§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Victor Warrender)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a very small and short Bill, and I think I can explain it to the House in a very few sentences. It is designed to relieve the Secretary of State for War of the duty which he has at present of having personally to sign documents in connection with the acquisition, management and disposal of land or property in respect of which he is expressed to be a party. Under this Bill such documents will be executed by the Under-Secretary of State or any other person whom the Secretary of State may depute. Neither the First Lord of the Admiralty nor the Secretary of State for Air is personally required to sign documents of this character. The First Lord of the Admiralty has enjoyed this relief for some time; the Secretary of State for Air was given the relief under Section 26 (4) of the Air Navigation Act, 1936, on which Act the provisions of this Bill are based.
Perhaps I might remind the House that during the passage of the Air Navigation Bill no objection was taken to this proposal, and in the circumstances I do not think it will be unfair of me to claim that the Bill is non-controversial. There is nothing in the Bill which increases or diminishes the powers of the Secretary of State for War with respect to the acquisition or disposal of War Department land, or the rights of any interested parties in those undertakings. It is merely a matter of convenience. During the last four years, the number of these documents which the Secretary of State has had to sign has steadily increased, as is only natural having regard to the extension of activity which has taken place in all the Service Departments. As a matter of fact, during the first six months of this year the number of these documents 1194 requiring his personal signature has exceeded the yearly average previous to 1937. There is some delay, or danger of delay or inconvenience under the present system. If for any reason the Secretary of State is not available, either through sickness or by reason of being on a short holiday these documents have to be held up. Once the Bill is on the Statute Book, all such delays in future will be obviated. I hope that in the circumstances the House will agree to pass the Bill without discussion.
Does the procedure now suggested mean that these documents which had to be signed by the Secretary of State himself in the past can now be signed by someone else without his sanction or knowledge; or will it be necessary to submit them for his approval before they are signed?
§ Sir V. Warrender
Under this procedure, whoever is authorised by the Secretary of State to sign, will do so on his behalf. There are many other occasions on which action is taken on behalf of the Secretary of State without his personal instructions, and in all these cases any formal objections or other matters that might be raised on behalf of interested parties will have been agreed to and settled before the actual signature takes place.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Gentleman has said that the Bill will not increase or decrease the powers of the Secretary of State over land or property in the hands of the War Department, but is there not a possibility that it will increase very considerably his present extensive powers?
§ Sir V. Warrender
I do not know what the hon. Member has in mind. I can assure him that this is purely a question of machinery which in no way affects either the rights of any citizen of this country or the powers of the Secretary of State.
§ 7.33 P.m.
I am perfectly satisfied with the reply that the hon. Gentleman has given to me, and I should like to say that personally I welcome this Measure. Any relief from ordinary routine duties that can be afforded to the Secretary of 1195 State for War will, I am sure, be welcomed by many Members of the House who have been entirely dissatisfied in the past with his inadequate treatment of our questions.
§ 7.34 P.m.
§ Sir H. Seely
Personally I agree with the Bill. I quite understand that the Secretary of State has had a great deal to do in signing these various documents, which might easily be signed by other people. I do not think, however, that this case can quite be compared with that of the Admiralty, because the War Office has had rights for a very long time over a great deal of land. In fact, I myself, in the Isle of Wight, am very interested in several matters which arise where the War Department have interests which run parallel to mine. Those interests, which they acquired about the year 1805, interfere a great deal with the landlords who are there now. When one has had difficulties, as one always has, with a landlord who has no longer any use for his land, but who nevertheless has rights over it, as the War Office have in many parts of the country, hitherto one has been able to get the attention of the Secretary of State himself in dealing with these matters, and he was able to take action which perhaps could not have been taken by an Under-Secretary or someone else who might be deputed to sign the documents. I hope that this Bill will not mean that the same interest will not be taken in future as has been taken in the past by the Secretary of State in these problems.
§ Question, "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 Thursday.—[Captain Dugdale.]