Clause 4.—(SHORT TITLE, INTERPRETATION AND EXTENT.) (Hansard, 4 July 1951)
HC Deb 04 July 1951 vol 489 cc2396-403

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. McKie

This is an interpretation Clause and it defines the extent of area over which the Bill, if it becomes law, shall operate. There are three subsections that deal with that, subsections (3), (4) and (5), in which a declaratory statement is made. In regard to Northern Ireland, probably this is usual form—

Mr. Ness Edwards indicated assent.

Mr. McKie

I see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees. I hope there has been very close association between those engaged in drafting the Bill here and the postal authorities in Northern Ireland. I am sure they will benefit, as we in the United Kingdom will benefit. It is rather different in regard to the subsections which follow—at least it appears different to me as a layman and I hope that any doubts can be cleared away. Those doubts exist as to the possible treatment of the Channel Islands.

In subsection (4) it is laid down that the Channel Islands shall be dealt with—they are a very important part of His Majesty's Dominions—if necessary by way of Order in Council. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Channel Islands regard themselves in relation to this country as the parent and we are only the offspring. I should have thought that in these small islands—small in area but historically very important—most persons who are possessed of their ancient rights have been duly consulted. I mean people like the Bailiff of Guernsey and the Dame of Sark—[Laughter]—the right hon. Gentleman may laugh, but I do hope that the position has been very clearly explained to those in charge of the postal and telephonic arrangements in the Channel Islands.

Lastly, and again this touches a question of ancient privilege, there is the treatment of the Isle of Man. We do not declare that this Measure "may" extend to the Isle of Man; we say that it "shall" extend there, which is putting it rather more fiercely than the words of the previous subsection.

The position of the Isle of Man is very different from that of Northern Ireland, or, as I prefer to call it, Ulster. In the Isle of Man, there is, so far as I understand the position, complete autonomy in legislative matters. The House of Keys and ancient Court of Tynwald have always been jealous of their rights and prerogatives in safeguarding the liberties of the subject there. In saying that This Act shall extend to the Isle of Man the Measure is informing the inhabitants of the ancient Kingdom of Mona in dogmatic words that whether they want to do so or not—I do not know if they do or not—they must conform with the Act. Is it wise to offend susceptibilities in that way? I hope that the Postmaster-General will be in a position to clear up those few doubts.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I wish to ask about two small points. I shall be glad if the Postmaster-General will consider before the next stage, together with the other matters which he has said he will be good enough to consider, whether this is the correct Short Title. I am doubtful if it is, in view of the fact that Clause 3 of the Bill repeals certain provisions of the Telegraph Act. Yet this Bill is described as the Telephone Bill, thereby indicating to persons who may wish to consult the statutes that it relates purely to telephones. I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to deal with that point now, but perhaps he and his advisers would look into it with a view to possible amendment before the next stage.

As I understand subsection (4), no provision is made for Parliamentary control of the Order in Council extending the Measure to the Channel Islands and modifying its operation there. It is the general practice to adopt, in Bills passing through the House at the moment, at any rate, the negative procedure in respect of Orders in Council. To refresh the memory of the right hon. Gentleman, I would remind him that that is being done in the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces (Protection of Civil Interests) Bill, which has just concluded its Standing Committee stage; the Order in Council extending it to Northern Ireland is subject to negative procedure. Perhaps the Postmaster-General would look into that point before the next stage.

Sir H. Williams

This is a very interesting short title —the Telephone Act,1951. It amends the Telegraph Act, 1885, and the original Act of 1868. That was an Act which nationalised the previously prosperous private enterprise telegraphs and turned their profits into a loss within two years.

Mr. Hobson

Because of the telephones.

Sir H. Williams

No. They were nationalised in 1869 and started to lose money in 1871. The telephone was not discovered until several years later by Graham Bell and others. When Graham Bell and the rest invented the telephone. National Telephones and other concerns were formed. The Postmaster-General of the day, being a monopolist—I think he was a Conservative, but any Postmaster-General thinks in terms of being a monopolist—said, "The telephone is a telegraph. You can't do that there 'ere with- out my permission. I have a monopoly over telegraphic communications and you cannot have the telephone unless you pay a 10 per cent. royalty to the Postmaster-General for no service rendered whatever."

The Deputy-Chairman

We are now discussing the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Sir H. Williams

As this is a Telephone Bill which amends the Telegraph Act, 1868, which created the monopoly that I am now denouncing—I am rather familiar with this range of legislation— I thought that I might mention it in passing.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to speak on the Motion, but he must do so within the Rules of the House.

Sir H. Williams

In subsection (2) it is stated: References in this Act to any enactment shall be construed as references to that enactment as amended by any subsequent enactment. That is priceless. I suppose that refers partly to the Telegraph Act, 1885, and partly to Sections 17 and 18 of the Telegraph Act, 1868, which do refer to those monopolistic practices of the Postmaster-General to which I was making reference.

Then subsection (3) states: It is hereby declared that this Act extends to Northern Ireland. That is a curious phrase. It is not customarily found in statutes. We sometimes say, "This Act does not apply to Northern Ireland" or to Scotland, but I think that the phraseology used here is unusual. We do not say that the Measure extends to Northern Ireland. Here is a declaratory subsection, and my information is that this is a most unusual phrase.

The Deputy-Chairman

But we cannot now amend it as we are discussing the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Sir H. Williams

No, but if I do not think it is very nice I might say that it should not stand part of the Bill, and if the Clause does not stand part of the Bill these words will not appear.

Then we come to the Channel Islands to which some reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie). I do not recollect whether he got as far as referring to the Dame of Sark; I hope he did. Subsection (4) states: His Majesty may by Order in Council direct that this Act shall extend to the Channel Islands subject to such exceptions, adaptations and modifications, if any, as may be specified in the Order The Postmaster-General spent a long time today discussing delegated legislation. Can he tell us whether that Order in Council will be a statutory instrument which is debatable in this House? The right hon. Gentleman does not know the answer to that one. It is just as well that he should consult the Attorney-General.

There are no words in the Bill which say whether that Order in Council will be a statutory instrument subject to annulment. If the right hon. Gentleman will consult the Statutory Instruments Act, he will find that an Order in Council is now a statutory instrument, but certain statutory instruments are subject to annulment; some are not; some have to be laid in draft. We are not quite clear whether the Order in Council for which provision is made in subsection (4) will be subject to annulment or not, or subject to affirmative procedure or any procedure at all. The Postmaster-General was earlier rather glorying in the fact that under many of the curious Acts which he operates he can do many things without Parliamentary supervision. I do not want to extend his rights in that direction.

Then the final subsection states: This Act shall extend to the Isle of Man. That means that if this Clause stands part of the Bill it will extend to the Isle of Man. I never quite understand the status of the Isle of Man, vis-à-vis this Parliament. Once a year we pass the Isle of Man (Customs) Act; I have never yet understood why. I put down an Amendment to the Finance Bill to the effect that that should not happen any more, but for some reason the Chairman of Ways and Means did not accept my Amendment. In due course we shall have that Measure before us and I will explore that position then.

I should like the Postmaster-General to explain why subsections (2), (3), (4) and (5) of this Clause appear, because they require some explanation, particularly in respect of delegated legislation, Orders in Council and the extension of the Bill to the Isle of Man.

Mr. Pickthorn

I rise to put a question on the declaratory point. If it is not the one which this side of the Committee in general wishes to ask, it is the one which I at least wish to ask a little more explicitly than has yet been done. For all I know, those who are familiar with all this kind of thing may agree that it is common form, but on the face of it one would think that when a Bill declares that something is the law somewhere where that does not seem matter of course that can only be because the Bill itself is of such a category that it necessarily involves for the territory concerned whatever is the proposition which it is hereby declaring. I mean, if it is the law, either by common form or by Statute that a Bill of this sort necessarily applies to Northern Ireland—and for all I know that is the law—then I can understand this form of words; but if not, that form does, I think, require some explanation to the Committee before we let the Clause stand part.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I think the explanation is very short. The peculiar form of words is due to the fact that I run the Post Office in Northern Ireland. I understand it is the normal form where the service is run by the Minister in this country. With regard to the Channel Islands, there the form is unusual because the telephone services are carried on in the Channel Islands by the authorities there under a licence from me. The wording with regard to the Isle of Man is due again to the fact that I run the Post Office in the Isle of Man as well.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sure it was through inadvertence, but the right hon. Gentleman has not given the assurance for which I asked, that he would consider two points, the Short Title and the question of Parliamentary control of the Order in Council.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am, of course, not an expert but I understand that the Order in Council is not debatable.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I agree, and that is why I was raising the question why provision was not made to make it so as in other cases? As it stands, this Order in Council would not be subject to Parliamentary procedure, and I was asking why.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Surely it is obvious. If we provide regulations in this country for the running of the telephone service, and under licence give authority to the Channel Island people to run the service there, they must dovetail their service into our system. There must be co-ordination in the telephone services run both by the Channel Island people and ourselves. Surely that is the reason. They will have exactly the same benefits. Regarding the Short Title, I thought we were making history when we brought in this Short Title, because it is the first time in the history of Parliament that we have had a Telephone Bill.

Sir H. Williams

May I go a little further? It is a bit awkward for the Postmaster-General because we have raised a constitutional issue. He has not told us why: It is hereby declared that this Act extends to Northern Ireland … this Act shall extend to the Channel Islands… and … to the Isle of Man. There are three different forms of phraseology. Regarding the Channel Islands it says: … subject to such exceptions, adaptations and modifications, if any, as may be specified in the order. I want to know who can challenge such exceptions, adaptations and modifications? From what the right hon. Gentleman has just told us, the House cannot do so. Can the people of the Channel Islands challenge them? I think we ought to be given a little more information.

Mr. Ness Edwards

All I can do is to say that a licence has been given for the Channel Island authorities to run the telephone services there. With certain modifications, to make them conform to constitutional practice, the regulations under this Bill shall apply to the Channel Islands. I cannot see how I can go any further and say whether or not in this country we have the right to discuss or to challenge modifications made by this Order in Council in conjunction with the Channel Island authorities.

Sir H. Williams

I want to know whether the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey and the Dame of Sark and the other Channel Island authorities will be consulted about these exceptions, adaptations or modifications, or who will be consulted?

Mr. Ness Edwards

I understand the position is that this Bill has to be discussed with them and has to be modified to a certain extent to their circumstances. That will be embodied in the Order in Council which is not debatable in the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments.

As amended, to be considered Tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 129.]

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