HC Deb 11 July 1973 vol 859 cc1676-8
Mr. Bishop

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 14, line 18, after 'objection' insert: 'at a private hearing, if such is requested by such person, at which such person may be legally represented'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we are to take Government amendment No. 20 and amendment No. 21.

Mr. Bishop

We are pleased that the Minister has seen fit to come some way towards us. The clause provides that 30 days be allowed for representations to be made to the Secretary of State about directions under Section 11 and not specified as urgent and relating to the construction, execution, alteration, demolition or removal of a building or other works". The amendment would require the Secretary of State to give an opportunity for legal representation at a private hearing and also to state in writing his reasons for any decision arrived at.

Although we welcome the Minister's amendment, which means that, instead of the Secretary of State as heretofore appearing as judge and jury, there is the possibility of an appearance before another person appointed by the Secretary of State, we wonder if the Under-Secretary will clarify the situation as to whether there shall be legal representation in those circumstances.

In Amendment No. 21 we urge that the Minister shall give in writing the reasons for his decision, save that he shall not be obliged to give details which may involve questions of national security.

Mr. Onslow

I must advise the House to resist Amendment No. 19. I am in a slight procedural difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which I hope you will help me with. I am anxious to prevail upon the House to accept Government Amendment No. 20. I am not clear whether that requires that Amendment No. 19 should be voted down or whether it could be withdrawn. Perhaps either is equally good. In any case, I rely upon guidance from the Chair to ensure that the Government amendment is not lost.

The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) and the Government are on to a similar point. I hope that I can persuade the hon. Gentleman that we are closer to it than he is. In Committee we undertook to look further at proposals which hon. Members opposite put forward and which are now reflected in Amendment No. 19 that a person objecting to a non-urgent direction under Clause 11 relating to buildings and works should have the opportunity to state his objection at a hearing at which, if he wished, he might be legally represented.

The Government accept these proposals in principle, subject to three points. First, we cannot agree that the objections should be heard in public. I think that hon. Members opposite take this point by their reference to "a private hearing" in Amendment No. 19.

Secondly, "hearing" carries an implication of formality which we believe is unnecessary and should be avoided.

Thirdly, it is inappropriate to refer in the Bill to legal representation, though we would be perfectly content for a person making an objection to be accompanied by or be represented by his legal adviser when his objection is being heard.

Amendment No. 20, which represents the Government's response to the Opposition's proposal, is a common form provision for which there are many precedents on the statute book; for example, Section 39 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, Section 29 of the Agriculture Act 1970 and others which I could cite but will forbear to do so.

10.45 p.m.

Given that this is so, and given that it would be regrettable to insert in the Bill anything at variance with the established practice in this matter, since it might cast doubt on these provisions——

Mr. Clinton Davis

Perhaps we have all slipped up in the hon. Gentleman's amendment. It does not refer to the question of a private hearing. I suppose that it might be argued by somebody appearing before the person appointed by the Secretary of State that the hearing should be public. Therefore, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could give some thought to the possibility of an amendment being moved in another place to make that essential provision clear in the Bill.

Mr. Onslow

I do not know whether it is necessary to insert a specific stipulation to this point. It would be open to another place to amend our amendment and presumably return it to us for final approval. I will see that the hon. Gentleman's point is looked at, but I cannot offhand give him an answer.

I hope that without going any further I can persuade the hon. Gentleman that Amendment No. 20 covers, as far as possible, the purposes of Amendments 19 and 21 which, as I say, I cannot recommend to the House but I hope to carry the House with me on Amendment 20.

Mr. Bishop

It might help the House procedurally if I were to seek leave to withdraw Amendment 19 and not to press Amendment 21. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 20, in page 14, line 18, leave out shall 'serve on him' and insert 'if so required by the to him an opportunity objector, shall afford of appearing before, and being heard by, a person appointed by and being heard by, a for the purpose, and the Secretary of State the objector'.—[Mr. Onslow.]

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