HC Deb 12 December 1919 vol 122 cc1808-11

(1) Where the Minister is satisfied that any local authority (including a county council) or two or more local authorities jointly, or any authorised association, are prepared to purchase and develop any land as a garden city (including a garden suburb or a garden village), or for the purpose of a town-planning scheme for the area in which the land is situate, in accordance with a scheme approved by the Minister, and. have funds available for the purpose, he may with the consent of the Treasury and after consultation with the Board of Trade, the Board. of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister of Transport, acquire that land on behalf of the authority or association either by compulsion or by agreement in any case in which it appears to him necessary or expedient so to do for the purpose of securing the development of the land as aforesaid, and may for that purpose exercise any of the powers of a local authority in relation to the acquisition of land under the Housing Acts, 1890 to 1919, and may do all such things as may be necessary to vest the land so acquired in the local authority or association.


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "land" ["purchase and develop any land"], to insert the words "not being land forming part of any common."

This is moved on behalf of the Commons Preservation Society, which entertains fear that under this Clause the Minister may possibly be empowered to acquire, incidentally, common land. I know it is not my right hon. Friend's intention at all that the Bill should apply to such land, but it is desired by those who are interested in the preservation of commons that it should be made quite clear what the meaning of the Clause is. There can be no doubt that although my right hon. Friend has no nefarious designs upon commons, some day another Minister might sit in his place and might find a pretext for taking such land on the ground that it was obviously not expressly excluded. I have handed in an alternative Amendment to insert the words "and subject to Section 73 of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909." The insertion of either of the Amendments would make it quite certain that common land cannot be appropriated for the purposes of this Clause. Under the Clause as drafted the Minister has the power in certain circumstances, acting on behalf of a local authority, to acquire land either by compulsion or by agreement. We are not concerned with the acquisition of land by agreement, but we are concerned as to the acquisition of land by compulsion. We should not be apprehensive but for the last few lines of the Sub-section. If the Minister were to adopt the method specified in the concluding lines we should not be at all afraid of common land being taken, but as the word used is "may," and not "must" or "shall," it appears to be a reasonable suspicion that instead of adopting this procedure he might adopt some other. So long as it is limited by the procedure set forth here, and he is obliged to act under the Housing Acts of 1890 to 1919, we are sufficiently protected, because under Section 73 of the Act of 1909 the local authority cannot take common land for housing unless an equivalent area or an area of equivalent value is returned to the common, or failing that, unless by the express consent of Parliament. With that we should be perfectly satisfied, but as this appears to be an optional procedure and the Minister might conceivably adopt another procedure, we ask that my right hon. Friend will allow words to be inserted which will make it perfectly clear that common land cannot be taken under this Clause. I know he is sympathetic, and he has no design upon commons, but for the protection of a great interest I hope he will not refuse us what we are asking for, and if he is not prepared to insert such words as I have suggested, I hope he will consider suggesting some words of his own which would equally meet our purpose.


I beg to second the Amendment. On the whole, I prefer the Amendment on the Paper to the alternative.


The Clause gives us no power to acquire common land, and it is in fact fully safeguarded, because a Minister may exercise any of the powers of a local authority in regard to the acquisition of land for house. He is not entitled to exercise any other power, and we have not got any other power. The powers of a local authority which the Minister may exercise are limited by Section 73 of the Act of 1909, which says that the local authority cannot acquire common land unless a proposal of that kind is specifically confirmed by Parliament, and neither I nor any successor of mine would have any power to do these things. I am advised that the words of my hon. Friend are quite unnecessary. I am just as anxious to safeguard the commons as he is. I recognise, however, that we may have a great scheme involving a tract of land on a portion of which there is a common. You would not have power to build on that common, but it would be considered as part of the scheme for the lay-out and the rest of it. Therefore, it would be undesirable to exclude such a consideration from the scheme. What my hon. Friend wants to do is to preserve the common. So do I. I am advised that commons are adequately preserved. If my hon. Friend will accept my assurance I will. ask my advisers to confer with those representing the very important organisation on behalf of whom he is speaking, and if their case is not fully and adequately safeguarded I will undertake that words shall be inserted giving the safeguard. I am satisfied they are safeguarded.


On that assurance I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.




Does the hon. Member object to the withdrawal?


Yes; until I have had an opportunity of putting a point before the Minister. I see the point of what he says in regards to acquiring commons compulsorily. The only way in which a common can be acquired compulsorily is, under the Housing Act, which contains a provision prohibiting such transaction without the assent of Parliament. It is possible, however, for a common to be acquired by agreement. The soil of the common is vested in the lord of the manor, but there are certain rights of common over it. In some cases those rights are vested in very few persons. Some of them have been bought out, and some may have lapsed. It is quite possible for a local authority to go to the lord of the manor and the owners of the common rights and by agreement purchase the common, and that would be done behind the back of Parliament, and in a way which would be very injurious to those who desire to protect the common. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, when his advisers are considering this whole question, to see whether he could put in words which would not only safeguard cases where common is acquired, compulsorily, but would prevent a common from being acquired by agreement in the manner I have suggested, to the great detriment of the public at large.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.