New Clause. — (Public inquiries and appeals.)

Orders of the Day — Housing Bill. – in the House of Commons on 17th May 1935.

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(1)Where, under the Acts of 1925, 1930, and 1935, the Minister is required to cause a public inquiry to be held, he shall appoint a surveyor to sit with the inspector holding such inquiry.

(2)In all such inquiries where a difference of opinion is recorded in the reports of the inspector and surveyor the Minister shall refer the issue for review to a central housing appeal board.

(3)For the purpose of this section the Lord Chancellor shall appoint the central housing appeal board, which shall consist of not more than five nor less than three persons, and shall nominate a panel of surveyors from whom in each case the surveyor sitting with the inspector shall be drawn.—[Earl Winterton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.45 p.m.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I regret if I seem to have done anything that is in any way either inconvenient to the House or contrary to the suggestion which you, Mr. Speaker, have made. This Clause really raises a big question of principle, which has been the subject of debate in the country and in the Committee upstairs for some time. My noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), who has given great attention to this subject, and myself, feel very strongly with regard to it. I understand, not only that the Minister is going to oppose this Clause, but that in his opposition he will have the powerful support of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), and it is therefore necessary for me to trouble the House with a somewhat detailed argument as to the reasons for the Clause.

I desire to put a series of propositions before the House. In the first place, I do not think that even the most ingenious mind in the House, whether among the Opposition or anywhere else, can find reasons for saying that the operation of this Clause would delay the work of slum clearance—a work which, as I think is generally admitted, everyone wishes to see carried out, as expeditiously as possible, but, of course, in accord with the ordinary principles of justice. Sub-section (1) of the Clause says: Where, under the Acts of 1925, 1930, and 1935, the Minister is required to cause a public inquiry to be held, he shall appoint a surveyor to sit with the inspector holding such inquiry. There is no delay there. Obviously, the surveyor would be a member of his profession who was not himself either immediately or directly interested in small house property. Sub-section (2) says: In all such inquiries where a difference of opinion is recorded in the reports of the inspector and surveyor the Minister shall refer the issue for review to a central housing appeal board, and sub-section (3) describes how that board should be appointed. I will describe later in more detail how these appointments would be made, but for the moment I am merely concerned with the point that no delay need take place.

What are the main grounds for the change which we desire to see made? It would not be in order to refer to it now, but the Government resisted strenuously in Committee the proposal that there should be an appeal to the county court, and I, for one, have not attempted to assist in putting forward that case here on the floor of the House. I admit that there are certain arguments against it on the ground of delay. What are the reasons for strengthening, as I maintain the proposed new Clause would do, the form of the tribunal which is to settle these all-important matters? I would cite in aid of my case a quotation from a very distinguished jurist, who wrote a book the title of which is, I think, well known—"The New Despotism"—in which these words were used, and I do not know that anyone in any quarter of the House would be prepared on party political grounds or on grounds of public interest to controvert them: One would have thought it perfectly obvious that no one employed in an administrative capacity ought to be entrusted with judicial matters connected with his administrative duties. That is a simple statement of fact. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) is going to take part in the debate on this Clause, but I do not think he would controvert the general truth of that statement. This distinguished jurist goes on to say: The respective duties are incompatible"— again I do not think anyone would controvert that—and, further: It is difficult to expect in such circumstances that he should perform the judicial duties impartially. In these admirably phrased, concise sentences is the whole basis for my argument that we need to alter and strengthen the tribunal. In this Clause we have not, as I have already said, taken the extreme course of proposing an appeal to the courts, but we seek to strengthen the existing tribunal. Let the Minister and anyone who is going to support him be fully aware of the issue that is at stake. Under the present procedure, and a fortiori, under this Bill when it becomes an Act, because there will be far bigger questions to be decided than there are at present—questions of redevelopment and so on—it is literally true to say that hundreds of thousands, indeed, millions of pounds' worth of property will come under review.

Grave doubts, both on constitutional grounds and on grounds of elementary justice, exist in the minds of thousands of people—not all of them, by any means, property owners—as to the propriety of the present system. A single official of a Government Department, a man who, though I say nothing against him, may not have risen to any eminence in his Department, reports to his departmental chief, who almost invariably accepts such reports, which until now have never been disclosed to Parliament and the public, though it is true that some slight Amendment has been made in that direction. Immensely important factors depend upon the report. As I have said, a large amount of capital is at stake, and may be to all intents and purposes wiped out, possibly quite rightly and properly if the inspector's decision is correct. If there were a property which in the open market was worth £1,000,000, and it was rightly condemnable as slum property, I should agree that it would be quite right that that £1,000,000 should be wiped out; but equally, if the decision is wrong, it is an intolerable oppression to the subject that his property should be wiped out by the fiat of a single individual. Does anyone deny that? The right hon. Gentleman upstairs made a rather curious discrimination between natural justice and justice as it is known in the Courts. If such a discrimination does exist, and I think it is a very dangerous one, both natural justice, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, and ordinary justice are at one in saying that it is not right that a capricious—or perhaps that is an unfortunate word to use in this connection—a wrong decision should wipe out capital, when the whole interest of many persons may be at stake for weal or woe.

I am sure that the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. R. Strauss), who is chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, will agree with me that in the case of these slum clearance schemes there are often, rightly or wrongly, objections by the tenants and occupiers themselves. I think they are more often wrong, but still there are objections. I remember an inquiry in London where the inspector could not keep order in the room because of the noise made by those who were going to be turned out. The fact that at these inquiries serious disturbance sometimes occurs, such as would never be permitted in an ordinary court of law, is in itself evidence of the badness of the procedure. As I understand, under the present law the inspector has none of the powers that would be possessed by an ordinary court of law. I would ask the House in what other industry—and, after all, the ownership of property may in some cases be called an industry, for there are numbers of companies, some of them friendly societies, who own large blocks of property—in what other industry would the future of property be dependent in this way, for good or ill, on the fiat of a single official? What would happen, for instance, in the licensed trade? What would be the feeling, not only of the brewers and the licensed victuallers, but of the whole temperance party, if, instead of questions with regard to licences being settled under the law by a panel of magistrates, a single Government official went down to a district and said, "There will be 30 licences here," or "I will wipe out 30 licences there," and if only the Minister stood between him and that decision becoming final?

In conclusion, I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite will not think I am making any wounding charge against them when I say that, holding the views that they hold about property generally, they are perfectly entitled, because of their sincere views on this subject, to maintain their attitude in respect of the proposals which are very onerous on property. They have a perfect right to do so. But I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends supporting the Government should hesitate before supporting a principle which might be applied to every other form of property. Under the proposals put forward in certain quarters there is nothing whatever to stop the taking over of land and railways, and that sort of thing, and for the same system to be adopted—of a single inspector being sent down to assess the value of property, after which the Minister comes to his decision and the property is taken over. It is all very well to be generous at the expense of other people's investments. A great many people are very willing to do that who would be extremely indignant if such methods were applied to them.

I admit that all my arguments would fall to the ground if I thought this method was going to cause delay, but I do not believe that it is. I believe my new Clause would strengthen the existing form of procedure. The technical details of the Clause are very simple. The surveyor would, if properly chosen, be as fully competent to judge of the matter as the inspector himself and in most cases, no doubt, he would agree with the inspector. I am not suggesting that the inspectors are not very competent. My charge against them is merely that like every other single human being they are liable to make mistakes. If the surveyor is in agreement with the inspector, the process will be the same as at present. If, on the other hand, the surveyor differs from the inspector, then the Minister will have the advantage of the Board to which reference is made in the Clause—the Central Housing Appeal Board. In order that the appointments to that Board may be free from any sort of political claim I suggest that the Lord Chancellor should appoint both the Central Housing Board and the panel of surveyors from which in each case the surveyor who sits with the inspector shall be drawn.

I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will accept my Clause. He has shown himself in other respects willing to meet points of view put from both sides of the House, in spite of all that has been said. It is not his fault that he has to work the present scheme, which is a legacy from his predecessor. And it is no confession of weakness on the part of the Minister or his advisers to admit that in the working of the Housing Acts certain lacunæ have been discovered—certain gaps which ought to be filled up, in order not only that justice should be done, but that justice should appear to be done. Since raising these matters in the Committee upstairs I have had a number of letters from the public and the writers were in every case unknown to me. Not a single one of these letters, however, object to the attitude being taken up. From all over the country I had letters saying that there was no confidence in the present form of tribunal. I wrote back to some of these people saying that I thought they were unfair in going so far as that, but that I thought that the present tribunal was not the right one. I can assure the House that there is strong feeling in this matter, and, if the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to meet the objection which I have put forward to the present procedure, I believe he will have the gratitude of his supporters.

3 p.m.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

This discussion is very useful in the light of the obvious public interest in the matter, but the noble Lord has unwittingly given a wrong impression to some Members who perhaps were not averse to the whole of his procedure. The system of appointing inspectors is not only not a novel one, but it is very old and dates back to the Housing Acts of 1890. It was in full operation before the war. The impression might be created in the public mind that the inspector was appointed by some interested party and that the Minister of Health has a particular interest in weighting the dice against the owner of property as opposed to the local authority who initiates a scheme for slum clearance.

I do not say that the present machinery is perfect and that because it has been in existence for a number of years we cannot improve it, but let us understand exactly how it works. Before any consideration can be given to the clearance of a particular area the medical officer of health for the district must take action. He must prepare a report on the area and present it to the local authority. He has to survey the area and he surveys it, in company with the surveyor, house by house; and it is sometimes weeks or months before the report is ready. He then presents his report to the local authority. The local authority, if it is satisfied on the report of the medical officer, then asks the Ministry of Health to hold a public inquiry. Then the Ministry of Health go into the matter and it is their business to appoint an impartial, efficient officer to hold the inquiry. If it can be shown that the officers so appointed are by reason of temperament, character or training not suitable, then I think the local authorities would not object to their being appointed by another department, say that of the Lord Chancellor. But as far as my knowledge goes the Ministry of Health has, on the whole, appointed independent, impartial and competent men to do this delicate judicial work. Many local authorities have complained that the dice is often loaded too much against the local authority. I know many examples where property condemned by the medical officer as being unfit for human habitation, that is, coloured red—to use a technical term—it has been coloured blue by the inspector. It is a mistake to think that these officials consider it their job to try and clear slums.

Photo of Mr Eric Bailey Mr Eric Bailey , Manchester, Gorton

Suppose, in fact, that there is a great feeling among large sections of the people concerned in these decisions that the present tribunals are not satisfactory, and suppose the hon. Gentleman is right and that these litigants who appear before them are wrong; would it not be better, in the words of the Minister on the last Clause, to remove even the breath of suspicion? That can be done if these matters are tried by someone who cannot be said to be connected with the department concerned. If in fact there be a possibility of a charge being made, is it not better, in order to remove that possibility, to take the matter to another tribunal of whom it could not be said that they were connected with one side or the other.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

If I may say so with great respect, this was hardly an intervention; it was a very argumentative speech and might very well have been made after I had delivered my speech. I am not trying to act as a defender of these particular people. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), who has been chairman of a housing committee for many years, will bear me out that, taking a whole series of these inquiries, the officials have been impartial and have tried to hold the balance evenly between the local authority and the private interests of the owners of property in the area to be cleared. I think that there is a case for the owners of property to know the reason why their property is condemned. I do not see any objection to that, and the suggestion that the Minister should make some concession in that direction is reasonable.

The general process, as I understand it, is that the official appointed for the purpose holds an exhaustive inquiry and hears, on the one hand, the representatives of the local authorities, the medical officers, valuers and surveyors, and, on the other hand, those who represent property owners, and, having on top of that visited the area and examined it house by house and street by street according to its character, reports to the Department. I think that the Minister will bear me out that, the official having laid the report, the Department, sitting at a distance quite out of contact, considers the report impartially and comes to a decision upon it, acting as a sort of appeal tribunal. I know that the House pays the Minister a compliment by suggesting that he is very vigorous and anxious to get these slums cleared away, but it has been said that he is so interested in getting slums cleared away that he is not prepared to do justice to owners of property. That is not fair on the Minister, and it is not a right interpretation either of his character or the character of his officials. I have heard very often that after a report of an inspector reaches the Department it is modified and altered if it seems likely to cause injustice to any individual or any person owning property or is unduly severe in one direction. If there be real justification in the country for the suggestion that these particular officials are not independent, by all means let them be appointed by some other Government Department or by the Lord Chancellor or anybody else. I do not think that there is any justification for any such charge. They have been doing this work since the Act of 1890, and on the whole they have done it well, and it would be unfortunate if anything were done by this House which would suggest that they were not efficient and fair.

3.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

Hon. Members, whether they agree or disagree with the Noble Lord, are bound to confess that he invariably puts his case, sometimes with heat, but always very logically and very reasonably. He told us during the course of his observations that democracy was being superseded by outside institutions, and he quoted Lord Hewart to substantiate that point. It is very curious that the Noble Lord has only just discovered that this form, of tribunal, namely, an inspector from a Government Department, should have power to deal with what after all are very important questions, sometimes affecting individuals, and on other occasions affecting local authorities. Sometimes it is a question of a locally-owned service being in competition with the privately-owned service. Throughout the period of the Noble Lord as a Member of this House, this procedure has been carried on, and I have never recalled where the Noble Lord has objected to the procedure.

It may be that the system, whether applied to slum clearance schemes, electricity undertakings, or transport undertakings, is not the last word in efficiency or is indeed logical. I have a vivid recollection of two occasions when an inspector was sent from the Ministry of Transport to make an inquiry as to whether or not a municipally-owned electricity undertaking should continue in existence or whether they should be compelled to receive their supply of electricity from a privately-owned company. The local authority put their case, but the privately-owned company was given the decision when the inspector reported. I raised a question in the House on the matter, but I do not remember the Noble Lord supporting my appeal. In the other case it was that of a single inspector from the Ministry of Transport holding an inquiry which determined whether four urban district councils should be sent into the bankruptcy court or whether a large London omnibus company should succeed. In that case the municipal undertaking went by the board and the gigantic London omnibus company privately-owned succeeded. I did not agree then with the method employed. The interests of local authorities should not be left in the hands of one individual, and if it is possible to produce a better tribunal, a more equitable tribunal, than those which have dealt with electricity and transport, and which will deal with slum clearance schemes I should welcome it, but the suggestion which is put forward would not only prolong these inquiries but would make them infinitely more costly and in the end would have the effect of reducing the number of schemes carried through to an absolute minimum.

The Noble Lord was once at the Ministry of Health and considered that if they sent an inspector to hold an inquiry it was sufficient, but, apparently, he does not think that one inspector is sufficient to deal with slum clearance schemes. It may be that experience has changed his mind and that he now favours a broader tribunal than he did when he was at the Ministry of Health. But this new procedure will not only be costly, but you will have the inspector and the surveyor on opposite sides, there will be conflict in at least two cases out of three, and the Ministry will have to submit the case to the appeal tribunal suggested in the new clause. The delay will be almost so insurmountable as to prevent any schemes from going through.

I do not think the proposal of the Noble Lord on this occasion ought to be accepted by the House. If the Minister of Health could by any means produce a better tribunal that would dispose of any doubts, fears or anxieties not only on the part of the property owners but on the part of those who are to benefit and who reside in the area, well and good, but I cannot see the Noble Lord's suggested tribunal having that effect. We give him credit for wanting to do the right thing by the general population, as well as the slum property owners, but I repeat that this scheme seems to me to be one that would not only cause a good deal of delay and procrastination but would impose fairly heavy burdens upon the local authorities, or whoever are responsible for meeting the charges of the surveyor, etc. For these reasons, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman, despite the plea of the Noble Lord, should consider and reconsider before he again surrenders to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the benches opposite, for if he continues to surrender as he has been doing during the past two days he will live long to regret his lack of courage at the psychological moment.

3.17 p.m.

Photo of Lord Eustace Percy Lord Eustace Percy , Hastings

I should like to explain why I support this Amendment and why I put my name to it. I do not share the view quoted by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) the view, I think, of the Lord Chief Justice, that administrative tribunals are, in themselves wrong. In fact, I think it would be impossible to carry out social reforms of this kind except through administrative tribunals. For that reason, although I have had many representations in the last year or so in favour of an appeal from the inspectors' report or from the Minister's decision, to the county courts, I have always refused to support that proposal. This is a case where an administrative tribunal is the only possible tribunal. That being the case the question, and it is one of the most interesting questions of government at the present day, is what should be the procedure of such administrative tribunals. The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has mentioned certain administrative inquiries. He has also been good enough to refer to my past administrative experience. Let me remind him of the form of public inquiry for which I was responsible for nearly five years, the form of public inquiry under the Education Act.

It is true that no great financial questions are involved in a decision as to whether or not a new school is necessary, but the depth of popular feeling involved when it is a question of an application for a Roman Catholic or an Anglican school can hardly be exaggerated. How does that administrative tribunal proceed? In the first place, there is laid down in the. Act the considerations upon which the Minister has to decide, three definite considerations, and they are the considerations on which the inspector holding that public inquiry has to report. The inspector is very often, not necessarily, an inspector regularly in the established employment of the Board of Education. He has to report on those three points and his report, if I remember aright, is published. The Minister, as he is advised by his legal advisers, is bound to decide upon the report of the inspector. He cannot go outside the facts placed before him. If he finds that a particular point which in his judgment would have entirely altered his decision was not raised at the inquiry, the most he can do is to say "I decide on the facts in this way, but there is this other consideration in my mind, and if the case is raised anew on that basis a new inquiry will be held." Those are clearly very great safeguards.

But observe what happens in these inquiries, even after the concession which the Minister has made as to the publication of the grounds of his final decision— a concession for which I am very grateful, but one which does not entirely meet the points I am making. Observe how this inquiry operates. There is a report of the medical officer of health. I hope that the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) is not going to ask the House to suppose that the report of the medical officer of health is the report of an entirely impartial authority who has never gone round the area with the chairman of the housing committee and told the chairman as they were standing on the doorstep of a house: "Of course I could condemn this house quite easily." It is not a calm, impartial, judicial report, drawn up in a study. I do not want of course to impugn the honesty of medical officers of health.

The Minister of Health appoints an inspector, who holds a public inquiry. In the first place there are no statutory questions which that inspector has to answer. He can rove over all the field of general policy in his own mind and in his report. In the second place no one ever knows what the inspector has reported. The report goes to the Minister and the Minister is under no obligation whatever to decide on that report. In fact we know that there have been cases where the Minister has engaged in a negotiation with the local authority, quite apart from the inspector's report, and has come to a decision, probably a better decision than he could have reached on the inspector's report—come to a decision which was not a decision upon the facts produced at the public inquiry. I do not say that the Minister has acted improperly. I think that probably in the circumstances he acted very properly. I am not talking about the present Minister of Health, but about Ministers of Health generally.

Up to now the grounds of the Minister's decision has never been known. That is going to be rectified. I say that to administer a tribunal of that kind in this way is open to the greatest danger. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green says there is an idea that the Minister of Health is not an impartial person. There is no such idea. But I know very well that in days when there was no particular question of policy involved in the creation of a Roman Catholic school or of an Anglican school, I was accepted as quite an impartial authority as President of the Board of Education on such questions, but that the moment I tied myself up with a definite policy of central schools and reorganisation, every decision I made was watched with a lynx eye by the public as possibly indicating an attempt on my part to act, not judicially, but in pursuance of the administrative policy on which I had staked my political future and the political reputation of the Government.

That is bound to be the case, and it is bound to create a certain amount of suspicion among the public. I think I was saved by the publicity and the definiteness of those proceedings but it is the vagueness and the secrecy of the proceedings in regard to the condemnation of property which have opened Ministers of Health in the past and will open Ministers of Health increasingly in the future to these suspicions. I frankly confess that I would rather apply the whole procedure which I have described of the Board of Education inquiry, to these inquiries than go in for machinery of the kind proposed in the Amendment. But if you are to have indefiniteness, if you are to leave your inspectors in the dark as to the considerations upon which they are to act, then, I say, you must find some counterpart in your machinery for the safeguards which otherwise would be provided by the definiteness and publicity of the proceedings.

The first proposal which we make is that an expert surveyor drawn from a panel appointed by some impartial authority—I do not care whether it is the Lord Chancellor or the Surveyors Institute—should be associated with the inquiry. I do not mind whether it is a central panel or a local panel but I should say, in practice, a local panel. It may be said that the surveyor would not be impartial but that is not a tenable argument. Death Duties in this country are assessed by negotiations between the Inland Revenue official and the local surveyor, and there are professional standards in the surveying profession which raise its members far above any imputation of being liable to bribery or corruption. I do not say that the surveyor is going to be more impartial than the Minister's inspector. I think the surveyor may often go wrong. But if there is disagreement, our proposal se- cures this effect—that the Minister will not have to make his decision on a purely ex parte statement. At present the Minister's weakness, and I have no doubt the Minister has often felt it to be a weakness, is that he has to make his decision on a purely ex parte report. At any rate he would get in this case the two opinions which would show him the issues involved.

Our second proposal is that there should be an administrative—and to my mind it should also be advisory—appeal board to which the Minister might refer issues of that kind. I know that in the new Clause it is not described as an advisory appeal board, and I do not wish to take away the final decision from the Minister. But I wish to have an impartially appointed advisory board to consider any differences of the kind I have indicated. I submit that this is a genuine attempt to make an administrative tribunal workable in other ways than by publicity and definite terms of reference the solution which I should personally prefer. Therefore, I recommend the new Clause to the favourable consideration of the House.

3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

It is rarely that I agree with anything that is said by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), but I think that on this occasion there is a good deal to be said for his proposal. I was very glad to hear a quotation which he used from the Lord Chief Justice's book, "The New Despotism." For a year or two now some of us on these Benches have been urging the Government to have regard to the principles set out in that book, which were afterwards endorsed by the report of the Committee on Ministers' powers, but which up till now have received remarkably little support from Conservative Members opposite. I hope this Clause indicates a change of heart in that respect. We have had a discussion on the inquiries which are held by inspectors sent out by the Ministry of Health. I have had some little personal experience of this sort of inquiry, not under the Housing Acts, but under the Local Government Act, 1929, with reference to county boundaries, and although the subject matters are different, the form of procedure is precisely the same. There also you have an inspector sent down to make a report, and the decision is arrived at by somebody else in the Ministry of Health.

I entirely agree with all that was said by my hon. Friend beside me about the capabilities of the Ministry's inspectors. I have seen one or two of them conducting these inquiries, and I agree that they are most able, courteous men and that they seem to have a considerable fund of patience in dealing with witnesses who are called before them. But even so the difficulty is that no matter how much care they may give to the examination of the issues before them, they are not the people who ultimately take the decision, and if one is appearing before such an inquiry one is always conscious of that difference, that the man to whom one is addressing one's arguments is not the man who makes the decision. The decision would be made by someone else in the Ministry of Health, who is not present at the inquiry, and one does not know the ground upon which his decision will be arrived at.

Therefore, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there is a very real difference, and that it is a vital difference, between appearing before a judge or a judicial inquiry and appearing before an administrative tribunal. If one appears before a judge, a judge is able to direct the attention of the advocate to the points which are in his mind and which appear to him to be of importance, but the inspector is not able to do that, because he does not know which particular point will appear of greatest importance to the man who has to make the final decision. When these inquiries are held, for all that the public knows the ultimate verdict may be entirely against the weight of the evidence. That is the complaint, and it is from that fact that there may arise a real feeling of injustice and grievance. It is felt in all these administrative inquiries, I think, that the official in the Ministry of Health who is responsible for the final decision may be more swayed by certain views that he takes of public policy or by the policy which is being adopted for the time being by the Department to which he belongs than by the evidence adduced at the inquiry and by considertions of substantial justice.

We were told a few minutes ago that the official or the Minister who makes the ultimate decision is really an appeal tribunal as far as the person who has appeared at the original inquiry is concerned. That does not seem to be a very apt comparison, because of what use is an appeal tribunal before whom an appellant has no right of audience? I think we cannot compare an appeal tribunal with an official before whom it is impossible to place a fresh argument. Everyone in the House will agree with the soundness of the principle that no man should be a judge in his own cause, but that principle has frequently been extended, and this point was made very clear to the Ministry in the report of the Committee on Ministers' powers, that no man should be a judge in a cause in which he has an interest. Though I have not the report of that Committee by me, I remember that it was made clear there that they took the view that when you have an official who is concerned, not only with the evidence that has been adduced before the inquiry, but also with the policy that the Department happens at the moment to be pursuing, he is a person with an interest.

Although he may be acting with the best will in the world—I am not making any allegation against anyone in the Ministry of Health—nevertheless, he is an interested person, and he really cannot help himself; he really cannot be in an impartial and entirely judicial position. I do not say that this is the ideal way of dealing with the matter, but it does seem to me to be the way out. I always thought there were difficulties in the way of suggesting an appeal to the county court judge, if only for the congestion that may occur in the county court as a result. This new Clause as it stands means that only cases of doubt and difficulty, where there is a difference between the surveyor to be appointed on the one side and the Ministry of Health inspector on the other, there should be an impartial body not so much swayed by administrative considerations which should be entitled to decide between the surveyor and the inspector. I hope that, even if the right hon. Gentleman is not able to accept the Clause, he will give some undertaking that he will consider a revision of this form of procedure and avoid what are real difficulties which are causing substantial grievances.

3.37 p.m.


On this extremely interesting and important issue I find much common ground with the Noble Lord who moved the new Clause and hon. Members who have spoken in support of it. While there is common ground on the question of principle, I do not accept the interpretation of the facts. The issues involved are of great importance to the private individuals concerned, as I have found in my own experience and knowledge in dealing with so many of these cases which have come to me for my decision. I agree that where high interests are affected and where the issues are judicial, the persons concerned are entitled to a judicial decision. I agree that on questions of fact they are entitled to an impartial decision. Finally, I agree completely that no man should be a judge in a court in which he is himself interested. If the present system in my experience offended against any of these principles I would not support it. My task is, from my intimate experience of four years of administration, to bear my testimony to the Committee and to show that it does not offend against those principles with which we all agree. Let me refer to the history of the matter.

Hon. Members have voiced what is the common experience in the country, that is, the sense of strain and some sense of injustice which resulted from the widely extended application of the Act of 1930. I was conscious of it in administration, and I inquired into it over the widest area. I became satisfied from the great volume of evidence that I received as to the working of the Act that the cause of that sense of injustice was inequity in the basis of the compensation, but not in the procedure. We have put that right in this Bill. We have made it impossible to condemn sound property and give only site value compensation; we have abolished the reduction factor and we have given compensation to the good landlord and to the owner occupier. We have made concessions to shop owners. We have in all ways, I believe, dealt with these cases on the basis of compensation, but I would say with complete assurance to the House, and in accordance with the facts that practically I have found no complaints of injustice in the working of the Act from the point of view of procedure. My point is that, as regards practical injustice resulting from the way in which cases are now conducted I have had no complaints. All Members know that there are strong protests by owners against decisions. It must be so. You will never persuade the owner of property which is condemned that it should be condemned, but as to actual injustice, owing to the present procedure, I do not think there have been any complaints at all.

Let me recall once more to the attention of hon. Members what the procedure is, in order that I may deal with the question of judicial rights. The sanitary inspector and the medical officer are the plaintiffs and their complaint is confirmed by the local authority, subject to responsibility to its constituents in the light of public opinion. When the local authority has confirmed the report of their officers, the complaint is heard at a public inquiry, at which the whole complaint is made known in the light of day before one of the inspectors. These 30 or 40 inspectors are now men of great experience and long training in two things—in the practical application of a proper standing of housing accommodation, and in keeping a judicial and impartial attitude. I say with conviction that they sit there as impartial judges between the local authority which is proceeding against a house and the owner of the house who is defending his own property.

When these impartial judges are coming to their conclusion, remember that they bring one extremely important fact to their assistance, and that is the comparative standard of housing. They relate the standards to each other, and when they have made their reports, those reports come before the housing division of the Ministry of Health, which exercises a final revising, co-ordinating power. I wish hon. Members could share my experience as to the actual inquiry and the proceedings at the Ministry of Health in order that they might be assured of the scrupulous and meticulous care which is taken at each stage in order that justice may be done to the individuals concerned. Hon. Members would then be aware that the revision by the Ministry, so far from being merely formal or automatic, or just registering the decision of the local authority, is a very practical one, and, as was well said by one hon. Member, the cause of com- plaint is more often by the local authority that their application has not been confirmed by the Minister.

Let me point out another aspect of this matter from the point of view of the preservation of judicial rights. Every right that is, in substance, judicial of the owner of the property is preserved to him under Section 11 (3) of the Act of 1930 in very express terms. It preserves to the owner the right of going to the courts if anything done by the Minister or on behalf of the Minister is not within the law. Every decision that is judicial is preserved to the Law Courts. That really answers a good deal of the case made by hon. Members to-day. What remains is an issue of fact, upon which the most appropriate and most skilful and most satisfactory judgment will be given, I submit, by the inspectors, with their long experience. They judge the facts, and when they have done so it remains for the Minister to relate those facts to the national standard of housing accommodation. We are relating the laws against slums to a housing standard which is related to the conscience of the nation as regards what is a house that is fit to live in. The final decision has to be made on the facts of the case as ascertained by a skilled expert by actual inspection.

The actual decision has got to be whether, on the facts of the case, the house is or is not fit for occupation according to the standard of housing accommodation which is accepted. I ask what authority can finally be responsible for that decision other than the Minister responsible to Parliament and, through Parliament, responsible to the nation? We are dealing with a matter which is not a pure matter of law and is not a pure matter of fact, but is a matter of fact in relation to a national policy. If the nation desires to control that policy it can only do it through the accepted constitutional means, and that is through the House of Commons and through the Minister, who is responsible on the one hand for administration and on the other hand responsible to the House of Commons. If in any respect the Minister fails in the duties laid upon him the right course in order to convey to him what is his duty is by the recognised forms by which Parliament con- trols Ministers. When it is a question of a standard such as is involved here it is my submission that we cannot ultimately accept any system other than ministerial responsibility. The House cannot allow any other power to have that responsibility except the Minister, who is answerable to the House.

I have dealt now with the question of the rights and the obligations as regards the individual himself. As regards the actual working of the scheme of slum reform, I have to represent to the House, with a deep sense of my responsibility, that such a scheme as is put forward in the new Clause would not work. It is dual throughout its organisation. There are two surveyors, and above the two surveyors there are two authorities, a tribunal and the Minister. There is no provision for the distribution of authority and for deciding filially where the real centre of gravity is to be. It is a most unworkable proposal, a two-headed monster without any form of co-operation between the two heads. We have, I hope, satisfied the House that no wrong is being done to the individual. My last word shall be as to the progress of the work. The great scheme of reform is now in progress and some third of the work is already accomplished. I can say with absolute fairness to the House that due weight has been given to every practical difficulty which has been presented as an obstacle to the efficient working of this system of slum reform. I have represented to the House reasons which I believe to be absolutely irrefragable, why, if the work is to be satisfactorily accomplished, ultimate responsibility must be maintained in the hands of the Minister.

Standing here before the House and speaking with a deep sense of my responsibility for the rights of the individual as well as for the due accomplishment of the great work of slum reform, I say that I could not guarantee the achievement of the great scheme of progress that we have in hand and the maintenance of that just division of responsibility if any step were taken which would deprive the Minister of the ultimate responsibility. The nation would be inevitably doomed to disappointment of the achievement of our great scheme. I have presented arguments for the consideration of both sides of the House by which I sought to satisfy hon. Members that the present arrange- ment is practical, convenient, sound in principle and essential in the provision of the great reform. We have had a most interesting and prolonged Debate here and upstairs in the Committee, and I hope very much that after the interesting and illuminating Debate which we have had to-day, we shall be able to come to a decision and to proceed to other important questions.

3.52 p.m.


In the one or two minutes which remain I wish strenuously, but as courteously as possible, to protest against the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has replied. He has not begun to meet the vital complaint, or the central contention, of my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that the inspectors of the Ministry are obliged to usurp more or less judicial functions. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman substantially confirmed that contention in the earlier part of his speech. Does he not know that the public will accept from men who discharge independent or judicial functions hardships which they would bitterly resent at the hands of bureaucrats, however suave, conciliatory or charming they may be? I repeat what has already been said the point cannot be driven home far enough that men in this country demand not only the reality

but the semblance of justice. Therefore, on the highest social and juridical grounds, I beg the Government, I ernestly entreat them, to accept the new Clause, or something which carries with it the same effect.

3.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Fleming Mr Edward Fleming , Manchester, Withington

I have the same views as the last speaker. As I have probably had more experience than anyone else in the House in regard to inquiries by the Ministry of Health, it is only right that I should put before the House my own personal experience in the matter. I have always found, when appearing before an inspector, that the parties have felt that the inspector in their case is judge as well as jury. They have never felt that they were having a fair hearing. After the show is over, the one who has lost has complained and the other has not, but while the inquiry is being held they have both felt that they were being kept in the dark and were, somehow or other, being tried by the persons against whom they were trying to get justice. If the proposed new Clause were accepted, it would help to remove that feeling.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 47; Noes, 138.

Division No. 203.]AYES.[3.55 p.m.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.Grattan-Doyle, Sir NicholasRussell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Assheton, RalphHamilton, Sir George (Ilford)Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Bailey, Eric Alfred GeorgeHorobin, Ian M.Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)Hurst, Sir Gerald B.Spens, William Patrick
Benn, Sir Arthur ShirleyIveagh, Countess ofStourton, Hon. John J.
Boulton, W. W.Janner, BarnettStuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)Joel, Dudley J. BarnatoSugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Caporn, Arthur CecilJohnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)Tate, Mavis Constance
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-spring)Lees-Jones, JohnTaylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Chorlton, Alan Ernest LeofricLoftus, Pierce C.Wells, Sydney Richard
Cobb, Sir CyrilMoreing, Adrian C.Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Courtauld, Major John SewellNation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Crossley, A. C.Percy, Lord EustaceWise, Alfred R.
Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)
Fleming, Edward LascellesPike, Cecil F.TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Foot, Dingle (Dundee)Raikes, Henry V. A. M.Mr. Vyvyan Adams and Mr. Thorp.
Gower, Sir RobertRathbone, Eleanor
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. ChristopherBrocklebank, C. E. R.Cove, William G.
Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)Brown, Ernest (Leith)Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)
Attlee, Clement RichardBurnett, John GeorgeCrookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)
Balniel, LordCampbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)Dobbie, William
Banfield, John WilliamCayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)Duckworth, George A. V.
Barrie, Sir Charles CouparCazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)Duggan, Hubert John
Batey, JosephCazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)
Beauchamp, Sir Brograve CampbellChamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony
Beit, Sir Alfred L.Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest NathanielClayton, Sir ChristopherElliston, Captain George Sampson
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.Elmley, Viscount
Birchall, Major Sir John DearmanCooper, A. DuffEmrys-Evans, P. V.
Entwistle, Cyril FullardLocker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. Gr'n)Ramsay T. B. W. (Western Isles)
Essenhigh, Reginald ClareLocker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-
Fox, Sir GiffordMabane, WilliamRosbotham, Sir Thomas
Fremantle, Sir FrancisMcCorquodale, M. S.Ross, Ronald D.
Galbraith, James Francis WallaceMacdonald, Gordon (Ince)Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Gardner, Benjamin WalterMacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)Runge, Norah Cecil
George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)McEntee, Valentine L.Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir JohnMcLean, Major Sir AlanRutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Glossop, C. W. H.McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)Salmon, Sir Isidore
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. ArthurMaitland, AdamSamuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney)
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.Savery, Servington
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel JohnShakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Grimston, R. V.Mellor, Sir J. S. P.Somervell, Sir Donald
Groves, Thomas E.Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)
Grundy, Thomas W.Milner, Major JamesStrauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)Tate, Mavis Constance
Harris, Sir PercyMitcheson, G. G.Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Hartland, George A.Molson, A. Hugh ElsdaleThomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. EyresTinker, John Joseph
Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)Morgan, Robert H.Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.North, Edward T.Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)Owen, Major GoronwyWatt, Major George Steven H.
Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)Parkinson, John AllenWedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)Peake, OsbertWilliams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Jamieson, DouglasPenny, Sir GeorgeWills, Wilfrid D.
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)Petherick, M.Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Ker, J. CampbellPeto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Kerr, Hamilton W.Pickering, Ernest H.Worthington, Dr. John V.
Lansbury, Rt. Hon. GeorgePowell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'oaks)
Lawson, John JamesPower, Sir John Cecil
Leckie, J. A.Pownall, Sir AsshetonTELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)Commander Southby and Major
George Davies.

It being Four of the Clock, and, objection being taken to further Proceeding, further Consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), to be further considered upon Monday next.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Four Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday, next, 20th May.