, because in the computation of the 40 days, there is this ridiculous rule as a result of which many of the days are illusory.

Incidentally, when I sought advice from the authorities of the other House concerning the Exeter Order, it became apparent that the method used by the House of Lords authorities for computing the 40 days gave a different result from the method used by the authorities of the House of Commons. The result was that one further day was made available in the House of Lords than in the House of Commons, although both were pursuant to the same words in the same Act. I am sure it will be agreed that that is an entirely intolerable state of affairs.

It may be that if the Bill receives a Second Reading and goes to Committee there will be those, including, perhaps, those who speak for the Government, who will feel that a period of 40 effective days for praying is too long. I should be happy, as I am sure would every hon. Member supporting the Bill, to consider with an open mind whether the number of effective days for entertaining negative Resolutions should be 40, or a lesser or greater number, but what is incontrovertible is that the number of days should not be a matter of caprice and fortune.

It should not depend on whether there is a period of interruption by an election, whether hon. Members are being sworn in, or the day of the week on which the draft Regulation or Order is laid before the House, and, therefore, how many Saturdays, Sundays, and Fridays there are within the period of 40 days, on which no such Prayers can be entertained.

This must be a matter of great constitutional importance if we are concerned, as I hope we all are, that Parliament should be made more, rather than less, relevant to the affairs of our country. There is widespread evidence that many people, and particularly younger people, consider that our parliamentary institutions have become less and less relevant to day-to-day life. This is an attempt to make Parliament more relevant.

Let us bear in mind that many of the things which affect people's day-to-day lives are controlled not by Acts of Parliament, but by delegated legislation. Whether we are dealing with speed limits, the handling of food in shops, or weights and measures regulations, these are all matters which have the force of law by reason of Statutory Instruments, and not by reason of detailed legislation which is subject to amendment by the House of Commons.

With that general introduction, I should like now to go through the contents of the Bill seriatim.

Clause 1 adopts the same definition of the term Statutory Instrument as appears in the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946. The then Solicitor-General, Sir Frank Soskice, as he then was, has authorised me to say that, as one of the sponsors of that Bill, he never intended that the vast amount of Statutory Instruments which flowed from it should not be subject to effective control by the House. He kindly offered to help me in drafting this Bill, should I require it, and I am grateful to him for that.

In Clause 2, we state that the power to amend Statutory Instruments is not retrospective. It is much more restrictive. It says that when, in future, the House passes legislation which includes the granting of new powers to legislate by Statutory Instrument, the House may, if it so wishes, and not if it does not so resolve, couple that new authority granted to Ministers with the restriction that in the exercise of that authority the House of Commons shall have the right to amend the draft Instrument.

In other words, if the Bill, including Clause 2, is passed, that does not mean that every Statutory Instrument will be subject to amendment or that Statutory Instruments made pursuant to all Acts passed after the Bill receives the Royal Assent will be subject to amendment. I do not doubt that that could be onerous for any Government, but it means that where the House gives wide powers to a Minister either to spend public money—for example, in the case of agricultural improvement grants—or in connection with planning procedures or transport matters—when it approves the principle behind such Measures but it wishes to make sure that they are properly drafted it can resolve to give itself the power to amend those Statutory Instruments before they pass into effect.

The time which I recommend for passing that kind of resolution is after the House has assented to the Third Reading of a Bill—that is, when the Bill can no longer be amended by the House of Commons—so that people know its final form, at least, as it leaves the Commons but before Royal Assent has been signified to it. That seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable moment to decide whether such a Measure shall be made subject to the Amendment of Statutory Instruments Act, as the Bill will be if it passes into law. This would be done by moving, after the Third Reading, a substantive Motion of the following form: That the… Bill shall be subject to the Amendment of Statutory Instruments Act, 1970. Clause 3 seeks to give a more useful function to the Statutory Instruments Committee. I was advised by the authorities of the House, to whom I express my gratitude, that rather than refer to the Statutory Instruments Committee by name, a more suitable method of drafting would be to use the form which appears in Clause 3.

At present, the function of the Statutory Instruments Committee is to warn the House whether a Statutory Instrument, brought to the House for affirmative Resolution or laid in draft and subject to negative Resolution, is ultra vires. As I have pointed out, the Statutory Instruments Committee is sometimes so lightly regarded by the Government of the day—this is not a party political point—that some Measures are brought before the House without the Statutory Instruments Committee even having reported upon them.

It seems to me that it would be a useful function to give what I regard as an important Committee—the Statutory Instruments Committee—additional power not only to report to the House whether a Measure is ultra vires, but to recommend, if it so desires, that certain Amendments should be made to the Statutory Instrument.

There are two reasons for that. At the moment, when defects appear in a Statutory Instrument the Minister can either steamroller the Measure through, defects and all, or withdraw it and re-table it. What he cannot do is correct it by Amendment. In this case, if the Statutory Instruments Committee takes the view that certain provisions of a Statutory Instrument are ultra vires it could recommend their deletion or it could, for instance, recommend—and this would not exhaust its power of recommendation or amendment—a change in the form of words so as to bring it within the compass of the alleged enab- ling Acts. Both of these functions could broadly be described as being of assistance to the Government of the day rather than hampering them.

The Statutory Instruments Committee could also recommend to the House, with no more power than that of drawing attention to and making recommendations, any other amendments which it so desired, bearing in mind that since the House would have power of amendment this is something in which it would not normally indulge on what I would call a qualititative basis as opposed to a legalistic basis.

It would make service on the Committee much more interesting than it must be now. It is right that tribute should be paid to those who serve on the Committee. It must be a most arduous and, in many ways, a tiring and unrewarding job to read through each Statutory Instrument merely to see whether it falls within the proper compass of the alleged enabling Act. I would like to express my gratitude to colleagues on all sides of the House who undertake this necessary function and who receive little, if any, public appreciation for their labours.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Rowley Regis and Tipton

While I see the merits of enlivening the proceedings of the Statutory Instruments Committee, is the proposal, since there is no Order Paper beforehand, that Amendments shall be proposed to what may be highly technical Statutory Instruments, discussed on the spot and incorporated into the Committee's Report—just like that?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

The hon. Gentleman may have the advantage of me because I have never served on the Statutory Instruments Committee and I do not know the form which its proceedings take and how it draws up its report, any more than I have served on the Estimates Committee and know the form in which it draws up its report. That is a matter which could be left to the Committee, to decide the procedure, as to whether members of the Committee would have to give advance notice of Amendments they wished to make, and whether there would be a system of starred Amendments.

This is a matter of detailed importance but, since the House has never—to the best of my knowledge—laid down in Standing Orders the way in which our Select Committees proceed with respect to the type of activity I am dealing with, I should have thought that it could be left to the Committee concerned to give adequate notice to all members of the Committee about action it intends to take before any recommendations are finalised. If it transpired that it was not satisfactory to leave the matters undefined in that way, it would be much better to deal with it by amendment of the Standing Orders of the House by simple Resolution of the House rather than to try to embody it in an Act of Parliament, which is debatable in another place, too. This would affect only a House of Commons committee. That is a more appropriate way to deal with it.

Clause 4 reminds us of the different types of Statutory Instrument that the Bill is intended to encompass.

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

As we do not have the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, before us, would the hon. Gentleman tell us whether paragraph (a) deals with positive or negative statutory instruments?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

It deals with negative Resolution procedures.

The hon. and learned Gentleman may notice the importation of the expression "forty effective days", which is defined in Clause 5. Section 5 of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, defines the period of 40 days in which negative Resolution Prayers may be moved. To save repetition, when I was earlier describing the General function of the Bill I tried to outline at some length the somewhat bizarre results of the definition in that section. Conversation with colleagues has shown that a substantial number of hon. Members are not aware how bizarre the definition is. They imagine that the 40 days in which we are permitted to pray against the confirmation of negative Resolution Statutory Instruments are 40 real days—in other words, 40 opportunities. This is far from being the case.

In paragraph (b), in regard to Section 4 of the Statutory Instruments Act, 1946, I did not need to use the number "forty" because it seemed to me that "ten" would more nearly meet the needs of both the Government and the critics of the Measure. The Statutory Instrument covered by paragraph (b) is one that becomes immediately effective but can subsequently be cancelled. There are Statutory Instruments subject to negative Resolution which do not become effective until the expiry of the 40 days. There are also Statutory Instruments which become effective immediately but can subsequently be cancelled.

It seemed to me, although this would be a perfectly reasonable point on which to entertain discussion in Committee, that where a Measure becomes of immediate effect the House should amend it much more speedily than in 40 effective days if it wishes to amend it. If it needs amending, it should be amended as soon as possible. If it does not become effective until after the 40 days, it will not suffer from the amendments being delayed until the fortieth day if necessary.

In Clause 5 I define "effective days" as follows: In this Act 'effective days' means days upon which the standing orders of the House of Commons permit the House to entertain resolutions of amendment under section 4 of this Act, but does not include days upon which such resolutions cannot be debated or determined because the House of Commons is engaged in swearing in honourable Members at the beginning of a new Parliament. To the best of my knowledge, the reason why Prayers cannot be entertained when a new House is being sworn in is not because the Standing Orders of the House specifically exclude it but literally because the House is otherwise engaged. For this reason it was necessary to import that form of words.

We come in Clause 6 to the Calculation of praying time in respect of statutory instruments". In this provision we say: In calculating the period of forty days under sections 5 and 6 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 in which either"— note "either"; previously it was "the House of Commons"— either House of Parliament may by resolution pray Her Majesty to annul, or not to confirm a statutory instrument, there shall be excluded—

  1. (a) days upon which the standing orders of each House respectively prevent such prayers from being considered; and
  2. (b) days upon which such prayers may not be considered, because that House of Parliament is prevented from considering such prayers because it is engaged in swearing in its members at the beginning of a new Parliament."
It is quite possible, for obvious reasons, that both Houses of Parliament will not occupy the same number of days in swearing in hon. Members at the beginning of a Parliament. Therefore, that is probably the best way of achieving these twin definitions, bearing in mind the different circumstances and the different numerical memberships of the two Houses.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Rowley Regis and Tipton

Would the hon. Gentleman enlighten my ignorance by telling me if at present "time" in this context runs during a recess, or is the time occupied by a recess covered by sub-paragraph (a)?

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

I think I am right in saying that the clock which counts the 40 days stops when the House is not sitting for a period in excess of five days. This is entirely ludicrous and bizarre, but under this rule Saturdays and Sundays, being only two days, are counted by the clock; but when the House goes into recess for longer than five days, including Saturdays and Sundays, then the clock stops. However, once Parliament has reassembled at the beginning of a new Parliament, the clock immediately starts again.

In gathering the strings together I remind hon. Members, in case I have been unclear in my exposition of the Bill, that, in so far as it redefines the time in which Prayers may be entertained under the negative Resolution procedure and provides that Statutory Instruments be not confirmed by Her Majesty, it affects both Houses of Parliament. In so far as it gives power to amend Statutory Instruments, it gives that power exclusively to the House of Commons, and not to the House of Lords.

There may be those who think that the power should be given to the House of Lords, but I doubt whether that view would recommend itself widely. An adequate measure of protection will be given to the general public by the House of Commons being given this extra power.

I emphasise my motivation. I am not primarily concerned with people who oppose major legislation having a second bite at the cherry. Nor am I primarily concerned with the Opposition of the day being able to oppose at greater length the exercise of powers which they have already opposed when the enabling Act was passed.

What I am concerned with is the amount of defective draftsmanship that becomes the law of the land because it is inadequately examined and because there is no power to examine it even when the defectiveness is detected. The process of amendment at present is unofficial. I exclude certain cases which are famous because they are so rare. It was in this Parliament, for example, that the Minister concerned withdrew the initial Order setting up the Agricultural Training Board because of criticism in the House and subsequently retabled an altered Statutory Instrument. That was entirely commendable. It received widespread publicity because it was such a rare thing to happen.

On the contrary, it is in no way rare for Ministers to accept Amendments either on the Floor of the House or in Committee on a Bill. They often do so and are grateful for those Amendments. Very often, the Amendments proposed are not of a party political character. This House in its richness has, among its 630 Members, experts on practically every subject, I am happy to say, and many hon. Members have a more up to date and cogent expertise than the civil servants sitting in the Official Box, advising Ministers—although they are not operating at the moment.

I take as a case in point a Measure which was enacted with the full support of both sides of the House and which underwent a tremendous amount of amendment which turned it into an effective Act of Parliament. The Firearms Act, 1965, was drafted by the Home Office originally, presumably by people who considered themselves to be expert. But it was drafted in such a manner that one could drive a coach and horses through it. There was no definition of a loaded weapon, so that someone carrying a weapon in the public street with the magazine full of ammunition but without a cartridge in the breech would have been regarded as carrying an unloaded rather than a loaded weapon.

Those of us who served on the Standing Committee considering the Bill greatly appreciated the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for Wales, then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, welcomed Amendments. Indeed, he paid tribute to them on Third Reading. No one suggests that the Home Office deliberately drafted an important Measure with incompetence. It was just that there were severe limitations on the technical knowledge of those whose duty it was to advise the then Home Secretary. This is not something unique to the Home Office. It is true of every Government Department that there are limitations to their expertise.

I remember not so long ago a Statutory Instrument which appeared in draft. It was to do with eggs. I forget the details, but it was intended to stop people from deeply refrigerating eggs and then selling them as fresh. But it was drafted in such a way that, if anyone had used any device to prevent a room from getting intolerably hot so that eggs would not go rotten at once, those eggs would have fallen within the definition of refrigerated eggs and, therefore, into a special category. There being no procedure for amendment of a Statutory Instrument on the Floor of the House, I telephoned the Department and pointed this matter out. The Statutory Instrument was corrected and reprinted.

I am not saying that, at the moment, there are not unofficial channels which can be and sometimes are used, but, apart from the redefining of "effective days"—the desirability of which I am sure no one could dispute—the gravamen of my case is as follows. When legislation which passes through this House needs such a wide degree of amendment as has been shown constantly by the appearance of drafting Amendments on the Order Paper, it stretches the bounds of probability beyond all reason that double the amount of legislation passing into law by Statutory Instruments by some entirely miraculous process should ensure that these defects are absent.

Therefore, if we want to achieve two ends which I should have thought every hon. Member would want to achieve—first, to take to heart the criticism of the courts about passing badly drafted legislation, which includes Statutory Instruments, and, secondly, to make Parliament a more relevant and more effective body than it is at the moment—it seems that this Measure offers a very real opportunity of achieving them.

I should be very happy indeed, as would the other sponsors of the Bill, if it is given a Second Reading, to discuss with an entirely open mind its detail in Committee and on Report. We could discuss whether 40 effective days is the right number and whether the right time to pass a Motion putting a Bill into effect is after Third Reading or not. I have an open mind on that. I certainly would not have the House believe that in choosing 40 effective days and 10 effective days respectively, I have seized upon an arithmetical number which I believe is inherently better than any other. I chose 40 effective days because under the existing provisions it is 40 days and because I suspect that most hon. Members believe 40 days already means 40 effective days.

With that explanation of what I confess is admittedly a somewhat complex subject, I hope that the House will give the Measure a Second Reading.

3.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) on two things. The first is his assiduity in attendance which has enabled him to speak to his Bill. I was one who came to this House at what I thought a sufficiently early hour one morning to be able to move a Motion for a Ten-Minute Rule Bill. I found myself defeated by the hon. Member, who had arrived at a much earlier hour and had seized, as he was perfectly entitled to do, upon a defect in our procedures which enabled him to grab for his party all the opportunities for Ten-Minute Rule Bills this Session.

The hon. Member incurred a certain amount of odium on this side of the House which added to his difficulties in finding time to debate this subject, but he has attended regularly and, whereas we have seen that today certain Bills were reached but not discussed because their sponsors were not here, I congratulate him on being here and seizing his opportunity.

Secondly, I congratulate the hon. Member on the way in which he has presented his Bill. He has done so with great clarity. It was a lesson to some others to see how he presented his Bill, so far as I could see without a single note and with model clarity. I hope that he will not think that I have risen now out of any vindictive sense to oppose his Bill, for I assure him that that is not so. He has raised a most interesting subject, but one which I shall seek to persuade the House should not be dealt with in the way proposed in the Bill.

The hon. Member advances his case primarily on the grounds that there are so many drafting defects in legislation that it is not right that a large body of legislation, namely, subordinate legislation, should go through without the House having any powers to amend. That is an attractive argument, but the hon. Member fails to pay sufficient regard to the purpose of delegated legislation. It is because the House recognised a long time ago that the volume of legislation, and of necessary legislation, has become such that the House simply cannot scrutinise properly the whole of it. It must, therefore, try to divide the legislation into two parts—that which should go into Statutes and which the House will consider in detail, and that which ought to be delegated to Ministers, subject to the control of the affirmative or negative Resolution procedure.

It is essential to this distinction that there should not be the power to amend delegated legislation, otherwise we will be back where we started—that, is cluttering up the procedures of the House with a vast amount of work it is unable to undertake. The hon. Member has clearly understood and recognised this. He therefore puts Clause 2 into his Bill, which would immediately take away nearly everything which on the face of it the Bill proposed to do; namely, as the hon. Gentleman himself explained, it would ensure that this new procedure would not apply to all delegated legislation.

If the primary reason for the Bill is, as the hon. Member suggests, to enable us to perfect delegated legislation by being able to amend it, surely that should apply to all delegated legislation. How is the House to know at the end of the Third Reading of a Bill whether the delegated legislation to be made under that Bill will be subjected to error in drafting? The House cannot tell in advance. Therefore, if that is the true criterion, the House would be unable to decide whether to pass a Resolution such as is proposed in Clause 2.

It is my belief that the real object of this is not, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, to enable us to correct drafting defects. I think that the real object emerged from a remark which he made almost in parentheses in a reference to the kind of legislation which is passed under the Agriculture Acts giving power to alter or amend procedures for agricultural grants.

I believe that what the hon. Member really wants to do is to have the power to alter not the drafting but the substance of that delegated legislation. I believe that Clause 2 is really intended to direct the mind of the House at the end of a Third Reading to whether it should try to claw back, as it were, some of the delegated legislation power which it is giving to the Minister in passing the Bill.

I do not believe that this half-way house will work. We must make up our minds. We either give the power of delegated legislation or we reserve it to the House.

The evil that is suggested is not as great as might at first appear. That was illustrated by the example which the hon. Member gave about the delegated legislation which he was unable to identify but which apparently related to the refrigeration of eggs. As the hon. Gentleman said, as soon as he realised that there was a defect in that legislation, he contacted the Minister; and it was, one gathered, a relatively simple and speedy matter for the Minister to lay before the House another piece of delegated legislation which amended the defect.

This is what happens. We, who in our professional capacity have to plough through delegated legislation, are well aware that there tends to be a great deal of amending legislation. That itself illustrates that it is a relatively simple matter. When there is a defect in a Statute it is far more serious, because it requires an Act of Parliament, with all the complicated procedures that that entails, going through both Houses of ParliamentSecond Reading, Committee, Third Reading, Report and all the rest of it. This does not apply to delegated legislation, which can be dealt with quite simply.

Therefore, I do not think that the evil is as great as is suggested. I think that it was the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) who put forward the suggestion that in a much more limited field this House should have a power to amend—namely, where taxation or matters akin to taxation are dealt with by delegated legislation. The suggestion was that there should be power in this House to vary the amounts of any order which, in effect, imposes or varies a rate of taxation. It may be amending a levy which is imposed under a Statute which is frequently dealt with by delegated legislation.

Since this is dealing with a matter of tax, the level of which is peculiarly the responsibility of this House, it seems to me that a much more narrow provision of that kind might well merit the attention of the House.

Photo of Mr Charles Doughty Mr Charles Doughty , East Surrey

I am interested in what the hon. and learned Member is saying, but would it not have been better had the Deputy Leader of the House been here to explain those matters and the history of the proposals made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and others?

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

I do not think it is for the Deputy Leader of the House to be here. This is a Private Members' Day. We all recognise that it is a matter of surprise that this Bill has been reached at all. I have congratulated the hon. Member for Tiverton on being here to seize his opportunity, but I do not think there is any reason for criticising the Deputy Leader of the House. It is not that I am trying to talk out this Bill. I thought for one moment that that was the intention of the hon. Gentleman himself, as he occupied such a large proportion of the time available in moving his Bill.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point relating to 40 days, I wonder whether this is as bad as he suggests or whether his proposed Amendment would make matters any better. As I understand it, the effect of his definition of effective days is that there would always be at least 10 calendar weeks since there could only be four effective days in any calendar week. There will be at least 10 effective weeks before there could be any finality about any delegated legislation unless this special procedure referred to in Clause 4 (b) were adopted. That does not seem to me to be a very satisfactory procedure. I hope the hon. Gentleman is satisfied now that the Deputy Leader of the House has arrived in the Chamber.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Rowley Regis and Tipton

Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that the purpose of the 40 days' period is to give time for thought—not to give 40 separate opportunities for praying?

Photo of Mr Niall MacDermot Mr Niall MacDermot , Derby North

Yes, I believe that to be the intention of the present legislation, and I would have thought it was right. The hon. Gentleman was complaining that weekends do not count. In my experience, if one is interested in a piece of delegated legislation, weekends are the most useful period in which to get down to it and give thought to it.

The hon. Member has drawn attention to one anomalous case where injustice or difficulty might have arisen under the present rules. If he has not already done so, perhaps that could be properly referred to the Select Committee on Procedure.

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.