HC Deb 09 December 1920 vol 135 cc2587-95

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to make provision for the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of any compensation payable under any Act of the present Session to amend The Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act, 1916, and to continue certain bye-laws in respect of the disposal of land freed from restrictive covenants."—[Sir A. Williamson.]

Sir A. WILLIAMSON (Parliamentary Secretary, War Office)

Rather an anomalous position arises in that we have to come to the House of Commons to ask permission in certain circumstances to spend money under this Resolution. The real effect of the Resolution is to receive money; to enable us, in other words, to sell land of which the Government is now in possession. It is curious, but it is so. We have to remove certain restrictive covenants in order to effect a good sale, and in order to do so we have to compensate certain persons if they are damaged by the removal of these restrictive covenants. If we sell this land freed from these restrictive covenants, and persons suffer some damage thereby, these persons are entitled to be compensated. They are already compensated under the principal Act, and therefore the further compensation which is possible is likely to be very small. It is exceedingly difficult to estimate. The sum of £50,000, which is mentioned in the White Paper, is considerably more than we are likely to require, but it is necessary for us to have power to compensate those persons who may be damaged by the sale of the land on which our factories stand, where these lands are complicated by these restrictive covenants.


I beg to move at the end of the Question to add the words "Provided that the sum to be expended shall not exceed the sum of thirty thousand pounds."

We have had a very remarkable explanation, indeed. My right hon. Friend started by saying that the only reason for moving this Resolution was to enable the War Office to receive money. Then he went on to explain that the real intention was to enable the War Office to pay, and he hoped that the sum total, according to the White Paper, will not exceed £50,000. But the White Paper has, of course, no legislative effect, and, as the Resolution stands, there is no limit at all. I do not wish to detain hon. Members after their long labours, and therefore simply move the proviso. Thirty thousand pounds is quite enough to go on with, and if they want any more money they will have to come to this House and prove their case for it. I think it is a most generous allowance under the circumstances.

Lieut.- - Commander KENWORTHY

Those of us who heard the Debate on the Bill itself will know that there is a great deal more in it than has been said by the right hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons we were told why the matter had not been settled, and the land had not been sold was that the War Office had not made up their minds as to policy in regard to the number of rifle ranges they required-


That will come in on the Bill. We are only now discussing the money resolution that authorises one part of one clause.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Then I beg your pardon for introducing it. In every case we have been discussing the question of economy. One of the things the Prime Minister avoided was any reference to the War Office, except in regard to the Estimate, which is his own particular branch of policy. But he invited us to aid the Government in pointing out where reductions of expenditure could be made. Here is an example, and I only hope that the rabid economists who all declare that they are standing for true economy and the rest of it will support us now. Let us endeavour to save £20,000, and put a check on that most wasteful and extravagant of Government Departments-the War Office.

Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY

I am glad to see the Secretary for Scotland in his place, for this applies to Scotland. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will explain how, under Sub-section (3) of Clause 1, compensation will be assessable in Scotland? I fail to follow it. I trust we still endeavour in Committee to deprive the Government of the power to purchase the land surrounding, upon which they may-


That question will arise in Committee on the Bill. The only question before us now is whether a limit should be put on the power to pay compensation-whether the total sum should be limited to £30,000. That is the sole point before the Committee.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY

What I was endeavouring to show was why this sum should be limited in the sense suggested by my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean), by reason of the fact that there are powers other than these contained in this Clause which the War Office will endeavour to use. I agree with the reduction to £30,000. The White Paper says: From the nature of the case it is impossible to form any exact forecast of the number of claims likely to arise or the compensation which may be awarded, but it is not thought that the sum will be large, as there is no intention of exercising the power in cases where this would cause heavy and widespread damage. On the best evidence available the total amount of compensation is not considered likely to exceed £50,000. I suggest in the stringent financial necessities in which we find ourselves that £30,000 would be ample.

The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir Ernest Pollock)

I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the purpose of this Resolution by which we are asking for £50,000. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was an advocate of not having supplementary Estimates and he indicated that the proper thing to do was to be quite frank as to the amount required. Now he moves an Amendment saying £30,000 is enough and he invites us to submit a supplementary Estimate if more money is required. I cannot understand the right hon. Gentleman before eleven o'clock and after eleven o'clock. This is a matter upon which we do not need to spend much time. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has obscured his argument in the fervour with which he delivered it. The Bill is necessary because there is a considerable amount of land in the possession of the War Office on which premises have been built, and under Section 4 of the Act of 1916, we have been able to make use of that land free from restrictive covenants. In order to convey the property now belonging to the State it is necessary to have the power to sell it without diminishing its value under the restrictive covenants. The best way to realise is to be able to sell free from the restricted covenant. Certain compensation may have to be paid in the case where the restricted covenant is not to operate in the future, and that is the reason for the Clause in the Bill. This Financial Resolution relates solely and wholly to this particular Clause. The experience of Section 4 of the main Bill has been that very little money has been paid for compensation in respect of restricted covenants. We cannot state exactly what the sum required may be, but we think it is better to ask for a sum that will be sufficient to enable us to bring in a very large sum of money when the sales of these properties take place. I hope my explanation has relieved some of the anxiety which has been expressed in this Debate with regard to this Resolution.


The Solicitor-General has argued this question as though the Government had put down a Vote for £50,000, and that I do not understand to be the case at all. The words before me are perfectly unlimited. "It is expedient to make provision for the payment of any compensation payable under any Act," and so on. In fact, the Solicitor-General is really defending the proposition that the way to do away with Supplementary Estimates is to make your original Estimate so absolutely vague that you can spend any money under it and never have to come for any Supplementary Estimate. That is a policy against which I have protested again and again. Ministers are constantly asking us to vote all the money there is. Under this we are voting away all the money there is. They can spend anything they like. They put in a footnote £50,000, but I take it that is no part of the Vote before us. They are not bound to £50,000. They can spend £500,000 or £5,000,000, and I think my right hon. Friend has done a public service in insisting that a figure should be put in. It is not so much a question of what particular figure, but a figure should be put in so as to make it clear that the House is keeping some kind of control over the money it is voting, and it is not voting away in a few moments absolute liberty to Ministers to spend any money they like.

Major-General Sir N. MOORE

As one of those who voted with the Government with a view of impressing on Parliament the necessity of exercising every economy risking the possibility of being pilloried in the newspapers, I think it is not unreasonable for us to ask that some schedule might be attached to this giving some indication of the way in which they propose to spend this money. If it is for rifle ranges I am going to support it, because I am a supporter of universal training; but it is essential that we should know in what manner they propose to expend the money, and I shall support the right hon. Gentleman.


Perhaps it will save time if I say that while it is true that it is very difficult to estimate the sum it must be remembered that it will have some relation to the amount that we receive. The removal of the restrictions will probably mean that a very much larger sum will be received from the land. It is a question purely of business whether it suits us to pay this compensation and get a higher price for the land or not, and it might be presented as a receipt loss or expense. But it is impossible under our Parliamentary usages to so treat money. Where we have to pay out in this form we have to receive the authority of the House of Commons. in an ordinary business transaction a man would simply take the larger sum and deduct the charge. If it will save time I will meet the right hon. Gentleman to this extent. If he will make it a sum not exceeding £50,000


indicated dissent


If the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept that my offer falls to the ground. I should be willing to make that concession to him in order to show that there is no desire to have a very large sum.


If the land is suitable for rifle ranges-


It is stated, if the hon. Member will look at the words in italics, that it is nothing of the kind. It is compensation for the abolition of restrictions when the land is sold.


I quite understand that. One reason for not giving the Government enough money would be that they could not sell all the land if they did not get all the money, and therefore perhaps some of the land is suitable for small holdings, We know the Government has not enough money for small holdings in Scotland, and why should they sell this land and not use it for the settling of soldiers?


That is not relevant to the present matter.


I am exactly the reverse of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir N. Moore) in the Lobby. It appears we voted for a different thing for the same reason. I understand that in future no money of any description, even to pay teachers or provide unemployment grants, is to be voted by the House for any purpose whatsoever. It might be quite sound to vote this money for the Government to buy the land, and it might be sounder still to buy the land.


It is not to buy the land.


I understand there are certain buildings upon certain land which the Government wishes to get control of for the purpose of disposing of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then I will not detain the Committee for a moment longer than necessary.


I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not proceed with his Amendment. The Government has met us very fairly. They have offered to accept a reasonable limitation of the amount of expenditure, and it is quite within the power of the Committee upstairs to insure that the expenditure is only in case of sale where it is a condition of sale that these rights should be acquired and transferred to the purchaser. It will not be beyond the capacity of the Solicitor-General to draft a Clause, and I think he might quite well accept such a Clause, to safeguard us against unnecessary expenditure, and if the Government would give some indication on that line I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not proceed with his Amendment.


I think we should have a little snore explanation as to what the money is really required for. I understand it is required to sell land. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Is it to buy land?


It is necessary as compensation.


To pay compensation to enable the Government to sell land. What sort of land do they propose to sell? We heard some months ago a very lively dispute between a Member of the Upper House and the Government about certain land in Midlothian which they had sold under compulsory powers. I will leave that question if I am not in order but I should

really like to know to what class of land this Resolution refers. I hope my right hon. Friend will not agree to the reduction of the amount which he proposed. It is all very well for the Solicitor-General to twit my right hon. Friend with inconsistency before and after 11 o'clock. It is beyond the point altogether. A Supplementary Estimate, as we understand it now, is a sort of whitewashing for money they have spent without the sanction of Parliament. What my right hon. Friend wants to insist on is that the Government should come for a reasonable sum, and when they find that is exhausted, without having spent any more they come for authority to spend a further amount, and they are not to be whitewashed for having spent without the authority of Parliament. I think if we agree to give the Government for this unknown purpose, £30,000, or even £25,000, it is ample.


To show my extreme reasonahleness, and that I have really definite objections, if the right hon. Gentleman makes it £40,000, as far as I am concerned the Committee can go home. If he does not, I will divide.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY

In order to give the right hon. Gentleman time to think it over, may I ask the Secretary for Scotland what sort of covenants will be effected in Scotland. I really do not understand Sub-section (3), which deals with the application of the Act to Scotland. Will he explain the legal meaning?

Captain WATSON

I think the Committee is ready to go to a Division. We have had an explanation from the Government as to the course they propose, but we have not had the slightest explanation from the right hon. Gentleman opposite and those who support him as to why they threw out these airy figures of £30,000 or £40,000. Until we have some explanation from them I am quite prepared to vote with the Government.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 34; Noes, 100.

Division No. 400.] AYES. 11.54 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. William Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)
Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.) Bromfield, William Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)
Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormokirk) Cairns, John Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)
Billing, Noel Pemberton- Cape, Thomas France, Gerald Ashburner
Glanville, Harold James Raffan, Peter Wilson White, Charles F (Derby, Western)
Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)
Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne) Sexton, James Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)
Hayward, Major Evan Shaw, Thomas (Preston) Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian) Sitch, Charles H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough) Mr. George Thorne and Colonel Penry Williams.
Murray, Lieut.-Colonel A. (Aberdeen) Spencer, George A.
Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross) Swan, J. E.
Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent) Pilditch, Sir Philip
Atkey, A. R. Harris, Sir Henry Percy Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles
Bagley, Captain E. Ashton Henderson, Major W. L. (Tradeston) Pollock, Sir Ernest M.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Pratt, John William
Barnston, Major Harry Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.) Purchase, H. G.
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Higham, Charles Frederick Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)
Bennett, Thomas Jewell Hinds, John Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)
Blades, Capt. Sir George Rowland Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central) Remnant, Sir James
Bottomley, Horatio W. Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G. Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W. Hurd, Percy A. Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)
Boyd-Carpenter, Major A. Inskip, Thomas Walker H. Royden, Sir Thomas
Brassey, Major H. L. C. James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.
Broad, Thomas Tucker Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Lianelly) Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)
Brown, Captain D. C. King, Captain Henry Douglas Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)
Bruton, Sir James Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales) Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.
Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H. Lindsay, William Arthur Sugden, W. H.
Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A. Lloyd-Greame, Major Sir P. Thorpe, Captain John Henry
Casey, T. W. Lort-Williams, J. Townley, Maximilian G.
Churchman, Sir Arthur Lynn, R. J. Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)
Davidson, J. C. C. (Hemel Hempstead) Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.
Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.) Maddocks, Henry Watson, Captain John Bertrand
Dean, Lieut.-Commander P. T. Molson, Major John Elsdale Whitla, Sir William
Dewhurst, Lieut.-Commander Harry Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S. Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)
Du Pre, Colonel William Baring Moreing, Captain Algernon H. Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)
Edge, Captain William Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald
Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M. Murchison, C. K. Wills, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Gilbert
Flides, Henry Murray, John (Leeds, West) Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, West)
Forrest, Walter Nall, Major Joseph Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)
Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham Neal, Arthur Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)
Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.) Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)
Gregory, Holman Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Lord Edmund Talbot and Captain
Hall, Rr-Adml Sir W. (Liv'p'l,W.D'by) Parker, James Guest.
Hamilton, Major C. G C. Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow (Friday).