HC Deb 18 November 1949 vol 469 cc2361-83
Commander Galbraith

I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, to leave out from "writing," to the end of line 33, and to insert: Before such authorisation is given the local authority shall make an application therefor to the Minister and the provisions of paragraph 3 (excepting the proviso to sub-paragraph (1) thereof and paragraphs (2) and (3) thereof) and paragraph 4 of the First Schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, shall apply to the publication of a notice of the submission of such application and to the making and hearing of objections to the giving of an authorisation as if the making of such application were the submission of a compulsory purchase order under that Act and the giving of an authorisation were the confirming of such an order and save as aforesaid the provisions of the Schedule to this Act shall have effect in relation to the giving of such an authorisation. I want to assure the Minister of Health that the Amendment is not intended to be a wrecking one but is intended to help him to carry out the functions of the Bill. There is already laid down a code of procedure to be followed in the case of the compulsory acquisition of land. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that there is a difference between compulsory acquisition of land for all time and compulsory acquisition for a period. In the Bill the period is five years, which may be extended to ten years. We do not know whether, at the end of ten years the period may not be extended for a further period. At any rate, there is no doubt that this is compulsory taking possession of land.

The submission I make is that we should follow the procedure, the code and the principles laid down in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946. A different procedure is proposed in the Bill. It consists, in the first place, of advertisements inserted in certain local newspapers and in requiring a notice to be served on the person who is entitled to possession of the land. When that is done, the person entitled to possession can make representations in writing to the Minister. So far, the procedure does not differ from what is laid down in the Act of 1946, which also provides for publication in the Press and for a notice being served. Up to that point there is no difference whatsoever. Then, the person who is entitled to the land, the owner or lessee, can submit his objections against the land being compulsorily acquired. On these objections being submitted and not being withdrawn, the Minister has to set in motion certain procedure. He can call for a public inquiry to be made or he can arrange for the objector to be given a hearing.

I want to stress the difference between making objections in writing and having a hearing. There are many people who are not competent to put into writing their objections but can very well state them verbally. In any case—and this is something which the right hon. Gentleman knows and will agree to—it is not just enough that justice should be done. Justice should also appear to be done. If the right hon. Gentleman is merely to consider some objections made in writing is will not appear to all concerned that justice is in fact being done.

It may be objected that the procedure of the Act is much too complicated. I think that the right hon. Gentleman said the same thing in the remarks he made upon the Amendment upon which the Committee has just divided. I suggest that the procedure is no more complicated than that which is proposed in the Bill. The Minister has then to consider if any person who has an interest is willing to put the land into a condition which is not detrimental to the amenities. When the right hon. Gentleman has considered that point he has to consider whether an objection has been made and whether the person interested is able to carry out the work that is required.

I submit that what the Minister ought to do is to conduct an inquiry. Therefore he might just as well do it under the procedure laid down in the 1946 Act as under the procedure proposed in the Bill. The procedure in the Act is preferable to that in the Bill. We think that from the point of view of the Minister and of the public it is far better to adhere to the procedure in the Act, which we believe to be more just, more expeditious and more satisfactory. We do not insist entirely upon the wording of the Amendment. I think we have made plain what purpose we have in mind, and if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the wording can be improved upon, we shall be willing to follow that course.

12 noon.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)

As I said in replying to the Debate on Second Reading, I feel that hon. Members opposite are making very heavy weather of the rather modest proposal in the Bill. I insisted then, as my right hon. Friend did, and we have insisted here again this morning, that this is purely a temporary measure of possession, and hon. Members opposite will insist upon suggesting that we should have the whole panoply of provisions which are proper no doubt, to questions of acquisition. I noted with some interest that one local government journal a little while ago, writing of this Bill before Second Reading, suggested that these compulsory powers might cause a little disturbance among old-fashioned real estate lawyers. I hope hon. Members opposite will not insist upon that qualification.

What we are trying to establish is a reasonably speedy procedure for the very limited and very laudable object of trying to get rid of some of our war damaged sites, which, as everybody agrees, are a nuisance and, indeed, a danger to the public. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) suggests that owners would have difficulty in putting their objections in writing. That is an extraordinary suggestion. Is it really impossible for an owner to find someone to write for him if he cannot do so himself or to help him in drafting his objections? It was a very weak and very limited argument. My right hon. Friend can always hold an inquiry or have a hearing of the parties, and he would do so where circumstances really warranted it, but to require it in all cases is quite absurd in a Bill which is of very limited purpose. For that reason the Committee should not agree to the Amendment.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

I did not come to the House this morning to make a speech on this Bill because it never entered my mind, as a commonsense individual, that anybody would oppose what is so obviously a necessary precaution in view of existing circumstances. In my constituency of North Islington the matter is an extraordinarily difficult one. I have had a lot of correspondence recently about one bombed site. There are a number of owners of the site, and there are all kinds of difficulties. Amenities? There are just no amenities left round about that place. Horrible conditions have been brought about.

The procedure proposed here is very simple and straightforward, and it is a temporary provision. It does not inflict hardships, certainly none which are unnecessary, but at the present time the condition of bombed sites is inflicting gross hardships on people round about. We ought to have consideration for such people, and because owners have not taken steps which they might have taken and which they ought to have taken to remove nuisances, it is desirable to have this procedure. The long-winded alternative methods suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) seem quite off the mark.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)

No one who has travelled, as I frequently have, through the constituency of the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) would quarrel for a moment with his views. We all know the urgency of the problem. There is no opposition to the main suggestion put forward in the Clause. We all feel that to get the owner to provide the necessary finance to secure proper amenity is much better than using public money for the purpose, and the Bill makes provision for him to do so.

Dr. Guest

But the owner does not do it.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

Na doubt in many cases he does not, but in many cases he does, and one cannot generalise. However, when the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary rest themselves with such comfort on the temporary nature of this provision. I must point this out. So often, with the best will in the world, Governments of all complexions—it is not a party point—produce Measures which they describe as temporary and which even contain a time limit. The Minister is entitled to point to the fact that a time limit is provided but our experience shows—I am sure I shall have the assent of the hon. Member for North Islington who has been here a great many years—that upon the expiry of the period the Government of the day of whatever colour it may be finds good and sufficient reasons for prolongation or re-enactment. Does the hon. Member for North Islington wish to speak?

Dr. Guest

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to my having been here a large number of years. That is true. I only wanted to say that the longer I am here, the less I am inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman hoping that he had a more helpful intervention to make than that. I do not think he would disagree with what I am saying now, however much he may disagree with other things I say. He must have in mind similar cases where the time limit in an Act is expiring and the Government of the day for some reason good to themselves, and very often good to all of us, decide upon prolongation. We frequently find all such Measures shovelled into the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill at the beginning of the Session and disposed of in an afternoon without a real opportunity for detailed consideration being given to them.

We shall be very lucky indeed if the necessity for this Measure is non-existent five or 10 years from now. A general curtailment of building is taking place. Anybody who knows anything about the educational position knows that on sites of one kind or another temporary prefabricated halls for the provision of school meals and so on are being put up, and everybody knows that they will be there for a minimum of 10 years. The Parliamentary Secretary is correct within the letter but I believe he will find he is wrong if he examines the spirit of the matter and the likely course of events.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) moved the Amendment for that reason. We feel this Bill is likely to be prolonged or re-enacted in the future, and if that is so, all we are asking is that there shall be a simple piece of machinery for inquiry. I do not believe that it means a great deal of delay. As the hon. Gentleman said, if owners are incapable of stating their case in writing they can find someone else to do it for them. There is not very much in that. It is a sort of suggestion for the relief and sustenance of lawyers, of whom I am not one. The same argument applies to inquiries. An owner would naturally instruct some legal gentleman to appear at the inquiry and put his case for him. This is a simple, important improvement of the Bill. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, in no sense is it a wrecking Amendment. It is a safeguard that where the machinery is set in operation there shall be every possible opportunity for owners to be heard and considered.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Before I come to the main point of the Amendment, I should like to make brief reference to the speech of the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) who made what I believe he will on reflection see was a somewhat ungracious interruption of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite).

The hon. Member for North Islington did not speak on the Second Reading of this Bill. I am not sure whether he was here on that occasion, but I infer that he was not because he seemed to be making on this Amendment a speech which he would have made on Second Reading had he 'then been present. Had he been present on that occasion he would realise that it was agreed on all sides of the House that the fact that war damaged sites were in a dilapidated condition was not necessarily the fault of the owners of the sites, and many reasons were given in many speeches why that was so. If the hon. Member had taken the trouble, before intervening, to look at the report of the Second Reading Debate, he would not have made that point either. I will leave the speech of the hon. Member for North Islington at that.

The Amendment is couched in somewhat cumbrous phraseology, but it would have been open to the Parliamentary Secretary to say that it constituted legisla- tion by reference and for that reason was not a happy thing. The hon. Gentleman did not make that point but, in any event, though the language of the Amendment is perhaps complicated, its substance is simple and valid. All it does is to substitute a known and standardised code of procedure for the makeshift code specified in the Schedule to this Bill.

There are three main differences between the Schedule to this Bill and the recognised code under the 1946 Act. Two of them are comparatively unimportant. There is only one publication instead of two under this Schedule, and the time for making representations is 14 days instead of 21. On those points we on this side would not insist on the exact words of the 1946 code if it is thought that these lesser periods serve better the purpose of the Bill. So far as the third and important difference is concerned, the right of the owner to some sort of inquiry or, if not a public local inquiry, at any rate some hearing at which he can put his own case, that is obviously a point of considerable substance. After all, the concept, "I will hear the other side," is as old as British justice and it should never lightly be jettisoned by this House of Commons.

I hope I am not doing the Minister an injustice here, and I should be the first gladly to recognise it if I am, but it does not appear that the Minister attaches the same weight to these concepts of natural justice that some of us do. I was somewhat shocked and surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman describe the procedure in his Second Reading speech as the cumbrous and tedious machinery of compulsory purchase."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 1066.] Those seem most inapposite and regrettable words to pour from the lips of the Minister responsible for the 1946 Act and also for much of the procedure of compulsory purchase. After all, the machinery he now condemns is his own. The First Schedule to the 1946 Act is his own creation. The Minister commended the 1946 Act to this House and piloted it through this House. It is therefore remarkable that he should now refer to it in those slighting terms.

What the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary say is that this procedure involves delay. How much delay? It need involve very little delay.

The time for the making of representations by objectors is short, so there is no delay there. Every other steps in the procedure is a step in the time-table fixed by the Minister. The Minister appoints the date for the inquiry or hearing, the Minister selects and appoints the inspector. It is up to the Minister whether a long or short time is taken on the consideration of that report and the publication of his decision. Every step involved in the machinery of compulsory purchase is administrative and the timetable is dealt with exclusively in Whitehall.

12.15 p.m.

Therefore it is not becoming for the Minister to complain of the delay in the procedure. If there is delay it is his own delay. I do not think there is so much delay. It is at any rate a good deal quicker than the normal procedure of the courts. If there is delay, it is not for the Minister to come here and complain, and to use it as a reason for not adopting the procedure. It is a reason for him to go back and look into his own administration and see where the delay occurs and how he can best get rid of it.

The point has been made by my hon. Friends that the taking of land for this length of time may be a permanency and, at any rate, is sufficiently serious to warrant that the citizen gets from this House his normal and natural rights. Even if it involves a little delay it is always true that the processes of justice do so. A ruthless procedure without regard to the rights of the citizen is always more rapid, and it may be more satisfactory from the administrative point of view, than a procedure rooted in the tradition of justice, but it is not more satisfactory from the point of view of the citizen and of those traditional rights which it is the privilege and duty of hon. Members of this House to defend.

We regard the machinery introduced into this Bill as a retrograde step in the direction of administrative law, and it is not a step that should be passed without challenge and opposition from this Committee. All that an objector has the right to receive under the Schedule is a bare notification of the decision of the Minister. He is not even entitled to know the reasons whereby the Minister has put aside his objections and has reached that decision. That, in my submission, is a most arbitrary procedure, and the Schedule is cast in terms which are by no means ones which should be incorporated in an Act of Parliament. I hope, therefore, that this Amendment will be supported, as it deserves to be.

Mr. Bevan

I hope the Opposition will not press this Amendment and I suggest in all seriousness to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) that he ought not to invoke such majestic conceptions for such trivialities, otherwise he will lose all capacity for emphasis. If what he suggested is true, I find it difficult to understand why only 35 Members of his party have rallied to the defence of those principles of eternal justice which apparently are being violated by us at the present time. It shows an absence of a sense of proportion in the matter, and we ought not to use this occasion for the purpose of such wide-ranging discussions as the hon. Member has indulged in on two occasions this morning.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman refers to the principles of justice. Those were defined by myself as being the ancient principle of, "I will hear the other side." Will the right hon. Gentleman answer these two questions: first, does he or does he not agree with that? Secondly, is there any provision for the implementation of that in the Schedule?

Mr. Bevan

As these people are the possessors of these bombed sites they could, as the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) has pointed out, be accused already of not doing part of their duty in not keeping the bombed sites in order. It is quite remarkable how the hon. Member for Hertford can be indignant for the owners of these neglected sites and have no indignation whatever for those who suffer from their condition at the present time. He really has a most extraordinary source of synthetic indignation.

What we are concerned about it to protect people who are suffering from these conditions, whereas what the hon. Member wants all the while is to make as difficult as possible the procedure to clear up the sites and put them in order.

Mr. Walker-Smith


Mr. Bevan

According to the Amendment, if any objection were taken by any possessor or part-possessor of a site, a local inquiry would have to be held.

Mr. Walker-Smith

A hearing, not an inquiry.

Mr. Bevan

A hearing would have to be held. All the time the Opposition are continually asking us to, economise and not have special administrative machinery, but whenever we bring a Bill before the House which deals with property we are told we must keep in existence a vast apparatus for listening to every objection which is made. It would be entirely out of keeping with the purposes of the Bill if we had to hold a hearing every time an objection was made, and we ought not to agree to such a proposal.

Where the Minister is satisfied that the objection is a solid one, an inquiry can be held, but to insist that a hearing shall be held every time seems to us to be entirely unnecessary. What I am afraid of—I put this to hon. Members in all parts of the Committee—is that if we import into the Bill too much machinery, too many steps, then the local authorities—after all, the Bill is only permissive—will be disinclined to use it. We want local authorities to be active and willing agents for the purpose of clearing up the sites. Having got that main purpose in mind, we ought not to start doing something which the local authorities may find too objectionable to cause them to do their work. I really hope that the Committee will not press the Amendment.

Commander Galbraith

I base the greater part of my argument on the fact that there is very little difference between the machinery in the Bill and that which is in the Act of 1946. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has pointed out, the delay, if there is any additional delay, is so slight as to be negligible. Neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary addressed themselves in any way to that point. They spoke of us trying to insist upon the whole panoply—that was the word used by the Parliamentary Secretary—when in fact there is little or no difference between the two.

Mr. Bevan

If there is no substantial difference between the two, we cannot be offending to the extent which the hon. Member for Hertford suggests. The real difference is this: that if an objection, except on grounds of price, is made, the Minister must in every case hold a hearing. In other words he must, as the hon. Member for Hertford has suggested, be just in the sense that both sides must be heard. That is a very substantial difference indeed; so substantial, we say, as to make it difficult for local authorities to exercise these powers.

Commander Galbraith

I am sorry, but I simply cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that point at all. Consideration has to be given to the objection if objection is taken, and time has to be spent by someone going into it. His time might just as well be spent hearing from word of mouth what the objection is as studying it in writing. No additional delay whatever is caused by that procedure. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford said, there is a very great difference otherwise.

The Parliamentary Secretary rather twitted me for having said that people could not put their case so well in writing, but if he had a case would he be as satisfied if he could only put it in writing and could not hear the arguments from the other side? Of course he would not. There is all the difference in the world between having a hearing in which one is able to hear the arguments against one's

case, and merely putting it in writing and getting a reply that the Minister does not agree. One would begin to wonder if he had considered that or this point in the letter, because it would seem from the reply that he had not done so; but if there is a hearing, one is perfectly certain that every consideration has been given to every aspect of the matter. One is much more likely to accept the result as just, not merely as something done as a matter of course, whether one happens to be right or wrong.

There is no substance in the arguments put forward by the right hon. Gentleman or by the Parliamentary Secretary. As for the remarks of the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), we are all in agreement. I hope he will compare the procedure in the Bill with that in the Act, and if he can then say that we are creating any delay I shall be willing to listen to him; but I am convinced that nothing of the kind is in question. Very regretfully indeed, I have to insist on the Amendment and we shall go to a Division on it.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 102: Noes, 40.

Division No. 286.] AYES [12.29 p.m.
Albu, A. H. Evans, Albert (Islington, W.) Nally, W.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Field, Capt. W. J. Naylor, T. E.
Attewell, H. C. Follick, M. Orbach, M.
Austin, H. Lewis Freeman, Peter (Newport) Pargiter, G A
Ayles, W. H. Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Parker, J.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Gibson, C. W. Parkin, B. T.
Bartlett, V. Guest, Dr. L. Haden Piratin, P.
Battley, J. R. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil Popplewell, E.
Berry, H. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Price, M. Philips
Beswick, F. Holman, P. Ranger, J.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Horabin, T. L. Reid, T. (Swindon)
Binns, J. Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.) Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
Blenkinsop, A. Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Bramall, E. A. Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.) Royle, C.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jeger, G. (Winchester) Shackleton, E. A. A.
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Kenyon, C. Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Burden, T. W. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
Champion, A. J. Lipson, D. L. Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Skinnard, F. W.
Crawley, A. Longden, F. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.)
Dai[...]es, P. McAdam, W. Solley, L. J.
Davies, Edward (Burslem) McEntee, V. La. T. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Davies, Harold (Leek) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Sparks, J. A.
Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.) Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Swingler, S.
Delargy, H. J. Mellish, R. J. Symonds, A. L.
Dodds, N. N. Middleton, Mrs. L. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Driberg, T. E. N. Morley, R. Tiffany, S.
Dumpleton, C. W. Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Turner-Samuels, M.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Moyle, A. Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Viant, S. P. Wigg, George Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst) Wilkins, W. A. Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Warbey, W. N. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland) Yates, V. F.
Webb, M. (Bradford, C.) Williams, Ronald (Wigan) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley) Mr. Pearson and Mr. Bowden.
Baldwin, A. E. Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley) Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge) Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Bower, N. Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Hope, Lord J. Smithers, Sir W.
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G. Keeling, E. H. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Bullock, Capt. M. Lucas, Major Sir J. Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Channon, H. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Walkar-Smith, D.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. MacAndrew, Col. Sir C. Ward, Hon. G. R.
Crowder, Capt. John E. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Marlowe, A. A. H. Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fox, Sir G. Medlicott, Brigadier F.
Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale) Mellor, Sir J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok) Neven-Spence, Sir B. Mr. Studholme and
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Brigadier Mackeson.
Gridley, Sir A. Ponsonby, Col. C. E.

Question put, and agreed to.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Hare

I beg to move, in page 2, line 45, after "enable," to insert: the necessary licences to be obtained and. This is a point which I hope the Minister will accept after the arguments on previous Amendments, in which a certain amount of heat has been engendered. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that by this Amendment we are trying to assist him and carry out what he said in his Second reading speech: I want to make it clear that it is not proposed that the terms of this Bill if it becomes an Act should act to the disadvantage of a person in obtaining a licence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 1068.] By inserting these proposed words we would ensure that the point is looked after. We all realise that it is not so much time taken in carrying out work which delays development of a site, or the erection of the building. Much of the delay is caused by the actual obtaining of a licence. This difficulty may be increased in the future, as there is a tendency to tighten up on licences. There are occasions on which, when a local authority has used up its quota of licences for a purpose such as this, they say to the applicant, "If you come back next month, or in a few months', time, we may be able to help you, but we cannot help you at the moment." These words are proposed in order to cover such a situation. I think they tie up with the Minister's wishes and I hope that on this very small point he will accept the Amendment.

Colonel Dower

During the Second Reading the Minister interrupted my speech and we had rather a passage of arms on this point. Perhaps since then the right hon. Gentleman in spite of his many arduous duties, may have had time to give consideration to this point. He interrupted me, and I am glad he did so, to say that he had increased the range for repair work to be done to such a height that there was no excuse at all for repairs or building not to be undertaken. I have been very polite to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that I cannot continue to be polite, because he shows an extreme ignorance of the practical builder.

I am a builder and I constantly have to apply for licences. The right hon. Gentleman shows extreme ignorance of the difficulty of obtaining licences. When he authorises certain work to be done that is merely the start of the matter. One of the first things one comes up against is that the Ministry of Works, while agreeing that it is a reasonable project, say that one must wait a little longer, or they ask for specifications and, when these are rendered, they often sit on them for six weeks or two months. Then they say that the Board of Trade would not like so much controlled material to be used and ask if so much iron and steel can be cut out.

That is reasonable when there is a shortage of iron and steel, but it is appallingly difficult. The Ministry of Works are performing their functions, the Board of Trade are performing their functions, which alter from time to time in regard to scarce material and, in addition, there is the War Damage Commission. The right hon. Gentleman may be the only person with a large amount of money not minding what amount of his private fortune he spends, but those who want to get repairs done, want to be assured that they will get recovery from the War Damage Commission. The Commission have to be asked for prior approval before the work is undertaken and hon. Members must realise that the question of getting prior approval from the War Damage Commission is most essential. It means that if a claim is sent in for work which has been done the Commission often knock off 20 per cent. or 30 per cent., and the builder has to argue about the particular repair which is being done, while the Commission have the advantage.

Last week I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—I was trying to help the right hon. Gentleman—whether he could not hasten the giving of prior approval for war damage repairs. His reply was that he could do no such thing. He said: The War Damage Commission tell me that they are still making about 8,000 payments a week on claims for work already carried out, …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 105.] —therefore, they could not deal with applications for advance approval of work any more quickly than at present. In other words, the War Damage Commission are prepared to inspect the work when it is being carried out but may keep one waiting for as long as two, three or four months before they are prepared to give approval in advance of its being carried out.

The Minister may think that I am trying to waste time but this is a very important point. If the right hon. Gentleman had to carry out £5,000 worth of war damage repairs the first thing to occur to him would be whether he would recover the cost from the War Damage Commission. The second thing to occur to him would be whether it would not be a good thing to get the Commission to give advance approval of the work. That is a delay which to begin with may extend over two to three months. By raising the limit on the amount of work that can be done the Minister is encouraging the carrying out of repairs but when the question is one of making an assessment of what is a reasonable time, he must take into consideration this machinery which the Government themselves have set up and under which only is it possible to do the actual repairs.

Mr. Bevan

Hon. Members, I think, misunderstand the situation a little, and perhaps I might be able to clear up that misunderstanding. The assumption here is that there is a conflict between the local authority that wants the site and the owner who wants a licence to carry out work upon it; that the local authority will, as it were, jump the claim and the individual will not be able to get possession of his site to do the work which he thought he would get a licence to do. The fact is that no such conflict exists.

No one would be more delighted than the local authority if the owner could take possession of the site and carry out the work because that work would require planning permission and would under such conditions make good the site. It would no longer be a site which the local authority would desire to enter to clear up nuisances. The local authority would be delighted because it would be able to say in such a case, "We shall not have to spend the ratepayers' money in putting this site into an agreeable condition."

Therefore, hon. Members have all along this morning, it seems to me, been seeking protection against local authorities as though they are eager and anxious to spend the ratepayers' money on putting these sites in order. I have met representatives of local authorities on this matter, and I can assure hon. Members that although they are anxious to get powers to do what they can to put these sites in good order, they are not anxious to spend money unnecessarily upon them and would be only too pleased if the owners could get possession and do the work.

What we are really dealing with is a set of circumstances in which it is physically impossible for the nation to allow all this work to be carried out now, and accordingly some part of that work will have to be delayed until more necessary work is done. In the meantime, the aim is to try to make these sites as agreeable as possible.

12.45 p.m.

Regarding the matter from that angle there is surely no reason for the apprehensions which are now being expressed and which are embodied in the Amendment. The Amendment means that the Minister must be satisfied that the individual may obtain a licence. A licence may not be possible but the person concerned might say that he was in process of obtaining a licence. The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cocker-mouth (Colonel Dower) pointed out that quite often some months elapse—even a much longer time than that—but in each case unpredictable delays may occur in obtaining the licence and in the meantime the site would still be in its derelict condition.

What we have said is that the licence must have been obtained or—and the Minister would do this administratively—if application had been made for the licence by the owner before the local authority had asked the permission of the Minister to enter into possession of the site, the Minister would obviously satisfy himself that the applicant for the licence had a reasonable chance of getting it. In that event he would say to the local authority, "It is not necessary for you to enter into possession in this case because before very long a licence will be granted and the owner himself will be carrying out the work."

Hon. Members must realise that the local authority and the owner must both be clear; there must not be any ambiguity about the situation. The distinction must be kept quite clear because if the rights of both are obscure neither will act and the sites will be left exactly as they are. Under Clause 7 provision is made for the owner to reassert his rights. In other words, the local authority may have been in possession of a site and carried out some works upon it, but the owner may later say, "I have obtained my licence." In that case Clause 7 provides that the owner reenters. So we have in fact tried to cover the point, always on the assumption that no one is anxious to spend public money on these sites if the owners can get the necessary licence to carry out the work.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

The Minister has clarified the position to a considerable extent; he has certainly been clearer than the Bill. What some of us had strongly in mind was the situation that not only is there a conflict of interest between Ministries in this matter, as has been explained to the Committee by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith and Cocker mouth (Colonel Dower), but that there is surely another very important conflicting machine, the local authority itself. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that many local authorities are in a position of great difficulty when allotting their priorities and granting licences.

One can well see circumstances arising where, in the case of a concentrated allotment, an owner of one of these bombed sites who is anxious to develop it has made his application. The local authority, when considering these applications, have come to the conclusion—and after all they are the people on the spot who have to make the decisions—that this application must take its place-a long way down the queue. They have many other important tasks on their hands on which they are to spend the ratepayers' money—schools and the like—and they desire to push on with them. In such circumstances they may say, "It is true that this is a blitzed site, it is true that the owner desires to develop it, but in our view that project must await its turn a considerable distance down the queue."

The Minister comforted me a little when he said that the fact that the owner had applied for a licence would be an important factor to be taken into consideration. There is, however, a great difference between that and having obtained a licence. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to indicate that the owner might say, "I am in the course of obtaining a licence," which is a very difficult thing for anyone to say.

Mr. Bevan

He would only be able to say that if he had applied.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

All I am saying is that there is a difference between an application and being in course of getting a licence. That is an important point which the Minister has now cleared up.

The right hon. Gentleman may be averse to inserting these words into the Bill. I belong to the old school of thought which likes to see firmly written into the Bill what is the intention of this House when the time comes for its interpretation. We have had many similar cases in this Parliament where the Minister has said, "I shall not do this or that. My intention lies in another direction. My remarks are now on record, and those interested can read the Debates which took place in this House." All that is true, but it is not the law of the land. It is very nice for the right hon. Gentleman to come to the House and make comforting and agreeable speeches which may allay certain fears, but they are not the law of the land. If only for that reason, although there is very little between us now, I for one should be happier if these words, or something to the same effect, could be written into the Statute.

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

It seems to me that the Opposition are confusing one or two things. In this Bill we are not concerned with the actual re-building on the site of what existed before. The local authorities are not proposing to do that. They are merely proposing, in certain circumstances, to take over the site and tidy it up. In many cases the doing of these jobs will be very slow, but the hon. and gallant Member is talking about reconstruction on a site, which is a totally different thing. It is perfectly obvious that at such time as an owner is able to get a licence to re-build his war destroyed building on that site, the local authority automatically will stand aside. I think it is important to get that clear.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

I do not think that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) was in his place when we were discussing the previous Amendment. While this Bill is temporary in intention, I think it likely that a number of these buildings and clearances will have to stand for a considerable time—20 or 30 years—owing to the circumstances in which we live. It would not surprise me if under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act this Bill was extended, and it would therefore not be true to call it temporary.

Mr. Sparks

In the present Bill there is a maximum of ten years.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The discussion has ranged rather widely on what is a very short and simple point, and the Minster must take his share of the blame, because he did introduce into his speech on this Amendment rather wider matters than are covered by this very simple Amendment. This Clause gives the Minister the right to postponement where the owner is able and willing to carry out the work himself, and that is a very right and necessary power. This Amendment is not concerned with the power to postpone at all. It is concerned with a much narrower point, the period of postponement.

All this Amendment seeks to do is to make clear that the period of postponement should not be the period which would be appropriate for the physical carrying out of the work, but that it should be an inclusive period, taking account of the necessary preliminary work of getting the licence as well. That is the only point which arises on this Amendment, and it is a very short point. I am not sure myself whether in the reading of the Clause as it stands the meaning of the Amendment is not already implicit.

Mr. Bevan indicated assent.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The Minister nods. I am not quite sure, it is difficult to be sure, but I am glad to hear that the intention is that it should be. If there is that intention, then I think that to put it beyond all doubt it would be well to incorporate these words.

Mr. Bevan

It is only necessary to put protective words into a statute if it can be shown that the normal operation of the self-interest of the parties concerned makes it necessary to do so. In this case, the self-interest of both the local authority and the prospective possessor of a licence work together and not against each other. It also would be in the interest of the Minister and of public administration to restrain a local authority from entering into possession of a site, if in fact it was practicable for the work to be carried out by the possessor of a licence. Therefore, in such circumstances all forces move to the common good and there is no need to put protective words into this statute.

Commander Galbraith

Like my hon. and gallant Friend I would rather see the words in the statute. We have heard the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman, but the Bill still lacks words which would make those good intentions statutory. I would like to say a word in connection with what the right hon. Gentleman has said on one point. He has laid it down that the self-interest of both parties is one and the same. I would agree that in the great majority of cases that is true, but there is one case where it is not true. That is in connection with the provision for the owner being able to regain possession during the current five or ten years, to set about building. It may well be that the local authority might have a temporary building on that particular site which it wanted to retain for one of its statutory purposes, which it is empowerd to do, and therefore the interests would not be one and the same.

The right hon. Gentleman has cleared the ground very considerably. He has told us plainly what are his intentions, and if he will not put in the words which we think ought and should be put in, then I would say to my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment that perhaps he might be prepared, having made the point, to leave the matter.

Colonel Dower

Is the Minister saying that he is satisfied that the owner is able to carry out repairs providing he has applied for a licence?

Mr. Bevan

This is a very simple point indeed. The local authority has applied to the Minister for possession of a site. The Minister informs the owner of the site. The owner may say, "I am willing to develop this site," and we know that most of them are. The question is, is the owner able to obtain a licence? If the owner has started the operation of obtaining a licence, if in fact he has applied for it, then the Minister in those circumstances would satisfy himself about the fate of that application before he would give the local authority power to possess the site. It is not sufficient for the owner to say, "I am ready," because so very many of them are ready. In this case many are called but few are chosen.

Colonel Dower

That is a compliment to the site owner.

Mr. Bevan

It may be a compliment to the site owner to get his property back, but here, as I have said before, there is no conflict between the interests of the local authority and the potential owner of the licence.

Mr. Hare

I am sorry that the Committee has been kept so long on this point. I think the Minister was perfectly fair when he nodded to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). I believe it can be said that the Bill as it is worded does in fact cover—in the mind of the Minister—a reasonable period for the issue of a licence. If, therefore, the Minister agrees, I think it is a pity that he is not prepared to make it more clear. I do not think that it is likely to cause any extra delay. If he will allow time for the issue of a licence and also allow time for the construction and completion of this particular work, why not make that clearer by accepting my Amendment?

Mr. Bevan

Why bother, if it is not necessary?

Amendment negatived.

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

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not propose to detain the Committee for very long though, of course, it is not unusual for hon. Members to address the Committee on this Question. The only reason why I intend to do so now is that I wish to make a brief reference to certain observations made by the Minister earlier. This is a Clause which deals with the compulsory power of possession. It is a procedure Clause. The Minister said that the attitude towards this Clause of hon. Members on this side in general and myself in particular betokened a lack of sympathy with the principles of the Bill. That is not so. The question of the principles of the Bill was rightly defined in the Second Reading speeches and I stand by what I said then in regard to sympathy with the objects of the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman really must not think that hon. Members must repeat everything in Committee that they said on Second Reading or that, in default of such repetition, they may be accused of not having any interest in the principles of the Bill. It is wrong to say that. A considerable portion of my speech on Second Reading was devoted to questions of amenity. I regret the Minister's suggestion that I should be out of sympathy with the local authority point of view. That is far from being the case. I am in good relations with local authorities both in my constituency and elsewhere. I happen to be a vice-president of the Urban District Councils Association, and it is wrong and gratuitous of the Minister to make that suggestion.

Finally, Major Milner, I am sure that I shall have your approval of my next observation. It is clear that hon. Members would be outside the Rules of Order if they were to repeat ad nauseam points of principle suitable to a Second Reading Debate every time an Amendment on some technical point was discussed. Therefore, it is wrong and improper for the Minister to use such an occasion to try to impute to this side of the Committee an absence of interest in the main point of the Bill. I sincerely hope that he will not see fit to make such observations again.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.