HC Deb 25 October 1916 vol 86 cc1158-61

Where land is purchased or leased under this Act by a Government Department, that Department shall ascertain and record the annual value thereof as adopted for rating purposes at the date of such purchase or lease, and these particulars, together with the amount of the price or rent, shall be included in the report of proceedings under this Act.

Provided that when the land purchased or leased is part of a larger unit for valuation, particulars shall be given showing the apportionment of the said valuations as between the several portions after severance.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

4.0 P.M

The object is that in the case of lands which are purchased or obtained under this Act, there should be a record kept and published in any report there may be of the proceedings, showing what the price of the land is and what the rent of the land is and what was taken as the valuation for rating at the time when the land was taken over. This Clause was not proposed, as was suggested in Committee, to establish a comparison between valuations for rating purposes. It only proposes that the facts should be ascertained and should be properly recorded. Some time before the War I put a question to the Prime Minister as to whether he would cause a' record to be kept of the price and valuation of all land acquired by public money, and he then gave the answer that he would. That, I understand, has been done. My right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury informed me a short time ago that it had been done in the case of land purchased before and during the War. On the Small Holdings (Colonies) Bill I proposed a Clause of the same character as this Clause, and the Government saw their way to accept that Clause. That Clause now stands as Section 6 of 4.0 P.M. the Small Holdings (Colonies) Act. I am now asking the Government to insert a similar Clause in this Bill in order that, when any report of the proceedings comes out, these particulars should appear therein. I cannot imagine a more modest proposal along these lines. It is not asking that any new information should be obtained. My request is that these particulars should become common property by being published in any report that may come out of proceedings under this measure. They certainly ought to come out in any case, because at a time like this the public should know what they are paying for land and also on what basis the owners of the land have contributed to the national needs. It might be possible to obtain this information later on by a series of questions in the House, or by asking for a special return of particulars as regards land purchased under this Act. But this seems to be a better arrangement, and I hope the Government will accept the proposal.

Commander WEDGWOOD

I beg to second the Motion.

It seems to me that the Government might quite well accept this Clause. If adopted, it will be, ipso facto, a guide to those who are making these purchases on behalf of the Government. Often at the present time the question of what the land was previously rated at or the amount at which it was valued at under the 1910 Act does not arise at all. The people conducting the negotiations do not ask what the valuation was; they base themselves almost entirely on the old Lands Clauses (Consolidation) Act, 1845.


The hon. Member is entirely mistaken.

Commander WEDGWOOD

They ask at what price the man is willing to sell the land. They then offer a lower figure and leave it to the arbitrators to decide. We do not insist upon the Government changing the principle in time of war, when they ought to do their very best to get land cheaply and when it is a particularly iniquitous crime to try to get more than a proper price out of the taxpayers of the country. We do not say that you are to use this valuation as the basis, but merely that this question is to be inquired into and registered in the annual report of purchases under the Act. If we can get this particular in, it merely means that it at once becomes one of the items specially considered; it becomes at once an element in fixing the ultimate price. In that way it will save money to the community, apart altogether from the statistical value which the return will necessarily have. I know that a certain number of Members interested in real estate will bitterly resent the insertion of any such Clause. The whole of the real estate interests are built up on the Lands Clauses (Consolidated) Act, 1845. The lawyers have that Act as their sheet-anchor, and when the real estate owners and the lawyers get together they will try to prevent any such alteration of the law. At the same time, it would be a very good test of the liberal attitude of mind of the Coalition Government if they would consider the insertion of a perfectly harmless Clause like this, which can only terrify people by the thought of what may be behind it, but which in itself is innocent and desirable in the interests of the community.


I do not propose to go into the very interesting questions suggested by my hon. Friend. But taking the matter merely on its merits, I think it would be better not to accept this Clause. The insertion of these words would involve a good deal of trouble to the authorities in collecting the information. The hon. Member himself can get it without trouble to the authorities. But when got it is really of no value at all in this connection. It is a mistake to found this proposal on the Small Holdings (Colonies) Act, because that was quite a different matter. Under that Act the Committee were ordered to present to Parliament an annual report of their proceedings, and the Section to which my hon. Friend refers directed that in that report there should be a return of this sort. In this Bill there is no provision for a report. Therefore the Clause really has no meaning. It simply provides that in a report which does not exist these particulars should be given. I hope we shall not go into the difficult questions which hon. Members might raise on this Clause.


I should like to ask the Solicitor-General a question. His objection is that there is no provision for a report of the proceedings under this measure, and that therefore a Clause requiring certain particulars to be put in that report would be futile. But though there is no provision for a report, there is no reason whatever why a report should not be issued. If a report were in fact issued the Clause would become relevant. If there were no report, no harm would be done by the insertion of the Clause. Therefore I hope the Solicitor-General will reconsider his decision.


The hon. Member is not entitled to make another speech. I understood that he desired to ask a question.


The question I desire to ask the Solicitor-General is, if he cannot accept the Clause, will the Government be willing at a later date to grant a return along these lines if such a return is asked for?


I could not answer that now.

Question put, and negatived.