§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 24, to leave out from "after" to "from" in line 26 and to insert:consultation with such local authorities and other bodies as appear to the Board to have an interest,".
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
With this Amendment it will be for the convenience of the House to take Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 24, leave out from beginning to third "to" in line 26 and insert:to consult from time to time with local authorities in the Highlands and Islands and other bodies which are affected or concerned, and".
§ Mr. Willis
In Committee we had considerable discussion about the first three lines of subsection (1,b). The discussion centred around two principal points. The first was whether there should be regular meetings of local authorities and other bodies in the Highlands and Islands. The second was the unsatisfactory nature of the words in the first three lines of the paragraph. During the proceedings I said that I would examine this again. I was not too happy about the words in line 26.
We have examined it and as a result have tabled this Amendment, which puts in words which are more satisfactory than those in the subsection as it stands. I did not like the words "to be appropriate", because they left the Board a discretion which I did not think was one which should be put into a Bill. Rather, the Board should consult the local authorities and bodies concerned about any scheme which it is putting before the Secretary of State.
The effect of the Amendment is to make it quite clear. If the Amendment is accepted, the Clause will read in this way:after consultation with such local authorities and other bodies as appear to the Board to have an interest, from time to time to prepare and submit to the Secretary of State for his approval proposals".934 In other words, the Board will consult local authorities and other bodies, frame proposals after such consultations, and present them to the Secretary of State. That covers what we feel to be necessary in this context.
Amendment No. 8 suggests that there should be regular meetingswith local authorities in the Highlands and Islands and other bodies which are affected or concernedI am not certain what the words at the end of the Amendment mean.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
They are taken exactly from the words the Minister of State suggested in Committee as being a possible alternative.
§ Mr. Willis
I have not got the reference, so I cannot say exactly what I said in Committee. I do not think I suggested these exact words for an Amendment. Whether I did or no, the proposition here is that there should be regular meetings with local authorities and other bodies concerned. We do not think this is necessary. The Board is engaged in doing a task. It is considering schemes.
§ Mr. Campbell
I have the Minister's words here and, as he cannot find them, I will show the report to him.
§ Mr. Willis
I do not think that my words are so desperately important as all that. The hon. Gentleman attributes much more importance to some of the things I say than I sometimes attribute to them myself. I am flattered that that should be so. The point about the Amendment, which is what we are concerned with now, is whether there should be regular meetings of local authorities and other bodies with the Board. We do not think this is necessary, because there will be a consultative council which will be representative, amongst other interests, of local authorities and bodies which might be concerned. That consultative council will hold regular meetings. It will make proposals and representations to the Board. To put into 935 this subsection a provision to the effect that the Board should, in addition, have regular meetings, seems to us to be duplicating something which is already allowed for in the Bill.
The second argument is that the subsection deals with the procedure of the Board in preparing and presenting proposals to the Secretary of State. The Board might go to a certain area—it might be Inverness-shire, Sutherland, or Argyll. The Board might draw up a scheme for a certain area. If it is a scheme for that particular area, clearly the Board will consult the local authorities concerned in the area or those which might be affected although they are some distance from it, provided they are affected, and the statutory bodies concerned. Having done that, the Board will then prepare the scheme and present it to the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 9 makes it clear that this will be done.
If that is done, we do not see that there is any necessity for the regular meetings suggested in Amendment No. 8, since the regular meetings of the kind referred to in Amendment No. 8 will be held in any case through the consultative council. It is a duplication of effort and it is unnecessary to put it into the subsection. It is out of context here. We therefore suggest that those who have put their names to Amendment No. 8 might be prepared to accept the Government Amendment.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Campbell
The Government's Amendment is a great improvement upon the original wording of the Bill. There is a difference between Amendment No. 8 and the Government's Amendment which I will explain later. Two of our points have been met by the Government's Amendment. We agree on both sides that it is important that the new Board should be in close touch with the local authorities concerned with its work. There is a danger that the Board might appear to be ignoring county councils or burgh councils or might inadvertently ignore them, and, of course, these councils have great experience of conditions in their own areas and of projects which have been tried in the past. I am sure that if the local authorities and the Board work together the local authorities will wel- 936 come the Board and will welcome most, if not all, of its proposals. But there is a danger that the Board could appear to be riding roughshod over some councils, and these councils might sincerely hold strong views about projects being put forward by the Board. We all agree that this would be a great pity. This is the background to our Amendment, which the Government are, I think, trying to meet.
To take up the first point which the Minister mentioned, the original wording which ranafter such consultation … as appears to the Board to be appropriatewas objectionable because it could mean no consultation at all if the Board took it into its mind not to have any. That point has been met by the Government Amendment. There is the second point that, under the Bill, local authorities outwith the Highland area as currently defined in Clause 1 might not be consulted, and we wanted to make clear that they ought to be included in consultation where appropriate. As I said just now, we are adopting wording which the Minister of State himself suggested in Committee as an alternative.
§ Mr. Willis
When I read what I said in Committee, I feel bound to comment on its clarity and also on the fact that the hon. Gentleman has distorted what I said. I said:I am not quite sure what the alternative might be. It might 'after such consultation with local authorities … and other bodies which are affected or concerned'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 15th April, 1965; c. 364.]I said that in the light of the examples being proposed. But I did not add in front of those words the words which the hon. Gentleman has added, "to consult from time to time". That is the difference.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman was saying that he could not understand the meaning of "other bodies which are affected or concerned". This we had taken from what he had himself suggested in Committee. When he made the suggestion, we were beginning the eighth sitting, and he had had the benefit of three or four days since we had proposed our Amendment so one assumes that it was the result of his consultations and advice outside the Committee. We used 937 these words because he had suggested them and we thought that they would meet what he regarded as the best way of dealing with authorities outwith the Highland area. We gather from what he said today that the Government Amendment covers local authorities outwith the immediate area of interest. I hope that the Government will confirm that that is the situation. If it is, our second point has been met.
There is the further point that a situation can arise in which the Board is putting forward a project which will bring benefit to an area embracing one or two local authorities but which may have effects upon another area, effects which could be of doubtful value or even adverse, and those other authorities might be outwith the Highland area with which we are particularly concerned. I cannot do better than give the example of the Spey Valley where for some years there have been suggestions that there should be a drainage scheme but where it appears also that such a scheme might increase the danger of flooding 30 miles away and well outwith the Highland area. Where the Board has an area for which it is itself responsible, it is possible that it may be, or may be thought to be, considering the interests of the area for which it is responsible and, perhaps, not considering quite so carefully the interests of another area 30 miles away for which it is not responsible. The example I have given is a very real one, and there may well be others.
The third point which is not clearly met by the Government Amendment is that, in our view, there should be a duty on the Board to have regular consultations with local authorities. We do not mean formal meetings or plenary meetings of all the local authorities in the area. We mean a process of keeping local authorities informed of what the Board can properly tell them about projects coming forward and having the way open for discussion of ideas between local authorities and the Board.
The Minister of State visualised much the same because in Committee he said that the Government wished to see a regular process of consultation between the Board and local authorities. This is just what we want, too. We had hoped that it would be possible to write it into the Bill 938 to make the matter clear. I should be glad if the Government would make clear again in the House that they visualise a regular process of consultation, not necessarily formal, because in that event we shall gladly accept their Amendment.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
I sympathise with several of the points made by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell), but I feel that by their Amendment the Government have met a great deal of the criticisms which were made in Committee. In his second point, the hon. Gentleman brought out something which would, perhaps, require more clarification, that is, the point he illustrated with the specific example of the Spey Valley and adjacent areas.
Everyone is quoting everyone else, so perhaps I may quote my own words at the end of the debate, when I said that I felt thaton a specific project the local authorities concerned, and adjacent authorities which might be affected, should be consulted,and that this ought to bein a sense a duty rather than an indefinite obligation on the Board".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 8th April, 1965; c. 229.]The Government have met this by changing the wording, no longer using the word "appropriate" but speaking of authorities and bodies which have an interest. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn on the second question, and I should like further clarification that what the Government propose will, in fact, cover the adjacent authorities. I assume that it does.
With reference to the hon. Gentleman's last point, I consider that the consultative council will meet the need for regular communication. There are limits to the amount of regular consultation one can have. If there is to be set up a consultative council which, so I understand from the Government in Committee, is to be largely of a representative character, it will be duplicating matters then to arrange for a sort of unofficial and not very formal scheme of regular meetings with local authorities as well. That would be quite unnecessary.
§ Mr. Ross
My hon. Friend the Minister of State showed himself very responsive to the Committee's desires when this 939 matter was discussed, and he has met most of the points which were raised. He has shown himself not only responsive but very apt in his selection of language, but I do not think that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) should attribute to him full powers of infallibility in being able to declaim in draftsman's language. In Committee my hon. Friend said:I am not quite sure what the alternative might be, but it might be"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 15th April, 1965; c. 364.]—and then he quoted certain words. My hon. Friend has done fairly well. He met the point about getting rid of the offending word "appropriate". If this were not done, far too much latitude in discussion would have been left with the Board.
What we are concerned about is this. Where a local authority is affected by projects which are under consideration before presentation to the Secretary of State, obviously that is the point at which that local authority should be consulted. That matter is covered here. The Government's Amendment is probably even better than the more specific Amendment tabled by the Opposition, although it is arguable. The point about local authorities outside the Highlands and Islands area is covered. When they have an interest, the consultations should relate to them.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn made the point that we must not tie up the Board with a series of formalised discussions, whether they are necessary or not. This would detract from the value and status of the Consultative Council. However, we have got rid of the offending word "appropriate" and of the dubiety relating to particular areas. In doing this, we have not so restricted and tied the Board that it will be hampered in going ahead with its discussion and preparation of projects. But if these things are to be done, they must be done with the good will of those authorities representing people who may be affected. It is right that they should enter into the matter from the point of view not only of their interests but of the help which they may be able to give.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has been able satisfactorily to meet the wishes of the Commit- 940 tee on this Amendment, and I hope that the House will see its way to support it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 41, at the end to insert:a summary of any proposals submitted to the Secretary of State under paragraph (b) of this subsection, and, where he has refused to approve any such proposals, a summary of his reasons for so refusing, but shall not disclose any such information as is referred to in section 12(1) of this Act without the consent referred to in that subsection".
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We can take at the same time Amendment No. 13—page 3, line 3, at end insert:and every such report shall include a statement of the reasons for the refusal by the Secretary of State to approve proposals under subsection (1)(b) of this sectionand Amendment No. 33—Clause 12, page 8, line 6, at end insert:and no such information shall without such consent be included in any Report laid before Parliament in pursuance of this Act".
§ Mr. Willis
Again, we come to a matter which was discussed at some length in Committee. It was suggested then that it should be possible for the Board to put into the report not only a list of the proposals which have been approved, but also the proposals which have been refused approval and a note or summary of the reasons for the refusal to approve the proposals.
During the Committee stage I promised to look at this matter, and we have embodied in the Amendment what I promised the Committee I would try to do. There will be a summary of proposals submitted to the Secretary of State under paragraph (b) of subsection (1)and, where he has refused to approve any such proposals, a summary of his reasons for so refusing, but shall not disclose any such information as is referred to in section 12(1) of this Act without the consent referred to in that subsection.The right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) has tabled two Amendments. I think that we cover both those Amendments by our Amendment. I hope that the Opposition willl accept our Amendment and will not press their own two Amendments.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
There is one point about which I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I am 941 grateful to my hon. Friend for coming part of the way to meeting the point. What is meant by "a summary of any proposals"? Does it mean a summary of each proposal and a summary of the reasons for refusal in each case?
§ Mr. Wylie
As the Minister of State has said, Amendment No. 12 meets both the points raised in Amendments Nos. 13 and 33. It may be a matter of taste, but I should have thought that Amendments Nos. 13 and 33 were a better way of dealing with the matter. It is not one on which we should divide.
Subsection (1,e) sets out in positive terms what will be in the report on the exercise and performance of functions under the Bill which sets out directions given to the Board anda summary of any proposals submittedwhich have been refused and a summary of the masons for refusal. Thus far we are dealing with what is in the report. Then the paragraph says that the report will not include certain matters.
It would be better if the non-disclosure provisions were dealt with in the nondisclosure Clause. Just as subsection (1,e) of this Clause sets out in a positive sense what is in the report, so Clause 12(1) deals specifically with the non-disclosure of the information obtained under the preceding Clause. Where it provides that information obtained will not be disclosed without consent, I should have thought that that was the place to put a provision to the effect that it would not go in the report.
Both of these points have been met. If the Minister is in a magnanimous mood, he may care to think about the matter, but we will not press it.
§ Mr. Willis
My legal advice is exactly the opposite to that of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). My legal advice is that this is the more appropriate place in which to put an Amendment concerning confidentiality.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, 942 Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) must not address the occupants of the Government Front Bench as "you". He must address the Chair.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
May I make a small suggestion about Clause 12(1)? There should be a reference to this provision in subsection (1,e). I believe that it is called a signpost in drafting, and it should refer back to the Amendment which I think we will discuss.
§ Amendment agreed to.