§ Mr. G.. Campbell
I beg to move, in page 7, line 29, to leave out subsection (1) and to insert:
We believe that subsection (1) of this Clause is highly objectionable. It is fairly short, but the meaning of it, as was confirmed in Committee, is that the 998 Board, and, therefore, the Government, can require information to be provided by any of the persons concerned in the area defined as the Highlands and Islands about virtually any subject.
- (1) The Board may by notice served on the owner or occupier of any land in the Highlands and Islands require him to furnish them with such information as may be specified in the notice with regard to the acreage, the rent and the tenure of the land and with regard to such other matters relating to the ownership or the occupation of the land as the Board may reasonably require for the execution of their functions under this Act.
- (2) The Board may by notice served on the owner or occupier of any land in the Highlands and Islands or as any person carrying on a business or undertaking therein require him to furnish them with such information as may be specified in the notice with regard to the land, business or undertaking as the Board may reasonably require for the execution of their functions under section 8 of this Act in relation to the land, business or undertaking.
- (3) Any expense incurred by any owner or occupier or person carrying on a business or undertaking in complying with the foregoing provision of this section shall be a valid charge against the Board in so far as such expense exceeds the sum of £5.
§ Mr. Campbell
Well, if the hon. Gentleman will tell us what the limitation is I shall be very glad indeed, because when I asked about this in Committee I was under the impression from the reply which I received that there virtually was not a limit. The Board itself can deal with such an enormous variety of subjects that tying the limit to the functions of the Board, as the subsection does, certainly has the effect of opening an extremely wide field—even if, by the nods the Minister of State is giving, it appears that there may be some limit.
The objectionable part of it is that confidential information can be required about business and financial affairs whether a person or firm concerned is likely to benefit financially from any project of the Board, or not, and whether the person or firm is interested in so benefiting, or not. When we pointed this out in Committee the Minister of State suggested that instead of destructively criticising the Clause we ought ourselves to produce some alternative wording, and that challenge we have accepted, and that is why there is this substantial Amendment containing three new subsections. I will explain exactly what we mean and intend by them. Again I will say that if our drafting is in any way faulty we would immediately accept that, provided that the intention of our subsections is clearly met.
In the first subsection in the Amendment we have attempted to give the Board the power to obtain information of the kind which it is normally recognised it is entirely appropriate for any person or firm to give to a Government body or statutory body of this kind. Therefore, this is drafted in order to enable the Board to obtain information of what may be described as of the ordinary kind.
I shall not read the whole of the subsection out, as I think somebody expected me to do on an earlier Amendment which I was moving, because there it is on the Paper, in rather technical 999 language, for all hon. and right hon. Members to see. I have explained in very simple language what it intends to carry out.
In subsection (2) of the Amendment we provide for the Board to obtain further information which may be of a more confidential nature but which has to be sought by the Board in those cases where the provider of the information stands to benefit financially from a project of the Board. This meets the argument which the Minister of State put forward in Committee, and which we quite understood, that in existing legislation, such as legislation covering the White Fish Authority and others there is provision for an authority to obtain information which may cover the financial affairs of a firm or a person. But that is because the person or firm stands to benefit financially from subsidies, grants or loans under that same legislation. This we thoroughly recognise and we say that in these circumstances it is reasonable that the Board, and through the Board the Government, should be able to seek that kind of information.
Again, I will not read subsection (2). I see that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) who criticised me earlier for not reading out each Amendment is now again with us. I will not read this subsection because the hon. Member has it in front of him on the Order Paper and he will see from the wording what we intend the subsection to achieve, that is to obtain information from this second category of person who is likely to benefit or to seek to benefit financially from the operation of the Clause. We have gone out of our way to draft this to meet the argument which the Minister of State put forward.
In subsection (3) we have dealt with a point which we also raised in Committee about the expense which can be incurred, particularly in an area like the Highlands, in providing certain information. We have thought it reasonable that if the cost exceeds a certain figure—and we have put down £5 but we are not tied to that—the Board should accept responsibility for that expenditure. There is a problem here which one would not necessarily meet in other parts of 1000 the country. It can be an inordinately expensive business to take measurements in the Highlands which it might not have been necessary to take before. A survey of the property might never have been done in the way required by the Board and if the information asked for was to be supplied it might be that an expensive survey would have to be carried out. Not only would there be compensation to the owner or occupier who has to provide the information, and that we think to be reasonable, but this would provide a built-in safeguard to ensure that the Board would not unwittingly ask for information which was not really necessary. The Board would weigh the need for the information against the estimated cost of obtaining it. It would not run into unnecessary expenditure to obtain information which was not really essential to its requirements. We believe that we have greatly assisted the Government in doing this drafting for them on the lines which they suggested in the Committee, although, as I have pointed out, we did not expect that the wording would be entirely right, even though we have the benefit of legal advice to help us—very good legal advice.
The ordinary individual living in the Highlands who might wish to receive a grant or loan or financial assistance from the Board so as to be able to do a job entirely independently does not have to suffer an inquisition into his finance or, if it is a business, his confidential trade affairs, which is a reasonable protection of the freedom of the individual. That is what subsection (1) does. However, in cases where it is reasonable to ask for more information than that in return for the prospect of financial benefits, subsection (2) will meet that case.
We believe, therefore, that these new subsections, replacing the original subsection (1), are a great improvement on the Clause. We hope that the Minister of State has already recognised this in studying these Amendments before coming here and that he has not arrived with his mind set against them. We are trying to help him in this. I think that opposition was expressed on all sides about this. As I remember it, it was not a party matter in the Committee. We had support from the Liberal Party and from some speakers, I seem to remember, from the Government back benches as 1001 well. They were also worried about quite unnecessary powers in subsection (1). Therefore, I hope that the Government will appreciate that we have been of assistance not only to them, but, it appears to the whole House in this.
§ Mr. Willis
At least we are grateful to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) and his hon. Friends for having put down on paper their ideas about this Clause. We did not get them in Committee. We had a kind of general opposition to the Clause. Now, we have something more specific and we see the kind of information which hon. Gentlemen opposite feel ought to be permissible in a Clause of this kind. I am afraid we still cannot accept the limitations imposed by the Amendment. The first subsection in the Amendment, as it says, deals with the question of land, but, of course, it is limited solely to acreage, rent, tenure, ownership, or occupation.
The Board might reasonably want information about the land use, but it would not be possible to obtain it under this subsection. It might want information about various aspects of land use and the soil itself. That could not be obtained under this subsection. It might, in special circumstances, require information about viability. It could not obtain it under this subsection. There are perfectly legitimate things which the Board might require to know for the purpose of its functions, which it would be prohibited from discovering by this proposed subsection.
The second subsection deals with industry and business undertakings, and it is limited by its reference to Clause 8. Subsection (2) of the Amendment states that the Board may ask for… such information as may be specified in the notice with regard to the land, business or undertaking as the Board may reasonably require for the execution of their functions under section 8 of this Act …".That would be done with respect to the granting of a loan or grant. It is about the last case where one would experience much difficulty in getting the information because if it were not supplied the loan would not be granted. I suggest that that would place a great limitation on the sort of information the 1002 Board might require to enable it to carry out its functions.
The Board might require information about such things as the number of workers employed, how far they must travel to and from work and the age groups employed. These are all important matters if the Board is to undertake work for the promotion of the economic and social development of the area. In extending tourism, for example, the Board might need to know the number of tourists, how many of them are on tours, how many stay for what length of time and similar information. There is nothing outrageous in this. If the Board is to undertake the promotion of tourism it will require a considerable amount of information of this character. This shows that the powers which we seek in the Bill are necessary if the Board is to carry out its functions properly.
Subsection (3) of the Amendment deals with expenses and, as I pointed out in Committee, the Board has the power to meet such expenses. Under Clause 9(1,d), the Board will have the power to offset such expenses that are necessary. Naturally, if something was too expensive the person concerned could object. It would be a legitimate case for appeal. I imagine that the sheriff would be inclined to act if he thought that something was too expensive, not necessarily on something costing thousands of pounds, but perhaps even £20 or £40.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
Since the Minister of State referred to Clause 9(1,d) he should reflect that it states that the Board shall have power… to do all such things as are incidental to, or conducive to the attainment of the purposes of, any of their functions".That seems to be so general that until the hon. Gentleman mentioned it it had not occurred to me that it would cover the payment of compensation. The hon. Gentleman has said certain things in the House that do not appear to be in the Bill. Will what he says be enough later, when the Measure becomes law?
§ Mr. Willis
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Clause as drafted is sufficient. He should have consulted his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) about the provision in Clause 9(1,d), 1003 which, as the hon. Gentleman said, states that the Board shall have the power… to do all such things as are incidental to, or conducive to the attainment of the purposes of, any of their functions".The Board will be able to meet expenses if they are reasonable, depending on the nature of the application. The Board will have the power to do this and we see no reason to write such a power into the Bill yet again.
We appreciate that subsection (1) is widely drawn and that the powers of the Board are wide. The Board will embrace a number of powers and it will be unusual in that the powers it will have in respect of the collating of information, and so on, will be wide. We recognise that fears have been expressed about this, but we believe that the powers being granted are reasonable. I draw attention to the limitation that exists within the Clause. The hon. Gentleman spoke about our seeking information from a business which would not benefit or be affected by what the Board was doing or the purposes for which it required the information. If the hon. Gentleman reads the subsection, he will find that that is not so. He will find that there is a limitation within the subsection in the last words. I drew attention to this in Committee.
Subsection (1) says:The Board may by notice served on the owner or occupier of any land in the Highlands and Islands or on any person carrying on a business or undertaking therein require him to furnish them with such information as may be specified in the notice with regard to the land, business or undertaking and with regard to such other matters relating thereto, as the Board may reasonably require for the execution of any of their functions under this Act in relation to the land, business or undertaking.It is limited to that. I said this in reply when the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn quoted the possibility of the Board wanting to set up a brewery to produce Drambuie. It was suggested that the Board could ask a firm for a secret recipe and then start producing Drambuie. These words limit the effect to undertakings, land or businesses which will be affected.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Wylie
This is obviously a very important Clause. I take the point that the provision is restricted to functions in 1004 relation to land. That is why I have never been able to understand the general observations about the Board requiring to have information about tourism. I do not see how it could obtain information from a business unless it had its eyes on the business itself. I do not see how it could get information about numbers of tourists, their length of stay, and so on, unless it was considering taking over the business concerned. If the Board had its eyes on acquiring the business concerned it could obtain the information. Then, if the deal fell through, there would be nothing to prevent the Board using that information, provided it used it for its own functions under the Act.
Subsection (1) provides that any information acquired in this way cannot be disclosed otherwise than for the purpose of the Act. If the Board required information in this way and negotiations fell through, that information could still be used by the Board in other fields, provided that it was being used in furtherance of the Board's functions.
§ Mr. Willis
I imagine that the Board will build up a body of information over a time. All such bodies given power to acquire businesses build up information and this applies wherever these powers are given. I forget the point made by the hon. Member about tourism.
§ Mr. Willis
Let us suppose that the proposal that the Board was considering was the development of facilities for tourism. It might be a motel, a car park, caravan facilities, for instance. The Board might be considering the whole question of accommodation. In the course of considering that question, the Board could require information concerning this, perhaps from hoteliers and others. In fact, as I said in Committee it probably would be of advantage to a hotelier to give that information, because the Board might ask, "Why do you not do this?" The hotelier might say, "I cannot afford it. This would require a capital expenditure of £50,000. I have 1005 not got that kind of money". The Board might say to the hotelier—I visualise this as the likely thing which would happen—"We will enable you to.
We think it is important that, if we develop this area and install certain facilities, there should be additional residential accommodation. We have no wish to start up on our own. After all, we have many things to do all over the Highlands, but we have the power to give you financial assistance. We will make you a grant or a loan on certain conditions". This seems to me to be the way in which it will work. In such a case, the Board would get information about the hotel business in that area.
§ Mr. Wylie
I would agree that in that case the Board could get the information, because it would require the information for the purposes of its function under the Bill when enacted in relation to that business. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say at one stage tonight and on other occasions that, if the Board wanted information on tourism generally, it could go to hoteliers in connection with whose business it had no specific intentions and require that information. I do not think that it could under the Clause.
§ Mr. Willis
I do not think that that is so important, because the Board probably would not want so much a survey of tourism of the Highland area which, after all, reaches from Muckleflugga down to the Mull of Kintyre. The trade itself varies from district to district. What the Board would in practice be concerned with would be a possible development of tourism in a particular part of the Highlands. It might want to encourage more people to go to Skye. It might want to encourage more people to go to Mull.
The Board would go to Mull and make a survey of the conditions there. It would approach MacBraynes. It would approach the hoteliers. It would approach the various local authorities and the Council of Social Services, discuss the matter with them, ask what the possibilities were, and ask what should be done. Then it would seek the information from the people who would be affected. This is how I visualise the Board operating. It is for purposes like that the the Board will require information.
1006 In reply to the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) about the nature of the information the Board could get, I drew his attention to the limitations. These powers are very limited, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. They are limited to the land, business or undertaking which is likely to be concerned. The Board cannot go wandering about the Highlands getting information on making Drambuie so as to go up to the Orkneys and make it there.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
I understand that. The difference between us is that the wording which the hon. Gentleman has read from the end of the offending subsection states that the information can only he required reasonably in execution of any of the functions in relation to that land or business. It does not mean that it is for the benefit of that land or business. Our point is that information of a wide character should not be sought from an individual, who may not in fact be going to benefit. His land may be affected; it may be connected with the functions of the Board, but he may find that his land is purchased against his will compulsorily. That is the distinction we are trying to make.
§ Mr. Willis
But, of course, the functions of the Board are to promote the economic well-being of the Highlands, and one would expect, by and large, the well being of the people will be promoted as a result of what the Board does. I do not deny that there is a possible danger here, but, if there is doubt about it, we come to the second factor. As a result of the Amendment moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), we have accepted the appeal procedure which enables these questions to be decided and the sheriff to decide whether the information should be given if the person objects. This is a considerable safeguard which ought not to be underrated. It does not appear in many other cases where information has to be given.
§ Mr. MacArthur
As I understand it, the Minister of State sets some store by the special protection which he says is provided by the word "functions". Is that so? It is an argument which was advanced in Committee, as I understood it.
§ Mr. Willis
I was referring to the final words of the Clause which relate to information which can be sought, and the matters mentioned arein relation to the land, business or undertaking".These were the words to which I referred in Committee also when we discussed this matter.
§ Mr. MacArthur
But the earlier words of the subsection arewith regard to the land, business or undertaking and with regard to such other matters relating thereto as the Board may reasonably require for the execution of any of their functions under this Act.The functions spring from Clause 2, and they are, in essence, directed by the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Willis
The words are… require for the execution of any of their functions"—under Clause 2in relation to the land, business or undertaking".This is the land, business or undertaking which is referred to in line 33. One ties up with the other.
The point I make is that this in itself is a limitation upon the information which can be sought. There was a lot of talk in the Committee about it, and I know that there are people in the Highlands who have the idea that it will be possible to ask anybody anything about what he does, close his business down and start it up oneself, using his secret information and so on. This is quite wrong. It simply cannot be done. The second safeguard in the Clause will be the appeal procedure, which, as I have said, does not exist in many cases where public bodies are given power to obtain information.
The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn spoke about the White Fish Authority, with reference to subsection (2). The White Fish Authority, he said, was paying grants and loans and, therefore, it could obtain information. But the White Fish Authority has rather more responsibilities than that. It has responsibility for framing schemes to promote the well-being of the white fish industry. Nevertheless, the White Fish Authority is given very wide powers, as I said in Committee.
I have given the reasons why we want to obtain information or feel that we 1008 might possibly want to obtain information on a wider scale than would be possible under the Amendment. I have also pointed out the safeguards. I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
The debate has been conducted in a far more rational and sensible way than was the case on many occasions in Committee. The Opposition—that is, the main opposition—have been responsible for spreading a somewhat alarmist attitude towards this Clause. They seem to approach it from the point of view that there is some sort of totalitarian apocalypse around the corner. This is quite unreasonable. We have had references to people like Hitler and Stalin. Many of these criticisms were not worth proper discussion.
We must surely approach any Clause or legislation of this kind from the point of view of what reasonable people will do. Speaking as a Liberal, I know that I was severely criticised for supporting the Clause in Committee. I thought that it was the right thing to do, and that is still my opinion. I am very pleased that the Minister accepts an appeal mechanism. The fact that he has accepted it so readily is an earnest of his intentions. Again, he has shown that the objectives of this Clause are good rather than the bad ones which have been expressed.
We have a Bill of this sort because there are very special circumstances which have resulted from long years of neglect. Since I feel that a great many of the people who have been talking about Hitler and Stalin have a fair degree of responsibility for this neglect, their criticism is, to that degree, devalued. The way in which the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell), supported by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie), moved the Amendment was eminently reasonable. But the answer given by the Minister at some length was adequate, and certainly satisfied me.
§ Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) said that the acceptance of the appeals procedure by the Minister of State was an earnest of his intentions. I think that it is an indication of the unease of his feelings about the possible effects of this Clause. He said that this was an unusual 1009 innovation in the conduct of Scotland's affairs, that no one knew how it would turn out and that the appeals procedure was an unusual way of providing some sort of safeguard against any mistakes which may be made by the Board as the result of the Bill.
We on this side of the House start from a position in which we seek to make more specific the powers and work of the Board. Hon. Members opposite start from a position in which they put down a blanket control relating simply to the functions of the Board and say that we must trust the good faith and good sense of the Board. We are anxious to do that. However, we have already had experience in Scotland of Government bodies dealing with private industries with a view to giving them grants and loans to help them to expand their businesses in order to provide employment in areas where it is sorely needed. That system works slowly and often disappointingly, but, as far as we know, it works very well, and I do not believe that the bodies responsible for administering this kind of Government assistance will be able to ask for anything they like under the wide-ranging limits of the Clause unless the Amendment is accepted.
I was surprised to hear the Minister of State say that he could not accept the Amendment because, as I am sure that he would be the first to agree, he is a most fair-minded man and this Amendment is a very fair and reasonable one. My surprise was intensified when I listened to his reasons. He said that subsection (1) did not go far enough—did not cover, for instance, the land use or viability of whatever enterprise was being conducted on the land. But surely that objection is covered in subsection (2), which seeks to give the Board power to make any inquiries which it may reasonably require in the execution of its functions under Clause 8… in relation to the land, business or undertaking.What is to prevent the Board, under this Amendment, from asking such questions as the hon. Gentleman alluded to? He went on to talk about other information that the Board may need, about businesses and undertakings. He referred to questions about numbers of people employed or the number of tourists 1010 who pass through an area in a week and other details of information of that kind. I fail to see anything in the Amendment which would prevent the Board from asking questions of that sort.
Under the Amendment the Board would be entitled to ask anything it reasonably required and, as the hon. Gentleman said, there seems nothing outrageous in asking questions of that sort. It seemed eminently reasonable and surely the kind of inquiry that the Board would want to make and could make if the Amendment were accepted.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
I intervene with some hesitation, even for only a short time. I do so because Clause 11 (1) gives very wide powers. This may well be an exception but it may well be used as a precedent. The Clause begins:The Board may by notice served on the owner or occupier of any land in the Highlands and Islands or on any person carrying on a business or undertaking therein require him to furnish them with such information as may be specified in the notice with regard to the land, business or undertaking …It is extremely wide. Geographically it covers the Highlands and Islands. It covers the owner or occupier of land, or… any person carrying on a business or undertaking …Such a person must furnish the Board with such information as may be specified. It is a blanket power. The Clause goes on:… and with regard to such other matters relating thereto, as the Board may reasonably require for the execution of any of their functions under this Act in relation to the land, business or undertaking.That is the second barrel to subsection (1), but the first is entirely open and specifies any information. This is extremely wide, and is creating a precedent which I think it will be very undesirable to follow in Acts of Parliament.
In the Amendment my right hon. Friend has spelt out the matters in the three subsections. I know that in referring to this the Minister of State pointed out that certain other matters were not included, but I ask the Secretary of State to include them as well if necessary. I ask him to spell them out, and to insert them in the Bill when it goes to another place.
1011 It must be remembered that this is a penal matter. Subsection (2) says that anyone guilty of an offence isliable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.This makes it a criminal matter, and it is therefore right, when we are considering a matter under the criminal law, that the offence should be spelt out, and the information which is required should be specified in detail in the Bill. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider inserting in detail the matters which are required, instead of doing it in the way set out in the Bill as drafted. The Bill provides a complete blanket by saying that the Board may ask for any information which it may require.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this point, because it is one of considerable importance, not only in relation to the Bill itself, but because it may well set a precedent which it would be undesirable to follow.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
Although my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) was not here when the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) was speaking, he has, curiously enough, almost mirrored what the hon. Gentleman said about the Bill. The hon. Gentleman said that it was the only truly Socialist Measure that had been introduced during the present Session of Parliament, and that he hoped it would be a prototype for other similar Measures. It is odd that my hon. and learned Friend should have seen it in the same light as the hon. Gentleman saw it.
I think that I would in many ways like to follow the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), because what he really said was that there was some doubt in the minds of the people in the Highlands about whether the information for which they were being asked was really necessary. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) has done a service, because, by breaking down the information that is required into two categories, I think that we go a long way towards allaying any fear and suspicions that people may have about the type of information for which they are asked. Nothing is more 1012 off-putting to a person in his home, on his farm, or at his business, than to receive an enormous questionnaire asking for a whole lot of information which he feels does not apply to him at all.
By breaking down this information into two sections, my hon. Friend has done a great service to the Bill, because there is no doubt—and I am certain that both the Secretary of State and the Minister of State know this already—that there is a great deal of information available with regard to agricultural land through the agricultural returns which people make. Nothing will annoy, and put off, and prevent co-operation by people in the Highlands more than asking them to provide a whole lot of information which they have already provided in the normal course of their returns on 4th June and 4th December every year.
No one wants to prevent this new body from getting any extra information that it requires, but there must come a stage when the information which may be required by this body is such that the owner is incapable of supplying it. He may be doing soil analysis and be able to send copies of his returns to the Board, but, generally speaking, farmers analyse their soil only once every seven years. Will they, at the whim of the Board, if they have done their soil analysis four years previously, have to do another one the following year at their own expense, or perhaps at the expense of public funds made available through the colleges of agriculture?
By splitting the information which the Board requires into two sections, the first of which deals basically with land—and the authority extracting it already has particulars of sheep stock, numbers of men employed and so on, all of which is already available—it is possible to obtain the co-operation and good will of the people living in the Highlands. We all want to start the new authority off with the co-operation and good will of everyone. By breaking this down into two sections my hon. Friend is doing the new Board a great service, and I am certain that, on reflection, the Minister of State and the Secretary of State will agree to accept the Amendment.
§ 9.30 p.m.
Mr. Edward M. Taylor
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) hit the nail on the head 1013 when he mentioned the words "good will". If this is to be a success, and we are to obtain the necessary information without difficulty, it is essential to create good will on the part of the people who will be asked to give the information.
The greatest fear of any new Measure is the fear of the unknown. All the criticism directed against the Clause in the Highlands has essentially been caused because people have not been sure precisely how far the Government could go, or intended to go, or would have to go, in promoting the Board and making it a success. If the Government accepted the Amendment, or even the idea of putting the information which could be demanded into categories of this sort, it would be possible to overcome the difficulty which has been experienced by issuing a small pamphlet to people who might be affected, explaining their rights and obligations. If the Government were prepared to accept the Amendment such a situation would almost certainly be possible.
Time and time again—and it is true that we tend to adopt too rigid an attitude to a Measure of this sort because of the fear of the unknown—it has been explained that these powers are in no sense a precedent. I can remember when, in Committee, the Government spokesman explained how similar powers were contained in such Measures as the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, the Sea Fish Industry Act and the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act, 1961. But he admitted that for a body of this sort these were new powers, and the only explanation that he gave was that the Board was a unique body—the first of its sort.
We accept that, but if the Government were moved to look at the basis of the Amendment they would see the justification for it. Although a great deal of care has been put into the drafting, and in trying to cover as much information as we felt could reasonably and practicably be obtained by the Board, it is possible that some matters have been left out. The Minister of State referred to some of these, and he thought that the Amendment was not complete in that sense. If we agreed that there were some omissions and he was prepared to accept the 1014 principle of categorising the information which would be required, so that limits could be laid down, it would be a great help. It would not reduce the effectiveness of the Bill. On the other hand, it would remove much of the fear that exists in the minds of people who may be affected.
Why do people fear the present situation? One matter referred to in subsection (3) is the question of cost. Taking only the business point of view, and what the Board will look at, the kinds of industry about which the Board will be interested in obtaining information fall into three categories. First, there is the small, new and emerging industry. Clearly, if there is to be a future for them—if there is to be scope for expansion—the Board will want as much information as it can get about them. If there is scope for setting up similar industries in other parts of the Highlands the Board will want the maximum amount of information.
But it may well be that these industries will be new and small and may not have adequate commercial staff to supply the information wanted by the Board. They may not have the time and resources to provide it. The information the Board might require in respect of a new and small company might be far greater than the information required from an established and, perhaps, prosperous industry. To that extent we should bear in mind the cost.
For that reason, it is essential that even if the Amendment is not accepted as a whole, the Government should at least accept the principle of subsection (3) so as to make some provision for costs where the costs are above a certain amount. My hon. Friend mentioned any sum above £5, and that would appear to be fair and reasonable. While I thought that it might be advisable to pay all the sum if we were prepared to go to the trouble of following up items of less than £5, it would not be of any assistance.
The second kind of industry in which the Board will be particularly interested is the marginal type. If we look at what is in the Amendment and think of the marginal type of industry, we shall accept the very real grounds for fear on the part of small industrialists in the North of Scotland. If the Board is to do its job effectively, it will have to take a very real interest in business or industries 1015 where there might be a prospect of folding up or a prospect of new investment being put in to encourage the unit to expand. In other words, the industries from which the Board will be interested in getting information may be those which have not the time, resources or money to provide such information.
Apart from that, we are aware that the question of trade secrets is very much involved. All these things are creating a certain suspicion about what information the Board may require. That is why I feel it is essential that we should make an Amendment of this sort, though not necessarily this Amendment. I am sure that if the Government accepted the principle of trying to lay down the limits in some way to what information is required, it would greatly assist the Board and would also create the necessary good will. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Wylie
There has been so much discussion of this Clause that I intend to keep my remarks very short. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am trying to help the House. We have had a great deal of discussion.
We on our side are very grateful to the Minister of State for the care with which he has addressed his mind to the problems with which we are concerned. People must realise that we are genuinely concerned about this matter. It is not a reactionary approach to life. Anyone who considers this kind of provision with any degree of care must realise, as has been pointed out, that it is breaking new ground. It is not based on precedent. The wording may be based on precedent in some special cases, but in the context of the Bill the powers are new and exceptional. They are not the kind of powers which the House ought to let go by default or ought to endorse without the very greatest care.
We initially proposed during the Committee stage that the whole Clause should be deleted. That was not, as I understood the Minister of State to suggest, because we did not want the Board to have any powers at all. No one in his senses could expect a body of this nature not to have powers to obtain information. My right hon. Friend the 1016 Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) would certainly not append his name to a proposal to deprive a body of this nature of the power of acquiring information. That was not our intention. We took the view, rightly or wrongly, that, given the complexity of this Bill, it was not for us to try to frame a Clause which would specify and distinguish the kind of powers which the Board really wanted, but that it was a matter for the Government. It was with that in view that we tabled the earlier Amendment to delete the Clause.
This is an attempt to spell out the kind of powers which, from what we know of the new Board's activities—although we do not know a great deal about them yet—we think that the Board might reasonably require. We want the Board to have the powers that it might reasonably require. We feel it our duty to the public and to the individual, because the rights of the individual have not gone completely by the board yet. We owe it as a duty to the individual man and woman in the Highland areas to see that statutory bodies of this nature are not given wider powers than are necessary to enable them to fulfil their functions.
Subsection (1) of the Amendment is the kind of provision which is frequently found where there are powers of compulsory acquisition of land and where there are powers to develop land. Under Clause 4, that is one of the primary powers which this statutory body will have. It will have power to acquire land and to develop land. Accordingly, it must be entitled to get the kind of information which a body with those powers will reasonably require to enable it to fulfil its functions.
Among the so-called precedents which have been quoted is the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act, 1947, Section 102 of which provides the kind of power to acquire information as is specified in subsection (1) of the Amendment. The Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act, another instance which has been quoted, is a further example of this kind of power, almost in the same terms, with which we would take no exception. Indeed, the wording of the new subsection (1), as the Secretary of State and the Minister of State will readily appreciate, comes straight from Section 15 of the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955.
1017 We have no objection to that kind of power to obtain that kind of information being given to a body whose statutory powers include a power to acquire and develop land. It may be that reference to land use is omitted from the Amendment. It may be that because of the special circumstances of the Board land use should be specified in the Clause. By all means let us have it. The point of the whole exercise is to try to specify the kind of powers that will be required so that the public and the individual know where they stand.
Subsection (2) of the Amendment incorporates the wide provisions which are frequently found either in special cases where statutory bodies are set up for restricted purposes or, more generally, in cases where statutory bodies are set up the primary function of which is to provide grants in aid or assistance in one form or another. In that situation, it is not open to the individual who is to receive financial benefit from public funds to object to the obtaining of any information which is relevant to enable the statutory body to assess the degree of assistance which is to be given.
An example of that is to be found in the Sea Fish Industry Act, among the provisions of Section 4 of which are wide powers to provide grants and loans for the provision of fishing vessels and gear, the provision of plant, maintenance of equipment, trading and the rest. A great deal of public money is channelled into that industry through this legislation.
Where public funds are directed to that kind of purpose, certainly the public are entitled to know the whole facts before public money is expended. It is because public money is being used that subsection (2) of the Amendment has been framed in the way that it has. As the Minister knows, Clause 8 deals with the application of public funds. We say that where we are concerned with the application of public funds, the Board should be entitled to ask for any information that it wishes which is relevant to enable it to fulfil its functions under that Clause.
Of course, that is a very different thing from being able to ask for all kinds of information in relation to the general functions of the Board, functions which 1018 are about as wide as they could possibly be stated. Indeed, I very much doubt whether there has ever been in the history of this country any statutory body which has been given such wide powers as this statutory Board, and I am absolutely certain that there are no previous examples of powers of this kind given to a statutory body in this country.
I should like to mention other special cases. It is true that the Industrial Training Act of last year and the Harbours Act of last year, which have been cited as precedents, required the giving of information, but again, under the Harbours Act what one has to remember is that the Minister is dealing as a rule with public authorities, harbour authorities. The situation is different when we are dealing with individuals, and requiring information from individuals, as in many cases under this legislation the Board will be. Not only that, but under the Harbours Act there are substantial powers to advance public funds.
I think that the figure of £100 million is written into the Harbours Act of last year. Likewise under the Industrial Training Act, similar powers are given to make grants or loans of £50 million or more. Of course, we agree that if public money of that kind is being expended wide powers to acquire relevant information are necessary.
I would be the first to concede that the wording of this Amendment may not be sufficient to cover the needs of the Board, but all we are asking in this connection and all we have ever asked is that the powers should be defined and that the Government should not take the easy way out and just provide a general power, a blanket authority. I am not suggesting that this would be abused by this or any other Government, but it is not for this House to grant powers of this nature to statutory bodies unless those powers are justified.
Finally, on the question of expenses it is quite true that there may be—though I must say I would not have guessed it from Clause 9(1,d)—that this power to grant expenses, but even if there is, it is purely permissive. Surely, if we are to ask for the kind of information which this Board may require, and if that is going to require substantial expenditure on the part of the individual who has got 1019 to provide the information, in all equity it is only reasonable, in so far as that expenditure exceeds £5—in this instance; and it could be more or it could be less, although it would hardly be worth collecting if it were less—that it should be met from public funds.
If expenditure is to be incurred on the part of an individual in providing information which this statutory body requires it is only just that there should be written into the Bill a statutory duty, not a permissive power, that that expenditure should come out of public funds.
I suggest to the House that, even if this Amendment in its present terms is not altogether acceptable, this is one Clause which the House ought to think about carefully, and the Government, even in another place, should see if it is possible to spell out these provisions in more definite terms.
§ Mr. Ross
It is only fair that I should say a word or two in reply to the sincere speeches which have been made about this Amendment and this Clause. I fully appreciate that we are asking here for powers which are not normally given in this form and that hon. Members are entitled to seek safeguards, and guidance about how the powers are likely to be used, but I want to appeal to the House to see that what we are dealing with is a problem of very many years standing and not just one little aspect, as some particular aspect has been covered by some previous Measure—covered by the Harbours Act, for instance, affecting harbours and jetties.
The Bill is not so limited; it does not just cover land, but it covers agriculture, it covers industry, and it covers all the things which may have to be done to revive the Highlands and give the people a chance of living a prosperous life there. It is because it is so all-embracing that the danger is that if we start scheduling and specifying we shall find what the
§ hon. and learned Member now himself concedes—that something else might quite well be put in.
We have given this matter considerable thought, for the simple reason that unless the Board proceeds with good will it will not succeed, and if the fears with which the hon. and learned Gentleman started were justified the Board could not succeed because it could not build up good will. The fact that there is this recognition and that we all seek to have the right type of Board makes us entitled on this side of the House to be trusted to seek to proceed with the best of good will. The fact that we were prepared to write into the Bill appeal procedure at the request of hon. Members shows that we are sincere in this matter. I am sorry that we have not been able to meet one another, and I do not think that we will now. We on this side are acting not on the basis of tyranny but purely on the basis of what is required to meet this problem which comprehends within it so many problems.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
Does the Secretary of State not think that he should have made more clear what information is now lacking? There are many sources of information which are already available and damage will be done to good will if use is not made of the information which is already there.
§ Mr. Ross
I agree that there is a tremendous amount of information available, but it may well not be related to a particular project in a certain area. This is where we come up against the problem of individuals when we are dealing with whole areas, but I assure the hon. Member that we are proceeding not on the basis of injuring people but of benefiting whole areas.
Question put, That the words proposed to be left out, to the end of line 33, stand part of the Bill:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 84.1021
|Division No. 187.]||AYES||[9.53 p.m.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Buchanan, Richard||Floud, Bernard|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Foley, Maurice|
|Atkinson, Norman||Carmichael, Neil||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Chapman, Donald||Freeson, Reginald|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Crawshaw, Richard||Garrow, A.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dalyell, Tam||Ginsburg, David|
|Bowen, Roderic (Gardigan)||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Gourlay, Harry|
|Bradley, Tom||Doig, Peter||Grey, Charles|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Hale, Leslie|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Lubbock, Eric||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||McCann, J.||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||MacColl, James||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Hannan, William||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Harrison, Walter, (Wakefield)||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Hazell, Bert||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Short, Rt. Hn. E.(N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||MacMillan, Malcolm||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Holman, Percy||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Hooson, H. E.||Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Horner, John||Manuel, Archie||Slater Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Howie, W.||Mason, Roy||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Hoy, James||Millan, Bruce||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Taverne, Dick|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Molloy, William||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Murray, Albert||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Norwood, Christopher||Thornton, Ernest|
|Jackson, Colin||Ogden, Eric||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||O'Malley, Brian||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Orme, Stanley||Wallace, George|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Oswald, Thomas||Warbey, William|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Owen, Will||Weitzman, David|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Palmer, Arthur||Whitlock, William|
|Jones, Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham, S.)||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Pentland, Norman||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Lawson, George||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Rankin, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Redhead, Edward||Mrs. Slater and Mr. Harper.|
|Loughlin, Charles||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||More, Jasper|
|Anstruther Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.||Eyre, Reginald||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gammans, Lady||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Gardner, Edward||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Balniel, Lord||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Glover, Sir Douglas||Peyton, John|
|Batsford, Brian||Goodhew, Victor||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Grant-Ferris, R.||Shepherd, William|
|Bell, Ronald||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Stodart Anthony|
|Biffen, John||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hawkins, Paul||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Hornby, Richard||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Brewis, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Campbell, Gordon||Kilfedder, James A.||Webster, David|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Whitelaw, William|
|Cooper, A. E.||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Wise, A. R.|
|Costain, A. P.||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||MacArthur, Ian||Woodhouse, Hon. Christopher|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||McLaren, Martin||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Maclean, Sir Fitroy||Wylie, N. R.|
|Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||McMaster, Stanley||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Mawby, Ray||Younger, Hn. George|
|Doughty, Charles||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Eden, Sir John||Meyer, Sir Anthony||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Munro, Hector||Mr. Ian Fraser and Mr. Pym.|
§ It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood ad adjourned.
§ Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
§ Mr. Wylie
The subsection begins by providing thatThe Board may by notice served on the owner or occupier of any land in the Highlands and Islands or on any person carrying on a business or undertaking therein require him to furnish them with such information as may 1023 be specified in the notice with regard to the land, business or undertaking …The subsection continues:… and with regard to such other matters relating thereto, as the Board may reasonably require …The hour is getting rather late, but I cannot understand what those words add to the words which have already gone before. It seems that the subsection would do just as well without those words, and the purpose of the Amendment is to delete them.
§ Mr. Willis
We covered some of the subject of this Amendment in discussion of the last Amendment. I am afraid we
|(2) Any owner, occupier or other person on whom a notice has been served under the last foregoing subsection may within one month of the service of the notice appeal to the sheriff on the ground that the information or any part thereof specified in the notice is not reasonably required by the Board for the execution of any of their functions under this Act in relation to the land, business or undertaking, and the sheriff may make such order either confirming or quashing or varying the notice as he thinks fit.|
§ This Amendment is to provide a right of appeal which meets to a certain extent objections in relation to rights of the individual raised in Committee, and particularly to meet the point raised by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). This is a very simple, self-explanatory and important Amendment. It is an indication of our good will in respect of the kind of thing which was raised in Committee.
With this Amendment the following Amendment to the proposed Amendment can be discussed—in line 5, after "undertaking", insert:and within seven days of the receipt of such counter-notice the Board may apply to the sheriff for an order in terms of the said notice or any part thereof".
§ Mr. Wylie
The function of my Amendment is to shift the responsibility of an application to the court from the recipient of the notice on to the Board. It also has a consequential but very important result on the question of the onus of proof. As the Government Amendment at present stands, the recipient of the notice, if he decides to go to the court, has to prove that the terms of the notice 1024 cannot accept this Amendment for the same reasons that we could not accept the previous one, namely, that it would limit the amount of information which could be obtained. We think there is information of a kind which it would be helpful for the Board to be able to get. The House is anxious to get on and I do not wish to repeat what I said earlier. For the reasons I have mentioned we cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Ross
I beg to move Amendment No. 29, in page 7, line 37, at the end to insert: are unreasonable. The object of the Amendment to the proposed Amendment is to put the obligation on to the Board on receipt of a counter notice to go to the court and prove that the terms are reasonable. In these circumstances that is only appropriate.
Although a great deal has been said about what a useful and generous gesture this has been, it seems that in practice the whole provision is almost valueless. We are dealing with an executive authority with discretionary powers and no court will readily interfere and say that the exercise of those powers is unreasonable. The Minister's Amendment certainly would do no harm but it would do very little good. It would be slightly better if the onus was put on the Board to go to law and discharge the onus of proof.
I ask the Minister if it is to be understood that the application to the sheriff is a matter which will be decided on the criminal onus of proof or on the civil onus? One must bear in mind that the whole Clause sets up a statutory offence. If instead of going to court, which is a civil court, to decide in the first instance whether the terms are reasonable the recipient of the notice allows himself to be prosecuted, the charge would have to be proved by the Board or the prosecutor on behalf of the Board on the higher standard of proof. It is important to be perfectly clear that the onus of proof is 1025 discharged only in the sheriff court proceedings under this Amendment by the higher standard of proof. That must be right in view of the consequential penal provisions.
I see no reference to the application to the sheriff being final. That being so, I assume that there must be a right of appeal through the normal channels from actions in the sheriff court. If so there would have to be consequential Amendments.
§ Mr. Wolrige-Gordon
On a point of information, who bears the cost of this process of going to law? If the Minister's Amendment is accepted and an owner-occupier or other person goes to court and the sheriff makes an order quashing the notice, is the person who goes to law still liable for the costs of the case?
§ Mr. Willis
As I understand it, the answer to the last point is that, if the sheriff gave a decision against the Board, the Board would probably have to meet the costs. I am sorry that we cannot accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment to the Amendment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because the House is rather anxious to get on with its business, for a rather important reason. I do not think that we should unnecessarily waste the time of the House at a time like this.
The procedure set out in the Bill is normal. So far as I have been able to find, there is only one example where the procedure suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman is used. That is in the case of a notice to quit an agricultural holding. There is a very important difference, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will admit, between a man defending his right of security of tenure in a holding and somebody appealing against being asked to provide certain information.
The second reason why we must reject the Amendment to the Amendment is that this opens the door for somebody on whom a notice has been served to put the Board to considerable expense, trouble and delay for what might be no reason at all. In other words, anybody could hold up the work of the Board simply by issuing a counter notice with no intention of following it through. I 1026 do not think this is reasonable. For this reason also, we would reject the Amendment to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Willis
The short answer is that, if the person once issues the counter notice to the Board, he does not need to do anything else. The Board then has to prepare a case, engage counsel, go to court, or whatever it might be. It might be to the sheriff court in the Orkneys or the Shetlands. Meanwhile, the man has no intention of going any further with the counter notice. Therefore, as the hon. and learned Gentleman readily realises, this procedure could be used easily as a means of holding up the work of the Board. For these two quite good reasons, we cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Noble
I am rather depressed with the Minister's answer. When we started the consideration of the Bill, the Minister of State moved an Amendment which the House accepted on the ground that what the Bill sought to do was particularly to help the people in the Highlands. The Amendment to the Amendment is designed particularly to help the person in the Highlands who may, perhaps through no fault of his own, find himself in danger of serious proceedings before the court which, as I understand, could, in certain circumstances, land him in prison. The Liberal Party surprised me a good deal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members who are not wearing kilts and who are not interested in Scotland would leave the Chamber, their departure would probably considerably improve the tone of the debate. On two or three occasions already we have had to ask the Chair to stop hon. Members opposite carrying on private conversations. If they are not interested in the Bill, they may leave, and I do not imagine that any Scotsman will object.
I am surprised that on our last Amendment the Liberal Party decided to support the Government, although we were making a sincere effort to protect ordinary people in the Highlands who might 1027 be asked to give all sorts of information to the Board to protect them both from the effects of making mistakes and from the considerable costs they might have to incur in providing information. Liberal Members chose not to support us because they put their whole faith in this procedure of appeal to the sheriff court, but, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) has explained, it is entirely illusory in any case. It is a gesture which the Secretary of State has made. It has won him several votes, and I do not grudge him those votes. He is at liberty to use any method he chooses to obtain the votes of Liberal Members if they do not really understand, as I think is true in this case what they are doing.
As my hon. and learned Friend has said, his Amendment to the Government's Amendment would put the obligation on the Board, not on the individual. On several occasions today, we have emphasised how important it is to have the right Board, so there is no particular danger in this, and I should have thought that our proposal would be entirely acceptable to the Government. My hon. and learned Friend has rightly pointed out also that no sheriff court would be in the least likely to interfere with discretionary powers which an executive body was using in the normal course of its business. Therefore, the Secretary of State's Amendment is of no particular value.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the matter more consideration. I think that he is genuinely interested in the position of individuals in the Highlands. At a later stage, perhaps, in another place, he will have an opportunity to put down an Amendment to safeguard these people, who, I believe, will not have a fair crack of the whip in spite of what the Liberal Party seems to believe.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
I thank the Secretary of State for putting down his Amendment. I hope that he will be particularly careful and clear in answering the allegations made by the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble). It is extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should quite calmly say that an Amendment put down in all good faith, 1028 presumably on the best advice available to the Government, is purely illusory. I do not claim to be a legal expert or to have the great experience in interpreting legal tracts possessed by the right hon. Member for Argyll, but it would seem to me a strange pass if the Government introduced an appeal procedure of this kind in the way the Scottish Ministers have done and one then found that it could be rightly described as illusory. I hope that the Minister will firmly deny it.
I repeat that we are grateful that the Government have tabled these Amendments and have made a considerable effort to meet the real concern of certain individuals lest this wide power, introduced because of the special circumstances in the Highlands, might be misused.
§ Mr. Johnston
Legally, I am not sure whether this would be the case. If it is the case, I would welcome the Opposition's proposal. Again, I await the Government advice on this point because I feel that, having clearly stated that they want an appeal mechanism and that they want it to work, I do not think that the Minister could reject an Amendment which had the effect of strengthening the appeal mechanism which he has declared he wishes to see in operation.
Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment, put and agreed to.
§ Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.
Further Amendments made: In page 7, line 39, leave out "the foregoing subsection" and insert:
subsection (1) of this section".
In page 7, line 42, after first "notice" insert:
, or in the case where an appeal has been made under the last foregoing subsection, within three months after a decision on that appeal confirming or varying the notice, or of the abandonment of the appeal,".
In page 7, line 42, after second "notice", insert:
or required by the decision of the sheriff to be given".—[Mr. Ross.]