HC Deb 08 July 1946 vol 425 cc46-54

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I beg to move, in page 18, line 6, after "purposes," to insert: (including the testing of aircraft designed for civil aviation). Perhaps it will be convenient if we discuss this Amendment and the next two Amendments—in page 18, line 7, after "Aviation," insert "or the Minister of Supply," and in line 7, at end, insert, "or the Minister of Supply"—together, as they deal with the same subject. The purpose of this Amendment is, largely, to meet circumstances which have arisen in connection with the building of the very large aircraft known as the Brabazon I or the Bristol 167. This is a very large aircraft indeed. It will have an all-up weight of 300,000 lb., or 130 tons, it has a length of 177 feet and a wing span of 230 feet. Hon. Members will therefore see that it needs a very large runway for testing. The machine was designed in 1943 and has been under construction at Bristol. It is hoped that it will make its first test flight in May of next year. I am sure that the Committee will be very anxious that this machine should get into the air as quickly as possible. It is the only British machine under construction which will be able to fly non-stop from London to New York, and, if any complaint can be made against us, it is not that we have such machines under construction, but that it is the only machine of this class that we have under construction.

The existing runway at Bristol is not adequate. It was known, of course, from the outset that it was not adequate and that, at some time, powers would have to be sought to lengthen the runway there. The existing runway is to be extended so as to have a length of 2,750 yards and a width of 100 yards. We have searched through the existing law, and the provisions are not satisfactory for closing and diverting the highways that this extension of the runway will necessitate. Accordingly, we are bound to come to Parliament for that purpose. It would have been possible to come with a separate enactment, but we are very busy in Parliament nowadays, and we hope that, for this great project, which, I am sure, the whole Committee approves, hon. Members will give us the powers we seek in this enactment, which will permit the Minister of Transport, on behalf of the Minister of Supply, to divert highways or close highways, not only for the purposes of civil aviation but for the testing of aircraft designed for civil aviation. The Minister of Civil Aviation is not able to do this, because, under the Ministry of Civil Aviation Act, he is expressly excluded from the production of civil aircraft. I trust that, in order that there may be no delay in this great project, the Committee will readily agree to this Amendment, and the consequential Amendments.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

I quite appreciate the details given us by the hon. Gentleman, but it is unfortunate that the aeroplane had to be built at Filton. The points I would like to inquire about are: When will this runway be completed, if the necessary powers are given; how many houses will have to come down, and. have adequate arrangements been made to house the people who are to give up their homes?

Mr. Thomas

It is planned that the runway shall be completed and the aircraft make its first test flight in May, 1947. The number of houses which will have to come down is 36, and houses to take their places have already been built, or, I should say, almost built.

Wing-Commander Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)

I think it is reasonable that the Minister should have the powers asked for in this Amendment, but I have one point of criticism against the Government and against the present Minister of Civil Aviation. It is that they did not do something about it a long time ago. This is another example of the policy of delay and procrastination which we have had in civil aviation. We started building the Brabazon I a Iong time ago, and, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, the building of that machine has had to proceed in quite inadequate accommodation. We ought to have had an assurance that the runways would be built and the houses demolished. I hope that we shall not have a continuance of this policy, and that, before the Minister proceeds with plans for any new prototypes of aircraft, he will complete full plans, so that the building can proceed with the greatest speed.

Mr. Thomas

I have great sympathy with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman says, but it is in fact an attack on our predecessors in office.

Wing-Commander Robinson

No. The hon. Gentleman has been there himself for a year now.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I was going to rise in an atmosphere of good will to wish prosperity to the Brabazon I, and I shall not allow myself to be diverted from that by the historical inaccuracy of the Parliamentary Secretary. We wish every success to this aeroplane, which, we are confident, will win and retain the blue riband for the United Kingdom. We know much about the difficulties which have been experienced in connection with this task. We know something of the difficulties with which any Government has had to contend in dealing with local vibrations caused by the building of a runway and a factory of this kind. Some of us were closely associated with the runway at Bristol during the last stage of the war and the period of the caretaker Government, and we know that there was agreement in the last Government, as there had been in the Coalition Government, that this project had to go forward. There were fears expressed in consequence, and one or two hopes that in future we should contrive to build the great leviathans of the air where there were adequate aeroplane facilities. There has been complete agreement; this Government have inherited the responsibility of their predecessors, all the facts and information were available to them, and they have agreed on the decision of their predecessors. We are therefore at a loss to understand why so long a time has elapsed before these powers have been sought.

Mr. C. Williams

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) on his remarks. He has given us the first real light we have had in this discussion. The Parliamentary Secretary has asked for power which, quite obviously, ought to have been in the Bill originally, in order to have the larger runways in connection with the new aeroplanes to which every one of us will wish success. The fact remains, however, that the Government have known all these things for a long time.

It should be remembered that the building of this aeroplane was not started after the Standing Committee stage of the Bill; its construction has been going on for a long while. In framing a Bill of this sort, the Government should make provision for larger aerodromes from the start, and not attempt to provide for such things by Amendment at this stage of the Bill. With the greatest possible sincerity, I should like to congratulate the Government on waking up to what is necessary, even at this late hour, and about which they ought to have known many months ago. At any rate, it is good to see at least one Member of the Government occasionally awake these days, and I hope something will be done to wake up their singularly dull speeches as well.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 18, line 7, after "Aviation," insert "or the Minister of Supply."

In line 7, at the end, insert "or the Minister of Supply."—[Mr. Ivor Thomas.]

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I beg to move, in page 19, line 6, after "provisions," to insert: including provisions for authorising the compulsory purchase of land. It may be convenient to the Committee if this Amendment and the next one, in page 19, line 41, to leave out Subsection (6), were taken together, as they are related. They have been put down to meet the points made in Committee upstairs by hon. Members opposite, especially the hon. Member for Thirsk and Maldon (Mr. Turton), and it would be ungenerous on my part not to pay tribute to the help he has given us in the framing of this part of the Bill.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

While I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary, I should be much obliged if he would not refer to me as the Member for Thirsk and "Maldon" and thus confuse me with the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) who spoke on Friday.

Mr. Thomas

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon; I meant "Thirsk and Malton." As I said, it would be ungenerous of me not to pay tribute to the help of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton in the drafting of this part of the Bill. Owing to our discussions upstairs, I think that this part of the Bill has been considerably improved. At one point upstairs the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton asked that we should make provision to give substituted rights of access where a highway was closed or diverted, and, in this Amendment, we are seeking to take powers for that purpose. It means that the Minister of Transport, if he finds it necessary or expedient to provide a right of way, whether public or private, to replace one stopped up by his order, will be able to obtain the land compulsorily for that purpose. The hon. Gentleman also asked if we would take powers to provide new culverts where they were stopped. There is no power in this Bill enabling the Minister to stop culverts, but, if a culvert was made unusable by any provision under this Bill, the Minister of Transport would equally, by this Amendment, have the power to purchase the land compulsorily for that purpose. If this Amendment is accepted, it follows that we shall no longer require Subsection (6) and, therefore, we seek to delete it

4.15 P.m.

Mr. Turton

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for putting down this Amendment which carries out most of what I had intended to do in the Standing Committee. I was trying to get the Minister to use the wording which his predecessor used in the Acquisition of Land Act, and I am glad that he has realised that his own words were not so wide as those of his predecessor. There is one small drafting point to which I should like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention. To my mind, the Amendment should read: including provisions authorising the compulsory purchase of land. That would delete the word "for," which I think is superfluous, and bring the wording into line with that in the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act. It is purely a drafting point, and if the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with what I have said, I hope he will leave out the word "for." It is always awkward for the legal fraternity to find two Clauses in two different Acts drafted almost, although not exactly, alike. I do not want to have to go to the House of Lords on the word "for."

I am not quite satisfied with the Minister's explanation of the proposal to leave out Subsection (6). What will be the procedure adopted by the Minister of Transport when he purchases land under these additional words if Subsection (6) is deleted? Subsection (6) brought this part of the Bill into line with the more comprehensive Acquisition of Land Act, 1946, with the exception of Section 2. I should have thought that, where we had a comprehensive Measure like that, it would have been better to use the procedure under that Measure rather than to use special procedure under this Bill or to have to rely on the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945. Perhaps the Minister would deal with these two small points. Generally speaking, we are grateful to him for the help he has shown, and we believe that the Opposition has carried out a constructive task which has been successful in guiding the Government to wisdom.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I wish to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in thanking the Minister for having gone such a long way to meet the fears and apprehensions of those of us who served on the Standing Committee. My hon. Friend pointed out upstairs the great inconvenience, to use a mild term, to which dairy farmers, particularly, would be put if some such wording as the Minister has now seen fit to introduce were not incorporated in this Bill. I represent an area which is very largely given over to dairy farming, and which has had considerable inroads made into its dairy land during the long six years of war, and I naturally share the apprehensions of my hen. Friend on this point. I agree with him that the Minister has gone a long way to satisfy our fears, or rather the fears of our constituents and of all the people living in rural constituencies in this country with regard to what their position might have been if some kind of safeguard similar to that which is shortly to be incorporated in this Bill had not been brought forward by the Parliamentary Secretary. For the efficient carrying on of our agricultural industry, about which this Government are at long last showing some little concern, it is imperative that proper means of access should be provided to the farms in the interest of those whose daily bread it is.

I am a little concerned with the way in which the Parliamentary Secretary rather lightly passed over the apprehensions, which were also expressed by my hon. Friend and myself upstairs, with regard to the question of culverts, and the powers of the Minister of Transport in that connection. I am not quite sure that I understood him correctly, but I understood him to say that there was nothing that he could do.

Mr. Thomas

What I said was that there were no powers in this Bill for the Minister of Civil Aviation or anyone else to close a culvert, but that if one should be made unusable under the provisions of this Bill, the Minister of Transport would be enabled to buy the land and provide another one.

Mr. McKie

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I think that goes a long way towards meeting our fears concerning the question of culverts and of access and roads to farms. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton cited a case in one of the Yorkshire constituencies where a very large area of good agricultural land had been rendered more or less derelict through lack of proper culverts. We do not want that kind of thing to occur in the future. We have had quite enough cases of good agricultural land taken away as a result of necessary wartime works, without incurring any further unnecessary risks of that kind. I hope that the powers of the Minister of Transport, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, are as comprehensive as the hon. Gentleman seems to think they are.

Finally, I would like to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said about Subsection (6). It seems that what the Minister is giving us in one hand, by his addition to Subsection {3), he is taking away with the other hand by asking the Committee to agree to the deletion of Subsection (6). Our whole object is to strengthen this Clause as much as possible, so as to make sure that full powers are given to the Minister of Transport to safeguard the rights particularly of those people connected with the agricultural industry, which we feared might be interfered with by the passage of this Bill, and particularly this Clause. I join with my hon. Friend in saying that, so far from watering down the existing rights provided in this Clause as it emerged from the Standing Committee, the Minister should retain Subsection (6), unless he or the Attorney-General has some good, cogent and compelling reason which will persuade us to agree that the Bill would be better without that Subsection.

Mr. Thomas

In putting down the words "provisions for authorising" as opposed to "provisions authorising," there was rather a subtle point in our minds. It is that the Order under Clause 28 will authorise the making of another Order authorising the compulsory purchase. However, I am willing to have this point considered again. Grammatically, I think either form of wording would be satisfactory and there may be nothing in it, but we will consider whether it is worth while having an Amendment made in another place. The analogy of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act breaks down, because the procedure for making Orders under that Act is different from making Orders under Clause 28 of this Bill. With regard to the deletion of Subsection (6), which was raised by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), it is contemplated that the Order referred to in Subsection (3) as proposed to be amended would use the procedure of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act. It is not, in fact, necessary to state it, because it is intended that that Act shall be the basis of any acquisitions of public land. However, I will have that paint also considered.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I beg to move, in page 19, line 41, to leave out Subsection (6).

Mr. McKie

Would the Parliamentary Secretary be good enough to indicate a little more clearly what he proposes to do about this Subsection? He said that he would look into it, and that if it seemed necessary to retain this Subsection he would see what could be done about it later on. I would point out that, so far as this Committee is concerned, it must be now or never; or, perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary has in view the possibility of asking that an Amendment shall he made in another place if necessary?

The Attorney-General indicated assent.

Mr. McKie

I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman nods his head.

The Attorney-General

I meant, not that we would ask the other place to do it, but that we would consider the points put forward, and if we thought them well founded, we would then ask the other place to do it.

Amendment agreed to.

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