§ Eighth Schedule, page 142, line 52, leave out from ("cause") to end of line 3 on page 143, and insert ("in the case of a scheme under Part IV of this Act, a public local inquiry, or, in any other case, an inquiry, to be held with respect thereto by a person who is not a servant or officer of the Minister").
The Commons disagreed to this Amendment but proposed the following Amendments in lieu thereof:
Page 142, line 52, leave out ("inquiries to be made") and insert ("in the case of a scheme under Part IV of this Act, a public local inquiry, or, in any other case, an inquiry, to be held with respect thereto").
Page 143, line 1, leave out ("result of the inquiries,") and insert ("report of the person by whom the inquiry was held").
§ Moved, That this House do not insist on the said Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Viscount Addison.)732
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments in lieu thereof. It concerns local inquiries and puts the Amendment in a better form.
§ Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—(Viscount Addison.)
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The Amendment as originally moved, sought to do three things. It sought in the first place to ensure an independent inquiry; secondly, to ensure that those who objected to the inquiry should know the case they had to meet; and thirdly that the report of the inquiry should be made public. There will be very big transactions, running into hundreds of millions of pounds in some cases. There will be inquiries dealing with the transfer of municipal undertakings and very large passenger transport undertakings of all kinds, and I submit that the nature of these inquiries is at the present time left open very unreasonably. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, replied to these questions from a learned book. I subsequently found that he had quoted from a paragraph entitled Limitations to Committee's Recommendations. What he said was diametrically opposite to most of the recommendations in the Committee's Reports, which were very much on the lines of the three points mentioned in the Amendment which we originally agreed to in your Lordships' House.
My second point is this. The reasons given in the reply from the other place are that these inquiries are administrative. I think we are carrying it rather far when we say that the transfer to the Transport Commission of any large municipal undertaking in any part of the country is no more than an administrative act of the Minister of Transport. That is carrying it much too far. This is in fact nothing more nor less than streamlined legislation. This is what one normally finds carried out by an Act of Parliament, but here it is carried out simply by a Minister's fiat and, in fact, with or without an inquiry. I want to emphasize this point: that this business could go through with the most limited form of local public inquiry.
I would like to refer your Lordships to what the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, said when the spoke on 733 June 26, when I moved this Amendment. He said:Assuming the objector had a locus standi, he would obviously be entitled to appear either in person or by Counsel. It goes without saying that any witness who does give evidence in chief is subject to cross-examination—of course he is.Then the Lord Chancellor said:Clause 120 of this Bill lays down that the inquiries held under this Bill are to be subject to Section 20 of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919.If we look at Clause 120 we find that it is permissive, that there is nothing to ensure that any form of normal judicial procedure would in fact be carried out. If we go to the Act of 1919, we find not one but two permissive conditions. That means to say that, before in fact the conditions which the Lord Chancellor recognizes as necessary can be carried out, there are three permissive stages. Can the noble Viscount the Leader of the House say that in carrying out these very big transactions there really will be a proper inquiry with the proper assurances that are required? I would like to receive the assurances I have mentioned: that there will be an independent inquiry, a case to be met, and publication. If the noble Viscount cannot grant that, will he ensure that any objector is allowed (1) to state his case, and (2), to cross-examine anyone who gives evidence? Those are two points on which I am now asking for positive assurance. If that assurance can be given—it is a late hour at which to discuss this question of assurance, I know—I think it would be some consolation. I submit that this is an important matter in which enormous sums of money are concerned, and the municipal corporations are greatly interested in the manner and way in which this scheme will be carried out.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I cannot give the noble Earl assurances with regard to the legal procedures, on which I am not an authority, but I confess that I am profoundly disappointed at the noble Earl's speech, because I thought I had been doing something that he liked. I am profoundly shocked that apparently I have not. On the debate on the Report stage we arranged—largely through the insistence of the noble Earl—that the inquiry should be a public inquiry, and the Minister's report and order are to be made public. That question was debated at great length in this House but not as regards 734 the private confidential report of the person to the Minister—certainly not. We are opposed to that, and I should have to disagree with any such Amendment.
We took, I am sure, exhaustive precautions to see that the local inquiry should be public, that the evidence should be heard in public and that the local papers should come before the Minister. There would be a Minister's order on it and report to Parliament and everything would be considered and debated by Parliament. I cannot imagine any other series of procedures better calculated to ensure publicity in everything twat matters. As to how individual witnesses are to be treated, I am afraid I cannot give any assurance, as I really do not know. I suppose it will be in accordance with the practice at these inquiries. It might vary, but I am quite sure that every witness would be treated fairly—and if they were not there would be trouble, I have no doubt. What the precise procedure would be, I cannot say. It would vary, no doubt, according to the character of the inquiry. I am quite sure we have gone a long way, and I thought we had satisfied the noble Earl. We have tried to make the Amendment more explicit and readable. I can only say how disappointed I am that the noble Earl is still not satisfied.