HC Deb 04 April 1940 vol 359 cc425-30

Considered in Committee.

[Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]

CLAUSE 1.—(Power of appropriate Minister to extend time.)

8.29 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bernays)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, at the end, to add: Provided that this Act shall not apply to a duty or power imposed or conferred by an Act passed, or an Order made, after the passing of this Act, unless the contrary intention appears in that Act or Order. This Amendment is moved solely for the purpose of clarity. It is intended to make it clear that Parliament is not being asked to enable these orders to vary duties or powers fixed in some future Statute, unless Parliament gives that power in the Statute itself. This was, of course, the intention of the Bill as originally presented, but some doubts have been cast upon it, and in order to make the position abundantly clear, I move this Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

8.31 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I am pleased to see that we have in charge of this Bill to-night a Minister who still holds the same office as that which he held last night and that there is, therefore, some possibility of continuity of policy in relation to this matter. I wish to put one question regarding the administration of this Clause. The Minister will recollect that on the Second Reading several of my hon. Friends and I raised the question of the length of time for which these postponing orders will be granted. There was a strong desire on this side, shared, I understood, by the hon. Gentleman himself, that this Clause should not be used in such a way as to hinder public works being put into operation should the war end, and should it become necessary, in order to provide employment, that certain works postponed under this enactment be put into operation immediately. I hope, therefore, we may have an assurance that consideration will be given to the time for which an Order will be granted and that it will not be insisted upon that an Order must, automatically, be made for three years.

I would also like to ask the question regarding Sub-section (3, b). I understand there are one or two cases in which a commencement has been made with the exercise of purchase rights by local authorities of electricity undertakings. I understand that in the case of High Wycombe, for instance, the local authority has gone some considerable distance with the negotiations and that during the past fortnight a resolution, which would have been effective in ordinary circumstances, has been passed, so that normally the electricity undertaking would have been purchased. In those cases—in which, I think, all the negotiations were concluded before the outbreak of war—are those purchase rights to be exercised or will difficulties be raised, and if difficulties do arise, will they be met under this Sub-section?

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Bernays

On the first point raised by the hon. Gentleman I can, most willingly, give him the assurance for which he asks. The three years period is a maximum, and, of course, it will be possible to apply this for a less period than three years. As to his second question, I am not familiar with the details of the High Wycombe case and the other cases to which he has referred, but I shall certainly make inquiries and let him know what the position is in regard to that matter.

CLAUSE 2.—(Provisions as to applications and orders for extension.)

8.35 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward (Kingston-upon-Hull, North-West)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 26, at the end to insert: Provided that if that time expired or that date fell on or after the twenty-first day of February, nineteen hundred and forty, such an application may be made within three months from the passing of this Act. As I understand that the Minister is taking the rather unusual course as far as my Amendments are concerned and is viewing this one in a sympathetic light, I think there is no need to take up the time of the Committee with any lengthy explanation. However, a few words as to the reason why this Amendment was put down will not be altogether out of place. It will be seen that under Clause 2 an application for an order under this Act must be made before the expiration of the time within which, or the date at which, the duty to which the application relates is to be discharged, or. In certain cases, owing to unsettled conditions prevailing since the war, this has not been done, and the object of the Amendment is to ensure that cases where this time limit expired after the introduction of the Bill should not be treated differently from cases where the time limit expired after the Bill became law. In fact, certain local bodies were uncertain what their position would be, and the long delay in introducing this legislation has not helped them.

The necessity for the proviso is that various authorities were informed that the Government were proposing to introduce a Bill on the lines of the legislation of the last war, and were, I think, entitled to assume that it would have been passed into law before this. So far as I know, there are not many cases to which the proviso would apply, but an example would be the case of Great Yarmouth. There the corporation obtained from the Ministry of Health a Compulsory Purchase Order dated 23rd March, 1937, enabling the corporation to acquire compulsorily certain lands for the purposes of Part III of the Housing Act, 1936. The Order incorporates the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts, and under those Acts the notices to treat have to be served within three years after the date upon which the powers are conferred, so that the time expired on the 22nd of last month.

Owing, I understand, to the unsettled conditions in recent times, the notices to treat were not served, and the corporation hope, therefore, that the Bill may be made retrospective so as to enable the Minister in his discretion to make an Order extending the time for the service of the notices. It is to safeguard municipal corporations which are in this position that this Amendment is moved.

8.40 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

In general, we all, I think, dislike retrospective legislation, but the purpose of this Amendment, as it now stands, is very different from the one originally tabled by my hon. and gallant Friend. It is retrospective only to a very small extent. I think the Prime Minister, speaking elsewhere, said that somebody had missed the bus, and this Amendment is to enable those who have missed the bus to have a new service put on. If only these people had exercised their powers in proper time there would be no need for the Amendment. When it was originally proposed to restore to the people who have not done their job properly in time between 1st September and the passing of this Act, I think it was going too far; but this Amendment takes as a starting date the date of the introduction of the Bill in another place. The introduction of a Bill is, I think, an appropriate form of notice, and to be retrospective up to that date is the best way of doing it. It is, however, always important to place on record the dislike we have of retrospective legislation; but for the special reason which has been explained, I do not think there will be any objection to this Amendment.

8.41 p.m.

Major Milner

I also agree with the hon. Gentleman in his dislike of retrospective legislation, but in this case we must always bear in mind that we are in war time, and that in many respects many of our people, and some of our corporations, seem to forget it. Here, in this case, as has been indicated, the date on which application must be made is within three months from the date of the introduction of the Bill. As I understand is the case with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I, too, speak on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, representing the whole of the municipal corporations of the country. The matter is an extremely important one, and it is hoped that these authorities will take advantage of the facilities offered by this Amendment and make application in due time.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. Bernays

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) that the House does not like retrospective legislation, and that there has to be a case for it. Clearly, I think, there is a case here, because various authorities were informed last October that the Government were considering legislation on the lines of the 1915 Act, and they had reasonable grounds for expecting that the powers contained in this Bill would be available in regard to the powers that lapsed in March, 1940. For this reason I ask the Committee to accept the Amendment.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Ede

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether there are any such powers in Ordinances granted by the Ministry which are excluded from being renewed by the fact that this power can only date from the introduction of the Bill? The hon. Gentleman indicated that the conversations took place in October and that in the period between October and February there might have been cases where these powers had lapsed. Certainly in the case of the purchase rights of electricity undertakings they are not exercisable generally on 31st March, but on any day in the month on which the lease happens to be signed.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Bernays

I have made inquiries on that point and neither my own Department, nor the Ministry of Health, knows of such a case.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bernays

I beg to move, in page 2, line 41, at the end, to insert: The provisions of Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section two hundred and ninety of the Local Government Act, 1933, shall apply to an inquiry held under this Sub-section as they apply to inquiries held under that Section, as if for references therein to a department there were substituted references to the appropriate Minister. These words were in the Bill as originally introduced in another place but were taken out on Third Reading on a question of privilege. I beg to move that they now be inserted.

Amendment agreed to.

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

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 4.—(Application to Scotland.)

Amendment made: In page 4, line 26, at the end, insert: (b) Sub-section (3) of Section two shall have effect as if Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section two hundred and ninety of the Local Government Act, 1933, applied to Scotland with the substitution of references to an order for references to a summons and the omission of the word 'summarily,' in Sub-section (4) and of the words from 'and every such order,' in Sub-section (5) to the end of the Sub-section."—[Mr. Bernays.]

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

CLAUSE 5.—(Application to Northern Ireland.)

Amendment made: In page 4, line 41, at the end, insert: (2) In the application of this Act to Northern Ireland Sub-section (3) of Section two shall have effect as if Sub-sections (2) to (5) of Section two hundred and ninety of the Local Government Act, 1933, applied to Northern Ireland."—[Mr. Bernays.]

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

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Tuesday next.