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Clause 56—(Modification On Grounds Of Public Interest Of Rights Under Part Ii)

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1954

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Lords Amendment: In page 41, line 1, leave out from "corporation" to "then" in line 5 and insert:

"the Minister or Board in charge of any Government Department may certify that it is requisite for the purposes of the first-mentioned department, or, as the case may be, of the authority, undertakers or corporation, that the use or occupation of the property or a part thereof shall be changed by a specified date.

(2) A certificate under the last foregoing subsection shall not be given unless the owner of the interest belonging or held as mentioned in the last foregoing subsection has given to the tenant a notice stating—

  • (a) that the question of the giving of such a certificate is under consideration by the Minister or Board specified in the notice, and
  • (b) that if within twenty-one days of the giving of the notice the tenant makes to that Minister or Board representations in writing with respect to that question, they will be considered before the question is determined,
  • and if the tenant makes any such representations within the said twenty-one days the Minister or Board shall consider them before determining whether to give the certificate.

    (3) Where a certificate has been given under subsection (1) of this section in relation to any tenancy"

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

    Again if I might mention a series of Amendments and deal with the points which they raise, this and the seven immediately succeeding Amendments to Clause 56 were moved by the Government on Report stage in another place. The Government were in rather a difficult situation here because I had been pressed with great incontinence of words by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) about the position of local authorities when the Bill was in this House. The hon. Gentleman asked me to consider whether I could not lessen the obligations of local authorities. I said that I would try to keep the position as far as I could, but I felt that local authorities should not get possession without the certificate of a Minister who was answerable to this House.

    What was my surprise when a distinguished member of the Opposition in another place, Lord Silkin, who is well known for his knowledge and experience of planning problems and had been chairman of the planning committee of the same local authority as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, took the point that the rights of the individual were not sufficiently protected by the certificate procedure and pressed very strongly in another place that we should go further. In fact, he said that his local authority experience had taught him that local authorities might be just as oppressive as Government Departments.

    In these circumstances, I was anxious that there should be as little delay as possible, because I gave the Committee an undertaking that I would do my utmost to prevent delay in getting the certificate. Therefore, I thought it best to take a different line from that which the noble Lord had originally in mind, and go back to the point that the tenant should be given notice of the application for the certificate so that the periods would run together and there would not be a delay.

    Therefore, in order to meet this problem—the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will appreciate the delicacy of the situation at that time on other matters which were being debated in this House—we compromised for this solution, which did not go as far as we were asked, but meets to some extent the point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made that the tenant might otherwise be oppressed by a local authority. These are the circumstances and these Amendments represent our efforts to find a compromise to meet a difficult situation.

    I appreciate the difficulty in which the Government found themselves and no doubt the Home Secretary appreciates my difficulty. The noble Lord in another place who moved the Amendment was, I believe, thinking primarily of statutory undertakers generally, and it was only subsequently that local authorities entered into the picture.

    12 midnight.

    So far as this Amendment gives a new right to the tenant, I do not think anyone will object to it, particularly as the period in which the tenant has to give notice of any representation he is to make is the short one of 21 days. That is not likely to cause any further delay, which was the point about the procedure of getting a Minister's certifi- cate which concerned many local authorities. Many of us still regret that it has been thought necessary that this certificate is required in the case of local authorities. As we pointed out in Committee, they do not obtain land for the fun of it, but simply to carry out their statutory obligations. I do not think that the tenant in these cases would have been placed in any real difficulty or be prejudiced, because if he stays over after the local authority has possession, or a new tenant is admitted, they both know that at a certain time, which is within the discretion of the local authority, that body will be able to proceed with the job for which the land or buildings were acquired and they will be required to leave.

    The tenant knew from the beginning of the new contract that the tenancy would cease as soon as the local authority was able to proceed with the job. It would, however, be stupid to allow the buildings to remain empty, or the land idle, until such time as a development scheme could proceed: therefore in the past they have been let. Knowing the circumstances in which a tenant will have been allowed, and agreed, to continue in occupation, will the Minister, particularly when a local authority is concerned, be likely to want to come to a decision adverse to the authority on any representation made by a tenant who knew what he was undertaking, and on what condition he was remaining in occupation? If the Minister refuses his certificate in many cases I foresee a first-class constitutional difficulty between the local authorities and the Minister. I want to save the appropriate Ministers from the sort of difficulty into which the Minister of Education is getting through vetoing the specific plans of local education authorities which had already been generally approved.

    If, on the other hand, the Minister will give his certificate automatically it would seem that the whole procedure is unnecessary, and I cannot see what representations a tenant could make which would generally affect the Minister's decision. It has been repeatedly pointed out that local authorities only require these properties for statutory purposes. They must, generally speaking, be the best judges of the use to be made of them. The Minister cannot know. They are subject to the pressure of local opinion, and subject to the district auditor and other superior agencies, and I regard this general procedure as a step backward.

    The Government are taking away from local authorities the normal right to enter into property they have purchased and which they have enjoyed up till now under the Housing Act, 1936, and under certain sections of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. It is unsatisfactory. I am certain that no one on this side of the House will object to the additional right given to the tenant. This seems a concession to theory. It is the kind of concession which the Government seem ready to make where a public authority is concerned but do not make when a private landlord is concerned.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Further Lords Amendments agreed to:

    In page 41, line 20, leave out from beginning to "and" in line 22 and insert:

    "(4) Where a tenant makes a request for a new tenancy under section twenty-six of this Act, and the interest of the landlord or any superior landlord in the property comprised in the current tenancy belongs or is held as mentioned in subsection (1) of this section, the following provisions shall have effect:—
  • (a) if a certificate has been given under the said subsection (1) in relation to the current tenancy,"
  • In line 36, at end insert:

  • (b) if no such certificate has been given but notice under subsection (2) of this section has been given before the making of the request or within two months thereafter, the request shall not have effect, without prejudice however to the making of a new request when the Minister or Board has determined whether to give a certificate."
  • In line 37, leave out "the court makes an order" and insert "application is made to the court".

    In line 40, leave out "then if".

    In line 42, leave out "certifies" and insert "may certify".

    In line 42, leave out from "interest" to "determine" in line 43 and insert "that if the landlord makes an application in that behalf the court shall".

    Lords Amendment: In page 45, line 45, leave out from "landlord" to end of line 46 and insert:

    "Subsection (2) of this section shall apply in relation to a certificate under this subsection, and if notice under the said subsection (2) has been given to the tenant—
  • (a) the court shall not determine the application for the grant of a new tenancy until the Minister or Board has determined whether to give a certificate.
  • (b) if a certificate is given, the court shall on the application of the landlord determine as a term of the new tenancy that it shall be terminable as aforesaid, and section twenty-five of this Act shall apply accordingly."
  • I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

    The reference in the Amendment to subsection (2) is to the new subsection (2) which is added by the Amendment at page 41, line 1, and the new subsection provides for the landlord notifying the tenant that the giving of a certificate is under consideration and requires the Minister to consider any representations from the tenant within 21 days of the notification.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Lords Amendment: In page 42, line 7, at end, insert:

    "(4) Where the interest of the landlord or any superior landlord in the property comprised in any tenancy belongs to the National Trust, the Minister of Works may certify that it is requisite, for the purpose of securing that the property will as from a specified date be used or occupied in a manner better suited to the nature thereof, that the use or occupation of the property should be changed; and subsections (2) to (4) of this section shall apply in relation to certificates under this subsection, and to cases where the interest of the landlord or any superior landlord belongs to the National Trust, as those subsections apply in relation to certificates under subsection (1) of this section and to cases where the interest of the landlord or any superior landlord belongs or is held as mentioned in that subsection."

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

    Perhaps I might mention the point in this Amendment and the Amendment in line 11 together. They make the certificate procedure of Clause 56 available where the landlord is the National Trust. This is the point which hon. Gentlemen who were on the Committee will remember was raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), and I undertook to consider the point. We have now put the matter into effect.

    I should like to thank the Government for putting down this Amendment. The right hon. and learned Gentle- man may remember I had some words with him at an earlier stage in the Bill on this matter. He offered to give consideration to what he agreed was the special position of the National Trust. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) had an Amendment down in Committee, but apparently it was rather too simple for the drafting experts. However, we are very well satisfied with the Amendment that has been moved, and I would like to thank the Home Secretary for meeting the representations that were made.

    Question put, and agreed to

    Further Lords Amendment agreed to: In page 42, line 11, at end insert:

    "and in the last foregoing subsection the expression 'National Trust' means the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty."