HC Deb 21 August 1916 vol 85 cc2317-25

  1. (1) It shall be lawful to acquire by agreement or compulsorily on behalf of His Majesty—
    1. (a) any land in the possession of an occupying Department or any interest in such land;
    2. (b) any land on, over, or under which any buildings, works, or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected, constructed, or made wholly at the expense of the State, or any interest in such land;
    3. (c) with the consent of the Commission, any land on, over, or under which any buildings, works, or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected, constructed, or made partly at the expense of the State, or any interest in such land.
  2. (2) Where any land or any interest in land is or has been so acquired any adjoining or neighbouring land (whether belonging to the same owner or not), or any right of access, or other easement or right which appears to the Commission to be required for the proper enjoyment of the land or interest so acquired, or any interest therein, may, with the consent of the Commission, also be acquired.
  3. (3) The power to acquire land, or an interest therein, under this Section shall include power to acquire the land or interest either with or without all or any of the mines or minerals lying thereunder as the purchasing Department may determine, and if the surface is acquired apart from the mines and minerals either without any right of support or with such right of support as the Department may require.
  4. (4) The power of acquisition conferred by this Section shall be exercisable—
    1. (a) in the case of land in the possession of an occupying Department or of land and rights required for 2318 the proper enjoyment thereof, by the occupying Department at any time whilst the Department is in possession;
    2. (b) in the case of other land or rights, by any Government Department at any time during the present War or within twelve months after the termination thereof.
  5. (5) For the purposes of the acquisition of land and interests therein under this Section, the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts, subject to the modifications set out in the Schedule to this Act, shall be incorporated with this Act.
  6. (6) Where any buildings, works, or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected, constructed, or made wholly or partly at the expense of the State, on, over, or under any land, no person shall without the consent of a Government Department remove, destroy, alter, or dispose of the buildings, works, or improvements whilst the right of acquiring the land conferred by this Section remains in force.
  7. (7) This Section shall not authorise the acquisition otherwise than by agreement of any land subject to any right of common, or of any public park or any public recreation ground.


I beg to move, to leave out Sub-section (7).

The intention is to take this out of the Bill, and later on to introduce a new Clause which gives greater protection to commons and open spaces.

Amendment agreed to.


The other Amendments to the Clause, except that of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), who is not in his place, are disposed of by the acceptance of the Amendment of the Solicitor-General.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."


This Clause of the Bill is, in my opinion, the most objectionable Clause in it. My reason for saying so is this: The memorandum which the Government has set out to show the object of the Bill states, and rightly states, that the main object is, where the Government has placed buildings on other people's land during the War, that when they cease to be tenants of that property, those buildings should not become the property of the owners of the land. That seems a perfectly right and proper object to have in view. This Clause, however, goes much further than that. It is only necessary, to carry out what the Bill purports to desire, to have two Clauses to say that the buildings shall not pass to the landowner, but shall remain with the Government, and, secondly, to give the Government power to carry away the buildings or to purchase the land on the usual terms. This Clause gives power to the Government, provided they have been in possession of land at all, even though they have not erected any buildings on it, to purchase the land at the end of the time. In that event they are to purchase it, not under the terms which the Government always purchase land from an individual, namely, on the terms set out in the Lands Clauses Acts, in which, among other things, there is one great advantage, namely, that the parties select their own tribunal and arbitrator—the Government do not put the transaction upon those terms, but upon the terms set out in this Bill which, to summarise, certainly are to the disadvantage of the owner of the land. I submit that this is a hardship, and a hardship which it is not necessary for any Government who desire to purchase to inflict upon the owner of land. Let me give an instance of what this Clause does in the way of injustice. Take two persons, adjacent landowners. The one has given up a field for the occupation of the local Yeomanry, and has done it as a patriotic act. At the end of the War the Government have the right to say to that man, "We propose to buy this land from you, though you may be exceedingly anxious not to sell." This power is given by this Clause, though the Government have no buildings upon the land. In addition to that, they have the power to purchase the land on terms I gave a moment or two ago. The next occupier has not allowed the Government upon his field or property at all, and the Government, of course, do not touch him, unless they choose to exercise the power which exists at present, namely, to take the land over for the purposes of national defence.

4.0 P.M.

Those are, shortly, the main objections that I have to this Clause. Other Clauses of the Bill have already given the Government powers to hold land for a long time. This Clause, which it is really not necessary for the Government to have, will do great injustice to those very people to whom the Government ought to be grateful, because they have, to a greater or less extent, helped the Government in this matter. I therefore beg to oppose this Clause.


I should like an explanation on this Clause. I had an Amendment down, in conjunction with several of my hon. Friends, to Sub-section (7), and you, Mr. Whitley, have just ruled that all Amendments are now out of order.


Perhaps I may save the right hon. Gentleman trouble. It has been decided to leave out Sub-section (7) and to take the whole subject on the new Clause which the right hon. Gentleman will see on the Paper in the name of the right hon. and learned Solicitor-General.


Then may I take your assurance that this question will be able to be raised later on?


I think there is no question about that.


My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Rawlinson) really makes two points. The first is that there ought to be no power to purchase; and, secondly, that if there is a power to purchase it ought to be on different terms. With regard to the first point, take the case where a large sum has been spent on land in putting up munition factories or something of that kind. If you confine the power of the Government Department to a mere occupation of the land for two or a few years more, it might well be—in fact it would be in most cases—that during that time the value of the buildings would not be exhausted, and the Government would not get back anything like the value of their buildings. My hon. and learned Friend suggests that the Government should only make the buildings their property, but that would mean that the buildings would have to be pulled down and taken away. The value of buildings on a site, and the value of buildings scrapped and taken away, are two very different things. Secondly, these are buildings erected for the most part for the defence of the country, and where they are really needed they ought to be the property of the Government, or, at any rate, the Government ought to have the power to say that they should become their property, so that I do not think you could effect the whole purpose of this Bill without giving power to purchase. With regard to the question of terms, that does not arise on this Clause. My hon. and learned Friend objects to some of the Clauses, but we can deal with those when we come, to them. I propose to accept some Amendments to the Schedule, which, I think, will remove some of his objections with regard to the power to purchase. The Report stage of this Bill will be taken after the Recess, and I hope before that time comes I shall have the opportunity of meeting my hon. and learned Friend and others, and telling them exactly what we propose to do on Report, and that, when he sees what we are doing, if he does not become a supporter of the Bill, at any rate some of his objections will be removed.


I understand, Mr. Whitley, that you passed over the Amendments because, as the learned Solicitor-General has just said, the points raised by Sub-section (7) will be raised by the new Clause of the right hon. and learned Gentleman later on. I take it hon. Members are not strictly out of order in having put down Amendments, but that it is more convenient that the question should be dealt with on the new Clause. No doubt it is convenient, but, at the same time, the Committee will recognise that, in giving up what might be a right to ask that our Amendments be considered on this Clause in order to suit the convenience of the learned Solicitor-General, means that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gets his Bill through Committee, and the new proposals come on as a new Clause, on which there are a large number of Amendments affecting very important local authorities, municipal authorities, port authorities, and dock authorities in the country, and we have got no real assurance from the learned Solicitor-General that he is going to accept Amendments which many members of this Committee have down on behalf of those authorities. While I should be only too glad, of course, to fall in with whatever is most convenient, it is a very serious matter for us to give up our rights in the early part of the Bill unless we have an assurance from the Solicitor-General that he is going to meet some of the Amendments we have down to his new Clause.


I had better clear that question up. The Committee accepted the proposal of the learned Solicitor-General to leave out Sub-section (7) of this Clause, as he stated, in view of the wider Clause he has set down on the Order Paper. Hon. Members interested in points will not lose their opportunity of raising them, but it would be out of order, now that Sub-section (7) has gone out of this Clause, to raise those points here.

Mr. PERCY HARRIS (Paddington, S.)

On a point of Order. I had an Amendment down to add another Subsection to this Clause, and I conceive that would be in order. I did not rise to move it because I thought it would be more convenient to discuss it on the learned Solicitor-General's new Clause.


It will save discussion if I say that on Clause 7 I am going to accept Amendments proposed which will, I hope, entirely satisfy both my hon. and learned Friend opposite and my hon. Friend behind me.


I am somewhat in the same position as the hon. Member who has just spoken, and I would like to ask, on a point of Order, whether my Amendment to add a new Sub-section would be out of order when the new Clause is reached, because I am very anxious to move it, as it raises an important question of principle?


I think that Amendment was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Black-friars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes). I have that marked on my Paper as having already been dealt with by the Committee. We had, if I remember, two hours' discussion on an Amendment on that subject earlier in the Bill.


On that point, I do suggest that in the previous Clause it was merely a question of rent. Here it is a question of purchase, and the application of a somewhat different principle. Indeed, I know there are a good many Members of this House who were not with mo when I moved my Amendment, but who had indicated their intention of being present when I moved in regard to the question of purchase. It may be a similar case, but I do submit that the case of purchase in this Clause 3 is fundamentally distinguishable from Clause 1, which only deals with rent for a limited period.


I must have some regard to the amount of time occupied and the amount covered in discussion. My recollection is that a very long time was spent over that principle, which the hon. Member said he wished to introduce into this Bill, and which the Committee, after discussion, rejected. However, if he will bring it up in the form of a new Clause, I will refresh my memory and look at the records, and see whether I am right in that position. I will not rule finally on the matter for this purpose.


Would it be in order to move it on the learned Solicitor-General's new Clause?


We have already reached the point, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," and it would not be in order for the hon. Member to move excessive Amendments of the same kind on a new Clause. If the hon. Member brings up a new Clause, I will see whether or not that has already been decided.


I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his very courteous reply, but he really missed the point. I never suggested that where the Government had put buildings on land they should not have the power first, to own the buildings; secondly, to remove them if they thought rightly; and, thirdly, to buy the land under ordinary terms; but this Clause goes much further, and gives the Government power to buy land when it has put no buildings on it at all. That, I say, is unnecessary. The second point on this Clause I summarised by saying that the terms are less favourable to the landowner than they would be if the ordinary Lands Clauses Act applied. Therefore, two things happen. You are giving unnecessary power to purchase land on which buildings have not been erected at all, in which case there is no sort of reason why the Government should have the right to take it, and also it takes the land upon terms more harsh to the landlord than they generally would be. I do not imagine it would be necessary to have power for the Government to purchase land on which it has erected buildings which are necessary for the defence of the realm. I imagine they would have power already to do that under the Defence of the Realm Act. But, if they have not, I should not object in the least to any such power being given to them, which could be given by a very short Clause. That does not meet my objection to this Clause, in which, I do say, the Government have gone much further than necessary, and are really putting a great injustice upon people in this particular case, which is not the ordinary class of landlord, but the class of landlord who has gone out of his way patriotically to let the Government come on his land, which, I submit, the Government ought to have no right to purchase under this Clause.


On the point of Order raised a few minutes ago. There is an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley), who asked me to move it, but I did not do so because I thought I could move it on the new Clause of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Perhaps, Mr. Whitley, you would not mind noting that the hon. Member for Blackpool stands for me for all purposes during the Committee stage of this Bill. I quite agree with my hon. and learned Friend that this Clause goes very much further than is necessary. I do not think anyone would object to the Government purchasing land and erecting buildings on it, and, where necessary in the national interests, that the land and buildings should be so acquired. But as my hon. and learned Friend points out, this goes considerably further, and gives the Government power to purchase land on which they have erected nothing. I have not had time to refresh my memory as to what occurred on the former Committee stage, and I am not quite certain whether some of the words to which I object on this Clause were or were not left out, but I do think Sub-section (2) as it stands goes very far. I am not quite sure there was not some Amendment of that kind, but that is going very much further than is necessary under the circumstances. The Solicitor-General was good enough to ask some of us interested in this and other Clauses to meet him this afternoon, and we have had a discussion in which, I think, the right hon. and learned Gentleman met us very fairly. Under these circumstances, unless there is some objection, I should be in favour of letting this Clause pass, it being understood that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will meet us before the Report stage and discuss the matter in the same spirit as he manifested in the discussion this afternoon.


Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain why the Government want power to acquire land on which there are no buildings? I should have thought that the occupation of the land during the War, and a certain time afterwards, would be quite sufficient for the Munitions Department or any Government Department. If there is any other reason for acquiring land, I think it ought to be given to the Committee.


There are such cases.

Question put, and agreed to.