HC Deb 25 October 1916 vol 86 cc1200-12

(1) Where 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 interest.

(2) Where any such land is disposed of, then on the execution and delivery to the purchaser by the Government Department concerned of the necessary or proper assurance of the land disposed of, the purchaser shall notwithstanding any defect in the title of such Government Department thereto stand possessed thereof for such estate or interest as may be expressed or intended to be assured to him, freed and absolutely discharged (save as in the assurance may be expressed) from all prior estates, interests, rights, and claims therein or thereto:

Provided that if at any time after such disposition any such prior estate, interest right or claim as aforesaid is established by the person entitled thereto, there shall be paid to such person compensation to be determined in manner provided by the Lands Clauses Acts, as modified by this Act, with respect to interests in lands which by mistake have been omitted to be purchased.

(3) Before any Government Department sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of any land or interest therein they shall first offer to sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of the same to the person then entitled to the lands (if any) from which the same were originally severed; or if such person refuse to purchase, lease, or otherwise acquire the same, or cannot after diligent inquiry be found, then the like offer shall be made to the person or to the several persons whose lands shall immediately adjoin the lands so proposed to be sold, leased, or otherwise disposed of.

(4) If any such persons be desirous of purchasing, leasing, or otherwise acquiring such lands, then within six weeks after such offer they shall signify their desire in that behalf to the Government Department concerned, or if they decline such offer, or if for six weeks they neglect to signify their desire to purchase, lease, or otherwise acquire such lands, the right of pre-emption of every such person so declining or neglecting in respect of the lands included in such offer shall cease.

(5) If any person entitled to such preemption be desirous of purchasing, leasing, or otherwise acquiring any such lands and such person and the Government Department concerned do not agree as to the price thereof, or other consideration therefor, then such price or other consideration shall be determined by the Commission.


I beg to move, in Subsection (3), to leave out the words "lease, or otherwise dispose of" ["before any Government Department shall sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of"].

The effect of this Amendment is to modify somewhat an arrangement come to at the Committee stage when my hon. and learned Friend accepted an Amendment. We have carefully considered the effect of the Amendment which was accepted. I am sorry to say that it does go further than I think the interests of the State will warrant. The Amendment incorporated in the Bill as it left the Committee gives the right of pre-emption, both in respect of sale, lease, and other form of disposal to the previous owner and the adjoining owner. I will tell the House quite frankly the class of case which we wish to protect. In the first place, I think that it was contemplated at the time that the pre-emption in respect of lease was not reasonable. Therefore, the first Amendment on the Paper in my name proposes to omit the words, "lease, or otherwise dispose of." Others further on in the Paper are consequential. For instance, there are two large places which have been erected, one by the Admiralty and the other by the War Office, where land has been acquired. An air shed or station has been put up, at great expense, on the understanding that the contractor shall carry on the work and shall learn and carry on the industry of the manufacture of this class of craft. As the Clause stands at present it would cut right across the agreement which the Government have come to in these cases with these contractors. It would mean that they would not be able to carry out the terms of the agreement. The land was taken under the Defence of the Realm Act. The building was put upon it for the purpose of manufacturing this craft, and that was done so as to enable the manufacturer to get along with his business. He had no power to acquire land. The Government did it for him, and it would not be possible to make it over to the firm at all unless we leave out such words as "lease, or otherwise dispose of."


What is the lease with the firm?


It is not leased at all. It is under the Defence of the Realm Act at present. Then there is another case, where certain land has been taken and railway sidings have been put in necessary for carrying on the work of the factory. As this stands at present it would not be possible to sell those sidings if you wished to do so to the railway company. The previous or adjoining owner would have the rights conferred under the Act, and the Law Officers inform me that it would be quite easy for an ingenious person to make use of circumstances like that to obtain a considerable proportion of the value which the Government has spent in putting up these buildings from the person from whom they were really intended. That is to say they, having the right of pre-emption, would hold this other person to ransom, and they could exact a considerable sum of money, if they were sufficiently ingenious, owing to the peculiar circumstances, which the House did not intend at all. What you could say is that unless there is some special reason of national importance of this kind the previous owner shall have the right of pre-emption, and the Amendments do not interfere with that at all. Then there are cases of certain chemical works and factories which are even more embarrassing still. There are some which have been erected for certain firms and which are carrying on a particular manufacture of certain chemicals. It so happens that in three of these cases there is a very large number of small adjoining owners. It really is not in the public interest, I am quite sure, that a very large number of small adjoining owners, in these three cases, should be entitled by the phraseology of this Clause as it stands to step in and prevent the carrying on of this industry in the national interest by a large firm whose own works really adjoin this extension which has been made largely at Government expense; but it so happens that in each of these cases there is quite a considerable group of small adjoining owners, and it would seriously embarrass the Government in making the best of its expenditure, and I think that Parliament intended that cases of that kind should be provided for, and therefore we suggest the series of Amendment which are down on the Paper—that the words "lease, or otherwise dispose of" should be omitted, and that the right of pre-emption in respect of sale, which was really the only case that was argued before the House, should apply, unless such land is land built upon or used in connection with any building.

Obviously this is intended to apply to the factories described, and the words in the Lands Clauses Act, I understand, go rather further in excluding the right of pre-emption than these words do. I think that under the Lands Clauses Act any land that is in a town or is built upon is excluded, but the Lands Clauses Act goes further than this. This approximates to the procedure to the Lands Clauses Act, which we have been invited to follow on many occasions, but it. really does not go so far. It gives a right of pre-emption more extensive than any in the Lands Clauses Act, but we are obliged to put in words, which would include a sufficiency of land round about the factories, which is bonâ fide necessary for the carrying on of the industry, because, of course, the factory in these cases obviously does not cover the whole of the land. We want land outside for the purposes of assembling and for railway and other purposes. So we are finally advised, with the desire to confine it to the land which was really necessary for the carrying on of the industry, that the words which we have got clown would limit it as well as we could to that purpose. So it is suggested that the right of pre-emption shall not apply where the land is built upon or used in connection with any building. Hon. Members will see that though our terms have somewhat curtailed the right as it was incorporated in the Committee, we really have confined it to the principle of sale which was discussed, and we have approximated it to the Lands Clauses Act, except that as it stands now the right of pre-emption is even more extensive than the Lands Clauses Act.


Would it exclude the Metropole Hotel because the land has been built upon? That would be absurd.


This is only in the case of sale.


You might buy it. If you bought it, do you suggest that it could not be protected?


No. This case has been examined with great care, and I am advised that as the words stand they will only cover those cases where it is necessary in the national interest that this right of pre-emption shall not be exercisable, so as to inhibit the proper carrying on and development of an industry which it is desirable in the national interest should be continued. I am afraid the Department are under existing obligations in many cases at the end of their bargain to transfer the factory as it is to the manufacturer, whosoever he may be, who is experienced in carrying on the industry. Those are the class of cases which we seek to exempt from the Clause, and I hope that the House will exempt them.


I think that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has rather got factories on the brain. Important as they are, he always addresses his arguments to factories, and factories alone, as the things which are concerned in this Bill. But he must remember that there are other lands which the Government have taken over, on which they have erected buildings, besides factories, to which the argument of national importance, which necessarily applies to this other class of building, does not apply. I quite admit that there is a great deal in what he says when he insists that it is necessary 'owing to Government requirements that certain factories should continue as they are at present, but there are many cases where an adjoining landowner may well wish, at some pecuniary sacrifice, to purchase buildings which have been put upon the land, and which after the War would not be used at all for any national purpose, and would either only be removed by the Government or sold by the Government at a higher figure. Take a case which I know perfectly well—there are many cases in the South of England—where the Government have put up hut camps, some large and some small. After the War a great many of these camps will obviously have to be abandoned, and the Government will be faced with this dilemma: in some cases they will want to buy the land right out and continue it as a training ground, like some of the land adjoining Salisbury Plain, which no doubt will be taken over, but there are other camps which of necessity will be abandoned, certain remount camps and rest camps, and the landowner may very well wish that he should be able to repurchase this land even though there are buildings on it. That is a very natural desire, and if the Government are going to get a fair price for their hut, why should they not let him have it?


We are not excluding that.


Yes, the hon. Gentleman is excluding that. It is land which is built upon or used in connection with any building. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the landowner who has had these small camps placed on the ground will lose his right of pre-emption because there are buildings on it even though the Government do not wish to continue the use of it after the War. I am not arguing that he should get these buildings any cheaper than what is a fair price in the open market. Sub-section (5) of Clause 5 provides "if any person be desirous of purchasing or leasing, or otherwise acquiring such lands." I take it that the words "leasing, or otherwise acquiring" would have to come out, and it would read, "if any person, etc., be desirous of purchasing such lands," and such person and the Government Department concerned did not agree to the price thereof, or other consideration therefor, then such price or other consideration shall be determined by the Commission. If the Commission is a fair body, as I believe it is—I have not heard any suggestion to the contrary in any part of the House—they would decide upon a fair price as between the parties. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this point further consideration before we part with it. Though factories are by far the more important, there are other aspects of the matter which come home very closely to hon. Members of this House.


The Amendment before the House goes a very long way. A person who has a bit of land taken possession of by the Government has his right of pre-emption, but if he cannot offer more for it than any other member of the public, then his right of pre-emption goes and the Government can sell it. The object of the Government is to get the highest possible price for the land that they can sell, but since the Amendment was made in Committee the whole story has come out. It is perfectly plain that the Government have already disposed of some of this land. They have not the power to do that, and therefore they are in a difficulty at the present time. Surely the proper way to meet that difficulty is to put in a Clause excepting any case in which a contract has been made by the Government before a particular date. If the Government have entered into a contract to lease or sell property, I quite agree that they may be in a difficulty at the present time, and of course we do not wish to put them in a difficulty, but rather to get them out of it. They are, however, practically going back, in the whole of these Amendments, on what was done in. Committee. The first Amendment is to leave out the words "lease, or otherwise dispose of." They have got the man's land and instead of the owner coming back into possession, the Government give a lease for ninety-nine years or for 999 years, or any time you like, of the property to the manufacturer who is to have it, and the owner has no right of" pre-emption on that at all. That is quite contrary to what the House decided in Committee. I submit strongly that the proper way to deal with this is to put in a Clause exempting the Government in respect of contracts they have already made, and not to do away with the owner's very valuable right of pre-emption by giving a lease of niney-nine years or a longer period.


I am afraid I do not quite understand the effect of the Amendments which are upon the Paper. I understood that what the Government desired to do was to be free to sell the land if they so desired, and that if they found themselves in that position, and were desirous of selling certain land, then, under the Clause, they would be bound, first of all, to offer it to the former owner. I do not want to use unpleasant words, but they might conspire to defeat the Act in regard to the right of pre-emption, and might evade it by leasing the land for ninety-nine years or 999 years. That is not what we want, and therefore I suggest to the Government that the Clause should so read that they could not sell or let to anybody else until they offered the right of pre-emption to the former owner to buy. I had a conversation yesterday with the right hon. Gentleman on this point, and I understood that was intended, but I do not think I could support anything further than that.


The right hon. Baronet has explained the substance of our conversation, and the only land we have in view is that on which expensive buildings have been erected. That is the only class of cases we have in our mind, cases where buildings of a permanent nature have been erected. If some words were introduced covering these cases, that might get rid of the question of lands on which there have been camps. If that would satisfy the hon. Member, when the time comes I would like to put the Clause in something like that form, and we must leave out the words "lease, or otherwise dispose of."


That does not meet my point at all. If you were to leave out the words "lease, or otherwise dispose of," the Government would have power to lease factories for 99 or 999 years without giving any right of pre-emption. The whole House decided in Committee that the right of pre-emption was to be given in the case of a long lease, and I certainly should not consent to leave out those words, and am prepared to divide against the Amendment. It is really a tremendous power to ask for.


I cordially welcomed the introduction of paragraphs 3, 4, and 5 in the Committee stage as giving the owner a pre-emptive right not only to re- purchase, but to "lease, or otherwise dispose of." I can conceive that it would be very difficult for some persons to be able to buy the land, because in the financial state of the country after the War, manufacturers and others may not find themselves in a very prosperous condition; besides which, money may be exceedingly dear. The concession was made to the right hon Member for Ashford in Committee that you should not dispossess the person of the right to lease or otherwise dispose of; therefore, when you have purchased the land and afterwards leave it. it might be of very great importance to the person to be able to rent it. It might be outside his power to purchase it, because he may have sunk his capital in other property, yet would rather return to the old premises than see a trade rival established in them. I think a very great concession was made in the Committee stage, and I do not see now where we are drifting to. If the Amendment to leave out the words "lease, or otherwise dispose of" is adopted, you dispossess the owner or person of his right, and some powerful competitor or rival might acquire the premises.


I agree with the hon. and learned Member opposite as to the right of pre-emption, for if there were power to lease the land for 99 or 999 years it would make the safeguard of the owner's right of pre-emption of no avail. I agree with that. Still, if the Government were to adopt that course it would be a sort of very sharp practice, to say the least of it, and I hardly think that they would do any such thing. It seems to me that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Rawlinson) should suggest words limiting the length of the lease, if that suggestion would meet with the approval of the Solicitor-General.


I quite agree that that could be done. I accept with what my hon. Friend has just said as to the Government leasing land. If the Government do give a lease it is a short lease. I am prepared with regard to the length of the term to see what can be done.


Surely the right hon. Gentleman is misinformed. The Crown has large estates, and it deals with them by way of building agreements, and leases for ninety-nine years.


Yes, Crown property.


That is property held under the right of the Crown. It may be vested in Woods and Forests or in the Office of Works, but the practice is the same. In this case, when the Government have done with the land for munition works, they might see an opportunity of making a profit by turning the holding into a building estate, which the former owner might not desire for the purpose of his amenities. This Clause is pretty stiff at present. It is not a matter of law, but of common sense and interpretation of the English language. It clearly applies to hotels. We read of things said at a recent meeting at Blackfriars, and there would

seem to be mighty little chance of that hotel coming into the possession of those people again. The essence of the goodwill of the hotel is in many cases the site, and the position where old customers would be able to find it and would like to go. Here land covered with buildings does not have to be offered by way of pre-emption to the former owner, unless it happens to have been severed from other land, and now the Government are asking for power to lease it for quite a long time.

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

The House divided: Ayes, 43; Noes, 158.

Division No. 61.] AYES. [6.52 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Hazleton, Richard Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby).
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G. Hewins, William Albert Samuel Salter, Arthur Clavell
Beale, Sir William Phipson Horne, E. Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)
Boyton, James Hunt, Major Rowland Stewart, Gershom
Byrne, Alfred Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk. Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)
Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H. Ingleby, Holcombe Thomas-Stanford, Charles
Cator, John Keating, Matthew Touche, George Alexander
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee Turton, Edmund Russborough
Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) Watson, Hon. W.
Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon) Moore, William Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole Newdegate, F. A. Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Craik, Sir Henry Norton Griffiths, J. Younger, Sir George
Doris, William Paget, Almeric Hugh
Field, William Perkins, Walter F. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.
Fitzpatrick, John Lalor Rutherford, Sir John (Darwen) Ashley and Mr. Rawlinson.
Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)
Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke Cosgrave, James Jowett, Frederick William
Adamson, William Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Joyce, Michael
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Crooks, Rt. Hon. William Kenyon, Barnet
Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D. Crumley, Patrick King, Joseph
Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire) Davies, Ellis William (Eifion) Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)
Anderson, W. C. Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth) Larmor, Sir J.
Arnold, Sydney Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H. Layland-Barrett, Sir F.
Baird, John Lawrence Donelan, Captain A. Levy, Sir Maurice
Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N. Duffy, William J. Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)
Barnett, Captain R. W. Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward Loyd, Archie Kirkman
Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs) Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) M'Callum, Sir John M.
Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc, E.) Fell, Arthur MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)
Beck, Arthur Cecil Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes M'Micking, Major Gilbert
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue Mallalieu, Frederick William
Bentham, George Jackson Fletcher, John Samuel Millar, James Duncan
Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish- Foster, Philip Staveley Molteno, Percy Alport
Bethell, Sir J. H. France, Gerald Ashburner Morton, Alpheus Cleophas
Bird, Alfred Galbraith, Samuel Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert
Bliss, Joseph Gelder, Sir W. A. Needham, Christopher T.
Boland, John Pius Gilbert, J. D. Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W. Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Brace, William Gretton, John O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)
Brady, Patrick Joseph Hackett, John O'Grady, James
Bridgeman, William Clive Hanson, Charles Augustin O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)
Broughton, Urban Hanion Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.) Parker. Rt. Hon. Sir G. (Gravesend)
Brunner, John F. L. Harvey, T. E. (Leeds. West) Partington, Oswald
Bull, Sir William James Helme, Sir Norval Watson Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Burns, Rt Hon. John Hill, James (Bradford, C.) Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas Hinds, John Phillips, Sir Owen (Chester)
Butcher, John George Hogge, James Myles Pratt, J. W.
Byles, Sir William Pollard Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)
Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Pringle, William M. R.
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.
Chancellor Henry George Hudson, Walter Radford, Sir George Heyhes
Clough, William Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh) Raffan, Peter Wilson
Clynes, John R. Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth) Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth) Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Rendall, Athelstan
Coote, William Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe) Richardson, Albion (Peckham)
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney) Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) Steel-Maitland, A. D. Williams, Aneurin (Durham. N.W.)
Roberts, George H. (Norwich) Sutton, John E. Williams, John (Glamorgan)
Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs) Sykes, Col. Alan John (Ches., Knutsf'd) Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)
Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton) Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset West)
Robinson, Sidney Thome, William (West Ham) Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)
Roe, Sir Thomas Tickler, T. G. Williamson, Sir Archibald
Rowntree, Arnold Tootill, Robert Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)
Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W. Toulmin, Sir George Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees) Walters, Sir John Tudor Wing, Thomas Edward
Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton) Wardle, George J. Yate, Colonel Charles Edward
Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield) Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.
Shortt, Edward Watt, Henry A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston) Mr. Gulland and Lord Edmund Talbot.
Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton) Wiles, Thomas
Starkey, John R.

Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.

7.0 P.M.


I beg to move, after the word "shall" ["they shall first offer"], to insert the words "unless such land is land on which buildings of a permanent nature have been erected, or is land used in connection with such buildings."

I move the Amendment in this form in order to meet the point raised by the hon. Member opposite.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for moving his Amendment in this form. I think it is modified in the sense that I should wish, but I am not a lawyer, and I should be glad if any one of my hon. and learned Friends could tell me whether the words "permanent buildings" would really exclude hut camps or not. It seems to me a little doubtful whether it would, because some of these buildings are of a very substantial character and permanent roads have been put down.


I beg to move as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, after the word "erected," to insert the words "by or at the expense of a Government Department."

I think that that would effect what the right hon. Gentleman wants, and the limitation appears to me to be a perfectly fair one.


There is a doubt in my mind with regard, for instance, to a factory which the Government have taken over and upon which large sums have been spent. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow us to consider the point, and, if necessary, insert the Amendment in another place.


Certainly. I wanted to put down the Amendment in order that it might really be considered.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


Would the Solicitor-General tell us what he means by "permanent buildings"? It seems to me a very ambiguous phrase.


It is necessary to distinguish buildings of a permanent nature from buildings which are put up merely for some temporary purpose. For instance, huts and iron buildings which are obviously temporary buildings would be excluded. It is intended to cover only buildings of a permanent nature.


It seems to me that the Solicitor-General has just illustrated the difficulty to which my right hon. Friend called attention. If the Solicitor-General is absolutely unable to give a definition, I do not think it is at all likely that less able people will be able to do so. My right hon. Friend asked for a definition of "permanent buildings," and in reply the Solicitor-General can find nothing more illuminating to say than that "permanent buildings" means buildings of a permanent nature as distinguished from buildings of a temporary nature. What is a building of a temporary nature, and what is a building of a permanent nature? All buildings, humanly speaking, are of a temporary nature. The right hon. Gentleman ought really to give us some more satisfactory definition.

Amendment agreed to.

Further amendments made: In Subsection (3) leave out the words "lease or otherwise dispose of."

Leave out the words "lease or otherwise acquire."

Leave out the words "leasing or otherwise acquiring."

In Sub-section (4) leave out the words "lease or otherwise acquire."

Leave out the words "leasing or otherwise acquiring."—[Dr. Addison.]