HC Deb 25 October 1916 vol 86 cc1175-83

(1) It shall be lawful to acquire by agreement or compulsorily on behalf of His Majesty:

  1. (a) any land in the possession of an occupying Department or any interest in such land;
  2. (b) any land on over or under which any buildings works or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected constructed or made wholly or partly at the expense of the State, or any interest in such land.

(2) Where any land or any interest in land is or has been so acquired any adjoining or neighbouring land (whether belonging to the same owner or not), or any right of access, or other easement or right which appears to the Commission to be required for the proper enjoyment of the land or interest so acquired, or any interest therein may, with the consent of the Commission, also be acquired.

(3) The power to acquire land, or an interest therein, under this Section shall include power to acquire the land or interest either with or without all or any of the mines or minerals lying thereunder as the purchasing department may determine, and if the surface is acquired apart from the mines and minerals either without any right of support or with such right of support as the department may require.

(4) The power of acquisition conferred by this Section shall be exercisable—

  1. (a) in the case of land in the possession of an occupying department or of land and rights required for the proper enjoyment thereof, by the occupying department at any time whilst the department is in possession;
  2. (b) in the case of other land or rights, by the Admiralty or Army Council or the Minister of Munitons at any time during the present War or within twelve months after the termination thereof.

(5) For the purposes of the acquisition of land and interests therein under this Section, the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts, subject to the modifications set out in the Schedule to this Act, shall be incorporated with this Act.

(6) Whether any buildings, works, or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected, constructed, or made wholly or partly at the expense of the State, on, over, or under any land, no person shall without the consent of a Government Department remove, destroy, alter, or dispose of the buildings, works, or improvements whilst the right of acquiring the land conferred by this Section remains in force.


I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (2).

We had considerable discussion upon this point in Committee, and the Solicitor-General gave an undertaking which I have here. My objection to this Subsection is that the Section itself enacts that it shall be lawful to acquire by agreement or compulsorily on behalf of His Majesty any land in the possession of an occupying department or any interest in such land. During the War I think everyone has been anxious to give all power to the Government to acquire any land for the purpose of carrying on the War, and all people connected with land or property have been only too anxious, if the Government came to them and said, "We want your land," to give up that land for anything which might be necessary for the purposes of this War. Now comes this Bill, which says that these people, having given their land for these purposes, may find that they run the risk of having it taken away from them forever. I think that is rather a strong order, but there may be some justification for it, provided that the power to acquire the land is limited to the land in the possession of an occupying department, or any interest in such land, This Sub-section, however, says that not only may this land be acquired, but any land, or any interest in any land, whether belonging to the same owner or not, and adjoining or neighbouring land may be acquired.

5.0 P.M.

I oppose this proposal, because I do not think we ought to allow the Government to spend large sums of money, as they would do under this Sub-section if carried, for adding to and acquiring additional land. This proposal does not become effective until the land has been acquired, and it will only be lawful when they have actually acquired, by agreement or otherwise, the particular land they are now occupying. The result may be that during the next three or four years after the War the Government may say, "We will set up another factory, not on the adjoining land, but on neighbouring land." I asked what was meant by "neighbouring land" and how far it must be away in order to be called neighbouring land, and the Solicitor-General said it was a phrase well understood in law. Notwithstanding that explanation, it seems to me to be a phrase which might give rise to very considerable difficulty if it had to be interpreted as to whether land five miles off was neighbouring land or not. We will suppose that it is easy to interpret that. This Sub-section gives power to the Government to spend sums of money on acquiring additional land after the War belonging to other people for the purpose of doing certain things—that is to say, the power of this House is limited, and the Government would be able to do certain things. Of course, we may have a different House of Commons, and they may be economical Members, who may not view with equanimity the desire of the Government to expend money on certain factories or munition works. Therefore, I think we ought not to put in this Sub-section. I see no reason for it. Might I recall what took place in Committee. My right hon. Friend, alluding to the few remarks that I made, said that I was a little extravagant in my language against this Sub-section—I think that was an exaggeration—and then he went on to say that he was quite satisfied that the right of access must remain, but with regard to the words "adjoining or neighbouring land" he had listened to what I had said and, though he did not give any promise, he would consider whether they required those words. I do not see any Amendments down to carry out that intention, and I am afraid that my right hon. Friend has found that he has been unable to put down words since the Committee stage. I attach very great importance to this Sub-section, and I earnestly trust that there will be some limitation, at any rate, put upon this power, and that in the event of the Solicitor-General not agreeing to the omission of the whole Sub-section he will agree to the omission of the words "any adjoining or neighbouring land (whether belonging to the same owner or not)."


My right hon. Friend and the officers of the different Departments concerned, in view of the promise of the Solicitor-General at the earlier stage of the Bill, have looked into this matter with great care, but I am sorry to say that there are certain cases which make it imperative m the national interest to retain these words. I will give one case to which the Department attach the most importance. In the case of some airship works that have been constructed it is necessary, owing to their location, that a considerable amount of ground around should be available for the purposes of approach or access to the sheds, or for mooring the airships outside, or for such like purposes. It would be impossible to make proper use of these undertakings, in which in some cases many hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent, if anyone could put up a house or build a factory chimney, or something of that sort, on an adjoining plot. It is therefore necessary in these limited cases to have the power to acquire the adjoining or neighbouring land. We tried for some time to see if we could not get rid of the words "or neighbouring land," and we went into it with the utmost care with a view of meeting the right hon. Gentleman. We examined three or four cases, and it was found that we could not, in the national interest, omit the words. I am sorry that we have been unable to meet the right hon. Gentleman, but we find it necessary to retain the words owing to the large structures of the kind indicated that have been made of the kind indicated in two or three cases.


Why is it that the Government cannot do it during the War? I should imagine, if there were an airship shed, that they would have taken all the land necessary during the War, and in that case they would be in possession of it and no difficulty would arise. Under the Bill they have some years after the War in which to consider whether they will take land or not. It would be somewhat of a hardship if the Government suddenly made up their mind that they required more land than they had at the termination of the War. Is it necessary to have this power to take compulsorily land, irrespective of its distance from the site of the works, for a period of three years after the War? It is a difficult Clause to construe, but I understand that is the power which it would confer.


That point also was gone into, and an Amendment down in the name of the Solicitor-General limits the time in which purchase can be made, but in view of unexpected developments in things like airships and so forth it was felt necessary to leave it in this form.


If there are only three or four cases, would it not be possible to put in the words "in the case of airship sheds," because, as the Bill stands, it might apply, although the right hon. Gentleman does not intend it to do so, to a great many other cases. Surely, if it is only to apply to a very few cases, words might be inserted to apply it to those cases, and so let off other land which might be included in the Bill unless some defining words were put in limiting it to the three or four cases which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned.


We have to satisfy the Commission that it is necessary to acquire the land.

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


I beg to move in Sub-section (4), paragraph (a), at the end, to add the words "but not later than three years after the termination of the present War."


I would like to ask for an explanation. Paragraph (a) of Sub- section (4) seems to me at first sight to cover all the land or rights power to acquire which is given in this Section. What does paragraph (b) cover? Are not these things specifically mentioned in paragraph (b) entirely covered by paragraph (a)?


Paragraph (a) refers to land in possession of an occupying department.


It also applies to rights required for proper enjoyment.


Paragraph (b) refers back to paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1)— any land on, over, or under which any buildings, works, or improvements have, for purposes connected with the present War, been erected, constructed, or made wholly or partly at the expense of the State, or any interest in such land. That is property in possession of other people.


I beg to move, in the proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "three," and to insert instead thereof the word "two."

I quite recognise that the Government have endeavoured to meet the Amendment which I desire made. I think they might have put in limiting words, but would the Solicitor-General put in "two" instead of "three" years, because then I think possibly the grievance which I thought might arise would be met, namely, the power of the Government for a considerable period after the War to acquire land which is not really required for the purposes of the War, but is required for the purposes of keeping on particular munition works that have been continued after the War. If the Solicitor-General would decrease the time it would rather limit the power of the Government and would give this House its control sooner. I think if we meet him he might meet us in this way. It is not a very great point, but it would give us some little concession.


I cannot accept the Amendment. The period is seven years in the Bill, but hon. Members objected to that, and I have cut it down to three. I have therefore met them more than halfway, and this was fixed after consultation with the various Departments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, "That the words 'but not later than three years after the termination of the present War' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words "Provided that the compulsory powers of purchase under this Section shall not come into operation until the termination of the present War."

I dare say it will be remembered that the Chairman in Committee swept away this Amendment under a misapprehension. It really asks for a declaration from the Government of their policy in this matter. I want to know whether the Ministry of Munitions intend when they get this Bill to begin immediately buying land on which they have erected factories. I have no personal interest in this matter. My sole object is to prevent the waste of public money. I am quite sure that a great many of these factories will have to be pulled down, and I do not want to see the Ministry of Munitions buying land under buildings which will have to be pulled down. I therefore beg to move this Amendment with the object of asking the right hon. Gentleman what are his intentions. If he tells me that it is only the intention of the Ministry of Munitions to buy land in exceptional circumstances, I shall be satisfied, but, if he says that he is going to buy land indiscriminately, I shall have to press this Amendment to a Division.


I beg to second the Amendment.


If the object of the hon. Member is not to embarrass the Government but to get a statement, I can assure him that the Ministry have no intention whatever of embarking upon a scheme of land purchase. We do not propose to buy any land unless it is quite evident, on account of the large expenditure made upon it, that it is necessary in the public interest to acquire the freehold. Those are the only class of cases. I can assure him they are all scrutinised with the utmost care, and they have to pass the vigilant eye of the Treasury, who scrutinise them with as great care as the Department itself. I do not know the cases the hon. Member has in mind, but I can assure him that there is no thought or intention of any indiscriminate purchase of land. There are a few cases in which purchase has already been made by agree- ment, and there are other cases quite small in number. They are limited, so far as I know, to cases where great expenditure has been incurred in putting up factories or buildings on the land in question, and where it would be un businesslike not to purchase.

Question, "That the words proposed be there inserted," put, and negatived.


I beg to move to add the following new Sub-section: (1) Any person having power (whether subject to any consent or conditions or not) to sell land authorised to be acquired by any Government Department may, subject to the like consent and conditions, grant or demise the land in perpetuity or for any term of years to the Government Department at such fee farm or other rent, secured by such condition of re-entry or otherwise as may be agreed upon, and with or without a right of renewal, or grant to the Government Department an option to acquire the land. Provided that, where the power to sell arises under the Settled Lands Acts, 1882 to 1890, the powers conferred by this Section shall be exercised only with the consent of the trustees of the settlement for the purposes of those Acts, or with the sanction of the Court. I had put this down on the Paper as a new Clause, entitled ("Power to Grant or Demise Land to Departments for Perpetual Rent"). But I take my present course because it has been ruled that this is the right place to deal with this matter. This is a purely permissive proposal, and its object is to enable the owner of land who is compelled to sell to the Government to take the alternative course of letting it to the Government on perpetual lease with a right of re-entry reserved. Speaking generally, it has not been possible to do that in this country for many centuries, but, in fact, the adoption of this course has proved desirable in many instances, and it was first taken in the Conveyancing Act of 1881, and subsequently there was a somewhat similar Clause in the Settled Lands Act. My suggestion is that a like Clause should be included in this Bill, and it is in very much the same terms as a Clause in the Small Holdings (Colonies) Bill. I hope, therefore, that the Government may see their way to accept it. I would remind the House that it gives no extra power; it is only a permissive Section enabling the owner to let the land perpetually if he so desires. There is only one other point I need mention. When the point was raised some objection was taken to Sub-section (2) which I then proposed, and, in view of the permissive character of the proposal, I was rather surprised that such objection should be taken. If, however, it is pressed, I will be content to move Sub-section (1).


The only effect of these words is to give power to people to make a certain arrangement which is often made, and it can only be made under this Clause with the consent of both parties. I do not think, therefore, that I need object to the Amendment.

Question, "That these words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and agreed to.


I do not propose to move the second Sub-section, which was as follows: (2) This Section shall extend and apply to land belonging to His Majesty in right of the Crown or of the Duchy of Lancaster, and to land belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall.