HC Deb 17 June 1965 vol 714 cc908-33

4.7 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, after "of" to insert assisting the people of the Highlands and Islands to improve their economic and social conditions and of". This Amendment is intended to meet the generally expressed wish of the Committee during our proceedings that there should be a reference in the Bill to the fact that the Bill itself was "designed to help people"—in the words of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), who moved an Amendment to that effect. I promised to see whether we could find words which would be acceptable and which could be put into the Bill. This we have done, and I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. George Y. Mackie (Caithness and Sutherland)

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 2, to leave out "six" and to insert "four".

We make no apology for coming back to this Amendment. I feel that it is most important that the Highland Development Board be of as high a quality as possible, and I reject the reasoning of the Minister of State, as reported in column 817 of the Committee, when he said that we cannot have fewer than three people on this Board, but at least we have the advantage of having more".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 19th May, 1965; c. 817.] This is bad reasoning. Having got the instruments, I am certain that what we need is first-class people on the Board. It is no good laying down excellent plans and having excellent ambitions unless we have the people to carry them out.

I should have liked to see a Board constituted exactly on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a three-man board, whose achievements I need not enumerate. It has been an example to the world of a mixture of private and public enterprise. With that practical example in front of us, there is little doubt that we should go for the highest possible quality of person on the Board to be found in this country or the Commonwealth, particularly for the chairmanship.

I am afraid that this may come down very largely to a question of money. But the fewer there are to pay, then the higher the pay we can give them. I make no apology for saying that in that event the higher is likely to be the quality. I would say, bluntly and rather vulgarly, that the chairman requires to have more than £10,000 a year, and at least two other high quality people need to have more than £7,000. This is the sort of salary given in medium-class and big industry, and I am certain that on the Board we must have men of at least that quality. I move the Amendment because of the great importance of having first-class people for this instrument, which, we hope, will be a good one.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I oppose the Amendment. We had a very full discussion of this subject in the Standing Committee. The Liberal representative on the Standing Committee handled his contribution very confidently, but I do not think that during the discussions he very strongly objected to the six as such or particularly wanted a reduction. I am not sure whether I am doing him an injustice, but my impression was that there was no particular feeling anywhere in the Committee that we should drastically reduce the number.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I am sure that the hon. Member does not intend to misrepresent me, but I moved an Amendment, in terms similar to the Amendment now before us, to reduce the number.

Mr. MacMillan

The hon. Gentleman did not appear to me to pursue it with very great passion. At all events, the Committee eventually did not appear to regard a reduction from six to five or four as a very fundamental matter. I am sure that I speak for all on our side when I say that it did not arouse much feeling among us, and I do not think that the Conservative Opposition had any strong views about the number.

The real question was that of full-time membership and the quality and capacity of those appointed. I put it to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) that the Highlands is not a small area. The Tennessee Valley is not a small area either, but his analogy fails in a number of respects which he threw out as illustrations rather than evidence. The T.V.A. situation is not by any means comparable with the Highland situation. I used to think so, but then I studied the T.V.A. and found that it was a different story.

In its first year the T.V.A. was given a sum which we would dearly like given to the Highlands—between £60 and £70 million. We have not asked for quite as much as that in any one year for the Highlands. The scope of the T.V.A.—

4.15 p.m.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

The Tennessee Valley basin is enormously bigger than the whole Highlands area.

Mr. MacMillan

That is so, but in the Highlands and Islands region there is no such thing as a Highlands problem. There is a great variety of problems calling for a diversity of people on a Board of this kind, people with many skills and a variety of capacities. I believe that six is not too large a number. I point out that in another Amendment the Liberal Party proposes a consultative committee of 70, which would give about ten advisers to every member of the Board.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The hon. Member is being very misleading and is advancing an extremely irrelevant argument. He knows that there is a world of difference between a small executive board which is directing a business and an organisation with a big representative element. The two things are not linked as he is linking them.

Mr. MacMillan

I agree, but I am not comparing the consultative committee and the Board. However, if the Liberal Amendment were carried, and the consultative committee had a membership of 70 and the Board a membership of five, there would be considerably more than 10 advisers to each member of the Board. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), if he is familiar with Gaelic proverbs, will know one which says that it is not always advisable to have 21 shepherds for 20 sheep. But the Liberal Party is proposing at least 10 advisers in the consultative committee to each member of the Board.

There is a problem which I and the hon. Member have in common and on which we are very anxious to co-operate. The Highlands area has a variety of problems. It is an area in which the tasks which will confront the Board have been neglected for a very long time. Indeed, some have never been tackled. We shall need a great variety of capacities, experience and specialist knowledge. Six is not a big number. Among the six, plus the chairman, there may well be some not of the high quality that we all wish to see. It is extremely important to have a good number with a variety of capacity. We must allow for failures and wastage. The Minister is right in allowing for some elbow room in choosing at least one part-time member.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that more advice and information is available in the Highlands than practically anywhere else? Surely what is wanted is an executive Board.

Mr. MacMillan

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will direct his remark to his colleague who suggests that there should be a consultative committee of 70 persons. If we have all that advice in the Highlands, why do we want 70 more persons on a committee to offer advice?

This is not worth quarrelling over. All of us in all parties have the welfare of the Highlands at heart. We want the highest quality men that we can get. I am not very anxious about whether the chairman gets £10,000 or £12,000 a year. There is the difficulty that one person may be of very high capacity, while others have a great sense of dedication and would regard this as a great oppor- tunity to give service and would not be interested in obtaining £10,000 a year.

The hon. Member is perhaps wrong in trying to evaluate the services of these people in terms of fixed sums of £10,000, £12,000, and so on. There are in the Highlands people who would gladly give their services for a great deal less, and that does not mean that their services are not really worth considerably more. However, the figure of £10,000 is not worth arguing about. It must be left to the Minister.

I agree that we want people of quality who are being competed for elsewhere. We may find that in the Highlands we have people with a deep sense of dedication who would look upon the Highlands problems as offering a great challenge and an opportunity to serve. The hon. Member perhaps underestimates the patriotism of people available in the North, inside and outside the Highlands, who are interested in the problem. I am sure that they would be willing to serve. That, however, was merely something which the hon. Member threw out in passing.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to start with a chairman and a Board of six members. It is important to have a variety of capacity. There is a variety of tasks as well as of problems to be performed. By reducing the number of members to four, we would not have men of the best quality. It is desirable to have a membership of six or seven. If, for example, a few fall by the way, there would still be three or four within the seven who would serve the purpose that we all have in mind.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie) and I should like to make three points. First, I want to emphasise with all the power at my command that the success of the Bill will depend very much upon the calibre of the people who are appointed to the Board. This is a new and most important task and if we can do anything to impress that upon the Government and, through them, the public at large, the more we should raise our voices.

Secondly, I hope that this short debate may strengthen the hands of the Scottish Office. It is never easy to set up a new organisation of this sort, to get the money for it or to get the people for it. We know full well that the Scottish Office will have to negotiate and probably fight with the Treasury and other Government Departments. On the success of the Scottish Office in this fight will depend a great deal of the future of the Highlands and Islands.

Lastly, I wish to say a word about the Amendment and its relevance to the two points which I have made. Our only reason for emphasising that it may have to be a small Board is partly that a small board might be executively more efficient but chiefly that it might be easier to get people of the right calibre. We are all agreed that it is to be an executive Board.

The Highlands have had a lot of advisory committees and panels, which have done good service, but this is a change and a change which I wholeheartedly welcome. There is no contradiction between supporting an executive body in the Highlands and, at the same time, saying that there should be an advisory committee or panel attached to it.

As I see it, this is a new job in the Highlands. It is an executive job and one which will call for remarkable skills. Whoever is appointed to it must have considerable commercial and business experience. The members of the Board must have real feeling for the Highlands, they must be in tune with the possibilities and traditions of the Highlands and they must be considerable diplomats into the bargain.

People of that character are not all that easy to come by. If they are available, they may have doubts about staking their reputation, which I want them to do, on the success of the Board. I want to see people in the prime of life who will stake their reputation on making it a success. I hope and believe that that is what the Government want, too.

I do not support the Amendment in any sense hostile to the Government. I have read the proceedings of the Committee and the excellent reasoning put forward by the Minister of State, but I re-emphasise with all the power at my command that we need to get two or three people of the highest quality, even if we have to search some time for them—and I do not blame the Secretary of State for taking his time about this. If we have to pay them a lot of money and if we have to go, perhaps, outside the usual channels to get them, I hope that we will do so and that we will get away from the stage army which goes round and round occupying various jobs.

I hope that we get away from the idea that the job is one for a retired person or for someone who has done well in some other walk of life. If we strengthen the Government's hand in that direction, we shall have done a good afternoon's work today. It is for that reason that I support the Amendment.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Chamber seems to me to be rather warm. Would it outrage the traditions of Parliament if hon. Members could remove their jackets or get some coolth?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether the House thinks that we would be quite attractive enough with those exercises. It might be rather a departure which we would not want to follow. If, however, the hon. Member is feeling cooked in any sense, I am sure that what he has said will have been noted by those who control our temperatures.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

Surely, the point is that the Bill provides for a maximum number of seven and there is no reason why the Secretary of State should not appoint a Board consisting of less than seven members—say, four, or, it may be, only three. As yet, we know so little of what the Secretary of State means the Board to do and so little about the people whom he intends to appoint that we should leave a certain elasticity. It may be that on the analogy of the Crofters Commission, the right hon. Gentleman intends to appoint one man from each of the crofter counties to look after matters on an area basis.

It may be that the Secretary of State will not find it possible to get people of the calibre he requires to act as full-time members. We hope that he succeeds in getting them, but we should not exclude the possibility of getting people who are prepared to act as part-time members of the Board. People who are of considerable calibre probably already have occupations and would not be prepared to give full-time services to the Board. It would be a great pity to be unnecessarily restrictive so that the Secretary of State could not get a good man who was prepared to serve only part-time. I do not think that we should accept the Amendment.

Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)

I wish to detain the House for only a few moments, because although many of us are refreshed after a pleasant gap between the sitting this morning and this afternoon, none of us need feel it necessary to continue this discussion very long. I should like to make two or three quick points.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) that the Bill provides for the appointment of a chairman and not more than six members and that this gives the Secretary of State power to choose only two, three or four members, as he wishes, bearing in mind the quorum which is stipulated elsewhere in the Bill.

I suggest strongly to the Secretary of State, however, that if he thinks of collecting his Board on an area basis, with one member from each of the crofter counties, this would be a great mistake. I hope very much that he will be able to find people who are prepared to stake their reputations, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) suggested. It may be difficult to get such people, or all of such people, from the Highland area.

My hope would be that at least the bulk of the members of the Board might come from people between the 35 to 45 age group who have, perhaps, not made their way in life but have already shown the necessary qualities of drive and new thinking that is certainly necessary if the Board is to be a success. They are all the more necessary because as yet—we may have more information this afternoon and this evening—we have had very little sign that the Government themselves have been able to do this new thinking for the Board.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

I am strongly in agreement with the objects of the Liberal Party's Amendment, but I do not think that the Amendment itself would achieve the object which they intend. As I understood the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie), who moved the Amendment, his main object was that if we reduced the number of members of the Board to four there would be a better chance of a bigger salary for each of them and, therefore, of attracting a better standard of person. It would be an attractive idea if people's minds worked that way, but I do not think that they will. It would not be a good way to start the Board for those who are setting it up to make their starting point, "We have got so much money to spend and therefore we can give them each so much."

I feel very strongly that we should give the Secretary of State freedom to have his six members. One can appreciate that he will be thinking ahead as to how he will use this freedom to have six if he needs them, and I do not think that he will be thinking simply of what we can afford or thinking, "We cannot afford six members because we have not got enough money for their salaries."

While sympathising very much with all that has been said by the hon. Members of the Liberal Party, and particularly by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), I hope that we shall leave the Secretary of State his flexibility to have six, and if he cannot find six suitable persons he need not have so many.

Mr. George Y. Mackie

The main point I was making was not on the question of money, but having a smaller body, more closely knit, more professional, more likely to be a good executive body.

4.30 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

We have had a very good debate about this, and certainly there has been no question of trying to force anything upon the Secretary of State other than for the best of reasons. It has been made clear from all we have heard that what we all want and seek is the best possible Board for the task which it has to perform. This is where we start.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) was right to point out that this is not a Board which will have one very clear line of approach. It will have problems varying in every part of the Highlands and in every island. It is not a case of each island having a problem; on many an island there will be seven different problems; and that in itself, I think, must determine the nature of the Board we want.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. George Y. Mackie), who moved the Amendment, was moving more or less an Amendment which had been moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). Let us get out of our minds that we are restricted by finance. That would not restrict us, either as to the number of personnel or the payment we would think right in any particular case to the right person. I do not think that this arises at all. Whether we have four, as the hon. Member suggests, plus a chairman, or whether, as we suggest, we leave it at six plus the chairman, the question of finance is irrelevant.

We consider that with six plus the chairman, as it stands at the moment, with the majority of these being full-time, we have got a certain flexibility, in relation to the other places, to be able to bring in a part-time person whose specialised knowledge, or drive and experience, and so on, may be required over a period. If we limit the Board to full-time men and to a small number that will mean that this is their career. It is quite wrong to say that this is the only way it could be done or the best way it could be done, bearing in mind the kind of men we want to do the kind of job we want done, and all the limitations there are if for each of them it is a full-time job, for that narrows the field considerably.

It would be quite unwise—I do not say wrong, but unwise—not to leave ourselves the possibility of flexibility to bring in the valuable part-timers. Nobody is going to tell us that in this part of the country part-time men are not valuable. Whose name is the name most revered in the Highlands? Tom Johnston's: the Hydro-Electric Board, whose part-time chairman he was. Do not judge by the amount of money he was paid, because I doubt very much whether he took any payment at all. I do not think that anyone would quibble over the qualities of the present chairman of the Hydro- Electric Board, Lord Strathclyde, and he, also, is part-time. I think that the connotation of part time may have given the impression, "Well, you do not get the quality men in this way."

I think that it would be right to retain six, to retain the present stimulus through the majority being full time, giving us that bit of elbow room to move up to six if necessary where we require those individuals to be brought in for their specific advice and experience. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) was quite right about it, as was the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis). But please, do not push upon the Secretary of State an elected Board, as was suggested by one of the back-bench Conservative Members in Committee. Please do not push the further restriction of people representative of areas. This would be so wrong, with a struggle over priorities between areas, and about the amount of money spent.

What we want is a Board which will be able to look at the whole problem, to see whether we can advance through each and all of the various tasks and functions in relation to land use, fishing, industry, tourism, and the rest; to do something which will be for the benefit of the whole area, and to advance towards a settlement of all the problems of the area. It will not be quick; it will not be fast. Those who have said that the people who take on this task will be staking their reputations are right. We want people of quality, it may well be people of potentiality whose quality has not been realised yet. There will be a field for them here. We want the flexibility of the qualities of potentiality and also of maturity, of part-time professionals, and also persons who can be brought in to do a special job.

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to think about this again, and, I hope, to see his way to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

I understand that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) raised a complaint about the temperature in the Chamber. I have had a report from the Serjeant at Arms. The control room reports that the temperature in the Chamber is 68 degrees, which is the normal temperature in these conditions, but that it is being arranged to have it lowered to 66 or 67.

Mr. Willis

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 5, at the end to insert: , but before appointing a member to be deputy chairman the Secretary of State shall consult with the chairman. In Committee, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) moved that the deputy-chairman should be appointed by the chairman of the Board. I resisted that Amendment at the time on the ground that it was quite against statutory precedent, and also for another reason, concerning the responsibilities of a chairman and deputy-chairman. The chairman is in a position where he has a dual responsibility. He has a responsibility both to his committee and also a responsibility to the Minister who appoints him. Of course, the same arguments are true of a statutory vice-chairman, because it is conceivable that the chairman may be absent for quite long periods of time during which the vice-chairman would be in exactly the same position as the chairman.

However, I promised to look at this, and we have gone some way by this Amendment towards meeting the right hon. Gentleman. We suggest that before appointing a member to be the deputy-chairman the Secretary of State shall consult the chairman. That seems to us to go half-way towards meeting the right hon. Gentleman and I hope that he will be willing to accept this compromise.

Mr. Noble

The Minister of State has come a small way towards meeting me. I am always grateful for any advances, however small, but, as I think he will remember, when we discussed this point in Committee one of the purposes behind my Amendment was to try to give the Board a greater sense of freedom and initiative and rather less sense, and appearance as one reads the Bill, of being a small and in some ways not very important department of St. Andrew's House.

What the Minister of State has said is true as far as it goes. It certainly is an improvement to put these words in the Bill, but one is bound to feel, as I think he felt in Committee, that normally the Secretary of State in almost every case would consult the chairman before he appointed a deputy-chairman. Therefore, what is now to be written into the Bill is no improvement on what any ordinary, intelligent and sensible Secretary of State would do. However, I do not want to press the point of view which I put forward earlier although I think that it is still valid. There may be other occasions during our consideration of the Bill when I shall try to bring forward again the matter of the importance of giving the Board a little more status both for the sake of its members and of its reputation in Scotland.

I am quite prepared to accept the Amendment as having come some way to meeting my point.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I hope that the Government can give us some indication of the consequences of the Amendment, Dr. King. There will be many matters on which the Secretary of State will have to consult with the chairman of the Board but it is quite clear, Dr. King, that in considering the appointment of a deputy chairman—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. In the House the Chair must be addressed as the Chair and not by the name of its occupant. It is occupied by the Deputy Speaker at the moment.

Mr. Taylor

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

It is quite clear that when the Secretary of State is considering consulting the chairman on the appointment of a deputy chairman he simply will not look round the five or six members of the Board and ask himself, "Who will I have?" It is clear that he will appoint members of the Board with the prospect very much in mind of one of them being deputy chairman. In the circumstances it is clear that between the appointment of the chairman and the choosing of the deputy chairman, after consulting the chairman, and the appointment of other members of the Board, there will inevitably be delay if the right decision is to be made.

We have not at present any indication who the chairman might be and by accepting the Amendment we shall be introducing another factor which will delay the setting up of the Board and the appointment of chairman and deputy chairman.

It had been hoped on both sides of the House that perhaps on this day, or even before now, some announcement of who the chairman would be might have been made. We ought to have some indication from the Secretary of State when the announcement will be made, because upon it the whole progress and future of the Board depends.

Mr. Ross

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) for his attitude towards this advance. It was a very proper advance made to him. I can assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who has not been long in the House, that we have not yet had permission from Parliament to do all the things that he wants us to do. Until we have permission it is customary not to make an announcement and take for granted the will of Parliament.

This is the customary reason for the announcement or non-announcement of boards, chairman and the rest. It is not long since hon. Members were telling me to search the world and find the best man for this job. We are determined to get the best man and when Parliament has given us the authority we shall make the necessary announcement.

Amendment agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. N. R. Wylie (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 10, after "functions", to insert: in relation to matters appearing to him to affect the public interest". The purpose of the Amendment is to impose a restriction on the very wide power which the Clause gives to the Secretary of State to give directions to the Board. In that respect it is in line with the observations which my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) made a moment ago on the intention to strengthen the independence and status of the Board and not to leave the Board subject to general directions by the Secretary of State.

It is recognised that in all matters of this kind when a statutory body is set up there must be reserve power on the part of the Secretary of State to give general directions. That is to be found, as the Secretary of State is very well aware, in a whole series of Statutes, and it is usually to be found in the terms in which this Clause would be if the Amendment were accepted.

Mr. Ross


Mr. Wylie

Yes, generally.

It is to be found in the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948, in these terms, as I mentioned in Committee, and it is to be found in somewhat similar terms and to the same respect in the Airports Authority Act which Parliament recently passed. Section 2(6) of that Act provides that The Minister may, after consultation with the Authority, give to the Authority directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Authority of its functions in relation to matters which appear to him to affect the national interest, and it shall be the duty of the Authority to give effect to any such directions. There is, therefore, precedent for this kind of thing. I put it no higher.

The view expressed by the Minister of State in Committee was that because the discretion was left to the Secretary of State to decide whether the direction was in the public interest, these words meant nothing at all. I understand from the hon. Gentleman that that is still his view and presumably that is the advice that he received. If that is so, in my respectful submission the advice was wrong because the inclusion of these words imposes a restriction on the field over which the Secretary of State can give general directions.

As the Clause stands, provided that the directions are of a general character, the Secretary of State can give any directions at all, however trival. He can give the same kind of directions to the Board as he will be able to give to his own Department, and that is precisely the kind of thing which all along we have been trying to avoid.

If the words of the Amendment are accepted, although the Clause is still bound to leave the Secretary of State wide discretion, it will, nevertheless, impose upon him the obligation, if need be, to establish that the directions of a general character which he is giving are in the public interest. I visualise—

Mr. Willis

I am surprised that the hon. and learned Member, with his legal training, should be unable to read this. The Amendment says: in relation to matters appearing to him to affect the public interest. In other words, he judges whether it is in the public interest.

Mr. Wylie

Since I wrote the Amendment, obviously I know what is in it. I referred to the fact that, because it appeared to him to be in the public interest, that was the end of the matter. That is the view which the Minister of State expressed. If that is the legal advice which he has been given, in my submission, it is wrong. Any statutory or discretionary power of this nature must be exercised in a bona fide manner.

If the Secretary of State gave directions to this Board which on no possible view could be said to raise a matter of public interest, that would be ultra vires of this Clause. If, of course, on any reasonable view, they could be said to affect the public interest, that would be within the scope of the Clause as it at present stands, without those words. There is no restriction whatsoever on the nature of the directions which the Secretary of State can give to the Board, always provided, of course, that they are of a general character.

The Minister of State repeatedly expresses concern about my views on things because I am a lawyer. I can assure the hon. Member that I thought very carefully about this. In view of the suggestion made in Standing Committee as to what his legal advice was, I took the trouble to discuss this with a number of my learned friends in Edinburgh. The view which I am expressing is a point of view. It may be wrong, like most points of view on legal matters. I do not think so and many other people do not think so, either. I ask the House to accept the Amendment. If the Amendment makes no difference, as the Minister thinks, then let us accept it and we can all get on. I am certain that it does make a difference. I think that it makes an important difference affecting the status and freedom of action of the board.

For these reasons, I counsel the House to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Grimond

I rise to speak very briefly, and, first, to ask a question. I am aware that these words appear in other Acts. I wonder whether the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) could give us any examples of how they have operated in connection with these other Acts. Having read all the proceedings in Committee, I find it difficult to know what difference they would make in this Act.

Mr. Wylie

The point is, of course, that if these words are in the Clause, if the powers which the Secretary of State is given are qualified by those words, one would expect—and experience has shown—that the Secretary of State does not or would not give the kind of directions which might lay themselves open to be described as ultra vires. I know of no case that has ever been brought to a court of law to test this kind of thing, but, for reasons good or bad, these words have been included in other Sections. That is the effect of these words and, in the context of the Bill, having regard to control which the Secretary of State has over this Board, it seems to me to be an advisable provision to put into the Bill.

Mr. Grimond

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member. I cannot say that I feel much enlightened, because I am still rather at a loss to know what effect these words would have. If they have never been tested in other Acts, we are precluded from such experience that this might give us. As I read it, the Secretary of State can give directions only of a general character, even under the Bill. Therefore, he is precluded from giving a direction for some specific purpose such as taking over distilleries, even as the Bill is now.

Finally, and in particular, I think that we are all against writing words into a Bill which do not appear to be essential, simply on the ground that they might do some good, although no one is quite clear what good they will do. Therefore, unless there is further argument on this subject, at the moment my mind would be slightly in favour of leaving the Bill as drafted.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I recollect that we had some fairly lengthy discussion on this matter in Standing Committee, and I echo the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I am very reluctant indeed to criticise the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). He has said, in the first place, that these words are necessary, that there is precedent for these words, that they will place a restriction on the Secretary of State, they will help the Board, and that they ought to be there. The only thing he has not explained is why. Without being in any way disrespectful, it seems to me that this is a piece of traditional legal "bumbledom".

I will quote the one argument which was used in Standing Committee. The hon. and learned Member endeavoured to give a specific example where the insertion of these words would make a difference. He said: … of necessity a wide discretion is left to the Secretary of State and he has power to restrict the freedom and action of the Board, a power which, without the Amendment relating to the public interest, could not be challenged. If the Amendment were accepted, those powers could be challenged"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 1st April, 1965; c. 187.] In other words, he was making a clear distinction in a certain situation, but the situation, to my mind, is so hypothetical and unlikely that if there were such a situation as was visualised by the hon. and learned Member in which the Secretary of State was in dispute with the Board, the whole arrangement—itself so hypothetical as to be totally unrealistic, even in the unlikely possibility of its happening—the whole system would have broken down anyway.

This is not a valid argument and I would suggest to the Committee that the hon. and learned Member has not made a case for these words meaning anything. If they do not mean anything, why have them?

Mr. Willis

We had a fairly long argument about this in Standing Committee and the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) has not produced any new arguments in its support. The Amendment has been put down and we are covering roughly the same ground again. The hon. and learned Member has told us that there are legal precedents for this and he has quoted the same two precedents as in Committee, namely—

Mr. Wylie

There is nothing wrong with that.

Mr. Willis

There is nothing wrong with that, but the examples are the Overseas Resources Development Act, 1948, and the Airports Authority Act. I should like to give some a little nearer to the Highlands and quote precedents. They are the Crofters Act, 1955, in which these words do not appear; the Deer (Scotland) Act, in which these words do not appear; the Housing Act, 1964, which has more relevance to the Highlands than the two precedents which he quotes. These words do not appear in that Act, nor in the New Towns Act, 1946. As I pointed out in Standing Committee, there seems to be no rule governing the use of these words. Our advice certainly is that they add nothing whatever to the Bill.

I would ask the hon. and learned Member to read the words of his Amendment: In relation to matters appearing to him to affect the public interest. If the Secretary of State is challenged—as the hon. and learned Member says is possible—if we accept this Amendment, all he has to say is, "It appears to me"—

Mr. Wylie


Mr. Willis

The Amendment says: In relation to matters appearing to him to affect the public interest.

Mr. Wylie

The point which I tried to make is that I accept that these words give a very wide discretion to the Secretary of State. He could say, "I think that this direction of mine is in the public interest" and in possibly almost every conceivable case, that will be so and accepted. But if the direction is of a kind which on no conceivable view could be said to be in the public interest, that would not be a proper exercise of these statutory powers. It would not be enough for the Secretary of State to say, "None the less, I think it is." If it is a direction of a trivial nature, the kind of direction which he would give to his own employees, how could he justify a direction of that nature as being in the public interest? That is the kind of situation which I had in mind.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I become increasingly bewildered by the arguments which lawyers sometimes adduce. With the Amendment, the subsection would read: The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Board, give to the Board directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance of their functions in relation to matters appearing to him to affect the public interest. It is clear from that that the Secretary of State would decide the general directions. That is precisely what the Clause would say if the Amendment were accepted. It will be seen that acceptance of it would make no difference whatever to the provision and, that being so, I advise the House to reject it.

Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)

I support the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie), although he has been given a rough ride on this one. I remind the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) that bumbledon is not the prerogative of lawyers.

Bills of this sort are always a mass of words, virtually unintelligible to the ordinary reader, and in their wisdom this seems to be the drafters' best way of producing them. If it is true that the words in the Amendment mean so little, why should they not be inserted? A few words more or less in a Bill like this will make no difference.

Mr. Willis

If the words mean nothing, to include them would create the impression that they mean something. We would no doubt have endless arguments about their meaning and, of course, the members of the hon. Gentleman's profession would be delighted.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

If they mean nothing the situation would not be altered one way or the other. I thought that the most cogent part of the remarks adduced in favour of the Amendment concerned the status of the Board—that if the Board is simply to be in the same position as the Secretary of State's own Department it will not achieve the status in Scotland that it must achieve if it is to work effectively. If it is tied up with the Government in that way, particularly the present Government, there is no question that the attitude of the people of Scotland towards it will be highly doubtful.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

I admit to having been rather confused on this matter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) said that the words in the Amendment appeared in the recently-passed Airports Authority Act. Would the Minister of State say why they were inserted in that Measure and why he objects to them being included in this one? What advice has he received from the Law Officers?

Mr. Ross

I am surprised that the Bill came so quickly from the Scottish Grand Committee. We are discussing a real Scottish point. It is the kind of thing which Scots love to get their teeth into.

The one speech that merits a reply was that delivered by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon). He began by saying that statutes were a mass of words, that people did not understand them, so we might as well add some more. That is good, sound Tory logic. "We are not going to 'kid' the people outside. They do not understand it, anyway. Let us just 'kid' ourselves", is what he was really saying. I have in my time been a bit of a purist when it came to tabling Amendments in the Scottish Grand Committee.

If there was one Measure in which the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) took an interest, it was the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959. He allowed that Measure to slip through without the general direction contained in the Amendment—the direction which is supposed to be so grave, important, and such an absolutely essential piece of constitutional restriction on the Secretary of State. On that occasion we had the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General both in attendance. It was unusual to have them there together. Perhaps their presence resulted in the Measure having slipped through without the provision contained in the Amendment.

The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands admitted that having discussed the Amendment with his colleagues in Edinburgh, there had been a certain amount of doubt about whether or not it was essential to be included in the Clause. It must be remembered that we are considering a possible situation involving a dispute between the Board and the Secretary of State. The Clause begins with the words: The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Board … Consultations to settle the differences. That is at the beginning of the Clause. With respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, we are not talking about whether the members of the Board should use fine or broad nibs or whether the sign outside their office should be painted in blue, red or white.

We are not concerned with trivialities. Whatever the hon. and learned Gentleman may say, no Secretary of State would invoke these powers for something trivial and anyone who reads subsection (2) will appreciate the nature of the provision. In any case, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had felt it so important to include the Amendment he should have made it absolutely clear that he wished to give greater power to the Board by deleting the phrase in his own Amendment, "appearing to him".

Mr. Wylie indicated dissent.

Mr. Ross

I was not a member of the Committee. I missed all this fun. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well why the words at present in the subsection are there and why the Amendment cannot be accepted. I have seen the words used in the Clause in one statute after another in relation to general powers of this sort. I urge him to think again on this issue. We do not want to fall out over an Amendment of this sort. The case we have made is amply proved by the Measures quoted by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, including the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955, the Deer (Scotland) Act, 1959, and the Housing Act, 1964. I assure hon. Gentlemen opposite that to accept the Amendment would make the obscure far more obscure. It would only help the lawyers to find something else about which to argue. The Clause will be better off without it and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite not to press it.

Mr. Noble

The Secretary of State and the Minister of State have given us for a moment a flash back to the past when there were Law Officers from this side of the House. They were doing their best, they said, to learn from those Law Officers important aspects of Scottish law. They were rather slow as learners. It is quite clear that after a great many years they have not learned very much.

By what the right hon Gentleman and his hon. Friend have said they have not in one single aspect changed the points made quietly and seriously by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). He said that he does not wish to restrict the main powers of the Secretary of State and if the words "appearing to him" were taken out of the Amendment it would be much more restrictive on the Secretary of State. My hon. and learned Friend said that it is not likely that in a great many cases the addition of these words would make a significant difference to the behaviour of the Secretary of State or the Board, but it has been thought necessary by Governments in the past—two cases have been quoted—to put in words of this sort.

The Minister of State quoted four other what he called much more apposite cases affecting crofters, housing and new towns, but every one of those is concerned with a totally different type of body. There is no relevance whatever between this sort of words and that sort of body. Whether we had Law Officers present when those Measures were going through the House is of no importance. The powers and statutory nature of the Board are quite different from any of the things mentioned in the Measures to which the Minister of State referred.

The Secretary of State said that he does not regard the words as essential or as adding anything. My hon. and learned Friend has taken a great deal of trouble over this matter. He has spoken with his hon. and learned Friends who believe that these words should be in the Bill and that they would be a help. I and my hon. Friends accept my hon. and learned Friend's words and do not pay very much attention to the opinions of the Minister of State in this regard. I do not think we need spend a great deal of time on this small but important Amendment. It is important especially because it would give to the Board that little extra status and show to the world that it is not just a department of St. Andrews House.

I therefore ask my hon. Friends to support my hon. and learned Friends in the Lobby.

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 133.

Division No. 185.] AYES [5.12 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Gammans, Lady Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W. Gibson-Watt, David Page, R. Graham (Crosby)
Astor, John Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Atkins, Humphrey Glover, Sir Douglas Peyton, John
Baker, W. H. K. Goodhew, Victor Pym, Francis
Balniel, Lord Grant-Ferris, R. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Batsford, Brian Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Harris, Reader (Heston) Scott-Hopkins, James
Bell, Ronald Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Hastings, Stephen Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm.) Hawkins, Paul Stodart, Anthony
Biffen, John Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Biggs-Davison, John Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P. Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Black, Sir Cyril Hutchison, Michael Clark Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J. Iremonger, T. L. Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Brewis, John Kilfedder, James A. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter
Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry Kirk, Peter Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Tweedsmuir, Lady
Campbell, Gordon Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Channon, H. P. G, Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral) Walters, Dennis
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) McAdden, Sir Stephen Weatherill, Bernard
Costain, A. P. McLaren, Martin Webster, David
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Whitelaw, William
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver McMaster, Stanley Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Marten, Neil Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Curran, Charles Mawby, Ray Wise, A. R.
Dalkeith, Earl of Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr) Meyer, Sir Anthony Woodhouse, Hon. Christopher
Eden, Sir John Mills, Peter (Torrington) Woodnutt, Mark
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Mitchell, David Wylie, N. R.
Emery, Peter Monro, Hector Younger, Hn. George
Errington, Sir Eric More, Jasper
Eyre, Reginald Morrison, Charles (Devizes) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Foster, Sir John Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Mr. MacArthur and
Mr. R. W. Elliott.
Armstrong, Ernest Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)
Bacon, Miss Alice Hamilton, William (West Fife) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Bence, Cyril Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.) Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land)
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Hannan, William Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)
Bishop, E. S. Harper, Joseph MacMillan, Malcolm
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Bradley, Tom Hart, Mrs. Judith Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan) Heffer, Eric S. Manuel, Archie
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury) Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur Marsh, Richard
Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Mason, Roy
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Holman, Percy Millan, Bruce
Carmichael, Neil Hooson, H. E. Miller, Dr. M. S.
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Horner, John Molloy, William
Chapman, Donald Howie, W. Murray, Albert
Crawshaw, Richard Hoy, James Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn.Philip(Derby, S.)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Norwood, Christopher
Dalyell, Tam Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Ogden, Eric
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hunter, A. E. (Feltham) O'Malley, Brian
Diamond, John Janner, Sir Barnett Orme, Stanley
Doig, Peter Jeger, George (Goole) Oswald, Thomas
Driberg, Tom Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Owen, Will
Dunnett, Jack Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Palmer, Arthur
Ennals, David Jones, Dan (Burnley) Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)
Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.) Jones, Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham, S.) Pavitt, Laurence
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Kenyon, Clifford Pentland, Norman
Floud, Bernard Leadbitter, Ted Perry, Ernest G.
Foley, Maurice Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Rankin, John
Freeson, Reginald Lipton, Marcus Redhead, Edward
Garrow, A. Lomas, Kenneth Rhodes, Geoffrey
Ginsburg, David Loughlin, Charles Richard, Ivor
Gourlay, Harry Lubbock, Eric Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Grey, Charles McCann, J. Robertson, John (Paisley)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) MacColl, James Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. MacDermot, Niall Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Hale, Leslie McKay, Mir. Margaret Rose, Paul B.
Ross, Rt. Hn. William Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Shore, Peter (Stepney) Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank Wallace, George
Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.) Steel, David (Roxburgh) Warbey, William
Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.) Taverne, Dick Whitlock, William
Silkin, John (Deptford) Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.) Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Thornton, Ernest
Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.) Tomney, Frank TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Lawson and Mr. Fitch.