Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I rise to ask the leave of the House to introduce a Bill "to amend the law relating to the purchase of land under compulsory powers." The system of compulsory purchase recognised is, of course, an old established system and is necessarily the system employed in cases, for instance, where land is needed for national defence, for the lighting of the coasts, for water supply, or the development of the country, for roads, bridges, railways, harbours, and many other matters which have become increasingly necessary. I think any one who has to do with it will agree that the machinery, which is mainly based upon the Lands Clauses Act, is of a somewhat antiquated character, is unsatisfactory in working, is very cumbrous, and very costly in its operation. The main object of that machinery is to have some mode of fixing the price, and the difficulty of fixing the price is very great, and even under the machinery so provided the fixing of the price varies very much in different cases, and taken as a whole is both arbitrary and empiric. The main difficulty as to price is not so much as to buildings and improvements, or even such matters as compensation for severance, but relates particularly to the case of the variableness of the land itself. If there was satisfactory provision for fixing the price of the land itself, all those other things outside the land, houses, buildings, improvements, and all other 201 special features like that; could very easily be dealt with. In other words, if the land matter were settled these things might settle themselves.
The real problem is, how are we to obtain a system for finding the value of the land itself? The key, I think, to that solution, is to be found in the new valuations which are now in process of being made under Part I. of the Finance Act so recently passed. As regards the measure which I am asking leave to introduce, I should like to point out, in the first place, it does not propose in any way to extend the power or scope of compulsory purchase. It proposes to leave the general powers in regard to compulsory purchases as they are now. Its object is simply to facilitate the fixing of the basis of the price, and to do that only in so far as the price covers site value. The essence of the proposals are that where land is purchased compulsorily under statutory provisions that the buyer or the seller shall have power to require the full site value as adopted for Part 1 of the Finance Act, shall be taken as the basis of the price, so far as the full site value is concerned for the purpose of the purchase. That applies, of course, only by what is covered by site value. It does not apply to the amount or to the ascertainment of the amount of any other factors, for instance, the buildings, the improvements, the effects, the drainage, or such matters as severance; these things will all be dealt with as now. This Bill does not cover any provision outside the site value. All these things are left to be adjusted on the same basis as now, and also all additional compensation, for instance, compensation in respect of compulsory purchase and additional allowance of 10 per cent. are left entirely unaffected by the provisions of the Bill. The only object is that where there is already compulsory purchase, and where there is a valuation of the full site value, that that should be utilised as the general basis of the purchase so far as the site value of the land is concerned, leaving all these other things on exactly the same basis as they are dealt with now. I venture to think that some such proposals as these are but once the sequel and the complement of the new valuation under the Finance Act. I ask leave to introduce the Bill.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Yes, Sir. The hon. Member, in introducing his Bill, has used all the old stratagems of language; but, so far as I understand the intentions he has expressed, I feel very strong opposition to the proposals he has put forward. I do not think I should be prepared to carry my opposition so far as to prevent the hon. Member from having the pleasure of seeing his Bill in print, or perhaps, for stronger reasons, prevent the House seeing proposals so remarkable as those put forward enshrined in a Parliamentary Bill
§ Mr. JOSIAH WEDGWOOD
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member entitled to speak in opposition to this Bill unless he is prepared to divide the House against it?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member told me he was going to oppose the Bill, and I have no reason to suppose that he will not do so.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
He said he would not press the matter to a division. I am in the recollection of the House. Only a minute or two ago he said he would not divide, and has he not therefore withdrawn his right to speak on the question?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member said he was going to oppose. I do not think that that necessarily meant he was going to divide against the Bill. A Bill was opposed just a week ago, but was not divided against—
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. The question came up when a Bill which was opposed and not divided upon was before the House last week. You were not in the Chair, and the point was raised then whether you did not give a previous decision that anyone who spoke against a Bill introduced under the Ten Minute Rule should divide upon it—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sure I never gave such a ruling. It would be impossible to carry it out. How could I compel a Member to divide against a Bill? I could not take him into the Lobby myself.
§ Mr. MITCHELL-THOMSON
I want to offer only a few observations as a sort of caveat against the supposition which might arise that a Bill like this was likely to go through the House by consent. The hon. Member is proposing a complete change of the system on which compulsory purchase is based. He is against the 203 salutary principles of arbitration. I do not think he disputes at all the impartiality of the present method of arbitration, but he would abandon that for the hard and fast cut-and-dry course of purchase on the basis of the present Finance Act. I confess that it is here that I do not follow the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I do not exactly apprehend upon what precise value in the Finance Act he proposes to base his purchase. He talked about "full-site value." I suppose that is the old proposal of which we heard so much last year in a new suit of clothes. Full-site value is not one of the values that appear in the Commissioners' rules. There are two values that appear upon the Commissioners' rules. One is total value, and the other the assessable value. The hon. Gentleman proposes, as a basis of purchase, full-site value which is purely imaginary. The whole question came up when the question of full-site value was under discussion. Perhaps the hon. Member was not here at the time, he might have been away on one of the fortnightly excursions of the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury. Although the proposal is, I think, unjust and absurd in regard to England and Scotland, when you apply it to Ireland it is absolutely impossible. I do not know whether the question has occurred to the hon. Member how Ireland would be affected by the application of the Bill. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite are apt to talk a great deal about Ireland, but reflection upon the subject is very often conspicuous by its absence. A moment's reflection will convince the hon. Gentleman of the absurdity of his proposal as applied to Ireland, because this valuation is not going to take place there. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the valuation in Ireland was going to be "roughed out" from the fair rents on the basis of taking over land for land purchase and from Griffith's valuation. If you are going to apply the system of the hon. Member's Bill to Ireland you will have results absurd in theory and impossible in practice, and even if you could carry them out they would extinguish the last spark of vitality in the system of land purchase in Ireland, which has already suffered seriously from what I may call the Radical operations of the Chief Secretary. The hon. Member opposite was apparently rather anxious to persuade the House that this was a Bill of very limited application, but 204 although its powers are limited in application they are linked over a very wide area. I have looked up part of the area over which these powers extend, and I find, among other bodies, they extend to the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, Lloyd's Signal Stations, the Post Office, Commissioners of Sewers, Commissioners of Works, powers of acquiring land for allotments, the Development Fund, electric lighting power, and other things, and all these bodies are to be entrusted for all time with an option on land on the basis of its site value. The first immediate result of that policy is going to be confiscation. Do hon. Members not realise that you cannot expect to sell land at the same price when it is subject to such a call? If you pass this proposal the first result will be that the present owner will suffer an immediate and irrecoverable loss. Who is going to bear that loss —the State and the local authorities? Not a bit of it, but the owner of the land. Hon. Members opposite sometimes talk about Colonial methods, and they appeal to Colonial precedents. I do not think a great deal of Colonial precedents in regard to land legislation, because you can do a great many things in a new country which you cannot do with justice in an old country. But even taking Colonial precedents, you cannot find a precedent for any such proposal as that which is put forward by the hon. Member opposite. In New Zealand the local authority has a call such as the hon. Member wishes to give on the basis of the assessment, but the owner has a corresponding advantage because he can turn round and say, "This assessment is too high; either reduce my assessment or take over the land at that assessment." Even this privilege is not offered to the unhappy landowners of this country under this Bill. I am not, however, anxious to deprive the hon. Member of the pleasure of seeing his Bill in print, but I wish to point out that, unless he changes its character very much, its future stages are likely to be attended with considerable difficulties.
Question put, and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dundas White, Mr. Sutherland, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Sherwell, Mr. Hemmerde, Mr. Price, Mr. Mond, Mr. Wedgwood, Mr. Chancellor, and Mr. Aneurin Williams. Bill presented accordingly, and read the first time. (To be read a second time upon Wednesday, 29th June.)