HC Deb 25 March 1948 vol 448 cc3352-5
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Woodburn)

There have been a number of questions in recent weeks as to the possibility of action to stop the arbitrary eviction of shop tenants in Scotland at the coming term. The Government have requisitioning powers under the Defence Regulations to secure a sufficiency of supplies and services essential to the wellbeing of the community or their availability at a fair price and to ensure 'generally that the whole resources of the community are available for use and are used in a manner best calculated to serve the interests of the community. In cases where eviction would result in an 'interference with any of the foregoing purposes these requisitioning powers may be exercised.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this use of emergency powers is quite different from what was contemplated when those powers were granted and that this policy may well be followed by challenge in the courts? Was he not further made aware that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, including those sitting on these benches, were prepared to accept legislation on the lines recommended by his own Committee, the Taylor Committee, and why did he not adopt the straightforward course of following that Committee's Report?

Mr. Woodburn

The right hon. and learned Gentleman shared with me the experience of sitting up all last night to try to get some legislation passed, and he will understand that that cannot be counted upon as a secure method of dealing with any problem at the moment.

Mr. Reid

This is side-tracking the House of Commons.

Mr. Woodburn

I am explaining the powers which the Government have. These powers were granted by the House, and each case will have to be examined on its merits, but where any action is taken which interferes with the vital needs of the community, of course the Government have power to take action.

Commander Galbraith

In view of the exceptional powers which the right hon. Gentleman intends to use and the danger of victimisation if the powers are used without the most full and impartial investigation, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will retain these powers in his own hands and not delegate them?

Mr. Woodburn

These powers can only be exercised by the competent authorities, of which I am one, and these powers will certainly be exercised with the greatest care within the terms of the Act of Parliament. It is quite impossible for me to say what will be done because, as I said, each case must be judged on its merits in a judicial manner.

Miss Herbison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in spite of what comes from the Opposition, his statement will be received with great pleasure by many people in Scotland—by the shopkeepers and tenants of offices who for some time now have been sorely harassed by what is, I am sure, one of the most despicable forms of free enterprise there has ever been in Scotland? I should also like to express to my right hon. Friend the real appreciation of his colleagues on these back benches for the untiring efforts of himself and the Lord Advocate in this matter.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Is it not likely that most of these shop premises will be included in town planning schemes for business purposes only? Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to override town planning schemes, after he has acquired these premises in the way that he proposes?

Mr. Woodburn

I can give no indication of my intention, which must be within the terms of the Act and within the terms of the powers which I have read out.

Mr. McGovern

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an indication whether or not these cases which have all been placed before him will be capable of being dealt with so that the people will not be evicted by 28th May? May I also add that I am quite certain, apart from any opposition there may be in this House, that there is no opposition in the country to the Minister's proposals?

Mr. Woodburn

I can only say to my hon. Friend that, in a judicial matter of this kind it is impossible to prejudge cases before they are examined.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

While I am completely in favour of every possible protection to the small shopkeeper may I ask whether there will be any right of appeal against these requisitionings?

Mr. Woodburn

No one will have any place requisitioned without the right to make representations.

Mr. Willis

While expressing the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not hesitate to use these powers, may I ask whether his statement means that he does not intend to pursue the question of legislation.

Mr. Woodburn

The Lord President of the Council has already intimated, and I have also intimated, the difficulty of getting legislation through this House in a hurried fashion. All these matters are still under consideration.

Mr. J. L. Williams

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the landlords concerned might solve this problem themselves by dealing with their tenants in a less high-handed manner?

Mr. Woodburn

I should think it very desirable for landlords and tenants to make amicable agreements, and to settle their own business without anybody requiring to interfere.

Mr. McGovern

Will the Secretary of State answer the question I previously put to him? Without asking for a definite decision, I would like him to say whether the cases are capable of being dealt with so as to prevent evictions by 28th May?

Mr. Woodburn

I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that when a matter has to be dealt with in a judicial way, anybody who is responsible for making a judgment cannot intimate his judgment until he has tried the cases.

Mr. McGovern

I was not asking him to do so. I was asking whether the cases would be considered before 28th May. I gather from the right hon. Gentleman that the answer is in the affirmative.

Mr. Scollan

If the right hon. Gentleman's powers are put into operation and he finds that the complaints made about the many cases submitted to him are justified, will he be able to protect the people who have to go out by 28th May? That is all that we are asking.

Mr. Woodburn

I can add nothing further to what I have said.