§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate (Mr. G. R. Thomson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purpose of this Hill is clearly stated in its Title. It is described as an Act to re-enact in a form in which they apply to Scotland the provisions of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946. That Act laid down the code of acquisition of land for local authorities and Government Departments. It consisted of ten Sections, and the ninth Section dealt with Scotland. It was a long Section and it became a difficult matter for local authority officials and ordinary practitioners to follow the terms of the original Bill. The Bill, the Second Reading of which is being moved tonight, is really a Scots edition brought up to date, and when this Bill becomes an Act Scottish local authorities and Scottish practitioners will be able to have the matter clearly before them. The Bill was introduced in another place and was referred to a joint Committee of both Houses on Consolidation Bills. Certain changes were made which were incorporated with a view to bringing the Bill up to date.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)
This Bill, so far as procedure is concerned, is a novelty. It has been rendered necessary because last year Scotland was combined with England in the United Kingdom Bill when there should have been separate Bills for the two countries. The result was that we had an extremely cumbersome Bill so far as Scotland was concerned, and the Lord Advocate was perfectly accurate when he said that the Scottish practitioner could not fairly be asked to deal with it. This Measure is one of relief for the Scottish practitioners, legal and otherwise, who have to take part in the procedure on the acquisition of land, and I quite agree that this Bill will put the position in Scotland in much better shape than it is at this moment. Therefore, I have to agree with the Government, who are to be congratulated on their ingenuity in devising this scheme
This scheme should never have been necessary. This Bill only removes one of 1170 the three main difficulties which existed last year. It removes the difficulty about the Scottish practitioner not being able to handle his practice easily, but the other two difficulties are that we had great difficulty in handling the Bill in this House with this enormous application Clause; and the Bill had to be considered by a Committee upstairs on which there was only a mere handful of Scottish Members. The law in Scotland would have been a good deal better today if we had had our own Act. I do not want to prolong my remarks, but I wish to stress that, grateful as we are for small mercies, we sincerely trust that the Government do not think that by the discovery of this method they have discovered some substitute for separate Scottish Bills. This method is not a satisfactory substitute in any sense, and it does not entitle them to refrain from introducing separate Scottish Bills in circumstances where separate application Clauses are required and where conditions are different.
I agree that this Bill does not alter the the law in any shape. Therefore, I do not think it would be proper and, indeed, it would not be in Order, to discuss what the existing law is, but it does alter the method in which the law is stated That is all to the good, but it does not define difficulties which are inherent and inescapable when we combine Scotland and England in one Bill in circumstances where that should not properly be done. I welcome without perhaps great enthusiasm the passing of the Bill, but I hope that it will not be regarded as a good thing in future, and that better methods will be used for obtaining this object.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
The first question I want to ask the learned Lord Advocate is this. If it was thought necessary to have a separate Scottish Bill, why was this not produced in 1946 at about the time of the introduction of the English Bill? The House will remember that the English Bill received its Second Reading in April, 1946, 15 months ago. It seems to me that there are two separate techniques—both of which have been adopted by this Government—with regard to Bills which are required, on the one hand, for England and Wales, and, on the other, for Scotland. The first technique is that which was adopted in the case of the Town and Country Planning Bill where there were 1171 two separate Bills which had almost identically the same contents, one for England and Wales and the other for Scotland. The other was the technique adopted in the case of the National Health Service Bill and which I hope and believe will be adopted in the case of the Agriculture Bill. In that case there are separate Bills with a time lag in between which allows for improvements to be made in the case of the Scottish Measure which is introduced separately.
The first point I want to make is that I regret that in the present case His Majesty's Government have followed the second course and not the first. By so doing they will reap the disadvantages of both courses. The learned Lord Advocate said that this was an improved edition of the English Bill, and I shall devote a minute or two to that statement in a moment. I would say here that we have the disadvantage of the time lag but that there has been no profiting by the experience which the lapse of time has made possible. I have no objection at all to codification, and I agree with everything which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J S. C. Reid) has said about it. I have no objection to the codification of Clause 1, but before we codify, we want to be absolutely certain that we have arrived at a final adjustment between conflicting interests which is not likely to be upset in the comparatively near future.
I make this point in particular with reference to Clause 2 of the Bill. If hon. Members have rendered themselves familiar with the contents of this Measure they will see that under the terms of Clause 2 during a period of five years from the date of the passing into law of the English Act, any confirming authority which has the power to authorise the compulsory purchase of land by a local authority may, if it is satisfied that it is expedient that the local authority shall purchase the land for that purpose and that it is urgently necessary in the public interest that the acquiring authority should be enabled to obtain possession of the land without delay, proceed in accordance with the terms of the Third Schedule of the Bill and may in due course give its written authority for the land to he acquired.
What does the Third Schedule say? This may be a vital matter to many owners of land acquired under the Bill. 1172 The acquiring authority roust first of all publish in a local newspaper notice of its intention to acquire. It must also serve written notice on the occupier of the land. In both cases it has to give the owner 14 days—that is all—in which to make his written objection to the proposal that his land is to be acquired. The authority must then consider any representations which have been made before it gives its authorisation to the local authority to proceed with the acquisition.
There is nothing in the Bill to say that the Minister is to decide. There is no provision, for a right of appeal or for the affected party to be brought before the Minister to state his case. His property is to be taken from him without any kind of appeal, although he has lodged written objection to the proposal. After those merest forms and elementary courtesies, the acquiring authority has to wait, not for months or for weeks, but for a period of seven days. It has to wait impatiently for seven days. Then it can walk on to the man's land and take possession, in advance of acquisition and of negotiation on the price at which the land is to be acquired. My second point is that this harsh, ruthless and cruel procedure has been perpetuated in the Bill. I am sorry that that is the case.
My third point is that it is being perpetuated without any real need. The justification for the speedy acquisition procedure of Clause 2 used to be that the land was needed for housing purposes. I ant surprised that the Lord Advocate made no kind of justification for taking upon himself these powers and for perpetuating this scheme of procedure of Clause 2. I thought he would at least tell us why he wants these powers. I hope to show the House that he cannot possibly want them for housing purposes. As long ago as the early part of 1945, Mr. Tom Johnston, who was then the Secretary of State for Scotland, told the House that local authorities in Scotland had housing sites for as much as—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Major Milner)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must point out that this is a Bill to re-enact in a form in which it can apply to Scotland the Requisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, and it is not, therefore, competent for the hon. Gentleman to suggest, as I gather he is doing, that there should be some adjust- 1173 ment or alteration in the procedure. It is only a question of whether the Bill should be passed to re-enact the existing Act of Parliament in a form in which it can apply to Scotland.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I am absolutely in your hands, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I thought I was in Order on the Second Reading in calling attention in a sentence or two to the fact that the Bill lays down a procedure for the speedy acquisition of land. I was trying to show that there was no need for this harsh procedure to be applied to Scotland. On the Second Reading—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The scope of the Debate is very narrow. The sole question is whether the Act already passed by this House should be re-enacted in a form applying it to Scotland. We cannot go into the details as the hon. Member is apparently doing.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
As I say again, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am entirely in your hands and I will of course bow to your Ruling. The points I wanted to make were against re-enactment at present, and I am against that course on three grounds. The first ground is, as I have said, that I thought we had already sufficient powers under the present Act; the second is that I object to the powers which we already have under the existing legislation; and the third is that these powers are unnecessary. I understand that I am out of Order, and, having made these points, I hope clearly, I will not take up further time in view of the lateness of the hour and of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Popplewell.]