HC Deb 17 May 1915 vol 71 cc2091-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


However strong the opinion may be on the state of things to which objection has been taken, the House will probably agree that a series of discussions have taken place, and a good deal of criticism has been passed on the Department concerned, with regard to the housing at Rosyth Dockyard. The matter was, as I thought, entirely settled. Unfortunately circumstances recently have arisen, apparently quite disconnected with this question, which have had a very serious effect upon it. Those circumstances are a decision of a Private Bill Commission in Scotland on the question of tramways in this district. As a matter of fact the Dunfermline Town Council, with admirable public spirit, prepared a town planning scheme, which assumed that a certain tramway would proceed along a certain road. Had the tramway company, having Parliamentary powers, proceeded with their work according to programme, I should not have had to trouble the House with this Bill. As a matter of fact the Commission sitting in Scotland considered the application of the tramway company to take powers to proceed along a different road. I am not for the moment going to criticise the decision of that Commission. They had the fullest powers, and they had decided upon the matter in the ordinary way. But I want to point out to the House what the effect of that decision was. The town planning scheme of Dunfermline was upset, and the company which had come forward in a very patriotic spirit to do this admirable work are no longer able to comply with the town planning scheme which was prepared. Under the Local Government Board regulations anybody building so as to interfere with a town planning scheme may be called upon to remove those buildings without compensation.

The House will appreciate that it is quite unreasonable to expect this company to find this money to build and run the risk of having their buildings removed without compensation. We must, therefore, bring in a provision to protect them against that risk. That is the whole object of this Bill. The model upon which it is based is the Clause in the Housing Act of 1909, Section 55, Sub-section (2). I am very sorry for the Town Council for Dunfermline that their plans have been disarranged in this way. They have my heartiest sympathy, but I am sure that when they come to consider it they will not desire to interfere with the provisions of the housing of workmen at Rosyth. This matter has been discussed on previous occasions, and it is very desirable that there should be no delay. I am very anxious to avoid the delay of the month that will take place if we cannot get the Bill through the House now. It is no fault of the Scottish Office. I do not think it is anybody's fault that this new decision should have been given with regard to the trams, but it has disarranged the plans for the building of the houses. I hope the House will see that this is a genuine case of urgency, and in view of our present circumstances that it is a matter very closely connected with the War.

We want to get this work at Rosyth done. It is absolutely essential that the houses should be built, for there is no doubt whatever the provision for housing is at present inadequate. I am always very sorry not to bring things up in a leisurely manner, but this is a thing which has come upon us by surprise. We did not know of this decision which has rendered it necessary to put this Bill forward. I am not at all desirous of criticising in any way the Commission for considering the two schemes and coming to the conclusion that the road preferred was a better road for the tramway. They were perfectly entitled to do it, but we must, of course, adjust our plans to that consideration. I hope the House will deal with the matter in a generous spirit, for I am very reluctant to rush the House in any way or to press the matter unduly. It is, however, a vital matter, and one of very great emergency, and I can only appeal to the indulgence and generosity of the House.


I do not want in any way to oppose this Bill, or to interfere with the necessary provision for facilitating housing at Rosyth. The motive of the Government is excellent, but again their methods are extraordinarily clumsy. They bring in a Bill of this sort, but the housing question at Rosyth has been there for a great many years, and I cannot say that the Dunfermline Town Council in their efforts to facilitate the scheme of housing there have met with all the assistance and co-operation they might have had from the Government Departments. In fact, it has been a great difficulty with them to cope with the delay that they have met with, first of all from the Admiralty, and then with the Scottish Local Government Board. Previous to that they had to come to this House for an extension of their powers; and stage by stage they have found the very greatest difficulty in what, after all, is not a very complex matter. Through it all they have worked with an extraordinary public spirit, and spent a very great deal of money. I think something like £100,000 has already been spent by the Town Council on this scheme, and they have liabilities already incurred up to another £100,000. The Government come in at the last moment, and on the plea of urgency introduce a Bill without the smallest consultation with this authority which is chiefly concerned. The Dunfermline Town Council in their memorandum say that they have had no sort of warning of this Bill, and that it has come upon them like a thunderbolt. I really think, considering the drastic nature of the Bill, considering that unlike the last Bill which was introduced there is a distinct opposition to it, and considering the body chiefly concerned, that is the Dunfermline Town Council, which is responsible for the whole of this area, that it is not necessary to rush this matter through quite so quickly.

To begin with, the Bill refers to "at, or near the neighbourhood of Rosyth Dockyard." That is in Line 10. I should like very much to know what in the neighbourhood of Rosyth Dockyard means? Does that mean the Admiralty land exclusively? Does it mean that very large part of the area between the Admiralty land and the borough of Dunfermline, or does it mean the whole municipal area which is comprised within the borough boundaries? That needs explanation. And then, as the House will see, the powers taken over by the Board in this Bill are exceedingly wide. The Board may suspend any statutory enactments, by-laws, regulations, or other provisions, under whatever authority made, which are in operation in the area included in the scheme. That is to say, the Board will have the power to suspend any Act of Parliament in existence applicable to the borough of Dunfermline. That seems to me a very large order. The borough of Dunfermline will continue to be the authority responsible in this area for public health, lighting and police, and yet they are to have no say whatever in the arrangements by which this new housing scheme is to be set up and undertaken.

The Dunfermline Town Council do not want to stand in the way of immediate facilities being given to begin this housing. It is a scandal that the housing at Rosyth has been delayed so long as it has been, and the Dunfermline Town Council is in no way responsible for the delay. If the responsibility rests anywhere, it rests with the Government Department, and the Dunfermline Town Council do not want to stand in the way of immediate facilities being given. But they very naturally say that, having spent so much money and devoted so much energy all these years to drawing up a scheme and enclosing within their municipal boundary this vast area, they should at least have the co-operation of the Government and consultation with the Government when some entirely new idea is undertaken, and when all their labour is to be lost. I do urge upon my right hon. Friend to take a reasonable view of this matter. I believe a deputation from the town council are travelling down at this moment from Scotland, and it would not really, I think, be asking too much that the remaining stages of this Bill should be taken to-morrow and, if neces- sary, the House of Lords must put themselves out in times like these in order to pass Bills of emergency. I do not think it will be delaying the matter a month, as my right hon. Friend suggested it might, and I beg him to strain the matter rather in order to meet the Dunfermline Town Council, who have been acting with great public spirit and do not want to put any obstacles in the way, but only ask for a fair consultation.


I would like the Secretary for Scotland to be good enough to explain one or two points. I am interested in this Bill as one of the Commissioners who sat upon the Tramway Order dealing with the same matter in Scotland. I see that in the Bill something is said as to the provision of drainage, water supply, and other services in connection therewith, and I should like to be clear whether the words "other services" could be held to include tramways such as the Commissioners disposed of. Another point is, am I to understand that the Dunfermline Corporation are really opposed to this Bill? I am not here for them in any way, but I simply want some information.


All I propose to do to-night is to ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and allow me to take the Committee stage to-morrow. I do not understand "other services" to include a matter like the tramways, and it is not intended to do so. I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Ponsonby) does overlook one essential point, that this proceeding has been forced upon us by something that has happened quite outside our power by the decision of the Commission on the Tramways. Perhaps the House will be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading to-day, and to take it to-morrow in Committee of the Whole House.


I should like to ask the Secretary for Scotland whether he proposes to meet this deputation which is coming from Dunfermline? I should like, also, to ask him what the date of the decision of the Commission on the Tramways was in this matter, and to ask him to lay before the House to-day or to-morrow how far these proposals conflict with the proposed plans of the Borough of Dunfermline?


Before we pass the Second Reading, I should like to be sure of one point. Reference is made in the Bill to "the area to which the arrangements relate," and to the "area included in the scheme." It seems to me that the carrying out of these purposes may apply to the whole of Scotland as regards water supply, which is specifically mentioned here, and I notice under this Clause the Local Government Board for Scotland have powers as full as this House possesses itself. They have power to suspend any statutory enactments, by-laws, and regulations, and practically do everything they like in the area referred to. The area is not defined in the Bill. Does it comprise any part away from Rosyth in connection with water works or drainage, or is it confined to a certain area not denned in the Bill?


I must say I do not like the form of this Bill. Art urgent difficulty has arisen with regard to housing at Rosyth, and the only way would be to bring forward some definite scheme for solving that difficulty.


It would take two years.


If it would take two years to do it, then we have plenty of time to mature the Bill, and, during the next two years the Government could go on maturing its scheme. What this Bill does in effect is to give the Department a blank cheque to solve this difficulty in any way that may seem good to it. It is left to the Government afterwards to define the area to which this Bill will apply, and, further, the Department is given power to suspend any Statute which it may find incumbent in solving this difficulty in its own way. The suspension of Statutes may bring it into serious conflict with the various local authorities in this undefined area. No doubt it will take some time to prepare a new scheme. I do not think there is anything to prevent the Department in the meantime preparing a full and detailed scheme which it must have before commencing work, and, when it has done that, to come forward with a Bill giving at least some outline of the scheme, and placing some limit upon the powers which it proposes to confer upon the Department for this purpose. I think this is about the worst type of Bill which could be conceived, and is setting a very dangerous precedent indeed.


Although I agree that the matter may be open to a great deal of criticism, all who are acquainted with the circumstances quite recognise that there has been too great a loss of time already, and, for my part, I think it is high time some measure was taken to remedy the situation. Therefore, I would suggest, so far as Scotsmen are concerned, we should agree to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to give the Bill a Second Reading on the understanding that further proceedings should be delayed, so that the right hon. Gentleman could receive any representations and consider what could be done to meet any legitimate objections.


The right hon. Gentleman opposite made his appeal only to Scottish Members, but I notice that there is never very much reticence on the part of Scottish Members to deal with an English Bill. Another reason for the reluctance on the part of Scottish Members tackling this Bill is that they desire to wait until a deputation comes from Dunfermline to explain, it. The Bill consists of two sentences, one of which contains no less than 185 words, consequently it needs a Scottish lawyer to be thoroughly responsible for explaining that sentence. I do not know whether punctuation is of any account, but I understand that it is not taken account of in interpreting the Clause. I hope this deputation from Dunfermline will not miss its way, otherwise we may not get any explanation of this huge sentence of 185 words, and perhaps the Dunfermline authority will throw some light upon it. The hon. and learned Member for Glasgow forgot that the first thing a Department does in these matters is to be lawless and set a bad example. One of the first things they put in licensing proposals is that they shall not recognise the licensing authority. In this Bill they are dealing with housing, and the first thing they do is to state that they shall recognise no authority. That is a way they have in Government Departments, and I am surprised that my hon. and learned Friend has not recognised that. The Government officials will send out any amount of regulations and instructions for other people to carry out, and they have done this under the Insurance Act, but directly you ask them to tackle the problem themselves the first thing they want to do is to get away from all this supervision and the regulations they impose upon others. I thank the Secretary for Scotland for not pushing this Bill through all its stages to-day.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give an answer to my question?

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)

The hon. Gentleman has already spoken.


I think the hon. Baronet's question was, what was the area? It is the area of the scheme which has been arranged through the Local Government Board of Scotland. With regard to the deputation from Dunfermline, I will see them to-morrow. The Commission which sat duly considered the case of Dunfermline and the case put before it against the tramways by the town of Dunfermline, and it was decided that this was the proper line. It is not my duty to argue about that matter. With regard to the time, I cannot say the exact date, but it was a very few weeks ago, and there have been negotiations since. The Local Government Board has been in communication with Dunfermline, and I have received the memorandum which was sent round to the House by the Dunfermline authority. I hope the House will recognise that this is a matter of very grave importance and urgency.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Gulland.]