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Building Restrictions (Wartime Contraventions)'Bill

Volume 415: debated on Monday 5 November 1945

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Order for Second Reading read.

3.20 p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The Bill I am asking the House to consider today is couched in rather technical language. However, I have had certain advantages that other Members do not enjoy and, therefore, I shall attempt to explain as simply as I can the purpose of the Bill in the short time, I hope, which it will be necessary to keep the House. A very large number of buildings were constructed during the war, both on Crown land or on land acquired by the Crown and on privately owned land, for the purposes of the prosecution of the war. There were buildings of great variety, ranging from very small structures to large factories. The local authorities, who have custody of a number of Statutes like the Public Health Acts, the Ribbon Development Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, could have taken exception to where these buildings were placed, and to the kind of building, had there not been a war. But for reasons that are obvious to everyone they did not exercise their legal rights, and in consequence those rights have lapsed. Under the Statutes they are under an obligation to make an objection within six months or one year in most cases, but for the reasons I have already explained they did not take advantage of their legal position, and in consequence they are now stopped from doing so.

The first purpose of the Bill is to revive the rights of the local authorities to take exception to these buildings where they contravene the various Acts. It is reasonable that this should be done in the defence of the public interest; not only for good planning reasons but also for other reasons these buildings ought to be subjected to scrutiny. In many instances they contravene the Public Health Acts, in some cases they are exposed to a greater danger from fire than the Statutes allow, and in other instances they are in the wrong place. Therefore, it seemed to the Government as, I believe, it was apparent to the last Government, that it was necessary for the rights of the local authorities in this regard to be revived. The first Clause of this Bill reinstates the local authorities in their former position, and entitles them to take exception to these buildings under the various Statutes provided for the purpose.

Many of these buildings, however, are extremely valuable. They were, in most cases, constructed at the expense of public funds, and it would be undesirable that they should be demolished for reasons that are not sufficiently serious, or, indeed, that any great expense should be incurred in altering them where they need alteration to conform to the Statutes. Although the Bill, when it becomes an Act, restores the rights of the local authorities it provides, at the same time, machinery whereby the Government and the public interest are protected against belated action in these cases. So, a five year limit is placed upon the time during which local authorities are entitled to exercise these reversionary rights. That five year limit is obviously necessary, because this sort of suspended right cannot be continued in perpetuity. The owners of these properties are entitled to know what their position is likely to be, and those desiring to purchase the properties are entitled to know what their obligations may be in the event of the local authorities stepping in. Therefore, a five year limit has been placed in the Bill. At the expiry of those five years all this property will be deemed to comply with the requirements of the various Statutes.

Under the existing law, if this Bill were not passed, the local authorities would take action in six months or one year, and in the event of their action being challenged the individual concerned would have the right to go to legal arbitration. But it did not seem to the Government that that was the proper procedure to apply in this instance. As I have said, a very large number of properties are affected, and the individuals concerned could not be regarded as principals owing to the war emergency, and local authorities could not be regarded as having been in default. It is not reasonable, therefore, in these circumstances, where there is disagreement between an interested party and a local authority, that the expenses of legal action should be incurred.

The Bill provides that where, there is a difference of opinion an appeal can be made to the Ministry of Health. The reason why the Ministry of Health is chosen in these circumstances is that at the end of the last war it was the Local Government Board which acted in this capacity, and the Ministry is a descendant of that Department. A large number of other Departments are also involved, but for the purpose of simplicity the Ministry of Health are designated by the Bill as the Ministry responsible for listening to, and deciding upon, appeals. The Ministry will be armed with two sets of authority. They will be entitled to determine whether the various Statutes have or have not been contravened and, if they have, what reasonable action could be taken to put the buildings in accordance with the Statutes. One of the reasons why the Billis somewhat technically framed is because Crown property has a peculiar relationship to other property. The House knows that property in the possession of the Crown is exempted from the operation of the Statutes, except in cases where the Statute expressly provides for the Crown to be included. As I have pointed out, a large number of these buildings were constructed on Crown land, or on land acquired by the Crown for the purposes of the war. It has always been good administrative practice for the Crown to consult the local authorities in these matters, but, as I say, it is not expressly bound to do so. The Crown may want to sell or lease many of these properties. At the end of the last war the rights of local authorities with respect to property possessed by the Crown were exercisable only in cases where the Crown actually intended to sell property. In this Bill, however, if the Crown sells property, or leases it for more than 10 years, the local authority is entitled to exercise the same rights of applying the Statutes to that property as in the cases of private property. The Bill brings Crown property in those categories into the same relationship as private property.

Those are the general provisions of the Bill. It is, I believe, not a controversial Measure. I think that there is no dispute between the two sides of the House on the matter, and though there are a number of points which properly fall to be considered in Committee, I feel that with that explanation the House will be wise to give the Bill a harmonious and peaceful Second Reading.

3.31 p.m.

I am sure the whole House is grateful for the lucid, though perhaps somewhat abbreviated, explanation of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has given. As he said, it isa Bill which any Government, of whatever complexion, would have been bound to introduce in some form or other, and indeed for the earlier framing of this particular Bill I myself had some responsibility. It is of course the case that war necessitates construction of many buildings of a kind which no Government nor any responsible local authority could tolerate in ordinary times, but the range and scope of this Bill go far beyond buildings such as we should object to. It covers an enormous range—aerodromes in the wrong places, building repairs in which there has been bad technique, and the use of property which is not in accordance with town planning. I imagine a solicitor or business man who had been bombed out of his professional or business premises, and under the stress of war was carrying on in a residential street, would be affected by this Bill, because that would be a use in contravention of the law. So, at the end of the war period, which this Bill, unlike its predecessor can now define, theremust be machinery to clear up matters of this kind, and that machinery must be as businesslike and efficient as possible. It is most necessary that a man seeking to acquire business premises must know whether they are to be allowed to continue where they are, or in their present form, or what alterations, if any, will be demanded. So there must be this machinery, not least for the many cases to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, where the normal period for enforcement of the law has run out, and there must be some authority which can review the whole situation.

As I understand it, this difficulty may arise where work has been done by the Crown or on behalf of the Crown or at the request of the Crown on private initiative, but in almost every case it will have been done for a war purpose or because of some incident connected with the war, such, for example, as the bomb I referred to which made some person's premises uninhabitable. During the war, for another reason in addition to those mentioned by the Minister, local authorities were in this difficulty; they could neither approve nor disapprove. If they disapproved, they would have been acting against the public interest and the war effort, and if they approved they would have been rendering something permanent under the existing law which they were only willing to tolerate as a temporary war measure.

We do not intend to oppose the Second Reading, but this is a Bill which needs to be examined with care to see whether the main principles are satisfactorily worked out, whether the machinery is satisfactory, whether there are omissions or unnecessary complications and whether the Bill ensures justice to all concerned. I think it is right that the war period, as denned, should be excluded, and I think the amendment of the law with regard to Crown property, where the land comes into the possession of an owner with a long-term interest, is also satisfactory. When one takes into account the enormous number of cases that will be within the scope of this Bill it is right that the right hon. Gentleman, with the assistance of his most able inspectors, should be the tribunal. I have given some examples, but another very typical example, I fancy, of works which will come under consideration will be the little workshop in the back garden or on private property. There will be innumerable instances of that and a still larger number of cases where work has been done in the repair of war damage which is not in accordance with good practice or building by-laws.

There are really two main points to which the House might well address it self. The first concerns the machinery for getting a decision on whether the use of the building is to be allowed to continue and on what terms, and the second is the law which is to govern the question of what is to happen if, after a certain period, the question still lies dormant and nothing has been done about it. It is right in the first case, I think, that the application should be to the appropriate local authority, except that, as we have passed into law the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, 1943, I think it is right that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should be enabled to assert that some particular issue which has arisen is a national issue and should not be left to the local authority but should be brought to the right hon. Gentleman in the first place. There are two points about the machinery for getting a decision which I should like the Government to look into. The first is small and the second is more substantial. As regards the first, the Bill provides that notice has to be given of the applications made within 14 days of the receipt of the applications. But the Bill goes on to provide that the Minister, either generally or in a particular case, may give directions as to these notices. Fourteen days is a very short time and if there may be intervening procedure and directions in a particular case in the course of 14 days, I doubt whether it will be possible for these notices to be given in time. I have been wondering why it was necessary to reserve any power as to a particular direction for notice in a particular case, and whether it would not be satisfactory to leave out the words in Subsection (7) of Clause 2 and leave the notices to be generally provided for without that additional complication.

The more substantial point concerns the time for reaching a final decision on these matters. There is a strict time-table for the action of the local authority, but there is no time limit within which the right hon. Gentleman is to come to his decision. As I read the Bill, if there is an appeal from the local authority and it goes to the Minister of Health, Heaven knows when the question will be decided, and I should have thought there was good ground for considering most seriously whether there should not be some time at which, if the Minister has not come to a decision, the use would the deemed to be lawful. There is no need to emphasise the number of cases in which it is most important that decisions should be swiftly reached, and a Bill which provides for no time limit whatever is not, I feel, in satisfactory form, nor will it give due protection to many people of whom I am thinking, particularly commercial people, in regard to acquiring business premises which they need.

There there is the question raised by Clause 4, the limitation of time and the five years. I do not complain or criticise but the Minister dealt with the matter very briefly. It is not simply five years from the commencement of this Act. If there is any period during which the Crown is in occupation after the end of the war it is added to that period of five years, but decisions can be reached on applications long before that period, and I think it is right that where local authorities have done nothing at all for five years, or more where the Crown has been in possession, any fault respecting the building bye-laws, or ribbon development or town planning which has been left dormant all that time, should be whitewashed at the end of so long a period. It would be unfair that something that was all unknown to the occupier should still remain liable to enforcing action.

So far, apart from these minor points, I have no criticism, but I think it is necessary to look a little further than the Government have looked in framing this Bill, and I do most seriously ask for a reply on two points, one of which may, as it seems to me, cast an unjust burden upon local authorities and the other cast an unjust burden on private persons. Taking the first case, there must be quite a number of cases in which wartime buildings do not comply with byelaws in that they are in front of a building or improvement line. The local authority, on an application, determines that the building may remain for only a limited period. There is an appeal and the Minister decides that the building shall be deemed to comply, thus overruling the local authority. May it not be that that determination by the Minister may cast upon the local authority at some future date when it has to acquire that property a burden of compensation which it would never have had to bear but for the two facts—that the building was put up for a war purpose and that the Government Department, overruling the local authority, had said that it was to be deemed to be in all respects a complying building? I should have thought there ought to be some provision that the added compensation falling to be paid in those circumstances should fall upon the Crown and not upon the local authority, for the reason, first, that the building came into existence for a national purpose and, second, that it was against the judgment of the local authority that the building was deemed under this Bill to be a building with no fault in it at all.

Let me give an example of where an unjust burden might be cast upon private individuals. I think it is still the case that the Crown on withdrawing from the occupation of land can always, under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, limit its liability to compensate for the use of the land to the value of the land. There must be countless cases in which a very small piece of land has been used by the Crown, let us say for the erection of a concrete pill-box. The Crown withdraws, pays the few shillings for the value of the land and leaves the pill-box on the land, saying, ''We have done all we heed under the law to compensate for the use of the land." The local authority says to the private owner that the pill-box must be removed, and the burden of removing a structure built by the Army for the most direct war purpose is cast upon the private owner of the land, costing him far more than the trifling sum which he has received as representing the value of that small piece of land. Perhaps an even more common example may arise with regard to air-raid shelters as to which, as it seems to me, the burden of destruction, removal and clearing up the land may now be thrown on to the private owner.

In both these cases, there seems to be a quite real risk that a charge, which clearly should bea national one, may fall, in the one case, on the local authority, and, in the other, on the private citizen. It does not matter whether such buildings have been brought into existence by the Government themselves, or whether they have come into existence in the interests of the war effort, but without direct Government action; I feel that there should not be any risk of the cost of putting these places right, from the point of view of land control, building by-laws, or ribbon development falling on the owner, at the discretion of a Government Department. I am not sure whether the consequences of this attempt to clear up this question have been worked out as far as they should be. Subject to this point, upon which I should be very glad to have a reply, and on which, if we do not have a satisfactory reply, there will have to be further consideration, we shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.

347 p.m.

There are one or two points which I should like to put, because, I think, if the right hon. Gentleman answered them now it might prevent Amendments being put down in Committee. I agree that, although this is a very small Bill, it is a very complicated one. One has to read it a number of times before one can be clear on what the Government wish to do. The first question I would ask the right hon. Gentleman is this. I gathered from his speech that in most cases, where these contraventions had taken place—building by laws, bad planning and so on—had it not been for the war, the authorities would have had six months, or 12 months in which to object. Why is he giving them five years under this Bill in which to object? Why cannot the Government make up their minds speedily on whether this should be the rule or not? I cannot see that there is any good argument, now that the war is over, for a longer period being given to enable them to make up their minds whether a contravention is one which could be accepted.

The second point has already been mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend the late Minister of Health. I entirely agree that Clause 1 (2) is a very difficult Subsection to get clear. There are 15 lines without one full stop, and heaven knows how many commas. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who was very active in Opposition and who is so democratic in his outlook, whether he cannot bring some sort of pressure to bear on the very distinguished and highly-educated Parliamentary draftsmen, so that this kind of thing can be put down in language which the ordinary men and women, who sit on this side of the House, can understand. Then there is the question of the removal of these thousands of tons of concrete. No one wants planning more than I do, but I would like an assurance that if there are some hideous eyesores, which must be removed, there is nothing in this Bill which fixes liability for removal upon the owner, occupier or tenant of the land. The Bill seems to say that -if there is a contravention—a bad building, or something which would not be tolerated except for the war—and it is permitted to stay there for a period of five years, then ipso facto it is considered legal, and has in fact a claim to be left there, and there is no authority which can order its removal. Why is it necessary—and I may be wrong over this point—if there is a resolution of a planning authority in operation, that the positive action must come from the planning authority?

I hope I am wrong. We want to ginger up the planning authority, and make it a good planning authority, and I feel that if they are lazy in carrying out their duty, then the owner or tenant of the land should not be penalised.

As the Bill is drafted at the moment, the planning authority has no right of initiating action. The action is initiated by private persons, who have an interest in the appropriate factory, or the local authority itself. It has still to be considered whether the planning authority, the Minister of Town and Country Planning in this case, ought not to have the right of independent action, and that seems an appropriate point to consider in Committee.

That being so, I do not propose at this stage to develop that argument, and I close by thanking the right hon Gentleman, who has been surprisingly helpful.

3.53 p.m.

I think this Measure is a useful one. It looks after the interests of the public, and is supposed to look after the industrial interests of the country as well. For that reason I think it is important. As my hon. and gallant Friend, who has just sat down, remarked, I feel that this Bill is a wonderful example of something which one cannot understand. It is really most obscure. I am sure that the Minister, when he read it, must have wondered what his draftsmen had been doing. Consequently, I would make the plea that, in Bills of this nature, there should be definitely included a clearer statement of the Measure's intention which normal people could understand. Drafting has reached the stage where one has to read a Bill a dozen times before one can begin to find out what it means, and even then there is often much uncertainty.

My next point is that this Measure is strictly a machinery Bill, and, as such, I think it is bound to work almost entirely in one way. For instance, the owner of a large building will wish to use it as a factory for production and employment purposes, and he will apply to his local authority, and ask that local authority to make a determination—i.e., what are his liabilities. Yet every hon. Member is receiving requests every day from local authorities to get technical assistants to help them to do such work, but if a technical determination or decision has to be made by one of these technical officials and yet he physically does not have time to make it, it is considered that this application has been refused and that means that it goes to the Minister of Health. There will in consequence be such a volume of this sort of work thrown on the Minister of Health, that it will make it impossible for him to give decisions with any degree of speed. There will be delay and accumulation of work, and industrialists will be held up indefinitely. I am sure that no Minister of Health has ever come to this House with a bigger programme of things to do than the present Minister. How then are great numbers of these wartime factories to be made available? If we are to revive trade and aid employment, good factories must be available. Let us see if there is not some way of overcoming this. The idea of five years possibility for local authorities is not satisfactory. It is much too long and yet there is no limit to the time permitted for the Minister of Health for him to make his decision. In other Departments too there is shortage of technical staff; only last week the Minister of Town and Country Planning, speaking at the Building Congress, said he had sometimes to wait nine days before he could dictate a reply to a letter. If that is the present situation, what will it be in a few months' time when all the new legislation is in force? I ask the Minister to give this matter of time delay very serious attention.

Another point is the one raised by my right hon. and learned Friend. Facing the River Medway there are a number of pillboxes. In one instance, the soldiers put up a pillbox, and it was not high enough. They put 4 ft. more of solid concrete under it, and I took the cost of it, which worked out at between £400 and £500 to build. Is it not possible today for the Government to say, "We will buy the land occupied by that pillbox," and not remove that pillbox. The price may be £2—and yet the Town and Country Planning Committee, and the local authority may say to the owner: "You have to remove these pillboxes; they are not a beautiful asset to our charming Medway, and they will have to be taken away." The owner of the land upon which the pillboxes have been erected will have to go to great expense to get these things removed, or they are going to be an eyesore for a long time. Will the Minister let us know if the case is as I have stated, or if there is any way of protecting the owner of such land from that undue expense? There may be some means of removing that risk or charge from the owner, and I would like to know what it is. Generally speaking, the Bill is essential, but I would like to see the time that it will take to put it into execution much shorter than that now envisaged and I hope the Minister will see to it that owners will not be put to expenses due to such anomalies for which they are in no way responsible.

I think that the' hon. Member has put the same point as myself, but I want to see that the Government understand the point in the same way. He referred to the Government buying land on which a pillbox stood. If that happened I understand that there is nothing that can be done by the local authority to compel its removal. But in the case where the Government did not buy the land but withdrew without buying it, I would think that the question might well arise.

In the case I referred to the Government did not buy the land. The military marched in, and set to work without consent from anyone. Now, I believe, the Government have the right today to acquire the land, pay for it, and then the planning authority can require the owner to remove these pillboxes.

This Bill does not in fact deal with structures of that sort. It obviously is necessary that, in some way or another, the Government will have to deal with the question of how military buildings are to be removed, but neither the point raised by the hon. Member or the right hon. Gentleman, in fact, come within the purview of this Bill.

Would it not be better to make that point clear in the Bill? If my right hon. Friend and I both believe that this is covered by the Bill, others will have the same impression. I think it would be desirable to put that clearly in the Bill, under some arrangement, when we come to a later stage. I do implore the Minister when he is making these technical Bills to have them made understandable to the average individual.

4.0 p.m.

I wish to raise a practical point concerning a matter from which I have suffered a great deal in the past. It appears that under this Bill, as I read it—I am not sure that I read it correctly—the sole tribunal will be either the authority under the Town and Country Planning Act or the Minister of Health himself. My personal experience of local authorities and of the Ministry of Health on the rare occasions I have had to deal with the Department, in a minor matter, is that they have been extremely fair and reasonable. But I urge the Minister of Health to consider inserting some sort of safeguard, whereby the individual builder or applicant may have the right of appeal where he is aggrieved. In the same way as the Minister of Agriculture has set up independent tribunals, it would be a good thing if the Minister of Health set up similar tribunals in cases in which the applicant was aggrieved. I had a case in connection with the L.C.C. which looked like being extremely difficult, but the old and invaluable method of taking someone out to lunch worked again. It should not be like that. There should be an independent tribunal, and I ask the Minister to consider that point.

There is a grave suspicion among builders that they do not always get fair treatment from the Ministry of Health. I think it is an unjustified suspicion, but, at the same time, if they had a right of appeal it would remove that suspicion. I suggest that a tribunal of three, consisting of a solicitor, someone recommended by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and a member of the right hon. Gentleman's own Ministry, should consider any cases in which hardship has been involved. I agree that it is extremely necessary that there should be effective town planning.

4.2 p.m.

I realise that I have to cast myself on the mercy of the House in making my maiden speech on a rather abstruse subject. I would reinforce the plea that the Bill should be much simplified. That there is a difference of interpretation between the present Minister of Health and the former Minister of Health is an illustration of the difficulty which faces ordinary people reading a Bill of this description. It leads one to suspect that there is something in the suggestion occasionally made that laws are drafted by lawyers for the sake of lawyers. Farbe it from me to endorse such a suggestion; I only pass it on. Those of us with experience of building after the last war know the difficulties there were, and how decisions were given in varying ways. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for bringing in this Bill, which will do something to clarify the situation.

Our building by-laws, whether they be the code of the L.C.C. to the establishment of which I had the pleasure of giving some years of my life, or whether they be the other building by-laws throughout the country, which are, I am told, very largely based on the by-laws of the L.C.C, must be, maintained, as far as possible, for the health and well-being of our people. The justification for these by-laws has been the greatly improved health of our people. Every Member of this House will at least pay lip service to town planning. It is lamentable that the exigencies of wartime have caused town planning ideas to be hopelessly smashed. One regrets it, but one bows to the necessities of the situation. If buildings are to be allowed to remain we may find ourselves saddled for a number of years with buildings, and arrangements of land which are the negation of town planning.

I reinforce the plea of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) that decisions should be given as speedily as possible. It used to be the case in connection with certain applications that if a decision were not given within a limited period, assent could be assumed. The situation to-day is the exact reverse of that. I can bear out the suggestion that, frequently, when applications were too numerous, and it was not possible to consider them properly, an applicant was given a refusal, with an intimation that he might come back again. That entails a real hardship on applicants. Today, we want to help those who are in a position to build and who have licences to build, to proceed as speedily as possible, not only for the sake of the building trade, but for the sake of the improvement which their buildings would represent. I urge upon the Minister to arrange that when appeals come to his Department they shall be dealt with as speedily as possible. We want to avoid the disgruntled applicant, whether he be concerned with a local authority or with a Government Department, for when people are disgruntled they sometimes attribute motives which. possibly do not exist. I am sorry to hear the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Captain Marples) that the present day means of speeding a matter in connection with the L.C.C. is to take somebody out to lunch. When I had the honour to be Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the L.C.C., that was the last thing which would have helped towards a solution..

4.8 p.m.

We have had from the Minister of Health a very definite statement of the matters to which this Bill attaches. He assured us that it would not attach to such a case as that put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), and later referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom). Is the Minister quite certain that such a case cannot arise under planning regulations? Would he, in any event, make absolutely certain that when we come to the Committee stage a point is made about this? May we incidentally take this opportunity to extend to the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) the congratulations of the House on the very able manner in which he made his case? I am certain that all of us will look forward to hearing him speak on many future occasions.

4.9 p.m.

The fact that this Bill has been referred to as rather complicated and technical will, I hope, be accepted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen as a reason for being lenient to me on this, the first occasion on which I speak from this Box. I am not at all certain that I can speak with the same sort of confidence as my hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) on this matter, but, in fact, there seems very little left, to which to reply, many of the points having been dealt with already. I will deal first with the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) with regard to the burden which is likely to fall upon local authorities as a result of the decisions which the Minister may make in overruling the decisions of the local authorities. If these buildings, etc., remain in existence for any considerable period of time, the local authority might, in some cases at least, be receiving some benefit from them. Also, the mere fact that at some future time this matter would have to be dealt with under town and country planning powers would surely be one of the main considerations taken into account by the Ministry before making their decision whether or not to act in opposition to the decision which the local authority had made.

If a building is under consideration it would probably not be rented or sold, because the owner of it could not sell it, and nobody else would buy it and go to the expense of equipping it. Therefore, would the local authority in those circumstances be getting anything from the building during that time?

Quite obviously in that case they would get no income from it at all, but if the place was not in occupation nobody could have a grievance. In coming to a decision, the mere fact that at some future time a local authority might be involved in fairly heavy expense in compensation, would be one of the factors which the Ministry would have to take into account very carefully indeed, before making a decision in contradiction of the local authority's. As has already been said, we are definitely advised that pillboxes and air raid shelters do not come within the purview of this Bill, but I can promise quite definitely to make careful inquiries with regard to that point; it is a point that can be dealt with in the Committee stage if necessary. In regard to the period that must elapse after what is technically called the war period—the period of five years in which these applications are to be dealt with—we must take into account the difficulties of the local authorities, the fact that they will, for some time at least, be rather short of staff. A considerable number of buildings, etc., have been erected during the war and land has been put to wartime uses. It would, therefore, be unwise to limit the period too severely in which the local authority would have the opportunity to operate. Moreover, the period during which various Government Departments might be getting rid of factories, and so forth, that have been erected, would probably extend beyond the six months or twelve months normally applicable in these cases; five years does not seem to be at all too long a period for the general clearing up of the difficulties in this matter, and for the transfer of property to other people from the Crown.

The hon. Gentle man will appreciate that we on this side understand the need for an extension of the period, but five years is a very long extension. I do not know whether he would consider that between now and the Committee stage.

Of course, the period could be considered in Committee, but knowing something about the capacity of local authorities to deal with these matters, I very much doubt whether five years is too long a period for the job to be adequately done.

We were basing our argument upon the necessity for people feeling that they knew where they were. That has already been met by the right hon. Gentleman, who said that occupiers of houses must know whether they are to be cleared away or not. That is really the basis of our pressing this particular point.

The Bill definitely lays down that, if anyone is in any doubt, and makes application to, the local authority, the local authority must, within 14 days, give notice to all people concerned. If, within a period of two months, a local authority has not made a decision the individual then has power to apply to the Minister for the decision to be made. So that if there is any delay on the part of a local authority, there can be expedition on the part of the Ministry in dealing with cases with which local authorities have failed to deal properly. It is for that reason, too, that it would be unwise to set up some sort of independent tribunal which had to be composed of people outside the Ministry, because it seems to me that we shall get far more expedition in dealing with these appeals from the local authority, if they are dealt with in the normal way of business in the Ministry of Health, than by having an independent tribunal to deal with these individual cases.

I did not mean to suggest an independent tribunal to deal with the cases instead of the Ministry of Health. I meant a tribunal to whom application could be made by an applicant who is dissatisfied with the decision.

Where is there to be an end to these appeals? If you are going to appeal from the local authority to the Ministry and from the Ministry to the tribunal, where is the thing to end? Surely, if we provide some sort of appeal from the authority which is finally responsible for the operation of the building byelaws and the planning controls, to a superior authority, we have provided all the appeal that is necessary in order to get these matters adequately and properly considered and determined. There may be many individual points to be dealt with in Committee on a matter of this sort, but I think, from the discussion which we have had, the Bill has been accepted as something which really needs to be done, and, in those circumstances, I look forward to the Committee stage when all the individual points which have been raised can be dealt with.

Before the Parliamentary Secretary concludes, can he say whether consideration will be given to what I think is a point of some importance, namely, that as so strict a time limit has been imposed in the Bill for the operation of the local authority, the time given for the decision of the Ministry should not be left at large?

Certainly, consideration will be given to that point before the Committee stage.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.