HC Deb 16 June 1958 vol 589 cc732-5

(1) Notwithstanding anything in Part I of this Act, none of the rights or powers conferred thereby or by any order made thereunder shall authorise any interference with any telegraphic line belonging to or used by the Postmaster General, or include any right or power to require such a line to be altered.

(2) Where an authorisation has been granted under section one of this Act, and, for the purpose of enabling any authorised operations to be carried out, the Board require an alteration to be made in any telegraphic line of the Postmaster General, the provisions of paragraphs (1) to (8) of section seven of the Telegraph Act, 1878 (which provides for the alteration of such telegraphic lines in the case of work proposed to be done in the execution of an undertaking authorised by an Act of Parliament), shall apply as if the authorised operations were (within the meaning of that section) work proposed to be done in the execution of an undertaking authorised by an Act of Parliament, if apart from this subsection those operations would not be taken to be work so proposed to be done.

(3) Where in pursuance of an order made under section three of the Acquisition of Land Act, as applied by section fourteen of this Act, a public right of way is suspended, and, immediately before the date on which that order became operative, there was under, in, upon, over, along or across the way to which the order relates a telegraphic line belonging to or used by the Postmaster General, the Postmaster General shall have the same powers in respect of that line as if the order had not become operative: Provided that this subsection shall have effect without prejudice to the provisions of the last preceding subsection.

(4) In this section "telegraphic line" and "alter" have the same meanings as in the Telegraph Act, 1878.

(5) In the application of this section to Scotland, for the reference to the Acquisition of Land Act there shall be substituted a reference to the Scottish Acquisition of Land Act.—[Sir I. Horobin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir I. Horobin

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I do not think the Clause will detain the House long. It is for the comparatively unimportant purpose of preventing many telephone and telegraph lines from being pulled down. We have discovered that, in the process of applying this novel C.R.O. procedure to the already complicated land law of England, there may be cases where telegraph and telephone lines are going along land which is a public right of way which may be affected by the provisions of the Bill, and if the right of way were affected the Postmaster-General would no longer have any right to have his poles there.

6.0 p.m.

It may well be, of course, that they will have to be removed, but there are special provisions, as I am sure everyone will agree there should be, for protecting him in that matter. This Clause is modelled on Section 117 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and all it does is to ensure that, where the Postmaster-General's lines are in this way affected, special machinery is laid down—and I need not detain the House to describe it—to make sure that proper notice is given to him, and proper protection, before his lines are interfered with.

Mr. Robens

We have no objection to this Clause, but I must say that it is very new; new, in the sense that it was never referred to during the passage of the Bill through Standing Committee, nor was there any remote reference to it in the Bill itself. I do not complain about that. In the confused state of the Government's mind, with all the legislation they are churning out—and so overworking the Parliamentary draftsmen—small matters like telegraph poles do get mislaid and forgotten.

The main point here is something which was discussed in Standing Committee; that a reference to any particular Minister meant a reference to all the other Ministers. The Parliamentary Secretary will be aware of the attempts made by some of my hon. Friends always to include the Minister of Agriculture, when reference was made to the Minister of Power, to make absolutely certain that the Minister of Power would consult the Minister of Agriculture on matters referring to opencast workings. We finally agreed, though not easily, that the collective responsibility of Ministers was proved, and that, therefore, there was only the necessity to mention the Minister of Power in the Bill and that that would automatically include all other Ministers who would be affected.

Having persuaded us to that effect, with all the ability that the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary could command, we now have a Bill in which they have forgotten the Postmaster-General. All I want to know is whether or not they will forget the Minister of Agriculture when the Bill is passed. How does it come about that the Postmaster-General, with all his telegraph poles, cables and the like—not small things to be put on one side and overlooked, but bulky things—was completely forgotten—indeed, if someone had not thought of it at the last moment, probably all telephonic communication in various parts of the country would have come to an end—and when it was impressed on us during the Committee stage to such an extent that we withdrew all our Amendments relating to the Minister of Agriculture on the assurance that the Minister of Power would consult all Ministers?

We accept the Clause, but on this occasion we would like a word from the Paymaster-General as to whether we can now be assured that we can permit the Bill to go through without putting down a lot of Amendments in another place so as to include all the Ministers whom we want to include in joint consultation; whether we can from now on accept what was put to us with such force, that if we consult one Minister of the Crown we are consulting them all, where they have an interest. If so, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Minister who hawks telegraph poles around the country was forgotten?

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

I will gladly respond to the right hon. Gentleman's invitation and apologise for the unfortunate omission of this provision from the Bill. I will not bandy words with him on this issue, but we certainly do apologise. It is clear that some provision must be made in relation to these telegraph posts, which are the property of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. I do not think that the general principle of collective Government responsibility is in any way impaired by the new Clause, or by the fact that we did not put in this particular provision at an earlier stage.

I can cheerfully assure the right hon. Gentleman that, to the best of my knowledge and advice, the fact that this Clause is to be included does not invalidate anything said earlier about Ministerial responsibility by myself or my colleagues during the Committee stage.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Did the Postmaster-General bring this to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, or did that Department bring the position of the Postmaster-General to the notice of the Postmaster-General?

Mr. Maudling

That sounds rather like the famous question about the chicken and the egg, to which I do not know of an answer.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.