HC Deb 19 October 1954 vol 531 cc1047-53

Order read for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of the Amendments to Clause 6, page 9, line 7; Clause 18, page 22, line 21; Clause 23, page 26, line 31; and the new Clause (Associated companies), standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Secretary Stuart.—[The Lord Advocate.]

4.1 p.m.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Before we agree to this Motion, may I offer our congratulations to the Secretary of State for Scotland that he is able to be with us today? Scotland learned with some alarm that there was a prospect of losing him, and was a bit apprehensive when looking at the possible alternatives. Naturally we were very much relieved when steps were taken to issue a very prompt denial. We realise now that the right hon. Gentleman was not with the Prime Minister with a view to recommending a successor but, presumably, with a view to giving the Prime Minister assistance in other directions. We hope that any disability or embarrassment that arose from the rumour to which I have referred will soon disappear and that the right hon. Gentleman will return with his usual vigour as Leader of the Conservatives in Scotland.

Perhaps he will inform us whether the Amendments referred to in the Motion, which has been moved by the Lord Advocate and which we do not profess to follow with the clarity customary with a normal Bill before the House, include any provision such as was announced by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to deal with the question, which has been mentioned in the Press, of people who have, so to speak, been swindled when they bought land. Does he intend, as seems to have been forecast, to introduce legislation to compel local authorities to make up for the robbery of private individuals by unscrupulous land dealers?

Mr. Speaker

The only Question before the House is whether the Bill is to be recommitted in respect of these Amendments. If the House agrees to the Motion, perhaps we could discuss at the proper time the interesting topic which the right hon. Gentleman is raising.

Mr. Woodburn

We do not profess to understand these Amendments very well, and I wanted to know whether they include an Amendment which has been announced by the Minister of Housing and Local Government containing some provision to compel local authorities to recompense people who have been robbed by enterprising private enterprisers.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind opening remarks. We will take appropriate action on the same lines as have been announced in connection with the English Bill now in another place. This matter is not included in the present set of Amendments.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

We have had no indication why it is necessary to ask for a recommittal of the Bill. When the Bill was in Committee we had quite a little trouble, part of which was due to the fact that the Government were determined to get it through Committee within a certain time. Is the fact that we have now to resume our Committee stage in the whole House due to wrong tactics by the Government in not allowing sufficient time to get proper consideration of the Bill in the Scottish Standing Committee? There is a tremendous number of Amendments on the Notice Paper. My right hon. Friend voiced his feelings about the continued presence of the right hon. Gentleman as Secretary of State for Scotland. It may well be that the Secretary of State has been so busy writing Amendments that he has not got down to writing his letter of resignation.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

This Motion comes far too late in the history of the Bill. The Government's planning and programme with regard to the Bill were inadequate from the very start. Consideration of the Bill was cut short unduly in the Standing Committee. The Government's procedure has been discriminating against Scotland, as between the Scottish Bill and the comparable English Bill. Too little time was allotted to our Bill, and so discussion was cramped and scamped, and ultimately even the time which was allowed in the Standing Committee was cut away, with injury to the Bill and to the people who are concerned with it.

I am dealing with the Motion before the House, Mr. Speaker. I see your anxiety, but I intend to keep in order. The Town and Country Planning Bill for England, which is comparable to the one that we are now discussing, is smaller, and yet more time was allowed for it in the Standing Committee; 15 days were allowed in Committee for the English Bill and only six days for our Bill. The Motion now before the House is a belated recognition of the misconduct of the Government in leaving too little time for the discussion of the Bill. When taken in conjunction with what happened in the Committee, the Motion may predispose foolish people outside this House towards other forms of government, perhaps totalitarian or Communistic, because these things bring our own form of government into ridicule and contempt.

Why did the Government do this? On 17th May, which was the fifth sitting day of the Scottish Grand Committee, the Secretary of State announced the truncation of the sitting. That was the condition precedent to the Motion now before the House. I venture to say that in parenthesis, in order to make clear that I am in order. The truncation of that sitting induced the Scottish Labour group—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot make out whether or not the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing against the Motion to recommit the Bill. He seems to be going very much wider and dealing with a lot of history relating to the Committee stage. He must argue, if he feels so inclined, against or for the recommittal of the Bill in respect of these particular Amendments.

Mr. Hughes

I am arguing against the Motion, and for that purpose I am submitting that the Motion is belated. It is a wrong Motion. There should have been more time for discussion in the Standing Committee. When the Secretary of State made his announcement truncating the time for discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee, he thereby induced the Scottish Labour group, with justification, to put upon the Order Paper a Motion, which of course I cannot move now, but which I think, subject to your guidance, Mr. Speaker, I should be in order in mentioning.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman was kind enough to say that he would submit to my judgment in the matter. I regret to inform him that my judgment is against him. That Motion is not before us. I understood that there was an Amendment to be moved.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. L. Clyde)

There is an Amendment to the Motion, Mr. Speaker, of which notice has been given. I beg to move, at the end, to add: and in respect of the Amendment to Clause 43, page 45, line 14, standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Secretary Stuart.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

This latest announcement. Mr. Speaker, is one of the reasons we find it extremely difficult to accept the Motion. Until you, Sir, announced the fact, we had no idea that there was an Amendment to the Motion. It would seem to be a little disrespectful to the House that the first intimation which we receive of a further Amendment is when you, Sir, the Speaker of the House, intimates that it is about to be moved. That, to my mind, is not treating the House with very great respect.

There is a great deal in what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), but the truth of the matter is that these four Amendments for which the Government seek to recommit the Bill are due to the fact that there is to be an added charge. That added charge makes it imperative for this recommittal Motion to be moved.

Added charges have come about only as a result of the discussions on the comparable English Measure in Committee upstairs; and because, during the passage of the English Bill, certain Amendments were made bringing about added charges, the Scottish Office have brought forward these Amendments in order to bring the Scottish legislation into line with the amended English legislation. That is the simple reason for so doing, and one has to consider whether or not it is a good enough reason for agreeing to the Motion. I certainly must make a protest, which I am sure is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that at this very late stage we should be given notice of a further Government Amendment of which we have had no previous intimation.

Mr. Woodburn

I suggest that the best thing the Government could do would be to take the Bill back until they have finally made up their minds concerning the form in which they want to bring it before the House. It is clear from what has been happening, and from what is promised in other places, that there are going to be continual Amendments, not only here but also in another place. It would really be much more satisfactory if all these difficulties and new situations were fully foreseen, and if a Bill were drafted which covered the problems in an effective way.

This patchwork process is bound to give rise to further difficulties, and that is why I suggest that the Government should consider very carefully whether they ought not to reconsider the whole Bill with a view to putting it in proper form before bringing it forward for discussion. I received a note a few minutes ago intimating that this Amendment was to be moved. I quite understand why the Government wish to move it, but there may be a number of other Amendments of the same character coming along, and it really is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with a very complicated piece of legislation.

Mr. J. Stuart

I apologise to the House for the fact that we have to amend this Motion. It turns out that we have to recommit in respect of another Amendment, but the House has had plenty of notice of that Amendment. If hon. Members will refer to the Notice Paper, they will see there the Amendment, which is in Clause 43, page 45, line 14, at end, insert: and paragraph 1 of the Fourth Schedule to the principal Act shall have effect subject to a proviso that the value of any interest, as calculated for the purpose of assessing compensation payable under section twenty of that Act, may be a minus quantity. It was impossible to get the Amendment in its proper place on the Order Paper while the House was not sitting.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

May I ask the Secretary of State to give still further consideration to the suggestion of withdrawing the Bill at this stage? The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has put the position very clearly, but there is a further point which I think should be considered. This Bill, with its enormously complicated provisions, greatly taxed the Lord Advocate during the Committee stage. Those provisions are now rendered still more complicated by the present procedure. I suggest that, in order to save the Lord Advocate from the persistent strain to which he was subjected in Committee, regarding which we had a great deal of sympathy for him, this matter should be delayed until the right hon. and learned Gentleman is reinforced by the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who could help him to explain these complicated Clauses to the House in a satisfactory way.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

That may very well be so, but at the moment we are dealing only with the recommittal Motion.

Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)

I think that the Secretary of State for Scotland is a man of considerable courage to come forward at this time and to present all these Amendments, because the situation clearly shows the confusion which has overtaken the Government in their attempt to push this Bill through the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), because the treatment which the Government have accorded to hon. Members on this side of the House regarding this Bill borders on the cavalier. There is no doubt that these Amendments completely alter the structure of the Bill, and I ask the Government to consider very seriously the situation in Scotland in regard to the sale and the resale of land by means of this Measure. The Government have trafficked in transport and in steel, and they are now proposing to fling the whole Scottish land system to the wolves. In all seriousness, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill and seriously to reconsider it.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]