§ Order read for Second Reading of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Bill.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)
I beg to move,That the Bill be now read a second time.4.0 P.M.
In moving, very briefly, the Second Reading of this Bill, I may, perhaps, offer two observations which will receive assent in all quarters of the House. The first is that, whatever else may be uncertain about the plans and purposes of national reconstruction, this Bill undoubtedly involves, and involves upon a considerable scale, the acquisition of land for public purposes. Hardly a candidate at the last election omitted to see and to say so much, and there is probably not a Member of this House who is not, in some form, pledged to that course. The second observation is that for the land so acquired a fair price must be paid. It is, perhaps, conceivable that there are wicked vendors who, when they sell land, desire to get a price which is too high. It is just possible, too, that there are virtuous purchasers who, when they buy land, desire to pay a price which is too low. The task of Parliament is less exciting but not less difficult. It is to provide machinery by which, in case of dispute, a price that is fair and reasonable may be fixed, and fixed without unnecessary expense or avoidable delay. That is the sole purpose of the present Bill. It is always easy and even attractive to criticise a Bill not for what it is but for what it is not. I should like to admit cheerfully and at once that there is an enormous number of things which this Bill does not attempt to do. Its scope is strictly limited, and its object is, as the title of the Bill says, "to amend the law as to the assessment of compensation in respect of land acquired compulsorily for public purposes, and the costs in proceedings thereon." That the law on this matter needs amendment few, I imagine, will deny. Experience extending over seventy years and more has provoked a general, if not a unanimous, opinion that the Lands Clauses Acts, with their two arbitrators and umpire, their provision as to costs, and the method of 2276 valuation which they encourage and foster, are for many purposes, at any rate, at once extravagant, dilatory, and cumbrous.
How does the present Bill approach this problem? It begins by setting up a new tribunal for valuation. It lays down certain rules to guide the tribunal in assessing the value of land. It regulates the procedure before the tribunal, and it modifies the law as to costs. It gives finality to the awards of the tribunal, subject to one appeal and one appeal to the King's Bench Division upon questions of law. Finally, it regulates the relations between the provisions of the present measure and the existing enactments as to the assessment of compensation. The sole purpose is to secure fairness both as to price and as to the costs, and as the Bill deals only with cases where the amount of compensation is disputed, it may well be that one of its useful effects will prove to be that it reduces the number of disputes. In other words, if you cannot expect more than fair compensation and if you cannot count upon conducting your dispute at the public expense, there is a certain temptation to dispute taken away.
May I say a word or two upon some of the main provisions of this Bill? The House, I am sure, appreciates the fact that the Bill confers no additional power of acquisition of land at all. It starts with the case where land is now or hereafter authorised to be acquired compulsorily by any Government Department or any local or public authority, and there is a question of disputing compensation. That question is by this measure referred to someone or other, but only to one of a panel of official valuers, and those valuers in turn are appointed and rules as to their selection in individual cases are to be made by a reference committee. That committee, so far as England is concerned, is to consist of the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Master of the Rolls, and the President of the Surveyors' Institute, and there are corresponding provisions in relation to Scotland and Ireland. The House will observe that there is reference to these valuers upon two points. First of all, they are to be appointed for such term as may be determined by the Treasury; and, secondly, during the period in which they hold office they are to be debarred from private practice as estate or land agents, surveyors, or valuers.
2277 The proposal to refer questions of this kind to a panel of referees is not novel, and the House will no doubt recall a recent precedent. Under this Bill it is proposed that the valuers shall be debarred from private practice. I do not think I need say anything in explanation or justification of that proposal. There are at least two good reasons. In the first place there is the obvious inconvenience, upon which I need not dwell, of a man sitting one day in a judicial capacity and another day he is giving evidence as an expert witness upon a controversial issue of the same kind. The second reason is that it is anticipated that under the provisions of this measure there will be a sufficient volume of work to occupy the whole time and energy of the gentlemen who may be appointed to carry out this work. Then there follows certain rules for the guidance of the official valuer. I need not enumerate all of them, but I will mention one or two. The first, and in some respects perhaps the chief, is that no allowance is to be made on account of the acquisition being compulsory—that is to say there is to be no 10 per cent., which has come to be the conventional figure under the Lands Clauses Acts, although, as the House is aware, that figure has no place in the Acts themselves. Not only is there to be no 10 per cent., but there is to be no allowance at all. That proposal, again, is not without precedent, and it is to be found in comparatively recent legislation. It was so in the case of the Smallholdings and Allotments Act of 1908, the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, the Development and Roads Improvement Funds Act, 1909, and in the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act, 1916.
The next rule which is laid down for the guidance of the official valuers relates to the general principle upon which the measure of value is to be ascertained—that is the amount which the land if sold in the open market by a willing seller might be expected to realise. I cannot help observing that since the Bill was printed that proposal has excited at least two criticisms, and I will say a word upon each of them. In the first place, it is said on the one hand that the phrase "a willing seller" ought to be followed by the phrase "a willing buyer." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I note that that remark has some adherents in this House, but I cannot help thinking that arises through a misunderstanding. The 2278 phrase "a willing seller" presupposes a willing buyer, and accordingly that phrase has been embodied in recent legislation. If hon. Members will look at Section 25, Sub-section (1), of the Finance Act of 1910, they will find that these words are copied, word for word, from that Section—that is the exception which deals with the fixing of the gross value of land for the purpose of land values.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in any part of that Act the phrase "a willing buyer" is not inserted?
§ Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL
Is the House to understand that the phrase, "a willing seller," import a willing buyer? Is it not possible to imagine a case of a man who desires to sell, but there is no market in which to sell?
§ Sir G. HEWART
The term, "a willing seller," considered at large, written upon a sheet of paper, might not imply a willing buyer, but in the words in this context I say that a willing seller does import a willing buyer at a price which land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller might be expected to realise. That imports a willing buyer. My second observation is that this is not an innovation. I think it has been said that now, for the first time, this phrase finds its way into a Bill, but that is not so. The Clause proceeds to exclude value due to special suitability in certain cases, and it further excludes value due to the use of land in any illegal or insanitary manner. I do not think I need say a word in justification of that proposal, because it is one which, so far as land taken for houses is concerned, is already to be found in the Housing Act of 1890.
Finally, there is a provision in proper cases for the calculation of the value upon the basis of reinstatement. May I say a word or two on the procedure laid down before the official valuer? There is, first of all—and those who know most about this kind of proceeding will probably be the most ready to welcome it—a limit upon the number of witnesses; and, secondly, it is provided that counsel or solicitor may be employed only by consent. Then there follows what I trust will appear to the House a useful provision as to the consolidation of proceedings on claims for compensation 2279 in respect of various interests in the same land. Nobody would deny that it is wrong that more should be paid for land in which several persons are interested than would be paid for it if there were a single owner in fee simple. The existing practice of separate assessments not only produces sometimes, in the aggregate, a greater amount than would be paid to the owner in fee simple, but it also leads to a considerable waste, both of time and of money, by reason of the multiplicity of proceedings. Then the Bill proceeds to lay down provisions which are of the essence of the matter as to cost. One of the disadvantages of the present system, or want of system, is that those who are selling land to a public authority can, as a rule, be perfectly certain that they can fight out the question of price at the expense of the public authority. That has two results. It leads to the pitching of the price too high, and it leads to quite unnecessary expense.
These provisions in Clause 5 are important in three different respects. First of all, under the Lands Clauses Act, as a rule, those who are acquiring the land have to pay all the costs. It is quite true that that rule is modified to some extent by some recent Acts of Parliament, but this Bill goes further. This Bill, subject to certain exceptions, puts the rule the other way. It gives the tribunal an unfettered discretion as to costs. I said that there were certain exceptions. Let me refer to one. Under the Lands Clauses Act, if the sum awarded does not exceed the amount which is unconditionally offered, the result, and the only result, is that half the cost of the proceedings are borne by each of the two parties. Under this Bill, it is provided that in such a case, namely, where the purchasing authority has unconditionally offered a sum than which no larger sum is awarded, the costs not merely may but must be paid by the landowner. That, it is contemplated, will be an incentive, and a powerful incentive, to the acceptance of a reasonable offer. Finally, under the Lands Clauses Act there is no power to require a claimant for compensation to state either the amount of his claim or the particular nature of his claim. That, in practice, has proved to be a most embarrassing omission. It is obviously difficult—difficult to the point of impossibility—for those who are about to acquire the land to make a suitable offer if they cannot obtain 2280 particulars of the claimant's claim, or particulars of the nature of his claim. To some extent, and only to some extent, that omission has been repaired in certain Acts of Parliament. Sometimes you find a provision requiring that such particulars shall be given by the claimant, under penalty in case of default, if those particulars are asked. You find such a provision, for example, in the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, and in various County Council Acts and other Acts; but, again, in this respect this Bill goes further. It makes it obligatory in all cases to give those particulars under penalty of having to pay the costs if the claimant fails to give them within a reasonable time.
I pass from that to say a word or two on Clause 6, which provides for the finality of the award. The finding of the valuer upon the question of fact is to be final and conclusive, but upon a question of law he may state a case, or he may be required to state a case, for the opinion of the King's Bench Division. That appeal is to stop at the King's Bench Division. For the expedition of the settlement of the claimant's claim and the avoidance of excessive costs, it is not proposed that appeals of that character should be carried forward to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. I do not think that I need enter into the details of the proposals dealing with the effect that the new Act is to have upon existing enactments. Quite shortly, the provisions come to this, that the machinery of this Bill is to supersede the machinery of the other enactments so far as they relate to the same subject matter, except in certain specific cases which are named, where a yet more advantageous procedure is already provided. By another Clause in the Bill it is provided that nothing in this Act is to prevent the parties agreeing upon a single arbitrator, if they are so minded. If they do agree upon a single arbitrator, then he acts in the same way and with the same powers as if he were an official valuer appointed under the Act itself. Finally, it provided by the Definition Clause, the second part of Clause 10, that "land" includes water, and any interests in land or water, and any easement or right in, to, or over land or water, and "public authority" means any body of persons, not trading for profit, authorised by or under any Act to carry on a railway, canal, dock, water, or other public undertaking. That, in the briefest outline, is a summary 2281 of the provisions of the Bill. I always hesitate to express an opinion as to the meaning of the Scottish Clauses in a Bill, but I understand that the Scottish Clause in this Bill has come not from an English Office, but from the Scottish Office, and that it has the effect of applying the Bill to Scotland.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what effect it has upon the Scottish Smallholdings Bill?
§ Sir G. HEWART
At the moment I am not in a position to answer that question, but I will ascertain, and it shall be answered. I was saying that this is a Bill of limited scope. We quite recognise that it does not deal with the mode in which compulsory powers are to be got. We quite recognise that it does not deal with all acquisitions of land compulsorily, but the Bill is intended to serve a particular, definite, and limited purpose, and within its scope I commend it to the House. There is one duty which I ought to perform before I sit down, and that is to express, on behalf of all concerned, the obligations which we feel to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), who presided, and presided so ably, over a Departmental Committee whch went very fully, not only into this matter, but into many other matters, and upon whose recommendations we have fully drawn.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the wordsThis House declines to proceed further with a measure which falsifies the hopes held out by the present Government at the General Election of a great scheme of land reform and which fails to provide a simple, cheap, and expeditious procedure for the granting of compulsory powers to acquire land and rights over, under, or in connection with land where it is in the national interest that such powers should be granted and makes no attempt to deal with the subject of compensation as a whole, and particularly with betterment and injurious affection.I desire, on behalf of the Committee over which I had the honour of presiding, to thank the Attorney-General for his ample and courteous appreciation of the services which we have tried to render. The Committee was one composed of men who were all very busy and all well experienced from different points of view in the very delicate topics with which we had to deal, and I can assure the House that they have devoted an amount of time to 2282 the consideration of this subject, to the sacrifice of their private interests, and deserve well of the nation. The Motion standing in my name may seem to some to be couched in terms of hostility to the Bill or to the Government. Neither were intended, but the matter is of so great importance, in spite of its very technical and difficult character, that I thought it my duty, on behalf of the Committee over which I presided, to attempt to bring before the House the larger aspects of the question, which without such a Motion could not have been discussed. The Motion indicates no distrust of the general policy or the intentons of His Majesty's Government. It is born of a belief that the Government have concentrated too much attention on the question of urgency, and have underestimated the desire of this House for thoroughgoing reform. The need of reform in regard to land is as urgent as it is in regard to any other single topic that was the subject of promises and speeches by the Government at the last election.
I want to say a little about the urgency of the reforms, and the need for wise and thoroughgoing legislation. I and my Committee regard the private enjoyment of land as accompanied by a public trust. We think it is the duty of every owner of land on the one hand to use it in the national interest, and on the other to be content to give it up, when the public interest requires it, on payment of fair compensation. In our view, it is vitally necessary at the present time—more necessary now than it has ever been in the history of this country—that those two principles should be enforced. We have seen an illustration of the one in the use of land under the Corn Production Act. Another illustration with which my Committee are at present dealing is provided in the occupation of mines and minerals, and the development of the mineral resources of the country. The second principle, that every man who owns land has a duty when called upon by the nation on national grounds to give it up, seems to us to be inherent in the nature of modern society. It is the only condition upon which, in our view, a progressive community can permit private ownership of a monopoly like land. It is equally necessary, when land has to be taken from its owner, that he should not be robbed. Compensation must be fair, and owners must know that it will be fair. Otherwise, you will create a feeling of insecurity, 2283 such as has been created before now in this country by legislation in regard to the ownership of land. The result of such insecurity is that capital is not invested, and development is prevented. Just now, when reconstruction is so necessary, and the livelihood of everyone depends upon the promotion of industrial and agricultural productivity, it is more than necessary that we should avoid doing anything that will create insecurity in the minds of owners of land.
There is special need of care in this matter. Nationalisation is no substitute for individual enterprise. My own view is that you will never get the same measure of brains, energy, adventurous courage and capital from a Government Department as you will from private enterprise. For that reason I and my Committee also reject nationalisation as a solution of the difficulties in regard to the development of the nation's resources. We should aim at making the land readily available whenever it is in the public interest that it should be acquired from its present owners, and no class interests must be allowed to stand in the way. To attain this we must have a simple, cheap, and expeditious procedure. Then we must make certain that the private owner is treated with justice; and secondly—this is of the greatest importance, and perhaps of all the particular objections to the way in which the Government have approached this subject this is the greatest—nothing must be done which will imperil the liberty of the subject. At first sight the point of my remark is not apparent. It is this: that if you leave to Government Departments the duty and the power of making Orders for the compulsory acquisition of land under any system which is analogous to that which has been the practice in recent years, and which is represented in each one of the Government measures that has been before this House involving the acquisition of land, we run a grave risk. At the outset I want to emphasise this. The risk is that a Government Department making such Orders, makes them in secrecy. No one knows the grounds upon which they act; there is no publicity to check them. In my view, the liberty of the subject in the future is more imperilled by bureaucratic and unchecked power of the Government Departments and of the Executive than ever it was in the days of the Stuarts by the Crown. 2284 Those are the principles we should have in mind in approaching the topic before the House.
The present Bill is, as the Attorney General has pointed out, very limited in character. What is the whole subject, a part of which is touched by the Bill? The subject divides itself quite naturally, in the first instance, into two halves—first, the half which relates to the acquisition, to the power to take land compulsorily; and, secondly, the half which deals with compensation and all the other correlative questions which follow and have to be dealt with in respect of land when power to take it has already been granted. There is a number of different points connected with the taking of land after the power to take it has been granted. It is not merely a question of assessing the price of a particular piece of land. Hon. Members who are familiar with these questions will know that there is such a number of different topics of real, practical importance that anyone not familiar with the subject, when given a list of them, would be astonished. Let me take one or two of them. Take the question which, to my mind, is one of great practical importance in regard to the future development of this country after the War—the subject of betterment. Where the property is improved in value by the construction of public works of one sort or another in a district, as very often happens, under the present law a large present of value is made to the owner of the land so benefited. The country, the local authority, the railway company, whoever it may be, who is constructing the undertaking which causes the benefit, at present gets nothing out of the improved value. It is a windfall, a present to those who are so benefited. I ask why should that present be made? Why should not the community, or why should not the promoters, have the benefit of some of that pecuniary advantage they are bringing in their train? Take another subject, correlative to the subject of betterment, namely, what is known as injurious affection—that is, damage done to those who are in the neighbourhood of the undertaking by the user of the undertaking, which may be one which causes damage rather than betterment. Why should not the whole of that subject be dealt with? This Bill does not touch it. Take another subject that is not touched by this Bill. Private promoters, railway companies, statutory companies of all kinds, are excluded from the Bill. Why 2285 should not they be dealt with? If the price or the compensation fixed by the Bill whieh is to be paid to the owner whose land is taken is a fair price—and the Attorney-General has maintained that it is a fair price—why should the landowner whose land is taken for the purposes of a railway be paid a smaller price or a larger price than that? There is no rhyme or reason in it. The essence of the matter is that, wherever land is taken because it is in the national interest that it should be taken, that owner should receive neither more nor less than fair compensation. I suggest that there is no logical reason, or any reason of public policy, which should distinguish the case of a man whose land has to be taken for a school from that of a man whose land has to be taken for a railway company. It is utterly irrational, and a view this House ought not to sanction.
I shall deal more in detail with the omissions from the Bill in a few moments. For the present, I recognise that the Government are treating this as an emergency measure. I believe that their view is, from what one has heard, that this Bill is essential to the carrying out of the other three Bills—the Housing Bill, the Ways and Communicationss Bill, and the Land Settlement (Facilities) Bill. I say no more on that subject, except to point out that in the Ways and Communications Bill they leave the Lands Clauses Acts, 1845, still to apply. That is utterly illogical. I know what answer the Attorney-General will make. He will say that although the draft of the Ways and Communications Bill sticks to the Lands Clauses Acts, yet this Bill, when it becomes law, will override those provisions in the Ways and Communications Bill. I believe that will be done as a matter of legal interpretation of the two Bills taken together, but it is a most confused method of legislating in this House. I recognise that certain powers must be obtained quickly in regard to the assessment of compensation. I believe the whole House agrees with that, and that the existing state of affairs is anomalous, that the prices paid are excessive, that the costs incurred have been excessive, and that, for the purpose of acquiring land for the great public purposes covered by the various Bills now before the House, new machinery is necessary. As such I welcome this Bill, as far as it goes. But if I may use 2286 an unparliamentary expression, this is a tinkering Bill, tinkering with a great subject. It is like sewing new cloth on to old cloth. The result will be it will tear all round the margin where it is sewn on. I can assure the House that the complexity of the legislation at the present time relating to this subject of the acquisition of land, compensation, and so on, is so great that it requires the most skilled lawyer to interpret it. I venture to assert, with some knowledge of the class, that there is no lawyer who can tell you without some considerable research what are the particular provisions to apply to any particular subject. I suspect the Attorney-General will agree with me. That being so, is not this the time when we do not want to tinker but when we want, if we can, if it is reasonably feasible with due regard to the time of the House which is available, to introduce a measure which will sweep away this network of cobwebs of outworn legislation, which is so difficult for even the most skilled lawyer to piece together and understand. We want to start clear in this period of reconstruction, and not to start with patchwork.
There is another observation to be made about the present position as regards this Bill. Of course it is an emergency measure, but it is not only an emergency measure, it is a permanent measure, and it is intended to be a permanent solution of a problem which we have all recognised for many years past as crying for solution. That being so, it is impossible for us to regard it only as an emergency measure. The House must test it also from the point of view of its permanent character. Some of the omissions from the measure can be put right in Committee. The proposals in the Bill with which the House disagrees can be put right in Committee. But the scope of the Bill is defined by its Title, read in the light of its provisions. I am authorised by Mr. Speaker to say that under this Bill there are two subjects which are definitely excluded from its scope and cannot be brought in by way of Amendment in Committee. Those two subjects are betterment and injurious affection so far as land is concerned which belongs to owners none of whose land is taken. Let me explain that. You have adjoining the proposed site of a public undertaking two plots of land, one belonging to A and the other belonging to B. Part of the plot of owner A is taken. Compensation is paid to him 2287 for the land taken. Under the head of compensation in this Bill it may be, though I do not think it is clear, that injurious affection to him for severance and loss of amenities may be taken into account; and, conversely, weighed against that injurious affection, betterment to the rest of his land or other parts of his land may be brought into the account by way of set-off if an Amendment were brought in in Committee. But what about owner B, whose land is contiguous to the site that is taken, although not actually touched by it? It suffers and gains in the same way, and in exactly the same proportion as that of A. Under this Bill A can be compensated, B can get nothing. A can be made to pay by way of deduction from the purchase money something for the benefit he receives. The promoters or the public Department, or the local authority can get nothing out of B.
There again you have a most anomalous position—an almost impossible position. To attempt to engraft this new growth on the old tree is foolish, and not only foolish but it is bound to lead to a great increase of cost in litigation, and so on, and in waste of money down that channel which all sensible people like to avoid, namely, the lawyer's pocket. These are two illustrations. Another point is this—although I have not the authority of Mr. Speaker upon it, for I did not ask him the question: The Bill is closely denned as a Bill which authorises payment of compensation where land is required for public purposes. "Public purposes" must be defined under the Bill as land taken by a Government Department or a public or a local authority within the meaning of the Bill, and if one looks at the definition in Clause 10, Sub-section (2), it will be found that there are excluded railway or other companies working for profit. Therefore you cannot under this Bill say that land taken by a railway company working for profit shall have the benefit of the provisions of the measure, and it will be outside the scope of the Bill in Committee to attempt to introduce Amendments for that purpose. Under the Bill, in my view, it is impossible to amend it by making its provisions applicable to cases of private promotion.
I want next to deal with various other matters omitted from the Bill. I will take them as shortly as I can, and I hope the House will bear with me if I call attention 2288 to some of the points in the Report of my Committee dealing with this matter which are not covered by this Bill. The Report is Command Paper 9229 of last year. We recommended that the Lands Clauses Acts were now out of date and should be repealed and replaced by a fresh code. That is not done. We advised that the standard of value should be based on a newer principle—the market value as between a willing seller and a willing buyer. The Institute of Surveyors, and indeed all practical men, take the view that the Clause in the Bill has not the meaning which the Attorney-General puts on it, and that under it the owner can have put on him the price of a forced sale. I mention it by the way, because it is not clear from the Attorney-General's statement that he will accept an Amendment introducing the willing buyer. Another point omitted altogether is that the value of all separate interests in the property—the marketable value—should be assessed. It is true, at the same time, that assessed as they are to-day each has a separate interest. The Attorney-General said on that—I hope I am not doing him an injustice—that everybody knew that the freehold value of the land, when divided between the different interests, would give to each of those interests the whole of what they were entitled to.
§ Sir G. HEWART
That is not quite so. What I said, I think, was that it would be agreed that no more ought to be paid where the interests were separate than would be paid if all the interests were in the hands of one owner, and that under the law as it stands now there is a tendency to raise the cost and also to give a larger aggregate than would be the total paid for the land were it in one hand.
§ Mr. SCOTT
The point is one of some practical importance because in large cities where a considerable amount of the money of the working classes is invested in small house property and in leasehold property, we must have regard to the existing facts of the situation, which are—although it would surprise one if they did not know it—that when a freehold is divided up into a long leasehold, a subsidiary lease for a shorter period, and a tenancy, the value of each of those interests sold in the open market separately will very often total up more than the freehold by itself without any lease having been made, but with the houses on the 2289 land, would fetch in the open market. It is a curious fact, but it is a fact, that any legislation which provided that the freehold value should be taken as the total, the various interests only getting a share of that total, would have the effect of robbing the owners of these individual interests very likely of something they have paid for in hard cash. Another point not touched by the Bill which is quite important is this. Promoters should be allowed much more latitude in regard to notices to treat than they have at the present time. They should be allowed to give notice to treat for one interest and not necessarily for all interests. They should be allowed to give it for a future date, and not as at present forthwith. There is no reason, so far as we can see, why complete freedom should not be given promoters in that respect. It would help considerably in keeping down the cost of public undertakings. Another provision in regard to notice to treat, we think, should be that, after a claim has been sent in, if the promoters feel it is so large that they ought somehow or other to manage without that particular piece of ground, they ought to be allowed to withdraw the notice to treat, paying the owner who received the notice full compensation for any loss he has suffered thereby. Another important provision is in relation to restricted covenants which are often very burdensome and interfere greatly with the utilisation of land. My Committee suggested a provision for dealing with such covenants, especially in the matter of compensation, and that again we thought ought to be dealt with.
But these are, after all, only smaller matters, and I want if I may to deal with the larger question of betterment. Many committees have sat and approved of the principle of betterment. The French Parliament last October passed an Act giving effect to the principle of betterment. Several Acts of Parliament, mostly private Acts, in this country have been passed giving effect to the principle of betterment. But hitherto in this country the difficulty has always been to find a method by which the cost of ascertaining the amount of betterment was very much less than the whole value of the betterment obtained. In the case of London County Council important schemes, the cost of ascertaining the betterment proved a considerable difficulty, and so my Committee set themselves 2290 to find a solution. The solution, which we believed to be fairly practicable, was this. In our first report in regard to the acquisition of and power to take land, we advised that a Sub-committee, so to speak, of the two Houses of Parliament should be appointed by the Parliamentary Selection Committee, and to that body should be added by the same Selection Committee a certain number of suitable men of affairs versed in local government matters, leaders of Labour, and others from outside. We proposed to call the body the Sanctioning Authority. We proposed to give it power to direct the compulsory taking of land whenever it was desirable in the public interests. We proposed that the Committee might sit by Commissioners wherever it was most convenient, in the provinces or in London, accordingly as the case might be, by one Commissioner for small matters and two or three for larger ones, and that there should be, on questions of policy, an appeal to Parliament. When it came before Parliament we suggested Standing Orders might be altered so that the matter should be taken as having passed all stages, including the Committee stage. Then we proposed that when promoters took the view that their undertaking was going to increase the value of a locality, they should come before the Sanctioning Authority and ask them to map out a betterment area, so that all property within that area, if bettered within a certain definite time, should pay a certain betterment charge, say, an annual charge representing 50 per cent. of the total increment in the value of the land in question. That procedure we proposed to carry out in practice by utilising the Inland Revenue Valuation Department, and we proposed to give to that Department, which is certainly improving as time passes in efficiency, the power and the duty, at the request either of the promoters or of the owners of the land, to make a valuation of the land at the time it is taken, the valuation then to be handed to the other side, with the probability that both parties would agree upon it as a basis. If they could not agree, they could take it before the assessment tribunal on appeal. A similar valuation would be made at the end of the betterment period, and the difference between the two would be the betterment, of course all other factors—appreciation or depreciation of value—being eliminated. We thought that that would be a perfectly simple and cheap 2291 procedure which would get over the great difficulty of cost experienced in betterment schemes in the past. I submit that that, having been threshed out in detail by men of practical experience, ought to be acted upon by His Majesty's Government and incorporated as one of the reforms in connection with their land acquisition proposals.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
In this Report, as I understand, they have quite put on one side as worthy of their consideration or adoption the existing Government scheme of valuation, and they have indicated as one which they would support the scheme which my hon. and learned Friend has just explained. Can we be told, without trespassing too much on his speech, what are the reasons for that differentiation?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I understand the right hon. Gentleman wishes to know why we put aside the increment value under the Act of 1910 in favour of betterment. To be quite candid, we thought the valuations of the Finance Act, 1909–10, were rather artificial, and we thought it easier to arrive at a comparative result, it being borne in mind that it was only a comparative result we were after, to take the actual property as it stood, not the site value or the gross value, or the provisional value or any of the other values, but the value, and compare the value of the land as it was at the commencement of the undertaking and then consider it again at the end of the period. One reason why we took that line was this: we understood from the Inland Revenue Department that, in fact, when there was a transfer from the owner to the promoters of the land taken for the purpose of the undertaking there would have to be a valuation for that purpose made by the Inland Revenue Department. I think it is called an occasional valuation, and that valuation would give the Department all the details that an ordinary valuer looking at the land would give to the right hon. Gentleman or myself if we wanted to go and buy the land. That being so, as the Government Department would have to do the whole of the work, we thought it would be able to furnish a valuation to the parties for almost a nominal fee. We considered very carefully the question of the alternative system of recoupment. I will not trouble the House with details, but we took the view broadly that it was not a good thing to 2292 encourage promoters to become, as it were, land speculators on a large scale, by allowing them to buy a lot of land for the purpose of recouping themseves. But we did contemplate recoupment where the local authority was carrying out street improvements. There we thought it would be very useful. Now, a word about injurious affection. Injurious affection in the past has been given under very arbitrary rules and limitations. To the man a little tiny piece of whose land is taken injurious affection has been given, for the loss of amenities and all sorts of chimerical and potential matters, which a practical man must regard as very far-fetched and as resulting in giving him far more than he ought to have. I speak from practical experience of many cases. I do not personally regard the surveyors so much responsible as the lawyers. The Courts have, by a series of decisions, allowed to be brought into account a number of elements under the old Land Clauses Acts because of the terminology of the Acts. The Courts were right in their decisions, but as a result injurious affection has been given to the man a piece of whose land was taken in an undue amount. On the other hand, taking my previous case, the man none of whose land is taken, he has not been allowed injurious affection unless a number of very technical and legal conditions could be satisfied. He would have to show, for instance, that he would have been able to bring an action at law for damages in order to recover the amount if no statutory powers had been granted. Conditions of that kind have resulted in the man whose land is not taken getting very little for injurious affection. The view my Committee took was that there was no rhyme or reason for distinguishing between the two, but that both should be put on the same footing and that the amount given for injurious affection should be moderate and not excessive, and we provide, we believe, a system by which that could be carried out in practice.
I have dealt at some length with the omissions from the Bill on the subject of compensation, and the corrollary matters of injurious affection, betterment, and so on, but I do not want to pause on the proposals of the Bill at any length, because they are mostly Committee points. I do want, however, to say a word or two on one or two of them. The proposal of the Bill is that the valuers should be whole- 2293 time valuers. I had a question down on the Paper to ask the Prime Minister, which the Attorney-General answered, What salary, what terms of service, and what terms of pension would be given to these men if they were asked to take office? It is vital that we should have absolutely the best men of their profession for this work, and we shall not get them unless they are given permanent appointments with a really high salary, a salary which is commensurate with the profits of their present business, and a pension to supplement the salaries. That is the only condition on which we can get them. My own view is that even if the Government are willing to give those terms, it would be better to have, not whole-time valuers, but surveyors, employed on the same terms as the referees under the Finance Act. My Committee discussed this matter and considered it at very great length, and we came to the conclusion that on the whole, though we recognised there were arguments on both sides, it would be better to have men in actual practice, and I will give two reasons to the House why we thought so. In the first place, we believed that conditions would be changing in this country during the next two decades very much and that it would be very important that the valuer employed to assess the compensation should be in close and daily touch with the actual market conditions, advising and carrying out transactions daily, so that he knew the price in fact paid. Another reason was for the purpose of saving expense at the hearing of the assessment cases. The more the valuer knows who sits as judge the less he will be dependent upon witnesses. The Bill by its proposal seems to me to attempt to get the best out of two best possible worlds. It wants the independence of the whole-time valuer, and at the same time to dispense with evidence, but you cannot do it. You must choose. You must either have a judge who will hear whatever evidence is tendered or you must have a skilled valuer who does not need the evidence. I do not say we would ever dream of inviting the House to reject the Bill if the Government insisted on this proposal, but I submit this criticism to the consideration of the Government on this matter, and hope they may see their way to leave it to the decision of the House, without putting Whips on, in regard to this particular proposal. The next point I want to make is that of legal and expert assistance. I am tarred. I am 2294 a lawyer, but I think it is an anomaly that a man should be entitled to employ whoever he likes—half a dozen King's Counsel if he chooses—for a £10 claim in the County Court, and not be able to employ legal assistance where he may have £10,000 or £100,000 at issue in a case of the acquisition of his land, unless the valuer consents. I asked surveyors their opinion on this matter, and they told me—all I asked, and my Committee took evidence about it—that in their opinion, on the whole, cases were shortened by having legal assistance, and my submission is that the remedy my Committee adopted of leaving complete discretion as to costs to the valuer was sufficient. Allow the valuer to disallow costs if he thought that unnecessary legal assistance or unnecessary experts had been employed. In regard to appeals, in this matter the King's Bench Division might quite easily go wrong. The judges of the King's Bench Division will not think me discourteous if I state the fact that appeals to the King's Bench Division ought not to be allowed, and I urge very strongly on the Government that a right of appeal should be allowed up to the House of Lords, where either the King's Bench Division or the Court of Appeal give leave to appeal, and not otherwise, on the ground that there is a really important question of law involved.
Those are all the points I want to make on the subject matter of the Bill, and the omissions in connection with compensation and similar questions, but on the subject of the other half of this matter, the question of the acquisition of powers, I want to urge this upon the Government for their consideration: The Committee which I had the honour of presiding over was appointed by the Prime Minister in June, 1917. We reported on the first half of our subject in January, 1918, and since then that Report, urging the appointment of the sanctioning authority, the Sub-committee of the two Houses of Parliament, has received a quite astonishing measure of public support—almost unanimous public support—from the Press; and I think the Attorney-General will find that most Government Departments have given their approval, and from bodies which are looked upon as reactionary. May I quote a passage from the Report of the Law Society of England and Wales? They unanimously adopted, at their own council, the report of a sub-committee appointed to deal with the matter, and in 2295 that sub-committee's report there are two passages which I want to read. The first is:The first and second reports of Mr. Leslie Scott's Committee relating to the acquisition and valuation of land, which have been referred to the Land Transfer Committee for consideration, are documents of unusual value and interest. They set out with accuracy and lucidity the present position of the law and procedure on the subject and make proposals which are far-reaching, bold, and, in the opinion of the committee, on the whole sound and reasonable.They go on to say this:Speaking broadly, the Land Transfer Committee (of the Law Society) are prepared to support these recommendations as reasonable and fair amendments to the existing law and practice. With the principle of creating a sanctioning authority they are entirely in accord.They make one or two minor suggestions in relation to the subject of compensation dealt with in our second Report, but with that minor exception they approve in toto the whole of the two Reports which my Committee published. I venture to submit that that is very, very strong support, coming from a body like the Law Society, who are proverbially cautious and afraid of change unless it is going to be successful. I therefore strongly urge on the Government that they should deal with the matter.
Hitherto there have been three forms of obtaining powers to take land. First, private Bill legislation in either House going through both Houses; second, Provisional Order confirmed by Parliament; and third, Departmental Order. As to Departmental Orders, I venture to submit that we ought to make an end of this system. I may read a passage from a letter which I received recently from that great lawyer, the present Master of the Rolls, on the subject of Departmental Orders. He says:Local inquiries, as hitherto held, have formed no security to the subject against the arbitrary high-handedness of irresponsible officials who make Departmental Orders. The reports of the inspectors are not published nor are their contents disclosed. They are treated as confidential, and the Department is not under any obligation to follow the inspector's recommendation. The report may just be pigeon-holed and the Department may proceed without regard to it.That states the position in an unanswerable way. We have seen too much of D.O.R.A. during the War to want to have it continued during the years of peace. The present proposals of my Committee have been published, but we also deal with the whole subject of minerals, water 2296 rights, etc. For that reason we propose—and the mining authorities sitting on my Committee agree—that we should use the sanctioning authority procedure adumbrated in our first Report.
In these circumstances what are the Government to do? We suggest that they should choose one of two courses—either withdraw this Bill and during the Recess frame a new Bill covering the whole subject, both the acquisition of premises and all the matters relating to compensation, betterment, injurious affection and private promoters; or, on the other hand, if they do not do that that they should introduce a new Bill dealing with the sanctioning authority and the acquisition of premises on the lines of my first Report, and deal with the present Bill in the only way in which I think it can be dealt with. I have asked Mr. Speaker whether it would be possible under the Standing Orders of the House to alter the title of the Bill so as to extend its scope. I understand that that is not possible. Therefore, the only solution is to introduce a secondary Bill, making three altogether, dealing with betterment, injurious affection, and private promoters, and then to amalgamate that Bill with the present Bill, which can be done in accordance with Standing Orders. The House could then deal with the whole subject.
The reception given by the House to the Housing Bill and the Transport Bill shows conclusively that the House is ready for large measures of reform and will deal with them in no narrow, carping spirit. Things are possible now which six years ago were not possible and we could get through a great measure of reform of our whole land system, so far as acquisition for public purposes is concerned, without any difficulty. The Standing Committees system is working well. Bills are getting through rapidly, and with the good will of the House, the anxiety of the House to carry great measures of reform, and the good will of the Committees upstairs, there is no reason why the Government should fight shy of dealing with this problem. If they do not deal with it they will find the aftermath worse than dealing with it now. They will get into hopeless difficulties in the end. Therefore, one or other of these courses should be adopted.
There is one point upon which I think their difficulties must be recognised. They want, for the purposes of these Bills—the Housing Bill, the Land Settlement Bill, 2297 and the Ways and Communications Bill—power to take land quickly, and they want it also for the Education Act, which they passed last Session, for emergency purposes. To meet that I would suggest that, while adopting the course which I have asked them to adopt, introducing either one Bill or two or three Bills to carry out the full reforms that are necessary, to insert in those Bills a provision that the procedure contained in the Bills allowing the Board ol Agriculture, the Local Government Board, and the Ministry of Ways and Communications to take land by Departmental Order should be allowed to continue during the emergency period. If an exception is made for emergency purposes and all these Departmental powers are allowed to be exercised on D.O.R.A. principles during the emergency, then I submit there should be no objection on the part of the Government to giving the country the simple, cheap, and expeditious procedure of obtaining land where it is required in the public interest for the development of our industries in this country.
I ask them, therefore, to consider that proposal, which they might carry out by inserting in the Bill a provision that, say, to the 31st December, 1920, subject to any further extension by Parliament, the Departments in question should be allowed to go on with their Departmental Order system for the purpose of obtaining land for emergency purposes, but after that the liberty of the subject should be protected from the impediment of the Executive Department, and that we should then have a general code of procedure dealing with the whole subject. All the old Land Clauses Acts should be swept away; all these Statutes—and there is an enormous number of them giving these different powers—should be wiped out and consolidated; and instead of having, as we have to-day, about ten different Departments with power to acquire land, a Subcommittee of the two Houses should have that power, sitting by Commissioners where it is necessary, and controlled on all matters of policy by this House.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think that the House owes a great debt of gratitude to the hon. and learned Member for having opened up the question in the way he has and having shown how big the matter really is, so that we are able to judge now in what a 2298 small and unworthy way the Government has chosen to deal with it. The acquisition of land by public departments, local authorities, railway companies, and for all purposes of public utility lies at the root of success in achieving the things which the country is determined to press on with in the nature of social reform in the next five or ten years. The question of land settlement for discharged soldiers is, of course, urgent. It is of the utmost importance. The questions of housing and allotments—I hope very much we may be able to concert measures by which our housing policy and allotments will go hand in hand as towns grow, so that everyone may have his bit of land at the same time as he gets his residence—the question of reclamation with regard to which there is a great deal of scientific ability available at the Board of Agriculture, and then we have great hopes of much being accomplished, the questions of roads, minerals, the obtaining of land for the new continuation schools, the obtaining of land for forestry, all those great developments and proposals for reconstruction depend on having the whole code of procedure of land acquisition thoroughly reformed, not little fringes of it touched on, as is done by this Bill, but the whole question gone into root and branch.
The country has been waiting for something of that kind for a long time. There is no difference in any shade of public opinion as to the fact that these Lands Clauses Consolidation Acts are entirely out of date and ought to be swept away, and it will he a very great disappointment to see the small measure of reform that is now offered. It is not offered even as an instalment, because, from what I heard of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, there was no mention of any intention by the Government of taking any further steps whatever on those extraordinary monumental reports which have been presented by the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading talked about the limited purposes. The purposes for which land is required are not limited; they are unlimited. There are dozens of public purposes crowding forward. Each of them needs to have the way clear so that there shall not be the cumbrous method of obtaining land set about on all sides which reforms had hitherto to encounter. I was very much afraid when I saw that this 2299 question was not handled adequately in the King's Speech. There was no reference in it to this Bill. I put down an Amendment on the Address calling attention to that fact. Now that the Bill is produced, my fears are justified by the small scope of the measure put before the House.
Let us see what are in brief the problem to be tackled and the case to be met. First of all, the old code under which land has been acquired has been for years out of date. The main Statute is the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, as modified by subsequent Statutes. That Statute was passed by a Parliament consisting mainly of landowners and lawyers, in the interests of landowners and lawyers, at a time when railways were just beginning to be made, when everybody thought railways were rather dangerous innovations and everyone was determined that if a railway company came along and took over a bit of land they should be certain to pay three or four times the value of the land they took. I have heard stories, and many other hon. Members may have heard them, of how, when branch railway lines were being made, and a public inquiry was held as to what route the railway should follow, whether on one side of a valley or the other, people came back from the inquiry infuriated, not because the railway was coming through their land, but because the railway was not coming through their land but was going on the other side of the valley, because under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Acts they would have been absolutely certain of getting three or four or even ten times any reasonable value that could be put upon the land. It is full time that that old code should go.
Then there is the question of the powers of local authorities, and again our present procedure is an anachronism. The procedure is often by private Bill legislation. It is very popular in certain circles. It is very popular with the Parliamentary Bar and with certain officials of local authorities who have an annual trip to London at a time of year when the local authorities are engaged in putting through some proposal under the procedure of private Bill legislation at the expense of the local authority. I remember when I was a minor official with one of the big local authorities in the North of England being sent up to London on the business 2300 of the local authority and I found that I was expected to draw an allowance every night of two guineas, which was far more than ever I was allowed on public service when I was an Under-Secretary of State or something a good deal more important than when I was working for a local authority. So that I can imagine that in certain quarters this procedure of private Bill legislation is popular, but really it is expensive, dilatory and cumbrous in many ways to the last degree, and one hoped that the Government would have been able to deal with it comprehensively in a measure of this kind. There are under our present system endless ways under which public Departments can acquire land by different modifications in special Statutes of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, but there is no clearing house through which the different public Departments have to put their proposals, and there is no sanctioning authority. Of late years there has been a tendency, which this House ought to try to check, by public Departments to try and remove the control of their procedure further and further from this House, which ought to watch the actions of public Departments narrowly and closely. I worked out a day or so ago a short statement of the existing position, and I find that there are no less than eighty-one principal general Acts relating to the compulsory acquisition of land for public purposes, and six extra Acts referring to the acquisition of land in London. There are nineteen different Acts under which local authorities may obtain compulsory powers, and there are thirteen different variations in the procedure of local authorities before they obtain powers to purchase. When they have obtained those powers there are eight variations in the procedure to be followed consequent on obtaining the ground. There are no less than eleven different Statutes with regard to costs, and there are no less than eleven different Statutes as to the means of assessing compensation. That gives some measure of the problem which had to be faced, and practically, unfortunately, it has not been faced.
The Government had the ground very well prepared. They could not say that this was a matter sprung upon them in an emergency and that they had no time to do anything more than what is contained in this Bill. The matter was started and came before them a very long 2301 time ago. I believe that the first suggestion was contained in the interim Report of the Afforestation Committee, of which I happen to be chairman. We realised that unless that authority dealing with afforestation had simple, swift, expeditious, compulsory powers it would be extremely difficult for them to get the land which the nation needed to be planted so very urgently in order to meet the extraordinary position which the War had brought about. We recommended in that Report that there ought to be simple, quick, inexpensive powers for the compulsory acquisition of land as a necessary background of all post-war development schemes. We saw and pointed out that this would be needed by many other authorities besides that charged with afforestation, and we suggested that there ought to be a special body appointed to consider first of all—and this is a thing which the Government entirely omits—the co-ordination of the activities of the different Government Departments, and as to the granting of the use of compulsory powers; and, secondly, a tribunal to decide the compensation and the procedure which should be followed by that tribunal. Six months later, June, 1917, the Committee presided over by my hon. and learned Friend was appointed and produced its first Report in January, 1918, so that the Government has had that Report for fifteen months and no action taken on that Report has yet been put before the House. It would weary the House were I to refer again to the plan of that Committee with regard to a sanctioning authority, and I think the House was impressed by what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about that proposal. There is no doubt whatever that that Committee did a tremendous lot of work on its scheme and put forward well-thought-out proposals, and it is ten thousand pities that at this time, when all these reconstruction proposals are thronging to our attention, that there is no sign whatever from the Government or any suggestion that they are going to deal with this matter at all. The course taken seems the simplest to them, but I think it would be a case of the longest way round being the shortest way home. No doubt they would like to keep the Bill simple, but I think before they get to the end of acquiring the land that they want and the public authorities want for all the purposes arising, they will be sorry they have not taken the bull by the horns and dealt 2302 with the matter comprehensively and set up a proper sanctioning authority, thus facilitating the action of the local authorities greatly. I believe even on this Bill we shall have many Amendments and many arguments brought forward which would have been swept aside by the Minister responsible if only we had been able to show that all the schemes before being brought into effect would have been submitted to a sanctioning authority which, like that proposed by the hon. and learned Member, would have been first of all independent of the Departments and would have enjoyed the general confidence of the country. I believe there will be difficulties as time goes on, owing to not having a sanctioning authority before whom the schemes would go and which could see that no one Department was allowed to poach on the preserves of another, and which would give us some impartial judgment as to whether it was right that the land proposed to be taken for the purpose suggested should be taken. However, we have got to face the position.
The Government clearly realised there was a problem, or else why do they appoint in such good time the Committee of my hon. and learned Friend? They must have realised that it was most pressing to have a solution ready immediately the War was over, or else they would hardly let him and his colleagues take up their time, all of which was valuable, in spending months in working out a scheme. Yet, when a solution is presented, they neither go into it or modify it, or appoint some other body to work over the ground again, if there was anything wrong in the solution as suggested. They looked the matter fairly in the face, and they hastened to pass by on the other side and took no notice of it at all. The history of the matter continues. The Committee went forward into the other questions and presented the second Report last November, which I hope we all studied with interest and improvement. I know I have. I find in that Report there are forty-one different recommendations which can be separately classified. It is extraodinarily difficult for me, as I think it will be for other hon. Members, to imagine on what principle the Government has gone in accepting some of the recommendations, ignoring others and modifying a third section. They seem to me to have started off in great form, since they put into the Bill, with or without qualifications, six of 2303 the first seven recommendations of that Committee. They took no notice whatever of the next ten, and it seems as if the Government and the draftsman must have gone to sleep. Then they woke up again and dealt with five of the next six, and then went to sleep over the whole of the rest of the Report, because there is only one of the remaining eighteen recommendations which is so much as referred to in this Bill. It is worth while running over briefly some of the things which the hon. and learned Member in his modesty put before us, but which seem to me to be necessary to satisfy the just aspirations of local authorities and of the public Departments, but which have been ignored. There is the point which, as all people acquainted with the subject know, has put promoters to unnecessary expense, that is, as to the reinvestments of the purchase money, and there is a recommendation on that that only one reinvestment shall be allowed and that is ignored. The Committee recommended that promoters might take part of land only, and they are often put to very considerable expense in having, by Section 92 of the Act of 1845, to take the whole of it. The recommendation on that subject has been ignored. Then it is recommended that they may take an easement on land only where that is sufficient. I do not know whether that is covered by the definition at the end of the Bill, but if not it is ignored. There is the point made by my hon. and learned Friend that the local authorities ought to be allowed to withdraw the notice to treat at any time in the proceedings if they find that costs are piling up against them, and that they would have to pay more than a reasonable sum for the land. Many of us could give instances where local authorities have had to go on where the notice to treat has been served and have had to pay extortionate amounts, whereas a simple provision enabling them to withdraw on paying the costs of the other parties previous to the withdrawal would have been perfectly just and reasonable. There was then the recommendation as to the extinction or modification of restricting covenants over land, which it is sought to clear and which is a perfectly reasonable thing where it can be shown that the extinction of those covenants is desirable in the public interest. That question has not been dealt with. There is a quite im- 2304 portant, although perhaps small question, about how to deal with an offer by the promoters to supply accommodation works, and that is left out. There is a question as to the powers of the promoters to sell surplus land. That ought to be unrestricted, and the rights of pre-emption by enabling owners ought to be done away with.
Coming to the end, it is recommended that either party should be at liberty to obtain Inland Revenue valuations of the land and to bring those valuations as evidence before the tribunal which has to decide on the price, and also that they may bring the taxation Returns in possession of the Inland Revenue in as evidence for the decision of the case. That, I think, is a most important matter, and its omission shows how great is the disrepute and disrespect into which the great Budget of the Prime Minister has fallen, and for which some of us still retain considerable regard. But that obvious suggestion that the valuations under that Budget could be brought into Court as evidence, finds no shape or mention in this Bill. That Committee also practically proposed a new code as to injurious affection which would make the matter plainer and much simpler to everybody in the country. Tenthly and finally, the Government has entirely shirked the question of dealing with betterment. The question of betterment has been sufficiently described by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Leslie Scott), and I believe there is not really a Member of this House who would not agree with the main principles which his Committee proposed in paragraph 32 of their Report:In our opinion the principle of betterment, i.e., the principle that persons whose property has clearly been increased in market value by an improvement should specially contribute to the cost of such an improvement, and the principle of injurious affection, i.e., the principle that persons whose properties are damaged by the construction or user of the promoters' works should be entitled to receive compensation, are correlative, and our proposals as to the principle of injurious affection are dependent on our proposals as to the principle of betterment.They also say,We are convinced, not only that the principle is in itself just, but that the great difficulty which must inevitably be encountered in finding capital in the immediate future for public improvements will make it more important than ever before to discover and apply a fair and efficient method of securing some of the value created by them.It seems to me wrong altogether for the House of Commons, at a time when the 2305 finances of the nation are none too flourishing, as we shall find in a few weeks, when the Budget is put before us, to be asked, as it will be asked when the Bills for housing, for reclamation, for land settlement, for afforestation, and other purposes of that kind, to pay millions to landowners for purchasing land without incorporating this principle of betterment in this Bill, namely, that where land has increased in value by public improvement some means should be devised for getting part of that added value for the public which has created that betterment. It seems to me it is impossible, for instance, that where a local authority or a public department make a road through a piece of property which has hitherto not had a road, that something should not be deducted from the value of the land taken for the road on account of the double frontage given to the property by the road being made through it, which, of course, gives enormous value to the land, which perhaps before was practically valueless. I suppose we have to put this in our pipes and smoke it. The Government is not prepared to deal with any of these things, and we have to content ourselves with speculating as to how this comes about. I do not know—I can only guess that very possibly the Bill as drafted by the draftsman followed out the recommendations of the Committee faithfully and properly, but that when it was circulated amongst Ministers it was received with so much horror by certain of them that they were allowed to introduce blue pencils and to scratch out whole passages of very important legislation. It is very important legislation, if anything is really to be done effectively in the future. Someone must have raised the cry that the whole structure of the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts were in danger, and to some people that is a cry more horrible than the cry that the Church or the Constitution are in danger. I am afraid that the Government must have given way to that cry. In no other way can I account for the disappearance of all these admirable and necessary proposals from the Bill.
As to the Bill itself, when I come to the provisions, or what is left of them, I say frankly that they are on the whole, so far as I have been able to study them, excellent. I believe it is quite right to have a whole-time valuer. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Scott) expressed doubt about that, but having known something 2306 of the way the public Departments that I have been connected with have suffered from the methods of valuers in private practice, I believe that in the long run it will be satisfactory to have whole-time valuers, valuing simply as servants of the public, and not in private practice. Those who are associated with me will be bound to oppose any modification of that suggestion in the Bill, which I believe to be perfectly sound. It is right, and I think no one at this time of day will question it, that there should be no allowance for the fact of a purchase being compulsory. It seems to me that as between the owner of land who comes forward and sells willingly and meets the public halfway and does not need to have the compulsory procedure put into force against him, and the man who hangs back and causes delays and difficulties, if there is any advantage in the price it ought to go to the man who is willing to sell without compulsory procedure, and it ought not to be, as it has too often been the case, that the unwilling seller gets the advantage. There will be no doubt as to the proposals of the Bill that the value of land which is increased by overcrowding, by the existence of slums, and by uses, whatever they may be, that are detrimental to health, should be disallowed altogether in computing the price which the owner is to obtain. Similarly I think that nearly all the provisions aimed at simplifying and cheapening the procedure in Clauses 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the Bill are also very good, but controversy is, I think, going to centre round the definition of the value of land. That is a matter which has to be looked into very carefully, and about which there is a good deal to be said:The value of land shall, subject as hereinafter provided, be taken to be the amount which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise.Already that question has come up this afternoon, and we shall hear something more about it. I will try to make certain suggestions as to elements of value in land which seem to me to be legitimate and certain elements which seem to me absolutely illegitimate and which it is essential, if this Bill is to be any good at all, we should avoid admitting for a moment. First of all, we ought, I think, to realise what the land is mainly going to be used for. I suggest that the Bill in the main is wanted for the purpose of securing land for the settlement in agricultural districts of ex-Service men who deserve so well of 2307 us and who in their thousands are really wanting now to be settled on the land. I have had a recent experience of how keen that demand is. On Lady Day last a smallholder gave notice that he wished to leave his smallholding next Lady Day Althought that is nearly a year hence, I have had twenty-five applications for the smallholding, and the men are tumbling over one another in offering a competitive rental for this smallholding in the part of Devonshire in which I live. I thought the only way out of the difficulty which will arise was to hand the land over to the county council for them to select an ex-Service man and to give me what rent they think reasonable under the circumstances. There is no doubt that there is among the men returning from France a most passionate desire to settle down upon a few acres of the land for which they have fought so splendidly. What have we to avoid? We have to avoid particularly this: any chance of handing the land over to them at such a high rent or annuity, whether they go in as owners or tenants, as will not enable them to make a reasonable living. If the land is purchased too high our schemes of land settlement will either be disastrous from the start by exacting too high a rent or annual payment from the settlers, or else they will have to be made into charity schemes. That is, pay for the land at a certain price and then put on Grants-in-Aid out of the pockets of the taxpayers before the land is handed to the settler at a different price.
What are the sort of elements which make up values at the present time? First of all—it is very difficult to verify this—there has been a tendency for all valuations to rise as measured in currency, owing to the world-wide inflation of currency, and it is very possible that that may be found to apply to land just as it applies to every commodity that comes into the market. Prices measured in currency now, and probably for dozens of years to come all over the world, will be probably much higher than they were before the War. That seems to me to be a legitimate rise in values. But it is not really a rise in values at all. It is only a rise in values as measured by currency. We ought also to remember that the burdens on land have enormously increased during the War. The tithe has very greatly increased. Income Tax has been enormously increased. Wages have gone 2308 up, and are now, I am glad to say going up again by 6s. 6d. a week all round. The whole cost of repairs and estate management is 60 or 70 per cent. at least higher than it was even a year or two ago, and there has been nothing to which the landowner can get any corresponding increase in his income. There has been, as a whole, great unwillingness to increase rents during the War, and I have heard of no contrary tendency now that the Armistice has come. Therefore, it is fair to some extent to allow some increase over pre-war prices when, as so very often happens nowadays, the landowner has to sell some of his land in order to pay the burdens of the rest of it. These elements of value will tend to be permanent.
What I want to be certain that this House will not accept are elements in the value of agricultural land which are temporary, and which, if they are incorporated in the price of land to be acquired under this Bill, will make our scheme of settlement unsound when the land is finally handed on to the settler. Land has in many cases sold during the War extremely well. That has been so, especially where it has been put up for public auction, and where the tenant has had to compete against everybody who came against him in order to retain possession of his farm. Of course, many of these tenants during the War have been doing very well. They have made money, and sooner than leave their farms they have bid up very high to retain their farms, and a rather artificial standard of values has in that way been created. I know of one case where a man certainly bid more for his farm than he could possibly expect to make out of it in repayment of what he bad paid in the years to come. I asked him about it, and he said, "My son was at the front, and I could not allow the farm to go because I know he looks forward to coming into it when he comes back from the War. I had to bid up to a very, very high figure rather than lose the farm, because I knew he would have been so utterly disappointed, even though he will have frightful difficulties in making both ends meet, if he found on coming back that the farm was no longer in our family." That sort of element in values, the special value which the tenant is willing to give rather than let the farm go to someone else and he loses occupation of it, ought not to be a value capable of being charged against the settlers when they are put on the land. Therefore I am very shy of the 2309 suggestion of introducing any words relating to a willing buyer. It seems to me the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Bill was quite right in preferring only to name the price which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise, and I am very much afraid, if any reference is made to the willing buyer, the valuer might say, "The willingest buyer, of course, is the sitting tenant, who will bid up against the world to keep his holding." If these words are introduced, we must consider that element of price, and it seems to me to be quite unfair to bring them in when your object is to settle him on the land on terms which will enable him to get a decent living.
But there is another element in value which is even more serious: the values of land have been inflated by the prices guaranteed by the Government for farm produce. There is a tendency for those guaranteed prices to decrease. They are still, in certain cases, pretty high. Highish prices for grain have been guaranteed for this harvest, and certainly for all land which might change hands in the next few months there would be that element—I think a very considerable element—in the price which would be given for the land, namely, these artificial prices created by Government Acts. We have hardly discussed at all the very important step the Government has taken in guaranteeing those prices, not only with regard to grain that is sold and comes into the market, but in regard to oats and barley which never leave the farm at all, and are never intended to leave the farm, and which are simply grown for the stock on the farm. Owing to purely administrative action which was never laid before this House at all, the farmer is to receive a guarantee of four-fifths of his barley, and two-thirds of his oats, which, of course, enables him to make a double profit—a first profit on the raw material which he is growing for feeding his stock, and, secondly, a profit when his stock comes to be sold. At any rate there is no doubt there is a system of guaranteed minimum prices, some pretty high, approximating to the War level, still in operation, and one's fear is—and everyone must share it—that land may be purchased now, having these high guaranteed prices in view, and then when the Government's policy as to these guaranteed prices comes 2310 to be reconsidered, and possibly the guarantees done away with altogether, or lower guaranteed prices fixed, then will be the time when the settlers will come in utterly unable to afford to pay the rent or the annuity in relation to the price originally paid for the land. It is worth following out. Suppose land is now bought on the basis of wheat at 75s. 6d. a quarter of 504 lbs. as it is now, and then comes to be handed over to a settler. When perhaps his house has been built on it and when possession has been finally taken a year or two later we may find the guarantee for wheat is 50s. or 60s. a quarter. The first thing that would happen would be that the settler would claim that he could not pay the rent or annuity on that basis at all, and the taxpayer undoubtedly would have to make good. That seems to be contemplated in one of the Clauses of the Land Settlement Bill which we shall be discussing next week. But the taxpayer is now paying already once in a rather artificial way in respect of that wheat. The Government for purposes of its own is not allowing wheat to be imported from the Argentine. It is insisting that it should be brought over from Australia.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Gentleman is raising a very argumentative point quite apart from the Bill.
§ Mr. ACLAND
If that element is allowed to creep into the price, of paying on the present guarantees, the taxpayer will be in effect paying twice over, once on the present margin paid for wheat, up to the extent of £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 a year owing to bread being sold at a fixed price, and then over again owing to the land being purchased at a price dependent on this artificial price of wheat and then handed on to the settler when the values have adjusted themselves. How is it possible for the House to do what I am sure it will wish to do, to avoid these settlers being saddled wih this entirely temporary and artificial value of land at present? It seems to me that it is reasonable to ask that before land is actually acquired under this Bill the Government should lay before the House of Commons, and the House should accept it, something in the nature of a permanent policy as to the prices of agricultural produce We hope that in the last few weeks we have reached something more near stability with regard to agricultural 2311 labourers wages. There has been a great discussion about that on me Agricultural Wages Board, and a settlement has been arrived at. Is it impossible to expect the Government to arrive at a settlement on this question of agricultural prices, so that, at any rate, we may avoid what seems to be almost a certainty, that land will be bought at quite an artificial price at which no settler can afford to take it over. I believe under certain circumstances guaranteed minimum prices are thoroughly justifiable, if it is shown that the nation is going to get real value for the guarantees. To summarise, the view I have been forced to take on this Bill comes to this: that the Government has a great opportunity. They had the Report of the hon. and learned Gentleman presented to them in plenty of time. The first Report was presented fifteen months ago, and it has been entirely ignored. They have therefore firstly ignored half the subject altogether and have done nothing whatever to co-ordinate schemes of local authorities, and Government Departments or to simplify our procedure. With regard to the other part of the subject which they have dealt with, they have left out many absolutely fundamental features, and with regard to the quite limited matters with which this Bill deals there is, as the Bill stands, at present I fear great danger that the basis of purchase may be such as will result in effect in considerable doles being given out of the taxpayers' pockets to landowners, or else an utterly unsound system of land settlement for ex-Service men fixed which they cannot possibly expect to live upon. I hope we may hear from the Government some reply to the criticisms which have been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman and by myself, but as things appear to me at present, if he goes into the Lobby we shall support him.
§ Captain COLIN COOTE
In a House which contains so many new Members, I fear the appearance of another lamb for the slaughter will hardly excite much pity, but I base my request for the indulgence of the House on the fact that during a year of the last Parliament I was the youngest and the most silent Member of that Parliament, through no fault of my own. In approaching this Bill I think everyone of moderate opinions must recognise that it is an honest attempt on the part of the Government to set up a fairer, 2312 quicker, and cheaper machinery of land acquisition. But it is only part of the machinery, and it is impossible to consider it apart from the other land measure which the Government proposes to introduce. When we approach the question of the price to be paid for land we have to consider to what classes of people we have to accord fair treatment. We have to give fair treatment, first of all, to the landlord; secondly, to the tenant or the settler; and, thirdly, to the taxpayer. Under the Bill, not only fair, but generous treatment is going to be given both to the landlord and to the settler. I cannot agree with the contention of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) that there is a danger of the ex-Service tenant being unfairly treated, because under the further legislation which is proposed the ex-Service tenant is deliberately protected from being made to suffer in any way for the high prices which will have to be paid for the land at present. I was very glad the question of the valuers who are to be appointed was raised, because, inexperienced as I am, it has struck me quite independently when I was looking at the Bill. It seems to me that not only will it be very hard indeed to get men of sufficient experience and sufficient valuation capacity to fill these posts, but it will be absolutely impossible unless you guarantee to them a high and effective salary which is worthy of their capacity. That is the first element in the cost of this measure.
The second element is the price which is paid for the land. I would ask the Government seriously to consider whether it is not rather unfair to the taxpayer to ask him to pay the whole difference between the admittedly high prices—the extortionate price—of land as it is now, and the price of land as it will be in seven years' time when the general settlement is made. I submit we ought to try to find a way out of that difficulty if it can possibly be arrived at. I think the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made the further point that really if the settler was to be protected under the terms of the Land Settlement proposed, it was in effect nothing more than charity. I ask again, Is it fair that the settler himself should accept charity from the State? If you ask any ex-Service man what he wants, he will tell you at once that he does not want charity. I would venture, in all deference, to make two suggestions to the Government, not in the hope that they will be accepted, but 2313 in the hope that at least some consideration may be given to them. The first is this: Are the Government committed to the policy of immediate purchase, or are they not? Would it be possible to confine your compulsory powers to powers of compulsory leasing in the first seven years? In that way you would, perhaps, have a little injustice to the taxpayer, but you would not have great capital liabilities for which he must be responsible at the end of seven years. But if the Government is committed to the policy of immediate purchase—and I am not sure it is not wise, because I, personally, am a great advocate of small-ownership, and, under a system of compulsory leasing, small ownership, of course, would be impossible—if, as I say, the Government are committed to a policy of compulsory purchase at once, the problem we have to face is whether some other way of arriving at a fair price cannot be attained other than is proposed in this Bill.
I think the valuation under the 1909 Budget cannot be reckoned to be of much service for this purpose, because, after all, it was made for the purpose of taxation and not of purchase. That valuation was not made for the purpose of putting a price on the land with a view to selling, but was made with a view to taxation, and, therefore, in many cases totally false values were put upon the land. But I think it is a fact that, in the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, the whole of the land of this country was put at an average value before the War of eighty years' purchase of the rent or income. We do not wish —nobody does—to be at all unfair in this matter. It is not fair to say that land should be the only thing which has not risen in price in consequence of the War. I think the landowner is just as much entitled to say that his particular commodity has risen in value as is the owner of any other commodity, and my suggestion is that you should have at once a fixed basis of purchase. You would get an immediate decision. Give the landowner seven years extra purchase to compensate him for the rise in war value. Make your fixed basis of purchase twenty-five years' purchase of the pre-war rent or income. I venture to submit that there would be no injustice there, and you would get your land at a price at which ex-Service men, or any other tenants, could pay an economic rent.
2314 Finally, may I say that, as an ex-Service man, I do welcome the courage and determination of the Government in dealing with this matter upon the broad lines which they have embarked upon. It seems to me that with the first measure we are asked to swallow the medicine first, and the sugar, in which medicine is usually concealed, will come afterwards. But I do think the Government are entitled to be congratulated upon the broad and sweeping proposals which exist, if not in this Bill, in other Bills which will come later, and I do not think that anybody would be justified, really, in voting against this Bill upon its Second Reading, because, after all, I am strongly of the opinion that half a loaf is better than no bread. I believe that the problem of acquiring land immediately is the most important thing in the whole matter, and I believe that, if we accept this half-loaf, the time may come when we may steal along to the oven and get a whole new loaf. Any proposal which would in any way lessen the cost of this acquisition of land by legitimate means should be examined before the measure is rushed through. This is a time of great financial shortage, of great financial straightness, when every penny that we can legitimately save should be saved. It has struck me, as a man of very moderate means, that the House of Commons is rather a spendthrift, and I do think that, even in the matter of hiring land for ex-Service men—admittedly a laudable object—we should exercise all reasonable economy. I beg to thank the House for the very courteous hearing they have given me, which is just as courteous as I fear it has been undeserved.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
May I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on the very excellent speech he has just delivered? He made two suggestions. The first was a very interesting one to me, because it fell to me on a Committee to consider this question of purchasing land compulsorily, and that Committee did very carefully consider his first suggestion, namely, whether land might not be taken on an annual payment for a time, instead of on payment of a capital sum, and of course the difficulty there rather is that, whereas in a great many cases that could be done without any hardship, in some cases where proprietors are small, where it is necessary to realise capital, it might be difficult. But I think there is a provision, if 2315 I am not mistaken, already in the Land Settlement Bill, under which land may be taken on lease. The suggestion is, no doubt, a valuable one, but, on the whole, I am rather inclined to think that it should be confined to voluntary cases as far as possible, and I think that where the owner of land can just as well do with an annuity or an annual sum, as he can with a capital sum, there is no reason why he should not be asked, and I am quite certain in very many cases for a purpose like this, particularly that of settling holders on the land, he would willingly agree to receive an annual payment. I see no objection whatever to that principle. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that we might very well buy all the agricultural land in the country on the basis of so many years' purchase of the land. That is rather attractive on the face of it, but it is really not sound for a permament basis, because it penalises a man who has let his land at a low rent, and puts a premium on a man exacting the highest rent for his land. If my hon. Friend looks into it closely, I think he will find there are many elements in the value of land, outside the actual rent of the moment. There is a very great difference sometimes between the actual rent being paid at any particular moment and the highest rent which could, under any circumstances, be obtainable for that particular land; and when you come to have to assess what is the highest rent which could be obtained at any given moment for any particular land, it comes to much the same thing as assessing the value. So that, while it looks well in theory, it really is not practicable.
I should like to say a word about the speech of my right hon. Friend opposite. I do not want, and it would not be in order, to go into the question of guaranteed corn prices, but I really cannot understand the attitude of my right hon. Friend, because I think he must realise that that guarantee which is given for this one year has no effect whatever upon the value of agricultural land, and for the very simple reason that it is given solely for one purpose, which is, to enable a better wage to be paid to the agricultural labourer. It is consequential upon that, and it has not been proposed on any other ground. Two things have happened together—one the proposal for a large increase on the cost of the agricultural labourer, and the other 2316 that to meet that increase there should be a guaranteed corn price. If my right hon. Friend wants to know what the effect of that is upon the value of land farmed by tenant farmers, he has only to read the reports of what the tenant farmers are saying in all parts of the country, and I think he will realise that any addition they expect to get from the guaranteed corn prices is, in their opinion, very much less than they are likely to pay in increased wages. Therefore, so far from that action of the State having had any effect in increasing the price of land, I would venture to suggest it has had exactly the opposite effect. The right hon. Gentleman made a remark which I cannot personally understand. He said that land had not really increased in value, but had only increased in value measured by currency. I am afraid I cannot follow that. If he will pay for my land an increased value in currency, he may have a present of the fact that it has not actually increased in value. As the measure of all value at the time of payment for anything is really in currency, I cannot see what difference there can be between increase in value and increase in value measured in currency.
§ Mr. ACLAND
You can have something which is going to be compared with other commodities, or something which is simply participating in the general rise of all commodities as measured by currency. I mentioned that land might be in the second, but there was no reason why we should not get at the first.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That is to say, anything you buy now you have to pay more for, because the value of the purchasing power of money has fallen. If we come to that, it is perfectly clear that, relatively, the value of land has increased very much less than the value of anything else, because the figure has been given that the general value of land sold has exceeded what has been called pre-war value by something like 25 per cent., whereas it is s stated frequently in all parts of the House and in the country that the purchasing power of the sovereign has declined by at least a half. I do not think any hon. Member will contradict that. It is accepted that the purchasing power of money has fallen by 50 per cent., whereas the increased value of land, so far as the estimates I have seen, has ranged about 25 per cent.
Therefore, if that increase were true, it would only be an increase of one-fourth of 2317 what the actual increase would be if it were proportionate to the fall in the value of a sovereign. I really do not think that my right hon. Friend need have troubled himself to have supposed that either of these factors, either the corn prices or the difference due to the reduced purchasing power of the money, would have any real bearing on the price that has been fixed by this Act. As a matter of fact, what we are considering here is not transitory, temporary values, such as bringing in the guaranteed corn prices for one single year. Does my right hon. Friend really suggest that the value of land is going to be seriously affected in a great quantity—he said it was a very serious matter indeed! Does he suggest the whole value of agricultural land in this country is going to be grievously injured because, to meet the rise in wages, a guaranteed corn price has been fixed for one single year? If my right hon. Friend cannot find any better reasons than that we need not attach very much weight to that side of the argument.
I only wish to say this: I think everyone who has ever had anything to do with land would agree absolutely with the dictum of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division when he said that it is a thoroughly established principle—I should go further—he said it was a modern principle—I always thought, and I think I am right—that it is a principle always established in every State—that where the State requires land for public purposes it has an absolute right to take it. I have never questioned that. I believe the only qualification of that is that when the State takes the land—this is a qualification which my hon. Friend stated—it ought to pay fair compensation to the owner. That is all that anybody has a right to ask. All, however, as I understand it, the Government desire to do in introducing this Bill, is to improve the machinery by which that fair value may be assessed. It sounds quite simple to say that you are to fix a fair value for land; as a matter of fact, it is extremely difficult, and the Debate upon this Bill proves it.
The danger which we have to guard against in this Bill—indeed, two—is the evils which have existed in the past, and to which my hon. and learned Friend referred—the evil of excessive compensation being paid, and of an excessive cost in arriving at that compensation. Excessive compensation is a legacy from the past. I quite admit that it is very neces- 2318 sary—indeed, highly desirable—that steps should be taken to avoid that evil in future, but I do not think that the Government can lose sight of the possibility of the other danger, that there may be an attempt in time to come to obtain land for less than its fair value. A Bill of this kind should be just as careful to avoid the danger that a man may have his property taken away for less than its worth, as that he should be able to exact unfair compensation for property which is rightly taken from him for the public use. It is from that point of view that I agree very strongly with the observations of the hon. Member for the Exchange Division, that it is highly dangerous to put in a willing seller and not to put in a willing buyer. I would remind my right hon. and learned Friend that a Court of law takes no account—perhaps I may venture very humbly to submit this point, though I fancy he will agree—that a Court of law takes no account of intentions or of the Debates in this House. What they do is to look at the actual wording of the Clause, and the Court judges from the actual wording of the Clause and from nothing else—except perhaps one other point. I believe—and here, again, I speak subject to correction and in the presence of legal gentlemen in this House—that the Law Courts do take account of it if they find that the wording of a Clause in one Act differs from the wording of an almost similar Clause in another Act. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Very well; that is, I think, an important point. My right hon. Friend's point here was not quite a good point for him to make. He quoted as a precedent for the wording which he proposes in this Clause the basing your compensation upon a willing seller and omitting the willing buyer—and what was this precedent? The Finance Act of 1909–10. But, as I ventured to remind him, the Finance Act of 1909–10 contained a Clause in which there is the willing seller without the willing buyer, and another Clause which contained both the willing seller and the willing buyer. That Clause was for the purpose of ascertaining something which was called gross value, a fancy value that nobody ever heard of outside the Act, and which, so far as I am aware, has never been imposed, and I 2319 think I might safely challenge my right hon. and learned Friend to tell me what it means! I cannot say the precedent was a very fortunate one.
The other part of the Act, however, in which both the willing seller and the willing buyer are mentioned is a Clause on which the actual value is here framed. I would suggest to him that, if we accept the Clause in the form in which he has put it, the attitude of the Court of law would be this: "Here is an Act—and there are other Acts as well—in which the willing buyer and the willing seller are mentioned, and we all understand that. Here, in this Act, the House of Commons has put in a willing seller and left out a willing buyer; it must have done that with a purpose. What would be that purpose? It was that there was to be no willing buyer: it was to be regarded as a forced sale." That appears to me to be a real danger. I think the danger was accepted by the House at my suggestion. I want to be fair and anxious to avoid taking land without fair compensation, and at less than fair compensation, as to avoid compensation in excess. I hope that when this matter comes into Committee that these words I have suggested will be inserted and on the ground that I have suggested.
I come to a very important point—the panel. I shall deal with it on very broad grounds. It seems to me that there are certain principles from which it is always wrong to depart. One is the very simple principle that no one should be a judge in his own cause. I myself do not think it is right that under the circumstances a Government Department should be the authority to decide the issue, particularly a financial one, between the Government and the citizen. That is a very root issue. That brings us to this: that it is accepted you cannot create a Government Department—because it is perfectly obvious that all Government Departments are treated as one for this same purpose—you cannot have one Government Department which is subject to the control of the Minister of the day, which is recruited by the Minister of the day, appointed by him and removable by him, set up to decide financial issues between members of the public and other Government Departments. There is one very important aspect of that in connection with the existence of the judiciary. The judiciary has to decide issues of the 2320 most important kind between the State and the subject. For that very reason the judiciary is appointed under such safeguards that the members of it are irremovable and absolutely outside party and the Government. That is the judicial function which these Commissioners are to perform. Therefore either one of two should happen; either they must be selected from those who are in daily practice and daily contact with the work, and should, when they leave that work go back to their own work. After all, I think the point which my right hon. Friend made that they could not be doing this work one day and doing their own work another day was at variance with the existing practice. My right hon. and learned Friend knows perfectly well that that difficulty never has arisen under the existing system. Panels have been taken from those in actual practice and who are in constant contact with the problem of prices as it arises from day to day between one and another district. That aspect was very well argued by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division, and I need not repeat what he said. I endorse every word of it.
There is another alternative, and one only so far as I can understand it. That is, that you may appoint these Commissioners as irremovable at a high salary, as you do the judges. You must do the thing one way or the other. They must be either judicial authorities independent of the Crown, or they must be drawn from outside, when they would equally be independent both of the Crown and of the subject. Their independence! That is the vital issue which I would like to impress upon those concerned. Are these Commissioners to be independent or are they not? Unless my right hon. and learned Friend can say that these men are to be absolutely independent his scheme falls to the ground. We cannot afford to whittle away vital principles of this kind. The third point is a kindred one, and that is there is to be no appeal beyond the High Court. I can hardly believe my own eyes when I read that. I would ask hon. Members opposite on the Labour benches how they would like it when there is some claim put forward under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, it might be only for a few shillings but which might involve a certain important principle, to be denied access to the highest Court of judiciary, if they felt it necessary? It is the inherent right of a 2321 subject of the Crown that he should have access to the Law Courts of the realm. I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend is there any precedent for such a proposal?
Is it worth while to have a petty object of this kind—because it is a petty object—I am not speaking of the object of the Bill as petty, but the petty saving of a few shillings which this Clause suggests—of saving a few shillings here and there perhaps at the expense of hundreds of pounds. You are going to set up a precedent here. God knows where it may carry us to on a future occasion. Again, speaking under correction in the presence of legal Members, I believe there is no precedent existing for this except limitation, which is a perfectly proper one, that the appeal can only be carried beyond a particular Court of Justice by leave of the Court. That I believe to be, in many cases, the law. I have no objection to it. I would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether any precedent exists for limiting the right of the subject to appeal if he can get the leave of the Court to do so? I submit to introduce into a Bill of this kind a prohibition of the subject to obtain access to the Court of law is a thing which this House should never sanction, and I sincerely hope it will be amended in Committee.
I do not think I need deal with the question raised by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) as to the matters which are excluded from this Bill. I do not wish to express any strong opinion upon that. I think the thanks of everybody concerned in land, and of everybody who wishes to be concerned in land, are due to my hon. Friend and his Committee for the immense pains they took in studying this question. I think his Report is of very great value, and I do not materially differ from the conclusions to which he comes. But I do not desire to intrude my opinion between him and the Government as to whether this is the right moment for giving effect to all those suggestions, or whether some other opportunity may have to be found.
I look upon this Bill just as I look upon the last measure which was introduced, not so much as a measure standing by itself, but as part of a great scheme of reconstruction. This Bill is merely part of the machinery by which those who are using the three other Bills are to obtain the land which they require. I am inclined to think that, however much we may agree with my hon Friend—we must, of course, 2322 entirely and very strongly sympathise with his paternal feeling for his own Report, and hope that all its excellent features will be given effect to as soon as possible—we must feel that we do not want to overload the ship. We have a great scheme of reconstruction to carry through. It has many ramifications. This is the first time in history, I believe, that this House ever attempted a scheme of such magnitude. There are four great Bills, besides all our financial questions. No doubt the Government has carefully considered this; if they say that this Bill will provide the machinery which they require to enable them to carry through the scheme of reconstruction in the other three Bills, and that that is as much as they can ask the House of Commons to do; if they are of that opinion, I should not stand up here and criticise them, But if, on the other hand, they think they can find time to tackle the whole question and to produce a codifying Bill, then that is a matter for the Leader of the House and for the Government, and I would not desire to express an opinion on it. I shall certainly not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I most sincerely hope that the Amendments which I have suggested will be met with in Committee, and I think, if they are made, that the passage of the Bill through the House ought not to be a difficult one.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
After the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), I propose to limit my criticism to a very narrow compass. This Bill is, of course, the keystone of the Land Settlement Bill, in which I am keenly interested, and the keystone of the Housing Bill. In regard to the Housing Bill, I will leave that to other speakers, and will simply deal with this as it affects the Land Settlement Bill, which we are to discuss on Monday next. At present we have on the Statute Book the Small Holders and Allotments Act, passed in 1908. That Act is not considered strong enough to obtain land quickly for ex-soldiers. Consequently, the Government are bringing in on Monday a Land Settlement Bill to strengthen and to add to the Act of 1908. In the Act of 1908 there are compulsory Clauses for the purchase of land of a very similar character to the compulsory Clauses in the Bill which we are now discussing. The only real difference is that, in the compulsory Clauses in the Small Holdings Act of 1908, the Board of Agriculture appoints the single arbitrator, who is a land agent of repute but a 2323 man in private practice, and I suppose it has been found, in many cases at any rate, that the awards have been somewhat excessive. In the present Bill the arbitrators are whole-time servants of the State, and in that I thoroughly agree, because I think we shall get a more equitable award than under the Small Holdings Act of 1908. The Land Settlement Bill is to provide land for ex-soldiers, thousands of whom are desirous of settling upon the land. We were told the other day that the Government are prepared to put aside £20,000,000 for the object of that Land Settlement Act. Now, if we are to spend £20,000,000 upon land for ex-soldiers, it is quite evident that we shall have to use the provisions of this Bill very largely indeed.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
This £20,000,000 is not all for land. It is for equipment, for building houses, and all other kinds of purposes.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Yes, I quite understand that it is for building and other things. I will say two-thirds or three-fourths is for land. I am quite confident that if we are to get the land within a reasonable limit—the limit laid down in the Land Settlement Bill is two years, which is a very short time for getting the land, putting up houses, and so on—we shall have to use the compulsory Clauses in this Bill to a very considerable extent. Of course the House realises that it is only in certain parts of the country that we can settle the men on the land with any fair prospect of success. We cannot settle them on the poorest land in the country. We have got to select good agricultural land and to go to the good agricultural counties for it. There will not be sufficient land coming into the open market, and consequently we shall have to use these powers very largely in spending that£10,000,000 or £15,000,000 of money, as the case may be. Therefore we should come under these rules. The single arbitrator, who is to be called the "official valuer," is instructed, and he has to award the value of the land according to the following rule:The value of land shall, subject as hereinafter provided, be taken to be the amount which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise.What is the position to-day? It is that in the best agricultural districts in England land has gone up, not only as the hon. 2324 Member (Mr. Pretyman) just now said by 25 per cent. but, in some cases, by 50, by 70, and even in certain cases by 100 per cent. The best land for small holdings has gone up to that extent during the last two or three years. There are many reasons why it has gone up. We have been pledged to guarantee prices in order to stimulate production to the highest possible limit. I agreed to that policy, and I still agree to it. But there is no doubt it has had a marked effect on the price of land. Let me give one or two instances. The other day there was an estate for sale offered by the chief auctioneers in London, who had instructions from the vendor, who was an officer at the front, to sell it. It was in my county—a whole parish. I know this land and I know all the tenants on it. It was let at from 35s. to 40s. an acre; I do not think any rent was higher than 40s. The vendor said, "Value that estate, and I will decide to put it on the market." It was valued, by a very eminent firm of valuers, at £98,000, between £30 and £40 an acre. It was an estate of 3,167 acres, and that is a little over £30 an acre. What happened? Before the auction bills had been got out a land speculator came along and said to the firm of auctioneers, "I will give you £150,000 for the estate." That was an increase of £52,000 over what the competent valuer had placed on the land, and it was sold. That land speculator, within a week, turned round and sold it to the Olympia Farms Company for £200,000. That was £63 an acre. Now there was land that was letting, at the highest rent, at 40s. an acre, and it was sold, in the open market by a willing seller to a willing buyer, at that enormously increased price.
I will give the hon. Gentleman opposite another instance. St. Peter's College put up a farm in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Captain Coote), who made such an excellent speech just now. It was a farm of 122 acres, and the tenant was renting it at £96 17s. 3d. We know that colleges, as a rule, charge low rentals, and they do not revise their rentals, or very seldom, and probably this man, who had been farming for years, had it at the rental which he had in the bad times. It was put up by auction, and made £10,690. In other words, this land, that was letting at less than £1 per acre, made £80 an acre to sell—50 per cent. over the college valuation and the reserve they had 2325 placed on it. The remarkable part of it was that out of the 122 acres, 90 were bought by the tenant himself. That is an illustration of the enormous increase in the value of land under entirely artificial conditions. I wish to put this to the learned Solicitor-General—who, I know, is not an agriculturist, but who will take an interest, I hope, in the rural areas when he has the time and opportunity—Does he propose that under the Land Settlement Bill we should purchase land at these war prices? Because that is what they are, war prices, and nothing else; whereas, probably, in five or seven years' time, we shall have land going down again to its pre-war price. I am old enough to remember that we had the same thing in the early 'seventies. The year 1874 was the high-water mark of agricultural land in my district, and I remember that land sold for £80 and £100 an acre. Fifteen years afterwards it dropped down to £40, but it has now gone up again to about the same price, and is scheduled to-day at about where it was, so far as I know, in 1874.
I want to know if the Government propose to spend £15,000,000 of the nation's money under these conditions, because I think it would be extremely dangerous to do so. Let me try and show the House what the nation will stand to lose. I have made some small calculations. First of all I want to point out that the Board of Agriculture anticipated the Land Settlement Bill, because they issued a circular to the county councils in December last saying, "Go on, buy land as fast as you can, and the Government will back you up, and stand any losses," and so the county councils have begun. Here is a letter which appeared in the Wisbech paper:Can anything be done to stop the shameful abuse of their functions by the rural county councils in the mattter of acquiring land for small holdings for ex-soldiers. … The week before last the Isle of Ely County Council purchased a 250-acre farm in the Fenland. I happen to know all the facts about this farm. More than half of it is strong clay, unsuitable for small holdings. None of it is first-rate fen soil. It was bought with three other farms by a big farmer in 1910 for about £35 an acre, perhaps a little less. Had it been bought last week by any one member of the county council for himself it would not have made 1d. more than £50 per acre, if as much. The Isle of Ely County Council gave £80 per acre.That farm is on what was the Duke of Bedford's estate at Thorney, and all his 2326 farms were offered to the tenants and in some cases one farmer bought as many as three or four of the farms. Here is a farm bought for £35 an acre in 1910, four years before the War, and the county council has just paid £80 per acre for it. May I say that I believe that at the present time an arbitrator would probably give that award, but there would be costs in addition. Let us see how it works out. The Land Settlement Bill says that the tenants are to be charged a fair and reasonable rent—that is not only for the land, but for the houses and buildings which we are to put up. Therefore, the State is bound to lose, because we cannot erect buildings except at a great loss, and we cannot charge a rent that will cover the cost.
If we lose upon the house and the buildings and the land, this is how I work it out. I will take this particular farm as an illustration, because it is actually going to happen in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wisbech. This 250 acres divided into 30-acre holdings—which is about the size of a holding on a fen farm upon which you can work a couple of horses—at £80 a year will cost £20,000, and the interest at 5 per cent. would be £1,000. On this land there is a farmhouse and two cottages, and we will assume the farmhouse will be divided into two, and one cottage added, making four houses. I put down four houses and farm buildings at £800 each, and I do not think that is excessive—at least, that is my experience of building houses in the colony of Holbeach—and that works out at another £3,200, which at 5 per cent. is £160. That makes a total of £23,200, and at 5 per cent. the county council will stand at £1,160 a year. Now they have to charge these men a fair rent. The rent which the Duke of Bedford charged his tenants on the Thorney estate certainly did not exceed £2 an acre, and they very often got a rebate of 15 per cent.; but I put it at £2 an acre. Therefore a man on a 30-acre holding paying £2 per acre has to pay £60 a year, and we will say his cottage costs £20 a year, so that the man stands at £80 a year, and I think that is a very fair rent.
How does that work out? The county council would pay at £2 an acre £500. Eight houses at £20 comes to £160, so that the annual charge would be £660. The annual loss to the county council would be £500, and the total capital loss to the country would be £10,000; and this is to provide holdings for eight men. You may 2327 say that is an extreme case. Take the neighbouring county council in Lincolnshire, where the best land in the country for small holdings is to be found—I mean in the colony of Holbeach. Here three or four of the farmers have decided to retain possession of their farms, and they have bought them at a fair rent and offered some of them to the county council, and one offer is £90 per acre, and I believe the farmer will get it unless we alter in some way this Clause before it becomes law. At this rate we shall soon exhaust our £20,000,000, and I have come to the conclusion that if we put ex-soldiers on the soil at the present market price of good agricultural land in these districts, giving each man ten acres of land, we shall exhaust our funds before we have found housing and land accommodation for 25,000 men. That is a very serious position, and it means a loss to the State of a very large sum of money which I do no think is at all necessary. It is a loss of £600 per man for putting ex-soldiers on the land, and that is a very serious problem that the House ought to take into consideration.
What are the alternatives? We have already compulsory leasing under the Small Holdings Act of 1908, and why not make greater use of that Act? The compulsory leases are for thirty-five years, and at the end of that time there is a revision of rent under proper conditions. The Board of Agriculture appoint a valuer, and if land has gone up during that time the landowner will get a little more, and if the price of land has gone down he will get a little less. At any rate, under this system the rents can be revised at the end of every thirty-five years, and that seems to me to provide an easy way out of buying agricultural land at the present war prices, which are not going to last.
An hon. Member has already mentioned this system of a perpetual rent-charge in the Small Holdings Colonies Act, which I had the honour to introduce not long ago. I remember that the first Small Holdings Colonies Act was only to provide 6,000 acres of land as a mere trial. We got that land, and then it was found we wanted powers to increase it from 6,000 acres to 60,000 acres, but the Treasury at that time were adamant, and said, "You cannot have any money to buy land, and you must lease it." And so it was decided to provide under that Bill that landowners should be asked to part with the land at a perpetual rent-charge.
2328 That was not compulsory, and although it has been on the Statute Book for a year or more I do not think many acres have been obtained under its provisions. Why not have a compulsory perpetual rent-charge as an alternative? Otherwise we are going to land ourselves into great difficulties, and we are going to fritter away the greater part of the money that the State has given us for putting ex-soldiers upon the land in paying war prices and not achieving to anything like the extent I should like to see the object we have in view. That is my criticism of the Bill, and I trust that we shall hear from the Government that they intend to meet us in some way on this subject.
§ Mr. ROYCE
I have listened with much interest to the Debate this afternoon, and I must say that what has struck me most in connection with the Debate is that there has been no suggestion, so far as I have been able to understand, to facilitate and meet the demand that is with us now of providing land for ex-Service men, and the necessary land for the erection of houses which are so imperatively needed. It seems to me that our first consideration should be how we can do this thing most quickly. The suggestion that was made by the hon. and learned Member opposite may be and probably is a very excellent one, but it seems to me if it were put into practice there would be no hope of anything like immediate action on the part of the Government, and it would take far too long.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-west Norfolk, who has just sat down (Sir R. Winfrey), has spoken upon a subject with which I know he is well acquainted, and although I do not attach so much importance to his figures, at any rate I do to his knowledge. In regard to small holdings the hon. Member is one of the pioneers of the movement, and he has been consistent in demanding them. He has been the father of a good many of the most successful holdings, and, when the hon. Gentleman opposite threw out the hint that nothing in the shape of nationalised land could ever hope to compete with individual enterprise, I could not help thinking, if we can take the county council allotments as a fair example of what nationalised land would be, and I cannot see very much difference, that so far as cultivation is concerned it shows up very favourably, more than favourably, in comparison with the average cultivation of 2329 land in our part of the country. As a member of a war executive committee during the late years of the War, I was a party to serving many cultivation orders by which farmers who have been associated with the land for generations were brought to the knowledge that their cultivation was very bad and that it could be very much improved. The fact that it was very much improved proves that private ownership and private enterprise do not fulfil all the conditions to which the hon. Member on the other side referred. May I say one word with regard to the appointment of official whole-time valuers. I must say that the paid official valuer seems to me to meet the case exactly. I have heard valuers objected to, and strongly objected to, in connection with the same executive committee with which I was concerned when it has been suggested that they should appoint someone in London. It was said, "How can they know intimately the local conditions that prevail in our part of the country?" There is a great deal to be said in that connection if we may judge by the result of some of their valuations. If, however, you take a man with local knowledge and experience you come face to face with the difficulty that he has local interests. Therefore, I am quite in accord with the provisions of the Bill for the appointment of official valuers.
In reply to a question two days ago, it was stated that the county councils had acquired 21,888 acres of land. I hope that land has been acquired at a reasonable price. I hardly think that the county councils as a whole could have committed the extravagance that has been suggested by the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk, but I do think that the provisions in this Bill for the acquisition of land might be improved. My feeling is that a Commission should have been appointed, and that the willing seller should not have been consulted. This is a national case. It is something that is imperative in the national interest. We must have the land. It has been promised to the Service men, and that promise must be fulfilled. A Commission, it seems to me, would have been the easiest and readiest method of obtaining the land. Some hon. Members may say, "If land be taken from the farmers or landowners, why should not part of a man's business or merchandise be taken? Why should not a portion of a legal gentleman's business be taken and given to a returned Service man?" It seems to me that that is not a fair com- 2330 parison. The land is wanted for more purposes than the immediate settlement of the Service man upon it. The land is needed to stabilise the population. It is needed to improve the population. We have been told that the medical category of the agriculturist was lower than the medical category of the miner. It is easy to explain that. It has been somewhat difficult in the past for the best type of men to be content in the country. They have gone into the towns, and a drain has been made upon the country's population either by the demands of public works or the demands of the police, tramways, and a thousand other things. The type of man that has been left upon the land for the most part has not been equal to the men that I remember as a boy. Land, therefore, is required in the national interest. It is required to improve the character of the people—the breed of the people, if I may use that term—and it is most imperatively required. The easiest way of acquiring that land would have been by a Commission.
The question as to the value of the land is an important one. The State should not be taxed. I have some little possession in land myself, and certainly I should not feel that I was hardly done by if I were called upon to part with a portion of that land as a part of my contribution for the defence that I have received at the hands of these men whom it is proposed to settle upon the land, and I think that that is the general feeling throughout the country. I do not want to intrude upon the rights of private property, but at the same time we can attach too much importance to this question of private rights. Where the nation's needs are concerned, surely we can be somewhat liberal! If the right hon. Gentleman opposite will accept in Committee some somewhat stringent Amendments with regard to the price that is to be paid for the land, I think I can promise him the support of the Members who sit upon these benches, but that is a matter upon which we should certainly insist. We are not going to pay the large prices that have been demanded. It is quite right, as the hon. Member for the South-West Division of Norfolk has said, that a number of farmers who have done remarkably well during the recent war period have offered a considerable acreage of land in our part of the country—and I believe it is the most suitable land in the country for the settlement of ex-soldiers—at a price that is utterly dispro- 2331 portionate to the price that they paid for it. I believe that £20, and in some cases £30, per acre profit has been asked. After all, I have not found the Board of Agriculture altogether a spendthrift board, and they are hardly likely to agree to such prices; but some very stringent measures must be taken to guard against them. I was very much embarrassed and involved when the right hon. Gentleman read that section dealing with the consolidation of proceedings on claims for compensation in respect of various interests in the same land. When the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) dealt with betterments and various other items in connection with land, I sighed for the time of the late Paul Kruger. The story is told of him that two brothers could not agree in the matter of an undivided farm. The old man thought for a few moments as to how he should proceed, and finally he said, "I think the best plan will be for the elder brother to divide the farm and for the younger brother to have the first pick." Something in the nature of those proceedings might diminish the number of legal gentlemen in this House, but, if I might say so without offence, it would very much advance the interests of agriculture.
We have been talking about the man who has been to the War and whose business has been acquired by a man who has remained at home, and who has not had to make the same sacrifices. That man has scored in a double sense. He has got the business, and he has got security. The same thing has been in process in agriculture. There are quite a number of young farmers who volunteered for service. Owing to the recent rise in the price of land, the owners have sold the land, and these boys who have fought all these years for their country have come back to find that their homes have been sold over their heads. It is not the case only with farmers' sons. These boys are left stranded and landless at the present time, and I do hope that this Bill will do something for them. The same thing has occurred in the case of small holdings. The tribunals in their wisdom thought that a man who farmed less than a certain acreage could be dispensed with, and very often he was sent to fight. When he comes back again he finds that the rise in the price of land has prompted his landlord to sell his small holding, and he is 2332 dispossessed. There are at least half-a-dozen such cases which occurred in the village in which I live, and I can only imagine that the number throughout the country must be very large indeed. So far as I am concerned, I shall insist that this question of the value of land shall be settled in a manner that will prevent profiteering in land. With those reservations I would like the Bill to pass as quickly as possible, because so many other matters are dependent upon it. I feel, if the right hon. Gentleman will make a promise that in Committee this matter of the value shall be attended to, not in a perfunctory manner, but so that we can absolutely prevent profiteering in land, I can assure him that the people on these Benches will be prepared to support him.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel WEIGALL
The Debate this afternoon has roamed over a very wide agricultural field and I suggest would have been more germane really to the terms of reference of an agricultural commission than to an Acquisition of Land Bill, and, still more, the line of argument which was started by my hon. Friend (Sir R. Winfrey) could, I submit, be more usefully applied in Committee on the Land Settlement Bill. I want to direct my observations to the general position with which we are faced on the introduction of the Acquisition of Land Bill. I added my name to the Motion of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Leslie Scott), not because I wanted to impede this Bill in any way, but rather because I wanted to impel it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) said that this was to be a machine to provide the motive power for the great measures of reconstruction which are now before the House. I agree. But I am not sure that the machine is of sufficiently high horsepower. I put my name to the Amendment because I hoped that owing to it we should have an assurance from the Attorney-General that the horse-power of the machine would be sufficiently high to carry out the whole scheme of the acquisition of land.
What is the position? At the last election almost every Member absolutely pledged himself to provide a simple, cheap and expeditious form of local and other machinery for securing land for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors and for all national purposes. Does the Bill before us fulfil that pledge? I am not satisfied that it does. All that it does is to en- 2333 graft on to the existing extremely clumsy, cumbrous and slow machinery provisions which apply only to Government Departments and local authorities, and which make the existing system rather more cumbrous than it is. Piecemeal legislation must lead to confusion, and in the long run to unnecessary litigation. I want to be assured by the Attorney-General that this Bill is not as comprehensive as he would like to make it. In introducing the Bill he made it perfectly clear that it was an emergency measure. He did not satisfy me that there was any reason, having had the Report of my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. L. Scott) and knowing the pledges that were given at the election, why we should not have a high-powered machine and a comprehensive Bill to deal with the whole question once for all. I am quite sure the House is willing and I am equally certain that the country is willing. I hope the suspicion I have at the back of my mind is not true that this is not a practical proposal, but purely a political one. We have lived for a good many years now down at the bedrock of reality and at the same time we have been surrounded by an atmosphere of peril. I want to be assured that this is not a measure simply to cover up difficulties which in reality I am sure do not exist, and that we have not got a full comprehensive and complete measure to deal with the acquisition of land, but merely a certain political device because one side or the other could not be compromised unless one had what is called an emergency Bill.
I want to refer to three elements in the Bill. First, the whole-time valuer. I have no objection whatever to your whole-time valuer so long as he is put in an absolutely independent position. I look upon that as vital. To secure that, the Treasury has to put its hands in its pocket. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in Committee can satisfy us that he is going to ensure to these men not only independence of position, but the sort of salary that they can command. Their knowledge and experience are purely personal. Divorce them from their business and they cannot go back, because it is lost. There are very few men in the country who, so far as agricultural land is concerned, have the experience and knowledge with which to give a sound, reasonable and fair judgment. I am sure the House will not agree with 2334 the principle enunciated by an hon. Member above the Gangway with regard to landowners who have fulfilled their obligations in the past in a way that can certainly be compared favourably with that of any other owners of property in the country. He enunciated the principle that it would be perfectly fair that they should consent to knock off a certain percentage because of the use to which the land was to be put. Surely the fair thing is to say that the nation requires the land for a national purpose. Simply because you happen to own a certain class of property which the nation requires, that is no reason why the nation should not give the full market value of the property at the time it is acquired. That leads me to my next point, namely, the full market value and the willing buyer. I want to be assured that there is any practical difficulty in adding the words "willing buyer" to the words "willing seller." I understood from the Attorney-General that the legal interpretation of a "willing seller" was the market value. If that is so, why not add the words? I am perfectly sure the House and the country will not be satisfied unless this land is bought at the fair market value, which is understandable by everybody.
There is the other question of the market value being appreciated by causes outside the control of the owner, which raises the still further question which was dealt with to a limited extent by my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. L. Scott)—I refer to the sort of thing that happens if a railway is established in a purely agricultural district. There is no question of either injurious affection on the one hand or improvement in value on the other. It may interest the House to know what effect a small railway in a purely agricultural district has had. In the county in which I live there was a proposal for a railway a few years ago. It was to be for ten and a half miles. The line was not constructed. There were twelve parishes involved. The population in 1891 was 3,336, and in 1911, just before it was proposed to construct this railway, it had gone down by 9 per cent. In the same county, within a few miles, where precisely the same agricultural conditions obtain, another railway of nine and a half miles was constructed, and the population in a simliar number of parishes increased by 354 per cent. Where land is improved 2335 enormously by neither the effort of either owner or occupier, that is not touched in any way by the Bill. I would suggest to the Attorney-General that before the Committee stage he should make it perfectly clear to those of us who desire to see once for all the cumbrous machinery now involved in the acquisition of land for public purposes swept away that there are practical reasons why at this particular juncture the Government cannot fulfil to the full its promises in that direction, and that it does not shut the door, even during the lifetime of this Parliament, to endeavouring to pass a simple, cheap and expeditious form of legislative and administrative machinery whereby the aspirations of everybody inside and outside the House can be fulfilled.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
Although the Debate has ranged over a number of topics, the matters relevant to this Bill are very few, and I shall confine myself to them. The Bill proposes to introduce a new method of valuation and acquisition of land in the place of the Lands Clauses Acts. The sole question one has to consider is whether the machinery the Bill proposes to set up is more likely to attain its object than did the Lands Clauses Acts—that is to say, whether under this Bill we are likely to arrive at a fairer compensation to the owner of the land, both fairer as to price and fairer as to cost. It is undoubted that Parliament has always had the right to take the land of a private individual for public purposes. To carry out that, it passed the Lands Clauses Acts. We are now going to change them, because we think we can get a better system under this Bill. The only difference now is that we are going to use the powers of compulsory purchase, not for the benefit of the community as a whole, but for the purpose of evicting one class of tenants who are in possession of the land with the object of putting on the land another class of tenants. I only hope that the Government will extend this Bill to Ireland, and then we shall have some more evicted tenants there as we are apparently going to have a large number of evicted tenants in England. But to come to the relevant points of this discussion, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the fees of the arbitrators are to fall upon the purchasers of the land, or are they going to be paid by the State? A good deal has 2336 been said in the course of this Debate as to the expense of procedure under the old Land Clauses Act. A considerable part of that expense consisted of the costs of the legal machinery for arbitration and for the arbitrators' fees. It is not clear whether in this Bill the fees of these arbitrations are to be paid by the public authority which acquires the land, or whether they are to be paid by the owner. If they are to be paid as part of the cost of arbitration, I do not think there will be very much saving in that portion of the expenditure as contemplated by this Bill. Part-time valuers have been referred to by several speakers but I protest most strongly against any suggestion for making them Government Civil servants, and appointing Government Civil servants as judges between a Government Department and the owners of the land as to the value to be put upon property.
With the provision under Clause 2 I have very little fault to find. It is true that the 10 per cent. allowance for compulsory purchase is to disappear, and I quite recognise that feeling in the House and in the country is against that allowance, but I would point out that the 10 per cent. was originally granted in order to cover the cost of reinvestment of the purchase money by the dispossessed proprietor, and the loss of interest he might have incurred before he could get a satisfactory investment. If a public authority takes a farm of 500 acres and pays £20,000 for it, it will take the owner some little time to secure an equally good investment. He will not only lose his interest for a period, but he will be subject to expenses for stamp duties on the reinvestment. He may have to pay his stockbrokers and solicitors, and his outlay will run into a very considerable sum. Therefore in that way you certainly impose a fine upon the particular individual. I do not ask that the 10 per cent. should be continued. I recognise that it has to go. But I do want the House to understand the difficulty in which the owner is being placed.
Take the position in which a lay owner will be placed. Take the very common case of a woman who is left tenant for life of the land with only a life interest, and with a number of young children to bring up. Or take the case of a man with no knowledge of law. On the case of another man, the owner of a very small property, probably fifty acres or thereabouts, his only property, I would ask the 2337 House to consider what would be the position of either of these persons under this Bill. It is laid down that he is not to employ a solicitor or a barrister or anybody to put his case before the tribunal. He will be met there by the representative of the public authority, probably a solicitor or a barrister, with a considerable number of years' legal training, a man who is constantly acting in a similar capacity as advocate in inquiries of various kinds. What will be that owner's position? Or take again the case of a woman or the man with small property. Neither has any knowledge of the law; neither has any experience of arbitration or litigation of any sort. What are they to do when they receive notices to treat under this Bill? If they employ a solicitor they must themselves pay the cost. Is the woman herself to go up with her own case and be pitted against the skilled clerk of the county or urban council? She is to be allowed one witness, and I entirely agree with that limitation, because in the old days the costs of arbitrations were unnecessarily swelled by the calling of a number of experts on each side. I agree, therefore, there should only be one expert on each side. I think the woman, for instance, ought to be allowed to have someone to appear for her and to put her case in a skilled manner. To leave the owner of the land which is to be seized by the county authority defenceless in this way cannot possibly result in what I am sure the Attorney-General wishes should occur, in their getting fair compensation.
May I ask hon. Members also to look at the next Clause? The principle underlying this Clause is that the land is being taken for the good of the public. It is not always for the good of the public generally, but at any rate it is taken against the will of the owner of the land who does not want to part with it. Anybody who is acquainted with dealings in land is well aware there are a number of interests which come in. There are leases and mortgages and sub-leases and settlements and a whole variety of interests, and in most cases there is not a single valuation between the owner and the public authority, but the different interests have to be differently assessed and differently paid for. These are easements affecting land. There are questions of minerals and rights of road. There are restrictive covenants and all these tend to affect the value of the land. Yet the Bill proposes to put the lay-owner, 2338 who has really little knowledge of these things, into this position, that if the local authority makes an offer to him for all these complicated interests, say, of £5,000, or £500, as the case may be, and then he perfectly bonâ fide says he thinks that in fairness to his children it should go to an independent arbitrator, and although he does not do this with a view of piling up costs, yet if it should turn out that the amount awarded is less than the offer made by the local authority the whole of the costs of the inquiry are to be thrown on the owner, who has not desired to be brought into this litigation or to be disturbed in his property, and has acted throughout in a perfectly bonâ fide manner. I say that that is extremely unfair. If it is thought that in such a case each party ought to pay their own costs that might be reasonable, or if it were left to the discretion of the arbitrator before whom the case came, if he were given absolute power to say by whom they should be paid, it might also be reasonable. But it is not fair to leave it with this fixed direction which the arbitrator cannot vary, and it will create an amount of injustice which nobody with experience in these matters could possibly justify.
Take the next Sub-clause in the Clause dealing with costs and there you will find an even greater injustice still, because it is provided there that if in the claim which the owner has to put in showing how his valuation is arrived at—and it is a very complicated question, as a great variety of interests may be involved—if in that claim the arbitrator thinks that insufficient particulars are given, the whole costs of the arbitration proceedings are to fall on the unfortunate owner. These points, no doubt, are Committee points, but then in these days one never sees the Bill in Committee: it goes straight upstairs, and the only chance of raising these matters is on the Second Reading. I will only add that if I can get an assurance from the Attorney-General that steps will be taken to prevent these injustices, if the right hon. Gentleman will undertake that the Bill shall be modified in the direction I have suggested, then I shall be pleased to give it my hearty support.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I think we must recognise that this is something in the nature of an emergency proposal. If it had had for its object the final dealing 2339 with the question of land acquisition in this country, we should have been compelled seriously to consider alternative suggestions of a character different from those contained in this Bill. We recognise that it is good in parts, and we do not want to reject that which is good and essential for our purpose because some of its Clauses may appear to be more or less objectionable. We in this part of the House are very anxious to assist the Government in this work of reconstruction in every way we can. We recognise the desirability of giving to the soldiers who are returning to this country, where they have the desire, the fullest opportunity of settling down on holdings in different parts of the country. We recognise also the great necessity of land being acquired and powers being taken for the purpose in order to construct the houses which are necessary for the protection of the health and the life of the people, and because of that we are anxious to give assistance to the passing of legislation which will enable land to be acquired in order that those ideas may be put into operation. But we feel that in dealing with this matter from the standpoint of an emergency proposal, we want to be careful not to establish permanently conditions which are going to be harmful to the general community, and we are rather afraid that the methods contained in the Bill in regard to the acquisition of land and the price to be paid for it, may have the result of standardising or stabilising the abnormal conditions that exist at present. That is a very great and serious difficulty. In some cases where farmers have been prepared to pay large sums for the farms they occupy, which have been put up for sale, the fact is to some extent due to the abnormal profits they have made during the War, which have given them facilities to purchase land in a way which would not otherwise be possible. That is the result to some extent of the profiteering that has taken place in this industry, and we want to take care that in any measure passed by his House we do not stabilise for the future anything in connection with land which is due to the artificial conditions through which we have been passing. That is the real point we are concerned with on these benches.
We recognise that the proposals are simplified so far as procedure is concerned in regard to the acquisition of this land. 2340 Reference has been made to the difficulty the owner will be placed in owing to the restrictive measures contained in the Bill, by expert witnesses being limited to one and the lack of opportunity of having legal aid. It is well to notice that there is a further Clause which leaves them the right of going to arbitration if they seek to do so, and that appears to me to protect those who are merely anxious to get a fair price for the land they have to dispose of, whilst on the other hand simply protecting the public against people who might by the use of their financial resources be prepared to engage a large number of expert witnesses, who in my experience merely confuse the issue and therefore add to the expenses necessarily incurred. But we should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman the imperative necessity of trying to meet the House in regard to the price that is to be paid for this land. It has been said that to take the annual value is not a fair or reasonable proposal, because it has the result of penalising those who have let their land at a low rent. There is the valuation which was ascertained under the Finance Act, 1910. There surely, we have something to guide us in this matter, and something which was established and fixed in what were known as normal times, and we think the Government ought to facilitate some changes in this Bill which will make it impossible for the abnormal conditions and circumstances of the moment to be permanently carried on into the future. Some of us, while giving all the support we can to the suggestion of ex-soldiers being placed upon the land, are not very optimistic of the success which might follow from these proposals. Agriculture is not an industry a knowledge of which is so easily acquired as to permit a man to make a success of a holding who has had no previous experience, notwithstanding all the endeavours which may be made to give him instruction; and, if coupled with that disadvantage, there is to be a heavy financial responsibility, we shall merely be creating great disappointment in the minds of these people later on who have had their hopes built up by the promised inducements which have been held out.
If, on the other hand, the only way that circumstances can be met is out of public expenditure, then again, is it fair and reasonable to tax the general public in order to meet a liability which has developed under abnormal circumstances 2341 and which under any reasonable conditions ought not to be carried forward to normal times? We are anxious to support all proposals which have for their object the making of this social reconstruction possible, but we are anxious to protect the future position of this country against the abnormal condition of prices which have developed during the last few years. We ought to make profiteering in land absolutely impossible, and we feel that whilst the Clause is left merely on the terms governed by a willing seller, we are not protecting the citizens generally against the encroachments which may be made in this respect. Apart from the rural aspect of the situation, there is the town side of it, and we shall undoubtedly have to use this measure as a means of acquiring land for the housing of our town workers, and if the Clause is left as it stands, what protection shall we have against those who are seeking to make the biggest prices, and will be helped in their desires and intentions by the fact that everyone, both from the point of view of industry and the public service is seeking to acquire land? Circumstances are abnormal in that respect, because in almost every industrial centre there is a tendency now to develop, whch will mean the need of land, and then coupled with that, if we have the public authority seeking it for housing purposes, we shall be giving land a value which, if the Clause is left as it is, we claim to be unfair to the general public. I should like the Government to give some further consideration to that point, whereby we may have greater protection than now seems to be provided by the Bill.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
I support the Amendment, and I hope it will be pressed to a Division unless we can get some assurance from the Government, as requested by the last speaker. The Attorney-General did not seem to claim for the measure the importance of a really first-class Bill, and yet they have put before the House no proposal this Session which deals with a question of more vital importance. The way the Bill has been drawn is altogether inadequate. There has been disappointment, I am sure, in the country, if not in the House, with every measure of social reconstruction which has been introduced, but I think with regard to none will there be greater disappointment than the inadequate way in which the land question is tackled in this Bill. With regard to the Ministry of Health Bill, 2342 though excellent as a matter of machinery, there was great disappointment in the country because it did not deal or give powers to deal with the various problems which have arisen of recent years. It was merely a co-ordinating measure which gave no new powers. With regard to the Housing Bill, there was disappointment because the powers dealing with town planning were not made compulsory. In this measure, which is really the keystone of the whole edifice of social reconstruction, we have the most ineffectual powers of dealing with the matter.
You cannot build houses unless you have land, and you want land at a reasonable and cheap price. The experience of local authorities who have had housing schemes is that every time they have failed was because they could not get an adequate supply of land to deal with the question. Why has there been this delay in bringing forward this measure? Shortly after the War started the Local Government Board circularised authorities, urging them to prepare schemes of housing and other matters of general reconstruction in which land was involved. The Government have known since 1914 that additional powers were required to deal with this question. If they had only shown the same anxiety to proceed with this matter as they did with regard to the Military Service Bill, we should have had a Land Bill of a vital kind passed before this. In 1914 the Report of the famous Land Inquiry Committee was issued. This inquiry covered a very considerable extent of England. I think about ninety towns were dealt with, and a population, excluding London, of over 9,000,000. The Committee found that the cost of acquiring land compulsorily by public bodies was out of all proportion to its real value, and thatthis acts as a heavy check on all improvement schemes.That was the finding of a Committee set up by the Prime Minister himself, and it should be treated with the respect which it deserves. The Committee gave examples from various parts of the country of the way in which the difficulty of acquiring land at reasonable prices retarded the development of town and social problems generally.
I will not range over the various examples which they gave, but will give an experience of my own town. To my own 2343 knowledge our housing attempts there during the last fifteen years have been hampered and held up on every occasion because of the impossibility of acquiring land at anything like a reasonable price. Though we have failed with regard to housing, we have had, and rightly, under the direction of the Board of Education, to find land for our school sites. A return given to me from our local education authority shows that during the last fifty years the land required for public school purposes cost on an average over £1,600 per acre, and that is land which not 100 years ago—because we are a very new town—was worth little more than its agricultural value. In fact, it was a distinguished Leader of this House who, towards the end of the 'seventies, happened to be on a visit to our individual centre and referred to our town as the youngest child of England's greatest enterprise. The education authority, as a town grows, naturally seeks for land in advance, and the schools are, generally speaking, on the outskirts or towards the outskirts of the town, yet land for those public purposes cost on an average £1,600 an acre. No wonder that our housing schemes have failed. We have at present several housing schemes before us. We have offers of land to-day on the outskirts of our towns, and we are asked £1,000 an acre in some cases for that land. I have had turned up the rateable value of those particular sites and I find that the rateable value, in the rate book, of that land for which £1,000 an acre is asked is £4 an acre.
This Bill leave things practically as they are, because it does not afford any protection for urban districts against the artificial value which has been made by the growth of the town itself. The community, individuals by their enterprise, the municipality by the extension of their public services, by the money they have spent, have made that added value, and it is unjust to the community that the community should have to pay these exorbitant prices when land is required in the public service. What have the Government done in regard to this matter? By their delay in bringing forward a Bill of an adequate kind to deal with the huge problems before us, they have practically prevented us from taking steps which otherwise would have been effective. Under the Housing Bill, which we had before us the other day, the Local Government Board will give assistance to the 2344 local authorities, who shall not spend more than the equivalent of the 1d. rate, in providing the housing that is required. That is an excellent proposition for the municipality. As a member of our local authority I welcome it, but as a Member of this House I say that there is a great deal of financial unsoundness about it, because it involves with regard to the purchase of land an immense sum. When the local authorities are prepared to spend the equivalent of 1d. on the rateable value—and I think that there is no authority which is not going to work that proposal and will not willingly spend the 1d. in the £ in order to secure the assistance from the Government—it is immaterial to them what the cost of the land is, because whether they have to pay £200 or £400 or £1,000 per acre for land for housing purposes makes no difference whatever. It puts a premium on extravagance so far as the cost of land is concerned.
We have felt that difficulty for years. The other day the General Purposes Committee of the council of which I am a member—consisting of men of all shades of political opinion—passed a resolution that there could be no sound solution of the urban problem of housing until land can be obtained at its agricultural value. On those lines this Bill makes a lamentable mistake in offering this assistance to local authorities for housing in the direction in which it offers it, and by putting the burden on the taxpayers and putting a great handicap and mortgage on the people. We were told by the President of the Local Government Board the other day that from 300,000 to 500,000 houses were required to make good the present shortage. From the benches on this side the estimate was given that the requirement was 1,000,000 houses. Suppose we take the average of what is required at 500,000 houses. I do not think there will be much dispute as to the accuracy of those figures. These houses, fortunately, have not to be built under the same conditions as prevailed in the past. No longer are we to have squalid houses, crowded together, with forty or fifty to an acre. The Local Government Board provides that we must have no more than twelve houses to the acre. For 500,000 houses that means that 40,000 acres of land will require to be bought for housing purposes, at the cost of the ratepayer and the taxpayer together That is 40,000 acres, and in the absence of 2345 adequate powers to acquire the land at a reasonable price, supposing we have to pay only a £100 more per acre than otherwise we would have to pay, and I think £100 is an under-estimate and that it will cost very considerably more, that means an unnecessary burden on the cost of those houses of £4,000,000. If the sum instead of being £100 in excess of a reasonable price is two, three or four times that amount, and my experience warrants the larger figure because we have had to pay £1,600 per acre, then we may have to spend £400 or £500 more per acre than we ought to pay, and that will run the sum to £20,000,000. But whether the sum be £4,000,000 or £20,000,000 it is a tax and a burden on the homes of the people, and you are putting the burden on the backs of those who are least able to bear it, and the plunder into the pockets of those who, as Adam Smith remarked, grow rich in their sleep.
The Government have failed lamentably to grapple with this question. We were told we were going to have a new England and a land fit for heroes to live in, but you cannot have that unless you remodel your towns and get the land at a reasonable price, so that houses can be built with garden surroundings, with playgrounds for the children and with parks for the older people. You cannot do those things if you are to continue to pay a monopoly price for the land value. Reference has been made to the Valuation Act of 1910, and somewhat unsympathetic reference. I know nothing of the Debates that took place then, but as one of the outside public interested in social reform and the housing question, I know that outside that measure was hailed as the Magna Charta of land reform. Why should it be thrown overboard at this particular time? Outside we did not imagine that it was going to be a great revenue-producing piece of legislation, but we did expect that it was making the foundation of land purchase, and that when for the future any community required land for public purposes that it was no longer to go on paying the inflated value given by the community, but on the basis of the valuation of the Finance Act, 1909–10. I can see no injustice to anyone in taking that as the fair standard. Warning was given at that time that this legislation was introduced to protect the public for the future from monopoly values. Hon. Members have asked here to-day, Why should land be treated differ- 2346 ently as an investment from any other class of investment? I have always understood from the political economy I have read that land was essentially different from any other class of property because it was limited in area and in extent, and because it was essential to the well-being of every individual in a way which applied to no other form of property. I say, therefore, it is perfectly reasonable and fair, not only to the landlord, but also to those who live in crowded districts, and to the mothers and wives of our soldiers and to the little children who are now born, bred and brought up in sunless areas and narrow courts, that we should claim that land should be acquired for the provision of homes which will not be a disgrace to civilisation as they too often are at present. I must apologise for spending so much time on this particular subject, but I represent a town which unfortunately too often heads the tables of death mortality published week by week by the Registrar-General, and therefore there is some reason and some excuse for dwelling on this question. Our death-rate last year was, I am ashamed to say, 22.8 per thousand, and our infantile mortality 145 per thousand. From our experience in the past we will fail to tackle this question adequately until the land problem is solved on reasonable lines. I say that with no desire for spoliation or robbery, but let us learn wisdom from the mistakes made in the past, and let us see, in the future at any rate, that increases which arise from the growth and development of the community shall not be used as a handicap to the further development of the health and well-being of the community, but that the money and the increased value so arising shall go into the coffers of the community and be used for social purposes. Therefore, I say, it is lamentable that this measure should fail to deal adequately with the question, because this question of land purchase is surely the keystone and the foundation stone of that edifice of social reconstruction which was outlined on every platform during the last election. The country will be bitterly disappointed if they find that the housing programme is held up and the development of the towns limited because still the incubus of land monopoly hangs round it because the Government has failed to deal with the question. Our soldiers went overseas at great sacrifices. They did not stop to consider in the trenches whether they were 2347 making an equal or an unequal sacrifice with those at home, or to consider whether their capital, their life, was going to yield the same percentage as it was to the men who remained in munition works or the owners of property in this country. I say that those who have had their property defended by the lives of our soldiers should be willing to forego perspective profit in order that homes worthy of the name should be provided for the heroes who have returned.
§ Major E. GRAY
I have been asked to place before the House one or two criticisms which arose from the consideration of this Bill by the Improvements Committee of the London County Council. That committee decided, I understand, yesterday afternoon that with very much regret they regarded this Bill as insufficient for its purpose, as failing in comprehensiveness and as likely, if adopted by this House, to stand in the way of that comprehensive reform which, in the opinion of the council, is so urgently needed. I believe all of us interested in this question of land purchase by local authorities would be very glad indeed to see effective action in this House on the lines of the Report of the Committee on the subject. It may indeed be said that this measure is but a tinkering with a small portion of the Subject. That may be justified on the ground that it is an emergency measure and apprehension on that score will be removed if we have an assurance that the whole question of land purchase by local authorities for public purposes shall be dealt with at an early date in a comprehensive manner. I hope that assurance may be given. There are one or two small points of detail I wish to mention. I believe that it is the practice in the existing forms of purchase to compensate the seller for damage done to his property when an estate is severed in twain and the local authority takes the pick of the estate. I had some connection for some years with the small holdings committee of a London local authority and I know that when we were searching within a fifty-mile radius of London for plots suitable for small holdings we naturally and quite rightly sought for the best portions of the estate wherever we could find them, knowing that unless we got the very best the small holdings could not be made to pay unless they were dealt with by thoroughly experienced agriculturists. To tell a returned soldier, with but little 2348 experience of the land, and with land not of the best, that by intensive culture he may make both ends meet, will, I believe, lead him in the long run into a most unfortunate position. When you have regard to the cost of buildings required for a small holding, which amounted to between £350 and £500 in pre-war days, and when you bear in mind the need for co-operating with others in hiring machinery and horses, and the need for intensive culture to be within the neighbourhood of markets, it will be seen that unless he has the very best land he is not going to succeed. In picking the site you will probably inflict upon the seller what I understand is technically termed "damage" due to the severance of his property. Under this Bill will there be compensation for the damage? I understand not. It is to be the land value, and that value is the value of a willing seller in the open market. I find extreme difficulty in visualising this seller who is about to forfeit the very best portion of his estate in the role of a willing seller. I doubt whether he will ever be able to reach that position, and whether anybody will ever be able to appreciate the position for him, even the most skilled arbitrator. If that damage is not to be included as part of the compensation, can the seller set up any claim for compensation apart from the sale of the land? Having had the land value considered by an arbitrator, can he go to a jury for compensation for damage? I believe that is not quite clear.
There are two points I should like to make myself. One is with regard to the arbitrator. I have great doubt whether an official arbitrator divorced from general practice is likely to be the best person for valuing the land. I am inclined to the opinion that he will build up, unconsciously official values for land, and that his contact with local authorities as the purchasers, and no other purchasers, will tend to warp his natural judgment, and he will not be the very best of persons to decide the actual value of the land for the purpose required. I have heard it suggested in the Debate, and I concur in that view, that it is undesirable that one official, a State official, should be the arbitrator, when a State Department may be one of the parties to the arbitration, and the same applies where a local authority is one of the parties. I doubt the wisdom of severing this man entirely from private practice and making him a State official, and there 2349 by adding to the long list of State officials. No Bill seems to go through this House without setting up officials—far too many of them. I wonder how long the soldiers will be anxious to obtain these small holdings when a few of them have had a trial! Then, what duties will there be left for the State official who has been appointed official arbitrator? He would then find extreme difficulty in returning to private practice.
Assuming that you have your official arbitrator, whether he be divorced from private practice or not, I would ask the House to consider the position of a seller and a buyer, when they appear before him setting forth one, their claim to purchase and the other their claim to a fair purchase price. The seller, inexperienced it may be, is not to have the assistance of counsel. I heard it suggested that the local authority would send their clerk. In London we should not send the clerk of the council, but we should send another official, who I believe is not excluded by this Bill, and that is our valuer, and I pity the poor seller face to face with the official valuer of the London County Council. I should like to know what opportunity that poor seller would have of putting his case fully and satisfactorily before the arbitrator when his opponent was a man—and I say it without any offence—who is familiar with every trick of the trade, whose long experience, particularly over a given area, would give him a knowledge greater than that possessed by the most expert of arbitrators, and would give him a dominating influence in the court of arbitration. This would put the seller at very great disadvantage. I appreciate the object and the desirability of curtailing expenditure, and making the procedure as cheap as possible, but if one local authority is to be allowed to employ an expert, as undoubtedly it would, I think the other party should be allowed to have an equal advantage so that the two might have their case fairly stated to the arbitrator.
I think it will be generally agreed that in introducing this particular Bill at this somewhat late stage of this part of the Session, the Government cannot be said to approach this great question of reconstruction in any logical sort of way. When we were having the memorable election which sent us into this House, I think that the outstanding pledge that was made, and the great promise which vivified and made that 2350 election a real thing, was that this country was going to be made a land fit for those men to live in who have done so much for us abroad. Based on that promise there were prospects and hopes held out in many directions, and it is perfectly clear that none of these hopes can be realised in any shape or form without dealing with the question of the land. One wonders how it is that this measure has come up as the last in this part of the Session instead of the first. We might have expected that it would have been brought in almost immediately, and I cannot see any real reason for ifs delay. I have studied with a good deal of interest many Reports that have been made under the Ministry of Reconstruction, but I do not know any Committee that has gone more closely or more exhaustively into the question of the acquisition of land than the Committee which sat to deal with that question. I do not know any Report which presented such complete recommendations so readily available for legislation as that Report. It was published some months before the election, and it has been within the knowledge of the Government, and for the life of me I cannot see why a great measure of land reform was not the first, or almost the first, to be introduced this Session. When it does come, instead of being a really great measure of reform, it is so scant, so emasculated, that one could hardly regard it as being a reform measure at all. One wonders what has been going on. One is always inclined to suspect nowadays, if things are not going just the right way, that there is some hidden hand. What hidden hand has been delaying the production of a really great Land Bill? That question has been put to the right hon. Gentleman by the hon. Member for Horncastle (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall), who suggested that political considerations may be delaying the production of such a measure. I would suggest to the Government that it would be a most unfortunate thing for them if an impression becomes current in the country that measures for dealing with this first and most vital question of reform are being delayed by the operation of any interests at all. In the short time during which I have been in this House it has been possible to realise that the things which interest the House most are not always the things which interest the country most, and that there are things which excite the attention of the 2351 country but which Sometimes fail to engage the attention of this House, and I venture to think that in the relative positions which the measures of this Session have taken there Is to be seen a lack of appreciation of what is the real feeling of the people of this country on this question. This Bill was introduced by the Attorney-General in so cool and dispassionate a manner as to suggest that what we were really dealing with was some measure for assessing the price of butter or margarine, and that there was no special interest attached to this question.
To the great masses of this country a very special interest does attach to the question of dealing in land. The country is interested in it for two reasons—a sentimental reason and a practical reason I think the last figures that I saw before leaving the Valuation Department, which gave the total value of land and buildings in the United Kingdom, showed that value to be somewhere round about £6,000,000,000, and I think, too, that the figure at which the National Debt stands at present is about the same. That suggests that if we had not been obliged to spend all that money on the War we should have had a sum with which it would have been possible to have bought out the whole of the interests in property in this country, excluding perhaps mines and railways. The people of this country feel that in some sort of way they have to a great extent, not only by money but by blood, bought this country. We have a story in Northumberland of which we' are rather fond. It is an untrue story, but we are none the less fond of it for that. It is a story of a pitman who was walking once through the property of a certain noble lord, when he was met by the nobleman, who challenged his right to be there. "Well," said the pitman, "how did you come by this land?" "I got it from my father." "And how did he get it?" "He got it from his father." "And how did he get it?" And so it went back, until at last the noble lord said, "I suppose the first one got it by fighting for it." "All right," says the pitman, taking off his coat, "I will fight you for it." I think there is a feeling abroad among the people of this country to-day that they have during the last four or five years been fighting for this county. [An HON. MEMBER: "One class only?"] No, all classes. It perhaps is unreasonable and 2352 impracticable, but it is there, and we have to realise that the people feel that they have in some sort of way acquired a new title to this country—at least that they are not going to buy this land back at prices which are going to put great profits into the pockets of land and property owners. War has curious effects. It makes us poorer in some ways and richer in others. It makes life cheaper, but it apparently makes property dearer. We have heard during this Debate that the value of land has risen. I think the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) put it at something like 25 per cent., and it was also stated that it had gone up in some cases 50 per cent., 70 per cent., and even 100 per cent., and an hon. Friend behind me says "and over." There is no doubt there has been a considerable increase in the value of property —land and also buildings. We know that at the present time if the Rent Restriction Act was taken off the value of buildings would be at least double what it was before the War, so that if you take the figure of six thousand millions as representing the value in 1909, it would seem that the value of property in this country has grown on account of the War by a figure equal at least to some thousands of millions of pounds, and I think the people of this country are interested in knowing where that value is going to go.
It is idle for us to imagine that they are not sensitive on the subject, when we look at the way in which they regard profiteering in general, the feeling directed against the shipowners, the way in which they have demanded and secured the Rent Restriction Act, which is really an Act by which people who own buildings, as apart from land, are prevented by law from realising at the present time that increased value. I am certain that if, as a result of this Debate, a feeling gets abroad in the country that the Government is indifferent as to the direction in which this great increase in land values goes, nothing would more undermine the confidence of the people in the Government than such an impression as that. There is also a practical reason why so much interest is taken in this measure, and that is that it is upon this Bill, and upon every Bill that may be brought in for dealing with land, that really all the great measures of social reconstruction depend. You had a Ministry of Health Bill. That Ministry of Health has got 2353 not merely a negative aspect but a great positive side, and it means that land will be required for all sorts of purposes, such AS sanatoria, playing fields, recreation grounds, etc. Then the Housing Bill cannot be carried out unless the land is first of all obtained, and under the Transport Bill money will be required for developing roads, railways, tramways, and so forth. In every direction you come to the land. We are engaged in this Parliament in bringing a great many ideals to earth, and when you come to earth you come to land, and when you come to land you come to the landowner, and when you want his land you naturally come up against the question of price. The real question we have got to settle at the present time with regard to that is where the difference between pre-war prices and present prices—a difference not owing to anything the landowner has done, but a difference owing to the general circumstances of the time and the conditions—where that difference is to go. Is the land to be bought for public purposes, and is the profit that is made on the purchase to go into the pockets of private individuals? That will be the question asked in this country, and this Government will be judged by the answer it gives to that question.
What is the problem that the Government had to settle, and have to settle still? Because this Bill does not settle it. It is a two-fold one. Land had to be got, and got quickly, and it has to be got at a fair price. Let me draw attention to what is the present position with regard to the acquisition of land, and I should like to add a further tribute to what I have already said as to the work of the Committee presided over by the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the opposite bench. That report was of a most valuable character, not only for the recommendations it contained, but I think, particularly, for the amount of information that is attached to it in the form of schedules, appendices and analyses of legislation dealing with land. When you come to look at the present position with regard to the acquisition of land, what do you find? You find that there are something like eighty-eight general and local Acts under which land may be compulsorily acquired. There are five authorities to whom you may, under one circumstance or another, have to go to get final power. For instance, if you want to get land for a hospital you get it under the Public Health Act, but if it 2354 is a hospital for infectious diseases you must get that under the Isolation Hospitals Act. If you want to get land to bury a dead dog in, you have to get that under the Diseases of Animals Act. If it is for a human being who has died in the country, you get that under the Local Government Act of 1894. If he died in town, you get the land under the Interment Act, 1874. If you want to procure pleasure lands for the use of the community, if they are in the country they have to be got under one Act, but if in the town they have to be got under another. If you want to put up a school in which to educate the child of the working man you get that under one Education Act; if you want to get schools for secondary education you get the land under another Act. Land for railways is got under the Railway Act, and for light railways under the Light Railways Act. All the land of this country is in the parishes of this country, but if you want a piece of land for parish purposes, you get it under the Local Government Act of 1894, and if for county council purposes you have to get it under the Local Government Act of 1898.
When it comes to the methods of getting land, you may get it either by private Bill or by Provisional Order or by Departmental Order. The procedure is of the most complicated character in every possible sort of way. There are two stages— the procedure before you get your powers, and the procedure after you get your powers. This Bill does do something, I acknowledge, to simplify the powers of the procedure you have to go through after you get your powers. Before you get them you have to advertise, to serve notice, petition for an inquiry, hold your inquiry, make your Provisional Order and send copies. There are from four to nine steps which you must take before you can get your powers, and ten to eleven different steps after you have got it. We hear a great deal nowadays about different dances. The Jazz waltz is well advertised, but I cannot imagine any measure, any dance, with such complicated steps and such a number as those which have to be pursued by a local authority that wants to get land for one purpose or another. When you have got your powers, the next thing is your compensation. In the second Report published by the Committee on the Acquisition of Land there is set out all the different Clauses which affect 2355 compensation, and they are in all under nineteen heads and 191 different Clauses. Then when you come to the question of tribunals, you may have one or two arbitrators and an umpire, or you may go to a justice or a jury. Here again this Bill does do something substantial to deal with this point, but, so far as simplifying the procedure before you get your powers, so far as helping the authorities to get the land, this Bill does nothing practical at all.
I want to say something about the Finance Act, because that has been referred to in the course of this Debate. Every purchase that takes place under this new Bill will give rise to an occasion under the Finance Act, and I think we may look upon this measure as being to some extent a sequel to that Act. Since I came into this House I have realised that there are a number of Members who do not think any more highly of the Finance Act now than they did when it was passed in 1909–10, but there is this difference, that in the early days what we were accustomed to hear was not only denunciation of the Act, but denunciation of its author, and those hon. Members, I really think, have made progress from a Christian point of view. They have learnt to love the sinner, while they continue to reprobate the sin. But the second Report of the Acquisition of Land Committee may, I think, fairly be looked upon as a sequel to the Finance Act. In the usual sequel, the heroes and heroines generally come into their own, and if that Report had been really published with a view to justifying a great deal that was said at the time of the passing of the Finance Act, I do not think it could have carried out that purpose more effectively. It has been most interesting to sit in this House to-day and to hear from one hop. Member after another the admission that the Lands Clauses Act, and the measures under which land has been acquired in the past, are notoriously out of date and must be amended, and to find a great deal of what was said in the year 1909 endorsed by such a Committee as the Acquisition of Land Committee, because that Committee was formed of Members of this House, of notable lawyers, of surveyors of very high standing, and I should think it must have been a very great source of pleasure to the Prime Minister, when he received that Report and no 2356 doubt perused it, to find that in nearly every respect it endorsed and confirmed the arguments that he brought forward in 1909–10 to secure the passage of the Budget. Let me read one or two extracts from this Report. It begins by saying:It has become notorious that for many years sums paid for property for public purposes in many cases have been excessive. If the object of the Courts was to prevent the owner getting more than he should they have not succeeded, and the extent to which excessive compensation has been pushed is well illustrated by the contrast between the value of land acquired for public purposes, and the value of the same land when estimated for the purpose of taxation.In the Report is given an illustration of what happened in regard to the Birken-head Waterworks. There was a piece of land there for which £9,000 was paid. A portion of it, valued at £5,500, was required for the purpose of constructing this waterworks. The sum claimed for that portion was £100,000. The sum awarded was £26,500.
That illustration taken from this Report might almost appear to be an illustration used at Limehouse. However, there it is This Report concludes:In many cases compensation has been given to the owner on the basis that he could blackmail the public authority.It appears to me that the Report of this Committee, composed of men of standing, which begins with the word "notorious" and ends with the word "blackmail," was a fitting report on which to base a great measure of land reform. I think that the feeling of the country in the measure that has been put before us to-day will be that the mountain in travail has produced a mouse. Something was said in Debate as to the effect which the Finance Act had had upon investment in land. Curiously enough it happened that just a day or two ago I received a copy of a paper which is to be read in my Constituency to-morrow night at a meeting of the Surveyors' Institute. It has been prepared by the agent of a considerable landowner in the North. The subject of that paper is: "The Increase in the Prices of Buildings and Land." I should like to read a short extract from this paper referring to 1914. This is what the land agent says:We were just beginning, like Christians, to emerge from the Slough of Despond of the valuation served under the Finance Act. At any rate we are getting used to them. Even if we did not thoroughly grasp all their intricacies, we were getting to that stage when we thought they would not be like the poor, ever with US. We see the gradual revival of confidence, pos- 2357 sibly the confidence of ignorance. After some of the moral effects of the Finance Act had worn off, and people began to think with a bit of devil-may-care, that it was time to think of laying down bricks and mortar. It was like a breath of Spring.That is quite a good style. I do not think there is any Member of this House, even the hon. Member for Chelmsford, who could put the case against the Finance Act of 1909–10 in a more picturesque and poetical fashion than the gentleman from whose paper I just read the extract. But he is not only poetical; he is practical. He goes on to deal with the question of the Finance Act upon building. He gives as figures. He says:In Newcastle, from 1905–9—the period prior to the Finance Act—there were 2,580 houses built, or 516 per annum. From 1910 to 1914 there were 810 and 162 per annum respectively.There is the whole case proved. How could it be clearer? Before your Finance Act is passed you get built 516 houses per annum! After it has passed the number falls to 162. It is perfectly clear that the effect of the Finance Act has been to stop building. The whole case is proved. Unfortunately for this gentleman he cannot let well alone. He goes on to give, besides these figures, the number of empty houses in Newcastle. These empty houses had increased from 429 in 1909 to 1,305 in 1913, just in the very period when houses were not being built owing to the action of the Finance Act. The number of empties was growing. The Finance Act so thoroughly weakened the confidence of the people of this country that they were not only afraid to build, and afraid to buy, but they were afraid to live in the houses which had been built or bought. As to the increase of empty houses, is it not the real fact that what happened at least in Newcastle was that the passing of the Finance Act synchronised with a period of depression, and of overbuilding? I am disposed to think that that was fairly general throughout the country. At all events that is a matter that can be very easily settled, and I think it would be of value to have the point settled. The President of the Local Government Board can very easily get the figures. If the figures were got, they would show, I think, that what really happened was—a curious coincidence it may be—but that in many districts the passing of the Act synchronised with a period of overbuilding. I was in Newcastle, and interested in the point, and I got the figures from the local authorities of the building which had 2358 taken place from 1866 onwards. I found there were regularly defined periods in which building rose to a peak and fell to-a trough. This was the synchronisation with periods of depression.
With regard to the Bill itself I offer this, criticism: It does nothing to help procedure. The valuation Clauses are good, so far as they go, but they do not go so far as we wish to see them. The question of betterment, the question of injurious affection, have been raised. They are not covered by this Bill. I should like to show how betterment is defined in the Report to which I have referred:The principle of betterment is the principle that persons whose property has clearly been increased in value by improvement shall specially contribute towards the cost of such improvement.I suggest that the idea of betterment with, regard to land in this country has taken on a very much larger and wider conception, than before the War. After all, when you. come to think of it, what has the whole war been but a great improvement in the state of Europe? It is reflected upon the value of property in this country. On this very principle alone there is reasonable ground for suggesting that the owners of real property in this country, who benefited so much by the increase of values, should make a special contribution towards the cost of the War. I want to make this further criticism: that in this Bill there is nothing to show that it is intended to take any advantage of the valuation machinery in existence—that the machinery of the Valuation Department is to be used in any shape or form. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill whether it is the deliberate intention of the Government to exclude the use of this machinery? I think there is some ground for asking that question, because the whole attitude of a number, at least, if not of the Government as a whole, of the great Departments of this country towards the machinery of the Valuation Department throughout the War has been one that has given ground for believing that it is possible that the absence of any reference to it in the Bill, is deliberate, and that it is intended to-exclude it from being used. With regard to that, I think that whatever opinion hon. Members may have as to the Finance Act of 1909–10, and to the value of the various taxes imposed under that measure, they must, as business men, realise that in the machinery of the Valuation Department 2359 there is at the disposal of the Government a very great instrument that they can use with profit in many directions.
As far as my own experience has gone there have been several directions during the War in which it might have been used with very great advantage and effect, but in which it was not so used. Take the case of the War Office. At the outbreak of war the War Office was called on to commandeer a great number of buildings and a considerable amount of land. In 1914 the Valuation Department was very largely through with its work. It was completely organised, and it was established in every part of the country. The country was divided up into 120 districts, and in each district you had at least one man, and in some cases more, who knew every yard of that district, every building in that district, their conditions, and their value. The problem before the War Office was to get accommodation for the large number of troops that were being raised. The Defence of the Realm Act was passed, laying down the terms under which compensation was to be paid, and in the early stages the War Office did call in the assistance of a Valuation Department. In Newcastle I was a valuer and was put on the committee. My business was to give assistance to the military authorities, to acquire property for them, and to assess compensation for that property under the Defence of the Realm Act. I very soon found I was in the way: Things were being done there, property was being obtained, expenditure was being incurred, and compensation was desired to be paid under conditions which it was impossible for me to sanction under the terms laid down by the Defence of the Realm Act. That Act, it will be remembered, laid it down that compensation should be on the basis of actual and substantial monetary loss. The principle of the Act was that no owner of property should be in a better position because his property was taken under the Act than he would have been if it had not been so taken. What went on was that practically derelict buildings were put in repair by the force of engineers and that then rents were paid for them to their owners. Buildings from which no income at all had been derived in the past became a source of income owing to the repairs carried out by the authorities. When I raised objections to this sort of thing, I was told it was a 2360 mistake to put me on that committee. In a short period of time, so far as my own district was concerned, we ceased to be employed on this and the War Office ran a Department of its own. Men came into the district who had no knowledge and no means at their disposal of obtaining local information, and the War Office built up a Department which, I believe, is still in existence, and carried out this work. I have no hesitation in saying that if the Valuation Department had been systematically employed by the War Office throughout the War it would have saved to this country an amount far in excess of anything that that Valuation Department has cost. Another matter is in connection with the employment of the directors of auxiliary buildings.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Edwin Cornwall)
I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to keep to the essence of tire Bill itself.
I was criticising the exclusion of the Valuation Department, and I wish to show how much better it would be if it were included. I was giving actual illustrations from my own knowledge to show how the Department might have been used in measures of this sort.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member is quite in order in giving an illustration, but his illustration was going on for about half an hour.
May I use one illustration which occurred in this House a little while ago, in the Debate on the works at Slough, which I think crystallises the whole case? The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall), speaking in that Debate and referring to the selection of a site there, used these words:My last point is the question of the selection of a site. What the Government did was to take a sensible precaution. They laid down certain conditions as to locality, water supply, transport, and so forth. Sir Howard Frank and his staff spent three weeks scouring the country trying to satisfy those conditions.Shortly, my point is this. The problem there was to find a site. Now, they had got at their hand an instrument by which they could, within three days, have discovered what sites were available in this country. The Admiralty, who were seeking sites quite as large as that at Slough, were using the Department. What was the procedure? A letter to each of the 120 valuers; postage 15s. a day for each 2361 district valuer to make a report from his own personal knowledge; 15s. postage back. You get, on an expenditure of £3 and in a period of three days, a much more complete and extensive report would have been in the hands of the Government than could possibly be furnished by Sir Howard Frank and his staff scouring the country for three weeks. That is a simple illustration which should satisfy the House. Yet in any measure which the Government bring in, and in any transactions which have to be carried out in regard to land, they do not employ a resource which they had at their hand.
In conclusion, I would simply say, that what I think the country has been looking for has been a constructive measure, a measure which should shorten indefinitely the procedure of acquiring this land. In our Colonies, it is stated in the Report, an authority can simply acquire land by giving notice in the "Gazette" that it is the intention to resume possession of the land. I cannot for the life of me see why, in this great period of wholesale reconstruction, we could not at least have had the land system in this country brought into line with that in our great Colonies. With regard to tribunals, I am happy that on this point I can agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford. It is of the utmost importance that the tribunals should be independent ones, and that the men who sit on them should be of the highest character, adequately paid, and secure in their position, so that they may gain the confidence of the country. So far as the basis of valuation is concerned, the main point there is to ensure that there should be no market at all of any public need It should be clear, in assessing the valuation, that the public authority coming into the market should not be regarded as a purchaser in the ordinary sense, but that the value to be obtained in the market should be the value to be obtained by the entry of a private purchaser and not of the public authority. I believe, so far as that particular point is concerned, that that is very largely secured in the Bill. The real measure of complaint, so far as the Bill goes, is that while I do think it helps us. once having got the land, to get it at a fairer rate than at present, it does little or nothing to help us to get the land.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The Government have laid before this House at least three large and important measures of 2362 social reform, but of all the measures, which they have laid or are likely to lay this is the most important. It goes to the root of the whole matter, namely, the acquisition of the land which forms directly or indirectly the basis of all social progress. A great deal has been said in. this discussion, indeed it is always said, on these questions, as to why we should, differentiate in the way in which you deal with land and any other form of property. No amount of discussion will alter the fact: that the people of this country have got hold of the rooted fundamental idea. which has been the basis of all our land: laws from the very earliest time, and that is the implicit, if not expressed, principle that the ultimate owner of the land is the Crown, or the people, and that therefore any interest, however powerful or widespread, must be subordinated to the public needs and the public good. That is not the doctrine of the Socialist platform or the Radical agitator, but it is the very basis of our land laws.
Proceeding from that, let us consider the scope of this measure. It deals and is fundamental to the vast and serious problem of housing. If the operation of this Bill when it becomes an Act, the financial weight which it imposes upon the community owing to this Bill as it at present stands, is heavy, you will undoubtedly in the most serious manner hamper all public authorities and all private interests in attempting to deal with that most difficult problem. What has happened with regard to housing? There has been an immense amount of legislation upon this subject—the three Acts of 1870, 1890, and 1909. Everybody knows what lies at the root of the delay, and indeed not only the delay on the part of public authorities, but the refusal of public authorities to undertake it. I agree it is cumbrous machinery, but what is at the root of it all is the awful expense. This Bill, as it stands at present, affords no relief. It is true it provides a certain amount of machinery, but the real block to anything like progress is the cost of the land. We are taking up the question of soldiers' settlement. We have heard a good deal about what we are going to do in this respect for the brave men who have served us on land, on sea, and in the air. In all probability I believe the demand or what we are providing will not be very great, because the men will be more liable to slip back into the old groove and not take on new Jobs. Nevertheless, this is 2363 a real and pressing problem. What is it that has stopped progress in this matter in the past I It is not the desire of public Authorities, but it is the cost.
Take the subject of afforestation. Our woods have been stripped and we shall have to take large and sweeping drastic measures to replant them. We shall have to deal with I do not know how many hundreds of thousands of acres. Who is going to deal with that problem? Some public authority must deal with it, and it must not be a public authority in London; therefore the only way to do it is through devoluted authorities throughout the country who will be able to handle the problem on the spot. But what will stop them? Why, the expense. This Bill does nothing to alter the present block, and the position will ultimately be worse than ever. Upon small holdings I speak with rather a special interest, for I had the honour of introducing into this House the Bill which afterwards became the Small Land-Holders Act for Scotland. What simply smashed that Act and made it a real "dud" on the Statute Book? Nothing but the decision of the Law Courts which gave a perfectly monstrous sum by way of compensation to the landlords. How is that going to help the Scottish people?
I want to know from Scottish Radical Members what they think of this Bill in face of their knowledge of what has happened in Scotland. What action are they going to take with regard to it? Small holdings will just remain what they were, absolutely starved with no chance of any improvement. They may say, "That is all right; the State is going to bear the expense." But what is the State? Simply the taxpayer, and the sooner the people of this country, or at any rate Government Departments, realise that in the ultimate all these vast sums which are being poured out have to be met and paid by the taxpayer the better. When taxes fall upon the people like hail upon the land, what can the action of local authorities be while they are pressed down by heavy rates and by crushing taxation as well? How can we bear the interest on the National Debt? Is it realised what the position is with regard to the heavy burdens of the State? The interest on the National Debt will amount to thousands of millions. If you even double the cost of all your Services, civil and military, in this country you do not come anywhere 2364 near even the interest on your debt. You say that the State can bear it. You may start in that way, but two or three years after passing all these things if you do not face the facts you will be bankrupt. We shall have to face these things like honest individuals and get rid of this nonsense of what the Government can do. We have got to do it in the end, and the sooner we realise it the better for honesty and for the efficient and economical working of the State. What is the proposal of the Government? The machinery has been dealt with. I will deal simply with the Bill. Clause 2 is the Bill. It says:The value of land shall, subject as hereinafter provided, be taken to be the amount which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise.The market value, and the market value of to-day. It is no use talking about how things will settle themselves in the course of a year or two. These problems are instant, and, if you are going to do any good, you will have to start buying right off, or the country will want to know why. We may have another election, and the whole business all over again and nothing done. Here is a chance for the Government to redeem their pledges. If they have any idea of their responsibility and what they said and meant at the last election here is their chance, with the House or the great majority of the House behind them and keenly earnest on real social reform. What do they propose to do? They propose to give an inflated war value. Just see what must happen. Take a fairly large town. You have between the actual urban boundaries of the town and the really agricultural part a belt influenced by the high standard of the agricultural value, and the high standard of the urban value. What has raised the value of these tracts of agricultural land I Does anybody doubt that it is the War that has driven up the value of agricultural land? The whole thing is bloated and inflated by the War position and the Bill actually and solemly proposes that in these social questions, which are at the very root of our national existence, we shall hand over the results of the War as far as these values are concerned to the owners of the land. How has it been brought about? By the sacrifices of the whole community. Why therefore should the whole of the community be taxed—that is what it amounts to, a War tax—simply for the sake of those who have the good fortune to own the land? I say deliberately that 2365 the country will not have it. Unless this thing is radically altered and placed upon a basis which will appeal to the justice and fairness of the nation, then there will be much more said about it whatever we put on the Statute Book. The idea of the country is that the right and proper thing to do is to take the pre-war valuation. If we are to deal with this thing on the present market value, why, it reduces to a farce the whole of the Government's social programme. We have got down to this one question, and we see where we are. I do not for a moment deny the bona fidesof the views of hon. Members, but this is a vital question, and, unless we get an assurance from the Government that this matter is going to be brought into line with the reasonable and fair demand of those who are pressing and insisting upon social reform for the country, we shall most certainly divide upon this Amendment. Lest anyone thinks that I am employing the language of an agitator, let me remind the House what the "Times" said the other day upon this question:The current value of most agricultural land just now is probably not less than 25 per cent. higher than it was ten years ago. The taxpayer will have to bear the burden of the rise in the price if the Clause stands. The rise of 25 per cent. is a big rise, and the Clause confers upon the landowner a bonus from the taxpayer which he could not possibly have expected in the most favourable circumstances if there had been no war.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
Does the right hon. Gentleman put the depreciation of money at less than 25 per cent?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Everything has depreciated. I should think that the depreciation of money is greater than 25 per cent. I say that in the taking of land for this necessary public purpose there should be no unfair profits derived by those who hold the land, and I say that Clause 2 as it now stands gives them unfair profits. In one way or another all classes of trade have to pay the Excess Profits Tax. The basis of the Excess Profits Tax is that the great profits that have been caused by the War, and the Government therefore say, "Give us 80 per cent. and you can have 20 per cent." In this vital matter the whole thing is left to the open market and the willing seller. In housing, in land settlement, in afforestation, and in transport, because this is the land foundation of all those great schemes in the Transport Bill, who is going to come into the market? Why, 2366 every public authority in the land is going to come into the market. What effect will that have upon the price of land? There is nothing here to stop it; there are no safeguards at all. You may have the most independent men in the world as valuers, but they are bound by the words of the Act and they cannot do anything else. I say that we are fully justified in voting for the reasoned Amendment upon the Paper.
§ Mr. D. HERBERT
After sitting silent in this House for two months, I have a natural trepidation in rising for the first time, but I want particularly to say a few words on one point which seems to me to be the chief question in this discussion, namely, the value at which the land is to be taken over by the State. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has treated us to a speech given with a greater amount of indignation and a freer use of adjectives than I have ever heard him use in this House before. What, after all, does it come to? He pities very much the poor taxpayer who is to find this money, and he is apparently desirous of relieving the taxpayer, which means every individual in the country bearing his or her fair share, at the expense of one unfortunate class which happens to hold one particular form of investment. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but after all this is the point which has been raised by several Members in different forms. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Sir R. Winfrey) spoke of the ups and downs in the values of real property, and deprecated that we should have to pay what is the market value at the present moment when the market value some years ago was less, and when, according to him, it will be less in years to come. This is a question of fairness at the moment. The hon. Member is a gentleman whose services at the present moment would be worth a considerable sum to anybody who happened to want to employ an expert in his particular line. Let us assume, for argument's sake, that it is putting it at a fair value to say that the market value of his services now would be £1,500 a year. They would not have been that when he was seventeen years of age, and possibly they will not be that in twenty years' time. But no body would suggest that he should receive now only what they were worth when he was seventeen, or what they will be worth in twenty years' time.
2367 The average Englishman has a sense of fairness and justice. I would appeal particularly to hon. Members on the Labour Benches in regard to the question of the present value of land that is required for national purposes. I would put to them an illustration of the hardship which would be effected by going back to the 1909–10 valuation — a hardship which would be brought about for many of those whom they profess to specially represent in this House. There is many a skilled artisan in some of our large or growing towns, a thrifty man and a man with some business sense in his head, who in the last few years has put his savings into the purchase of a small plot of land not far from where he lives, a plot of land which, when he bought it, had some prospective building value. Pie has bought it beyond its agricultural value, and cultivated it as an allotment, possibly with a view to having a house built there in future years, or at least of being able to sell it for a sum beyond that which he gave for it. We will assume—it is not an unfair assumption, as hon. Members will admit—that he has purchased the plot for 10, 15 or 20 per cent. above the amount of the 1909–10 valuation. Is that man to lose that, and to have that property taken from him at 10, 15 or 20 per cent. less than he paid for it, because that happens to be the value at the time of the 1909–10 valuation? The 1909–10 valuation was a valuation made at a time when the value of money was very different from what it is now. For that reason alone, if you are to give the owner of land what his land was worth in 1909–10, you have to give him certainly 50 per cent. and probably 100 per cent. above the valuation at that moment. There is one remarkable point in regard to that which I am rather surprised has not been mentioned here tonight. If the fair value between a willing seller and a willing buyer at the present moment is taken as the basis of the price to be paid, if mere is a profit on the 1909–10 valuation, there is an Increment Value Duty to be paid. Hon. Members seem to have forgotten that. That is one reason why the State may very fairly say, "If we purchase at a fair value at the present time, we are. purchasing, so far as we are concerned, in truth at something less than the real value, because we are getting a 2368 percentage of the increment which has. accrued since that valuation in Increment Value Duty."
May I pass to one or two other points on the Bill, in particular to the question of access to Courts of law. I do not want to go into that very far, but as one who, at any rate many years ago, was a student of constitutional history, I venture to protest most strongly against any attempt to shut out individuals in this, country from access to the Courts of law to its fullest extent. Any idea of confining them to a decision of a Court of first instance seems to me contrary to the best traditions of the freedom of the subject, which have been such a great strength in the agitation we have had lately with regard to the question of the power of the people and of democratic government. There may be a great deal to be said for trying to simplify the procedure, and when you come to litigation against a Government Department there is a great deal to-be said for trying to reduce that litigation in the interests of individual subjects. Take, for example, those questions which so constantly arise between the individual and the Inland Revenue, where an individual may have a claim which he considers to be perfectly good in law and in equity. He knows, if he carries that case to the Courts, if it is one of general interest, that if he wins in the Court of first instance he is certain to be dragged right up to the House of Lords by a Government Department, to whom the expenditure of money in law costs is no hindrance. Here I would suggest a matter to which attention has been drawn by the legal profession several times, that if the Government wish to assist procedure and simplify litigation in these matters, they might adopt some self-denying-ordinance and at least preclude themselves from proceeding beyond the Court of first instance without undertaking the liability for costs in any event. I suggest seriously to the Attorney General to consider bringing some provision of that kind into this Bill coupled with the suggestion already made that the appeal should be allowed only with the consent of the Court of first instance.
On the question of values under this Bill, surely the British sense of justice is against the price King decided by the nominee of one side. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) suggested that the only way in which this difficulty could be overcome was by ap- 2369 pointing valuers at a high salary with some such sort of independence as that which is enjoyed by our judges at the present time. I admit that that would be a pretty expensive procedure. But I suggest that the ordinary method of arbitration might be employed here to a very much greater extent than merely the permissive extent allowed by the Bill. I suggest, further, that estate agents of efficient standing should be put upon a panel of arbitrators by the Government, and that any estate agent upon that panel, who may be agreed upon between the two parties, should be accepted as the sole arbitrator, and, in the event of disagreement, each side should indicate an arbitrator, with a judge of the High Court or County Court judge as umpire, and third arbitrator. It seems if we had some system which might be described as compulsory arbitration on these lines, there would be very few cases indeed where the decision would not be made in a way which could not reasonably be complained of by either party to the proceedings.
At the risk of being accused of trying to say something in the interests of my own profession, I am going to raise what may, perhaps, be a small point in the view of some hon. Members, but which carries a good deal of weight with me. It is the question of the right of the person whose land is to be acquired to be represented by counsel or solicitor before the valuation tribunal. May I say in passing I really have no personal interest in the matter, as it would not affect my own particular class of business in the slightest degree. But the reason why I do suggest very strongly indeed that owners of land who are called upon to give up their land should have the right of professional representation is not so much, or any more at any rate, in the interests of those individuals as in the interests of the scheme generally for the acquisition of these lands. Can the Attorney-General imagine himself in a much more unhappy position than having to decide a question as to the value of land, and having before him a garrulous old lady whom he cannot possibly stop talking, and who would be utterly incompetent of appreciating even his own lucid explanation as to how she ought to put her case forward? If I am not mistaken, this has been tried before, and it has always been felt by those who have any experience of inquiries that nothing hampers more the completion of the business than being obliged to hear 2370 the applicant in person. He is the most unsuitable person to put his or her case forward, being a person who talks twice or three times as long as would anyone who was trained in these matters. I am sure the hon. Member for the Exchange Division (Mr. Scott) will not quarrel with me if I say that there may be some reason, perhaps, for excluding counsel in some of these cases, without the special leave of the tribunal, and yet admitting solicitors. A solicitor is not a lawyer. It is no libel to say that he knows no law. He is generally a person who puts his case forward from a purely business point of view without the verbosity and exuberance of argument which comes from a real lawyer. I suggest most seriously that you will hamper the operation of this Act very considerably in acquiring the land which is so urgently needed for various purposes unless owners are allowed to have some form of professional assistance.
§ Sir G. HEWART
This Debate has now occupied nearly six hours. It has ranged over a variety of topics, and I am certainly not going to say one word of complaint, either as to the tone or subject of discussion. The immediate question before the House is whether it should decline to proceed further with the consideration of this Bill. The reasons advanced appear to fall into two main classes. It is first of all said, and this was the main contention of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Exchange Division, that this Bill is very disappointing in the sense that it is not what it ought to be—a great scheme of land reform. In other words, it is not a Bill which deals adequately with land reform. It is also said that the subject-matter of the Bill is altogether too limited. The second class of complaint indeed does in a way confine itself to the Bill. There are those on the one side who say that the Bill, even within the limits of its subject-matter, does not go far enough, while there are others who say that the Bill goes too far. May I say a word upon each of these points in turn? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division, who moved this Amendment, made it his chief ground of complaint that there were many topics suitable for a measure of land reform with which this Bill does not concern itself at all.
He said, indeed, that even a list of these topics would astonish the House. I dare 2371 say that is quite true. There are many topics of land reform with which this Bill has no connection, but is that of necessity an evil? This Bill purports to deal with one topic only, and to deal with it for this obvious reason: Whatever else may be done, whatever else may be in contemplation, one thing is certain, that we must put ourselves in a position to acquire land at a fair price. So much, at any rate, must be an incident of any legislation upon land at all. The plan which has been observed is that of separating that particular matter from the rest and dealing with it by itself, and once that is understood and made plain, as I desire to make it most plain, that this Bill does not profess to be the whole code, that it is not intended to prejudice any other Bill, and, indeed, that legislation of a far-reaching character is under consideration. I trust I have met the main point of my hon. and learned Friend's argument. He founded a great part of his argument upon the two excellent Reports of his own Commission, and it was no small part of his criticism of the Bill that it had nothing to say to the sanctioning authority, which was the main recommendation of his first Report. It is true it is not dealing with the manner in which powers may be obtained to get land compulsorily. It is dealing with the mode in which the price is to be ascertained once those powers have been got.
I should like to say a word, however, about the proposed sanctioning authority. I have had the advantage of reading and considering that Report. It is at present Tinder consideration. I cannot give any pledge. I neither encourage nor discourage the hope that that suggestion may be adopted. My hon. and learned Friend's proposal, whatever else it may be, is a very far-reaching proposal and one of an eminently disputable and controversial character. It gets rid at a swoop of our private Bill legislation. It gets rid of Provisional Orders. It gets rid of Departmental Orders. All these things may be quite desirable, but they are very large topics which are not necessarily related to the mode of determining the price of land which is to be compulsorily acquired. I desire my hon. and learned Friend to understand that the introduction of this Bill, and its passing, if it be passed, is 2372 not to prejudice the consideration of those larger questions, some, but only some, of which he enumerated.
There were two speakers from the opposite side of the House, one above the Gangway and one below, who mentioned certain suspicions which had been excited in their minds by the limited scope of the Bill. It was said by one of them that it had obviously began by being something far more ambitious, and that in the process of examination at the hands of the Government or some of its Members it was being whittled away, because I think he said somebody had a horror of violating the sanctity of the Lands Clauses Acts. I should like to say with all proper respect that that suspicion is entirely grotesque. If the author of it knew the facts he would know that the truth is entirely the reverse. This Bill is designed to deal solely with the acquisition of land. I had a share in it from the start. It began by being something even more limited still, and the process which the hon. Member has permitted himself to imagine was not a process of progressive belittlement. It was a process of development, of growth, and it was suggested that someone, I know not who, entertained a horror at the defilement that was being done to the Lands Clauses Act. Why, the very point which we had constantly in view throughout was to get rid of the cumbrous, costly machinery of those Acts. On that matter there was never from the outset the faintest shadow of doubt. The other suspicion was that this Bill had been put forward in this limited form because of some political difficulties about the larger proposal. There is not the slightest foundation for that suggestion.
I pass from that to deal with the particular criticisms upon the Bill. Whether they be criticisms in the sense that the Bill is too extreme, or in the sense that it is not sufficiently extreme, my general observation is that they are all matters that are worthy to be considered in Committee. Let me, in anticipation, say a word or two on the most important of those criticisms. It was said, for example, that it was a real grievance that the Bill in its present form proposes to dispense with the services of solicitors and counsel. My hon. and learned Friend who began the Debate, and the hon. Gentleman—I must not call him "learned"—both dwelt upon that point. I must observe, in the first place, that the Bill does not produce that 2373 result. The theory of the Bill is that the valuation of land as a rule is a matter, not for lawyers, but for valuers, and those who are expert in the valuation of land. Therefore the normal procedure which is contemplated is that there shall be skilled witnesses, but there will be many cases in which the services of solicitor or counsel will not be required. On the other hand, with the consent of the valuer, both solicitor and counsel may be employed. Is it to be supposed that, in a proper case, the valuer would refuse the services of solicitor and counsel? My hon. Friend who spoke a few moments ago drew a gloomy picture of the situation in which I might find myself in the presence, I think he said, of a garrulous old lady, if there is such a thing. If I did, indeed, find myself in that position, I have not the least doubt as to what I should do. I should say, "It is obviously a case for solicitor and counsel."
But seriously it is of real importance in the minds of those who are responsible for this Bill to get rid of the waste of money upon legal charges. I rather gathered from one passage in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend that his notion of the tribunal was a place where you had six King's Counsel on a £10 claim in a County Court. Whatever may be the merits of that kind of proceeding it is not a proceeding which this Bill is. intended to encourage. On the other hand in proper cases there is nothing in this Bill to prevent the employment either of solicitor or of counsel. Then it was said that it was improper that whole-time valuers should be appointed. I observed that there was a little difference of opinion about that. My hon. Friend opposite was rather disposed to favour—I think his was the only voice raised to that effect, and I welcomed it—the appointment of the whole-time valuer as being a person who while he had not local knowledge, neither had he local interest, and that he would bring to bear an impartial mind. The whole-time valuer is, I suggest, the right man, and the volume of the work and the amount of the work quite justify the appointment of the whole-time valuer. It is said again, that he must be adequately paid, and I entirely agree. It was never in contemplation by anyone that he should be paid otherwise than adequately. And as for his independence, a good deal of the criticism has proceeded upon the assumption that he and his colleagues are to constitute a sort of Government 2374 Department, and that they are to be creatures and instruments of bureaucracy. Do the authors of this criticism reflect that these gentlemen are to be appointed, so far as England is concerned, by the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Master of the Rolls, and the President of the Surveyors' Institution? Do they reflect that in Scotland and in Ireland similar arrangements, so far as they can be, are made?
§ Sir G. HEWART
Let me probe this a little further, and see what this suggestion amounts to, because I do repudiate it. The suggestion appears to be this: that the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, and the President of the Surveyors' Institution, may appoint perfectly proper and competent persons, but their independence will be impaired and their powers as between the purchaser and the vendor will be diminished by the knowledge that their payment comes from the Treasury, and that they are not employed for the whole of their lives. I resent that imputation upon the men of the standard contemplated for the position of official valuers.
Then it was said that we ought not to use the words "willing seller" without using the words "willing buyer." My right hon. Friend the Member for the Chelmsford Division (Mr. Pretyman) said, and I readily accept his statement, that in the Finance Act, 1910, although you find in Section 21 the term "willing seller" without "willing buyer," that in another Section of the Act you find the terms "willing seller" and "willing buyer." On the spur of the moment I assent to that view. Compulsion has arisen by reason of the phrase, and doubts have arisen as to what is meant when you import not only the one term but both. I adhere to the view that whatever may be the merits of that dispute, I rather gathered that the term "willing seller" has been the subject of judicial interpretation, a matter upon which I shall inform my mind in the leisure of the Easter vacation. Whatever it may be, that is a question which we can undoubtedly accommodate in Committee. It was further said that it was wholly wrong that there should be no appeal to the Courts of Law, and some 2375 rather strong words were employed about the iniquity of depriving the British subject of his right of recourse to the law. Is not that language a little exaggerated, when one looks at the provisions of the Bill? The House remembers what the problem is. The problem is to ascertain the fair price to be paid for a particular plot of land. Primarily that is a question of fact to be determined by a competent tribunal upon relevant evidence. On the question of fact that determination is final, but in the course of the hearing, or at the conclusion of it, it may be that a question of law will arise. What is the provision of the Bill? The provision is two-fold, and I cannot help thinking that some hon. Members who dwelt upon this matter have paid too little attention to the words of the Clause. The provision of the Bill is, not only if the official valuer desires the opinion of the High Court upon a question of law he may state at case for the opinion of the High Court, or at the request of the parties he may state a case for the opinion of the High Court, but if the High Court itself requires him to state a case, that is to say, upon an application which may be made to the High Court, then he must do so. The case stated in that way comes before two experienced judges of the King's Bench Division. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two? Special Paper!"] My hon. Friend says "Special Paper." I should think that it might be two or it might be three, or it is conceivable that it might be one. I hear one hon. Member say that it makes no difference. Such is the virtue of two judges in comparison with one. However that may be, there is provision that a case may be stated, and a case may be ordered to be stated. The point in this provision which excites the anger of our critics is, that that opinion of the High Court cannot be taken further, that is to say, to the Court of Appeal or to the House of Lords, and it is said that there ought to be the right to such further appeal, at any rate if the Court gives leave to appeal. Again I say, that is a matter for consideration.
I think I have dealt—I have at least endeavoured to deal—with the individual criticisms upon the Bill in the sense that there are extreme provisions in it which are by way of being unfair to the vendor, but the criticisms do not end there: there is a different and a still more indignant 2376 line of criticism, which says that this Bill contemplates the payment of a wholly excessive sum. I have listened with attention to nearly the whole of this Debate and I waited a long time to hear what the suggested alternative was to be. My right hon. Friend opposite (Sir D. Maclean), in the vehemence of his eloquence, if he will allow me to say so, permitted himself to go this length. He said, "Not only does this Bill give no relief; it actually makes matters worse." The right hon. Gentleman ventures to say that of a Bill which gets rid of the 10 per cent. for compulsory sale, of a Bill which gets rid of the two arbitrators and umpire of the Lands Clauses Acts, of a Bill which revolutionises the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts with regard to costs, and of a Bill which makes the provisions contained in Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 excluding value upon special grounds. I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman can seriously offer criticism to the House. But what is it, apart from words, of which he really complains? It is a particular—I agree an important, but a particular—portion of the second Clause. Let me read the offending words:The value of land shall, subject as hereinafter prodded, be taken to be the amount which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise.And what shocks the right hon. Gentle-man? The wickedness of paying the amount which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise! There were others who, not in the same terms but to the same effect, took a similar point, but not one of them, so far as I heard, suggested an alternative. The right hon. Gentleman at the conclusion of his remarks did. He suggested that we ought to put in pre-war value. Does he observe the effect of that proposal, if it were adopted? This is not a Bill for the duration of the War, or for one year after the termination of the War. Are we to pass a Bill in this year which for all time would stereotype the price which is to be paid for land compulsorily acquired at its value in the year 1913, or up to the summer of 1914? I cannot think he seriously suggests that. But there was a further suggestion, that, as there is now a period of emergency, and it may be— though I think the figures were exaggerated; the right hon. Gentleman said there had been an increase in the value of 25 per cent., but I have had some figures shown to me which indicate that the increase, in fact, is much less.
§ Sir G. HEWART
No, by a Government Department. The figures, which were handed to me this afternoon, and which cover an enormous amount of material, gave a much less figure. I will not mention it now, because I would like, first, to examine the particulars on which it is founded. But let it be granted that in this period of emergency there is a considerable increase in the price which is payable for land. It is conceded, also, that there is a considerable diminution in the purchasing price of money, and the suggestion was made—if I may say so without presumption, an interesting suggestion— that some special arrangement might be made for this period of emergency, and that during this period we might have recourse, if not completely, at any rate, largely to a system of compulsory leases, to be followed. by acquisition out-and-out at a more convenient date. That also is a proposal well worth consideration. That is a proposal which deals with the particular provisions of Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, and that also shall be considered. I have dealt, according to my recollection, with all the points that have been raised.
§ Mr. SCOTT
There are two more questions I should like to ask. One is, Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman hold out any prospect of private promoters being dealt with on the lines of this Bill, this Bill being limited to Government Departments and local authorities? The other question is, What is his view of the possibility of injurious affection and betterment being dealt with under this Bill, and, if outside this Bill, what prospect is there of the Government introducing other legislation to deal with it?
§ Sir G. HEWART
I will endeavour to answer, as well as I can, both questions of the hon. and learned Gentleman. With regard to the first, it is quite true that in the Report of his Committee private promoters—at any rate, private promoters of a certain kind—are treated as being upon the same plane as Government Departments and local authorities. For ex- 2378 ample, under the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend's scheme there would be no distinction in method between an application from a Government Department and an application from a railway company; but I am expressing now, with all necessary reserve, a merely individual view. It does seem to me,' whatever my opinion may be worth, that there is a real difference between the acquisition of land by a Government Department or a public authority for public purposes, and the compulsory acquisition of land by a profit-making company. How far that difference should go is another matter, and I am not able to give any pledge or undertaking that those railway companies and similar corporations will be brought in upon the same footing. With regard to the second question, that was a question, if I followed my hon. and learned Friend—
§ Sir G. HEWART
What was in my mind was injurious affection. My hon. and learned Friend asked a question about both of these matters. They are not quite upon the same footing. Injurious affection is an incident to the acquisition of land which sometimes applies to the property of the person from whom the land is acquired, and sometimes to the property of another owner. So far as injurious affection upon such a compulsory acquisition would establish compensation under the Lands Clauses Act, this Bill will not interfere. The valuer who values under this Act — unless I am mistaken — will also award suitable compensation. I am glad to find that one hon. Member is exhilarated by that proposition!
§ Sir G. HEWART
The question of injurious affection is one that will not be subject to compensation under this Bill. Betterment is a much larger and a much more difficult question. One thing is quite obvious about it, and that is that it is not a matter that can easily and conveniently be dealt with in a. Bill relating to the acquisition of land. It is 2379 one of those very things that together make what this Amendment desiderates— a great scheme of land reform. I am asked to indicate as precisely as I can when that topic is likely to be dealt with. Frankly, I am not prepared to give a date. But I hope my hon. and learned Friend does not think that the matter is being ignored; on the contrary, it is. one of those matters which is under consideration at the present time. I have dealt as far as I can—I hope frankly and fully—with the various criticisms offered. I come, back to the Amendment. An Amendment which in these circumstances invites this House to say that, notwithstanding these large measures of which the House to some extent has approved, notwithstanding the manifest needs and difficulties of the times and the undoubted fact that whatever else and further may be done, some scheme must be carried to provide for the purchase at a fair price of land compulsorily acquired—notwithstanding all this, this Amendment invites the House to say that it will not go further in the matter. I trust it will not be carried.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The strong point of our case, and the weak point in the Government's proposal, is that we both know that when this Bill is passed into law it will not give satisfaction. As my hon. and learned Friend opposite has pointed out the fact is that this Bill professes to get away from the old Land Clauses Act of 1846. It does modify that Act in certain directions as has been shown, but, on the whole, wherever there is any disputed question of compensation involved, we go back to the old Act of 1846. For instance, there is the question of injurious affection, of part of the property being sold to the State. I hope the House understands what enormous prices have been paid in the past to landowners both by railway companies and by public authorities under this head, and for severance. Injurious affection and severance are still in the Government Bill. The landlord is not to get merely the price in The open market between the willing buyer and the willing seller, he is to get the price for all these fancy claims that the lawyers have built up under the 1846 Act, and which, in the past, have robbed railway companies and, through them, the public of millions of money for the benefit of a very small class. Our difficulty is 2380 frankly this. People in all classes see the State indulging in an enormous expenditure. They see the taxes rising, the Income Tax 5s. last year, 6s. this year, perhaps 7s. 6d. next year. They see a prospect of an unlimited increase in taxation, of unlimited spoliation of the Exchequer, and consequently you have every vested interest in the country putting their heads together to see how they can get their share out of the public purse. To-day we have an example of how the landlords in the country propose to put their heads together to get their share—that is all they ask for—of the spoil, their share out of the public purse, and this Bill is brought in. We were told, two or three weeks ago, I think, in the public Press, that this Bill was the subject of an agitated and violent controversy, in the Cabinet and among the drafters of the measure, between those who were anxious for a Radical solution and those who were anxious for a Conservative solution. We were told that it was a question whether they should adopt the pre-war valuation or the post-war valuation. Undoubtedly it has been the Conservative Bill which has won the day and the Conservative Bill which is put before us to-day. It is a Bill which will give the maximum compensation to the landlords compatible with getting the Bill through even the most Conservative House of Commons. It is not only that this Bill retains in force the 1846 Act, with all its additional means of getting money out of the purchaser for the benefit of the landlord, but there is also the question whether we are justified in saying that the land shall be bought during the coming year, or during the two successive years, at the present inflated price. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said that land had not risen by 25 per cent. I will not argue with him about figures. Suppose it has only risen 15 or 20 per cent., let him recollect that during the time that land has, risen 10, 15, or 20 per cent.—I should be putting it nearer if I said that in my part of the country some agricultural land has risen 50 per cent.—the value of money has been constantly depreciated, so that investments in Consols, or debenture shares has been sinking.
That is an additional argument why we should not pay too much attention to the present inflated prices, even from the point of view of mere charity to a vested interest. But, when we consider to what this inflation is due; that it is due not solely to 2381 the War, but to the action of Government Departments in paying an inflated price for grain, for wheat and for oats, in order to induce the farmers to plant more; that it is due to the inflated price of those foodstuffs which come from the land, inflated, in order to encourage production, by a Government Department. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not true."] Then we see that it is even more iniquitous that the community should be asked to pay these inflated prices when they are purely the result of Government action. When the Corn Laws was taken off, in 1847, then indeed the price of land fell, the price of food fell, and the price of agricultural land throughout the country fell. But there was no question then of compensation to the landlords on account of the removal of those duties. In a few years time the Corn Production Act will expire and agricultural land will return to its normal level and foodstuffs will come back to their normal price. Then the whole value of agricultural land will sink certainly to its pre-war level and possibly lower. Then you will find the ex-soldiers and those who have been housed under these proposals will be saddled with debts based upon the high price of land and they will legitimately complain that they have been forced by the House to pay these high prices and put in an unfair position in their efforts to make a living out of the land. During this War we have seen a great number of factories springing up for the manufacture of munitions of war, and all around those factories there has been a demand for houses. A great deal of these new building schemes will show themselves by the springing up of new villages near those factories, and we have to consider a rise in the value of agricultural land to the building value of the land, which may go up from £20 an acre to a matter of £200 or even £400 an acre. Thus we are being asked to pay the landlord an increased value in the land created by the expenditure of State money in building those factories. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Scott) knows that his inquiry was one which did consider those points, and that is why he brings in this question of betterment. The Govern-
§ ment omit all consideration of those points, and it is a fact that nearly all your new building schemes will be upon land that will rise from its agricultural value, and which has risen in value during the War, to as much as £200 or £400 per acre.
§ I urge hon. Members to vote for this Amendment and against this Bill. It is possible that we shall not carry this proposal, but I shall be sorry for those who vote against it. The more hon. Members vote for it the stronger will be our case in Committee for amending the Bill in the direction I have indicated. It has been said that we have no suggestion to make as to the price at which land should be acquired. I think we have protested often enough, and we have a perfectly simple way of acquiring land at a price fixed by the landlord himself. All we ask is that the landlords themselves everywhere should fix the value of their land, and then that we should be allowed to put our rates and taxes on that value, and if afterwards we want to acquire the land we shall take it at the landlord's own valuation. I think that would give ample satisfaction to all the landlords, and it would give absolute justice to the community. It would also be absolute proof that we were not paying more than the full value of the land, because wherever that system has been adopted no landlords are likely to put too high a value on their property.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
In view of what the Attorney-General has said, and the assurance that he has given the House—of course, I completely accept it, not only according to the letter but according to the spirit which was involved in what he said—that the Cabinet is considering at the present time the larger measures of reform which, in my view, are so absolutely essential to the welfare of the country during these years of reconstruction, I do not think that it would be right to press this Motion to a Division, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw it. [HON. MEMBERS: No!]
§ Question put "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 178; Noes, 17.2383
|Division No. 26.]||AYES.||[10.47 p.m.|
|Atkey, A. R.||Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, S.)||Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Birchall, Major J. D.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Borwick, Major G. O.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Barnston, Major Harry||Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-||Barrie. C. C.||Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.|
|Barker, Major R.||Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Breese, Major C. E.|
|Britton, G. B.||Jodrell, N. P.||Reid, D. D.|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Remer, J. B.|
|Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Brown, T. W. (Down, N.)||King, Com. Douglas||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Larmor, Sir J.||Richardson, R. (Houghton)|
|Campion, Col. W. R.||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Cape, Tom||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)||Robinson, T. (Stretford, Lanes.)|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Rogers, Sir Hallewell|
|Carr, W. T.||Lloyd, George Butler||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Casey, T. W.||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Lorden, John William||Royds, Lt.-Col. Edmund|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Lort-Williams, J.||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Chilcott, Lieut.-Com. H. W. S.||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Clough, R.||Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk)||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A.W (Dublin Univ)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lynn, R. J.||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Seager, Sir William|
|Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)||Mackinder, Halford J.||Seddon, J. A.|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Curzon, Commander Viscount||Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy)||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Mason, Robert||Smithers, Alfred W.|
|Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Meysey-Thompson, Lt.-Col. E. C.||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander|
|Dockrell, Sir M.||Mitchell, William Lane-||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Moles, Thomas||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Edge, Captain William||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Stephenson, Col. H. K.|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Morden, Col. H. Grant||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Falcon, Captain M.||Morison, T. B. (Inverness)||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Mosley, Oswald||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Gould, J. C.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Green, A. (Derby)||Murchison, C. K.||Waddington, R.|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)||Wallace, J.|
|Greig, Col. James William||Nail, Major Joseph||Waring, Major Walter|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Guest, Major O. (Leices., Loughb'ro'.)||O'Grady, James||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W.E. (B. St. E.)||Palmer, Major G. M.||Whitla, Sir William|
|Hacking, Captain D. H.||Palmer, Brig.-Gon. G. (Westbury)||Wigan, Brig.-General John Tyson|
|Hanson, Sir Charles||Parker, James||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Henderson, Major V. L.||Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Woodbridge)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Perkins, Walter Frank||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.||Perring, William George||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Hood, Joseph||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pratt, John William||Young, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Prescott, Major W. H.||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Howard, Major S. G.||Rae, H. Norman||Young, William (Perth and Kinross)|
|Inskip, T. W. H.||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Jameson, Major J. G.||Rankin, Capt. James S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord E. Taibot and Captain Guest.|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Johnstone, J.||Thomas, Brig-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Benn, Capt. W. (Leith)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Newbould, A. E.|
|Finney, Samuel||Onions, Alfred||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Hogge and Mr. G. Thorne|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Rattan, Peter Wilson|
|Hayward, Major Evan||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
Bill read the third time, and passed.