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Town And Country Planning Bill

Volume 437: debated on Monday 12 May 1947

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[1ST ALLOTTED DAY]

Order for Consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee), read.

3.49 P.m.

I beg to raise a point of Order affecting today's Business, which is of importance to Members in every part of the House. The Amendment Paper, containing the proposed Amendments to the Town and Country Planning Bill, is 75 pages long. It contains about 400 Amendments, more than half of which are Government Amendments. This formidable document was not in the hands of hon. Members in its marshalled form until today, when we have to proceed at once with consideration of the Bill. As far as the Opposition Amendments are concerned, we had to wait until the Government Amendments were all put down before we could judge how far the Minister had been able to give effective consideration to the points raised in Standing Committee. By a very hard effort we managed to get our Amendments down by Wednesday, and we sent a copy to the right hon. Gentleman. The fact remains that hon. Members generally had no chance of seeing the Amendments in their marshalled form until today. Those who have had experience of the House know the zeal and efficiency of those who serve us in these matters—the Clerks and printers—too well to believe for a moment that these lamentable happenings are due to any default on their part. It is quite evident that this zealous and efficient machine is breaking down under the strain being placed upon it by the Government, and I ask that the Government will either take steps to reinforce that machine, without whose workings we in this House cannot perform our duty efficiently, or will consider and modify their time-table so as to have some regard to those Clerks and printers without whose loyal work we could not do our duty in this House.

I do not know that there is much for which I can answer. I suffer from the same disability as all other hon. Members inasmuch as it was only this morning that I saw the complete Amendments. I had great difficulty on Friday, with Amendments all over the place, trying to go through them for selection. I am perfectly certain that it is not the fault of the compositors. The House must remember that after we have finished our business, they have to set up for six or seven hours. When we have an all-night Sitting—and we are sitting late every night—it puts an intolerable strain upon them. However, we are going to look into the whole matter to see if it can be altered. I, personally, intend to see what I can do; I will do what falls within my power to see whether, in future, we can get Amendments in a reasonable time. I say that for my own convenience, as well as that of hon. Members.

As a Member of a Standing Committee which has met once a week, upstairs, taking evidence from witnesses, we have been in some difficulty, Mr. Speaker. We have not been able to get reports of our meetings in time for the following week. That is a situation which has never happened before in my experience and I have served on the Estimates Committee for 20 years. I hope that steps will be taken to get the report of a meeting made available before we hold the following meeting. It is impossible to follow everything unless we have a report of the previous meeting.

Can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that we are not going to be put into this sort of position again? We are, here, dealing with a Measure which has been handled under an imposed Government time-table in the form of the Guillotine, and it is not reasonable to say to the House, "Your time for discussion will be severely limited by this process," and, "You will not have an opportunity of examining the Amendments you are asked to discuss until the morning of the day on which you are asked to discuss them."

I can assure the right lion. Gentleman and the House that we shall do everything we can to meet the convenience of the House. But I think his judgment is a little harsh. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because I am advised that up to, and including, 1st May—and it is now 12th May—172 Government Amendments had been put down, as against the present total of 219. Moreover, I am further advised that the majority of the Amendments put down since 1st May are either drafting points, or are consequential on earlier Amendments, or deal with minor points; in particular, they fulfil promises given in Committee. I am told that the only points of substance are two Amendments put down on 7th May—and I repeat that this is 12th May—to extend the compulsory purchasing powers of the Central Land Board, and to extend the 'powers for stopping up highways. Since 7th May it is true that 30 Amendments have been put down, but in relation to 200, that is not too bad. The only major points which are covered in those 30 Amendments are the application of the Bill to charity lands, and provisions to enable the metropolitan boroughs to acquire open spaces. That being so, the primafacie case of criticism of my right hon. Friend in this matter is not as big as it would appear first sight.

Is it not really time that the right hon. Gentleman abandoned the farce of pretending that Measures which are being passed into law are receiving the careful study and discussion of the House of Commons? First, these Measures are sent upstairs, and nine-tenths of the Members are not allowed to take part in shaping matters which greatly affect their constituents or the country generally. Next, there is a vast mass of Amendments cast upon us, some of a beneficial character, some of a mitigating character, but none the less all requiring to be discussed. Under a fixed time table, this business is thrust through. To call that Parliamentary Government, and the making of laws by Parliament, is an abuse of those terms, and the right hon. Gentleman should be aware that there will undoubtedly be a feeling that the Parliamentary freedoms we have hitherto enjoyed have been definitely abrogated, and brought into diminishing effect.

I should like to point out that the Government Amendments came on to the Order Paper as lately as 8th May—last Thursday. During the long Committee stage, the Minister gave undertakings to consider many of the points we raised. We had to wait until all his Amendments were on the Paper before we knew what effect, if any, the Minister's subsequent consideration had had. It is not right for the Leader of the House to say that we should proceed on the assumption that the Amendments which came out as late as Thursday last, are of no importance.

These Amendments were put down on 7th May and published in the Order Paper on 8th May. For this limited number I do not think that that is too bad. My right hon. Friend has done everything he could to consider favourably and fully the representations which he received from the Opposition. That must take a little time. He could have brushed all these things aside in Committee, and said he would not consider them, but he has wished to consider them. The point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was in the nature of an oration rather than a supplementary question. He should not be shocked about Bills going to Committee upstairs. He always scorns Committees of the House as if they are incapable of examining Bills in Committee. This business of Bills going upstairs was invented by himself and his colleagues in the Liberal Government of 1906, and we are following that admirable example.

I should like to make it clear that we are making no complaint against the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I do not think he has taken an undue time in putting down his Amendments. My complaint is against the Leader of the House and the Government for rushing the business of the House so as not to allow a decent interval between the publishing of Amendments, and their consideration on Report.

It is not merely a question which concerns this Bill. We are making no complaint against the Minister of Town and Country Planning who, undoubtedly, with his Department, has been tremendously overworked. This is only one of a great number of Measures in regard to which the House is not being given a fair chance. Taking this Bill as a whole, it is one of which most of us are in favour, but it affects not only national rights but local government and individuals' rights. We are anxious that the whole matter should be carefully considered, and wish to make our contributions as best we can. But the time is very very short. The House and its officials are being overworked.

Without wishing to enter into the wider ramifications of this matter, I should like to make a brief comment on the statement of the Leader of the House about the time table for this Bill. The Committee stage finished on 2nd April. The Amendments of the Minister of Town and Country Planning did not start to be tabled until 1st May. Therefore, there was one month taken up by the Minister of Town and Country Planning in the preparation of his Amendments. The Opposition Amendments had to wait on consideration of the Amendments tabled by the right hon. Gentleman. We would have got them on the Paper by Wednesday last, but for the delay caused by the overtaxing of the Parliamentary machine, and the consequent failure to print. I submit, therefore, that even on the facts put forward by the Lord President of the Council, it is clear that Parliament has been prevented by the time-table, from doing its proper duty of scrutinising all these Amendments before their consideration on Report.

4.0 p.m.

May I ask whether it would be in Order, Mr. Speaker, for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, if he felt it possible to do so, to apologise to the House for the way in which he has treated it?

With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), he is quite wrong. The Minister did not start putting his Amendments down on 1st May. He started on 24th April.

As a matter of fact, by 1st May there was either this number of Amendments or more than this number. It looks as if there were 153 Amendments down. They started on 24th April; there were more on the 28th, and more on the 30th. The Opposition really are rather reckless in the way they throw facts about.

May I ask consideration from the Government Front Bench for this point? Fifty or 60 hon. Members served on the Committee on this Bill. They have been in continuous contact with the subject-matter of the Bill, and are aware of undertakings given by the Minister. If the undertakings are implemented by Amendments, they will be able rapidly to assess how far the Amendments meet the pledges given. But if there were 50 hon. Members serving on the Committee upstairs, there are 570 hon. Members who have not served on that Committee. These Amendments reached me this morning at nine o'clock. How a Member who has not served on the Committee upstairs is to be expected to relate this massive wad of Amendments to a Bill already massive in itself, and do so by 3.20 in the afternoon, passes my comprehension. May I respectfully urge the Government to do one of two things: either accommodate their programme to the machine, or make the machine adequate to meet the programme?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to keep up with the Conserva- tives, as he so often does, in exaggerating the situation. He should, know that the great bulk of the Amendments, and the "great wad," which he has quoted, have been in his hands, or ought to have been, for quite a long time.

I do not know why the Leader of the House should be trying so hard to keep up with the levelling doctrines destructive of Parliamentary government, which hitherto have been the perquisites of the Communists.

Since the question of sending this Bill upstairs to a Standing Committee of 50 Members has been raised, might I mention that at the Second Reading, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning introduced this Bill, there were 14 Members of the Conservative Party in this House as a maximum at any given time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I was there, and I say that there were only 14 Members—

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Conservative exaggeration. May I invite him to consult his colleague the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and to ask him whether I am exaggerating in saying this: The Amendments put down for this Report stage by the Government alone cannot be discussed adequately in the two and a half days given for the discussion?

As there is a Guillotine operating, I think that the sooner we start Business on the Bill the better.

I submit that there is a very important matter of principle involved here. It is that adequate time is not being allowed for Parliamentary discussion of this and other Measures, and I would like to ask the Leader of the House—[Interruption].

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. It is bad enough to have one's motives publicly impugned by the Leader of the House, but is it in Order for him to make offensive remarks when an hon. Member is speaking?

I do not suppose that it will be the last time that. I shall be offended by the right hon. Gentleman.

How is it that the Government have changed their views now that they are a Government, from those which they held when they were in Opposition some time ago?

We are not discussing the Guillotine. That has been decided by the House, and I cannot go back on a decision of the House. The point of Order is concerned merely with the late printing of Amendments.

I beg to move,

"That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of the Amendments to Clause 24, page 27, line 43; Clause 26, page 32, line 29; Clause 42, page 46, line 17 and line 42; Clause 42, page 53, line 36; Clause 50, page 56, line 9; Clause 59, page 63, line 34; Clause 62, page 66, line 15. line 25 and line 42; Clause 73, page 79, line 15 and line 31; Clause 73, page 80, line 5; Clause 84, page 91, line 18, line 24 and line 26; Clause 86, page 93, line 3; Clause 87, page 93, line 28; Clause 90, page 95. line 40, line 42 and line 44; Clause 90, page 96, line 2; Clause 93, page 98, line 18, line 23, line 25, line 28, line 33 and line 34; Clause 93, page 99, line 5 and line 11; Clause 104, page 105, line 33, line 34 and line 37; Clause 105. page 106, line 35; Clause 105, page 107, line 16; Clause 105, page 108, line 19; in respect of the new Clauses (Abolition of the 1939 standard for compensation on compulsory acquisition); (Compensation for compulsory acquisition after the appointed day); (Temporary provisions for eliminating special value attributable to vacant possession); (Compensation for compulsory acquisition of land attracting converted value payments); (Compensation for compulsory acquisition of requisitioned land); (Compensation for compulsory acquisition after passing of this Act and before the appointed day); and (Power of Ministers to contribute towards compensation paid by local authorities); in respect of the amendments to Schedule 3, page 116, line 41; Schedule 4, page 117, line 33; Schedule 4, page 118, line 18; Schedule 7, page 125, line 21 and line 30; Schedule 8, page 132, line 24; and in respect of the new Schedule (Modifications of Part II of Town and Country Planning Act, 1944) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Silkin."

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the recommittal Motion, at the end, to add:

"and of the Amendments to Clause 5, page 5, line 44; Clause 20, page 21, line 42; Clause 46, page 52, line 31; Clause 51, page 57, line 20; Clause 69, page 74, line 20; Clause 86, page 93, line and of the new Clause (Agreement under previous Acts) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. William Morrison."
We are not objecting to the recommittal of the Bill, but we think that, on the advice which we have received, these further Clauses should also be reconsidered.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Major MILNER in the Chair]