HL Deb 06 December 1938 vol 111 cc313-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is a familiar one which it is necessary to pass before Christmas in each year in order to continue in force certain statutory provisions which would otherwise lapse on December 31. These provisions are detailed in Part I of the Schedule to the Bill, which is the same as last year's Schedule except that Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, has dropped out, having been superseded by the Coal Act which was passed earlier this year. There is, however, an important addition which appears in Part II of the Schedule. The Special Areas (Amendment) Act, 1937, which amended and continued the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act, 1934, is due to expire on March 31 next, and it is proposed in this Bill to continue its operation until March 31, 1940. A great deal has been done under the Special Areas Acts. The Commissioners have accomplished many useful measures and have initiated many others which have brought new hope to those unhappy districts. The Government have, however, after very careful consideration, come to the conclusion that the Commissioners' guiding hand should be retained for a further period, and that is the reason for the proposal to continue the Act in this Bill.

I may perhaps sum up the effect of the Special Areas Acts from the financial point of view by saying that the total provision made so far for payments into the Special Areas Fund is £16,000,000, and when that is exhausted further Estimates will be presented. The payments by the Commissioners up to October 31, 1938, have amounted to about £10,250,000, and in addition to these payments from the Fund the Treasury have paid out about £316,000 in assistance to site companies and industrial undertakings under Sections 5 and 6 of the 1937 Act. Further commitments provisionally or finally entered into by the Commissioners at present amount to over £11,500,000 and by the Treasury to about three-quarters of a million. The continuation of the Special Areas Act does not, however, complete the Government's proposals as regards these areas. The Acts include provisions for encouraging the establishment of new industrial undertakings not only in the Special Areas themselves but also in certain areas outside. Experience has shown that some modification of the present conditions applying to the outside areas is desirable in order to make loan facilities more readily available for new undertakings, and His Majesty's Government propose to introduce legislation in due course for this purpose.

I think I need say no more about the Bill generally, but I must say a word on a particular matter in which my noble friend the Lord Chairman is, I know, interested. Your Lordships will notice that the provisions relating to compulsory purchase procedure in the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930, are once again included in the Schedule, and I feel that Lord Onslow, who has mentioned the matter in previous years, would wish me to say a word on this point. I think that, in brief, the noble Earl's objection has been that the 1930 Act was a temporary one and that those of its provisions which still survive—that is, the compulsory purchase provisions—ought, if they continue to be necessary, to be dealt with in permanent legislation rather than continued from year to year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I will be quite frank and say that as a matter of principle, I think the Government quite agree with the noble Earl's view. And let me emphasize, first, that the Government have already gone a considerable distance towards meeting it. In no less than four important cases in recent years, we have included compulsory purchase procedure in permanent Acts—included it, moreover, in a somewhat more detailed form which has been suggested by experience. I refer to the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, the Air Navigation Act, 1936, the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, and the Air-Raid Precautions Act, 1937.

The 1930 provisions, in so far as they have not been superseded by these Acts, are now chiefly required by the Ministry of Transport for electricity purposes and by the Ministry of Health. Last year, my noble friend Lord Fortescue, who moved the Second Reading on my behalf as I had to be elsewhere, told the noble Earl that it was hoped to meet requirements by including appropriate provisions in an Electricity Distribution Bill and a Public Health Bill. I can only trust that my noble friend Lord Onslow will not feel aggrieved because the hopes raised on that occasion have been disappointed. The unfortunate fact is that, owing mostly to pressure of Parliamentary time, and to other reasons, it was not found possible to introduce either of these Bills last Session. I am not going to risk disappointing the noble Earl again by renewing in any more definite form the statement which was made by Lord Fortescue last year.

My noble friend will agree that there are probably four courses open to the Government. First of all, we could simply let these provisions expire; but the Government are not prepared to do this since the Departments concerned are quite definitely of the opinion that the continued existence of these powers, which provide cheap and expeditious procedure, is very useful to them in the efficient discharge of their duties. The second—and this is probably the ideal course—would be for us to supersede the 1930 provisions by permanent legislation in the light of our experience of the 1930 Act. This is the course which the Government have been adopting wherever possible, but unfortunately I cannot pretend in fairness to the noble Earl that there is any immediate prospect of a convenient opportunity arising for completing the process, though if the opportunity should arise His Majesty's Government would certainly take advantage of it. The third course would be to make permanent the 1930 Provisions in their present form, but the Government do not consider this a happy solution. In these circumstances we are, for the moment, driven to adopt the fourth course of continuing the provisions temporarily in their present form as proposed in this Bill. I fully agree with the noble Earl that this is not an ideal method, but I hope he will agree that at the moment there is nothing else we can do.

I might perhaps say that it is by no means uncommon for the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill to contain measures which are being temporarily continued pending an opportunity for comprehensive legislation. I need only mention Part I of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, which appeared in last year's Bill and has since been superseded by the Coal Act, 1938. I have, I fear, dilated on this point at some length, but I have done so because on one previous occasion, if not two, I have given an undertaking to my noble friend that I would bring this matter before the Treasury, and I have done so. As your Lordships are aware, my noble friend occupies a position of great dignity and authority in your Lordships' House, and I should not like him to think for a moment that either I or His Majesty's Government are indifferent to the many protests—too many, I am afraid—he has felt bound to make, or that his protests have fallen altogether on deaf ears. I hope he will take that from me. I hope also that he will agree, and that your Lordships agree, that on this occasion the Government could not have acted in any other way than that in which they have acted. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Templemore.)


My Lords, I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, if we intended to raise any matters on this Bill and I told him that as far as I knew we did not, but since then my noble friend Lord Snell has felt that we should make a protest, which I shall do very briefly, with regard to the Government's policy in continuing the Special Areas Act and delaying the introduction of the new Bill foreshadowed by the noble Lord who has just addressed your Lordships' House. We consider that their policy with regard to the Special Areas has been a failure. That is not to say that the Special Commissioners have not done very good work under their powers. I have had some experience of what they have been doing in certain parts of the country, and friends of mine who take advantage of their facilities for establishing new factories, including farmers, have expressed themselves as very satisfied with the help that has been given to them and the assistance in meeting local conditions which has been provided by the Special Commissioners. But their powers are far too limited, and the whole policy of the Government has been unsuited to the magnitude of this immense problem.

The Party for whom I have the honour to speak have always said the Government were tinkering with this problem, and we are sorry to find we have been only too accurate in our prophecies. We must draw attention to the fact that you have these Special Areas with their enormous social capital invested—social capital in the way of buildings, schools, churches, chapels, roads, houses, drains, and all the rest of it—and the population for the most part unemployed or else the young men have been taken away to other parts of the country. What has been done with the £16,000,000 referred to by the noble Lord? That seems a great deal of money, but spread over Durham, Lancashire, South Wales, and parts of Scotland it is very little indeed. Side by side with that gloomy spectacle you have an immense building activity—new factories, new industries, in Greater London springing up in such quantities and enlarging the whole problems of the defence of London, the transport of London, the social government of London; and when these new factories are established, employing new workers, you have to provide the schools, churches, chapels, drains, recreation facilities, and everything else they must have. That is, we suggest, a very unfortunate state of affairs to exist—these great Special Areas with their skilled, unskilled, and willing workers derelict, and these new areas growing up in parts of the country, which are undesirable from the points of view of defence and social development. We must make our protest, and we hope that a new Bill will soon be introduced of a much more ambitious kind to deal with this growing problem.


My Lords, my noble friend has given your Lordships an explanation and excuse for the shortcomings of His Majesty's Government in not bringing in the legislation which we had hoped they might have been able to introduce a long time ago. He has, I am glad to say, admitted that the course which I have urged upon your Lordships as the one they should follow is in principle correct, and I shall not weary your Lordships by making the same speech which I have made for several years. I will only add that I trust that before very long His Majesty's Government will bring their practice up to the principle which they have admitted.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.