HC Deb 23 June 1961 vol 642 cc1910-3

3.0 p.m.

Mr. J. Wells

I beg to move, in page 9, line 1, to leave out subsection 6. I have no desire to detain the House.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order. Although I did not move the Amendment in page 5, line 38, I did wish to move subsequent Amendments.

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that there is an obstacle to that. They are not selected. I moved to the present Amendment as being the next selected.

Mr. J. Wells

I have no desire to detain the House and I am most anxious to get on. If it were possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) to accept the Amendment, or indicate that he would go a long way to meet my requirements, I could save the House a long speech.

Mr. Aitkenindicated dissent.

Mr. Wells

That is most unfortunate. What I dislike most about subsection (6) is that it gives more power to a statutory body. It is a most undesirable extension of public power arising from a Private Member's Bill.

The Telegraph Act, 1878, gives a definition of a telegraph line as: The expression 'telegraphic line' means telegraphs, posts, and any work (within the meaning of the Telegraph Act, 1863)"— I do not propose to go into a paper chase looking that up— and also any cables apparatus pneumatic or other tube, pipe, or thing whatsoever used for the purpose of transmitting telegraphic messages or maintaining telegraphic communication and includes any portion of a telegraphic line as defined by this Act. The Bill goes much too far, and I am sure that my hon. Friend should go half way to meeting me by trying to quieten down this provision in another place.

Mr. Aitken

I am afraid that there are so many complications in this matter that it is almost impossible to give an answer straight away without giving some ideas of the requirements of the Telegraph Office. I would much rather that the Minister, with his greater knowledge of the details, should give the answer.

Mr. Wells

I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not feel inclined to meet me, because I am most anxious that he should get his Bill, and, if he is not prepared to do that with this bit of his Bill, I am inclined to think that he may not get his Bill at all, which would be very unfortunate.

This is an extension of power to which I take the gravest exception. Subsection (6) says: Where immediately before the conveyance of any land by a highway authority in pursuance of this section there is under, in, upon, over, along or across the land—

  1. (a) any telegraphic line…belonging to or used by the Postmaster-General; or
  2. (b) any apparatus belonging to or used by statutory undertakers for the purposes of their undertaking…"
That is far too wide. There are many types of statutory undertakings today and it is most unreasonable to extend these further powers to them. If only some arrangement could be found by which this subsection could be altered in another place—

Mr. Hay

From what my hon. Friend has just said, it is clear that he has completely misunderstood what this is all about.

Mr. Speaker

Had the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) finished his speech, or is this a form of intervention? He finished speaking with a half-completed sentence.

Mr. Wells

I was under the impression that the Parliamentary Secretary was interrupting.

Mr. Speaker

I have to put the Question when the hon. Member has finished speaking.

Mr. Wells

Perhaps I can finish my speech to see what answer we get, which might be the most convenient way to proceed.

Mr. Hay

I am sorry that I interrupted my hon. Friend. I was under the impression that he had finished his speech.

He has possibly misunderstood what the point of the subsection is. I admit that it is complicated. The whole Clause is complicated, but the purpose is quite simple. The Clause gives a local authority a power, which it does not have now, of adjusting the boundaries of a highway. If in the course of doing that it finds that it needs to take a small fraction of land, it is to have the power to exchange land of its own for the land it wants to take it is envisaged as a perfectly straightforward negotiation, between the authority and the landowner or landowners concerned, leading to an agreement. That is the purpose of the Clause, and that is why it is framed in this way.

Subsection (6) is intended to do nothing more nor less than to preserve the position of the owners of statutory undertakers' apparatus. A piece of land which is sought to be exchanged under the provisions of this Clause might well have under it pipes, cables, telephone lines or other types of apparatus belonging to statutory undertakers, and we must give them the opportunity of intervening in any bargain so as to get an assurance that the position of their apparatus will not be disturbed. If such an arrangement goes through there will be a change of ownership, and it is only right that the Postmaster-General and other statutory undertakers should, if they want, have the opportunity of getting their apparatus out of the land which is to be exchanged once it has ceased to be a highway.

If what we are doing is to allow local authorities to give up a piece of land to a landowner adjoining the highway in exchange for a piece of land which is to go into the highway, and if there is statutory undertakers' property under the highway and that arrangement cannot continue, we must make provision for the apparatus to be got out.

That is what the Clause is intended to do. If my hon. Friend looks at section 300 of the Highways Act, 1959, he will see what is intended in circumstances like this. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he has perhaps misconceived the idea of what he is trying to do, and I urge him not to press the Amendment.

Mr. Lipton

While the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) is trying to make up his mind whether to accept the suggestion of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, and to give him time to look up the Statutes relating to the matter, I should like to say that I find myself on the side of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. He has put forward a reasonable explanation for the inclusion of this subsection.

I feel impelled to make a further comment. In the course of his remarks the hon. Member for Maidstone used some rather threatening language towards the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) to the effect that unless either he or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary accepted the Amendment it was unlikely that the remaining stages of the Bill would be completed.

I do not, nor does the House, like this kind of threatening or bulldozing attitude. It may be that when the hon. Gentleman has been here a little longer he will realise that that kind of tactic does not pay—not here anyhow. It may pay in whichever constituency he happens to represent, but it will not work here. That is an additional reason why I find myself completely antipathetic to his argument, and if on this occasion he has the temerity to force the Amendment to a Division I shall be very happy to support the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. J. Wells

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) for his helpful remarks. On looking at the principal Act, and in view of what my hon. Friend said, it appears that I should be well advised to withdraw the Amendment, and I beg to ask the leave of the House so to do.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.