§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MUNITIONS DEPARTMENT (Dr. Addison)
My right hon. Friend the Solicitor-General, who is in charge of this Bill, has asked me to move the Second Reading, in order that he may be able to reply to the various points that may be raised. The House is well aware that large sums of public money have been spent by the Admiralty, by the War Office, and by the Ministry of Munitions in building huts, sheds, factories, and storehouses, and in many other forms, on land for purposes connected with the War. Commonly this work had to be proceeded with rapidly and under emergency conditions. There was no time to investigate separate questions of title, or questions of the purchase price. These things we have had to leave to deal with afterwards. Things have been done at a few moments' notice in the emergencies of the War which in peace time certainly would have involved prolonged and difficult negotiations. The general object of this Bill is to place the State, so far as possible, in a secure position in respect of the expenditure which it has incurred in this work, and to safeguard it against unreasonable and avoidable loss. Millions of money have been spent by the Departments upon the land which they have taken under the Defence of the Realm Act or by virtue of the Royal Prerogative, and it is obviously necessary 1556 in the national interest that there should be power to acquire this land. Often enough the price of the land bears but a very small relation to the total expenditure which has been incurred upon it in factories, buildings, plant, and so on. In some cases that could be mentioned as much as £2,000,000 have been spent upon a relatively small amount of ground taken possession of in this way. It is right to guard ourselves against the contingency which might arise at the end of the War when the Defence of the Realm Acts have lapsed, that these buildings and this plant, which have been provided for at so great a cost, shall be forfeited to the owner of the site.
It will be readily understood that the arrangements which have been made are of a very complex and diverse character. They have been made under all sorts of conditions, in all manner of qualifications, and the agreements and commitments are legion both in their number and in their complexity. Perhaps it may be the most convenient course if I take the scheme of the Bill as printed and comment upon its provisions. The first Clause enables the Crown to continue for a limited time after the War in possession of the land occupied during the War for the purposes of the defence of the realm. This provision is necessary in many cases where it will be neither necessary or desirable to acquire the land, but where it may be desirable to continue in occupation for a short period. For example, at the conclusion of the War, it will not be possible to discharge all the troops immediately. There will be a considerable amount of hut accommodation required, and for a considerable time. Hospitals, stores, and buildings of that kind cannot be cleared rapidly. It will take some time; it may be many months in some cases. Again, there will be cases in which it will be difficult to decide rapidly whether it will or will not be desirable to continue in occupation, or even to acquire the land. One need scarcely point out that the number of cases to be dealt with will be very great, and that they will necessarily require considerable time to be attended to in detail. Again, there will be cases in which, whilst it is not necessary to acquire the land, it may be useful to arrange an extended occupation even beyond the three years. In the first Clause the occupation may be extended to a further term of four years with the consent of the tribunal or commission which 1557 is set up by the Bill. It may, too, be necessary, perhaps, in some cases to erect more huts or to extend the arrangements which are then existing in connection with demobilisation, or for other purposes. So that the continuation of powers exercised during the War is necessary in this connection.
As many representations which have been made to the various Departments indicate—and as I have no doubt will be pointed out in the course of Debate—cases will arise in which some other public interest may be in conflict with the interest of the Government Department concerned, and it is obviously desirable that we should make arrangements, so far as possible, to minimise both the extent and duration of the disturbance. For example, a number of schools have been occupied as hospitals and for other purposes; so have university buildings, workhouses, asylums, and other public or semi-public institutions. We should have wished, so far as possible, that they should revert to their proper use with as little delay as possible, and the Departments have every desire that proper provision should be made for meeting this class of cases. Where land has been offered during the War compensation has been granted under the recommendations of the Defence of the Realm (Losses) Commission, ex gratia; if the occupation is continued after the War a right of compensation is conferred under the Bill. The basis for compensation is direct loss suffered by the claimant by reason of the exercise by the Crown of its powers. Another very necessary provision in this connection is that it should be possible to transfer the powers from one Department to another. The particular cases that we have in our minds, and on account of which this provision is inserted, is that the Ministry of Munitions will, I suppose, cease to exist at the end of the War, and it will be necessary to have power to transfer its undertakings, so far as they are retained, to some other Department—I suppose the War Office.
The Second Clause of the Bill deals with the power to remove buildings, machinery, or plant, which have been erected at the expense of the Department, or with the consent of the Department, at the expense of some person not being a person interested in the land. This provision is necessary, for sometimes it will be required if the Department is to deal equitably in the public interest in cases in which money has been spent on land. Some- 1558 times, of course, it may be necessary and desirable that some or all of the machines should be moved to another factory or some other place, so that this power to remove plant and machinery from land which has not been acquired is essential in the interest of making the best use of what has been provided. We thought it was fair also that this power of removal should be extended to Y.M.C.A. huts, mission huts, shops, and so on, which in many cases have been put up near camps and elsewhere during the War. It is obvious that the removal of buildings and plant, wherever it occurs, may often place the land in a much worse condition than before. Therefore, it is provided that the Government shall either restore the land to its previous condition or pay proper compensation for disturbance. The third Clause will doubtless give rise to considerable discussion, and it is, perhaps, the most necessary Clause in the Bill. It deals with that class of cases in connection with which it will be necessary to acquire land permanently. Sometimes the power to remove buildings will be quite insufficient. In many cases factories of a very modern and well-equipped type have been erected at great cost, and it will be a waste of public money and of our industrial capacity to pull them to pieces. The power of removal will only cover a certain class of cases, and there are many of the kind I have indicated in which it is obviously necessary to safeguard the interests of the State, that power should be taken to acquire the land on which these buildings stand. The power to acquire land under this Clause relates to those cases where land has been taken possession of by the Government, or in cases where it is occupied by some other firm or individual but in which the cost of all the extensions has been defrayed by the State. There are a good many cases in different forms of this kind, and various systems of repayment have been devised in connection with them. Where firms, or others interested in the land, have contributed part of the expenditure upon it, or jointly with the State, then the consent of the tribunal is required before that land can be acquired. Sometimes also, in connection with special types of factories or works, the power of acquiring adjoining land may be necessary. There is for example, a very large air station, and it would be obviously undesirable that tall chimneys, buildings, and so on, should be erected around the 1559 boundary of this very important air station. It is necessary, therefore, that power should be taken to acquire sufficient of the adjoining land as is necessary to protect the interests of the State. This option of purchase may be exercised in the case of land in which possession has been taken during the War, or at any time during that possession. In the other cases it must be either before or within twelve months after the termination of the War, but during that period the Bill provides that buildings, plant, and such-like shall not be removed from the land in question.
Under the provisions of the Bill the power to acquire land does not extend, except by agreement, to public parks, recreation grounds, and so on. I understand, with regard to the case of commons, that agreement means that the Lord of the Manor and the commoners have to be consenting parties, and in the present alert state of public opinion with respect to commons it is very difficult to imagine that agreement would ever be reached. All I can say here is that it is only desired to make reasonable arrangements to meet cases of this kind. There are other cases also which, I am sure, my hon. Friend opposite will say merit special consideration, and I agree with him. For example, in many cases private parks have been given up for camps, parade grounds, and so on, and they have been freely placed at the national disposal without qualification. It would be manifestly unjust to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill in respect of patriotic services of this kind in any arbitrary or unfair manner.
§ Dr. ADDISON
If the right hon. Gentleman will read the Bill he will see that under Clause 3, Sub-section (7), public parks and public recreation grounds are expressly mentioned. Under Clause 4 the rights of users are acquired. In some cases it must be obvious that what has been done with land for war purposes may have been unfortunate enough to involve a breach of some restrictive covenant or the creation of a nuisance which would entitle the parties to an injunction restraining such user. It is provided that, in determining any compensation which may be payable in respect of these matters, the Commission shall take into account any appreciation of the value of adjoining land as the result of buildings or improve- 1560 ments which have been made upon the land belonging to the owner for war purposes. No compensation will be payable if the; land is used by the Government Department for a purpose for which it could have been used had it been acquired under the Defence Acts or the Military Lands Acts. A similar immunity is conferred upon a purchaser from the Government in such a case if a Government Department certifies that the land is being used in the interests of national defence. It may often happen, where a: nuisance has been created or agreement broken, that the most desirable course to take would be for the Government to buy out the complainant. There is, however, one necessary qualification which, I am sure, should be inserted with regard to these various immunities conferred upon the Government Department, and I will give a case in point. It may easily happen, in consequence of the work carried on in a. Government factory, say, an explosive factory, for an explosion to occur, and damage a considerable part of a surrounding town, and compensation in respect of accidents of that kind is provided for in the Bill.
Then sometimes the best course to take in the interests of national industry would be for the Government to dispose in some way of a part or the whole of the factories which it has created. Therefore it is necessary that there should be a power to sell the property so acquired. Sometimes also such a power may be essential to make the best of some of the very complicated and involved situations which now exist in which a firm has built part of a factory, the Government has added another part, and another part perhaps is jointly provided. Therefore it is necessary in those cases, to consolidate the whole undertaking, that there should be power to sell. There is no desire to make Government Departments into land dealers, but the power to sell is obviously necessary in the class of cases to which I have referred. Sometimes I am afraid it is necessary to do very drastic things and to interfere with the courses of railways, roads, footpaths, and communications of that kind, to make railways in places where otherwise objection would be taken— sidings, and so on—and Clause 6 of the Bill provides for the continuance of the use of light railways, railway sidings, and so on, where it is necessary, subject to appropriate Orders by the Board of Trade. 1561 Then, again, in other cases we have arranged for the supply of water, light, and so on outside the area of the supplying authority. In one case I know of the local authority supplies power and light considerably outside its own proper boundaries. It is obviously necessary that arrangements should be made to secure the continuance of these rights of supply, and that is provided for in Clause 7.
With regard to the Commission which will administer the affairs in the Bill, it has been decided that the Railway and Canal Commission is most suitable for this purpose. It was very undesirable, if we could avoid it, that we should set up another Commission, and I can believe that it might have been assailed with criticism that we were bringing into being another set of officials. Having this Commission available, it was thought most desirable that use should be made of its services. There are, however, a considerable number of qualifications and additions in respect of the powers of this Commission in relation to the particular work of this Bill. It is provided, for example, that, as the Railway and Canal Traffic Acts do not contain a provision that the Commission may have the assistance of assessors the Commission may have such assistance, and it is obviously necessary in cases of this kind that the Commission should have this right. Then the Commission is also authorised to conduct local inquiries by one or two of its members, and it may act by two of its members. The Commission is given a wider discretion in respect of costs than exists under the Railway and Canal Traffic Acts, and in various other matters. The general purpose, so far as possible, is to simplify procedure and to lessen cost. Some time we hope that an equilibrium will be established between income and expenditure, and it may be necessary to provide that the sums required for the purchase of land, being in the nature of capital expenditure, should be raised by borrowing, and with this contingency in view it is provided in the Bill that, until Parliament otherwise determines, the sums shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament. In Clause 10 we have introduced a number of definitions relating to the certificates which may be given by a Government Department, and we have introduced them with the hope that they will avoid a good deal of litigation and dispute in the settlement of cases. Then there are 1562 other provisions in the Bill providing for its application in Scotland and Ireland, and other matters. The Schedule makes various modifications of the Lands Clauses Act.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The right hon. Baronet, knows quite well that the Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) was set up in connection with general war purposes, and has felt it necessary in the districts mentioned in the House to-day, and in other places, to acquire land for canteens and so on, and it is necessary that it should have power to hold and purchase land under the general purposes for which Parliament created it.
§ Dr. ADDISON
What will happen after the War I do not know, but the position must be regularised now with respect to the expenditure which has been incurred on the land. In some outlying districts it has been found necessary to put up large buildings for canteen purposes. Otherwise they would not have standing room to get a drink. There will be places in which they can have concerts and entertainments, and this provision is really necessary in these out-of-the-world districts, and we must regularise expenditure incurred in that way. The Schedule provides that the provision of the Land Clauses Act whereby it is made obligatory to sell lands not required for the original purposes of the undertaking shall not apply. In many of these factories—take for example, some of the explosive and aeroplane factories—considerable extensions may be required if the industry is to be carried on, and therefore such extensions must be provided for. Similar power is taken to acquire a portion of a factory if it is found necessary, provided that the Commission is satisfied that this portion can be separated without material detriment to the remainder of the property. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of the Schedule lay down the basis upon which compensation should be paid. The value of the land is taken as being that which the land would have had at the date of the notice to enter if it had remained in the condition in which it was at the commencement of the present War, without regard to any enhancement or depreciation which has arisen during the work of the Government 1563 for war purposes. The general object of that is to secure as far as possible justice, and to provide that the State should not have to pay for any appreciation which its own expenditure has created. It provides the amount of compensation payable and this is an important provision. The Commission is instructed to have regard to the extent to which any adjoining or neighbouring land in which the owner is interested may be benefited by what has been done on the land taken over. In some village districts factories have been built which have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and it is only reasonable that some regard should be had to the appreciation which this expenditure has brought about. On the other hand, provision is made to respect the agreements, which are very numerous and complex, made either with persons interested in the land or who have contributed towards the erection of works or improvements upon the land. Sections 77 to 85 of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, contain an elaborate code of provisions with respect to the rights of support which we did not think it necessary to apply in these cases, and we have left the Commission considerable discretion in these matters. With a view to limiting the cost of procedure as far as possible, it is provided that the Commission shall not hear more than one expert witness on either side unless the Commission should otherwise direct, and the Lord Chancellor is empowered to make rules fixing the scales of costs. I think it is clear enough that, having provided the principle upon which compensation should be based, the other provisions in the Schedule are intended to make the procedure of the tribunal as expeditious and as inexpensive as we can. No doubt there will be a good many criticisms on this Bill, and we are anxious to meet all just objections, but obviously those who will look at the situation, in view of the tens of millions of public money which have been spent in this way on the land, will agree that a provision of this kind is essential. I can well believe that the disposition and management of these great properties hereafter will doubtless raise questions of the first importance, upon which there may be material differences of opinion, but it is clear that we should aim, as far as possible, at securing that all this provision of well-equipped establishments, with up-to-date plant and modern and beautiful machinery—arranged, in the main, 1564 according to the advice of the first experts of factory construction and management—should be treated in such a way as to add as much as possible to the enrichment of the manufacturing resources of the country. We shall find hereafter, whatever else we find, that some of the great trades in the country—glass, steel, coal tar by-products, and many chemicals—are equipped with plant and a manufacturing capacity of the most modern type, whilst those in charge of them have called to their aid the best services that science and training can provide. One would like to refer, if the occasion were appropriate, to the immense services which some of these scientific and highly-trained technical men have rendered to the nation in these most vital matters during the War. I am sure the House will agree that it is our duty to take care that all these works of skilled and patriotic effort shall be available for the best uses without embarrassment or delay when the time of peace arrives and the time of that great effort of reconstruction which civilisation will have to make to repair the havoc and ruin of the War.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
This Bill, as explained by the Under-Secretary, is one of very great importance, and the view from which I approach it is that we have during the course of the War had a great number of things done which, under the stress of a great war, have been accepted by everybody for the time being. But when the War is over it would be a very different matter to perpetuate and continue the various infringements of rights, both public and private, which have necessarily taken place during the course of the War. I am sorry to say that the statement of the Under-Secretary has not removed the principal objections which I entertain to this Bill. There are three main objections to this Bill. In the first place, I regard the tribunal provided as very unsuitable. The Under-Secretary has not given us any reason why that particular Commission should have been selected. He said his object was not to increase the number of the Commission, but he did not once mention the fact that there is at the present time a Royal Commission dealing with these very cases which has dealt with 1565 every kind of interest in regard to this question with the one sole exception of the freehold of the land.
My second objection is that the very cumbrous and out-of-date machinery of the Lands Clauses Act has been introduced into this Bill. I think there is a general consensus of opinion that they are far too cumbrous and involve much expenditure on lawyers and expert witnesses. The Under-Secretary has partly anticipated that, because he has attempted to put in a provision that only one expert witness on each side shall be allowed. I do not know what necessity there was to introduce the Land Clauses Act at all. If the right hon. Gentleman had been upstairs yesterday he would have heard a very interesting deputation from Scotland on this question, and they were unanimous in condemning the method laid down by the Land Clauses Act in regard to acquiring land for public purposes, and I think there should be a much simpler system. It is a very remarkable fact that we have already a most simple process which has been applied hereto to these cases. We have a Commission sitting which has dealt with some of these cases in regard to the very land which is the subject of this Bill, and they have been dealt with most expeditiously, economically, and to the satisfaction of everybody. That is one of the grounds upon which I object to this Bill. My third ground is that there is not adequate provision made for the safeguarding of public rights. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to my Constituency, and that affords a very good illustration of the trouble that will arise if proper provisions are not put into safeguard public rights. Take the question of the pollution of rivers. In the case I have referred to a most serious pollution is taking place now, and I have been told it cannot be avoided.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I protested against this being done, and I urged that it should not be done, and I was told by those concerned that they hoped it would not do much harm, but that they could not render the fluid innocuous. The Government are acquiring a right to do this, and consequently we may have this public nuisance perpetuated for ever in this locality. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about local control of the buildings erected there. These buildings are being 1566 erected in face of the strongest local opposition, things are being done contrary to the whole policy of Scotland, and it is a policy which has been rejected by the whole of the Scottish Members. I am giving this as an instance where, if proper safeguards are not provided, public rights will suffer. There is the-question of commons—I know other hon. Members will deal with that question, later—where common rights will be lost to the public altogether if this power taken by the Government is exercised. Those are the three grounds on which I object to this Bill. I object to the tribunals, to the introduction of the Land Clauses Act, and to the want of safeguards for public rights and interests. Public interests such as wayleave, highways, locomotion, and so on are put down without the local authorities having any right to say what conditions should be imposed. I do not think, in the public interests, that ought to be continued after the War. Let me say a word or two about the Railway and Canal Commission. It is admitted that it is a very unsuitable Commission. It has no procedure which is suitable to apply to these cases, and that fact is recognised because the Bill gives it power to call in an assessor. What is the Railway and Canal Commission? It is different in Scotland, England, and Ireland. It is composed of High Court judges, with two other permanent members. It has no common, system of procedure, nor any common method of settling matters. It exists for the purpose of settling railway rates and matters of that sort which are entirely foreign to the purpose for which it is now required. We know perfectly well that when the judge sits in Scotland he calla in an assessor. We all know what that means. You have a number of experts giving different views with most unsatisfactory results, as we have seen in the recent well-known Lindean case in Scotland, for the public interest. There is also an appeal to a further Court, and I should like to know whether that appeal is barred in this case, because if it is not we shall have still further delay and expense.
I come now to the tribunal. The House will be surprised to learn that this tribunal, the Defence of the Realm (Losses) Commission, has been sitting for more than a year, and it has dealt with over 1,000 cases of the most complicated and 1567 varied character arising with respect to the very land which is the subject of this Bill. All the circumstances and all the details of these cases are already in the possession of that Commission. Every kind of interest, including the annual value of the land itself, which is now in question, has been ascertained and taken into consideration, and a value has been placed upon it. Nothing would be more simple than to allow this Commission to go on and deal with the freehold interest in the land, and they would be able to tome to a decision with full knowledge. In my own Constituency, where a very large area of land has been taken over, they had the sense and the prescience to have an accurate survey of the land taken before it was touched. There was an exact record made of everything on the land, the rights of the tenant, the buildings and everything, so that it was possible to know precisely what the land was before operations were commenced. How could a new Commission go through that process afresh now that the land has been cut up and divided with roads, railways, and every kind of construction? Why should another Commission go over it all again and ascertain it afresh when the whole thing is known to a body who have proved themselves entirely capable of dealing with the matter? I will give an idea what this Commission has done with this very land. It has already dealt with 1,000 cases. It has dealt with claims for lump sum payments amounting to £500,000. It has dealt with claims for annual payments amounting to £238,000. The Commission, therefore, has the fullest knowledge. It knows the rights of everybody concerned in this very land. No complaint, so far as I have heard, has ever been made against it.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
The Defence of the Realm Losses Commission, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) is Chairman. If the matter is handed over to the Railway and Canal Commission, you will have a different body sitting in each country. The procedure will be different, the principles applied may be different, and the decisions may be different. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is very anxious not to increase expenses, and to simplify procedure. The 1568 Defence of the Realm Losses Commission has simplified the procedure enormously. It has proceeded in such a way as to cut down expenses to a minimum. Every interest in the land with the exception of one has been dealt with by them in the most satisfactory manner. It has done substantial justice to everybody who has suffered, and it has also had a care for the interests of the State by investigating claims which in some cases have naturally been excessive. I do not know why this Commission should now be shelved. Why should this one interest in the land, this freehold interest, be treated on a different footing and a different scale from every other interest? It must give rise to a sense of injustice if you apply to the freehold interest, a wholly different method from that applied to every other interest in the land. I hope the Solicitor-General will tell us why it is necessary to abandon this Commission, which is now doing such good work, which is now in active operation, which has sat for hundreds of days, which is rapidly dealing with the cases coming before it, and which has shown itself so capable. There is no claim, however great, which this Commission has not been able to investigate and to deal with. There is, therefore, no cause for the complicated and expensive and wasteful machinery of the Land Clauses Act which is now introduced. There is no necessity for it. Why, then, whatever Commission deals with it, introduce this antiquated machinery. I suggest, in order to meet these various points, that the tribunal which is now dealing with this very land, should also deal with these interests. I am not averse to acquisition by the State. In many cases the State should acquire the land. I do not know why it could not have done so earlier. I am entirely in support of the Government acquiring the land where they have had an enormous amount of money spent on it altogether out of proportion to the value of the land, a is the case in my own Constituency. I would ask, however, that the public rights should be safeguarded, so that we should not find the Government expropriating public rights and then parting with them again to private interests. If I could get some satisfactory assurance on those three matters, I should certainly be prepared to withdraw my opposition to the Bill.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I beg to second the Amendment. I am afraid my objections to the Bill are more general than those 1569 of the hon. Member who has moved the rejection. I object to it because I do not think it ought to be introduced in its present form. It is called a Defence of the Realm Bill. What possible connection has it got with the defence of the realm? Those hon. Members who were here last night heard an eloquent speech from the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Sir J. H. Yoxall), who said that there was a growing feeling in the country against Departmental Bills and against the Departments which introduced legislation of a highly controversial and objectionable character under the guise of emergency war measures. I rather wish some of the hon. Members on the Front Bench had heard that very eloquent speech last night. I should also like another hon. Member who was here last night to be here to-day. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Pretyman), who was at one time president of the Land Union, was here to-day. What does he think of this Bill? What would he say if he was in his place to-day and he had to make a speech about this Bill? What would the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply (Sir G. Cave) have said if this Bill had been introduced when he sat upon this side of the House? He did not open the case for the Government. He allowed his junior to open it, and that hon. Gentleman did it with a courage which I frequently notice is marked among juniors, though leaders do not always have it to the same extent. What would the Solicitor-General have said if he had been standing, as he used to stand not so many years ago, in the place where I am standing now? How I should have cheered his speech when he denounced this Bill in unmeasured terms, as he would have done! What has this got to do with the Defence of the Realm? It is a Bill which is not coming into operation until the War is over.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
The material and most objectionable parts certainly come into operation after the War. We are asked apparently, as I understood from the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, to trust a Government Department. Look at the matter from a concrete point of view. I am not a landowner, and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill is a landowner or not, but, if he is, no doubt he has granted the use of his park for a particular 1570 purpose. I have known people grant the use, say, of their cricket ground for the purposes of a hospital. Look at their legal rights under this Bill. They have acted from patriotic motives, but how are their rights safeguarded by this Bill? That can be assigned to any other Government Department to which he never intended it to be assigned and then, if the Government like, the whole of it can be taken away from him, and he is to receive compensation. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill strongly objected to that provision. I also object, but on entirely different grounds. Just read this Departmental Bill: it rather lets the cat out of the bag. According to the MemorandumThe main object of this Bill is to protect the State, against loss arising from the fact that, in the emergency created by the War, it has been necessary to erect War Office huts, aircraft sheds, munition factories, and other buildings wholly or partly at the expense of the State on land belonging to parties who would, in the absence of special statutory provision, be enabled, at the end of the War, to claim that the buildings belonged to them as having become attached to the freehold.At whose expense is the State to be protected against loss? Let me take a concrete case. An estate has been taken by the Government for the purposes of an aerodrome. The Government use it during the War, and no one objects to that. But what is intended by this Bill is not that the land or estate shall be handed back to the owner at the end of the War. Instead of that the Government are to be placed in a position to say, "There is now a greater demand for aeronautics, and, therefore, we will sell the estate as a going concern" I wonder what the Solicitor-General is going to say upon one extraordinary Clause—Clause 5—which provides thatWhere any land or any interest therein has, by virtue of this Act, been acquired by any Government Department, the Department may, at any time thereafter, sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of the land or interestIt will be possible under those circumstances for the land to be sold in the open market with no right of pre-emption for the unfortunate original owner. It is to be sold at whatever profit the Government can make for the purpose of saving 1571 it from loss on this particular matter. I say that the principle underlying the Clause is wrong from beginning to end. There are other provisions which I hold to be equally wrong. The Mover of the rejection of the Bill referred very gently to them. These provisions provide this: The Government have, in certain cases, entered into occupation of what are technically called waste lands, these including most valuable commons in which the public have a deep interest. Let me explain what this Bill does. Up till recent years it has been possible for the lord of the manor and the commoners to agree together to enclose waste land. Technically, they are the only people concerned in this matter. In recent years, however, legislation has been passed preventing the lord of the manor and the commoners agreeing to sell these lands for building purposes and to divide the profits among themselves, because Parliament thought that though, technically, these lands are the property of the lord of the manor and the commoners, yet these beautiful open commons, on some of which there is a large amount of valuable timber, are, in a sense, the property of the nation, and ought not, therefore, to be enclosed or sold with a view to money being made out of them. The Government have necessarily entered into possession of large areas of waste and common lands, and under this Act they take power to agree with the lords of the manor and the commoners. Section 3, Sub-section (7), reads: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.But, of course, the lord of the manor and the commoners will, if they are to get anything out of it, naturally agree to the sale of the land, and the Government will be in a position to sell at any price they choose in order that the State may be protected against loss. Is that a principle which the Solicitor-General can possibly defend in this House? I submit that it is an absolutely indefensible principle, and that there is no proper protection in this Bill against objectionable proceedings of this sort. I am not entering into details now, because if the Government press this Bill further—which I hope they will not do—there will be ample time to deal with them. The only defence to this Bill is the fact that in certain cases the Government 1572 have built huts and other erections on other people's land. But a very different type of measure could be brought in to deal with that difficulty, and certainly a Bill of this character is not necessary at all. If I were to go into detail I should object very strongly to the proposal to entrust the administration of this Bill to the Commission presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke). Whatever that Commission was intended to do it certainly was never created to deal with matters of this kind. I have a word to say in favour of the despised Lands Clauses Acts.
There are certain protections under those despised Acts which are very valuable indeed, and this Bill, in introducing the Railway and Canal Commission, is certainly doing a great injustice to people whose land is about to be taken. After all, the Bill really introduces arbitration; but under it the arbitrator is called an "officer appointed by the Railway and Canal Commission." He is to hold an inquiry, one expert witness only is to be heard, certain scales of costs is laid down, and certain economies are insisted upon. Under the Lands Clauses Acts, however, you get a real arbitrator appointed. Surely the landlord should have some voice in the appointment of the arbitrator who is to deal with his property. We are told that certain economies are to be carried out in the usual way and rules are laid down to deprive the applicant of more than a certain amount of costs. That is a very taking proposition to put to the House. No one, of course, has a good word to say for lawyers. But just for one moment put yourselves in the position of a man whose land or property is about to be taken. He wants his case properly put before the tribunal. Is the Government going to economise in this matter? No; the Solicitor-General will appear for them. The economy is only to be enforced on the landowner whose case is about to be heard. We know how these scales of costs work, and I therefore urge the House not to be led away too quickly by this idea of economy. The important thing is that both sides should have a fair hearing—the Government on the one side and the landowner on the other. These are points which will have to be taken into consideration if the Bill is to be made a permanent Bill for dealing with property which is for the time being in the possession of the Government for particular emergency 1573 purposes. I say there is no necessity for a Bill of this kind. It is thoroughly wrong in principle, and all the Government require could easily be secured by a measure on totally different lines. We ought not to give such powers as are contained in this Bill to any Government Department. I am voicing the claims of a class to which I do not belong—the landowners whose land has been taken. There are also those who are interested in the goodwill of businesses. I hope the Government between now and the Committee stage will consider whether it is not desirable to drop this Bill and to substitute for it one of a more moderate character.
§ Mr. BRUNNER
I do not think the Government quite realise what a big Bill this is. It has been brought in, I suppose, mainly at the instance of the Ministry of Munitions, which has spent many millions of money, either jointly with others or on its own account, in putting up munition factories. They have been put up in a great hurry on sites acquired on uncertain tenures, and it is quite reasonable, to my mind, that the Government should have some means of recovering from the landowners the money which has been spent, and which, without some such Bill as this, would, in the ordinary course, pass to the landowners. But this Bill depends for its success upon the way in which it is administered. The House ought not to put unreasonable powers into the hands of any Government Department, and I certainly do not think a Government Department ought to demand such powers. In many respects this Bill asks for unreasonable powers. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) said that the Bill need not come before us now. I am sorry to say on that point he has made a mistake. It does come before us now, and as far as my information goes, Ministry of Munitions intends to upon it directly it is passed.
A point which I wish to bring most strongly before the House arises on Clause 3, which enables the Government to acquire land permanently. The factories which have been put up by the Ministry of Munitions are now probably turning out a hundredfold the requirements of the Army and Navy in peace time. A great many of the factories will have to be pulled down, others may be turned to other uses. Are the Gover- 1574 ment going to buy the land upon which are built the factories which will have to be pulled down? They do not know at the moment what they will want when the War is over. They do not know what sort of peace is going to be arrived at. They do not know how many men it will be necessary to keep under arms, or what munition factories it may be requisite to retain in working order. I hope the House will say with no uncertain voice that there is to be no hurry in this matter, and that the Government are to wait until after the War. Clauses 1 and 2 give the Government ample powers to safeguard their interests, and until the War is over they have no right to push munition factories and others into litigation. Those who are running munition factories to-day are working day and night. One hon. Member gave us an instance where the manager of a munition factory had put a bed in his office in order to carry on his work. Litigation is, as the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) knows, an enormous burden on a business man. It will be an enormous burden on the Ministry of Munitions and upon those who manage munition factories, which the Government has no right to put upon them at the present moment.
In Clause 3 there is nothing to safeguard existing agreements. I know that in some cases the Government has agreed to clear out when the War is over. That is one of the terms upon which the work is being done for them. Under this Bill that agreement can be overridden. The Government might buy the factory, having already an agreement to clear out. The Government should put in an Amendment to safeguard existing agreements. Above all, I hope there will be no haste in buying land. That, in many cases, would be throwing good money after bad. I am very glad the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University raised the question of commons. I do not quite know whether I can agree with him on a point of law. Clause 3, Sub-section (7), to which he refers, says that no land shall be acquired otherwise than by agreement. I am advised that that means that if you agree with the lord of the manor the commoners will have to come under the Lands Clauses Acts, so that the commoners will not have any say in the matter. Their rights will be extinguished under the Lands Clauses Acts. I am sorry to say that the representative of the Ministry of Munitions 1575 did not give me any satisfaction in what he said in regard to common land. If it is a fact that under this Bill commoners' rights can be extinguished under the Lands Clauses Acts, an Amendment must be made in Clause 3, Sub-section (7). Everybody knows that if the commoners' rights are taken away from them the holding becomes practically valueless. Against the wishes of a commoner you may take away his rights and leave him with his small holding, which will then be of no value. I hope we shall have from the Solicitor-General an assurance that the Government are not going to take any commons. If my advisers are right, it is impossible under the Lands Clauses Acts to ascertain who are commoners. Moreover, the rights of the public are absolutely ignored.
§ Mr. BRUNNER
Therefore the Government—the War Office, or any other Department—can take away commons, extinguish the commoners' rights, and sell the land for building purposes. I am afraid we cannot quite trust a Government Department in this matter, because I find that already the War Office has seized part of a common.
§ Mr. BRUNNER
It is permanently in this one case I am going to bring to the notice of the House. They have taken four acres of Horsell Common for a Mahomedan cemetery. It is obvious that, having buried there some of our Indian friends who have fought with us in France, it is impossible to acquire this piece of common for the public again. The War Office have taken a piece of the common and paid £20 for four acres—I suppose because it was cheap. I cannot see any other excuse for it, except that they got a cheap piece of land. From answers given in the House yesterday in regard to two commons, I see that the War Office have no intention of taking common land. I hope we may get a definite assurance from the Solicitor-General when he replies that that is the case; otherwise I am afraid I shall have to register my vote against the Second Reading.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I read the Memorandum to this Bill a day or two ago and 1576 thought there was not very much harm in it. The first part of the Memorandum says that the Government desire to have power to acquire certain buildings which they have erected and which otherwise might be claimed by those on whose land they were erected. That seemed to be a most reasonable proposal, and I did not read the Bill any more. I trusted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, and thought it was unnecessary to trouble any more about the matter. But I have had one or two communications made to me, and I read the Bill this morning and have completely altered my opinion. The Memorandum does not correctly state what is in the Bill. The Bill goes very much further than what is in the Memorandum. Anyone reading the Memorandum would hardly come to the conclusion that the Bill enacts what it does. Fortunately, the Bill seems to have-offended everybody. I have a memorandum, here from the Association of Municipal Corporations, who are very strongly opposed to the Bill. There is also a very large number of members from all quarters of the House who have put down their names to move the rejection of the Bill. I have also had communications from other people and other societies objecting to the Bill.
First of all, I would like to point out to the House, and to the country, that this has nothing whatever to do with the War. The War will not be advanced an iota if this Bill is passed or if it is rejected. In fact, it is a distinct breach of the truce, because it introduces all sorts of things which have nothing whatever to do with the War, and which are very objectionable. I will give the Government at once an instance of that sort. I know there is a certain number of Members who quite sincerely, and probably rightly, advocate the view that betterment is a good principle and should become the law of the land. On the other hand, there are some Members who hold that that idea is wrong—that betterment is unjust, and that it should not be the law of the land. We have had great controversy on that subject. It is a controversial question, yet this Bill introduces betterment pure and simple, and a very bad form of betterment.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is only another case of how controversial this subject is, because there was always a doubt as to what was betterment. The supporters of it said that this or that was not betterment, and those opposed to it entertained the opposite view. There can be no doubt that what this Bill, when it says that the tribunal in considering the compensation to be paid to the owner of the land is to consider what advantage the erection of certain buildings has given to the owner of land and are to deduct that advantage from the price, does introduce betterment. If that is not betterment, so far as I am concerned I do not know what it is. It may be right or wrong, but it is a controversial matter and should not be introduced now. There has always been an old-established law that if a person, even the Government, erected buildings which caused a nuisance to his neighbours and depreciated their property he should have to pay. This Bill does away with that. The Government may erect buildings which are a nuisance. They may erect them during the War, when everybody has to submit to nuisances. This Bill perpetuates the nuisance. All the emergency legislation we have had during the War bas dealt with the period of the War or a year after its conclusion. This Bill deals with a period of three years after the War, which can be extended to another four years, making it seven years, and in some cases it is permanent and deals with the matters concerned for all time.
On what earthly ground is the Liquor Control Board introduced into this Bill? What on earth has the Liquor Control Board to do with the defence of the realm? It may be quite necessary at the moment that the people engaged upon munitions and, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions told us, the workers in munition factories should be able to have, I think he said, "a glass." I am glad the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones) was not here, because he would at once have disagreed with him. With that I agree, but because that is necessary why should the Liquor Control Board—about whose proceedings there has been a great difference of opinion in all quarters of the House, and especially among certain Members below the Gangway opposite, as to whether or not they were doing what they ought to do—why should the Liquor Control Board be deemed to be a Govern- 1578 ment Department? That is a new thing altogether. We thought that the Liquor Control Board was started in order to do certain things for the War, and that it was a special body, like one of the numerous committees, set up for the period of the War, to deal with things during the War. Now we are told it is to be deemed to be a Government Department, and as such it can buy and sell land and buildings. What on earth has that to do with the defence of the realm, or with the War? Surely anything dealing with temperance or the acquisition of public-house property is a controversial subject which ought not to be introduced now. It should be deferred and introduced when the War is over and when the House has got back to the state it was in before the War.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) gave the case of an aerodrome. It has been brought to my notice that there is an aerodrome, possession of which has been taken by the Government. I believe they have not at present paid anything for it. There is one other case, if not several cases in a similar position. Under this Bill the Government may, at the end of the War, when there may be a very great boom in aeronautics, take possession of this aerodrome, and having got possession of it, they may sell it to a rival. People may have let the Government take property during the War for which they have not been paid, yet at the end of the War they may have the property taken away from them, and find that a rival is installed in their place.
I have a case with which the City Corporation are concerned. I will not go into it at great length, because it is more or less a Committee point. The corporation, having entered into negotiations with the War Office before the War and having practically come to an agreement that they should receive a rental of £10,000 a year for the Deptford Market, have, since the War broke out, very patriotically said, "Our market is at your disposal." The War Office took it over and spent considerable sums of money on it, but they have never paid a single farthing to the Corporation, which has to pay charges on it. They have never paid the £10,000 a year which they agreed to pay, and when they have been pressed for the agreement all they have done is to bring in this Bill. There was no written agreement, but there was an understanding.
§ Sir G. CAVE
My right hon. Friend is aware, as I am, that there was no agreement entered into to pay £10,000 a year or any other sum. The matter is still under negotiation. I hope it will be concluded very soon.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There was no agreement, of course, but my information is that there was a verbal understanding which would have been carried out if the War had not broken out, and then the Corporation at once, without proceeding any further, handed over the market. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees with me that they have behaved well. I only instance this as one of many cases under which hardship has occurred, and which ought to be met. Then Clause 6 takes very great powers. By it it is proposed that where any railway or tramway has been made along any public highway for purposes connected with the War it may continue to be used and maintained after the War subject to such conditions as the Board of Trade may prescribe. That is a very serious thing. A large number of light railways have been made along the public highway to the great inconvenience of many people, who naturally have said nothing. They are willing to submit to any inconvenience during the War, but why should all this be perpetuated after the War? I really cannot conceive how the Government can have imagined that any House of Commons would consent to this Bill. If I may give some little advice to the Government, might I suggest that their best course would be to withdraw the Bill, and then if they brought in a short Bill to carry out the first part of the Memorandum and to give them power to remove buildings which they have erected, and which, under the ordinary law of the land, would become the property of the landlord, they would have all the powers for compulsory purchase, under the ordinary law of the land, which they need at the moment, and they might so draw the Bill that in case of their acquiring any land it should be understood that they were not to pay for the buildings which they themselves had erected. That would, I think, be a reasonable course. It would meet all the requirements of the Government, at any rate for the present, and would enable this House to consider, when the War is over, what the real requirements of the Government are. We do not know what is going to happen after the War, and we certainly should not have controversial legislation 1580 of this kind introduced during the War. I do not know whether the Government will later on give any indication that they are prepared to accept such a course, but I hope if they do not that the House will divide against the Bill and reject it.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
The Government will well understand the gravity and temper with which this Bill has been received in all parts of the House, for this, as far as I know, is the first Bill which has been brought in to deal with the period after the War, the period of transition. It is very difficult to secure legislation which shall be fair to all parties and interests and at the same time which shall not give undue powers to a Government Department over that which they had before the War. During the period of the War everyone in this House, and I think everyone in the country, is perfectly willing to give the Government as a whole, or to any Department of the Government, anything which we are told is necessary for the Defence of the Realm. In ordinary times of peace there will arise again a feeling, which has been growing for a number of years, and growing on very good ground, against the tendency of Government Departments to acquire powers, which Parliament can to a very limited extent control, and put those Departments into a position not in accord with the best traditions of our Constitution. It is obvious that between the time of war and the time of peace and resettlement there must be a transitional period. The powers properly given to the Government during time of war are powers which may be exercised to some extent during the immediate period after the War. When the first Bill comes before the House which does deal with that transitional period, it surely demands the most careful inquiry from all parts of the House, and there is a very great responsibility upon the Government that there snail be nothing in such a Bill which shall reawaken this jealousy of Departmental power, or which will have even the appearance of trying to prolong into the peace period powers granted only for the war period under war conditions.
I am only concerned now with one aspect of this Bill, and that is the attitude which it takes up with regard to local authorities. Throughout the whole of this Bill, as far as I can judge, with the exception of a couple of lines which deal, with parks, there is no reference to the fact that there are such things as local 1581 authorities who own land and buildings of all kinds, and own them for different reasons, and are in a different position from ordinary private owners. They are held by public authorities in the public interest and for the discharge of statutory duties. I conceive it to be a very unwise and disastrous thing if the provisions of this Bill, as they stand, are to be applied to the property of local authorities without great amendment and modification brought into the Bill. Local authorities have allowed their schools and playgrounds, and all kinds of property belonging to them, to be used by the Government during the time of the War for any purpose the Government desires, and quite properly so, but it is a very serious thing indeed if any such property is to be taken by a Government Department for use after the War on anything but the most rigid terms, and without any specific enactment that the necessary uses of such property by a local authority shall be preserved at all costs. In other words it seems to me that it is not right that a Government Department, in disposing of some business which it has very properly set up during the War, should interfere a day longer than is imperatively necessary with the natural use of such property by a local authority. This has been discussed both by the Municipal Corporations Association and by the County Councils Association, and there will be a considerable number of Amendments put down if the Bill passes Second Reading. I desire to take the first opportunity to enter this caveat, and to say I hope my right hon. Friend will tell us that the duties of local authorities are to be studied as carefully as the duties placed upon the Government for gradually getting out of these undertakings and commitments into which they have entered during the period of the War. The Bill as it stands does not secure that, but if my right hon. Friend will give assurances they will be welcome. We hold that the very initial power contained in this Bill shall only be given, if it is given—and I attach great weight to the criticisms which have been delivered against the principle of the Bill in different parts of the House—subject to the provision that no land or property belonging to a local authority shall be subject to this Bill if required by the local authority to carry out efficiently its statutory duties, or unless proper substituted provision is made 1582 by the Government Departments concerned for that purpose.
One other thing I should like to say which bears especially upon local authorities—that is, the provision in this Bill by which if a Government Department, having bought land or property of this kind, finds it does not want it, it may pass it on to another Government Department. Whatever happens to the rest of the Bill, that Clause must go. It is intolerable that powers given in war time for war purposes should be used to get hold of property, whether public or private, and should be handed about from one Government Department to another, entirely detached from all the securities and procedure which are proper in peace time. I hope my right hon. Friend will make it clear that that particular Clause is not of the essence of the Bill which he and his advisers have presented to the House. There will be a disposition to watch very closely legislation with regard to the transitional period. There will also, I am confident, be a disposition to meet the Government as far as possible, but that disposition will be checked and not helped if there is the slightest indication of any attempt to get fresh permanent powers for the Department, or if there is any indication of a desire to get powers in connection with one specific enterprise used by other Departments for other matters not foreshadowed in the Bill itself.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. L. HARDY
I think the criticisms against the Bill are rather infectious, and I am afraid I must fall in with the general stream. I certainly object to the Bill on three grounds. First, it gives to a Government Department powers which I do not think the House has ever yielded before, and which I do not think it ought to yield. I think it also has taken no consideration for the public authorities and it omits all consideration for private owners, who certainly ought to be considered in connection with this matter. So far as the Department is concerned, I think we find in every Clause and in almost every line of the Bill the determination—the right hon. Gentleman said he wanted to make the procedure easy and cheap—to make it easy and cheap by deciding the matter beforehand and by securing in the Clauses of the Bill that in any settlement that is come to it is almost impossible for anyone to raise anything afterwards. The very first words of Clause 1 read: "During the course of the 1583 present War any land in the possession of any Government Department." The fourth Clause says any Government Department may pass to any other Government Department any land it is in possession of. The War is continuing and may continue for a considerable time. The Government desires to get a Bill of this nature first, and then to buy any land they want and to transfer it between themselves for any purpose which may come into their mind hereafter. I think it has been a standing rule that the House has not granted powers to a Government when the Government cannot say what it is going to vise those powers for. The Government has to explain what it wants powers for, and then Parliament grants the powers. In this case that is not so. The Government is asking for powers which it will not describe the use of. It is going to reserve to itself the power to make up its mind later how to deal with the land which it may take after the passing of the Act and, in fact, to give itself a perfectly free hand to deal with the matter entirely according to its own sweet will. That is a power which I do not think this House has granted in the past. I do not think it ought to grant it in the present or in the future. I certainly consider that in this Bill all through there is too much tendency to get a decision in favour of the Government and to take every power in order that they may override public and private rights. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) alluded to the Memorandum. I would like to give one instance from the Memorandum which seems to me not to be at all a fair thing to put before the House of Commons. Paragraph (4) says:‖The Lands Clauses Acts will apply, but modifications are introduced to prevent holders of land acquired and of neighbouring lands benefiting by the improvement in value of their lands.That is the description in the Memorandum, but when we get to the Schedule, where the Lands Clauses Acts are modified, the 6th Rule says:In determining the amount of compensation the value of the land shall be taken to be the value … without regard to any enhancement or depreciation in the value.1584 Therefore, while they say in the Memorandum that they are only modifying the Lands Clauses Acts to prevent the owners of the land acquired from benefiting by the improvement in value in connection with the buildings they put up, when we get to the Schedule they add depreciation, so as to prevent any holder, whether public or private, obtaining any compensation whatsoever for the very great depreciation which may take place in connection with his land through the works having been put upon it.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the meaning of that Clause. The reference in the Memorandum is to Rule 7 of the Schedule.
§ Mr. HARDY
It alludes to the Schedule and the modifications and undoubtedly depreciation do come in under Rule 6 of the Schedule. I am not a lawyer and, therefore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is better able to give an opinion, but it certainly reads very much as I put it. I do not think the Memorandum is full enough if it is intended to apply only to Rule 7 of the Schedule. In regard to public authorities under Clause 1 of the Bill there is really no provision for giving them any rent during the years that the Government may require their land, nor does it provide for what the public authorities should do during that interval in order to carry out the Statutory duties that are thrown upon them. There is the case of a workhouse which has been taken and where temporary arrangements have been made during the War in order to avoid difficulty and to cover emergencies. What help are the Government going to give to that public authority during the War in order that they may be able to carry out their Statutory duties in that respect? The same remarks apply to a lunatic asylum, or any institution of the same kind. The public authorities are naturally very anxious upon that subject, but on this and on other subjects they find the Bill is drafted entirely against them. Take the question of roads. The Government are to be given absolute power for the use in future of any tramway which has been laid over any public highway. It may very possibly happen that the Government desire subsequently to sell the factory with the road and tramway leading to it, and they might set up a private concern to compete with other private concerns, and give most valuable rights over the road which were only granted purely for emergency purposes.
1585 Take the case of water. During the War great demands have been made upon the smaller water companies. I know of an instance myself where they have had to supply camps, and the consequence of supplying the camps is that the ordinary users of water have had to go without, or to have small quantities. They are compelled to continue to supply the authorities which lie outside their area, a supply which may cause great shortage to those who before the War had the right not only to water, but gas, or lighting of that sort. Clause 4 seems to me to be an extraordinary strong Clause, such as we have not seen before. That Clause perpetuates any nuisance that may have been caused in consequence of emergency during the War. I have been on the Parliamentary Committee of my county council, and I have a case in mind which I know very well, because it comes from my district, so that I am personally connected with it in a double way. At a certain camp there has been no provision made up to this moment for properly dealing with the sewage of the camp. They have contributed nuisance after nuisance upon the land. They have polluted every source of water, and we have been unable—either the county council or any sanitary body—to obtain up to the present any proper dealing with this matter. Is this nuisance to be continued and to be allowed to be carried on under this Bill? Is that one of the rights of user or casements which is to be connected with these camps, which may be sold to anybody? It seems to me to be a most extraordinary power to grant, and one which the House ought to be very reluctant to grant. I think that Clause 4 should come out altogether; it goes far beyond anything we have been asked to do in other times, and may cause very great difficulties in future. There has been some reference to the question of commons. Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 seems to be a rather dangerous one in connection with commons. In many cases commons have been used in connection with camps, and there has been a, good deal of work done in the making of trenches and other things connected with the exercise and training of troops. I think in the case of commons it should be insisted upon that all that sort of work should be made right and that the Government should not be allowed to pay compensation and leave the commons to their present condition. It would not be a very serious matter to put them right. I think we ought to insist 1586 that all the commons which have been used for this purpose should be put practically in the state they were in before the War, otherwise almost in every case of the commons, the value of the land being small, it would probably be decided that compensation should be paid instead of restoring the land to its condition before the War. That is a matter which the Government should consider in order that we may have our commons restored to us as they were before.
It seems to me that the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend below me is the only one that ought to be followed in connection with this Bill. The actual needs of the case are met by the powers which are included in Clauses 1 and 2; and others go far beyond the necessities of the case at the moment. They are powers which I do not think this House has granted in the past, and which I do not think it ought to grant in the immediate future. You are dealing with a number of different things which do not want the same treatment. There is not the same treatment required for the great munition works as for the hut camps which are scattered over the country, which come under an entirely different category. The same treatment is not required for these two classes of subjects. It is quite right for the Government to safeguard their rights, but I do not think they need to have gone further than in the early stages of the Bill. What do the Government intend to do with the agreements that have been entered into with private persons when they have taken over these lands for camps, or otherwise? Private persons allowed them to go on their property, and they took the land and entered into an agreement which had the authority of the Compensation and Losses Committee, and was eventually carried through under their sanction. These agreements are in force at the present time. Is it the intention of the Government that this Bill shall upset every condition laid down in those agreements, and that there is to be a rending asunder of all these contracts that have been made?
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I do think that this Bill is an attempt to get power under the pressure of the War which I do not think the Government would ever dare to come to the House and ask for after the War. I think it is very necessary that for the purpose of munitions they should be able to acquire land for their factories, so that the factories may 1587 be their own freehold after the War. I agree with that, but they have done it already under agreement. I can point to one agreement where they have built a factory and furnished the machinery on land belonging to the owners of a factory, and they have undertaken by agreement that they are to purchase that land by agreement or arbitration. Therefore they have got power already. This Bill gives the Government enormous powers in the same way as the Munitions of War Acts give the Government enormous powers; powers of such tyranny that no King in the most perilous times of our history would have dared to apply. Of course, we have agreed to them because of the necessities of the War, but this sort of thing must not be carried too far. I have in my mind the case of a common which lies between a village and a township. The War Office have taken this common and have cut it up and made it into a shooting range, where they have erected sixty or severity shooting butts, with the result that the road which lies between the township and the village is shut up to the villagers, except for two hours per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, because shooting takes place across this road. What happens? The military say, "We are going to have this as a permanent shooting range. It is a good shooting range, and we are going to keep it." The lord of the manor is in the Government, and they go to the lord of the manor, and this common is to be shut up, and these villagers, whose only road this is to the township or into the country, will be effectually shut out from communication with the township except for two hours a day. That is a monstrous thing. The road was made at great expense.
This Bill gives the Government power to acquire and make perpetual railway roads across roads. In one place I know, there is a railway which runs across a main road towards a cliff. I went there one day and found that they had taken a bit of my land, without saying, "By your leave." I went to the War Office and said, "You have taken something from me without saying a word about it. If it is only for the duration of the War, you are welcome to it; but I am not going to have it after the War. It spoils my amenities". What I object to is anything which gives them power for acquiring land which they would not come to this House to ask for 1588 if there was not a war on. By all means let them have whatever is absolutely necessary for the War. The House will grant that very freely, and all who have land which is required will give it freely. But to force the purchase of land like commons, which would not be agreed to by this House, should not be attempted. Therefore, so far as that is concerned, this Bill will have to be cut down before it will pass or ought to pass. The House would not for a moment object to give power for acquiring what is really necessary, but to give powers to shut up roadways and apply to the Board of Trade to fix the compensation to be given, and to make arrangements for bridges and these abominable things called level crossings, is something to which this House would not agree. I have found that if you give these Departments powers they use them in a very arbitrary manner. There is a pliability on the Front Bench during the progress of a Bill through the House; but when a Bill is on the Statute Book you have got a hard taskmaster to deal with. This Bill, if it is to pass, will have to be radically altered.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I have listened with very great attention to the Debate, and I think that the House will be disposed to agree with me that in asking my right hon. Friend to introduce the Bill and in reserving my remarks I exercised a wise discretion, for there is a noticeable number of critictisms on the Bill—mainly, I think, raising Committee points, but points, I agree, of great importance—which require consideration. I think that I shall save the time of the House by saying what I have to say at once, so that we may not rediscuss matters.
Just a few general words. First we are told that this is not a Bill connected with the War. That is only partly true. To some extent it will come into operation at once. In the main I agree that it is a Bill brought in in contemplation of peace—that is, a Bill which refers to what will happen immediately the War ceases. But suppose we had brought in no such Bill as this, and that peace had come with no provision at all as to what will happen to these properties upon which public money has been spent? The effect would have been that all this enormous expenditure by the Government on these many properties, amounting to many millions of pounds, would have passed, or might have passed, to the owners of the 1589 lands without any right whatever to the Government at all to retrieve their expenditure, and we should have been told at once that we had neglected our duty in not looking forward and making a provision of this kind. It is a Bill that must be brought in, I think, during war time. At the same time, I do not at all dispute that it must receive the full consideration of the House, and that the points which have been referred to should be very carefully considered, not wholly upon a war footing, but upon a footing which would be wise in time of peace.
The second point is this. The main purposes of the Bill have not been attacked at all. They are these: First, the Defence Departments, which are mainly concerned with the Bill, desire to make sure that whereas in war time we have made provision for the manufacture of material necessary in time of war, these arrangements shall not be at once closed down. The Departments want to look forward and be able to say, "True, we have peace, but for some purposes this work must go on." They want to be able to keep their hand on these lands and, if need be, to buy them and to make provision for continuing these operations. Further, I do not think it unfair to suggest that, having spent these very large sums of public money on the lands of other people in time of war when no permanent arrangement could be fairly made, we should be able now or in peace time to say, "We want to save our expenditure; we want to keep this land, and we ask for the right to continue the user of it for a certain time, or, if need be, to buy the land." On the other hand, I quite accept the view that in dealing with these matters we must act carefully and fairly. We must deal with the difficult task of reconciling public necessity and private interests. We have to face cases like that referred to by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. There are some who have personal interests in the matter which enable them to be acute critics of the Bill, but they are not going to put their personal interests first. We are dealing with the matter on public grounds. Surely this is right. In considering how the Bill affects public interests we must give them the fullest protection, and on the other hand, in dealing with private claims, we ought to give full and fair compensation. Subject to that, I do not think that private interests 1590 ought to stand in the way. With that preface, I will deal with the several points which have been raised.
I will take the question of commons, first because I know that it arouses very wide interest, and I share in that interest myself. I have noticed with the greatest satisfaction with how much willingness the public and those who have the use of common lands have stood by and assented while their common lands were used for war purposes. They have shown the greatest consideration to the Government and the greatest patience in seeing these operations going on. I agree that we ought not to take an unfair advantage of a spirit of that kind shown in this country in time of war, and I have very much sympathy with what has been said about commons from all parts of the House. The object of Sub-section (7) of Clause 3 of the Bill was that no common land should be taken without the consent of all parties interested in the commons, including the commoners. That may or may not be the effect of the Bill, but that was the intention. So far we are almost all at one, but some hon. Members, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University, have gone further and have said that, even though we get the consent of the owner of the land and of all the commoners, they object to any taking of commons. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view. Some of us have been a little reluctant to go so far as to prohibit entirely the taking of commons, because there are cases in which such a principle would carry you very far. You may have cases where there has been, say, a camp established on common lands, where a community has grown up, where shops have been opened, and there has been a regular settlement in consequence of the establishment of this war camp. The camp itself has been built, and a water supply and everything else have been provided at very great expense. In such a case it may be that everybody in the place would say, we would rather have the camp with all these accompaniments than have our peaceful common back. There may be some cases where the local people would say that. I am only explaining why this matter does require very careful consideration. Still, I quite see that there may be interests greater than the local interests. I think that the House takes the view that we shall not purchase commons under this Bill at all, 1591 and I am willing to accept that. That is, we will extend Sub-section (7) of Clause 3 either by leaving out the words "otherwise than by agreement," or in some other way, so that we cannot under this Bill take common lands by purchase. In that way I think we shall satisfy even the most vigorous critics of this part of the Bill. At the same time, everybody recognises that we cannot give away the existing powers under the Defence Acts and the Military Lands Acts. All we can do is to exempt commons from this Bill.
Then there is the question of lands held by municipalities mentioned by some hon. Member, which it is said ought not to be purchased. This is a much more difficult point to deal with, because there you have to balance one public purpose—that is the military needs of the country—against another public purpose—that is the local requirements of a particular district. You have to do what is fair and right between the two. I am not satisfied that we ought to exempt entirely from the Bill the lands of municipal corporations and other local authorities. But I am quite willing to say that they should get some kind of special protection which will insure that they shall not be taken unless the general interests counterbalance the local interests and unless the local interests can be otherwise provided for. What would be the right way of dealing with it can no doubt be considered in Committee. One way might be to require the consent of some Government Department specially concerned to defend and protect municipal interests. I do not want to prejudice the matter now, but I say quite frankly that I do desire to meet that point.
I come to the question of parks, and so on. That is again a Committee point. I agree that it is very hard that where a man has lent his park for military purposes during the War it should be now taken from him against his will. I think that the whole House would like to consider a case of that kind and to safeguard it by proper conditions in the Committee stage. Then there is the question of the pollution of rivers. I do not want to do anything in the least unfair or ungenerous to the public, and desire to do what is possible to meet that point. Coming to the next point, it is objected that the Bill would authorise the passing on of land purchased by one Department for one purpose to another Department 1592 for another purpose. That was not at all the intention of the Bill. The meaning of the words is this: that, as my right hon. Friend anticipates, his Department will disappear at the end of the War, and its duties will revert to the War Office or some other Department. It is no good saying that the Munitions Department may take land in their own possession unless you provide that they may hand it on to the War Department—their successor.
§ Sir G. CAVE
That is the kind of case which they have in mind. I should not like to confine it to that case, because there may be others. But that is the kind of case which we desire to meet. I want to say a word or two upon one or two other points. My hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill objected to the tribunal, and he suggests that the duty of fixing compensation might be left to the existing Commission, sometimes called "The Losses Commission." I do not know whether anybody in the House knows that Commission so well from the outside as I do, and nobody could desire to speak more highly of the way in which that Commission does its work than I do. It does very great service to the country, and we are all very grateful to it. But we ought not to forget that the Commission was appointed for a temporary purpose, that is to award compensation for losses occasioned to individuals by the exercise of the powers of the Crown for the defence of the realm. It is confined to the War, and to the occupation and use of property for war purposes, and when the War comes to an end, this Commission which has undertaken this very arduous work for the War only will not continue. It would not be right or fair to ask that Commission to go on indefinitely year after year after the War, as they have been going on hitherto. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter was consulted on the terms of this Bill, and we ascertained from him that he took the same view as we do, namely, that the Commission is not the most suitable body to discharge the duty and that they should not be asked to undertake it.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I cannot say that. I was going to add that there was an objection on the part of the Treasury and a very 1593 common objection on the part of the House to creating any more new Commissions, and the suggestion came from Scotland that the work should be done by the Railway and Canal Commission. That body consists of three judges and two appointed members. Each judge represents one country—one England, one Scotland, and one Ireland. Whichever country is concerned, a judge representing that country sits on the Commission, and the two appointed members sit with him. The Commission has offices, staff, machinery, and everything necessary for the purpose, and it was thought that it would not only be economical but wise to entrust these powers to that Commission. We shall see in Committee whether any better suggestion can be made. One point which arises is that a surveyor should be appointed to the tribunal, as its duty will be to value property. It is very desirable to have such an officer, and for that reason we propose to authorise the Commission to appoint an assessor or to depute an officer to make inquiries. With regard to the objection taken to the Lands Clauses Act, the answer is that we propose to use machinery which is complete and settled, because it would be very burdensome to have to frame new machinery for the purpose. The machinery to be used has existed for many years, and it has been found useful. In some respects we propose to introduce modifications, but generally speaking I think that we should stick to well-known machinery rather than endeavour to mend it in a hurry. In reference to the objection taken to authorising the purchase of land by compulsion, there is no doubt a good deal to be said for the view that when you are empowering the Government to buy land by compulsion, and afterwards to sell it, the owner ought to have the first right to buy; but in regard to matters which arise under this Bill there are some special considerations to be borne in mind. You may have land upon which have been erected buildings and plant of enormous value. I think amounts spent rise to £100,000, £200,000, and, in one case, £2,000,000. Take a case of that kind. The desire of the Government may be that the work shall not cease, but go on for the national benefit. They have erected works of the greatest value which they may desire to see used for the manufacture of articles useful in war, or otherwise of national importance in view of the possibility of a future war. I think the House must admit that we 1594 are not going to be so shortsighted as to lose sight of the possibility that war might come upon us again. In view of those considerations, surely it is right that power should be given to the Government to let or sell the property to those willing to bind themselves to carry out the work which has hitherto been carried on. But if we had the suggestion advanced as asked by the right hon. Gentleman, as to a right of pre-emption being adopted as a universal arrangement, it would stand in the way of anything of that kind. I hope the House will consider that point.
It seems to be thought by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich that under this Clause 3, the Purchasing Clause, the Government are going to buy up everything at once. That is quite a mistaken view. The Government would be very foolish to buy property before they know that they will want it in peace time. I can assure my hon. Friend that there need be no fear of anything of the kind suggested that the Government are going to buy up a lot of land in haste. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford made a point which I regretted to hear, because he seemed to think that the Memorandum did not fairly represent the Bill. He misunderstood the Memorandum, and he misunderstood the Bill. The Clause of the Memorandum of which he spoke refers only to Rule 7 in the Schedule, and the effect of that rule is that in compensating a man for taking, his land you are not to lose sight of the fact that his adjoining land has profited. It is simply common fairness to make that provision.
§ Sir G. CAVE
As I understand the provision, you are to take the full facts into account in compensating a man. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Laurence Hardy) referred to Rule 6, but I think he misunderstood that rule. That rule provides that compensation shall be fixed not only without regard to the advancement in the value of land, but without regard to its depreciation. I think he complains of that, but this is entirely for the benefit of the owner. It means that if, because of the Government expenditure, his land is depreciated in 1595 value, he is not to lose anything, and he will get the pre-war value. The rule as to depreciation is entirely for the owner's benefit, and it does not in the least operate against him.
In regard to the point raised by the right hon. Member the Member for the City of London as to taking Deptford Market, I entirely accept his view that the City of London, as one would have expected, has behaved extremely well. It did not make the least difficulty about giving up possession of the market. At the same time, as my right hon. Friend knows, there is no agreement with the City. I desire, and we all desire, that there shall be an agreement at the earliest possible moment. I have already spoken to my colleagues on this matter, and a promise has been made that it should be hurried up, so that I hope long before the Bill is through the House it will be settled.
§ Mr. MORTON
Does the right hon. Gentleman say there is no verbal agreement between the corporation, that £10,000 is the minimum to be paid, and am I to consider in the future that the Government's word is not its bond?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not profess to be familiar with all the facts, but I understand that there was no agreement.
§ Sir G. CAVE
With regard to the Central Control Board, the points are these: The Board have, in the first place, made a number of purchases in the exercise of their functions, and at present I am told that they have no power to sell properties; and, secondly, they do desire to have power to take land necessary for canteen or other purposes. There are cases in which they want to set up canteens where there is not land available by agreement, and they desire to have power to take land compulsorily, where necessary, for munition workers and others engaged on war work. Lastly, it is said that we ought to be content with taking power to carry on for three years, or if necessary for seven years, but that we ought not to take powers to purchase. I think that would be very unwise. These large sums have been spent, and taking power for three years or for seven years only postpones the difficulty, as at the end of either term the same point would arise. Surely it is much 1596 better that a Government Department should have power to buy the land subject to the payment of proper compensation to those concerned. I have dealt, I think, with all the points except one. It is said that there is no provision as to agreements. I think if there is any agreement it must be observed. I think nearly every point that has been raised is a Committee point, and may be met by Amendments in Committee and fairly discussed in Committee. We are quite willing to discuss them. When you have swept away all the points of that description there remains very little. We must have a Bill of this description during war time for peace time, and it would be very unwise to allow this matter to go on without making some provision for it. I repeat that we are most desirous to meet any fair criticism from any Member of the House, and to do only what is right in the national interest. We are equally desirous of paying fair compensation in every case where private interests are injured. If those two principles are observed, I do not see how any Hon. Member can rightly object to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was congratulated on the fact that he had reserved his right to reply until a good many of the objections to the Bill had been stated. I think he was right, because there is nobody on the Front Bench who is more skilful or more conciliatory in the exposition of a difficult Bill of this sort. The right hon. Gentleman said, both at the beginning and at the end of his speech, that the objections taken to the Bill so far were Committee points, and it is quite clear that his line of defence for this very remarkable Bill, introduced in a very remarkable manner, is going to be and in fact has been that it is really so insignificant that the House may pass quite easily from the consideration of the principle and merely occupy its attention upon the details of the Bill. If that were so it is not a little remarkable that of the eight or nine speakers who addressed the House in the course of the last three hours there has not been found one Member in the House, apart from the Government Bench, to say a single, solitary word in support of this measure. Just let the House consider what the position of the Government is at this time, because it really has a great deal of relation to this Bill. The Government is composed at present of representatives of all parties in this House, 1597 and they sit upon that Front Bench opposite, not because they are in agreement with any political party, but because all parties in the House have sunk their differences for the period of the War, and all legislation up to the time of the production of this Bill has been by common consent in all parts of the House confined to measures which have their termination as soon as the War is over. This is the first Bill that I know of in this House in which it is proposed to continue for a long period after the termination of the War, a measure introduced by a coalition Government.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The right hon. Gentleman says that this is the first Bill to continue after the War. There was a Bill before the House yesterday which is to continue for five years after the War.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
This then is the second Bill of that kind introduced in this House. It only shows how very quickly it is possible to descend to Avernus. What are the principles contained in this Bill? The main object of the Bill, the Solicitor-General told us, is to protect the State against loss arising from the erection of public buildings upon private owners' land. That is done by a Clause, and if that were the only Clause in this Bill I do not think there would have been a murmur of objection from any part of the House. Everybody is agreed, most of us thought so all the time, and all Members of the House think so at present, that where public buildings are put up on privately owned land the private owner should not make any pecuniary advantage out of the expenditure of State money. If that were the only principle in the Bill I think it would pass sub silentio; but there are a great number of other principles involved in this Bill. I think it is really worth noting that the Solicitor-General throughout the whole of the defence of the Bill practically took the Bill, Clause by Clause, and with the exception of one part as to purchase, said, "I will make almost any concession or alteration you like to get the Bill through the House." If that is the attitude, why not throw away this objectionable Bill and bring in a new Bill which will satisfy the House and which would occupy no time.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
If that was not the tenor of the speech of the right hon. and 1598 learned Gentleman, I am afraid I entirely misunderstood him. He promised to make a concession with regard to the taking over of commons. He was going to make a special provision in respect of lands owned by municipalities. He promised my right hon. Friend here that he would deal specially with the question of pollution. He promised the Member for Dumfriesshire (Mr. Molteno) that he would alter the composition of the Railways and Canals Commission, or that he would modify it. At all events, he said he would consider the matter very carefully, and if he does not consider it for the purpose of modifying it, what is the use of considering it at all? The question of the Central Control Board was also to be considerably modified. If you take point after point all through this Bill upon every single point of what we regard as principle, the Solicitor-General is prepared to give way. If he does, all I say is that he might just as well bring in anew Bill which will satisfy all parties, and get rid of this Bill, which is held to be objectionable by every party in the House. Let us see where the objectionable parts of the Bill are. You are going to protect the State against excessive compensation or excessive claims on the part of private owners, and in order to do that you propose to take power to purchase land right and left against the wishes of the owner, and, having acquired it, you are going to take the further power to sell it again if you so desire. If that were brought in as a separate Bill in the House of Commons, in ordinary times, I can conceive a Bill for that purpose taking a very long period to get through this House. Why try to rush it through in war-time? You would not attempt to do such a thing except as the principal Bill in an ordinary Session in ordinary times. It really is not fair to the House to bring in the Bill under the title of "Defence of the Realm," and to put into it subjects which have nothing on the face of the earth to do with the defence of the realm, but which are subjects which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, must be considered before the termination of the War. If they are to be produced by a Coalition Government, they must meet the principles of all parties in the House, and not of one party or of a small section of the House. You are not only going to take power under this Bill to purchase land on which you have put buildlings, and also to deal with the question of compensation, but you also propose to 1599 take power to purchase land on either side, north or south, east or west, just as you like. What on earth has that got to do with the defence of the realm or the prevention of the payment of excessive compensation to the individual.
Take again Clause 3 (4) (b), and in that you propose to take power of acquisition which may be exercised "in the case of other lands or rights by any Government Department at any time during the present War or within twelve months after the termination thereof." Is that merely a Committee point of small detail to be disposed of in the course of a ten minutes' discussion in the House of Commons? If those principles, for which there is a great deal to be said, are to be established, let them be established in a Bill which deals ad hocwith those matters, and on which we can all state our opinions perfectly freely, and let them not be wrapped up in a measure of this sort. I think I have supported, with one exception the Registration Bill, every Bill that has come before the House of Commons since the Coalition was created, by voice and vote; but you have got here wrapped up in this measure a new departure, permanent legislation, by a Government which is here for one single purpose, and one purpose only, and I think if this Bill goes to a Division it ought to be rejected.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
My hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Brunner) and I have put down notice of an Amendment to the effect "That the House declines to pass a Bill which gives power to the Government to enclose permanently land which is subject to rights of common without submitting each case to Parliament, as provided by the Inclosure Acts."
I do not propose to argue in favour of my Amendment, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has practically accepted it. As I understand it, he has declared that the Government is ready to exempt commons entirely from the operation of the Bill. That being so, I need say no more upon the merits, but I confess to feeling that it is rather regrettable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was not made before the drafting of the Bill, because the wording of the Bill was very dangerous, and I can hardly believe that the Government Department who drafted this Bill did so with such absolute innocence and ignorance as he 1600 has asked us to believe. After years and years of public and Parliamentary action the principle was accepted that no commons should be enclosed, either by agreement with the lord of the manor or the commoners themselves, unless it had the approval of this House; but under these proposals a Government Department would be entitled to close a common without the approval of this House, so that one can hardly imagine that any Government Department could have put forward this proposal in ignorance. I do not wish to say any more about that subject, but I want to ask the Solicitor-General whether it would not be possible for him to extend or change the procedure with regard to the operation of the Bill in respect to the principle that commons should not be taken. The same objection applies with regard to private property and other land, and we have adhered closely to the principle that no land shall be taken compulsorily unless reason for it shall be shown—reasons of State, of benefit to the public, or to the nation—and shown to the satisfaction of a Committee of the House of Commons. While, personally, I am quite in favour of seeing the State become the owner of land to a much greater extent than at the present time, I believe that all schemes by which the State should become the owner of land should have the definite approval of the House of Commons of the exact suggestions or proposals that are made. This Bill sins against that principle in the most extraordinary way.
So far as I can understand Clause 3, it is only necessary for a Government Department—and what a Government Department is is not defined in the Bill; one does not know what the exact authority would be—it is only necessary for the Government Department to say, "We have been in possession of this particular land. We want it, and we want to make it Government property" in any circumstances whatever, and there would be no authority, no approval of the House of Commons to regulate that. The only question would be as to what amount the private person was to be paid. And so far has that idea of the infallibility of a Government Department gone in this Bill that I notice— I do not know whether other hon. Members have noticed—that in order for a Government Department, which has been in possession of certain land, to get it, all they have to do under Clause 10 is for that Government Department to give a certificate that it has been in possession for a 1601 number of years. These are matters which are subject to debate and difference of opinion, and yet once that Government Department gives that certificate it is to be conclusive evidence of the facts therein stated. I have not so great a trust in the Government Departments as the Government have, nor am I ready to give them this enormous power. They have not always shown themselves to be entitled to such powers in matters of importance such as this, and the Solicitor-General having already gone so far in promises of amendment, I suggest that he might go further and introduce some other procedure in this matter, and it might be possible to have a procedure which would be shorter and less expensive than actually submitting it to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It might follow the procedure of a Provisional Order. Some of the proposals covered by this Bill are of enormous importance for the country, and a change should be made by which these proposals could be placed before some authority of a representative character, such as a Committee of the House of Commons. If that were done I do not think there would be the same objection to the Bill and we should have a system of compulsory purchase by the State which would be accepted as just by the great majority of the people.
I only intervene because I would like to ask the Solicitor-General whether he would be willing to put in a Clause allowing municipalities who have in the past given their land free for military purposes to charge rent for it after three or four years. I have in my mind the municipality of Sutton Cold-field, which owns a large park of 1,000 acres. They have most willingly, like other municipalities, done all they could to give facilities for the training of troops and the erection of hutments in the park. I have a letter in my hand from the municipality saying that if this is to go on for some years to come they think they ought to have a right to be able to charge rent.
I am glad to hear that. It surely is a great disadvantage, not being a lawyer, when one Cannot find such things in a Bill. I have not been able to find it. I have had a letter placed in my hands, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman has it also, with a memorandum from the Association of Municipal Corporations, 1602 and on page 2, Clause 5, of that memorandum they draw particular attention to the absence from this Clause—Clause 3, I think—of any provision for the payment of rent or other consideration for the use of land, and they say, "The Clause merely provides for the payment of compensation equal to the amount of any direct loss or damage that may be sustained." I suggest with all respect to the Solicitor-General that if this Bill is to go through the House of Commons he should consult everybody and extend the provisions of the Bill to make them more clear in that respect than they are at the present time. I am glad to have it categorically from him that the corporations shall be able, if they wish to charge rent, to do so after the War is over.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I was not referring to that Sub-section. The Clause has the effect that they may make a charge. I think it does effect that. If not, I shall see that it does.
This particular corporation wishes to do everything it possibly can to assist the military, and of course to a great extent the municipalities have allowed the use of the public parks where a number of huts have been erected and a large number of soldiers accommodated, and it is only fair that they should be able to charge rent. This particular park is the most important lung of the city of Birmingham. Another point I want to make—I hope he will forgive me if he thinks it is a Committee point, but it has not been touched upon this afternoon— there is an allusion in one Clause, Subsection (3), to the acquisition of minerals. I do not know whether he considers what a serious thing it would be for a public body or any other body to take away a certain amount of minerals when a mine is being worked—what is called severance. It means great difficulty to people who are working minerals if a part is severed from them and they cannot work it, and I cannot see that any compensation for that is given in the Bill as it stands at the present time. The compensation Clause, I take it, is at the end of the Bill, and it says in this Schedule, paragraph 4, "No allowance shall be made on account of an acquisition being compulsory." That applies, I suppose, to the whole of the Bill. Supposing the surface and the minerals are taken by compulsory purchase in any part of the country, it makes it much more difficult for the persons who have been working the minerals to continue to work 1603 those minerals, and I therefore suggest that proper compensation ought to be granted to the people who have been put to this disadvantage by the Bill. That is the question I wish to ask, Whether it might not have that effect? It is an important point which I think deserves an answer. One other point, and I happen to know this case: In the Midlands a house which was once occupied by a respected Member of this House was sold after his death, and the present owner has with it two or three hundred acres. At present he is doing military service. This property, so situated, has been taken by the Government for aeronautical purposes. A number of tin sheds have been erected, and from an aesthetic point of view the amenities of the place are very much destroyed. To make it much worse, there is the perpetual noise connected with the practising of the aeroplanes in this particular locality. The present owner bought this place and paid a good sum for it, and it has lost its advantage as a residential property. Is there anything in this Bill which will compensate this gentleman, who is now doing military service, for the fact that his house is practically made uninhabitable, because some of his land has been taken over as suitable for aeronautical purposes? There may be many cases like that all over the country. Knowing the Solicitor-General as I do, and having sat beside him for so many years when similar questions have come forward in the House, I cannot help thinking that if this Bill is to go forward under his auspices it will receive good consideration from him in cases such as I have mentioned. I do hope, with all my heart, that the Solicitor-General will adopt the recommendations of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), and get rid of this Bill entirely, and have a much less contentious measure in its place, something we could all agree upon, doing justice to the Government and to the taxpayers. Whether the property is private property, or the property of a municipality or a corporation, that has to be taken, let it be taken in a straightforward manner, and not by means of the Bill which is now before us.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
It has been said this afternoon that no one has supported this Bill except those on the Government Bench. If that had not been said, I do not know that I should have ventured to 1604 take part in the discussion; but I do feel very strongly that this Bill is one that needed to be introduced, and which, in principle, ought to be supported, whatever changes in detail there may be when the Bill comes into Committee. I ask myself: What is the principle of the Bill? I do not think it will be found in Clauses 1 and 2—at any rate, there is no principle there that, I think, is very much objected to. It is when you come to the third Clause that you come to the real principle of the Bill, so far as the principle of the Bill has been attacked this afternoon. It is, in fact, absolutely necessary that we should prepare for the period at the end of the War, when these properties which have been built up by the Government at such an enormous expense will be in great danger, if we do not provide beforehand some machinery by which they may be retained on just terms, and the interests, both of the State, and the owners of the land shall be fairly treated. I know of no way in which that can be done except by giving the Government power to purchase the land upon which those buildings have been put, and upon which that expenditure has been incurred.
We are told that this is a very controversial matter and that it ought not to have been introduced in time of war. I say, however, that you cannot do justice to the State without introducing it. Therefore, I do not think it ought to be treated as a controversial matter. I believe that the owners of land, as well as the owners of the other property, ought to regard it as one of the necessary incidents of property—in the hands of a private individual—that it is liable to be taken by the Government when the interests of the State demand it, subject always to proper compensation. It is really a question of compensation and of justice to both sides; of the adjustment of the interests of the individual from whom the property has been taken and the State, which has expended such a large amount of money; and there are, I agree, very important points which arise. There is the question of the commons, upon which I feel very strongly. There is the question of the rights of municipalities. There is the question of the interference with the highways, and so on. But surely all these are points that can be adjusted in Committee. There is another point on which I am rather sorry the Bill takes the line it does, but I am not going to oppose it on that ground: I am sorry the procedure of the Lands Clauses (Consolidation) Acts 1605 is followed. I know that the Solicitor-General has, on the whole, spoken highly of that procedure. My own impression is that that procedure is unnecessarily expensive, and that by reason of its great expense it does in many cases do injustice. There are Amendments proposed to be introduced into that procedure by Bill. I hope that when we come to consider the Bill in detail it may be shown that some of the objections to that Land Clauses procedure have been done away with; and in Committee perhaps we shall be able to do away with the remaining difficulties. The Solicitor-General has certainly met the criticisms this afternoon in a very conciliatory spirit, and I hope that that spirit will be continued in Committee. As to withdrawing the Bill, I certainly hope the Government will do nothing of the sort. They were asked to do so and to bring in a Bill upon which we should all be agreed. I see no prospect of our being agreed so long as hon. Gentlemen interested in land approach the subject in the way in which it has been approached this afternoon. If these hon. Gentlemen will consider who constitute the Government, I think they ought to approach a Bill of this sort with, at any rate, the presumption in their minds that they are going to be fairly dealt with. The principle, I say, ought to stand, and in my opinion it must stand. That principle is that you must prepare for the state of things which will take place immediately after this War comes to an end, and you cannot justly prepare for that state of things without giving the Government some such power to acquire land as is contained in the Bill.
§ Mr. COWAN
When I gave notice of my intention to move the rejection of this measure on Second Beading, I imagined I 'was doing a venturesome thing. I shuddered at my own temerity. To-day, however, I am surrounded by friends. I think, even after the learned Solicitor-General made his tactful and conciliatory speech, the; Bill had not many friends in the House. It is no use thrashing a dead horse; therefore I shall not make the speech which I had intended to make, because, while I may leave it to others to kill or cure the Bill as a whole, the Clause to which I object, and upon which I founded my proposal to move the rejection of the Bill, has disappeared. The learned Solicitor-General has told us that he will not take common lands under the Bill. He has told us that he is prepared to amend 1606 Sub-section (7), Clause 3, by deleting the words he has specified, or that he is prepared in some other way to achieve the same object. Representing, as I do with my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich, the Commons Preservation Society in this House, I am satisfied with that concession. I think the Bill and this Sub-section were unfortunately drawn, but I am quite sure it has never been the intention of the Government to interfere with, or to attempt to appropriate for any purpose, our common lands. That being so, accepting that assurance, I withdraw my objection to the Bill, and shall not move the Motion standing in my name. At the same time, I may be allowed to say that I think it is very unfortunate that such a measure should have been introduced. Much hostile criticism has been aroused. Most of the criticism has been effective; all of it has been damaging, and it has taken all the tact and diplomacy of perhaps the most conciliatory speaker in this House, the learned Solicitor-General, to put the Bill on its legs again. It is shaky on its legs, and even now I am not sure whether we are not attending the funeral of the Bill. I hope the suggestion that has been made from many quarters of the House to the Government, that they should withdraw this Bill and introduce another which should do what they want, and not do more than they want, and which shall be in harmony with the feeling of the House, is one which they ought seriously to consider—and adopt. A Bill entitled the Defence of the Realm Bill is not lightly to be rejected, and by labelling any Bill by this particular title the Government are certainly to that extent protecting it. I do not know whether the emergency is such that that title was necessary; if it was not necessary it was hardly fair. I think this Bill might very well stand its chance under its proper title, that is Acquisition of Land Bill. In any case I hope the Government will not proceed to force this most unpopular measure upon the House, but will withdraw it and substitute for it a Bill which will achieve all the legitimate objects they have, and so meet our desire to give a measure introduced by the Coalition every consideration.
§ Mr. HORNE
I only carried a little further this point of the case. There are commons in my Constituency where places have been built, where an enormous number of huts have been put up, where water supplies have been laid on, and where electric lighting, drainage, and sewerage have been provided, and we want to know that these commons are coming back to us when they are done with by the Government, not with all these modern improvements upon them, but that they shall be taken away and we shall be allowed once more to gather the bracken to which we have been accustomed. I hope I may receive some assurance that all these improvements will be taken away at the expense of the Government, and that the Government will, so far as possible, try to restore the commons in Surrey to the pre-war condition. As to this Bill, I imagine that if time had not been important that what would have been done, or might have been done, would have been that the Government, wanting to put up factories and other war establishments, would have scheduled land for that purpose, and then have applied for compulsory powers. If they had obtained those compulsory powers they would have put up the necessary buildings they required. Here, however, time has not been given, and buildings have had to be put up, and now the Government asks for that which they would have asked for in other circumstances in the first place. There is, no doubt, I think, that they have shown a good case, and that the buildings were required, that this country wanted the work done, and that the Government would have been given compulsory powers. I do not understand that at the present time those powers should be denied only because they have come for them in the second, and not in the first place. There is one point as to the constitution of the tribunal which is to be set up. I would suggest that it would be found more competent, and quicker in its decisions, if some arrangement can be made by which a barrister, a business man, and a surveyor form the tribunal. With these three justice would be done. There are many other points in the Bill to which I think attention needs to be drawn, but I thoroughly agree with the Solicitor-General that those are Committee points.
§ Sir WILLIAM BEALE
I do not propose to say anything at all to discourage the Government from taking the advice offered by many hon. Members, to withdraw the Bill and to substitute another which would be more likely to meet the wishes of all, and would be more easily explained. But it is really only a question of expediency. If the Solicitor-General puts this Bill into a form to meet the points which he is willing to meet, I do not think it becomes any Member to oppose the Second Reading. I cannot agree with the suggestion that this Bill has nothing to do with the present War. It seems to me that if every one of the Clauses in this Bill had been moved in the original Defence of the Realm Act that they would have been in somewhat different form, but would have provided for the acquisition of land, even land temporarily held, just as this Bill provides. It has been said that this Bill has nothing to do with the defence of the realm. I look upon it as a corollary— rather, perhaps, a little prematurely—but a still necessary thing for cleaning up this port of thing, when the provisions, methods, and necessary measures for the defence of the realm were resolved upon. The point I would urge is with regard to commons. I do not think it has been properly explained even now. I do not think the framers of the Bill can have read the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts, or they would see that the mere exclusion of two or three Clauses, if introduced in the Schedule, would probably have met the point. Still, I am always in favour of maintaining these public rights, and I quite agree with the broad way in which the Solicitor-General has met that particular question. I do not like this jumbling-up of the method of assessing the compensation by the Railway and Canal Commission with the Lands Clauses Acts. I have seen where it has miscarried; I have seen where it has been abused to pile up costs, and also where it has led to agreement between the parties, and I do object to this attempt to try to curtail the right of any landowner to have his case properly put and considered.
I do not object to these fancy Clauses,, but I must say I do not think this Schedule is framed with any very clear appreciation of the Lands Clauses Acts. It says, first of all, that the provisions in respect of superfluous land shall not apply. How could they apply to a case where there is no definite undertaking as to what you 1609 want the lands for? Then it goes on to say that no allowance shall be made on account of the acquisition being compulsory. There is nothing in the Lands Clauses Acts to permit of any such allowance whatever. The hon. Member opposite who smiles knows that that principle was manufactured in Great George Street by the gentlemen who are appointed as arbitrators. They always add something in respect of compulsory purchase. They say that, because you take the land compulsorily, it may be some time before a man has an equally favourable investment. So prevalent has this been that I do not wonder draftsmen thinking it was the law that you must add 10 per cent, under compulsory purchase. But to my knowledge it has no authority in any enactment. It is a matter of curious history that when the original Compulsory Clause was framed, which afterwards took form in the Lands Clauses Act, the House of Lords did put in that you must add 50 per cent, for compulsory purchase, but that was rejected. That by the way. Then it is provided that the Commission shall not hear more than one expert witness unless the Commission otherwise direct, which merely amounts to saying that the Commission shall do as they like. The thing is inconsistent. I think a very much simpler process would be better. I regret that the suggestion of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Molteno) cannot be adopted, and that we cannot have such a body as the present Commission on Losses to decide this question. But I think they might be decided, and should be decided, in the simplest possible manner analogous to the simple arbitration under the Lands Clauses Acts. I hope the learned Solicitor-General will see his way to make it as simple as possible.
Then I come to one of the main things and most difficult things—namely, whether the powers of the Act should not be applied to cases such as that where a man has allowed his park or cricket ground to be used. The Bill refers to public parks and public recreation grounds, but says nothing about grounds in public ownership. I do not think they should in a sweeping way be made subject to these compulsory powers without something in the nature of a safeguard. I cannot find an analogy to that in the Lands Clauses Act. Under that Act land can only be acquired for the purpose of a definite undertaking. An hon. Member suggested there should be Provisional Orders. That 1610 is one way; but short of that it might be possible, in some form or other, to get the approval of this House or of some competent body that the thing was a public necessity, and required for a definite purpose, before putting in force the compulsory powers. I think it should not be beyond the ingenuity of the learned legal adviser of the Government to find some way of safeguarding against all the cases that have been suggested, where it would be unfair to put in operation the compulsory powers in this Bill. Subject to that, and in the hope that such methods will be found, I do not propose to support those who would throw this Bill out altogether on Second Beading.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
The Government is indeed fortunate in being able, by the skill of such an admirable and a conciliatory champion as the learned Solicitor-General, to recommend to a suspicious and alarmed House of Commons what may eventually, so to speak, become a retreat on its lines of communication. One wonders at what stage he came into this thing, which bears all the marks of having been rushed forward by an enthusiastic bureaucrat intoxicated with the exercise of long continued emergency executive powers. I rise to make a suggestion so as to arrive at a more comforting result this afternoon. My right hon. and learned Friend must see that what annoys the House most is the attempt to get the adoption under war circumstances, and under the plea of emergency, things that could only be applied as nostrums which in times of peace are always controversial, and which may or may not be good for general adoption in every case to which they might be applied, but which those who do not openly seek to apply them all round would always be the subject of rather bitter controversy. Take the case of what is called betterment. Betterment is in this Bill, notwithstanding what the learned Solicitor-General said. What causes the betterment to arouse such a feeling of injustice in the minds of those to whom it is to be applied is the consideration that under your betterment Clauses you are making a levy upon one man, when you are not making any similar levy upon the lands of other persons who may be benefited by the same scheme. So long as that is the case you must produce a sense of injustice. You are applying your principle, which ought to be applied all round, to 1611 the one man with whom, by reason of the chance circumstances of the case, you happen to be in the relation of purchaser. Take the question of percentage for compulsory purchase. I doubt whether there is any precedent for negativing that, except in the case of undertakings where they have been set going on the distinct undertaking ab initio that they would be purchased by public authority. Then as regards the private parks, I think it would be fair in the case of some private parks which many of us have in mind, where, although only of grace, but de facto, there has been a general admission of the public to the enjoyment of those parks— and there must be very few where that is not the case—there should be some more tender way of treating them than is made possible by this Bill. I understood my right hon. and learned Friend only referred to public parks.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I wish to make a suggestion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must see that this Bill still excites some amount of apprehension and dislike. It is possible to adjourn discussion, and sometimes, when a discussion is adjourned and we get our blue papers, we receive a Bill with a little endorsement in dark type, "To be substituted for the Bill previously circulated." I think there are some less exacerbating methods that can be employed, and more comforting to those who wish to give the Government all due support in time of war than is attained under the circumstances in which any decision could be taken this afternoon.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I do not rise to oppose the suggestion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman opposite if it commends itself to the Government; but I must say that, considering we are living under a Coalition Government which is supposed to enjoy the confidence of every section of the House, the speeches in this Debate have revealed a most amazing attitude to the Government from beginning to end. I rise, therefore, for the purpose of saying to the Government that they ought not to be misled, because of the fact that most of the speeches made to-day have been in strong opposition, or have contained very strong criticism of the Bill, that therefore there is no body of support in the House behind this 1612 measure. For myself I regard this as a purely war measure, and I understand it is so regarded by the Government. In so far as the Bill goes beyond the circumstances of the War and the situation arising out of the War, I take it the Government will be ready to accept Amendments to their Bill. But I put this to the House, that had these powers been asked for at the beginning of the War by the Government which had to deal with the War, there would have been very little opposition in any section of this House to such powers being granted to the Government. There was no time at the beginning of the War to foresee every situation. It was necessary that the Government should act quickly without considering private rights and without safeguarding the real interests of the people of this country. They had to get their factories built; they had to take their lands; they had to act always on the spur of the moment to meet the immediate necessities of the case, and they were not able to safeguard the interests of the country. As a matter of fact, they have not safeguarded the interests of the country, and, unless they take some such powers as are given in this Bill, at the end of the War the country will find itself at the mercy of private interests, always very strong in this country, and, therefore, as a measure of safeguard to the people, I think some such Bill as this is absolutely necessary. What I observe in the Debate, to which I have listened very carefully, is a certain fear that the Bill is not solely for the safeguarding of the interests of the people of this country, but that it is to be used by the Government to make experiment in various directions. That is a fear which certainly has rooted hold of some hon. Members of this House, and it is based upon experience. In regard to previous Bills brought in during the War we have had assurances that the powers given would only be used strictly for limited purposes in connection with the War, but the speeches in which those assurances were given were not part of those Bills. Very wide powers have been conferred upon the Government, and those full powers have been made use of as if those assurances had not been given. I have in mind assurances given in the case of the Defence of the Realm (No. 3) Act in regard to the Local Control Board. Some of those who are well acquainted with the subject elicited from Ministers very strong assurances, as 1613 strong and explicit as assurances could be, that the purchase power was not to be used except for the definite purpose of preventing financial loss to the people of this country, and they were only to purchase in the last resort. It is evident that we have going on now experiments under that Act which the House did not contemplate when it gave those powers to the Government. In the interests of this Bill, I put it to the Solicitor-General that safeguards must be put into the Bill, and that it is not enough for the Government to say that they do not intend to use these powers only for emergency purposes. Those assurances must find their place in the Clauses of the Bill, and then there will be no disposition to quarrel with the powers given which are necessary for the purpose of preventing financial loss to the people of this country. In that hope I shall support the Second Beading of the Bill.
No Bill has ever been defended by a Minister in this House with greater courtesy or ability, going more fully into the details in answering every objection made, than in the speech we were so glad to listen to by the Solicitor-General; in fact, he went so far as to apologise almost for every Clause in the Bill one after the other, and he met at the same time almost all the criticisms effectually which had been brought forward. We have heard from the hon. Member who last spoke the suggestion that because this Bill has been brought forward with a Coalition Government in power any opposition to it is wrong or misplaced. From the point of view of a private Member, I think the exact converse is the case. There is not sitting here any regular properly constituted Opposition which looks at these measures in advance and arranges for a riddling criticism of anything that may be objectionable. Therefore it is obligatory upon hon. Members to give a little patient study to measures of this very important description. At the present moment when this terrible War is going on, we are all willing in almost every capacity which we occupy in society to help. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board of Liverpool have done their best to help by placing at the disposal of the military authorities a considerable portion of the valuable property which they hold and which they are not using at the present time for the purposes of the dock, but which they have bought as reserve 1614 land for the almost certain increase in the traffic of the port. Do I understand that, because the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board have been generous to-day, the Government is going by this Bill to help itself to any of their property which the military authorities occupy to-day? And not only that, but any of the land adjoining it. I cannot read the Bill through without seeing that it does give those powers.
The Corporation of Liverpool, for which city I am one of the representatives, have bought large portions of land which are now occupied for military purposes. They are getting no fee or reward for it, and are those lands to be liable to be taken at the will of the Department and without the authority of this House under the powers of a general Bill like this? All over the country private owners entirely actuated by patriotic motives have placed their grounds, parks, large pieces of valuable land and buildings of various descriptions at the disposal of the War Office and the Minister of Munitions. Is this Bill to give power to some Government Department when this War is over, and for seven years after that, to help themselves to these properties and to any land which adjoins them, whether the owners want them or not, with power to sell those properties to somebody else? It seems to me that the way this Bill is going to work out will simply mean penalising people who to-day are patriotic and generous, and penalise them exactly in proportion to the generosity and patriotism they are showing to-day. I think we are all agreed that such a Bill would be a mistake. The Solicitor-General has assured us that some of these evils are not going to happen. At the same time, so far as we1 can see the Bill and read it for ourselves, it does give those powers and would involve those difficulties which I have mentioned. Is it fair to the rest of the Departments of the Government that the War Office should seek to have those powers to-day? The Post Office, which, I suppose, is the greatest Department of public utility in the Kingdom, has to come here year by year when it wants to take property in Chester or Worcester, or anywhere round about the country, for the purposes of a post office. It has to come to this House and get powers to take that property. Why should some Department, the management of which and the exact arrangements for which we do not know, be endowed with 1615 powers to take all sorts of property, powers which public Departments like the Post Office to-day have not got, and would never dream of asking for, and which, I believe, no Department would ask for except under the plea of it being for the defence of the Realm, which this is not?
I have taken the trouble since this Bill was printed to go carefully through it, and to endeavour to fit in Amendments that would meet the difficulties. I have drawn up a number of Amendments to try and carry out some of the changes which, I think, ought to go into the Bill to carry out what has been indicated in the speech of the Solicitor-General. I find that the result would be that the Bill would require to be amended line by line, and certainly numerous Amendments would be required in every Clause and on every page. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Yes; this would be necessary in order to carry out what the Solicitor-General has indicated he would be willing to accept. I think I may claim to have had a little experience in drawing up Amendments to Bills in Committee and what would be required to carry them out. I think the trouble and the time which would be occupied by Parliament in amending the Bill on the lines which have been conceded, and on which it ought to be amended, would be such that, having regard to the concessions that have been suggested on almost every Clause, the simplest thing would be to withdraw the Bill in its present form and bring in another measure on the lines which the Solicitor-General himself would be willing to accept. He has told us already that in no less than five main particulars he does not agree with the Bill himself. The powers which are most objectionable in this Bill need not be exercised until seven years after peace. The generous and patriotic landlord who has been doing his best to assist by putting his property at the disposal of the country is to have that property hung up for six or seven years without knowing whether the Government is going to buy it in order to put munition factories on it, or whether it is going to be sold to Messrs. Vickers r some other firms of that kind. I cannot understand what the object of the Bill is in those respects. Does the Government seriously say that they are going to acquire hundreds of pieces of land all over the country for the purpose of permanent munition works? I cannot believe it.
1616 Surely when we get peace—and peace will arrive some day, the sooner the better —some reasonable measure will be taken of the amount of munition works that are wanted in the country. We shall not want thousands of pieces of land and public commons for munition works, because the works that are of very great importance will have been erected long before the conclusion of the War, and those will be the pieces of land the Government will want to buy. Why should they want a roving power to purchase for seven years every bit of private park, cricket ground or golfing club ground which has been to-day generously placed at their disposal for the purposes of the military authorities? The two things are inconsistent. The Bill is not one to secure the permanent purchase of pieces of land, because they will not be wanted. When you ask for a power of that enormous description touching all these pieces of land all over the country, and to last for seven years, it seems to me that it is not wanted, and the Bill ought to be withdrawn. We ought to give the War Office the power to buy the sites of munition factories and things which they are building on properties which they have not yet bought, but what more is wanted under a Bill of this kind for the life of me I cannot understand!
§ Sir GEORGE TOULMIN
The House has been spoken of as being in a very suspicious and alarmed mood, but I do not think the suspicious and alarming speeches that have been made are entirely representative of the feeling of the whole of the House of Commons. Certain Members have had their consciences disturbed, but I have noticed that the consciences of landowners are very easily disturbed when the subject of land is touched. Those consciences should find means of expression on the floor of this House, and when the Clauses of this Bill come to be examined the House will be very willing to see that they are not very deeply seared. Some such provisions as those which are contained in this Bill are absolutely necessary for winding up the immense undertakings which have had to be entered into suddenly in an emergency without proper provision by the various Departments of the Government. The Departments have not been endowed in advance, as the hon. Member who has just sat down said, with these provisions. They had to do the things which were necessary without these provisions, and 1617 they are necessary for securing, when the emergency is over, a settlement which is just between the private individual and the State. The hon. Member spoke about property being "hung up" for six or seven years, but what would be the condition of any Ministry which adopted such a policy? What a grand opportunity it would be for any Opposition if the Government were to take the course which the hon. Member has suggested! It is absolutely unimaginable that any Government would do the things which he suggests. I very much doubt whether the provisions in the Bill would enable any Government to do what he suggests, and, if they did, then it would be for the House of Commons to see that there were proper safeguards inserted. I have no doubt that the amount of trespass upon private rights which has had to take place during the course of this War is very great, and those questions have to be resolved, and they ought to be resolved justly. I do not think the Government desire to do anything else, but they ought not to be in the position of having to pay through the nose after the War.
In my opinion it would be very absurd to withdraw the Bill and to try and present to this House an absolutely perfect and agreed Bill. This House would be abrogating its functions if it refused to take the trouble to amend the Bill. I do not suppose that those who have drawn it up could possibly be aware of the whole of the circumstances. I have no doubt that the hon. Member who has just spoken will be able to plead the case of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and see that justice is done them. It will be a very proper function for him to undertake. I agree that under these circumstances the private Member ought to exercise his right of criticism. This is particularly one of those Bills in which he ought to undertake that right of criticism. My hon. Friend below me has indicated a way in which he would be able to assist the Bill in repard to the Lands Clauses Act and other matters in which he is so well versed. It appears to me that without this Bill landowners would be in a position to extort from the Government terms which they ought not to be able to extort. They would be able to extort compensation in peace terms for seizure and occupation and use of land which are really war measures. If we could only begin to think in terms of Belgium and France we should see that this 1618 Bill does not do any injustice at all. If we could only think of the way in which individuals, either volunteers or conscripts, have risked, not merely their livelihood, but also their lives, we should not look too closely at the Clauses of such a Bill as this. The proper thing for the House to do is to give the Bill a Second Beading, and then to closely and carefully examine each of its Clauses in order that a settlement may be arrived at.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I have been struck with one or two things in the course of this Debate. The first thing was the remarkable interest professed to be taken in the commons. I have no doubt that interest is genuine, but during the ten years that I have been a Member of this House I have not known a single provision or Order dealing with the commons contested in any shape or form on the floor of this House. After to-day I have no doubt that more regard will be paid in the future to the public interests so far as the commons are concerned. Another thing which has struck me has been the objection raised to the Government having any power of compulsion. A few weeks ago, against my own vote and against the votes of my Friends, we compelled individuals not only to give up their businesses and not only to ruin their prospects and those of their children, but also to risk their lives in the defence of the country. Last week we had capitalists claiming a right to excess profits, and this week we have landowners telling the Government that they ought not to be allowed to compulsorily acquire, not all land, but merely that land which is at present occupied by the Government. The criticism of the Bill has been of two kinds. First of all, we had an attack on the details, but no one really has ventured to attack the principle. I should like to ask whether we are to understand that this House, whilst deliberately voting for compulsory military service, will not grant to this Government, representative of all parties, the power to acquire land for its own and national purposes? It has been suggested that the power given under this Bill is a power to acquire land for all purposes in all places, but the provisions are confined to land which is now in the possession of the Government. Hon. Members dispute that, but if they will kindly read Clause 3 they will find that my statement is correct. Clause 3 reads as follows:It shall be lawful to acquire, by agreement or compulsorily, on behalf 1619 of His Majesty (a) any land* in the possession of an occupying Department, or any interest in such land; (b) any land on, over, or under which any buildings, works, or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected,and with the consent of the Commission, and not without it, land specified in Subsection (c).It is perfectly obvious that the object of this Bill, as has been defined by the Solicitor-General, is to enable the Government to acquire land which is at present in the possession of some Government Department. What possible objection can there be to that course? What is the alternative? If we do not pass this Bill, then, at the expiration of the War, when peace is declared, the owners of that property will be in a position to insist upon whatever price they like.
§ Mr. E. DAVIES
Will the hon. Member explain why not? If you are not going to give the Government power to compulsorily acquire the land, it is perfectly obvious that the price must be fixed by voluntary agreement, and I want to know from hon. Members opposite, and from some on this side of the House, whether we are to understand it is their view that in the interests of national economy, about which we hear so much the Government Department must at the close of the War enter into voluntary agreement if they desire to acquire the land. With regard to the criticisms that have been passed upon the Land Clauses Act, I will point out that while one hon. Member—I think the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Molteno)—objected to that Act and opposed the Bill, another hon. Member, the hon. and learned Member for I Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson), praised the Land Clauses Act and still opposed the Bill. I am very pleased that the Government have gone so far as to modify the provisions of the Land Clauses Act. I am speaking here as a lawyer, and there is no lawyer in the House who will contradict me when I say that the exorbitant costs under the Lands Clauses Acts compel people to pay a much higher price than they otherwise would do in order to avoid arbitration. Surely if the adjoining land has benefited by the action of the Government and the expenditure of public 1620 money, the improvement in the price of that land should be set off against any compensation to which the owner is entitled. I am very much disturbed by the tone and course of the present discussion. I should be very sorry indeed to think it was to go out to the public to-morrow that when the Government come here united and ask for compulsory powers in the interests of the public, their Bill finds no-support, and so far as this House is concerned they cannot obtain the necessary powers.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
The first time I saw this Bill I admit that I regarded it with very great suspicion. I really think, with its title, "Defence of the Realm," its provisions ought to be limited to those strictly within the scope of the defence of the realm and emergency legislation. There would have been no objection whatever in this House if it had been limited to the fundamental proposal of seeing that emergency work which has been put down on private land with public money was not to be treated as the property of the landlord. Where land is in the possession of the Government for a certain period and that period is to be extended for three or four years, as proposed by the Bill, those powers should be rightly acquired. The Government should have the power to act and there should be a fair way of assessing the compensation. I venture to suggest that compensation has, been assessed in a very fair and satisfactory way by the Defence of the Realm Losses Commission, over which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) has presided. I have two principal objections to this measure. It seems to me to bring in powers of compulsory purchase rather unnecessarily, and the rights of the public are not sufficiently safeguarded in the provisions that are made as to compensation. I must disagree on that point from my hon. Friend who has just spoken, because in considering a measure of this sort you have not only to consider the general plan, but you have also to consider how that plan will work out and the principles on which compensation is payable. The Duke Commission, to give it its popular title, has been carrying out this work most satisfactorily. Why, particularly when there is merely an extension of the existing term, should not the same machinery be used? I may be told that the right hon. Gentleman and his Commission have been very full indeed of work. I quite 1621 agree, but I see no reason why a second body of a similar character should not be set up, and, if personnel be wanted, those gentlemen who would otherwise be employed under this measure might with considerable advantage to the public be used. One does not like this complicated machinery which brings in the costly and cumbrous procedure of the Railway and Canal Commission and the Land Clauses Act. I was surprised that the Solicitor General should speak with a considerable amount of appreciation of those Clauses. Surely, everyone who has had to do with them realises that it is a most complex, difficult, and costly procedure.
If you take the case of London, those Acts are not utilised, but the London County Council falls back on what is known as the Michael-Angelo Taylor Act, which provides a simple and direct way of assessing compensation on the very lines we should like to see to-day, a simple and direct procedure. It is a marvel that the Government should resort to this old complicated procedure, for this reason: We had a Government Bill which came from the other House to this House to-day, with regard to Small Holding Colonies. There it is necessary to acquire land on precisely similar principles, and there a totally different principle is employed. A good many hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the other side of the House seemed to think that the provision by which the Land Clauses Act is proposed to be modified by the Schedule of this Bill would have the effect of not being sufficiently generous to those whose land is taken. I say frankly that my own view is entirely the contrary. The conditions of the Land Clauses Act, and the work of the Railway and Canal Commission in the administration of this Act, are such that I believe in practical working under this Bill the public will have to pay far too high a price for the land acquired, and that the qualifications in the Schedule would not afford them sufficient protection. If this goes forward, there is another danger I see in front, and that is that those hon. Gentlemen, who have been taking up that view will urge the Government at every turn to weaken the provisions of the Schedule which are for the benefit of the public, and will drive a coach and six through the whole thing. That being so, I cannot regard these provisions as satisfactory for the purpose of purchase. They are unsatisfactory for another reason. There are some of us who think that there ought to 1622 be some fair proportion between the valuation of the land on the basis on which the landowner contributes to the public need, and the valuation on the basis on which the public can purchase from the landowner, where land is taken for national purposes. There is no safeguard for that whatever in this measure, and if it goes to a Second Beading and if the Government proposes to proceed with these later Clauses, and with this Schedule, I certainly would propose to put in some Clause providing, for instance, that the purchase price shall not exceed, say, twenty-five years' purchase of the value of the property which is taken on its valuation for rating and taxation, and for the contribution of the landowner to the public. I say in regard to the rights of the public that far from giving them too many, this Bill gives them too few, and places them far too much at the mercy of the State, and of Acts which have proved inimical to the public interest for a very long time. In view o£ these circumstances, if my hon. Friend takes this to a Division I shall have, on general principles, to vote against the Second Beading, and I can only regret that the Coalition Government has not sounded better the feeling of the House on these questions before bringing in a: Bill for which scarcely anybody has been able to say a good word, except as regards two particular Clauses. The question we have to consider now is not these two Clauses, but whether the Bill as a whole is to go forward and to become law substantially in its present state. That is the Second Reading question, and on the basis of that if my hon. Friend goes to a Division I shall support him.
§ Mr. KING
I have observed lately that the Government has got a great deal of praise from all sides of the House just for those things which seem to me most questionable, and now to-day they have apparently from both sides of the House got a great deal of criticism and opposition for a Bill the object of which is certainly most laudable. On first looking at this Bill it struck me as rather difficult to understand, but when I was assisted by a friend in understanding the provisions of it, and since then have been enlightened by the course of this Debate, I have come to believe that this, after all, is a very good Bill, especially in view of the very large concessions which will no doubt be made, larger still when we come to the Committee stage, and which have 1623 been already announced from the Treasury Bench. I am particularly interested in common lands myself. Common lands are not to come under the purview of this Bill, as I understood the announcement of the Solicitor-General. I am inclined to think that common lands are safe, but nobody protects the common in the country, and a common is much more likely to be grabbed than the land of any landlord. I am, therefore, inclined to think that if commons can get these concessions, when we come to the Committee stage the rights of landlords will be very largely safeguarded too; in fact, that is the danger I foresee for a Bill of this character. I foresee a real danger, for when the Government get in what I may almost call a melting mood they are inclined to give concessions right and left in order to save their Bill. They may go too far in that. The object of this Bill is certainly a very good one, and is announced in the first words of the Memorandum. It is nothing else than this: "To protect the State against loss arising from the fact that in the emergency created by the War it has been necessary to erect War Office huts," etc., etc. It is perfectly obvious that an enormous amount of loss, because an enormous amount of waste, has occurred in these -camps. I live close to a very large camp, and it is impossible to preach economy to anyone who has worked on one of these camps, or lived near one of them, or has anybody connected in any way with them; in fact, the waste in connection with the huts and camps has been simply colossal. It is, therefore, a very laudable object indeed to try to protect the State from eventual loss. I look upon this Bill as perhaps the first step in a course of sweeping State Socialism. After the War, I believe the financial condition of every country will be very serious indeed, and that the only way of getting round it, and getting a contented and prosperous society, will be to abolish rich men altogether, and in some way or other to have State Socialism. I welcome this Bill as a great advance towards State Socialism, and I think that it shows in its obvious Socialistic tendency a very great insight and foresight on the part of the Government which I have not observed before. Although, therefore, I might say a great deal more on the subject, and I may do so later on, I will content myself now with 1624 saying that whatever may be the course of this Bill I shall certainly vote for it on Second Reading, and I hope that whatever the concessions that will be given by the Government, they will not be such great concessions that nothing will be left of the Bill. That is my fear at the present time. I strongly support the Government in bringing in this most courageous method of State Socialism, and I hope they will persist in it.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I was very much attracted by the views expressed by the hon. Member who has just spoken, and to a certain extent I agree with him. I am, however, much more interested in, and I desire to support, the views put forward particularly by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). The ground of his opposition, and of that of other hon. Members, was that this Bill was not only for the term of the War, or to deal with war measures. They objected to a Bill, the objects of which could be extended beyond the term of the War, and extended for purposes which are not war purposes. I support that view, but from a rather different standpoint. This is a very bad time for the Government to embark upon any large scheme for the purchase of land. It is a mistake to give them the power to do so, in case they should be tempted to purchase land to a large extent for the purposes suggested by the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), namely, State Socialism. It would be bad business, for this reason: If we look at the conditions that are likely to arise after the War which he indicated it is obvious that very different regard will be had to the rights of property in land. Many millions of men have been sent to the front who have enlisted for the purpose of fighting for their country. I am quite confident that when they come back they will regard it very much more as their country and not as the country of a few privileged individuals. When any question arises of the acquisition of land for the national interest far more drastic methods will be adopted than could be adopted at the present time, when party controversial issues are considered to be in abeyance. This Bill suggests the setting up of some modified form of the old methods of compensation by way of the Lands Clauses Acts and the administration of the Railway and Canal Commission. 1625 We know perfectly well that in the past these methods have led to extortionate prices being paid for land, and it seems probable that, continuing the old method, the same thing will occur again. It is for the reason that I believe the amount of land purchased under present conditions should be limited as much as possible that I take the view expressed from the other side, that we should not give power to the Government to purchase in excess of immediate needs.
It is very obvious, as was suggested by the hon. Member for North Somerset, that the War is going to lead to an enormous increase of taxation. That must result in taxation which will lower the value of land. Again, the State will be well advised not to purchase one acre in excess of the needs, but to await the conditions that will arise later on. It is quite clear that by the introduction of the principle of Conscription, the taking from men of the most precious possession there is—the right of a man over his own life and limb —must create a new outlook on all questions of property. It is quite evident that men who have been conscripted and those
§ who have been forced in various ways or induced to make a sacrifice of or to endanger their lives will, in after days, have no, or very little, regard for any contention that there is some sacred right in property or land. There will undoubtedly be a sentiment throughout the masses of the people that the land for which they have fought is virtually national property which belongs by right to all the people; therefore, if the State and the nation needs land, it shall have the right virtually to take it free of charge, or, at any rate, if it comes to compensation, a very different estimate will be held of the owner's right and title therein. For these reasons I hope that in any measure the Government may find it necessary to take for the acquisition of land it will not be acquired in excess of present needs, because I think that later on this conclusion will be brought about of very different estimates from those likely to be maintained to-day.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 99; Noes, 24.1627
|Division No. 31.]||AYES.||[8.30 p.m.|
|Adamson, William||Goldstone, Frank||Prothero, Rowland Edmund|
|Astor, Hon. Waldorf||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Hancock, John George||Radford, Sir George Heynes|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.)||Raphael, Sir Herbert H.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.)||Haslam, Lewis||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Henry, Sir Charles||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hogge, James Myles||Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Boland, John Plus||Horne, Edgar||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rowlands, James|
|Brace, William||Hudson, Walter||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||John, Edward Thomas||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Butcher, John George||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Shortt, Edward|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Kenyon, Barnet||Steel-Maitland, A. D.|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||King, Joseph||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Larmor, Sir J.||Tootill, Robert|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Levy, Sir Maurice||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eiffon)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||Middlebrook, Sir William||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Millar, James Duncan||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Morgan, George Hay||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Edge, Captain William||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Needham, Christopher T.||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles||Nolan, Joseph||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Finney, Samuel||Parker, James (Halifax)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Forster, Henry William||Pratt, J. W.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord|
|Glanville, Harold James||Pringle, William M. R.||E. Talbot and Mr. Gulland|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Bull, Sir William James||Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Byles, Sir William Pollard||Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham|
|Boyton, James||Cator, John||Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Molloy, Michael||White, J, Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Perkins, Walter Frank||Younger, Sir George|
|Gretten, John||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Remnant, James Farquharson||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Malcolm, Ian||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)||Sir F. Banbury and Mr. Rawlinson.|
|Meysey-Thompson, Major E. C.|
Question put, and agreed to.