HC Deb 12 June 1952 vol 502 cc535-58
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 8, at the end, to insert: (2) An authority, when giving an undertaking under this section, may lay down, as conditions to which payment of the contributions undertaken to be made is to be subject, such conditions as it may appear to that authority to be expedient to impose for securing the intended relief from congestion or over-population. This Amendment gives effect to a promise made in Committee to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), but it only partially meets his point. In Committee we said that we would see whether it was possible to give an exporting authority which made contributions to the receiving district the same conditions that the Minister had when he made a contribution.

This Amendment brings the Clause into line with Clause 3—that is the Clause which gives the Minister power to make conditions—only as regards conditions; it does not give the contributing authority power regarding payments. The reason for that is that if an exporting authority comes to an agreement with an importing authority to give money to the receiving district it will be an agreement entered into freely between equals, and, if it is an agreement entered into freely between equals, presumably the exporting authority will have its remedy under the contract in the normal way. That contract will have to be approved by my right hon. Friend, who will therefore be in a position to prevent any weak receiving authority being dominated by a strong exporting authority.

I hope that the hon. Member for Acton will think that we have gone some distance to meet him. I ask him to bear in mind that presumably no authority will agree to give financial aid to a receiving district without the financial officers of that authority making absolutely certain that its interests are safeguarded in the event of the conditions of the contract not being carried out. If these agreements are freely entered into and negotiated, we think that it would be wrong for one of the authorities to be the judge in its own case.

Mr. Sparks

I should like to express my thanks to the Minister for meeting our point of view on this item. There is nothing more that I can say. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary has thoroughly covered the ground, and I feel sure that the proposals contained, limited though they may be, in the proposed Amendment will be acceptable to the exporting authorities concerned.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

There is one point upon which I would seek clarification. It seems curious that whereas the Minister can lay down conditions and if they are not fulfilled has power to deal with the matter himself, that in the case of the two authorities there should not be some provision to see that the conditions are fulfilled other than taking the matter to the courts or the local authorities resolving it as between each other.

I wonder if it will be possible in another place to put in some provision by which the Minister himself may on behalf of the exporting authority act in the event of the conditions not being fulfilled. I can understand the wish to have good relations between the two authorities—the one exporting the population and the other receiving them—but we do not want to give too much power to either authority, particularly to the exporting authority, to wreck the scheme in the event of disagreement between the two.

The whole object has been to try to get the two authorities to work well with each other under the benign support and sympathy of the Minister. After all, the exporting authority is undertaking to make grants and contributions to the receiving district, and they themselves are more likely to be aggrieved by what appears to them to be a failure on behalf of the council of the receiving district to fulfil the conditions than the Minister himself.

It is, after all, the people and the industries from the exporting district which are going to move to towns that are being developed. If there is no course open to the exporting authority except the course of legal action available to them in the event of conditions not being fulfilled, I think there is a gap in the Bill. I would suggest to the Minister that some such arrangement as we propose should be made.

The Minister who is concerned with the fulfilling of his own conditions should be equally concerned with the fulfilling of the conditions by the receiving authority—the conditions as laid down by the exporting authority—and, in that case, it would be possible for the Minister to step in. Local feeling is going to be raised very high in the exporting districts in the event of failure on behalf of the council of the receiving district to fulfil conditions, particularly about housing. I feel that some provision should be made.

I have an Amendment down later on in the Report stage, and, if I am fortunate enough to be called by Mr. Speaker, I hope to make this point specifically. I think that at this stage the Minister might say something about the interest he is going to take in the fulfilment of the conditions by the receiving district.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. I. Mikardo (Reading, South)

I want to add my appeal to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I think we would all agree that one of the things most earnestly to be avoided is an open breach between different local authorities. We know that in practice they often have serious fundamental differences of opinion about things like boundary extensions and the division of financial and other responsibility over matters with which they are jointly concerned in contiguous areas. Yet, on the whole, it is one of the traditions of local government in this country that that kind of dirty linen is not washed in public. It might be argued that a difference about the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of the conditions laid down in this Clause might be dealt with quietly in the same way. But here we are dealing with a matter which will be of intense public interest.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, nothing disturbs the minds of people, their interests and their patience, so much as the chance of getting accommodation and having their living conditions relieved from congestion. It is quite clear that in any area where advantage is taken of the provisions of this Bill to proceed with a scheme, the people who hope to derive benefit from it—some of the citizens of the exporting authority-will maintain an extremely close interest in this matter. If it appears at any time to them, rightly or wrongly, that their chance of deriving benefit is being impeded or stopped altogether by what appears to them to be wrong-headed action on the part of the neighbouring authority, we might get a very difficult situation.

In the Clause as it stands, with the addition proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, it is clear that the exporting authority may lay down provisions, but there is no specific provision in the Bill for what happens if there is a dispute between the exporting and receiving authorities on the question of whether any or all of these conditions have been violated. I assume, as apparently my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East assumed, that if there were such a difference of opinion, {he only way in which it could be resolved would be by recourse to the courts.

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that would be an undesirable situation, except possibly as a last resort when all other expedients have failed. Happily there is an alternative, and it is represented by the person and the Department of the right hon. Gentleman himself. I therefore add a plea to what has been said already to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he might not use the position and authority of his office and of his Department to lay down some provision for arbitrament by himself in a situation in which there was a difference of opinion between the exporting and receiving authorities about the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of these conditions.

That seems to me to be a simple and sensible provision which might be considered, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take advantage of the facilities provided by the reference of this Bill to another place to see what can be done about it.

Mr. Hale

If my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting, what I am worried about is what need is there for this? Surely the exporting authority can lay down conditions about anything? I should have thought that the introduction of this limits their rights instead of extending them.

Mr. Mikardo

I do not know about that, and I hesitate to venture into matters of law where I should be thoroughly lost. But it seems to me that this new subsection is not needed at all on the argument which my hon. Friend is using, that the power is there anyway. I should have thought, as a simple layman, that anyone giving away money can, without specific powers, always impose the conditions on which he is giving it away. On that assumption, one should not have this subsection at all. Alternatively, one provides the subsection, and I am willing to take the views of the Parliamentary Secretary as to its necessity since doubtless he has thought about it.

If one is going to say that this subsection is necessary and is going to write into the Bill specific provisions for the imposition of the provision, then I think in thaf alternative ease there ought to be some provision for arbitrament outside the court in cases of disagreement about whether the provisions are or are not fulfilled.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), do not think there is any need to press the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has raised. I believe, like my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), that this Amendment meets the point raised in Committee. I am not sure that the local authorities in this country who would have to export to another town in order to find housing accommodation would want to be liable to find themselves in the courts over the agreement they had made with the importing authorities.

The assumption is that there will be a mutual agreement, that the importing authority will agree to be co-operative in the building of these additional houses and perhaps some factories, and will make an agreement on terms which they themselves will have mutually agreed. I think that is sufficient. I say that, having been responsible on many occasions in the last 10 years for that kind of agreement with local authorities outside London.

Therefore, I do not feel that there is any need to put in the provision for arbitration. In any case, the first subsection of this Clause provides that the Minister's approval must be obtained. I assume that before giving his approval the Minister will want to see what kind of schemes have been drawn up and what kind of agreements have been made, whether the financial inducement offered by the exporting authority is reasonable and fair, and whether the return which the receiving authority is to get for that money is equal to the effort and the money which the exporting authority will obviously have to put in.

Mr. Mikardo

I hate to cross swords with my hon. Friend, because in this matter, as in many others, he is much more experienced and knowledgeable than I am, but surely the point to which he has referred is this. The Minister has to approve the conditions. So far well and good, but that does not solve the problem of what arises if one authority claims that the conditions which the Minister approved are being honoured and the other claims that they are being violated.


I have no doubt that any good lawyer in this House could make out a case that nothing like that would crop up. I do not anticipate, with the goodwill which already exists, at any rate around London—and I tried to give expression to this in the Second Reading debate—between the housing authorities and the receiving authorities that that kind of difficulty will arise. In any case there is the ordinary Jaw for meeting such a situation.

I again make the point that before the scheme becomes operative it has to pass the scrutiny of the Department and of the Minister, and I do not imagine any Minister of whatever party sanctioning a scheme which might have a lot of difficult snags about it and which might be unfair. In any case, I would prefer that local authorities should mutually discuss these matters together and reach satisfactory agreement. I think that is a much better way of dealing with it, and I hope that if his Amendment is called my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-east will not press it.

I believe that the Amendment put down by the Minister in response to the discussions which took place in Committee meet the point raised, and I hope the House will accept it.

Major Sydney Markham (Buckingham)

The Minister, in introducing this Amendment, has gone a long way to meet the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) and others during the Committee stage of this Bill, and I agree that it is a concession which benefits the exporting area. But does it, to any degree, assist the receiving authorities? The hon. Member for Acton represents an exporting area, while I represent an importing area in the shape of Bletchley, which we hope will be able to attract factories and citizens from Acton.

But this Amendment gives to Acton the entire dominance as to what the conditions should be in such a transfer, and that is immensely unfair to Bletchley, unless we can read into Clause 4 the fact that the Minister is to be the judge, or, shall I say, the fair broker between the exporting and the importing areas when there is any great difference of opinion. J do not like this new Amendment, but I should be much more reconciled to it if the House could be assured that the Minister will be the decisive authority in cases of dispute.

Mr, G, Lindgren (Wellingborough)

I did not intend to intervene, but I thought that it might be for the general benefit of our discussion if I were to say that, on questions of fact so far as this Bill is concerned—and I am certainly not competent to deal with points of law—we did have a very exhaustive and extensive Committee stage. I do not think that there were many phases of town development which were not thoroughly and extensively discussed. I do not suggest that, so far as this side is concerned, we got all that we wanted but, so far as undertakings were given by the Minister during the Committee stage, those undertakings have been faithfully carried out in the Amendments which fall on the Order Paper.

Some of the discussions in the Committee stage did appear to evolve from a wrong conception that this Bill is the starting point for this expansion of towns; but this Bill is to facilitate what has already largely been agreed by county councils in inter-agreements resulting from discussions which have been going on over a period of years.

The London County Council, represented in another way by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. C. W. Gibson), has been negotiating in regard to the development of the plans for Essex, Hertfordshire, and the rest, over many years. That has been done in conjunction with the old Ministry of Town and Country Planning, followed by the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, and now the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and, in cases where expansion takes place, the general terms have already been agreed between, the authorities which are going to relieve congestion by sending people away, and those authorities which are going to receive them.

Therefore, so far as general fact is concerned—the establishment of towns and the development of them—there has already been agreement. This Bill is to facilitate that taking place, and is concerned with the financial arrangements. I think that it will facilitate our discussion if I say this. Of course, this does not mean that the wording of the Act of Parliament is all that it should be. I am not competent to argue on details, but I should like to say that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee did very exhaustively and faithfully carry out the instructions of the House.

I do not mean to infer by that that hon. Members who were deprived of an opportunity of sitting on the Committee are necessarily deprived from taking part in the debate when the Bill is reported back to the House. But I would assure them that the Committee stage of the Bill was thoroughly undertaken both by those Ministerially in charge and those responsible for carrying on the opposition—and attempts were made to amend the Bill in its various stages.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I am sure the Committee did excellent work and thorough work, but the point that has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South-East (Mr. Benn), though a simple one, is I think an important one. I wish to ask the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary to listen for a moment and see if I have the point right as I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to put it to the House. It is this; under this Clause the local authority may, with the Minister's consent, impose conditions in its undertaking. There will be conditions of various kinds, and there will always be agreements subject to which payment is to be made, but the additional power the Minister has reserved for himself and denied to the local authorities is the power of withholding payment when, in the Minister's opinion, these conditions have not been fulfilled.

If that is correctly stated—I would gladly give way if the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to correct me—then the point is a quite narrow one and, I submit, of some importance. In a dispute as to whether or not the conditions of an undertaking have been carried out, if that dispute is between the Minister in respect of his undertaking and the local authority, then the Minister—and I do not object to this—says that as a matter of due administration and as a matter of policy he is entitled to be judge. But when there is a similar dispute between one local authority and another, what is the position?

Let me say at once that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) that it is likely cases of the kind will be rare, and one certainly does not wish them to be common. If that did happen, then one of two things must occur; either there must be some provision in this Bill or, if the dispute is insoluble by agreement—and that is what we are suggesting for the moment—one local authority has to take the other local authority to court. There is no other way out. One will have to sue the other and say, "You undertook to pay me some money on certain conditions. Those conditions have been carried out. Pay up."

Then the question is whether it is really better that the courts or the Minister should be the judge of whether the conditions have been carried out or not. It seems to me rather remarkable that when the Minister claims to be the judge in a dispute between himself and a local authority, in the case where the dispute is between two local authorities he declines to be judge and puts the burden on the court.

I do not wish to be masochistic about my own profession, but I rather doubt whether the kind of dispute we are likely to get in a case of this kind is a suitable one or an easy one for the courts to decide. It is certainly going to be a much more expensive business, because in all these cases the court has to be informed about a large number of factors which would be within the daily competence and purview of the Minister and his advisers. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham that one does not want to involve local authorities in what would be expensive litigation, if it can possibly be avoided.

So, while I share emphatically the hope and belief that cases of this kind are and will be rare, I do suggest that the Minister might consider whether it would not be better to have these disputes settled by himself, because it seems to me that if the Measure were to provide a power to withhold payment, coupled with a reference to the Minister to decide, that is about the only way in which we could prevent two local authorities who are unable to reconcile their differences in any other way having to go to court. One must give them a way out if there is a real difference of opinion. It seems to me that there may very well be a difference of opinion of what I can only call an administrative character—a broad question of what has or has not happened, just the kind of thing that the Minister himself might be able to resolve better and certainly more cheaply than a court.

I think it is an open question. I do not think it ought to be regarded as something that is clear, or in relation to which it is easy to say that the Minister can be the judge in his own case, but he cannot possibly judge between two local authorities, when the only alternative is to go to the court upon questions which may put the court itself in some considerable difficulty and lead it to have to decide matters which go beyond ordinary fact and which may be more proper in this case for an administrative decision.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I want to interpolate for a moment between the procession of speakers from the benches opposite, if only in the hope of setting an example of brevity to them, which I hope they will follow for the remainder of these proceedings.

It is said that there is a wrong differentiation between the Minister being the judge in his own cause under Clause 3 and there being no remedy other than through the courts under Clause 4. Of course, it is not quite true to say that it is not possible to institute legal action under Clause 3. It is true to say that, by reason of a variety of decisions from the Court of Appeal, it is extremely difficult to succeed in an action which seeks to show that the Minister should not have been satisfied. But these are words which have repeatedly been incorporated into Acts of Parliament during the five years when the Government supported by the hon. and learned Gentleman were introducing legislation. The New Towns Act is a very good illustration of that and, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) will remember, if he cudgels his forensic brains, from it arose the Stevenage case.

As to the question under Clause 4 as to what is the more appropriate procedure, I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman. It seems to me that if, as may be the case, there is a dispute between the local authorities, it would be difficult in any event, even if it were desirable to shut out—[Interruption.] It has been made clear that we are talking about things which would rarely happen; I agree, and that is why I hope this discussion will be very short.

Where unhappily the difference does arise, I respectfully submit that the hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong in thinking that a quasi-judicial decision of the Minister would be more satisfactory than a judicial decision of the courts. There really is no more to it than that. That there will be few instances we have on the authority of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). I submit that the matter is right as it stands, and I hope that it will not prolong the deliberations unduly.

Mr. Paget

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask him a question, as we now have the advantage of having heard a lawyer from the other side of the House? Can he tell me what on earth this Amendment does? Why is the position different if we have the Amendment than if we did not?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The hon. and learned Gentleman asks me a question which does not arise out of the speech I made, which was purely a comment on the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). But, since the hon. and learned Gentleman makes the point, I do not know that I am the person who ought to be called on to answer it, any more than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir Geoffrey Hutchison), who is much more distinguished than I, and who is sitting besides me. I apprehend that it would be possible in any event for them to make conditions, and, of course, it is right to say that these conditions are qualified by the concluding words of the Amendment. The conditions which now can be made are conditions that must be "expedient to impose for securing the intended relief from congestion or over-population."

Mr. Hale

I would not have intervened in this matter at all had I not found myself in complete disagreement with what everyone on both sides of the House had said. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has now stated, and stated in full, precisely the point we were discussing for three-quarters of an hour on the previous Amendment. No one has suggested, and no one could suggest, that there is anything in any Act of Parliament to prevent the exporting authority from laying down conditions. Of course, everybody agrees with the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), but it is going to limit the powers instead of extending them.

Mr. Sparks

The local authority associations are perfectly satisfied with this, and I assume they know what they are talking about.

Mr. Hale

I do not see why my hon. Friend should make that assumption at all. We have had hours of debate, in which eminent counsel on both sides have argued about this form of words, and now I am told that some people are satisfied with the Amendment which in all probability they have not read.

Mr. Sparks

I did not say anything about the urban councils; I said that the local authority associations concerned ill this matter were satisfied.

Mr. Hale

I am happy to hear it. It is encouraging to know someone is satisfied. I am not.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Is not the short answer this—and I know the hon. Gentleman wants the short answer—that since Clause 3 specifically empowers the Minister to make conditions, if there was no enabling power for the authority to make conditions it might be held they would otherwise be excluded from so doing?

Mr. Hale

I do not think the hon. Gentleman thinks that. He really must not boast of brevity if he gets up and claims the virtue of brevity in saying nothing. My hon. and learned Friend put a specific question to him.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have answered it.

Mr. Hale

May I remind him that he has said what I have been saying throughout the whole of the discussion, but which was challenged by the right hon. Gentleman? Once we set out and particularise the matters upon which a local authority is empowered by the Statute to make agreements, we are really virtually saying that they will not have any other power, because we cannot have it both ways.

Let me put the matter quite simply. Either this Clause means something or it does not; in other words, either the local authorities have got power to impose conditions before this Clause was inserted, which I say they have and must have, to impose any conditions they like, or not. There is nothing in this Bill that is compulsory. The Minister has no power to make the Oldham Corporation build in Yorkshire, and the Oldham Corporation will only build in Yorkshire when the conditions laid down by the Corporation are agreed to.

One hon. Member was talking as if the receiving districts could be forced to build houses for the exporting districts. There is nothing compulsory about it; it is a matter for the two councils to agree their conditions. But this specifies the powers and limits the powers. We have got it at last, after two hours, in which the Minister has sat there and stubbornly resisted any suggestion that there was any limitation of powers of industrial operation. Now, we have it from the hon. Member for Hertford, who speaks with great authority and whose reputation is very high in these matters.

I must say that there is a very real question whether we ought not to consider a Motion for the adjournment of the House. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton pressed many times on this issue that we should have some assistance from the Law Officers of the Crown, and we have had none. We were told that everything was clear, and we were also told a little coyly by the Minister that the information he had got was sufficient to convince him, and he evidently thought it should also convince learned counsel, that on the whole the conditions imposed were sufficient, but he never told us where he got the information. I can sympathise with him in his reluctance to consult the Law Officers on matters of law; in certain circumstances, he might think of getting the information elsewhere. But we ought to be told, and we ought to be entitled to judge.

I come to the second point, so ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). With very great respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), who speaks with authority, I entirely disagree with him on this matter. It may very well be that in London there are the happiest relations between local authorities, but if my hon. Friend had been associated with a Bill to extend the boundaries of a county borough or a city, he would have found that it is very difficult to get local authorities to agree. He would find that they fight like two Kilkenny cats.

What are we doing on this? One of the terms that must be inevitable on this is the one vital term that a receiving authority will accommodate the overspill population of an exporting authority. It is perfectly obvious that an agreement may come about like that. We ate almost getting back to the old cases which produced more litigation in this country than anything before—the settlement of the "border" areas. We shall be in the difficulty of saying whether somebody is an "overspill" or not. Take the case of a man and wife from Oldham who are put in Yorkshire. The man dies and the wife sends for her sons living elsewhere and wants them to maintain her there. At once we get a row. This is not accommodating the overspill: it is fetching people from London. It really is not right to say that there is no likelihood of trouble.

I should have thought that, on a matteir of this kind, this would be a question preeminently for decision by the Minister. He will say, "Look here, this is all right. This is a bona fideacceptance of another member of the family, and we shall regard this as an overspill." The hon. Member for Clapham cannot have it both ways. If one bases the argument on the proposition that on the whole the local authorities are likely to agree—and they are, on the whole—then there is really no necessity for the provision that the Minister can impose a penalty.

The Minister has power to withhold grants—and therefore we have come to this position. There will be an annual contribution from the exporting authority to the receiving authority in reduction of their rateable charged in respect of these housing demands. If that is so, what is the position? Cannot the exporting authority rightly say, "We are giving six months' notice and we are not satisfied."

As I understand it, they can go to the courts and the whole tenor and meaning of the Bill is that it is a permissive Bill, designed to extend the powers of agreeing with the Minister. We have agreed to that proposition and then, quite suddenly, for an incredible reason, it is said on this most important matter, "We will not give the Minister these powers at all. We will leave this to whatever the law may be." But when the Lord Chancellor has raised his tricorn hat three times, this ordinary law does replace what was called the ordinary law three weeks ago. Therefore, I say that this is a serious matter administratively.

Virtually speaking, not one speech from either side of the House has commended this Clause. So we have the position that no one thinks anything of the Clause itself. Everyone agrees that these powers ought to exist. Everyone agrees that the powers ought to be exercised, and that the exporting authority should be entitled to lay down conditions. But, apart from some legal advice from some legal associates, no one says that the Clause is right; not one speaker from either side of the House. They all say that they like the idea, and are rather glad to have it made clear that the exporting authority can do what everyone knew it could.

Mr. Sparks

But they did not think so.

Mr. Hale

Will someone tell me why they did not think so? Where in all the statutes of the realm is there anything which prevents a local authority making conditions before it makes payments out of rates? Is it suggested that there is limitation, and that an exporting authority cannot lay down conditions except within the ambit of this Clause?

Mr. Lindgren

Surely the hon. Member appreciates that there is the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. This Bill arises from it. In that Act there is power for a local authority to arrange for industrial development and to purchase land. A local authority would have to be satisfied, before it agreed to export its population, that under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 there Would be adequate facilities for industrial development on land within the ownership of the local authority.

Mr. Hale

That is not facing up to the problem. This is not a problem of the provision of new factories; it is a problem of creating finance. Oldham, as I have said before, is a mass of factory buildings, long since unsuitable for the workers in them. I am making no attack on the owners. There are three-storey mills with rickety floors and the operatives work mules made in 1895 in conditions of heat, disturbance and strain which should not be tolerated. Oldham has no way of remedying this.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is getting rather wide of the Amendment in dealing with conditions in Oldham in detail.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Hale

We are discussing the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman, giving what has been described as limited powers to the relief of over-congestion, and I am, of course, making the point that if we insert this Clause we cut out any chance of industrial development. However, I think I have traversed the ground. But it is really a serious matter when the Minister makes an assertion three-quarters of an hour ago and it is completely repudiated by two of his hon. and learned Friends in the course of the next Amendment. It is a matter on which we should have some more information, and one on which would should have the advice of a Law Officer.

Mr. Bing

I think the House has perhaps rather forgotten, and perhaps we have not said enough about the persistence of the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), who has achieved what some of my hon. Friends have not been able to do, and that is to secure an Amendment to the Bill. That is, in view of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, a far greater achievement than some realise. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman has secured the approval of the local authority associations, although I do not know whether I would not have preferred his original form of words to those chosen by the Minister. In Committee the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Acton contained the phrase "subject to such conditions as may appear to them to be expedient to impose." That seems a far better phrase than the very limited one now included.

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). I happen to come, not from an exporting area, but a receiving one, and I should like, in view of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Major Markham) and some other remarks made in Committee, to say that we welcome anyone who comes in from outside. It is a matter of personal regret, although not political regret, because it made no difference, that my hon. Friend who is chairman of the housing committee of the L.C.C. put his housing estate near my constituency, although not within its borders. Yet we can see from Hornchurch the benefits conferred on a neighbouring district by his activities. One of our difficulties is that what we want to secure is certainty. What the local authorities want to know—if they come to an agreement—is what these terms are.

We ought to ask, "Does this make this matter more certain?" I agree completely with what the hon. Member for Clapham said, that there will not be any exporting authority seeking to impose conditions if there is not an agreement first, and if it has not been decided first that those two authorities are going to get together and make the arrangement. Therefore, at first sight it may be a little academic to ask, "What powers ought one to give to the exporting authority in order to make certain that the things they should be doing are carried out?"

I should like to see an exporting authority getting some powers because, unless an exporting authority has some such power as this, they are less inclined to make use of the Bill. One of the dangers of this Bill is that it will not be made much use of at all. Therefore, one of the most important things is to see how far we can strengthen it so that it can be made use of.

It is to that aspect of the Clause that we ought to address ourselves. The difficulty I see in relation to it is that occasionally councils change their political complexions. Now, as things are going at the moment, they will be likely to change their complexions in a progressive disrection. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen opposite may be quite right in their calculation that there is no need to make any provision for any councils in the future having a more conservative trend.

Unfortunately, generally speaking a Conservative council is less likely to make an agreement to receive into its areas people who come from the overcrowded areas of the big cities. That being so, there always is the danger, if one can conceive of a council which originally had a Labour majority having a Conservative majority, of making use of some such provision as this to haggle about the conditions imposed. It is for that reason it is so unfortunate that we have these limiting words.

Why should we not alter this Clause in the same way as I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman, when he answered, "Oh well, that is not the Amendment." It might not have been the Amendment on the last occasion we were discussing this form of words. But this is his Amendment now and not our Amendment, and as it is his Clause, perhaps he can tell us why he should not improve the words and try to get back to the simplicity of the language of my hon. Friend the Member for Acton, whose Amendment was far better as originally drafted than the words which have now come out of the legislative mill of the right hon. Gentleman?

Why should he not avoid the legal difficulties, avoid the pitfalls which are foreseen by his hon. Friends below the gangway? Why should he not merely leave out of his Amendment the last line and a half—— to impose for securing the intended relief from congestion or over-population"— leaving the Clause in the form which is declaratory of what would be the rights of the exporting authority anyway? Why should not the Clause be left to read: An authority, when giving an undertaking under this section, may lay down, as conditions to which payment of the contributions undertaken to be made is to be subject, such conditions as it may appear to that authority to be expedient. Why not leave those general words?

Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

To limit it merely to overpopulation.

Mr. Bing

The hon. and learned Gentleman says, because it is necessary to limit it merely to over-population, if I understood him aright. I will give way if he wishes to correct me. We would hear him better if he were to stand up. But surely this will leave those autho- rities who, for some change of political sympathy, suddenly want to interfere with an arrangement which has been made, with infinite opportunity for haggling and infinite opportunity for argument. They will say that this condition which has been made is not directed towards overpopulation or overcrowding, but that this particular condition is directed to securing that there shall be a proper export of industry.

Why on earth should there be these limiting words? I am not so much in agreement with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who says all the time that if only we had the Law Officers here we could solve these problems. With respect, that has not always been the experience of the House in recent months when such problems have been submitted to them. But it would be interesting to know whether they have the same opinion as the other hon. and learned Members opposite who have expressed the view that these are limiting words. We really ought to know where we stand in regard to this Amendment.

It is really absurd that we should have to go on arguing about this matter all through the night merely because we cannot get any authoritative opinion. Will the Minister get up and say whether his supporters are mistaken or whether they are right, and that he has put down the Amendment under a misapprehension? I think it is particularly unfair on my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) who devised an excellent Amendment to deal with a real difficulty which all of us who have had any experience of this sort of thing know exists and requires to be dealt with. It is absolutely essential that both authorities should be quite clear as to what the terms are, but let the Minister at least be clear what his Bill means, and let us hear from him the meaning of it.

Mr. Marples

We had a long discussion on this Clause in Committee, and my right hon. Friend and myself are both grateful to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), who was in charge of the Bill for the Opposition on that occasion, and is also tonight, for the helpful words he spoke. He tried to give us a more explicit explanation of these matters. I do hope we can now get on with this Bill, because some authorities are already carrying on negotiations and, unless we get this Bill quickly, it will not help them to deal with the urgent problem of housing the people.

The hon. Members who were in the Committee upstairs are all agreed, and the only diversity of opinion seems to be between those Members of the Committee upstairs and the various lawyers who have tonight taken part in the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked what the Amendment was about and whether it was necessary. He said that in his opinion it meant nothing. That is the point he advanced.

Mr. Paget

I have had two various opinions from the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). He first told me that it was a limitation, that is to say, that it precluded the councils from doing the things they might otherwise do. He then changed his mind and said that it authorised them to do things they otherwise might not do. Which is the Government's view? Is it an Amendment to preclude the councils from doing things or to authorise them to do them?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Before my hon. Friend replies, may I say a word to the hon. and learned Gentleman, because that is not a true exposition of what I said? What I said was that as Clause 3 expressly gave power to the Minister to make conditions, unless there was a permissive power in Clause 4 it might be——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has already made a speech.

Mr. Walker-Smith

With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I was not making a speech. I was endeavouring to correct the misapprehension which the hon. and learned Gentleman created, no doubt unintentionally, in regard to my intervention. There was no inconsistency at all in what I said.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Marples

If I might intervene for a moment, though not as a lawyer, and continue my own speech, I will deal with the point which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton made and which was not made by anybody else. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that this Clause meant nothing. I always bow to the lawyers, with their immense knowledge, and forensic skill, but I must here point out that, if this Clause is not in the Bill, the exporting authority will have no power to make contributions to the receiving authority.

What does the Clause mean? We are told that it means nothing. [Interruption.] Well, I made a note at the time, and that is what I understood was said. Without it, local authorities could not make contributions and so, I think, it is rather necessary for it to be in the Bill. When moving the Amendment, I explained that this is a voluntary agreement between local authorities, and different from the agreement with the Minister.

It is not necessary for the two local authorities to go to a court. They may go to an arbitrator, but the Minister is in a more powerful position if he is asked voluntarily than if he imposes himself upon them as an arbitrator. He is more likely to get smooth working of the Bill under such circumstances if there is a dispute. If he does not impose himself upon the local authorities to act, as it were, in a legal capacity, then he can use his influence in trying to bring the two parties together. He could use his influence under what I might term the "old boy" basis.

Mr. Benn

A little earlier the Parliamentary Secretary laid it down that no contribution could be made without the authority of the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman forces himself down the throats of the exporting authorities at the beginning, and yet he appears to be so reluctant to appear again. If he is called upon to give an opinion earlier on, he should also holf himself available to deal with difficulties.

Mr. Marples

Under this particular Clause, the exporting authority can make a contribution wider in extent than the Minister can make under the terms of the Bill. Therefore, if they can go far and wide, it would be wholly improper for him to set himself up as a judge in a contract which was in dispute. I hope that, having had a lengthy discussion during Committee stage, and again on Report on this matter, the House will now come to a conclusion.

Mr. Paget

I have tried to put the point that, while we appreciate the Minister has been trying to help, the Amendment—not the Clause—means precisely nothing. Having the Minister acting as arbitrator may be of great value, and hearing that may have justified this debate; because, if all local authorities know that the Minister is prepared to act as arbitrator on their agreements, I think that many of them will take advantage of the offer that has been made and thereby save themselves a great deal of litigation.

But, as to the actual meaning, I had two different views from those held by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). He said that this is an empowering Clause, and previously he said that it is a limiting Clause. In my very humble submission, it is neither. Let us just consider the matter for a moment.

In Clause 3 we are authorising the Minister to make a payment from the Exchequer. Now when we authorise a Minister to make payment he can only do it precisely subject to the terms of the authorisation, and can only lay down conditions we authorise him to lay down. That is because he is using Exchequer money. Conditions are laid down, as they have to be laid down for the use of Exchequer money, in the Bill, but that does not become, by implication, limitation upon other people contracting with their own money. For example to put down conditions which A would like to impose upon B and B would like to accept from A is a proposition so ludicrous that I do not feel any hon. and learned Gentleman would really consider it.

We have therefore the position that this Clause provides for an agreement for payment by local authority A to local authority B and local authority A can put on any conditions—as the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out. They might be conditions quite outside this Bill. Yet the Clause does not authorise them to impose any conditons.

As to other limitations, we might say that the effect of this Clause, by specifying conditions to relieve congestion or overpopulation, excludes other limitations. But again we have this difference of opinion, because that is not the view of the Parliamentary Secretary. He said there might be conditions not only not for the relief of congestion and over- population, but right outside this Bill. That is what he said five minutes ago. And I should have thought it was plainly so. If we satisfy certain acts by implication, we exclude other acts which would require authorisation. We do not exclude other acts which do not require authorisation at all. Since, where A makes a payment to B, it requires no authorisation to anyone, but imposes conditions which are acceptable to B, we do not exclude anything.

Therefore, we have talked for something like an hour and a quarter on an Amendment which, in my humble submission, means absolutely nothing at all. It makes not the slightest difference to this Bill whether it is excluded or included. I honestly feel that—and I am sorry about this, but perhaps it is the arrogance of a lawyer—if the Government had had the advantage of real legal advice on interpretation, which is a highly technical job requiring a lot of training, we might not have taken so long over an Amendment, the inclusion or exclusion of which makes no difference to anyone at all.

Amendment agreed to.