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Clause 9—(Supplementary Provisions As To Development Plans)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 14 May 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendment proposed: In page 9, line 5, at the end, to insert:

"(3) If as the result of any objections or representations considered, or local inquiry or other hearing held, in connection with a development plan or proposals for amendment of such a plan submitted to or prepared by the Minister under this Part of this Act, the Minister is of opinion that the local planning authority or any other authority or person ought to be consulted before he decides whether to approve or make the plan either with or without modifications, or to amend the plan, as the case may be, he shall consult that authority or person, but shall not be under any obligation to consult any other authority or person, or to afford any opportunity for further objections or representations or to cause any further local inquiry or other hearing to be held."—[The Attorney-General.]

Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

3.45 P.m.

This Amendment was moved by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General at a late hour last night, and, in consequence, the report of what he said in moving it is not available for consideration by Members of the House. Therefore, in dealing with his arguments, I have to rely upon my recollection of what he said, without any opportunity of verifying it. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, in one of his rare utterances, in the Standing Committee when this matter was discussed:

"This matter is invested with some importance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 1st April, 1947; c. 976.]
I think that, in fact, the hon. Gentleman understated the importance of the subject. The object of the Amendment, as I understand it, is to alter the existing law with regard to the holding of local inquiries.

I see the right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head, but not very long ago he sought to summarise the existing law on this subject—a law which, in my opinion, has not been altered materially by recent decisions. He said in the Standing Committee—and I think he is right:

"Under the law as it stands … there may be discussions before any objections have been lodged with any local authority or, indeed, with any other body or person whom the Minister may think it convenient to consult."
That is not challenged; that is not in issue. He went on to say:
"Then comes the stage when there is an objection. At that stage there must be no consultation by the Minister with one side in the absence of the other side; nor must there be any consultation between the Minister, after the inquiry and before a decision has been reached, with one side in the absence of the other side."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, Standing Committee D; 1st April, 1947, c. 990.]
That was the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the Standing Committee when this question was considered. Now we have to consider an Amendment which provides that, after the holding of a local inquiry, and after the hearing of objections in public, the Minister shall have the right of consulting whom he likes, in secret, without being under any obligation to inform anyone affected of the nature of these decisions. I can well imagine what an uproar there would be in this House if the Government introduced a proposal that a judge, after hearing the evidence in a case, should have the right, by Statute, of consulting whom he liked upon the matter. I, of course, concede that the position of the Minister under this Bill is not exactly the same as the position of a judge, but the Minister has to exercise quasi-judicial functions, and he has to act impartially and fairly. I do not regard it as acting fairly or impartially if, with regard to a particular objection, after that objection is heard, the Minister is at liberty to consult whoever he pleases without any notice to the person making the objection.

Let me illustrate what might happen it this Amendment were carried. Suppose that the local planning authority wants to include within an area designated as subject to compulsory purchase, a farm on the fringe of the area, or a market garden on the edge of a town. Suppose that the owner of the market garden or farm objects to designation, as he may well do, in the interests of food production or for a variety of reasons. The next stage may be a local public inquiry where the objector can put forward his arguments and objections, and where those objections can be tested. The right hon. Gentleman is then seeking power to go behind the back of that farmer or market gardener. after an inquiry, and consult whom he likes before making his decision on the particular issue, in this hypothetical case as to whether this particular farm should be or should not be included in the designated area. In my view, that is entirely wrong.

I recognise that when a big area is the subject of a development plan it is too much to ask, where any inquiry takes place and where any consultation takes place after the inquiry, that all those who objected and all those interested in the plan as a whole should be informed about it. That may be asking too much, but at least it is reasonable and sensible that the person particularly' affected, the particular individual—the farmer in the case I have mentioned—should be informed of two things if the Minister wants to have further information about that particular objection after the inquiry is closed, and without reopening the inquiry, which it is always within his power to do. One thing is, that individual ought to be told who is being consulted, and he ought to be told the point on which that consultation is taking place, for this reason: it will then be open to that particular objector to submit to the Minister further observations dealing with that particular point. It that is not provided, it may well be that the decision of the Minister will be influenced one way by information obtained by him as a result of a consultation with an external body—information which may be inaccurate, to which the objector may have a complete answer, and without the Minister being informed at ail of what that answer is.

I suggest that this really is an astonishing proposal. We had a full discussion upon it in Standing Committee, and I rather anticipated from the course of that discussion that, although the right hon. Gentleman might seek to preserve for himself the right of consultation after holding a local inquiry, it would be subject to the express proviso that in the case where that consultation affected a particular interest, a particular objector, that objector should be informed of the nature of the persons being consulted, and the matter upon which they were being consulted. I hope this matter will be further considered. Unless we can receive a satisfactory assurance upon that point, I am afraid that the limited time of this Report stage will have to be further occupied by a Division upon this extremely important matter.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham Buller) said said, this matter did receive a good deal of discussion in Standing Committee. Of course, that was discussion on a different form of words, and this is the first time that the particular form of words of the Amendment which the learned Attorney-General moved late last night has been under discussion. When this matter was discussed in Standing Committee we on this side of the House made our position clear; and I think I can say with confidence that we are all inexpressibly disappointed that the cogitations of the Minister and of his consultation with the Attorney-General upon these matters has led to so disappointing an Amendment as that which is now under discussion.

It is, I think, not without significance that the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland)—whom I am glad to see in his place today—said to the Attorney-General:
"Until I can be assured that the final word rests with the Minister, who is responsible to the House of Commons, I do not propose to accept the agreement, or whatever it may be, which has been come to this morning."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 1st April, 1947: c. 998.]
—talking, to the Minister if I may say so, very much in the way in which the hon. Member for East Coventry (Mr. Crossman) talks to the Minister of Defence. Indeed, the result runs true to form, because what the Attorney-General has now done is to import into the words of his Amendment precisely those words which will make clear that there is power to do the very thing that was doubtful before, and against which we expressed such strong objection.

What this Amendment will do is, expressly to enable consultation to take place with local authorities or persons behind closed doors, without publicity, after the holding of a local inquiry. That is the position with which we are faced on this Amendment if it is accepted. In Standing Committee the Attorney-General said that he did not like references to natural justice, and I will indulge him so far as to avoid reference to natural justice; however, I cannot but say that consultation with certain parties to an inquiry and not with others, after the inquiry is concluded, and in secret, is a gross violation of all the elementary decencies of judicial procedure. We made it clear in Committee that we did not object to the Minister having consultation before the inquiry, because we could see that there might be occasions on which that might be necessary; and we made it clear that we did not object so much to consultation during the inquiry, although we consider that that would normally be unnecessary and undesirable. But we made it clear that we do object, very strongly indeed, to consultation after inquiry, in the way that is now suggested.

The Attorney-General gave an undertaking that the whole matter would be considered in the light, amongst other things, of the representations that had been put forward by hon. Members in the course of the discussion in Committee. His method of taking our representations into account is, to say the least, an unhappy one, because his method is to introduce provisions expressly legislating for the very things to which we principally took objection. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman must found his technique of conciliation on that practised by Rehoboam in the Book of Kings, who said to the unfortunate Israelites, when they asked for a slackening of the rigours of government:
"… my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions."
Whatever was the fate of the Israelites, the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect us in this democratic Assembly lightly to acquiesce in this stiffening of the burden. If fresh considerations do arise after the inquiry is closed—and I want to be quite fair about this; I can readily conceive that there may be occasions on which fresh considerations do arise—what is the right procedure to adopt? Quite patently, the right procedure must be to reopen the inquiry, so that if fresh considerations are advanced by some parties they are advanced in public, and other parties are given the elementary right of comment and rebuttal. That is the correct procedure which, I think, should follow from such a case—at any rate, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry has said, in any case in which the interest of any other party is or may be affected by the further considerations which arise.

There is one last point I want to make on this, because I think it is of substantial importance, and that is in regard to the way in which the Minister must deal with these matters. We have had considerable discussion as to whether or not the Minister is acting judicially in these matters. I find that the position now is one of increasing confusion, and it is right that the country should know whether the Minister acts in a judicial capacity or not. Had this Bill, through its various stages, received a fairer measure of time for consideration, this is one of the things which would have been made clear. What is the position now? The Master of the Rolls, in giving a judicial interpretation in the Plymouth case, said this:
"The Minister is entitled to act on any information which may come to him in his administrative capacity, and he cannot be compelled to disclose the source of his information. It is erroneous to say that the Minister must act in a quasi-judicial capacity."
That is the interpretation of the Master of the Rolls of the law as it at present stands under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944. The Minister, on the other hand, speaking in this House on Monday on the recommittal of this Bill said this:
"The last word does not rest with the local authority but with the Minister, who is bound to act judicially and in the light of the evidence that he gets at the local public inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May. 1947: Vol. 437, c. 1121.]
The Minister's interpretation of his functions does not seem to square with the interpretation made by the Master of the Rolls.

4.0 p.m.

I wonder if I may help my hon. Friend? The Minister, as I remember it, was correctly stating the law as it was understood on Monday. The hon. Gentleman is stating the law as it was subsequently clarified in the Court of Appeal.

I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman; because that, I think, actually reinforces the importance of this point. The Minister thought on Monday that he must act judicially; now that he has got the Plymouth judgment he knows he need not act judicially. Lawyers interpret the law; but our function here is to make the law. The first question we have to decide is, whether or not we want the Minister to act judicially, or whether we want him to be exempt from taking a judicial view in these matters. In my view, there is no doubt about this, that the people of this country do not understand the technicalities of the Town and Country Planning Act, but they have an instinctive and inexorable aversion from any procedure which seems to them to violate the decencies of judicial procedure. The fact that the Minister is not obliged to act in a judicial capacity reinforces our view that this Amendment should not go through as it stands, because it increases the possibility of a failure to do justice to people who have been heard in the local inquiry, but whose case may afterwards be disposed of behind closed doors, and without their even knowing about it. I add my most urgent representations to those made by my hon. and learned Friend that the Attorney-General should think again about this. He should ask himself whether it is really in the public interest that this Amendment should go through as it stands, and open the way to a sort of procedure which accords ill with the elementary decencies of judicial proceedings; and which is, in my view, a clear break with the traditions of this free country in these matters.

I think the Minister is aware that I am not unfriendly to his Department. As a member of a local planning committee I recognise that this Bill contains a great deal to help us. At the same time, I am opposed to this Amendment, because I believe it aggravates an already very unsatisfactory state of affairs regarding representations and local inquiries generally. From time to time the meanings of words change. It appears to me that, since this Government came into office, the meanings of two words, "consultation" and "agreement," have changed. One used to think that "consultation" meant mutual discussion, and willingness to carry out agreed policy. Now it means telling people what one means to do, and with no intention of changing one's decision, whatever they may say. I feel that the result of this Amendment will be to accentuate that difference in the meaning of the word. As regards "agreement," unless people show their disapproval by resigning, or taking some such drastic action, it is now assumed that they agree with what one says. That applies at all levels, and not only to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. It applies also to Cabinet decisions which affect the Dominions, and in a great number of other directions. That is a deplorable negation of democracy.

The Minister should remember that, in dealing with local bodies, he is in a position of immense strength, and he should try to avoid doing anything that is an abuse of that strength. The local representatives have a contribution to make, but they cannot make it, if they are in the position of not being allowed to say anything. I heard of an inquiry the other day which went on for over an hour and at which many representations were made; but nothing was said in answer by the Minister's representative, except that those present might smoke

I think that in these local inquiries, whether they are behind closed doors or open, more information should be given, and a real effort made to get real consultation and real agreement. I feel that this Amendment is retrogressive, particularly the latter part of it. It certainly is not helpful. It will increase the impression that exists very widely now that there is nothing in these inquiries, that there is nothing to be got out of them, that they are a waste of time, and that everything is decided beforehand. If these decisions are to be made behind closed doors, that fact will accentuate such opinions and make the position worse. Therefore, I am against this Amendment.

I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Attorney-General will consider this matter very carefully again. I think that this Amendment, in the form in which they have put it on the Order Paper, is not only not in the public interest, but is not really in the interest of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department. Let me see how far I can carry all quarters of the House with me in the submission I am making. There are those who think that there should be a public local inquiry in every case. There are others who think there is no such need and that there are cases which can be determined without a public local inquiry. Both those views are perfectly arguable, and I can well understand the right non. Gentleman contending that he should not be bound to have a public local inquiry in every case. I am not going to dispute the justice of that view. The point on which, I suggest, every quarter of the House will agree with me is this—that in the cases where there is a public local inquiry, it should not be a sham, and that those taking part in it should not believe it to be a sham.

That proposition will command general assent. But what will be the position if, at a public local inquiry, proposals are brought forward which are believed to represent, let us say, proposals that the Minister is to be asked to approve, and those who wish to question those proposals cross-examine those who give evidence in their favour, and believe that their cross-examination has been so damaging that the proposals cannot survive? It is perfectly possible that subsequently facts are brought to the Minister's attention which may make him think that, notwithstanding that cross-examination, the proposals submitted to so much adverse criticism, nevertheless, ought to proceed on the new grounds which have been brought to his attention. The new proposal, or the new reason operating in the mind of the Minister, ought also to be subject to some public inquiry, and the persons who, before, had the opportunity of cross-examination should have that opportunity again.

I expect the right hon. Gentleman wants to avoid—and I sympathise with him in this—a great deal of delay that might be injurious to the public interest in some of these cases, which are of varying degrees of urgency. In this connection there is one matter not alluded to in the discussion so far, and that is the possibility of an adjournment of the inquiry. If, as a result of the inquiry so far as it had proceeded, the Minister thought that he would like to consult someone, it would not be impossible, and it might be for the convenience of all, that there should be an adjournment in order that the new factors which had come to the Minister's attention might be the subject of full public inquiry, with cross-examination and so on. I can imagine that occasionally the Minister might receive information, even after the closing of a public inquiry. If it dealt with a matter which had been the sub-pect of dispute, examination and cross-examination and the giving of evidence, surely it would be worth while reopening the inquiry, or having a fresh inquiry? If the Minister refuses this, how can he hope that the public and all the parties concerned will continue to place much confidence in these inquiries? They will be told by their legal advisers, "Oh, yes, we may have complete and absolute success at the public local inquiry, but the Minister may later hear of something from the local planning authority, which, in his view, gives an entirely different complexion to the whole case, and there will be no opportunity for you to test it, or make representations about it."

The Attorney-General intervened, very rightly, just now to explain the difference that had occurred in the position since the right hon. Gentleman spoke on Monday, on account of a subsequent decision of the Court of Appeal. Whatever the position of the right hon. Gentleman, whether he is now under no obligation to act judicially or not, I am perfectly certain that he, or whoever may occupy his office in future, will always wish to act fairly. I do not suggest that if this Amendment were on the Statute Book, the Minister would not attempt to act fairly. The trouble is that the parties who had gone to great trouble to put their case at a local inquiry would not feel that they had been fairly treated, if, notwithstanding anything that had taken place at the public inquiry, the whole result could be altered in view of subsequent representations about which they had no knowledge. Certain matters in town and country planning must obviously be decided by the Minister and not by any court, but then the check on the Minister, as he has said, and we all agree, must be a political check, that is to say, the check of the House of Commons; but the House of Commons would not have knowledge of what had operated in the Minister's mind in those cases where he had apparently completely disregarded the facts proved at a local inquiry. I do not think the proposed machinery is satis- factory to any of the main parties concerned. It is not satisfactory to those who are interested in the subject matter of the inquiry, and it is not satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman, because he will find himself frequently suspected of acting unfairly; it will not be a satisfactory answer to say, "I have the statutory power to do what I am doing" if, in fact, he has asked for the powers in this Bill. It is unsatisfactory also to the House of Commons. For these reasons, I beg the Government to reconsider their Amendment.

4.15 p.m.

In view of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite, I hope the House will not think it inappropriate if I make two or three observations. It would be unfortunate if it were thought that any of us on these benches are less concerned with the interests of justice, and the ordinary decencies of justice, than hon. Members opposite represent themselves to be, and are. Apart from the merits of this Amendment, all will agree that it tends to clarify the law. It renders something clear which at present is obscure, namely, whether or not after there has been a local public inquiry, the Minister may consult with certain people without giving notice to other people of those consultations. Everyone will agree that clarification is a step in the right direction, whatever views we may have as to whether this Amendment is sound or not. It is certainly the responsibility of this House to see that the law is clarified, and that it is not left in that state of obscurity, which has resulted from the decisions in the cases now going through the courts. It is the duty of this House to decide what the law should be in future, so that the public shall know where responsibility lies.

The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) went wrong, if I may say so, in trying to draw an unreal analogy between justice as administered in the courts. in disputes between two parties in a civil action, and that administrative justice—for want of a better word—which it is the function of the Minister to exercise in making decisions about matters of the kind we are now considering. We on these benches are no less concerned than hon. Members opposite with justice being done, and we all support what has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H, Strauss), that it is important the public should know that these public inquiries are not a sham but a serious part of the proceedings leading to the Minister's decision. The public should also know that the final responsibility is that of the Minister, having heard the inquiry, and having weighed any other information coming from other sources, whether before the inquiry was held, or after. It is the responsibility of the Minister who in turn is responsible to this House to act fairly, properly and reasonably, in the interests of all parties, and of the locality, in the decisions that he has to take. For these reasons I support the Amendment.

As the hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) has made so clear, the fundamental error into which hon. Members opposite have fallen in this matter is in assuming that the Minister is here discharging a judicial function, and that these inquiries are in the nature of judicial proceedings. It has always been my contention, as I know it has been the contention of those who have preceded me, that that is not the law. It has now been held in the Court of Appeal that that is not the law, and the purpose of this Clause is to put it beyond all possible doubt that it is not the law. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) asked what the House would say if a judge, after trying a case, were entitled to consult whom he pleased behind the backs of the parties concerned. That is the whole point. That is the position in regard to a judge. A judge has to close his mind to any knowledge he may already have, to any information which he may have gathered from previous cases, or any policy which he may have formed in the light of previous experience. He has to decide the matter before him on the evidence, and on the evidence alone. That is the position of a judge. The duty of a judge is not to ascertain absolute truth, but to decide what is established by the evidence which the parties choose to put before him in a particular case. The Minister is not a judge, nor does he occupy a quasi-judicial position, as Members opposite have suggested. In Standing Committee I indicated a certain view about this matter—and I am coming back to it, because nothing I said then is inconsistent with what I am saying now. I was accepting, loyally, the recent decision given by Mr. Justice Henn Collins on these matters. The law has since been clarified, and in the sense which I and my predecessors have always contended. The learned Master of the Rolls said:

"To say that on the evidence given at the public inquiry it was impossible that the Minister should be satisfied, would be to make the Court, and not the Minister, the authority to decide what was requisite. The Minister was entitled to act on any information which might come to him in his administrative capacity, and he could not be compelled to disclose the source of his information. It was erroneous to say that the Minister must act in a quasi-judicial capacity. His power to make the order could not be controlled by the Court. If it had been shown that he had acted beyond the limits of his statutory powers or had acted in bad faith, the position would have been different. As it was the appeal would be allowed with costs."
Ministers, in dealing with matters of this kind, are acting as administrators. The Minister, in this case, is already under a statutory obligation, enacted by this House, in 1943, to secure consistency and continuity in planning as a matter of national policy. In our view—and this, I believe, to be the true legal position; it will not be altered by the Bill, but will be put beyond all doubt—the duty of a Minister is to consider, in good faith, any representation or any objection which may be put before him. In that matter he is, of course, subject to the control of the courts.

If he acts in bad faith, and does not consider objections as an honest Minister ought to do, then the person who is aggrieved by that can go to the court and question the conduct of the Minister. But, subject to his acting in good faith, he acts as a Minister responsible to Parliament. He is not a judicial officer, acting within some narrow lines of judicial procedure. He must be free—after holding an inquiry, if he decides so to do, before acting on what is an administrative, and not judicial basis—to consult with outside bodies and, not least, with those bodies which are expressly charged by Statute with responsibility for planning matters. These are questions which the Minister has to decide on broad grounds of public policy. That is his Ministerial function. A Minister does not suddenly adopt the cloak of a judge because he voluntarily decides, in order to inform himself the more fully of the matters in issue, and to investigate the strength of the objections which may have been raised, to hold a public inquiry. He is the Minister who is availing himself of the machinery of a public inquiry in order that he may be better informed in carrying out his duties. In the exercise and discharge of those duties, he is responsible to Parliament, and it is to Parliament, and not the courts, and still less to individual objectors, that he must answer if, in good faith he consults outside persons or bodies, or avails himself of sources of information.

I ask Members opposite to bear in mind that we have just as great a regard for judicial functions, and the administration of law and justice in this country, as they have. To attempt to assimilate judicial and administrative functions not only exposes the administrator to forms and procedures which are incompatible with efficient and expeditious administration—I point to the Stevenage case, in which no final result will be achieved for nine or ten months after the making of the Order, and to the Plymouth case—but also exposes him to embarrassments and ideas which are quite foreign to the practice of justice in this country. For instance, a Minister may act as a judge in what is, in effect, his own cause. It is completely artificial to talk of Ministers who are under a statutory obligation to make or confirm these orders as acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. To confuse the two functions, judicial and administrative, does not enhance the prestige of the judicial ideal, or promote the success of administration.

It has been suggested that there has been some inconsistency in the attitude we are taking up as compared with the attitude I took up in Standing Committee. I should like to make it clear that that is not so. I said, in Standing Committee:
"The Government will reconsider the Clause.… but I add this, that we shall adhere to the final principle that, at the end, the Minister must be left free to arrive at his decision after having regard not only to the evidence which may have been adduced at the inquiry, but to overriding considerations of public policy, for the administration of which he will be responsible, not to the courts, but to Parliament. We take the view that it is quite impossible to put the Minister, who is administering an Act of Parliament of this kind, into a position of a judge who must decide on the evidence before him, completely closing his mind to considerations of public policy and matters of that kind, and deciding simply on the evidence before him."
Then I made a reference to natural justice, not that I objected to the use of that expression, but because Lord Shaw entertained the strongest objection to it being used in connection with administrative matters of this kind. I said:
"I hope … that all these matters will be considered, having regard to the decisions which will be ultimately arrived at by the Court of Appeal."
We intelligently anticipated what the decision there would be likely to be. In my view, supported by the decision of the Court of Appeal, this Clause does nothing except put beyond doubt the existing law. It is for the House to decide whether it wants to alter the existing law.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said in the Standing Committee:

"I made it quite clear that if we did accept the Amendment we would not commit ourselves in any way to the provisions which we should put down on Report stage for consultation, … or as to the necessity of communicating such consultation to the objector."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D; c. 993–995.]
I particularly stressed the desirability of informing the objector affected, of any consultation, and of the substance of the consultation that had taken place with the local authority. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the course of his interesting speech, did not say one word about informing any particular objector.

4.30 p.m.

I do not want to leave the matter in any doubt at all. In the Committee I made it clear, after the hon. and learned Gentleman had made the point about informing objectors of subsequent consultations, that we could not accept any commitment as to the need of communicating such consultation to the objectors. I said that we would consider the whole situation, in the light of whatever decision was eventually given by the Court of Appeal in regard to it. Having considered the decision of the Court of Appeal, we were confirmed and fortified in the view which we originally took that it is not consistent with good administration to reopen these matters.

These inquiries are for the purpose of enabling Ministers to inform themselves of the facts—to enable Ministers to ascer- tain and canvass the weight of any particular objection or criticism. Having held the inquiry and informed themselves as fully as Ministers think necessary by that means, they must be entitled to go to other sources of information. If it appears then to a Minister, from fresh information subsequent to the public inquiries, that it would be desirable in the public interest to hold a further inquiry in order to get still more information, he is, of course, at perfect liberty to do so. We cannot agree to the Minister being put under an obligation to go on re-opening inquiries—going back to the objectors perhaps time after time, because subsequent to considering some particular—point, he receives some information from some outside body that has some bearing upon it. There must be some finality about these matters, and the Minister must be left free to obtain such information as he thinks expedient in the public interest, whether by another inquiry or not, but without being under any obligation to disclose to anyone, except to this House, what that information is or from whom he has obtained it.

We are Obliged to the learned Attorney-General for the exposition which he has given of the existing law. I do not dispute what he has said on this strictly legal point. What he has told us is that this Amendment, which is now being moved by the Government, is not really an Amendment to the existing body of the law, but is merely declaratory of the legal position as the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government see it. I do not pretend to deal with this matter from the strictly legal point of view, but I think that the Government have acted very unwisely and maladroitly to introduce something which the ordinary man may regard as different from the statute law as it stands. The procedure of public inquiries has been embodied in Statutes for a long time, and has been "run in" during many years of operation, and there is in the mind of the ordinary citizen a certain conception of how it works. The ordinary man regards a public inquiry as something in the nature of an arbitration. The niceties of what is judicial and what is not are not for him, but although he may be ignorant about the law, he has an acute sense of what is fair and what is unfair. Whatever the law may be, it is thoroughly bad politics to introduce an Amendment at this stage into a respected form of procedure, which gives the ordinary man the opinion that there will be some work behind the scenes to which he is not permitted to be a party.

I think that it is unwise to do that. Nothing can prevent a Minister in the exercise of his administrative task from obtaining all the information that he requires, nor would we seek to do so. He has many channels of communication. If his Department is only half efficient, there is nothing about a particular matter of this sort that he cannot ascertain. To suggest, as this Amendment does, that he shall have power not only to obtain information, but to consult one of the parties to the case after the case is over is, I think, extremely unwise. We use the word "consultation" in Statutes when we want to make sure that one Minister is brought in on a question that concerns him. I remember in another Bill my agricultural friends saying that the Minister of Agriculture should be consulted. That does not mean that the Minister who is asked to consult with a person has to obtain information from that person. It means that the person is to be taken into consultation. That is a very different thing from merely obtaining additional information after an inquiry.

As I see it, public local inquiries, as hitherto understood in this country, serve two useful functions. If there is a dispute between two parties, one may be a local authority and the other a citizen, the Minister orders a public local inquiry. What are the functions of that public local inquiry? As I understand it they are twofold. One is that the Minister shall have an opportunity of ascertaining the truth of the matter complained about, in the only way that truth can be ascertained, or its approximation ascertained, and that is by the two parties who are contending in the matter being confronted with each other, so that a statement of one can be challenged by the other. The evidence given is not merely ex parte but is subject to the cross-testimony and cross-examination of the party who disagrees with it. It is by that process that the issues between the parties are narrowed down, and finally, when the inquiry has gone the requisite amount of time, the issues are presented to the Minister, who has to make a decision in a narrowed form, supported by the evidence on each side of the question, and with this body of evidence, checked and tested by cross-examination from the hostile party, he is in a superior position to arrive at a wise and just decision.

That is one but only one object of a public inquiry. The other object is in my judgment equally important. Our people, as a rule, have a great respect for the law and the observance of ceremonial proceedings. They are frequently aggrieved by actions of a Government Department, but if they have the sense that they can appear in the open against their adversaries, before an impartial person, and be given a full chance of stating their case before their friends and neighbours, and of cross-examining what is said against their case by the other side, then, although the ultimate decision may be adverse to their desires, they have at least the feeling that all has been done in the open, and that they have had a fair deal. That is the second most important object of a public inquiry. It not only enables the truth to be ascertained, but it spreads through the ramifications of administration an atmosphere of impartiality and equality. I think myself that it would have been worth a great deal to have maintained that.

I think that these new proceedings, stating that the Minister may, after an inquiry is over, consult with one of the parties but is to be under no obligation to test what the other party says by referring to the party against him, whose testimony is uttered in secret, not only will muddy the wells of truth, but will certainly give the person adversely affected by the ultimate decision, a suspicion as to the equity with which he has been treated in the matter. Whatever the strict law may be, speaking not as a lawyer but as a politician, I say that the Amendment which the Government are now asking the House to adopt is extremely maladroit.

I am not going to take part in this quasi-judicial dispute but I think it important to point out what the Amendment seeks to do, because there is some misunderstanding about it, and I believe some innocent misrepresentation of the extent of what it proposes. It does not deal primarily with the relationship between the local authority and an individual. In all the ordinary forms of inquiry, the machinery which the right hon. Gentleman says has been "run in" will remain, for this Amendment does not seek to deal with that. It seeks to deal with an entirely new situation, the making of a development plan or the modification of that plan, and with nothing else. The Amendment says that the object of the public inquiry is to enable the Minister to approve of the best possible plan. He is not adjudicating on individuals nor on the relations of individuals to the local authorities, but is concerning himself with the development plan or any modification of it.

I agree instantly that the plan may affect individuals but that is not his concern at the public inquiry. He is concerned to see what is the best plan and how it will possibly affect the community as a whole. As a result of an Amendment, which was discussed yesterday, the Minister has to be informed of the estimated cost of carrying out a development plan or any modification, but he is not, at this inquiry, concerned with the relations with individuals. That comes on at some other stage of the public acquisition and the contention is—and I think it is right—that in considering what kind of development plan the Minister has to approve, every source of information should be available to him. It is conceded that the Minister can get information from any party before the inquiry. I do not know what any hon. or right hon. Gentleman opposite would think if a judge on the eve of a hearing had dinner with one of the parties to a dispute, but apparently it is considered that a Minister may do it, and do it quite properly as long as it is before the inquiry. I see no difference in getting the information from any of the parties either before or after the inquiry.

Yes, consulting to get information. In the carrying out of the machinery of this Amendment any Minister will act fairly. Of course, if he feels, as the result of any information which he gets, that he ought to communicate with the other side and with one of the objectors, I take it that the Minister, whether he comes from this side of the House or from the other, will have a sufficiently high sense of his public duties not to act improperly or unfairly. The mere fact of getting the further information, would not necessarily involve reopening the inquiry as was suggested, or even communicating with the other side.

I am not raising the question of fairness or unfairness but the question of wisdom. I will give an example to get the right hon. Gentleman's reaction. Suppose one of the disputed matters were whether or not it was possible to get an adequate water supply where the development was to take place. and the right hon. Gentleman decided that it would be wise to approach one of the parties for their views after the inquiry had been closed, when that view could not be tested by cross-examination by those who had taken an opposite view Would that be a correct step?

4.45 p.m.

The actual example given by the hon. and learned Member is impossible under this Amendment. It could not possibly arise in determining the nature of a development plan. Why would the hon. and learned Gentleman allow the Minister to go to one of the parties and get all the information before the inquiry but not after?

The right hon. Gentleman asks why, and the answer is that if the right hon. Gentleman went before the inquiry then somebody would put forward at the inquiry what was told to the right hon. Gentleman and there would be an opportunity for cross-examination.

Not at all. The person conducting the inquiry is not under an obligation to put forward views. He is there to hear objections. He is not a party to the dispute. This development plan is put forward by a local authority, but it would be quite right for the Minister to go and make all sorts of investigations and inquiries about the proposed development plan immediately before the inquiry but not after it. That seems to me to make nonsense of it. The parties behind the making of a development plan should be in a position to offer information and the Minister should be able to get it where he can, but he is bound to act fairly. I am satisfied that any Minister would act fairly and would not merely arrive at a biased point of view or one set view without taking the precaution to find out what any other view is if it had not already emerged at the inquiry. The real point which I want to make is that. this Amendment is restricted to the making of the development plans or the modifications of them, and does not relate to the much wider field of local inquiries arising out of the relationship between the local authority and the individual.

This Bill, of course, appears to the ordinary man in the street as an appalling Measure with all its technical and legal implications. I listened with great respect to the statement made by the Attorney-General, and, although it was prima facie a learned exposition of the state of the law, it does not remove the feeling in the minds of many of us, that if a local inquiry took place in relation to a development plan, some further conversations and negotiations would take place with the Minister before he decided. An essential quality of the people of this country has always been respect for the law, but if people feel that something takes place between the Minister who is finally responsible for the determination of a plan, and the people who produce it,

Division No. 209.]


[4.52 p.m.

Adams, Richard (Balham)Chater, D.Gooch, E. G.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)Chetwynd, G. R.Goodrich, H. E.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Cocks, F. S.Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Collindridge, F.Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)
Allighan, GarryColman, Miss G. M.Grenfell, D. R.
Alpass, J. H.Comyns, Dr. L.Grey, C. F.
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)Corbet, Mrs. F. K (Camb'well, N.W.)Grierson, E.
Attewell, H. C.Cove, W. G.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)
Austin, H. LewisCrossman, R. H. S.Guy, W. H.
Awbery, S. S.Davies, Edward (Burslem)Haire, John E. (Wycombe)
Ayles, W. H.Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Davies, Hadyn (St. Pancras, S.W.)Hannan, W. (Maryhill)
Bacon, Miss A.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Hardy, E. A.
Balfour, A.Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Harrison, J.
Barstow, P. G.Deer, G.Hastings, Dr. Somerville
Barton, C.Dobbie, W.Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)
Battley, J. R.Dodds, N. N.Herbison, Miss M.
Bechervaise, A EDriberg, T. E. N.Hewitson, Captain M.
Benson, G.Dumpleton, C. W.Hicks, G.
Beswick, F.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. CHobson, C. R.
Bing, G. H. C.Edelman, M.Holman, P.
Binns, J.Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough, E.)Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Blenkinsop, A.Edwards, John (Blackburn)House, G.
Blyton, W. R.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Hughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)Evans, John (Ogmore)Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Irving, W. J.
Bramall, E. A.Fairhurst, F.Janner, B.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Fernyhough, E.Jay, D. P. T.
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Brown, George (Belper)Forman, J. C.Jager, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Foster, W. (Wigan)John, W.
Buchanan, G.Freeman, Peter (Newport)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)
Burke, W. A.Gallacher, W,Jones, J. H. (Bolton)
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
Castle, Mrs. B. A.Gibson, C. W.Keenan, W.
Chamberlain, R. A.Gilzean, A.Kenyon, C.
Champion, A. J.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)King, E. M.

that removes respect for the law and the people also lose respect for the administration for what that Minister is responsible. If the inquiry takes place in open court and cross-examination is possible, that makes a difference, but by the system suggested in this Amendment disturbance would be created in the minds of the people. In a Measure of this kind there ought to be no feeling of anything unfair taking place, after a public inquiry had examined all the points and the various aspects. I felt, when this point was raised upstairs, that the Minister would make a concession to meet the representations which had been put to him there. I find, however, that he is as adamant on the subject as ever. He knows my personal regard for him, and for a Minister, whose duty it is to confiscate the property of the people of this country, I think he is an amiable person. In these particular circumstances, however, he is not acting, in his Ministerial capacity, in such a manner as to maintain confidence in the law of this country.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 246; Noes, 122.

Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. ENoel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brantford)Stephen, C.
Kinley, J.Noel-Buxton, LadyStrauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Kirkwood, DOldfield, W. H.Stubbs, A. E.
Lang, G.Paling, Will T, (Dewsbury)Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Lavers, S.Palmer, A. M. F.Sylvester, G. O.
Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.Parker, J.Symonds, A. L.
Lee, F. (Hulme)Parkin, B. T.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Leslie, J. R.Paton, J. (Norwich)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Levy, B. W.Peart, Capt. T. F.Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Lewis, T. (Southampton)Piratin, P.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Popplewell, E.Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Lyne, A. W.Porter, E. (Warrington)Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
McAdam, W.Porter, G. (Leeds)Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
McAllister, G.Proctor, W. T.Thurtle, Ernest
McEntee, V. La T.Pryde, D. J.Tiffany, S.
McGhee, H GPursey, Cmdr. H.Titterington, M. F.
Mack, J. D.Ranger, J.Tolley, L,
McKay, J. (Wallsend)Rees-Williams, D. R.Vernon, Maj. W. F
McKinley, A. S.Reeves, J.Viant, S. P.
Maclean, N. (Govan)Reid, T. (Swindon)Walkden, E.
McLeavy, F.Rhodes, H.Walker, G. H.
Macpherson, T. (Romford)Ridealgh, Mrs. MWallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Mainwaring, W. H.Robens, A.Warbey W. N
Mallalieu, J. P. W.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Watson, W. M.
Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)Sargood, R.Weitzman, D.
Marshall, F. (Brightside)Scollen, T.Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Medland, H. MShackleton, E. A. A.Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.
Mellish, R. J.Sharp, GranvilleWhiteley, Rt. Hon. W
Messer, F.Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)Wigg, Col. G. E
Middleton, Mrs. LShinwell, Rt. Hon. E.Wilkes, L.
Mikardo, IanShurmer, P.Wilkins, W. A.
Mitchison, G RSilkin, Rt. Hon. L.Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Monslow, W.Silverman, J. (Erdington)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Montague, F.Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Moody, A. SSkeffington, A. M.Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Morley, R.Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.Wise, Major F. J
Mort, D. L.Smith, C. (Colchester)Woodburn, A.
Moyle, A.Smith, Ellis (Stoke)Woods, G. S
Murray, J- D.Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Wyatt, W.
Nally, W.Snow, Capt. J. W.Yates, V. F.
Naylor, T. E.Sorensen, R. W.Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Neal, H. (Claycross)Soskice, Maj. Sir F
Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)Sparks, J. A.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Stamford, W.Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.

Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Armagh)Fletcher, W. (Bury)Mellor, Sir J.
Amory, D. HeathcoteFraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)Morrison, Rt Hon. W. S. (C'nc'ster)
Baldwin, A. E.Gage, C.Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E
Beamish, Maj. T. V. HGalbraith, Cmdr. T. D.Neven-Spence, Sir B
Bennett, Sir P.Gammans, L. D.Nicholson, G.
Birch, NigelGeorge, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)Nield, B. (Chester)
Boothby, RGruffydd, Prof. W. J.Nutting, Anthony
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Orr-Ewing, I. L
Braithwaite Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.Peake, Rt. Hon. O
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col, W.Head, Brig A. H,Pickthorn, K.
Brown, W. J. (Rugby)Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir CPonsonby, Col. C. E
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountPoole, O. B- S. (Oswestry)
Butcher, H. W.Hogg, Hon. Q.Prior-Palmer, Brig. O
Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'la'r)Hollis, M. C.Raikes, H. V.
Byers, FrankHolmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)Ramsay, Maj. S.
Carson, E.Hope, Lord J.Rayner, Brig. R.
Challen, C.Howard, Hon. A.Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Clarke, Col, R. S.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Ropner, Col. L.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Jarvis, Sir J.Sanderson, Sir F.
Cooper-Key, E. M.Jeffreys, General Sir G.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. ELambert, Hon. G.Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.
Crowder, Capt. John E.Linstead, H. N.Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Cuthbert, W. N.Lipson, D. L.Smithers, Sir W
Davidson, ViscountessLloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Spearman, A. C. M.
Davies, Clement (Montgomery)Low, Brig. A. R. W.Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.
Digby, S. W.Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Dodds-Parker, A. DMackeson, Brig. H. RStoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Drayson, G. B.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Drewe, C.MacLeod, J.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T, (Richmond)Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)Studholme, H. G.
Duthie, W. S.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Sutcliffe, H.
Eccles, D. M.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Marlowe, A. A. H.Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. WalterMarsden, Capt, A.Teeling, William
Erroll, F. J.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Thorneycroft, G E. P. (Monmouth)

Thornton-Kemsley, C.N.Wheatley, Colonel M. J.York, C.
Vane, W. M. F.Williams, C. (Torquay)
Walker-Smith, D.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ward, Hon. G. R.Willoughby de Eresby, LordCommander Agnew and
Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)Winterton, Rt. Hon. EarlLieut.-Colonel Thorp.

5.0 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 9, line 14, at the end, to insert:

"(4) In the application of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act, 1945. to any Order made in pursuance of paragraph (c) of the proviso to Subsection (3) of Section five of this Act, any requirements imposed by regulations under this Section with respect to the publication of notices and the consideration of objections in relation to the development plan shall be deemed for the purposes of Section two of that Act to be requirements with respect to proceedings preliminary to the making of the Order."
This is really a drafting matter. Under Section 2 and the First Schedule of the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act of 1945, where it is proposed to make an Order which is subject to special Parliamentary procedure, certain preliminary steps have to be gone through first unless the Statute under which the Order is made prescribes preliminary proceedings of a similar kind. Under Clause 9 of the present Bill, certain preliminary proceedings will be prescribed before the approval of a development plan, and it will not he until all these have been complied with that any question of making a special procedure Order—for instance, an Order in the case of the land of a local authority, or land belonging to the National Trust under Clause 5 (3) (c)—will arise. Unless the provisions which are the subject of the present Amendment are included, it might consequently be necessary to go through the preliminary procedure all over again. The Amendment is intended to make it clear that where the necessity for a special procedure Order arises under Clause 5 (3) (c), the preliminary requirements under Clause 5 generally shall be deemed to be preliminary requirements for the purpose of the 1945 Act.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 9, line 30, to leave out from "Minister," to the end of line 31.

After the Crown Proceedings Bill which is at present before Parliament has been passed into law, as we expect with some confidence it will be, there will exist no special rights or preferences in regard to Crown debts, and this reference will consequently serve no useful purpose. Such expenses as are recoverable will be recoverable by the ordinary methods open to all persons for the recovery of debts in the courts.

I merely wish to say that we raised this point in the Standing Committee, and I am very glad the Government have come round to this point of view. We support the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.