HC Deb 30 November 1937 vol 329 cc2023-9

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

I beg to move, in page 8, line 14, at the end, to insert: Provided that any small burgh affected shall be taken into consultation in the preparation of any such scheme and in the apportionment and allocation of any such expenditure and, in default of agreement, such small burgh shall have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State whose decision shall be final. I would point out a very serious cause of complaint on the part of the local authorities at the amount of legislation passed by this House, known as legislation by reference. This Clause is a typical case of legislation by reference. There is, first of all, a reference to a previous Clause of the Bill in its application to England for the purpose of getting a somewhat similar application to Scotland, which is in accordance with Scots law. The second case of legislation by reference in this Clause is the fact that there is reference to three Acts of Parliament. There is the 1929 Act, there is an Act that is referred to as the 1933 Act, and there is even an Act that was passed in 1891. I suggest that when those Acts were placed upon the Statute Book, not a single person responsible for getting them through the House had any idea that they would be referred to in the type of Bill which we are now discussing in its application to Scotland.

I wish particularly to draw attention to the fact that unless the Amendment is accepted, it will not be possible to get that smooth working in the administration of the Bill, when it becomes an Act, which is so necessary in dealing with a problem of this nature. The duty will devolve upon county councils and large burghs to present schemes for the consideration and approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland. If I understand the Bill rightly, a small burgh may present a scheme for the approval and consideration of the Secretary of State. But when it is a matter of a scheme covering both a small burgh and a section of the county surrounding it, while the air-raid precautions schemes may require the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland, when it comes to allocating the expense in connection with the scheme, if the small burgh is dissatisfied with the allocation, there will be no appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and there may be nothing but friction in the relationship between the small burgh and the county.

When my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) moved an Amendment in the interests of smooth working in the City of London, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, after paying a tribute to the way in which the negotiations had been carried out by the London County Council and the Metropolitan Boroughs, made an appeal for the continuation of successful consultation between these administrative bodies. I am asking that this Amendment should be accepted so that there may be not only that successful consultation between small burghs and county councils, but no friction, or at least a minimum of friction, arising from the fact that the allocation of expenses is left solely under the control of the county councils. The Amendment reads: Provided that any small burgh affected shall be taken into consultation in the preparation of any such scheme I know that I shall probably be told that Clause 1 of the Bill makes provision for that, but the Amendment goes further when it says: and in the apportionment and allocation of any such expenditure and, in default of agreement, such small burgh shall have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State whose decision shall be final. I hope that in the interests of harmonious and speedy work, which is absolutely necessary in dealing with this problem, the Amendment will be accepted, or at least, if the words which we suggest are not accepted, that the principle will be accepted. If it is not possible for the Government to meet us by accepting the Amendment, but if we can get an assurance that, in order to have a fair deal between the small burghs and the county councils, consideration will be given to this matter between now and the Report stage, I shall be inclined to advise my hon. Friends not to press this Amendment to a Division. It is a serious problem for these small burghs. Let me give three typical illustrations of how it may be necessary for a county council to prepare a scheme to safeguard the people within the county and at the same time call for exceptional circumstances in dealing with the problem within a small burgh. In my own division I have a small burgh, Grangemouth, with large docks, but the county council have the right to prepare a scheme, I admit in consultation with the small burgh, but they may desire to take in a large area of Grangemouth because of the docks there, and then, when the scheme is approved of by the Secretary of State for Scotland, they will be entitled, by my reading of the Bill, to allocate the expenses as between the area of the county for which special precautions are to be taken and the burgh in which is the necessity for those special precautions being taken, and as there is no appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland in the event of disagreement as to the allocation of those costs, I can foresee all kinds of difficulties and friction arising.

Now let me give another typical illustration, namely, the burgh of Buckhaven, which has the Buckhaven docks within its area. There you get a similar problem, but there is an even worse instance of how special precautions may have to be made and an unfair allocation of the expenditure by the county council. Take the case of South Queensferry, adjacent to the Forth Bridge, or the case of Inverkeithing, also adjacent to the Forth Bridge. Special allocations may require to be made by the counties on both sides of the Forth, because of the need for special precautions. I hope that, if there is any scheme to be prepared, there will be full consultation and, secondly, in the allocation of expenses arising out of these schemes, that if there is any feeling of injustice on the part of the small burghs, they shall have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I think I can give the hon. Member the assurances which he desires. In the first part of his Amendment he asks that there should be provision for consultation with small burghs in the preparation of any schemes that are made. I think that is completely covered by Clause 1 (2, a) as interpreted for Scotland. That does provide that consultations shall be held with the small burghs. The second point is that there should be consultation about the apportionment and allocation of any such expenditure. So far as concerns the preparation of schemes, the small burghs will already have been consulted; but furthermore, all the schemes will require to be submitted to the Secretary of State—that is, in fact, right of appeal—who may approve them with or without modification, so that I think that, if the proposed Amendment has reference to the areas to which the expenditure is to be apportioned and allocated, the point is covered. These are rather highly technical matters, and these application Clauses always raise certain questions as to interpretation, and if the Committee desire further consideration, I will look into the matter between now and the Report stage. I hope that with those two assurances, first, that I think it is covered and secondly that I will look into it further, the hon. Member will implement the tentative promise which I think he made at the end of his speech that he would not press the Amendment.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. McLean Watson

I welcome the assurance that we have been given by the right hon. Gentleman, that this matter will be further looked into, but I would like to ask how the Secretary of State intends to consult the small burghs. Does he intend to consult them through the county council which will be responsible for the framing of the scheme, or is it his intention to consult the town councils of these small burghs which is an entirely different thing? I admit that the small burghs have representation on the county councils, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman intends to consult them directly, and not through county councils both with regard to the schemes and the allocation of expenditure. As the right hon. Gentleman knows full well, the relations between the small burghs and the counties in Scotland have not been very harmonious since the passing of the Act of 1929. There is a considerable amount of friction between them. Under this Measure it is proposed that the county councils shall frame the schemes and I suppose the small burghs will have to be satisfied with the representation they have on the county councils as regards consultation and discussion on the allocation of the expenses. But I hope they will be consulted directly by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to these schemes and the expenses which will have to be shared between them and the county councils.

Like my hon. Friend who spoke earlier, I am particularly interested in this matter, because the county from which I come is as keenly interested in the question of air-raid precautions as any other part of Scotland. In my constituency is the dockyard of Rosyth, and we may depend upon it that if ever there is an air raid in Scotland, that is one of the first points that will be attacked. As has already been pointed out there is also in that neighbourhood the Forth Bridge, and one can well imagine that that is a point which would readily be attacked by an enemy seeking to cut the communications between the North and the South of Scotland. In the last war the only Zeppelin that visited Scotland got as far as the Forth Bridge. They will not be long about getting to the Forth Bridge if there is another war. Therefore, the area which I represent is particularly involved in these schemes. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman makes up his mind to implement the assurance he has given, these matters will be discussed directly with the small burghs and not through their representatives on the county councils.

Mr. Elliot

The county councils will consult with the small burghs in drawing up the scheme. Then the Secretary of State has to approve of the scheme. When he is deciding whether to approve of the scheme or not, he will of course, consider the representations made to him and from what I know of the small burghs they will certainly make their representations directly and not through the county councils.

Mr. Westwood

In view of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman that there will be consultation in the framing of the schemes between the county councils and the small burghs and the second assurance that between now and the Report stage, he will consult with those of us who are interested in the question as to whether there is adequate safeguard on the financial side, we do not press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I beg to move, in page 9, line 16, at the end, to insert: (9) A county or a town council may acquire land for the purposes of their powers and duties under this Act, and, where they are unable to acquire by agreement on terms which are in their opinion reasonable any land which is required for such purposes, they may purchase that land compulsorily by means of an order made by them and confirmed by the Secretary of State, and the following provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1932, namely: Part III of the First Schedule, Part I of the Third Schedule (except paragraph 2 and subparagraph (iii) of paragraph 3), and paragraph 4 (except head (b) of sub-paragraph (i)) of Part II of that Schedule, shall apply to any such order, subject to the following and any other necessary modifications—

  1. (i) for references to the Department of Health for Scotland and to the responsible authority there shall be substituted, respectively, references to the Secretary of State and to the county or town council; and
  2. (ii) anything which has to be prescribed shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State:
Provided that—
  1. (i) nothing in this Sub-section shall authorise the compulsory acquisition of any land which is the site of an ancient monument or other object of archaeological interest, or which belongs to any local authority, or to any statutory undertakers within the meaning of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1932; and
  2. (ii) where any land proposed to be acquired by means of a compulsory purchase order under this Sub-section is situate within such distance as may be prescribed by the Secretary of State, after consultation with the Commissioners of Works, from any of the royal palaces or parks, the county or town council shall communicate with the Commissioners of Works and the Secretary of State shall, before confirming the order, take into consideration any recommendation received from the Commissioners of Works with reference to the order.
(10) A county or town council shall have power to borrow for any purpose of this Act to which capital is properly applicable, and the provisions of Section twenty-three of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, shall apply to the power hereby conferred. Any sums borrowed in pursuance of this Subsection shall be repaid within such period as the Secretary of State may fix. This Amendment is merely to confer on county councils the powers to acquire land, equivalent to the powers which are proposed in the case of England and Wales in the proposed New Clause, about compulsory purchase of land, which stands later on the Paper. I take it there will not be any objection to the Amendment.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Davidson

The provisions in the Bill relating to Scotland need speeding up. Scotland has been completely neglected by the Government so far as these schemes are concerned, and it is practically defenceless. I appeal to the Secretary of State to use his influence and eloquence to see that air defence units and air-raid precaution schemes are adequately provided for Scotland as an important supply base.

11.12 p.m.

Mr. Westwood

Having had to deal with land owners in connection with acquiring land for housing, I know what difficulties they can put in the way and how they can cause interminable delay. I should like to have an assurance that the local authorities will not have to go through the ordinary procedure for compulsory acquisition of land, but that as soon as the Secretary of State has approved a scheme a local authority will be able to acquire land by Order without delay. Then they can settle the question of payment for the land afterwards.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I am sure the hon. Member will be satisfied with the fact that the procedure under which we shall operate is the same as that laid down in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1932, the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, and the Air Navigation Act, 1936. We are not proposing any new procedure, and we think that proposed is sufficiently expeditious. Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.