§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I am told this is the right time to ask a question. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that in this Bill there is not one word to say who are going to occupy these camps. Though the noble Earl who is in charge of the Bill explained at the beginning of his speech on Second Reading about the children and various other communities who would occupy them, there is nothing in the Bill specifying this. Under this Bill land will be compulsorily bought for these camps. It may be the camps will be very suitable for the children and not so suitable for a Regular regiment or a Territorial regiment to go into. There is nothing to stop these camps being let to anyone. There are a large number of communities in this country, many more than were mentioned in the debate on the Second Reading—communities of all sorts who may be allotted these camps. Is it the intention of the Government not to be more specific? There are the children and the people on holiday with pay, but you might have even circuses, nudists, and others in these camps. I would ask the noble Earl if it is the intention not to give any guidance or instruction to these companies as to who should occupy the camps.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, the noble Lord has raised quite an interesting point. It is clear that these camps are to be handed over to non-profit-making companies to use them for public purposes, and those for whom the camps are primarily designed in peace time are school children. They will be built on that basis, the sites will be chosen on that basis, and the buildings will be constructed on that basis. In the event of war it may be that it will be necessary to use them for other purposes. We know that they are specifically to be built for 1077 evacuation during war, but there are various types of person who may be evacuated. They may be school children generally, they may be adults, they may be sick children; and it may be that after a period of war the actual need for evacuation would decrease so that these camp buildings could be used for hospital purposes. It is really not known at present. I think the point the noble Lord raised is covered by the fact that there is to be an annual report to Parliament, and I think we can trust Parliament to raise the matter in the event of the camps being let to nudist clubs or for other purposes.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I think this is an appropriate moment to ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill whether he can now give the name of the eminent town planner to whom he referred in the Second Reading debate, but whose name he was not at that time at liberty to mention.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think we received a reply yesterday from Professor Abercrombie, who is professor of town planning at London University.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Power to snake payments for promoting camps.
§ 1.—(1) With a view to promoting the construction, maintenance and management of camps of a permanent character, payments may, with the consent of the Treasury, be made out of moneys provided by Parliament to each of two companies recognised for the purposes of this section, one for England and Wales and one for Scotland, being companies not trading for profit the objects of which include the construction, maintenance and management of such camps; and the companies so recognised are hereinafter referred to as recognised companies.
§ (2) The said companies shall be recognised, and such payments as aforesaid shall be made to them, by the appropriate Minister.
§ 5.53 p.m.
LORD STRABOLGI moved, after subsection (2), to insert the following new subsection:
(3) The directors of the said companies, and the directors who will act as chairmen, shall be appointed with the approval of the appropriate Minister.
The noble Lord said: I hope the Government
will accept this Amendment or give some assurances on this point. In connection with the question with which my Amendment deals, I want to refer to the appointment of the Chairman of the English Camps Corporation as announced by the noble Earl on Second Reading; and, indeed, the name of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Portal, as Chairman, was also referred to in another place. I had intended to raise this matter on Second Reading, but the noble Lord, Lord Portal, was not able to be here, so I postponed it and I let him know I would raise it to-day and he has been good enough to come.
§ I want to say at the outset that the remarks I am going to make about the Chairmanship of the English Corporation contain no sort of reflection on the noble Lord; indeed I can do nothing but compliment him on his many and successful public offices. Any criticism that might be implied in my remarks is directed against His Majesty's Government for taking advantage of the public spirit and patriotism of the noble Lord, Lord Portal, and overwhelming him with positions of the utmost administrative importance. I do not think it is fair to the noble Lord, and indeed it is not fair to the Camps Corporation unless the noble Lord is prepared to throw up all his other very important offices. Your Lordships will be aware that the English Corporation will have the responsibility of establishing, managing and looking after forty-three camps to accommodate more than 200,000 children or other persons. We had some weighty remarks from the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester on Second Reading, when he pointed out—and I think all your Lordships agreed with the fact—that the management of these forty-three camps scattered all over the country was of the utmost importance, and that it was necessary to get the right people who understood the work they had to do, and that they should have certain qualities. It seems to me that whoever takes over the responsibility of Chairman of this Camps Corporation will have a very onerous and responsible task.
§ It is of course also true that there will be a managing director and his name has been furnished to the House. A retired official of the Board of Education, a very distinguished civil servant, Sir Edward Howarth, will be managing director, but the Chairman will obviously—and I am 1079 sure the noble Lord opposite, Lord Portal, will agree—have very great responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Portal, has been chosen for this important and responsible position and already he has many other great responsibilities. I am sure he will not at all mind if I mention them in the House. They are available in books of reference, and indeed quite apart from books of reference the noble Lord's activities have been well known and have commended themselves, I am sure, to a very large section of the public and to your Lordships. Lord Portal occupies a very high position in the industrial life of the country. He is Chairman of Wiggins Teape, as we all know, which has an issued capital of over £3,000,000, and I see made trading profits of about £500,000 over a series of years. In addition to that the noble Lord has twelve other directorships, including three chairmanships, and amongst these directorships are the Great Western Railway, the Commercial Union Assurance, Internal Combustion and many other concerns.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
Will the noble Lord pardon me? Has this got anything to do with the case? With all respect I do not think it has.
I will tell the noble Earl at once what it has to do with the case, but first of all let me deal with the laughter that occurred when I spoke about Internal Combustion. It is a very great engineering concern and a very large company.
I was thinking of the internal combustion engine, which was perhaps natural. But with regard to what has fallen from the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, what I have said has a great deal of relevance to this Amendment, because if the Chairman of the Camps Corporation has all these other interests it is either unfair to him or it is unfair to the Corporation. He either has to neglect all these other responsibilities or neglect the Camps Corporation, for from what I know of Lord Portal and what your Lordships know of Lord Portal, he will allow me to say, I am sure, that he will not neglect the Camps Corporation. I think it is unfair to him to put this 1080 additional burden upon him. The noble Lord also has or had very large interests in the film industry, and I am sure he has done a great deal to help the production of British films. He has many other very solid commercial interests. He is or was Chairman of the Bacon Development Board since 1935, and he is, I believe, still Chairman of the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, Limited. He has been, or is still for all I know, a trustee of Lord Nuffield's scheme for assistance to the Special Areas.
Now these are very large responsibilities, but I go further and say that the noble Lord, Lord Portal, is also one of the Regional Commissioners Designate in case of war, and in the event of war, when these camps will presumably be needed according to the Government scheme for evacuation purposes, the noble Lord will have a most onerous and important duty to perform as a Regional Commissioner. Yet the Government have imposed upon his sense of public duty and asked him to undertake the Chairmanship of this important Corporation, to see it through its growing pains, to administer £1,000,000 or so of public money, to see to the smooth running of the camps, the importance of which was stressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester on Second Reading. I must say I think that is putting too much on the noble Lord. These remarks could hardly have been made in another place. They had to be made here in fairness to the noble Lord, and after a good deal of thought I considered it my duty to ventilate this matter. I have had a very courteous letter from the noble Lord informing me that he is satisfied that he can give the necessary time to these duties. I am sure he can, and I am sure he will. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Portal, would not have accepted the post otherwise But he must make sacrifices in other directions and I do not think the Government are treating him quite fairly. That is the real reason why I have placed this Amendment on the paper.
The Amendment, your Lordships will see, reads:The directors of the said companies, and the directors who will act as chairmen, shall be appointed with the approval of the appropriate Minister.I imagine that in practice that would be the case, but I think it ought to be laid down clearly in the Bill. In this par 1081 ticular instance of the Chairman of the English Company, who will have a very complicated and difficult task, I think the Government have not been quite fair. With the renewed assurance that I am making no sort of reflection on the noble Lord, Lord Portal—what I have said was complimentary, or was certainly meant to be—I think that some reply is called for from the Government. This matter also raises the rather wider issue of the appointments the Government must make to various corporations which under the kind of hybrid socialism which actuates the Government's present policy are continually being set up. Again and again, semipublic corporations are being established by Government Bills, in connection with the various reorganisations of agriculture and so on. I do not want to go into that wider question now, but these appointments are of direct concern to Parliament and I think it is necessary to show the Government that Parliament means to keep an eye on such appointments—I am not referring to any particular appointment, but to the broad principle—and that we will hold the Government responsible for making the best appointments and for appointing gentlemen able, without undue sacrifice, to give the time to their important duties.
Page 1, line 19, at end insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ EARL DE LA WARR
We have listened to a speech which could only have been justified, if the noble Lord had in fact been launching an attack on the noble Lord, Lord Portal, for taking on work he was unable to do. I happen to know that the noble Lord, Lord Portal, has already himself inspected no fewer than 28 camps. Knowing that the Government were anxious to get on with this work he actually did some of it during days which everyone else regarded as part of the Easter holiday. If the noble Lord's remarks were not in any sense meant as an attack, I can only feel that they were a piece of rather irrelevant bad taste delivered to one who is prepared to give a great deal of his time to the public service. With regard to the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved, I am afraid the Government cannot accept it, but there will be an agreement drawn up between the Government and the Corporation and in that agreement will be 1082 inserted a provision that all new directors shall be appointed with the approval of the Minister.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Assuming we were to carry the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, would not the only effect be that the appropriate Minister would appoint the appropriate person? The appropriate Minister has already appointed the person whom most of your Lordships certainly would consider as the most appropriate person for the job.
The noble Earl has already acceded to part of my request—namely, that these appointments will be made with the approval of the Minister, although that is not actually stated in the Bill. I accept that at once. The noble Earl spoke of appointments in the future, but I take it that it also applies to present appointments.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
All the existing appointments have been made by the Minister, and in future directors will be appointed in agreement with the Minister.
Before I withdraw the Amendment, which I do not think it is necessary to press, I must make one comment on what has fallen from the noble Earl. I do not mind in the least what he said about good and bad taste—he can have his own opinion about that—but this has been an occasion when owing to the eminence and public spirit of the noble Lord, Lord Portal, it has been possible to question a Government appointment of this sort in your Lordships' House. I hope I have created a precedent that will be followed in the future. I have only just touched on the broad question. It has been easy, and indeed pleasant in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Portal, because I have been able to say what I know your Lordships would wish said about him and his public spirit. It is important because in future it may be necessary to criticise Government appointments. It will be a very bad day if there is a sort of conspiracy of silence in Parliament—if it is to be thought that this sort of thing is taboo, that it is bad taste, that it is not done, that it is not playing the game, that it is not cricket and all that sort of nonsense, and that we are not to speak out on what we think is necessary to be said in the public interest. Whatever may be the noble Earl's view on good or bad taste really does not affect the prin- 1083 ciple which I have endeavoured to uphold. I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3:
§ Exemption from building restrictions.
§ (2) No provision contained in a scheme made under the Town Planning Act, 1925, or the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, or any enactment repealed by either of those Acts, shall apply to any land acquired, or appropriated, with the approval of the Minister by a recognised company for the purposes of their functions in connection with the construction, maintenance and management of camps, except in so far as the Minister may at any time direct:
§ Provided that this subsection shall cease to have effect when such land ceases to be used for such purposes.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH moved to leave out subsection (2). The noble Lord said: I should like to begin by telling your Lordships that my noble friend the Marquess of Aberdeen, whose name appears with my own and that of my noble friend Lord Phillimore on the Amendment paper, very much regrets that public duty in another part of the country prevents his being here to-day. I am sure your Lordships will also regret the absence of the noble Marquess, because he is a recognised authority on town planning. The support he would have given to the Amendment would, I am sure, have carried very great weight in your Lordships' House. This clause which I am seeking to amend has three subsections. The first subsection exempts the Camps Corporation from building restrictions, and the second from town planning provisions, while the third substitutes other arrangements which I think are intended to take the place of those regulations from which the Corporation is exempted under subsections (1) and (2). The noble Earl in charge of the Bill did offer what might be called an apology to your Lordships for the provisions in the Bill, but I venture to say there is need for a good deal more explanation than the noble Earl gave.
§ With regard to subsection (1), which overrides the restrictions and building bylaws of the local authority, I think that 1084 something may be said for that in this particular case. The machinery is lengthy and would undoubtedly involve delay, and also I think there is a wider question because the construction of these camps may very probably mean that we shall have to break new ground. It may well be that local building by-laws are not wholly appropriate. Sometimes, I know, they do work in rather irksome ways, and therefore I have not sought to amend that subsection. But when we come to subsection (2), by which this Corporation will be put above the town-planning laws, then I think it is time for your Lordships to take a stand. We did discuss this matter to a certain extent on the Second Reading, and the impression left on my mind by that discussion made it seem more necessary than ever that this Amendment should be passed by your Lordships.
§ Town planning has been going on for a number of years. A great many devoted people have been spending a large amount of time on that subject and have done extremely valuable work. It seems to me quite inadmissible to have a Government Department coming along and saying that all that work is to be scrapped, and that this Corporation is to be above the law, however eminent and admirable the people are who are going to conduct it. I should like in passing to congratulate the Government on having secured Professor Abercrombie as the town planning expert of the Corporation. You could not have a better man, but neither he nor the noble Lord, Lord Portal, in praise of whom I am delighted to associate myself with what has already been said, will be there for ever, and it is really a startling proposition that this Corporation should be put above the law, and particularly above this town-planning law, with which its operations are so intimately concerned. They are going to go all over the country choosing sites, and not only are they to be above the law, but this provision will insulate them from all the existing knowledge which has been gained, stored and tabulated.
§ The noble Earl in charge of the Bill sought to justify subsection (2) by pointing to subsection (3), and he gave a pledge that the recognised company will consult the planning authorities not only about the camps to be chosen in the future, but also about the twenty-five 1085 camps which have already been established. Now, if the noble Earl is going to say that my Amendment is too sweeping, I should like him to consider between now and tare next stage of the Bill whether he would agree to an Amendment of subsection (3) which would only give effect to the pledge which he has already given. Subsection (3) refers to plans and specifications. If subsection (3) also refers to the siting, then I think the noble Earl's defence will be good. I hope, of course, that he is going to accept my Amendment, but if he is not, then I would ask him to consider whether he would agree at a future stage of the Bill to put in some such words in subsection (3) as would carryout the pledge which he has already given. The words which I suggest—and they are only suggested on the spur of the moment and would require considering—would be, in line 20, after "representations," to insert "as to the suitability of the site or otherwise." That will mean that the Camps Corporation will submit its proposals to the Minister, and the Minister will consult with the planning authority not only about the specification but also about the site. That is precisely what the noble Earl promised would in fact take place, and I do not think, therefore, that there is any valid reason for refusing it. I have said that in rather sad anticipation of the noble Earl's refusal to accept the Amendment; nevertheless for the moment I think the right course is to omit this subsection altogether, and I therefore beg to move.
Page 4, line 1, leave out subsection (2).—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
I think that not all your Lordships are familiar with the way in which these town-planning schemes are erected and pieced together. In this ancient House I expect many noble Lords are more familiar with the last preceding survey of the countryside of England, which was taken in 1066 or thereabouts. I expect many noble Lords are more familiar with the provisions of Doomsday Book than they are with the scheme set up in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932. That Act has covered all the ground that Doomsday Book covered in the reign of William the Conquerer, acre by acre, holding by holding, and, where the scheme is complete, a com- 1086 plete scheme of zoning for specific uses has been carried out. Let me explain this scheme for the moment, as it is of the first importance, if you are going to destroy this scheme, that you should understand how it works. Assume that this Chamber is an area of land and that it is in the possession of various owners. Then the seat on my right might be developable by the owner at ten or eight to the acre; these other seats at five to the acre; the Liberal Bench at possibly one to the acre, and the Labour Benches as a private open space.
That agreement would have been reached by a lot of difficult and complicated negotiations entered into with various private owners, and the Labour Party might well have said—assuming that it is for the moment an owner—"I undertake that this land shall be a private open space on condition that the land next me is only developed at one to the acre. If that is agreed, I will not ask for compensation for being estopped from using my land for that purpose for which I had intended to use it. If, on the other hand, you are going to build all round me, I am going to demand compensation for keeping this land as a private open space." Now into that intricate structure you insert these fifty camps, which as a matter of fact will nearly all be placed in planned areas, and you exempt those camps from any of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act. In other words, you stand the risk of destroying the whole of that structure which has been so carefully erected.
From the local administration point of view, that is not only a slap in the face for the people who have worked ten years at this survey and the accompanying scheme; it not only destroys what has been worked out with a view to the proper use of land for the whole neighbourhood, but it also deprives the camp people themselves of the best thing they have. Indeed, it is remarkable that in the other place the Minister of Health, when heckled as to what he would do for the amenities surrounding the camps on land which the camp people did not buy themselves, said that for that purpose he would rely on the Town Planning Acts. In other words, he relied on this very 1087 structure which you are going to destroy by inserting this provision in the Bill; and you are thereby not only neglecting the local authorities' knowledge and their consideration of the problem for many years, but you are actually making it more difficult to fit in the camps themselves on the lands that the camp people most wish to have.
There can be no really valid reason why this subsection should be allowed to stand. I believe the noble Earl who speaks for the Government will put forward the question of urgency. In other words, he will say to your Lordships that it is quicker to let Whitehall do their damnedest and pick any site they require without consulting those who know, than to consult those who know and so to fit into the existing scheme. To try to make out that we are living under a system of Martial Law when these extra legal measures are required, is to exaggerate the present situation, and I do not believe that in reality this cutting out of the local authorities will conduce either to a happy or quick solution of these matters. Unless the noble Earl can see his way to meet us we shall throw the subsection out of the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
I am entirely in favour of the principle of this Bill. Noble Lords who have spoken have covered all the points, but I could not sit in my seat, as a county councillor, and tacitly agree to the overriding of the county council planning committees by these companies or the Ministry. It is perfectly evident that counties which pride themselves on the layout of their planning committees over a series of years are to find themselves overridden in this matter. Lord Balfour has suggested that certain words should be inserted, and of course that would meet the case very largely. I do hope that the noble Earl will see his way to do something of that kind, otherwise I hope that the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment will go to a Division. If he does I shall support him.
May I say a few words in support of the Amendment? I speak as a member of a planning authority which has suffered severely from this very thing in the past. In the area to which I refer we have suffered from the activities of no fewer than four Government Departments—namely, the 1088 Air Force, the War Office, the Admiralty and the Board of Education, all of whom have put up buildings and developed land with a magnificent indifference to the existence of any planning authority at all. It is quite true, and only fair, to say that in response to several requests we have had some consultations of a friendly nature with representatives of these authorities, but we have always been aware of the fact that we have no powers over them at all, and that whatever we say their action will probably be the same. It is perhaps just as well to think of what would happen if the principle of Government control in all these matters were in the future so extended that everything was under one Government Department or another.
Would it then be the fact that all the Government Departments would go round the country acting entirely without taking any account of the existence of the Ministry of Health, which is the chief planning department? I know that the Planning Department is banished from Whitehall, and situated in the Strand, and it appears indeed that those who work in Whitehall do not admit of the existence of such a street. Really it is so expensive, the continuance of these separated and distinct departments, working apparently in entire ignorance of the existence of one another, that I do, speaking from some experience in this matter, strongly support this Amendment.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Not only is this a very important question, but I think it is quite obvious that many of your Lordships feel extremely strongly about it, and it is notable, too, that the points which have been put before your Lordships have been put forward by noble Lords who are anxious that the scheme should go through, and who are supporters, and strong supporters, of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has suggested an alternative to his Amendment, and I must confess that that is a suggestion that at one time attracted me. I think the noble Lord said that I suggested such a thing in my Second Reading speech. He will forgive me if I correct him. I did not give a pledge, because I see that the words with which we ended that discussion were these. I said: "Well, that is a point in regard to which I would like to give an answer to the noble Lord on a future occasion."
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
May I clear up the matter? We were talking about the planning authorities, and I said:Does that mean in future, when this body is a corporate body, that they will consult the local authorities in advance?The noble Earl said, categorically:Definitely, and it means also, with regard to the sites that have been surveyed as a preliminary, that there will naturally be a proper form of consultation.That is a definite pledge that consultation will take place. And I hope the noble Earl is not going to back down on it now.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
That was based on what I truly confess was not an accurate reading of the Bill, and Lord Phillimore put me right, and I said I would like to discuss that point on a future occasion, to clear the matter up.
I do not want to interrupt the noble Earl, but that point also should be cleared up. The question I asked was:Will that formal consultation, which will naturally come, refer to the sites themselves?—because that is a point at issue.To that the noble Earl replied:Oh yes, I think that is made clear, surely.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
To which the noble Lord replied: "No." And it turned out, on more careful reading of the clause, that Lord Phillimore was right. I accepted his correction and said I would like to discuss the matter on a future occasion. But the point is this, that there have been and will continue to be discussions of an informal character with the local officers, and with the authorities themselves. The Ministry of Health Planning Officers, who naturally advise my right honourable friend, in fact know the planning schemes which are in existence, because they have all been before them, and Professor Abercrombie, who is a member of the Corporation, is perhaps responsible for drawing up more schemes than any single individual. Therefore we have felt that it was not only desirable, but possible, to proceed on this informal basis, and if so, we should do it more quickly.
Now Lord Phillimore suggests that it is possible to exaggerate the urgency of the need for camps. It is quite possible to exaggerate the urgency of any of our war preparations. It might be possible 1090 on that basis to say that the international situation is not very serious, and we do not actually need the National Service Bill. Certainly the position must be extremely serious if it is necessary to take the steps that we are doing in regard to defence. I do suggest to your Lordships that this question of evacuation is one of the most urgent matters that we have before us, and I base this plea of mine to your Lordships, not to press this Amendment, on the point of urgency.
Your Lordships might say: "Well, you have a programme of fifty camps in front of you, but all along this has been talked of as an experiment, and therefore presumably as a scheme which in some form or another is going to be continued beyond that programme." I am quite prepared to ask my right honourable friend—I have already had a preliminary discussion on this point—to allow me at a later stage of the Bill to insert an Amendment that the provisions of subsection (2) of Clause 3 shall in fact only operate for land that is purchased within the next twelve months, and if any further camps are to be erected under this Bill, then they shall all proceed on the normal procedure. Your Lordships might say: "Well, is not that illogical? Cannot you do that with regard to the first fifty?" But it is not illogical, because it means that if that is inserted now we have plenty of warning ahead of us. We have ample time for surveying the sites well ahead of the time when they are needed, and then there will be time to get into touch with all the planning authorities and put the scheme through on what is admittedly a much slower basis. I suggest to the noble Lord, who, I know, is anxious to help the passage of this Bill, as a precaution and as a guarantee, that we will simply be dealing with this first batch of camps on the basis of emergency.
I should like to refer once more to the question of land for which money has been paid. In Sussex we have spent upwards of £80,000 on preservation, and in addition landowners have sacrificed a great deal of building land to put it into these areas for preservation. All this has been done with the enthusiastic approval of the Ministry of Health. This clause makes it perfectly legal for the Minister to authorise camps to be put anywhere on that area, and indeed, as far as I can see, anywhere on 1091 the Green Belt, or on land belonging to the National Trust. My noble friend in charge of the Bill said on Second Reading that we were going to have all the ordinary safeguards of town planning, but without the red tape. I submit that under the ordinary law of town planning the Minister has no power to override schemes which have been completed and confirmed, or agreements which have been sanctioned by himself and become operative. The clause does in fact go a great deal further. As against that, the noble Earl has put the plea of urgency, and I quite agree that it is a very urgent matter.
The Minister in another place has virtually said that if we put our trust in him he will safeguard our town planning interests himself. It may be that I have so recently severed my connection with the Ministry of Health that I am still under the glamour of that institution. But I do regard that promise as a somewhat valuable promise. Quite frankly, I believe we stand in much greater danger from other Departments than from the Ministry of Health. After all, the Minister is the Minister for town planning as well as the Minister of Health, and if he himself throws overboard all the efforts that have been made, well, town planning will inevitably come to an end, because other Departments are not so much interested in that side of the question. It seems to me that if the Minister of Health is himself prepared to accept a certain degree of personal responsibility for those areas on which so much time and money have been spent, if I may use the language of the day I feel that the collective front against the totalitarian methods of those other Departments might be stronger than if we relied on other measures which I feel may very easily be upset in time of emergency. If my noble friend is able to give assurances on two points I shall be able to support the Bill as it stands. The first is in regard to whether the local authorities can make representations about location, as well as in regard to the plans and elevations of the camp. I shall be a little surprised if some assurance on that point cannot be given. The second is whether he can give us any particular reassurance about those districts where completed schemes are already in operation, and in regard to which large sums of money have 1092 already been spent, in contrast to those areas where town planning is in a much more nebulous condition.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
May I make an appeal to my noble friend who is in charge of this Bill? I should have thought that both this point of urgency and the point which has been put with great cogency by my noble friends, that the whole of the town planning should not be set aside, could perfectly well be met and reconciled. It is not only Government Departments which can act, if necessary, with expedition. Town planning authorities can act with equal expedition, and it surely would be quite possible to follow the precedent which he himself has set in subsection (3). Plans have to be submitted to all the local authorities. They have only got fourteen days, and they have to give notice of any objections within fourteen days. Let him take a shorter period. I quite accept the argument of urgency. Certainly local authorities are not less dilatory than Government Departments on many occasions, but there have been occasions when local authorities have complained of dilatoriness by Government Departments, and sometimes with good reason. But let the Minister set any time limit he pleases, say seven days, within which the town-planning authority has to state its objections. Then the town-planning authorities within seven days, or even less if he so desires, could be perfectly well seised of the point of urgency. If there is no objection to the site they will notify that fact, not within seven days but within twenty-four hours.
I believe that in this case, the noble Earl will make more speed as well as get more good will out of the local authorities if he carries them with him. He certainly gave a very definite pledge before. I am not going to say whether he had read the Bill wrong, and Lord Phillimore read it aright, but what he did say on the last occasion was that there would be consultation with the local authorities. Now he says he made a mistake and he was not authorised to say that there would be consultation with the local authorities. I very much hope that he was right on the last occasion, and that there will be urgent consultation with the local authorities, with a time limit of anything he likes to ask for—seven days, or three days if he will. In that way it would be perfectly possible to reconcile 1093 the very strong case which the town-planning authorities have put forward through their spokesmen here and the very reasonable claim of the Government for urgent and rapid action. I am perfectly certain it is quite easy to reconcile those two considerations, and I very much hope that my noble friend will do so.
§ VISCOUNT ULLSWATER
There is one point on which we shall be glad to have a reply from the noble Earl in charge of the Bill. It has just been put, but I should like to put it again. What is the position of land belonging to the National Trust? The National Trust, as noble Lords are aware, owns some thousands of acres of land in this country which have been given to it or been bought by the National Trust out of money subscribed by those who are anxious to see England preserved in much the same state as that in which it is now. Will this Company, backed by the Ministry of Health, be able to acquire sites and build camps on land given to the National Trust or purchased by the National Trust for the use of the public? Some provision or other ought to be inserted in the Bill to safeguard against that. After all, the National Trust hold the land on behalf of the public, to whom it is open for ever, and it would be a thousand pities if camps were to be established on this land which is supposed to be open to the public for ever. The effect might be to exclude them for ever, because we may fairly reckon that, once these camps have been established, there is every probability they will remain, at any rate, for a considerable number of years.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I should like in a word to support the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. Listening to this debate with an open mind, it has seemed to me, and perhaps to other noble Lords, that there are valid arguments on both sides. On the one hand, there is grave objection to allowing these companies to ignore altogether the town-planning authorities, and to schemes being put through that might be inconsistent with schemes already formulated. On the other hand, it is true to say that this is a matter of urgency, that the town-planning procedure is often very slow, and that these companies cannot be expected to wait for weeks or months until various authorities have been consulted, notices 1094 given, and inquiries held. If it were possible to insert a special subsection in the Bill to expedite town-planning procedure for this particular purpose, and perhaps overrule periods of notices which would otherwise be required and inquiries which would otherwise be held, that would very probably reconcile the two contending parties and meet the desires of many noble Lords.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Perhaps I might just deal with one or two points. First of all there was the proposal of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. It has always been said that a poacher makes a very good gamekeeper. I am not sure what reply the noble Viscount would have made to this particular proposal when he was at the Air Ministry. I do not think the countryside has suffered from any Government Department quite so much as it has suffered from the Air Ministry.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
So has the Minister of Health. I was going to make the point. What was the procedure of the Air Ministry? It was to bring in Professor Abercrombie, and, acting on the very excellent precedent laid down by the noble Viscount, we have gone further than consulting with Professor Abercrombie—we have asked him to come on the managerial Corporation. However, I admit that is nothing more than a debating point affecting the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. Another point I might make is that it is unfair to suggest that no consultation is to take place. I have made it clear that consultation on an informal basis has in fact taken place, and we intend it to take place. There is nothing whatever to prevent local authorities—to turn to a point raised by Lord Gage—making representations to the Minister on any subject, and certainly not on this one. On the point also raised by Lord Gage that a specific undertaking should be given with regard to lands such as that to which he referred in Sussex and the South Downs, and also with regard to other areas such as the Green Belt mentioned in another place, I can give to the noble Viscount a definite undertaking. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health has already dealt with that point in another place, and I repeat his undertaking.
Will that include other public open spaces besides the Downs, or other private open spaces?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I would not like to go into the exact interpretation of that point, but the undertaking of my right honourable friend in another place was very specific on the point. With regard to property owned by the National Trust, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, referred, there is in Clause 7 (c) on page 7 a provision relating to Scotland affecting "any land which is the site of an ancient monument or other object of archaeological interest," and it goes on to deal with the specific point the noble Viscount raised. With regard to England the same point is dealt with in another, rather more obscure part of the Bill, but I understand it is definitely included in Clause 2, subsection (2). I do not believe for a moment that the points I have made are going to satisfy the very strong feelings your Lordships have expressed on this matter, and therefore it would perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if I at once said I am prepared to discuss this point further with my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, the matter being of course open on the Report stage if I am not able to satisfy your Lordships.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I should like to point out that if we do not make any Amendment of the Bill on this stage there will be no Report stage.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I feel that very strong opinions have been expressed from all quarters of your Lordships' House, and the right course in the circumstances would be to put the Amendment into the Bill as an earnest of good intentions on the part of the noble Earl. It is quite clear that he has got to give us this consultation with the planning authorities. None of the arguments he used against it really bear examination. We know now that it will not involve delay, and we are prepared to accept any minimum number of days. The period of fourteen days has already been put in for the specifications. I would remind your Lordships of the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Swinton. The alternative which he put forward is the alternative 1096 I mentioned when I moved my Amendment. The noble Earl now says that discussions of an informal character are going on. Last lime he told us that the matter had never been mentioned to the local authorities. He said it could not be mentioned because the Corporation was not in existence. He said:The reason why local authorities have not yet been consulted … is that they could not be consulted by a body that at present is not in existence.The noble Earl says one thing one week and another thing the next, and gives us pledges which he says were mistakes and refers to undertakings given in another place.
How do we know that the Minister in another place had read the Bill any more than the noble Earl? We may be told that that undertaking is not valid. Undertakings by a Minister in the Houses of Parliament are no use at all. It is the text of the Bill that counts. That is what will have to go to the Courts, and I am quite satisfied that the Minister of Health and the noble Earl will, on reconsideration, see that the request we have made—to put in the Bill that there shall be consultation about sites—is reasonable and right. The noble Earl has said he will consult the Minister. I am sure he will do so, and I am hopeful that the result of that consultation will be satisfactory. Meantime let us put the Amendment in now, and make sure. The noble Earl can quite well put the subsection back again in a modified form at the next stage. That has this great advantage. By carrying an Amendment to-day we then get a Report stage. That gives us an additional stage. I do not like to let the matter go to the Third Reading. Therefore I hope, in all the circumstances and on reconsideration the noble Earl will accept the Amendment. We shall then have a Report stage and we can have the whole matter thrashed out then.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I certainly could not accept the Amendment, and if the noble Lord likes to insist upon it being inserted at the present moment he can do so, but it must be on the basis of complete freedom on the part of His Majesty's Government to move its rejection on another stage.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My noble friend does not insist on striking out this sub- 1097 section(2). He would be quite satisfied with the proposal, which indeed he himself made as an alternative and which seems to me to meet both the Government case and the town-planning case, that appropriate words should be drafted as an Amendment to ensure that there should be consultation with the town-planning authorities about sites, but that there should be the minimum of time—a time limit and the strictest time limit you like. I would suggest that we do not really want to strike out subsection (2). Let it stand as it is in the Bill. It is always difficult to deal with an Amendment which we have not seen, one indeed which has not been drafted, and I would suggest to my noble friend that if possible there should be an agreed Amendment settled between the Minister and himself, which the Minister would then put down upon Third Reading. But if there is no agreement, then I would suggest to my noble friend Lord Balfour that he should draft an Amendment in the sense which he has put to the Committee, and which I think has commanded the support of practically the whole of your Lordships, that there should be consultation but that there should be a strict time limit. Then I think your Lordships would really have the opportunity on Third Reading of considering, and I hope deciding, what I believe the vast majority of the House would wish to decide.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
If the noble Earl will tell me he accepts the principle of consultation with the local authorities on this question of the suitability of the sites, then I am prepared to withdraw my Amendment.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I am really not in a position to accept anything at the present moment. What is a perfectly reasonable proposal is, I should say, the one made by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton—namely, that the noble Lord should insert his suggestion in Clause 3, subsection (3). I quite recognise that the majority of the Committee thought that should be done, and I did not in any way oppose it, but I cannot be taken at a moment to accept something that is concerned with the head of another Department.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Will my noble friend give this undertaking? I appreciate that he is not the Minister responsible for administering this Bill, but, on the other hand, he has said, and said quite truly, that the whole sense of the Committee is in favour of an Amendment on the lines which I have suggested. Now it is not very easy for my noble friend to draft an Amendment which will be satisfactory. Will the noble Earl give this undertaking, that whatever Government Department is in fact responsible for the drafting and the administration of this Bill will agree with my noble friend on what are the appropriate terms of such an Amendment, and then, if the Government are prepared to support that amendment, let it be put down in the name of my noble friend? But if the Government wish to resist what is clearly the very strong feeling of the Committee and will not support the Amendment, then at any rate let us have an Amendment which, with the assistance of appropriate draftsmen, carries out what certainly is the desire of the vast majority of your Lordships and let that be put down in my noble friend's name. But after this debate I really hope my noble friend will be in a position to put it down as a Government Amendment.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think the noble Viscount has made a very reasonable suggestion, which I quite willingly accept. We want to be quite clear. I take it that there is to be an effort to draft an agreed Amendment. If it is possible to agree on the terms of that Amendment it is to be put down in the name of His Majesty's Government; if there is not agreement then it is to be put down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before seven o'clock.