§ Major ELLIOT
I beg to move, in page 4, line 43, at the end, to insert the words:And further provided that in any case where a local authority has acquired land from the owner thereof by compulsory purchase for the purposes of this Act, and do not require to use the same for the purposes of re-housing the working classes or the laying-out of open spaces, but intend to sell or otherwise dispose of such land or any portion thereof for any other purpose, they shall be bound before doing so to make intimation in writing to the previous owner of such land or his legal representatives of their intention, and to offer the said land to said proprietor, or his legal representatives, on repayment by him or them of the sum originally received by the owner from the local authority as compensation therefor, and if within thirty days after receipt of an offer to that effect the former owner, or his legal representatives, agree to accept the same, the local authority shall thereupon re-convey the said land to the said owner, or his legal representatives, on the terms of the said offer.This Amendment deals with the point as to the use of land taken over by a local authority for housing purposes, and subsequently not used for those purposes, and the suggestion is that if the local authority are not going to use it for the purposes which alone gave them the right to claim it, that is to say, that on the land there were situated insanitary houses which it was desired to replace by sanitary houses, they should give the owner of the land the option of 1155 repurchase. We argued this at some length upstairs in Committee, and I do not wish to do more than bring it before the House again.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, this point was adequately discussed in Committee upstairs, and I think that my recollection is right that the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends, after that discussion, saw fit to withdraw their Amendment. I take it that they are backing an outside horse now. There is a point of reason in the Amendment, namely, that if a proprietor has his land taken, and subsequently the local authorities do not use it for housing purposes, they might in fairness offer to resell it to the proprietor from whom they have taken it. May I again point out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends, however, that in general on such land there are insanitary buildings; and it has not been used to the best social purposes. I put it no higher than that. The proprietor has allowed his property to get into an insanitary condition, and he is lucky that we are now producing a Bill which gives him at least housing site value. Nobody will get less than housing site value for his land, and nobody is entitled to get any more. Housing is the purpose to which he has used the land, and no one is entitled to any more.
If a proprietor has had insanitary property on his land, the land may, as a result of the demolition of the insanitary houses, increase in value. Are we to take it that the authority, after perhaps going to the expense of demolishing the houses and of having a clearance area, are to hand this land back at its increased value? The whole doctrine of pre-emption has gone by the board. It is bad social business to tie the hands of the local authority and say that they must offer to resell to a proprietor land which that proprietor has misused by allowing it to bear slum property. I can imagine circumstances where it is absolutely necessary that the proprietor should not get his land offered to him. I gave an instance in Committee where the Corporation of Glasgow, in a district which the hon. and gallant Gentleman 1156 knows, desires to clear slums. If they cleared these slums, they might not desire to build houses on the site, and might indeed want to sell the site again to the Clyde Trust. It might be in the public interest, indeed, that some Corporation department or public utility corporation in Glasgow should use the land for industrial or social purposes; but if this Amendment were carried, it would tie the hands of the local authority and compel them to offer this property for resale to a proprietor who, presumably, had misused it by allowing slums to grow up. Because no injustice whatever will be suffered by the proprietor of the land, who will get at least housing site value for it, the Government cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. MacROBERT
This Amendment was proposed in Committee, and the Under-Secretary, no doubt impressed by the arguments he then heard, said that he would refer the matter to the Law Officers. I would like to know what has been the result of that reference. The position is not as indicated by the Under-Secretary, that we think we are backing an outsider. This is a genuine and real Amendment. If the argument of the Under-Secretary were correct, I agree that it is a bad Amendment. If you were dealing only with the case of owners who had misused their property, as he suggested, I would probably agree with him, but we are not dealing with such a case now. We are dealing with land which is taken because of the narrowness of the streets. There is no fault of the owner who happens to buy property in a particular street which is too narrow. The same result would follow from property which was purchased by the local authority, and which had no insanitary dwelling houses on it at all. Under this Bill, as I understand, local authorities have power when purchasing certain insanitary buildings to purchase compulsorily other buildings which are not insanitary.
§ Mr. MacROBERT
Exactly, at, market value at that particular date, with certain conditions under various Acts of Parliament which do not give them the full market value. They do not get the value in the open market by reason of certain statutory restrictions. Apart 1157 from that, the point is, why should local authorities be allowed to deal in land in that way and make a profit? A land owner may have two properties; on one he may suffer a great loss by reason of the action of the local authority, and if there is any profit going on the other property, why should the local authority make it? Why should they get it both ways? They give a small price for one property, and as regards the other, they take it and go into the open market and then find that there is a demand for that particular locality for some other purpose, it may be a garage or a cinema. Wily should the local authority have this advantage? They did not buy it in the open market. No question of pre-emption arises here, because they take the land compulsorily. I know that the view of some hon. Members opposite is that a landowner should have no rights at all. Meanwhile, that is not the position of the Government Front Bench, and that is not the view presented in this Bill. The Bill proposes to recognise the rights of owners, and we are taking the Bill upon that footing. That being so, I suggest that this Amendment, Which was moved in Committee, which was pressed there, and which was to be referred to the Law Officers, should be accepted. I ask the Government to reconsider the position, for I am sure that if they consulted the Law Officers, they might come to a different view.
§ Mr. MacROBERT
It is suggested that this Amendment is the result of second thoughts on our part. The last Amendment from the Government, however, was entirely a matter of second thoughts, because they completely changed their attitude from their attitude in Committee. Second thoughts sometimes are the best, and in this particular case, we think that this is a good and fair Amendment to make.
§ Amendment negatived.