§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
I beg to move, in page 3, line 31, to leave out "it appears to the local authority," and to insert:the local authority satisfies the Minister that it is.I put this Amendment on the Paper in order to raise a point of some importance. We are not in a state of emergency, but, on the other hand, we are not in a state of complete peace, and we find, as other free people have found before us, that in such circumstances we have to submit to curtailments of our usual liberties in various ways. I think there is very general public agreement that that is necessary and wise, but if there is to be public support for any particular form of curtailment, it is necessary that it should be shown, first, that the particular curtailment is necessary and, secondly, that it is fair as between different individuals; in other words, that it is being applied with some uniformity of practice. The powers under Part 11 of this Bill are entrusted to a great number of different local authorities, and they are wide powers. We have just dealt with the question of designation, and we now come to an even more serious matter, the question of a right to alter premises. It is proposed that these local authorities shall have power, having designated private property, to alter that property, even although the owner of the property objects to the alteration proposed. In normal circumstances in such a case there would be a provision for appeal to some form of judicial tribunal, but in present circumstances, and having regard to the subject-matter of this Bill, I do not feel that a proposal of that kind would commend itself to the House on the ground that it would be liable to cause great delay.
I suggest therefore as a substitute what is, in effect, an appeal to the Minister. Where there are a great number of local 872 authorities exercising these powers there will not be uniformity of practice, or anything approaching it, if they are left to exercise their powers uncontrolled. It has been pointed out by several hon. Members opposite that already some local authorities are in grave difficulty because they cannot find sufficient competent technical staff to cope with the pressure of their new duties. One can imagine that in some districts a local authority, faced with this difficulty, might appoint somebody who was not really competent for the job and who might make a number of suggestions for the alteration of premises which would not be really suitable. The unfortunate owner or occupier would have no appeal. It may be said that it is not a great safeguard to bring the Minister in, but it would ensure a certain standard of uniformity in these matters. It might even be a good thing so far as the local authority is concerned, because if the Minister were to disagree with them about certain proposals, it might be instructive to them as to the methods that were being pursued in other localities. As the Clause stands, it is a little dangerous. I am not particularly wedded to the form of words of the Amendment; indeed, I had some little difficulty in deciding which part of the Bill to amend in order to achieve my purpose, but I think I have said enough to show the difficulty that I see. I shall be glad if the Minister can give some hope that the point will be considered between now and Report to see whether some words can be inserted to achieve the purpose I have endeavoured to outline.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I hope the Minister will not accept the Amendment. If he does I can see the work of the local authorities in getting on with this necessary part of their duties being impeded during the next month, six weeks or two months to a degree that would be well nigh intolerable. One does not know to what timetable we are working with regard to the execution of these works. I heard on the wireless on Sunday that Sir Abe Bailey thinks the catastrophe is coming in June. I do not know what grounds he has for thinking that he has any special information, but I have heard other people at least as incompetent to express an opinion suggest a far earlier date. A good many people seem to think that a few remarks 873 to be offered next Friday may give a considerable indication as to when we may expect trouble, if, in fact, it is coming at all. If in every case where a local authority cannot get agreement with regard to the execution of these works they have to submit their case to the Minister, and he has to deliberate on it and give a decision, it may be a considerable time before the local authorities will be able to get on with this part of their work. I am sure that this Amendment would be regarded by them as a serious impediment to the due discharge of their functions.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) who moved the Amendment referred again to the question of appeal and stressed the point made earlier by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). Anything that falls from my hon. and gallant Friend will, of course, be considered, but the Committee must bring itself face to face with the necessity of speed of decision in this matter. We are dealing with vital national necessity, and however much we may feel disposed to hesitate about this unwelcome intrusion into private property, we must face the necessity of getting on with this vital work. For that reason, although I will consider what my hon. and gallant Friend said, I cannot hold out much hope of coming to a different decision from that already in the Bill. With regard to the Amendment, not only would it impose a great strain upon local authorities, who would not be able to get on with their work until they had received ministerial approval, but it would create a heavy and intolerable burden upon my right hon. Friend if his functions were to be enlarged into the scrutiny and examination of every possible plan of work for creating shelters, and as a result, we should never get on at all. Much as I appreciate the motives of my hon. Friend in trying to secure that no injustice is done, I must ask the Committee to agree with me that we cannot afford to have a provision of a dilatory character put in the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.874
§ 7.53 p.m.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 14, to leave out "fourteen," and to insert" seven."
The object of this Amendment is to speed up proceedings. I do not think it is covered by the Amendment which follows in the name of the Lord Privy Seal—in line 15, at the end, to add:but any such notice may be given at any time after the designation of the premises.That seems to deal with a different point. Seven days notice should be better than 14 for this purpose, and as the Minister has accepted another Amendment in the same sense I hope he will be able to accept this one.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I think that seven days is too short for this purpose and the Committee will be well advised to leave 14 as it is in the text. We must be careful to have no provisions which unduly delay progress. At the same time there is a certain class of case where more hurry means less speed in the long run. If there is too short a time for the notice to be given there may be appeals and delays which would not have occurred had there been a proper period for scrutiny. The Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend which follows goes some way to meet the hon. Member's point because it will secure that the 14 days notice to be given by a local authority shall be concurrent with the period allowed for appeal. That is the point the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) put to me just now. It will secure that and also secure that there will be no delay, and at the same time avoid the opportunity for further delay and muddle at a later stage.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I wonder whether there is not some slight misapprehension, for I cannot find in Clause 4 that there is any right of appeal. The Clause refers to premises which have already been designated and in which every right of appeal has already been exhausted. All that the Clause deals with is the power of the local authority in the case of premises already designated to adapt them. There can be no appeal in regard to that and it seems unreasonable to say that where everything has been done that needs to be done and the local authority is in control, with every right of appeal 875 exhausted, they need wait so long as 14 days before proceeding to adapt the premises.
§ Mr. Fleming
The procedure is not as simple as the hon. Member seems to think. I have gone through the process. I have been visited by an official who investigated my cellarage. He pointed out that I had accommodation for something like 100 people but that certain structural alterations would have to be made. He gave me to understand that I should first have to be registered, but what the next move is I do not know. If the Amendment is adopted, and I am on holiday when the notice is served, I may find on my return that half the cellar wall has been taken down. Fourteen days is not too long notice to give.
§ Mr. Silkin
I would like to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silver-man). The notice comes into operation after 14 days have expired and during that period the owner can appeal. In effect, therefore, he will have 14 days during which he can appeal plus another seven days if the Amendment is accepted, making 21 in all. In all the circumstances that is not an unreasonable notice. It is a minimum. In the majority of cases the notice will be much longer.
§ Mr. Denville
Will the Minister say what is meant by "service"? Does it mean service on the premises or service on the owner?
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
It may help us to come to a decision if we can be told exactly when designation takes place. Does it take place when the local authority serves the notice in the way described in Clause 2 by posting it on the premises and seeing that it reaches every person who has an interest in the premises, or does it come into effect after 14 days have expired during which the appeal can take place and the Minister has given his decision? I think it has been assumed that the premises are, in fact, designated by the local authority and that it is from that moment all periods of time begin to run. If that be so, this provision might give an additional 14 days, making a total of 28 days. I hope the Minister may be able to devise some form of words under which a local authority, having givens 876 their notice, may be able to enter upon the premises as soon as possible after the expiry of the 14 days within which an appeal can be lodged.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I was asked just now about the service of documents and notice. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville) will find his question answered in Clause 65, which provides a number of alternative methods for appropriate cases. With regard 10 the other points raised, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) says, the process of time must start to run from the designation of the building by the local authority. As soon as there has been designation under the method laid down in Clause 2, the time allowed for appeal against that designation begins to run. Clause 3 deals with appeals, and then comes Clause 4, dealing with the later stage, when the premises have been designated and the local authority wishes to carry matters a stage further by executing the work. Under paragraph(b)s of Clause 4 they have to give notice before they enter upon any premises, and that notice of intention to enter is 14 days notice and is the subject of the present Amendment which seeks to make it seven days. Paragraph(a)says that the local authority shall not, except by agreement, begin any works until the period has expired for appealing to the Minister against the designation. If that is read in conjunction with an Amendment which I hope to move in a moment, it will be seen that we have met what was the desire of the associations of local authorities, and that is that the time of the appeal should be reduced to 14 days and that the notice given by a local authority under paragraph (b)s should run concurrently with the period allowed for appeal against the designation. We are giving effect to that arrangement, and I hope that it will be considered that it is the best way out of the difficulty. It avoids the danger of the notice going astray and also of disputes—if not in the technical sense—about the work arising later, and it meets the arrangement with the association of local authorities.
Is it possible to say that premises have been designated until the time allowed for appeal against their designation has elapsed? If you can designate and give notice to enter at the 877 same time it looks as if the designation was, in effect, a compulsory designation, against which no appeal could avail. If there is a real right of appeal against designation, surely designation does not take effect until after the lapse of the time allowed for appeal, in which case there is the possibility, if this Amendment is not accepted, that the total period may be 28 days, and I want to reduce it to 21 days.
§ Mr. Morrison
In a sense it is true to say that the designation is not final until the period allowed for appeal has elapsed and the appeal has been decided against the appellant or the right has run out, but the trouble is that designation does take place from the moment when the appropriate notice is served on the Bill. It takes place then, though it may be appealed against, and what we are attempting to do under the next Amendment is to secure that the 14 days notice which we are now considering, and which the hon. Member wishes to reduce, shall be concurrent with the 14 days allowed for appeal against designation; that is to say, if they designate and give their notice at the same time, the two periods of 14 days run together. If there is an appeal against it of course they cannot enter, because if the work were completed and then the appeal succeeded the work would be thrown away; but otherwise it will be possible to get on with the greatest speed.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin
I think that the right hon. Gentleman must be wrong in his interpretation. The two periods cannot run concurrently. As the Clause was originally drawn it provided for 21 days within which the owner might appeal, and then 14 days notice had to be given before the local authority might enter into possession. Therefore, if his interpretation were right, as the Clause was originally drawn the local authority could have entered into possession and begun their alterations to the premises before the time for appeal had expired, and I am sure that that was never intended. The two periods cannot, therefore, run concurrently but must run consecutively.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
May I put the matter in this way? Obviously the local authority would have no right to serve the 14 days notice provided for in this Clause unlesss 878 the premises had been designated. The Clause says:Where it appears to the local authority-expedient for the purpose of making designated premises suitable.Supposing an owner or occupier wanted to be awkward, and supposing notice to start works were served upon him after the local authority had designated his premises and after he had given notice of appeal but before that appeal had been determined—in such circumstances is it conceivable that any court would hold that the premises were really designated premises? I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's much greater experience in these matters, but I should have thought that would be open to very considerable doubt. I should think that a court would hold that unless the local authority were in a position to prove that at the date when they served the notice to enter the premises were designated premises in the full sense the notice would be invalid, and it would seem to follow that the two periods cannot run concurrently unless words more appropriate than these and those of the later Amendment are chosen.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
Perhaps the difficulty in following this point arises from the fact that in order to reply to the hon. Member I mentioned the Amendment which follows this and which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend. If the Committee will look at it they will see that at the end of line 15, on page 4, it is proposed to add the words:but any such notice may be given at any time after the designation of the premises.
§ Mr. Morrison
In order to find out what is the designation of premises we have to turn to Clause 2, where it says that the premises are designated by the local authority posting in the building a notice declaring that that building or part of it may be required for use for public purposes of Civil Defence. As soon as that has been done, and while the 14 days allowed for appeal are running, the notice which we are now considering, that is, the intention to undertake works, can be given—at once, at the same time. They can put up the notice of designation with one hand and send the notice to execute works with the other, and the times run concurrently from that moment, so that 879 we must have the same period for this notice, 14 days, as we have for the notice of appeal against designation, and it is for that reason that the Amendment is not desirable.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
—and what we are anxious to be protected against is the man who says "I am going to appeal, and, no matter if you succeed, I am jolly well going to do nothing." One does meet with such cantankerous people, even in affairs of such vital importance as national defence, and we want to be certain that in such cases we shall not have to wait 28 days before we can get on with the job. As I understand things, under Clause 2 the premises are designated. An effort is made to reach agreement, and it is to be assumed that, generally speaking, the owner or occupier will desire to do any works himself, because he will then have more control over the workmen than if the local authority do them, but where he cannot do the work—perhaps he is not in a position financially to do it—or will not do the work, it is desirable that the local authority should be able to step in at the earliest possible moment. What we were anxious to secure was that the 14 days notice should run during the period of time allowed for an appeal in cases where we were going to meet with contumacious opposition on the part of the owner.
§ 8.14 p.m.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give me some assurance that the legal obligations in this matter will be carefully looked into. I am not a lawyer, and I feel a doubt as to the exact meaning of the wording suggested, which does seem a difficult wording. If the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied, and I understand that he is—I attach great importance also to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I beg to move, in page 4, line 15, at the end, to add:but any such notice may be given at any time after the designation of the premises.The effect of the Amendment is to make sure that there will not be two periods of 14 days each in which someone who wishes to obstruct shall hold up a local authority anxious to get on with this work. As soon as designation takes place notice to execute the work can be given, and the periods will run concurrently. In reply to what was said a moment ago by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), I would repeat that I think this Amendment meets the case that has been put up. He can certainly be assured that it does so from the legal point of view.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Sir A. Southby
As the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) said, no appeal is provided by this Clause. I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that nothing must be done to impede local authorities from getting on with this work, which is of essential national importance, but I visualise that cases might arise in which there would be dispute about the way in which work had to be carried out and in which there should be some form of appeal. Judicial appeal is not necessarily slower than appeal to the Minister. In passing, I want to thank my right hon. Friend for the courtesy of his reply just now, but since special circumstances require special arrangements, I suggest that it might be found advisable to set up some form of legal commissions in various areas throughout the country to deal promptly and expeditiously with cases that may arise. I suggest that such commissions would avoid the horribly cumbrous and dilatory appeal to the Minister and the still more cumbrous and dilatory appeal to the High Court.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
I raised the point a little while ago as to when premises were designated, and it is only fair that I should say that, upon reconsideration, I rather think that the right hon. Gentleman was right. I do not know whether the point has occurred to him, but perhaps he will look at Sub-section (4) of Clause 2, which states:A building or part of a building where a notice under Sub-section (1) of this Section has been posted and has not been withdrawn is in this Act referred to as 'designated premises' and references in this Act to the designation of premises shall be construed accordingly.Clause 3 rather confirms the impression that, if the Minister is satisfied and allows an appeal, the effect of so doing is to cause the order for designation to cease.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
There is no doubt of that. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend I shall be glad to consider, between now and the Report stage, what he has said. It is expected that the majority of the work executed shall be done by mutual consent between local authorities and persons concerned. Having regard to the object of the work and to the experience likely to be in possession of the local authority, I should imagine that any private individual would be very glad to have the assistance of the local authority.