I beg to move, in page 3, line 4, after "revoke," insert "in whole or in part."I think the Commitee will recognise that this Amendment will be of some assistance, both to the Government and to the Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move, in line 11, after "of," insert "section one of."This is obviously a drafting Amendment.
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "obviously drafting"? It is as obscure as it was in the beginning.
I should not like to say that. The Clause alludes to "subsection (1) of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act," and it means, quite obviously, Sub-section (1) of some Section of that Act. As a matter of fact, it is Sub-section (1) of Section 1. It is the first Sub-section of the Measure, although this is not the usual way of alluding to it.
I am asking the right hon. Gentleman a very simple question. I ask him to say if it is or is not a misprint.
I do not think it is a misprint. It might have been a mis-typing by the person who typed the typescript from which the Bill was printed. It is an error in the Bill, and I am sorry that it should have taken such a long time to put right.
Could we call it a mistake?
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 4.—( Parliamentary control over Defence Regulations and orders and other instruments made there under. 56 & 57 Viet. c. 66.)
I beg to move, in page 3, line 28, after "Act," insert:
The purpose of this Amendment is to preserve the existing system under which Orders and other instruments made by Government Departments in Northern Ireland under Defence Regulations continue to be treated as Statutory Rules and Orders of Northern Ireland. Under Defence Regulation 102A, all Orders made by the Government of Northern Ireland, or any Department of that Government, are deemed to be Statutory Rules to which the Rules Publication Act (Northern Ireland), 1925, applies. If the Amendment is not made, the probable effect would be that this provision would have to be revoked as repugnant to Clause 4, and the convenient practice now established would have to be abandoned. It also makes it clear that the instruments have to be laid before Parliament. I may say that I have had negotiations with the Government of Northern Ireland and they are agreed upon the form of words."or which is or is deemed to be a statutory rule to which the Rules Publication Act (Northern Ireland), 1925, applies."
May I ask another question, as I am rather interested in the drafting of Bills? Would it be unfair to assume, in the case of this Amendment and of further Amendments to be moved, that the Government did not satisfy themselves through the usual channels how far agreement might be expected, but that they now have satisfied themselves?
There are two questions which I should like to ask. The first is whether there is a Scrutiny Committee sitting on this, either in Northern Ireland or here? When these Orders lie on the Table in Northern Ireland, will it be at exactly the same time as the Orders are laid here?
This part of the Bill was drafted by the Coalition Government. They appear to have omitted to consult Northern Ireland.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer my question?
I express my regret that I assumed too readily that the Bills of the Coalition Government were correct in all respects; I ought to have consulted Northern Ireland before this Bill was introduced.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman another question? I am sure he will have no objection to answering it. I did not take any particular interest in the late Government. Am I right in assuming that he was a member of the Coalition Government?
Yes, but may I say that I was not engaged at any stage in the discussions on this Bill.
Was the right hon. Gentleman a Cabinet Minister?
I was not a Cabinet Minister but I accept responsibility and, on behalf of the Coalition Government—
Was not the name of the Lord President of the Council on the back of the Bill?
Yes, there were three Tory Members' names, and two Labour on the back of it. If hon. Members want to go into that kind of thing—[Interruption].
The right hon. Gentleman started it.
With regard to the points put to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) these Orders have to be laid on the Table here and in the Northern Ireland House of Commons. Whether they have the same procedure there as we do, I do not know. Of course they are a self-governing community, having their own Standing Orders, but a Northern Ireland Order attracts in this House all the attention by the Scrutinising Committee and by the House itself that the Orders which apply to Great Britain attract. I am sorry I cannot answer my hon. Friend about the procedure in the Northern Ireland Parliament.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
There are two small points which I would like to put to the Home Secretary on this Clause. They deal not with the Defence Regulation made under the Emergency Powers Act, but with orders made under the Defence Regulations which are commonly called "the grand-children." The right hon. Gentleman knows what I mean. The points I think are quite simple but they need to be clarified. The first is: What is the meaning of Orders determined to be "of the nature of a public act" in line 28? Presumably it means that merely Local Orders will not have to be laid. I have no quarrel with that, but the Select Committee of Statutory Orders does see local Orders—for instance, Sunday Cinematograph Orders, or Orders setting up Joint Local Boards. However, it does not find much in them and, after all, the Local Orders are usually made on the application or with the consent of the locality. Incidentally, who does the determining? According to the Regulations of 1894 the rule-making authority says whether it thinks its rules are general or local, and presumably the editor of the Statutory Rules and Orders—through whose office they pass, makes the decision. The system seems to work satisfactorily in practice and has had over 50 years to crystallise itself. The Select Committee have no complaints but we would like to know who determines.The second point is a constitutional one. Some of these "grand-children" of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act deal with Northern Ireland and some of these are actually made by authorities in Belfast—the Governor of Northern Ireland or some Northern Ireland Department—under powers which can be delegated by Departments in Whitehall. We have no quarrel with that but it introduces a problem of supervision. Under the constitution of Northern Ireland contained in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, the Belfast Government cannot deal with such matters as the Defence of the Realm. Well then, are these grand-children of the Act, when made in Belfast, Statutory Rules and Orders in the United Kingdom series, or Statutory Rules and Orders of Northern Ireland covered by the Northern Ireland Rules Publication Act? The answer is in paragraph 2 of the Defence Regulation 102A—they are to be deemed Statutory Rules and Orders of Northern Ireland although they deal with a subject on which the Belfast Government cannot make laws. The Orders concern only Northern Ireland and may as well be published there but what happens to their Parliamentary supervision? Being Statutory Rules and Orders of Northern Ireland they do not come before our Select Committee here; being outside the powers of the Northern Ireland Parliament how can they be challenged in the Northern Ireland Parliament? Our Select Committee has its hands pretty full and is not clamouring for more and more work. I do not suggest that these Northern Ireland grand-children should come to our Committee to be scrutinised, but how does the matter stand? I shall be obliged if the Home Secretary can clarify these two points because they are of some importance.
The decision as to whether an Order is a local or a general Order is made by the Treasury in consultation with Mr. Speaker and the Lord Chancellor. That appears to be the practice which has been followed hitherto and I see no reason for departing from it at the present time. With regard to the future, now that the "grand-children"—as the hon. and gallant Member calls these Orders which are made under Regulations—where they relate to Northern Ireland are to be placed before his Committee, and their supervision will be in the charge of the Committee of which he is a Member. I do not think there is any other way in which they can be properly looked after because, as he said, some of them are outside the competence of the Northern Ireland legislature and therefore, this legislature being the only one within whose competence they are, I think we must accept responsibility for them.
This, I agree, is a very difficult situation. Northern Ireland is the only federalised part of the United Kingdom and a position where you have these Defence of the Realm Regulations, and kindred matters, is obviously a very complicated one, which affects not only the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I assume that in these matters the Ministers in Northern Ireland in enforcing these Orders would be exercising delegated authority over the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and would not be acting so much as Ministers of the Parliament of Northern Ireland as agents of the Home Secretary here. As regards that matter, Northern Ireland is recognised by this Act—which was passed as everybody should know on no request of ours—as being distinguishable in having local considerations which are not the same as those in this country. May I take it that the right hon. Gentleman, in dealing with these Orders, will consult the appropriate Ministers of the Northern Ireland Government before taking action and, if he can, will act in concert? May I take it that the same consultation and the same sympathy with the particular views and considerations of Northern Ireland will be extended in the future as in the past?
I am glad to give that assurance. Since I have been in office I have had some very pleasant conversations with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and with some of the Ministers in his Cabinet. I am arranging that they shall be consulted in the formative stage with regard to this and similar matters, and I will endeavour to meet their wishes. Of course, it must be understood there are occasions when the final responsibility is mine, and I may have to take a decision, after listening to what they have to say, that may not be fully in accordance with what they would like. But even where the responsibility falls quite definitely on me I shall always endeavour to ascertain what their legitimate views are in regard to those things which enter their province.
I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, which is very clear, but to say that what he has done will mean that the Select Committee will not be allowed to report to the House unless we send for a memorandum from the Department concerned which will mean, in turn, that we might have to send across to Ireland for people to come here if we should require them to do so.
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish me to put him into a position where he could make a report without hearing what the other side had to say.
I was not asking for that. But it will mean sending to Northern Ireland for people to come here to give evidence if there is anything on which we might like clarification.
Question put, and agreed to.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
CLAUSE 5.—( Application of principal Acts and effect of their expiry, and adaptation of other enactments.)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 43, leave out Sub-section (5).This innocuous looking Sub-section is really dynamite. I will repeat it, in case any Member here has not got a copy of the Bill. It says:
The words, "war period," do not occur in this Act. They refer to Section 59 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945. What this means is that wherever the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act says, "war period," that means a term of five years. I am afraid that I shall have to go at some length into the effect of this small Sub-section upon the different provisions of the Requisition of Land and War Works Act, because it alters completely the Act that was passed only a few months ago, an Act which was supported by Members of the present Government. In effect, it would hold up the development of industry, agriculture and planning in Britain. Under Section 5 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, wherever there are Government works on any land a Government Department can decide to acquire the land or any adjacent land providing they serve notice that will now be within seven years of the passing of this Bill, that is, 1952. By a later Clause in this Bill power is given to extend the period by one year more, to 1953. That will mean that for seven years a man who has Government war works on his property will be in a state of complete uncertainty. This matter was discussed by the Select Committee on National Expenditure on 8th March. I see on the Front Bench and other benches distinguished supporters of the present Government who took part in the deliberations of that Select Committee and who supported their Second Report, which dealt with the release of requisitioned land and buildings. Paragraph 36 of that Report says:"For the purpose of the requisitioned of Land and War Works Act, 1945, the expression" war period" shall include any period after the expiry of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, during which this Act is in force."
That is the considered opinion of an all-party Committee of this House on this problem. Following that Committee, the House said that notice must be given within two years after the end of the war. The present Bill—I hope and believe that there is some error of drafting—will extend that period for seven years, until 1952. At that time I myself thought that two years from the end of the war was too long, and I supported a plea that all these matters should be wound up within one year of the end of the war. Also at that time the present Minister of Health, who was sitting where I am standing to-day, gave us his views on this problem. He said:"Your Committee has been impressed by the difficulties confronting Departments in reaching decisions over post-war requirements. They appreciate that it is impossible to work out in detail plans for camps, training grounds, airfields and other establishments which must be retained. Your Committee consider that the time has now come when a definite decision should be made which would enable Departments to determine…which property they will have to acquire and which they will eventually be able to release. This will allow plans to be made for industrial or agricultural production, for housing, or for town and country planning schemes, in respect of property which is now held under requisition."
He went on to say that in his view two years was not an unreasonable time. Of course, circumstances have altered. The right hon. Gentleman now has the responsibility and cares of Government office, directed by Government officials. His two years is now altered to seven years. Let me give the Committee a few illustrations of what will be affected. Small garages, by the concentration of industries, have been sites of Government work, where the Government have installed machinery. Those garages which want to be decontrolled will not know until 1952 whether they are to have independence or not. Owners of land adjacent to Government factories which belong to another industrial undertaking want to know where they are in connection with post-war development. That illustration will occur in every area of development in the country. There are 600 airfields, the vast majority of which are on good agricultural land. Unless this Subsection is deleted those airfields will be sterilised until 1952, and those who were on that Select Committee will know the dangers that are implied in that fact. The tentacles of the Air Ministry will be upon those airfields. There are 600,000 acres of land and 80,000 buildings still requisitioned by the War Department. Let us take a few illustrations of common land. Marlborough Common has a hospital upon it, and people will not be able to know the future of that common until 1952 unless this Clause is altered. Then there is Blackheath Common, where you have a lorry park. Dartford Heath will continue to have a camp and a sewage farm. That is the effect of the sentence of five years' additional imprisonment under Section 5 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act. Under Section 6, where land has been damaged by Government war use, the Government Department will not have to decide whether they are going to acquire it and rehabilitate it until seven years from the passing of this Act. Many of us on these Benches think the Government are too slow in demobilising the men from the Services. It is the same sort of inaction that is going to hold the land that has been damaged by war use—the land that is scarred from war from being restored. Directly you make that war period five years, therefore giving them the power to acquire seven years, you are going to hold up this restoration of the land of England. I do not believe there can be any party division on the unfortunate result of Section 6to alter the war period under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act. Why delay the decision? Two years is long enough. Why delay it for another five years on land used as bombing ranges and tank traps? We have all seen them in the course of our service. We have had to help make these battle scars, and those of us who have made them are only too anxious to get them removed and England restored, There are great acres of concrete lying all over the surface of fertile England. Let me turn to Section 15. I am sorry the Home Secretary is not in the House, because he has always had a very great interest in rights of way and highways. I know the Parliamentary Secretary will convey any remarks I may make on Section 15 to him. Under Section 15 of this Act, the Minister of War Transport can wait seven years from the passing of this Bill until 1952 before he decides to stop up permanently a highway that has been temporarily closed. Let me take with this Section, Section 21, which is the parallel Section. Under that Section, every Order made under the Defence Regulations for stopping up and diverting a highway shall continue in force for seven years from the passing of this Bill, notwithstanding the stopping up or diversion of the highway if no longer required for war purposes. That sentence of seven years to me is terribly hard. 7.45 p.m. I have in my constituency aerodromes which were placed there in order to see that Germany has been well and truly bombed. The result is that my constituents have given up their rights of way and free passage. When I came back to my constituency, after an interval at the war, I was dashing to a meeting and suddenly found myself in the middle of an aerodrome-runway with a giant bomber coming in to land. That road had been closed, I was late for my meeting, and I did not realise it in a foggy night. Rights of way and public highways have been stopped up for war purposes, and it is very difficult to get a Government Department to release them. The two years' sentence will become seven years. On Section 15, during the Report stage on 30th May, 1945, the right hon. Gentleman, the present Home Secretary, had something to say. I should like to quote what he said on that occasion:"I believe that it is the worst possible situation for individuals, owners of property or no property to have no practical future before them, knowing that at any moment the Government may step in and do something about which they cannot make the slightest possible conjecture. That is a ridiculous situation, because it substitutes caprice for injustice."—[Official Report, 19th April, 1945; Vol. 410, c. 526.]
In October the same right hon. Gentleman comes to the House and what does he do? He wants to extend "this dangerous innovation" from two years to seven years and possibly eight. I am not surprised at this. Right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches before the Election made very different promises and assurances that now have gone with the wind of success. I now turn to the next Section—Section 26. Under that Section, which is a local authorities provision, the local authority can acquire any land for their purposes which they have held during the war, if they give notice within seven years until 1952. The types of case that is dealt with under Section 26 are those premises which, hon. Members will recollect, have been used for the storage of civil defence reserves. In my constituency, and I expect in others, they are badly required for civil production in order to help industry. They also deal with the offices of the regional commissioners. If the decision whether these are to be retained by the local authority is going to be delayed until 1952, it is going to make that large area of land and buildings unobtainable to Britain for restarting business until that date. Let me quote the other three Sections which are affected—and some of them are even more important than those I have mentioned. Under Section 28, any Government Department will be able to retain possession of requisitioned property for a further seven years from the passing of this Bill. I hear hon. Members, representing constituencies where there are hotels and dwelling houses, demanding that the land for these hotels and dwelling houses should be derequisitioned. I think the Government have been very slow in derequisitioning property. The encouragement you are giving by this Sub-section is to say that instead of two years, which was given by the Government presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), you are to have seven years, or, if possible, eight. That has been an awkward fact in connection with that Section. In Sub-section (3) you have power to give a Government Department authority to authorise the taking of water. That power will be extended for another seven years. I find that that power is already seriously endangering rural water supplies. In many parts of the country water has been extracted from the local authority statutory undertakings for the purpose of property requisitioned by Government Departments, for instance, aerodromes. There is a great shortage of water as a result. Many of the farmers and farm workers are having to go without water because there is this requisitioning of water resources. What is the justification for that requisitioning to be extended another seven years? Section 29 gave the Government two years in which they must remove all the clutter and mess which they have made on requisitioned property. This Bill will extend that two years to seven years. The point I really wish to press is this: This Sub-section amending the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act is not dealing with something about which we have been talking in the rest of the discussion to-day; it is slowing up the whole process of restoring Britain after the war. We have a big job to do in that respect. Why when this Government come into power is that two years suddenly extended to seven years? The first time when this proposal was made was when this Bill was introduced by the Home Secretary. I never heard it suggested, and I took part in all the Debates on the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, that the Government should keep on requisitioned land for seven years all that clutter and debris. If hon. Members who represent the party opposite felt like that then why did they not move it at that time? Now they have got into power, having had this great success, they try to suggest that this clutter and debris should remain for seven years, and that no adequate steps be taken to restore the land until the completion of that time. I wish to mention just one other Section which affects my constituents. Section 33 will give to Government Departments until 1952 the power to acquire easements over or rights restrictive of the user of any land. I do not see the Minister of Town and Country Planning on the Government Front Bench. That is unfortunate because this will seriously affect all planning schemes in Britain. It will also affect housing schemes. Let me give one concrete example."I think the point that has been raised is one of great importance—this question of the reopening of highways that have been closed, some of them important highways linking up small towns and villages. I hope that what the Parliamentary Secretary has said with regard to the attitude of his Minister will, in fact, be carried out. I am very nervous about the effects of the war on highway law generally. Previously there was a very different method of dealing with the closing and diversion of highways. I hope…that we are to get back very shortly to the time when there will only be the way that existed before the war for diverting and closing highways, namely, the action of justices in Quarter Sessions, a special Act of Parliament or a town planning scheme. I think the third method was a very disastrous innovation, and I hope we are not to have any further extension of the way in which the public can be inconvenienced by the closing of ancient highways."—[Official Report, 30th May, 1945; Vol. 411, c. 284.]
I am sorry to interrupt but the hon. Gentleman has already given quite a number of examples, and it is impossible for him to carry on in that way—he might go on ad infinitum. I hope he will now confine himself to the Amendment and not give a further number of examples.
I ask your help on this matter, Major Milner. This is legislation by reference and is amending the definition of another Act. It has always been my understanding that on such an occasion it is possible to find out how this new definition will affect the different Sections of that Act. Normally this should be done, I suggest, by a new Bill in which there would be a number of Clauses extending the power over these separate Sections. As the Government have decided to effect that by means of legislation by reference surely it is in Order for me to point out the effect on different Sections of that Act?
The question is one of degree. The hon. Member has given a great many cases and quoted several Sections, and there comes a point when it would be an abuse of the Rules of Debate for him to continue to do so. I do not say that he has reached that point yet, but I hope he will not continue unduly towards it.
On that point of Order, with great respect, I was giving six different Sections affected by this Subsection. Not every Section of that Act is affected. Fortunately Section 33 is the last. If I am restrained from mentioning town and country planning, I shall, of course, abstain, but with great regret.
I trust the hon. Member will not carry his illustration too far.
I gather from what you say, Major Milner, that I may continue to deal with the effect on Section 33. I will give this illustration: A local authority in my constituency has submitted to the Minister of Health a plan for rebuilding an area. Under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act the Air Ministry are objecting to that new housing scheme on the ground that they want restrictive rights of user over this area, which does not belong to them and which is, in fact, scheduled as a building scheme for residential property in the interim development scheme. We understood that that restriction could, at its worst, last for only two years. If this Bill is passed the local authority, the Flaxton Rural District Council, will be prevented from building on that land until 1952. Therefore the whole of the post-war housing plan in that part of the suburbs of York will be delayed by the Government action on this Amendment. I do not want to labour that point any more. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear"]. That is my constituency. I feel strongly about it. I am quite sure that if hon. Gentlemen go to their constituencies they will find that their own housing development schemes will be equally affected by Section 33. There is my interpretation of this Sub-section. Let me now turn to the interpretation of the Lord President of the Council. During the Second Reading Debate last week he said:
Because my explanation is so different from that of the Lord President of the Council I have gone at length into the effect of this Sub-section. This is not tidying up; it is delaying the matter. This Sub-section will not be confined to new regulations that are brought in under Clause 1 or Clause 2 of this Bill; it will extend to the whole gamut of regulations that are still in operation by the year 1950. For these reasons I hope that the Committee will reject this Sub-section. I appeal not only to hon. Gentlemen who sit on this side of the Committee, but to hon. Gentlemen in all quarters. This is no party question.
"Clause 5…is simply a consequence of the intended duration of requisitioning powers under this Bill. The Requisitioned Land and War Works Act gives an opportunity to requisitioning authorities to acquire requisitioned land after the properties are given up during a period not exceeding two years, while they negotiate and so on. If the requisitioning powers go on for five years after the Emergency Powers Act expires, the opportunity is postponed until then. Really it is desirable to have these powers in the field of requisitioning because they are related to the general economic powers of the Bill which would be deficient if the powers of requisitioning were not tidied up."—[Official Report, 9th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 173.]
The hon. Member is interested in the landlords.
I had better not quote all my memories or I shall be pulled up, but I do remember how the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) showed his dislike of landowners. I believe the reason the Sub-section is in the Bill is this. The civil servants and Service chiefs have said to the Government, "We want more time than we were given under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act. Two years is not enough. We have all these great decisions to take on derequisitioning. Give us seven years." I believe that the Government have bowed to the Civil Service and Service chiefs, not for the first time. If the Bill is passed in this form the country will condemn the surrender of the Government to these civil servants. We want to see England tidied up, and for those reasons I ask that this Sub-section be deleted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) has dealt in some detail with this complicated matter, and I very much regret that the composition of this Committee is different from that which originally dealt with the matter, not for the reason that hon. Gentlemen opposite perhaps think, but because there are so many new hon. Members who are not aware of the extreme labour which was put into making that Act a workable and reasonable Measure. It is with some regret that I now find the Committee taking further time in trying to safeguard the rights of the people of this country against the encroachments of the Executive.I did think after the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill became law, that we had argued for the last time on the question of finalities. If I remember right, we had long and wordy arguments on the subject of contiguous and adjacent land. We did, however, manage to obtain great concessions from the Government on that issue. Now the whole of that argument is re-opened. The owner of that contiguous or adjacent land is as much in the dark as to the future development of that land, be it for common, factory or farm, as he was at that time of the passing of that Act. It is quite impossible to see proper developments, particularly in agriculture, if we are going to have the menace of seven years of uncertainty while Government Departments make up their minds. As I understand this Sub- section, if a farmer or a land-owner wishes to renovate his farm building which is in a spot which may be taken over as contiguous or convenient land nearby a Government factory or perhaps an airfield, that owner will be absolutely unable to demand a decision from the Government Department concerned for seven years. I had a small but gratifying success this morning. For over two years I have been badgering the Ministry of Agriculture to produce a Report on farm buildings, and at long last that Report is in the hands of the printers. I had hoped that would be the signal for a great drive on the part of the agricultural community to plan for those modernised or new farm buildings which would go up in our countryside during the next few years. In all cases where requisitioned land is involved, and in all cases where contiguous or adjacent land to that farm land is under requisition, there will be no finality and no certainty as to what is going to happen to that land until 1952. Now that the Home Secretary is in his place I can, perhaps, say to him what he missed—those wise words from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton. He takes a great interest in highways. Under this scheme, Government Departments, who are notoriously slow in making up their minds, are now being given a further five years before they are forced by Act of Parliament to decide whether or not permanently to stop up a highway. There is in my own district a particular aerodrome which stops up not only an ancient Roman road but the egress from one end of the village. That aerodrome, rumour has it, is not going to be used in the future; it is too near civilisation, or whatever the reason may be. In regard to the highways which are stopped up by that aerodrome, we shall have to wait for anything up to seven years before those highways must be unstopped or permanently kept closed. I ask the Home Secretary to realise that we put up a tremendous fight on the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act for two main purposes. The first was to restore the land of Britain as quickly as possible. The second was to limit the time during which Government Departments could make up their minds. If this Sub-section goes through in this Bill the whole of the work which we did under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act is undone. For those reasons I ask the Home Secretary to give us finality in these matters and to delete from this Clause the offending Sub-section. Why bring it into the Clause at all? There are all the safeguards which the Government can possibly need. I ask him to withdraw this Clause and see that the work with which he sympathises, as hon. Members did during the discussions on the Requisitioned Land Bill, is not brought to naught.
I must say that we have a certain amount of sympathy with the points put by the two hon. Members who have spoken on this Amendment. If we had thought for one moment that all the fears which they have voiced were likely to materialise there would be a good deal to be said for accepting their Amendment. It is true that if this Sub-section is kept in the Bill it will be possible for some of the land which has been acquired to be kept for a period of at least seven years, but so far as the Government are concerned, although the power is there we have every hope that the Service Departments will, long before then, have decided what they want to do with particular pieces of land that have been acquired. I therefore have to ask the Committee to reject the Amendment, although I would add that, perhaps when we come to the Report stage, if it is possible to find a saving form of words, the Government will be only too pleased to accept them, particularly as—and I shall mention it in a moment—we shall have to move a further Amendment on Report for reasons which I will give.What is it that the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945, does? It was passed, as we have been told by hon. and gallant Members, as recently as last Session. It provides that a Government Department or a local authority may acquire land on which work has been done by a Government Department or a local authority during the war period. I would remind the Committee that this Subsection deals with the continuance of the "war period" as laid down in the 1945 Act. The Government, or a local authority, having acquired land and having done work on that land, are entitled to continue in possession, provided that the process of acquisition, if it intends to acquire, begins within a period of two years from the end of the war period. This means that both Government Departments and local authorities, if they remain in possession, have up to two years to make up their minds. Great play has been made this afternoon by the two hon. and gallant Members, that the period is to be extended by this Bill, by at least another five years. That is true, but, as I have already said, we have no desire to give Departments all this extra time unless it is absolutely essential for the purposes of this Bill. The 1945 Act has other provisions for which an extension of the war period is desired under this Measure. That Act gives power to divert, or close, highways temporarily controlled under the Defence Regulations. All these powers—and this answers the question asked by both previous speakers—operate at the present on the assumption that the war period will end on the expiry of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, that is, at the end of next February; but it is the purpose of the Bill, as the Committee knows, to keep some of these Defence Regulations alive, and to continue powers conferred by the 1945 Act. Therefore, it is essential, if these purposes are to be implemented, that the definition of what the war period is to be must be extended, in order that the powers to which I have referred can be exercised after 24th February next. If the Sub-section is not agreed to it will be impossible under the Bill after next February to acquire land on which work has been done or to stop up permanently highways which have been temporarily closed.
On that point, surely there are two years from next February and not from February, 1945.
The process has to be begun. It may take two years. It would be impossible, suppose a Government were so minded and it was essential, to take any new measures after the end of February unless the Sub-section was included in the Measure.
8.15 p m.
To clear up this point, may I read out to the hon. Gentleman Section 14 of the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act, 1945? It is:
That is, on the hon. Gentleman's argument, two years from 24th February, 1946."The power conferred by this Part of this Act shall only be exercisable if the relevant agreement to buy, notice to treat, or order has been made or served before the expiration of two years from the end of the war period."
What the hon. Member says, of course, is true, and in that sense what he says is right. There is this power, which continues for two years after the end of next February.Another very useful power is given in Section 6 of the Act of 1945 and, if the Sub-section is dropped, could not be used under the terms of this Bill. That is the power which requires Government Departments to rehabilitate land on which work has been done by the Government or upon which damage has been caused by Government use. If such rehabilitation is necessary, as frequently it is, unless the Sub-section is included it will not be likely that the Government will do that. I would say that, when the Bill was in draft before the last Election, the Clause was contained in that draft. It was part of the Bill as agreed to by the Coalition Government which went out of office when the Caretaker Government came in.
It was not in the printed copy.
I wish my hon. Friend would allow me to make my point. The reason why the Clause was not included when the Bill saw the light of print and Members became aware of it was that the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill had not then become an Act. Therefore it was impossible to include a provision like this in the first draft of this Bill because at that time the 1945 Act had not been put on the Statute Book. I can assure my hon. Friends that it had been, and was, the intention of the last Government to include these powers in the Bill, if the Bill had not been dropped.
Was that made known to the House?
I do not know. Nevertheless, we are grateful to hon. Members who have put this Amendment down because they have drawn our attention—
Forgive me for a moment. Was the fact mentioned at all in the Memorandum? Has the hon. Member got a copy of it?
I think if we mention in the Explanatory Memorandum of Bills everything which was done, or suggested, or contemplated when the last Government was in office, the Memoranda of Bills would run to many pages. Hon. Members may take it from me that the facts are as I have just stated.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but I have here the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum and there is no mention whatever of the point in it.
I am afraid that I do not gather what the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to say. I made a perfectly straight forward statement which can be checked by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
If my hon. Friend takes that line, which has been sprung on us without notice, I would point out that there are alongside me certain Members who were in the Coalition Government and who were particularly concerned. This is the first I have ever heard of such a suggestion, and if it had been done it would have been a gross violation of the promise that had been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) and my right hon. Friend who was then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that the power of the new requisitioning would definitely be limited to two years. I hope that my hon. Friend, in fairness to us, will withdraw that suggestion, because we have had no notice of it at all.
I do not know anything about that. There appears to be a difference of view between the right hon. Gentleman and myself. I was not at the Treasury when the Coalition Government were in office, but I am informed—and if I am wrong I will apologise later for it—that when this Bill was in draft there was a Clause similar to this one inserted. It was dropped because at that time the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill had not been passed and the decision then was to insert it later as an Amendment in the present Bill after the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill had actually reached the Statute Book.
On a point of Order. May I ask your guidance, Major Milner, on whether it is in Order for the hon. Gentleman, in resisting an Amendment moved by the Opposition, to quote a Cabinet draft of the previous Government?
This was not a Cabinet draft.
The right hon. Gentleman said "I am informed." Will he tell us by whom he was informed?
In answer to the point of Order, there is nothing out of Order in what the Financial Secretary is saying.
Will the hon. Gentleman disclose from whom he got his information, and whose decision it was?
The hon. and gallant Member is fairly new to this House, otherwise, I think, he would not have asked a question of that sort. I do not want to make more of this than I need. I make the statement for what it is worth. That the late Coalition Government contemplated introducing a Bill of this kind is within the recollection of the House. For the moment, I leave it at this, because it is really a small point. They did contemplate inserting a provision of this kind as soon as the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill had been passed. The reason it was not put in the present Measure earlier was that the Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill had not then reached the stage of an Act.We are grateful to those who put down this Amendment because, in examining the position in the light of it, we have discovered that a gap had been left which quite property should be filled. We propose therefore when we reach the Report stage to move an Amendment which will fill that gap, and cover the definition not only of "war period" but of the phrase "war purposes." I thought the Committee would like to know that, and to know, in addition, how grateful we are to those who moved the Amendment and thus called our attention to the matter.
I listened with great attention to the speech that has just been. delivered, and my hon. Friend did not make any attempt to give any reason for the statement which he made. He said that one of the reasons why the Government wanted this Sub-section was that the Service Departments could not make up their minds yet as to the land they wanted permanently to retain or purchase and the land or buildings they thought they could return to their owners. What an argument coming from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. My experience of Government Departments was that one of the weaknesses during the war was the fact that the Treasury had very little control over the Service Departments. I am sure that many of the cases which many of us knew of Service Departments spreading their tentacles without much consideration for either agricultural land, which affected me, or for the rights of individuals, was due to the fact that the Treasury had so little control. One would have expected that the Treasury of all Departments would welcome having a date by which other Departments had to make up their minds whether or not they wanted to retain land or buildings indefinitely or whether they wanted to give them up.I can conceive, for example, of no greater waste of national resources, especially at a time when everybody knows we shall be pressed very hard for supplies of food, than to allow the Air Ministry to put off for seven years deciding whether some of the 600-odd aerodromes they have their hands on should be restored to agriculture or not. On the contrary, what we want is that they should make up their minds at once. I expect that my right hon. Friend is a member of the Ministers' Committee which took the place of a committee we had in the last Government, which seeks to get Government Departments to make up their minds what should be restored at once and what they needed permanently. I beg my right hon. Friend to consult the Home Secretary and see whether, between now and the Report stage, we cannot introduce into this Clause some limiting words. If he comes along and says two years is too short and can produce valid arguments for three years, I think that would be reasonable. At all events, it would be an arguable case. But to come down and say that Service Departments cannot make up their minds to seven years is to expect too much even of hon. Members on this side of the House.
May I make an appeal to the Home Secretary? Could not he accept the Amendment, and, between now and the Report stage, draft other words to cover the limited use to which, I understand, the Financial Secretary requires to extend the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act? It would be a pity for a decision of the Committee to go out that, for instance, certain highways are to be stopped up for seven years. The way in which we have dealt with similar problems before is to accept the Amendment and the Home Secretary would come at a later stage and put forward new wording.
I am sorry I was not in when the hon. Member was speaking, but I had sat in the Committee continuously from 3·15 until just before he rose, and I hope he will understand that there was no discourtesy to him. As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York), he knows that I am personally interested in the kind of case that he has just put to me. We are giving consideration to the point in the hope that we shall be able on the Report Stage to submit an Amendment that will make the purposes for which this Sub-section is required perfectly clear. It would not be quite fair to the Committee to adopt the hon. Member's suggestion, but I will undertake that the matter shall have the closest attention of the Government.
On that undertaking, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 44, after "1945," insert:
I think I can move this Amendment quite briefly, but it is necessary for me to explain why it would be very undesirable, and I think unfair, that the extension of the war period should apply to Section 45 of the Requisitioned Land Act. It did happen that during the earlier part of the war a large number of properties were requisitioned by the Government at very low rents indeed. That was because at the time there was either the blitz or the anticipation of the blitz, and the rents which were fixed, and have since remained in force, are actually below the figure for the 1939 rent and remain below the current market figure. That being so, Section 45 was designed to adjust the position. It provided that the compensation rent should be increased so that it should be equal to the 1939 rent or the current market rent, whichever was the lower. But it provided that that adjustment should not take effect until a day to be appointed by the Treasury, which was to be a date not later than the end of the war period. The war period then contemplated, and as defined in that Act, was the period during which the Emergency Powers Act remained in force. That period will expire in February next, and I am quite sure that it has never been intended by anybody responsible in either the Coalition Government or this Government that this period should be extended for this purpose. The only reason why the day has not yet been appointed is a purely administrative one. It is, I think, admitted by everyone concerned in this matter, and has always been admitted, that the rents should have been increased from the end of the European war, but for purely administrative reasons the appointed day has still been postponed. In those circumstances, I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that for this purpose the war period ought not to be extended beyond February next."excepting Sub-section (2) of Section forty-five thereof."
When I saw this Amendment on the Paper I felt inclined to accept it, and even after the hon. Gentleman's speech I still think it is a good one. Therefore, I hope I am not giving him too much of a shock when I say that the Government are grateful to him for putting it on the Paper, and accept it.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.