LAND COMMISSION BILL
STANDING COMMITTEE F OFFICIAL REPORT Tuesday, 22nd February, 1966 [Mr. H. Hynd in the Chair] Clause 1.—(The Land Commission.)Amendment No. 62 proposed [17th February], in page 1, line 19, leave out “given to them” and insert “prescribed” .—[Mrs. Thatcher.&csb
10.30 a.m. Question again proposed.
Mr. Michael Alison
I was in full flight when we were interrupted by the time last Thursday, and I shall now continue with our case for the Amendment.
We were arguing the general case that the directions that the Minister may give under the Clause should be reinforced, in the terms of our Amendment, to require that the Regulations should be published, so that the public might have some knowledge about the directions given under the provisions of this Measure to the Commission. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made the point that the provisions in the Bill at present are very similar in the terminology used to the words used in the nationalisation Acts, for example of the coal industry and other nationalised industries where the Minister is empowered to give general directions. But she pointed out that in those cases it was necessary for the Minister in question to consult with the Boards of the nationalised industries. That necessity is not imposed in the Bill.
We feel that the analogy between the operation of the Commission in its relations with the Minister and the procedure with regard to nationalised industries under earlier legislation is misleading, because the Commission, although it certainly operates on the national scale, is quite different from a nationalised industry. There is a difference about the commodity with which it deals in that, although it may be a common commodity in the sense that it is land, the real issues at stake are of particular proprietary ownerships and types of property on land, [column 54]involving many different relationships between different individuals. This makes it totally different from the commodities in which the nationalised industries deal. We are very anxious, for this reason, that the Minister, in his relations with the Commission, should have a much more direct responsibility to publish and make known to the public the directions which he may give to the Commission.
I should draw the attention of the Committee to two Clauses in the Bill which are relevant to the general case we are making. The first is Clause 12, under which general provisions are set out. I draw the Committee's particular attention to subsection (2), which states that the Commission may not undertake building developments on land that it acquires
“except with the consent of the appropriate Minister or Ministers” .
We should like to be certain—I believe that our Amendment would lead to that end—that in any consent which the Commission may obtain from the Minister for the development of building land in its possession, there should be an obligation for the permission so granted to be made public in a regulation to which we have full access and which we have full knowledge. It is intolerable that there should be imposed on the community yet another national body with power to develop and to build houses.
It is enough already to have local authorities, private developers, housing associations and so on. Are we now to have under the terms of this Bill yet another body, the Land Commission, with powers to build houses on land which it has acquired, perhaps compulsorily—although, agreed, it has to secure the Minister's consent to act as a housing developer? We want to be absolutely certain that the dialogue between the Minister and the Commission on whether or not housing development should take place on a particular piece of land or part of the land owned by the Commission, should come before the public for scrutiny and comment, and we believe that our Amendment will have this effect.
Clause 23 also relates to our Amendment. There again, we find that the Commission may apply, under the Clause, for a general direction from the Minister to the Commission to use the special procedure of the compulsory purchase orders.[column 55]This direction can secure for the Commission the power to act in a situation where it is empowered to buy compulsorily without planning permission already being in existence. It can apply for planning permission simultaneously with the compulsory purchase order.
This will have very direct results and very direct and unpleasant bearings on the rights of local citizens. In present circumstances, under normal local authority procedure, there has to be a public inquiry. The local citizens have certain rights with the local authorities, which we believe the local authorities believe in and are proud of. There is a real sense in which there has to be a public dialogue between authorities and those whose property rights are in some sense involved by the compulsory purchase procedure. The public inquiry—the dialogue between the parties in the public context—is valued both by the local authorities and by the public.
If this should, in any sense, be overridden by the new power given to the Commission whereby it can get planning permission at the same time as its compulsory purchase order—the two running in harness in order to save time—it will open up a real possibility of demoralising the sense of local rights and the respect in which local authorities are held. It will present a new sort of giant ogre, interfering with and overriding existing rights. It would be intolerable for the Minister to be given powers under the Bill to make a direction of this sort without having to lay the matter before the public by means of Regulation. Our Amendment is moved in the interests of securing a wider public cognisance of what is going on under the auspices of the octopus body which is being set up under the Bill.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Arthur Skeffington)
In opening our discussion on Thursday, the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), as the Committee would expect, put her case with her customary charm and with the expertise that one comes to associate with the practitioners of the Revenue Bar. She invited me to follow her down a number of very interesting by-ways. In the ordinary course of events, I should have been only [column 56]too happy to do so. It was a very tempting offer! But I do not think that I need follow her down all the labyrinthine excursions which she made on this Amendment, because a number of the points will be more appropriately dealt with when we discuss other Amendments and other Clauses.
The effect of the Amendment would be that when my right hon. Friend gave a direction to the Commission it would have to be in the form of Regulations, and, as hon. Members will see from Clauses 85 and 86, the Regulations would have to be in the form of a Statutory Instrument. This would be subject to lengthy procedure in the House of Commons. Whatever view hon. Members may take of the Amendment, they will realise that this is a formidable constitutional process and would impose on my right hon. Friend a massive constraint. That may, indeed, be the whole purpose of the Amendment. But I draw the attention of the Committee to it for that reason and would suggest a number of reasons why it would make for extreme difficulties and create constitutional novelties which would have consequences far wider merely than the Bill. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if one were trying to think of a way in which one could make the working relations between the Minister and the Commission as constrained and inflexible as possible, one would adopt this Amendment. It is for this and for many other reasons that I shall hope that the Committee will decide not to accept the Amendment.
There is a number of reasons, as I have said, why we believe that the Amendment is not only unnecessary but in some ways absurd. Perhaps I can deal with one or two of the more absurd consequences first. I do not do this in any derisory sense; I mean they are absurd when one comes to translate them into practical applications.
We have already decided, on a previous Amendment, that the sort of directions that my right hon. Friend could give would be directions of a general character about broad policy matters. The first point that arises is that many of the general directions would be impossible to translate into a regulationary form, not only because of their broad character, but, indeed, even in the narrow [column 57]concept of complying with the rules of the House. A regulation has to have a certain precision about it; otherwise it cannot be debated—cannot even come before the House. On both grounds—the narrow technical one and the broader one—it is not possible in a number of cases to translate broad policy decisions into a regulationary form.
There is an even more important constitutional point. Even if it were possible to comply with the rules of the House in translating broad general policy directions into a regulation that would be acceptable, as the Amendment seeks to have done, the consequence would be that the House of Commons or the House of Lords, or Parliament itself, would, in effect, be determining very largely the policy of the Commission rather than the policy of the Minister.
The duty of Parliament has always been generally considered to be that it must examine what Ministers do, it must criticise, if it thinks it right to do so, what Ministers do, but the job of Parliament itself must not be concerned with the direct administrative consequences of their policy. Otherwise Parliament would be very largely assuming the responsibilities of Ministers. This may well be the purpose of the Amendment, but if it is, I must say that it is to some extent novel, it is certainly a complete break with our previous Parliamentary practice, and it would have the consequences that I have described of transforming the general functions of Parliament as the examiner and criticiser of policy, and make it very largely the determinor—if not the initiator—of policy by means of its veto. I would have thought this an exceedingly undesirable consequence.
The hon. Lady made a very great point in her speech about the virtues of consultation and the fact that in Clause 1 there is no mention of consultation. She said that there is a general fear that there is no requirement for the Minister to consult the Commission before he issues any directions. The hon. Lady assumed that we had looked at the precedents. Her right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was rather less generous. I think he doubted that we had, but I can assure him and the hon. Lady that we looked at all the precedents long [column 58]before the Bill got to the Committee stage. I shall have something to say about how the precedents break on this point. The hon. Lady gave only two examples, from rather old Statutes, but we have examined a very large number. 10.45 a.m.
Before I say something about precedents, perhaps I could make two general points about consultation. The first one is that it is not really necessary to have the word “consultation” in the Statute. I will not say that it would do any great harm, but it is not really necessary to do so. In the arrangements envisaged in this Bill and similar measures that we were considering at our last sitting, there is an administrative liaison continuously going on between the Minister and the administrative body all the time. The Commission is not some kind of foreign state which has to be visited by an ambassador. Because of this constant administrative liaison between the Minister and the Commission, my right hon. Friend—as any other Minister dealing with an institution of this kind would be—is in touch with it. He appoints the members, he can dismiss the members, the members report to him, and so there is bound to be consultation the whole time. We are advised, on the very highest authority, that a great many Statutes do not require what the Opposition suggest on the part of the Minister because it is unnecessary.
I make a second point about consultation. Normally when giving a direction, a Minister does so more often in the interests of the Commissioner than to secure compliance with his policy. As I have already said, he appoints the members of the Commission, and they have to report to him. The fact that the general consultative arrangements are going on the whole time means that he usually has no difficulty in ensuring that his policy, or the policy of the Government, is adopted by the Commission. But there are cases where the Commission—or any other body in such a relationship—feels, if it is being asked to depart from a policy, that it wants to have its interest protected so that it can properly say “We have taken this action and have followed this policy because it is a requirement of the Minister and the Government” . It is often a protection for [column 59]the Commission that such directions should be given. Indeed, in the very large majority of cases this is the only circumstance in which a direction is given. It may well be that the Commission is being asked to follow a policy because it is desirable from the point of view of the Government that such a policy should be followed. It might be less profitable if it followed this policy. Therefore, the Commission will probably require a direction from the Minister so that it can report in its Annual Report why it has taken the action, and then the matter is clear to the public. It is a protection.
For both these reasons the significance of “consultation” and the requirement of consultation in relation to the Bill have to be looked at. The hon. Lady mentioned only two precedents but implied that there were others, and I see that she has more volumes about precedents today. While she quoted, quite properly, two Acts which require consultations, the fact is that of the 21 major Statutes dealing with relationships between Ministers and similar bodies over directions about half require consultation—although, as I have explained, it is not legally necessary—and about half do not.
Therefore, just to restore the balance, I would put it on record that all the Statutes do not require consultation. The National Health Service Act, 1946, does not require the Minister to consult the hospital boards before giving directions. Nor is it necessary with the Cotton Commission under the Cotton Act, 1947. Almost the nearest analogy with the Land Commission—I referred to it in connection with another Amendment last week—is the Central Land Board, established under the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, where there is no requirement for consultation. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 has no consultation requirement. I ought to mention, as there are Scottish Members, the Crofters (Scotland) Act, 1955; no consultation is required with the Crofters' Commission. In the New Towns Acts 1959 and 1965, no consultation is required with the New Towns Commission. In relation to new town corporation there is a requirement, but it is really not within the spirit of the point which the hon. Lady was making. It says that the Minister should consult with the chairman and [column 60]vice-chairman on matters unless the urgency of the business prevents that taking place. It is not a sort of formal requirement in the sense that the hon. Lady was suggesting.
So there are these very powerful precedents. The best of all—it is almost a model for our purposes apart from the Central Land Board—is the Housing Act, 1964, where we have the Housing Corporation under Section 1(2)—it is a very recent Act, passed by the previous Government—which states that,
“Directions of a general characteristic as to the exercise and performance of the functions of the Corporation may be given by the Minister and the Secretary of State acting jointly.”
There is no requirement for consultation.
That has the other limitation to which I referred.
Which limitation is that?
The limitation that the directions should be limited to the exercise of the functions.
Oh, yes; all of them. The hon. Lady need not fear; we are coming to that point. She has completely misdirected herself on that point as I shall point out.
I am dealing, first, with regular arguments in saying that precedents do break almost evenly. There are thousands of precedents which go in the direction in which this Bill has been drafted, and I hope the Committee will take that into account. We think that the very recent precedent of the Housing Act, 1964, is a very good one. I have no doubt that the reason why “consultation” was not put in was that which I have already indicated.
Mr. Michael Noble
The hon. Gentleman referred to the Crofters' Act and that is right, but the most recent, and, I think, the most comparable, legislation that we have had in Scotland dealing with exactly the same problems of land and compulsory purchases and so on, is the Highlands and Islands Development Act, 1965. It says in Section 2 that the Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Board, give the Board directions of a general character. That is a Measure dealing with very much the same sort of problems, and brought in only a few [column 61]months ago by the present Government. With the acceptance, I think, of all the Scottish Members, that provision was put in.
I certainly accept that. I was pointing out that precedents break—both in the more ancient Statutes and in the more up-to-date Statutes—broadly speaking fifty-fifty. We thought that the Housing Act, as far as England and Wales are concerned, was a very good precedent indeed. If one takes the precedents together with the legal reasons on consultation, one has a very strong case.
The hon. Lady went on to refer—as her hon. Friend, the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) also went on to refer in a rather blood-curdling way—about the powers under Clause 23. I do not want to traverse the whole of this argument, but the Committee should remember, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows, that there is an Amendment later on the Notice Paper, which my right hon. Friend will move in due course, removing Clause 23. I will come to the reason for this when we get to the Clause, but the argument on that is a little less strong because the Clause will be disappearing from the Bill.
The hon. Lady went on to refer to the point which she has just made. In column 46 of the Official Report of our last sitting she said:
“… . the general directions in those Acts—”
she was referring to the Transport Act, 1947, and the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act, 1946—
“were limited to the exercise and performance by the Commission of its functions. Under this measure, they are not limited in any such way.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 12th February, 1966; c.46.]
The hon. Lady has fallen into error. The subsection reads:
“The Commission shall, in the performance of their functions, comply with such directions of a general character as may be given them by the appropriate Minister or Ministers.”
They only have to comply “in the performance of their functions” . If my right hon. Friend attempted to give them general directions outside their functions he would be ultra vires the Bill, with all the consequences that follow. All that this statute has done is to put the matter round the other way. Sometimes it has put it in the other order, but the legal consequences are actually the same.[column 62]
This point is only important in relation to Clause 23, which virtually made the functions limitless. If the Arthur SkeffingtonJoint Parliamentary Secretary is not going to put anything in place of Clause 23, I am very happy indeed. If he is only deleting it to put something more devastating or equivalent in its place, I think the argument still prevails.
It is a little difficult to deal with arguments when the hon. Lady says, “Well, this is not really significant except in relation to another Clause” , and then one finds that the other Clause is not to be retained. She then says that all arguments are significant. If that is the case, I am quite prepared to accept it, but I emphasise that as far as the significance of subsection (3) is concerned, the directions can only have validity in so far as they relate to the function of the Commission. So it is not true to say—I think this ought to go on the record—that the general directions concerned in this Measure are not limited in any such way. That was the statement of the hon. Lady. I think she realises now that this is not actually so.
I hope that I am not taking too much time, but there are a number of constitutional points that arise, and I wanted to deal with the argument which was put so cogently by the hon. Lady. Indeed, it may save us time on subsequent Amendments because we shall see the significance of this Clause in relation to them. Also, it was a very wide-ranging speech that the hon. Lady made. She went on to make some points about the discretion that the Commission can exercise regarding the levy. Although she is not in any sense physically like the fat boy in Pickwick, she did, in other respects, have his characteristic, which made our flesh creep.
I am sure that I should be out of order if I attempted to traverse the whole argument at this stage about the difference between a levy or charge on land in relation to the improvement of its value and a tax. It is an error, into which the right hon. Gentleman keeps on falling, to think that one can relate both the principles and the consequences of the tax on whisky with a charge on land. These are two entirely different animals; there are different principles and different consequences involved. [column 63]
The hon. Lady said that in tax matters certainty is everything, that it has always been held to be a constitutional requirement, and she gave the impression, I thought, that there was never any discretion within tax matters. There are of course, discretions, in certain tax matters. Inspectors of Taxes have certain discretions, even though under the recent Act in regard to entertainment, they have been further restricted, but there must, of course, be considerable discretion.
At this stage, all I think I need say about the hon. Lady's very interesting argument is that the discretions under the Bill are extremely limited. There are only three cases under the Bill where there might be discretion in relation to the levy. It is very unlikely that any Minister would ever issue any general directions about them, but I should like to put the three cases on record for the convenience and assistance of the Committee.
Under Clause 59 the Commission can issue a direction if it thinks fit which would avoid levy in Case C where development started within two years of a transaction, in respect of which the Commission would have discretion. This is a limited discretion very much in the interests of the developer, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not quarrel with the purpose.
There is a second discretion in relation to collection of the levy. Once the levy has been assessed, the Commission may at its discretion allow postponement or payment by instalment. This is a discretion which has a very honourable precedent. The Central Land Board has precisely this type of discretion, as the hon. Lady will find in Section 71 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.
Thirdly, there is the discretion for the Commission in Clause 61 of the Bill to exempt builders and developers owning land before the date of the White Paper where the Commission is satisfied that the principal purpose of the project is provision of housing accommodation. This follows an almost identical provision in the Act which established the Central Land Board in relation to dead ripe land. [column 64]11.0 a.m
These are three extremely limited discretions, and I should have thought it very unlikely that any of them would have been the source of a general direction on policy by my right hon. Friend.
My final point to the Committee is that, despite all the parading of precedents with which the hon. Lady regaled us last Thursday, the plain fact is that there is no single precedent anywhere for this Amendment, which would insert “prescribed” into this part of the Clause. This would be an entirely novel principle. The reason why there is no precedent for that is very obvious. If one were to require prescriptions in this way in relation to a direction, one could not have the Clause drafted this way at all. There would be no directions as such. One would be constituting a new relationship between the Minister and the Commission which would be alien to our present constitutional beliefs, in that the relationship between the Minister and the Commission would be governed by prescribed regulations. As no Government has thought it right or proper, or, indeed, practical, to do this, I hope that the Committee will decisively reject the Amendment.
Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter
No one could accuse the Parliamentary Secretary of having treated the Amendment lightly, or having been other than extremely conscientious in the reply which he has sought to give to it. If in the further stages of the Bill Ministers reply with similar conscientiousness, care and length, we shall at least have no complaint on that score.
I am bound to say, however, that as the Parliamentary Secretary went on he seemed to widen the gulf between the two sides of the Committee on this matter. This is not, after all, a question of precedent. I am rather inclined to agree with him. It is a question of what is right to do here. But all the arguments that he produced to show that what we propose is not right seemed to me to point very much the other way.
First, the hon. Gentleman said that the directions would be, as a result of our decision on a previous Amendment, of a general character. Those are, of course, precisely the sort of directions which can properly be embodied in regulations. [column 65-66]Secondly, he said if one put them in regulations, they would have to be precise. But surely they ought to be precise. If the Minister is contemplating giving the Commission directions which are not of a precise character, this is most alarming.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman said that there would be continuous administrative liaison between the Commission and the Minister. That may be so, but Parliament will not know of it. The public will not know of it. On an earlier Amendment he referred to things being done if directions of a special character were given on the “old boy network” , and said that that was undesirable. He is really saying now that the Minister will be able to give directions by this continuous administrative liaison, but we shall not have the knowledge which will result from prescribing them. The difference between the two sides of the Committee is perfectly clear, and I suggest to my hon. Friends that we press this Amendment.
The Minister of Land and Natural Resources (Mr. Frederick Willey)
I do not think that we should let it go as easily as that. The right hon. Gentleman is correct in some of the things he says, but he is fundamentally wrong in his approach. This is really a constitutional issue—the division between the exercise of executive and legislative powers. The precedents are against the Amendment because of this.
What the right hon. Gentleman wants to do—it is always very dangerous—is to confuse the two things, to confuse the line which divides legislative action, which the word “prescribed” imports, and executive action. Secondly, he will appreciate in the light of his experience that it is wrong to confuse Ministerial responsibility with Parliament. A Minister is accountable to Parliament in the exercise of executive responsibilities, and we have provided for this. This would be blurred if we made the issue of directions subject to prescription.
What one can do, very properly, of course—this arises now and will arise later—is to make sure that when we define what has to be subject to legislative action, we define it properly. There may be an argument about whether this or that should be the subject of regulations, but here we have all the precedents to show that where a general direction has been issued, it has been an executive act. We should not convert it into a legislative act. We should make proper provision for legislative action. At the same time we should not blur the responsibility and accountability of a Minister to Parliament. These are the two major arguments which tell against the right hon. Gentleman.
There has been some discussion—I do not complain about it, because we are discussing this subject against the background of general directions—about whether there should be consultations or not, whether provision could be made for the issue of general directions. But that is irrelevant to the point that we are on now. The point that we are on now is whether we should deliberately blur the distinction between the two different powers as they are exercised by the Minister. That is the issue here, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong.
The hon. Lady obviously has some doubt about this. I noticed that she said:
“Because the Minister has such very wide powers in his directions, we feel that, at any rate, for an initial period of five years, or perhaps 10 years, Parliament should have a say in those directions, and should have an opportunity to revoke them.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 17th February, 1966; c.49.]
There has been no further attention to the argument about the immediacy of providing for regulations, and it will be less immediate in the future. I take this to indicate that the hon. Lady has had some doubt about going so directly against constitutional precedent. Precedent is important, but we should remember the very important principle that if we provide the directions, we ought to do as we have done hitherto—provide that the Minister is accountable for those directions by the ordinary doctrine of Ministerial responsibility.
Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 10. Division No.2.]
Alldritt , Walter
Dunnett , Jack
Fletcher , Ted (Darlignton)
Hamling , William (Woolwich, W.)
Harrison , Walter (Wakefield)
Howie , W.
Johnson , James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Manuel , Archie
Skeffington , Arthur
Willey , Rt. Hn. Frederick
Alison , Michael (Barkston Ash)
Box , Donald
Boyd-Carpenter , Rt. Hn. J.
Elliott , R. W. (N'c'stle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Eyre , Reginald
Farr , John
Nobel , Rt. Hn. Michael
Smith , John
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Wells , John (Maidstone)
Whereupon The Chairman declared himself with the Ayes.
I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 19, at the end to insert:
“and the Ministers shall lay before each House of Parliament a copy of every direction so given except a direction in respect of which there has been notified to the Commission the opinion of the appropriate Minister or Ministers that its contents should remain confidential in the interests of national security” .
I thought that the speeches of the Frederick WilleyMinister and of the Arthur SkeffingtonJoint Parliamentary Secretary on the last Amendment could probably both be turned round to provide very good speeches for this Amendment, because the constitutional argument has gone and the purpose of this Amendment relates to early information and not to Parliamentary control. I would hope that every member of the Committee would think it right that we should have as much early information about direction as it is possible to get.
There is a precedent for such an Amendment in connection with the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act. I have not, alas, been able to find a precedent for the acceptance of such an Amendment, but it would be somewhat ironic if hon. Members opposite were to rely solely on precedent for all their replies. It would be an interesting, intellectual situation, but I hope——
Mr. Archie Manuel
I dislike intensely relying on precedent, particularly Tory precedent.
Tell the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that!
I look forward to having the Archie Manuelhon. Member with us for once. That would be a new experience.
I notice that in reply to the previous Amendment neither the Joint Parliamentary Secretary nor the Minister gave us any indication of the kind of direction they would give. This, I would have thought, was crucial. It is certainly crucial to this Amendment, and I think we should have some indication of the purpose for which they intend to use this power to [column 68]give a general direction. Perhaps they have not made up their minds. There were one or two rather alarming remarks. I thought, by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he said that the directions would be in the interests of the Commission. Most of us would be anxious that there should be a number of directions in the interests of the subject, because the powers in this Commission are so very wide—far wider than in the other Acts which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary cited, which have very narrow powers, and narrow in terms of reference. This is the widest Measure and these are the widest powers that I can ever remember going through this House. Therefore, it is imperative that we should have some indication of the directions that are going to be issued, when someone dictating that some of those directions will act in favour of the subject against the enormous powers of the State. 11.15 a.m.
I would also think that those directions—we should soon be able to see what they were if the Minister accepted this Amendment—could give a good deal of protection to foreign investors in this country, because people who put their money into companies in this country, in Development Districts or elsewhere, may well find themselves liable to compulsory acquisition, and certain compensation at market price, until there is no market. Foreign investors are just as liable to the devastating provisions of this Bill as we are, and I would be most interested if the Minister would direct the Commission that where a company comes into a Development District the Commission shall not compulsorily acquire land against the interests of that company. Otherwise we shall have to ask the Chancellor of the James Callaghan Exchequer to draw the attention of every overseas investor in this country to the provisions of this Bill. I would not like to invest money in another country which put up a Bill of this kind against my money, at the same time as asking for my money to be invested in that country. Those are just a few of the matters on which [column 69]I should like the Minister to give us some information.
I note that there are already some 14 types of bodies with powers of compulsory purchase, and there are no fewer than between 1,500 and 1,600 particular bodies with powers of compulsory purchase. Would the Minister also give us some indication about the kind of directions that he will give when there are clashes between the bodies. I think that the directions can be given by “the appropriate Minister or Ministers” , but there are large number of different Ministers involved.
More than ever before.
A very large number of Ministers, and it occurs to me, as it must have occurred to both the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, that different Ministries may want the same piece of land for different purposes, and that they would simultaneously give to the Commission contradictory directions affecting that particular piece of land. Suppose, for example, a piece of land became free from the railways. Local government might want it for housing; someone else might want it for purposes of water undertakings, and someone else for nuclear power. Who is going to give a general direction to the Land Commission telling it how to adjudicate between different directions of different Ministers given simultaneously? How are we to know what directions are given unless we have the maximum amount of information?
This is a very real problem because, as the Minister knows, there are many separate Departments which have powers of compulsory purchase and which would, therefore, have powers to give a direction. I hope that during the discussion of this Amendment, which is designed to provide as much information as possible, we shall have some indication of how these problems will be met.
The discussion that we have already had has cleared the way to dealing with this Amendment so that we can concentrate on rather narrower issues. But there is one matter which has apparently overflowed from what I said before, when I referred to the directions of a general character being issued, [column 70]in most cases, in the interests of the Commission. What I meant was not that this would not also be in the interests of the subject, because I suggested that the sort of case where the Commission or a body of this kind would like a direction was where it is directed for social purposes by the Minister, to embark on a course of action which might be less profitable than if it had followed its normal practice.
This sort of thing arises from time to time. It arises under the Town and Country Planning Act where there is a discretion in relation to the disposal of land whereby a local authority, if it is for certain social purposes, may dispose of the land for less than the top market price. This, of course, must have Ministerial consent. There are cases of that kind, and, in order to cover itself, in this case the local authority has Ministerial consent. In the case of the Commission where it is embarking upon a matter of social policy at the request of a Minister of the Government, it may like, and probably ought to have, its actions protected so that when it reports and the whole of the operation can be seen, there is a safeguard that it departed from its normal practice, and took what may be a less remunerative course of action in order to comply with the Government request.
But this does not mean—and I really must take this point up with the hon. lady—that the whole purpose of the Bill must be in some way anti-subject. The whole of the operation is being done for the people of the country, not against them. [Laughter.] I am only too happy to make this point, and I shall be glad to make it constantly and repeatedly, until it is appreciated significantly by hon. Members opposite. We certainly would not have engaged in this long task if we had felt that there was any other way of seeing to it that the broad objectives of the Bill, and the operation of the Commission, can act in this way for the benefit of the whole of the people of Britain. Therefore it is only in a narrow constitutional sense that I said that the Commission itself for its own protection will sometimes require, and sometimes ought to have, a direction.
This Amendment, of course, would invite the immediate scrutiny by Parliament of all directions unless, as the [column 71]Amendment says, these matters were concerned with national security. It would again introduce into Parliament a procedure that has not been considered necessary in any other case. I suppose it may be subject to some comment that in these matters we rely upon precedent. But I must say that where we have in a democratic assembly procedures which are tried which have on the whole proved meritorious and have been accepted by public opinion and by both parties, I do not think one wants lightly to change them. But it certainly would not close my mind.
It is again interesting to note that it is suggested that there should be this limitation on operation, this requirement immediately to publish directions and provide for scrutiny in Parliament, when it has not been thought fit to do this in connection with any of the other vast undertakings, all the publicly-owned industries, all the activities of the statutes which I mentioned. I found it somewhat surprising that this should be the requirement of the Oppositition in relation to this Bill.
There is one other point that perhaps I ought to clear up. The hon. Lady asked me about Ministers. The Ministers referred to, of course, are the Ministers mentioned in this Bill, not other Ministers. They are the Ministers acting jointly—the Minister of Land and Natural Resources and the Secretary of State for Scotland—not Ministers of other Departments.
Does it say this in the Bill?
I think on reflection that it will be seen that this must inevitably be the case. Indeed, the Ministers concerned are defined, as will be seen in Clause 86, as these two Ministers acting jointly or, of course, in the case of individual directions, acting separately either in Scotland or in England.
What the hon. Lady has failed to say in her Amendment in relation to directions is that the Commission will be expected to publish the directions in its Report so that then Parliament, looking at policy over a period, can determine the policy of the Minister. This, we think, is the proper way to do it, the [column 72]way in which it has been thought appropriate in all the other cases. It enables Parliament to review policy over a period. As I said not only on the previous Amendment, but also to some extent on the Amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), there would be all kinds of undesirable administrative and constitutional consequences if this Amendment were accepted, and I must ask the Committee to reject it.
I still find myself unconvinced by the general trend of the hon. Gentleman's argument. It seems to me that we are dealing with a body here which, although it is national in its scope and in designation, nevertheless in its operations is essentially local; and we are talking here about the national communal benefit of these operations. This is quite deceiving, because some of the operations of the Commission will result in discrimination in the interests of certain local people, for example, Crownholders, or those who are granted freeholdings under the operations of the Commission. It will benefit one segment of the population in the particular locality in quite a different way from the benefits which will accrue to the community as a whole. Therefore, it has a discriminatory effect in its benefits and operations upon particular localities.
In a sense, the Commission is surely on a precise level with any other great local authority; and great local authorities, even of the very largest kind, still have to come to the House of Commons very often with general powers Bills, for example, seeking the permission of the House to engage in substantial and widespread activities of a local character. The Commission is, in a sense, on a precise level with local authorities in this way. Its operations will have a discriminating effect in a given locality, and it cannot be argued that its activities on every occasion have a communal and national impact. It has a local and discriminating effect, giving benefits and particular advantages to local people.
I should have thought that in this sense it was precisely akin to and competitive with great local authorities which nevertheless have to come to this House, under general powers Bills, for permission to develop in a given locality. Why should not the same necessity be laid [column 73]upon this Commission in its local and regional activities? It seems to me that the case has not been satisfactorily made for this argument.
The effect of the arguments we have heard from the benches opposite, especially from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), would be to cause great delay and frustration. I should be most concerned if the Opposition's view as expressed this morning were accepted and local authorities' powers, intentions and interests in connection with land were impeded, to the detriment of the common weal. However, I do not accept that this would be so. What we are dealing with on this Amendment is largely what was dealt with on the previous one. We are dealing with actual directions of a general character.
I thought it rather misleading of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to speak about the conflicting views of various Departments and Minister wanting the same piece of land for different purposes. A local authority, through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, might want a piece of land for housing. The Secretary of State for Defence might want it for a rifle range, perhaps. There would not be much difficulty about that, and a decision could readily be made.
It would be very wrong, if by adopting Amendments from either side of the Committee, we inserted principles into the Bill which, while they might be regarded as very good in certain connections, would have the inevitable result of causing delay and frustration in getting on with this job. I take it that if there were the conflict of interest presupposed by the Amendment and the hon. Lady's speech the appropriate Ministers, that is, my right hon. Friend here and his Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland, would know very well what the common interest was in relation to the particular application before them.
There is a point here which, perhaps, I ought to have made in my earlier remarks. I did not want to bore the Committee by going on too long. In nearly every one of these cases when land is required, it will be the result of a planning decision already taken. Even the Commission, if it wishes [column 74]to act, must obtain planning permission from the Minister, that is, the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore, the possibility of conflict is extremely remote. I do not say that it could never happen, but it is extremely remote.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was about to illustrate the argument by drawing on my own local authority experience. All the major local authorities in Scotland acting as planning authorities have their own planning departments. The County of Ayr, for example, embraces a large landward area comprising many small burghs and two major burghs, Kilmarnock and Ayr. Each of these major authorities has, in accordance with the decision of Parliament, made plans for its own area, deciding where housing, both local authority and privately developed, should go, where industry should go, and so on. The county council, acting for the whole of the landward area of Ayrshire and for the small burghs, has a plan covering each area. Therefore, by the time the land comes to be used, there will be planning decisions already in existence. 11.30 p.m.
After my experience as a member of a local authority, having suffered in the past because of conflicting interests wanting land for different purposes and having seen much of it going for what I thought were wrong purposes, I am extremely glad that this Bill is coming along to make the planning proposals and decisions of local authorities really effective. We should not forget that the Minister, who will be asked to decide in the final analysis in Scotland, is the person who has decided whether the planning decision of the local authorities was correct. It cannot be adopted by the local authority until the Secretary of State for Scotland has, by his decision, agreed that the planning was correct. I hope that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) will agree that in this connection the position is preserved and safe.
In my experience, planning officers are the most difficult people to move once they have made up their minds. I agree that they make up their minds [column 75]on substantial evidence and as a result of good training. It is difficult even for a major authority to move a planning officer once he has made up his mind, although on occasion one has to do it.
Rather like the hon. Member.
I hope that I am open to persuasion. It is difficult when the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley beams across at me in her delightful way. One of the drawbacks of hon. Members on this side of the Committee is that, today at any rate, we have not a counterpart to the hon. Lady to sway arguments when possibly they should be swayed. We should stick to the thoughtful arguments adduced from Front Benches Members and other hon. Members.
The case built up by hon. Members opposite, while good in itself, did not recognise that Ministers, both in Scotland and in England, have made decisions as to whether, the proposed planning was correct. When certain land becomes available, say, from the Railways Board—perhaps a station is to be closed and much land, possibly valuable, becomes available in an area of concentrated housing and industry, possibly in the heart of a town—many people would like it. Speculators would crowd round if the position were not buttressed, as it is, by the previous decision of the planning authority.
I hope that the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member and others who have taken an interest in this Amendment will agree that in this connection the local authority planning decision, endorsed by the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Housing and Local Government, is the decision which the Minister is bound to accept in the final analysis.
On this Amendment and previous Amendments the Committee has had the rather entertaining experience of considering whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary or the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) is the more effective in spinning out time while reinforcements are summoned. At the moment, I would award the prize to the hon. Member for Ayrshire; [column 76]I am afraid that the Minister is absolutely unplaced in this competition.
I would point out that much as I may exude power, I am the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. There are four more hon. Members representing Ayrshire. The right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends would be very upset if he suggested that I represented the whole of the county.
The hon. Member must take it as a compliment to his exuberant personality that he seems, as it were, to spread it over the whole of that delectable county.
It has been an awkward morning for the Government. The obvious lack of enthusiasm for the Bill, shown by the fact that they were saved on the previous Amendment solely by the Chairman's casting vote, and by the fact that a Minister who ought to be assumed to be trying to get on with the Bill is obviously playing for time while the Whip, who I saw summoned out to a reprimand, returns with reinforcements.
That is not so. I could not afford that time.
So the Member for Central Ayrshire is put up, and he makes a most gallant attempt. He says, as an old Parliamentarian—and I respect him—that our proposal will cause delay. What delay? All that the Amendment requires is that the Minister shall lay a copy of the direction. It is not suggested that he should delay the direction. It is not suggested he should hold it back. He should lay it, either at the time that he makes it or shortly after. What delay is there there? None at all. Of course the hon. Gentleman knows that.
What we have not been told—this perhaps gives the Joint Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity for another of his splendid essays in delay—is what character these general directions will have. We know nothing of this. It seems that, whatever the precedents may or may not be—it always amuses me to see how the present bold, progressive Government are always sheltering behind the precedents of other Governments—this is a very simple proposition. It is simply that we should know at the [column 77]time what the general directions contain; that is, that the healthy light of publicity should be directed on what the Minister is doing.
We were told on the previous Amendment, by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—I drew attention to it—of the continuous administrative liaison between the Minister and the Commission. No doubt that is so. That will not help the public, for they will not know what the right hon. Gentleman is up to. It will not be in the Press and on the radio and known to hon. Members. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary says, “Oh, they are general directions; they will be in the Commission's Report” . But that is far too late. The reports of such bodies come many months after the end of the year to which they relate, and any direction which has been given will have long ceased to have very much practical consequence by the time it appears embedded in the report.
What the Minister is afraid of is that if he gave a direction which he should not do, he would be liable to be challenged at once in the House if our Amendment were successful. He knows perfectly well that it would be hopeles to challenge it in the House 18 or 24 months after he had given it, when the harm had been done. That is the difference. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not argue that the directions should not become known. He argued only that they should become known when it was too late for their becoming known to have any practical effect. This, surely, is the negation of good sense. There might be a case for shielding the whole of the process within the general cover of what goes on in Whitehall; though I do not accept that view, there might be a case for it. There is certainly a case for publishing it at the time. What is surely the weakest of all arguments is to say that there is no objection to publishing it provided that it is too late for anyone to do anything about it.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary says, “This Amendment seems to be based on the idea that the Commission is antisubject, and that the subject would need protecting from the Commission and from the Minister” . That is all very well; no doubt the Joint Parliamentary Secretary thinks that. If he did not think that, he would not continue, presumably, [column 78]as Joint Parliamentary Secretary. He would follow the example of the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy. But he must realise that a great many people in this country do not think this. Those of us who have studied Clause 8 and the Second Schedule know that the Bill is extremely anti-subject, and when we come to that stage, it will be interesting to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, or even the Minister, seek to demonstrate the contrary.
There are many people—I put this to the Parliamentary Secretary—who are intensely suspicious of this manoeuvre, who regard this whole Measure as a form of concealed nationalisation, and who want to know what the Minister is doing. Unless the Minister is contemplating doing things of which he is ashamed, why does he object to publishing what he is doing, letting us know what are the general directions which he is giving to the Commission? To some extent the Commission themselves are entitled to this, so that when they do something which may appear to be arbitrary or foolish, it shall be known at the time that they are doing so not on their own judgment but because the Minister has directed them to do so.
The Minister is seeking to give these general directions but to conceal the fact that he is giving them. This seems to be a wholly lamentable state of affairs. We have dealt with the one possibility where there might be difficulty, that of national defence and national security. I am bound to say, Mr. Hynd, that when one sees what the Government are doing, one realises that even this is academic, because the one provision which the Government will not make is the provision required for the defence of the country. We know that. Nevertheless, we have covered the point in the Amendment, and should the Government change their policies and do something about national defence, it would not be prejudiced if this provision were adopted.
The Parliamentary Secretary, I feel, is complacent about competing demands for different land. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) is here now, and he will recall how several Departments were recently seeking certain land in Woolwich for their different purposes. It is a fact, particularly in London and the South-East, that where important areas of land become available, there is, [column 79]naturally, competition between different Departments. If the Commission is to be given a direction about this—which Department is to prevail and which not—surely it is essential to good public administration and to the discharge by the House of its duties that we should know what those directions are.
I ask the Minister this: if he does not expect to be ashamed of the general directions which he is giving to the Commission, and if there are no reasons for concealing them, what is the objection to laying them before Parliament? As I say, no delay whatever is involved in this process, only publicity. It is true that as a result the right hon. Gentleman may be challenged, but if he is conscious that what he is doing is right, he should welcome that. It would only be if he knew that what he was doing was wrong that he would want to hide behind this concealment.
The Amendment seems to us to be of the very greatest importance. We have discussed the previous Amendment, under which the Statutory Instrument procedure would have been proper. The Committee, Sir, with the aid of your casting vote, dismissed that proposal. It may mean that we return to it perhaps at another time, in another part of this building.
We are now dealing with the much smaller proposition of publicity. Here there is no such argument as that which the Minister adduced on the previous Amendment—the possibility of lowering the executive and legislative process. Here we are merely asking that proposals which, as the Minister must know, go forward amid much doubt and questioning and unhappiness in many parts of this country—proceedings which, as my hon. Friend pointed out, may well affect the willingnes of people to invest in this country—should at least be conducted so that those who fear the worst should have the opportunity of knowing and of knowing quickly whether those fears are justified.
Whatever the precedents, Mr. Hynd, I say this bluntly to the Minister: only a Minister who knows that he intends to do something of which he will be ashamed would refuse to accept this Amendment. [column 80]11.45 p.m.
The right hon. Gentleman has an odd way of expediting our proceedings.
I am a mere amateur in that compared with the Parliamentary Secretary.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will try to retain accuracy when he speaks in our subsequent debates.
In spite of all that he said, I think that this is a very thoughtful Amendment. We should constantly keep under review the relationship between these public corporations, the Minister and Parliament. But the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) is on a wrong point. When the local authority brings forward a Private Bill, it is to extend its powers; it seeks legislative approval to the extension of its powers. Here we are dealing with something different: we are concerned with the manner of the exercise of powers which have been given to an authority by Parliament. We are concerned with the manner of the exercise of the powers and the direction which a Minister may give.
I said that the earlier Amendment was constitutionally offensive in that it would put into legislative form something which was an executive action. The right hon. Gentleman says, “For the purpose of this Amendment, we are not going so far as that, but we feel that if a Minister makes a general direction, he should call the attention of Parliament to it immediately.”
There is obviously something in this. What we have done hitherto and what we are proposing to do here—the precedent is important, because we also have the precedents of experience—is to say, “we will follow precedent. This ought to be brought to the attention of Parliament. But it ought not to be an obligation to bring it immediately to the attention of Parliament, because then one is possibly confusing the division of functions between the legislative and the executive” . That is the issue.
Precedent is important, and experience is important, and I have heard no reason why we should not follow the precedent of the last Government, for instance, that of the 1964 Housing Act. If the [column 81]right hon. Gentleman wishes to make out a case, then he ought to bring to the Committee some experience of the disadvantages of that precedent. In fact, we know from experience the matters of import which a Minister would bring to the attention of Parliament, or where he would be rightly criticised for not having done so. It is a different matter to say that this exercise of executive power should automatically be brought to Parliament. We should look at the scope of the Minister's powers and his exercise of them, and deal with the point in that way rather than say that the Minister ought not to do this, that and the other unless he lets Parliament know.
This is where the Amendment fails—on the two grounds that we have experience and we have many precedents. This proposal has been repeatedly considered by Parliament and by Governments, but a case has not been made out for it. Moreover, although this Amendment has not the disadvantages of the previous Amendment, it has the concept of those disadvantages. No case has been made out, it seems to me, to breach the constitutional principle, because no precedents have been quoted and no experience has been quoted to show why this Amendment is necessary.
What we must do is to recognise that what has worked effectively in this country is the broad doctrine of Ministerial accountability to Parliament. We should rest upon that.
The right hon. Gentleman emphasises the importance of precedent. I beg him to realise that there is no precedent for the kind of body which he is seeking to set up by this Bill, and that therefore, to rely on precedent in respect of other bodies with quite different functions is not relevant to our argument. After all, this is a Bill which provides for creeping nationalisation and it is a Bill to provide for the imposition of taxation outside the normal taxation system. We are dealing with a matter completely outside the sphere of relevant precedent.
We therefore come back to the question whether we should not deal with the Amendment on its merits. The right hon. Gentleman conceded, very fairly, that a Minister ought to give information to Parliament if he gives a general direction [column 82]of an important character. I do not think that I misunderstood him there. Perhaps he will confirm that. I gather that he confirms that. But he does not think that he should do so if it were of a less important character. That is the right hon. Gentleman's argument. The result is to leave to the Minister of the day, rather than to others affected, the decision as to what is or is not an important matter.
It is the experience of any of us who have been in Administration that matters which appear at first sight to be very small and insignificant can ultimately show that they have very great significance and importance. And, with the best will in the world, the judgment of a Minister whose action may be subjected to criticism if publicity is given to what he is doing, is not an objective judgment as to what is or is not important.
If the right hon. Gentleman had said that in order to deal with his argument about the unimportant directions he would allow some other body—say a Select Committee of this House—to decide whether these things should be published, then I think he would have been putting forward a not unreasonable argument. I am, however, bound to say, Mr. Hynd, that I can see no harm whatever that can be done by a Minister publishing even the unimportant general directions which he gives.
If the Minister contemplates giving many general directions, these are directions, as we have been told of a general character. Even if the Minister contemplated making very many directions the very fact that he was making a lot of them would itself be a matter of some public importance and of some significance of which Parliament would wish to be informed. If he is making only a few, and some of them unimportant, what harm is done by the normal procedure of laying before Parliament—which is, I understand, Mr. Hynd, depositing a copy either in the Library or in the Vote Office. There are, I think, precedents for both.
But what the right hon. Gentleman has failed to do has been to realise that if there is a case for making a distinction between the treatment of the unimportant and of the important general directions, [column 83]then the decision as to which is important and therefore which is to be published is apparently to be left to himself. With the best will in the world, that is not good enough. No one, however honest or honourable, should be judge in his own cause, and particularly in respect of matters such as these, about which it is very likely that fierce party controversy can arise.
Therefore, though no one can complain of the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's words, the substance of them, I suggest to the Committee, is completely unsatisfactory because it leaves to the Minister of the day the decision as to whether publicity should be given to his own act. That does not meet our point. It does not meet the point made by the Amendment. I suggest to the Committee that it does not meet what would be the demand of the public outside—that they should know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing, be it good or be it bad.
We have to be careful about these things. We have an unwritten constitution. One of the most effective parts of the constitution is the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility. This Amendment would make the constitution in part written. One is reluctant to do that.
I appreciate all that the right hon. Gentleman said, but what he said would apply, of course, to other fields in which a Minister exercises his executive function. We know exactly what happens under the constitution. We know that there is an initiative with the Minister to bring the matter to the House of Commons and that there is an initiative which rests with the House of Commons. I think that it is better to leave it like that.
I say again—I do not want to redeploy my argument—that if one were to make a fundamental change like this, one would need to be convinced by experience of the necessity for it. I refer to precedents only because this is a matter which has been continually considered by Parliament. I cannot see that a case has been made out today. We have had the Central Land Board, which was similar to this body. The right hon. Gentleman talks about “creeping nationalisation” , but we have had real nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman talks about other [column 84]services. We have had the National Health Service, which was as violently opposed by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends as this Bill is being opposed now.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is quite untrue.
The right hon. Gentleman has probably forgotten that he and his colleagues voted against the National Health Service in several respects.
If the right hon. Gentleman intends to go on repeating that hoary story, will he look at the reasoned Amendment on which we voted on that occasion, and not repeat the silly story which his right hon. Friends, quite inaccurately, have been repeating for years?
I am sure, Mr. Hynd, that you would not wish me to do so now, but I point out that both in the social field and in industry, where steps have been taken to set up national corporations, experience has shown that it has not been necessary to place this obligation on the Minister. Though to a lesser extent than the previous Amendment, it would impair the principle of the division between executive and legislative functions. It would impair the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility. For these reasons, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, will not press the Amendment.
I wanted to pick up one point in the Minister's speech which seems to me to be significant but probably in the opposite way to that in which he asked the Committee to use it. He told the Committee, with some degree of accuracy, that the constitutional responsibility between the Minister in his executive capacity and Parliament and the nationalised industries and other similar bodies is unwritten, and that this to some extent is its strength. This may be so, but it is, I am sure he will agree, also the case that over the last few years there has been a growing resentment by Parliament, and indeed by people outside Parliament, of the increasing use of Ministers of their executive powers in all sorts of fields—and they have been spreading—which affect the subject in a way in which Members of Parliament often have no knowledge until long after the decision has been taken. [column 85]
I agree with the Minister that this is a thoughtful Amendment, but I fundamentally disagree with him when he says that that sort of relationship, which has existed in respect of Ministers' executive powers, should not be changed at this moment in a Bill of this sort where the interference with the liberty of the subject—in one form or another—is very clear-cut and very widespread.
I cannot see that what we propose is a blurring of the distinction of the Minister's responsibilities. It is clear and simple that in cases of this sort the Minister can lay his general directions before Parliament. I do not believe that there will be more than half-a-dozen a year, probably, and Parliament may ignore them if it wants to or take them up and debate them. There is every reason at this time to consider whether the complaint of Parliament and the complaint of many people outside Parliament should be heard and whether we should not be seen to be curbing, if one likes to regard it as that, or at any rate bringing out into the open, the Minister's acts which affect the subject and affect Parliament and which tend to be more and more concealed.
I take the Minister's correction, which he kindly conveyed to me, about the precise nature of General Powers Bills in granting extensions of powers. May we take it from this definition that where the extension of the Commission's powers is sought, in its negotiations or dialogue with the Minister or Ministers, such extension of powers would be brought before the House in the same way as would the extension of the powers of local authorities under a General Powers Bill? Will the Minister not agree that Clause 12(2), under which the Commission has to obtain the consent of the Minister to the development of land for housing purposes, is a typical case in which it would be appropriate for the Commission or the Minister to come before the House seeking an extension of powers?
It might help if I put one or two more points to the Frederick WilleyMinister, Mr. Hynd, in the hope that he could reply to them while he is replying to certain other points made. He said that we have not made out a case for departing in the [column 86]Bill from precedent and he cited other Acts which have followed precedent. One of those Acts which he cited with great force was the Housing Act, 1964. I submit that this is not a good precedent, because the purpose of that Act is very different from the purpose of the Bill. May I read out Section 1 of the Housing Act, 1964, to show how narrow is its purpose. Fortunately I happen to have the Act with me. Section 1 reads:
“There shall be an authority, to be called the Housing Corporation … whose general duty it shall be to promote and assist the development of housing Societies, to facilitate the proper exercise and performance of the functions of such societies, and to publicise, in the case of societies providing houses for their own members … the aims and principles of such societies.”
That is a very limited purpose, and the Minister cannot rely on a Bill which has that as its main purpose as a precedent for the Land Commission Bill, which imposes upon the subject an annual liability for money—I will not say whether it is a levy or a tax—of some £80 million and which also renders the subject liable to have his land acquired compulsorily on a scale the like of which we have not known before. If the Ministers says that he will delete Clause 6(3) and also the second appointed day, then my argument will have to be different, but as long as that is in the Bill, the powers of compulsory acquisition are very wide.
The nature of the Bill alone is sufficient to make us depart from precedent. Not only hon. Members on this side of the Committee but every hon. Member may well have to bring forward cases concerning individual constituents, and every hon. Member, whether on that side of the Committee or this, would fight the case for an individual constituent with tenacity. Thus, it is the nature of the Bill itself which is sufficient to require the Minister to depart from precedent.
Secondly, what kind of direction has he in mind to give? So far he has studiously avoided answering that question and so has Arthur Skeffingtonhis Parliamentary Secretary. If we are to give this power, we must know what kind of direction he has it in mind to give. Many decisions of development have to be taken many years in advance. It may well be that had a person making such a decision known of the existence of a direction at the time [column 87]it was given, he would have acted in a different way from the way in which he acted when in ignorance of that direction. His financial position would probably be changed considerably according to whether he knew of the direction at the time or not. What directions has the Minister in mind to give? Along which garden paths is the Minister leading us? May we know now and not after he has taken us there?
The Minister probably realises from what I said last time that I come from a family which invests not only in foreign countries such as Scotland but in foreign countries a good deal further away. Among the points which one has to consider in putting investment in other countries are the laws of that country. Certainly if we were considering investing in another country, one of the things which we should have to consider would be a Bill of this kind.
Will the Minister not, therefore, consider publishing a general direction that the Bill shall not affect certain foreign investors, because if he does not, he may well find that the Chancellor of the James CallaghanExchequer suffers an adverse effect on the balance of payments.
The point about consent does not arise here. This is the limitation of the Commission in the exercise of its powers, because in this instance it has to obtain consent before it can exercise them.
I accept that the 1964 Act is not a parallel. I would prefer to go back to the Central Land Board as closer to the Bill. But I emphasise to the hon. Lady that what one is concerned with here is not so much the nature of the provisions but the nature and scope of the exercise of the power of general direction. I should have thought, from what she said, that there is a wider scope for the exercise of such powers in the 1964 Act than in the Bill. One is concerned with the scope of the exercise of these powers rather than with the nature of the legislative provisions.
I know that the hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman do not like the Bill, but we are now dealing with a constitutional point affecting the exercise of the powers under the Bill. We are concerned not with the purposes of the Bill [column 88]but with the question of general directions.
There is not—I repeat again—an exact parallel with the present instance. We have been dealing with all sorts of instances. The lesson which I have drawn from these different instances—and the significance of the 1964 Act was that it was recent—is that the point which is being taken in Committee now was not successfully deployed on those occasions, that this is a matter of the relations between Parliament and the Executive and that we can draw lessons from experience.
I was asked what directions the Minister was likely to issue. I cannot at the moment help the Committee. The hon. Lady can raise this question when she has the opportunity. If she wishes, she can raise this by Amendment to the Bill. The purpose of general directions is to affect the exercise of powers by the Commission in the light of current circumstances.
She raised the point whether the exercise of such powers should be known if they affected the citizens at large. Of course they should. Certainly they should. Any Minister would be subject to the most serious criticisms if he did not so do, and if he made directions which affected the position of citizens without letting them know. But, of course, he would let them know.
Would the Minister give the Committee some indication whether he would answer Parliamentary Questions on this subject—I mean a proper answer—as soon as a direction was given? If we were to put down a Parliamentary Question regularly, every month, say, would he give us full details of the directions which had been given.
It does not lie with me to give the hon. Lady an answer to that question, except for the part which I might play. I can assure her that I should give a most proper and sensible reply.
That was not the question which I asked. I did not ask whether the Minister would give a proper or sensible reply. I asked whether he would, in fact, answer the Question and give the information, telling the questioner the details of the directions which had been given.[column 89]
As the hon. Lady will appreciate, this is a matter, as I said, out with myself. This is a matter for the authorities of the House. If the Question were on the Paper, I can assure the hon. Lady that she would get a sensible and proper reply.
By that, of course, the right hon. Gentleman means that he is well aware of the practice of the House in not permitting regular repetition of the same Question. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of that. Therefore, I am afraid, there is no help to be found for us in this suggestion.
I quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that this raises a constitutional point. This was an arguable proposition, I agree, Mr. Hynd, on the previous Amendment. With respect, it is not arguable on this Amendment. There is nothing in this Amendment which affects the exercise by the Minister of the power given, or proposed to be given, to him by the Clause. All the Amendment does is to make sure that it is known what he is doing, and if there be a constitutional point in that, it is surely the point that Parliament cannot properly discharge its duties if it does not know what is happening. It cannot call Ministers to account if it does not know what they are doing.
Despite the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has built it up, the question simply boils down to this: if the Amendment is accepted, we shall know what he is doing in this respect, but if it is not accepted, then it will depend upon him whether we know. That, I suggest, is not a satisfactory position in which to leave it. It is made much less satisfactory, Mr. Hynd, by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has declined to tell us for what purpose he proposes to use this power. He has declined, as I understand it, to exclude any possible exercise of it; he has declined to exclude the exercise which my hon. Friend asked in the case of foreign investment in this country; he has declined to give us any positive indication of what he has in mind, if he has anything in mind.
In this, the Minister is following very closely the precedent of [column 90]the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). In 16 or 17 sessions on a similar Bill on the Highlands, he did not give one single example of what the Minister had in mind, or indeed what he thought the Highland Development Board might have in mind. This is a precedent which is becoming very common.
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend at least for demonstrating that the Government is consistent in one thing, in a refusal to tell us for what purpose they propose to exercise these powers. I say again, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that I cannot see any sensible reason why he should wish to deny to Parliament, to the Press, to the radio and to the country, knowledge of what he is doing in this respect.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that his contribution is like innocence personified. There are numerous ways in which the Opposition can get information if they so desire. It is up to their initiative and will to try and find out. The Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group never had any difficulty with the previous Secretary of State for Scotland in staging opportunities to find out what he was doing. Quite apart from Questions there are Adjournment debates and other opportunities which an Opposition can make if they want to find out.
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), not least for his tribute to the frankness and openness about what he was doing which my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Scotland always showed in office. What we are trying to do is to impose similar high standards of Ministerial conduct on the Minister of Land and Natural Resources.
When the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire says that an Opposition can always find out, by various methods, what is the objection to disclosing the information right away? What is the point of leaving it to be burrowed out, if it is accepted that no public harm will come from disclosing it? I am afraid that we come back to the point which caused offence when I made it before, [column 91-92]but I repeat it: if the Minister is confident that he will do only that which is right, why on earth should he object to letting it be known at the time? There is something, Mr. Hynd, in the Good Book about the good loving the light that their deeds be known. The converse was that the evil love it not lest their deeds be known. We shall certainly press this Amendment.
Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 10.
Alison , Michael (Barkston Ash)
Boyd-Carpenter , Rt. Hn. J.
Elliott , R. W. (N'c'stle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Eyre , Reginald
Farr , John
Nobel , Rt. Hn. Michael
Smith , John
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Wells , John (Maidstone)
Alldritt , Walter
Dunnett , Jack
Fletcher , Ted (Darlington)
Hamling , William (Woolwich, W.)
Harrison , Walter (Wakefield)
Howie , W.
Johnson , James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Manuel , Archie
Skeffington , Arthur
Willey , Rt. Hn. Frederick
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page, 1, line 20, to leave out subsection (4).
With due respect to the Minister and his assistants, it is a pity that we do not have the advantage of the attendance of the Law Officers this morning, since it is clear that the point raised on this Amendment must raise questions of law on which it would certainly have been an advantage for the Committee to have the assistance of the Law Officers of the Crown. As one knows from long experience, Law Officers of any party or Government advise Committees of this House with complete impartiality as to the law governing the matter concerned, and, quite plainly, this matter raises very considerable questions of law. In the absence of the Law Officers we shall have to attempt to elicit from Ministers why it is thought necessary to provide that the functions of the Commission and of their officers and servants shall be performed on behalf of the Crown and, secondly, what is the effect of this in practical terms.
We have heard a good deal—perhaps, if I may respectfully say so, too much—about precedent, but certainly the precedents of the nationalisation statutes to which reference was made do not support this provision. The nationalised industries are not, as I understand it, for legal purposes servants of the Crown. They are corporations set up under statute but without the advantages and powers of being bodies operating on behalf of the Crown.
I should like to know, Mr. Hynd, a number of things about, first of all, why this provision is made for a body which is supposed to be a statutory corporation, subject only to general directions by the Minister, but which none the less is to be equipped with this appellation of a Government Department. I gather that this is a body which is likely to be involved in very heavy litigation. It has been said that whoever else benefits, or does not benefit, from this Measure, if it ever becomes law, the legal profession will be enormous beneficiaries. When the Land Commission is engaged in litigation, will it be able to claim Crown privilege for non-disclosure of its documents? Is that so? On the face of it, it would appear so, but I put this question purely tentatively because this is a question, and quite a difficult question, of law.
On the hypothesis that it is, then this is a very unfortunate provision indeed. The use of Crown privilege in the Courts has been very much criticised by the judges and, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will be aware, in a recent case the Court of Session in Edinburgh, with admirable determination, overruled the claim of Crown privilege put in by a Government Department. Is this Clause intended to give Crown privilege in litigation? What is its effect upon the personal liability of members of the Commission and of their officers in respect of acts performed in accordance with their duties? Will this seek to give to them the protection in general given to Crown servants acting [column 93]within the scope of their duties? Is it intended to give this cover? What will be the effect on taxation? Does this subsection take the Land Commission out of the normal provisions of taxation? The nationalised industries are, of course, liable to tax. In the somewhat improbable event, for most of them, of their making a profit, they are liable to be taxed on it.
Is the Land Commission to be immune from taxation as a result of this provision, or is it to be exposed to taxation? And, indeed, if this is to be treated as an emanation or appendage of the Crown, why on earth set it up at all? Why not administer the whole thing through the right hon. Gentleman and his Department? The right hon. Gentleman and his Department are officers of the Crown; they act on behalf of the Crown. Similar status is apparently to be given to the partially-independent statutory body with which they are related. I am quite sure that a number of my hon. Friends, more learned in these matters than I, will have other questions to ask about this. But the status of being of acting on behalf of the Crown, performing duties on behalf of the Crown, has very wide implications indeed in English law. Even the fairly recent Crown Proceedings Act has very far from minimised these.
Therefore before the Committee can possibly pass this provision we must hear very fully from the Government the answer to the question as to the purpose of making this body generally a body acting on behalf of the Crown; and secondly, apart from that purpose, what the legal effects will be in respect of the matters which I mentioned; such as taxation, litigation, disclosure of documents, liability of members of the Commission and officers for acts committed in the course of their duties to harm other people, and more generally, the legal consequences which would follow from this, on the face of it, rather startling provision.
One wonders why the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have moved this Amendment. I had always gathered that the loyalties of the party opposite through the years had been in support of the Crown. I would abhor it if it went out from the Committee this morning, to be emblazoned in [column 94]the newspapers, that the Tory Party no longer believed in supporting the Crown and that hon. Gentlemen opposite agreed with that substantial number of hon. Members who had demonstrated in the House, in connection with Rhodesia, their belief that the Crown should not come into these matters. It would be a very bad thing, because it might, especially if hon. Members opposite voted for the Amendment, mistakenly seem to weaken their regard for the prestige of and their support for the Crown.
Hon. Members opposite have always demonstrated their affinity with these loyalties by bedecking their political platforms with the Union Jack and so on. While in law they may have a good case for wanting to elicit information about the matters which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, there might be a side effect which he would regard as unfortunate.
The Press seizes these things, which are topical and bright and colourful, just the things the Press wants. They should be careful before going too far.
Does not the hon. Gentleman underrate the intelligence of the Press which knows perfectly well that the Crown is not likely to gain anything by association with this enterprise? The reply would be in language which the hon. Gentleman would understand—non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istiis.
I am afraid that that is complete Greek to me.
It is Gaelic.
I have made this short contribution to show that there is this possibility. No matter what reply the right hon. Gentleman might make, there is a Crown connection with the Bill. In the Gracious Speech, Her Majesty indicated that this was the programme and her support for this Measure.
On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to attribute particular political opinions to the Sovereign? I respectfully submit that under the rules of the House that is completely out of order.
It is strictly out of order. On second thoughts, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will probably agree with me.[column 95]
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I did not mean it in that sense. I mean that the proposal was in the Gracious Speech. It is in our programme and there is therefore a Crown connection, loose as it may be, with this part of our programme. I want it to go on record that we are proceeding on rather dangerous ground if we say too much in this connection.
The hon. Gentleman is.
I could not agree with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) and I rather wondered at times whether we were talking about the same Amendment. The Amendment would enhance the Crown by seeing that ordinary people do not claim the same privileges by very remote relation with the Crown.
The Frederick WilleyMinister and the Arthur SkeffingtonParliamentary Secretary have quoted a number of precedents this morning. They have quoted the Housing Act, 1964, and I think it relevant to note that by Clause 1(3) the Housing Corporation
“are not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown or as enjoying any status, immunity or privilege of the Crown, or as exempt from any tax, duty, rate, levy or other charge whatsoever, whether general or local, and that their property is not to be regarded as property of, or property held on behalf of, the Crown.”
If the Minister is following precedent, this might be quite a good precedent for him to follow.
There are, of course, other precedents in the contrary direction; for example, the National Assistance Board can claim to be acting as the servant of the Crown, and again, the Livestock Commission can similarly claim. I am not sure whether the Land Commission would like to be classified with either of those two other bodies, and I would also point out to the Minister that public bodies such as the National Coal Board and public corporations are likewise not servants of the Crown.
One has to examine very carefully why there are so many bodies the actions of which are not deemed to be actions of the Crown, whereas the Land Commission has been selected as a body whose servants are acting under the protection of being servants of the Crown. My Right hon. John Boyd-CarpenterFriend has pointed out a number of consequences which follow [column 96]from the existence of this subsection. It would, of course, perhaps make for greater accuracy, Mr. Hynd, if I were to read out all the relevant provisions and all the relevant commentary in Halsbury, Vol. XI, 3rd edition, which takes from p. 3 to p. 154 to deal with it. It would no doubt make for greater accuracy but not for greater illumination, because they are rather complicated provisions.
But there are a number of points on which I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us his view. Will he explain how those points impinge on this Bill? First, if a servant is deemed to be a servant of the Crown, there are very severe limitations on the right to sue in contract. Indeed, S.1 of the Crown Proceedings Act gave no new right at all to sue the Crown in contract. It made only a procedural change. 12.30 p.m.
The second point, which occurs under Section 2 of the Crown Proceedings Act is this. The servants of the Crown and the Crown are liable in tort only in very limited circumstances. The circumstances are set out in Section 2. I note that in the third edition of “Constitutional and Administrative Law” by Hood Phillips, it is stated on page 658 that Section 2
“has the effect of exempting the Crown in those exceptional cases where an ordinary employer is liable even though the servant who actually committed the tort cannot for some reason be sued” .
So there are a number of cases where the servant of an ordinary employer would be liable but the servant of the Land Commission would not be liable. These cases, of course, act to the disadvantage of the subject.
I think that some of the kinds of cases where one could sue the Crown would be where the servant himself would be liable as an individual, not in his capacity as a servant of the Land Commission, but liable in negligence as an individual. These cases would be very few and far between. What one would be trying to get at would be the servant in his representative capacity as a servant of the Land Commission. This is what the presence of this subsection precludes—the ordinary subject getting at the servant in his representative capacity.
There are considerable privileges, with regard to the proceeding of discovery [column 97]and interrogatories to which my right hon. Friend has referred. There also are very considerable differences in the way in which the subject can enforce proceedings against a servant of the Crown. For example, he used not to be able to go by way of indictment. I am not quite sure whether that is still the case. He also cannot go for a decree of specific performance. This is very important, because whereas an ordinary person can compel another person to perform what he has agreed to do, he cannot go against a servant of the Crown in this way. All the court can do is to make an order declaratory of the rights of the parties. That may not, of course, be very much satisfaction to a person who wants a decree of specific performance.
I would be very grateful, therefore, if the Parliamentary Secretary could say why this provision has been inserted, and would give in rather simpler language than Halsbury does the practical effect of this subsection.
I think I can best serve the Committee by explaining the reasons why the Government wished this body to be a Crown body, and then by dealing, as far as I can, with the legal consequences which have been raised by hon. Members.
The effect of the Amendment would be to deprive the Commissioners of the status of a Crown body, which would be to preclude, in the first place, the Commission from appointing civil servants. This has tremendous implications, for reasons which I think will be readily understood by the Committee and, indeed, I think, on reflection probably agreed to by members of the Opposition.
One of the main functions of the Commission is the assessment and collection of betterment levy. It is pretty obvious that in a matter of this kind, this is the sort of executive function which really ought to be done by public servants, answerable in effect to the equivalent of a Government Department which is subject to all the normal arrangements for check and audit which exist in relation to expenditure. In other connections the Opposition have advocated that all the betterment provisions should or could be carried out by the Inland Revenue, and they have taken as valid the point that the [column 98]Revenue is a body of people who are public servants, who are accustomed to doing this work, for which there are well-known procedures, with constitutional checks and arrangements for scrutiny which are understood by everybody.
For reasons which I do not think I need detail at this stage—because it is rather wider than the Amendment—I can very briefly say that the collection and assessment of betterment is, in the view, of the Government, new, additional work and would require additional staff. As the Commission has to be set up in any case to deal with the acquisition, disposal and management of land, these two functions will be discharged by the one body. Consequently, the collection of the betterment levy is something which the Commission will also discharge.
But there is no difference between us that the standard, the status, the traditions, the procedural arrangements and the constitutional checks which are necessary in a matter of this kind require that those administering this very important new revenue shall be public servants.
If the Amendments were carried, it would deprive the Commission of the services of civil servants in the ordinary course of events. It would make impossible the transfer to the Commission of staff from other Departments. It would also mean that if public servants are to be transferred from a Department to this new body, of course their superannuation rights are to be safeguarded. Then the constitutional requirements are that they must be paid wholly and directly out of moneys provided by Parliament—that is to say, their salary must be under a subhead of the Vote and not grant in aid. This would be quite impossible, if the Commission were not a Crown body. A requirement for this purpose is that the Commission itself must be stated in the Act, if the legislation is clear cut, to be exercising its functions on behalf of the Crown.
For both these reasons, if we desire to have public servants doing this work—I would have thought there would probably be party agreement on this—then one has to see that this is a Crown body; otherwise one could not transfer them; they could not be paid, and certainly their pensions position could not be safeguarded. [column 99]
Furthermore, as I have already indicated, if there is a Civil Service tradition here, with all the usual Departmental arrangements for accountability, the usual Civil Service management can apply to the Commission just as it applies to any other Government Department. This is a very great safeguard to the public and, indeed, to the Parliament itself.
This is a positive reason for wanting the Commission to be a body of the Crown, discharging these functions in this way with public servants. I think that the betterment levy alone determines this, and makes it almost impossible to do—this extremely difficult work with all kinds of hazards, unless the Commission is a Crown body.
Those are the positive reasons. Now, what about some of the legal consequences of this? First of all, on taxation: as I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Commission, as a Crown body, is not subject to normal taxation.
When the hon. Member says “not subject to normal taxation” , is he saying that it is not subject to any taxation? What about local rates, for example?
It is for that reason that I would prefer to say that there may be some circumstances in which they would become liable for taxation. In the normal way they will not be liable. I can expand on that at length if the right hon. Gentleman would like.
Action, of course, can be brought against the Commission—as I think the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady thought, though they thought the procedure was limited—under the Crown Proceedings Act. It certainly can be brought against the Commission, though, of course, it cannot be brought under that Act against individual members, unless it be that they have themselves committed some illegal act. But most of this difficulty disappears if the Committee would remember that the Commission itself is subject, under Clause 13, to planning consents and to planning controls. Once it is made subject to planning control, the appropriate part of the Planning Acts would apply against the Commission as though it were not the Crown. This is the simple result of this Clause.[column 100]
Surely this is one of the most valuable safeguards. At every turn in planning we come up against the unpleasant truth that the Minister is both judge and member of the executive. Every complaint that comes to a private Member of Parliament about planning is that the Minister is judge and jury, as it were, in his own cause. This gives great dissatisfaction to the man in the street. If it were possible for the man in the street to go for this Commission without Crown privilege, it would help him, I should have thought, very considerably.
I think perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not following what I am saying. The fact is that the Commission is subject, under Clause 13, to the application of the laws in relation to planning controls, and is not a body acting on its own. Before it can act, there either has to be a planning decision by the appropriate planning authority, or it itself has to apply for planning permission—the very fact that Clause 13 is inserted in this Bill has this legal consequence in planning matters: any interested subject who is aggrieved by the action of the Commission can proceed against the Commission as if it were not a Crown body. Therefore, I think possibly the hon. Gentleman did not understand the point that I was making.
This enormously simplifies the position. It simplifies the length of my answer, and removes a great many of the fears that have been expressed by Members opposite. My right hon. Friend will consider the whole of this matter, so that he can be absolutely certain that what I have said is absolutely correct and that the citizen will not be under any disadvantage in relation to any action which he feels should be taken as against the Commission. This is a very considerable safeguard which I am sure will be greatly welcomed by all those concerned.
On the other hand, the very fact that the Commission's operations are within the context of planning decisions, which already have procedures for representation both to the local planning authority and the Minister, with the inquiries that are made on planning appeals, and so on, [column 101]will in a very large number of cases almost certainly result in there being very little litigation. This may not be a great joy to members of our own profession, but I am sure it will be a very great joy to the public as a whole.
Did I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to say that a vast new body of civil servants was going to give great joy to the public? I think that is a most extraordinary remark.
I think the hon. Gentleman is either deaf or not really following with his usual attention. What I said—although I make no excuse at all for the fact—was that at long last we now have a body that will secure to the public the enhanced value of land, which has been due to the activity of the whole of the public, and see to it that, indeed, land is available for public purposes well in time. I do not make any defence of that. What I was saying on this point was that the whole of the Commission is subject to the normal planning procedure and planning consents, and, therefore, there are obvious legal remedies open to any citizen. I thought that hon. Members opposite would be very glad to know this.
I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for clarifying this point. I apologise. I must be a little deaf sitting at the far end of the Committee.
The fact remains that the man in the street is not satisfied with planning procedures as they operate today. I think it true to say that in the six and a half years that I have been a Member of this House I have had more letters of complaint about planning matters than anything else. I do not wish to bring down the wrath of the Chair on my head for going too far into planning, but as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Commission will be subject under Clause 13 to the normal planning procedures, I think this will give no comfort to anybody.
What the people want is a radical change in planning matters. They are completely dissatisfied with the situation as it now exists. This very unsatisfactory Bill might have provided one way in which it could have been altered. Our [column 102]Amendment seeks to leave out subsection (4). I am no lawyer and would not seek to get involved in the legal details. But I have had certain personal experience in the past of buying land from the Crown, and, it so happens of selling it back to the Crown. One of the curious anomalies that I learnt in this exercise concerned Stamp Duty. I do not know what the Commission's position will be with regard to Stamp Duty. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, replying to our last debate, said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) seemed to be under the misapprehension that the levy involved here was not a tax. He said that my right hon. Friend kept on saying it was. But it seems to me that it is remarkably like a tax. Again, he said that it was not like a tax on whisky. Maybe it is not like a tax on whisky, in so far as the levy is something of a voluntary tax in that if one does not develop one does not pay——
If one does not drink whisky, one does not pay whisky tax.
So it is exactly like a tax on whisky. But the point I am seeking to make is that if we are to have a Commission with all the privileges of the Crown, we would like to know a great deal more about the taxation position.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in what he gave as his positive reasons when replying to the debate, made the point that the main function is the assessment and collection of betterment levy.
It is one of the main functions.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary specifically emphasised this function. If the main function of the members of the Commission is to be tax gatherers, if they are to be full-blooded civil servants—perhaps one ought to say thin-blooded civil servants—why have the Bill at all? Why not let them operate through the ordinary mechanism of the Inland Revenue? It seems to me that subsection (4) means the creation of yet another department.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that in the view of Government this was the best way to do it. I suggest that, far [column 103]from its being the view of Government, it is the view of the gentleman who sit behind the Government. This is a pure example of Parkinson at its nastiest.
Come off it!
I believe that this is purely Parkinson at its nastiest. It is no good the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) muttering “come off it” . He knows a great deal about industrial and other civil servants in his own part of the world, and I do not want to get into trouble with the Chair. The fact remains that the people are dissatisfied that there should be a further increase in the Civil Service and are dissatisfied with our present planning mechanisms, and I am extremely disappointed that the Government are not prepared to accept this extremely cogent Amendment.
After listening to the speech by the hon. Gentleman, I wonder whether he has any friends left in the Civil Service at all. Talking about “thin-blooded civil servants” , attacking the intentions of civil servants, ought not to endear civil servants to him. I forecast that he will receive in future far more letters of protest from civil servants about his speeches than he has ever received about applications for planning permission.
I am very surprised that the Amendment has been tabled. It seems to me entirely to contradict previous Opposition Amendments. The Opposition are saying here that we should take something out of the purview of the House of Commons.
No, that has nothing to do with it.
The Opposition have made such suggestions. They are now suggesting that the Land Commission should be an extra-Parliamentary body rather like the National Coal Board, which is not directly answerable to Parliament. As the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well from his long experience in Parliament, if one wants to put down a Question on the day-to-day working of the Transport Commission one cannot do so. Yet while he complains that the work of the Commission ought to be completely open to inspection by hon. Members, he moves an Amendment designed to prevent that happening.[column 104]
This is what we object to. It would be impossible, if this Amendment were carried, to question the day-to-day working of the Land Commission.
We did not move an Amendment to turn the Land Commission into a separate corporation. Perhaps the William HamlingGentleman is confused.
The hon. Lady suggests that it would become a body somewhere twixt Heaven and hell with no fixed means of abode, with no fixed constitutional position. That is the significance of her intervention. She says that it would not be under the Crown. So goodness knows where, in her opinion, it would be from the constitutional point of view.
I listened carefully to the very clear and lucid explanation of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I thought his case was unanswerable. We should need civil servants to be appointed to this Commission. I cannot understand the Opposition's objection to having civil servants, or indeed, to having more of them. Under their administration the number of civil servants increased, and from time to time they appoint new Government bodies employing more civil servants. I am sure that they would not refuse to recognise that civil servants are people whom it is useful to employ to do jobs that the community needs. After all, they employed many hundreds of thousands of thin-blooded ones and thick-blooded ones——
More blue-blooded ones than perhaps were necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) would probably be more of an expert on that than I am, despite the similarity of our names—to such an extent that I sometimes get his rude letters.
One of the main functions of the Land Commission would be assessment and collection of betterment levy. I cannot understand why hon. and right hon. Members opposite want this function to be performed by people who are not civil servants.[column 105]
We do not.
In other words, they do not want them done at all. What would be the status of the servants of this Commission from a constitutional point of view if they were not Crown servants? We have not been told what their constitutional status would be.
I thought I had made it plain that if we had to have this done at all, which I deplore, it should be done by the Inland Revenue.
They are servants of the Crown. What we are now having from the opposition is the suggestion simply that the Land Commission should be a sub-office of the Crown. What is the significance of all the talk about not being able to sue servants of the Crown if the employees of the Commission are to be members of the Board of Inland Revenue. They would be in exactly the same position as the people about whom the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was talking. Hon. Members opposite should go outside and sort out their differences, and then we might be able to make a little more progress with the Bill.
What is certain is that the collection of this sum of taxation—and it is a form of taxation—is of a very specialist nature, but that would not be the only function of these servants. I suggest that the work in connection with the levy requires specialist people. I can imagine what the right hon. Gentleman opposite would say if some of the non-specialist taxation people walked in to deal with this specialist business. He would be the first to say “What we need is people who know their job” .
Would the hon. Gentleman, therefore, recommend to his right hon. Friend that when we continue with the debate on Thursday we have the [column 106]Law Officers of the Crown present to advise us on the law?
Not at all. It is the right hon. Gentleman who wants a little advice about the Law.
From the Law Officers, not the hon. Member.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot see the significance of the conflict between the two Amendments that we have been discussing this morning. We on this side can. It is the right hon. Gentleman who needs a little brushing up on the Law. We ought to open a correspondence course for the right hon. Gentleman and charge very modest fees. We on this side have no difficulty whatever with this part of the Bill. We are clear what its purpose is.
My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the effect of Clause 13. Here is a very clear indication of the goodwill of my right hon. Friend and the Government as a whole. They want to put into the Bill the very safeguards about which the hon. Lady was talking. We want to simplify matters. We want a situation in which the ordinary members of the public know what their legal position is and what their rights are. This is precisely what the Government are doing. The Amendment would not improve matters at all. It would make the constitutional position of the Commission quite untenable. I was going to say “quite unknowable” , because we have not yet had in speeches from the Opposition any suggestion about what would be the constitutional position of the Commission if the Amendment was carried—
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Committee adjourned till Thursday, 24th February, 1966, at half-past Ten o'clock. [column 107-108]The following Members attended the Committee:
Mr. H. Hynd (Chairman)
Elliott, Mr. R. W.
Fletcher, Mr. Ted
Harrison, Mr. Walter
Johnson, Mr. James
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir C.
Smith, Mr. John
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Wells, Mr. John
Willey, Mr. Frederick