HC Deb 15 July 1930 vol 241 cc1208-14

I beg to move, in page 38, line 17, after the word "health," to insert the words: other than those to which sub-paragraph (b) hereof applies; (b) the dwelling-houses and other premises which are injurious or dangerous to health by reason only of the narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets. This is consequential on an Amendment to Clause 2 which has already been agreed to.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 39, line 23, at the end, to insert the words: (iii) before confirming the order the Department shall send to the local authority and to every person who, having given notice to the Department of his objection to the order, appeared at the public local inquiry in support of his objection a copy of the order as proposed to be confirmed, with an intimation that any representations in writing with respect thereto may be made to the Department within fourteen days after the date on which a copy has been sent, and before confirming the order the Department shall consider any such representations received. It will be remembered that in the Committee there was a demand from the Opposition that the report of the commissioner appointed by the Department to conduct the inquiry into a clearance or compulsory purchase order should be open to inspection by any person interested. It was pointed out in reply that the report, except in so far as it recorded facts and arguments submitted at the inquiry, contained confidential advice by the commissioner to the Department which it would not be proper to publish. It has, however, been represented that there are possibilities of mistakes by the commissioner in connection with the classification of property, and that, to obviate any such mistake, the procedure followed by arbiters in Scotland of issuing proposed findings might be adopted. The Government are anxious to avoid any possibility of mistake, and, in view of the precedent of the issuing of proposed findings by arbiters in Scotland, they are prepared to send to the local authority and to the person who appears at the inquiry a copy of the Order as prepared to be confirmed, giving them an opportunity of making a written representation within 14 days. It must be clearly understood that there is no intention to hold a further inquiry, and that any representation must be made in writing to the Department.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 8, at the end, to insert the words: and shall give the parties an opportunity of being heard if they so desire. I am obliged to the Secretary of State for the very considerable concession that he has made. With one exception, its form is entirely satisfactory to me personally, and I hope will be to my right hon. and hon. Friends. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that his Amendment is based on the precedent of the arbitration procedure in Scotland. I accept that view, and I Should not want anything different. In Scotland, when an arbiter makes an award, he issues his proposed findings, and allows the parties to make representations. Those representations are, of course, made in writing, and, so far, I am in agreement with the Amendment; but, after the representations are made, the parties are heard on the representations. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as I am sure hon. Members behind him will agree, no arbiter in Scotland could safely decline to hear the parties on their representations, and we know that awards have been upset on account of arbiters refusing to hear the parties.

That is the rule laid down by the authorities in regard to ordinary arbitration, it being considered that it would be contrary to justice if any case were decided without hearing the parties. In regard to a Department of State, however, it was held some years ago that a Department may decide a matter without hearing the parties. I think that that procedure is entirely bad. It seems to me that to allow the parties to be heard does no harm to anyone. It allows a person aggrieved to be satisfied, because he is able to state his views to some representatives of the Department. After all, a written representation might not set forth just the particular point on which the Department had difficulty, and, when the man is allowed to go and state his exact view to the Department, things are made clear. I am sure that many hon. Members opposite, and on this side too, who have been concerned with appeals by insured persons, will know that they like to be heard. It would be intolerable if the Department decided matters without hearing the parties, and, accordingly, I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree with the view that I am putting forward. I might remind them that in the Land Drainage (Scotland) Act the words were inserted: after giving the parties an opportunity of being heard. I am bound to admit that that suggestion of mine was opposed by the Government, but it was carried by an overwhelming majority in the Committee, Members of all parties voting in favour of it. All I am asking is that you allow the parties interested to make representations, and these are to be in writing. In addition, the parties, if they so desire, should be allowed to be heard on the matter. It will make perfect a Clause which is very nearly perfect.


In this case, there has already been a hearing, and the analogy that the right hon. Gentleman has given from the Land Drainage (Scotland) Act is not a fair analogy at all. What he is seeking is to get a second hearing. We see no sense whatever in having a second hearing. While we were willing to meet him and his friends in taking the step we have done in our Amendment, we are not prepared to have a further hearing.


I am lees anxious than anyone, from my past experience of administration, to hamper the Department. As I understand the case, it is true that the inquiry that is held is a public inquiry. The results of it are reported to the Department, which then comes to a decision. That decision may be quite contrary to the views of some of those with whom they have dealt, and the Government, under their Amendment, provide that objections can be made to it in writing. As a matter of practical administration, I really cannot see why, in addition to the written representations, which may be fully considered or not, it is any great disadvantage in the good working of schemes of this kind that representatives of the Department should receive individual representations. It will not interfere in any way with the decision that the Department comes to. They will not be forced to deviate from their view if they think that is the proper view. I think it would be of the utmost advantage to the Department itself that it should stretch this point and receive the representations. I hope the Government will reconsider the matter.


The Government would have been prepared to consider this Amendment to the proposed Amendment much more sympathetically if any reason had been advanced why a hearing upon the matters with which the Clause deals should be included. Under the procedure prescribed by the First Schedule, in every case where objection is taken to the Order proposed, the parties interested have an opportunity of putting before the commissioner appointed to inquire into any matters affecting them, or affecting the scheme generally, and, where objection is taken, the Department shall, before confirming the Order, cause a public local inquiry to be held and consider any objections, and a report is to be made. It is true that following upon that report the Department issues a draft Order, but what is to be gained by a further hearing upon the draft Order? It is there that I think the analogy drawn upon by the right hon. and learned Gentleman breaks down.

In an arbitration, of course, the parties must be heard. It is a very common thing for an arbiter to issue his proposed findings, which correspond to a draft Order, but I do not think it can be said that an arbiter is bound to have a second hearing upon a draft finding. It is true that it is common practice that the parties may make representations to the arbiter before his proposed findings assume finality, but there is no rule of common law which requires an arbiter to grant a second hearing upon the draft findings which he has issued with a view to written representations being made. If it could reasonably be alleged that any purpose could be served by a second hearing which cannot be served by the first hearing which will take place under the Bill, there might be something to be said for the Amendment, but a second hearing would inevitably lead to delay in these vital matters, and that is a thing which everyone interested in the Bill is anxious to avoid. Accordingly, I hope the right hon. Gentleman may be willing not to press the Amendment further.


I could quite understand the Lord Advocate's argument if it was that after the draft Order there were to be no further representations of any sort, but I do not think it is a sound position for the Department to take up vis a vis the citizens that there may be written representations on the draft Order but no oral representations. The Lord Advocate asked for any reason why oral representations should be allowed as well as written. I think the reason is very obvious and simple. It is that, when something is being done which individual citizens think is detrimental to their own interests and which they feel is a grievance and means hardship, they very much prefer to have an opportunity themselves of stating the actual points to a Department rather than being forced to do it in writing. I should have thought this addition to the Government Amendment would really make for easy working, and I am sure that view will commend itself without exception to all parties in the House. Everybody who has had to deal in any capacity with people who think they are being hardly treated knows perfectly well how different the situation becomes when one has had a full opportunity of coming face to face with the oppressor and putting one's views direct to him instead of doing it merely in writing.

I think this is just one of those matters in which a rather wider point of view and appreciation of the general view of the citizen in regard to public Departments would enable the Government to see that this would be an improvement and would make the Act run more smoothly in operation and avoid a great deal of trouble and feeling on the part of individual citizens that he is being hardly dealt with. It is all very well to say that the Department have already had an inquiry and that the objectors have had a full opportunity. That view was stated by the Under-Secretary, but I cannot say that I agree with him. What will happen is that you will have a public inquiry by an independent person appointed by the Department and the results handed to the Department. Thereafter, the Department makes a decision, but there has been no opportunity yet of quarrelling with the decision of the Department. That situation is admitted in the Government Amendment when it demands written representations. The individual householder and citizen who may have a grievance has no opportunity, after the general line of the decision is known, of coming face to face with the Department and putting his views before it. I greatly respect, as many people in Scotland do, the practical shrewdness and common sense of the Secretary of State. I hope I may say that without offence. I think this is just one of those small matters where, if he looks at it from the point of view of the citizen, he will feel that, if he allows the citizen to come face to face with the Department and state his objection to a decision, now known for the first time, by word of mouth instead of only by writing, he will very much ease the administrative situation which will arise from the passage of this Bill. I do ask him to consider this matter favourably, not at some distant date, but now, and to let the House know that his consideration has resulted in a favourable decision.

Amendment to proposed Amendment negatived.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.