§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The House will recollect that some time ago the Prime Minister convened a conference of local authorities, in view of the gravity of the unemployment situation, with a view to joint consideration as to ways and means of expediting the works which local authorities could properly carry out. After the conference had been concluded we pursued other conferences with representatives of the local government organisations, as the result of which revised terms were agreed upon with regard to certain kinds of grants, and further administrative improvements were made as between the central authority and the local authority in regard to expediting matters. Then the local authorities drew attention to certain obstacles which lay in the way of acting as rapidly as they would themselves wish in many cases.
This Bill arises out of those discussions with the local authorities. It is strictly limited in its operations. It is limited in two ways. It is closely confined to schemes promoted by local authorities and statutory undertakers where employment is involved. One object of the Bill is to simplify and expedite procedure in cases of that kind. In the second place, the Bill is limited in time. It only remains in force until December 1933, unless Parliament at that time or before that time otherwise determine. Whilst we endeavour to simplify and expedite the procedure we have kept the ultimate control of Parliament, on the one hand, and we have maintained the rights of persons affected under the schemes, on the other hand. The question whether the Bill contains provisions which ought to be permanent or provisions which would not be desirable in normal circumstances, does not really arise. This is an emergency Bill to deal with a serious situation, and the question which it tries to answer, in the light of the experience of the local authorities is, how can 808 obstacles in the way of speeding up and carrying out desirable schemes be removed.
Now, as to the Bill itself, Hon. Members are aware that the powers of local authorities to carry out works are derived broadly from two main sources,—existing statutory powers of a general kind and powers specially sought by petition to Parliament in an Act, including for some purposes Acts confirming Provisional Orders. There are also some cases, such as gas or electricity, where procedure is by way of Special Orders made by the Minister and confirmed by Parliament. The purpose of Clause 1 is to apply a simpler procedure in cases where local authorities or statutory undertakers have now to apply' to Parliament specially for powers. It deals only with that class of case. Hon. Members are aware that the present procedure for a local Bill is slow and full of formalities. There may be in ordinary circumstances something to be said for that, but I am not arguing that point now. It is clear that under the present procedure a local authority that wanted to get a Bill today could not really get down to serious business until the middle of February next year.
Let me remind the House of the various steps that have to be taken when a local Bill is being promoted. During October and November the local authority or statutory undertaker has to publish notices of the scheme in the newspapers. By the 30th November they have to deposit plans, books of references and sections. By the 15th December they have to serve the necessary notices on owners, lessees and occupiers of lands affected. The 17th December is the last date for depositing petitions for the Bill and copies of the Bill at the Parliamentary Office. There are two further steps to be taken before the end of December. By the 18th January they arrive at the stage when the examination of petitions for Bills begins. Towards the end of January there is a conference between the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Lords Chairman to determine in which House particular Bills shall begin. The 12th February is the last date for Petitions to this House against Private Bills. It is only at that point that serious legislation begins. Then there is the Committee stage, and the 809 fact that there are generally Committee stages taken separately in the two Houses makes for a good deal of further delay. It is very unusual for a Private Bill, the preliminary action on which has been taken in October, to reach the Statute Book before Easter.
I think it is quite clear that the requirement of fixed dates of this kind for schemes which have a special object in view is one that might well be dispensed with. Steps were taken this year to expedite proceedings on Bills providing work, and now it is the desire of the Government to go further. The proposal is, that the local authority or statutory undertaker which desires powers for carrying out works which can at the present time only be obtained by Private Bill shall be empowered to submit to the appropriate Minister a draft Order for the purpose. The Minister will then consider the draft Order, and any objections that may be raised against it, make such modifications as he thinks necessary, and then submit the draft Order to Parliament. It is contemplated that the draft Order, with the objections, shall be laid before a joint Committee of both Houses, and that that Committee shall then say whether or not there is any need for a further inquiry. If an inquiry is directed to be held by the Joint Committee, it will be undertaken by one or more persons, and usually it will be skilled officers of the Department qualified for the purpose. When that report has been received it will be laid before the Minister. The Minister will then consider any modifications which are necessary and will submit the draft Order to the House. Parliament will then have 14 days in which to decide the fate of the Order. If neither House negatives the Order it will operate, but if either House negatives the Order, then, of course, it falls to the ground.
There is no intention in this procedure to override all procedure on local Bills for new works. The scope of this Bill is limited by the provisions in Sub-section (2). This special procedure is to be available only in cases where the relief of unemployment will be assisted by its use, and it will be seen that the powers to be given by an Order are such as are customarily conferred on local authorities or statutory undertakers by local 810 Acts. Further, the Minister has to be satisfied that the powers conferred will not enable a local authority or a statutory undertaker to undertake functions of a different nature from those already within their statutory powers. It will be seen that this special procedure is definitely limited. It has been brought to my notice that large undertakers are already considering whether schemes which may be in their pigeon holes are such as can be brought into effect by applying this new procedure.
The second Clause of the Bill is intended to deal with a cause of delay which was emphasised very strongly at the conference with local authorities. It relates to the acquisition of land. At present, outside certain subjects, powers for the compulsory acquisition of land can only be obtained by a Bill or a Provisional Order which has to be confirmed by Parliament. In both cases the procedure is very long and can only be initiated at one time in the year. For some subjects, such as housing and allotments, there is a much simpler procedure. Orders may be may by a local authority and become effective if they are confirmed by the Minister. That is a well established power which local authorities have enjoyed since 1909. There is not much in Clause 2. It does not do more than can now be done in the case of land required for housing and allotments; it enables a local authority to make an order for compulsory acquisition of land, the order becoming effective on confirmation by the Minister, with this safeguard, that if an objection is taken to the order on merits it cannot be confirmed until there has been a local inquiry. The details in regard to the form of that inquiry will be found in the first Schedule of the Bill. I should remind the House that any person will, of course, be entitled to full compensation; the full machinery of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment for Compensation) Act will be used.
It is often important for a local authority, once the question of the acquisition of land has been settled, to be able to enter on the land without delay and provision therefore is made in Clause 2, Sub-section (2)—Where any local authority or statutory undertakers are by any such order as aforesaid authorised to purchase land compulsorily, then, at any time after notice to 811 treat has been served the local authority or statutory undertakers may, after giving to the owner and occupier of the land not less than fourteen days' notice, enter on and take possession of the land or such part thereof.That provision is word for word the Section already in the Housing Act. The proviso (b) in Sub-section (2) reproduces a provision existing already in the Unemployment (Relief Works) Act, 1920. The effect is to introduce the principle of betterment to adjoining properties in the same ownership into the assessment of compensation, in any case where this principle is recognised in some existing enactment dealing with the compulsory acquistion of land for a similar purpose. This principle is already recognised in the Development and Road (Improvement Funds) Act, and it is important, especially in regard to the compulsory acquisition of land for road works, that the same principle of betterment should be admitted in assessing compensation in other cases. Clause 3 prevents the Bill being used for authorising the compulsory acquisition of land belonging to a local authority or a statutory undertaker for the purposes of the undertaking. At the same time it was necessary, while making that provision, to deal with another problem, and we provide that an Order made under this Bill may authorise the compulsory acquisition of an easement in or under land Compulsorily acquired.
One of the most fruitful sources of delay in the construction of roads and by-passes is the necessity for lengthy negotiations between the railway or canal company on the one hand and the local authority on the other for the construction of the necessary bridges. It was necessary to make special legislative provision in the case of the great new Liverpool—East Lancashire road, where the road crosses the railway. Where the road crossed the railway the delays were so serious that a Clause was inserted in their Act at the instance of the Lancashire County Council requiring the company to grant the necessary facilities for the construction and maintenance of the bridges where the new road crossed the line. It is clear that if we expedite schemes in all other directions we must expedite them in regard to the matter of obtaining easement. Clause 3 and the Second Schedule deal with the special cases 812 where an easement over or under the railway is required for the purposes of substituting a bridge for a level crossing. The maintenance of a level crossing may cost the railway company several hundreds of pounds and, if you substitute a bridge, they are relieved of that expenditure. It therefore seems right that they should make some contribution, as has been done in particular cases. But in any case lengthy negotiations often hold up a scheme and it is proposed that these powers should be given and that we should adopt the procedure for settling the appropriate contribution which was adopted in the Bridges Act of last year, with the necessary adaptations which will be found in the Schedule of the Bill.
Clause 4 deals with two points which were brought to our notice by the local authorities—points of application of the Unemployment Relief Works Act of 1920. Section 2 of that Act is limited in its application to land which is required for the construction of an arterial road or the improvement of any road. But the word "arterial" is ambiguous in meaning, and at the instance of the local authorities we are, therefore, taking out the word "arterial." In the second place, difficulties have arisen because of the doubt as to whether a fence or party wall is a permanent building or structure. In order to make it clear that there may be entry on the land where there is any wall or fence we are making an Amendment to meet the desires of the local authorities. Clause 5 is designed to speed up procedure in the case of unopposed special Orders under the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1919. At present, under the provisions of that Act, the Minister of Transport is required, before confirming any special Order made by the Electricity Commissioners, to publish a notice of his intention to confirm the Order, and to allow not less than three weeks for the receipt of objections. It often happens that, as a result of the proceedings taken before the Commissioners in connection with the application of the Order, and the inquiry or inquiries, there are not any outstanding objections to the Order at the time when it is made and submitted to the Minister for confirmation. In cases of that kind the publication by the Minister of his intention to confirm the Order is little more than a mere formality, which leads to a delay 813 of weeks, and might, indeed, lead to a delay of months, because after these Orders have been confirmed by the Minister of Transport they do not come into operation until they have been laid before Parliament, and in most cases have been approved by Resolution passed by both Houses; and in the case of Orders made by the Commissioners towards the end of the Parliamentary Session the delay involved by the Minister of Transport giving notice of intention to confirm may be a period of several months.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
It is where there is no serious opposition and only frivolous opposition. The remaining Clauses of the Bill do not require any detailed explanation. Clause 6 is the definition Clause. Clause 7 applies the Bill to Scotland, and Clause 8, in addition to the formal provisions, keeps the Act in force until 31st December, 1933, and no longer. That is the Bill. It is an attempt on our part to assist the local authorities by removing what they regard as serious obstacles to the promotion of their schemes, and I feel sure that the House will agree with me in hoping that, once the local authorities have these powers in their hands, they will be used to the fullest possible extent in the coming years.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
We are, of course, obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement concerning the Bill, but I must confess that I have seldom heard a more unenthusiastic exposition of any Bill. I do agree with the right hon. Gentleman in one thing, and that is that he has been very wise in claiming very little for these proposals. In fact very little can be claimed for them. My first observation, with which most hon. Members will agree, is that at best the Government are only once again scratching at the surface of our grave unemployment problem. What is the position? We have got the highest un- employment total for 8½ years; we have a huge trade drop; and after all the consideration by committees and the assumption of responsibility for the unemployment problem, so far as Government schemes are concerned, by the Prime Minister, this Bill, together with all the 814 other Government proposals, can be described only as an attempt to save a half sinking ship by bailing out the water with a teaspoon. No doubt hon. Gentlemen on the Government side are aware that there is really nothing very new in these proposals. There has been no extraordinary discovery made by the new group of Ministers who are considering the unemployment problem.
This Bill was talked about by the present Colonial Secretary for some time, and it is part of the proposals that he has indicated many times to the House—proposals which form part, I suppose, of the system which, for shortness, we call the system of certifying Bills in relation to unemployment. We know that that has not been a particular success. One of the first persons to object to one of the Bills certified for unemployment was the Dominions Secretary himself, and only this week we have had an instance from the Labour benches of the view they took of a certified Bill. Therefore, I do not think that much can be expected or that there will be any great advance, so far as this Bill is concerned. The view of my hon. Friends on this side is that the Government can bring forward this Measure and can have it passed into law, provided that some reasonable amendments are made in it. We desire to deny them nothing that is reasonable in their endeavour to solve this problem, because not only would be desire to see some mitigation of the present dreadful position, but we are also anxious that hon. Members should not be put in the position of having to go up and down their constituencies and saying that they were in any way prevented from dealing with unemployment.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was introduced to meet the desires and many of the difficulties of the local authorities. I wonder if that is a true presentment of the case? There was a conference, it is true, held at the Guildhall under the Presidency of the Prime Minister on 17th June last, but the only conclusion which can be arrived at from a study of the proceedings at that conference is that the great majority of local authorities of the country expressed pretty freely the view that, with every desire to help, there were serious limitations to the work which could be done to-day by the local authorities in providing 815 new schemes, particularly projects of material local expansion of an economic character. In considering this Bill, and all that it means, we should keep before us the statement so often made by the Minister lately responsible for dealing with the unemployment problem, to the effect that every million pounds spent only provided, at the best, work for 4,000 men in a year.
The House would also do well to keep in mind the fact which was again and again emphasised by the representatives of the local authorities at the conference to which I refer, that already the local authorities are engaged in very heavy financial commitments. The Lord Mayor of Sheffield, for instance, said that Sheffield was already paying over £60,000 a year, or a 6d. rate, on account of unemployment alone, and in some other towns the commitments and the expenditure are still heavier. The representatives of the County Councils Association—one of the most important bodies in the country and very closely concerned with the provisions of this Bill—said that the financial situation of the county authorities was constantly becoming more acute and instanced the very serious commitments of local authorities in respect of education and other services. I think that this observation certainly ought to be made, and perhaps it can be made with general assent, that the rates are already so high in many districts that they are definitely affecting the development of industry in those districts.
The Minister in the only part of his speech which held out any hope at all as to the material effect of this Bill on unemployment, said that the local authorities and the public undertakers would take certain schemes out of what he called their pigeon holes. I wonder if that is an accurate description of the position of the local authorities to-day? I think we must all know that many of the schemes which would be available to local authorities to-day—and there are not many—if, in fact, undertaken would be merely overdrafts on the labour requirements of next year. The truth is that local authorities have for the past six years been expediting their schemes and many of them have been mortgaging the future for years. As the present Dominions Secretary said—I think with 816 perfect truth—it is no use spending money on a job of work which when finished does not enable the country to provide more employment than it provided before. The danger of undue pressure on local authorities at the present time is that it may lead to temporary works which not only do not help, but actually aggravate the problem of unemployment. I think there is a desire in all quarters of the House to impress upon the Government the considerable danger which lies in that direction. Not only is there considerable danger but there are very definite limitations. The Minister of Transport in a debate of a few weeks ago made a very definite statement in connection with roads, on the authority of Sir Henry Maybury. He said that fresh schemes in connection with the roads were very limited indeed and I believe it is the case that, since 1920, no less than £48,000,000 of expenditure has been incurred on road schemes expedited with a view to relieving unemployment.
In considering the needs and desires of local authorities and whether they are being met or not by this Bill, we must remember that the Bill does not deal with one of the major objections put forward by local authorities in reference to this subject and what appears to them to be one of the compelling reasons for the delays in connection with such schemes as they are able to present to the Government. They, I think with a great deal of truth, attribute a considerable part of the blame for delay to the action of Government Departments. The Lord Mayor of Sheffield at the conference to which I have already referred said that there were too many Government departments dealing with these matters at the present time. [An HON. MEMBER: "You created the machinery!"] I beg of the hon. Member opposite not to say that we created the machinery. If the hon. Member wants to be fair surely he must admit that even this Government could, in 12 months, set up machinery and get it into proper working order. I may recall also that Mr. Berryman, who spoke for the County Councils Association at the Guildhall Conference, said that serious delay undoubtedly arose through the lack of complete and speedy co-ordination between the various Departments with which the local authorities 817 had to deal. So much for the difficulties of the local authorities. As to the extent to which they have been met by the provisions of the Bill, I leave that to the judgment of Members of the House in all quarters.
I wish to refer to the exact provisions of the Bill. The Minister gave a rather sketchy, and in some material particulars I think an inaccurate, outline of the present procedure—what is called Private Bill procedure in relation to matters of the kind contemplated in this Measure. We shall have to discuss these points in detail and with great care during the Committee stage of the Bill but, speaking broadly, I think we can say that whatever faults may be ascribed to the present procedure it has stood the test for a long time without any alteration. In certain respects there may be complaint of the delays which occur on occasion, but I must say that I agree with a statement made to me only yesterday by one who has had more experience of private Bill legislation than many, namely, that we ought not to blame the Private Bill procedure of Parliament for the delay. This gentleman said that in his experience most of the delay arose when that procedure was completed and when the project was submitted to the appropriate Government Department. He said: "If you want to know where the delay arises and where the weeks and months are lost, look at the period after the project is presented to the Department." At any rate, there are two very valuable privileges under the present system which I beg the House to maintain and to incorporate in this Bill.
The first is this, that in connection with any schemes which may be brought forward by a local authority or public undertaking, any person who is affected, as he thinks, adversely, should retain the right of a careful public inquiry into his objections. That is a most valuable privilege, which we should never permit to be given up under any circumstances of this kind. Secondly—and this is a matter which I think is vital—Parliament itself should retain a full measure of control with reference to the proceedings on any Bill or Order. There are several other considerable advantages, not perhaps of such importance as those that I have mentioned, 818 which are contained in our present procedure, and one is that any scheme presented to this House has to be absolutely definite in its details before it is considered here. In other words, in justice not only to any private individuals who may be affected, or to the local authority itself or to adjoining local authorities, but to this House itself, the actual project must be properly defined and accompanied by proper plans, so that there should be no indefiniteness at all in the proposal. Secondly—and I attach the highest importance myself to this—in connection with all these projects under this legislation an estimate of the cost of the schemes must be given and the House thus afforded a full knowledge of their financial effects.
I suggest that in all those matters this Bill is thoroughly and wholly unsatisfactory. Take the case of an objector to a proposal of a particular undertaking or local authority. I do not think anyone will dispute my statement that that person is entitled to have his case heard and that, as long as a speedy hearing can be afforded, there is no right to prevent, but in fact there is the gravest injustice in preventing, any person adversely affected by any project contemplated under this Bill from having a public hearing. I emphasise that word "public," because under this Bill it is apparently contemplated that anyone who is affected should have a notice served upon him that his particular rights will be affected, although I observe that in the provisions of this Bill there is none of that case which now obtains in our Private Bill legislation to see that in fact everyone who is adversely affected is served with a notice to that effect.
When that notice is served the only right that the individual has—and I emphasize that word "right"—is to send in an objection to the Minister of Health. No provision is made that he should be publicly heard, but the Minister of Health has to consider his objection and then, apparently, report it with the proposals to a Joint Committee of this House, and the only function of that Joint Committee, when it receives such a scheme and such an objection, would be to decide whether or not there should be an inquiry as regards the objection. I say that that is thoroughly unsatisfactory from the point of view of private individuals 819 affected by these schemes. The objector does not know the ground upon which the Minister may decide against him. Another point is that a public Committee, many of whose members no doubt would be overwhelmed with the anxieties of the unemployment situation and would quite naturally, have very considerable regard to it, may very well say, "No, there shall be no public inquiry in this matter."
What we shall propose from this side of the House is this We are not going to make any proposition which will mean considerable delay, but we say that there should be a hearing, not necessarily by a Committee of this House, although there are great merits in a hearing by such a Committee, but that at any rate at some stage an objector shall have the right of having his objection publicly and impartially heard, as of right.
I want to say a word on another Amendment of considerable importance which we shall propose to this Bill. As drafted, undoubtedly the Bill gives to this House, I was going to say, no effective control, and I think that is true. Under an Amendment which will mean no avoidable delay, at any rate at some stage—not, if you like, a successive series of stages—we shall propose that this particular Order shall be definitely brought before the House of Commons, and not, as is proposed in this Bill, if someone likes to take objection. I remember very well the Minister of Health himself and, I think, most of the Members who supported him in the last Parliament strongly urging, in connection with other legislation not as vital as this, that the House of Commons should keep some effective and definite grasp of projects of this kind.
Therefore, we say, in the first place, that a private objector should have the right of a public hearing, and, secondly, that Parliament must retain at some stage some effective control. That will put Parliament in this position, that it will then be able to decide, if the Minister takes a view contrary to some of the objections that have been made to a scheme, whether an Order shall or shall not be made, and will be able to amend particular Orders, if necessary. I emphasize that all that we desire is not a long series of Parliamentary proceedings, 820 but that we should have at some stage some effective control.
This Bill, although it does not appear on the face of it, takes away the rights of the ratepayers under the Borough Funds Act and deprives the ratepayers, in respect of schemes promoted by borough and urban district councils, of the right to demand a poll. It may very well be said that a good deal of criticism could be urged against certain of the procedure in connection with obtaining the views of the electors or ratepayers, but I do not see why for the purposes of expedition, for it means a short time indeed in connection with this Measure, this privilege should at this time be challenged, because we have had, during the last few months, considerable evidence that ratepayers are desirous of intervening and enforcing their opinions on matters of this kind, and we have had instances at Sheffield, Bristol, Leeds, Hull, Leicester, and Brighton in this connection.
I say there is no reason because there is little in it from the point of view of time in connection with an emergency Bill of this kind, to interfere with that particular right, and, although hon. Members opposite may say, when they speak on a public platform, that ratepayers who have taken this action have taken a retrograde step, and so on, that is a comment that could be made on any decision by any body of people whatever political view one may have. But it works both ways, and a decision may be given on one project from one point of view and a decision may be given on another from another point of view. I hope, however, hon. Members opposite will not support the suggestion of the Government that this right should be done away with in this connection. If you desire to improve or to criticise, do so, but the right should be extended to the citizens in a particular city or town to challenge any project which has been put forward by the local authorities upon some matter upon which they were not elected at all. At any rate, I emphasise and challenge the necessity of this provision being inferentially repealed by this Bill. It is absolutely essential, not only in the interests of this House but in the interests of the local authorities themselves, that in the presentation of the scheme not only to the Minister but 821 to this House, that the scheme should be definite in character. In this respect, the Bill will have to be amended. I desire to urge strongly on the House that there should be a proper financial estimate accompanying each proposal, so that the House may have full knowledge of the probable financial effect of the scheme when it considers the matter.
I am obliged to the House for hearing me so patiently. I regard this Bill as of considerable importance, affecting as it does, and amending as it does, procedure which has been in operation for a considerable time and which has, I believe, stood the test of time. My hon. Friends for whom I speak think that the Government, if they believe that this Bill will be of assistance to them, and provided that these Amendments that I have indicated will be considered, and I hope adopted, are entitled to have this Measure for what it is worth. I finish as I began by saying that I think the Measure will give very little satisfaction. The right hon. Gentleman has himself shown in his speech that he has not much hope of it. It is simply tinkering with the problem. I thought when I read the Measure and saw the proposals, that, after the demand of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for an emergency Session to deal with emergency legislation, this was supposed to be the response of the Government to that suggestion.
The Bill may very well provoke in the minds of Members a picture of the Government like that of a man being rapidly swept and tossed along the rapids, catching at any twig or straw in the vain hope of saving himself. Certainly, this cannot possibly meet the demands of the supporters of the Government, and in a few days time we shall be leaving this House with the unemployment figures rapidly mounting, with all the things which hon. Members have stood for denied them, with unemployment still a local and not a national responsibility, with no development loan, no retiring pensions, no raising of the school age, no national housing board, and with the unemployed expected to remain content with a Government which has aggravated and increased their difficulties and those of the country. The theories of the Chan- 822 cellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues have been of more account than the miseries of unemployed men and women, and so the country, I suppose, is to be content with a Government without a policy, which attributes the position to world causes, and which is once again, in this Bill, playing and temporising with the gravest question of our time.
Notwithstanding all that has been said by the right hon. Gentleman, I want to give an assurance to the House that I shall be giving expression to the opinion held by the gentleman he named, Mr. Berryman, who was Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the County Councils Association, and by the Secretary as well, when I say that the Minister to-day has correctly indicated that this is a sequel and an answer to the call made by the local authorities that is trying to expedite and put forward as many schemes as possible to be undertaken in the coming winter. It is also correct to say that three points have emerged from the Conference. The first is with regard to the acquisition of land and rapid entry of local authorities into parcels of land. Second is the need for co-ordination of the authorising departments in London. I hope I may have the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood. I want to point out to him how the clogs were built up from 1927, 1928 and 1929 in the Department of which he was a distinguished member, and prevented local authorities carrying out reasonable schemes during the whole of these three years. Thirdly, it is correct to say that the question of higher grants, the transfer of labour and contributions to necessitous areas formed a part of the discussion, and I speak for the County Councils Association and nobody else when I say that all that has been put forward by the Association has been very generously met and provided for as far as the funds are available.
The county of which I have the honour to be a member formulated 95 schemes when the ban was raised and when the leash was taken off. They only applied to roads and bridges, but we have other schemes such as school buildings, buildings for mental deficients and the blind, and so forth. Our roads and bridges 823 programme for five years alone comprises 330 big schemes, and 95 of these were put in the first period programme. We have already completed, or have under construction, 50 out of the 95. How many did we get from 1927 to 1929, when the Tory Government went out of office? We had ten schemes in three years, but since July of last year we have either completed or have in course of construction no less than 50.
I do not know what relevance that has to this question, but all these schemes were in the pigeon holes during the last three years. This Bill will be of great value, especially as far as Clauses 2 and 3 are concerned, and I hope that they will not be materially changed. They will enable us to obtain entry into the requisite parcels of land here and there. In my experience as Chairman for 20 years of the Roads and Bridges Committee of the county of Glamorgan, I found that under the Unemployment (Relief Works) Act of 1920, with the utmost good will, it takes us nearly two months, when there is no opposition, to get into possession of land for improvements. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are lucky!"] I know we are, but I stand on their doorstep for weeks in order to get this work done in the interest of the public. If there is any opposition, seven or eight months quickly go by before any step can be taken. This Bill will remove that delay. We have been reluctant in some cases to apply for compulsory Orders, and a Private Bill is very tedious and delays the carrying out of work, so we have been trying since 1924 to negotiate in my country by compromise for parcels of land on our main trunk road, but in the last two months we have had to come to the conclusion that we must apply for compulsory Orders in order to carry out improvements.
The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that the Clauses are somewhat technical, but they give full effect to the suggestions made to the Anderson Committee, and they will enable us to make more progress in relief schemes so far as legislation is involved. I am able to say officially that the county councils gener- 824 ally approve the Clauses in this Bill, especially Clauses 2 and 3. These Clauses will facilitate the acquisition of land and enable them to obtain easements over land belonging to statutory undertakings. That is all to the good. There is another matter that concerns us. The financial capacity of many counties has about reached its limit, and they find it difficult to find the money in order to embark on additional relief schemes. The County Councils Association gave a pledge that they would do all they possibly could to meet this national emergency. They know that the ratepayers' pockets are not inexhaustible, and they are profoundly thankful that the Government are now taking steps. They will help the Government as far as they possibly can to see that the irksome obstacles that have been raised by people who are interested shall be removed, and do all that they possibly can to mitigate the great problem that is facing us. It may not go a long way, but if Glamorgan can only get liberty to proceed with 40 schemes that are now in being, and which they are unable to carry forward because of the want of land, or because of some technicality, they will be able to find employment for 1,000 or 1,500 men and raise £500,000 in order to perform and construct work of public utility which will be of benefit to the nation.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
We on these benches will certainly support the Second Reading of this Bill, and also the later stages of the Measure. I was very glad to hear from the speech of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that those for whom he spoke will concur, at all events, in the Second Reading of the Bill. He stated that, however, with a complete lack of cordiality. At the outset of his remarks, he said that he had seldom heard a Minister propose the Second Reading of a Bill with such unenthusiastic support. I have rarely heard a Front Bench representative of the Opposition concur in a Bill with such very grudging approval. No doubt this Bill is small; it is small in proportion to the vastness of the need; but any Measure dealing with a problem so immense must necessarily be so, and yet it is likely to bring not unimportant results. We are face to face with a most 825 grave national emergency, and it is exceedingly difficult to find adequate measures to cope with it. Some measures are possible and are generally agreed, but the application of those measures is found to be faced by certain obstacles, and, whatever else may be said about the larger issues, the plain and obvious duty of Parliament and of the Government is to cut through those obstacles.
I am only sorry that this Bill was not introduced a year ago. The Liberal party has from the beginning strenuously urged the necessity of emergency measures for dealing with a real economic emergency. This Bill, although belated, is very welcome. Private Bill procedure in Parliament is, and always has been, costly, clumsy, unwieldy. I remember reading years ago that the cost of passing through Parliament the original Bill for the construction of the Great Northern Railway was almost exactly equal to the cost of piercing the first great tunnel through the Alps. Since that time the costliness of the procedure has, no doubt, been reduced, but, still, it is a very great handicap to any local authority which wishes to carry out some useful measure of development to have to come to Parliament for a Bill and to go through all our complicated procedure.
This Parliament is called upon to deal not only with the largest questions of Imperial policy but also, frequently, with the smallest matters of local detail. That is absurd, and it is high time that our procedure was altered. But although we are all agreed that Parliament is overburdened, although we are all agreed that business that now comes here ought to be devolved upon others, whenever any practical step to that end is proposed we find Members arguing most tenaciously that Parliament should adhere to every jot and tittle of its power. Even to-day the right hon. Member for West Woolwich has urged that all these Bills, no matter how petty their detail, no matter whether they are opposed or unopposed, no matter whether they are agreed or disagreed, should all come before Parliament for some definite act of approval in each House. I hope the Government will not find it necessary to accept that suggestion. There is a good deal to be said for withdrawing from Parliament these small local Measures altogether, and leaving them for settlement as between 826 the local authority and the Government Department concerned, but that is not the proposal in this Bill. The Measure does not propose that these projects should be withdrawn from the cognisance of Parliament. At a very early stage each one of them is to come before a Joint Committee of the two Houses, and that Joint Committee will decide whether it should go through the ordinary course of procedure or not. Am I wrong?
§ Sir K. WOOD
I may be wrong, but I suggest that the only responsibility of this Joint Committee is to decide whether or not there should be a public inquiry.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
But the project does come before a Joint Committee in each case, and the Joint Committee would, no doubt, make representations if they thought an improper procedure was being adopted.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Possibly that procedure may have to be strengthened in some detail, but in any case the other proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, that every Bill, agreed or disagreed, should have to come before Parliament for a definite act of approval, not waiting for some Motion of opposition to be made, seems to impose a serious obstacle. The essence of the whole matter is this: In many directions there is useful work to be undertaken, not mere relief work, not mere eleemosynary undertakings, but useful work of development, which the local authorities desire to see carried out. As we all know only too well, there is an immense mass of labour waiting to be employed, and it is kept waiting while these Measures go through the slow and majestic formalities of Parliament. There is an urgent need for the shortening and simplifying of our procedure; this Bill proposes to do that, and for that reason we give it most cordial support.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
There was one point just touched upon by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) which I wish to reinforce, and that is the very pernicious proposal, in my opinion, of doing away with a public inquiry. I am surprised that the Government, who always claim to represent the People, with a big P, should put forward a proposal to hand over the 827 rights of individuals to Government departments, and to a Minister, and, as in the case which I am going to cite, give no Parliamentary control at all, in effect—no Joint Committee or anything of that sort. Clause 5 deals with the special orders made by the Electricity Commissioners. They are an admirable body of semi-Civil Servants who carry out unobtrusively a very great work in stimulating electrical development throughout the country. Under the Act of 1919, whenever they make a Special Order, they are obliged, inter alia, to hold a public inquiry, so that people who have been informed that their rights may be affected and who have objected and want to put forward their views shall have an opportunity of doing so. The Commissioners send down a special officer to hold the inquiry, and then his report is considered by the Commissioners, and if it is approved by the Minister and is passed by this House in the usual way after 11 o'clock it becomes the law, and the special Order is carried out. Clause 5, as I read it—because its language is rather involved and technical—absolutely scraps the public inquiry altogether. The procedure is this. The Electricity Commissioners, as heretofore, are to be obliged to inform those whose rights are affected under a special Order that certain things are to be done. These people are then empowered to write in to the Electricity Commissioners stating their objections. The Commissioners then either agree to the objections or they do not, and they report to the Minister. The Minister then communicates with the objectors, who can again make their objections, and then absolutely the last word rests with the Minister. There is no public inquiry of any sort.
I promised not to be more than three minutes, because other hon. Members want to speak, but I most profoundly protest against that particular proposal. Surely we do not want to do away with the safeguard of publicity, because publicity, above all things, is so essential in this work, and hand over the rights of people and companies to what is, in effect, the Civil Service. Civil Servants are most upright and conscientious people, but I do not think it is fair to place upon them, without any public inquiry, the right of deciding these very 828 important matters. The Minister says we must agree to this because it is necessary to expedite work. I make two comments. Is the Minister quite sure that delay always arises through public inquiries? Do delays never occur in Government departments? Of course they do. [Interruption.] I have had experience of a Government department, and I do not say that we never delayed things. The Minister will agree that speeding up is possible in Government Departments. We need not do away with a public inquiry in order to speed up. An extra inspector or two could be appointed to hold public inquiries, which need not cause delay, and we should not be doing away with this great safeguard.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
After listening to the speeches on this subject I should like to suggest that we ought not to close the door of our official departments, but rather give them a helping hand. We must go along the path of devolution, still keeping the public hand upon what is going on in public departments. We want to give greater powers to the local authorities, and leave Ministers to look after their own affairs. I think that would be a better line to take rather than the line suggested of giving more power to the central bureaucracy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) compared the efforts being made to deal with unemployment under this Bill to an endeavour to save a sinking ship by bailing out the water with a teaspoon. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to be the very last person to talk like that, because of the fatuous nonsensical schemes that have been put forward in the past to cure unemployment, for which the party opposite have been responsible.
I confess that I do not feel very enthusiastic about this Measure. Local legislation always works slowly and expensively, and this Bill has been introduced with a view of expediting the process of local legislation. I find that one proposal in this Bill is intended to deal with the difficulty of acquiring land. Clause 2 of this Bill is intended to provide a more speedy method of overcoming the difficulty of getting land and procuring easements. The Minister of Health was quite right when he said that this Bill was not intended to do anything revolutionary. I 829 should like to point out that we were given to understand that something revolutionary was going to be proposed. What is now proposed is something which will quicken up the preliminary proceedings in regard to Private Bills on the understanding that it can be shown that they will assist the unemployment problem.
I understand that when local authorities find themselves faced with the difficulty of the landlord standing in their path they will be able to say to him, "Get out of the way; we have power to remove you." You can take possession of the land in 14 days, but what happens afterwards? You have to go back to the Land Clauses Acts in order to find how much you are going to get from these proposals, and then you discover that you have to pay the full price to the landlord plus interest. I say frankly that this Bill, while it may short circuit much of the preliminary work which is now necessary in connection with our Private Bill procedure, will still leave the old difficulties. It is the old procedure under a new name for the removal of the small grievances from which we have suffered in the past with regard to Private Bills.
A Measure like this ought not to be put forward in any sense as one which will assist in solving the unemployment problem. The Government brought in a Land Valuation Bill, and they ought to have done something in the last Budget in this direction instead of playing about with the problem in this manner under the guise of doing something revolutionary. The Bill can do nothing to help employment. It may do something to rob a few barristers of expensive briefs before the Local Legislation Committee, and to that extent I welcome it, but to say that it is going to do anything effective, anything of real worth, in any way to mitigate the pressure and the menace of unemployment, is dishonest. It will do nothing of the kind. Let us be quite frank about it. It has been stated that this is merely scratching the surface of things.
I hope that one suggestion which has been thrown out will be incorporated in the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill which states that the cost of its operation shall be made public. I hope that that will be insisted upon by this House. The other day I was sitting on a Com- 830 mittee which was considering a great scheme that was going to be pushed through, and I made no bones about turning that Bill down. A sum of £14,500,000 was involved in that scheme for giving work to the unemployed. What transpired on examination of the scheme? There was a sum of £14,500,000 to give work to the unemployed, and probably, if this Bill had been passed, that scheme would have been pushed through without public examination and without any full examination by this House. Out of that £14,500,000, £11,500,000 was to be handed over to the landowners to remove them out of the way.
A scheme of that sort might have got away, and, indeed, have begun to be carried through now, had it not been for the fact that a Parliamentary Committee was examining the whole thing in detail—not merely the costs involved in compensation, but also other details which must not be neglected by this House, technical details, town planning details, engineering details, all sorts of technical details about which the House has a right to know something, but which could be very easily passed through a Government department, and for which the Government department would not be held responsible if it allowed them to escape. I am not asking that some of what are properly desribed as the old stately forms should be maintained. Would that they could be quickly removed. But, at the same time, let us be jealous and guard every publicity that that this House can have as regards the schemes themselves, their relations to other schemes, and the costs involved. That can be done, surely, without entirely robbing this House of its right to examine the whole of the schemes put forward.
§ Captain BOURNE
I rather agree with the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), although I am not surprised to find that on this occasion he has dragged in the question of land values, like King Charles's head. I must say that I think that the House as a whole is probably surprised, after having heard the remarks that have been made about this emergency legislation, to observe the extraordinary meagre results of the Government's effort. It is even more extraordinary that they have 831 chosen this juncture to introduce this particular Bill, when there are two Committees sitting at present, the one, under the chairmanship of Lord Donoughmore, considering the powers of Government departments, and the other, a Select Committee of this House, considering Private Bill Legislation, both of which are likely to report within a very few days.
I listened with some interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). I rather think that he has hardly taken the trouble to read this Bill. He repeated a certain number of very well-worn phrases about Private Bill procedure, which I think were taken from the book of Professor Ramsay Muir on "How England is Governed." I do not think, however, that he has really studied the subject. If he had, he would have realised that the great bulk of the time occupied by Private Bill procedure is due to negotiation between promoters and opponents. The delay in this House or in another place is not very great. An unopposed Bill goes through both Houses with remarkable rapidity. It is interesting to find, after listening, as I have been listening for the past three months, to the views expressed by local authorities, that they regard the Private Bill procedure of this House as on the whole an expeditious and prompt procedure. They regard this House as infinitely better in all respects than a Government Department.
The only real thing, as far as I can see, that this Bill will do if it becomes an Act, will be to enable schemes promoted by statutory undertakers or county authorities to be presented at any period of the year, instead of at certain fixed dates. I have long thought myself that that might have been an advantage in our Private Bill procedure, but it is very curious that every one of the people who are interested in this matter, whether as promoters or opponents, has unanimously condemned that suggestion because of the dislocation that it causes to their own domestic concerns. I cannot imagine that the great majority of the local authorities of this country are going to welcome the proposal when it is put into this Bill.
It seems to be entirely forgotten, by those who talk about delay, that a local 832 authority is an administrative machine. It has its own work to do, very important administrative work. It has to plan its meetings, to arrange for its committees, and everything else of that kind, and there is nothing that upsets it more, when it is busily employed with its own administration, than constantly having the attention of its officials and members diverted to deal with some question that may happen to come up by way of a Private Bill or Provisional Order. That means an entire dislocation of the staff for the time being, and, the more extended and the less certain the dates are made, the bigger is the dislocation. They do not know, and cannot tell under this scheme, when a public inquiry will be held, and they have to put other urgent work aside in order to consider it, because they do not know when to look out for it.
Some comment has been made on the cost of Private Bill legislation in this House, but the largest part of the expense of such legislation occurs when two local authorities start on a "scrap" with each other, and I fail to see what this Bill is going to do to prevent two local authorities from "scrapping" in front of an independent tribunal. Anyone who has sat on Committees dealing with these Bills will realise that the heaviest costs for counsel, parliamentary agents, witnesses, and so on, is when two big local authorities are "scrapping" over a boundary scheme or something of that sort, or one is objecting to the other putting its sewage works in its area. This Bill will not do anything to stop either the cost or the length of such proceedings.
That seems to me to be the first indictment against this Measure. A second is that, if you are going to set up it, tribunal to investigate complaints and objections, it must be realised that local authorities may very fairly and legitimately take totally different views as to what is desirable or what is not desirable in any case. It is, no doubt, very pleasing for some town in the middle of England to wish to construct a great reservoir in the centre of Wales, and take its water from there, but it is by no means quite so certain that the views of the local authority are shared, either by the county councils into whose rivers that water will drain, or by the inhabitants 833 whose district it is proposed to convert into a large reservoir. They have their points of view, and it is legitimate that they should have power to express them.
One of the things which, as I believe; has done more than anything else to prevent friction between different authoritis, or between owners and authorities, in this country, is the very great degree of confidence which on the whole they repose in a Select Committee of this House. People put their case before such a Committee, and it is either agreed with or disagreed with, but, from the evidence to which I have been listening recently, there appears to be a unanimous opinion that tremendous confidence is placed in the decision of Members of Parliament of either House, and one of the things that was very strongly stressed in the Committee, which was presided over by Sir Leslie Scott, and which reported in 1918 to the Ministry of Reconstruction, was the desirability that there should be at any rate some Parliamentary representation on the panel which might hold the local inquiry. I do not know why the Government have not adopted that suggestion, as much of this Bill would appear to have been founded on the report, of that Committee, and although I admit that there might be some difficulty in setting up a Parliamentary panel, and I, for one, in view of that difficulty, would not wish to urge it upon the Government, it was strongly stressed in that report and in the evidence given before the committee that Members of this House, being public people, give a sense of security to their actions which does not obtain in the case of Government officials. That, I think, is another point that wants consideration before we come to the Committee stage.
A third point arises under Clause 1 where it says the Minister, before laying the draft order before Parliament, shall require the applicants to serve notice on the people on whom notice would have to be served under the Standing Orders, and that they may put notices in the newspapers in accordance with the prescribed form. I have been spending a good deal of time recently going into this rather difficult question of newspaper notices. At present they have to be delivered on a fixed date. Everyone 834 whose rights or interests are likely to be affected by private Bills at present is quite aware when to look out for the appearance of these notices in the newspapers. Consequently, I do not think the present very lengthy and expensive form of notice is necessary. But that is really contingent on the fact that people know when to look. Under this Bill you may apparently put advertisements into the newspapers at any time of the year. There is, as far as I can see, no suggestion that notice should be given in the "London Gazette," which is a great help to many local authorities and others, because it is a warning to them that something is being done and it gives them the information where they can find full particulars, and that is what they need.
I want to put a further question. Whose business is it to see that these notices are served and the Standing Orders complied with? At present, under the Standing Orders of the House, every private Bill has to go before the examiners. If anyone thinks he is aggrieved by failure to serve notice upon him or to put it in the prescribed form in any paper, he can appear before the examiners and state his case, and it has been not infrequently the custom of the Committee of this House to decline to grant leave to suspend the Standing Orders where it can, in fact, be shown that hardship has been caused to any individual or body corporate. I see nothing in the Bill to deal with that question and I think that is one of the points that want considering between now and Committee, because it is no good putting into an Act of Parliament a condition that you shall serve notice on people unless there is some provision in the Act that a person aggrieved has some remedy.
The next thing we come to is the provision that any Order made under this Bill should go before a Joint Select Committee of both Houses in order that they may consider, if objections are made, whether or not there should be a public inquiry. I cannot help wondering what on earth is the good of that provision. You may have a Committee of Members of this House and noble lords from another place. If they are really to be told that Mr. Smith and Mr. Robinson and the railway company are objecting to an 835 Order, they will not be any better able than the Minister or anyone else to decide whether an inquiry is needed and whether the objections are valid and substantial or not. The only thing that will enable the Committee to come to a decision would be if the case is tried in front of them. If they can have evidence, and can hear the objectors and the promoters, they will be in a position to judge whether the objections are valid. If you are going to do that, I cannot see the value of a public inquiry. The case will have been tried twice, and why try it all over again? The total amount of Parliamentary control given under the Clause is valueless and negligible and might well be dispensed with.
Would the hon. land gallant Gentleman suggest that the promoters and objectors should appear by counsel or in person?
§ Captain BOURNE
That, I should say, would be a matter for the Select Committee. I want to know if they are to be heard at all. If they are, you will have a full inquiry. If they are not, the thing is useless. It is a superfluous part of the machinery. If you really wish to save time, it would be far better to come to an arrangement with another place that all Private Bills should be referred to a Joint Select Committee, with one Committee stage only. That would save time and money. It would expedite these Bills far more than the suggestions in this Bill. I think that should be considered as an emergency Measure. What you really want is that the rights of objectors shall be preserved and that they may state their case, secondly that there shall be an inquiry into their case, and thirdly, that this House shall maintain some control over the matter. Much has been said about our stately procedure with regard to Private Bills. How many times has this House objected to a Private Bill on Report and Third Reading? It is not common. Most of the delay between the presentation of the Report stage and the Bill being in the House is a week at the outside, and usually far less. There are justifiable occasions in which this House has thought it necessary to interfere. Only at the beginning of this week hon. Members thought it necessary to exercise their undoubted right to refuse a Bill which had passed through another place 836 with but little objection and went through the unopposed Committee. That was a certified Bill.
I do not think it is reasonable or fair or desirable to ask Members to surrender their entire rights of amending or rejecting a Bill, even though it may do something towards giving employment, if there is anything to which they strongly and conscientiously object. It is a right which we can trust the House to exercise with discretion. But it is asking a very great deal to expect Members to surrender all their rights and to pass a Bill merely on the ipse dixit of a Minister. The hon. Member for Burslem said that a certain Bill which was rejected by a Parliamentary Committee would have passed under this Bill. A Bill which the House decided deliberately by a large majority to reject last Monday would also have gone through under this Bill and hon. Member's opposite would have had no opportunity of voicing their objections. I think the House should hesitate before it finally does away with that. After all, there is, under the Private Bill Scotland Procedure Act, 1900, a method by which the preliminary stages of a Bill are removed from the control of the House altogether and if, after a local inquiry, terms are agreed to, the Bill conies forward having been deemed to have passed the Committee stage in both this House and another place. It seems to me that some adaptation of that would go a long way to meet the objections to this Bill and to preserve, where necessary, the control of the House. A Bill might be brought in under this which really involves very large questions of public policy. To leave that merely to a local inquiry held by a distinguished civil servant or some other person appointed by the Minister is asking us to abrogate our rights altogether, and to a greater extent than the present position justifies. I should like to ask precisely what power will come under paragraph (1) of the First Schedule which deals with compulsory purchase orders. It says that they mayacquire compulsorily the land with respect to which it is made by an order having effect …. under some enactment in force immediately before the commencement of this Act.I am not interested in the other three paragraphs because they are obvious 837 and we can see what they mean. I should like to know exactly for what purpose a local authority can claim to purchase land under Clause 2 by virtue of the position in paragraph (1). I know that housing comes under it, but I shall be glad if the Minister, when he replies will give the House information as to the purposes for which land is likely to be acquired. I think that the House requires some information on that point.
I do not believe that this Bill will do anything towards meeting the present problem of unemployment. It seems to me to be founded on a totally wrong system, and it will do little to expedite these works. In any case, I cannot think that the provision of work through local authorities is a proper way in which to deal with this problem. The bulk of the money, or a large portion of the money, to be expended is to be found by the ratepayers and you are to expend it on work which will not be very remunerative. I cannot help thinking that, if the Government really wished to help the problem, it would have been far better if they had done something towards providing money in order to give industries whose plant is obsolete facilities to obtain more plant and to be able to compete on better terms with the rest of the world, than spending money in the provision of parks. I think that that would have been the better way. The provision of new machinery would provide work at least equal to that which will come out of this Bill. At the same time, the whole thing is founded on a wrong basis, namely, that the only way to deal with unemployment is to get local authorities to build works which nobody requires.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) apparently wants us to give Government money in order to provide plant for inefficient industries which have not provided it for themselves. Is that the new policy of the party opposite? May I ask under what control are we to provide this money? Are we to give it as a free gift? I really hope that the country will take notice of the new Conservative policy. I suppose that after the failure of their penultimate policy in North Norfolk during the last few weeks they are now searching for a new policy.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. My astonishment was aroused by the new Conservative doctrine. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the case for the Opposition began by welcoming the Bill, and then he became more and more inflammatory, and his criticism became more unbounded and extravagant. I must make comment upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), because it was so typical of the mentality of hon. Gentlemen's opposite without exception. He said that this Bill is like baling water out of a sinking ship with a teaspoon. I would say to him: why does he not give a hand at the pumps? The right hon. Gentleman the member for West Woolwich and the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford remind me of the cantankerous passenger on board who grouses when the ship is in difficulties and will not help, and then occasionally, as we saw the other night, tries to rush the bridge like a Chinese pirate. I wish we could put some of these cantankerous passengers where they could do some hard work. I would like to reduce the number of committees on Private Bill legislation and make the committees sit longer. I daresay that my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, who has been accused of being a Mussolini, wishes that he could exercise the power of a Mussolini occasionally in this matter.
I rise to put a point which has not been made. It is not in opposition to the Bill. I agree that the Bill is better late than never, but it should have been produced 12 months ago as my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) has said. But we have got it now, and we ought to make the best of it. My hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Health are opening a path for local authorities in regard to local legislation, but there is no guarantee that the local authorities will take action. There is no power to deal with a negligent, obstructionist local authority. The late Government dropped upon local authorities, because they considered that they were spending too much upon the Poor Law—Bedwellty, Chester-le-Street, and West Ham. Down they came and 839 took away their democratic rights. I would like to see us deal with the type of local authority which will not do anything for the poor unemployed, who are suffering in many parts of the country because certain authorities, especially in the case of certain county councils, are holding up the endeavours and the intentions of the progressive municipal authorities.
I will come back to another nautical expression. In regard to many of these schemes where local authorities are concerned, one reactionary, recalcitrant, obstructionist authority can hold up the whole thing. The speed of a fleet is always the speed of the slowest ship, and in this case they are acting as a drag and a brake upon the really well-thought-out and necessary efforts of the more active and progressive authorities. This is where I am disappointed with the machinery which is being set up by the Prime Minister for dealing with this particular phase of the problem of unemployment. Some Minister is required who shall be as free as possible from administrative burdens, from the details of conducting a great department of State, the fascinating paper work, free from the whole dead-weight of officialdom which overburdens him. Some Minister who is comparatively free in the Government should make a habit of going round to the local authorities and gingering things up or helping where they do not want ginger. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend asks what about the Lord Privy Seal? As my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has to sit in this House for certain purposes, he cannot, of course, be elsewhere. He cannot be in two places at once. We need somebody to go round and conduct preliminary inquiries and conferences on the spot.
At present you have deputations coming to London. The representatives of authorities are only delegates, and they have no power to commit their authorities. They have to go back again to wait until the next monthly meeting, and then perhaps the matter is adjourned or the Motion is talked out, and we have more and more delay. The next thing is we shall have the summer holidays upon us, and the whole of August and September will be dead as far as particular autho- 840 rities are concerned. The town clerk or the mayor or the chairman of the council is away, and nothing can be done. You cannot run this business from Whitehall, and I ask the Minister of Transport to bear that fact in mind. I know that he realises it. I am sorry that the Prime Minister has not been here for the whole of the Debate. He was here for a few minutes only during the opening speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, and no doubt the Prime Minister knew beforehand what was going to be said. This is a vital question. We have to stir things up in the provinces, on the spot, by the Minister. It is no use sending permanent officials. Permanent officials do not carry the guns. The Minister is looked upon as a superior being—of course, all Ministers are superior beings. The Minister has the necessary prestige, and he carries the necessary guns. You cannot run this campaign from Whitehall. It is a campaign, it is a war against the encroaching and demoralising influence of unemployment.
§ Sir PHILIP PILDITCH
The hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) have referred to what they describe as the rather grudging support of the Bill given from this side by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), and others. As I understood those speeches, and as I interpret the action of hon. Members on this side of the House, we only grudge our support of the Bill from the point of view that we do not think it is likely to achieve the end that is desired. We do not think it is likely to lessen unemployment. I am certain that hon. Members on this side of the House, in the crisis in which we stand at this moment, are perfectly prepared to consider some temporary method of carrying out all the works on which the Government pin so much faith. If I offer a few criticsms of the Bill it will be from the point of view of desiring to remove some of the objectionable features in the Bill, and some of the things that will tend to destroy what has been the predominant feature of the procedure under which this kind of action has been carried on in the past.
The Minister of Health commented upon the fact that to obtain possession 841 of property for the purpose desired, frequently took from October to Easter. I agree with him when he says that it is possible that some improvements might be made permanently in the procedure, which, in ordinary circumstances, is too long, or may be made too long. But we are not considering that matter now; we are considering some temporary provision to deal with the present situation. The House is asked for a period of 3½ years to give up its rights and its powers of controlling these matters. Therefore, it is very desirable that the propositions that are being made should be carefully scrutinised. Whatever powers Parliament has seen fit to take in the past in regard to the acquisition of the property of individuals, the individual has always felt that he has had the full protection of Parliament in regard to the question as to whether his property is to be acquired. Recently, there has been considerable feeling that this kind of safeguard is being whittled away, and that what is called bureaucracy is gradually taking the place of the powers of Parliament. Therefore, it is very desirable that we should carefully consider what is being suggested in this Bill.
The right hon. Member for West Woolwich has made two suggestions of ways in which he thought the Bill might be improved. He thought there ought to be a public inquiry at some stage, and that there ought to be some further control by this House. There are two particular points in regard to which the Bill is undesirable. The first of these points is with regard to the tribunal that is proposed to be set up. It is most undesirable—without entering into any attack upon our Civil Service; they are a splendid body of men, and we rely upon them—that the tribunal should be drawn from the officials of the Department concerned. The Bill says nothing about the personnel of the tribunal which is to settle these matters. I was going to ask the Minister whether he meant that the tribunal should be composed of Members of this House. I thought it conceivable that he meant the tribunal to be composed of Members of this House, or that independent experts should be set up for the purpose. He has announced, however, that he proposes to refer these matters directly to the officials of his 842 own Department, or to the Department of the Ministry concerned. That is a thoroughly undesirable and vicious proposal. It is not a proposal that will give confidence to the public at large, or to those whose property is likely to be taken. The officials of the Department concerned will be parties in the case, and to set them up in the position of the tribunal that is to give an independent opinion upon the matter referred to them by the Joint Committee of this House and another place, is exceedingly undesirable. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the point and see whether it is not possible to appoint a body of persons to act as the tribunal who will be less open to objection than officers of the Ministry itself.
The second point to which I would allude is of even greater importance. I refer to the exceedingly small duties which are to be given to the Joint Committee of both Houses. So far as I understand the Bill, all that the Joint Committee is to do is to consider the report sent to them by the Minister, which report has been sent to the Minister by the local authority, and decide whether or not an inquiry should be held. A very much more effective proposition, and one which would give much greater confidence to the public, would be that after the report has been examined by the Minister it should be sent back again to the Joint Committee of the two Houses and that they should have an opportunity of deciding whether or not the report as decided by the Minister and the action which he intended to take upon it, should be carried out or not; in other words, that the Joint Committee of the two Houses should be given an opportunity of intervening at what would be the critical moment. I would not make this suggestion if I thought that it would have the effect of delaying procedure under the Bill. I think that it would add one more point in the procedure and would have the effect of giving not to this House as a body, not to the other place as a body, not to the two Houses together, but to the Joint Committee appointed by both Houses, an opportunity of deciding exactly what should be done in the circumstances. I hope the Committee will be prepared to take that paint of view into account. If these two things were done, I think that much of the 843 objection that might otherwise be raised against the proposal in the Bill would be removed.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
There are one or two points in this Bill upon which I desire to say a word. The first is this. Under the Clause which gives power to local authorities to acquire land there is no mention whatever of giving them a right to acquire land from the Crown. My own experience is that when it has been necessary to acquire land for schemes for the relief of unemployment the biggest difficulty has been with the Crown Lands Department, not because the officials are desirous of obstructing our progress, but simply because they are bound by certain rules and regulations with which they must comply. If the Minister really wants to do something to expedite the acquisition of land he must take this matter into serious account. In dealing with many of the largest schemes, that is, schemes which find work for the largest number of unemployed, big improvement schemes, coast erosion schemes and reclamation schemes, in every case you come up against the Crown Lands Department, and I ask whether something cannot be done in regard to that particular department. Speaking as one who has had a long experience of local government matters, I think local authorities in the main will welcome this Bill. There are certain provisions which will be a great help to them, and. I suggest that the Minister of Health should take into account the suggestions which have been made this morning for improving the Bill.
Let me suggest another way in which he can expedite matters considerably, even without this Measure. I refer to speeding up matters in the Departments. Let me give my own experience in relation to one little scheme. It received the sanction of this House and would have provided work for about 1,000 men once it got fairly into operation. As is usual when a corporation promotes a Bill and brings forward a scheme, a draft plan has to be submitted to the Committee and if there is any deviation from that plan afterwards the consent of certain people have to be obtained. In this particular scheme a small alteration in the plan was necessary. It was a question whether the outlet for the sewage should 844 be in one spot or a few hundred yards further away. What happened? We had to go to the Unemployment Grants Committee to get their sanction. Then we had to go to the Board of Trade for their sanction, then to the Ministry of Health, because they have overriding powers in the matter of borrowing. Then we had to go to the Minister of Transport, and also had to get the consent of a river conservancy board and a neighbouring local authority. In addition we had to go also to the county council, which is the overriding body over the local council. I am not blaming the officials in the least. They did their best, but with the best will in the world to go round all these various Departments and local authorities takes weeks and weeks; all this was necessary in order to get one simple little alteration in the plan of that scheme sanctioned.
Is it not possible for something to be done departmentally which would do away with this long process. If it had not been for the fact that they had an active Member of Parliament who went round the Departments himself and spent a good deal of his Parliamentary time hanging about the doorsteps of the Department, we might have been waiting yet for that sanction. There was no dispute about the matter, but all this had to be done because of departmental rules. Would it not be possible, in the case of really good schemes which are going to provide a substantial amount of work, to place some special officer in charge of it and see that it is driven through these various Departments? We know what happens at present. A memorandum goes forward to the Board of Trade. It is put on the file and is considered in the course of a week or two. Then it is red-inked and goes to the Ministry of Transport for their observation. There it goes on the file for a short time, and then it appears with green ink. It goes forward for the observations of the Ministry of Health—I do not know what kind of ink they use, but I should think that all the colours have been utilised by the time this Department deals with it. Then you get the lawyers on the job, and considerable delay takes place. I hope the Minister of Health will consider this suggestion sound and that in addition to this Bill, which may do something to help local authorities to carry out these schemes, it may also be possible to review depart- 845 mental action and find a method whereby these matters can be got through the Departments much quicker. That I think would be the case if some one officer was told off to see that a certain scheme gets through the Departments at the earliest possible moment.
There are one or two provisions in the Bill which I think should be amended. I do not like the idea of the abolition of a poll of the ratepayers. It may be slow and cumberous, but it need not be, and it gives the individual ratepayer a right. I do not like to take away from ratepayers in any district rights which they enjoy at present. If a scheme involves a large sum of money, and no doubt many of them will, the ratepayers should have the right to say yea or nay to the proposal. If the scheme does not turn out as good as they expected, then they will have no one to blame but themselves, and they will not be able to throw the responsibility on to the shoulders of their representative. I am absolutely at one with hon. Members who say that we ought to know the cost of these schemes before sanction is given to anything contained in this Bill. These are important points, and I hope the Minister of Health, who introduced the Bill with great lucidity, will listen sympathetically to constructive Amendments which will be brought forward. I do not know anyone who will try to obstruct the passage of this Bill, and if the right hon. Gentleman will only listen to those who can offer helpful advice I am certain that it will mean the rapid progress of the Bill through the House.
§ Sir DENNIS HERBERT
This is definitely an emergency Bill, as is shown by the fact that it is to be in force for three years only. In these circumstances, even if one may not be enthusiastic in his reception, it makes it much easier to give the Bill real support. I rise only to call attention to one or two reasons why I think careful attention should be given to this Bill in Committee stage. I agree with the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) who said that he did not think it would do a great deal to solve the unemployment problem and also with his view, which it was very interesting to find coming from the Labour benches, that there should be more control by this House in certain important matters. 846 I think that some of us on this side of the House will be able to give some help in improving the Bill in the Committee stage. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) referred incidentally to one way in which the machinery of the Bill might be improved very much and lead to considerable expedition.
In an emergency Bill of this kind I cannot see the reason for putting in an extra step. If you are to have an inquiry at which objectors are to be heard, whether it be before a Committee of this House or an impartial tribunal under the Tribunals Act, why should you have this preliminary inquiry beforehand as to whether there are objections which should be heard? A little good will in the Committee stage of the Bill might shorten procedure very much in that respect. A certain amount of expense might also be saved by some alteration of that kind. I do not seen the need for this impartial tribunal. I do not see why the tribunal should not be such a tribunal as a Parliamentary Private Bill Committee, with the one alteration that it should be a single Joint Committee of the two Houses instead of two Committees. In that way I think we might make the Bill much more effective, and the procedure under it briefer and less costly.
I have referred to the Bill as an emergency Bill and as limited in operation in regard to time. It is only on those grounds that some of us can see our way to give it genuine support. The Bill as drawn gives extraordinary powers to the executive Government. And these powers are proposed by a party which claims to be the most democratic party in the House. So far as there has been any enthusiasm for it at all it has been shown by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), whose party claims to protect the liberty of the private subjects in this country. Yet we find that Parliament is being asked to place in the hands of the executive Government powers to deal with the affairs of private citizens and to over-ride Parliament to a very great extent. That may be justified; I am not saying that it is not; but it is only justified in cases of emergency. Here we have an emergency. We have a condition of unemployment which during the 847 time that the present Government has been in office has become very much more serious and terrible than it was when they undertook the management of the affairs of the country.
It is our business as an Opposition to do all that we can to help the Government in the attempt to solve the misery which has been brought about by the increase in unemployment. And we mean to do it. If we are given reasonable opportunity for it we can improve the small proposals of the Bill. Let me for a moment call attention to one or two points in the Bill to justify what I have said as to the extraordinary powers being given to the executive Government or the Minister, and given in some ways unnecessarily. In the first place it seems to me remarkable, in a Bill of this kind, that if a local authority or some statutory undertaker wants to take advantage of this expeditious method of procedure, it rests with the Minister to decide whether that body is to be allowed to do so or not. The Memorandum states that:The Minister may then lay the draft Order before Parliament.Apparently it is to be at the discretion of the Minister whether this particular form of procedure can be used by a statutory undertaker or local authority. I do not think that that is a power which it is necessary to give. What is more, if we want to expedite these things, why should we not make it the duty of the Minister, in cases of the kind, to lay the draft Order before Parliament? We had an example the other day of supporters of the Government, including every Member of the Government with the sole exception of the Minister of Transport—but including the Prime Minister and several Secretaries of State—throwing out from this House a certified Bill on grounds which were no doubt good enough for them. If it is the policy of the present Government to object to certain schemes for political reasons, to give the executive Government power to refuse the advantages, such as they are, of this more expeditious procedure to any local authority or body of statutory undertakers, it is a mistake. It should be for this House to decide whether the procedure should be used or refused; it should not be left to the discretion of the Minister alone.
848 We will give the Bill a Second Reading. We have every intention of doing all we can to help the Government to deal with unemployment. When the Bill reaches Committee we will do our utmost to improve the abbreviated procedure which is proposed for this emergency. But it must be remembered that it is a form of procedure which neither the present nor any other Government would be likely to ask the House to accept as anything but a temporary and emergency procedure. I make no reflection upon the character of anyone who may be holding office as a Minister, but it is the duty of the House to watch most carefully that in giving these extraordinary and unusual powers to the executive government, over and above the powers of Parliament, the powers should not be capable of being misused owing to a Minister's political leanings or his views on certain local matters. We should not give powers unless it is really essential to do so.
While there are matters which can be dealt with quite as quickly and easily by this House as by the executive Government, those powers ought to be retained by the House. Thereby we should make the Bill more extensive, more effective and, I think, also, possibly more expeditious. We know that the delays in Government offices about which many hard things are said in the country are often unavoidable. Government Departments have to work according to certain rules. They cannot cut knots in the way that this House can do. Therefore if I say that, in watching this Bill in Committee, we have to try to avoid giving Ministers more power than necessary, I do so, having in mind the fact that still keeping that curb on Ministers, we may, at the same time, be able to expedite procedure under the system suggested in this Bill rather than delay it further. But above all we must remember that being emergency legislation this Bill must be watched with the greatest care in Committee. We must see that Parliament which has the real power of dealing with things quickly, shall not get into the position of delegating its powers to a Minister or a Department which may use them, not more expeditiously but less expeditiously than this House.
§ Sir BOYD MERRIMAN
Some adverse comment has been directed against us for our attitude in criticising the details of 849 this Bill; but surely it is an elementary right on the part of an Opposition to say that they are not prepared to challenge the Second Reading of a Bill, while reserving the full right of criticising its details in Committee. I am bound to say that, as the Bill stands, the hon. Member for Watford (Sir D. Herbert) is abundantly justified in saying that it effects an enormous increase in the powers of Ministers. I am bound to say, also, that I think it effects a very considerable diminution in the protection afforded to the individual; and our fear is that, at the end of it all, its effect on the unemployment problem will be negligible. It is really not too much to say that under the guise of a Bill entitled the Public Works Facilities Bill there is being put forward a Measure the real title of which ought to be the "Abolition of Private Bill Legislation and the Ministers (Bureaucratic Powers) Bill."
As the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) pointed out earlier in the debate, at a time when a Select Committee appointed by this House to consider and to suggest improvements in Private Bill legislation is about to report to the House, this Bill—temporarily, if you like, but in effect—abolishes Private Bill legislation by Clause 1. It is no use to say as the Minister of Health said that that provision is definitely limited by Sub-section (2). If hon. Members take the trouble to look at Sub-section (2) they will see that there is no limit at all, or, at any rate, that the limit which is mentioned there in several lines is purely illusory. Once the Minister is satisfied that the powers sought are powers of the class usually obtained either by a statutory or by a local authority, once he is satisfied that they are within the general powers of the authority which applies—I am paraphrasing paragraphs (c) and (d)—he has then to make up his mind that the works to be executed will contribute to the relief of unemployment and, that the relief of unemployment will be expedited by the adoption of the new procedure. Now assuming that you are prepared to look only at a particular scheme and to ask, will it or will it not contribute to the relief of unemployment, it is manifest that the initiation of any work which employs people will contribute to the relief of unemployment. If you are prepared to look at that and 850 that alone, and neglect the possible repercussions of relief works and various schemes of that sort on the general economic condition of the country, then there is no protection afforded in that particular Sub-section. As far as the question of expedition is concerned it is a truism to say that if you adopt a shorter procedure instead of a long one, expedition must be the result. Accordingly when we examine what is involved and what is expressed in this Sub-section (2) it really all comes to this: "Provided the Minister thinks that a thing ought to go through, it shall go through"—and that is all there is about it.
It will be said, "Oh yes, but there may be a public inquiry." There again the protection is entirely illusory. The question of whether or not there is to be a public inquiry is to be decided by Select Committee on which, I suppose, in accordance with the usual constitution of Select Committees, the majority will reflect the opinions of the Minister of the day. There is no real safeguard for the individual there. If the Minister thinks that there should not be a public inquiry, presumably, in nine cases out of ten, even if a Select Committee is interposed, there will not be a public inquiry. So much for Clause 1, which, let hon Members understand, is a complete, if temporary, abolition of the whole of the private legislation procedure which has been laid down in this House for years.
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
With regard to Clause 2, which deals with compulsory purchase, there, again, I must take exception to something which the Minister said. He told us that nothing more could be done under this Clause than could already be done under the Housing Acts. In one sense that is true, but he went on to add that there was the safeguard in the one case, as in the other that there must be a public inquiry, provision for which would be found in the First Schedule. If hon. Members turn to the Schedule they will find that, so far from there being any obligation to hold a public inquiry, again it comes back to the Minister's own mind as to whether there shall be a public inquiry or not. Although all the procedure under the Housing Acts as they now stand is in- 851 corporated, there is this proviso. If the Minister having required people to put their objections into writing is satisfied that every objection, duly made, relates exclusively to matters which can be dealt with by the arbitrator appointed to award compensation, he can decide that there shall not be a public inquiry. That, in plain English, means that if the Minister makes up his mind that any objection can be brushed aside by the determination that it can be satisfied in terms of money, then there need be no public inquiry into the merits or the policy of the scheme which is produced. It is no exaggeration to say that this provision makes an enormous increase in the bureaucratic powers of Ministers. Incidentally the late Minister of Transport (Col. Ashley) has already made the point that Clause 5 abolishes the right to hold a public inquiry with regard to an electricity Order.
The pretext for all this is the necessity for the relief of unemployment. The excuse made is that the thing is simply for an emergency, and that it is limited in time. If all this is really directed at the relief of unemployment, some of us will want to know, in Committee, a good deal more explicitly what is the reason for the inclusion in this Schedule, relatively to compulsory purchase Orders, not of the general matters set out on Clause 1, but of such specific things as the provision of aerodromes, open spaces, and town halls for municipal bodies. We cannot help feeling that here you are short-circuiting the right of individuals to be protected against large compulsory purchase schemes by the usual protection which is afforded to the individual, by putting that sort of thing in here under the guise of unemployment relief. What real contribution to the relief of unemployment is afforded by the provision of open spaces? What is the relation between the provision of open spaces, for example, and unemployment?
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
On the contrary, if you authorise a town to take a certain number of acres perpetually to be kept as an open space instead of being built on, to that extent you hinder building on the land. It may be a perfectly good 852 thing in itself to have open spaces, but how can the provision of an open space in a town have anything to do with the solution of the unemployment problem? It is just a thing like that which makes us suspect that there is a great deal more behind this Bill than its ostensible purpose.
The Minister also referred to the provision, in Part III of the Schedule, with regard to the limiting the right of people to complain that their rights are being affected by things being done ultra vires and not in accordance with the Statute, and he said it was taken word for word from another Bill which has recently been before this House, namely, the Housing (No. 2) Bill. That again is perfectly true in a sense, but to say "word for word," if the Minister will allow me to say so, is not quite accurate. The substance of the Clause is taken, but we had a little discussion on that Bill the other day as to whether six weeks, the time within which a person who has been affected by some illegal act might apply to the High Court, should be reduced to 30 days, and it was decided, at any rate for the moment, not to reduce it. But here the period is neither six weeks nor 30 days, but 14 days, and I invite the Solicitor-General, whom I am glad to see in his place, to point out to his colleagues that really, to put a thing like that in the Bill, to say that people who may have been done out of their rights by some act which you are to suppose is illegal, ultra vires, and in defiance of the terms of the Statute, may apply to the High Court within 14 days, and then forever thereafter be shut out, is absolutely illusory.
I do not want to multiply instances, but take the case in which one of these Orders starts, say, somewhere in July, at a time when people may be away from home, and comes to fruition in early August, when the Law Courts are closed for the long vacation. You say that unless a man moves the High Court within 14 days after notice of confirmation has been given, on the ground, first of all that the local authority have acted entirely ultra vires, that the Minister has acted ultra vires, that the man himself has not been given the notices which he ought to have been given—because these are the things that you have to suppose in order to bring this Clause into operation 853 —he must forever thereafter be precluded from making any complaint whatever. These things may have been put into earlier Acts, but the time limit is getting small by degrees and beautifully less, and I invite the Solicitor-General to confer with his colleagues on this matter, as to whether it is really not going too far to insist on this sort of thing, particularly in relation to a Bill which avowedly is taking away all the ordinary rights of the private citizen with regard to objection and compensation before his property is taken away from him in pursuance of the carrying out of one of these schemes.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
After listening to the debate, one finds it very difficult to gather precisely what the position of the Opposition is. We were led to believe by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that this was a very weak, poor sort of a mouse to bring forth after so much labour, but he went on, as other Opposition speakers have gone on, to say that he suspected that indeed this Bill is the social revolution in disguise, and that it procures fundamental and revolutionary changes in the whole of Parliamentary procedure, and indeed in the British Constitution itself. It cannot be both things; it may be one or the other, and it would appear to be the position of the Opposition that, while they will agree to the Second Reading, they will suggest a series of Amendments in Committee which, so far as I can see, if they were all accepted, would absolutely or very largely destroy the fundamental purpose for which the Bill is introduced.
That does not seem to me a particularly frank attitude to take. If this Bill requires amending to that extent, the Opposition ought to take the responsibility of opposition to the Second Reading. If in Committee they are going to bring forward Amendments which, so far as I can see, will leave us substantially where we are, so far as rapidity of action is concerned, the country and the local authorities would be no better off than they are at the present moment.
The hon. and learned Member for Rusholme (Sir B. Merriman) has said that, in his view, this is a Bill for the abolition of Private Bill procedure and to confer bureaucratic powers upon Ministers. Cer- 854 tainly this is a Bill to modify and hurry up the procedure for securing national sanction for local authorities' and statutory companies' schemes, but you cannot hurry up that process unless you interfere with the existing practices of Parliament and the existing procedure through which local authorities and statutory companies have to go. Quite frankly, that is the purpose of the Bill, so far as Clause 1 is concerned, and if we are challenged upon that point, we must accept the challenge, but we take the view that unless that is done, Clause 1 becomes useless. The hon. and learned Gentleman suggests that the qualifications themselves are illusory, because in the last resort they enable the Minister concerned to exercise his own judgment. I quite agree, but the Minister will be answerable to Parliament, he will have to take into account these qualifying directions which the Clause directs him to take into account, and if he acted ultra vires those qualifying directions, he could no doubt be pulled up by the High Court.
But let there be no mistake about it. Certainly we are asking the House to confer a number of discretionary powers upon Ministers which Ministers do not possess at the present time, and we ask for that power because it is the only way in which procedure in these matters can be hurried up. I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that Ministers control Select Committees of Parliament or Private Bill Committees of this House. Members of all political parties on those Committees often do things Ministers would not wish them to do, and I think these joint Committees will be analogous in their position. These Committees are not responsible in their work to political bodies, but must discharge their duties largely in a judicial spirit, and I hope that that will continue to be the case.
The last speaker suggested that it was difficult to find how far some of these paragraphs in Part I of the First Schedule were in any way related to unemployment. As a matter of fact with regard to the instance he quoted, the making and laying out of open spaces, such works have been submitted to the Unemployment Grants Committee specifically 855 as unemployment work and are being accelerated for that purpose. We want in similar cases to enable things to be done quicker than would otherwise be the case. The hon. Member for Watford (Sir D. Herbert) wanted to know whether Ministers are or are not to decide whether schemes are admissible under the new procedure. I think that is desirable, subject to the restrictions indicated in the Section.
There may be a class of proposals coming from a local authority or a statutory company which opens up very controversial issues of public policy. Clearly, in that case there may be a raging controversy in the district, or there may be a controversy here on the policy involved. In such a case I think the Minister would say, "This is not a matter to be dealt with by Ministerial decree, but should be embodied in a Private Bill, as it comes within that category which Parliament should decide." It is not that kind of case in which we are involved. There may be violent controversy between this local authority and that, between this statutory company and that, or between a statutory company and a local authority, and there may be controversy about interests of a relatively minor character. Let us settle that by Ministerial decree and the Joint Committee and the public inquiry. But if you get into a question, like that, say, of the London Traffic Co-ordination Bills—under which we had such a good time in the early stages of this Parliament!—that is the sort of matter which should not be dealt with by ministerial decree. If the Minister was satisfied that big issues were involved on which there was great local concern, he might have to say, "This is too controversial for me to deal with in this way."
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
Here is another illustration: The Charing Cross Bill. Does the Minister say that that is a matter which would come within this Bill?
§ Mr. MORRISON
Whether it came within this Bill or not, if I was handling it personally, I would say "I am not disposed to take the responsibility of dealing with that under Clause 1, and it had better be promoted as a Private Bill." 856 But, if it were not very controversial, I should act under this Bill, if that were admissible. That is the sort of thing I have in mind. It would not be wise for me to go too far. Every case must be judged on its merits. Where there is a really big public controversy involved, then I agree that the Minister might have to decide that it should come before the House as a private Bill and that is why this provision is made in the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Commander Kenworthy) is anxious to confer strong additional powers on Ministers to coerce local authorities.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Yes, I agree. There are times when I sympathise with that view and wish that I had dictatorial powers, but it is difficult in relation to the system of British local government to confer powers upon a Minister to coerce local authorities. It is true that under these provisions, where one authority is obstructing something which another authority wishes to do, we can coerce a local authority, and I think that these powers will be valuable. My hon. Friend, however, raised a big question of constitutional importance on more fundamental issues. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite raised the question of newspaper advertisements and the advantage that people know the approximate time when these will come along. Private Bills and Provisional Orders can only be promoted at definite times. We want to alter that. We want to be able to do these things at any time. The Minister himself must be satisfied that local authorities will give adequate public notice, and it will be considered by us whether the "London Gazette" shall be one of those forms of notices. It is clear that cases will vary and that some will be of quite small importance locally, where that procedure would not be appropriate; but it is the Minister's duty to see that adequate notice is given.
The hon. Member wanted to know what powers local authorities get under Part I, paragraph (1), of the First Schedule. I am advised that paragraph (1) will apply to all local authorities who now have powers to buy land for sewage and similar matters under 857 Section 176 of the Public Health Act, or under existing private Bill powers. The three further paragraphs extend the powers to which that procedure can be adopted. I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the late Minister of Transport, misunderstood the Clause that deals with Special Orders and the Electricity Supply Acts. It does not alter the procedure of the electricity commissioners themselves, but it enables the Minister to settle disagreements as far as he can, and, finally, to act quicker when there is no opposition left; in fact, he can already waive frivolous objections. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) indicated that the Bill will have the cordial support of Members with whom he acts. He is quite right; the Measure is necessarily limited to the purposes for which it is introduced, and I agree that private Bill procedure is in many cases needlessly costly, clumsy, and slow.
The hon. and gallant Member for Rhondda East (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) has indicated that this Bill meets the request of the local authorities, and it should be made clear that they accept this Bill. Despite what the Member for Woolwich West (Sir K. Wood) has said, the local authorities are satisfied and appreciate the action of the Government in this and other matters arising out of the Guildhall Conference. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich has tried to take up two positions, which is nothing unusual in his case. Consistency is not one of his strong points, and he is always trying to say "yes" and "no" at the same time. He tried to do so to-day, but, if I may say so with all due respect, he should allow these polished rhetorical antics to be discharged by someone with more subtlety than he possesses. He did not do it well; he did not succeed in his object. His object, in the first place, was to say to the Labour Members that this is a miserable Bill, that it does not go far enough, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich was a long way on the left of the Treasury Bench—as if he expects any Member on this side to believe that kind of talk! He said that this was a weak and anæmic Bill and would not solve the unemployment problem. We never said it would; 858 we want more than one Bill to do that, and a great change in the economic situation. This is a Bill which meets a given purpose, it enables the local authorities and statutory undertakers to move more quickly than they now can, and it fully carries out that purpose. It is not brought in as a Bill which is claimed to solve the unemployment problem. Having said that the Bill was a miserable Bill, which did not go far enough, was not big enough and was not sufficiently on the left so far as he was concerned, the right hon. Gentleman devoted the whole of the remainder of his speech to trying to prove that the Bill went too far. Really that kind of thing, which is characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman, will not go down.
He has indicated that Amendments will be moved. Of course, they will be considered, but we must retain the essential purpose of the Bill, which is to secure acceleration in public works. The right hon. Gentleman indicated the enormous advantages of private bill procedure, from which it is perfectly clear that he is opposed to Clause 1 of the Bill, and wants the existing procedure to be maintained. He wants to adhere to that mehod, however unnecessary and needless it may be, but that would clearly destroy the fundamental purpose of the Bill. Finally he suggested that the Bill would remove a certain limited class of schemes from the purview of the Borough Funds Act, and that therefore it was to be objected to on that ground, because it would interfere with the sacred principles of the referendum, to which he appeared to give some sympathetic consideration. When there were two controversial Bills before the last Parliament dealing with London traffic policy, he did not ask that a poll from the citizens of London should be taken; he did not ask for anybody to be consulted. He simply came to Parliament and said, "Let us hurry up and put these Bills through before the next London County Council election." It is only when relatively small things in the country are concerned that he wants that procedure to be followed. It will be quite impossible if we want to accelerate work.
We thank the House for the way in which the Bill has been received. We understand that the Second Reading will be agreed to, and, although the Amendments which it is prophesied will be 859 brought forward by the Opposition Front Bench are formidable, and would if carried appear to destroy the fundamental purpose of the Bill, we shall hope to secure the rapid and cordial co-operation of Members of the House in putting this Bill upon the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
§ Quesion, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Greenwood.]