HC Deb 05 October 1944 vol 403 cc1163-73
Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)

I beg to move, in page 19, line 6, to leave out "twenty-one days," and insert "six weeks."

We consider that this period of 21 days is really quite inadequate—

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

On a point of Order. May I ask whether it would be convenient to consider at same time the Amendment standing in my name—in page 19, line 6, leave out "twenty-one days," and insert "three months"?

The Chairman

That would be convenient.

12.15 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

As I was saying, the reason for moving this Amendment is that we do not consider that 21 days gives adequate time in which to appeal against the validity of an order. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, the period was six weeks, and I would most respectfully put forward the idea that that is the very minimum period which should be allowed. There is no need to mention the large numbers of people who will be affected by these orders. Many of them may not be in a position to object to the validity of an order before the expiry of the permitted time; perhaps their attention will not even have been drawn to the particular order; and I cannot see why my right hon. Friend should not be prepared to accept this reasonable Amendment to extend the time from 21 days to six weeks.

Dr. Russell Thomas

I do not want to go over the ground which has already been covered by my hon. and gallant Friend, but I do not think that six weeks is quite long enough. Three months ought to be the period during which an appeal can be made against an order of the Minister. Certain of my hon. Friends opposite seem to think that some of us are endeavouring to delay action on the part of the local authorities, but that is not the case, and I do want to make my own position clear. When certain Amendments are discussed we are told by many hon. Members that it is imperative for the local authorities to get on with the job of rehousing, but when other Amendments are put down the same hon. Members tell us that the local authorities must not have two years, as some of my hon. Friends have suggested, but have three, four or five years in which to prepare their plans. With so many conflicting opinions expressed around me I do not really know where I am; it is difficult to ascertain the trend of thought in the Committee—it appears so conflicting. I do not think that three months would be an excessive period. This is a point which I am putting forward with deep sincerity because many people whose interests may be seriously affected (by the Bill are away fighting in different corners of our far-flung Empire. I know of someone serving in India, and it would be impossible for his legal advisers to prepare a case in the period allowed. Six weeks is not quite long enough, and I suggest that the three months would he more appropriate. Another point I would make is that not many people are likely to appeal to the Court against the orders. In any particular town where the local authority put forward a scheme probably very few people would actually appeal. Therefore, I ask the Minister to look favourably upon my Amendment, and in all fairness to those who may be away and unable to look after their affairs, to extend the time as much as possible.

Mr. Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh, North)

I have looked at this Amendment with great care. I know that the hon. and gallant Member who moved it does not want to cause undue delay and I think the Committee will agree that there should not be undue delay. On the other hand, it is absolutely essential to protect those whose lands or buildings are to be taken over. I would ask the Minister to consider introducing the period of 28 days, which I think would allow a reasonable time to an owner of property while not unduly delaying matters. I do not know. Major Milner, whether you will call an Amendment on a subsequent Clause to put in a proviso. If that were accepted it would meet every reasonable abjection on the part at owners of land. I want to make it clear that this Committee ought not to countenance anything that would cause unreasonable delay, but must at the same time protect the interests of those whose property is being taken over.

Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and Stirling, Eastern)

May I again appeal to the Minister to watch all these little twigs, which may grow into a hedge through which he will not be able to break in his efforts to get work done under this Measure? I shall not question the intentions of hon. Members who want to put in every protection for the individual, but this is an urgent matter, and if all these barriers are raised, which in a cumulative form will render the Bill unworkable, those who are responsible for the erection of those barriers will bear a heavy responsibility if work does not go forward under the Measure. The case of soldiers has been introduced. Men will be coming back who will want homes, others who will wish to establish their lives in new towns, and anything that delays them will not be excused on the ground that some individual is being protected at the expense of the interests of the great majority of the people

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

We must not overlook the fact that this Clause deals with all compulsory acquisitions of land under the earlier Clauses of the Bill. I think there is a strong case for allowing the shortest possible period in respect of applications and orders under Clauses 1, 2 and 9, but the position is quite different in the case of an application or order under any other Clauses of the Bill where the normal procedure is operated. I would support what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) that in the case of applications under Clause 1 and Clause 2 the period should be short, but I do not think 21 days is quite long enough for these other Orders, and I would like to see it extended by seven days, which is not much longer but would allow an individual rather more time in which to consider his decision and would avoid a number of applications being made to the High Court. If the period is too short owners will be apt to go to the High Court to preserve their positions within the 21 days. The extra week will help to avoid frivolous appeals. With regard to other orders, I can see no reason why the period of six weeks specified in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, should be cut down, and if the Minister cannot accept this Amendment I hope that he will, before Report stage, at least consider granting different periods for the very different classes of orders to which I have referred.

Mr. Rostron Duckworth (Manchester, Moss Side)

May I point out that in many cases it would be absolutely impossible to establish contact with an owner, particularly if he is overseas? In one instance with which I am acquainted the representatives of an owner tried to get into contact with him and found that he was in India, and there must be many cases of that kind. Therefore, I agree with the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas).

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

Those who are supporting this Amendment are assuming that owners will learn of a compulsory purchase order for the first time when the order is made, but, in fact, two advertisements will have been published previously and generally there will have been a public inquiry. The only matter upon which an owner has to make up his mind is whether the order goes beyond the powers conferred upon the Minister, and I should have thought that was a matter on which any owner could decide within 21 days.

Dr. Russell Thomas

The hon. Member speaks of two advertisements and a public inquiry, but supposing the owner is abroad and a very long distance from this country, how is he to know of it then?

Mr. Silkin

One presumes that an owner who is going abroad makes some arrangements and does not leave his property to be dealt with by just anyone who comes along. I should think that once this Bill becomes law any prudent owner would leave his affairs in capable hands.

Mr. Erskine-Hill

I am anxious to get this point clear: as far as the Bill is concerned, is there any reason why the owner of land which is to be taken over should receive more than the 21 days in the Bill?

Mr. Silkin

I see no reason why he should not be able to make up his mind in 21 days. If we are trying to cater for an owner who may be 10,000 miles away, then even six weeks is not enough, we should give him six months.

Dr. Russell Thomas

I have asked for three months.

Mr. Silkin

I should not quarrel with my hon. and learned Friend over whether the period should be 21 or 28 days. What disturbs me is that all these little additions, taken cumulatively, will be causing a great deal of delay. Seven days is neither here nor there, and if my hon. and learned Friend will promise not to ask for any more extensions of time I should not object to giving him the seven days in full and final settlement; but I am worried about the cumulative effect of these Amendments, which will mean in the end a great deal of delay in dealing with what will be an urgent problem.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I indicate the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Minister to this question. The Committee will agree, I feel, that the interval should be a fairly short one, and the question really ranges between 21 days and three months. There is a precedent for 21 days in the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930, where, no doubt, considerations of urgency also arose. I agree with my hon. Friends who say that of course we must scrutinise this matter. There is great force in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) that the order is not something which will appear completely "out of the blue." In the case of a Clause 1 order, under Sub-section (5) of that Clause, there has to be publication by advertisements locally and in the "Gazette" of the intention to make the order. An undertaking was given by my right hon. Friend yesterday or the day before about having some general preliminary notice that the local authority were proposing to submit an application; When we come to the compulsory purchase orders there, again, there is a publication of notice of the submission of the order by advertisements in the local Press and in the "Gazette." That is before all the various steps which have to be taken before the order is finally made, and these may involve public inquiries or other inquiries and give time for objection. Clause 13 will, in any event, only operate on a Clause 12 order, and there will be, therefore, very considerable notice to those interested and whose property is affected before the order is actually made. My right hon. Friend is quite prepared to accept an extension, which was thought reasonable in certain quarters on both sides of the Committee, from 21 to 28 days, and with that undertaking I hope perhaps this question may not be pressed further.

Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)

While I appreciate very much the compromise which has been suggested, I would point out that on the earlier Town and Country Planning Bill which provided for six weeks' notice in similar circumstances this point was very well threshed out in the Committee on that Bill. I see present many hon. Members who were Members of that Committee. Six weeks was the time suggested, and I would submit that in this case six weeks would be an adequate time. Many defects in communications are coming to the notice of people, and that will be so for some time when the war is over.

12.30 p.m.

The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

I hope the Committee will make up its mind in this matter and pass on to other business, because the Town and Country Planning Bill is regarded as urgent, and the position is entirely different from what it was in 1932.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

In view of that urgency, I do not wish to stand out, but before I withdraw my Amendment, I do want to impress upon the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) that his suggestion that we are trying, by nibbling, to destroy this Bill is entirely without foundation. All we are anxious to do is to avoid, wherever possible, hardship being inflicted which will not vitally affect good planning.

Mr. Silkin

I did not go as far as to say that.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

I am very pleased to hear that my hon. Friend did not intend to say that. I want to thank my right hon. Friend for his consideration, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman

If the Committee agree I suggest that the next Amendment and the next but one might be discussed together.

Colonel Sir George Courthope (Rye)

I beg to move, in page 19, line 25, at end, to insert: Provided that failure to make application to the court within the period specified in this Sub-section shall not be a bar to the maintenance of proceedings if it is found that the failure was occasioned by mistake, absence from the United Kingdom or other reasonable cause. The persons concerned in this Amendment are persons serving overseas. There must be many who have great difficulty in keeping in touch with advertisements in local newspapers. I do not want to plead for a longer time for application in general cases, but I do want, if possible, to preserve the right of action, where such action is not practicable within a shorter time, to those persons who, through public*service, are out of touch with what is happening at home. I do not think that right could be safeguarded by the provision of 21 or 28 days, or by three or even six months. I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider that a proviso of this kind will be a reasonable safeguard for those absent on public service, without in any way delaying or interfering with the general working of the Bill.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)

May I add my plea to that of the mover of the Amendment? To my personal knowledge, it will affect two soldiers, an officer and a sergeant-major, serving in Egypt. The 21 or 28 days give a short enough time at all events, to carry out what is necessary. We now seek, in consequence of that, and in addition to the concession of 28 days, to have this proviso as well, so as to make quite certain that those who are in impossible circumstances through being too far away, shall be fairly treated and have their objections considered. As hon. Members who are interested in the Workmen's Compensation Act know, this proviso is actually in line with the proviso in that Act. It is not a new precedent. As regards the second Amendment which has been put down, it is quite possible in this case that a mistake may cause commitments which would make a person liable for damage for breaking a contract. Even if a person wins his appeal, he is still liable.

Mr. Silkin

If this Amendment were carried it would extend the period indefinitely; an appeal could even be made within 28 years after the order had been made. I am certain that my right hon. and gallant Friend would not wish that to be done, because, by that time, the property might have been altered out of all recognition. He is not only opening the door as regards time, but also as regards people who might, by mistake or absence, not have made an appeal. Anyone can make a mistake, and the number of people who do make mistakes is very large indeed. If all people who make mistakes are allowed to get outside the terms of the 28 days, we may get a very large number of people absent from the United Kingdom making an appeal at any time. That would open the door exceedingly wide. I hope, on reflection, the right hon. and gallant Member will realise that this would open the door very much wider than was ever contemplated. Indeed, if one admits exceptions at all, I cannot see where it is possible to draw the line. I hope it will be recognised that a reasonable compromise has been made in the period of 28 days.

Mr. Lewis (Colchester)

I understood you to say, Major Milner, that the later Amendment in the name of the right hon. and gallant Member—in page 19, line 31, at end, insert: but nothing in this Sub-section shall prejudice or affect the right of any person aggrieved by any order or certificate referred to in Subsection (1) of this Section to recover damages in respect of any loss or injury suffered by him consequent upon the same or any provision contained therein being deemed to be invalid on any of the grounds mentioned in that Subsection. was to be discussed at the same time as the Amendment which has been moved. That being the case, if the right hon. and gallant Member later seeks to move the subsequent Amendment we would not be allowed a separate discussion on it. I do not know whether the right hon. and gallant Member appreciated that fact when he moved his Amendment, and I was surprised that he said nothing about his later Amendment. It seems to me to be one that raises a point of great importance. Its purpose, in fact, is that private individuals should not be debarred from the right of action where an illegal act has been committed by a servant of the Crown. I hope the Committee will insist upon such words being inserted in the Bill, so as to make it perfectly clear that it is our wish that if the Minister commits an illegal act anyone who suffers from such act may, at any time, bring an action, and if he can say that he has suffered damage from such illegal act that he will be compensated. That is of very great importance.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I am sorry to find myself in disagreement with my right hon. and gallant Friend opposite and others with whom I see eye to eye on many aspects of this Bill. I am in disagreement with them for the reason mentioned by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). There must be a limit, I think, to the restrictions in this respect. This Amendment would prejudice the general working of this Bill because it might make some contumacious persons hold up the whole procedure.

The Attorney-General

My right hon. Friend does not advise the Committee to accept either of these Amendments. I think it possible that my right hon. and gallant Friend may not have realised that if one person comes forward at a later date and succeeds it invalidates the whole order, because it is almost certain that the point he would take would be some slip in procedure which would affect the whole order. It would produce chaos if, at any time after the time limit, somebody might turn up and take such a point. Even if it were only a liability for damages, that liability would be for the whole area, and I think the local authority would say that they could not go forward with it. As an hon. Member who spoke earlier said, these oases are not very likely to arise. Many eyes will be riveted both on the local authority and on the Minister to see that the appropriate steps in the procedure are carried out. We feel it is essential that after the limit of time which has been agreed has elapsed, it should be clear that the scheme can go forward with- out fear of some legal slip—and it would only be a slip—being brought forward to invalidate the whole procedure. With regard to the men serving overseas, everybody is anxious that everything proper should be done in regard to them. It is only right to point out two things, one, that in the interest of the majority of those overseas the steps which this Bill contemplates should be proceeded with as expeditiously as possible, and, secondly, I think it is also the case that, the war having gone on for so long, the arrangements under which those who go overseas leave powers of attorney, of nominate people here to look after their interests is very much better than in earlier days.

Earl Winterton

There are welfare officers.

The Attorney-General

Yes, there are the welfare officers, and I think almost everybody these days leaves a power of attorney, or nominates someone to look after his interests.

Sir Ernest Shepperson (Leominster)

I am a little concerned about the second Amendment on the Order Paper. I would like to ask the Attorney-General whether a man will be prevented from obtaining damages.

The Attorney-General

He can only challenge the validity of the order within the time limit which the Committee has agreed.

Amendment negatived.

Sir G. Courthope

I beg to move, in page 19, line 29, to leave out "on," and to insert "at the expiration of six weeks from."

Amendment negatived.

Sir G. Courthope

I beg to move, in page 19, line 31, at end, to insert: but nothing in this Sub-section shall prejudice or affect the right of any person aggrieved by any order or certificate referred to in Sub-section (1) of this Section to recover damages in respect of any loss or injury suffered by him consequent upon the same or any provision contained therein being deemed to be invalid on any of the grounds mentioned in that Sub-section.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

We have had some discussion on this Amendment, but we have had no answer to the points it raises.

Amendment negatived.

12.45 p.m.

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

Mr. Lionel Berry (Buckingham)

May I ask the learned Attorney-General if we can have a reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) about people who are affected by the previous Amendment? A reply may have been given by him, but if so it was not clear to some of us.

The Attorney-General

I thought I had dealt with the point, but I appreciate that I dealt with it shortly. I thought that the Committee agreed that we must accept the principle that, after a limited time, the authority should be free to go forward without the fear of the validity of the order being challenged in the sense that the property would cease to be the property of the local authority but without actions for damages over the whole field. That was the principle which I thought the Committee accepted. If the Amendment had been carried, this principle of property would remain. It often happens that you cannot put back the clock and legal rights can be enforced only by damages. The effect of the Amendment would be that damages could be claimed at any time in respect of all things done under the order. That goes to the root of the problem which we are discussing, and I thought the Committee came to the view which I had suggested.

Question put, and agreed to.