§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope
I beg to move, in page 1, line 9, after "lands," to insert "including harbour works."
This Amendment has arisen out of a definite experience in connection with harbour works of a very important harbour. It was found that the removal of shingle at some distance from those harbour works was causing the dangerous undermining of the barbour breakwater. There was some doubt as to whether a danger of that kind was covered by the Bill as drawn. It was not quite clear whether the word "land" would include an artificial structure like a harbour breakwater. In order to make sure that the Ministry should have power to act for the protection of harbour works, as well as lands, cliffs, and so on, I am moving the Amendment, which includes such works beyond all doubt.
§ Mr. Holmes
This is a reasonable Amendment, and, on behalf of the promoters, I am prepared to accept it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
On a point of Order. This and the next four Amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Holmes) represent, I understand, an effort to meet the point raised by my Amendment on the Paper. In these circumstances, would you allow the Debate, Sir, to range over the subject-matter of my Amendments to this Clause and the Schedule?
I am in the hands of the House. If the House considers it advisable to do so, I have no objection.
§ Mr. Holmes
My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) has just explained to the House the object of this Amendment and the following Amendments. I would like to 2234 recall briefly to the House how this Bill has reached its present stage. In the early part of last year various parts of the coast of England were damaged by sea-flooding, and Members with constituencies on the seashore felt that investigation should be made as to the cause of what had happened at West Aberystwyth, Horsey, and elsewhere. We found that, beyond any doubt, sea-flooding and coast-erosion are caused by the removal of sand, shingle and other material. Therefore a Bill was introduced by me last July, under the Ten Minutes Rule, to prevent sea-flooding and coast-erosion by prohibiting the removal of sand and shingle if it was considered that it was likely to do harm. The House gave me permission to bring that Bill in, under the Ten Minutes Rule, and also gave the Bill a Second Reading without discussion after 11 o'clock. But the Bill having been introduced in July, there was, obviously, no possibility of its becoming law last Session. It was introduced in order that it might be printed and that the reactions of the various bodies interested might be discovered. Various suggestions were made, so that when the Bill was introduced again in November last it contained amendments of the previous Bill which were of value. The House gave this Bill a Second Reading on 9th December, and it then went to Standing Committee.
It was immediately found that there were certain bodies in the country who were nervous as to the effect that this Bill was going to have on their undertakings. The first bodies to raise objections were the dock, harbour and conservancy boards. It had to be admitted that there was a special case, because one of the principal duties of such boards is to keep their channels and harbours free from the silt which washes into them. Therefore, it would be very wrong for any Bill to be introduced here which would prevent them from carrying out that important duty. At the same time, it was only right that it should be pointed out to those boards that actually this Bill would never interfere with them in carrying out those duties, for the reason that the Bill enables the Board of Trade to act only if they feel that the removal of sand and shingle is going to cause coast erosion or sea flooding, and, obviously, the clearing of a harbour or dock would not come under that provision. Nevertheless, those 2235 in charge of the Bill desired to assure dock, harbour and conservancy authorities that we did not want in any way to interefere with them in their work. Therefore, in Committee a Sub-section was inserted in Clause 2, which says:Nothing in this Act or any order made there under shall take away, diminish, or prejudice any rights, powers, or privileges in relation to conserving, maintaining, or improving the navigation of a tidal water conferred by any public, general, or local or private Act on any harbour authority, conservancy authority, or navigation authority.I hope that will completely satisfy all the dock, harbour and conservancy authorities. I may say that the first authority to communicate with me after the Second Reading was the Humber Conservancy Board, who raised these points. I received the following letter from the Secretary of the Board on 28th March, after the conclusion of the Committee stage:The Board desire me to express to you their appreciation of the interest you were good enough to take in securing the Amendment of this Bill … The Board are of opinion that the Amendment so made satisfies their wishes.It was particularly about the position of dock, harbour and conservancy boards that the discussion on the Committee stage took place. Nothing at that time was said by electricity and gas authorities. But immediately after the Committee stage I received a communication from my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon calling attention to the fact that electricity undertakers would be affected by this Bill. He said that the Board of Trade would be empowered to make Orders prohibiting the excavation or disturbance of material, and thus to prevent operations in connection with a tidal river where the banks cannot be constructed or repaired without disturbing the materials of the bank or bed. Once again, I want to point out that this Bill enables the Board of Trade to prevent the removal of any material only if it is going to cause coast erosion or sea flooding. Therefore, if the electricity undertakings desire to repair pipes or put in new pipes, or do anything of that sort, they would not be causing coast erosion or sea flooding. They might even be improving the banks rather than causing them to deteriorate, and, therefore, nothing under this Bill would affect the electricity undertakings. But I still wanted to meet my hon. Friend 2236 the Member for South Croydon and those associated with him, and 1 put down this series of Amendments by which it will be seen that in line 15 the word "excavation" is to be left out, and in line 16 the words "or other disturbance" are to be left out, and also the words "on, under or forming part of" on the next line. The reason I have done that is that it will be quite sufficient for the purposes of the Bill that the Board of Trade should merely have the right to prohibit, restrict or impose conditions for the removal of these things. My hon. Friend was worried about the words "or other disturbance" as to whether they might apply to the changing or the repairing of pipes. I am very anxious to meet him with regard to this matter, and, therefore, I propose these Amendments as a result of which the Clause will read:the Board may … by Order prohibit, restrict or impose conditions as to the removal of all or any materials from such portions of the sea shore as may be specified.I hope that in that way I have met the wishes and the fears of the public utility authorities in the same way as, I hope, I met the dock and harbour conservancy authorities in Committee. I want to point out once more that all that this Bill gives to the Board of Trade is the power to prohibit the removal of sand, shingle and other material if that removal is causing or is likely to cause coast erosion, and it cannot interfere in any other circumstances. If any harbour board, conservancy or any public utility company or authority are doing anything under their Acts which does not cause coast erosion or sea flooding, they cannot be interfered with by this Bill. I am going to make an appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon and those associated with him.
§ Mr. Graham White
Before the hon. Member makes his appeal, may I ask him whether it is clear that there is nothing in the Bill to prohibit the carrying out of normal dredging operations?
§ Mr. Holmes
There is not the slightest risk of preventing normal dredging. It is perfectly clear that normal dredging operations will not cause coast erosion or sea flooding.
§ Mr. Holmes
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has not been listening to what I 2237 have been saying this morning, because the Board of Trade will have no power under this Bill but simply to prevent the removal of shingle and sand. They can prevent the removal of shingle and sand only if they are of opinion that such removal will cause coast erosion or sea flooding, so that ordinary dredging, obviously, does not come within the scope of the Bill.
The appeal I want to make is this. I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to meet all the anxieties and fears of these public: authorities with regard to this Bill. I have felt that in most cases it was not even necessary to do so, because they would not have come under the provisions of the Bill, but I have done this in the hope that they will accept the gesture. I want to ask my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon not to ask me to put into the Bill something which could not possibly be more than a 5,000,000 to one chance. These authorities are so completely protected that I am probably understating the odds when I say that it is a 5,000,000 to one chance against their ever being affected, and in these circumstances I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment which he has put upon the Paper.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
This is a private Member's Bill and every Member of the House is entitled to do what he likes on the Measure. The hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has given us, and I do not complain, what is tantamount to a Second Reading speech on the main provisions of the Bill, and I was expecting that he would say something about the Amendment which stands in his name. I take very little heed of Amendments proposed by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams)—I never do. But I would ask the Minister representing the Government to be good enough to deal with this point. I am not familiar with this problem at all, but, looking at the Bill and the Amendment now before the House, I would ask him whether the proposed deletion of these words will not actually weaken the intention of the Measure. The promoter of the Bill proposes to remove some very important words from 2238 this Clause by his Amendments. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not give way to pressure from some quarters on his side of the House and thereby weaken the Bill. I would like, personally, to be assured that the deletion of these words will not weaken the main provisions of the Measure.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Cross)
I can readily give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks. As far as the Board of Trade are concerned, we do not desire anything more than the power to prohibit the removal of material from the sea shore. It is our view that excavation or disturbance which does not actually remove material from the sea shore, that is, which does not consequently actually take away a part of the natural defences of the coast, would not be injurious, and we have no objection whatever to this Amendment.
§ 11.34 a.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I am surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary has approved this Amendment and says that it will not weaken the Bill. I think that the Bill would be better if the words were retained, and that public interests likely to be adversely affected should be protected in a different way. I do not see how, under the Bill as it stands, a body like the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, with which I was familiar in my younger days, could be permitted to go on with dredging operations which clearly involve the removal of sand or shingle, or whatever is in the bed, or on the foreshore to places well out to sea. That is not the point. There might be cases where it was desirable that this material should not be removed, and it is no good saying that these orders will not affect these public interests. You have to be assured that public interests likely to be adversely affected shall have an opportunity of explaining or sustaining their objections.
The object of my Amendment is a double one. It is partly practical and partly raises a substantial constitutional issue. Under the Bill as it stands it will be possible for the Board of Trade, after conducting an inquiry in accordance with the procedure of the First Schedule, to make an order which might have the effect, possibly, of amending a public 2239 general Act, a local Act or a private Act. It is a very serious thing, constitutionally, by an Order, even though it requires an affirmative Resolution of both Houses, to amend a Statute. The proper way to amend a Statute is in the way you make it, namely, by an amending Bill. What my Amendment proposes is that in those cases where an Order is calculated to have the effect of an Amendment of the Statute, then if that order is opposed it becomes provisional only and requires confirmation by a Bill which, after it has gone through the formality of Second Reading, goes upstairs before a Committee of four of our colleagues, who hear counsel and witnesses. We all know how admirable that procedure it. The way in which our colleagues carry it out, excites not only our admiration but the admiration of the people outside. That is the proper procedure to adopt.
What I am asking is that solely in those cases where the Order may prejudice any interest and is likely to alter their statutory duties, or otherwise, then the Provisional Order procedure should be carried out. I cannot understand why my hon. Friend objects to that proposal. I do not wish to prejudice his Bill; in fact I am a supporter of it. After 30 years, Parliament is now giving effect to the recommendations of a Royal Commission on coast erosion which sat all those years ago. Although it is 30 years since that Royal Commission sat, for some reason or other their recommendations have not been implemented by legislation. Therefore, I am to that extent in favour of the Bill, but I see no reason why a Bill which has a good object should be permitted in some circumstances to produce undesirable results.
What are the risks? We are told that the proposal in the Bill is in the public interest, and I say that the Amendment standing in my name, to which 20 other names were attached, is also in the public interest. There are a number of public utility bodies who have statutory rights and statutory duties. The bodies more particularly affected are the dock and harbour authorities, electricity undertakings, and to a small extent, gas works where they happen to be situated on the banks of a river and it is convenient from the point of view of the chief transport of coal. The electricity undertakings situated on a river may also have the 2240 additional reason that for the successful operation of electrical machinery a great deal of condensing water is required. Therefore, it is greatly to their convenience to be alongside a river. These undertakings may have to construct, under their statutory authority, sea walls, and in the course of that construction they may be forced to remove material. They have obtained the authority of Parliament to remove that material, and that authority has not been given until the whole matter has been properly investigated by a Select Committee of this House and another place. Therefore, it is clearly wrong that by an Order a Government Department should be able to cut away those rights and duties conferred on those bodies by the process of Acts of Parliament.
It is constitutionally wrong and inherently dangerous, because they may be over-ridden by the Board of Trade who, under the inquiry procedure contemplated in the First Schedule, may decide to make an Order. If they do that and it is laid on the Table and requires an affirmative Resolution, then the whole resources of the Government will be used to force the Resolution through. We know in practice how difficult it is when an Order affects, perhaps, a single dock or harbour authority, like the Tyne Commission, or a central electricity undertaking like the London Power Company, which owns the Battersea Power Station, the County of London Electric Supply Company, which owns the great station at Barking, or the North Eastern Company, or the Fulham Corporation, which owns the great station a little higher up than Lots Road Station. What chance has a single authority of raising sufficient support in this House, when it has to face not only a Government Department but the whole authority of His Majesty's Government? It is not a matter which can be settled merely by a debate on the Floor of the House. It ought to be settled when all the technical consideration have been properly examined, and the appropriate place in our Parliamentary procedure is before a Select Committee upstairs, to whose work I have already paid a tribute.
The words which my hon. Friend proposes to take out of the Bill will in some cases weaken it. It may be very desirable in some cases that there should be 2241 excavations. My hon. Friend is proposing as a concession to me to leave out of the Bill what, I think, should be in the Bill. On the other hand, if he will adopt the procedure contained in my Amendment, together with the procedure set out in the Amendment to the First Schedule at the bottom of page 939 of the Order Paper, he will ensure that there will not be a Provisional Order Bill except where the proposed Order interferes with the public statutory duties of public utility bodies, and those bodies feel that they are not properly protected. Only if they persist in their opposition will it be necessary to go through the elaborate Provisional Order procedure.
I am not proposing anything which reflects upon my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, because if and when the procedure which I suggest comes into operation he may occupy a much more important position— which promotion I hope will not be unduly delayed—on account of the great efficiency and the pleasing manner in which be always discharges his duly. Therefore, it is not any personal reflection upon him with which I am concerned. I am thinking of his successors. It is a good thing at times to keep Ministers in order. If we do not do that, they may sometimes feel inclined to say, "Who are the public?" It is, therefore, well that Parliament should say: "The whole of the public cannot be here, but we intend to protect them, and therefore we shall take steps to keep the bureaucrats in order." I hope that my Amendment will be accepted, in order to sustain the strength of the Bill and because on constitutional grounds there is an overwhelming case for my Amendment, which is widely supported in the House and outside. I hope the House will decide to reject the Amendment which has been proposed by my hon. Friend, and that they will do so in the interests of the Bill and in the interests of better procedure.
§ 11.43 a.m.
I regard myself as a supporter of the Bill. I think we are all agreed that something should be done to take effective action to put an end to the constant erosion that is going on, more particularly in some of the eastern countries, which, incidentally, is widening the gulf between ourselves and the Continent. Although the distance is be- 2242 coming wider there, it is not being narrowed by any addition to our land on the other side of the country. It is important that there should be some statutory authority to deal with these matters as soon as possible. Having listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Holmes) and the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), I am left in considerable uncertainty, but I think on the whole that the House will be well advised to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Croydon, whilst accepting the statement of the hon. Member for Harwich that there is no intention of interfering with the operation of dredging.
I can readily accept that, but I cannot imagine anyone being so foolish as to wish to interfere with dredging operations, which are of vital importance. No one, unless they were without scientific knowledge and experience, would think of interfering with operations of that kind, and it seems to me wrong to contemplate any procedure under which even the President of the Board of Trade would have a contingent right to interfere with these operations, which are so important to our tidal waterways and contribute materially to the safety of life. The last time I made an inquiry I found that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board were dredging 70,000 tons of sand and gravel a day from the Mersey, and it would appear that the Bill, if it is not amended, will interfere with that operation, although there may be no intention of doing so. On the wider issue I think the Bill would be made much stronger if the suggestion made by the hon. Member for South Croydon were accepted. I should be unwilling to accept anything which would weaken the Bill, because we all realise the urgency of this problem. I think, on balance, the argument is that the House should accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Croydon.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Sir Robert Aske
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Holmes) that the Amendments which have been inserted in the Bill meet the views of conservancy authorities. The Bill is intended to deal with the coast erosion which is taking place on the parts of the coasts which are washed by the sea but, nevertheless, it 2243 includes not merely the sea coast but the rivers of the country; all the rivers and creeks as far as the tide flows. That means that it includes rivers like the Tyne, the Wear, the Tees, and the Thames as far as there is any ebb and flow of the tide. Why rivers should have been brought into a Bill of this character is a matter of complete mystery. It has been suggested that it is because it is most difficult to define where a river begins, but there is really no difficulty about that, because in the courts of law, when these matters have been decided, it has been held that where the three-mile limit begins, that is the point where the river ends.
One of the most important points is that although the hon. Member has made an offer to the conservancy authorities as far as their dredging operations are concerned, those are not usually the main duties of conservancy authorities. They have to construct, repair and maintain, all kinds of docks, piers, and wharves along rivers which are within their authority, and for that purpose they very often have to make large excavations, and having excavated a mass of material they have to remove it. Very often the material is taken out to sea and dumped, but that, as I take it, would be prevented by the Bill as it stands. The position that it would not be affected by any Board of Trade Order is not correct and for this reason. The Bill provides in Clause 1, thatwhere the Board of Trade are of opinion that it is desirable for the protection of any part of the coast of Great Britain from erosion or for the prevention of damage to any lands by the action of the seathey may make an Order. The practical way in which a Bill of this kind would act is this. There will be some suggestions put before the Board of Trade that there is danger of a part of the coast being subject to erosion, and the Board of Trade can then make an Order to stop the removal of material on that particular stretch of coast. They might make an Order that there should be no removal of material between the Wear and the Tweed. That would be quite sound if the removal were taking place along the sea coast, and the Board of Trade were anxious to prevent any coast erosion within that area. But the trouble is that between the Wear and the Tweed there is 2244 the river Tyne, which would be included in the Order, as would any other part of the coast which is washed by the sea. That is the effect of the Bill from the point of view of harbour conservancy authorities.
That would be to a large extent obviated by the proposal, suggested by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), to leave conservancy authorities, with the powers which they have at present to construct, maintain and repair docks, wharves and piers, completely outside the provisions of the Bill. The Bill, in my opinion, ought not to be allowed to go through unless conservancy authorities are protected in the powers which have been given to them after full inquiry by Committees of this House, and which they have administered in many cases for 100 years with perfect satisfaction to the community. At the present they are jeopardised by the provisions of the Bill. I submit that as it stands at present the Bill is quite unsatisfactory and that the points I have indicated are in no way dealt with by the proposed Amendments. Unless the hon. Member can see his way to meet the conservancy authorities which represent the shipping and commercial community of the country to the extent I have mentioned, I an afraid he will not get his Bill.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I speak as one who is generally in favour of the Bill in its main principles. As far as the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) is concerned, the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) and myself put our names to the proposal, but as there were already six names to the Amendment our names do not appear on the Order Paper, although, in fact, they were published in the Votes. I should not like the hon. Member for Was thought on (Mr. Rhys Davies) to think that the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Croydon is a party Amendment, or is moved in the interests merely of private companies. As a matter of fact, a large number of public authorities who are not profit-making authorities are interested in the Measure as a result of its wide scope. North country people will, I am sure realise the unanimity of feeling against the proposals of the Bill 2245 when it is found that Newcastle and South Shields join in opposition. I can think of nothing else that could bring us together.
This interference with the rights of the Tyne Improvement Commission is a very serious matter for the great industrial community on both banks of the Tyne. We are strongly in favour of the course suggested by the hon. Member for South Croydon in his Amendment, and we feel that it would be a better method of dealing with the matter than that suggested by the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Holmes). The amount of river frontage brought within the Bill is very considerable. I doubt whether hon. Members, unless they are aware of the facts, can follow exactly what the Bill proposes to do by making land fronted by tidal waters the definition of "coast." If one takes the Thames, it is a tidal river for 68 miles from its mouth.
§ Mr. Ede
It is indeed more than that. For instance, there is the mouth of the Wandle, which is a tidal water. Anyone who knows the neighbourhood of Wandsworth Gas Works knows that the barges that we see going by this House, which are laden in my constituency and unladen at Wandsworth, are taken into a creek that is really the mouth of the Wandle. That is a tidal river for some distance from the point where it has its confluence with the Thames. Therefore, it is more than double the distance I have mentioned. However, I venture to say that that figure will give some indication of the problem with regard to the Thames. This provision actually makes Richmond a coastal town and seaside resort. As representing a seaside resort, I do not want to enter into competition with Richmond on that basis, and I should be sorry if the constituents of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) were to go off to Richmond instead of South Shields when they had an afternoon off. The Mersey is a tidal river from a point 39 miles from the mouth nearly up to Warrington bridge. In 1933, I had the honour of serving on a Private Bill Committee which considered the Bromborough Docks Bill. Evidence was then brought before us as to the danger of what was called a middle channel 2246 being opened by the proposals of that Bill. We heard a great deal of hard swearing by expert witnesses for three or four separate authorities, and we had the greatest possible difficulty in reaching a decision on that matter. I suggest that the fact that the proposal of the hon. Member for South Croydon would be an easier method of obtaining Orders under this Measure is one that should be borne in mind in connection with that point.
The River Tyne is tidal for more than 19 miles from its mouth; the Tees for 15 miles; the Humber for its whole length—40 miles; the Trent for 52 miles; the Yorkshire Ouse from the Humber to Goole, a distance of 10 miles; the Severn Estuary and the River Severn for 50 miles, and the Clyde for 18½ miles. I cannot help believing that no one who regarded this as a Coast Protection Bill would think it referred to tidal rivers covering those tremendous distances. I hope the House will reject the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Harwich and support the line of action proposed by the hon. Member for South Croydon. I do not know whether I embarrass the hon. Member for South Croydon by supporting him more than some of my hon. Friends think that I am embarrassed by finding myself supporting him; but on behalf of bodies such as the Tyne Improvement Commission and the port and harbour authorities of the country, I can say that they view the proposals of this Bill which are under discussion at the moment with the gravest misgivings. I am anxious that the Bill should be passed, if it can be passed, in a form that will not interfere with the very heavy duties, not so much conferred on those bodies, but placed upon them by this House, and in the discharge of which the duties they have a very heavy responsibility to the population of the districts and the very important industries which depend for their very existence upon the work of the dock and harbour authorities being carried out efficiently.
§ 12.0 n.
§ Mr. R. Robinson
I think that many hon. Members tend to exaggerate the difficulties that will arise under the Bill. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has done so. In framing a Measure for the protection of the coast, obviously one has —
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore - Brabazon
I should have liked to have heard some remarks from hon. Members representing constituencies where there is a straight piece of coast, because they receive very considerable benefits under the Bill. Those who are pressing for the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) do not in any way understand the sort of problems connected with defending a straight seashore. The difficulty with which my hon. Friend who promoted the Bill has been confronted is that he could not define what a seashore is. The result is that the Bill now deals with the question of coast erosion at Twickenham, and nothing could be more absurd than that. It is only where the Bill affects those navigational authorities which have power, but which have to exercise it with great restraint, that we need these provisional Orders. I hope my hon. Friend will not think that we who are anxious about the rivers are in any way trying to stop the good part of this Bill, which is needed for the coast-side. My hon. Friend made an appeal to us to give facilities up river, but I make an appeal to him to enable the Bill to go through quite easily and to allow the coast to be protected, as the Bill will protect it, and at the same time to give us protection with regard to our rivers. It may be only a small matter, but it is something that we are very fussy about and are not prepared to give away binder a Private Member's Bill after we have got it by the proper procedure of Parliament.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
I wish to support the remarks made by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) when he drew attention to the proviso under Sub-section (5). I think it is essential, before the Bill is passed, that there should be some such safeguard as the hon. member suggests. The words of the proviso are rather surprising. They are extremely wide. The proviso reads:Provided that if it appears to the Board of Trade that such an order will operate to prevent or impede the performance by any person of any duty imposed upon him, the 2248 order may for the purpose of relieving the person from the duty or from any penalty, liability or disability attaching to the non-performance thereof, repeal or modify the provisions of any local Act—these are the words to what I want to draw particular attention—to such an extent and in such manner as the Board think proper.Those words are far wider than they need to be. It might be provided that the order might repeal the provisions of a local Act as far as was necessary to relieve the person concerned from the statutory duty or as far as was necessary to relieve him from the penalties referred to. The promoters of the Bill have gone a good deal further than that. They are asking for powers that are much wider than they need to be. It is regrettable to find private Members adopting the thoroughly bad methods of Government Departments. It may be true that here we are dealing only with local Acts of Parliament and that this proposal is not as serious as the proposals which we sometimes have before the House, when, by what is commonly called a Henry VIII Clause, a Government Department seeks to dispense by Order with provisions of public Acts. In that matter, the Board of Trade particularly is an offending Department. They have gone further than any other Government Department in asking for powers of that kind. In this case, a local Act is still an Act of Parliament and as the hon. Member for South Croydon has said, we go through the admirable procedure of private local Bills and all the interests concerned are fully safeguarded by the procedure, but there is no proper safeguard contained in this proviso. It would be very difficult for a harbour authority to get an Order set aside in this House, when it is probably taken late at night. It is essential that there should be a safeguard of this kind. I am in favour of the Bill, but rather than see a provision of this kind go through in it, I would vote against the whole Measure.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Sir Adam Maitland
I desire to support my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) upon the question of principle. It is not a question of whether the proposal made by the sponsors of the Bill would weaken it or strengthen it, but a question of a simple 2249 principle which very much concerns local authorities in general. That principle is that where a local authority has, at considerable trouble and expense, obtained an Act of Parliament, that Act should not be amended without that local authority having the right to come to this House and submit its case to a Committee of this House. I think that is a principle which will find acceptance in most quarters of the House. I understand that it may be said on behalf of the Board of Trade that the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon goes rather too far, and that it would be difficult to tell whether a public general Act would be amended or not, but to meet the possibility of such a criticism, I, last night, tabled another Amendment which, unfortunately, for some reason does not appear upon the Order Paper.
I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) put down a similar Amendment which rather limited the proposal to the protection of local acts. It might, I suggest, be found possible to accept an Amendment in that form, and the Department would be relieved of the necessity of having to decide whether or not a public general Act was amended. I do not, at this point, attempt to explain the verbiage which is involved in such a proposal, but the simple purpose of the Amendment which I tabled was to carry out the principle of my hon. Friend's Amendment in such a way as would invite no objection from the Board of Trade on the grounds indicated. I support the Amendment on the general principle that we ought not to permit in a private Member's Bill, or any other Bill, a provision which gives such an overriding power to the Board of Trade or any Government Department.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
I do not think I have ever heard greater exaggeration than I have heard this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has got so far away from the shore and so far up the river that he is making suggestions about Richmond being a seaside resort. We shall next hear Gates-head being described as a seaside resort.
§ Mr. Ritson
The man would have a strong imagination who could suggest 2250 Gateshead as a seaside resort. I say that the Board of Trade has as much interest in tidal waters as in the foreshore. The Board of Trade has the same powers over tidal waters in the rivers as they have over the foreshore, and what many hon. Members seem to forget is the action of authorities like the Tyne Commissioners and the Wear Commissioners. I, unfortunately, know that past delinquencies on the part of bodies of that kind are costing hundreds of thousands of pounds today. They had not only the river itself, but part of the foreshore, and sometimes their actions in regard to the river affected the foreshore. Nobody is going to say that you should stop dredging in a river, but sometimes dredging at the mouth of the river may cause damage in the upper reaches of the river. I know of cases in which a great deal of damage has been suffered because the Commissioners began to dredge very deeply at a point probably a mile away causing overflow and damage which led to the spending of thousands of pounds in litigation. I would point out the words of Clause 2 (2):Nothing in this Act or any order made there under shall take away, diminish, or prejudice any rights, powers, or privileges in relation to conserving, maintaining, or improving the navigation of a tidal water conferred by any public, general, or local or private Act.That is surely a protection. The hon. Member for South Croydon is very eloquent and is an adept at splitting hairs. He would have made a better barber than a politician and when he introduces a proposal of this kind, I am always concerned. When we were nearly finished with the Committee stage of the Bill, I dared to suggest that there were interests which were prepared to go on selling sand and shingle, and we had the admission that in one place shingle and sand were actually being sold off three or four miles of foreshore. There are places in which damage is being done and money is being made at a tremendous rate by the removal of this sand and shingle. I may give an instance of what happened in Sunderland. Under an Order in Council sand was being taken from the foreshore in thousands of tons a year and those who were doing so were making something like £2,000 a year. We could not charge them rates because they were operating below the high water mark and when we, as a local authority, wanted to protect this particular area from erosion which 2251 threatened to affect an important railway line, we found it would cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds.
So I am glad to know that on the principle of the Bill we are going to carry it through. At the same time I hope that the promoter of the Bill will have regard to what has been said. It is one of the tragedies of a private Member's Bill that when the private Member puts his whole soul into it all the cranks come forward on a Friday to air their theories. There is no greater artist than the hon. Member for South Croydon in coming here on Fridays and getting a fellow down as far as he can, exhausting him, and then congratulating him later on having got the Bill. The hon. Member for South Croydon has a longer vocabulary than mine, but he has not had greater experience of the practical side of things than I have had in this connection. There is nothing I see in these proposals that will damage anyone at all. If the Board of Trade is interested in the foreshores it is as much interested in the tidal areas.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I wish with others in the House to say that we welcome this Bill so far as coast erosion is concerned. It is no good my hon. Friend who has just spoken complaining about the objections of those of us who represent tidal rivers. We did not put the rivers into the Bill: they are in the Bill, and that is why we are here objecting to the definition given of rivers. In Sub-section (12) of Clause 1 we find this:The expression 'coast' includes the banks of any estuary or of any tidal river so far up that river as the tide flows.As the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said, that definition covers a considerable distance up the river. It is no use the hon. Member for Durham City (Mr. Ritson) complaining about Durham being a watering place. We did not make it so, but the Bill suggests that it should be so.
§ Mr. Ritson
No. I suggested that if my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was to make a watering place of Richmond and the Thames because it was tidal, there was no reason why Durham or Gateshead should not be a watering place.
§ Mr. Magnay
I make no apologies for the reference to Gateshead, for Gateshead is a health resort and anyone knows that. It is hundreds of feet above sea level and a great deal of the brains of the North Country come from it. Let us look at another of the definitions:The expression sea-shore means the bed and shore of the sea and of every channel, creek, bay or estuary, and of every river so far up that river as the tide flows.It seems to me ridiculous for anyone to say that it is impossible to define a river. A map defines a river. Those responsible for the Bill could have taken the headlands of the River Tyne and drawn an invisible line, as is done at sea to indicate the three-mile limit. It would be quite simple to draw such a line from the headlands of a river, where local Acts apply and where great improvements costing millions of pounds have been carried out. No less than £9,000,000 have been spent on the Tyne on constructive and other works. An invisible line drawn across the headlands would provide quite a good definition. If it is not too late I would suggest that the promoter cuts the rivers out of the Bill. That will settle the matter and there will be no objection to the Bill. While he wants now at the eleventh-and-three-quarter hour to withdraw the word "excavation," that does not complete the case for the rivers. There is constructive work to be done and all of that would be affected very considerably by the Bill.
Let me refer to Clause 3. I do not know that anyone so far has remarked on the provisions relating to the Board of Trade. The Clause gives extremely wide powers. Who is to administer them? The Clause says—Anything required or authorised by or under this Act to be done by," to or before the Board of Trade may be done by, to or before the President of the Board, any Secretary, Under-Secretary, or Assistant Secretary of the Board or any person authorised in that behalf by the President.We hear about "bureaucracy gone mad," but I think that is the giddy limit. This House has passed Acts of 2253 Parliament after due consideration, and they have been worked extremely well— in the case of the River Tyne Commissioners to everyone's satisfaction. The same can be said of the River Wear Commissioners and the Port of London Authority. But these Acts are to be overridden by some under-strapper in the Board of Trade. It is no good saying that the House of Commons will have some rights when these Orders are presented here. With the crowd of business to be done we know how difficult it is to deal with these matters and how they are often crowded out. I suggest very seriously that the House should never tolerate for a moment any bureaucrat having the right to override a Statute which has been passed after many years of consideration to the satisfaction of the whole community. It would be a monstrous thing if we allowed our rights to be filched away in this bare-faced manner, and I for one will never agree to it. I suggest to the promoter of the Bill that he may expect that any one who has any idea of the rights of this House and of the powers given to local authorities will vote against the proposals without any doubts whatever.
§ 12.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
I rise only because my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lt.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) asked that some representative of a division which had a large section of coast subject to erosion should speak to-day. He suggested that possibly a Member who had no river or harbour near the coast should speak. In my constituency we have about 24 miles of coast all subject to heavy sea erosion, but we also have two rivers. I would like to make very brief comments on the Amendments which are suggested in this Clause. First, as regards the Amendments of my hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill. He proposes to delete the word "excavation," and "or other disturbance," so that the latter part of Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 would read—or impose conditions as to the removal of all or any materials from such portions of the sea shore.I rather regret removing those words, for this reason, that on the East coast certainly very small alterations on the shore have had an immense effect in causing or preventing coast erosion. If you remove 2254 any projection into the sea, whether a sluice, or a groyne, or a pier, it may have a tremendous effect on your coast protection scheme.
§ Mr. Loftus
I rather doubt the removal of the words "or other disturbance," because a small disturbance or projection on the coast may have a very great effect. As regards the general controversy about harbour authorities, it appears to me to be almost making a mountain out of a molehill, because 1 cannot conceive, with the safeguard inserted in the Committee on page 5, which has been spoken of by the hon. Member opposite, of any possibility of interfering with the legitimate rights of harbour authorities. I go farther, and I say that in all my experience on the East coast over many years past we always recognise that dredging a river, and keeping it dredged, and clearing a river or harbour helps tremendously. The actual flow of water acts as a groyne and helps to bank up the coastline. I want this Bill to pass, but I have to recognise the force of the opposition from all quarters of the House today, and in order to get the Bill, I would beg the promoter, who is doing such good work on the East coast, to consider whether it would be possible for some kind of compromise so that the Bill should go through to-day.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Cross
I think it will be convenient that at this stage I should state the point of view of the Board of Trade on the Amendment. I want to address myself to the practical point of who are these persons possessing statutory powers and in what circumstances they may be overridden by an order of the Board of Trade. Some hon. Members have referred to dredging, and I should like to deal first with that and to call their attention to Clause 2, Sub-section (2), which I think effectively exempts these activities in connection with navigation from the provisions of the Bill. I come next to the rivers. It is very notable that hon. Members in every part of the House have particularly concentrated upon the possibilities in regard to persons possessing statutory powers on rivers. I take it that they are thinking, not of the ordinary coast, but of the special meaning given to 2255 it under this Bill. As I said on the Committee stage, from the point of view of the Board of Trade we should be very pleased if rivers could be left out of the Bill altogether, but we cannot find any form of words—and my hon. Friend also has been unable to do so—which would enable us to leave out of the Bill what we ordinarily mean by rivers. I am consequently reduced to giving the definite assurance that it is not the intention of the Board of Trade to make any orders in respect of rivers. At the same time, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newcastle East (Sir R. Aske) seemed to think that it would be possible to define a river. On that, let me say that if he can exercise his ingenuity in the matter and persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Holmes) to make that alteration, a matter in which I think he will have no difficulty, I, in my turn, will promise him the best offices that I can exercise to have such an Amendment made in another place. We have no desire whatever to make orders in respect of rivers.
What are the other statutory powers in connection with which there might be some conflict when an order was made by the Board of Trade? We come next to the electrical or gas undertakings, that is, those who desire to disturb the seashore for the purpose of burying cables, pipes, or something of that sort. I have already said that we welcome the Amendment which is being moved now by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich, which I think would definitely leave these persons unaffected by the provisions of the Bill when they are engaging in that activity of laying a cable or a pipe. The next class that occurs to me is those public authorities possessing statutory powers to maintain sea defences. The maintenance of sea defences is, of course, exactly the same object as we have in view in this Bill, and there is an Amendment down at a later stage in the Bill, to Clause 2, page 5, line 7, in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) which I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich intends to accept. I hope the House will be willing to accept that Amendment, and certainly, from the point of view of the Board of Trade, we should be very glad to see that those who have statutory powers to maintain 2256 sea defences in this country should be left at liberty to carry out those functions without interference from my Department.
Now I come to a further class, particularly referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), namely, authorities possessing powers to maintain, construct, or whatever it may be, docks, wharves, piers, or jetties. These are works which are below high-water mark, in the ordinary sense, at all events. I do not know whether hon. Members could find some exceptional instances that were not, but in the ordinary sense they are below high-water mark, and the Board of Trade have consequently already got, from the point of view of navigation, a power to withhold consent; indeed, their consent has to be sought and obtained before works of this kind can be carried out, and the passage of this Amendment would not be likely in practice to affect that situation. Moreover, I should think that in any case the question does not arise, unless in the first place the Board of Trade had made an order for prohibition of the removal of the material from the seashore in the particular locality; secondly, it must appear that the authorities desire to remove that material; and, in the third place, there is the opportunity for them to apply to the Board of Trade for a licence to do so, and it seems even more unlikely that the Board of Trade would desire to refuse such a licence.
Therefore, there is an extraordinary combination of chances that must be fulfilled before the case can arise at all. It seems that that leaves the case of the local authority who have powers to remove from the shore material for the purposes of road making or for commercial purposes, or something of that kind. Indeed, a person possessing those statutory powers would, in effect be in the same position as the private owner who is exploiting the seashore for his own private benefit to the detriment of the natural coast defences and he is the very type of person we are aiming at. It is perhaps for that reason that nobody has got up to voice any defence of the local authority who might wish to remove shingle, or whatever it may be from the foreshore in conflict with an order made by the Board of Trade. The Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon seems to me to be aimed at coping with the unlikely event which I have 2257 just described of a local authority which is objecting to an order in these circumstances. On practical grounds I can hardly see that it can otherwise arise.
What are the provisions already in the Bill to protect persons in these circumstances? They are set out in the Schedule. Before the Board of Trade can make an order they must first advertise their intention. There is then provision for a public local inquiry at which any objection can be made. If after the inquiry an order is made it must be submitted to the Minister, who can modify it. The order then becomes subject to an affirmative Resolution of this House which is in a position to modify the order if it wishes. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon and others who supported him feel that this is not an adequate protection. Let us pass to a little consideration of the machinery by which it is proposed by his Amendment to supplement the machinery I have described. After the advertisement and the opposition have occurred, and the public local inquiry has been held, and after the matter has been referred to the Minister who will have made any modifications he sees fit in the order, it may be that the possessor of statutory powers has not yet come forward. The objection may have been made by some other person.
The Amendment would then impose an obligation of discovering whether the Order infringes any public general or local or private Act. That is a thing which the Board of Trade simply cannot do. A number of local authorities and persons claim to have powers to remove material from the seashore under old Acts which are now very difficult of interpretation. I have been given a list of two or three of them—such as the General Turnpike Act, the Highways Act and the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act—which provide that materials may be removed from waste land, whatever that may be. I understand it may be very difficult to decide whether, in fact, the seashore is waste land or not. The Board of Trade have no record, and, as far as I know, no record exists of the powers which are given to local authorities under their local statutes. It would involve examining an enormous mass of Acts on every occasion on which an Order was to be made. Indeed, we have no means of discovering all the Acts of this kind which an Order might repeal or 2258 amend. The next procedure under the Amendment would be that if the Board cannot discover such an Act exists, they can come to the House for the consent of the House. If, on the other hand, we find that there is an Act which the Order would repeal or amend, the Board will then have to advertise again saying that the Order would be laid before the House unless a memorial were presented within 30 days by some person affected by the Order and praying against it. The person praying against the Order may or may not be in possession of statutory powers. It follows, therefore, that a private person who can legitimately claim to be affected by the making of the Order can acquire a right to Provisional Order procedure. He may be a landowner possessing a certain amount of foreshore and he may acquire the right to start the Provisional Order procedure, although the local authority which possessed statutory powers was perfectly content.
Mr. H. G. William
The landowner cannot exercise that power unless he shows that it amends the provisions of any public general or local or private Act. He puts himself out of court at once unless he can do that.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson
Is the Minister taking up the position that such a landowner is presumed to know what are the local Acts and yet the Board of Trade does not know?
§ Mr. Cross
Certainly not. I am only saying that these particular powers might be well known in the neighbourhood. They might be the powers of the local authority and the landowner would be in a position to make use of this purely fortuitous circumstance in order to start the provisional order procedure although the local authority was perfectly content with the Order that had been made by the Board of Trade. We come next to the fact that we shall be involved in this 2259 Provisional Order procedure. It will mean a lot of work for a number of people, but it is extraordinarily expensive, and I find it difficult to believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be willing to countenance it for such a purpose as this. My submission is that on practical grounds there is no need for setting up this cumbersome and expensive machinery. I have listened with great attention to the speeches which hon. Members have made, and it is evident that they feel a genuine anxiety on this matter. I am anxious, from the Board of Trade point of view to go as far as I can to meet them in that feeling, and after consulting my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich I have an alternative suggestion to make to the House. There is an Amendment down in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) in Clause 2, page 5 line 4. If that were accepted, subsection 2 of Clause 2 would read:Nothing in this Act or any order made there under shall take away, diminish, or prejudice any rights, powers, or privileges in relation to conserving, maintaining, or improving the navigation of a tidal water or constructing, improving, repairing, or maintaining a dock, wharf, pier, embankment, or other work conferred by any public, general, or local or private Act on any harbour authority, conservancy authority, or navigation authority.I think that that gives hon. Members all the liberty for which they are asking, and will exempt the authorities for whom they have been speaking from the provisions of this Bill. It eliminates the possibility of interference by means of an Order from the Board of Trade. I would not regard the acceptance of the Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich suggests as an improvement in the Bill, and I should be reluctant to accept it, but, in view of what hon. Members have said, I would from the Board of Trade point of view be prepared to go as far as I have suggested. This is the utmost to which the Board of Trade could agree, and I hope the House will accept it as a compromise.
§ Mr. Foot
I wonder whether the Minister could make his proposal a little clearer. Do we understand that, even if this Amendment is accepted, the power to dispense with the provisions of Acts of Parliament by means of an Order would remain? My hon. Friend the Member for 2260 South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) raised a very much wider question, and the Minister has not really dealt with this objection at all.
§ Mr. Foot
I agree that there are a number of precedents, but the power to override Acts of Parliament by means of Orders is precisely one of those practices which were condemned by the Committee on Ministers' Powers, and have we not been assured many times from the Treasury Bench that the recommendations of that Committee are borne in mind in framing legislation?
§ Mr. Cross
As I have already pointed out, the contingency in which this position may arise is bound to be an extraordinarily rare one, and I said that from the point of view of the Board of Trade I was not prepared to accept the alternative suggestion put forward, which is of such a far-reaching character.
§ 12.47 P.m.
Mr. David Adams
I should not have intervened were I not a member of the Tyne Commission which, while being unanimously in favour of the principles embodied in the Measure, are very fearful of the infringement of their rights. The difficulty is that the word "coast" includesthe banks of any estuary or of any tidal river so far up that river as the tide flows.On many rivers there are important works, power stations and the like, which are carrying out statutory obligations which may be infringed by the passage of this Measure. The Parliamentary Secretary mentions that there is some precedent for the proposals in the Bill for conferring powers upon Board of Trade officials to interfere with and override the provisions in an Act of Parliament, but there is no sound reason why, even if the Board of Trade does possess precedents for such action, that power ought to be continued "in this Measure. We are certainly opposed to any legislation which will confer upon civil servants the power to make Orders which override provisions of an Act of 2261 Parliament. The Parliamentary Secretary has suggested that a certain Amendment might be accepted, but if it were it would still leave dock and harbour authorities and municipal and other authorities in a precarious position in regard to their privileges. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the Amendment standing on the Paper in the names of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and myself and other hon. Members—In "Clause 2, page 5, line 3, to leave out from "privileges" to "conferred," in line 4—The acceptance of that Amendment would meet the case of authorities like that of the Tyne Commission.
With great respect I feel that is not the case. If the Amendment to which I have drawn attention were accepted, sub-section (2) of clause 2 would then read:Nothing in this Act or any order made there under shall take away, diminish, or prejudice any rights, powers, or privileges conferred by any public, general, or local or private Act on any harbour authority, conservancy, authority, or navigation authority.That would leave these authorities in the full enjoyment of the statutory powers which they have at the present time.
I cannot say offhand whether that be so or not, but certainly their rights and privileges would unquestionably be abundantly safeguarded by the Amendment I have suggested, and it has the backing of harbour and conservancy authorities. Unless our Amendment is accepted we must oppose the Amendment which is suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary. We are very anxious to give all support to this Measure. The principle of it is an admirable one, and it is conceived in the public interest, but, at the same time, the Board of Trade surely cannot desire that powers should be placed in the hands of their officials to interfere with the statutory 2262 powers at present enjoyed by harbour and dock authorities. So far as the Port of Newcastle is concerned powers extend over an area of 19 miles, and the statutory authority, the Tyne Commission, is an unpaid body of persons well skilled in all aspects of trade and navigation and of municipal procedure. For these reasons it seems to me that the House ought to insist that there shall not be any new infringement of the rights of statutory authorities by the provisions embodied in this Measure.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Annesley Somerville
The Parliamentary Secretary has tried to meet the Promoter's amendment, but he has not met the constitutional point which we are really discussing, and that is our objection to a local authority which has obtained an Act of Parliament, perhaps at great trouble and expense, being deprived of the right, if that Act is to be amended, of going upstairs before a Select Committee, where the proposal can be examined, where counsel can be employed and all the details can be gone into. In place of that procedure the Bill proposes a completely new constitutional practice —that such an Act should be amended by means of an Order lying on the Table of the House for a certain number of days and being approved by means of a Resolution. We all know how that procedure works. Such a Resolution may be passed late at night, when only a very few Members who know anything about the matter are in the House. It is not a mere matter of hair-splitting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) said, nor are we exaggerating a small point; on the contrary, it is an extremely important point.
As to the Bill itself, I think the House is thoroughly in favour of it. It is a good Bill and we congratulate the promoter, and I hope that it will get its Third Reading; but I cannot see why he should not accept these Amendments. In order to avoid accepting them he has practically weakened his Bill by moving an Amendment to leave out words which ought to be there. Why cannot he accept the Amendment? It would improve his Bill and he would avoid the discredit of taking away from local authorities a statutory right which they already enjoy. I cannot help saying that in this attempt to amend an Act prac- 2263 tically by Departmental action there is a slight touch of what has come to be known as the new despotism, and I would, therefore, suggest to the promoter that it would be much wiser of him to accept the Amendment and to let the Bill go to another place.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gibson
I am in agreement with hon. Members who have welcomed the Bill. This is a United Kingdom Bill, and I think it is unfortunate that its promoters did not see fit to allow Scottish Members to back it, as we might have been of assistance. As to my own con-
Amendment made: In page 2, line 38, at the end, insert:
(6) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section an order made there under which amends or repeals a provision in a public, general, or local or private Act shall if opposed be provisional only and shall not have effect until confirmed by Parliament and the provisions contained in paragraphs 7 to 9 of the First Schedule to this Act shall have effect with respect to such order.
§ stituency. I am not quite sure whether the coast-line at Greenock comes within the definition contained in the Bill, or whether it is merely one which has been formed by tidal rivers. At Greenock we have an authority with statutory powers. The views which were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) coincide so fairly with my own that I do not desire to add anything to them.
§ Question put, "That the word 'excavation' stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 61; Noes, 512263
|Division No. 94.]||AYES.||[12.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Gibson, R. (Gr[...]ck)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Apsley, Lord||Goldie, N. B.||Ridley, G.|
|Aske Sir R W.||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Grenfell, D. R.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Bevan, A.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Hardie, Agnes||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Silkin, L.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Keeling, E. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Chater, D.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S (E. Grinstead)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cocks, F. S.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Stephen, C.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Walkden, A. G.|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Magnay, T.||White, H. Graham|
|Daggar, G.||Maitland, Sir Adam||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Mathers, G.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Denville, Alfred||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)|
|Foot, D. M.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Mr. Ede and Mr. Herbert Williams.|
|Gardner, B. w.||Parker, J.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Poole, C. C.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hulbert, Squadron-Leader N. J.||Ritson, J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Bull, B. B.||Lipson, D. L.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Loftus, P. C.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Less- (K'ly)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cox, H. B. Trevor||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||McGhee, H. G.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Cross, R. H.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Markham, S. F.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Montague, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Emery, J. F.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Grimston, R. V.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Road, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Mr. Holmes and Colonel Sir George Courthope.|
§ Provided that this subsection shall not apply to an interim order made under the proviso to subsection (1) of this section."— [Mr. H. G. Williams.]
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I beg to move, in page 2, line 40, after "may," to insert:subject to compliance with the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of the First Schedule to this Act.2265 The Bill provides that where a prohibition is put on the removal of sand or shingle the Board of Trade may give a licence to someone else to remove it, and my only object in moving this Amendment is to make sure that a statutory authority which up to that time had possessed this right will not be deprived of it by virtue of the fact that the Board of Trade has given it away to somebody else.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Cross
My hon. and gallant Friend appears to be afraid that it might be possible for the Board of Trade to give licences for the removal of large quantities of material from the seashore, but that is certainly not the intention of the Department. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that all that we have in mind in connection with these licences is to permit the removal of limited quantities of material in exceptional cases, for example, for the construction and repair of sea defence works or the repair of railway embankments adjacent to the site from which the material is removed, where there would be no risk of erosion as the result of the removal.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The following Amendments stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. Foot:
§ In page 4, line 8, leave out "or objected to the order being made."
In line 12, at the end, insert:
Provided that the amount so certified shall in no case exceed fifty pounds.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I think that, if the House agrees, that might be done, subject to the possibility that I may feel it necessary to make some remark about the second Amendment.
§ Mr. Foot
I beg to move, in page 4, line 8, to leave out "or objected to the order being made."
2266 Subject to what you have just said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I should like to say a few words about both Amendments. I think that, before the Bill is passed, something ought to be said about this particular Sub-section dealing with the costs of the inquiry.' The House will see that, when the inquiry is held, the Board may order costs to be paid by any person who has applied for an Order or who has objected to the making of an order. The question arises, who applies for the Order? I can find nothing in the Bill about applying for an Order; there is no machinery for, so to speak, setting the Board of Trade in motion. The responsibility for holding an inquiry is the responsibility of the Board of Trade. Of course it is true that many people may wish the Board of Trade to exercise its powers. Some member of the public might be anxious that a particular strip of coast should be preserved from spoliation, and may communicate with the Board of Trade and ask them to exercise their powers and hold an inquiry. Would such a person be subject to costs? Strictly speaking, he would be the person applying for the Order, but no machinery is laid down. A person like that, who simply wanted to protect the rights of the public in the area concerned, might fine himself mulcted in very heavy costs.
Then there are the persons who want to oppose an Order. It is not likely that an ordinary private citizen would appear for that purpose, but there might be someone whose custom it had been to take sand from the seashore, as is done sometimes by people in a very small way of business. During the discussions in the House some time ago on the Agriculture Bill, it was pointed out by Members from Cornish constituencies that sand and certain other material was taken from the seashore in Cornwall by farmers and small-holders in that county, and it is conceivable that that practice might be struck at by the present Bill. People like that, without any very considerable means, might well wish to come before a public inquiry held by the Board of Trade and enter their objection, and thereafter they might find themselves saddled with a burden of costs which they could ill afford to bear. It seems to me that, particularly in the case of the objector, there should not be this unlimited power to saddle him with a burden, but that, if there is to be power to impose 2267 costs on anybody who has been a party at all to the inquiry, there ought to be some limit.
I know I shall be told that there is a precedent, and it is. true that there is a form of words something like this in the Local Government Act, 1933, where the appropriate Department has the power to impose costs on people who appear at inquiries under the Act. But that Act deals with very different circumstances. One of the parties represented at the public inquiry is almost always a local authority, and, as a rule, inquiries in which local authorities are concerned are likely to take the form of an issue between the local authority and somebody else. An instance which will be fresh in the recollection of the House is the inquiry held under that Act into the typhoid outbreak at Croydon. At that inquiry the Corporation were represented, and also a body of citizens who wished to attack he conduct of the Corporation, and, although there was not an issue between the parties in the sense of an issue in a court of law, the two sides were nevertheless represented.
The inquiry under the present Bill is not of that type. As I have said, all kinds of people may be interested. There may be people who want an Order made, and who may be said to have made some application, or, on the other hand, there may be people who object to the making of an Order. It seems to me that this is a case in which unlimited power ought not to be given to lay upon people who may not be able to afford it a very heavy sum by way of costs. An inquiry of this kind may last for a number of days, and the expense may be considerable. As far as I know, this point has not been considered before during the proceedings on the Bill. I do not think I am taking my hon. Friend by surprise, because I told him some days ago that I intended to raise this question. I hope he will consider the matter, and go some way to meet my point.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Holmes
My hon. Friend raised the point that there might be someone living on the coast who was anxious that the 2268 Board of Trade should inquire whether there was coast erosion or sea flooding being caused by the removal of materials. Such a person would merely report to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade would consider the matter, and then, under the First Schedule to the Bill, might order an inquiry. It would only be people who objected to the Order and who were responsible for the inquiry who would be liable for costs.
§ Mr. Holmes
There is no need for anybody to apply for an Order. The Board of Trade themselves may make one.
§ Mr. Holmes
If I may deal with the particular point the hon. Gentleman has made, as to preventing anybody who objects to an Order having to pay his share of the costs, may I suggest that that would enable anyone to make a most frivolous objection and cause an inquiry to be held at the expense of the Board of Trade and other people, while the person who made the objection would be allowed to go scot-free in respect of any liability for the costs involved. There should surely be some responsibility on the person who objects to an Order and causes an inquiry to be held, that if it is found that the objection is a frivolous one, he should be called upon to pay something of the costs. The hon. Gentleman wants him never to be liable in any circumstances for any of the costs.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) considers that these two Amendments necessarily go together. I am not satisfied at the moment that the second Amendment is not out of Order. I would like to hear him a little further 2269 on that so that we may get the advantage of hearing the opinion of the Board of Trade. The hon. Member ought to know that before he proceeds further.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Because, if the second Amendment were carried, it appears to me that it would, at least, create the possibility of debarring the Government from recovering certain costs which have been incurred from certain private individuals, and the result would be that those costs would be thrown on the National Exchequer.
§ Mr. Foot
I submit that you have no concern, Sir, with the objection that may be taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I submit that we are entitled to reduce the burden which may be placed in hypothetical circumstances upon somebody. I am not proposing to cast any fresh burdens on the National Exchequer. Under this Clause, if passed in its present form, it may well be that the whole burden of costs will fall upon the Board of Trade. If the Board so choose they may impose a part of that burden on the persons who may appear at the inquiry. What I am proposing here is not to cast any fresh burden, which is not here contemplated, on the Board of Trade, but simply to reduce the possible burdens which may be imposed on other persons or other interests appearing at the inquiry.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I quite follow the hon. Member's argument so far, but what he has not dealt with is the position which I thought I had put just now. The Board of Trade incur certain costs, which they are entitled to recover from certain private individuals. If the hon. Member moves an Amendment to prevent the Board of Trade having that right to recover those costs or expenses, it necessarily throws those costs or expenses on 2270 the National Exchequer. On those grounds, I think it must be taken to be out of order.
§ Mr. Foot
I submit that, under the wording of this Clause, it is within the discretion of the Board of Trade whether they make an order imposing costs on any person or any concern that appears at the inquiry. Therefore, it is conceivable, as the Clause now stands, that the whole burden might, in any case, fall on the national Exchequer. In those circumstances, where it is left to the discretion of the Government Department, I would respectfully submit that it is in order to move an Amendment limiting the liability that may fall on individual citizens.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid the hon. Member is wrong. It is sufficient to put the Amendment out of Order if the Amendment would create a possibility—it is not necessary for it to be a certainty—of causing a charge on the Exchequer. Suppose the Board of Trade hold an inquiry, as a result of which they consider, in the ordinary exercise of their powers and discretion, that the expenses are properly recoverable from certain individuals. They can make an Order accordingly. Those costs might be, say, £500. The Board of Trade would be entitled to recover them. The hon. Member's Amendment would mean that they could not recover more' than £50 of those expenses. The other £450 would be thrown on the national Exchequer.
§ Mr. Foot
May I put this to you. Sir? Here is a Clause which contemplates the imposing of certain burdens on subjects of the Crown. This Bill has been upstairs to the Standing Committee, and this is the first opportunity that this House has had to deal with this Clause and with the burden which it is proposed to cast upon citizens in certain cases. It would be a very extraordinary position if this House were to be powerless, as a House, to reduce or limit that burden in any way. That would be an inevitable consequence, I submit, if the view which you are inclined to take is correct.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not understand that the individuals for whom the hon. Member is so anxious are under any compulsion to take any active steps. It is entirely a matter for their own decision.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not think that that affects the submission which I am making. I said that, in certain circumstances, for whatever reason they take part in the inquiry, the burden may be cast upon them. If we are not in order in moving Amendments of this kind, it means that this House as a House has no opportunity at all of examining what these burdens should be, or whether they should be limited in any way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member still has not answered my point. The House is not laying these burdens upon these individuals at all. If individuals incur these burdens, they do it of their own free will and not under any compulsion under this Bill.
§ Mr. R. Gibson
May I point out that the Board of Trade has a double discretion. Under Clause I (I) the Board of Trade may make an Order. There is a discretion there, and in the exercise of that discretion there may be gross blunders. An inquiry takes place as a result of the exercise of that discretion, and then an Order may be objected to, and a further inquiry held and costs may be incurred. Under Sub-section (II) of the Clause there is a further discretion to the Board of Trade with regard to making an Order for costs. At that point, does it not seem rather extraordinary that the Board of Trade is made judge in its own cause, because these very costs may result from the wrongful or bad exercise of the initial discretion in making an Order at all? As the result of the inquiry, it might appear that the person who was applying for the Order had really no grounds for applying for it. Accordingly the cost of the inquiry might be due to something for which the Board of Trade was properly responsible. The Board of Trade can then exercise this second discretion in the making of an Order for costs. Accordingly, I submit that this House should not be deprived of the power to put a bridle on the discretion of the Board of Trade initially in making an Order by putting on the limit, which the hon. Gentleman suggests, as to the amount of costs that might be recoverable in the court.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and learned Gentleman has naturally put his point very clearly and lucidly, but it does not apply to this question at all. If the 2272 hon. and learned Member wants to deal with the question of the Board of Trade being judge in its own cause, that is entirely another matter, but I do not see that his argument in the least degree alters the position on which I propose to rule, namely, that, if the Board of Trade has the right to recover certain expenses, to limit their power of recovering these expenses necessarily involves a charge on the national Exchequer.
§ Mr. Foot
May I ask for your guidance a little further, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? This is not a Bill governed by a Money Resolution, and there is nothing inconsistent in this respect in the Amendment I am now proposing. Is not this rather analogous to the provision which is made in some Measures whereby Government Departments are desired to pay costs?
§ Mr. Foot
With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you may remember—I think it was in 1922 or 1923—that a Bill was brought into this House by the Government of the day setting up a tribunal to inquire into the cases of certain persons who had been deported to the Irish Free State, and, as it had been held, wrongly deported. I remember that in that case it was provided that the damages awarded by the tribunal should be paid by one of the Government Departments, and also that costs should be paid. In that case the question was raised as to whether a Money Resolution was not needed to authorise the payment by the Government Department of damages and costs. I am speaking from recollection— I did not know that this point was to be raised—but I think that I am right in saying that Mr. Speaker at that time ruled that no Money Resolution was necessary because it was a question of the Department paying out damages or costs. This, also, is a question of how costs are to be apportioned.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think the point of the way in which I can distinguish that precedent is that it was a case of damages, and the costs would merely be an incident connected with the damages. That is totally different from the present position. I would say to the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway that I am clear in my mind, 2273 although it is a new point to me, that the second Amendment would be calculated to throw a burden upon the Exchequer in all cases where the costs otherwise recoverable exceeded £50, and, therefore, I am afraid that I must rule it out of order.
§ Mr. Foot
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will not pursue the matter further, but may I put this question to you? Here we have a proposal in certain circumstances to impose a charge upon certain people. When a Bill like this has been upstairs before Standing Committee, at what stage can the House deal with this proposal, and what steps can the House take to limit the charge that can be made on these persons?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Now, I am afraid, the lion. Member is asking me a hypothetical question with which I am not called upon to deal at the moment, because it does not arise here.
§ Mr. R. Gibson
May I draw your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the first four words at the top of page 4 of the Bill:whole or any part of the costs incurred by the Board in relation to such inquiry.The Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman rather qualifies that part, because the Board of Trade has again the discretion to order the payment of not only the whole of the costs, but part of the costs, and would it not appear that the part of the costs not so ordered would have to be borne by the Treasury?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and learned Member is pursuing the argument he put before. May I take it that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) does not desire to proceed with his first Amendment?
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Cross
The hon. Member may not be aware that in the original draft of the Bill there were no provisions such as there are at present in this Clause. The original draft was, I understand, accord- 2274 ing to the general practice that the cost should fall on one or both of the parties, in the discretion of the Government Department, and not upon the Government Department itself. That original draft would have been in accordance with the normal policy as expressed in public Acts going back as far as the Board of Trade (Arbitration) Act, 1874. There are other precedents in public Acts, such as the Public Health Act, 1875, the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889, and the Fees (Increases) Act, 1923. The Bill was amended in Committee in order to provide that the Board of Trade may bear part or whole of the cost for the purpose of eliminating cases of hardship. I think that is the utmost concession that the Board of Trade can be expected to make, and it is the very most that I can expect to get in the shape of concession from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We ought to envisage the position that the parties will come forward as applicants or as objectors, and they must be dealt with on their merits. It may be that some local authority will come forward and make an application to the Board of Trade that an Order should be made. In a case of that kind there seems to be no proper reason why the whole of the cost should be borne by the Board of Trade, or any substantial part of it. Such an authority might be desirous, for its own interests, of preventing shingle being removed from a vicinity in respect of which it has responsibility for coast defence. Again, an objector to such an Order being made might be somebody who has a big commercial interest in removing shingle. I think most of us would not consider that to be a proper ground for objecting, and there it would seem proper that the objector should be called upon to pay, at any rate, part of the cost of the inquiry.
On the other hand, you may have the case of a small landowner, who is not a person of any great substance or means, whose property is being endangered by virtue of the fact that somebody is removing from the beach material which is a buffer for his property, and he may make application. That is the sort of person the Board of Trade ought to help by paying a substantial part, 2275 if not the whole, of the cost of the application. Again, we may have the case of an objector to an order being made, who objects to the application possibly on engineering or some other reasons. He may be a person of very small means. In a case of that kind it seems to be reasonable to pay that objector's expenses. The Clause has been drafted in order that the discretion of the Board of Trade may be exercised and we may meet certain expenses.
§ Amendment negatived.