I beg to move, in page 8, line 12, to leave out "shall" and to insert "may".
As at present drawn, the Bill will force all building authorities and dean of guild courts to delegate to the clerk or the master of works their authority to grant unopposed minor warrants. The Edinburgh Corporation does not like this direction, and I do not like it either.
My reasons are as follows. First, it is much better to give the building authority the choice whether to delegate or not. Our Unionist view has always rightly been to trust local authorities, to give them powers and responsibilities. Here is a chance to do so, and we should take it. Let them exercise their discretion.
Secondly, the dean of guild court in Edinburgh meets once a week, so that if they do not delegate there is no delay in the issue of these minor warrants. The city engineer, who is the master of works, believes that even if he had the delegated power he would not be able to act any more quickly than the court already acts.
Thirdly, even with unopposed minor warrants, is it not better that they should be dealt with by a court rather than by one man? The members of the court might see some point or have some question to ask which had escaped the attention of the clerk or the master of works.
Fourthly, Edinburgh used to have a system of delegation, but it was changed by Act of Parliament in 1926 when it was found that certain officials had been guilty of malpractices. Surely, it is wrong for us now to force Edinburgh back to the old system which it does not want to have?
Fifthly, I can find no recommendation in the Guest Report that the present arrangements in Edinburgh should be changed.
Sixthly, I have not heard of any complaints about people suffering delay, great expense or inconvenience. There may have been complaints, but they have not come my way. I have made inquiries and have been told that local authorities have had no complaints either. I want the City of Edinburgh to have the choice to delegate or not, according to circumstances, and it can alter the system according to what the local people want.
I think that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that these are all very powerful arguments. They concern Edinburgh only. I do not think any other city or county is particularly worried about this point, but Edinburgh is. I do not want to press the Amendment unduly, because Edinburgh's position can be protected if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland exercises the powers he will have under Clause 28. Will my right hon. Friend tell me that if I do not press the Amendment he will be good enough to listen to the representations of the local government officials of Edinburgh?
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. M. Clark Hutchison) rather spoiled the case by saying that he wanted this provision merely for Edinburgh, because if it is right to give a choice to Edinburgh, then surely it is right to give every local authority the same choice. I can see no reason why this should not be left to the local authority. If any inconvenience has been caused by the fact that the authority has not delegated power in respect of minor warrants, surely the people in the burgh will exert sufficient pressure on the local authority to change that. Under the ordinary democratic processes such a matter would arise at an election and people would say, "What about this long delay in respect of minor warrants?" As a result, the local authority would decide to change the procedure and to delegate authority.
This seems to me to be a good principle to support. I therefore support Edinburgh in this matter, because I support the principle on which the Amendment is based. Why is it made obligatory to follow this procedure? Why is the choice not left to the local authority? If the Minister cannot accept his hon. Friend's Amendment, I hope that he will at least consider what his hon. Friend said about permitting Edinburgh Corporation to ask for the continuation of the existing position under Clause 28.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) is right when he says that the Amendment goes much wider than Edinburgh itself.
We have already widened the Bill so that there could be application to the master of works as an alternative to the clerk to a buildings authority in handling minor warrants, but we do not want what is happening in Edinburgh to happen all over Scotland. Even though it may not take very long to grant an unopposed minor warrant—and we are referring only to unopposed minor warrants—the Edinburgh citizens have to attend or be represented in order to receive the rubber stamp, as it were, of a minor warrant. That is the present practice in Edinburgh.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. M. Clark Hutchison) said that there had been no complaint, but we must remember that people accept bureaucratic arrangements very calmly, nor do we all have to queue every day for a minor warrant. We feel quite strongly that we should have a minor warrant procedure which does not make a lot of unnecessary work either to the person making the application or to his representative. For that reason, we cannot accept the Amendment.
My hon. Friend asked that my right hon. Friend should be prepared to listen to representations. Of course my right hon. Friend will be prepared to listen, but I do not want to be optimistic about the outcome of such discussions. It would be unfair to be optimistic about them.
The hon. Member has referred to delays in Edinburgh. I have had some experience of going to the dean of guild court and I must say that I have not been greatly inconvenienced. Who has been making these objections?
If the hon. Member asks a question he must at least wait for the answer before he asks me another question.
There have been no objections from Edinburgh, but the system employed in Edinburgh causes the citizen or his representative to give up perhaps a quarter of a day or half a day in order to sit in the court when, in our view, this is quite unnecessary. These are applications for unopposed minor warrants and could well be sent in by post.
Surely the people to decide whether they are being inconvenienced are the citizens of Edinburgh. It is not for the Minister to say, "Whitehall knows best. You are being inconvenienced. We will do something to prevent that." It is not for him to say that when, according to him, the citizens themselves have done nothing about it.
There will be time under Clause 28 for Edinburgh to make all those points.
I should not like Edinburgh to think that we have treated its proposals lightly. We have met Edinburgh on a number of points. Edinburgh suggested that there should be delegation to the master of works as an alternative to the clerk of the buildings authority and, as requested, we have put additional provisions in the First Schedule enabling an order to be made saving the dean of guild jurisdiction which would otherwise be excluded by Clause 1. We have great fondness and respect for Edinburgh and we have tried to do everything we can to meet its views. In this case, however, I must stick to the answer which I have given.