§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a simple Bill, and I hope it will commend itself to your Lordships as it commended itself to both Parties in another place. The New Towns Act, 1946, which was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and which he administered so successfully during his period of office, was at the time supported by me; indeed, a short time ago he very kindly directed attention in your Lordships' House to the fact that I was apparently the only speaker in another place from either Party who gave his New Towns Bill a cordial and unqualified welcome. It has undoubtedly been an extremely beneficial measure, and we are all glad to know that a new crop of New Towns is now being set up under that Act.
It is the Minister of Housing and Local Government who takes the initiative in this matter. He sets up the Development Corporation; he chooses its members after consultation with the local authorities and other people affected; he chooses the site of the New Town and designates the land. It follows, therefore, that his is both the initiative in the matter and the final judgment. I suggest, therefore, that his action should be under 983 Parliamentary control. In the Town Development Act, 1952, where the Minister proposes an extension of an existing town not only is his action under Parliamentary control but he has to pass an Affirmative Order through both Houses. The purpose of this Bill is only to establish that in the case of action under the New Towns Act, 1946, there shall be a Negative Resolution procedure, so that in certain circumstances any noble Lord in this House or any honourable Member in another place may move a Prayer that the Order be annulled.
Because of this lack of Parliamentary control at the present time, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in another place said, in column 10 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Standing Committee "D" on June 10:The Government concede that there is a case for requiring that an Order designating a New Town should be subject to the Negative Parliamentary procedure…After an interruption and another sentence, he went on:My right honourable friend and the Government agree that this should apply only where there is a clash between Government policy as represented by the Minister and the policy and views of the local planning authority.This Bill applies both to the original designation of land for a New Town and to major extensions. It was, in fact, proposed major extensions that actually caused the Bill to be introduced. My honourable friend the Member for Hitchin was prominent in opposing extensions that the Minister was proposing to Stevenage New Town. He obtained widespread support locally, in this House and in another place. There were two debates, one here and one in another place, but they arose only by the fortunate coincidence that at the time the Government were attempting to pass legislation through Parliament—what will be called the New Towns (No. 1) Bill of the present year. If it had not been for that chance, that legislation was required and was coming before both Houses, no one would have had any opportunity to speak against the proposals of the Minister which had incurred such strong opposition.
It is the view of many people, including a prominent Member of the Opposition in another place, that the 984 case for Parliamentary control over extensions is even stronger than the case for control over the designation of land for New Towns. Mr. Skeffington said, in the same Committee at column 24:If it is proposed to alter—some may think, very seriously to alter—the whole conception of a New Town by an extension, as is happening in Stevenage, it is absurd that the Member of Parliament for the area and others who may be interested should be denied the right to put their views about it in Parliament.After another paragraph, he goes on:In the proposed New Town extension, which we all know about at present, many of us feel an extension of the magnitude proposed would completely ruin the original design and concept of Stevenage.Therefore, the proposals of this Bill are that if the local planning authority oppose what the Minister is proposing to do, and if the extension is substantial—that is, more than 10 per cent. of the existing area of the New Town and more than 500 acres—and if the Order is made after December 31 of this year (because nobody wishes to interfere with the Order designating the area of land for the new town of Washington, which is agreed upon and likely to go through during the next six months), if these three conditions are satisfied, then it will be open to any noble Lord or honourable Member of another place to pray against the Order.
I may be asked: Is it likely that a Minister would make an Order that was objectionable? In the first place, there is the controversial case of Stevenage. I think the explanation of that is a very simple one and not at all discreditable to the Minister. We all know the tremendous pressure for housing at the present time, and it is by the extension of existing and well organised New Towns that the most rapid provision of additional houses can be got. But those of us who are concerned about town and country planning are not anxious that things should be done in the speediest way possible if what is done is not wise and is not going to result in the preservation of amenities for future generations.
Again, the Minister is always liable to be subjected to great pressure from the Treasury to increase the area of New Towns. This has already happened in most of the New Towns, especially in the case of Stevenage. Manifestly, there is a strong financial argument in favour 985 of using the same headquarters staff—shall I say?—in the New Town corporation for organising the building of a larger town. The natural consequence of that, in my opinion, will be that we have a town centre designed for a certain population, let us say, 60,000, and if, by subsequent extensions, the size of the New Town is increased from 60,000 to 80,000 and then to 120,000, we shall have a town which is seriously out of balance.
It is an anomalous fact that at the present time if the Minister desires to extend an existing town under the Town Development Act of 1952 he has to pass an Order through both Houses, whereas, if he wishes to make an entirely New Town or an extension to a New Town he is able to do so without any Parliamentary control at all. Therefore, I hope that this Bill will prove to be not of a controversial nature. The meaning of it is this, if I may repeat it in a few words. If the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in the face of continuing opposition from the local planning authority affected—that is, a local county council—wishes to designate land for a New Town or, alternatively, seeks to make a major extension of an existing New Town, and if the Order is made after December 31, 1964, either House may pray against the Order, and if the Prayer is carried, the Order is annulled.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a (Lord Molson.)
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has introduced this Bill. As we should expect, he has introduced it fairly and clearly. I find it very difficult to make up my mind on the merits of the Bill. It was introduced in another place by an honourable Member who has shown great persistence in opposing the extension of Stevenage, which is part of his constituency, and great reluctance to having Stevenage extended substantially. In that reluctance, I think he has a goad case. I supported him when the New Towns (No. 1) Bill came before this House. But I think it is a questionable principle to introduce legislation dealing with one particular hard case. Having regard to the terms of this Bill, I doubt whether it would apply to any other extension. There 986 are two qualifications in the Bill. The extension has to be more than 500 acres and not less than one-tenth of the total area. So it cannot apply to many cases, and in practice I doubt whether we shall have more than the case of Stevenage to deal with. I think, therefore, that a Bill which purports to be general, but is designed with one particular problem in view, is one that we ought to examine carefully.
I am not even sure that it will be effective from the point of view of the introducer of the Bill. I think it ought to be remembered that before an area is actually designated as a New Town there are long discussions with all the local authorities concerned. For every one of the fourteen New Towns which were designated during my term of office as Minister we had long and protracted negotiations, with the single exception, I may say, of Stevenage, which I regretted afterwards. As regards all the others, there were, as I say, long and protracted negotiations. As a matter of fact, in regard to Stevenage, there was no provision for an inquiry and it was left entirely to the Minister. But I think it would have been wiser in that case to have had these discussions. Ever since then there have been long discussions with the local authorities. All the objections which local authorities concerned in the area nave made have been carefully considered by the Minister, and it is only after these long inquiries and discussions that an area is designated. So the Minister is fully aware of any objections that might be raised.
The designation of an area is a very long, complicated and technical process. There are many factors to be taken into account. From a practical point of view, to give the local authorities the right to object, and to have it dealt with by Parliament in the form of a Negative Resolution, is not really a satisfactory way of ventilating the question. What actually happens, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, is well aware, is that a Prayer is lodged in another place—and theoretically it can be done here—and it is discussed at some time approaching midnight, in a very thin House with maybe a dozen honourable Members in attendance or possibly not as many as that. The honourable Member who objects to the designation gives his 987 reasons, but the House, as a whole, is in no position to judge of this complicated matter. It really is a subject for full inquiry. At the end of the half-hour or three-quarters of an hour during which the discussion takes place, the Government are quite sure that they will get their majority if there is a Division on it, and the matter goes through. But what happens is that, assuming, as I think we must assume, that the opposition to the designation is defeated, it then goes to inquiry. I wonder to what extent the inquiry may be prejudiced by the fact that there has already been a decision of another place.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, there will have been discussions before, as the noble Lord has said, as provided for in the First Schedule to the New Towns Act, 1946.
§ LORD SILKIN
Yes. I have said that there will have been discussions. But what I am pointing out is that it is not a very effective procedure, in practice, to give the honourable Member in whose constituency the proposed New Town is to be built the right to make an objection, because he will probably be the only person who will object. I have explained the conditions under which this objection will be discussed. It will be impossible in the time normally available for this purpose to give to the House the full reasons for selecting a particular area for designation; and I wonder how effective it will be from the point of view of those who object to it.
I was going on further to say that their case might well be prejudiced by the fact that there has been a decision in another place or in this House in favour of a designation order, because in due course there will be a public inquiry. There are other objectors, apart from the local authority, who will have the right to object.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, if I may interrupt again—I do so with some hesitation, because the noble Lord is the author of this Act and knows it extremely well—the First Schedule, which lays down the whole procedure to be followed under Section 1, provides:If any objection is duly made to the proposed order and is not withdrawn, the Minister shall, before making the order, cause a public local inquiry to be held with respect thereto. 988 and shall consider the report of the person by whom the inquiry was held.If he makes the order after holding the inquiry, it is then that the Prayer would be moved. There is no question of there being a further public inquiry after the Prayer has been heard against the Government.
§ LORD SILKIN
If that is so, it makes the case against this procedure even stronger, I should have thought, because you then have had a public inquiry, which is normally conducted by an independent inspector. You have had, possibly, a prolonged inquiry, with evidence given, and the Minister has then come to a decision on the basis of the evidence produced at the inquiry. If the Bill actually provides that after the Minister has come to a decision in that way it should be open to Parliament to reject it, it seems to me to be an extraordinary proposition.
However, having said that, I do not propose to oppose this Bill. I have given reasons why I think it is not going to be very effective. It can have the advantage, perhaps, of the honourable Member in another place who does not like the designation being able to "let off steam"; but it can have little other effect. If one can imagine the Minister coming to another place and saying that he has held the public inquiry and previously discussed it with all relevant bodies; that he has had an independent inspector reporting on it, and has finally—as he possibly might—modified the scheme to try to meet some of the objections; and then he says that he has confirmed the order—if after all that the local authority still objects, and it has to be the subject of discussion in another place or in this House, I can only conceive that it would be a farcical discussion: it would become virtually a matter of confidence in the Minister, and I cannot conceive that it would have any result except to confirm the views of the Minister.
There may be some advantage in having this matter ventilated. But I wonder why it is confined to cases where there is a local authority objecting. As 989 the Bill is drawn (perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will correct me if I am wrong) it is not even the relevant local planning authority, but any local planning authority, that may object. It need not be the local planning authority for the area of the proposed New Town; it can be any other. It can be an adjacent one, or it can be one which thinks it might be affected, although in practice it can be shown that it will not be. I do not know whether it is intended to widen the scope of planning authorities who may object, but it would have made more sense if it related to the planning authority which controls the area concerned. But that is a Committee point, and when the Bill goes to Committee I may put down an Amendment to clarify the question.
I do not want to prolong this discussion. My own personal view is that it is not a very serious matter. We got along quite well without this procedure—leaving out Stevenage—with the thirteen New Towns that were designated, and there was no objection. In fact, during the whole term of their existence this Government have not thought it necessary to introduce legislation of this kind. It will hold up proceedings, and hold up the building of New Towns. I do not think it will do much harm, but I do not think it will do any good. Therefore, while I do not propose to oppose this Bill, I personally shall not be heartbroken if it makes no further progress.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, my feelings about this Bill were very much like those of my noble friend Lord Silkin, until I heard something the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said in the course of his speech, to which I shall come in a moment. First, I think I should declare my interest. As your Lordships know, I am a member of the Harlow New Town Development Corporation. I suppose that one day an extension order might be made by a Minister in which I might conceivably have an interest—not a financial interest, but a desire to see such an extension occur. Your Lordships must bear that in mind, though I can assure you it has no relevance at all to this particular discussion, and certainly do not intend it to have any relevance.
990 I think the whole House knows of the sincere concern for town and country planning which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has, and we would at once believe that in introducing this Bill he was quite sure that it was going to further the best interests of town and country planning. As soon as I realised what the Bill was about, I took a contrary view. Although I do not think it a very important matter, nevertheless I think it is something which is worth looking at very carefully, and I hope that your Lordships may feel that, on balance, this is not a Bill which should go further.
My noble friend Lord Silkin explained how it arose out of a particular case. If a case is an example of a general weakness, then it is a good thing to introduce legislation to deal with it. But this was not an example of a general weakness. It was an example of a place where people felt very strongly indeed, particularly a Member of another place, who, accordingly introduced this Bill. In fact the New Towns Act has worked remarkably well; whereas, if I may say so, the Town Development Act, 1952, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred, and which he would wish to make the New Towns Act more like, has worked nothing like so well in terms of achievement. I do not belittle the Town Development Act, but merely say that this happens to be not nearly such a good machine for doing a very difficult job.
Building a New Town is one of the hardest jobs there is, and the hardest part of all is in making the decision where to build it. This is the process the Minister has to go through, and he has to take the decision on his shoulders, invariably in the face of opposition. Wherever a New Town is put, there will be people who oppose it, whether for no reason or, as they feel, for good reason. They will be landowners; people who live in a small town and who do not want it to enlarge; people who fear that the character of their district may change; and they will be people who have genuine doubts and fears. Invariably, or almost invariably, when an area is suggested for a New Town, the quality of the agricultural land seems to rise rapidly. We are faced now with a population explosion which we were debating 991 only a few days ago in your Lordships' House, and we were told by the Government, quite rightly, that a number of New Towns would have to be established under the New Towns Act, in the South of England. This will be a very difficult job, whatever Government have to do it; and, whoever they are, they will have my sympathy. I am sure it will be done as well as it possibly can be done.
I believe that the machinery established under the New Towns Act is well designed for its purpose. My noble friend Lord Silkin has briefly described it. The Minister prepares his draft order, with his draft map of the designated area, having had many informal discussions and taken soundings with the local authorities and everybody else. Then he has to put his draft order on view for everybody concerned to look at; and after that the objections come in. If there are objections, then the Minister has to order a local inquiry. These local inquiries are very thorough indeed, very properly held and well held, and it is far better to do a job by a local inquiry than by a debate in Parliament. This is no reflection on Parliament's capacity to debate, but this kind of subject turns on an immense amount of detailed consideration: details of water supply, of sewage disposal, of transport, of land quality, of existing population of the area, of availability and transport for industry, and a thousand other technical matters. A Parliamentary decision on such a matter is utterly and completely unsuitable, and I think it would be quite fantastic to attempt to decide these things by means of a debate of the kind which we know arises on Prayers.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it has been said that this Prayer will come after the public inquiry? Is there anything in the Bill which determines when the Prayer can be made? Can it not be made at any time?
§ LORD TAYLOR
I think I can answer my noble friend, and if I answer him wrongly perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will correct me. It turns on the First Schedule to the New Towns Act, 1946. The process there is that the Minister prepares a draft Order, and the objections and inquiry are on the draft Order, 992 and not on the final Order. It is after the draft Order has been made, and the inquiry held, that a final Order is made. It is this final Order which, under this Bill, would become a statutory instrument. It would be this which would be prayed against after the inquiry. Am I correct? The noble Lord, Lord Molson, indicates that I am, and I think this is right. In other words, this Prayer would be a sort of appeal against the decision of the Minister after he had held his statutory inquiry. I think that is a very bad principle indeed.
I know only too well that in another case the Home Office has a most invidious task to perform—that of selecting places for Her Majesty's prisons. Wherever the place you select for a prison there are objections; and, quite rightly, the Home Secretary has to hold a public inquiry. These public inquiries—I have attended them—are exactly the same type of inquiry as is held in the case of a New Town development corporation or an extension, if there is an objection; but nobody, so far as I know has ever suggested that there should then be a power to pray against the location of a prison. I think this is a most undesirable extension of Parliamentary control over something that is not suitable for Parliamentary control. By all means, let us have Parliamentary control over legislation, but this is a point of administration which ought to be dealt with administratively.
If a Member of another place or a Peer does object and we cannot find a way to ventilate the matter better than a Prayer, I would suggest either that we have a very poor case indeed or that we are very uningenious, because in my experience Prayers are a very poor way of ventilating Parliamentary grievances. I asked my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth how many times in the course of our 1945–ament Prayers were, in fact, successful. As the noble Lord, Lord Molson, will probably remember, there was a great deal of praying going on. My right honourable enemy, Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter, was the principal prayer, and he went on praying night after night to keep my honourable friends up. Fair enough! He could talk on any Order he liked with great fluency. It never did any good, except that it certainly wore Ministers out and I suppose also worse Members out, which seemed to me a fatuous waste of time; but that 993 was the law and that was the way it had to be done. But as a way of ventilating grievances it was a failure.
My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth tells me that the only time he can remember a Prayer succeeding was in the case of a Cheese Order involving my noble friend Baroness Summerskill, when she said: "All cheese is the same". This was manifestly somewhat erroneous, and the Order was in fact defeated, and a revised Order admitting differences of cheeses was introduced a fortnight later. That was the only case we can find at short notice of the procedure of Prayer being efficacious. Unfortunately, none of our ecclesiastical advisers are present—but this is another kind of prayer.
Parliamentary praying, I would suggest, is a very poor method of administration and of ventilation. I should not feel that this was a deep matter of principle; I should feel that we were being rather stupid about it if we carried this. The only thing that really "turned me up "—perhaps not "turned me up" but made me feel that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was absolutely 100 per cent. wrong—was when he said that this proposal does not start to operate until December 31, 1964, because this will give a chance for the New Town of Washington, with which nobody disagrees, to get through without praying. If that is the way we are going to legislate, I say it is a disgrace; I think it is quite monstrous. I am very glad he let us realise that this is not to catch New Towns to which nobody may have an objection, but just to make sure that trouble may exist in the next Parliament. I am, therefore, quite sure that we should be wrong to pass this Bill.
I certainly find the idea that any local planning authority can object a bit silly. I know one that is going to object: the Cheshire County Council is going to object to any designated area in Cheshire. We know this before we start. They have objected time and again. I can say it, the Government cannot say it, but everybody knows that the Cheshire County Council have fought New Towns up hill and down dale, and trying to find a designated area around Merseyside for the people of Manchester and Liverpool has been a disastrous story. Now, at last, one has been found, though whether it is 994 a very salubrious neighbourhood I do not know. We know there are these chronic objectors among local authorities. That, again, seems to me a very poor reason for having a Prayer. If a Prayer is worth having, I should have thought it was because a Member of another place thought it was worth having, and not because a local authority objected. So, my Lords, for the reasons I have given and because I believe most passionately in New Towns and that this proposal will make it slightly more difficult to establish New Towns in the future, I hope your Lordships will reject this Bill.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, I should like to support this Bill and in so doing I have no actual interest to declare; but I lived near Stevenage for a number of years and have studied the background which has largely led to the introduction of this Bill. I would draw the attention of your Lordships to Section 4(1)(c) of the New Towns Act, 1946, which reads:any land, whether adjacent to that area or not, which they require for the provision of services for the purposes of the new town;can be acquired if necessary by compulsory purchase. This, as I understand it—and I am not a legal expert, by any means—gives very large powers to the Minister in these matters.
In these matters, particularly in the development of a New Town, which is a very different matter from the compulsory purchase of land by an ordinary local authority, it seems to me that in some cases a local inquiry is not enough. I am not suggesting for one moment that local inquiries are not entirely fair; I think they are. But, short of another method, I cannot see that the use of a Prayer in either House of Parliament can be disputed. There may well be other more effective methods, but I have yet to learn of them. Perhaps some noble Lord may come forward with some suggestion here. But I think that since there has been this dilemma over Stevenage, which has caused considerable discussion in both Houses of Parliament, this Bill is necessary on that basis alone. There may well be flaws in it, but I think that paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2) of Clause 1 of the New Towns (No. 2) Bill are quite 995 fair, and they will enable much more fairness to be used when designating land in future New Towns, quite apart from Stevenage.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I should like to say one word in support of this Bill, not so much on its contents, but rather in refutation of what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said about the capability of Parliament to discuss technical matters of this kind. It seems to me that there is very little difference in principle between technicalities of New Towns and the type of order under the Water Act, 1945, which often goes to public inquiry, is dealt with by independent inspector with a wealth of detailed evidence on extremely technical matters given, and is then, if confirmed by the Minister, subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure. I think there are provisions in the Water Resources Act of last year whereby similar things happen: where an inquiry is held, any order made is subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure, whereupon it can be debated in either House. It may go to a Committee upstairs, but it is possible that it goes on to the Floor of the House, and the order stands or falls according to the debate there.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I think that a Committee upstairs is a very good method indeed to deal with this. It is the Prayer I am objecting to as being the most fantastic way of trying to deal with a very complicated matter.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
An order like this does not always go upstairs; it depends on the sort of Petition put in against it. Some orders can be debated on the Floor of the House. I do not see why, if Parliament has arranged for that type of thing in these Acts to be dealt with in that way, it is not also possible to have as it were a court of appeal in the case of New Town designation or extension orders. I should prefer Special Parliamentary Procedure, instead of the power of Prayer against the order, as in this Bill, but I cannot see any objection in principle to the idea of Parliament's having the final say in a matter of ministerial responsibility. Therefore, I support the Bill.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD HASTINGS)
My Lords, I think your Lordships will expect me to say something about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in regard to this Bill, which has been presented to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Molson with the facility and precision to which we have become accustomed. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has, of course, already described the procedure to which designation or extension of New Towns is already subject. We have heard about the full consultation with all local authorities and other statutory bodies before a draft order is made; about the objections, and, if they are maintained, about the necessity for a public inquiry to be held by a completely independent inspector. It is only after that, of course, that the Minister comes to a decision and makes an order. It is only then that there would be any possibility, under this new Bill, of a Prayer of annulment. There was discussion about that point and it is quite clear from Clause 1 that it is only after an order, which would be a statutory instrument, has been made that the matter can come to Parliament.
The present arrangements have now been in existence for eighteen years and have worked very well. It may be argued that to alter them now is unnecessary, but I think that after eighteen years we might concede that times have changed, that many things have changed, and that we need to have another look at this legislation to see whether it is capable of improvement. Possibly one of the main reasons for accepting this Bill is the different nature that New Towns are likely to take in the future. They have been very successful in the past, but I think we have to face up to the fact that, especially in the South-East, they are likely to be very much larger than they have been. It has even been suggested in the South-East Study that New Towns may go up to as great a population as 250,000 from the original planning stage; and, of course, towns of that size are bound to have a tremendous repercussion on a whole region. It seems reasonable, perhaps, that the Minister in charge of this very vital matter should be subject to some Parliamentary control, although 997 I admit that things have worked well in the past.
My right honourable friend admitted the strength of this argument in another place, and he believes that there is a good case for this change. I think that any Minister might be quite thankful to have the endorsement of Parliament for coming to a decision of such importance as this is likely to be in the future in respect of the designation of New Towns.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, is it not the case that he has already made his decision? He has made it twice. He has designated; he has had the inquiry, and then he has confirmed. It is not a question of getting the support of Parliament.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I said confirmation. The Minister will have made his decision and confirmed the order; and if a local authority was still objecting, the order would be subject to Parliamentary discussion and debate. I think this is a point that needs to be made, and perhaps was overlooked in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I am not sure whether it is fully appreciated that not just any M.P. (which was the way the noble Lord put it) can pray against the order. He can do so only if a local planning authority maintains its objection arid does not withdraw it. Otherwise, the matter will not be subject to a Prayer. I think that is rather an important aspect of the Bill.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, I did realise that the Bill is as the noble Lord says, and I was objecting to that as being illogical. I was saying that if a Member of another place were allowed to pray against such an order only if there was an objection from a local planning authority, and only in the event of continued objection from the local planning authority, that seemed to me illogical.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I was not quite sure if the noble Lord had appreciated that point: but it is really most relevant. I am not here, of course, to answer all the criticisms made by noble Lords opposite: that falls to my noble friend Lord Molson. I am merely trying to clarify one or two points and to put the Government's view on this matter. I do not think we would accept the analogy either with the Town Development Act, 1952, or water orders, because these are legislative matters 998 altering or interfering with local authority powers or the powers of statutory undertakers. In the designation of New Towns, local authorities, after their objections, if made, have been overcome, do not have anything to do with the building up of the New Towns. It is not quite a direct analogy. None the less, my right honourable friend accepts that there is a good case for making these designations of New Towns in the future subject to Prayer of annulment if local planning authorities still have outstanding objections.
When we come to the question of extension of New Towns, it is of course well known that my right honourable friend was not very keen to accept this in the first place. He thought that a distinction ought to be drawn between new designations and extension orders. His view was that extension orders would be more comparable with extensions of old-established towns which can be brought about in a variety of ways without reference to Parliament. On the other hand, it was impressed upon him that the size of the town, both absolutely and in relation to the existing New Town, would have great bearing on this matter, and he was persuaded in the other place that if some definition of size could be given he could reasonably accept this power of annulment and debate to apply to the extension of New Towns. It seems reasonable that this limit should be drawn at 500 acres or 10 per cent. Five hundred acres is just about 10 per cent. of the average existing New Town, and it seems reasonable to relate the limit to that level.
I do not think I need say any more, except that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to accept this Bill and, after most thorough discussion in another place, I think it is is my duty, and also my pleasure, to advise your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, in view of the fact that I gather that there is not going to be opposition to this Bill—
§ LORD MOLSON
Well, in view of the fact that I gather that the Opposition are not going to divide the House against this Bill this evening—
§ LORD MOLSON
I was going to say that I will limit my remarks to very few. But I would answer the three main points which have been made. First of all, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, objected to this Bill's coming into operation only at the end of this year. He thought there was something improper in an agreement having been made that it was not necessary or desirable that this Bill should apply in the case of the designation of the projected New Town of Washington. I can see nothing improper at all, when there is agreement upon the general principle of a Bill, to say that it would be convenient for that principle not to apply to negotiations which have reached a certain stage under a state of law when that Bill is not in operation. An agreement of that kind, come to between the Government, which, at that time was somewhat critical of this Bill, and my honourable friend, who was promoting it, seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable and proper way of transacting Parliamentary business.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, criticised at some length the Parliamentary procedure of the Prayer, and he recalled the long and wearying nights which many of us in this House recall, between 1945 and 1951, when the Prayer was used. It is not, I think, necessary for me, in the impartial detachment of this House, to say that I think that necessarily on all occasions the procedure was used with moderation. But it is an accepted form of procedure by which Parliament retains ultimate power over the Executive.
This is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and I have discussed, and perhaps even disputed, in the past. I recall the broadmindedness with which he accepted in principle a Motion which I moved about Statutory Orders being submitted to a Committee. There is general agreement, I think, upon this general principle, that if legislation and administration is to be carried on efficiently and effectively a wide measure of discretion must be left to the Executive and to Ministers for filling in matters of detail. But it also follows that, if there is a matter of greater importance, it is reasonable and proper to provide in legislation that, in the last resort, the matter can be raised on the Floor of the House.
1000 I will not say that the Prayer is an ideal method, but it is certainly the general method adopted in legislation at the present time to enable Parliament to take a final decision upon a matter which appears to deserve a decision by Parliament. Of course it is subject to the way our Constitution works. If a Government have a majority they are able to use that majority in order to support a Minister who has made an Order and done so in a way he thinks to be right.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, the noble Lord has referred to 1945 to 1951; so did my noble friend Lord Taylor. I think he would probably agree with me when I say that the right of Parliamentary ventilation and the challenging of an Order is, by and large, in all cases right, although it is arguable in regard to particular cases, as my noble friend Lord Taylor has been arguing this afternoon. But if it is used by Members of Parliament in another place, night after night, for purposes of self-confessed obstruction, and indeed self-confessed efforts to wear Ministers out, to harry them and tire them, that is not a legitimate use of the right of Prayer. The Government of the day took steps to check that use, and I think the noble Lord would agree that any Government must do so for the protection not only of themselves but of the Members of another place.
§ LORD MOLSON
I do not dissent at all from what the noble Lord has said. I am most anxious that the majority should have their rights as well as the minority. It is only right that, when a minority has expressed its view, the majority should have the power of making its opinion effective.
However, far more serious than the general criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, were the extraordinary constitutional doctrines put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. When he comes to read Hansard tomorrow, I think he will find that he has been betrayed into the expression of opinions which I am sure he would not have expressed had he prepared his speech more carefully. I took down what he said. Roughly, he said that it would be remarkable if, after the Minister had considered the findings of an inspector and considered the matter, 1001 Parliament annulled the Order he had made. Really, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, cannot adopt that line. In the last resort, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth has said, it is right that Parliament should have the power and the right to reject an Order even though it has been made by a Minister. Of course, if the Government have a majority and if the colleagues of the Minister are in agreement with the decision that he has taken, it may well be that Parliament will uphold him. But to argue as the noble Lord did, that there was something improper in the fact that, after a Minister had given careful consideration to the matter and had come to certain conclusions, Parliament should come to a contrary conclusion and overrule him, completely undermines the whole principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Lord has rather misinterpreted, I am sure quite innocently, what I said. I did not say it was improper; I said that it was futile, a sheer waste of time. Because the noble Lord knows as well as I do that by the time this matter has been dealt with twice by the Minister, after a public inquiry, and having regard to the way in which the Prayer would be dealt with late at night, it is quite unthinkable that the Government would allow themselves to be defeated. So it is not a matter of high-sounding words about giving Parliament the right to reject. It will not reject, because there is a Government majority. I repeat that I did not say that there was anything improper about it.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, I am sorry if I put the wrong word into the noble Lord's mouth. I am perfectly willing to accept the word "futile", and upon the word "futile" I still base my opinion that it was a shocking constitutional doctrine that he put forward. I ask him to draw a distinction, as I have tried to do, between what in fact will happen when a Government have an effective majority and the principle that a matter of this kind should be submitted to Parliament and that there should be an opportunity for Parliament to annul an Order. In the last resort I would say that when there are Prayers, debates raised on a matter of importance of this kind, if the arguments advanced by those who pray are 1002 sound, even if a Prayer is defeated that night, the value of a debate in Parliament is such that it is a valuable safeguard for minority rights. That is all I have to say in reply to the speakers opposite, and I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I have listened to a good deal of the debate, and I must say it is always difficult to come to decisions on what one should do with Private Members' Bills. There is a certain recognised practice, which is a part of Parliamentary procedure, for the Private Member to have a right to introduce Bills. But the more I listen to the detailed arguments on the two sides the more I feel that, with the sort of problems with which we are going to be faced in all parts of this country in relating population to housing arrangements, and the extent to which agricultural policy and the use of agricultural land must come into consideration, to allow important procedures of this kind to be established by Private Member's Bill, and not to be taken as part of the whole policy of the Government in facing the enormous problems of the future, is a great pity. It ought to be dealt with by the Government of the day in relation to their wide, nationally-based plan as to how to proceed on questions of population, the position of agriculture, the local industrial position and other important matters of this kind.
So that, while I should always hesitate to vote against a Private Member's Bill, I do not want the noble Lord, Lord Molson, to think that I am very much in favour of the Bill he has put before the House. There may be some good points in it; but it does not constitute a proper answer to me as to how to deal with the national problem which is building up every day into larger proportions. I do not know whether my colleagues would desire to vote against the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill as such, but I feel that the promoters of this Bill must expect that in future discussions on it, if it is not opposed to-day, we shall be within our rights at later stages to take stronger action.
On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.