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Clause 64—(Suspension Of Public Access To Avoid Exceptional Risk Of Fire)

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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Amendment made: In page 51, line 22, leave out "by order."—[ Mr. Silkin.]

I beg to move, in page 51, line 25, to leave out "order," and to insert "direction."

This Amendment enables the Minister of Agriculture to suspend by direction instead of by order public access to avoid exceptional risk of fire. This is a speedier method of achieving the purpose, and, in view of the possible urgency, I think it is right.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in page 51, line 25, at the end to insert:

(2) The powers of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries under this section shall be exercised by the county agricultural executive committee for the county in which the land comprised in the access agreement or order is situated.
This Clause, as the Minister has pointed out, deals with the temporary suspension of access to land under conditions of extreme drought, or other reasons, which render the danger of fire far greater for the time being. The Minister has done something to speed up the procedure by substituting a direction for an order, and my Amendment has a similar purpose in view. It makes the local people, who are the agents of the Minister for this purpose, the judges of these exceptional conditions, how long they are likely to persist and how great or real the danger of fire is. I think that as these conditions gather themselves together rather suddenly, it is better to provide for a trustworthy local decision on the matter rather than risk the delay of referring everything to London and getting it back again.

I would not argue that the contention of the right hon. Gentleman is wholly incorrect: I would argue that it is incorrect to insert it in the Bill. As it stands, the power which we both desire to have resides with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. He can, if he wishes, delegate that power to the agricultural executive committees. I should have thought that was sufficient. We must bear in mind the danger that there may be some members of the agricultural executive committees with some kind of personal interest in the matters with which they are dealing. I think it is better that this should reside in the hands of the Minister of Agriculture, who will pass it on to the agricultural executive committees.

If the Government will not accept this Amendment and rely on the Minister of Agriculture rather than the local bodies, how does the hon. Gentleman visualise—

How is the Minister going to see that the direction is brought to the notice of the people on the spot? He is turning down a method of decentralisation, as far as I see it. If not, then why does he not accept the Amendment?

I think the Minister of Agriculture can use what means he chooses. He could use the means which the hon. Member suggests, but I do not think it is necessary to make a rule to that effect.

Whatever method he chooses, how is he to publicise it to those who want to make access to the land? It is no use having some written document when someone is going to come along in a motorcar and wants to go into a field. There must be something in writing showing that because of some direction an area which has been marked must not be entered. In America they have a good system; they put up maps. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been to see these, but they give fire warnings, with a map which shows the roads from which people must not stray. The Ministry of Agriculture would have been the better people to deal with this, but if the Government do not accept the Amendment, how can they see that the arrangement is working? It is essential that there should be some method of showing the people who happen to be travelling along a road that, for some reasons, perhaps because of drought, they are not allowed to go where a week earlier they had been allowed to go.

11.0 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to my right hon. Friend, indicated that he thought that this Amendment was unnecessary because the Minister of Agriculture would have power to delegate to the county agricultural executive committees. Under what Section of what Statute has the Minister of Agriculture the power to delegate this particular function to a county agricultural executive committee? There is no provision in this Clause for any such power of delegation; the Clause merely provides that the Minister shall give directions. Before we pass from this point, I should like to be satisfied that the hon. Gentleman's statement was in fact quite correct, and that the Minister of Agriculture has power to delegate this particular function of giving directions to the county committees.

In reply to the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Mr. P. Roberts), I may say that I have been to America, and have seen the maps to which he referred. I agree that they are first-rate, but we must attribute to the Minister of Agriculture not only some experience in this matter but also a certain degree of common sense. Personally, I find it hard to believe that he is not fit to be trusted with this responsibility, and that he will not execute it as well as it is executed in America.

With regard to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), I certainly could not give him offhand the precise Clause or Section he asks for. I can only give him an assurance that that power does exist, and I hope that assurance can be accepted.

This is a new power the Minister is to have in this Clause. Surely there must be some provision for the Minister having power to delegate this particular power of giving directions? I am not very satisfied with the hon. Gentleman's mere assurance. Unless he can direct my attention to some other part of this Bill giving such a power of delegation, or, alternatively, say where it exists, I cannot find it easy to accept the view that there is a general power residing with the Minister of Agriculture to delegate to any agricultural executive committee any powers that this House may, in any legislation, give to the Minister of Agriculture.

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be satisfied with my assurance. I have given it in all good faith, but I will certainly look into the matter, and if I find that the point he has made has any substance, we will do what we can to meet it.

Amendment negatived.