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Clause 36—(Application To Scotland)

Volume 478: debated on Friday 20 October 1950

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I beg to move, in page 47, line 21, to leave out from beginning, to "there," in line 27, and to insert:

"for head (c) of subparagraph (1) of paragraph 1."
I hope that my Amendment on this question of Scottish application will be accepted. If so, I think it covers the further Amendment on the Paper.

This Amendment is, I understand, consequential on the Amendment made to the First Schedule on the Committee stage, and as such we welcome it.

Amendment agreed to.

12.3 p.m.

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

In moving the Third Reading of this Bill, I wish to say that its consideration in another place and in this House has been such a happy experience of mine that I think it rests upon me at this stage to express my fullest appreciation to all the bodies that have entered into these negotiations and enabled the Bill to be drafted largely on a framework of agreement. If the negotiations were long and protracted, it was not because I lacked the co-operation of the interests concerned. They have covered a vast range of interests. The interested bodies—the suppliers of the public needs—carry very large responsibilities. Their powers are embodied in statutes of this House that date back many years and represent a very complicated legislative series of powers and statutes to be brought together.

That work has been patiently carried out. It has been helped immeasurably by the Report and recommendations of the Carnock Committee, but it is interesting to note that, with all the previous examination, when we actually came down to the problem of putting it into legislative form in order to give effect to the very simple public purpose upon which the Bill rests, namely, that all these bodies which serve the public should cooperate together in carrying out their specific duties in order to cause the minimum inconvenience to the public, we found it was not quite so easy.

I must confess that when I started on this Bill I hardly anticipated the highly technical and complicated and comparatively large Measure that has emerged in the process. Its consideration in another place has been exceedingly helpful, and I had hoped that in these latter stages of this Parliament, it would not have been necessary so severely and thoroughly to overhaul the Bill. I recognise that I have placed a good deal of demand on the patience and consideration of the House in asking for all the stages to be passed in such a short time. I wish to express my deep appreciation to all the bodies concerned who have consulted and worked with my Department to bring the Measure to this stage, particularly the Parliamentary draftsmen. I do not know whether I am in order in thanking the other House, but I appreciate the assistance obtained from hon. Members, most of whom are here this morning to see the Bill through its final stage.

12.6 p.m.

I, for my part, and on behalf of my hon. Friends wish to express our appreciation of what the right hon. Gentleman has said and to congratulate him upon his success in getting this Bill to its present stage so speedily. He has referred to it as a "happy experience," and I can assure him that on the rare occasions on which this Government introduce a good Bill they will, of course, always find it a happy experience. This Bill, in fact, marks the culmination of something like 20 years of labour of various bodies. Therefore, it would not be right that this occasion should be passed without a word or two being said about it.

I hope that the Bill will serve a very useful purpose. It is a most complicated Measure; indeed, I can only think of one other Measure which is perhaps even more complicated, the Town and Country Planning Act. But, in spite of the com- placations in this Bill, which must cause many headaches to any layman trying to digest them, I hope that in practice it will prove much easier to operate than the consideration of its Clauses would lead one to suppose.

It will serve a useful purpose if all the bodies affected by it approach it in a good spirit, and I hope that, sooner or later, someone will try to translate the language in which these Clauses are written into language more easily comprehendable by the persons who have to rely on the statutory provisions. That, I think, would be a most useful task, but I hardly like to suggest that it should be added to the labours of the Parliamentary draftsmen for whose efforts we are always grateful.

In conclusion, I wish to say that we welcome the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman and the officials of his Ministry upon whom a great burden has fallen in trying to work so speedily in order to ensure the passage of this Bill. We should like to express our thanks to them for the careful and detailed consideration that they and the Attorney-General have given to the suggestions put forward from this side, suggestions all aimed at still further improving the Bill. I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me in saying that although we have dealt with this Bill very speedily in this House, we have, at the same time, improved it still further, even though when it left another place, it was perhaps thought that all possibilities of further improvement had been eliminated.

Both sides of this House have tried to make this Bill as good as it can be made. I do not suppose for one moment that it achieves perfection, though I hope that serious defects will not emerge, but if they do, perhaps we can get an amending Bill through as speedily as we have got this major Measure through.

12.9 p.m.

Although I have taken a very detailed interest in all the legislation introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport in the last five years, I must confess that I have not been successful in grasping the details of this Bill as I hope, perhaps, I was able to claim with regard to other Bills. Indeed, with regard to this Bill I have enjoyed little more than the holding of a watching brief.

I am glad that the Minister paid tribute to my hon. Friends for the work which they have done on this Bill. He will recollect that before we rose for the Summer Recess he asked them if they would apply their minds to the Amendments which they thought necessary, and I know that some of my hon. Friends did a lot of hard work on this matter during the Summer holiday. Of course, it has borne fruit. I hope I am not introducing a spirit of discord if I observe that we might have had a little more help from the benches behind the right hon. Gentleman. Except for two short interventions from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale) I do not think we have had any help from them at all.

The Minister of Transport has perhaps been fortunate above all other Ministers in being given Government time to introduce useful road legislation, quite apart from the more controversial legislation which he has introduced. The legislation covered by this Bill, the Cattle Grids Bill and the Special Roads Bill is, of course, legislation which will introduce interesting experiments. It will be most necessary to see how this Bill works out in practice because Parliament has not often tried to give detailed direction on the carrying out of such a multitude of overlapping public duties as we have attempted to give for the carrying out of this Bill.

There is no doubt that it will be a pity if the Ministry of Transport do not regard the Bill as essentially experimental. If they regard the Bill as the last word on the subject, the chaos which we all agree exists with regard to street works at the moment will not be swept away in a few years. I venture to predict—I know it is a brave thing to do—that as a result of the experience of the application of this Bill the Ministry of Transport will be asking for a better Bill replacing the present one in perhaps 10 or 15 years time, and I rather hope it may be so.

I have some faith that a degree of the present tremendous dislocation of traffic and of industry which takes place as a result of the present digging up of streets will be mitigated. I think, however, that in regard to London and the great cities, even this Bill will do very little to ease the hold-ups which take place. This morning as I stepped out of the house where I stay in London when Parliament is sitting, I noticed within a distance of 20 paces no fewer than eight different manhole covers. Under the streets there must be a most complicated system of works to be attended to. It is not just a question of taking up the pavement if one wishes to attend to these works. It is necessary to go into the streets; it is not possible to tackle the work in the same way as the Bill envisages in the open country. Although one would like to have high hopes as to the work which this Bill could do in the large cities, I think we should be cautious before we raise such hopes in the public mind. At any rate, I hope these few words of mine are justified in giving such blessing as I am in a position to give to this Bill on Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.