§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. HOLMES
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I do not think it is necessary for me to deal at length with this subject to-day. I may, perhaps, remind the House that land is required for public purposes at the pr sent time for housing, for the settlement of sailors and soldiers, small holdings, allotments, afforestation, and for some other minor purposes. At the present time it is being held up and public authorities are unable to complete the purchase of land for two reasons. The first is because the price asked is more than the public authorities are prepared to give, and the second is because the method by which the valuation in disputed cases takes place is of a complicated character. I would like to remind the House that the price of land makes all the difference in every one of the cases I have mentioned. With regard to housing, it is well known that houses nowadays cannot be let at an economic rent. For every additional pound paid for each aero the difference between the interest on the cost of the houses and the economic rent increases. At the same time, we all agree that a fair and proper compensation should be paid for land acquired for public purposes, and the object of the Bill is an endeavour to fix a price which is fair to the owner of the land and the public authorities and to simplify the method of valuation so that purchases can be completed without undue delay. May I just call attention to Section 2, Sub-section (2) of the Acquisition of Land Act of last year, which provides: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.As a result of the pressure during the Committee stage and on the Report stage in the House from Members on this side, the Attorney-General agreed to accept a proviso which was accepted at the end of the clause which reads as follows:—Provided always that the arbitrator shall be entitled to consider all returns and assessments of capital value for taxation made or acquiesced in by the claimant.814 We shall probably be told that that proviso has already been of great assistance in obtaining land for housing purposes, and if that is so, then it is only right and proper and equitable that all owners of land shall be compelled to sell their land on that basis, and not merely a few upon whom the particular valuer happens to drop with that proviso. The Bill now before the House provides that instead of Sub-section (2) of Section 2 of the Bill of last year the following shall be substituted:—The value of land shall be based upon any returns and assessments for taxation made or acquiesced in by the claimant during the preceding three years.Let me remind the House of the various assessments for taxation and so on to which that applies. There may be an assessment for Death Duties, and surely it is a fair thing where Death Duties have been paid on a certain value during the past three years, and that land is required for public purposes, that the value should be the amount at which Death Duties have been paid. Then there are the assessments under Schedule B, which represent the estimated profits made by a landowner on his land. It also applies to Schedule A based upon the Poor Law valuation, and also upon the rates which a landowner has paid upon his land. The Bill asks the House to say that according to the value of the land upon which a man has paid rates and Income Tax, and upon which possibly the previous owner has paid Death Duties, upon that value shall the land be taken over for public purposes. All these things, I know, applied last year, but a new consideration is possible in the immediate future.
The House has appointed a Select Committee to enquire into the question of war time wealth and the Inland Revenue have placed before that Select Committee a memorandum of their suggestions as to how war time wealth should be taxed. It is not for me to suggest whether the Committee is likely or not to adopt the recommendations of the Inland Revenue but may I assume for a moment that this war time wealth tax will be adopted by the House in accordance with the suggestions of the Inland Revenue. That will mean that every owner of land in the country will have to make a valuation on the 30th June, 1914, and another valuation on the 30th of 815 June, 1919, and on the difference between those values he will pay whatever tax is fixed under this war time wealth tax. It would surely be most unfair if a landowner was allowed to value his land on the 13th June, 1919, when he will certainly get the benefit of the doubt, at one price, and then a few months afterwards, if required for public purposes, ask altogether an increased price. If one price is fixed for the taxation of war wealth in June, 1919, surely that should be the price received from the Public Authority if they require the land a little later on. There is one further proviso which reads:Provided that the value shall not exceed thirty times the annual value as assessed under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918.It is obviously necessary to put a maximum in, otherwise a valuer might say, "I will take into account the taxation of the annual value for taxation purposes which has been placed upon this man's land but I will give him 60, 70 or even 100 times the annual value." That would not be the intention of Parliament when it accepted this basis of taxation. In putting this term of 30 years in the Bill, I think that generosity has been shown, because there is a precedent which has been introduced into our legislation by the landowners themselves. At the time when Sir William Harcourt introduced the Death Duties in 1894, the landowners were very anxious that land should not be over-valued for the purposes of Death Duty. Sir William Harcourt agreed to accept this Amendment. Section 7, Sub-section (5) of the Land Act of 1894 provided that,in the case of agricultural property where no part of the principal value is due to the expectation of an increased income from such property, the principal value shall not exceed twenty-five times the annual value as assessed under Schedule A of the Income Tax Acts.That is the law of the land to-day, and it became so at the request of the landowners themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Even if it is not so, it is perfectly clear that the landowners felt that twenty-five years' purchase, was the utmost value that should be placed on the land when it was valued for these duties. We have gone a little further. That Bill applied to agricultural land only, but this Bill applies to all land, and it is proposed that thirty years' purchase shall be the 816 maximum amount. That is the amendment of the law proposed by this Bill. Instead of the value of the land being the amount at which it might be expected to be sold in the open market by a willing seller, it should be based on its assessment for taxation and duties during the preceding three years. If this is agreed to we shall get rid of one of the greatest anomalies with regard to land, namely, its two values—one for taxation purposes, and the other when it is wanted for public purposes. There should be no difference. They should be the same. But the Bill will do more than that: it will speed up the selling of land to public authorities which want it. All of us know of examples in all parts of the country where at the prsent time, when a landowner has been asked for his land, he has put a certain price on it, and the local authorities have made an offer of a lower price. There has been a big gap between the two, and the whole thing is hung up. If the owner of the land knows that the value is fixed, almost automatically he will be more ready to come to terms with the local authority, and there is more likely to be immediate agreement between them without the intervention of the Official Valuer. I hope, therefore, the House will be willing to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Sir PHILIP PILDITCH
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I am bound to admit that I put down this particular Motion before I saw the Bill, and from that point of view it might seem to be somewhat premature. But I had no alternative. This somewhat innocent and modest-looking Bill made its first appearance in the House on February 13, when it emerged and was read the first time in dummy. It then disappeared, and despite inquiries in all quarters of the House I was unable to get a copy of it. I believe many hon. Members were in the same position as myself. At any rate I could discover no trace of the Bill until two days ago
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
The Bill was ordered to be printed on February 13, and was not distributed to hon. Members of this House until March 2. I make no complaint of that because my hon Friend was good enough to indicate to me personally very briefly its contents, and I also had some assistance in arriving at those from a perusal of the names on the back of the Bill, because having followed the Debates closely during the passage of the Act of last year, I was perfectly well aware of the fact it was quite necessary for hon. Members who backed this Bill to continue the process of endeavouring to prove that, in this case, Codlin was the friend and not "Short. I may be asked why, having at last seen the Bill, I did not withdraw the Motion I put down. I will answer that at once by showing that this little Bill is by no means the innocent measure that its proportions would seem to indicate. It reminds me of a flower I have sometimes grown in my modest greenhouse. It looks like a primrose, and some people may touch it with impunity but others who touch it find that it stings and blisters their hands. I am going to show if the House will bear with me that this innocent Bill is of that character.
I oppose the Bill because in the first place of its assumption that any Bill of this description is necessary after the passing of the Act of last year. The introduction of this Bill implies that the Act of last year is inadequate to obtain the land which the country needs at a fair price. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill used the phrase "fair price," and therefore we are agreed on that point. It is what we are after in this House, all parties alike, and my hon. Friends who have backed this Bill have therefore no monopoly of the intention of getting the land which the nation needs at this moment at a fair price. The nation is in no mood to pay more for the land it requires for the settlement of soldiers and sailors on it, or for housing purposes, than a fair price. To that extent we are on common ground in this House. As a matter of fact, the hon. Member who introduced the Bill has very much over-estimated the influence of the cost of land at any rate as regard's the housing problem, because the Ministry of Health, in it Report quite recently, stated that in 6,000 cases of houses costing between £700 and £800 each, the 818 average cost of the land was not more than £18. While I admit that the case is different with regard to agricultural land required for the settlement of soldiers and sailors, certainly from the point of view of the housing problem, the cost of housing depends on many other factors which I cannot go into now. I oppose the Bill therefore because it is quite unnecessary, if what is required is what my hon. Friend stated to get the land at a fair price. I said a moment ago that I followed the Debates of last year very closely. During those Debates there were a good many phrases used which indicated that what was required was not merely obtaining the land at a fair price. I heard one particular phrase by an hon. Member who, speaking of the Act of last year, said "it will not obtain the land that is required at exceptionally cheap prices." I heard other phrases of that description My hon. Friend has, however, dissociated himself from language of that nature; and I will therefore simply deal with the case that he has presented to-day
I wish the Bill were as innocent as the speech in which the hon. Member introduced it. I congratulate him, I will not say on the gloss of fairness he put on the measure, but at any rate, on the skilful way in which he did present it. I hope to show, however, that the Bill does not justify the language which he used with regard to it. I oppose it because it is unjust and impracticable and would result in the acquisition of land by authorities becoming a mere gamble in which, as a result of having the value based on cast-iron rules, in some cases the price paid by the local authorities will be a good deal more than the value and in other cases a good deal less, and I admit that in the majority of cases it will be less rather than more. I say the Bill with its rigid provisions would result in anomalies, the importance and size of which, it is impossible to magnify.
The hon. Member has quite fairly described what the Bill does. In effect it repeals the basis of the Act of last year, which this House took several months to carefully go through, and which was conducted through the House with so much impartiality and with so many concessions by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir G. Hewart). It repeals the main operative Section of that Act, which provided that the value of land 819 should for the purposes of its acquisition by public authorities no longer be the basis under the Land Clauses Act, namely, the value of the land to the owner, but should be the market value to a willing seller—that, of course, implies to a seller whose circumstances are such that it suits him to sell. That in itself was a very serious reduction of the possibility of getting an improper price by the owner of the land. The second part of the Section which it is proposed to repeal, allows as evidence any taxation returns which have been received, or any assessments which have been made for the taxation of land. In my opinion, that alteration of the basis of the law, taken in conjunction with the doing away of the 10 per cent. compensation for compulsory sale, with the elimination of the special value to any particular purchaser, with the elimination of the two arbitrators and umpire, and the setting up instead of official valuers, with a reduction of costs by limiting the witnesses to one except in special cases, and by the imposition of costs upon the owner if he does not recover as much as the offer made to him, all changes made by the Act of last year taken altogether with the provisions of the Housing Act which we passed also last year, whereby in slum areas land and buildings are taken at the value of the land alone—the general operation of those Sections taken together is such that it is almost unthinkable that as the law now stands it is possible for the owner of land to get more than a fair price for his land. In some cases it will result in his getting less than a fair price. The Act as it was passed last year effects a revolution in regard to the acquisition of land which I doubt very much if the House or the country fully recognises at present.
In these circumstances the Bill proposes to substitute a formula which is both vague and indeterminate and very difficult for a layman to understand, or I think for a lawyer to interpret, I have asked several lawyer friends to interpret it and they have had to admit that it is impossible to do so with any certainty. What, for instance, does "based upon" mean? Of course, it means based solely upon. You do not admit any other evidence except returns or assessments which have been made in the past. 820 What would happen in cases, which might very well arise, where there have been three different assessments at three different times for three different purposes, let us say one under the Land Duties, one under Schedule A, and one for Estate Duty? All these, quite rightly and properly may and ought to be different under certain circumstances. Are you going to have three assessments and base the value which is given for the land on one of them, and if so, which, or on the three? You are placing upon the valuers who will have to interpret this an impossible condition. It is almost impossible for them to do that with any degree of certainty. I find also the greatest difficulty in determining what the word "acquiesce" means. What does it mean in regard to Schedule A of the Income Tax? No owner, unless he be the occupier as well, has ever had an opportunity of acquiescing in that assessment. It is fixed by the local rating authority. The owner has never been asked whether he agrees with it or not. Then how on earth can he ever have acquiesced in it or otherwise?
§ Mr. HOLMES
The word "acquiesce" was used by the Attorney-General in his proviso to last year's Act.
§ Sir P. P1LDITCH
The word "acquiesce," if it cause difficulty, which it will, is not so material in a case which is not compulsory and need not be accepted and when it only forms one element of consideration by the valuer. But when it is to be the sole element on which the valuer has to fix the price, it becomes essential. You cannot possibly take these previous assessments as other than evidence, as the Act of last year takes them. It is perfectly open to produce these things and bring them forward, and for what they are worth the valuer ought to give proper consideration to them. But if you are to leave out all the other means of getting at the value and rest solely upon these impossible and sometimes conflicting ratings and assessments, this Bill will be a splendid one for members of various professions which I will not name, but it will be no good to anyone else. Instead of this provision which the Act of last year made that you might consider these things and, if suitable, adopt them or make use of them in valuation, there is in the Bill a proviso that you must use these assessments 821 and you must use nothing else. It will be quite impossible in many cases to apply these assessments without getting a figure which will be entirely wrong, and in a great many cases outrageously unfair.
I should like to take the three cases which my hon. Friend referred to as representing the assessments of various kinds which might be taken by the valuers in arriving at the proper price to be given by a public authority. First of all there is the assessment of Schedule A of the Income or Property Tax which is now the net rating assessment. I will take the case of a piece of land with an old but still rent-producing building on it subject to a lease about to expire, when the old building will be pulled down, and the land, which is worth more than the land and the building are worth together to-day, will then be built upon. The gross value of that is £600 per annum. That is based upon what the landlord at present receives from the building. The net rateable value is just over £500. The property has been agreed to be sold to a local authority on the basis of the value of the land, which is at least £20,000, if not more. Under this proviso the total amount which the owner of that property could obtain would be thirty times £500, which is only £15,000. In that case my hon. Friend would have taken 25 per cent. of the value of that man's property without paying him anything for it. On the other hand, it is quite possible that in a less central part of the town the land alone might only be worth £10,000. If the local authority had to buy at thirty years' purchase it would give more than its value. But according to the Bill the local authority need not do so. It is a case of heads I win, tails you lose. Where it suits the local authority to take 25 per cent. off the fair value of the land they may do so, but where that would cut against the local authority the local authority is not obliged to do so. The hon. Member said he wanted to give a fair value. If he wants to give fair value he will have to devise other means when this Bill gets into Committee, if it ever does, in order to carry out the formula with which he started.
Again, at one swoop the provisions of this Bill take away from the owner of agricultural or accommodation land, which possesses a building value, now 822 or in the immediate future, practically the whole of that value. Take a piece of land contiguous to a town which for the moment is let for allotments used for agricultural purposes at £2 a year That could be purchased at not more than thirty years' purchase, which would mean £60. But that land may be worth £200 or £500 an acre for building to-morrow. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, Hear!] I am glad to hear those cheers, and on those cheers I join issue. The hon. Members who cheer desire to take from that man for £60 property worth £200.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
That is another question. It is not dealt with by the Bill. I am dealing with the provisions of the Bill as it stands, I am dealing with the statement of the hon. Member that he wanted to give fair value for the property.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
I assume that when you say a fair price you mean fair value. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not see the difference. You cannot take Schedule A of the income tax assessment as your basis.
I am in a little difficulty about the next class of assessment. During the Debates of last year the right hon. Member for Peebles made great play about the land duties valuation assessment. My hon. Friend to-day has not said anything about that. The right hon. Member for Peebles pointed out that 90 per cent. or more of the land had already been valued, and that that valuation ought to be used.
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
My hon. Friend says "Hear, hear." I am glad he says that. The right hon. Member for Peebles said that the land had been carefully valued. The three years' limit cuts out the whole of the valuation upon which the right hon. Member for Peebles relied. My hon. Friend by his Bill has cut out the use of that valuation, or most of it. I am not surprised at my hon. Friend departing from the land duties valuation. The other day I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put the House and the country in possession of the facts about that valuation and this is what he said:The number of hereditaments, a valuation of which as at 30th April, 1909, has 823 been made under the provisions of Part (I.) of the Finance (1909–10) Act, 1910, is 10,585,586. Of the provisional valuations made, approximately 60 per cent. have been finally settled; but these so-called settled cases contain a certain number of valuations made upon a basis which has been condemned by the Court. I am unable to state what proportion has become settled in consequence of notice of objection to the valuation not being given. The remaining 40 per cent. of the valuations are unsettled.Those who know what the state of that land valuation is must realise that in regard to everyone of these duties there are cases pending before the court which may absolutely unsettle the basis of every one of them, and they must realise that it is absolutely impossible to make use of that valuation as the criterion for ascertaining the value of land in the market to-day. That valuation is impossible to be used as a basis for sale to-day. It is a hypothetical basis of the value of land without buildings, without leases, without restrictions, and bearing no relation to any kind of land that exists in this country. I will not go further on that point, seeing that my hon. Friends have abandoned the idea of depending upon the land duties valuation. My hon. Friend did not refer to it in his speech, and the provisions of this Bill cut it out completely. They rely entirely upon estate duties and Schedule A; but really Schedule A has gone in the phraseology of the Bill. My hon. Friend smiles. I say I have shown it has gone.
Then we come to the death duties, or estate duties. I am prepared to admit that this particular form of assessment is the one which comes nearest to being applicable. In a good many cases it might be applicable, but there are many cases where it would not be applicable. But this Bill would make it compulsory that it should be applied whether it was properly applicable or not. Three years is a very long time. You may have a considerable variation of the value of property in three years. Hon. Members will remember that when the Finance Act of 1909/10 was brought in by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and the present Prime Minister the value of many kinds of property dropped in a day, ten, twenty, and sometimes a higher percentage. That sort of thing may operate again, and you would have set up a set of circumstances under which the local authority was compelled 824 or empowered to buy land at a price which was much too high in the event of a sudden fall in the value of property, such as the fall to which I have referred. Death duties in many cases is a conceivable assessment which might be taken into account, but it does not operate in all cases.
The principle of the Bill, that it is fair to take land at the rate at which it has been assessed for taxation, has received the sanction of very eminent men in this House including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson). The right hon. Gentleman suggested that his consideration of the subject was based largely upon his experience of the value of land in Ireland. I admit that it would be much more possible to put a system of this kind into operation in Ireland than in this country, for reasons, in connection with the estate duties, which I mentioned just now. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley has also fathered this principle, and I will quote a few words from a speech which he made in the recent political campaign which brought him back, to the pleasure of all Members of this House, who on personal grounds are glad to see him here again. On January 27th, at Paisley, he said:My formula has always been that land should be assessed for public burdens upon the same rate and upon the same valuation as for the land which has to be from time to time acquired by a council which purchases it for public purposes.That is a principle that sounds fair, and if it could be carried out without injustice I would agree with it But I think that I have shown that you cannot under the present state of the law of rating or assessment carry it out without grave injustice. But he went on to say:That is, I believe, sound liberal doctrine. We have had curiously enough a rather crucial example of the application of that principle to the Land Acquisition Bill. The Liberal party in the House of Commons wished to apply that simple equitable principle to the valuation of land in that Bill. I am sorry to say that it did not receive very much support from the Labour party—[Cheers, laughter, and 'What about nationalisation!'] What has nationalisation got to do with it? It is a red herring—[Great cheers and laughter].This Bill apparently is the effort of the right hon. Gentleman's party to put that principle into practice. I agree that it is not nationalisation. It is a great deal worse. Nationalisation of land, as I take 825 it, would mean taking; the whole of the land of every person at an even price—[HON. MEMBERS: No!"]—on even principles, on even terms. This Bill means taking without paying for it a portion of the value of a part of the property of a section of the community. There are stated to be at this moment at least 2,000,000 owners of land in this country. To my mind this Bill is casting the mantle of the law over unmitigated, unqualified, unabashed theft. I put against that principle, which in its operation under this Bill would, in my opinion, result as I have stated, these few words which were uttered by a great Statesman quite recently, and I would ask my hon. Friend if he considers them fair.The community must make it clear to all classes that it means to deal justly and fairly with the claims of all, that a man's property, whether it takes the form of land, buildings or labour, will, if the community needs it be paid for at a fair rate.Does my hon. Friend agree with that sentiment?
§ Sir P. PILDITCH
This Bill is the negation of it. Those words were uttered by the present Prime Minister recently. It is because I believe that they represent the principle on which this House should act in justice, in reference to the acquisition of land for necessary national purposes, and because I believe that this Bill fails to give effect to these principles that I move this motion.
§ Sir H. HARRIS
I beg to second the Amendment. As my hon. Friend has given an able dissection of this Bill it is not necessary to say much on the question as to whether the House should go back upon a decision at which it arrived after full discussion as recently as last June. The House then decided that market value was the only practicable and reasonable basis of valuation. Various alternatives were proposed. The first was that there should be no basis at all, and that rating should be left to a valuer.
§ Sir H. HARRIS
It was not. It was moved by a right hon. Gentleman who represents a division of Norfolk, who is a Liberal Member. That Amendment was 826 withdrawn because the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) pointed out you could not have a valuation without some basis. Then a proposal was made, I admit by a Con servative Member, that you should adopt a sort of speculative basis of valuation and consider what the land might have been expected to realise in June, 1914. The difficulty about that was that owners might get more or less than the value for no reason except that the local authority needed the land for public purposes and that did not seem either logical or fair. Then the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) proposed to establish not one basis but a multiplicity of bases. He left market value in the Bill. He did not delete sub-section (2) of Clause 1, which this Bill proposes to delete, but he conjoined with market value a sort of omnium gatherum of bases—valuations made for death duties, Income Tax and rating purposes—and collected them altogether. The result of this would have been to give contradictory instructions to valuers, because they would have been told in one sentence to give market value and in the next sentence to base that valuation upon the number of assessments which might or might not agree with each other, and might or might not represent market value. That proposal was rejected, and rightly so, as is now clear, because its-friends have abandoned it.
The new proposal is that market value should he removed from the Bill, that Subsection (2) of Clause 2 should be deleted, and the value, in the words of the Bill, shall be based upon any return of assessment for taxation made or acquiesced in by the claimant during the preceding three years. In other words, it is to be based on what I call the omnium gatherum of assessment to which I have referred. How would that work out in practice? I have tried to find out by an actual case within my knowledge. A piece of land has recently been valued for the purpose of death duties. It has been assessed on capital value; it is also assessed for rating purposes on occupation value, which is undoubtedly less than the capital value. Which is to prevail? The-Act, if it is amended as proposed by this Bill, will be silent on the subject. One would presume that the valuer would take the most recent assessment—death duties based on capital value, but if this 827 Bill is carried he may take occupation value or any other value. On what principle is he going to act? The principle that was laid down by hon. Gentlemen opposite, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend. It was that the price to be paid for the land when taken by public authorities should be the price or value at which it is assessed for taxing purposes. It is not a principle to which I have raised any objection, but when the assessments vary, which is to prevail? I can understand your saying, "Take this particular assessment, it will give you a perfectly fair basis of compensation." I cannot understand a suggestion to take a number of assessments which have been arrived at on quite different principles. It seems to me that you must have one standard to which the valuers have to work.
The effect of this Bill is really to go back upon the proposal which was made in June last, namely, that you should establish no fixed basis, but leave it all to the valuer. It seems to me that the promoters of this Bill want the owners to be paid less than the value of their land, but they do not like to put it too plainly because of the large number of small owners of land who may be affected. The cloven hoof, if I may use the expression, appears in the proviso, which says that the value shall not exceed thirty time the annual value as assessed under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act of 1918. I tried to test that by an actual case within my knowledge. A piece of land has been valued by a district valuer. District valuers are very much praised for their work by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The land was valued at a particular figure. I have worked out the amount for thirty times Schedule A. It comes to something substantially less than the district valuer's figure. Both the assessments have been acquiesced in by the owner. Why should the owner, if the valuer is right, be paid less than the value of his property? Why should the fact that a public authority wants his land be a reason for taking away from him a portion of the value of his property, when all the surrounding owners will be left the full value of their property? He may be a small man; in fact, he is in the case I have cited. Surely, whatever taxation you think it right to impose on owners of land, whatever capital levy you think right to make, you ought to make it upon all of 828 them? You ought not to choose the people whose land happens to be required by the local authority. There is neither sense nor justice in that. I am opposed to owners getting more than the value of the land. For years when I was on a Municipal Body I took part in recommendations to Parliament to secure that that was carried out. If it were possible to take a single assessment made for taxing purposes and fix that as a basis of compensation I would be quite content, but admittedly that cannot be done, because it is not proposed by the Bill. The Bill proposes to take what I have described as an omnium gatherum assessment. The conclusion I have arrived at is that Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 of the Act of last year ought to stand, and I second the rejection of the Bill because it seems to me to be based on uncertainty and inequality.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SIMM
I want to address myself to one point raised by the last speaker. There was some demur when I interrupted some time ago and said there was a difference between value and price. I want to re-assert that value and price are not necessarily one and the same thing. We have been told by the last speaker that if this Bill is carried certain landlords will lose upon the valuations made by the valuer appointed by the Government. Take a case in my own area. For housing purposes one landlord just outside the town has been demanding £1,000 an acre for his land. In the same area land has been bought for £200 an acre from a different landlord. Where does the price come in? The price lies mainly, not in the public need of the land, but in the character of the landlord you are dealing with, one landlord being more generous than another. We have a right to ask where the value comes from. In the case of the landlord who is demanding £1,000 an acre I suggest that he is in no way responsible for the growth and development of the district. The neighbouring town is growing and the landlord has not spent one penny to develop the area. Therefore, as public needs grow and public expenditure increases, up goes the price but not the value of the land. I support the principle of this Bill, whatever the defects of the wording may be I want to go further. In my own area, as I mentioned, land has been sold at £200 an acre. We require land for 829 schools, not very good land and land subject to the difficulties of drainage for which the authorities have to pay £860. Who fixes the prices here? The price is fixed by the landlord. The value of the land, however, is not made by the landlord, but by the community. That is proved by the case given by the mover of a man who owns land in the centre of a town, und also land outside the town. The land outside the town is of a less value than the land in the town. Why? It is not on account of anything that the landlord does. It is purely an accident. One may possess 20 acres in the centre of London worth more than 200,000 acres in the middle of Yorkshire. Landlords do not make the value of the land. Up to the present the land laws passed by this House have been made against the public and in the interests of the private owner. It all depends upon one's point of view. A landlord would not take the point of view that I take. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill said that there were 2,000,000 landowners in this country, but he did not tell us how much land they owned. These big numbers are made up by roping in all the small owners who have a quarter of an acre of land. They are not going to be harmed, but are going to be helped by this Bill, and, whatever the defects may be in the wording of it, I am quite sure that the principle of the Bill is sound.
§ Sir MAURICE DOCKRELL
I shall certainly go into the Lobby in support of the Amendment. I feel glad that I am not a landowner in the general acceptance of the term, and I am not at all surprised that most of the large property in this country seems to be coming under the hammer of the auctioneer. Reference has been made to the operations of the Bill in Ireland. I am not qualified to say what effect it will have, but I have my doubts whether it will be less disastrous and unfair in Ireland than in this country. I cannot do better than give a concrete case, because after all these debating points are sometimes a little obscure and not easy to follow. I have six acres of land five miles from the city of Dublin. That land was taken under a 900 years' lease, 55 years ago. It was agricultural land, and to give it a potential building value £500 per acre was spent upon it. There were six acres, so that £3,000 was spent 55 years ago. 830 For nearly 40 years it was not possible to recover the rent, which was £200 per year, out of the houses that were built upon the land, and it will never be possible in this world for the property to become a paying concern in the sense of recouping the original expenditure upon it. If I had had no other source of income, I should have had to do what tenants do in Ireland. We have there a most happy system that would make the farmers of this country turn green with envy. We can go there and say "We are not able to pay," and, if I had been an agricultural tenant, I could have done that, but, being a town tenant, I could not. I was fortunate enough to have other sources of income, and therefore I was able to pay the £200 I had undertaken to pay.
That little plot of six acres has recently turned the corner, and a small profit remains. There is still about an acre undeveloped. Under the 1910 Act sheaves of valuations were scattered over the country, but not one in ten understood them. People were afraid to say anything about them. They did not know what effect they would have. Some thought that the valuations were made low in order, if they effected a sale, that the Government could come in like the jumping cat and claim the increment value duty. People did not understand why the valuations were made. Are people now under this Bill to be treated as having acquiesced in those valuations? Is a local body or somebody to be allowed to come and say, "You have been paying so much on that acre of land which is undeveloped simply as agricultural land," or am I to be allowed to treat that acre of land so as to help to recoup me my loss of the potential building value and to have it valued accordingly? In my opinion, valuations were acquiesced in very often through ignorance on the part of the owner, and it would be a very dangerous system if they were to be applied as a hard and fast method, ignoring the whole history of cases such as mine. Fortunately, I am not a landlord who will be hit by this Bill, but I have tried to give a concrete instance, and I ask the House to pause before it endorses a system of valuaiton which in my opinion would be grossly unfair in many cases.
When the principal Act, of which this is an Amending Bill, 831 was before the House last year, I made two suggestions to the Government; first, that for the purpose of acquiring land they should take a fixed number of years' purchase of the pre-War rent, and, secondly, that they should concentrate their energies on acquiring land rather than on purchasing it. The reason which induced me to make those suggestions was the same as that which has induced my hon. Friend to bring in this Bill. It was a two-fold reason; first, I was afraid that the money to be devoted to land settlement would be exhausted before that settlement was in any way complete or before the applicants for land were satisfied, and, secondly, I was afraid that the price of land was so high that the State or the County Council would not be able to extort or demand an economic rent in proportion to the capital expanded in purchasing the land. I am still afraid that the capital sum to be used will not go far enough and that we may have to ask for more, but I am reassured by the trend of events since that Act became law that the danger of there being a great annual loss to the State upon land acquired under the original provisions of the Acquisition of Land Act has been largely nullified. The district which I represent has acquired more land and settled more men upon that land than any other district in England during the operation of the Act, and, as my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill made a great point of the fact that it is intended to settle men upon the land more quickly and more cheaply, and with better prospects of success, perhaps the figures I have been able to procure may be of some little interest to the House. During the period of the operation of the Act some 606 men have been settled upon 4,311 acres in my district. That gives the House a fairly useful idea of the success with which the present system for the acquisition of land can be worked. If one calculates the rate, he will find that upon the sum which has been expended in the purchase of this large acreage there will be really no great economic loss. The average price works out at something like £67 per acre, and the average rent does not compare unfavourably with a fair rate of interest upon that money.
With regard to the principle involved in this Bill it seems to me that ray hon. 832 Friends are really wishful to treat landowners as a class apart from owners of other kinds of property. For the life of me I cannot see, so long as we have a law of property in this country, why that should be so. It is nearly a hundred years ago since the land-owning classes ruled this country, and though it might be said a hundred years ago that as the governing class they were fit subject for attack, I really think that time is past. If hon. Members will study the position of land owners to-day they will find that so far from being a class to be condemned it is a class to be pitied, Recently a Bill has been introduced in another place of 250 pages to amend the law of property, and so long as it continues it should be allowed to operate fairly. There should be no set attack upon any class of holders of one kind of property as distinct from another. If the mover of the Amendment is right, and I think he is, upon the un-workability of the system proposed for the valuation of land by this Bill, surely what fairer system could you have for the valuation of land than that already in operation. We want, and I think the House wants, and I know the country. wants, to see this land acquired as cheaply and as quickly as possible. What the original Act has done is to make far more speedy the acquisition of land, and at the same time to take into account every matter and every consideration which could cheapen the land. To establish a variable basis such as is proposed in the Bill for the valuation of land would really be impossible. You must either have a scheme which works in all cases or allow the factors which are proposed to be set up as the basis of the acquisition of land not to operate as deciding factors, but as factors to be taken into account as evidence before an impartial court in deciding the value to be paid. I am not a landowner, and I am sure that the hon. Member who introduced this Bill cannot be a landowner. Nor do I wish to put in a special plea for the land owning classes. I am sure the House will not accuse me of being anything but the most fervent of a scheme of land settlement in this country and possessing the most-ardent desire to see it both largely purchased and exceedingly successful. The figures which I have quoted for my own district, although not due to me personally, but rather due to the Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture, are 833 proof of what can be done under the existing system. I submit there is no use changing your system simply upon visionary grounds until the present system has been proved to be a failure. My experience shows that, so far from being a failure, it is on the whole a very great success. Land has been acquired at a higher price, but the rents are commensurate with the price. As long as that is the case the House ought to be satisfied. It would not be in order to refer to the Government's policy with regard to agriculture, and on that I am not so satisfied as I am with regard to the policy of land acquisition. I hope the House will support the Amendment.
§ Mr. MYERS
The intention of the Bill is to establish a settled principle for the securing of land for public purposes at a fair price. It may be important that land should be secured on easy terms for the purpose of settling discharged soldiers on the land, but the greater problem involved is the acquisition of land on equitable terms for public purposes by the various public authorities in this country. I think it will be recognised by all people who know anything of public administration that there are no two transactions alike when local authorities seek to acquire land for public purposes. We are all aware of the anomalies which could be set forth in thousands of the difference between the responsibility of land for local rates and the price if that land is required for the community The mover of the Amendment made reference to the comparison between the rent of land used for allotments and the price of the same land when it was put into the market. Some time ago the Local Authorities were entrusted with powers under the Allotments Order to enter upon unoccupied land in their area for the purpose of allotments. Unoccupied land was interpreted to mean land which paid no rates to the Local Authorities. The rate books of the municipalities were scrutinised and plots of land all over their area were discovered which were not paying rates to the local authorities. In my own personal experience we came upon a very large area of land, which came within that category. Subsequently, in the examination of the locality for desirable building sites it was decided that part of this area used for allotments should be 834 accepted as a desirable building site. The owner of land was approached, and the figure put upon the land by the vendor was 1s. 2d. per yard, or £280 per acre. It was considered cheap by the local authority. A slightly less figure, something in the region of a shilling per yard, was paid. That is an instance of land paying no rates to the local authority, and sold for over £200 an acre when required for public purposes. It is also common knowledge by those connected with public administration that it is exceedingly difficult to keep out jobbery in connection with land transactions. There are no transactions connected with municipalities, which are more difficult to keep clean and clear of undesirable operations than transactions in land when required by local authorities. If land is sold by private treaty often a third party has to be approached unknown to the vendor in order to secure the land for the local authority. Ostensibly the purchaser has been some individual coming forward to buy for his own individual use and benefit, but ultimately the property has been handed over to the Local Authority. It is common knowledge in municipal administration that this has been done time and again. Even where land is put up for open competition or sold by auction a third party has gone into the sale rooms and, bidding ostensibly for himself, has obtained it and then it has gone from the third party to the Local Authority. We had a very amusing instance of that where a third person had to come in, and he forgot to turn up and the land was sold, but instead of going into the hands of the Local Authority it went into the hands of a speculative builder and contractor. These are the difficulties of the Local Authorities in the purchase of land for public purposes.
Reference has been made to the purchase of land for housing purposes. If we examine the records of the Minister of Health as to the price paid for land in different parts of the country we can see that there is no settled principle or policy. Land is sold as low as £100 an acre. I know a case in the North of England in which a Noble Lord was concerned, whose voice has been heard in this House and was heard a great deal outside this House during the recruiting campaign, and he charged £500 835 an acre for land which was required for a housing scheme, even though he owns a great portion of that particular borough in which the housing scheme was being promoted. It we take an average of £300 per acre and the annuity at 5½ per cent. for 80 years, which is the recognised term of borrowing for land for housing purposes, and the Minister of Health's rule of twelve houses to the acre, it costs 7d. per week per house for the whole of the 80 years to cover the land charges on the houses. That may be considered an insignificant sum, but it is a serious portion of the cost of a housing scheme. Even if it becomes a question of the leasehold' system being more onerous, it is only one more of the evils we are considering. Having regard to the excessive cost of money and high interest, land ought to be secured on the easiest possible terms for these housing schemes of which so much is heard and which are so necessary. A public policy of securing land has been advocated from these Benches because we desire to secure land for the benefit of the community. The land of the country we have contended, and we now contend, is public property, and even that great individualist, Herbert Spencer, has declared that "The right of mankind at large to the earth's surface is still valid, all deeds, laws and customs notwithstanding." There is no indignation more pronounced than the indignation of the robber when he is being despoiled of his plunder. While we do not admit that the Bill is a great contribution in the direction of securing the land for the people of this country we admit that it is at least a minor attempt to regularise the procedure in the direction of restoring to the community a portion of their own property. From that point of view we will give this measure such support as lies m out-power.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am rather interested to notice that this Bill is very nearly a replica of the amendment moved on a former occasion by the right hon. Gentleman who has until recently been leading the Liberal Party in this House (Sir D. Maclean). He moved that amendment when the Acquisition of Land Bill was before the House towards the end of last Session. I notice that his name 836 is the first of those put down as supporting the Bill, but I notice that he is not in his place now to support it. The Bill differs from his amendment in a very material point. His amendment proposed, as the first part of this one clause Bill proposes, that the assessment to which the Bill refers should be the basis of value adopted; that the price of land should be so assessed when required for public purposes and it stops there. But here there is a further provision that while this assessment shall be the value, it should be limited to thirty years' purchase of the assessment under Schedule A of the Income Tax. That is a very curious provision, and it produces a profound difference in the Bill. That difference comes under two heads. My hon. Friend has spoken from the point of view of land settlement, with regard to which he regards the Bill as unnecessary. I think he was right. So far as agricultural land is concerned the fixing of the price of the land for agricultural land settlement would not materially affect the present basis. There are other elements, but speaking generally with regard to agricultural land if you get 30 years' purchase you are not going to be very far from the market value. There is no very obvious spoliation. But when you come to the question of urban land you get a totally different clement. The annual value has very little relation to the market value. I think that alteration in the Bill compared with the original Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman would be extraordinarily capricious when we came to deal with the question of urban land. It would almost make it unworkable. So far as this particular Bill lays down a basis of value the mover of the Bill suggested practically only two points. There was a third point, but I will take only two. The third point related to the 1909–10 assessment, which really does not exist except in particular cases. It has been considerably discarded and can hardly be taken into account. These two points suggest that two tests of the value which should be applied in this Bill. They are the Death Duty value and the Schedule A assessment, and they were both to apply.
I really fail to understand how this Bill can be applied on that basis. Take a piece of building land in a town which is worth £1,000, and I think we may rely upon it that the Inland Revenue 837 valuers would demand death duties on £1,000 when that land passed at death, and I do not think any hon. Member would say that he desires that less than £1,000 should be the basis of assessment for death duties where the land is worth £1,000. That land, we will say, is being used for some temporary agricultural purpose, because it is not yet built upon, and let us suppose that it is assessed at £1 for that purpose. You will then have the maximum of the Bill applying, and the local authority will not be permitted to give more than £30, and will have the right of acquiring for £30 that piece of land which has just been valued for death duties at £1,000. What does the promoter of the Bill mean? Is there any hon. Gentleman in this House who really would get up, knowing what he was proposing, and propose such a Bill? You cannot go into any town in which you will not find small pieces of land adjoining built-upon property, which are too small in area to be occupied for any agricultural purpose at all. Perhaps a house has been pulled down upon it, an old property which was out-of-date, and which has to be replaced. The land is temporarily vacant, and it is producing nothing to its owner. If I may reply to the suggestion made by the hon. Member who last spoke, he complained that land which was producing nothing to the rates yet cost a great deal of money when it was required to be purchased. Does he realise that the reason that the land is contributing nothing to the rates is the very simple one that it is contributing nothing to the owner, who gets nothing out of it whilst it is vacant? The suggestion is that he should contribute to the rates, but out of what? He is realising nothing.
Where my hon. Friends are in some confusion of thought is that they confuse the question of annual value and capital value, which are two very different things, and the principle of taxation, both for rates and income tax, is this, that wherever any man realises an annual profit or income from any source he should be assessed upon that profit or income and should contribute, according to his ability to pay, a proportion of that profit or income to the needs of the local authority or the State. That is the principle of taxing annual value, but when you come to capital value you come into a totally different region. The same 838 principle applies, that when the value is realised the State takes its share, but it follows in both cases the sound principle that you cannot get something out of nothing, and that unless there is realisation of value in some form or another there is no fund from which the State can obtain its contribution. It is true that in the past the local authorities and the State have complained that when they wanted a piece of land for their purposes they had to pay more for it than a private owner or purchaser might have had to pay, but that grievance, if it existed, was dealt with in the Act which was passed last Session, and the most stringent provisions have been passed to secure that when a local authority or the State does require land for a public purpose they shall only pay the fair price and value for that land, at what would now appear to be a rather lower price than a private purchaser might have to pay.
This Bill proposes that that principle of obtaining the land on the fair capital value which it could realise in the market is to be departed from, and a senseless mixture, a confusion of thought, a confusion of the principles of valuation is to be created by attempting to base capital value upon realised annual value, which is something totally different. That is where this Bill fails, and I should like to ask my hon. Friends in the case I have quoted, of a piece of land worth £1,000 and on which death duties have been paid at £1,000, which is the right basis? I see the Attorney-General in his place. He represents the State and he would be placed in a very considerable difficulty if he were confronted with an Act which said that death duty is to be charged on the full value obtainable for a piece of land worth £1,000, and he advised the revenue authorities that, as that land was worth £1,000, death duties ought to be taken from it on that basis,- and if then the State wished to acquire this same land for a public purpose, and he again has to advise as to how much they ought to pay for it, this Bill in the meantime having become law, he finds that he must advise the State that they cannot under the Act pay any more for the land than thirty times the annual value, which may be and probably will be in this case £30. That is rather a peculiar piece of machinery, is it not, for this House to propose? I think the size of this House on a Friday after- 839 noon is supposed to be a suitable occasion for proposing legislation of this description, and really it brings legislation into ridicule to make a proposal of that kind The thing is too ludicrous to bear examination for a moment.
What the hon. Gentleman who last spoke said was, that what he wanted was a fixed and uniform basis for purchase, but the Bill which is already in existence provides that. There is a fixed and uniform basis, which is a valuation, obtained in as fair a way as possible, of what the land may be worth. The hon. Gentleman complains that some land costs £100 an acre and that other land costs £500 an acre. We all know that the value of land differs enormously, and a uniform basis does not mean a uniform price. You must apply your basis to the circumstances of each case, and when you apply the same fair basis you will get a very different result in the ease of one unit of land from what you will get in another case. Several hon. Members have raised the question that this value has been created by the community. No doubt it is perfectly true that some part of the value of building land in this country—and I have pointed out that this really mainly affects building land—has been created by the growth of the community. But that applies practically to all value, and I am sure even the hon. Gentleman himself will admit that there are large quantities of building land, having a very high value, where a very large proportion of that value has been created by private enterprise and private expenditure. Will my hon. Friend deny that?
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Then I am afraid his experience must be extraordinarily limited. It is necessary to have some little acquaintance with the country and the way building development is carried on.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That is a different proposition. What my hon. Friend said was, that all increased value of land was due to public expenditure. That is what he implied. If he does not desire to say that, he admits the obvious truth that an enormous proportion of the value of the 840 land is due to private enterprise and private expenditure. I admit that less is now being spent by private development upon land than used to be spent, and I think the House knows very well why less is being spent now on building development. You have only to go back to 1909–10 and you find the very good reason why private expenditure ceased, and now, on the question of general principles, let us look where that has landed us, and what would be the consequence of this Bill on the same lines. The figures are there for everybody to see. In the six years before that legislation was passed there were 691,000 odd houses in this country below the Inhabited House Duty value, that is to say, working-class houses. In the four years after the passing of that legislation there were 247,000 odd houses built, the average being for the six years before 115,000 a year, and for the four years after 61,000—a difference of more than 50,000 houses per year. In other words, in the four years 200,000 fewer houses were built by private enterprise than would have been built if that legislation had not been passed.
Let us follow that up a little further. We should have had, when the War broke out, and when the War ended, 200,000 more houses than we have got now. What would those houses have been worth to the country? I do not put it very much too high if I say £1,000 a piece under present conditions. You have 200,000 fewer houses, and, putting them roughly as worth £1,000 each to the country, that is £200,000,000 worth of houses less to the country. That is not all. That is the price of that sort of legislation. In addition to the 200,000 houses, you would have had, when the War broke out, a building and development industry in a healthy and flourishing condition, and ready to resume operations when the War was over. Instead of that, you had a stricken industry, a despairing industry, and an industry which had its backbone broken and was not ready to take up its work again after the War, as it would otherwise have been able to do. There is a third consequence owing to the want of houses, and anybody can see what that costs. The mobility of industry has been impaired, and, in some districts, almost entirely destroyed. So that the result of these attacks—I am not impugning anyone's intentions, they are, excellent—because they infringe great 841 natural laws, which are much more powerful than this House, instead of achieving, the ultimate result they desire, which is to benefit the community, they have exactly the opposite effect, and here you have this loss which the country has suffered.
There is another loss which touches the municipal authorities more closely perhaps than anything else. If you had these 200,000 more houses, the municipal authorities would all have been getting rates upon them and the country would have been drawing Income Tax upon them, and industry and labour would have been drawing untold benefit. What would the country rather have if it had its choice, 200,000 more working-class houses or the Budget of 1900–10 on the Statute Book? I do not think there is much question which the country would chose. If this Bill were passed, the effect would be that every person who had set his mind upon the development of land or the building of houses, and for that purpose had acquired land, would be liable to have that land taken away from him at 30 years' purchase at the Schedule A assesment on the annual value. Would the hon. Gentleman who proposed this Bill, who I regret to see is no longer in his place to support it, or would any hon. Member who is prepared to get up in this House and support this Bill, if he had any money to invest, put a penny into the development of building land and build houses under those circumstances? Nobody but a madman would do such a thing. That this House should be willing to pass such legislation as that would, I think, be as deadly a blow at the security of property in this country as could possibly be levelled. The thing is really quite impracticable.
Speaking on general principles, there is really nothing at this moment more important than the restoration of confidence. It really is vital, and I do regret most deeply that the right hon. Gentleman, who until recently led the Liberal Party in the House, and still more that the right hon. Gentleman who has just been returned to this House as Member for Paisley, should give their imprimatur to a measure of this description. If I may say so, it is infinitely more dishonest, and infinitely more mischievous than the proposal for nationalisation. The proposal for nationalisation, as put forward in this House, and as I understand it, is that it 842 would be to the advantage of the country that the nation should own its land and that the nation ought to take it up and pay for it at a fair price. That may be extremely foolish, but it is not dishonest, for a fair price is paid. But this proposal is absolutely dishonest, and nothing-else, that a piece of land which the State itself taxes at its full capital value, and which has a full capital value in the market, should be compulsorily taken away at something which may be a mere infinitesimal fraction of its actual value When these kind of proposals are made from irresponsible quarters nobody pays much attention to them. But when the leader of a great party in the State gets up and gives his imprimatur to a proposal of this description, it tends to destroy confidence, and to prevent the investment of capital in the building of houses and the development of land. Hon. Members cannot come down to this House, Liberals, or those who represent the Labour party and, in one breath demand more houses, and with the next complain that more houses are not being built, while at the same time proposing measures which are bound to obstruct and hinder the development of any land or the building of any houses for the working classes. The two things do not go together.
We all realise that everybody has to make sacrifices. I should be the last to suggest that if the State needs land it ought to pay more than the lowest sum which can be fairly assessed as its ordinary capital value as between a willing buyer and a willing seller, I never asked for anything more. I do not now. If the present Act does not produce that result, all I can say is that in Committee upstairs on which I sat, those there did their utmost, under the guidance of the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir G. Hewart), to attain that result. Its aim is to attain that, and I believe in practice it does it. If this result is not attained, if in practice the Act is found to produce some different result, let the Government come to the House and ask for Amendment of the Bill in order to get the land we want, so that it shall be obtained at a fair price, and no more. But to come to the House and propose a Measure of this kind is contrary to the whole principle of the Act. I really can hardly believe that any hon. Member of any party, when they see what 843 this Bill really means, will find it in their hearts to support it in the Lobby.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
Very briefly I desire to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I am not able in any way to share the fears which have just been expressed as to its effect by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. As a matter of fact, we on these Labour Benches regard this Bill as a very modest proposition. It has two features. The first takes account of the value of the assessment for taxation made or acquiesced in by the claimant during the preceding three years. In the second place, a value not exceeding 30 times the annual value as assessed, etc. We have, first of all, the acquiescence of the landowner, and in the second place the valuation on a basis of thirty times the annual valuation, which I venture to suggest is in excess of the valuation placed upon many classes of property in this country when required either for public or private purposes. On these two points of view the Bill is very moderate, and although, personally, I have no great hopes regarding it, I support it this afternoon because it seems to make an inroad upon the state of affairs in this country against which we are entitled, at this hour, to protect the people.
If you take simply the willing buyer and the willing seller, then there seems to be there not the slightest doubt we get terms inflated by the experiences of the War, and by the pressing and urgent needs of the people. Under that system, which bears, I admit, a certain appearance of fairness, you are going to pay very much increased prices indeed. I know that in many realms of public activity there is provision for compulsory acquisition. There is provision for arbitration, and so on but I do suggest that we are entitled to protect the people of the country, so far as we possibly can, and we are entitled to do that because land is property which is admitted by many Members of this House to be substantially different from all other forms of property, and is entitled so to be regarded for the purposes of legislation. I desire to make it clear that in trying to carry these principles we are actuated by no animosity or hostility to the proprietors of land as individuals. As a matter of 844 fact, as a Labour representative, I should be prepared to admit this afternoon that taking the economic history of the last century into account, the masses of the people of this country have suffered less at the hands of the proprietors of land than they have suffered at the hands of proprietors of large industrial capital. That, I think, is admitted, not only by those who share my views on these Benches, but by many other impartial students of social and economic history who have applied their minds to the problem. Many landowners, not only during that century, but within recent years, have given land on very easy and convenient terms; they have given it in many cases on purely nominal considerations. We recognise all these facts, and we are making no personal attack. What we do attack is the system and the monopoly which we believe to be inimical and hostile to the best interests of the people.
It was suggested by my hon. Friend who introduced this Bill that it will facilitate the settlement of ex-Service men upon the land. I confess I am not very much influenced or impressed by that argument. I remember two Land Settlement Bills, and more particularly our Scottish Bill, and at the end of both these Bills, I think I am correct in saying, you have the formula as to the terms or price to be paid for land for the purpose of the settlement of ex-Service men. I do not know how far that formula is better or worse than this proposal, but my uneasiness in that respect is rather increased by the statement of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pretyman), that so far as agricultural land is concerned, in individual cases, and, he thought, in many cases, a fair price would be represented by thirty times the annual value mentioned in this clause. That makes me, while admitting at once his honesty of purpose and sincerity, just a little uneasy, because he expresses a view which is antagonistic to ours. I do not think we can lay much stress upon this Bill for the purposes of the settlement of ex-Service men. But I think we can lay stress upon this minor measure, because it is a necessary prelude or first step towards any scheme of public ownership of land in this country which might subsequently be introduced.
It will probably be irrelevant this afternoon to state the case for the nationalization of land, or for public ownership; but I think we should admit in passing, 845 firstly, that land is in a different position from other forms of wealth, and, in the second place, that no matter how sharply individualistic we may be, that a very great deal of land must be acquired publicly for the necessary enterprises of Local Authorities or of the State itself. This Bill is not nationalization. There is nothing about nationalization in this Bill. An hon. Gentleman described the proposal as even worse than nationalization. Before any scheme of public ownership comes into force, and that must be very gradual and systematic—in point of fact it is being done every day by the Local Authorities, and, also, to some extent by the State, we must have a basis for valuation. We must understand how we are going to fix the price of land and what we are going to pay for it. In that connection may I try to indicate how we of the Labour movement view this problem? I have never personally seen any scheme for public ownership of land which did not provide for compensation. No doubt where land has been stolen in recent times, or enclosed, as has happened in our unhappy country North of the Tweed, there is a primâ facie case for a very nominal payment, and for the resumption of that land by the people from whom it was taken; but nearly all schemes for nationalisation of land have proceeded on the basis of compensation. If you require land for public purposes—and you do require it—we are prepared to pay for it on certain terms and considerations.
What are the principles which animate us on these benches? We have been described as unfit to govern, as people who have not looked at all the facts and so on, but at least in the case of land we have two clear things in mind. First of all in the value of land there are two important elements. There is that which represents what the proprietor of the soil has put into it or his predecessors over, it may be, a considerable number of years. Personally, and I am only expressing my own opinion, I think in the valuation of land in that position, where it has been the subject of the investment of capital, and perhaps sacrifice, and the rest all through those years, you are justly entitled to take that into account in assessing or fixing any price which the community is required to pay for that land. That is clear and definite in our minds.
846 There is, however, another element in land which is widely and completely different from that. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken against this Bill said, as regards agricultural land, in the majority, or in many cases, this clause might be just, but it would not apply in the case of urban land, or land in the large centres of population. In reply to that I say that you cannot possibly compare the two things. In the extensive country areas of the British Isles you have not the pressure of a great population, and in many cases in past years, not within recent times, very often there has not been much competition for the tenancy at all. I think things are different now because of War conditions over a very great part of our territory.
Let us turn to urban land, and I ask whence this greatly increased value has come. No hon. Member who has had experience in a large urban local authority can fail to have been impressed by the fact that the very enterprise of the people in tramways, open spaces and houses and other things has largely contributed to the increased value of the land, and that enhancement of the value has been due to the sacrifice and industry of large aggregations of ratepayers in the urban area. Is it unjust to take back for the community, either directly or indirectly, under the valuation on this principle some proportion, if not all, of that greatly enhanced value? I do not much mind what the opinions of hon. Members of this House are as to the solution of our economic and social problems in this country, but I do suggest that behind all taxation, behind every form of public enterprise, there is one-principle running in our minds, and it is that we have got to take back for the community what has been communally or socially created in some shape or form. Here you have the clearest possible case of a dividing line between the two classes of land, and it is exactly on that we are trying to concentrate this afternoon. These principles are in our minds in supporting this Bill. It is a very modest proposition. It is something which we regard as a prelude to public ownership of land, and for that we stand. I see nothing to justify the terrible picture which the right hon. Gentleman has just drawn, and I sincerely trust in order to keep down the exaggerated prices which are likely to be paid for land, and in the interests 847 of the necessary industrial and social experiments through which we shall pass, this Bill deserves our cordial support.
§ Mr. STEVENS
I am quite sure hon. Members who have backed this Bill had not the slightest intention of doing anything which would prevent the development of land for industrial purposes in this country. That is the effect, to a great extent, of this Bill. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said that the value of the land should be fixed by what has been put into it by the owner, and with that we all must agree. I only rose to give an illustration. Take an area of land, and I am speaking from actual facts, which by its owners has been turned into a dock area, with all the facilities that a railway can give it, and that land for industrial purposes is held at a great price as land with facilities. In laying out a portion of that estate a portion was set aside for the purpose of erecting cottages and dwellings, and to that extent the land was sold at a low rent. Immediately alongside it is sold at a very much greater price, indeed, at very high prices, if the value of the land alone is considered, and yet when it is occupied for industrial purposes at these high prices it is cheaper to the occupier than if he had land given to him in any other place in the United Kingdom. You have under this Bill a provision that the local authorities shall exercise their right to take over some portion of that land at thirty times its assessed value. The land I am speaking of is held bare in the interests of the industry in a district awaiting development. I know a case where land within the last ten days, comprising eight acres, has been sold at about £5,000 an acre, whilst on the other side of the road the land is nearly covered with cottages which have been sold at a price at which cottages can be made to pay.
In the case of this particular area the owners were asked by the Local Authority to set it aside for dwellings, and it has been sold within the last 10 days. They pointed out that it was far more in the interests of industry that that land should be kept fallow for industrial purposes, and the owner simply allowed the land to be used for allotments on condition that they received no rent, and were able to take over that land immediately it was wanted. In this particular area what I have said applies to some hundreds of acres of land, 848 any portion of which if this Bill passes could be taken over at 30 times the assessment of that bare land, whilst tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on the development of that land although it is left bare so as to enable this country—and that is the main motive—to keep its premier industrial position. It seems to me that is obvious that if hon. Members would only consider all cases instead of dealing as they sometimes do with particular cases where no doubt there may be hardships—I do not know whether there are or not—a Bill of this sort would never be brought before the House.
§ Colonel GREIG
The speech of the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh to which we have just listened has, so far as this Bill is concerned, been a very modest one: but, after all, the hon. Member's proposals are admitted by him to be merely preliminary to the larger proposals which he adumbrates as the policy of the future in connection with the question of land nationalisation. That is just what is wrong about this Bill. The hon. Member wants to set up a principle of valuation which will be useful to him and his friends when they attempt to can-y into legislation these larger proposals.
Hon. Members who have spoken in support of this Bill have in the past given their assent to the principle that where a man's property is taken at least a fair price should be paid for it. But here we have an attempt made, as the last speaker admitted, to set up a principle of valuation which is going to be applied on an extraordinarily large scale hereafter. No suggestions have been made during this Debate that the present system of settling the price of land under the Act of last year has been a failure. There has been no attack made upon that Act which was carried after the most thorough discussion, in the course of which the very propositions which we have had submitted to us to-day were put forward and threshed out. In Scotland a most important Commission reported on this question of the acquirement of land by public authorities some years ago, and my hon. Friend knows perfectly well that that commission examined every one of these systems of taking so many times the agricultural value of this, that, or the other, and came to the conclusion that not one was fair or equitable, and the best they could do was to recommend in 849 respect of this proposition that the valuations wherever they existed might be made available for ascertaining value when the arbitrator came to fix the price. That was done in the Acquisition of Land Act last year in regard to valuations of capital value, and these valuations can be looked at and the arbitrator is entitled in fixing the price to consider the assessments for taxation which had been acquiesced in by the tenant. It is not the system of settling the price to be paid by the local authorities that is concerned so much as an alteration in our system of rating, and I can quite well believe in the phrase used by the right hon. Member for Paisley in his speeches in his recent election campaign that if you look at it very narrowly, the value at which the land is taxed should be the capital value and that might be the value at which it might be acquired.
§ Colonel GREIG
I think if the capital value were made the rating value we might get at something which would represent capital value. What is happening now in England and Scotland? In Scotland you have a valuation roll based on the yearly annual value, which is very much the same as Schedule A of the Income Tax. You have no capital value at all. It is a matter of yearly annual value. When you come to your Bill you have no capital value, and, therefore, you fix some arbitrary figure which probably in many cases would be unfair. I heard of a case this morning where the capital value of land is certainly not worth more than seventeen years' purchase of the annual value, yet under this Bill the local authorities might be mulct in thirty years' annual value. We have heard a good deal about the question of the monopoly of land. I am an old Liberal, and in old days we talked a lot about taxing the incremental value of land. The State has attempted to get at that incremental value, and some of the duties it imposed are still in operation although the machine has broken down. But land is not the only monopoly. If you want land for houses you also want other things; you want material and labour. What is the proposition put forward by my hon. Friend, the Member for Central Edinburgh? You are to take the land at 850 a price they fix, a price that will often deprive the owner of its real value. That is to be legalised. Are you going to do the same with materials? Are you going to take materials from the man who owns them at a price which is not just? If you are going, to do that, if you can defend that, and if you can defend what is proposed under this Bill, what will Labour say if on the same lines you take a man's labour, which is as much his monopoly, at less than its market value? I think that suggestion must go home to hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but he must admit, in criticising the arguments I put forward, that there is a great difference between land, the quantity of which cannot be increased, and material and labour which are subject to competition and to the ordinary laws of supply and demand.
§ Colonel GREIG
That may be so in a sense. My hon. Friend wants to make the owner of land pay a certain amount to the State. That principle is on the Statute Book. But labour can be made a monopoly and so too can material, and when you see labour hedged round with restrictions as it is to-day which make it a monopoly, I should like to hear what argument can be advanced for dealing with it differently from the way in which land is to be dealt with if the hon. Member's view be adopted.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Gordon Hewart)
I give those who are responsible for this Bill the credit of assuming that they are sincere in their desire, in the Amendment they seek to make in the Act of last year, to secure that a fair price, and nothing more nor less, shall be paid for land where it is acquired for public purposes. That, I think, is a desire which is common to all Members of this House. The question is whether this Bill is a step in the direction of attaining that end or the reverse. One of the supporters of the Bill said that what is contained in it is a very modest and minor proposition. In my judgment it seeks to alter in five vital respects the provisions of the Act of last year. May I remind the House of what is contained in the Act? It is provided that the value of land, subject to certain specific provisions and conditions, shall be taken to be the amount which the land, if sold in 851 the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise. Then there comes an enabling proviso—Provided always that the arbitrator shall be entitled to consider all returns and assessments of capital value for taxation made or acquiesced in by the claimant.It is expressly provided that these skilled gentlemen, who have to arrive at a fair value under the Act, shall be entitled to consider not some but all of the returns and assessments of capital value for taxation which the claimant has made or acquiesced in. Some one asked what is the meaning in that context of the phrase "acquiesced in." I should say that at least it involves two elements. It involves first that we should know, and secondly, that it should be within his power to secure a revision. The present proposal alters every part of that proviso. It begins with the word "shall"—not that these skilled, gentlemen who are experienced as valuers are to be entitled to consider certain matters, but that they must take a certain course. It is imperative. It tells them what they have got to do. "The value of the land shall be based upon." I do not quite know what "based upon" means, but if I follow the arguments of those who support the Bill, what is in their minds is not that these returns and assessments shall be evidence along with other evidence, not that they shall be elements which are to be taken into consideration and weighed, but that they are, in some way or other, not very precisely defined, and not very easy to imagine, to be the determining factor, the sole and governing principle.
Then I come to the next important difference. As the Act stands, the official arbitrator is empowered to consider all the returns and assessments of a certain kind. But this Bill gets rid of the word "all," and limits the ambit of what may be considered by the official valuers to the returns and assessments of three years. What is the justice of that? And how fantastically it might work out in practice! Take, for example, the case of the Estate Duty. That is a duty which is computed upon a return made, it may be by the executor, or it may be by the heir, of the capital value at the time of the death of the deceased. But suppose that in the case of the owner of a particular piece of land about to be 852 acquired by a public authority, there had been no death within three years, or no-death within ten years, what becomes of your basis then? There is no other opportunity left to the official arbitrator. Yet that is to be the basis. Then I am told that you have Schedule A. That brings me to the next important difference. The problem with which we are dealing is the problem of the acquisition of land—not the hiring of land, not the using of it, but the acquisition of it out and out. We are dealing, therefore, with a question of capital value, and in the Act which is sought to be altered one finds that the returns and assessments which the official arbitrator is entitled to consider are returns and assessments of capital value. But this Bill, inserting as it does the limit of three years, which is not to be found in the Act, takes away the limitation of capital value which is to be found in the Act, and deliberately provides that the basis of capital value is to be any returns and assessments, whether of capital value or otherwise, provided that they are made within the narrow limit of three years. What is the reason of that alteration? I do not follow it.
When these four alterations have been made—the directory nature of the provision, the provision that these returns are to be the sole basis, the taking away of the power to look at "all," and the limiting of the returns to three years, the provision that not only returns and assessments of capital value, but any returns and any assessments may be looked at—on top of all that we get the astonishing proviso that the value is not to exceed 30 times the annual value as assessed under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918. Sow it is quite easy to imagine cases in which 30 times the annual value would be too little. It is by no means difficult to imagine a case in which it would be far too much. But if a proviso of that kind, naming a maximum, were put into an Act of this kind, the tendency would be always to drift nearer and near to that maximum until the maximum became the normal. The question would be, What is the annual value under Schedule A. Multiply it by 30, and there you have your price. Now, I should like a little further illumination upon this proposed five-fold modification of the Act of last year. What is meant by taxation? I can understand the 853 phrase in the Act that we passed—"The returns and assessments of capital value for taxation." We know what those are. But when the words "of capital value" are taken out, what is it that is sought to be included? Do the authors of the Bill intend to say that it matters not whether one regards rating or taxation, it is local taxation, it is all taxation, and the arbitrator is to be governed by assessments for rating purposes? If so, upon what a shoreless sea are we embarking? What are the various rates apart altogether from the many special rates? You have the Poor Bate, the County Bate, the Borough Rate, the general District Rate, and special rates of various kinds. What is the underlying principle? It is that of rateable value. If you are the assessing authority, or Quarter Sessions on appeal, you ask yourself what is the value of the hereditament to a hypothetical tenant in the condition that it is from year to year. There is no reference to an unexplored future. The potential value of the land is to be disregarded. Is it to be said that the rateable value so ascertained is a fair criterion of the capital value of the land? If not, then that assessment and that return may become absolutely misleading, and other assessments and other returns which derive their amount from that assessment or at any rate are greatly governed by it may be equally misleading. It is one thing to say that the rateable value is a fair criterion of the actual present value from year to year. It is quite a different thing to say that that value is a factor which you can multiply by some other arithmetical factor, not named, so as to give you the true total value for the purpose of acquisition. The difficulty does not end there. We are here offered a prescribed and exclusive basis. There can be but one basis. The computation under the Bill is directed to be made upon a sole and certain basis. You may have six forms of assessment, yielding six different amounts. Which of them is to be the basis? How is the Official Arbitrator to judge as between one and the other? I am sure my hon. Friend is well aware of the fact that a good many of these assessments are out of date. In London you have a statutory provision for quinquennial valuation. I think that that valuation is now proceeding. But if you take the rather large part of the country which is outside London there 854 is no such provision, and we find that the valuation lists are sometimes 10, sometimes 16 and sometimes 20 years old. There are supplementary lists, no doubt, but those lists may be very faulty guides to the annual value. How much more, then, are they to be regarded with suspicion as affording a clue, and the only clue, to the total capital value. Again, there are many returns in regard to which the owner, if he is not also the occupier, is not in any way concerned. How is the non-occupying owner to be able to deal with many of the returns which are made? Is it to be said that he acquiesced in them because he could not get his tenant to appeal against them? Does my hon. Friend observe this, that if the non-occupying owner, because the assessment might conceivably prejudice the future price of his property, insisted on having the assessment raised, the effect might be that he would be raising the burden of the rates which the occupier would have to pay? Is that what is desired? I submit that when this House, after much deliberation, and having explored the subject-matter with the greatest care, came to the conclusion that the fair thing was to enable these returns and assessments to be given in evidence, that was as much as could be done. In a proper case they can be acted upon. Why act upon them in a case not proper? Speaking for myself I entirely agree that it is highly desirable that the assessment of value upon which public burdens are to be imposed, should come to be identical with the assessment of value which public money may have to buy out. But, it has not been so hitherto. Can it be fair to catch the owner of land in a trap and say, "We pass these provisions and we are without notice going to bind you by assessments which you may have had very little power of dealing with; we are, without notice, going to bind you by assessments made not only by yourself but also for you; ands we are, without notice, going to bind you for the purpose of capital value by assessments in which capital value was never regarded at all." If a scheme of that kind were seriously considered and adopted, I have no doubt that it would have its advantages. But I do suggest that nobody ought to be taken by surprise. Let those who seek that, end achieve it by proper means, and do not let us hastily decide that returns made for one purpose, and suitable for 855 one purpose, should be not only used, but be the only thing permitted to be used, the only basis to be regarded, for a totally different purpose.
Finally, I come to the other end of the matter. We have this direction about the various returns and assessments, which are highly uncertain. Then we have at the other end the proviso which fixes a certain maximum. That maximum is not to exceed 30 times the annual value as assessed under Schedule A of the Income Tax of 1918. Does my hon. Friend really appreciate what that provision involves? The annual value of property—I am speaking of parts of the country outside London—for the purpose of Income Tax under Schedule A is determined periodically, normally at intervals of five years. But as a matter of fact, I believe, it has not been determined since 1910. Certain lands used for certain purposes, for example, quarries and mines, do not have their annual value ascertained in that way at all. Their annual value is ascertained upon the profits of the concerns. When we have, as it is notorious that we have, ten year old, fifteen year old and twenty year old valuations, is this the moment to provide that the capital value for any purpose is solely to depend upon those valuations? What is the annual value of lands that is ascertained under Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918? It is:
In other words, the test is solely the present actual or probable yield, without regard to the possibilities or the developments of the future. I cannot understand why thirty times the annual value are fixed in this Bill as the maximum. What is the magic of thirty? How is this sum, which is arrived at for the purpose of Schedule A of the Income Tax Act, 1918, to afford any certain guide to the actual value of the land that is to be acquired?
- (1) The amount of the rent by the year at which the lands are let, if they are let at a rack rent, and the amount of that rent has been fixed by agreement commencing within the period of seven years preceding the fifth day of April next before the time of making the assessment; or
- (2) If the lands are not let at a rack rent so fixed, then the rack rent at which they are worth to be let by the year.
§ Mr. HOLMES
There is no magic in the word "thirty." It was important that 856 some maximum should be put in, and one can imagine the ridicule which the right hon. Gentleman would have thrown on the Bill if no maximum had been put in.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I should not attempt to ridicule the Bill in any circumstances. But I do not understand what ingredient of possible ridicule is saved by the insertion of these words. If my hon. Friend really believes that it is useful and proper to say to an official arbitrator, "You shall base your value upon these returns and assessments," I cannot see where the need for a maximum comes in at all. But I rather gather from what my hon. Friend has said that he feels that the word "basis" is somewhat vague. Though you multiply by ten or thirty or fifty, the basis would still be the basis. To say that you are to base your calculation upon a certain factor without saying what is the factor by which you are to multiply does not seem to be a very useful proceeding; and to attempt to check the result by saying that you shall not in any event exceed thirty times something which may be totally irrelevant does not seem to advance the matter very much further. As my hon. Friend below the Gangway has said, value and price are not the same thing. I do not think that it is suggested, except for controversial purposes, that they are. The price that was paid some time ago is no criterion of the value of today, and the value of to-day may be no criterion of the price five years hence.
I quite understand the point of view of the hon. Member who (if I may say so) has contributed so much to the interest and the value of this discussion. But I am not prepared to go all the way with him. He says the principle is that you are to take back for the community the value which the community has created. It is difficult to think of any value which has not, in great part, been created by the community. Somebody said in one of these debates many years ago, referring to a distinguished Member of this House, "I should like to know what his prairie value is." I wonder what is the prairie value of a painter, a dentist, a shopkeeper or a lawyer. It may well be that, so far as land is concerned, the proposition is true to a greater extent and in a more evident way. But if, as was said by one hon. Member, all land is public property, why trouble any further? Why have any machinery for acquisition at all? No, 857 when once we get into the region of these general, and apparently benevolent, but exceedingly vague and dangerous doctrines, we run a risk of getting a little out of our depth. I end, as I began, by saying that the object of Members of this House in all quarters is not to confiscate, but to buy, and if to buy, then to buy at a fair price; and my criticism upon this Bill is that, far from making it easier to determine a fair price, it would, as things stand, and as returns and assessments are, in fact, made, render it impossible except by accident to arrive at a fair price.
The right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Hewart) and the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) made great play on the difference between assessment of annual value and capital value. We all agree that the difference exists, and it is because that difference exists that this Bill has been taken. We say that the capital value and the assessable annual value should be on one common basis, and though the hon. Member for Chelmsford tried to throw derision on the justice of that view, I think that we have the support of the right hon. Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson). Therefore we can claim that we are in good company, no matter how we may err. I submit there is nothing wrong in principle in asking that the assessible annual value of these various properties should be on the same basis as the capital value. The Attorney-General referred to the many systems of rating—county rate, borough rate, poor rate, police rate, as if that were a stumbling block. Surely, although ratings are based on one common assessment, and if the assessment may vary in various parts of the country, it does not pass the wit of man in the Committee stage so to amend this Bill that the rating and tax system throughout the country shall be made so that the Bill will work equitably. It is because we know that anomalies exist that this Bill has been introduced in order to remove them and place the rateable value on the basis of capital value.
The hon. Member for a Manchester Division suggested that industrial development would be hit severely. I submit that the very reverse would be the effect of passing a measure of this sort 858 in order to make the assessable value correspond to the capital value. It would make it unprofitable to withhold from the market large tracts of undeveloped land which are kept out at the present time, and, because they are withheld from productive purposes, make the cost of the other land, which has to be acquired for industrial purposes, ever so much more than it would be otherwise. There would be no injustice. A man could ask to have his assessable value raised if he thought it unfair for purchasing purposes, and if he had it raised he would find that it would not pay to keep from the market desirable building land. Reference was made to land on the outskirts of a town awaiting development, and it was said that though its present value was nominal, its capital value in future would be great. It is because those things exist that this Bill has been introduced. We want to prevent the withholding of valuable land from the market, by compelling it to pay rates and taxes, so that it may be brought into the market and reduce the capital value of the land required for housing and industrial purposes. There would be nothing inequitable in this, and industry would profit thereby. On the Mines Commission the. colliery proprietors as a whole were anxious to buyout the royalties of the landlords of the mines, because the present arrangement was crippling industry. In the same way, in all industrial centres we find that industry is held up because exhorbitant prices are asked by landlords, holding their land for a rise in the market, realising that they have to pay nominal rates based on agricultural value, and holding it in order that in a few years time they may get £500 an acre for it.
It is to prevent that that this Bill is brought in. It is no criticism to point out these anomalies, because the anomalies are the cause of the Bill. It has been left to the market value in the past, and what has been the result? Owing to the monopoly value, owing to the needs of a district being great, all industrial towns in their housing conditions and their development and progress have been crippled. In my own constituency I took out some time ago the market value we had to pay for school sites, and found that we paid over the last thirty years an average of £1,500 an acre for land which twenty or thirty years ago had nothing 859 more than a bare agricultural value. That is what the unrestrained market value gives you. It may be fair to the landowner, but it is manifestly unfair to the ratepayer and the common citizen. I submit, therefore, that there is no good reason why at any rate a Second Reading should not be given to this Bill. Amendments may be made in it, possibly drastic Amendments. The Attorney - General almost blessed the principle underlying the Bill. He said he thought it would be desirable that the rateable value, the assessable value, should approximate to the value on which the community had to buy the land. I appeal to the Attorney-General, therefore, to give the Bill a Second Reading. Surely we can learn something from the past. If the Government cannot accept this measure, might we hope for some prospect of their bringing in a measure that will be a clear sign of their intentions? We have seen enormous fortunes made out of land speculation. We have seen our industrial towns spoilt in their development, we have seen health conditions made poor and miserable for the children, and all because of the way the land has been tied up. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman say that at any rate in future we may have a fresh start? Think what it would mean if in the next ten or twenty years we could have our towns, our parks, our playgrounds, our industries developed without the tremendous handicap of the past, and if in the next fifty years the increment which is bound to accrue in every large town were taken for the benefit of the community which has made it. Private enterprise that has spent the money in developing our shipyards and our other industries does not get the benefit. It has to pay more for the land it requires. Industry is crippled because of the very money it has spent itself in the development it has made. Private enterprise has developed our towns, and it is fined and punished because of the money it has made and the value it has given to other people's possessions.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I do not wish to give a silent Vote. I am not going to follow the learned Attorney-General in his very searching analysis of the arguments put forward, but I want to call attention to the position in which I think the hon. Mem- 860 ber for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) will find himself. The problem to my mind divides itself into two distinct classes. The last speaker referred forcibly to land exploitation in urban districts in days gone by. No one can dispute that. It is known to all that many large industrial districts have been hampered in their development, and that-great expenditure has been incurred either because of the greed of a landlord or because of the conditions which permitted him to exploit the rest of the community. To me there is great danger in this Bill. I would prefer to see the municipalisation of municipal areas rather than nationalisation. I would like to see a Bill passed giving to all urban authorities the right to map out an inner and an outer belt so that the landlord who possessed the land would know that when the municipality or urban district was about to develop in any direction the land it would take would be taken at its value when the outer or inner belt was decided upon. My objection to this Bill is that it includes all agricultural land. I believe the return on all agricultural land is equal to something like 2 per cent. No one to-day has advocated confiscation. If you are to have a Bill which is to include all the land that is now earning only 2 per cent. you are going to increase the burden on the National Exchequer to an extent which would be disastrous. What is the temptation? If you pass this Bill, there will be a tendency on the part of agricultural landlords to increase their rents, because they will never be sure when they are going to come under its provisions. Therefore, this measure in its crude form would be disastrous to agriculture, and would inflict great hardship upon many people. I agree with the Attorney-General that it is ill conceived. It has within it the seeds of disagreement between the tenant farmers and the landlords of agricultural land, and it would be unjust in its operation and detrimental to the interests of agriculture in this country. A new view has to be taken of the whole question of rating and taxation and of urban sites. Municipalities should be given the power of staking out possible developments for 10, 15, 20 or 25 years, they should be placed in a position to buy land for those developments, and they should not be brought under the pro- 861 visions of a Bill which will lead to confusion in every direction.
§ Mr. LORDEN
I want to enter a protest against this continual tinkering with legislation with regard to land. We want to encourage people to cover the land. The legislation of a few years ago and the War have landed us in the present position with regard to building. We used that legislation for putting an embargo upon the land, and thereby frightened people off it. We want houses, and we ought to leave the Act of last year and not attempt to alter it until we have the houses which it is so desirable to get for the people. Land is the raw material of the builder, and the moment you interfere with it you upset the whole basis of his calculations. You scare him off it, with the result that you have a shortage of houses. I hope that we shall not pass this Bill.
The Attorney-General, with that fairness and courtesy which marks all his utterances in this House, has said that he does not credit us with any desire except to obtain land for public purposes at a fair price. The question at issue is what is a fair price. It is common ground that a fair price for private purposes is not the same as for public purposes. The House conceded that principle when it passes the Land Acquisition Act which we now propose to amend. When a man goes into the market to sell to a private buyer he gets the best price that he can, and the measure of his price is the necessity of the person who wants to buy. The Act passed last Session laid down certain limitations. A person whose land was taken for public purposes could not get a price based upon the same conditions as would regulate the price if he were selling to a private buyer. In determining a fair price for public purposes, we have excluded the element of extortion. Special suitability and special, requirements of a Public Department or a Local Authority cannot be taken into account in fixing a fair price of land for public purposes. We on this side—and I do not think the view is confined to this side of the House—say that there is an element which ought also to be included, and that is the relation which the price should bear to the contribution that the land has made to the public burden. In determining the price to be paid there should be some con- 862 sideration of the relationship between that price and the amount which the land has contributed towards the public expenditure. We may be right or we may be wrong, but that is the view which we are trying to embody in this Bill. We are not revolutionists; probably, in some things we are very conservative. We looked about for a precedent, and we found that precedent in a provision in the Finance Act of 1894 which was inserted by the action of the party opposite. We propose to base our valuation upon certain returns of assessment, and to check it by referring to a computation based upon a certain number of times of the annual value under Schedule A. There is nothing new or original about that proposal. It is in the Finance Act of 1894 and is applied to valuations for the purposes of the Death Duties.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That has been abolished, I think, since 1909. It is quite out of date. Nothing of the kind is done now.
I understand that is so. I did not say that the matter was operative. I contended that the principle we were adopting was not new, and my point still stands.
§ Sir G. HEWART
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member sees that there is a great difference. It is one thing to apply a rough-and-ready rule of that kind to a particular sort of land, but it is quite a different thing to apply it to land universally.
I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation, and I receive what help from it I can, but it does not affect my point. We are endeavouring to introduce this element in determining the price of land; that it must bear some relationship to its contribution to the public burden, and in that matter I am entirely in agreement with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I think he and other Members on that Bench expressed agreement with that principle. In endeavouring to apply that principle, we have done the best that we could by taking the methods to be found in a preceding Act. It may not be a good method; it may be a bad one, but it was the best method that we could find, and I suggest, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not differ from us with regard to the principle, that he should 863 give us the Second Reading of the Bill, and in Committee help to solve this problem in which he has a common interest with ourselves. In suggesting that course, I am not suggesting anything that is at all out of the common. Governments in the past have taken up private Members Bills and have made considerable modifications in them Last Session, Bills were passed their Second Reading, and they returned to this House in a very different form on the Report Stage. What I do suggest is, if there is agreement on this principle that when you are
§ fixing the price of land for public purposes there should be some relationship between the price and its contribution to taxation, then the right hon. Gentleman should give the House the opportunity of fashioning a Bill to put that principle into effect. That is really the point we are going to divide on and not on a question of whether it is to be twenty-five or thirty years' purchase.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 34; Noes, 137.865
|Division No. 35.]||AYES.||[3.16 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hancock, John George||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hayward, Major Evan||Simm, M. T.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hinds, John||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Bromfield, William||Holmes, J. Stanley||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Johnstone, Joseph||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Kiley, James D.||Wedgwood, Colonel J. C.|
|Devlin, Joseph||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Wignall, James|
|Donnelly, P.||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Myers, Thomas||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||O'Grady, Captain James|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Redmond, Captain William Archer||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. G. Thorne and Mr. Hogge.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral Thomas B. S.||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Murray, John (Leeds, West)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. C.||Fell, Sir Arthur||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.||FitzRoy, Captain Hon. E. A.||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Foreman, Henry||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfie[...])|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Forrest, Walter||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Palmer, Major Godfrey Mark|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Pease, Rt. Hon Herbert Pike|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Perring, William George|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Greig, Colonel James William||Philipps, Sir Owen C. (Chester, City)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Griggs, Sir Peter||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Colonel Charles|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hambro, Captain Angus Valdemar||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Harris, Sir Henry Percy||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Pulley, Charles Thornton|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Purchase, H. G.|
|Briggs, Harold||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Raper, A. Baldwin|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Hills, Major John Waller||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Remnant, Colonel Sir James F.|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Rogers, Sir Hallewell|
|Cautley, Henry S.||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)||Hurd, Percy A.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool Exchange)|
|Chadwick, R. Burton||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Seddon, J. A.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Kellaway, Frederick George||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stanier, Captain Sir Beville|
|Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. G. F.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H (Univ., Wales)||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Henry Page||Lloyd, George Butler||Stevens, Marshall|
|Curzon, Commander Viscount||Lloyd-Greame, Major P.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Dalziel, Sir D. (Lambeth, Brixton)||Lorden, John William||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Dean, Lieut.-Commander P. T.||M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.|
|Denison-Pender, John C.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. [...].||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Dockrell, Sir Maurice||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.)||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Manville, Edward||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Vickers, Douglas|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Morrison-Bell, Major A. E.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Waring, Major Walter||Wilson-Fox, Henry||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Warren, Lieut.-Col. Sir Alfred H.||Winterton, Major Earl|
|Whitla, Sir William||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Towyn|
|Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)||Jones.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Proposed words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.