Clause 25. — (Powers of Entry and Inspection.)

Orders of the Day — COAST PROTECTION BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25 October 1949.

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Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle 12:00, 25 October 1949

I beg to move, in page 30, line 14, to leave out: "used for residential purposes."

The Bill as drafted makes it essential that 24 hours' notice shall be given by the coast protection authority before entering on residential land. We feel that the matter should be taken a little further and if the authority are to enter on any land they should give at least 24 hours' notice. It is for the purpose of strengthening this clause that the Amendment is put forward. Probably there will be no difficulty about the matter; a call might be made on the telephone, and there may be many cases where 24 hours' notice would be very useful and convenient to the occupier.

Colonel Dower:

I beg to second the Amendment.

During the whole consideration of this Bill there has been extremely friendly co-operation between Members on both sides of the House, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, and I believe that we have shown that this is not a controversial Measure. But I feel very strongly on this point. More and more the rights of the individual to his private seclusion are being taken away; more and more ministries are able to make forcible entry to other people's land, and although in these days when there is plenty of planning it is reasonable that that should be so under certain circumstances, I cannot see why 24 hours' notice should not be granted. What I want to know is—I do not know whether the hon. Member is waving at me, I am not a taxi cab. If he wishes me to give way I shall be delighted to do so.

Colonel Dower:

The hon. Member was waving it in my direction.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

The hon. and gallant Member knows that there is a demand for a speed up in production.

Colonel Dower:

If the hon. Member is telling me to get on with it, I shall take as long as Mr. Deputy-Speaker allows me. Twenty-four hours' notice has to be given in the case of forcible entry on to residential land. I presume that by residential land is meant land where people are living and sleeping. I can think of a great many cases which would not come under that definition but in respect of which it would be extremely inconvenient for forcible entry to be made without 24 hours' notice having been given. I presume that residential land includes buildings. What about doctors' consulting rooms, where they do not live or sleep? What about dentists' premises? What about land upon which business is being conducted? I know of some land near the coast where an attempt is being made to produce films and where those concerned are doing their best to do the very thing which hon. Members desire, which is to reduce imports and produce our own goods.

I cannot see why 24 hours' notice should not be given to cover all cases. The limitation in the Bill is extremely unreasonable. I ask the Minister what' is to happen on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday. Will his Department in that case enter forcibly without giving any kind of notice, because at that period there will be no one on such premises as I have described—business premises where no one is living. Occupants might go there on a Monday morning and find that their premises have been ransacked.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that we should wait until a storm has washed away that piece of land before we can go and make an examination?

Colonel Dower:

No, I do not suggest that. Surely after this Bill has been passed such situations are not likely to arise. There will be coast protection authorities who will be watching. I suggest that some sort of notice should be given before land is invaded, and that this Clause should not give the protection of 24 hours' notice only to land which is being used for residential purposes.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

Has the hon. and gallant Member seen the illustrations in the papers of the storms which occurred over the week-end? Does he suggest that a coast protection authority ought to wait for 24 hours before being able to take remedial steps such as putting sandbags in position? The whole of the hon. and gallant Member's proposition is fantastic. Coast erosion might take place in the time which he seeks to insist shall elapse before there can be a right of entry.

Colonel Dower:

I do not see a Law Officer here, and on these occasions we should appreciate the presence of one. I am sure that under some other provisions entry could take place in an emergency of that kind.

4.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Marlowe Mr Anthony Marlowe , Brighton

I wish to support this Amendment. The arguments which the Parliamentary Secretary put forward in an intervention a moment ago, and which the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans) put forward, that of urgency, might have some validity if the Bill as it stands did not create an exception in the case of premises used for residential purposes. It is clear that an authorised person has to wait 24 hours before going on to land used for residential purposes. Why not provide for the same notice to be given in respect of land which is not used for residential purposes? It is admitted that there may be cases in which 24 hours' notice should be given.

I have looked at the definition Clause and it contains no definition of what is meant by "land used for residential purposes." I suppose that the garden of a house would be land used for residential purposes. There are many stretches of coast which consist of land belonging to or forming part of a residential house. In such cases 24 hours' notice would haws to be given. There seems to be no reason in logic why 24 hours' notice should not be given in the case of other land also.

It is to be noted that this power of entry upon land can be quite a substantial one. The person making the entry is empowered to: authorise the entry or passage of such persons, vehicles, plant and materials as may be necessary, …. That may well mean that he may go on to the land taking with him bulldozers or tractors and any other kind of materials which he may consider necessary for the carrying out of coast protection work. That may cause substantial damage to the land, and the occupant of the land ought to be given notice in order to be able to make arrangements so as to protect his property to the greatest possible extent.

Throughout modern legislation there has been an increasing tendency to give this power of entry on to other people's property, a tendency which is only to be expected of a Government which has no respect for property. In a case such as this where the authorised person will be able to force his way on to a person's land, possibly taking with him some machinery, with the risk of causing considerable damage, the occupant should be given at least 24 hours' notice so that he may make the best arrangements he can for the protection of his land.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Hon. Members are making a lot of this matter. This provision is quite common form. I see that the hon. and gallant Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland) is smiling, which perhaps means that he realises that.

Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle

I always smile but it does not mean that I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

This is a perfectly reasonable provision. It is quite true that a distinction is made between residential premises and those which are not. That has been done for the very good reason that we naturally wish to give the private householder some greater opportunity to look after his premises and make any personal arrangements that may be necessary, which would not be appropriate in any other case.

Surely we are concerned in this matter with a question of urgency and with the need that arises for the authority to be able to get on to the scene of danger, the scene of the incident—in this case the scene of the erosion—without any delay? It may well be that a delay of 24 hours would be unreasonable and unconscionable. It would, I am sure, affect the working of the coast protection authority. The exemption made here in respect of residential premises is reasonable because of the personal factors involved in the case of such premises.

Photo of Mr Anthony Marlowe Mr Anthony Marlowe , Brighton

Has the Parliamentary Secretary any idea what he means by "residential premises"? If a person has a caravan placed in a field adjoining the sea is that field land used for residential purposes?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I understand this is common form in other Measures. If hon. Members opposite have nothing better to discuss than this proposal and if they are trying to blow it out into an issue of great significance and importance they really must reconsider the matter. I suggest that such a provision in the Bill would limit quite unduly the operations of a coast protection authority, and I do not propose to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Robert Hudson Mr Robert Hudson , Southport

I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary has taken up such an attitude, because this Amendment is entirely reasonable. The hon. Gentleman based his argument on the necessity of a coast protection authority official being able to go, without 24 hours' notice, on to land to put right a case of urgency. We should all have considerable sympathy with that, but unfortunately for the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary there is nothing about that in the Bill. If the Bill read that in a case of emergency the coast protection authority official should have that right, I do not think any of us would object. But, in fact, the Bill says that at any time the official shall be able to go on to a person's land without any notice at all, except in the case of a residence. Again, I think, if it was merely the case of a single official going on to some agricultural land there would be less to be said for our Amendment. But if the Parliamentary Secretary will take the trouble to look at the rest of the Clause he will see that it specifically states that this power of entry includes all forms of entry: Any power of entry conferred by paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (1) of this section shall include power to authorise the entry or passage of such persons, vehicles, plant and materials as may be necessary, and to authorise the carrying out of work for facilitating their passage. There is nothing in that to show that this is an entry in a case of emergency. It is to be done at any time.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that this was common form. I think that be has been misinformed. If I am correctly informed, the Agriculture Act of 1947, which went through this House recently, laid down that an official of the War Agricultural Committee intending to go on to a man's land—unlike what happened during the war—must in future give 24 hours' notice. Such an official would be going there merely to carry out an inspection for the county agricultural committee. If the House decided that he should give 24 hours' notice I see no reason why a similar limitation of right should not be laid upon an official of the coast protection authority. There is no reason why that should not be.

The Bill does not merely mention a case of emergency where obviously we should have no objection, and there is no inherent reason at all why, if a person is going on to a man's land and proposes to take vehicles on to his land, there should not be 24 hours' notice given. We are supposed to be at peace. It is supposed to be four years since the end of the war; and here is the Parliamentary Secretary refusing to consider a concession. It is a refusal which might be reasonable in time of war, but is wholly unreasonable in time of peace.

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

I would urge this point upon the Parliamentary Secretary, because we have had all this out before. As my right hon. Friend said, the Government accepted the principle that so far as agricultural land and land dealt with under the Agriculture Acts was concerned, people must not have the indiscriminate right to go trotting over land without notice to the farmer. It is a matter of principle and a very important principle indeed. Nothing infuriates farmers more than having people going indiscriminately over their land. Farmers do not know what damage might be done, what gates will be left open and what stock may get out. If they do catch someone doing it, then that person might say, "It was the chap from the local authority."

In this particular case it is of great importance to ensure harmonious working between people who are doing their best to function on the land and the people who are doing their best to function on behalf of various authorities. Unless we do have a certain amount of generosity of approach between people of that kind we shall get into trouble. That principle is one which has been accepted wholeheartedly by the Government in connection with the Agriculture Acts, and it will confuse the issue very much if contrary principles are to be adopted; particularly in regard to agricultural land in connection with this Bill.

Substantially speaking, apart from requisitioned land, when residential coast-side property is excluded, we have only three classes of property with which to deal. One is the agricultural land, another is the seaside holiday camp land, and the third will be the foreshore, esplanade and areas of that kind belonging to the local authority. So far as local authorities are concerned, suppose the Coast Protection Board goes on to their land without any notice at all and without any warning? It may well lead to a very great deal of inconvenience and trouble. Supposing the local authority have not had occasion to anticipate this avalanche of people with vehicles? They may have had no opportunity to prepare for them or to clear the public off the foreshore or wherever it may be that work is to be done.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

Would not the local authority owning the foreshore be the coast protection authority?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

Not necessarily. It is quite possible—

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

Then may I ask who would be?

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

Well, the hon. Member will find that if he peruses the Bill.

Photo of Mr Edward Evans Mr Edward Evans , Lowestoft

I have looked at it.

Mr. Joyason-Hicks:

It is by no means necessary that the local authority which has a foreshore of its own will be the coast protection authority covering that particular bit of the foreshore.

With regard to camping sites, that is a small but very important issue. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what would happen if, without notice at all, there was a sudden invasion of a camping site with vehicles and everything necessary to do the work. It would upset everybody, create friction and cause a lack of co-operation between those who should be co-operating. We are endeavouring to ensure that this Bill shall be put into a workable form and made to work; which means co-operation between all parties. One way in which we shall be certain to eliminate that co-operation is by ensuring that one person has a right to do something on somebody else's land without the knowledge of the owner. There is no necessity for it at all.

If there is this occasional question of urgency it will be the frontager, the owner, who will telephone the coast protection authority and ask them to come on the land. It will not be the authority which will be held up. Provided there is a safeguard, what landowner, whether it be of agricultural land or anything else, would raise an objection in times of emergency if in fact the local authority does flaunt the Act, and telephones to say, "Please may we come without 24 hours' notice, because your property is in peril"? Obviously the landowner will say, "Please do, I waive the provisions of the Act."

5.0 p.m.

Photo of Commander Sir John Maitland Commander Sir John Maitland , Horncastle

When I proposed this Amendment I thought that these points would be appreciated by the Minister. It is plain from his reply that he has not appreciated all the points which have been put forward. I rise simply to ask if even now at this late stage—as he has shown himself comparatively reasonable, when allowed to be reasonable, in Committee—he will reconsider this matter. We attach a great deal of importance to this Amendment.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

With the permission of the House, I think I should say a few words. Hon. Members opposite are forgetting that in the ordinary case of work being carried out on the coast there will have been a great deal of notice because, in many cases, it will be carried out under a works scheme or some other scheme of that nature. It is a fact that this provision will apply almost wholly, if not wholly, to cases of emergency such as those which I have suggested. To say that it is restricted to cases of emergency would be untrue but in fact it will largely be so.

There is nothing in this Measure which will prevent the authority giving notice. One hon. Member seemed to suggest that this Bill prevented notice being given. Of course, that is untrue. In the normal case I am sure that notice would be given. I still insist that these authorities are reasonable bodies of people and they do not wish to cause unnecessary inconvenience. However, what we must try to safeguard is the right of access in those cases which we are thinking about where there is a need for immediate access without notice. For that reason, I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Robert Hudson Mr Robert Hudson , Southport

With the leave of the House, I should like to say that if the Parliamentary Secretary really believes the case he has made out then he ought to meet us by saying, "Save in cases of emergency." That would meet our case entirely. If hon. Members take the trouble to read the whole of this Clause they will see that the Government have got themselves into the most fantastic and unreal position.

Let us take the case of an official of an authority who goes to a man's land without giving 24 hours' notice and says, "I wish to enter your land," or "I am going to enter your land." Suppose the landowner refuses to admit him. What happens? The man cannot go on to the land because he cannot get forcible entry. The landowner is subject to a prosecution for wilful obstruction. He comes under subsection (8) and becomes liable to a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months. But the official cannot get access to the land by forcible entry. That is

the fantastic provision in this Bill, because earlier it is stated: If it is shown to the satisfaction of a justice of the peace, or in Scotland a justice of the peace or the sheriff, on sworn information in writing—(a) that admission to any land which any person is entitled to enter …

that is the official— … has been refused to that person or …

And then it goes on: (b) that there is reasonable ground for entry on the land for the purpose for which entry is required,the justice or sheriff may by warrant under his hand authorise that person to enter on the land, if need be by force.

Look at the proviso: Provided that such a warrant shall not be issued, unless the justice or sheriff is satisfied … that notice of the intention to apply for a warrant has been given to the occupier …

Therefore, in fact, he has to give him notice in the end. If the Parliamentary Secretary will insert the word "emergency" I shall be quite happy. If it is not an emergency one cannot get forcible entry without giving notice. It is fantastic.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

In view of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, why does he press for the insertion of these words?

Photo of Mr Robert Hudson Mr Robert Hudson , Southport

Because I venture to suggest that it is not in accordance with the dignity of this House to pass an Act which is sheer rubbish.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 218 Noes, 113.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I beg to move, in page 31, line 2, to leave out "of entry or inspection conferred by," and insert, "conferred by or under."

This is a drafting Amendment necessitated because the right of entry may be conferred not only by the Clause itself but by a justice of the peace under the Clause.

Amendment agreed to.