HC Deb 23 July 1930 vol 241 cc2352-60

I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, after the word "authority," to insert the words: which has made a resolution that such powers as aforesaid are required may, after observing the requirements contained in the Third Schedule to this Act. We have to take into consideration the proposed new Schedule standing in my name in order to understand the purpose of this Amendment This Bill, as we all know, is a Bill to enable local authorities to shorten procedure in getting Bills through this House, provided that they mean the employment of men at present unemployed. I think there is agreement in all quarters of the House that this Bill should become an Act of Parliament as soon as possible. At the same time, there are certain things that many of us who have had considerable experience of local authorities regard it as necessary to amend. The real object of this Amendment is to provide that the present system of taking a Bill to the ratepayers, if there are sufficient objectors among the ratepayers to call such a meeting, shall be followed. It might be said that this will cause a good deal of delay. I know that hon. Members opposite do object to polls of ratepayers, but the polls of ratepayers are the only safeguard that the ratepayers really have against extravagance. Recent polls which have taken place in certain city councils, where there is a Socialist majority, have gone against them. None the less it is the duty of the House to protect the ratepayers against maladministration in any form. The comment that it would cost a poll is beside the mark. It means that you have to give proper notice. It is a safeguard to the ratepayers against those who are representing them in the local councils going in for schemes months after the election, when the point that they are bringing forward has never been discussed at the election. It prevents them from coming to this House and getting through extravagant schemes through the machinery of this Bill without consulting the ratepayers. This Bill takes away many of the safeguards which the ratepayers have at present. I think the Minister has made a great mistake in taking away the ratepayers' right to demand a poll.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)

I think the hon. Member is really under a misapprehension. We are not taking away powers. What the hon. Member is really asking for is a poll of the ratepayers. He will find that in this Bill provision is made for a local inquiry. You will not find cases where you have both a local inquiry and a poll of the ratepayers. It is asking a little too much to ask for both. This Bill is an emergency Bill, and it would be quite improper to revive a special additional protection which does not appertain to it. That is especially so when the Royal Commission, which is the last authoritative pronouncement, definitely recommended the repeal of the town's meeting and the poll of ratepayers. After all, there is a local inquiry, and the hon. Member should be satisfied with that.


The first time we are bringing forward a practical Measure for the unemployed, we have the opposition of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). He proclaims at every street corner his friendship for the unemployed. I think the Minister has taken a most practical step in this Bill. At any rate, he will initiate a little relief work which is badly needed. For the sake of the Member for Grimsby we are to go back to the dark ages; we are to call a village meeting on the village green under the greenwood tree. It is all very well to impute motives. The hon. Member has imputed motives. I am as entitled to say that this is obstruction on his part as he is entitled to say that certain measures were defeated in a public poll of ratepayers. For these reasons I press that common sense, sanity and sympathy should take practical effect.


The hon. Member for West Newcastle (Mr. Palin) has made two observations. With the first, in part, I agree. The Committee will see that this is the first practical Bill that the Government have brought forward in their 14 months of office.


I did not say that.


The hon. Gentleman said that this was the first practical Bill the Government have brought in. The second matter I only want to refer to because he has intervened.


I am not going to stand humbug.


The hon. Member has no right to make the observation concerning my hon. Friend.


He has no right to impute motives.


He was perfectly in order in bringing forward this Amendment. It is a perfectly legitimate one. So far as the progress of this Bill is concerned, if he will consult the Minister of Health, he will find that, so far from sustaining the allegations of the hon. Member, the right hon. Gentleman will state that there is no foundation for the statement. He would be well advised to leave the conduct of this Bill to the Minister of Health.


I wish to reply to the attack made upon me. The hon. Member says that I am trying to obstruct this Bill.


That is my opinion.


It may be the hon. Member's opinion, but it is not worth anything. I have not been standing at the street corners and proclaiming the wrongs of the unemployed. I have done something on their behalf. I have been instrumental in finding more work for the unemployed in my district than he has been in his.




It is a fair challenge. I challenge the hon. Member to come up to the scratch on this matter. I resent it very much this suggestion of obstruction. I am as anxious as any Member of the House to have a good Bill, and, if this Bill is allowed to go through without reasonable amendment, the hon. Member may come along and grumble at us. He has not given the consideration to this Bill that some of my colleagues and I have.


On a point of Order, might I call your attention to the conduct of the hon. Gentleman? He has done nothing else but interrupt the proceedings.


Are you aware that the hon. Gentleman suggested that no attention was being paid to it?


I think we could get along more expeditiously if the hon. Member who is in possession of the Floor of the House confined his remarks to the Bill. Accusations flung across the Floor of the House always lead to retaliations.


I agree, but, as I belong to the same county as the hon. Member, I do not take these things lying down. I am perfectly satisfied with the explanation of the hon. Member and am quite willing to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out from the first word "provisions" to the word "necessary," in line 3.

This Amendment is to leave out certain words at the top of page 2 dealing with a matter which is covered by a new Sub-section, (3). That Sub-section authorises local authorities or statutory undertakers to acquire land compulsorily for the purposes of this Act. As amended, it will apply to Part II of the First Schedule and to Sub-section (2) of Part II. It is now considered unnecessary to provide for acquiring land by agreement.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, after the word "order," to insert the words: together with an estimate of the cost of the works proposed to be executed and the like plans and sections as they would have been required by the Standing Orders of either House of Parliament to deposit if they had proceeded by an application for a Private Bill instead of under this section. This is the first of a series of Amendments standing in the name of my Friends and myself. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I made on this Amendment a general statement which might apply to the whole series standing in our names. Our general attitude towards this Bill was explained by certain of my hon. Friends on the Second Reading. We are rather sceptical about the effect of this method. We rather think it is a pill to cure an earthquake. At the same time, as the Government, on their responsibilty, have told us that these powers and changes are necessary, we are willing to consider them in the most reasonable spirit and to facilitate them as far as we can. I would say to my hon. Friend below the Gangway in reply to his charge of obstruction, that we have, as the Minister will tell him, spent several hours conferring with the Minister in trying to meet him on these matters, and that the Amendments standing in our names are Amendments to which, in fact, the Minister has already indicated he is prepared to accept.

The effect of this series of Amendments, put briefly, is this. It proposes to a considerable extent to transform the character of the inquiry proposed to be held under the Bill. We felt that the Joint Committee proposed in the Bill was a body which was either useless or apt to cause delay. Either it took evidence or not: if it did not take evidence it was a redundant body; if it was going to take evidence, you would have two inquries instead of one. Accordingly, we desire to secure in the first place that, in any proposition put forward, there shall be with some exactitude an estimate of cost. Secondly, everybody who preferred a valid objection, an objection in the proper method, should have an opportunity of securing a public hearing. Thirdly, at some stage of the Bill Parliament should have an effective control. Fourthly, as this is an emergency Measure, its operation should be strictly limited in point of time. Our Amendments are directed to this end. The first of them is directed towards the financial end. What we have done is to take the Scottish Private Bill procedure largely as a model. The only difference is that in the Scottish Private Bill procedure the inquiry is held by a panel, whereas, in this case, in order to secure greater speed, it is proposed to leave it to an individual. Otherwise the proposals put forward here are identical with the Scottish Private Bill procedure. The effect, if our proposals be accepted, is that, after inquiry, the Minister will present to the House, a Confirmation Bill which will come to this House and subsequently to the other House as if it had already passed through Committee. The first stage in this House will be the Report stage, and next Third Reading. These are, briefly, the effects of the Amendments we are proposing. With this short explanation I move the first of them.


It would be convenient to take the whole series of Amendments now. I do not want to argue with the right hon. Gentleman about his scepticism or about his earthquake. I never said it would cure the earthquake, but that it is a good pill as a pill. We have never tied ourselves down to procedure, except that we were anxious to simplify, as far as possible, the procedure for local authorities wishing to proceed with work affecting unemployment. I think these proposals may be, perhaps, quicker than the original proposals in the Bill, and they may meet with more general support than the original proposal. I therefore propose that the Committee should accept them. The one which is now immediately under discussion with regard to cost is a reasonable one and follows what is now the practice with regard to private Bills before the House. As to subsequent Amendments, I am proposing that they should be accepted, and the Amendment as to the duration of the Bill I shall accept with the full knowledge that we have the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 2, line 6, after the word "will," insert the word "materially."

In line 8, after the word "be," insert the word "materially."—[Sir K. Wood.]

In line 23, at the end, insert the words: (3) An Order under this section may authorise a local authority or statutory undertakers to acquire compulsorily and enter upon any land required for the purposes of the works to be executed under the powers proposed to be conferred by the Order in like manner as if it had been an Order under section two of this Act."—[Mr. Greenwood.]

In line 33, after the word "by," insert the word "such."

In line 33, after the word "Orders," insert the words "as aforesaid."

In line 39, leave out the word "public."

In line 39, after the word "notice," insert the words "by public advertisement."

In page 3, line 2, leave out from the word "purchased," to the end of the paragraph, and insert instead thereof the words: So, however, that any such public advertisement shall be required to contain the like information, and to be published in the same newspapers and at the same intervals, and the like Gazette notice thereof shall be required to be given as would, if the applicants had proceeded by an application for a private Bill instead of under this section, have been required by such Standing Orders as aforesaid. In line 14, leave out from the word "with," to the end of Sub-section (4), and insert instead thereof the words: (5) Before laying before Parliament any draft Order under this section, the Minister may direct an inquiry to be held with respect thereto, and, if any objections are duly made to any such draft Order and not withdrawn, the Minister shall not lay the draft Order before Parliament until such an inquiry has been held with respect to the objections."—[Sir K. Wood.] In line 34, after the word "recommending," insert the words: whether the Order should be proceeded with and, if proceeded with."—[Sir C. Cobb.]


I beg to move, in page 3, line 39, after the word "shall," to insert the words: save in so far as the whole or any part thereof may be ordered by the Minister to be paid by any person whose objection he adjudges, after considering the report to have been frivolous.


I should like to call attention to this Amendment. There may be some precedent, but it is not a good precedent. According to the Amendment, the Minister, after considering the report to have been frivolous, may adjudge an objection to pay the whole or any part of the cost of the inquiry. I am tempted to ask the question: Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? But on what principle has he made the Minister to have the power in his own cause, because that is what it is, to order costs when he thinks that somebody who is exercising his legal rights in objecting is in the wrong.


We cannot strike out the idea of frivolous objections. The first time in which the provision is indicated is in the Public Health Act, 1875. So well did the provision do its work that in 1838 it was extended to inquiries under the Local Government Act, and finally, in 1925, in the Housing Act, the same provision was extended to housing inquiries. It is a very old power and has been repeatedly extended by Parliament to prevent the case of the merely frivolous objections. With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will allow it to pass.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 3, line 43, leave out the word "incurred," and insert instead thereof the words: payable by any person, authority or undertakers.

In line 44, leave out the words "the local," and insert instead thereof the words "that person."—[Mr. Greenwood.]

In page 4, line 2, leave out the word "shall" and insert instead thereof the words: may, after considering the report, make in the draft Order any modifications which appear to him to be necessary, and shall, if he lays the draft Order before Parliament, also.

In line 3, leave out from the word "Parliament," to the end of the Clause, and insert instead thereof the words: (8) If the Minister decides to lay before Parliament any draft Order submitted to him under this section, he shall do so by introducing in Parliament a Bill to confirm the Order, and the Bill after introduction shall be deemed to have passed through all its stages up to and including Committee and shall be ordered to be considered in either House as if reported from a Committee and when the Bill has been read a third time and passed in the first House of Parliament the like proceedings shall be taken in the second House of Parliament."—[Sir K. Wood.]

In line 26, at the end, add the words: (8) Any Order under this section may be amended or revoked by means of a subsequent Order laid before Parliament by the appropriate Minister on the application of the local authority or statutory undertakers by whom the original Order was submitted, and the foregoing provisions of this section shall, so far as applicable, apply to any such subsequent Order in like manner as to the original order."—[Sir C. Cobb.]