I beg to move,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert provisions that no by-laws
may be made under the Bill without the sanction of the appropriate Minister.
I should like to offer my congratulations, in which I am sure that every hon. Member will join, to the London County Council in their desire to bring their by-laws up to date so as to take the fullest advantage of scientific development in the planning and construction of streets and buildings. I would suggest, however, that they seek to bring in a very serious precedent in seeking to avoid the sanction of the Minister of Health to their by-laws. In principle, there is no difference between the London County Council and the smallest and most remote similar authority. If it is correct for the London County Council to seek to avoid the specific sanction of the Minister to the adoption of their by-laws, it is equally correct for any other authority to seek the same power. It is very easy to visualise the chaotic state of things that might prevail if every municipal authority or public authority were to create any kind and all kinds of by-laws according to their desires and individual idiosyncrasies. That would result in a very chaotic and undesirable condition of affairs throughout the country. Admittedly, in the proposed Bill there is a provision that if an individual does not approve of a particular by-law he can put forward an objection when the opinion of the Minister is sought and acted upon by the London County Council. But one can visualise many cases in which it might be seriously prejudicial to the citizen in those circumstances. Suppose the individual was an employé of the London County Council or a supplier or contractor who was also a householder and property owner within the area. He might find it very unsatisfactory to have to object openly to the suggestion of his employers, whereas he would find no difficulty whatever in writing to the Minister and putting forward his objections in that way.
I beg to second the Motion.
I desire at the outset to say that I very much regret finding myself obliged to fulfil this role to-night. This is a Bill which in its main provisions is long overdue with regard to buildings in London. It would be improper for me at the moment to trace the history of legislation dealing with buildings in London, which really had its origin I believe at the time when London was being reconstructed after the Great Fire. But this much is certain that, unfortunately, whereas in the country outside London it has been left very largely to local authorities to deal with the kind of buildings which shall be put up in accordance with their own local by-laws or regulations, in London for a long time it has been the practice to put those regulations into Statutes, and the result has been that statute law has been rather inclined to lag behind the necessities of the development of the science of building. There is no doubt—certainly those of us who are moving this Instruction recognise it to the full and those of us who have had experience of the working of London building Acts, and I have had some, realise it—that a great deal has had to be done under the existing legislation by way of waiver of the provisions of Statutes by the London County Council, and it would have been very much better had it been possible to do it by making proper Amendments from time to time as building and the art of building has advanced. I have no doubt that the great building industry of London and the development of London has been hampered and delayed by the fact that the work has had to be conducted under, first of all, the provisions of the Statute of 1894 and later by the provisions of the Statute of 1930.
So far as we are concerned, we welcome the main object of this Bill, which is to confer upon the County Council the right to say with regard to those sections of the London Building Acts which are specified in, I think, the First Schedule, which deal in the main with the methods of construction of London buildings that they shall be amended by by-laws which can be made I will not say from day to day but from month to month and year to year without the constant necessity of coming back to Parliament in order to get the regulations and the provisions of the Statutes brought up to date. But when it comes to the form in which those by-laws are to be carried and the way in which they are to proceed to be brought into force we think it is unfortunate that a departure is sought to be made by this Bill which is a complete departure from the view which Parliament has expressed quite recently with regard to by-laws in general and, also, and quite recently, with regard to the by-laws of the London County Council.
I do not want to be over technical about this matter and I do not want to stray into any excess of examination of the history of by-laws but, speaking broadly, during the last three-quarters of a century it is right to say that this House has almost without exception insisted that the power to make by-laws shall be a power which is subject to those by-laws being confirmed by a Minister of the Crown. Certain by-laws under old statutes, particularly by-laws for the good governance of local districts, have been permitted to be made subject to the power of the Minister to disallow them at a later stage. That was the general position. In the year 1933 the Local Government Act was passed which dealt with the consolidation and the amendment of local government in this country. This was done after a Committee of this House had sat and devoted a great deal of attention to the problem for something like two years. The view which they came to, and which was subsequently embodied in Section 249 of the Local Government Act, 1933, was that there should be one rule with regard to by-laws, namely, that by-laws passed by local authorities outside London should in every instance be subject to confirmation by the Minister. It is not for me to express a view one way or the other as to whether Parliament did right or wrong in coming to that conclusion, but perhaps I may be permitted to say that there was a very great deal to be said in its favour. Uniformity in local legislation is something which my friends and myself who have been paying particular attention in the last few years to local legislation think is a very desirable thing to achieve.
The laws of gravity and the laws of good building construction do not differ and cannot differ in a building, whether it happens to be built in Manchester or in London, in Somerset or in Southwark. Therefore, when Parliament came to the conclusion in 1933 by the Statute I have mentioned that the right thing to do was to let all these by-laws which were being passed by local authorities be subject to one Government Department or another, so that the benefit of the experience generally with regard to the operation of the by-laws should be available for the assistance of the particular local authority which was putting forward the by-law, Parliament was doing something which was just and really of assistance to the local authorities. But the matter does not stop there. In the following year, in 1934, the Act of 1933 not applying to the County of London, the London County Council promoted a General Powers Bill, which became a Statute, and by a section of that Statute they themselves provided that this particular provision of the Act of 1933 should be extended to London. Therefore, what is sought to be done by this Bill is to make an exception upon a view which Parliament has twice expressed within the lifetime of the present Parliament.
Let us see what it is that this Bill proposes instead of the ordinary procedure by which a proposed by-law is submitted to the Minister, the Minister looks at it and, if one may use popular language, vets it, looks to see whether a similar by-law has been introduced in other districts and whether it has worked well, and is therefore able to give advice and assistance to the local authority. That is the ordinary procedure. In this Bill something quite different is proposed. I am not so much concerned at the moment with the question whether it would be a good thing to make the general provisions which are in this Bill applicable throughout the country on the ground of uniformity. We suggest that it is not advisable.
What is to happen? First, the county council are to draft their proposed by-law and then to send it to a number of people including the Secretary of State, the Minister of Health and other persons who are concerned with buildings, like the Federation of Master Builders, the Royal Society of British Architects and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The county council are to keep a copy of the proposed by-law available for inspection by any member of the public who takes the trouble to go to the county hall. Members of this House who go to the Table for the purpose of inspecting a regulation will be in a position to judge how valuable that provision may be. Then the county council are to give notice by advertisement that they propose to make the by-law, and, if nobody objects to the Minister, then under the proposal the by-law will be passed. I hesitate to suggest that much heed should be given to my own experience in another portion of my activities, but as one who has had an opportunity of considering and discussing in other places by-laws which have been passed after examination and confirmation by the Minister, I would suggest that if a county council by-law comes into force as provided in the Bill, no one raising an objection, it will make the position of the ordinary citizen very much inferior to his position under the statutes under which the county council operate at present.
If, on the other hand, somebody does object the Minister must send the objection to the county council. I want to put the case fairly, and I am not going to minimise for a moment the fact that, when an objection has been made to the Minister and he has sent the objection to the county council, there may be adequate opportunity for discussion and consideration between the county council and the Minister, but it is felt that the persons to whom the by-law will go are mainly people who are interested professionally in building, and it may well be that in those circumstances—this is the point which I particularly desire to emphasise—that if no one objects the rights and position of the ordinary building owners, whether they are, as is the case in many instances, comparatively small and humble persons or whether they are people who are speculating or developing without speculation, are in danger.
I have been at some pains to try and find out how this proposed scheme can be any better than the method which is being used with regard to by-laws generally and which in the main has been arrived at, as so many other things in our country, as the result of many years of practical experience by people who have hammered out these things for themselves. I have a great belief in the con-joint wisdom of the people of this country, who have been allowed to do things more or less in their own way, though perhaps that principle must not be taken too far. But we have hammered out this system of by-laws, and as a result of many years' experience the House has come to the conclusion that confirmation by the Minister achieves the best result. In these circumstances, where is the improvement? If objection is made, the matter still has to go before the Minister, and the Minister and the county council still have to consult together. Those who have any experience of the passing of by-laws know that there is a good deal of consultation between local authorities and the Minister of Health, each trying to help the other in hammering out a form of legislation which will be of benefit.
There may be cases where no complaint is made to the Minister. I am not ascribing motives to anybody. My interest is that of one who has had to deal with these matters in times past and who is interested in seeing that there is some sort of uniformity in local legislation. I regret that this question should have arisen on this particular Bill promoted by the London County Council, because on a former occasion some feelings were aroused about another matter. For myself, I desire to put that aspect of the case completely out of any consideration. I am putting the case that this is a departure from the ordinary procedure which Parliament has affirmed twice within the last two years, and I am trying to see how the new procedure is better than the old and how it is going to protect people in cases where no one happens to spot the objection. A great deal of private legislation has been passing through the House during the last two years, and in many instances but for the action taken by a few private Members legislation which would have been difficult to interpret and administer has been stopped and the provisions amended by putting Motions on the Order Paper. But it is a pure accident that some of us have taken this trouble and have set ourselves to the interesting task of examining local legislation. Under this Bill, unless something offends the sense of the persons who are specified in Clause 8, Sub-section (2), it is unlikely that the position of the ordinary private person who desires to build will be examined or protected.
Seeking as we are still for a reason why it is necessary that this alteration should be made in the procedure with regard to the London Building Acts, and having failed so far to find any improvement in the new system suggested as compared with the old form, we have felt compelled to move our Instruction. It is not intended in any sense to wreck the Bill. Indeed, we applaud the Bill in its main features. It is a Bill which we ought to have seen long ago, but at the same time this complete departure from what has been the convinced and expressed opinion of this House with regard to the confirmation of a by-law is a matter which we think should be discussed so that the House may consider the position. If it finds it good, let the House confirm it to be good. If, on the other hand, it thinks that this form of legislation should still be subject to the condition prescribed by the Act of 1933, then at least the House will have an opportunity of expressing its opinion.
The Mover of the Instruction said that he could not see why London should be treated differently from the Provinces. May I point out to him this great difference, that the Provinces do not operate their building bylaws under Acts of Parliament, whereas in London building operations are carried out under Acts of Parliament, which are administered in the great county of London by a number of surveyors appointed by the London County Council but who are not directly the servants of the London County Council. I refer to the district surveyors. As one who has had 40 years' practical experience as a London builder, may I tell the House some of the difficulties which I at any rate believe that by-laws made by the London County Council under this Bill will obviate. When we were searching for cheap building material after the War, I remember that the Minister gave sanction for a variation of the by-laws. I believe that under one Housing Act it was laid down that any private builder could bring forward a case for relaxation. May I point out the position in the London area at the present moment? It is laid down in the London Building Acts that footings or projections under a house must be possessed by every house. Parapet walls and heights of ceilings are all regulated by Acts of Parliament. Hundreds of builders have sent applications to County Hall, provided plans, appealed for relaxation on those parts of the Act and built their houses and had them occupied long before the Council got the application for relaxation.
That is only one side. Let us take another. As the Seconder very rightly said, the great industry of building has progressed far during the last 30 or 40 years, but what has been the difficulty of the industry? In every case where any modification or alteration of methods of building was required it had to be worked out with officers of the County Council, and district surveyors who are called upon to administer the Act, and they had to get instructions from County Hall, because there was really nothing to guide them. I sat on that Committee which was drafting the new Amendment of the London Building Act. It was a body composed partly of members of the County Council and partly of engineers, architects, surveyors, and all those best qualified to judge on the matter, and they were unanimous in asking the Council to promote legislation which would put this into operation. One particular building comes to my mind—Shell-Mex House. If the findings of this Committee had been verified before that building was erected they would probably have saved from £10,000 to £15,000 on the additional strength of steel and material that was put into it.
I could not deal with the legal aspect, which has been so well put by the Seconder, but the London County Council has had 50,000 applications a year passing through its Building Acts Committee, and I know of no single case in or outside the trade which has raised or is likely to raise any objection to what is being asked of the House this evening. It is the unanimous wish of all those who are brought in contact with the great organisation there that some speedier method of getting through should be at their service. I have heard objections to powers being put into the hands of Ministers. You only have to attend a Committee upstairs and half the Members object to this Star Chamber Government by Ministers, but, when it suits their purpose, they would rather trust a Minister than an elected body like the County Council, which every three years has to go back and give an account of its deeds, good or bad.
I suggest that a case has been made out for the Instruction. This is not advocated by the Council quâ council. It has been borne in upon them. I and others engaged in industry have advised them that this is the easiest way to obtain what we think desirable not only in the interest of the Council but of the development of London. I was at a Committee at County Hall last week which was investigating three different methods of building. None of them would have complied with the London Building Act, but, if they are advantageous, are we to be debarred until we have had so many months waiting for the sanction of the Ministry? This is long overdue. Far too much latitude has been given as to the amount of material, and the way in which work has been done. I ask the House to put aside any feeling against this great body. Those who know its work can have nothing but admiration for it. It is one of the most hard worked bodies in the country. I speak with feeling because I have had 10 or 12 years of it. This is not an unreasonable proposition, and I hope the House will give it favourable consideration.
I should like to say a few words in support of the Instruction from one aspect, namely, the grave danger that might be created by setting a precedent of this kind, the danger of the introduction of corruption in public administration. I am certain, whether under Labour or Municipal Reform administration, nothing of the kind would be in the least likely to occur in the case of the London County Council. High standards are adopted, and I have the greatest admiration for the very wonderful administration operated from County Hall, but if you are going to give a power of this kind to the London County Council it will be very difficult in future for other local authorities to be refused the same powers if they ask for them. I fully believe that the vast majority of councils of all kinds are above suspicion of any sort, but I believe it to be equally true—and I do not speak without knowledge—that there are some councils which are not above grave suspicion in the matter of bribery. Very large sums of money are involved in questions of this kind, and it seems to me that, if you are going to make a council of the sort I have named a body which is going to have power to make its own by-laws, you are increasing considerably the danger of influences of that kind.
I have no intention of giving any names, but I do not speak without knowing what I am talking about. I shall be very glad to talk to the hon. Member privately if he is interested. I am endeavouring to raise a general question which arises out of the precedent that is here being set.
Has anyone any right whatever to make a definite statement and then refuse to give the name of a particular council when he definitely mentions that there are such?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker will deal with me if I am saying any-thing that is out of order. I am afraid there is in commercial life of all kinds to-day far too much bribery still going on. I fully believe that there is less in this country than in any other; but, none the less, there is far too much in this country, and I think we ought to think twice before we take any action which may, incidentally and unintentionally, increase the possibility—it might be in a very small number of instances—of influences of this kind extending.
With all respect to the hon. Member, I do not think he has really followed the purpose of the Bill and the protection that is given to the public and the building interests against any possibility of corruption or misuse of powers. The county council is seeking to end an impossible situation in regard to the regulations affecting buildings. It has been the justifiable complaint of everyone connected with building—the builders themselves, professional bodies, and indeed the county council—that the regulation of building by Statute is thoroughly unsatisfactory and, as has been said, a great deal of unnecessary expenditure is being involved in putting up buildings which recent discoveries have shown could have been put up in a much cheaper way. In short, London has been debarred from the benefit of the inventions and discoveries which have so much improved the technique of building in recent years. Accordingly, the London County Council in 1931 set up a very expert committee, consisting partly of members of the council but very largely of experts outside, to consider the whole problem. They drew up a comprehensive report, and one of the most urgent things in that report was that the council should take the first possible opportunity of bringing before Parliament a Bill which would enable it to control the building of London by by-laws instead of by Statute. Thereby the control, of course, would become very much more flexible and the county council would by its by-laws be able to adapt itself constantly to changes in building practice. The council was urged to take immediate action by all the building interests in London and, after close consultation with the Ministry of Health, they have brought this proposal before the House.
The Mover of the Instruction said that there is considerable danger under the procedure suggested that certain people will not get a look in. I should like to bring before the House the exact procedure that is suggested and, if hon. Members consider it, they must come to the conclusion that there is ample safeguard for every possible interest and that it would be impossible for any by-law, which may be undesirable, to slip through by mistake. What happens in this. The Council draws up by-laws. In the first place, it has on its staff many experts in the matter. Then it has to advertise the by-laws in a public paper for two months. If, during that period, no objection is taken, it is true that the by-law comes into force, but I should like to read a list of the bodies to which the Council has to send it. They have to send the by-laws to the Secretary of State, to the Common Council, the Council of every Metropolitan Borough, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors, the Institute of Civil Engineers, the Institute of Structural Engineers, the London Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Builders, the London Master Builders' Association, and such other authority or body or person as the Council think fit. The House may be assured that those bodies will look minutely at every by-law that is proposed, and if none of those bodies is able to find a flaw in the by-laws we may be absolutely sure that the by-law is agreed to by the unanimous consent of all the building interests in London.
It will, of course, be possible for any individual outside these associations to study the by-laws if he so desires. If any objection whatever to a by-law by any of those bodies or by an individual is sent to the Minister, of Health, the Minister will consider that objection. If the County Council are unable to remove the objection the Minister will be the arbiter as to whether the by-law shall be passed or shall be refused. If no one can think of any possible objection to it, it is suggested under the procedure laid down in the Bill that the by-law shall automatically come into force. I suggest that that is reasonable and common sense. The proposal of the instruction would put unnecessary and burdensome work on the Minister and his Department, and would inevitably cause a certain amount of delay before a by-law could come into effect. Why cause that delay? Why this unnecessary trouble when there is no possible reason for it?
The only argument which appeared on the surface to be of substance was that it was a novel proposal and that the County Council should not be empowered to impose by-laws without confirmation by the Minister of Health. But the facts are wrong. It is not a novel procedure at all. The County Council is already making many by-laws and has been making them for years past without confirmation by the Minister of Health or anyone else, and no one has objected. Under the Metropolis Management Act of 1878 the Council is the body to make by-laws for protection against fire in all places of public amusement—the Council and the Council alone, without confirmation by anyone. It has exercised its responsibility with discretion, and indeed there have been no complaints whatever as to the manner in which it has passed its by-laws. The procedure is not novel at all. That argument, therefore, falls to the ground.
The other argument put forward, which deserves a word of answer, is that London will be treated in a different way from the rest of the country. That is perfectly true. London has always been treated in a different way in regard to building regulations. The history is entirely different and always will be. I do not believe that uniformity is a virtue to be praised above everything else in matters of this sort. Adaptability and suitability to the special circumstances of a case are far more important. London has always been different in this respect from the Provinces. All we are doing here is to bring the regulations affecting building up to date. We are making them flexible. We have behind us the support of every building interest concerned. This matter has been thrashed out in consultation with the Ministry of Health, and to put in a delaying Clause or any Amendment which will make the structure of the proposals more difficult of administration, is undesirable.
It is almost certain that a new Bill will have to be brought forward in connection with this matter covering the whole question of Building Act regulations in a few years' time. It will be possible to review the situation then, should any abuses arise, which I think is very unlikely indeed. To turn this matter down when it has the strong and ardent support of the building interest in London, would be unwise. It is for them only that the Council is bringing forward this Bill. The Council's sole responsibility is the matter of regulation, and the Council want the regulations to fit the facts of the case. They want to be helpful and not hampering in their administration of the regulations covering building in London. I ask the House not to pass this Instruction. It will merely throw sand into the efficient functioning of the machine of regulation. It would be very unwise, pointless and quite unreasonable, in view of the explanation given, if the Instruction were passed and the structure of the Bill thereby altered.
I do not think the House realises the position of the building industry in London to-day. I would point out that it was in 1909 that a regulation was passed making steel frame buildings possible. In 1926 the London County Council were given general powers, under the General Powers Act of that year, to make regulations with regard to buildings of reinforced concrete. This is 1935, and building science and engineering science have advanced with great strides. The position to-day is that if you submit a, plan to the Council for a structure which is not a standard structure the surveyor who is responsible for the inspection of all such buildings cannot deal with that matter. You have to send an application to the London County Council and submit plans. That means a delay of three, four, or even six or seven weeks before you get consent or refusal. The result is that building is held up.
The London County Council have been in consultation with experts, and in 1931 a Committee was appointed. On that Committee were experts in different branches of engineering and building and they drafted regulations which meet the position to-day. Under this Instruction, as I understand it, these recommendations would be held up. I say that would be a waste of public time and of money and I strongly deprecate the House taking any action of the kind in the matter. There is one other point which I would like to mention particularly and that is the question of the district surveyors. The district surveyors in London are a body of men who are responsible for seeing that the plans passed by the London County Council are carried out. They are allowed to consult with the owners of buildings and to make suggestions. Under this Bill, in Clause 4, Sub-section (2) their duties are to be prescribed in relation to any by-laws made in pursuance of this Measure and I would like consideration to be given to the question of whether that Clause does not impair the status of the district surveyors. I would impress on the House that these by-laws, having been carefully considered by the London County Council after consultation with experts, ought to be adopted. I strongly recommend the adoption of those by-laws, so that any building owner, architect or engineer can immediately see what he is entitled to do in London in the matter of building and put forward his plans in conformity with the by-laws instead of having to make application to the district surveyor and then to the London County Council before he can proceed with the work.
As one of this little group of Members who act together with the object of affecting as far as we are able, with the expert and legal advice at our disposal, a number of the Bills of this character which come before the House from time to time I think I can claim that we have done some useful work. In connection with the Bill now before the House I do not for one moment suggest that the London County Council is not a very excellent body or that they do not administer London very well—as indeed they have been doing for a long period of years now. But the point with regard to this Bill is: What is the reason for the suggested departure? We contend that there ought to be some control over the by-laws that are made, to see that those by-laws are not vexatious or otherwise of a character which would make it undesirable to put them into force. The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. R. Strauss) who very eloquently stated the case for the London County Council read out in very precise terms Clause 8 which sets forth the procedure, but if we look at all the Clauses of the Bill and consider that there is to be no control by Parliament or by the Minister we must see that it proposes to give powers to the London County Council so wide that they might almost be termed dictatorial.
I refer hon. Members to Clause 4 which provides that by-laws may be made to deal with the plans, level, width, surface and inclination of streets and the foundations and sites of buildings and structures. It empowers the London County Council to make by-laws in respect of many vital matters concerning roads and buildings without any interference from or control by Parliament or any Government Department. We contend that Parliament ought to hesitate a long time before allowing these powers to pass out of its hands into the hands of the London County Council or any other local authority. Under this Clause they can also prescribe rules as to the occupation of living accommodation and the dimensions of what are termed "habitable rooms." This Measure if it became law could be used in a very oppressive way, and I am of the opinion that any by-law which set out to do anything of that kind would, if submitted to the Minister, be vetoed by him. I am not saying that the London County Council would necessarily deal with these matters in a harsh or oppressive manner. I am only suggesting that under this Bill they are proposing to take powers which would enable them so to do, and I submit that Parliament, as the governing authority, ought not to allow power in these matters to pass out of its hands. In another part of the Clause the London County Council are asking for the absolute right to deal with all lamps and signs and overhanging structures on public highways.
Under this power they could, if they liked, sweep the whole lot away, without any reference to the Minister, unless somebody took the trouble to enter this objection to which reference has been made. Then there is the question of the roads. It is surely within the knowledge of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen that the Ministry of Transport is a Department which was set up specificially to deal with road problems.
If it were a question of obtaining a grant-in-aid they would have to go to the Minister for it. But it seems to me that the present London County Council is quite independent of grants-in-aid. Whether they get grants-in-aid or not, they decide definitely to carry out any work that they desire. Therefore I suggest that we ought to be very reluctant to part with the powers which we now possess. Parliament ought to retain some control by providing that the Department concerned, whether the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Transport, should have the opportunity of vetoing the exercise of any unreasonable powers which it might be sought to apply under any by-law. We do not want this issue to be confused, as the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) very properly said, with the discussion which arose a little while ago with regard to the London County Council. We desire that this problem should be dealt with on the merits. The issue is perfectly simple and clear. Shall the London County Council have power to make by-laws and to give effect to them without consultation with the Minister? Hon. Members who are against us are of the opinion that the council should have these dictatorial powers and should be able to make and enforce their own by-laws without reference to the Minister. We, who are supporting this Instruction, are of the opinion that they should make their by-laws, but that before they are brought into force they should receive the assent of the Minister. If arguments are brought forward to convince me to the contrary, I am prepared to give way, but until I hear a convincing argument to justify the departure that is being asked for in this matter, I must certainly support the Instruction.
I hope the hon. Member who has just spoken will consider the arguments of those who support the Bill. In my view there could be no better argument than the fact that after very long deliberations on the part of highly expert people, deliberations which took place on entirely non-party lines, conclusions were reached in respect of what was necessary for the purpose of protecting people who desired to build in London and people who desired to secure amenities for London. I do not know whether the hon. Member and others who have spoken have considered the question for such a long time as did those who sat on this Advisory Committee, and I am not sure that they have had the opportunities of examining the arguments brought forward in the same measure as have those who were on that Committee.
I have had a fair amount of experience with regard to building and building regulations in London. London stands in a very different position from most of the other centres of the country. The magnitude of the problem in so far as London is concerned cannot be compared with that of other centres, even though they may be large centres. For many years I had experience of a large provincial centre, and the problems which they had to face were not in any sense comparable with the problems which we have to face in London or with the changes that take place so rapidly in London. It becomes necessary, therefore, that we should have some type of machinery capable of dealing with these large changes and alterations that people desire to make to their buildings and capable of dealing with the amenities that are necessary in the changing conditions of London. How is this going to be done? Do those hon. Members who are opposing the method proposed for framing by-laws and putting them into effect realise that occasions arise in London when it is essential that something should be done rapidly?
No, but that is the whole point. It is bad enough under the Bill, but it would be infinitely worse if you had to go to a, Government Department for sanction on a point which was not disputed. Londoners are not so dead asleep as not to realise when a very important matter is at issue respecting the interests of London. Hon. Members who represent London constituencies are caused sleepless nights by the thousand and one institutions and persons that constantly and rightly knock at their doors and ask for certain things to be done. They are watched with a vigilance which is almost indescribable. I see some Members of London constituencies smiling, and they may well smile. They know from experience that day after day these organisations—
I know very well that they understand the position and that they approve. They know that there is a tremendous interest taken by the citizens of and dwellers in Greater London in matters that pertain to their interests. Therefore, I do not think my hon. Friends need have any sleepless nights on this matter. Their anxiety about the interests of the people being watched may be allayed by the fact that there are in this House very vigilant Members who are anxious to see London's interests protected and who will certainly not allow any serious injury to the interests of their constituents or of London as a whole to occur without an outcry. They have power to do this. The whole point of the Bill is that that power is vested in them, quite apart from the large body of people who have to be consulted and who are not so feeble-minded as to be set aside by anything that may have been prepared in the dark recesses of the London County Council. These bodies know what is happening. They will have the by-laws submitted to them, and they are not unimportant bodies devoid of technical knowledge. They will know whether or not it is good for the building interests of London or of their members, and their members' interests cover practically all the interests concerned.
Apart from that, however, these regulations have to be advertised, and a Londoner reads his paper fairly carefully. If he does not read a point himself, he soon gets information from those who have done, and in my view if anything serious were contained in any of these regulations, there would immediately be an outcry on the part of a few individuals at least, and that outcry would reach the right quarters and the matter would have to be settled by the Minister. But if that does not happen, if the whole of these important bodies accept the matter, if the Londoner does not feel that a fire is going to break out, because of regulations, which will exterminate the whole of his interests, there is the additional safeguard that a regulation would be commented upon by the papers themselves. Our national Press, which has its centre in London, is not a body lacking in vigilance, and I am certain that if the "Daily Herald," for instance were to commend a regulation other papers might very readily say that that regulation was not good and might bring it to the notice of those whom it might affect adversely.
If, in spite of the advertisements, and in spite of the submission of a regulation to these bodies, there is still no objection, then I say that that would mean that everybody wanted the regulation, and that they then would not want to have their action encumbered by procedure which might result in the regulation never being put into force or not being put into force in time to save some great scheme which was essential for the welfare of the inhabitants of London. I am not sorry to find Members outside the London area taking part in this debate, but I wish they would appreciate how important it is that there should be speed in dealing with matters relating to the interests of this great area, and that, in the event of a matter not being objected to, full opportunity should be given for it to be brought to full fruition at the earliest opportunity. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not be over-impressed by the arguments which my friends and I have brought forward, and I hope that some of my hon. Friends who have still further arguments will, with the weight of their eloquence, be able to persuade hon. Gentleman that what we believe to be the case is actually true.
Like other hon. Members, I fully appreciate the desirability of the London building regulations being done by by-laws and not by Statute, and the only question before the House is whether the new procedure for the making and sanctioning of those by-laws is preferable to the ordinary common procedure which operates now. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) says he wants speed. An unopposed by-law under the ordinary procedure can be obtained in a month. Under this Bill it cannot be obtained under two months. Therefore, this procedure, so far as speed is concerned, does nothing to add to, but rather detracts from, the present procedure.
The contrary will be the case. The only point that we are making is that for the first time a new procedure for the sanctioning of by-laws is being asked for in this Bill, and that if it is passed it is bound to be asked for in other Bills. The public legislation of this country has laid down a certain procedure. Why should we have a new procedure? No Member who supports the Bill has explained who is the author of this new procedure, what is the advantage of it, and why we should have it.
I listened to the hon. Member with great care, and I did not gather what the advantage is. Before the London County Council can make a proposed by-law it has to be advertised two months, and certain bodies of persons are to have copies sent to them. Two Ministers, the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Minister of Health, are also to have copies. Then these bodies—not the two Ministers—may send objections to the Minister. Paragraph (b) of Clause 8 says:
Any authority body or person desirous of objecting to any proposed by-law may do so within six weeks after the publication of the said advertisement by a letter addressed to the Minister setting out the grounds on which objection is made.
I do not think my hon. and learned Friend will differ from me when I say that, "any authority body or person" is a wider phrase than the limited list of bodies to whom the advanced copies have to be sent.
The point I desire to make is that neither the Secretary of State nor the Minister of Health can apparently object to a by-law in any way. If any authority, body or person sends an objection to the Minister of Health, the Minister has to take the matter up, but if no objection is received the by-law automatically becomes law. In my submission, as the Clause is drafted at present, it means that if no outside per son makes an objection to a by-law the Minister, to whom a copy has also been sent, cannot apparently take any objection to it. I am bringing this forward because it seems to me to be a matter of the greatest importance in drafting.
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that nobody in the Minister's Office could raise an objection in the same way as any other individual?
I am deliberately putting this point through the microscope because the House has to realise that we have a certain procedure for the confirmation of by-laws that has stood the test of time, and has been approved by this House and by decisions in the courts. Here we have a new procedure, and I am deliberately putting it through the microscope in order to see whether it will work. In my submission, this new procedure does not add speed to the sanctioning of by-laws and is not preferable to the present procedure. What is the object of it? Why should the promoters of this Bill suggest a new machinery? We all want by-laws, and we all want them sanctioned in the ordinary way. Why do the promoters of this Bill pick on brand new machinery? That is the question which I should like to hear answered.
My hon. and learned Friend has put the case in favour of the Instruction very clearly. I have been listening to the discussion carefully, and I have failed to discover any reason on behalf of the London County Council why Clause 8 should remain intact. Several hon. Members who have spoken against the Instruction and several who have spoken on behalf of it have men- tioned the question of uniformity. Although I am in favour of the Instruction, I think that it is possible to labour the question of uniformity a little too much. The London County Council are in a peculiar position. They already have great and wide powers, as indeed they should have seeing that London is the capital of the Empire, and they have a great and competent staff to carry out the duties which are entrusted to them. There are, however, two main reasons why I support the Instruction. I should like to say, in passing, how glad I am that no hon. Member speaking for the Opposition has ventured to say that those of us who are supporting the Instruction are doing so on grounds of pure party policy. If they glance a little lower down the Order Paper, they will find that some of us are also opposing the Hertfordshire County Council Bill. Therefore, I do not think that anybody can justly say that any question of purely party policy enters into this discussion. It is simply a question of whether these increased powers should be granted to the London County Council. Hon. Members who have spoken on behalf of the County Council have claimed that the Bill is necessary and we all know that it is. The only question is whether the Bill should remain intact, or whether this Instruction to insert a, provision that no by-laws can be made without the consent of the Minister should be carried.
I think this Instruction should be carried for two main reasons. The first is that the Ministry has great experience in the making and in the sanctioning of by-laws. It is quite possible that a by-law may be proposed by the County Council which is apparently in perfect order and to which no objection has been made, but that a similar by-law may have been applied in other parts of the country with unfortunate results. If the Bill remains intact that by-law would be made and the Ministry of Health would be able to say nothing against it. I think it is an advantage to the County Council to have the experience of the officials of the Ministry of Health when a new by-law is contemplated. Another point is that when the London County Council proposes the new by-law, unless any objection to it is put forward by various bodies or persons, some of whom are mentioned, that by-law, after due formality, becomes law and has to be observed. It is possible that some by-law which appears to be perfectly all right and to which no objection has been made but which has some hidden defect may slip through. Such things occasionally happen in the best-regulated assemblies, including the Houses of Parliament. From time to time we have done things by accident which we have afterwards wished we had not done, owing to the fact that at the time nobody noticed the objection. That may easily happen, and if there is one more authority which has an interest in seeing that no by-law can be objected to another loophole is closed. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) mentioned one very important factor, that of speed. Under the Bill as it stands a by-law cannot be made until two months after notice of it has been given, though as the law stands—I think it is under the Local Government Act of 1933—normally it would take only a month to get the by-law through. I have not heard from any hon. Members supporting the Bill any explanation of why their main point should hold good, their main point being that if the Instruction is carried it will take very much longer to get by-laws into operation. Unless I hear from them a very much sounder explanation, or indeed, an explanation at all, I shall be compelled to vote for the Instruction.
I am perfectly certain that every hon. Member who has intervened in this Debate has done so without any party bias, and I think it is right to say that those of us who oppose this Measure believe that this is not a matter which can be confined to a consideration of London interests only, but because the question is one of more fundamental importance. The Bill proposes to introduce a new class of by-law not requiring confirmation by any Minister, and I hope that before any such departure is agreed to some more satisfactory reason for it will be shown than has been forthcoming, so far, from those hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Measure. In modern legislation it has been, I believe, axiomatic that local authorities should have power to make certain by-laws, but only after they have been considered and approved by the Minister of Health. Throughout the whole period of modern legislation it has been the accepted rule that the local authorities should not have absolute power in this matter, should not be able to frame requirements of local application, enforceable by the machinery of the law, without the confirmation of some Minister of the Crown. Here, for the first time in history, it is suggested that the London County Council shall have power, without the need for any such confirmation, to make any by-law, though such a by-law might have serious repercussions upon the interests of individual ratepayers.
It is perfectly true that there is some provision for the protection of the public from excessive or unreasonable requirements, because before, the by-law can come into force the County Council have to give notice to certain professional bodies which have some peculiar claim to this consideration, and similar notice must be given to each of the parties who are specified in the Bill. But that safeguard against a local authority framing, on its own responsibility, legislation which is penal legislation may not be altogether sufficient. The organisations mentioned in the Bill are not infallible, and are not necessarily to be relied upon to discover in advance any particular objection. There may be an objection which is not apparent to them but which, all the same, may be a very serious one to an individual who is not represented by any of those to whom notice has to be given, and I feel that before the House takes away from the Minister this power which he has always had some better arguments than we have heard so far ought to be put forward. It seems extraordinary that the London County Council should ask for a special power which is not the ordinary law of the land without assigning any reason for such a big departure. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) based his case on speed, but that indicates that he has a complete misconception of this Measure. Clause 8 provides:
The following provision shall apply to the making of by-laws in pursuance of this Act.
(a) not less than two months before the making of any by-law the Council shall,
and it goes on to say what the Council shall do. As the hon. and learned Member for Ashford (Mr. Spens) said just now, if speed is wanted an ordinary by-law can at present be given the force of law in about a month, but under this so-called speed Measure at least two
months must elapse. Therefore, whatever the grounds on which the London County Council are asking for this remarkable departure, it cannot be the ground on which the hon. Member for Whitechapel just now based their claim. If it is seriously thought that there ought to be some alteration of the power of control at present vested in the Minister of Health, the change should be made by a general Act, and we should not give one local authority powers which no other will possess and for which they themselves can show no good reason. Therefore, I hope the House will not grant the power which the London County Council are seeking.
I hope the House will allow me at this point to make one or two observations as to the attitude of my Department to the Bill and to the Instruction. I welcome the fact that there have been no party or sectional views in this Debate, and that the whole of the Debate has been concerned with the merits of the case. No hon. Member has suggested that arguments have been affected either for or against the Instruction because of the political complexion of the London County Council at the present time, or what it might be two years hence. I congratulate my hon. Friends who moved the Instruction upon their speeches. I understand that they form some sort of vigilance committee in the House, which no doubt is necessary in these matters, and that they have concentrated upon this proposal. They have aimed at one objection only.
I have only one exception to take to the speeches which have been made in the Debate. I think hon. Members will agree that the only reasonable exception which could be taken is to the speech of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who made general and undefined charges of bribery against local authorities. It is within my function and province to say, when charges of that kind are made under the protection of this House, that it is due to any local authority which the hon. Member may have in mind that he should take the usual and proper course of making his charges openly and plainly, and not merely bring them before the House of Commons. When circumstances of that kind arise between two Members it is not uncommon for a Member to invite his challenger to repeat his words outside the House.
The Bill is of special importance to London, as well us to my Department, because the building by-laws of London are thoroughly unsatisfactory. I can speak with special knowledge, because I was chairman for six years, many years ago, of the Building Act Committee of London. I know full well the difficulties that arise and the strong case there is for alteration in the procedure, in order that modern methods may be adopted. The matter is also important from my point of view because of housing. I do not think there is any objection among hon. Members to the broad principles of the Bill. I am glad that, following the negotiations which took place between the London County Council and my Department, the county council decided to proceed in this way and to bring their building by-laws more into conformity with modern practice. I would say to my hon. Friends that we must have some regard to the views taken by the London County Council because of its special position and its special status in the country. I shall be glad if the London County Council can have the powers made possible by the proposals of the Bill.
The Debate has ranged around the points which have been put by my hon. Friends, who have stated that, in certain circumstances, London will occupy a special position, and that where no objection is raised to a by-law the county council will not have to come to me, as Minister of Health, for approval of that by-law. London has always occupied a special position in this and other matters. Under the relevant Act of Parliament, the London County Council do not have to come to the Minister of Health on this matter. When the new method is adopted, there will be a considerable extension of the powers of the Minister of Health when objection is taken to a by-law. As a practical person, who wants to see an advance made in the direction of putting the by-laws of London into a more satisfactory condition, I welcome the proposal, which gives me more power than I have at present. The London County Council are bound by the Act of Parliament, and under the extensions which are contemplated in the present proposal, if there be any objection, I, as Minister of Health, will have complete power to deal with it.
When no objection is made to a by-law, it is true, as my hon. Friends say, that the London County Council do not have to come to the Minister for sanction, but I ask them to have regard to the realities of the case. From my experience on the London County Council, and as chairman of the Building Act Committee, I know very well that if there is any matter above all others which is closely scrutinised by large bodies of persons it is the Building Act laws of London. When I heard the speeches of my hon. Friends I reflected that they ought to have had experience, either as members of the Building Act Committee or of the London County Council because for a number of years the Building Act by-laws have been the subject of constant discussion. I only regard this from the practical point of view, and it is inconceivable that any by-law of any importance, or likely to raise the slightest matter of controversy or dispute, could possibly escape objection, either from a body or from a person. There are very important associations in London who closely scrutinise these things, and there is, I am glad to say, a very large body of public opinion in London which also follows these matters.
Granted, if you like, that from a theoretical point of view it would be better for the London County Council to follow the ordinary procedure, there is little point in that proposal at the present time from the practical point of view. The procedure of objection is the simplest in the world. A person has only to address a letter to the Minister of Health, making objection to a particular by-law, or my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has only to send a communication to me of any objection that he has to make as Secretary of State—it says so in the Bill—and I will endeavour to attend to what he says. Therefore, with every respect to my hon. Friends, I do not think that from a practical point of view any Member of the House need have any apprehension that any by-law is likely to be imposed upon London with regard to which there would not be the fullest opportunity to make objections.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has reminded me of that. In addition to the other procedure, these by-laws have to go to the local councils, which are certainly very vigilant in these matters, and are composed of members of all political parties. Therefore, from a practical point of view, I cannot conceive that there is really much substance in what my hon. Friends have said. I confess that personally, as Minister of Health, I should like to see the ordinary procedure adopted, but I must have regard to the position of the London County Council. It has a special status, and when it is taking this important step to improve the conditions in relation to building by-laws in London, I, at any rate for the moment, feel bound to say to the London County Council, "You are making a great step forward, and if you ask for this special status as part of the proposals of the Bill, then from my point of view, and from the point of view of the Ministry of Health, I am glad that you should have it." I have received from the London County Council a letter in which they say that if, when they come to promote a further Bill, experience shows that the procedure with reference to the making of by-laws under the proposals of the present Bill has any serious disadvantages, it will be open to Parliament to consider the matter afresh, and, if it thinks fit, to revise the procedure.
Considering the great advance which has been made in dealing with a question of such long standing so far as London is concerned, and one of such importance from the point of view of London, I think we ought to get a move on. I would ask my Friends to see how this matter works. I do not share many of the apprehensions which they entertain. I do not think it would be possible, in view of the vigilance of so many authorities and persons in London, for this difficulty to arise. Even granting that a special exception is being made in regard to London, I would point out that we have made a good many exceptions already in regard to the position of London and of the authority of a great capital city. The point that interests me in my new duties is that these new build- ing by-laws will do a great deal to expedite new methods in relation to housing in London, and for that reason I hope my hon. Friends will not seek to push their Motion further. I would ask the House to give to the London County Council the special status asked for in relation to this proposal, which I regard as a great step forward and which I think will do a great deal for housing progress in London.
I want to treat the London County Council perfectly fairly, and, as Minister of Health, I desire to work with them in this matter. That is why I am anxious that they should have this, if you like, special status. I believe that if we can work together in this matter the London County Council will be perfectly reasonable. They are going to submit their regulations to me well beforehand, and I feel confident that, if the regulations are open to any serious objection, they will have regard to what I may say on behalf of my Department. It is in that spirit that I, at any rate, approach the proposals of the Bill.
The speech of the Minister has thrown a good deal of new light on this proposal. He has explained that where necessary, with the assistance of the Home Secretary, or, indeed, of any other friend of his, he can fabricate all the necessary objections to any by-laws about which he is doubtful. He has only to ask any friend to find an objection that is not frivolous, and it will secure all the powers that we are seeking to secure for him by this Instruction. That makes a big difference, because it means that the proposals in the Bill are of no particular importance, and do not confer upon the London County Council the powers that they thought would be conferred upon them. But they have one outstanding disadvantage. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) became almost lyrical in describing what would happen when on grounds of urgency it was desired that some by-law should be carried through so that something should not be held up. I do not think the hon. Member has read either this Bill or the Act of 1933. According to the Bill, the minimum time which elapses between the framing of a by-law and its coming into operation is two months. Under Section 250 of the Local Government Act, 1933, which the London County Council imposed upon themselves by a private Act with our approval last year, at least one month's notice has to be given by the local authority, after making a by-law, before they apply for confirmation. The confirming authority may confirm or refuse to confirm, and may fix the date on which the by-law is to come into operation. If they do not fix the date, another month goes by, making a total of two months. Therefore, if the confirming authority is expeditious, it can, if Clause 8 of this Bill is not passed, make a by-law in one month.
Surely the hon. Member must be aware that the Minister has not to lay the by-laws on the Table, but confirms them. It is an administrative act, which we cannot challenge by any legislative procedure in this House except a formal Motion of censure on the Minister, and even then we cannot stop his action. Therefore, if Clause 8 of the Bill is not passed, it will be possible to make a by-law in a month, or, if the Bill is passed in its present form, at least two months, must go by. I suppose it was on these grounds that the hon. Member for Whitechapel, supplied with a brief from the London County Council, grew so lyrical. If not, what was the reason?
Certainly. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Battersea (Mr. Selley) disappointed me. It was not directed to the Instruction, but was entirely directed to the proposal that there should be by-laws amending the London Building Act. That, however, is not in question. What is in question is whether now, for the first time, on a major issue, we should depart from the constitutional procedure of this country. Fortunately, the Minister of Health has explained to us that, by a little amiable arrangement, we have not in fact departed from it. The departure is only in form—in common informer, if I may so put it. He would say, "I am willing to act without fee and make sure that the necessary objections come in," and, provided that they are not frivolous, the Minister of Health will be compelled to send them to the County Hall.
I never thought that any Member of the present Government would act so corruptly as I would myself, and I did not like to suggest that it would be done by anybody on the Front Bench. It was the obvious thing that I should have done, but I never dreamt that my right hon. Friend would have done it But, now that he is prepared to do it, with the assistance of our Minister of Justice, if I may so call the Home Secretary, I am happy. As long as they are not too high-minded to do that, I am content. But I want the House to realise some of the things which can be done under this Bill. I would ask hon. Members to look at Clause 4 (3) which is rather more than a by-law-making power. It says:
The by-laws made by the Council in pursuance of this Act shall not be repugnant or contrary to the provisions of the principal Act save in so far as they may replace any of the provisions contained in the Sections thereof ….
In other words they can amend the principal Act, and not only make by-laws under it. This is a very drastic power, and I hope that when the matter comes to be examined before the Committee upstairs that will not be overlooked. In addition there is Clause 5, which says:
By-laws made in pursuance of this Act may contain provisions for imposing on persons offending against the by-laws penalties recoverable on summary conviction not exceeding the sum of fifty pounds and a daily penalty not exceeding ten pounds.
There is only one Sovereign legislative authority in this country and that is the King in Parliament. But we are proposing—limited as I was happy to hear from the Front Bench by the power of objection—to create another legislative authority, subject to the limitations described to us. In practice, whenever we delegate powers, as for example, to the
Import Duties Advisory Committee and the Treasury, we have retained certain checks. In every case where we have delegated powers to a Minister to make certain Regulations those Regulations as a rule have got to lie on the Table. There are certain powers in connection with which nothing has to lie on the Table, but in all cases where there is delegation it is delegation to a Minister, and we can interrogate and censure him in this House. For the first time we are delegating powers of legislation to somebody that we cannot interrogate or censure here. That is why this represents a substantial departure from principle. The statement made by the Minister means that the whole of Clause 8 is humbug, and that it comes to nothing. We have got an undertaking from the Minister, in effect, that if he finds something coming forward which he ought to be in a position to disallow, he will arrange that somebody objects; and he thus empowers himself to do what is necessary. Having regard to these circumstances, and to the fact that this Debate will not be entirely without its effect in the appropriate quarters—
Naturally the Minister would not say such improper things, but there is no reason why I should not draw the logical conclusion from what he did say. He made it perfectly clear that if the County Council do pass things of a kind which should be checked, they will be checked. The Minister cannot say these rude things, because he has got to work with the County Council, and I have only to pay their rates. That is the difference. I suggest to the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Mitcheson) that it might be well in these circumstances to ask leave to withdraw this Motion.