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Clause 13—(Transitional Provisions)

Volume 441: debated on Wednesday 30 July 1947

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Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 1, leave out Clause 13.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is the most substantial Amendment which has been made in the Bill. It is perhaps less substantial than would appear, because, in fact, the Clause virtually reappears as the new Fifth Schedule to the Bill, which will be the last Amendment I shall move. It was suggested in another place, on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, that this should be the form in which this particular enactment should be made. It is more usual to put transitional powers into a Schedule to a Bill rather than into a Clause of the Bill; and the Parliamentary draftsmen regard it as an improvement in the structure of the Measure.

There is one respect in which a point of substance is latent in the redrafting which has occurred in moving the new Clause into the Schedule, and perhaps it might be convenient to the House, now that I am moving the omission of the Clause, if I indicated the way in which it will be found to be slightly varied when we find it again in the Schedule. Paragraphs 7 and 8 of the new Schedule have been drafted in such a way that we can provide, in any class of case in which it is desirable under the regulations, not to vest property in the new fire authority, but instead to enable the new fire authority merely to use it on terms to be agreed between the old and new fire authorities, or, in default of agreement, determined by the Secretary of State. Our attention has already been drawn to classes of cases in which this is desirable. First, this is so in the case of premises used both for fire service and other purposes. This was raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) both in Committee and on the Floor of the House on the Report stage, and we did make one or two efforts to try to get the matter sorted out. I hope that the way it is now being done will enable a considerably greater amount of elbow room to be available in the negotiations between the two authorities.

Secondly, there is the case of premises which were originally acquired by the old fire authority for another local government service, which were turned over to fire brigade use in the hectic days of the Auxiliary Fire Service, and later transferred to the National Fire Service, and have been used for that purpose ever since. I think that here, again, we want to give the authorities a reasonable discretion, with an appeal, in the way in which they finally dispose of these premises. The Schedule also provides for what may be called a reverse class of case, namely, that in which a building is used principally by the Fire Service, though part is in use by the local authority for another purpose. In that class of case, the regulations may provide for the whole building to vest in the new fire authority, the old authority being given the right to use the minor portion of the building on terms to be agreed. This provision will, I think, make the transitional powers a great deal more easy of application, and I think that by leaving out Clause 13, and re-enacting the idea as the new Fifth Schedule, with the modifications I have indicated, we shall make for the smooth working of the most difficult phases of the operations.

I dislike disagreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), but I cannot share his opinion that this is a bad Bill, largely for the reason that we had a good deal of discussion in Committee and the Home Secretary showed himself very well disposed to accepting Amendments on matters we raised. Let us be fair. The effect of the modification proposed here is to give more flexibility in coming to an arrangement where there might be a conflict of interest with regard to the user of buildings. I would put one point to the Home Secretary. I gather that in the case we put with regard to buildings, if it cannot be resolved, an appeal is to the Minister of Health. I think that is so. But if there is a difference of opinion with regard to pension matters, then it is the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Paragraph 9 (3) of the new Schedule says that anything arising thereunder shall be determined by the Minister of Health. In the case of pensions, I think I am right in saying that the appeal goes to the Secretary of State, either the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Home Secretary. I think that this new arrangement is an improvement in the Bill, and I am glad that the alteration is made.

I have no wish whatever to enter into any controversy with my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston). I have no doubt whatever that what he said about the Bill is undoubtedly due to the fact that he has had a very considerable part in shaping it since it first came to the House. Apart from saying that, I will leave the matter of the value of the Bill. What I wish to deal with is the wisdom of moving this Clause into the Schedule. The right hon. Gentleman said that this is a substantial Clause. I am supporting the Government on this particular matter. I hope that this does not mean that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will get up and attack the Government, but I think that, as the right hon. Gentleman says—and I have had some correspondence on the subject with him—this provision will give wider power to local authorities. It will give them a wider power and greater discretion. That is an unusual thing to be given to local authorities by this Government and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on doing it. It does, however, give greater width to the position of local authorities and, from that point of view, great responsibility, and without trying to lay down who gets the credit for this, I would undoubtedly like to say that it is probably mainly due to another place. I know the Home Secretary is frightfully jealous about any credit that is going, but if he wants credit, I will give it to him wholeheartedly.

Question put, and agreed to.