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Clause 15—(Interpretation)

Volume 643: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1961

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

Lords Amendment: In page 9, line 44, at end insert:

"'statutory undertakers' and 'statutory undertaking' have the same meanings as in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act,1947".

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

The Amendment defines the statutory bodies covered by the earlier Amendment to Clause 3 and it follows the pattern of existing legislation.

I wondered whether the Joint Under-Secretary would take up a point raised on an earlier Lords Amendment, when my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) spoke about statutory undertakers and mentioned the Coal Board. Am I not right in thinking that although transport, electricity authorities and the gas boards are covered by this definition, it does not cover the Coal Board?

The definition from Section 113 of the 1947 Act, which the Amendment specifies, is as follows:
"'statutory undertakers' means persons authorised by any enactment to carry on any railway, light railway, tramway, road transport, water transport, canal, inland navigation, dock, harbour, pier or lighthouse, undertaking, or any undertaking for the supply of electricity, gas, hydraulic power or water …"
So the privilege of insisting upon consent in relation to the authorities is not extended to the Coal Board. In putting forward this definition, was it the Government's intention to have it that way? When discussing the earlier Amendment to which the definition relates, the Joint Under-Secretary said that it was an extremely important matter for these people. If it is important for British Railways, it is equally important for the Coal Board and its properties and interests. If it is important for the electricity authorities, why has the Coal Board been left out? Possibly, there is a reason for this. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary or the Secretary of State whether it was deliberate or was merely another oversight. May I appeal to them to get the printers to put the Coal Board in?

With the leave of the House, I hope that I can deal with the difficulty that is worrying the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). It is really very simple. The Coal Board did not ask to be included, whereas other statutory undertakings did.

Am I to understand that all these statutory undertakings, dock, harbour pier and lighthouse under- takings, asked to be included? Although it was said in another place that representations had been made, no information was given either in another place or here tonight about who actually asked. Although we have had references to public authorities, this is the first time in the Bill that we have had a reference to statutory undertakers.

The hon. Member needs the leave of the House to speak again.

By leave of the House, I should like to ask whether the Coal Board was made aware that it might well be as concerned as the others.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked a question which, I thought, deserved an answer. I raised this matter on the first Amendment tonight and asked whether the Coal Board would be included. I said on that occasion that I could understand that there might be reasons for the Coal Board wanting to know what was being done about the maintenance and repair of drainage systems, because it might possibly affect the mines in a certain area and might result in flooding. That seems to me perfectly logical. If we interfere with watercourses in an area where there are mines, we might well cause an extra amount of water to go into those mines. Therefore, I should have thought that there was good reason for the Coal Board being included, and a much more important reason than the reason for the inclusion of a lighthouse authority.

I cannot see why lighthouses want to be in and the Coal Board out, or a harbour authority in and the Coal Board out. This, once again, is an example of the most slipshod kind of thought on the Government's part. They have allowed things to be done here to which they have given little thought, with the result that we now have the fantastic situation in which a local authority must consult a lighthouse authority but not the Coal Board. The Joint Under-Secretary ought to have given us a much better explanation than he has given of why this interpretation should be the right one and why it would not have been better to have enumerated the bodies with whom there should be consultation and whose permission is probably desirable.

I do not know whether I have the leave of the House to speak for a third time. The Coal Board did not ask at any time to be specially consulted, but various other statutory bodies did, though not all of them. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is perfectly right. We thought that the definition of a statutory undertaking covered the bodies which had asked to be consulted and we adopted that in the Bill out of convenience.

I am sorry that the Government, in their siftings of this matter, did not take the opportunity to ask the Coal Board whether or not it would like to be included in connection with its Scottish undertakings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) indicated, where there is extensive flooding, or where operations are taking place to rid certain areas of flood water, that flood water must be disposed of somewhere else. Either one channels it off or one drains it in some fashion from where it is causing surface difficulty.

10.30 p.m.

I would have thought that the Coal Board would have been very much concerned. If there were drainage excavations or any operations at all near its workings, it would naturally want to know that it had safeguards against the infiltration of water into its workings whether they were being actively operated or whether they were not being actively operated but might be actively operated at another date. It would be much more pertinent to the purposes of the Bill to have the National Coal Board as one of the statutory undertakers specified than some of the others referred to.

I would ask the Under-Secretary of State, by leave of the House, to say whether he agrees that the Coal Board should be consulted. I cannot imagine that in Ayr County it would not be consulted. It might be as well, therefore, that the Lords Amendment should refer to the Coal Board.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State would admit at that Box that a mistake has been made?

I will say at this Box that when a mistake is made and I know it has been made I will get up and say so. No mistake has been made. That was a short, concise speech.

I got that very courteous intervention in my speech before I got half a sentence out. You showed a great deal of the incompetence during the whole evening—

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy-Speaker I would call your attention to the fact that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), with his usual courtesy, of which he is so proud, said "You have shown incompetence." He used the word "you". I put that to you as a point of order.

If the hon. Member referred to the Chair he was grossly out of order.

I cannot understand the occupants of the Government Front Bench. The incompetence which they have shown has been obvious in our proceedings since 8 o'clock, two and a half hours ago. It is clearly obvious that the second of the Lords Amendments we considered and which referred to statutory undertakers and statutory undertakings referred to bodies like the National Coal Board. They were obviously included in the provision. I cannot believe that the Secretary of State consciously, deliberately decided that, in making a flood prevention scheme, account should be taken of the views of the lighthouse authorities but that no account should be taken of the views of the Coal Board.

Incidentally, in its mining operations the Coal Board may well be much concerned with a flood prevention scheme. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the incident at Knockshinnoch Colliery, in Ayrshire, a few years ago, when some miners lost their lives as a result of an inrush of water which was lying in a part of the country which might well have been drained by a proper scheme. I cannot believe that after that incident, in which many lives were lost, the Secretary of State takes the view that the Coal Board ought not to be interested in the making of a flood prevention scheme.

In the Second Schedule, relating to the confirmation and coming into operation and validity of flood prevention schemes, there is a reference to statutory bodies, and "statutory body" is then defined as
"any body exercising functions conferred on it by or under any enactment."
If another place had used not the phrase "statutory undertaking", but "statutory body", would not everyone have been covered? Would not protection have been given to all concerned?

It is clear that in this as in other matters Her Majesty's Government, having got the words "statutory undertaking" and having been given the excellent legal advice which is always available to them, decided that they would interpret "statutory undertaking" and "statutory undertaker"—making an Amendment to that effect—as in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, where the words are interpreted, not then realising that that interpretation was hopelessly inadequate for this Bill. I cannot understand why a Minister does not sometimes get up and simply say, "I am sorry. I have made a mistake".

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 10, line 18, at end insert:

"(6) For the purposes of this Act the service of any notice, scheme or other document on any person, body or association may (without prejudice to any other method of service) be effected by sending it to him, or, in the case of a body or association, to the secretary or other similar officer thereof, by post at his usual or last known residence, place of business or office."

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

This Amendment, which rectifies an earlier drafting Amendment and is in common form, is necessary for the protection of local authorities so that they will not be unnecessarily hampered in operating the Bill.

I am interested in the hon. Member's phraseology. His brief probably says that the Amendment is to correct an error. This Amendment was to correct a mistake of omission and there is nothing drafting about it. The Government forgot to put this into the Bill and they remembered when the Bill was in another place, and it is in now. That is true, is it not? It is only a minute ago that we had the pride of the Scottish Unionist Party, the Secretary of State, saying, "If a mistake is made, I will rise at the Box and say so." He has not done it tonight. He had an opportunity to carry out that promise within a minute of its being made, but instead we have had this phraseology from the Under-Secretary about a drafting omission. It is a plain error and nothing else. It is something which had been forgotten.

Naturally, we, too, must apologise, because we should have noticed it. It is about the only thing we did not notice. I remind the House that it was impressed on us that the Bill was urgent and that it bad to be got through quickly. We have other things to do and we cannot correct all the Government's legislative errors.

My hon. Friend has forgotten that the Secretary of State has an immense legal department and a vast Civil Service to do all his research for him, while we have to do our own.

It is simply because we do our own that we do it so well. I respect the Civil Service, but I am worried about the legal department. In fact, we did a commendably speedy job with the Bill and it might have been better if we had spent a little more time on it. Tonight, we have had more or less to recapture the meaning of the Bill, It was six months ago that it left the Scottish Standing Committee. Indeed, it is five months since another place dealt with it. Had the Government, who pleaded that they wanted the Bill urgently, given us an extra two sittings we should have found this mistake and put it right. We might even have found the missing paragraphs (a) and (b) for them when they would have been saved the disgraceful incompetence of tonight's performance by the powers that be in Scotland.

We are grateful to be able to help the Government and to assist them in putting right this "drafting omission." I gather that this is one of the drafting omissions which the printer himself could not have put right.

Question put and agreed to.