§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I beg to move, in page 16, line 33, after "works", to insert:or that the development of land in the area in accordance with an application under the Town and Country Planning Acts, 1947 to 1959, is likely to affect adversely the drainage of that land or of other land in the area so as to make remedial works desirable.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I think it would be convenient if the House also discussed the Amendments in page 16, line 36, after "land", insert:as may be necessary from time to time".In page 16, line 36, at end insert:improvement remedial or".
§ Mr. Willey
That will meet our general convenience.
Here we are back again on the Land Drainage Bill after a six months' stint, and I hope that we are in sight of the end of our labours. This Clause deals with schemes for the drainage of small areas and widens the power of the county authorities to promote local improvement schemes. More important, it extends to a river board the right to promote local improvement schemes where the constitution of an internal drainage district would not be practicable.
I said in Committee upstairs that I regarded this provision relating to the river boards as the most important part of this Clause. The Amendments we are discussing are based on a proposal which I, and no doubt other hon. Members, have received from the Clerk to the River Nene Board. His board believes that the Clause should be extended to deal with land which may be adequately drained at the moment but which may be adversely affected by a proposed and known development. That is why the Amendments have been tabled. Anyone who thinks about the River Nene thinks at once of the effects of the ironstone working in the area.
The difficulty with the Clause as drafted is that it is confined to areas 312 capable of improvement by drainage works. In other words, it is confined to the situation which exists at present and there is power to prepare schemes in advance for future developments. When the result of the ironstone workings is known, one can anticipate a general disturbance of the topography and a silting up of the streams in the area. It is for those reasons that we have tabled these Amendments.
I say at once that I realise that these difficulties are at present met by agreement. In fact, the Clerk to the Nene River Board referred me to an example at Finedon where the workings are being carried on by Messrs. Richard Thomas and Baldwins. He says:With a view to overcoming this difficulty, the County Council, the Mining Company, and this Board are to enter into a collateral Agreement before the Planning Authority are prepared to consent to the development which provides that the County Council will prepare a Scheme for the execution of any remedial drainage works which may be necessary.I realise that the River Boards Association believes that these difficulties can be overcome in that way, but I have tabled these Amendments because the River Nene River Board is an important one. It is faced with these difficulties, and if it is possible to provide the safeguards proposed in the Clause I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.
I believe, too, that there are something in the way of precedents in both the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1957, and the Opencast Coal Act, 1958. For those reasons, in spite of the provision which is at present made through the agreement I have mentioned, I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) moved the Amendment in a way which echoed the discussion we had on a new Clause the last time we met, although his present representations are not so wide as those brought forward on that occasion. I wondered whether he had been in touch with the Nene River Board on this point, because I know that that board was concerned with this problem, not least because it has, as the hon. Gentleman said, to deal 313 with the problem of ironstone workings in its area which, without proper liaison and administrative arrangements being made, could cause drainage problems in a different area. On the other hand, the proposed Amendment does not attract the support of the River Boards Association generally because it understands that it will be very difficult to operate in this context.
Clause 27 is entitled:Schemes for drainage of small areas.It is not intended to deal with major works. It is intended to deal with small local problems, and it hardly seems appropriate to insert an Amendment of this kind which would imply drainage other than can be described as local drainage works.
It would not be a logical extension, and if hon. Members consider what has been put to the House they will see that it would be difficult in practice to draw up schemes in anticipation of the effects of planning decisions. That, in effect, is what the Amendment means. Nor would those paying necessarily be those who would benefit from the work, and that is inherent in the small drainage schemes. We would have problems created, maybe at a distance, by work done in a different part of the area, and benefits divorced from payment.
When we discussed a similar Clause on a previous occasion, we discussed at the same time the relevance of planning considerations in this regard. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me about this. If we are to have planning as a vital power we must avoid stripping it of powers whenever a technical reason is put forward.
From time to time, technical reasons are put forward by different interests who say that it would be much better if they settled the matter on technical grounds and took it away from the concept of planning. But I suggest that if planning is to be vital, it must be accepted as taking account and being responsible for technical considerations of all kinds. It must not be looked on simply as a power to deal with the residue of problems which, for some reason or other, have not sufficiently powerful interests to take them out of the planning sphere.
Here we have what is basically a planning problem. It has technical interests, 314 but it is a planning issue and one which ought to be dealt with by liaison arrangements between the river boards and the planning authorities. If it is to be effective, planning must imply a very widespread system of liaison with all the technical services. I do not think it at all out of the ordinary to expect a problem like this to be dealt with administratively in that way. I am sure that it would be a better way in which to deal with the problem than trying to graft something on to this Clause which would change completely its intention and balance and make it, in effect, extremely difficult to work.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not think I am unsympathetic to the problem. I appreciate that there is a problem, but I think that we should attempt to meet it in other ways. I am sure that it would be better to try to meet it in a way different from that proposed in the Amendment.
§ Mr. Willey
I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his reply. The hon. Gentleman spoke of my being in touch with the Nene River Board. In fact, it was the other way round. The Nene River Board has been in touch with this matter through its members and I have become cognisant of its point of view. In spite of the view of the River Boards Association, it felt it should raise this matter and I considered that it ought to be raised by way of an Amendment. I wish to emphasise that although, as I said, in this case the board has been able to take advantage of these agreements, it does not regard the agreements as entirely satisfactory.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that there are two difficulties. One is the financial difficulty, which I will not pursue further, as it might provoke another discussion on the financial support for drainage. I do not think that because of financial difficulties we should preclude ourselves from providing the means to take effective action. I can see the practical difficulties, and I appreciate very much a Conservative Minister speaking about planning with such fervour, particularly about comprehensive all-in planning.
For that reason, and because I am greatly encouraged by this conversion to all-purpose planning, I feel that it would be unwise to press these Amendments any 315 further at the present time. I rest my hopes on the declared intention of the Parliamentary Secretary that the most practical and effective means of dealing with this sort of problem is to encourage a greater recourse to comprehensive planning and provide for the utmost liaison between the Parties affected. Therefore, encouraged and heartened by this assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 17, line 13, to leave out "navigation authority or".
I am glad that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) feels so encouraged at so early a stage. I hope that I shall be able to help him in other ways as we proceed with our discussions.
When we discussed this subsection during the Committee stage, various suggestions were made as to extending the list of bodies which should be consulted before a small local drainage scheme was put forward under the terms of the Clause. It was suggested that the correct way to deal with the proposal was not to add to the list which at the moment specifies only the navigation authority, and that is followed by the words:or other persons appearing to them affected by the scheme.To strike out the one authority specified does not exclude it. In fact, by the following words it is included. It would seem that we ought to stick to the general phrase rather than try to specify. If one adds one sort of authority, there is no reason why others should not be added. I hope the House will agree that the subsection would read better without those words.
§ Mr. Willey
In view of the modesty of some hon. Gentlemen who raised this matter during the Committee stage, and on their behalf, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for, in effect, meeting the point which was then discussed.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Willey
I beg to move, in page 17, line 30, at the end to insert:and a copy of the report to the Minister of the person so appointed shall be supplied by the Minister to the persons by whom the objections are made".316 Obviously there is anxiety to make expeditious progress and I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that we might have a system of "one up, one down." We have just lost one group of Amendments and so I think that we can claim this one.
We are trying to ensure that the safeguards recommended by the Franks Committee are adopted in this Bill. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the Amendment which, I think, is in line with the recommendations of the Franks Committee. I claim at once that it has the support of the Country Landowners' Association and for that if for no other reason I hope that the Amendment will commend itself to the Government. I think that in these cases the report should be made available wherever possible. It was one of the main purposes of the Franks Committee to ensure that this should be done. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary is nodding. I hope that that signifies his agreement, and in the anticipation that this Amendment will be accepted. I will say no more.
§ 8.30 p.m.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made a good suggestion as to how we might make progress. I indeed hope that we shall make progress, but perhaps we should not be so rigid as to follow the hon. Gentleman's particular suggestion.
I agree entirely with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman suggests in the Amendment: that we should follow the recommendations of the Franks Committee and that we should not deny to those who are affected a copy of the inspector's report. On the other hand, I suggest to the House that really it is better that we should have precise rules laid down dealing with specific forms of inquiry which can be made to apply in different cases, rather than that we should attempt to write the rules into each Bill which comes before this House.
Perhaps I can put this in a more simple way. We should not rewrite the rules into every Bill and, in this connection, I can tell hon. Members that at this moment the Lord Chancellor is in consultation with the Council on Tribunals and it is, in fact, intended that rules of 317 procedure for specific types of inquiry will be laid down.
In certain earlier Statutes—those for which my right hon. Friend has been responsible—sentences were added, but that was before we received the Franks Committee Report, and I suggest that it would be better that we should apply the rules which are now in the process of being considered, rather than attempt to write a sentence or two into this Bill now. This is in accordance with the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, even though I am not able to accept the words he proposes.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I very much regret that the Minister has refused to accept the Amendment on the ground that it is better to lay down a general body of rules, which are being discussed by the Tribunal, rather than write into the Bill rules which we assume are to cover every exigency.
One of the things from which this country is suffering—with planning authorities and all sorts of people in different Departments making decisions—is that the victims of those decisions can never get a real answer as to the grounds on which the decisions were made. In land drainage matters, no two cases can be the same.
It is not our intention that any one should be denied the information referred to by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). It is the normal practice for such information to be given. We are concerned to see that there is some authority behind that. There are two ways of doing it. I have suggested one way. I do not depart from the hon. Gentleman's proposal that the information should, in fact, be available to those who want it.
§ Mr. Bence
In that case, why not write it into the Bill? That is precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was asking—that the information given to the Minister on a particular scheme should be available to those persons who are concerned, either in objecting or supporting the scheme. They should be given the information on which the Minister has made his decision to go forward or to reject a scheme.
318 This is important, because it always seems to me that in our history, and in our very social being, we are concerned not only that justice shall be done, but that every person concerned shall see that justice has been done. Too often we hear from constituents of cases where Ministers make decisions and where it is difficult to convey to the people affected all the information that the Ministers have in enabling them to arrive at those decisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North is concerned with an almost inalienable principle of a democratic society; that anyone affected by a planning decision—and the Minister has said that we are to be subject to a great deal more planning and that we are becoming a centrally planned society—shall have at his disposal all the information which has been presented to the Minister and upon which the Minister has made his decision. That seems to me to be the inalienable right of every citizen. If this trend of central planning continues—and I have no objection to it—every citizen should have this right.
I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North in the Amendment, because, looking at the country's historical background, this is a basic and fundamental right of every citizen who is subject to central Government planning. Everyone concerned should know why the Government have made a decision and why there is no alternative to the action being taken.
§ Mr. Willey
I do not think that we should lightly part from this discussion. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows that there is a good deal of anxiety about this matter now and there is a general feeling that the Government have been dodging the implications of the Franks Report. Many people who previously were concerned about the matter, under the present Administration, be it said, are again anxious and concerned.
The Parliamentary Secretary said something which was quite remarkable. He told us that his right hon. Friend and his predecessors had on previous occasions made this very provision in other Acts of Parliament. If I remember aright, we tried it in Standing Committee in this very Measure. The precedents 319 to which he has referred arose almost without exception from Amendments which we on this side moved to the Measures to which he referred. The safeguards were put in at the instance of the Opposition. Time after time in Standing Committee on Bills such as this I have said that what disturbs me is that steps to provide for safeguards have to come from the Opposition. After we raise the matter, the Government give way and accept what we suggest. I would much rather the Government of their own initiative provided for these straightforward safeguards recommended by the Franks Committee. It has not been done.
I concede that the Government may be in difficulty because the Minister and his predecessors have accepted Amendments and, by virtue of accepting them, they appear now more virtuous than other Ministers who have got legislation through, perhaps, without such Amendments being moved. Bills passed in recent years have varied very much in the way that these provisions have been dealt with. But that is a serious reflection on the Government. It is for the Government and for the Parliamentary draftsmen on instructions from the Government to ensure that safeguards are laid down in all legislation providing for procedures such as this. It ought to be standard form, but it is not.
In a wheedling, pleading sort of way, the Parliamentary Secretary says, "Please do not press this Amendment. The Lord Chancellor is considering the matter." I say quite frankly that we are not very impressed by the Lord Chancellor's consideration of these matters. We are not willing to leave the safeguard provided for in this way. If the Parliamentary Secretary is not prepared to accept the Amendment, we shall have no alternative but to divide the House on it. It ought to be accepted. The very fact that similar provision has been made in previous legislation on agricultural matters serves only to reinforce the argument that it should be accepted here. Why should an exception be made? There is no case whatever for an exception here, and we insist that the Amendment be accepted. Otherwise, we shall show our disapproval of the Government's attitude by going into the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. J. B. Symonds (Whitehaven)
I support the Amendment. Taking the matter as it stands, the Minister has gone so far at least as to give the person concerned the opportunity to appear, but when he does appear he has nothing to go on. We say that when he is requested to attend he should have the information so that he may advance a reasonable case.
The Minister has told us that this is something embodied in a comprehensive standard to be applied generally by the Lord Chancellor. This operates at the moment in other inquiries. I know from past experience that representatives concerned in the inquiry have had copies of objections placed in their possession. I fail to see why the Minister cannot embody in the Bill the privilege which is extended in other legislation. As the Minister has gone so far by agreeing that the person concerned should be present at the inquiry, let him have the information that makes the case better and makes a man feel that he has something on which he can act.
There is nothing between both sides of the Committee concerning our desire to give a man the safeguards to which we think he is entitled. The only difference between us concerns the best way in which we should do it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and I have blood of the Long Parliament in our veins. Neither of us wishes to deny anyone a proper safeguard for which no doubt our forebears fought. The question is whether the Amendment is the best way to carry out the desire which we all have. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that we cannot put every administrative provision into every statute, otherwise all statutes would be inordinately long. I suggest that as the Lord Chancellor is considering drafting a new code in which it is intended to include this proposal because it is normal practice today, it seems more appropriate that we should make a code like that apply to statutes of this sort rather than to every statute and that we should not repeat the details every time.
On the other hand, hon. Members may say that in a provision of the sort suggested in the Amendment should appear in every statute in which reference is 321 made to an inquiry. I understand that the Amendment does not covet both forms of inquiry to which reference has been made, and I presume that hon. Members wish the safeguard to apply both to public inquiries and to private hearings by a person appointed by the Minister.
I suggest that hon. Members opposite should consider this matter again and that they should not press the Amendment. There is another place. If hon. Members opposite think that they can improve on the Amendment, no doubt they will move another one. Meantime, if it seems to us on this side that the Clause would make a better balance with the rest of the Bill if an Amendment such as this were inserted, we will consider the matter again. I cannot give a particular assurance, but I suggest that hon. Members opposite should look at the Amendment again. We will look at it again. I therefore hope that, in that spirit, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment rather than press it to a Division.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I am surprised at the reply of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. He says that we should do nothing about this matter and that we should leave it to the Lord Chancellor. We have heard about the Lord Chancellor drafting a code in another place. We are not certain whether it will be drafted. There has been no announcement about it and we are not certain about the details of it.
We are here dealing with specific legislation. We in this House have certain responsibilities. If we want to improve the Bill and to provide safeguards, we can do so simply by accepting the Amendment. I should like to hear the view of the hon. Members for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) and King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard). I am sure that they have sympathy with our point of view on this very important matter.
I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has the blood of the Long Parliament in him. Coming from the same county, I know that his ancestors were very active. I only wish that he was as radical as they were. The hon. Gentleman has retreated. Here, on an important Bill affecting drainage law, we are safeguarding the rights of citizens to have available to them all the full 322 machinery of the law to help them to make necessary objections and the rest and, above all, for them to resist bureaucratic action.
I should have thought that hon. Members opposite, who used to rail against Labour Ministers during the period when a Labour Government were in power because, it was said, we were creating a vast State bureaucracy, would now, in the spirit of the Franks Committee, sympathetically support our Amendment. We are not satisfied with the reply of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. We are afraid that he is passing the question to somebody else outside and that he is failing to accept the responsibilities—
The Amendment as drafted does not cover both forms of inquiry referred to in the Clause. I was suggesting that if the hon. Member wanted to press it, he should do so on another occasion after he had had time to put it right.
§ Mr. Vane indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Peart
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary thinks otherwise. Why cannot it be done? Why not accept the Amendment and improve it in another place? Let us take the first step now. We do not want this vague and nebulous approach which has been suggested of leaving it to the Lord Chancellor to bring in a new code which would apply not only to drainage law, but to other legislation. We are concerned here with drainage law. We can amend the Bill now and improve it later. The Minister can do that in another place if he wishes. I hope that my hon. Friends will accept the advice—as, I am certain, they will—of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and press the Amendment to a Division.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
I should like to ask the Minister why this simple Amendment is being referred to the Lord Chancellor, a high legal authority, when it appears clear to me that it is based solely on common sense. I suggest that the Minister is making a mountain out of a molehill.
§ Mr. Willey
I wonder whether I may put a question to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who, I believe, has made a false point. He has said that the Amendment is limited and that the Government would like to do better and to make this provision apply both to public inquiries and to an inquiry held by a person appointed by the Minister. The hon. Gentleman also said that the Lord Chancellor is considering the question of general rules. Obviously, they would apply to public inquiries. Whether they would apply to a person appointed by the Minister is another matter.
I am particularly concerned with an inquiry of this character when, to use the words of the Clause, it isto…give the authority and the persons by whom the objections are made an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person appointed by the Minister for the purpose.There is nothing worse than that a Minister should appoint a person to hold an inquiry and then say to the authority or to the objectors, "I have appointed a person to hold an inquiry. You do not know what that person reported, but I have now decided against you". The whole purpose of having a person to hold an inquiry, hear objections and allow an opportunity for people to be heard is that the report of such a person should not only go to the Minister but should be available, otherwise there is 324 a good deal of legitimate suspicion of the way Ministers behave. There is too much evidence now that Ministers are disregarding such advice and seeking advice elsewhere: in fact, the Parliamentary Secretary's right hon. Friend.
Although I think that this is a matter for which we ought to make provision, if the Government generously say that they will also make provision for a public inquiry under this Clause, they can do it in another place. But, if they do not accept the Amendment, we have no assurance that they will propose an Amendment in another place. We want an opportunity to look again at this matter. This would be in tune with the general argument that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary first advanced. I say to the hon. Gentleman that we insist upon recognition of the recommendations of the Franks Committee here. If he is not willing to accept the present Amendment we shall regard him as resisting that proposal.
I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to accept the Amendment, but if he will not he is responsible for putting us in this predicament, because we have no alternative but to divide the House on the Amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), if he is concerned about these matters, will acknowledge that he knows as well as I do, because he has been in many of these Standing Committees, that this point is accepted by the Government only when it is raised by the Opposition.
I apologise that we are raising this matter on Report. We ought to have raised it in Committee, as we did on another Clause. This was an oversight. There is more limited discussion on Report. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary says that the Government do not want to accept the Amendment, but there is a long list of precedents behind him, prompted and instigated by the Opposition and accepted by the Government. We insist therefore that this is accepted by the Government. If it is not, we regard it as a departure from the Government's acquiescence at any rate in the recommendations of the Franks Committee.
We have every reason to be suspicious of the Government's motives. The Amendment would make clear that when the Minister appoints a person to hear objectors his report should be made 325 available. If, on this third appeal, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not give way, we shall have no alternative but to divide the House.
I cannot be responsible for the suspicions of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). [Interruption.] May I speak by leave of the House?
I give the hon. Member for Sunderland, North the assurance that the proposed rules will apply to both forms of inquiry and that our object is that those concerned shall have the information. The Amendment does not provide for this. I cannot advise the House to accept an Amendment which does not achieve the purpose that we all want when there is another and a better way of achieving it. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.
I understand that the hon. Member wants to make sure that everybody realises that he attaches importance to the principle behind the Amendment, but so do we. We want to achieve the same thing. I cannot go further than to say that we want the proposed rules to apply to both inquiries, and I cannot say more than that the Amendment does not provide safeguards for the achievement of the purpose that we all want.
§ Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)
I would not have risen had it not been for the way in which hon. Members opposite prevented my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) from speaking again. I must say to them that if they behave in such a discourteous manner they cannot expect to expedite the proceedings on this Bill.
I have seldom heard a more feeble explanation than that given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. This Amendment is one which anybody can understand. It simply proposes that the agrieved person, the person who makes the objection, should be given a copy of the report made to the Minister. What possible objection can there be to that? To start with, the Parliamentary Secre- 326 tary said that he agreed with this, that he was entirely in favour of it. But he added that the Government did not want to write it into the Bill but wished to rely instead on some general rules which are to be made at some indefinite time in the future covering several kinds of such cases.
He did not tell us what he meant by that. When are these rules to be made? Are they to be embodied in legislation? Is there to be a new Bill? Is it to be introduced in this Parliament? Or is this to be merely some vague instruction to civil servants about what they are to do?
The Parliamentary Secretary then changed his ground. He moved from that excuse to another—that this Amendment would not do what was intended, that it would not cover both types of inquiry. That may be so, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said so forcefully, if it does not go as far as the Government wish, there is no reason why they should not put the matter right in another place. But to expect us to believe, on the excuse that there may be at some time in the future some rules to protect individuals in some particular cases, that we should not put this Amendment in the Bill is rather ridiculous. It is the usual sort of bureaucratic excuse—"Do not let us spoil our beautiful Bill by introducing too many safeguards for the individual."
The Parliamentary Secretary said at one point that if we put in all these safeguards the Bill would become intolerably long. On the same argument, one should leave all the safeguards out. He also argued that if such safeguards were to be laid down in the Bill they would affect many previous Acts of Parliament. What is wrong with that? When are the rules to be introduced? What is to be the position meanwhile?
I have seldom heard a more feeble excuse put forward by a Minister on behalf of bureaucracy for withholding from the individual the rights to which he is entitled. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us a better argument than he has given so far. The matter cannot be left here in view of the case which everyone is now discussing, that of the chalk pit in Essex, which is being considered by the Lord Chancellor 327 and being discussed by him and the Chairman of the Committees on Tribunals.
We are all deeply conscious of the dangers which at present threaten individuals in dealing with bureaucracy. It is not only extraordinarily unconvincing, but politically singularly inapt for the junior Minister to have rejected the Amendment. The Amendment cannot do any harm. At its very worst, it may not be wholly adequate. If he finds that is so, then he can easily have an Amendment moved in another place, and if, on examination, that Amendment seems an improvement, we should not raise any objection when it was brought back to us from another place.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I hope that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) will not make another speech, because that would not be in order. He may just ask a question.
§ Mr. Peart
I was seeking to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary why his right hon. Friend does not intervene. The right hon. Gentleman has made an appearance. After all, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has put our point of view very forcibly. Surely we can have the courtesy of a reply from the right hon. Gentleman? Or will the Parliamentary Secretary make another intervention? Will he answer the questions raised?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is putting me in a great difficulty. He is not allowed to make a second speech.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think the Minister is putting us in difficulty if we are not to be allowed to press him to answer the very proper questions which have been put.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that entitles me to go beyond the rules 328 of debate, which are that only one speech on an Amendment may be made by an hon. Member.
§ Mr. Gaitskell
I am not making another speech, but now that the Minister has come in—and we are very glad to see him here—I hope that he will give further thought to this Amendment. It is an Amendment of some consequence involving protection for the individual. I am sure that his sympathies are with the individual. We have been told that there is to be a new set of rules and that that is the main reason for not accepting the Amendment. I have to put this to the Minister because he was not here when I asked the Parliamentary Secretary when the new set of rules will come into operation, what regulations there will be, and other questions.
The Minister has now been sent for and has come to the Front Bench. We hope very much that when the little conversation in which he is now engaged has been completed he will tell us that the Government will accept the Amendment. As I said earlier, it could not possibly do any harm.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
As a Scottish Member with English ancestry, I am always delighted to come to the rescue of my English colleagues in the House. It is obvious that the Minister is anxious to be courteous to the House, to reply to the very important points made on the Amendment, and also to reply to the questions put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
The request made to the Minister has not been very demanding. It is a simple request that, in view of the debate which has taken place on this Amendment, he should give an undertaking that he will think this matter over again and, in the light of the arguments advanced from this side of the House, he will do something about it when the Bill goes to another place. That is not asking very much of the Minister. If he wants to play fair by this House and by the people who are to be affected by these drainage schemes, the least he should do is to consider this matter again.
All the Amendment asks is thata copy of the report to the Minister of the person so appointed shall be supplied…to the persons by whom the objections are made.329 All we are asking is that the persons concerned should be informed of what has happened to their objections and why their objections have been overruled. In a country like this where we proclaim the principles of democracy, the least that should be done is to take the people into confidence and to tell them why their grievances or objections should be rejected and why the Government, or the board, will proceed with a scheme in spite of objections made to it.
This is not a dictatorship where the rights of the people can be overridden by pretending to have an inquiry and not telling them of the result; this is a democracy. I remember the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) asking us to "trust the people". That was his great cry, and it was a very good cry. Surely, the Minister is not going to suggest anything less than his right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford used to suggest. I think that the Minister could quite well trust the people, and be prepared to take them into his confidence where these decisions and reports are concerned. This is not a revolutionary matter. It must be a very feeble Government that expects to be toppled and tumbled to the ground because people are told why their requests cannot be granted.
I can see a very serious look on the Minister's face, and I think that he realises that he has made a bit of a mistake about this. I believe that he is rather anxious, and when he has finished his consultations, we should be delighted to have his verdict on the Amendment. I hope that he will promise that he will do something about this in another place. I do not know whether he is ready to get up, but I do not want to filibuster. The last thing I want to do is to waste the time of the House, because we have important business to follow, and, as usual, Scottish business is at the tail end. I am anxious to get to that business, and therefore do not want to delay the House. If the Minister is now prepared to accept the request made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I am quite prepared to sit down so that he can give us the explanation.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)
I very much hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not press this matter to a Division. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why 330 not?"] I think there is a great deal in all the points which they have made, but I do ask them to consider the one aspect of drainage which this section of the Bill covers. This deals with schemes for small areas to be drained, and when we hear of all these terrible objections that are to be raised and will have to be heard, with reports referred back, we should remember that the greatest harm that will come to the people who are concerned is that their land will be drained. It seems to me that most of them will not be subject to any hardship, or otherwise the schemes would not be promoted.
There are very important questions of principle involved here, but I do not think this is a stage in the discussion of the Bill at which objections should be taken to the point of dividing the House. A great deal has been said about having blood in one's veins belonging to the Long Parliament. I come from the Fen district, where most of the troubles of that time arose. I would say that I was pretty well steeped in the history of that area, and that is why yesterday I spent some time resisting the entrance of a peer into this House, but that is by the way.
I hope that hon. Members opposite will take a different view of this matter, which is to the benefit of small areas, because this reference back might delay the setting up of a scheme, which may in any case prove rather difficult, and I hope that they will accept the assurance given by my right hon. Friend and not press the matter to a Division.
§ Mr. D. Jones
On a point of order. I asked a question why a simple matter of this character should be referred to the Lord Chancellor, and I have not yet had a reply, to which I feel I am entitled.
§ Mr. Soames
I agree very much with the point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) that this is a matter which, we hope, will be of great benefit to a large number of people. These are schemes for the drainage of small areas, and the only harm that could come to them, as my hon. Friend has said, is that their land will be drained. It will be a matter of considerable benefit to them as a whole.
§ Mr. Willey
How on earth will the disclosure of the report made by a person appointed by the right hon. Gentleman affect drainage? All we want to know is the character of the report which is made to him by the person whom he appoints. That is all.
§ Mr. Soames
I am not saying it affects the drainage. All we are seeking to do—and this is the point I am making—
§ Mr. Willey
The Minister is advancing the most dangerous of all arguments—the argument of expediency. He says "Because we are concerned with drainage"—and everyone wants to improve drainage—"why should I reveal a report presented to me by a person whom I have appointed?" Any Minister can argue that. The whole argument made on civil liberties is that the individual has his rights against the Executive.
§ Mr. Soames
I was coming to that; it is the main point put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has made perfectly clear to the House where we stand on this. The rules which will control this matter are to be made by the Lord Chancellor, and we do not think it either right or necessary that the words in the Amendment should be written into the Bill. We believe ours to be the correct way of dealing with the probelm. We are not trying to avoid the problem; the only difference between the two sides of the House is as to the way in which it should be dealt with. We believe ours to be the right way, and I do not believe that there is anything that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. (Willey) can say to make me waiver in my view—
§ Mr. Gaitskell
The rules are to be made by the Lord Chancellor, and we are trying to find out something about it. What rules? When are they to be made? Are they to be made in arbitrary fashion by one member of the Government? Is not Parliament to have any say in what the rules are to be? Should they not be made in legislative form? Can we not be told something about it?
§ Mr. Soames
The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the regulations will be subject to the negative procedure.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I am alarmed by what the Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) have said. They say that this Clause refers to schemes for drainage of small areas and that small areas do not really matter. Why on earth should schemes for small areas not have the same consideration and the same protection of the law as schemes for big areas. The subsection that we are seeking to amend says that the scheme shall be promulgated and published, that those affected will have the opportunity of protesting against it, and that an inquiry shall be held. Our Amendment seeks to add:and a copy of the report to the Minister of the person so appointed shall be supplied by the Minister to the persons by whom the objections are made.I recall the day not so many years ago when one of the present Minister's predecessors came to that Dispatch Box and resigned. In that case it happened to be a rich landowner whose interests were affected. Now, the present Minister says, "It is only a small drainage area. The people there should really not be considered. Why should they have the opportunity of questioning whatever in the wisdom of the Ministry is thought good for them?" That is an abominable attitude.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, we are being asked to agree that future decisions shall be governed by some rules or other. Are we in this day and generation to pass to the Minister as vague a power as that? I hope that we will not. I hope that even hon. Members opposite, who claim in their public speeches to be greatly concerned about the rights of individual landowners, will stand up for the small farmer.
I know that the Minister is being assailed by the small farmers of every county on one thing or another, and I can promise him that if he refuses the people concerned with small drainage schemes in Cornwall the right for which we are now asking, he will be in for a rough time.
Why should those who have made objections at a public inquiry, often going to great expense to get their case professionally prepared and presented, not know what arguments were placed 333 before the Minister by the Inspector? This is a kind of secret police when the inspector of the Ministry hears an inquiry and then the people who have complained are not able to hear what the Minister's representative has said to the Minister. We are entitled to know, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will support this simple and clear Amendment.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I rise for two reasons, partly because this is my old Department, in the days when things were apparently done better than they now are, and partly because this is a time when the issues of civil liberties and the rights of the individual in connection with the operation of the Ministry of Agriculture and town and country planning departments are very much in the public mind.
We cannot allow this provision to go by on the basis of the totally inadequate defence put up by the Minister. Speaking as a member of the old Parliamentary Secretary's union, I was rather impressed when the Minister turned to the Parliamentary Secretary and said, "My hon. Friend has made it clear and"—by implication—"there is nothing more for me, the Minister, to say." That is a reversal of the doctrine which applied in my day.
The Minister gave us no answer. When the Bill was in Committee, his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary accepted an Amendment in page 4, line 38. It is painfully clear that the Minister is far from well-briefed on the subject. In column 192 in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee he will see that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) moved an Amendment in page 4, line 38, that certain words should be left out and other words inserted. The words to be inserted were that the Ministers shouldafford such persons"—those being the persons appealing—an opportunity of appearing before and being heard by a person appointed by him for the purpose and shall consider the report of the person so appointed…The Parliamentary Secretary then said:I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will have great pleasure in accepting this Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 8th December, 1960; c. 192.]334 The Amendment we have tabled simply carries through to fruition the Amendment which the Minister had great pleasure in accepting in Committee upstairs. If we are to give people the opportunity to appeal and to be heard, and we are to receive a report, the obvious corrolary to that procedure, if we are to maintain the rights of individuals, is that the individual should know what the man who heard the appeal reported to the Minister.
I am sure that the Minister keeps up to date, if not with his reading of Standing Committee Reports—on which I sympathise with him—with his reading of The Times. The Times leader this morning, being a continuation of several, makes the point out of the chalk pit inquiry that Ministers who say: "We will have an inquiry. We may then be free to do what we like about it behind your back", are not acting in accord with the spirit of the Act under which they hold the inquiry.
This must be very clear. It is no use the Minister trying to fob us off with a couple of lines given to him by his advisers that the rules will be made by the Lord Chancellor. This is not good enough for Parliament. It was not even good enough for The Times this morning because it said that this Lord Chancellor judging by what he said yesterday cannot really be trusted on this.
If the Minister wants to enter into a long battle, this is the point at which he can do it. My right hon. Friend and I have come here because we on this side believe that on this issue, in the light of what has happened in the chalk pit case, we must dig our toes in and stand firm. And we will stand firm. If the Minister wishes it, a long time will be spent on that issue. I do not think the Minister wants that. I know him to be a man who would wish not only that things would appear to be right but would in fact be right. To make them right, we must give the person who is allowed to appeal and on whom a report is to be received the right to know what was said.
Without making heavy weather of this and holding up the debate for a long time, I ask the Minister to give us an assurance on this point. He cannot do himself any harm. There cannot have been a D-notice forbidding him to 335 discuss this. He must be free to say that he will do this in respect of the Land Drainage Bill, and I beg him to do it.
I hope that he will do this even though he has been so vigorously instructed by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I am touched by this new relationship whereby the Joint Parliamentary Secretary instructs the Minister. In my sixteen years in the House I have never known a situation where a Parliamentary Secretary has told a Minister what to do. It is wonderful. I would have been all for it in the old days. But, having moved on, I am not so sure that I am all for it now. I beg the Minister to take personal responsibility here.
I ask the Minister to remember that we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of small men. We are not dealing with an industry of big men who can get expert advice and look after themselves. By the long overdue and desirable Amendments which the Minister is making to the Bill we are bringing this down to small people. As we are dealing with small people, it is important that we should go out of our way to make them feel absolutely comfortable, certain, and sure.
The Amendment is essential for two reasons. First, to give effect to the Amendment which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary accepted in Committee upstairs. Secondly, to assure small people that justice will be done to them, and that it will be seen to be done. I therefore beg the Minister to ask leave of the House to address us again. It will save a lot of time and trouble if he accepts the Amendment and thereby assures everybody affected that they will know what is being done behind closed doors and that there will be no more chalk pit cases.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for intervening in the debate, but I am beginning to wonder why the right hon. Gentleman took the trouble to do so. He has said no more than was said by his hon. Friend, and he made it clear that he did not know the background of the Amendment or much about the regulations to be made by the Lord Chancellor. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to know the topical nature of this Amendment.
336 I do not know whether he has had an opportunity yet to read the debate which took place yesterday in another place on the subject of the chalk pit case. One thing emerged from it, and that is that it is abundantly clear that a good deal needs to be done to our procedure in connection with public inquiries of this kind and to the process of appeals from Ministerial decisions on public inquiries before the individual's rights can be reasonably safeguarded. I do not suggest for a moment that acceptance of the Amendment would allay all the anxieties which have properly and rightly been aroused by the chalk pit case. But it is a modest step in that direction.
I cannot understand how the Minister can possibly object to the inclusion in the Bill of a requirement that he should furnish the people affected by a public inquiry with a copy of his inspector's report. This, I should have thought, was the least any person affected by one of these schemes could reasonably ask. If the Minister will take a little time off when this debate is finished to read the debate on the chalk pit case in another place, he will realise that it is not an academic matter. It is a matter where individual rights against the Executive are deeply concerned. There is no doubt that the anxiety about the decision in that case, and the apparently arbitrary decision of the Minister riding roughshod over the rights of the individual whose property and amenities were seriously affected by the decision, is very serious.
I hope that the Minister has noted the reaction of the Press to this case. The Government have not been having a very good Press lately and they had a peculiarly bad one on the chalk pit case. I hope that the Minister will have had time to think again and will tell the House that, without prejudice to any regulations or rules that the Lord Chancellor may make or any changes there may be in the procedure relating to public inquiries and appeals, he will accept this extremely modest request, for the many good reasons and the one comparatively trivial reason mentioned by my hon. Friend, and then he will save himself a lot of trouble.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
I was completely astonished by the inadequacy of the reply made by the Minister to the points put to him. This 337 is a fundamental issue of principle although the point is a very simple one. There seam no reason why the Minister should not give in on this matter. It appears that he came inadequately prepared and was not properly briefed on the point we put to him. But as a result of the discussion we have had the right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to get further information about this, and I think that by this time he will appreciate the seriousness with which hon. Members on this side of the House regard this matter.
It may be due to my inexperience but I was baffled by what the Minister said about the Lord Chancellor's rules and about the question of regulations. If one looks at the Clause as a whole one finds in subsection (6), for example, that there is provision that regarding notices to people who are liable to be affected by the scheme, the Minister may, by regulations made by Statutory Instruments, prescribe the notice which may be given.
There is a definite reference in subsection (6) to regulations made by Statutory Instrument and, in subsection (11), there is another definite and specific reference to a Statutory Instrument which can be made varying the limits imposed by paragraph (c) of subsection (4).
It seems extraordinary that in this Clause there are two references to Statutory Instruments. If it was the Government's original intention to introduce regulations under subsection (7), why should they not have stated that in subsection (7) itself?
I find it completely baffling that there should be these two references, yet no reference at all in subsection (7). Therefore, we are entitled to expect a further explanation from the Minister—something beyond the completely inadequate explanation he has already given. We require more details about the Lord Chancellor's rules, which are apparently to be made, and also about the details, which are apparently to be covered by some sort of Statutory Instrument or regulations which are to be subject to the negative procedure.
The Minister has been caught on the wrong foot. He has had ample opportunity to consider all the implications. 338 We on this side of the House treat this as an important matter, and I hope, even now, that the Minister will ask leave to speak again and that he will say that he accepts this reasonable but extremely important Amendment.
§ Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I have every sympathy with the Minister. He must have been very disappointed to have returned to the House when he did, because he seems to have put the cat among the pigeons. I feel sorry for him in another way. It is difficult for the skipper of a ship to come back on deck after his dinner, only to find that his first officer has got him into troubled waters.
Unfortunately, the Minister cannot be in two places at once and it is rather difficult for him—in a conversation with the Parliamentary Secretary on the Front Bench—to try to listen to speeches from this side of the House, and, at the same time, to try to get the gist of what has been said during his absence. I can assure the Minister that the Parliamentary Secretary told hon. Members that there was very little difference between what we want on this side of the House and what the Minister had left as a brief, for I can only assume that the Parliamentary Secretary was speaking from a brief.
Let me inform the Minister that the Parliamentary Secretary has told hon. Members that this Amendment is very good, but that it does not go quite far enough. The hon. Gentleman said that in another place or in another way, what we want can be got in another direction. In other words, this is only half the loaf and the Parliamentary Secretary wants to give us the whole of the loaf.
But the people of the country have different ideas on the types of loaves they like—and this is one loaf hon. Members on this side of the House do not like. Why? It is simply because if there is one thing that this Government will go down in history as being, it will be as the Government who has treated Parliament with the greatest contempt that any Government has ever shown. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say that seriously and with due consideration. They are trying—and with their great majority, they are executing—the work of this Parliament by Orders in 339 Council, which can only be prayed against. The Minister, if I may say so, committed a cardinal sin when he came to that box a few moments ago and told us that the Lord Chancellor would do what we want by way of an Order in Council, which can be negatived. That is not the way I want to see Parliament operate. I want Parliament to have the right to amend various proposals. Here, we are trying to amend something, not negative it.
We are told that the Lord Chancellor will, in the near future, do something about it. We never know how near the near future is. I remember the Prime Minister once telling us, after he was asked when the near future would be, that it was not a long time off, it was not tomorrow, but it was the near future. We have not even been told when the Lord Chancellor will prepare the Order. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked whether it would be done in this Parliament. We had no reply.
Apparently, when the Lord Chancellor decides on what he intends to do, he will have to take advice from all sorts of people, and this may take months and months. If we complain in the House about delay in the making of the Order, the Minister will tell us that he has so many interests to consult that the matter must not be rushed. After the Lord Chancellor has that advice and an Order is laid, all we can do, if we do not like it, is to pray against it and try to have it negatived. We cannot amend it in the smallest way. Even if we like the greater part of it and dislike only a small part, we shall not be able to change the small part we dislike. The only course open to us is to negative the whole thing.
In my view, Orders in Council which can only be prayed against and negatived should be used only in very carefully considered circumstances and but rarely. They should be the exception rather than the rule. This is the problem which the Government are in; they are, day after day, working by Order in Council. It is not the exception to the rule; it is becoming the rule.
The Parliamentary Secretary, speaking from the brief which was left to him, said that there is very little between us. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunder- 340 land, North (Mr. Willey) asked him to come that little way with us or, otherwise, we should be forced to divide against the Government. According to the Parliamentary Secretary, there is no difference between the Government's intention and our Amendment. The only thing is that the Government want to go a little further. Let them do that. Let us not take from the House of Commons its right to make the legislation for the country. Let us have the Amendment as far as it goes, and then the right hon. Gentleman can say in good faith that, having accepted the Amendment, he is prepared to go further and give more. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, if it comes back from another place in an amended form improving on the Amendment as it leaves here, we shall welcome that. He can have that assurance.
As a result of the Minister having put the cat among the pigeons, we are now putting up the shutters. That is what it amounts to. The Minister should remember that. If the Parliamentary Secretary had been reasonable enough to accept our very reasonable Amendment, he could have finished with this matter three-quarters of an hour ago. I hope that the Minister will not later on accuse us on these benches of being responsible for keeping the Bill before the House longer than necessary. We could have gone a lot further but for this matter which, though small, is extremely important in the view of hon. Members on this side of the House.
Where the importance of an inquiry is such that the Minister has to take advice, the small man ought to be given the information when his case is turned down. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said, the rich man, the big landowner, can have legal advice; he can afford the best advice that money can buy. I do not know whether there are any poor farmers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am pleased that hon. Members opposite go with me that far. The small farmer who has his case turned down should be told the reasons. It is only right and just that he should be told why his application has been rejected.
It is not good enough these days to tell someone, "Your application has been rejected, but you cannot be told the reason why". All that we are asking 341 is that people should be given the reason for its rejection so that they can have the satisfaction, if satisfaction can be obtained in that way, of knowing exactly what advice the Minister has received which has resulted in the application being rejected. This is fundamental in British justice. Anyone convicted in the courts at least knows the evidence which has been given against him. We are here concerned with a form of court, although it is only an inquiry. People have the fundamental right to know on what grounds a tribunal has turned down their application and what evidence has been submitted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Cambourne (Mr. Hayman) made out an exceptionally good case. If a drainage scheme were turned down in his area and if the appellant knew the grounds for its rejection and the evidence which had been submitted against him, I am convinced that he would contact my hon. Friend who would raise the matter in the House, even if he had to wait for an Adjournment debate. At least people have the opportunity to raise the matter which is denied them under the Bill unless the right hon. Gentleman accepts the Amendment.
It is not good enough to say, "Do not let Parliament bother about the regulations. Let the Lord Chancellor do it." Frankly, although I do not think that there will be much land drainage done in my constituency, which is mainly residential and industrial there is a bounden duty—
§ Mr. Howell
I know, because I have to wade through some of the floods in my right hon. Friend's constituency at times. It is the right of hon. Members to determine what legislation we want and not to have to hand matters over to the Lord Chancellor who, by his whim, can move an Order which can only be prayed against and in no way amended.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
It is extremely difficult to make a speech at this stage of the debate without falling into the trap of reiterating what has already been said. However, I think it is essential that those of 342 us who are affected by this matter and charged with the responsibility of looking after the interests of our constituents should add our voice to the plea which has been made to the Minister.
I can appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's dilemma. Having once turned down our appeals, it is very difficult for the Minister to change his mind. I do not often speak very highly of Ministers. It is not often that I have cause to do so. However, in my relationships with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I must say that when I have had occasion to write to him about matters affecting my constituents he has been very reasonable. When I have seen him in the House he has always had the courage to face the problems with which he is confronted. I hope that on this occasion he will evidence the qualities for which I give him full credit.
We are here dealing with a fundamental issue as to whether this House shall be the custodians of the liberty of the citizen. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can advance any argument seeking to deny the small farmer having full knowledge of the reasons why a scheme has been either accepted or rejected. It has already been said that development of the trend to give Ministers power by Order and by permissive legislation is becoming an abuse of democratic government.
If in examining the position the Minister would think for a moment and not rely too much upon the advice that is forthcoming from other quarters, if he would simply consider the question of the right of the individual and exercise his other known qualities, I see no reason why he should not emerge with dignity. There is nothing undignified in having taken a position and by force of argument being proved to have taken the wrong decision and in consequence of that argument adopting an entirely different stand. If the Minister would now say that he is more concerned about the liberty of the individual than his own personal dignity, he would add to his reputation.
§ Mr. Soames
The general impression which hon. Members opposite seem to be trying to give on this issue is that we are holding back reports of inquiries from the individuals concerned. That 343 is not the fact. It has always been the policy and principle within my Department that when a matter has been considered by an inquiry of the type in question, if the person concerned wishes to have a report of the inquiry it is given to him. That has been the practice even though it has not been written into any previous land drainage legislation, of which we have had plenty.
This is not the only part of the Bill which provides for inquiries of this character. We have waited until Clause 27 for the point to be raised, although it could well have been raised earlier. In fact, an Amendment was moved in Committee on Clause 4 by the Opposition on the subject of inquiries, but it did not contain provision for the report to be circulated to the individual.
§ Mr. Willey
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Clause 4, which is another point, namely, consultation where there is a clear Ministerial decision. Here there is a different position where the Minister appoints a person to hold an inquiry and presumably takes a quasi-judicial decision. It is in the second case that, in accordance with the Franks Committee recommendations, we are anxious that the report should be made available.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to deal with another point. We have been on Recommital and Report for a considerable time. These Amendments were put down early in February. The Government have had every opportunity to amend this matter. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that this provision did not go far enough. Why have the Government not amended it? The Minister has been consulting his advisers. I ask him to ignore their advice. They are not Parliamentarians. They produce reasons "a", "b", "c", "d", and will go on to "z", but this is a Parliamentary point.
§ Mr. Soames rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Were the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) to make another speech he would require the leave of the House. I am afraid that he cannot proceed when the Minister is seeking to resume the speech he was making.
§ Mr. Willey
By leave of the House I hope to put the simple point to the right hon. Gentleman—whether the Government have considered a further amendment of this Amendment by extending it and whether they have considered, as I believe the right hon. Gentleman is arguing now, a similar Amendment which might be accepted on other Clauses.
§ Mr. Soames
We have passed many of these Clauses. No Bill that has come before the House since the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, has had incorporated in it the sort of phrase which the Amendment seeks to put into this Bill, because this has been dealt with in a general way, affecting all Bills and affecting all aspects of this matter when Ministerial inquiries are held, by the Lord Chancellor and the Council on Tribunals. That is the way in which it is being handled.
Where this Bill is concerned, this is only one of a number of Clauses where the point arises. There are provisions in other Clauses for inquiries to be held, and it would be farcical to agree to have this sort of procedure written into the Bill in one Clause and not to have it written into the Bill in other Clauses which aim at the same purpose. What my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said to the House earlier was that we would consider between now and the Bill going to another place the question of the amendment of this Clause.
I am satisfied that that is not sufficient, inasmuch as there are other Clauses which are affected by the same principles. But what we want to do, and what we will do, is to consider between now and the Bill going to another place whether the way to do this would be to add an extra Clause so that where Ministerial inquiries are affected by the Bill the report should be sent back given to the person concerned, as of course it has been and is now being. We will consider that as opposed to it being covered by the Lord Chancellor's regulations. I cannot give the House an assurance that this Clause will be put down, but I assure hon. and right hon. Members that we will consider it.
§ Mr. G. Brown
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by saying that he cannot give the House an assurance but that "We will consider it"? I understood him to say that the Amendment 345 was not the technically right thing to do. I do not quite accept that, but the right hon. Gentleman has better advice than is available to us. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that he is sure that he will find a better way of doing this we will accept that assurance. Is he giving an assurance that in some form or other this matter will be covered be-for the Bill is finally finished with?
§ Mr. Soames
What I am saying is that we will give consideration, which has not hitherto been given, between now and when this Bill goes to another place, about whether it should be incorporated in a new Clause in the Bill.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
Before the right hon. Gentleman finally concludes his observations, if he has not already done so, I want to put to him a simple question which has a bearing on the matter. I am sure that he has considered the implications of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958. I am sure that he is fully aware that that Act was passed in consequence of the strong feeling voiced by the Franks Committee that the general situation in the holding of inquiries was in an extremely unsatisfactory state.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is bound by the obligations set out in Section 12 of that Act. No doubt he has considered it. If he has not got his finger-tips on it at the moment, I shall remind him that the Act requires that a Minister—I see that he is looking towards his advisers, so I will slow down until he gets his reply ready—must give his reasons for a decision taken by him following a statutory inquiry…or taken by him in a case in which a person concerned could (whether by objecting or otherwise) have required the holding…of a statutory inquiry".If he is bound by the provisions of that Section to give his reasons, does not he concede that it is not going very much further to require that a copy of the report upon which he has based his reasons should be furnished to those who put up objections? Surely he realises the commonsense of that?
I am conscious that he has said that he will consider this matter again, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has pressed him to give more than such an undertaking. 346 I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has already considered the matter. Will he, in the light of the consideration which I am putting, undertake that, being under an obligation to give his reasons, he will make them intelligible by making available to objectors the report upon which he based them?
That is not an unreasonable request. It is easier to understand the reasons of a Minister, based on a report, if one knows the contents of that report. We are seeking, through this Amendment, to ensure that the person who has made objection will be able to know the report that the Minister has received and will, knowing the report, be in a position more easily to understand the Minister's reasons for the decision—reasons which, without the report, may be somewhat difficult to understand.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if he has received information from his advisers, will tell us whether he is bound by Section 12, and, if he is, whether he realises that the arguments in support of this Amendment are irresistible. Even if he is not bound by Section 12, he is clearly within the spirit of the Franks Committee, which expressly made a number of recommendations in order to strengthen the position of persons such as the objectors envisaged by this Clause, who will want to know why their objections are brushed aside—if they are brushed aside—and on what evidence and reports the Minister is acting.
Whether or not he is bound by Section 12, he should accept the spirit of the Amendment and undertake to incorporate it in the Bill, and should not merely consider whether he will or will not do so.
§ Mr. Soames
I am not bound in this instance by Section 12 of the 1958 Act. Even if I were, the point is whether this should be written into each individual Bill as it comes before the House or whether it should be done by the Lord Chancellor's Regulations for Tribunals. That is the only point at issue. It is where that issue is concerned that I said that I would consider this matter between now and when the Bill reaches another place.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.