§ Order for consideration of Lords Amendments read.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move, That the Lords Amendments be now considered.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I should not be in order in this matter if I were to try to discuss the merits or quality of the Amendments, but their quantity must, I think, be unprecedented. The Notice Paper now contains no fewer than 217 new Amendments. They include 12 new Clauses and three new Schedules, and the Bill which left this House, printed on 91 pages, will, if the Lords Amendments are now to be added to it, have about one-third of its bulk added to it. It will then amount to about 124 pages, and this is a Bill which was very carefully considered in Committee, on Report, and, of course, both on Second and Third Reading in this House.
Now we are asked to accept an addition of this quantity and order without any proper opportunity of going through the Amendments in the way we do with the ordinary part of a Bill, first in Committee, then on Report, and so on. It may be said that a lot of these Amendments are purely drafting, and I would say to the Minister at once that if he is prepared to drop all the Lords Amendments which are not drafting Amendments, he will have no difficulty.
But there is a great deal more in it than that. There are a number of Amendments which were made in another place of a complex character, some introducing some considerable changes, and there are some really substantial and controversial points. One particular proposal of the Government appeared as Clause 34—I think it was—in the original Bill. It has now become, or will become if the Lords Amendments are accepted, not one Clause but a whole part of the Bill, and it has been most substantially altered and complicated for the purpose.
All that we can do is to put down Amendments within the scope of the 1587 Lords Amendments, and that, as the House knows, is a very restricted matter indeed. We cannot put up full and reasonable alternatives, and we cannot give the matter the detailed consideration which it would have got if it had been done at an earlier stage.
This particular point is one to which—so we were assured twice by the right hon. Gentleman—he has given deep thought. I do not know whether the points to which the right hon. Gentleman gives deep thought are more firmly embedded in Government policy than those to which he pays scant attention, but the results of his deep thought are these great changes made in another place. I am not on the merits. What I do say is that it is disgraceful that the Government should bring in a Bill of this complication and length, carry it through the House, with quite substantial Amendments in this House, then take it to another place and there add one-third to its contents and make alterations of a most sweeping character.
It is not the way to deal with legislation, particularly when we look at what the Bill is about. The first sentence in the Explanatory Memorandum reads that its main purposeis to provide a market value basis for compensation for the compulsory purchase of land, and this is dealt with in Part I.That means that the financial side of the Bill is predominantly important. The Bill will affect the amount of money paid by local authorities and others, including Government Departments, to private citizens in certain circumstances. The Financial Memorandum, which appeared with the Bill when it was first presented, made it clear that it would add about one-quarter to local authorities' costs of compulsory acquisition in an ordinary year. It is no small matter.
This has been altered and added to in the Lords. As far as I can see, out of the 217 Amendments which we are asked to consider, over 50 raise questions of Privilege. What has happened in another place is that they have dealt with a Bill which, from that point of view, and in its effects on local authorities, is substantially a financial Bill, and have made sweeping alterations to it. I am not criticising the other place as such in 1588 the least. What I am criticising is the Government's conduct.
We have had two or three Bills in this Session in which the Government have changed the whole Bill two or three times in the course of the proceedings. That they should do so in this House is at least tolerable, if inconvenient, but in this case they have taken the Bill to another place and changed it there, which makes the proper consideration of financial provisions by this House quite impossible and has the effect of putting a blunderbuss at the head of the House and saying, "Pay now."
We all know the reason for the hustle of the moment. It is that the Government were rightly pressed by Scottish hon. Members to have a re-enactment for Scottish purposes, and it will take them a little time, no doubt, to get the re-enactment through. That is no excuse for what has happened. If the Government wanted a Bill, it was their business, in the first place, not to cover every drafting point, not to include the kind of alterations which were made in Committee here, but to ensure that they would not need to add another whole part to the Bill, 12 new Clauses, in another place after the Bill had left us. It is a complete and scandalous abuse of Parliamentary procedure that we should be asked to consider questions of this character and at this time.
It may be said, "If you object to that, what do you suggest?" I would, first, go into the past and suggest to the Government that when they intend to make alterations of this kind affecting money and the right of the subject, they should make up their mind, if they have one, before they bring in the Bill and not afterwards, because this is a matter which goes beyond mere Amendments. Secondly, having shown that they are a drifting and drafting Government, and do not know where they are going or what features to put in the Bill, and having put us in this ridiculous position, it is their business to take that into account and to drop these new proposals, not on their merits—I am not talking about that—but because it is not fair to the House and not right under our constitutional procedure that the proposals should be put before us in this way and at this stage of the Bill.
If this were allowed to go without protest, we might as well give up half 1589 our right of legislating in this House. If a Bill which is fundamentally a financial Bill—not in a technical sense, but fundamentally a financial Bill—is treated in this way, and that is allowed to pass without protest, and if the Government have their way on this occasion, who is to stop not only them but any other Government of the future from doing the same thing and from passing the powers which ought to rest in financial matters with the elected Members in this House to another place, where they have no nonsense about elections?
I hope that the House will divide against the proposal because of the character of the Bill, the quantity of the Amendments and the thoroughly bad effect which procedure of this sort is bound to have on the proper position of the two Houses in matters of this kind.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I associate my Scottish colleagues with the protest made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) about the manner in which these Amendments have been presented.
We in Scotland have a much greater grievance against the Government over the Bill than have the English Members. It will be remembered that when the Bill originally passed through the House considerable criticism was levelled at the manner in which the Government had handled it, not only by officials in Scotland but also by the legal profession and the Faculty of Advocates itself. Now we have this great bundle of Amendments from which, once again, we have to extract all the Scottish references to what is purely Scottish legislation.
The Bill deals with no fewer than five different purely Scottish Acts. Not satisfied with that, we are asked, in the course of the Amendments, to undertake the amending of a still further Scottish Act—an Act which, by the way, has very little to do with town and country planning. Not satisfied with having incurred considerable criticism about this, the Government have sought in another place to commence to amend the Land Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act. 1845.
This is not the way in which we ought to be treated. I do not know what the Law Officers are thinking. It is disgraceful conduct on the part of the Law Officers to allow the law of Scotland to be 1590 dealt with in this manner. When we were dealing with town and country planning, it was bad enough to have to try to disentangle the Scottish provisions from the English provisions and to apply them to the suitable Scottish Acts, but the Government have gone further and have introduced another Bill in the course of these Amendments.
The Amendments make considerable changes to the law of Scotland, and I wonder what opportunity the local authorities, who are vitally concerned about this matter, had to consider the Amendments. As far as I know, not a single local authority association in Scotland has considered these 60 pages of Amendments, very many of which concern purely Scottish legislation. Has the County Councils Association considered the Amendments? Have the Counties of Cities considered them? Has the Convention of Royal Burghs considered them?
The Joint Under-Secretary of State ought to tell us what steps the Government have taken to ensure that the local authorities have had an opportunity to consider the Amendments so that we might discuss them properly in the House today. As far as I know, there has been no consultation. Very many of the local authorities affected by the further Amendments have had no opportunity to discuss them. We have had them for only a short time I am convinced that no local authority in Scotland has had an opportunity to go through the Amendments to disentangle the Scottish provisions from the English provisions, to apply them to the Bill which is itself, of course, an entanglement of Scottish and English provisions, and then to apply them to the appropriate Scottish legislation.
This is an insult to Scotland. It is making a mockery of the rights of Scottish hon. Members to discuss alterations to Scottish law. I am surprised that the Solicitor-General for Scotland has the courage even to appear in the House to defend them. I understand why the Lord Advocate is not here. I wonder what the Faculty of Advocates will say about this. It had a great deal to say about the Bill originally, and I am convinced that if the Faculty looks at the present Bill it will have a great deal more to say.
1591 4.30 p.m.
This is an intolerable imposition on Members of Parliament. Not content with that, the Government expect us to deal with the Bill in two and three-quarter hours and to be finished by 7 o'clock. It takes two and three-quarter hours to understand what the Amendments are all about, quite apart from appreciating the arguments for and against them.
§ Mr. Willis
It certainly would take that time for the Minister to get up and say, "Purely drafting." Yet we are expected to deal with them all in that time. This is an intolerable imposition and I hope that we shall divide the House in protest against the manner in which this Bill is being dealt with.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Most of us have taken a passing interest, or, rather, have been prevented from taking a passing interest, in this piece of legislation since it was sprung upon us many months ago. We had many sittings in Committee. The Bill came out of the Committee bearing little resemblance to the one which went in. When we considered it on Report the Government produced pages and pages of Amendments, and the Bill that got a Third Reading in the House was not recognisable as being in any way related to the Bill which got a Second Reading.
Hon. Members can see the original Bill which I am holding in my hand, and then back comes the present Bill with this book of Amendments. It is rating the House very small if the Government think that we can consider all these Amendments, have a Royal Commission and obtain the Royal Assent to this Measure in such a short time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has said that we in Scotland have had a particular "grouse" right from the start. I would defy anyone, be he Scot, English, Irish or Welsh, to read this legislation and say what it means in respect of Scottish law.
§ Mr. Ross
After one has sorted out the English law one has to read special applications in respect of Scotland. One only has to read any one of these applications to appreciate how difficult it has been for us to try to cope with the work on this Bill But we now have this booklet consisting of nearly 60 pages of Amendments. The Amendments are in full in respect of the English law. Then we get a strange conglomeration of Amendments related to ancient Scottish application and new Scottish application.
I spent one hour on one Amendment trying to find out what it meant. Eventually, having discovered what it meant, I then found that that to which it was applied had already been the subject of an English Amendment. Nevertheless, with my customary Scottish patience I perservered. I went through another Amendment. I spent three and a half hours on it before I discovered that there was a misprint. There is not even a Government Amendment to put that misprint right.
It was one of my duties at one stage during the war to be sent along to examine, from the point of view of security and safety, the Chinese system of coding and cyphering and to find out what margin of safety there was. I can assure the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland that the truth or enlightening or common sense, if there be any, is more securely locked up in this Bill than was ever in any Chinese cryptogram. I wonder whether the Solicitor-General has found the Amendment in which there is a misprint, or whether he is going to put it into law? It just does not make sense.
We have been coping with these sorts of difficulties concerning Scottish legislation and, added to that, there is the complete inability of anybody who is answering for Scotland to satisfy us about the justification for what is being done in relation to Scotland. We have been told that there was no demand for this Bill in Scotland in the first place. It has no justification in relation to the number of hardship cases which have been cited.
§ Mr. Ross
The words actually used, I think, were that we were dealing with something which was of purely academic interest to Scotland. No doubt, this academic interest will have been duly amended in another place. We have had this slipshod treatment of Scotland all the way through.
The basis of our argument today is this: it is difficult to understand all this as it applies to England, and it is much more difficult to understand it in its Scottish application. We have had very little time in which to consider it. There has been not time for the local authorities, who are the people who will have to find the additional millions of pounds, to consider it and to convey to us the results of their consideration and there is no time for us to draw the attention of the local authorities to what is coming upon them from this Government of wonder men. It is not good enough.
I want to know exactly why the Scottish Office continues to be dragged along and deliberately moulded into certain sections of English law. There is no justification for it. [Laughter.] The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) laughs. Does he not appreciate the glories of this Government of his? Here we have a Bill that has come from another place. Nine months have been spent on it, and now it has been decided to change the word "roads" to "highways". It took all that time to make that decision.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does not my hon. Friend realise that that is the most intelligible of all the Amendments which are proposed?
§ Mr. Ross
Yes. I was delighted by a piece of Liberace language.
I am sorry that one of the Amendments from another place is not being accepted by the Government. Where, normally, we talk about something happening within one year of the passing of an Act, we now get language like "at the first anniversary of the passing of the Act." Are we to have bonfires on that first anniversary, duly lit by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, with the Secretary of State for Scotland handing him a torch? This is a hotchpotch of utter nonsense. What astounds me, too, is the feudal subservience of the Government to everything that comes from another place.
1594 We have here 60 pages of Amendments, and I think that only two of those Amendments have been rejected. This bland acceptance of lordly suggestion is something that amazes me. I feel that the Government have no proper appreciation of what has come from another place. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland, or one of his minions, legal or otherwise, will tell us about some of the slipshod references to Scotland. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury need not get worried; we have only just begun. Quite apart from references to Scottish Measures that have caused difficulty, there are other slights to Scotland which require a certain amount of justification.
Our main grievance is that so many new Clauses and new Schedules have been introduced at a stage when the Minister does not even require to explain them to us and when, if I ask for an explanation, I will have exhausted my right, although not my ability to speak. It means that Ministers can shelter under this new practice of foisting on us, under the guise of Lords Amendments, something that is completely new, something which, normally, would have a Second Reading and Committee and Report stages before it went elsewhere. It is to this more than anything else that I object, because if there is anything that requires teazing out and sorting, and the questioning of Ministers, it is these proposals under town and country planning. We are just not going to have the opportunity to do this.
I doubt whether you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when putting these Amendments to the House could read them in the time that the Government have allowed for discussion. I want to register my protest as strongly as I can at the treatment that Scotland has received all through. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) mentioned that the Faculty of Advocates had voiced strong disapproval, but that voice is now silenced because the man who sent the protest is now one of Her Majesty's judges in Scotland. I wonder what he will make of this Bill if anything comes before him in respect of it.
What has the Solicitor-General got to say about this?
§ Mr. Ross
The best thing he can do is to say nothing in this case. It would probably be very much better if he just tendered his resignation and let Scottish law be looked after by English Ministers as well, because this is something that no honourable Scotsman would be prepared to put up with any longer.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I endorse and press the protest of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). Some of us spent months dealing with this Bill in Committee, and on Second and Third Reading. We spent many weary hours, during the course of our discussions, pointing out anomalies in the wording of the Bill, but we got very little change out of anything we said or proposed.
When the Bill came up for Third Reading we still thought that it was a bad Bill. Some of my hon. Friends thought that the policy behind it of free market value for the price of land was wrong. I do not disagree with that, but when the Bill left this House it was not the kind of Bill which the Committee, or, at any rate, those of us who took part in the discussions, wanted. It is amazing to find that when it comes back from the other place there is this mass of Amendments. It is even more amazing to be told that we must get the Bill through by seven o'clock. That is utterly impossible. I understand that arrangements have now been made for the House to discuss the Bill after that time, but if we sat all night the House would not be able properly to appreciate this vast mass of Amendments which has come from the other place.
Some of the Amendments are completely new Schedules. Nobody has had time to consider them properly. I have not had the opportunity of consulting local government authorities with whom I am in contact, and apparently the same thing has happened in Scotland. The House will, therefore, be discussing nearly 60 pages of Amendments without adequate knowledge, or without having had time to size up exactly what the proposed wordings mean.
May I give one illustration? The Memorandum to the original Bill contained an estimate of cost to local authorities. It said that the Bill would 1596 result in a cost of about £8½ million extra to local authorities for the purchase of land. I have searched through these Amendments from the other place, and, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) pointed out, a great many of the Amendments are financial ones. It is impossible to say whether there will be any extra cost to local authorities because of these Amendments. We have no Memorandum. Nobody thinks it worth while telling the House of Commons whether the Amendments will add to the costs of local authorities when taking land for public purposes of various kinds.
This is a gross abuse of Parliamentary procedure. It is a gross abuse of the patience of hon. Members who try to be useful in discussions on these matters. To ask us to take this huge list of Amendments and get through it in one day is asking a little too much and will result in Amendments being made which the House itself simply does not understand the effect of.
Anything of that kind is an abuse of the procedure of the House of Commons and I want to register my protest. We ought to have almost a week on this. We tried hard to understand the original Bill. In spite of about 26 meetings in Standing Committee, at the end we still were not clear exactly what it meant, and neither were some of the Law Officers. Nobody in the House now, not even the Minister himself, will be able to say what the effect of these Amendments, if they are passed, will be on the work of local authorities in the purchase of land and the effect on thousands of landowners up and down the country. I hope that this protest will be noted and that the House will not again be asked to deal with a Bill of this kind in such a short and niggardly time.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
I agree with my hon. Friends in protesting against the abuse by the Government of this House of Lords Amendment procedure. Fifty-seven pages of Amendments have been handed down to us. I agree they were ordered to be printed on 29th June and it is now only 9th July. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) said, there were 26 sittings in Committee upstairs. We then had the Report stage, when the House was considering the same Bill 1597 which had been presented on Second Reading. Now we find that the Government are handing us a book containing 57 pages of Amendments and hoping to get through them in a few hours. I agree that the rule is now suspended because of the introduction of Private Business set down for seven o'clock. We now have to meet again on this business at ten o'clock or earlier. No doubt this most complicated Bill will be forced through tonight, or in the small hours of the morning.
This is putting the House of Lords above the House of Commons. We are allowed one debate upon each of these Lords Amendments occupying 57 pages. There is no Second Reading of them, no Committee stage, no Report stage and no Third Reading. These Amendments are handed to us. We have to take them or leave them. The Government have their majority and the Minister will say, "I beg to move, 'That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment' ". There may be a debate on it. Clearly, there can be, but if the House of Commons is to do its duty it will be here all over the weekend.
If it does not do that, then the House of Commons has been bemused by the procedure and placed in a very awkward and scandalous position by the Government using the House of Lords, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) pointed out, to push through things which were never in the Bill in the first place. My hon. and learned Friend said that there were three or four more Schedules, comprising, also, matters of Privilege.
§ Mr. Bowles
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend.
This is the last stage of this vitally important Bill. I am not able to talk about the Scottish aspects of it, but my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) have made their protests already. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham has made his protest. I join with my hon. Friends in protesting at this extraordinary abuse. In my experience in the House of Commons I cannot remember any occasion when the House of Lords has been used by the 1598 Government to force through a tremendous number of Amendments to a Bill which had passed the House of Commons after very careful consideration. I register my most profound protest against what the Government are doing.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
I add my voice to the volume of protests being made this afternoon at the procedure which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends see fit to impose upon the House. I was one of those who sat in Committee on the Bill. It happens to be one of the local government interests which I follow in the House. We had twenty-six sittings in Committee. We examined the Bill thoroughly. In deference to the right hon. Gentleman, I acknowledge that on the last two or three sittings we gave him a great deal of business, very largely as a result of an appeal made by him. There was always the threat of the guillotine if we did not. We endeavoured to co-operate with him to conclude the Committee stage and bring the Bill back to the House on Report.
My objection is this. We are now confronted with a mass of new Clauses, new Schedules and Amendments, all of which could have been dealt with on the Standing Committee stage; but the Minister was in a frame of mind where he absolutely refused to make any concession, beyond one or two very small and minor ones, to the propositions we put before him in Committee.
It indicates also that the Minister does not understand the Bill. Those who advise him do not understand the implications of what they are trying to do. Otherwise, all these propositions now before us would have been in the Bill originally. First, the Government, not knowing what they were doing, brought a Bill before the House which they did not understand and they were not fully aware of what they were trying to do. Secondly, the Government took the Bill to the House of Lords to make very important Amendments and additions. They now bring it back and expect us to accomplish in about two and a half hours what normally should take, at the very least, two or three days in Committee in the House. There are some vital and most important proposals in this mass of Amendments, new Clauses and new 1599 Schedules which are worthy of debate and discussion.
Whilst it is true that the Government are entitled to their legislation, the Opposition is entitled to time for debate. We are as much concerned as Government supporters with the consequences of the Bill. As an Opposition, we have a right to all the time we want to argue our case and analyse thoroughly the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are inflicting upon the country. We are not being given that time. We are being deprived of it. An attempt is being made completely and radically to change the form and content of the original Bill by a back-door method.
§ Mr. Sparks
As my hon. Friend says, we are now subjecting to a totally different procedure vitally important propositions, which normally would have taken a very different course in the House if they had been introduced here, as they should have been and as we are entitled to request that they should have been, in the original stages of the Bill.
The Government are floundering so much on this important Bill. They do not know what they are doing They are abusing the procedure of the House. There is a case for the Opposition refusing completely to permit the Government this afternoon to proceed to debate these Lords Amendments until the Government have made up their mind to give the Opposition sufficient and ample time to discuss the propositions. That is a reasonable request.
It is physically impossible to absorb the substance and effect of the mass and volume of proposed Amendments in a matter of two hours this afternoon, or, indeed, in one whole sitting. Shall we witness the spectacle later of the right hon. Gentleman merely rising and formally moving the Lords Amendments, without giving any explanation of the consequences? That is the method to which he will have to resort. He will never push this business through, even in one sitting, without resorting to a formal moving of all these Amendments and then leaving us and the House to discover what they are all about.
1600 That also is a complete abuse of the procedure of the House of Commons. After all we did in Standing Committee to help the right hon. Gentleman, it is most unworthy of him to turn around and bring in a load of Amendment from another place, completely change the fundamentals of the original Bill and expect us all to remain dormant and silent and acquiesce in these major changes. Town and country planning legislation is a major matter. It is one of the most complicated of all legislations to which one can give consideration. Even lawyers find great difficulty with it.
§ Mr. Sparks
Yes, especially lawyers. Right through the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman tried to cage a conception of what he called free market value. He has been trying to put it in a cage and fasten it there. So there it is. But he has never been able to do that. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman hopes that all these Amendments from another place will provide an adequate cage in which to place this formula. But I do know that town and country planning legislation is extremely complicated and difficult and the consequences to the community and to local authorities are vital and important.
Originally the Bill put an additional burden of £9 million on the ratepayers. These new Clauses, Amendments and Schedules will probably add another £9 million. We do not know and the Minister will not tell us. We are entitled to an adequate explanation of these propositions from another place. We expect such an explanation. If it is not forthcoming, because of lack of information from the Government, we ought to divide against all of them. If we did that, we should not finish by seven o'clock tonight; we should want three full days in order to do that.
I am not suggesting that we should be as awkward as the right hon. Gentleman has been over this matter. All we ask is that there should be a measure of co-operation between the Government and the Opposition. We in the Opposition have our rights and duties. If the Government think they are going to ride 1601 roughshod over the Opposition and force fifty-seven pages of Amendments down our throats in two hours, we are entitled to object and to demand adequate time in which to discuss this major matter and all its consequences for the ratepayers and for local authorities. We do not think the time provided is adequate. I do not think we can proceed with the consideration of this mass of Amendments, which change the Bill completely from its original form, if we have not the time to examine and understand the significance of them.
§ Mr. Silverman
I hope not. I sincerely appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter in the light of what he has heard this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) said that the Opposition has rights in this matter and that the Government ought to provide sufficient time for the Opposition to consider this extraordinary document with proper care. I agree, but I wish to suggest to the Minister that there is more involved here than the rights of the Opposition.
We have a responsibility in the House of Commons for the legislation which ultimately we enact. Although undoubtedly there are some points of principle in this Bill on which the division of opinion follows party lines, there are a great many others where there are differences of opinion about the amendment of the present law; about the effect of the present Act; the consequences of some Amendments to the Bill and the consequences of Amendments proposed from another place, which have nothing whatever to do with points of principle on which the parties may differ.
May I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one or two of them? I hope it will not be regarded as presumption on my part if I say that I understand the difficulty of the Government. Some of my hon. Friends have spoken about their local government experience of town and country planning. I have not much local government experience in that regard, though I did serve for many years on the estates committee of one of the larger provincial 1602 cities. But I think that I have a fair professional experience of the working of the present Act. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I mean when I say that as a result of the interpretation put upon various parts of the Act by the courts, especially in recent years, there has emerged a situation which did require review, amendment, clarification and codification.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
Surely the responsibility rests with the Prime Minister who, in 1957, wrecked a perfectly good system by bringing in an unworkable financial arrangement? That brought about a crisis which led to the Government bringing in this muddled Bill.
§ Mr. Silverman
J think my hon. Friend is right about some of the major difficulties. He will know from his own professional experience—
§ Mr. Silverman
I thought perhaps my hon. Friend had had some experience. Perhaps he will take it from me that there are a number of other difficulties arising out of decisions in the courts, some with penal consequences, that have nothing to do with the broad matters of principle about which there has always been conflict between the two sides of the House.
I can see the almost irresistible temptation to the Government to use the opportunity provided by the introduction of this Bill to try to do some of the clarification and codification which is necessary. I suggest to the Minister that one reason for the difficulties is the jumble of conflicting and almost unintelligible decisions by the courts, and that arose precisely because the wording of the original legislation was never examined adequately. A large part of the difficulties are difficulties of verbal interpretation. Surely, in a situation of that kind, the very worst way to try to clear up the mess is to invite Parliament at a late stage, under duress, without adequate time, to pass sixty pages of highly technical jargon.
It is not right and the Government will not get a satisfactory result. We on this side of the House know perfectly well that the Government have a majority, that they can call a Division, that they 1603 can move the Closure. The Division bells may ring and we may troop through the Lobbies, and at the end of the day the Government will have won a victory. I do not know when, I hope it will not be today, but eventually the Government will get the Bill as they want it. But that will be no satisfaction at all if the result is to make confusion worse confounded.
It seems to me that the opportunity of doing what the Government wanted to do was lost at the early stage in the discussions on this Measure. There was no urgency to bring in this Bill, but the Government decided to bring in a Bill dealing with town and country planning. The proper time to give consideration to the scope of the Bill, and what kind of improvement it was desired to make, was surely at that stage. Then it could have been discussed during the Second Reading debate and during the Committee and Report stages and on Third Reading. Here we have what is, I think—I have not looked the matter up—a unique event in my experience as a Member of this House. We get a volume of Amendments from another place which change the character of the Bill so much that they include three Amendments to the Title. I cannot remember a similar occasion.
It is not the purpose of Amendments from another place—I do not say that there is no right—to alter the scope of a Bill altogether. Amendments from another place should not be such as would be out of order, as being outside the scope of the Bill, unless its Title were amended to bring them into order. That is not the right way to do it.
I will not deal with any of the Amendments in detail, there will be an opportunity later to do that. I have already said that some of the Amendments deal with those parts of the law which have penal consequences, and those very Amendments are, as I understand it, retrospective. In other words, in this matter and at this stage of the Bill we are asked to alter the criminal law of the country with retrospective effect. The right hon. Gentleman must, on reflection, realise that that is not the way to do it
As my hon. Friend the Member for Acton said a few minutes ago, we are dealing with one of the most complicated, complex, obscure branches of our 1604 law and, at the same time, a branch of the law that can at any moment affect any citizen in the country. The difficulties of obscure and complicated legislation have resulted in a situation which undoubtedly needs amendment, but let us bring proper attention to bear upon the things that need amendment. Let us, at any rate, do things in order, and for heaven's sake let us at least know what it is that we are doing.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must have no doubt whatever about the precise bearing and effect of every altered comma in these sixty pages, not merely on the Bill but on the whole series of town and country planning legislation over the past ten years. I am sure that he would not take the responsibility of asking us to accept all these alterations unless he were absolutely sure—more sure than the courts of the Queen's Bench or of the Court of Appeal, or of the House of Lords—what they all meant and what effect is going to be produced.
We are humble Members of the House of Commons and we do not pretend to know. It has got to be explained to us. We are like the man from Texas. It must be put into our hands and explained, if possible, in words of one syllable. There are sixty pages of it and there are one and a half hours left out of which we must take the time for any Divisions that we decide to have. This is not the way to legislate, and certainly not the way to legislate about a matter which can only be considered detail by detail
I have nothing to say about my hon. Friend's difficulties in Scotland.
§ Mr. Silverman
I heard my hon. Friend with great sympathy, and perhaps with less understanding than sympathy, because I do not pretend to understand the English law, let alone the Scottish law. But apart from any difficulties which there may be in Scotland, the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone in the House that there are considerable difficulties in England. That is why these Amendments have been tabled in another place. But that is not what the right hon. Gentleman set out to deal with when he started the legislation. I have the original Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum begins by stating:The main purpose of this Bill is to provide a market value basis for compensation for 1605 the compulsory purchase of land, and this is dealt with in Part I.Parts II, III and IV deal with a variety of miscellaneous matters, but the main purpose is quite clearly stated to be the provision of a market value basis for compensation.
That is one of the matters on which, probably, there may or may not be differences of opinion and on which the differences of opinion may or may not follow party lines. But of the Amendments from the House of Lords—the 60 pages of them—very few have anything to do with that, as I understand. They are dealing with the parts of the Bill that are not the main purpose for which the Bill was introduced. As I have said, some of them will be out of order unless we begin by amending the Title so as to bring them within order.
I think that I have been as long as I ought to be, and perhaps a little longer, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will believe me when I say that I am not here making any party point of any kind. I am not concerned on the Motion now before the House with any question of Government advantage or Opposition advantage. I am not concerned with Government or Opposition advantages on the merits of any of the proposals, and I am not even concerned with Government or Opposition advantage in the procedural sense of the word and with the ordinary give-and-take of conflict between the Government and the Opposition.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to believe me when I say that I am sincerely directing his attention to the un-desirability on general grounds of dealing with this kind of complicated question in this hasty, ill-considered way. It ought not to be done, and, if it is done, it will not produce a satisfactory result.
Before I sit down, may I say that on Monday next we shall be discussing for a whole day the procedure of Parliament with a view to improving it in such a way as to make it a real workmanlike machine for the job which the electors have given us the responsibility of carrying out. It is a poor prelude to considering alterations and improvements in our general procedure if we are so to—I will not say abuse—misuse existing procedures in order to carry through by 1606 mere weight of numbers in a short time a series of amendments to the law on important questions when nobody, or scarcely anybody, in the House has the faintest idea what it is that he is being asked to do or what it is that he is doing. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to think again.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
If I may have the leave of the House to speak again, I should like to reply to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who addressed himself particularly to me, and to other hon. Members.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that there were 217 Lords Amendments on the Notice Paper. The vast majority of them are of a drafting or consequential character, as I am quite sure he appreciates. The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) raised the financial point. The financial effect of these Amendments is marginal. I agree that in some of the like Clauses local authorities may. on occasion, be required to purchase earlier than they would otherwise do property which they want to purchase in any case. but the whole of these Amendments make no significant difference to the financial effect that has been given to the House before. I think it was the hon. and learned Gentleman who said that this was unprecedented.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that over fifty of the Amendments are privileged on financial grounds?
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that there may be Amendments which raise questions of Privilege where the financial effect is marginal. That is what I was saying, and I say it in all sincerity. I was not saying that all the Amendments were drafting, but only that the majority of them were of a drafting or consequential character.
Various hon. Members said that this was unprecedented, that it was a misuse of the procedure of the House and the kind of thing to which the House ought to give special attention next Monday. I can only say, before it goes to a Division, that I think the House should know that the 1947 Town and Country Planning Bill came back from another place with what Lord Silkin, who was in 1607 charge of the Bill, described as 221 Amendments of a purely drafting character. In addition, there were another 89 Amendments which were of more than a drafting character, most of which Lord Silkin invited this House to agree to. That was a total of 310 Amendments as against 217.
We are inviting the House to proceed with the consideration of 217 Amendments on a Thursday afternoon with the Rule suspended—as some hon. Members may not appreciate—whereas the Labour Government invited the House to consider and agree with the great majority of 310 Lords Amendments on a Friday. It appears to me that what the Opposition are desiring to do is to divide in belated protest twelve years later against what they call the abuse of the procedures of this House committed by their own Government.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I appreciate the force of what the Minister says. I would not defend what was done in 1947, because I do not think it is the right way to do these things. I have said that this afternoon, and I would have said it equally well in 1947. Is not the right hon. Gentleman drawing the wrong conclusion—
§ Mr. Silverman
No, Sir, I am not. I hope the Minister will look at this matter in the light of the litigation which has resulted from imperfect and doubtful drafting and will regard that as an example to be avoided.
§ Mr. S. P. Viant (Willesden, West)
Before the vote is taken, I should like to express my opinion. I have been a Member of this House for a large number of years and on numerous occasions have seen legislation of a similar character to this rushed through. I hope that we shall waive the party line this afternoon and appreciate that if we do the same thing now we might be making errors.
I sat through the Committee proceedings on the Bill, and I recognised that the Bill is involved and complicated to a 1608 very high degree. I appreciate also the desire of the Government to get it through; but let us consider for a moment whether we are doing justice by pushing the Bill through without an opportunity of weighing up the pros and cons of the Amendments from the other place.
The Patronage Secretary is present. I appreciate his desire to push the Bill through this House, but I suggest to him that adequate time and attention have not been given to the Lords' Amendments. I doubt whether the Minister himself is wholly cognisant of what they might mean.
§ Mr. Viant
I know. The Patronage Secretary has probably said to the Minister, "We must get this Bill through. We have no further time to spare." I entreat hon. Members to reconsider the position and whether it is worth while pushing this Bill through in such great haste so that in a short time cases will arise in the courts because the legislation has not been thoroughly digested and understood in this House. Ill consequences are likely to arise. I appeal to the Ministers and to the Patronage Secretary here and now to decide that they would be prepared to give more time to consideration of these Amendments in order that the whole thing may be completely tidied up.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
As representative of a Scottish constituency, I am taking a rather belated interest in the Bill. I have made attempts on previous occasions to understand Town and Country Planning Bills. When we had separate Scottish legislation it was a little easier to understand them than it is now. The Minister can talk about the 1947 Act till he is blue in the face; we then had our separate Scottish Bill, which was easier to understand than is the present Bill.
It is interesting to note that we have not yet had from the Solicitor-General for Scotland answers to the points raised by Scottish Members. The Minister ought not to come here and tell us that all or most of the Amendments are drafting or consequential. It is we who shall decide that and not the right hon. Gentleman. It is a well-known trick of 1609 Ministers to say that from the Government Dispatch Box and so bluff the House into accepting Amendments without discussion. I shall not be surprised if the Minister says that Amendments are consequential, but I shall ask him what makes him come to that conclusion.
For instance, there is a Lords' Amendment, in page 10, line 22. at the end, to insert:(4A) An application for a certificate made by virtue of subsection (1) or subsection (3) of this section shall specify the matters referred to in paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of the said Section five, and shall be accompanied by a statement specifying"—
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles Mac-Andrew)
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we cannot deal with the Amendments now.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am trying to make a point against the Minister's statement that many of these Amendments are consequential and I was giving this Amendment as an illustration. I do not know whether this one was included with the consequential Amendments, but I do not think it is either a consequential or a drafting Amendment. I shall ask a series of questions about it. I want to understand fully where these sections, subsections and paragraphs are and where I can find them. I want to go away from this House at the end of the debate fully aware of what the provisions of the Bill mean. The right hon. Gentleman will have to give a series of full explanations of what is happening.
The mere fact that we have fifty-seven pages of Amendments from the antiquated place along the corridor is sufficient to arouse my suspicions of the value of the Amendments to the people of my division. I have had representations from the Fife County Council about this. The Minister said that there were only marginal financial consequences affecting local authorities. Who is he to decide that? He does not know the financial difficulties of some of our local authorities. What is marginal in his view may not be marginal in the view of local authorities.
Even if it is so, and assuming that we accepted the Government's view of
§ most of the Amendments as either drafting or consequential, and we therefore pass them without discussion, remember that we have fifty-seven pages of them. If we take an average of one division per page, which is not unreasonable for an Opposition as reasonable as ourselves, and an average of ten minutes per division, we shall spend 570 minutes, in other words 9½ hours, trailing through the Division Lobbies. Yesterday we spent six and a half hours discussing nuclear tests and the whole gamut of foreign affairs. Today, if the Opposition are reasonable and co-operate with the Government, we shall nevertheless spend 50 per cent. more time trailing through the Division Lobbies than we spent yesterday discussing foreign affairs. That is the ridiculous situation to which we are reduced by the Government's attitude on the Bill.
§ I am not going to be satisfied with it. As an Englishman representing a Scottish constituency I have found Scots law quite incomprehensible. I want very full explanations from the Minister, and from Scottish Ministers in particular, of exactly what the provisions of the Bill mean and what alterations the Lords have made in the Bill. I have another question, which I hope the Lord Advocate will answer. We have not had the Amendments very long. What consultations were there with the local authorities in Scotland before these Amendments were brought to this House? This question has already been asked by one of my hon. Friends, and we have not had an answer. It is a relevant question, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to reply.
§ I put this further question to the Minister. Will he give an assurance that it is not his intention to get the Bill through before this day's sitting ends? If he does not give that assurance, he will go without his breakfast tomorrow morning.
§ Question put, That the Lords Amendments be now considered:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 176, Noes 123.1613
|Division No. 166.]||AYES||[5.30 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Balniel, Lord|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Arbuthnot, John||Barber, Anthony|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Armstrong, C. W.||Barlow, Sir John|
|Amory, Ht. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Atkins, H. E.||Batsford, Brian|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Neave, Airey|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Hare Rt. Hon. J. H.||Nugent, Richard|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Page, R. G.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Heald Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Partridge, E.|
|Body, R. F.||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Peel, W. J.|
|Bonham Carter, Mark||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Braine, B. R.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Pitman, I. J.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hobson, john (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Pott, H. P.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.(Saffron Walden)||Holland-Martin, C. J-||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Carr, Robert||Hope, Lord John||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Redmayne, M.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Cole, Norman||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Robertson, Sir David|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Iremonger, T. L.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackcool, S.)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Corfield, F. V.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Russell, R. S.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sharples, R. C.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Shepherd, William|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Kershaw, J. A.||Speir, R. M.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Kirk, P. M.||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Davidson, viscountess||Lagden, G. W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lambton, Viscount||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Leavey, J. A.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Teeling, W.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Temple, John M.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Duncan, Sir James||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Eden, J- B. (Bournemouth, West)||Longden, Gilbert||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, s.)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Fell, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Wall, Patrick|
|Finlay, Graeme||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||McMaster, Stanley||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Freeth, Denzil||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Webster, David|
|Gammans, Lady||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||Madden, Martin||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Godber, J. B.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Marshall, Douglas||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gower, H. R.||Mathew, R.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. w. (Woodside)||Mawby, R. L.|
|Green, A.||Medlicott, Sir Frank||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Mr. E. Wakefield and Mr. Bryan.|
|Grimond, J.||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)|
|Balfour, A.||Foot, D. M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Benson, Sir George||Forman, J. C.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Beswick, Frank||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lawson, G. M.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Gibson, C. W.||Lewis, Arthur|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Greenwood, Anthony||Lipton, Marcus|
|Brockway, A. F.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Lianelly)||McAlister, Mrs. Mary|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||MacColl, J. E.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Hamilton, W. W.||MacDermot, Niall|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hannan, W.||McLeavy, Frank|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hastings, S.||MacPherson, Malcilm (Stirling)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Hayman, F. H.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Clunie, J.||Herbison, Miss M.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Holman, P.||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hoy, J. H.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen. N.)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hunter, A. E.||Moody, A. S.|
|Dodds N. N.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Moyle, A.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Oram, A. E.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Viant, S. P.|
|Owen, W. J.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Skeffington, A. M.||Weitzman, D.|
|Panneil, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Paton, John||Snow, J. W.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Pearson, A.||Sorensen, R. W.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Peart, T. F.||Sparks, J. A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Plummer, Sir Leslie||Spriggs, Leslie||Willey, Frederick|
|Popplewell, E.||Steele, T.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Redhead, E. C.||Stonehouse, John||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Reeves, J.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Ross, William||Thornton, E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Tomney, F.||Mr. G. H. R. Rogers and Mr. Deer.|
§ Lords Amendments considered accordingly.