HC Deb 17 June 1965 vol 714 cc965-70
Mr. Willis

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 3, line 26, at the end to insert "or other operations".

It might be for the convenience of the Committee if we could take with this Amendment the next one, No. 17, in page 4, line 10, after "works", to insert "or other operations".

This Amendment is merely consequential on Amendment No. 16. It is being moved to implement an undertaking given in Committee to consider an addition to the Clause to ensure that the Board's powers under it will extend to such operations as reclamation and regeneration of moorland, and shelter belt planting.

My hon. Friends the Members for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) and Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) moved, in Committee, a number of Amendments specifying operations which, they thought, should be mentioned in the Bill. I pointed out that I had no doubt that these powers were in the hands of the Board, but there was a general expression of opinion by the Committee that it would be useful to spell them out rather more clearly in the Bill. In reply to that, I pointed out that if we started to destroy the generality of the Bill, we should be throwing into doubt some of the powers which we did not mention.

We have, however, looked at the matter again, as a result of which, we believe that the words "or other operations" will meet all the various operations which were mentioned during the Committee stage of the Bill. I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Noble

I do not think that the House need have much worry about accepting these words. The Minister of State said that there was a demand for something to be spelt out, and, with the usual skill of the draftsman of the Scottish Office, they have added three words which cover everything which anyone might have thought about, is thinking about or will think about. I have no objection to the width of this.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

I should like to thank my hon. Friend very cordially for having accepted the suggestions we made to him and for having greatly improved on the wording. We did not think of these Amendments as perfect, but we thought quite a lot of the ideas behind them, if I may say so without undue immodesty. Among the things which I hope the Board will be greatly encouraged to regard as its legitimate field of operation is what the Minister of State mentioned specifically—regional regeneration schemes.

One of the reasons that hon. Members on both sides, including myself, discussed regional reseeding and regeneration of moorlands in relation to shelter belt planning was that the two go together and that these operations are complementary, necessarily so. The attempt to carry out regional regeneration without having the power at the same time to provide shelter extensively as one proceeds into the regional moorland schemes would, of course, be defeated. If one provides the shelter as one goes along, one has increasing success. Therefore, these things have to be worked together as complementary undertakings.

I hope very much that the Board will take the hint from hon. Members on both sides of the House and from the Minister in expressing the intention of the Government in this respect and be adventurous and enterprising in proceeding with this scheme. I was also extremely grateful to hon. Members opposite for the help and encouragement which they gave during discussion of these Amendments.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

I have some trepidation about entering into what is a Scottish discussion. The words which the Secretary of State has tried to add to these words, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) has said, cover almost anything in the book. This could, in the light of Clause 6, apply to land or property acquired by the Board in any part of the United Kingdom. If this is not so, I should be grateful if the Secretary of State or the Minister of State will give the assurance that these words do not apply to this.

It seems to me that Clause 5(2) could refer to the matters mentioned in Clause 6 and, therefore, will apply to land which the Board could acquire in any part of the United Kingdom—London, Cornwall, or anywhere else. I want to be quite clear that this is so, in relation also to the operations carried out by the Board which are referred to in Clause 4.

I understand the Scottish point that I have no reason to intervene on Scottish matters. However, in regard to England and Wales, this is a point of some relevance and I should like to know what the intentions are.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

Has the hon. Member no objection to the Board exercising its powers in relation to the acquisition and use of land in any part of Scotland?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I said that I did not wish to intervene in an argument concerning what was necessary to be done in Scotland. My hon. Friends who have been dealing with this matter in Standing Committee and today are quite competent to deal with that. I am touching on the matters only as they affect the other parts of the United Kingdom like Wales. I am trying to get from the Secretary of State or from his hon. Friend the Minister of State whether or not this applies to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

The reason I asked the first question was to try to find out what the hon. Gentleman thought about the question. In fact, he voted against the very thing to which he now says he has no objection. Which is right?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of admitting that I was here and listened to the whole debate. He should also have pointed out that I was voting against the curtailment of the powers within Scotland. As I said at the outset of my remarks, I do not wish to comment on the powers as they will apply in Scotland, but on how they will apply outside the Highland area. Will they apply to other parts of the United Kingdom and, if so, what sort of things will be done, what operations will come under "or other operations" and what activities will the Board carry out under the provision?

Mr. Rankin

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have under his control an excellent land drainage plant section, the members of which he will find indispensable in the task of reclaiming and draining land. Will such people be placed at the disposal of the Board to enable it to carry out this important work?

Mr. Willis

The Board is empowered to acquire land by lease, feu and by what other terms might be used in England, for any of its functions under Clause 1. In other words, the acquiring of land must be related to the activities of the Board in the Highland counties. We do not visualise that the Board will want to do very much in England. It could, under the Clause, build, say, an information office. It might wish to advertise industrial sites. That is the only sort of activity we envisage.

My right hon. Friend referred to a number of items, some of which were referred to by the Leader of the Liberal Party, for which the Board might need to acquire land, offices and so on, outside the Highland area. To a lesser extent, compared with its Highland activities, the Board might wish to conduct such operations in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Woodburn

I take it that when my hon. Friend the Minister of State refers to land he really means buildings. I have in mind the possibility of the Board wishing to have a place in London in which to sell the products of, say, the Island home industries—the Scotch House idea. For such a specialist idea the Board might need to obtain land for buildings.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I press the Minister of State to deal with this matter further. He appears to be saying that the Board might wish to acquire property in London, Cardiff or elsewhere for carrying out an advertising campaign or some other activity. The words "or other operations" seem to go so wide as to cover virtually anything. Why have the Government chosen these words and is it not possible to find a more restrictive phrase for this operation?

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) suggested that "or other operations" might cover the purchase of a shop or other building in England. I suppose that that would be a reasonable extension of one of the Board's operations, but would it be covered by the phrase "or other operations"? In any case, what is meant by "operations"'? This aspect of the Bill worries me, as does the Government's vagueness about the whole plan which they are supposed to have for the Highlands.

For a considerable time in opposition hon. Gentlemen opposite boasted of the great plan that they had for the Highlands. We have had several months of them in office, with the Second Reading, Committee stage and now the Report stage of this Measure. Whenever we ask them to tell us about their plans we merely get vague answers and we have no clear idea of what, if anything, they have in mind. I am coming to the conclusion that this is more and more a piece of window dressing than anything else. If the Government have a clear idea of what the Board will do under the words "or other operations" they should tell us; and when we ask probing questions they should make the position clear and not leave us in a state of uncertainty.

Mr. Willis

I will try to explain the sort of activities we have in mind in relation to the phrase "or other operations". It could apply to buildings or other structures required for the Board's operations. Clearly, the Board would only carry out operations elsewhere in the United Kingdom if they were in line with its main functions in the Highlands and Islands. It might be an information centre for the marketing of a Highland commodity. It might be any such activity, but it must be related to the carrying out of its functions. I regret that I cannot be more specific, but those are the sort of things we envisage.

The words "or other operations" are included to cover the activities which we discussed at great length in Committee, including reseeding, afforestation, reclamation and similar schemes. Although the Board would be able to acquire land in England, such acquisition would have to be related to its functions, otherwise it could not obtain the land in the first place.

Mr. Wylie

We are in danger of getting into a muddle over what, at the outset, seemed to be a perfectly harmless Amendment. Most of the examples which the Minister of State gave—except afforestation, reseeding and so on—could not be covered by the term we are discussing because other terms are specified in other provisions of the Bill. According to the normal rules of interpretation, the terms which are contained in one Clause for certain activities do not embrace the activities which come under the terms of a different Clause.

It is obvious that the Government really have in mind such schemes as afforestation, reseeding and the rest. Those are not the sort of activities that the Board would wish to carry out in England because under no circumstances could they be said to be related to the Board's functions in the Highland area. This all underlines the significance of the earlier Amendment and that it is nonsense to leave the Board with power to do things which are outwith the Highland area and when it could not conceivably use such powers properly in relation to its activities in the Highland area.

We are discussing a Board which will have power to acquire land in England, although goodness knows why it would want to do that. It will not need to do it for any public service, for the powers governing that are contained in Clause 7, or for any business, because the powers governing that are in Clause 6. How will the Board exercise its powers to acquire land in England? The answer is that, in practice, it will never do so. It does not need the power in the first place.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 10, after "works", insert "or other operations".—[Mr. Ross.]