HC Deb 19 October 1949 vol 468 cc688-99

10.0 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I beg to move, in page 6, line 6, at the end, to insert: Provided that—

  1. (a) except with the consent in writing of any river board or drainage authority which is for the time being maintaining works for the protection of the coast, a coast protection authority shall not carry out any coast protection work in the locality in which such protective works are maintained;
  2. (b) such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld and any question whether consent is unreasonably withheld shall be determined by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries."
This is substantially the same Amendment as that which I moved in Standing Committee upstairs. Hon. Members opposite will remember that I withdrew the Amendment, after a certain amount of discussion, on the distinct undertaking given by the Parliamentary Secretary that the matter would be considered, and that if, in fact, it were found that the doubt was justified which I expressed, as to whether statements made by the Parliamentary Secretary were correct or not, clarifying words would be inserted at this stage.

I did propose, Mr. Speaker, to ask your permission to move the Adjournment of the House in order to call attention, as I did on Second Reading, to the absence of the Minister of Health; but in this particular case, as, for once, he has been present on the Front Bench during most of the day, I do not propose to do it. However, it is a fact that Members of the House, and particularly Members of the Opposition, have been at a grave disadvantage through the failure of the Minister himself to attend a single one of the meetings of the Committee. He left it, in fact, to his Parliamentary Secretary. I am not disputing in any way the competence of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I am going to state—as we shall see in the course of speeches on subsequent Amendments in our names—that in fact the Parliamentary Secretary made statements to the Committee which were not in accordance with what has been subsequently proved to be the case.

In this particular instance—I find it a little difficult to choose my words with discretion—the Parliamentary Secretary agreed that representatives of ours should attend to try to clarify the position with his own officials. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that the point at issue was whether or not a particular body should have the right of appeal; whether we could ensure that its objections—any objections that it made at the various stages—would be considered; that the rights of the minority would be so protected. So far from that being the case, when this deputation went to his Department—I was not present myself: had I known what was going to happen, I would have taken the trouble to go—I am informed that his officials made it abundantly clear that, in fact, objections by such a minority would be overruled.

In a long experience of the workings of this House, I must say that I frankly do not remember any such case having arisen before. I think that it illustrates the difficulty in which Members are placed when the responsible Minister does not attend the Committee and give a ruling. I cannot conceive that had the Minister himself been present at the Committee meetings and had made the kind of statement which the Parliamentary Secretary made, and on the strength of which we withdrew our Amendment, officials of the Department would have dared to have spoken in the way which they did, or are reported to have done, to the representatives whom we sent to interview them. It is in order to call attention to this, and to ask once again that provision should be inserted in this Bill to safeguard the rights of the minority—and in this particular instance there may conceivably be very important issues concerned—that we are moving to insert these words.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am rather surprised at the tone which the right hon. Gentleman has adopted in moving this Amendment. It is perfectly true that in discussion in Committee we agreed that we would examine this matter further to satisfy ourselves that a drainage board or authority would have the opportunity of making objection to the proposals of a coast protection authority, whether that coast protection authority was a local authority or a coast protection board, before the work was carried out. The guarantee which I gave that the matter would receive further consideration has not only been carried out but, if the right hon. Gentleman will examine the Amendments which we have down on the Order Paper, he will find that, although perhaps we have not covered fully all the issues that he might have wished to have seen covered, we have met very largely the points which he raised at that time, and we have met, so far as we believe it is possible to do so, the claims of the drainage boards and drainage authorities in this matter.

There is no doubt that in any case where a coast protection authority intends to carry out work, whether within the area of a coast protection board or outside the area, which interferes with the works of a drainage authority, that drainage authority has power of objection and can raise the matter with the Ministers concerned, not only my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, as the Minister particularly responsible, who must then determine the matter. Further, we have ensured that there shall be a statutory provision for notice to be given to the drainage authority of any intended work that is to be carried out by a coast protection authority which would affect a drainage authority.

The point was taken earlier in Committee, and while we assured the right hon. Gentleman that we would by regulation provide for that notice, he pressed for it to be given statutory effect. We have done so. We have gone further, in an Amendment which we shall be moving later to Clause 48, to ensure that where a coast protection board on which a drainage authority has a seat proposes to carry out work outside its own area which interferes with the work of a drainage authority, that drainage authority shall not only have the right of objection but the right of complete veto of such work.

The only case which remains where the coast protection board, with the drainage authority included on it, will have power to interfere in any way with the works of a drainage authority, is where it is within the area laid out in the order setting up the coast protection board, and in that case it will have power to carry out any alterations that the coast protection board considers necessary. But in that event, first the drainage authority will have the opportunity of making objection to the draft order that laid out the area they were to cover, so that they would have that first opportunity of objecting to an area which might include the drainage authority works; secondly, they would have the opportunity—though one would hope that it would not be necessary to stress this—of making objection to the actual proposed works when the proposals were put forward by the coast protection board. We feel that that gives very full and adequate cover to the needs of the drainage authority, and fully protects them against any danger of interference with their work.

I think that very often hon. Members have the impression that, for some reason or other, coast protection boards will be anxious to interfere with the general running of and the general works carried out by drainage authorities. That is not so. Coast protection boards will be anxious to work in co-operation with drainage authorities. Drainage authorities are particularly concerned with low-lying land, and we are only anxious to secure that there shall be proper co-operation to ensure that the work that is done in one area shall not defeat the objects and the work that is being done elsewhere, because work done by coast protection boards in one district obviously affects the position on the coastline elsewhere; equally, work done by drainage authorities affects proposed work being carried out by coast protection boards.

I, therefore, feel quite clear that on this issue we have fully carried out any guarantee that I gave in Committee for reconsideration of this matter: we have strengthened the safeguards of the drainage authorities; we have ensured statutorily that they shall receive notice of work; and we have, after re-examination of the position, satisfied ourselves completely that the drainage authorities shall have full power of objection to any works that are proposed to be carried out by coast protection boards. In view of those assurances, and in view more particularly of the later Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman will see on the Order Paper in our name, I hope that he will find it possible to withdraw this Amendment.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I have not spoken on this Bill before, so that perhaps it is only fair to the House that I should declare my interest in this matter. I have a very close connection with the Association of Drainage Authorities, and for that reason I should like to make one or two remarks upon what I can only describe as a rather glib speech from the Parliamentary Secretary. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No doubt hon. Members opposite would prefer me to say that I am satisfied. My feeling about this Amendment is that what we are really trying to safeguard is the position of those people who are simply given an opportunity by the Ministry of making their complaint without any hope of getting it met. There has been a tendency, particularly noticeable with the Ministry of Health, for opportunities to be given for complaints to be made with the foreknowledge that no matter how clear, strong or just the complaint may be, it has not the remotest chance of winning the day.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is the hon. and gallant Member suggesting that where a drainage authority is a member of a coast protection board it should be able to veto any work that is done, because that is what he seems to be saying? He seems to be saying that the minority shall not only have the right to object but the right to veto the work.

Major Legge-Bourke

I am not suggesting that at all. I am saying that sometimes a minority happens to be right, and that when it is right there should be a chance of it winning the day. In the Ministry of Health, in particular, opportunity is all too frequently given for a complaint to be made, but whether it happens to be on just or fair grounds the minority will never win the day. If the protection of minorities is to be maintained in the House of Commons, it is absolutely essential that minorities have a chance of winning the day against any majority.

The Ministry of Health is an example of what happens if the Civil Service is allowed to get too much power. There is no question about it that the Ministry of Health officials are much more dictatorial than any others. I am giving no names because it is unfair to individuals who cannot answer for themselves; it is the Minister's business. The example set by the Ministry of Agriculture, as far as drainage authorities are concerned, might well be followed in this respect by the Ministry of Health. We should be given a categorical assurance tonight that no case shall be prejudged until all sides have been heard. An absolute guarantee should be given by the Ministry that a minority shall have a chance of winning the day.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It is important to get this straight. Drainage authorities are themselves composed mainly of representatives of local authorities. I want to know whether the hon. and gallant Member feels that one authority should have the right, not only of making objections, but of insisting that their objections be sustained. If that is so, he is really asking far too much. We must insist that while minorities should have a right to make their views known, the Ministers in this case must consider the views of both sides. The Ministers are bound to be influenced by the majority, although that does not mean to say the minority view is not to be heard.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I am not clear, although I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech with as much attention as I could, whether or not he has met the point put forward by my right hon. Friend. As I understand it, it is his contention that in substance the points put by my right hon. Friend are covered by later Amendments. Throughout his speech the hon. Gentleman referred entirely to drainage authorities. Does he mean that the points raised by my right hon. Friend, and covered by our Amendment, are met by the Government Amendments dealing with river boards, because he made no reference to river boards? I understood him to say that the later Amendments, under the rather comprehensive procedure which he outlined to us, provide that the drainage authority outside the area of the coast protection board will have the right of objection and, I think he suggested, the right of veto.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Where a coast protection board is set up, and the area of operation of the board is defined under the order setting it up, and the drainage authority is a member of the board, if the coast protection board wishes to carry out works outside its area, as it may do under the Bill, it cannot carry out works which interfere with the works of the drainage authority without the consent of the drainage authority. The drainage authority, in that case, has the complete right of veto.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am much obliged; that clears up the case where the area to be affected is outside the area of the coast protection board. But there is this further point, to which I would like an answer: what is the position when the works which the coast protection board seek to interfere with or affect are within the area of the coast protection board and there are the works of a drainage authority or river board within that area? Has the drainage authority the same right of veto as it would have if the works were outside the area scheduled for the coast protection board? If it is not the same for both cases, the hon. Gentleman is meeting only half the case put forward by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I was careful to mention this point. I said that where there is a coast protection board operating within an area defined under the order setting up the board, and the drainage authority has a seat on the board, then that drainage authority will have a right of objection, but not of veto, for this reason: the drainage authority would have the opportunity of objecting to the draft order declaring the area of operation of the coast protection board and, secondly, would have the right of objection to the proposed works to be carried out by the coast protection board, but not the right of veto. The right of objection would be heard by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture; so, to my mind, the position is fully safeguarded.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am sorry to pursue this matter unduly, but it is a little complicated. The hon. Gentleman says that in the case of the drainage authority which forms a minority on the coast protection board there will be the right of objection in relation to the works within the area of that board, but not the right of veto that there would be with regard to works outside the area. For some reason they are not quite in the same position. Then the hon. Gentleman said that, in addition to having that right of objection but not the right of veto, they would have the right of referring the matter to be heard both by the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health. Does he really mean that? Are the two Ministers to sit and hear the objections? I am not sure that he really means that phrase in the sense in which he used it. Perhaps he would like to correct it. Do the Ministers really propose to act as a court of appeal. I do not believe it.

Mr. Blenkinsop

If the hon. and learned Gentleman has not considered the matter, I would emphasise that the Bill clearly lays down that the objection must be heard by both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture. It is for the specific reason of safeguarding the position of the drainage authority that that is inserted.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I do not think that the distinction which is drawn between the case where the area affected is outside a coast protection board's area and the case where it is inside the area has really any validity at all, and I cannot see why the same treatment should not be afforded and the same rôle given to the drainage authority no matter where the coast protection works are likely to be. In my view it is quite illogical, and I do not see why the Parliamentary Secretary has not been able to meet us instead of leaving the matter in this unsatisfactory state.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman seriously contend that a body like the drainage board or the coast protection board should have a right of veto on the findings of the whole of the body, irrespective of the co-ordination necessary for the protection of that part of the coast? That is quite an untenable position. After the right of argument and the right of presentation of their case, it cannot be contended that they should have the right of veto in regard to a part of the coast which is said to be governed by a coast protection board. The right hon. Gentleman used the words, "coast protection authority." I doubt if he appreciates the difference between a coast protection authority and a coast protection board.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

By leave of the House, I want to try to make clear what is the difficulty which we on this side of the House have. We admit that half of our objection has been met by the Parliamentary Secretary. We are still concerned with the case of a drainage authority which is a constituent member of a coast protection authority. We are dealing with the proposals inside the area of the coast protection board. The drainage authority may well be in a minority of one, and we believe that that minority of one should not only have the right to object at the board, but should have the right of appeal to the two Ministers concerned.

The Parliamentary Secretary, as I understand it, contends that that right is substantially conferred on the drainage authority by Clauses 4 and 5. We have always doubted whether that right put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary was not overruled by Clause 48. What gives us real grounds for our fear is the result, as I told the House, of the talks held between our representatives and the hon. Gentleman's own officials. Our representatives certainly came away—and I do not want to go into details or to mention names—from that meeting under the distinct impression that any minority objection would automatically be overruled.

I was not there myself, but they definitely came away with that impression. They were a public-spirited body of men with a long experience of these matters, and they informed us that they were very anxious for the House to insert these safeguarding words because of that interview. They believe that in fact, if they make an objection under the existing system, it will be ignored automatically. I think that is thoroughly wrong and, to do him justice, I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary thinks it a right attitude to take. I am sure he would be anxious to make certain that words were inserted to ensure that a minority, even a minority of one, should have justice done to its claims; and that they should be properly considered. It

is to ensure that that we seek to insert those words; and I hope that, on further consideration, justice will not only be done but will seem to be done.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 81; Noes, 208.

Division No. 253.] AYES [10.27 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Gates, Maj. E. E. Odey, G. W.
Amory, D. Heathcoat Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Baldwin, A. E. Granville, E. (Eye) Raikes, H. V.
Barlow, Sir J. Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V. Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)
Bennett, Sir P. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Birch, Nigel Hogg, Hon. Q. Ropner, Col. L.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells) Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Bowen, R. Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Scott, Lord W.
Bower, N. Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Jeffreys, General Sir G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Strauss, Henry (English Universities)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Keeling, E. H. Studholme, H. G.
Butcher, H. W. Legee-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Sutcliffe, H.
Clarke, Col. R. S. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Teeling, William
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Lucas, Major Sir J. Turton, R. H.
Corbett, Lieut,-Col. U. (Ludlow) Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Vane, W. M. F.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Wadsworth, G.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. McFarlane, C. S. Wakefieid, Sir W. W.
Crowder, Capt. John E. McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Walker-Smith, D.
Darling, Sir W. Y. Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster) White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Digby, S. Wingfield Manningham-Buller, R. E. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith) Marlowe, A. A. H. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Drayson, G. B. Marples, A. E. Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Drewe, C. Marshall, D. (Bodmin) York, C.
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Gage, C. Neven-Spence, Sir B. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Nield, B. (Chester) Brigadier Mackeson and Colonel Wheatley.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Corlett, Dr. J. Haworth, J.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. Cove, W. G. Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Davies, Edward (Burslem) Herbison, Miss M.
Allen Scholefield (Crewe) Deer, G. Hewitson, Capt. M.
Alpass, J. H. Delargy, H. J. Hobson, C. R.
Attewell, H. C. Diamond, J. Holman, P.
Austin, H. Lewis Dobbie, W. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Awbery, S. S. Dodds, N. N. Horabin, T. L.
Ayles, W. H. Driberg, T. E. N. Houghton, Douglas
Baird, J. Dye, S. Hoy, J.
Balfour, A. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Hubbard, T.
Barton, C. Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Bechervaise, A. E. Evans, John (Ogmore) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
B ng, G. H. C. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Janner, B.
Binns, J. Ewart, R. Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)
Blenkinsop, A. Fairhurst, F. Johnston, Douglas
Blyton, W. R. Farthing, W. J. Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)
Boardman, H. Fernyhough, E. Jones, J. H. (Bolton)
Bowden, H. W. Forman, J. C. Keenan, W.
Brook, D. (Halifax) Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Kenyon, C.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Ganley, Mrs. C. S. Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Gibson, C. W. Kinley, J.
Brown, George (Belper) Gilzean, A. Lang, G.
Burden, T. W. Glanville, J. E. (Consett) Lavers, S.
Burke, W. A. Gooch, E. G. Lee, F. (Hulme)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Gordon-Walker, P. C. Leonard, W.
Callaghan, James Grey, C. F. Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
Carmichael, James Grierson, E. Lewis, J. (Bolton)
Champion, A. J. Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Lewis, T. (Southampton)
Cobb, F. A. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly) Lindgren, G. S.
Cocks, F. S. Gunter, R. J. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.
Coldrick, W. Guy, W. H. Logan, D. G.
Collindridge, F. Hale, Leslie Longden, F.
Collins, V. J. Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R. Lyne, A. W.
Colman, Miss G. M. Hardy, E. A. McAdam, W.
Cook, T. F. Harrison, J. McEntee, V. La T.
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W.) Hastings, Dr. Somerville. McGhee, H. G.
McKay. J. (Wallsend) Porter, G. (Leeds) Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Maclean, N. (Govan) Price, M. Philips Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
McLeavy, F. Proctor, W. T. Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
MacPherton, Malcolm (Stirling) Pryde, D. J. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Mainwaring, W. H. Pursey, Comdr. H. Thomas, John R. (Dover)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Ranger, J. Thurtle, Ernest
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield) Rankin, J. Tolley, L.
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Reeves, J. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
Mathers, Rt. Hon. George Reid, T. (Swindon) Turner-Samuels, M.
Mayhew, C. P. Rhodes, H. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Medland, H. M. Richards, R. Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Mellish, R. J. Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamslow, E.)
Middleton, Mrs. L. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Warbey, W. N.
Mikardo, Ian Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Watkins, T. E.
Mitchison, G. R. Ross, William (Kilmarnock) Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Monslow, W. Royle, C. Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Moody, A. S. Sargood, R. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Morgan, Dr. H. B. Scollan, T. Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)
Morley, R. Shackleton, E. A. A. White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Morris, P. (Swansea, W.) Sharp, Granville Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Mort, D. L. Shurmer, P. Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.
Moyle, A. Silverman, J. (Erdington) Wilkins, W. A.
Neal, H. (Claycross) Simmons, C. J. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.) Skinnard, F. W. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Oldfield, W. H. Smith, C. (Colchester) Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Orbach, M. Smith, Ellis (Stoke) Willis, E.
Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth) Smith, S. H. (Hull, S. W.) Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Snow, J. W. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Palmer, A. M. F. Sorensen, R. W. Woods, G. S.
Pannell, T. C. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Yates, V. F.
Pargiter, G. A. Sparks, J. A.
Parkin, B. T. Steele, T. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Pearson, A. Swingler, S. Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Hannan.
Porter, E. (Warrington) Sylvester, G. O.