HC Deb 29 April 1958 vol 587 cc326-31
Mr. Amery

I beg to move, in page 16, line 23, to leave out: on land in the vicinity and to insert: within two miles of any part This Clause deals with the prevention of interference with the operation of electrical apparatus such as radar. The object of the Amendment is to delimit and define our powers to prevent such interference, in the same way as in Clause 10 we limited our powers to prevent obstruction of airfields to a radius of two miles. As it happens, the distance of two miles meets our essential requirements here, as in the case of obstructing airfields.

We are advised that such a distance would cover the requirements of most electrical equipment now in use, or likely to be brought into use in the foreseeable future. We have, accordingly, thought it desirable—although in this case we were not pressed to do so—to write a two-mile limit into this Clause as well.

Sir F. Soskice

The House will know that the expression of thanks to which I gave utterance in connection with the Amendment relating to the word "vicinity" will also be applicable to this change. I am just as grateful for this as I was for the previous change.

Amendment agreed to.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Soames

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

When the Bill came up for Second Reading it was evident that its scope and purpose were generally approved by the House. But it is a complicated Bill and its details touch upon many aspects and affect many interests, and it was equally clear that the Committee stage would be of particular importance. In the event, a number of Amendments were put down, which led to useful debates. In some cases the debates themselves, and the exploration of the points raised, were sufficient; in other cases Amendments were made, and, on Report, we saw other additions made to meet points raised by hon. Members in Committee. Broadly speaking, those Amendments have satisfied the House.

There seems to be only one point in the Bill in respect of which there is still some disagreement, and that is the matter which was debated at some length on Report, arising out of Clause 1. As the House knows, that Clause brings to an end Defence Regulation No. 51, among others. That Regulation covers a wide area of land throughout the country, and doing away with it undoubtedly meets with general approval, both in the House and in the country. Indeed, that approval and acceptance would probably have been unanimous had it not been for the most unusual case of the East Ham and West Ham Councils in connection with an area of Epping Forest which is at present held under Defence Regulation No. 51 for temporary housing.

This was an unusual, if not unique, use of the Defence Regulation, and the House has heard the legal position explained with care by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, and the specific matter of housing in East Ham has been dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Broadly speaking, the Government's attitude to this problem is that since the Defence Regulation covers a very wide area of land throughout the country, the only two ways open to the Government to meet the difficulties of East Ham were either not to do away with the Regulation, which would have been a very considerable decision to have taken, and something which would not have been welcomed in the country, or, on the other hand, to treat it as a specific case, which it is, and for the Government to give what help they can to ease the path and make it simpler for East Ham to build a greater number of houses. My hon. Friend explained what steps my right hon. Friend intended to take to meet that point.

Apart from that point, which is quite unrelated to defence in its broader aspect, I think that the House will be unanimous in wishing to see the Bill reach the Statute Book. It enables us to put an end to a number of wide and arbitrary powers which had to be granted in time of war and which we do not want to see become a feature of our national life in time of peace. It substitutes for them much more limited powers, all of which are flanked by full provision for the safeguarding of private interests. When the Bill is enacted we shall have provided the Services with certain powers over the use of land which are necessary in peace-time, and we shall have provided owners, tenants and lessees with statutory rights to safeguards in such a way, as our debate today has shown, as meets with the approval of both sides of the House. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

10.10 p.m.

Sir F. Soskice

After our very full debates upon this Bill I feel the House would not like a prolonged exposition of our view from me at this stage. We have had, I think, extremely fruitful debates. Our deliberations on the Bill were greatly facilitated by the very clear statement of purpose by the Secretary of State on Second Reading, and when the Bill was in Committee Ministers were most receptive of and sympathetic towards and helpful in the difficulties which we felt, and on Report in consequence they felt able to propose a number of Amendments which met arguments which were put forward largely from the Opposition side in Committee and partly from hon. Members on the Government side as well. We are, as I have already said, extremely grateful for that, and the result of this, we think, is a really useful Measure.

It was introduced as a Measure, in effect, for the tidying up of existing legislation, for disposing of certain war-time powers whose usefulness had been largely exhausted, and for improving the procedures which were available for the purpose of conducting large-scale manœuvres in this country and also smaller manœuvres on a more limited scale. All those powers were useful, and from the outset, as soon as we understood the purpose of the Bill as expounded by the Secretary of State, we were ready to indicate our approval in general of the purposes of the Bill.

We think it is very much better now than it was as originally introduced, and I think that I shall be speaking for my hon. Friends if I say that they are content with it in its present form—of course, always subject to what we regard as the somewhat lamentable exception relating to East Ham and West Ham. I do not want to go back over the ground relating to the demolition of that housing, but I am bound to say that it should not have been beyond the wit of the Government, even this Government, to have saved the 234 and 83 houses from the premature destruction which will be their lot as the result of this unexpected and, I am sure, unintended consequence of this defence measure. However, I do not go back on that. We have voiced our views, and the House, on Report, has expressed its view upon that matter. We still feel that the Government did not meet our point of view on that, although we are grateful for such small mercies as the Parliamentary Secretary was able to announce on that topic.

We are, as I said, pleased now with the form of the Bill. We think it is useful. I should like to thank the Ministers concerned for the trouble they have taken both in explaining their purposes when they introduced the Measure and in meeting various arguments which were put forward from the Opposition side upon individual, detailed characteristics of the Measure.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Hayman

I should like to add a word of thanks and to say how grateful I am to the Minister for the concessions that have been made, particularly in regard to the special representative for amenity interests on the manœuvres commissions, on which I was very keen in Committee.

We are pleased that the Bill has been amended in same of the directions we wanted but, as with all other Bills, the main point now is how it will be administered when it is an Act. In particular, there is the question of compensation under Clause 4. I hope, as I said in Committee, that the Government will not be too niggardly in dealing with compensation claims as some of their representatives have been in the village of Carnkie in my constituency, near my home.

Then there is the question in Clause 2 of the limitation of areas of manœuvre. I would draw attention to the fact that in a local newspaper two months ago there were photographs of an Army lorry bogged down on Dartmoor, miles outside the limits in which the military had power to manœuvre. I hope that that sort of thing will not happen again.

Clause 6 provides for occasional use of land for defence training. In Committee the Secretary of State for Air referred to West Merrivale, in Dartmoor National Park, which he said was used occasionally. I was able to point out to him that it had been used on 207 days and 14 nights in 1957, which seems to be rather more than occasional use, indeed very nearly permanent use.

Again, under Clause 1 the Ministry will have to relinquish parts of the Dartmoor National Park which had been requisitioned under Defence Regulations. Presumably, if it wants to keep those areas it will have to apply for other powers or exercise such powers as it already has. In the last week or two there has been a very tragic accident in the Dartmoor National Park, on the Okehampton artillery ranges. A boy of 15 was killed by bursting shrapnel from a mortar bomb. His 11-years-old sister ran in terror for 3½ miles across some of the roughest parts of the moor. Dartmoor National Park consists of about 80,000 acres, of which half remains under the control of the War Office. Visitors go there in increasing numbers every year. I hope that when the time comes to operate Clause 1 the War Office will give very careful consideration to relinquishing their areas of Dartmoor National Park and will seek places elsewhere, perhaps in the highlands of Scotland, where there will not be so much disturbance of public amenity.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.