HC Deb 29 April 1959 vol 604 cc1390-4
Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, in page 7, line 18, to leave out: not exceeding one month and". I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to accept this Amendment. I think it is a reasonable one, and that the Clause, as drawn with these words in it, is not reasonable. I made my case on this matter in the debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." in Committee, and I do not want to weary the House by repeating what I then said.

May I just say that this deals with the Commission's right of entry on to land by any person duly authorised in writing by the Commission. This right of entry is likely to be used, I should think, mainly, although not exclusively, for the purposes of Clauses 7 and 10 for making decisions about what should be in the control scheme, and, ultimately, for the purpose of enforcing a control scheme under Clause 10.

It may well be that the control scheme will necessitate persons being on the land for a considerable period of time, perhaps running into several months. If we leave in the words which this Amendment proposes to take out, it will not be possible for the servants of the Commission, authorised to go in to enforce a control scheme and to give effect to a control scheme, to remain on that land for longer than one month at a time.

As the Joint Under-Secretary said in Committee, if this subsection remains as at present drafted, when the servants of the Commission have been one month on another person's land, carrying out the provisions of a control scheme, they will come off that land, and the Commission will be able to give fourteen days' notice to the person owning the land that its servants are going back to finish the job. They will be laid off for two weeks while the owner is given the fortnight's notice or warning which he is required to have under this subsection.

It is clear that the persons authorised by the Commission to do its work, particularly on Clauses 7 and 10, will, in some cases—I do not know how many—require to be on the land for a period exceeding one month, and there seems no reason why the period should be limited to one month. Within the context of the Bill, if we take out these words, the Commission will have to exercise a discretion, and will write into the notice the period during which its servants will require to have entry on to the land. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will regard it as a most reasonable Amendment and that he will find no difficulty in accepting it.

Mr. Ross

I beg to second the Amendment.

Lord John Hope

I quite appreciate that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) hoped that I would be able to respond to this Amendment by advising the House to accept it, but I do not think that he will feel that it would be at all easy to do that.

That the period should not exceed one month is reasonable on these grounds if on no other; that it really would not be fair to place some one on endless notice, as it were, that his land was likely to be entered upon as of right. Activities may be going on on the land that involve a certain amount of danger—shooting, for example—and, in fairness, the man must have a fairly accurate idea of the limits of the time in which entry may be made.

As the hon. Member for Hamilton himself recognised, the position is not in any way compromised at present, because the notice can be, and would be renewed—

Mr. Willis

But the Under-Secretary is misreading the Clause. The period has to be set out in the notice, whether or no these words are in the Clause.

Lord John Hope

Yes, I realise that, but I was arguing that a period not exceeding one month was reasonable.

It is relevant to point out to the House that, as far as precedent goes, the period in Section 82 of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948 is 14 days, and I think that, compared with that, what we propose is a fairly generous advance. It is not as though the situation were lost, so to speak, to the hon. Member for Hamilton, if the Amendment is not carried. It is perfectly safeguarded and, in terms of equity, I suggest that it is much better to leave the period at one month so that the man knows that that is the maximum, but knows, also, that if it has to be renewed, it can be.

Mr. T. Fraser

There can be no precedent in the annals of Parliament for a Government to set up a Commission by Statute with so little confidence in that Commission's good sense. We do not yet know who the chairman and members will be, but they will be selected by the Secretary of State, who says that the Commission will write into any notice it serves the period of time during which its servants can enter on a person's land—and a person, incidentally, from whose land deer have come to do serious and continuous damage to the agriculture or forestry nearby.

The Under-Secretary says that notwithstanding the fact that the Commission knows full well that its servants will require to be on the land for a period of, say, six months, we, in Parliament, will not give it the right to write that period into the notice but that there must be written a period not exceeding one month. After that, a further notice will have to be served saying that the servants of the Commission will return on the expiry of 14 days. Therefore, by this provision, they have four weeks on and two weeks off.

I thought that the Amendment was so reasonable that it really was not necessary to argue it again here after it had been discussed in Committee, but this is the most foolish and blockheaded opposition I have ever seen to a sensible Amendment. Why does not the hon. Gentleman show some confidence in the Commission which he is seeking power to set up by this Bill? Does he think that if it had to send someone to do a job that would take only three days it would write into the notice a period of four months, six months or nine months? The notice would state that the period necessary for the Commission's servants to enter on the land was three days. Why should we by Statute say that the period may not be more than one month? Will not the Joint Under-Secretary make some concession to common sense and accept the Amendment?

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Hoy

I do not want to prolong the debate, but I think that the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend is reasonable. Surely the Under-Secretary of State must realise that if this job is to be done, and he knows it has to be done and will take considerably longer than a month, it is the height of stupidity to order these people off the land so that in a fortnight they can come back again. I am sure that the Under-Secretary cannot have understood the point or he would not have rejected the Amendment in the way he has. Surely, even at this late stage, it is possible for common sense to prevail and for the Under-Secretary to accept the Amendment.

Lord John Hope

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has understood the position. It is not a question of the amount of time spent on the land; it is a question of the period during which there is authority to make entry. It seems that the hon. Gentleman's argument went to the former point.

Mr. Hoy


Lord John Hope

In that case, his argument is even more incomprehensible.

Amendment negatived.