Housing Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:27 pm on 21st October 1985.

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Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Shadow Solicitor General 10:27 pm, 21st October 1985

As I have done on previous occasions, I should like to state on behalf of the Opposition our thanks to the Joint Committee for the painstaking work that it does, and our support for that work. It is right that the laws of our country should be set out in as clear and comprehensive a form as possible. It is the task of the Joint Committee to draw together existing legislation in the same area and present the fruits of its labour to Parliament for approval.

Approval is usually forthcoming without a great deal of further debate. There are two obvious reasons for that. The first is that the Joint Committee is dealing with the existing law of the land and not considering controversial new legislation. The second reason why Parliament does not normally subject consolidated legislation to further vigorous scrutiny is that both Houses are represented on the Committee, the Opposition as well as the Government. Indeed, the major advantage of such a Committee is that it scrutinises, on behalf of Parliament, proposals for consolidation and the form that it should take. That relieves Parliament of the necessity of considering consolidation measures in some other way. In short, we rely upon the work of the Committee.

In as far as the Bills now before us represent the recommendations of the Joint Committee, the Opposition are willing to see those recommendations pass into legislation, satisfied that in form and substance they have been subjected to proper scrutiny. However, that is not all that we are being asked to do. The Government have now said that they wish to table a substantial number of amendments to these complex Acts, which are supposed to represent the final views of the Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills before being presented to the House. It is reasonable to ask what scrutiny the new amendments will receive before being enacted as legislation.

I received a pile of papers 4½ in thick from the Solicitor-General's office for my consideration today before tonight's debate. Until this afternoon there had been no agreement through the usual channels about the proposed amendments to the legislation. The failure properly to consult the Opposition over what should be non-controversial legislation is completely out of keeping with the spirit in which those matters are usually dealt with. It pushes the rights not just of the parliamentary Opposition but of Parliament itself to one side. That is all the more irksome to me in that I telephoned the Solicitor-General in mid-September to clarify the position and received a very pleasant letter dated 24 September stating in relation to the Bills now under discussion: The draftsman is endeavouring to prepare the amendments and the accompanying notes by the beginning of October and I hope, therefore, that I will be able to send them on to you in the near future. Yet the information was dumped on me today, accompanied by a letter dated 15 October saying: Insofar as the proposed amendments to the various Housing Consolidation Bills are concerned, these have not yet been finally settled. It will be some time before they are finalised but, in view of their number, I thought you would appreciate having those already prepared at this stage, albeit subject to possible change. As well as providing the information only hours before the debate, therefore, the Solicitor-General is saying that there is more to come and that what we now have may change. How much confidence can the House be expected to have in a rolling programme of amendments which we are to be asked to pass en masse after a few brief but no doubt reassuring remarks from the Solicitor-General? We shall be discussing more than 100 amendments to four complex Bills. The full list of enclosures that I received today reads as follows: Housing Bill, Housing Associations Bill, Landlord and Tenant Bill, Housing (Consequential Provisions) Bill, Law Commission Report on the Consolidation of the Housing Acts, Report and evidence on the Housing Consolidation Bills before the Joint Committee, Notes or. Amendments and proposed amendments to the Housing Consolidation Bills, Weights and Measures Bill, Table of Destinations for Weights and Measures Bill, Draftsman's Notes on clauses for the Weights and Measures Bill for the Joint Committee, Report and evidence on the Weights and Measures Bill before the Joint Committee. I understand that some of the Government's amendments will relate to matters now outstanding following the abolition of the Greater London council. Parliament will need to satisfy itself that what is proposed represents consolidated legislation and that we are not being invited to legislate anew by the back door. The vehicle for scrutinising these matters is the Joint Committee and I am most unhappy that the procedure is being bypassed in this way.

To conclude, inasmuch as the legislation represents real consolidated legislation agreed in the normal way it has our support on Second Reading, but anything that the Government propose to do which goes beyond that must be submitted to parliamentary scrutiny. I should have thought that discussion through the usal channels might be the best way to facilitate that.