Sir G. Jeffrey
I beg to move, in page 44, line 18, after "times," to insert:after giving not less than forty-eight hours' notice to the person having custody of the land and on production of his authority if required.I do not think it is unreasonable to ask that not less than 48 hours' notice should be given to the person having custody of the land before an individual appears upon it to make inspection or to take particulars of any kind.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
I will ask my right hon. Friend to look with sympathy upon this Amendment, because there is going to be a very great invasion under this Bill, when it is passed, of people's homes and their land. I daresay my hon. Friends above the Gangway may regard that as a desirable state of things, but I am sure the majority of the country does not. The majority of our people still like to look upon their homes as their own. Since this war has started I am sure my hon. Friends above the Gangway must have been delighted about the number of people who could barge in through the 1363 front door of a home at any time they like and make inspection from the attic to the cellar—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
Of course, in the hon. Lady's house there are so many rooms and the quarters are so palatial that it may take a long time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]In the majority of homes, however, the question of inspection is extremely irritating, and even if people only have a few rooms, they do not want officials barging in at all times of the day. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will take some steps to see that the land and the homes of the people are not unnecessarily invaded under the provisions of this Bill.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I think that the utmost powers must be given to local authorities and to valuation officers in order to ensure that the homes of the people are actually provided and protected. It is terrible to have to sit here and listen to hon. Members talking about the rights of people in their homes. The fact of the matter is that many people have not the right to their homes and that some of the homes in the countryside are not worth having a right to. I had a case brought to my notice this last week of a landlord turning a wife and child into the street, with her furniture and bedding, in pouring rain, while the husband is in Holland battling for the country and for the people, and on Sunday last the whole congregation walked out of the local church when this landlord entered, as a protest against his action. It is wrong to say that these people—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Young)
The hon. Gentleman is too far away from the Amendment. We are only concerned with whether 48 hours' notice will be inserted.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I was just going to say that the power given to the valuation officers does not require any Amendment. I am quite certain that these officers and other authorities will see to it that those who are affected get a fair opportunity of understanding what is happening and will give fair treatment. There is no question about that at all. There should be no more of this attempt to limit the responsibility of the local authorities and 1364 the valuation officers operating in blitzed areas.
This Clause deals with the power of entry for purposes of survey and valuation, and it is not a new provision in our law, but one that appears in a number of statutes where this process of valuation and survey is an essential part of the operation that has to be conducted. The Housing Act requires 24 hours notice to the owner and occupier by any person with the power of entry, which is half the time proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment. The reasons why we have not included such a period of notice in this Clause are, that it is a dilatory proceeding, and also a lot of the property with which we are dealing in this particular Bill, which will require to be surveyed and its value assessed, is already heavily war damaged and not occupied. In a vast number of cases, therefore, the actual process will be conducted upon premises where there is in fact nobody resident at all. As a matter of fact, I am told that the experience of valuation officers is that the recipients of such a visit are never in the least reluctant to grant them permission to enter and carry on their valuation.
I cannot speak for other Ministries but, taking the country by and large, we all have our duties to perform, and there is a readiness on the part of the ordinary citizens of the country to concede the right to a man to perform his duty and not to impede him in its performance. Already, in the provision we have said that he must come at all reasonable times—that is, it would be folly to allow him to come in the middle of the night or at some time when people would be unnecessarily disturbed by him. But perhaps that does not go quite far enough for my hon. and gallant Friend and there is the further safeguard that any man of sense would, of course, arrange a convenient time either by previous call or by telephone, because the survey could be much more expeditiously carried out if the tenant or occupier were in the house at the time so that he could be questioned on various matters.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
That was the real problem. In very many cases, especially 1365 under the conditions he has described, the owner or occupier will not be resident, and 48 hours seems not unreasonable notice to give him time to be present at the inspection.
I appreciate the point, but I was saying that it is really in the interests of the valuation officer himself, unless he is to waste his labour by going at a time when the man he wants to see is out, to arrange such an appointment. I am not quite happy about the position. I think that there is substance in what I have said. I am a little baffled by the difficulty of serving a notice on people in premises which are in fact not occupied because they have been bombed out and so I cannot accept this Amendment. A similar difficulty was encountered in the War Damage Act, and there the words used are:provided that if the premises are occupied admission shall not be demanded as a right unless 24 hours' notice of intended entry has been given to the occupier.That is, I think, a reasonable proposition, and if my hon. and gallant Friend would be content with something of that sort, I would be prepared to include a provision to that effect on the Report stage. There is one other point I would like to make, dealing with the latter part of my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment, which requires the production of an inspecting officer's authority. I suppose that is to prevent an unauthorised person imposing upon a householder by pretending he is the valuation officer, whereas, in fact, he could spy out the land in order to carry out, a few nights later, a highly successful burglary. Common law takes care of that, because under it, any householder is entitled, has overriding authority, to forbid the entry of any man into his premises, and then the onus is upon the person who demands entry to show some authority. I therefore think that the second part of the Amendment does not require the precise legislative enactment.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington. North)
I hope my right hon. Friend will look at the second part of this Amendment again, because there are so many people wandering about houses now demanding admittance, that there is a genuine prospect of a man in civilian clothes—not in uniform like the gas man—getting into a house, seeing its internal layout and then 1366 coming back a few nights later to do a good burglary. The ordinary housewife does not know that she can bang the door in anyone's face and demand his authority, and if the words "on production of his authority" were added to the Bill, I think it would be an added protection to the householder.
I will consider the matter again, although as I have already explained it is covered by the law as it stands. All these officers would be armed with identity cards but if my hon. Friends attach any importance to the matter I should be willing to consider a provision to that effect.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
In view of what the Minister has said, which I greatly welcome, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 41 and 42 ordered to stand part of the Bill.