§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is a fortunate coincidence that this week the originator of our legislation on town planning, Mr. John Burns, is to be honoured for the work he did in that sphere by the Garden City and Town Planning Association. It is almost exactly 22 years ago since Mr. Burns introduced the Housing and Town Planning Act of that year and laid the foundation of the town planning development which has taken place since. I should like to quote some of Mr. Burns' words on the Second Reading of that Bill. He said:This is a new departure in the legislation of this country. I regret that it has come so late. No one can go through the East End of London, or to places like Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, and see the effect both on the physique, moral, happiness and comfort of men, women and children through lack of some such condition as this 100, or at least 50, years ago but will come to one definite conclusion that, late as it is, it is better late than never, and that the House of Commons should not lose this opportunity of giving to communities, especially growing and industrial communities, the opportunity of consciously shaping their own development in a better way than has occurred in the past"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1909; col. 736, Vol. 3.]Since Mr. Burns made his speech in 1909 a great many things have happened. The task of remedying and preventing the evil effects of bad housing has been made a good deal more difficult by the intervention of the great War, and in another respect at least we have greater cause for alarm than Mr. Burns had. Desecration threatens to-day not merely the towns but the countryside of England, with all that quiet beauty to which all of us are attached. The object of the present Bill is to carry a stage further the work begun by Mr. Burns in 1909 and to add a further stage to the Government housing and development policy. When I introduced the Housing 194 Bill of last year, I made it clear that further legislation would be necessary to fulfil the policy of the Government. That policy must be judged as a whole. Its object is, on the one hand, to secure for the nation the conditions of wise economic development, and, on the other, to provide for the men, women and children of our land the proper conditions for a healthy life. It is indeed a conscious policy of national planning. It is quite clear that one of the first essentials of such a policy must be the erection of sufficient new houses to bring healthy conditions of life within the reach of all. Secondly, it means that the congestion and the slums which have sprung up as the result of lack of foresight and of care in the past should be ended. In the third place, and equally important, we must see to it that by wise, orderly, constructive planning now we never repeat the conditions that were created by our forefathers.
There is still a housing shortage. Local authorities have the weapon of the 1924 Act, and the additional weapon of the 1930 Act, with which to tackle these problems, and for the first time it will be possible for local authorities to make a systematic and concerted attack upon the slum problem. There may be some controversy as to what the ultimate results of the five-year programme will be. I do not want to enter into that discussion again to-day, but if it be, as I think I am entitled to assume, that within the next five years this country is going to add 1,000,000 to its stock of houses, the importance of planning becomes clear. It means not only that we shall, by public and private enterprise, provide this large amount of additional new housing accommodation, but that with that will go the building of industrial and commercial buildings, the erection of churches, cinemas, public houses and shops, and all the necessities of modern city life. It means actually that we can look forward in the next five years to a building expenditure from all sources of perhaps from £2,000,000,000 to £3,000,000,000. I submit that with a building programme of that magnitude in front of us, the importance of wise planning is evident to everybody, and, indeed, I regard this Bill as the necessary completion of the housing legislation which is still in operation.
195 The economic loss which will accrue unless we take time by the forelock will be colossal. It is impossible, of course, to measure it with any accuracy. All that we can measure is the cost of past mistakes. It is impossible to know in terms of pounds, shillings, and pence what this country has lost as the result of absence of planning in the past, but it is interesting to note that between 1889 and 1911 the London County Council spent £7,800,000 on street improvements which meant an approximate cost of over £280,000 per mile. It is also interesting to note that in the half century before the War the cost of street widenings and improvements due to lack of planning in the past cost the city of Liverpool £5,000,000, the city of Leeds £2,500,000, and the city of Bradford something over £2,200,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "Per mile."] No, that is their total expenditure on street improvements. If we add to that other consequential economic losses due to the fact that we did not plan in the past, I think it is clear that on economic grounds alone there is need for more comprehensive planning than has taken place in the past.
As I have already indicated, what Mr. Burns primarily had in mind was the growing, sprawling development of towns, but the problem has become more complicated since his time, and new problems have arisen. Still, a good deal has been done; not perhaps as much as many people would have liked to have seen done. In the first place, town planning is one of the more recent responsibilities cast upon local authorities and calls for special knowledge and a special type of experience, and that experience has had to be gleaned in the last 20 years. I have no doubt that the War and the difficult years following the War put upon the shoulders of local authorities a multitude of problems which they regarded as more urgent, though in the long run and in the ultimate perhaps not so important as that of town planning.
Thirdly, the science and art of town planning has been in process of very rapid development in the last 20 years, and we are beginning now to understand that existing powers are insufficient, that our vision has to be wide enough, 196 and that we must deal with this problem on a rather more comprehensive scale. Yet in recent years—in the years since the War—there has been a very considerable extension of town planning development. In 1919 the number of local authorities who had passed resolutions to prepare schemes was 171, covering a little more than 300,000 acres. Now the number of local authorities who have passed resolutions is 590, covering 6,500,000 acres. Therefore a substantial development has taken place since the War, and it has been combined with a rather wider view taken by a large number of regional planning committees, covering a larger area than that of an individual authority. In that work, I think it may be claimed that the Ministry of Health has always played an active part and done what it could to assist local authorities.
I have already hinted that one of the features of recent years has been the development of regional committees. That, I think, is an expression of the recognition of progressive local authorities that in the matter of planning they must look beyond their own frontiers and learn to co-operate in formulating a plan which covers a larger unit than that of any single local governing authority. It is quite clear now, particularly in view of the recent developments of transport, that the region should be the primary unit rather than the single local authority, and we have to attempt to realise the broad regional planning scheme being filled in in detail by the individual local authorities within the area.
Although town planning legislation is not of very long standing, there have, as a result of experience, been many demands for the extension of planning powers. As the law stands now, planning powers are restricted to land likely to be used for building purposes, but there is a very important problem connected with areas already built upon where demolition may take place, where reconstruction may be put in hand, and where it is especially essential that there should be a properly formulated plan of development. In many cases those already built areas are areas of very great financial and social value to the community. Therefore, demands have been made during past years for an extension of planning powers to built areas. Almost all the large 197 associations representing local authorities, and the associations interested in this matter, have pressed for an extension of planning powers to built areas, and that demand is fortified by the legislation which has been asked for by local authorities. No fewer than 11 local authorities in England and Wales have already obtained Parliamentary powers to plan developed areas, and this Session no fewer than eight authorities are seeking similar powers, and one county council—the Surrey County Council—is seeking planning powers for all the local authorities within the county. That, I think, is an indication of the need for general legislation, in order to obviate the need for individual Bills.
Moreover, there has been during the post-War years a growing demand for extending planning powers to rural areas. It is, on the whole, a post-War demand, arising very largely out of the extension of the means of transport to rural areas, which has made the rural districts far more accessible than they have hitherto been, and a development of transport which has led to an enormous amount of indiscriminate building developments in the countryside. In a way, one cannot complain that this building has taken place, because it has undoubtedly taken a large number of people out of the overcrowded towns to healthier surroundings, but, unfortunately, in doing that it has done something to destroy the beauty of the English countryside and at the same time has created very serious local government problems for the local authorities in those areas. The fact that the Rural Amenities Bill, supported in all quarters of the House, has in two consecutive Sessions by acclamation received its Second Reading, is sufficient proof that there is no division of opinion as to the necessity for extending planning powers to rural areas, in order to prevent the further desecration of rural England.
We are not alone as a nation in realising the importance of this problem. Town and regional planning are a definite part of the national policy of many countries. I do not propose to refer to them in detail, but I would like to give one example from the United States, where great development has taken place in recent years. The city of Chicago enjoys an unsavoury reputation and is 198 known best, perhaps, by the exploits of Big Bill and the leader of the gangsters, whose name I do not profess to be able to pronounce, but Chicago, on a plan laid down by one of the most brilliant town planners who ever lived, has been putting into operation some remarkable schemes, with the result that this city of ill-repute, a city full of very great difficulties, is being transformed from what it used to be into an efficient city and, I am told, into a beautiful city; a city where the expenditure which is being incurred is being returned in assets almost one hundredfold. Let me quote an illustration which bears upon the economic value of wise planning. It is said that the Michigan Avenue improvement cost 16,000,000 dollars. By increasing property values more than 100,000,000 dollars, it has paid for itself six times over. Owners of property who paid special assessments have received back in the increased value of their property 12 dollars for every dollar they have paid towards the improvement, and when the taxes have been adjusted to the new values the city will get an additional revenue of 4,000,000 dollars annually, a sum which will be equal in two years' time to the public's share of the cost. All this in addition to saving the time and promoting the convenience of the 3,000,000 residents of Chicago. That, it seems to me, is sufficient justification for bold and comprehensive town planning schemes and is a challenge to the great cities of this country.
There is one further general aspect of the problem to which I would call attention, and that is the relation between planning and slum clearance and re-housing. As I suggested last year when the Housing Bill of 1930 was before the House, it seems to me that the planning of built-up areas is a necessary corollary of any legislation designed to make a definite attack upon the slums and to arrange for the demolition of slum property. It is of vital importance that the areas which are cleared of slum property should be developed on sound, sane and economical lines and in the re-housing of the people going forth from the slums it is important that the local authorities should act upon a definite plan. As I suggested, if there is to be any substantial volume of building in the next five years, it is highly important that 199 the local authorities should look ahead. I think it is true to say that had town planning been more effectively in operation since the War hundreds of thousands of houses that have been built under the various Housing Acts would have been placed in better positions and would have been better distributed than they have been. I do not know the truth about this statement, but I read the other day of a case where a municipal house built since the War has had to be pulled down to make way for an arterial highway. In any large measure of slum clearance, both from the point of view of dealing with the areas left derelict and of dealing with the new areas to which the people go, there should be comprehensive and effective planning.
I regard planning as an important economic problem and as a means of national economy. It is a measure of reconstruction of first-rate importance. No one will deny that we are to-day suffering from the past. The rush of the industrial revolution and the succeeding generations led to towns being hastily built in a night and a day, without regard to convenience or amenity and without regard to the acknowledged needs of the time in which they were built, and to-day we are burdened with those defects. Our transport problem in the cities is very largely the creation of that higgledy-piggledy building of three-quarters of a century or more ago. Business is handicapped to-day by it. The siteing of our factories and commercial houses is not what it ought to have been, and it could have been enormously improved had we thought first before we built. Transport is impeded and rendered all the more costly. I do not know how much it costs motor cars to get from the West End of London to the docks, but it must mean an enormous amount more money than it ever ought to be. Moreover, the work-people themselves suffer in loss of time, loss of comfort and in unnecessary expenditure of energy because of the enormous distances they have in so many instances to travel to and from their work. That kind of haphazard growth of the past must to-day, in the interests of proper economic development, be superseded by planning and by looking ahead.
I want to say one word on planning and public works. I do not want to mis- 200 lead the House as to my view of the possibilities of town and country planning. The plan of an area bears much the same relation to works as does an architect's plan of a house to the building of the house; but with important differences. Whereas the architect's plan usually provides for what is proposed to be built immediately or in the near future the plan of a town or district has to provide for the distant future as well as for the near future. I have seen phrases in regional planning reports referring to 250 years ahead. In the second place, a town planning scheme, or regional scheme, has not merely to deal with public works but with all kinds of private developments undertaken under private control. The plan is the framework for future development. How rapidly that development takes place is a matter for discussion, but the plan itself is not so much a scheme of work as a background, a foundation, on which future development can take place in a rational way. A plan does not build factories, or lay out parks, or erect buildings, but it gives us the places where these can he more advantageously situated. It does not build a road, but it tells us where the road should be placed for the maximum public convenience. Therefore, while planning is not in itself immediately work providing it provides the possibilities of wise constructive effort in the immediate future.
Let me now say something in regard to the major Clauses of the Bill. The first Clause deals with the extension of planning powers. It is made quite clear that planning shall now be extended to built areas. That is not going to be a simple duty for local authorities, but they will at least enjoy a power of control over the future development of built areas in their cities. It also extends the need for planning to rural areas. I have said sufficient already as to the desirability of extending planning to rural areas. It means that we are enabling the local authorities of the country, individually and jointly, to control the future development of all the land in Great Britain. There has been a development of regional schemes in the last few years, but as the law now stands there can be only one scheme for an area. It. is clear that the region should paint the outlines of the picture, not the details. The region ought to be engaged in regional zoning, 201 in laying down the route of the main arterial roads and the big open spaces, leaving the local areas to be filled in, in harmony with the general plan, by the various local authorities concerned as and when they feel that these developments should take place. It is therefore provided in the Bill that regional committees should make their regional schemes—this is in Clause 3—to be filled in afterwards by local authorities, in Clause 9, with supplementary schemes. It is further laid down in Clause 13 that the details of a scheme can be approved by supplementary orders. That will mean developing regional schemes being filled in as time goes on in accordance with local needs and in accordance with the general picture laid down in the regional scheme.
I must say something about the general development orders. As the law stands at present the owner of a piece of land may build a house on it anywhere he likes provided that he complies with the by-laws in force, whether there is any means of access to the house or not. Some of us know the difficulties that have occurred on this account in certain parts of England. I have in mind Peacehaven on the South Coast and also Moreton near Wallasey, and certain parts of Essex, where developments have taken place in the most hideous manner without any proper means of access to the houses which unsuspecting and innocent persons have bought thinking that they were near the sea. But this sporadic development goes further. It includes the long winding rows of bungalows and petrol stations from our big towns. All that kind of sporadic development is bad from the point of view of the amenities of the district and especially bad from the point of view of local government. I wish the House could appreciate how much more costly is the provision of essential services in this long straggling development along the high roads of our country. It is important that this kind of development should be stopped and that local authorities should be armed with powers to control development. That is the purpose of the general development orders; it gives local authorities power to specify areas in which development shall not take place until the time is ripe and the general development order is issued; and the provision is, I think, in the public interest. I would 202 rather trust local authorities, with all the responsibilities on their shoulders, to say when they thought an area was ripe for development than I would trust the speculative builder. It may seem a rather drastic power, but, in view of our experience of the bungaloid growth of the last few years, it is a power which should be given to local authorities.
It is clear that in exercising this power local authorities should see that various private interests are not unfairly restricted, and it is therefore provided that any person who wishes to undertake any development in an area controlled by a development order may apply to the responsible authority for permission. That will do something to prevent the deliberate restriction of development and at the same time prevent this disorganised development which has been so ugly a feature of post-War years. I think that, broadly, the extension of planning to rural areas will help in controlling this sporadic and disorganised development, and the power which is given in Clause 22 to allow authorities to acquire compulsorily, if need be, frontage land of streets and roads in order to control development, will be all, I think, that is necessary to prevent an extension of this kind of development.
Now a word or two about the Clauses dealing with compensation. In the existing legislation there is the principle accepted that the right to receive compensation is to be excluded in respect of certain kinds of provisions, if those provisions appear to the Minister to be reasonable. That principle is continued and extended in Clause 18 of the Bill. At present it applies to provisions relating to the space above buildings, the height, density and character of buildings, and as nobody appears to know what the "character" of buildings really means, we have tried to set out in clear terms what is meant by that. We have dropped the word "character," and substituted for it size, design, elevation, materials used and the use of the building.
In addition to these matters, there are excluded from compensation provisions prohibiting or restricting operations until a general order is made, and provisions prohibiting or restricting buildings because the land is unsuit- 203 able for them. The classic instance of that is the case of land known to be subject to flooding. Provisions are also to be excluded from compensation prohibiting the use of land for a purpose which is likely to involve danger or injury to the health of the neighbourhood, or be seriously detrimental to it—I have in mind refuse dumps—and provisions limiting the number and prescribing the sites of streets entering a public highway. It is quite clear that where land is permanently unsuited for building, for instance where it is subject to flooding, it should not be used for building, and if people will persist in wanting to use it for building, I see no reason why that should carry compensation. Equally clearly, where land is likely to be used for purposes which are injurious to health or seriously detrimental to a district, I see, again, no reason why, where those uses of the land are forbidden, compensation should be given, more especially as the net effect of development of that kind may well be, if not to destroy, very seriously to diminish the value of surrounding properties. So much for compensation.
I come to the question of betterment and the special improvement charge. Clause 19 deals with the question of betterment. As the law stands now, the local authority may claim one-half of the betterment which accrues from the scheme. I think you may take it, as the law stands now, that the scales are pretty well weighted against the local authority, and I see no reason why a local authority should not, as a result of this scheme, be able to claim 100 per cent. of the betterment, and that is so provided in Clause 19. I am not going to say that the claim for betterment will be made in every case, but I do say that it will be a valuable negotiating weapon in the hands of the local authorities when they are dealing with their schemes. In Clause 37 we are giving a new power—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
There is a provision dealing specially with land used for agricultural purposes, and it is provided in Sub-section (2) of Clause 19 that the betterment charge shall not be enforced in 204 those cases as long as the land continues to be used as agricultural land; but it is also provided that the charge accumulates at a fixed rate of interest., and will become payable when the land ceases to be used for agricultural purposes. The same provision applies to the improvement charge as well. That is a mattes on which, no doubt, there may be some difference of opinion in this House. At present, local authorities have no power to levy a special charge on owners in respect of public improvements other than their powers with regard to betterment, but the Bill proposes, in Clause 27, that if a local authority carries out a public improvement in a planning area, it shall be enabled to levy the whole, or an appropriate part, of the cost on the owners who have actually benefited. Machinery is provided for settling any differences of opinion as between the local authority and the person on whom the charge is to be levied, and appeal machinery has been established with a view to the settlement of those questions. A public improvement in respect of which a special charge may be levied under this Clause is defined so as to include a park or open space and land permanently reserved for purposes which preclude the erection of buildings on the land, except for agricultural purposes. It includes also roads, sewers and water supply, and under this Clause, therefore, it will be open to a local authority, when they acquire, shall we say, an open space, to levy a part of the charge of that on the owners of the land who are benefited by the consequences of the provision of the open space.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The whole or part. I should imagine that where there was a prospect of development in the future, part of the charge would be levied on existing owners. This is, of course, really a form of betterment, and, obviously, it would not be fair to levy both betterment charges and improvement charges on the same property and in respect of the same development, but I think there is something to be said where an improvement does help to improve the property of specific individual owners, that they should be called upon to make some contribution to the cost.
205 One further question to which I wish to refer is that of garden cities and satellite towns. The provision in the Bill is in principle that contained in the existing legislation. In a way, the building of garden cities is something rather separate from town planning, but it is included in town planning for the purpose of convenience and rather than on grounds of logic. If brand new garden cities are to be established and developed successfully, they should be planned properly from the outset. One of our difficulties is that we have not planned from the outset in the past, and, of course, it is equally important that they should be located properly in relation to other areas, and with all the facilities for transport and the provision of essential public services. They should, in a word, be part of properly organised regional schemes. That, I think, is now universally admitted by town planners. There are various types of garden cities and satellite towns which we ought to distinguish. There is the self-contained unit, the garden city with its own economic life, with its own social life, and where the residents are employed within the boundary of their city. That is one. But the satellite town, which is primarily a self-contained dormitory, with its own social life, with no economic life of its own, but which vomits forth its own citizens every morning to return by tube or tram at night, is an entirely different social conception, and so, of course, is the garden suburb, which is virtually part of an existing town primarily laid out for residential purposes.
There is another class which, so far, I think, has not received sufficient attention to have had a special name given to it. It is a form of suburban garden city where both place of working and residence are laid out in pretty close proximity so as to reduce, if not to eliminate, as in the complete garden city, the waste of travelling which still takes place in some of our largest towns. That is an aspect of development which, I think, is worth far closer consideration than it has hitherto received. I do not wish to pretend for one moment that it will be an easy job to pepper this country with garden cities and satellite towns. I do think that where big housing developments are taking place in the large towns, the satellite towns provide 206 a means of more organised and more efficient development than the present sprawling development of existing towns. The garden city with its own economic life is not so easy to establish. After all, we have not commissaires in this country who can order industrial enterprises to settle themselves in a new garden city. It may be unfortunate, but they have to be attracted there by the advantages which are offered, and hitherto the amount of garden city development in this country has not been very considerable. Letchworth, we know, is now pretty well established. Welwyn is in process of becoming established. It is largely at the moment a dormitory city, but it is still struggling to attract to itself industrial enterprises which will enable it to become a full garden city of the type which has its own life, and does not send out its people to work in some other city.
That, I think, is as much as I need say on the principal proposals of the Bill. The Bill is an attempt to deal rationally with the land of the country—rationally with its use. It has very important economic social and aesthetic values. I have tried to outline the economic importance of its provisions, the importance from the point of view of local Government and social service of wise planning, and I need not emphasize the importance of retaining what beauty capitalism has left us in this country—[Interruption.] After all, capitalist enterprises have spoilt most of it. I hope that out of this Bill, with the strengthened powers which will be conferred upon local authorities, we shall be able to get a very considerable speedup in the provision of regional planning schemes and more localised planning schemes.
I hope that it will be possible to discuss the principles of the Bill in Committee with a considerable measure of agreement, for, as I have said, the Rural Amenities Bill did pass this House with general agreement. There are proposals in the Bill with which all Members will not agree. There may be conflicts about interests which are affected by the Bill. But I think I can say that in all quarters of the House we are all desirous of shaping the economic life of this country on lines which will be sound and which will not leave our successors with the problems that we have to face to-day. It is 207 in that spirit that I have brought the Bill before the House. I am prepared to co-operate with all Members of the House in moulding the Bill in such a way that when it leaves this House it shall leave with all the good wishes of every party in the House, and with the hope that all local authorities will carry it fully into operation in the spirit in which the Bill has been conceived.
The opening sentences of the right hon. Gentleman seemed to me to be concerned not so much with the considerations which are brought before us by this Bill as with an endeavour to repair some of the rents in his reputation as a housing administrator which were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) in the course of the Debate yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman even went so far apparently as to try to connect this Bill with the housing policy, if it can be so called, of the Government. I submit that a subject of this size and of so far-reaching a character is not one of which we should take so narrow a view. The necessity for this Bill does not arise out of anything that this Government has done or not done; it arises out of conditions which are common to the country, whatever Government may be in office, and it is because all parties have recognised that careful planning beforehand is necessary in the interests of economy, of efficiency and of amenity, that I believe there will be general assent in the 'louse to the main objects and aims of the Bill.
When I say that, and that we on these benches do not propose to offer any opposition to the Second Reading, I hope it will not be taken that we think the Bill is perfect as it stands. There are many questions that we shall have to raise, and I have no doubt there are a number of Amendments which we shall have to put forward in Committee. There is certainly one Clause which appears to me to be thoroughly bad and in need of very drastic Amendment. But, nevertheless, there is much in the Bill which undoubtedly might have been the subject of a Bill brought in by the Conservative party if it had occupied the bench opposite. Before I come to the details of the Bill I must make one complaint about the procedure which has been adopted by 208 the Minister. Of the 44 Clauses and seven Schedules which this Bill contains a very large proportion are covered by that part of the long title which describes the Bill as a Billto repeal and re-enact with Amendments the enactments relating to town planning.Of course, the first thing that any hon. Member who comes to the examination of the Bill wants to know is how much is new and how much is merely the reenactment of existing provisions.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Before the Committee stage I hope to be able to furnish the House with something that will make quite clear what is new and what is reenactment.
I am very glad to hear that, but the statement is made very late in the day. I myself have had to go through the whole of this Bill and the whole of the Act of 1925 and the Town Planning Sections of the Local Government Act of 1929, and to examine this Bill line by line and word by word in order to see where the right hon. Gentleman had altered existing legislation. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich, with his usual ingenuity and resource, took an easier and simpler way; he wrote to the Minister and asked to be supplied with the information, and the right hon. Gentleman very obligingly did send my right hon. Friend a marked copy, which I have here. I appreciate the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend, but it came too late for my purpose. I do suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might have extended to the whole House the favour which he, on request, offered to my right hon. Friend, and that it would have made the task of Members who wished to see what the right hon. Gentleman is proposing a great deal easier and simpler if they had had the White Paper which we are now promised before the Committee stage.
This subject of town planning, as it has incorrectly been called in the past, is one in which I have long felt a very great interest, and that for the simple reason that in 1911, two years after the introduction of Mr. Burns's Act, I was the first chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the Birmingham City Council, and it fell to my lot, therefore, to be responsible for the preparation of several 209 of the early schemes of town planning which were applied to the then recently included outlying areas of that city. That was 20 years ago. But it did give me an opportunity of acquiring a good deal of experience of the actual problems which face anyone who has to work a town planning scheme. I remember very well that in those early days it was impressed upon my mind that existing legislation was altogether incomplete and inconvenient, because one was constantly brought up against the fact that either included in or adjaoent to areas which were ripe for planning there were spots of ground which were already developed and could not be subject to a town planning scheme.
For instance, in a town like Birmingham, which then had a very large area of agricultural land surrounding it but included in its boundaries, you could plan your arterial roads radiating out from the centre. Of course, when they got to the boundary they stopped, and there was no guarantee that the adjoining authority would ever carry them on. But precisely the same or a very similar difficulty arose at the centre. The centre was a nucleus of large extent and irregular shape. It could not be dealt with by town planning. Consequently, the new arterial roads that we were planning through the land not already developed either came to a complete stop, or else when they reached the central nucleus were constricted into a sort of passage way, which was entirely out of proportion to their more generous dimensions in the open country. That convinced me at a very early stage that it was necessary as soon as possible to extend town planning powers not only to land in course of being or likely to be developed, but to land already developed.
Of course, one could not help seeing another thing. Land that is already developed, that is to say, if you like, the centre of one of our large towns, is not static; it is in constant process of change. There are leases falling in, houses are being pulled down and other buildings are being put up, and so long as there is no ordered plan upon which re-development takes place these changes continually occur and recur without any advance towards a better arrangement of the centre of the town, a more economical or efficient arrangement than that which has grown up purely haphazardly.
210 A good many years later than the time of which I have spoken I became chairman of a committee that had to deal with what were called unhealthy areas, and I saw then that a great deal of mischief had been done in the past by the carrying out of slum clearance schemes without any regard to anything but the actual housing or rehousing. So long as a certain number of people were housed either on the same site or on some other site, that was all that the authorities thought it necessary to consider in carrying through a slum clearance scheme. It was obvious to the members of my committee and to myself that that was the wrong way to work. You ought first of all to have a considered plan for the future arrangement of your space, and then when you carry out the clearance scheme you should make it conform to the plan and so improve arrangements all round.
For that reason I feel that the right hon. Gentleman to-day has worked in the wrong order. He told us that a planning Bill of this kind was a necessary corollary to plans for slum clearance or the re-housing of slum populations. I say that it is a necessary precedent to it, not a corollary. I am sorry that he did not bring in this Bill first and the Act of 1930 afterwards. However, not very much time has elapsed, and I hope it is not too late in this Bill to draw the attention of local authorities to the fact that in any housing operations that they may carry out as a consequence of slum clearance or improvement, they must pay attention not merely to bricks and mortar, but also to questions of transport and of the proper commercial use of the sites at their disposal.
One of the principal aims of the Bill is to extend the powers of local authorities to deal with areas already developed and that proposal we welcome, but we have to deal with the country as well as with the town, and I thought that what the right hon. Gentleman said on that subject was, perhaps, a little calculated to mislead some hon. Members who are not familiar with town-planning. Of course, rural areas can be planned to-day, and, as a matter of fact, are being planned today. It is not that there are no powers to plan rural areas, but that the powers are not adequate to modem conditions. The tremendous increase of activity in 211 road-making which has taken place since the War, and perhaps more than anything else, definite regular services of motor transport along those roads, have brought about a development of rural areas so rapid that it is extremely difficult to point to any land which is not likely to be developed in the near future. An area may be transformed from a remote agricultural and rural area into a new town or a new collection of buildings, arranged, perhaps, without any regard to the surroundings, built with inappropriate materials and offensive elevations, and generally at a cost to the local authorities which is deplorable and which has given rise, in many cases, to very serious local consequences. Therefore, we welcome also the new powers which the Bill will give to local authorities in connection with the country.
Among these powers is one, I understand, specially designed to prevent the "ribbon" development which is so deplorable. This provision gives a local authority power to acquire the land abutting on some of these roads. They can acquire that land by agreement, or, if necessary, by compulsion, and, if that power he utilised, then I think it will be possible for some of these new roads to be laid out in a manner far superior to that which we see now. At present, owing to unrestricted development, a new arterial road is often built up on either side with small houses, with the natural result that the road, which is wide enough to begin with, becomes blocked with vehicles which never ought to be allowed to stand there, and the road itself becomes a thing offensive to the eye, instead of being a thing of beauty. I believe that, at any rate in many cases, a far better development of the frontages of these large roads would be to keep a strip on either side of the road free from building altogether, and to provide subsidiary roads, parallel with the main road, along which building might take place, and where a great deal of what may be called local traffic would be confined, leaving the larger roads free for the higher speed traffic which is now so much blocked by development along the sides of the chief roads.
I welcome also the provision which enables local authorities actually to reserve either from building altogether, or 212 from building except under specific restrictions, areas of land which have not yet been developed. That power, if carefully and wisely used, ought to give local authorities the opportunity to concentrate development which must take place into smaller areas, instead of spreading it out on these great lengths, which means that public services have to be provided. Gas has to be laid, water has to be laid, electricity has to be laid, streets have to be lighted and policed—all these things have to be done, although the number of houses affected may be comparatively small and could have been concentrated into a smaller space, not merely with advantage in the way of economy to the authority, but, I venture to say, with advantage also to the amenities of the inhabitants of those houses. That is an excellent provision, and one which, I think, will receive general assent. I welcome, too, the provision under which local authorities are now to be allowed definitely to control the elevation of buildings. It is true that they have already power to control the character of buildings, but "character" is a more or less vague and indefinite term, and it has not been made at all clear or certain that local authorities had the power to control elevations. If that power is now to be used, I hope that local authorities will make use of the services of trained architects who are, I know, ready, on most favourable terms, to assist them in these matters. If they do so, then I hope for something much better in the way of elevations than those which we have seen in so many cases in the past.
There is one question arising out of Clause 14 to which I would like an answer. Where land is to be reserved from building, pending the issue of a general development order, will that reservation apply to public departments as well as to private individuals? If a local authority desires to keep a certain area of land permanently rural or agricultural in character, in its neighbourhood, would it be possible, let us say, for the Air Ministry to come down and plant an aerodrome in the middle of that area, bringing along with it all the people employed in the aerodrome and the accommodation for those people, and frequently, in that way, interfering not merely with the appearance of the place but also with the economic relations of the surrounding population? That is a 213 question of some interest to the local authorities, and I hope we may have an answer to it before the close of the Debate.
With regard to Clause 15, I wish to reserve my judgment for the present upon its effect. Clause 14 allows the reservation of areas from building, or from building subject to restrictions, pending the issue of a general development order, but under Clause 15 any person may make an application to be allowed to go on with development upon such an area in spite of the fact that a scheme reserving it has been passed. Although safeguards have been inserted to prevent permission being given to such individuals improperly, nevertheless I do not at the moment feel completely satisfied that Clause 15 is not opening the door to the possibility of a complete upset of all the provisions contained in Clause 14, and that, in turn, is a Clause which will have to be very carefully examined in Committee. I turn for a moment to Clause 7, and I wish to raise a point on that Clause with reference to the powers given to the Minister under this Bill. I recollect that when I was Minister of Health a certain amount of criticism was directed against provisions in some of the Measures which I had to introduce, on the ground that those provisions gave the Minister too much power. I thought I had hit on the happy mean in this matter as far as my Measures were concerned, but I am bound to say that in Clause 7 of this Bill I think the Minister proposes to go rather further than he ought to be allowed to go. If the terms of Clause 7 are studied, it will be seen that the Minister, after a scheme has been passed by a local authority, may:on an application made in accordance with the next succeeding sub-section, if he thinks that in the special circumstances of the case a scheme ought to be varied or revoked, himself make a scheme varying or revoking that scheme, and a scheme so made by the Minister shall be deemed to have been prepared or adopted by the authority.What does that mean? If the Minister does not like the scheme which the local authority has approved, not only may he reject that scheme, but he can make a new scheme of his own according to his own ideas, and the scheme, so made or approved by him, is to be deemed to be a scheme passed and approved by the 214 local authority. I think that is going a good deal further than anything which I ever contemplated in the way of bureaucracy, and the Minister will have to justify that proposal, if he can, when it comes into Committee. He may say that he can only do this on an application. He can do it on an applicationby any authority who are a responsible authority, or by any joint committee, or by any other authority or person who appear to the Minister to be concerned.May I say, in passing, that this is an extension of an existing provision, because under the old Act the Minister had power to revoke a scheme but no power to vary it, but I would point out that there is nothing in this Clause to say that the variation introduced by the Minister shall be the variation suggested by the person who makes the application. I take it from the wording of the Clause, as it stands, that any person who appears to the Minister to be concerned can make an application to the Minister to vary a scheme, and that the Minister can vary the scheme, not as that person asks, but in any way the Minister thinks fit. That appears to be a matter which will have to be examined very carefully in Committee. I also want to ask a question, with regard to Clause 8, Subsection (4), under which an applicant who has been offered compensation by the local authority on account of their refusal to entertain his application for an interim development order, may appeal to the Minister, and the Minister, after taking into consideration the offer made by the authority, may allow the appeal subject to such conditions as he thinks proper to impose. I wish to know whether that Sub-section allows the Minister to increase the contribution which the local authority have offered to make.
I come to some rather more controversial matters, namely, Clauses 17 to 21, which deal with compensation and betterment. I am bound to say that I think the Minister dealt with them rather cavalierly and lightly, but he showed by what he did say that he was quite aware that controversy was likely to arise on these. Clauses. The first point which I wish to make is that under the existing legislation—the 1909 Act—compensation could be claimed by a. person who considered that his property was injuriously affected by the making of a scheme. 215 Now those words have been altered, and it is proposed that compensation should only arise from the coming into operation of any provision contained in a scheme. I am surprised that the Minister should have passed over that question and given us no explanation and no reason why the change has been made, and I hope that in the course of the Debate we shall hear the reason for this change and an explanation of its effect.The coming into operation of any provision contained in a scheme"—what does it mean? When does a provision in a scheme come into operation? I will give two instances to show what I mean. Suppose that a local authority schedules a piece of land and says, "This piece of land is not to be built on in the future," the moment the scheme becomes effective, I imagine that that provision comes into operation, and it will be open, therefore, I presume, to a person to put in a claim and say, "My property has been injured because I am not now allowed to build on what previously I was allowed to build on." But suppose that the plan lays down the site of a road; as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, there is a lot of difference between planning the site of a road and executing the works of the road. The road is not made and may not be made for 250 years. Has the provision come into operation when the plan is made, or does it not come into operation until the works are executed? I think that is a very important question, because evidently the question as to when compensation arises is covered by the interpretation to be put upon those words:the coming into operation of any provision contained in a scheme.I think we are entitled to a more complete explanation than anything that has been heard from the Minister this afternoon.
In Clause 18 we have a very considerable extension of the existing power of the Minister to make a declaration that certain provisions in a town planning scheme shall be excluded from compensation. I am not objecting to the principle here at all. I approved of the principle as it was laid down in the original Act, and now that the powers which are given to local authorities are extended, I think it is quite right and reasonable that the 216 powers of the Minister should also be extended to exclude certain things from compensation, provided that reasonable safeguards are observed, such as those which are provided in Sub-section (2). But while some of these provisions, I think, are reasonable, and I should not offer any opposition to them, there is one which I think requires a little further attention, and that is the one which is marked "(d)" in Sub-section (1) of Clause 18. That is the provision whichprohibits or restricts building operations only pending the coming into operation of a general development order.I can imagine cases where that would inflict very considerable hardship. After all, the owner of a property is not excluded now from compensation by a provision of this kind. He, therefore, may have bought his property on the assumption that the present state of affairs will continue. If you bring in a new provision like this, I think it ought really to be taken into account that people have not had notice of it, and in the case where a man has committed himself and has bought property on the reasonable assumption that he would be allowed to develop it in a particular way, I think it is hardly reasonable to say that he should be excluded from all possible compensation by a declaration of the Minister. I hope, therefore, that that particular provision at any rate will come under the consideration of the Committee, and that some elasticity will be allowed in a case such as that which I have cited.
I come to the Clause which I described in the beginning of my observations as thoroughly bad—I mean Clause 19. There, again, I am absolutely astonished that the Minister should have thought that he could pass over one of the most important Sub-sections in the whole of this Bill without a single word of explanation to the House. I really did not think that that was treating the House with the respect that is due to it. It is only because I interrupted him and asked particularly for an explanation that we had what was really no explanation at all, but merely a recital of what was in Sub-section (2). Let us just consider the changes that are brought into effect by the present Bill. In the first place, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, a claim for betterment may be made up to 100 per cent. instead of up to 50 per cent., as it is at present. I wondered what explanation the Minister 217 would give of the increase, because I remember that Mr. Burns, on the Committee stage of the Bill in 1909, said that half and half seemed to him to be an entirely reasonable arrangement.
The Minister apparently does not think it is an entirely reasonable arrangement, but at least he might have told us why. I thought it was so simple to say why, that I was the more wishing that he would give the reason, but perhaps he will allow me to give the reason that he might have given why 100 per cent. betterment should be paid instead of only 50 per cent. I thought he would say, "Why should you say that only 50 per cent. betterment is to be claimed, when you can get 100 per cent. compensation?" I must say that, put in that manner, it does not sound an altogether unreasonable proposition, but if that be the reason that would he given by the Minister, I want to know why, if he wants to put the two things on an equality, he uses different words. If there is to be equality of treatment, why not identity of wording? If he will look at Clause 17, line 18, he will see that the owner may make a claim for "compensation in respect of the injurious affection"—not a claim for compensation to the amount of the injurious affection, but in respect of it. When it comes to betterment, then the authority may claim from the person whose property is so increased in value the amount of that increase. I leave it at that at the moment, and only say that if the argument is to be that there is to be perfect equality on both sides I do not see in reason why different wording should be employed in the one case from what is employed in the other.
I want to ask another question. I am not going to put this in the least on moral grounds, but merely as a question of expediency, as to whether it is desirable to take away from an owner all inducement so to alter the use of his property as to put it to the use in which he may get the most out of it; in other words, to make the most efficient use of the property that he can. Is it expedient, I say, to take away from him all inducement to do that?
Yes. Suppose that a property is being used for one purpose to-day, but, by the coming into operation of a provision in a scheme, its value is increased because it can now be used for another purpose, then is it expedient to take away from the owner all inducement to use it for that purpose by taking away from him any possible benefit which might accrue from the change of user? Have I made that clear?
Very well. I think the right hon. Gentleman gave us some illustrations from the United States, from Chicago, and I could give similar illustrations from New York City and other cities in America. There, a great deal of what we call town planning has been carried out in large cities, not merely with the approval but even at the suggestion of owners of property; and why? Because it has produced benefit for them, it has increased their income, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in one particular case the owners had received $12 for every dollar that they had spent. I am not arguing that 50 per cent. is necessarily the right proportion to reserve, but I want to suggest to the House that they should not, in their anxiety to prevent anybody making a profit, defeat their own purpose, because it is to the interest not merely of the individual but of the whole community that the aggregate value of the property in an area should be as high as possible, and you cannot get that value increased, and you will not get that increase under a town plan, unless you get the willing co-operation and assistance of the owners of the property themselves.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The right hon. Gentleman remarked that in many of these American cities the owners of the property asked for certain improvements to be carried out, but that was because, so long as they were not taking the full value out of the land, they had to pay a very heavy tax in respect of site value, and that was the inducement that forced them to put the land to the best use and to call upon the public authorities to come in and help them.
I do not think that affects the argument. The owners in these cities have been taken into co-operation by the authorities in the zoning, as it is called—a very misleading term, if I may say so—that is to say, an allocation of particular areas to particular uses. You may say, "This area shall be for manufactories, that shall not; this area shall contain commercial offices, that shall contain residential buildings." It has paid them to come into a scheme under which a particular area was definitely reserved for a certain kind of use, and it paid them because, if it was reserved for that use, the value of their property went up, but if the whole of the betterment is to be taken away from them and given to somebody else, they will have no inducement to join in any such schemes, and the planning of our towns will not therefore be carried out. While it is not necessary that 50 per cent. should be the ultimate figure, I most earnestly suggest that it is very undesirable that you should take 100 per cent. of the betterment, because you are seriously going to interfere with the actual progress of town planning.
The hon. Member will have an opportunity later of developing his ideas. There is another point which I would like to make, and it is this: What is it in the case of land which is in the neighbourhood of a large town that makes appreciation in the value of the land? Is it solely the town plan? Of course not. It is the propinquity of a great population. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Very well, that is agreed, but wherever betterment takes place owing to the propinquity of the population but not owing to the town plan, the betterment is going to be left entirely to the owner, but where it happens to be the subject of a plan, there you are going to take the betterment. I think that, as between owner and owner, that is not fair.
§ 5.0 p.m.
The hon. Member at any rate will agree with me there, though I think his remedy might not be exactly the same as mine. He joins with me at any rate in desiring to see some consistency and equality as between one 220 owner and another. There are two other changes contained in the Sub-section which deals with agricultural land. When I first read this Sub-section it seemed to me so extraordinary that I could hardly believe that I had not made a mistake, and I was waiting with interest to hear what the right hon. Gentleman would say about it, in order that I might learn whether there was some catch in it which had escaped me at first. The right hon. Gentleman's silence—his guilty silence—leads me to the conclusion that, after all, I did not make a mistake, and that what is actually proposed here is that in the case of agricultural land the valuation is to be made after the coming into operation of a provision of the scheme, and that the increased value of that land at that time is not to be taken from the owner until the land ceases to be agricultural land, and that during that time interest is to pile up at 5 per cent. or at some rate to be agreed upon by the Treasury. What is the purpose of this provision? Even when I invited the right hon. Gentleman to say something about it, he merely recited what it was and gave no reason for it or explanation of what was in his mind. Once again, in default of any explanation being given, I have to try and think out what tortuous idea might have passed through his brain when he made himself responsible for the Subsection. The only thing I can think of is that he is obsessed with the old idea of some landlord holding up for selfish purposes the development of land which is wanted for the accommodation of people who are short of housing in the neighbourhood. If that be the reason, all I can say is that I cannot imagine any provision which is more calculated to defeat that purpose than this one.
What will happen here? The owner will not part with his land if he is not going to get a profit on the transaction, unless he has some other motive which would have led him to part with it anyhow. If the owner sees that he may make some profit by selling his land, which otherwise he would desire to keep either on account of the amenity of it or because he has lived a long time in the place and does not want to move, he may be tempted to sell it, and the land may become available for development. But 221 if you say to him, "You are not to make any profit by this transaction; all you have to do is to hand over way profit there may be to the local authority," he will not sell until he sees that the price he is going to get is more than the valuation of the betterment plus any interest that may have accumulated in the meantime. The actual result of this provision will be merely to put up the price at which the owner will be willing to sell, and for which he will hold out until he is able to get it.
What a foolish provision, what a senseless provision, what a mad provision is this which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced into this Bill without explanation. Think of the forms of injustice which will be brought about by a provision of this kind. Suppose after the local authority has made its valuation of the supposed betterment upon this agricultural land, which betterment is not to be payable by the owner until he actually sells the property or develops it, and suppose, after all, it turns out that the local authority has made a mistake, and that years afterwards conditions change and the development which has been taking place on that side of the town moves for some reason to the other side of the town, and the land becomes almost derelict. As far as I can see, there is no provision to make amends to the owner for such a mistake, and the land will always be saddled with an imaginary value which will never materialise, but which, according to this Bill, can be charged upon it.
There are other absurdities and injustices which I will not take up the time of the House by entering into; perhaps some of my hon. Friends will draw attention to them. It seems to me that there is only one fair way to deal with this question of betterment: that is, to assess the betterment when the change takes place. Then you are dealing with facts, not with theories; you are dealing with realities, and you can be certain that you are dealing with the betterment that has actually taken place. This idea of the notional betterment which is to be fixed at the time a scheme comes into operation, and which has no relation whatever to the change in the value of the land when it actually changes its user, is one which must certainly go.
222 I come to Clause 27, which proposes to charge upon certain specific owners the public expenditure of local authorities in connection with public improvements. I offer no opposition to that Clause in principle; I agree that it is quite reasonable, and I do not think that any opposition will be offered by the owners of land to a provision which asks them to make some contribution to a public improvement which directly benefits them. You must, however, limit the amount of the charge which can be put upon the owners to at least the amount of the betterment that they have received, and there is no such limitation in this Clause. The Clause says that the whole of the expenditure by the local authorities may be charged upon the owners. There should be some provision to limit that charge to the amount of the aggregate betterment that may be received by the owners upon whom the charge is to be made.
Lastly, I want to say a word or two about the question of garden cities. The right hon. Gentleman treated us to a little discourse of a somewhat discursive character upon garden cities, garden suburbs, and satellite towns, and expressed a somewhat vague aspiration for the increase of communities of this kind. The only thing he forgot to tell us was what the Bill does to help it along. There is one very obvious reason; it is because the Bill does nothing whatever. It merely repeats what is already existing legislation, and there will be widespread disappointment on the part of those who are interested in garden cities that opportunity has not been taken in this Bill at least to lay out some sort of machinery for the multiplication of garden cities in the future. It will be remembered that Cobbett used to call London the great Wen, and the fact is that there is an economic limit to the extension and expansion of a great town. There comes a time when its further expansion goes, on almost against its will, and every further expansion makes an altogether disproportionate increase in the expense, of carrying on the services in that town. If we could by legislation limit the growth of our great towns, it would be a good thing to do. It is not possible, but what we at least might do is to try and relieve the pressure that continually goes on to expand our great towns by founding new towns on the lines of those at Letchworth 223 and Welwyn. These towns were founded by the enterprise, foresight and courage of a few individuals. The name of the late Sir Ebenezer Howard must always be associated with the idea of garden cities, and I would like to pay my tribute of admiration to Sir Theodore Chambers for his long and devoted work in developing the garden city of Welwyn.
It is obvious that we cannot rely upon a sufficient supply of men who have at once the talent, the leisure, and the will to devote themselves to work of that kind, and, if we are to make any progress in the founding of new cities on properly planned lines, we must have some special machinery which can be made use of for that purpose. I rather hoped that in this Bill, especially after some of the 'speeches that have been made by Members of the party opposite, we should have had some effort to set up machinery of that kind. I do not pretend for a moment that this is the appropriate time for starting new enterprises of that sort. Undoubtedly they will have to wait, but in a Bill of this sort there should certainly be some provision for some permanent machinery which should have the function and the power to look about and search for and select suitable sites for the purpose, and ultimately be provided with the necessary finance with which to start new cities. Amendments to deal with this would hardly be within the scope of the Bill. Arrangements of that kind ought to have been introduced by the Government, and not left to the private Member. I regret that in a Measure of this kind there has not been some more productive and fruitful thinking on a subject which I believe to be of great importance to the housing of the people in the future and to the proper development of the country and the towns.
I am very glad to-day, especially after having had a different experience yesterday, to be able to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most whole-heartedly on the Bill which he has presented to us to-day. It is a Bill which for many years has been asked for by local authorities and by everybody connected with town planning. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) said, it is a pity it was not introduced a few years ago, I congratulate the right hon. Gen- 224 tleman the more whole-heartedly because we know how overburdened the Government's legislative programme is, and the country ought to thank him for bringing in a Bill which has no votes in it, and which is only brought in because the Government believe it will contribute to the efficiency, economy and amenity of the country. The right hon. Gentleman said that the deplorable state of our great cities is due to capitalism. In one sense that is true. It is due to the method pursued during the last century, a method generally called laissez faire, which was the belief that, if every individual were allowed to do exactly what seemed advantageous to him under a sense of enlightened self-interest, it would inure to the general advantage. There is no greater monument to the falsehood of that theory than our great cities as they exist to-day, and that is why we welcome this Bill, for what the right hon. Gentleman calls the conscious policy of national development.
It was about the beginning of this century, after certain other countries had already begun town planning, that Sir Ebenezer Howard and others in this country began to preach to us what was being done abroad and what ought to be done here. In 1909 we had the Act of Mr. John Burns, and immediately after that a certain local authority, Birmingham, under the leadership of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston, gave a very fine lead to the country in town planning, for which we all owe him a real debt of gratitude. What strikes anybody who travels in this country and on the Continent is the painful difference between our great cities and the great cities of a country like, say, Germany, where I frequently go on business. One naturally asks why their cities are beautiful, convenient and well-planned, and present such a striking contrast with our own. Is there anything in this Bill which will enable us to get the same sort of results as they do? I have consulted experts on this matter, and it seems to me that there are three main reasons why their towns are so much more attractive than ours.
The first reason is one which cannot be affected by legislation, it is the taste of the public. If we contrast individual buildings there, such as factories, houses, and railway stations, with individual buildings in this country, we find there 225 is almost as great a contrast as between the cities themselves. The second reason is probably the system under which the German municipalities govern. The burgomaster system, by which highly-trained and able men have a long period in control of cities, a period during which they can carry through improvements and see the results, has undoubtedly been effective in giving more drive to town planning than we have had in this country. That, again, is something which we cannot very well put into a town-planning Bill, though I should like to see some movement in that direction in local government here. The third reason is that in Germany they have had for the last 50 years, under their building code, very wide powers over building. No building can be put up without a permit from the authorities, who have wide powers as to refusing permission for the erection of any building. That, again, is a power which the Governmment have not had the courage to put into this Bill—I do not know whether they desired to put it in—but it would mean giving powers to local authorities and the Minister such as this country would hardly be prepared to agree to. Then, again, there are certain advantages in the fact that the local authorities in Germany are free to do anything which is not specifically prohibited, and they have made some interesting experiments, such as the Lex Adickes, an important department in town planning which, however, does not seem to have been entirely successful. I notice that example is not adopted in this Bill. As regards Germany, it would seem to be very difficult to learn anything from them which we could usefully copy by means of legislation.
In the case of the United States there is more that we can learn as the right hon. Gentleman said, the initiative in town planning in the United States has not come from the local authorities or the central government but has come almost entirely from the business community—to a large extent from what they call the real estate men, or realtors. The business community have taken a very active part in zoning and town planning, and many chambers of commerce have actually paid the cost of the original planning, and have felt it to be worth while to do so. In America it is regarded 226 as rather retrograde for a city not to have a zoning scheme and a planning scheme. The reason for that is that the Americans regard town planning as "a business proposition." The right hon. Gentleman has given us the rather surprising results achieved in Chicago in the way of increment of land value due to town planning. Kansas City, too, is well known for the interest it has taken in town planning. They have a law of their own there under which, when they want to make a public improvement, they appoint a jury of six independent land owners, who first of all assess the value of the land that is taken away, if it is an open space, and the compensation that is due. They then estimate the betterment, estimate what are the advantages to the city and to all the individual land owners concerned, and make an award saying how this betterment is to be paid. Of the first 5,000,000 dollars worth done in that way—the first £1,000,000 worth—15 per cent. was assessed on the city and 85 per cent. on the land owners—assessed by other land owners. Of the second £1,000,000 worth 13 per cent. was assessed on the city. That is a very different system of getting an open space from the method we know in Manchester. We have spent a great deal on open spaces, and every single penny of it has come out of the pockets of the ratepayers. In the English way the moment you have bought and sterilised an open space as regards buildings a building value is immediately transferred to the neighbouring land owners. A report of the Real Estate Board dealing with open spaces in Kansas saysThe increase in value from these improvements vastly exceeded the assessments.That is, the assessments made on the other land owners; and they finish up by saying:This was a worth-while investment from the public point of view.There is something we can learn from the United States, and I think that in this Bill we have learned it. Though I do not pretend to understand the technicalities of the compensation and betterment Clauses as well as the right hon. Gentleman, as far as I do understand them they are very much on the American lines and enable us to get very much the same results as obtain there, not by 227 any autocratic action by the State but on a valuation by independent land owners.
§ Miss WILKINSON
Surely the hon. Gentleman would not suggest that we should adopt the Kansas land valuation system here? It would be giving enormous presents to land owners.
Though I am not fully informed on all the details of the system I am told on very high authority that they have got their open spaces on these terms, and personally I do not consider that a scandalous thing to happen.
§ Captain RONALD HENDERSON
The facts are exactly as stated by the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) but, unfortunately, in carrying out the scheme they happened to employ citizens whose standard of honesty was not up to what we could rely upon getting in this country. That, however, does not in the least militate against the general benefits of the scheme.
Another point about the United States is that in their big towns they have made provision for what they call park ways, great roads where the land from 100 feet to 100 yards on each side is purchased by the local authorities and where the houses are set back. Those park ways have provided very fine main avenues at practically no cost to the rates. That is a thing we are only just beginning in this country.
There are one or two points in the Bill itself with which I wish to deal. In Clause 1, perhaps the most important Clause in the Bill, there is one rather odd point. A scheme may be made:with the general object of securing the proper development of the land …. and of protecting rural amenities.I would paint out that the word is "and" and not "or." In Manchester some of the central parts of the city are conspicuously lacking in rural amenities, and if I have not read the Clause wrongly I hope the Minister will be able to assure me that we shall have an opportunity of planning areas even where rural amenities are lacking. I agree almost entirely with what was said by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston about garden cities, and I very much regret that the Bill is unhelpful in this matter, 228 because I know the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to encourage the growth of garden cities. I do not know whether town planners have made up their minds on what is the ideal size for a city, but we have all decided that cities of the size of Manchester or Birmingham, let alone London, are far too large.
The right hon. Gentleman said it was very little use trying to stop London from growing. That effort has already been made. In the days of Queen Elizabeth, when the population was only about 100,000, an Act was passed with a view to reforming the "mischiefs and inconveniences" arising from the too rapid growth of houses. Queen Elizabeth, being apparently a very drastic lady, proceeded to say that no dwelling was to be built in the City of London or the City of Westminster or within three miles of the walls. There is, however, no record of what happened. Cromwell was even more drastic, and passed another law saying that no dwelling was to be built within either city or within 10 miles of the walls. But even Cromwell was not able to enforce such a drastic provision. I understand that even Moscow has increased its population by 1,000,000 during the past 10 years. Apparently we are up against a tough proposition. London is increasing by about 70,000 population a year; its growth every year is almost as great as the total population of the city in the days of Queen Elizabeth, who then thought it dangerously large and said that it ought to be stopped from growing. However, nobody in the world apparently yet knows how to prevent great cities from becoming greater.
The only practical thing to do to encourage garden cities, and it is unfortunate that there is nothing in this Bill to help us in that direction. Cannot the Government do what is being strongly urged by many people interested in town planning and garden cities, and that is, have a special inquiry into garden cities? Why is it that a city like Welwyn is growing slowly and finds it hard to attract industries? Why is it that industries all go to Slough, instead of to Welwyn, where everything is beautifully planned? The right hon. Gentleman has suggested the introduction of some special permanent machinery, and I suggest that there should be an expert inquiry into the matter. For one thing, 229 these cities find it very hard to get finance on reasonable terms. The Public Works Loan Board does advance money on reasonable terms, but with very stringent provisions as regards security. On other schemes of national development we pour out money like water, but in the case of garden cities we demand a security which is really quite unnecessarily high. I do not know whether anything can be done administratively about that, or whether it means that legislation will have to be passed. If we do not know what to do about garden cities we do not quite know whether it is the right thing to take bare patches of land and build there, or whether it is better to take small towns which are well planned and in good centres and encourage them to grow. There is something to be said for that alternative. I suggest that we might have an inquiry into this point.
There is one other point which is not actually dealt with in the Bill but which is nevertheless very relevant. I had the honour of introducing in this House the Rights of Way Bill designed to preserve one particular form of rural amenities. That Bill got a Second Reading in this House, and there was no opposition. I do not see anything in this Bill which will help in regard to that matter, although I think it would be possible to insert Clauses dealing with rights of way. I would like to ask the Minister of Health whether it would be possible to include in this Measure the very simple provisions of the Bill which I introduced, or, if not, whether he can promise to give facilities for the Rights of Way Bill. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give careful consideration to that matter.
I will not go into any points of detail. I think the Minister has shown quite clearly that certain points in this Measure will require consideration and amendment in Committee, but, broadly speaking—I have had the opportunity of consulting many local authorities who are interested in town planning—I do not think there is any doubt that this Bill has been devised and has been made as effective as possible to meet the demands of local authorities and give them the necessary powers. I have no doubt that if this Bill, on its present lines, is passed, it will be the best Town Plan- 230 ning Act existing in any country in the world. If we succeed in getting this Measure placed on the Statute Book, it will be a real achievement, and I hope that the Minister of Health will spare no pains to get his Measure through the Committee and thus place something on the Statute Book which will be of enduring value to the country.
§ Mr. NOEL BAKER
I think this is a very good Bill, and I agree with the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) that, if it becomes an Act, it will be one of the best Town Planning Acts which exists in any country. I hope it will mark a revolution in public thinking on this vital matter. Up to the present time we have been gradually losing little by little much of that proud national position which previous generations have left us, and yet, when we saw the foul hand of the despoiler descending on the countryside, we heaved a sigh and accepted it as if it were the hand of God. I think our attitude is aptly described in "Paradise Lost" in the lines:Farewell happy fields,Where joy for ever dwells: Hail, horrors, hail.I hope this Bill will be the means of shaking the nation from the despairing lethargy into which it has fallen. It constitutes a definite effort to grapple with the whole of this problem, and to preserve for future generations the natural and created beauty of England which our forefathers have produced. What could be more vitally important than that for every man, woman and child in our midst, and what could be more tragic than what has happened to that created beauty in recent years? I hope that this Bill will arouse the national conscience, because I believe that that is absolutely indispensable if this Measure is to achieve the best results. The purpose of the Bill is to secure better town and country planning for every part of the country, and the case which has been made out for that is absolutely overwhelming. It is necessary on the grounds of better transport and traffic control and as the forerunner of the taxation of land values. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) said that proposals are necessary to secure the efficient working of local government and the provision of essential services for the people and the con- 231 venience of the public. On all these grounds, an efficient system of town and country planning is indispensable. No question can concern the public more as a whole than the buildings which are to be put up in the cities, towns and villages in which the people have to live. It is for that reason that I think we should develop the principle laid down in the Clauses proposed by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston which give power to the local authorities to control the designs and elevation of the buildings and the materials to be used.
There could be nothing more foolish, wasteful, or anti-social than to allow, as we have allowed in the past, complete liberty to jerry builders to erect any kind of architectural atrocity they liked. Every hon. Member of this House knows what I have in mind, but perhaps they are not all aware that many of those atrocities are constructed by the same method under plans and specifications provided for the builder in the same way, probably as ladies used to make their dresses from paper patterns and drawings in the supplement of a weekly periodical. Every hon. Member knows the shudder which he feels when he sees amid country scenery notices put up: "Building plots for sale." Buildings of the right kind do not destroy the beauty of the country. Hon. Members must have made expeditions to see cities, towns, and villages which are so beautiful that they have become the Mecca of pilgrims from all around the world. I hope that the provision in this Bill for public control of the design and elevation of buildings will prove to be a vital and decisive step towards giving us a higher conception of architectural beauty. This is a question of taste and education, and I am sure that very much more can be done in this direction by public control.
Last week I visited Tenby, which is one of the most beautiful seaside towns on the south coast of Wales. The surroundings of that town are of great natural beauty, and it possesses a coast line hardly equalled in the world for its beauty and dignity. A year or two ago an enterprising adventurer went there and built an amusement palace, five storeys high, which can be seen from any quarter from which one may look, and which, when 232 it is illuminated, can be seen for many miles around; and it has absolutely ruined the prospects of Tenby. Under this Bill such an atrocity could have been prevented, and I hope the Minister will insist that the local authorities shall set up committees consisting of architectural experts who will be able to control the designs of every building put up and who will try to ensure that we obtain a kind of architecture worthy of our past traditions. If we can do that, I believe that, as the schemes succeed one after the other, we shall by this process improve architecture throughout the country.
May I now say a word or two about the way in which I think this Bill might be made stronger and about things which it does not contain. I wish that in Clause 5, Sub-section (1), instead of saying thatA local authority may, by resolution, decideit had been laid down that a local authority must decide. Instead of laying down that a local authority may control the designs, I think it should be provided that they must control the designs. I know that the Minister has stated that there is such a power in the Bill, and I am prepared to accept his assurances that that is so. I would like to ask whether it is possible to put the word "must," instead of the word "may," into that Clause. I hope that the Minister will use ruthlessly the powers conferred under Clauses 7 and 29, and that he will make the acceptance of the schemes compulsory upon local authorities throughout the country. I think the Bill ought to contain a Clause giving power to local authorities to inflict a penalty upon landowners who do not observe the regulations and resolutions passed by the local authority before the scheme has actually been made. I believe there are on record instances of landlords who have disregarded such resolutions in the past, and where certain developments have gone on in defiance of those resolutions until they have become a fait accompli.
I wish the Minister had made a compulsory provision for a minimum amount of open spaces and playing fields for every thousand of the population. That is a matter which lies very near to my 233 heart. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that there is only one football ground for every 8,000 of the population, one cricket ground for every 11,000, one grass tennis court for every 6,000, and one bowling green for every 13,000. I am aware that voluntary action has achieved admirable results through such agencies as the National Playing Fields Association, but all this is very inadequate provision to meet the needs of the problem. I ask the Minister to consider whether, on the grounds of public health and the happiness and pleasure of the people throughout the country, he could not insert a Clause placing upon local authorities an absolute obligation to set aside a certain amount of land for open spaces and playing fields. I would like to have seen a Clause in the Bill dealing with poster advertisements. I am aware that such advertisements are not wholly germane to town planning, but at the same time I would like to have seen a Clause in the Bill giving local authorities the right to license poster advertisements and petrol Stations.
I wish, lastly, that the Bill contained something which would give local authorities the power to protect trees and woods. It may be that, under the schemes which are to be drawn up, local authorities will have that power as the Bill stands, but it is not clear. Trees are not scheduled in the First Schedule among the objects with which the Bill is to deal. If there is any doubt on this matter, I hope that some Clause may be inserted to make it clear, and I should like it to be a mandatory Clause, like Clause 18 of the Rural Amenities Bill, which passed its Second Reading a year ago on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young). Every Member of the House must know of appalling examples of wanton destruction of trees. I myself saw in the country only a few weeks ago a magnificent avenue of chestnut trees along a road, where 10 of these trees had been wantonly cut down in order that the owner of a tin garage might make it possible for those coming at high speed down the road to see his atrocity more easily than they would otherwise be able to do. That is the kind of thing which ought to be prevented by mandatory obligations laid 234 upon local authorities by a national movement.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I ask him to correct a flaw in his otherwise perfect speech. That is the slander upon the building fraternity when he referred to jerry-builders and their iniquities. I speak as a builder myself.
§ Mr. NOEL BAKER
I should like to assure my hon. Friend that I do not in any way desire to cast aspersions upon the building profession, but I am sure that he, as well as every other Member of this House, will agree with me that jerry-builders, acting under the law as it is now, have in fact during the last generation inflicted atrocities upon the country. The success of this Bill in the purpose which every Member of the House desires it to fulfil will depend upon the way in which it is administered. Since it is not absolutely compulsory, it will depend upon the powers of the Minister, under Clauses 7 and 29, to take the action which local authorities have not taken. It will impose upon the Minister a very great responsibility and a very great burden. I should like to suggest that the Minister should set up what has been frequently proposed, namely, a National Board of Planning and Amenities, to assist him in his task, to relieve the strain, and to distribute the responsibility which otherwise will fall upon him; and it would be my hope that that Board might be furnished with a full-time amenities director and a full-time staff working under him, in order that the Minister may have a national organ constantly vigilant and constantly at work to see that local authorities are in fact using the powers which they are given by this very important Measure.
What I have said is not meant as criticism of the Bill or of the Minister; it is simply the expression of a hope that my right hon. Friend will strengthen the work which he has laid before the House to-day, by taking power to impose penalties for violation, by controling advertisements, by securing provision for playing fields, and by protecting trees and woods. It may be that in the Bill already the basis exists for what I want. In any case, I submit to the House that this Bill is a great foundation for a national effort to save the heritage which previous generations have left to us. For the first time 235 those who love the natural and created beauty of England will have some hope. I remember the words of a great poetic writer, Mr. D. H. Lawrence, who said that we live in a vast house full of inordinate activities, and the noise and the stench and the dreariness and lack of meaning maddens us so that we do not know what to do. By this Bill the Minister is telling the House, is telling the local authorities, and is telling the nation what they can do, and for that the House and the nation will thank him.
§ Colonel Sir GEORGE COURTHOPE
I wish to join with other speakers in welcoming this Bill so far as its general purpose and intentions are concerned, but I want, in the interests, as I think, of its passage to the Statute Book and of its smooth administration afterwards, to make a few criticisms, and, perhaps I may say, a few suggestions too. Much that I would have said has been said much better than any words of which I am capable by my right hon. Friend who spoke at the begining of the Debate, so that I need only take up the time of the House for a few moments, but I want to refer specially to some of the misgivings which I am afraid this Bill will cause in the minds of people whose co-operation the Minister and everyone else interested in town planning must desire. I would remind the Minister that it is not sufficient, in a matter of this kind, that he may be able to justify or make a good case for any proposal in his Bill. If the Bill is to be a success after reaching the Statute Book, it must secure the good will and the cordial co-operation of everyone concerned, and it will only do that if it is generally accepted as equitable by the people who will come under its provisions.
There are several Clauses in the Bill at present which certainly will not be generally accepted as equitable, although I think it is quite possible that the Minister might be able to make out a very plausible case for them. In particular, I want to refer to Clause 19, which deals with the question of betterment. I am only going to deal with that Clause so far as rural agricultural land is concerned. My right hon. Friend has already criticised Sub-section (2) of the Clause, but I want to give one or two actual examples, which are by no means extreme 236 or impossible, in order to show the kind of feeling that the Clause will arouse in the minds of the hundreds of thousands of people who may be affected. I am not thinking now of the great landowners—I do not foresee much difficulty in their case—but of the multitude of smallholders who have purchased relatively small areas of land, and who will be concerned here.
In considering how this betterment charge on agricultural land may operate, let us assume a growing city, with land coming into use for building development on its fringe at a figure of, say, £250 or £300 per acre—a very common experience. Suppose that, under a regional plan, it is decided to stop the casual development of the city's buildings, and to surround it with a green zone; that the result of that decision is to transfer the demand for building sites a mile or two further out beyond the green zone; and that an assessment is put upon the land which by that means is brought within a more immediate prospect of building. That is not unreasonable. This land, worth for agricultural purposes only £20 or £25 an acre, would be assessed at, say, £120 per acre, on the ground that at that time land was selling on the outskirts of the town at at least double that figure. [Interruption.] I see that I have not made myself clear to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary.
I am assuming a town is spreading uncontrolled at present. It comes under a scheme which says that the housing development shall not continue on the present lines, but that there shall be a green zone, say, for the sake of argument, a mile wide; and, therefore, the land a mile further out, immediately beyond that green zone, takes the place of the land on the edge of that green zone as being available for immediate building. The question of betterment will at once come in, and an assessment will be made. But the land which is assessed, or a great deal of it, will not be immediately built upon; it will remain agricultural until it is actually wanted; but the assessment of £120 or £150 an acre will have been made upon it and 5 per cent. interest on £100 per acre or more will begin to pile up as a charge upon that land. I am assuming that the land was worth, say, £25 an acre for agricultural purposes, and is assessed at, shall I say, £125 an acre, 237 giving a round figure of £100 as the betterment assessment. This betterment of £100 an acre would not be actually payable until the land ceased to be used for agricultural purposes and came under building or some other use, but 5 per cent, per annum, that is to say, £5 per acre, would begin to pile up on that land.
It is not unlikely that after the zoning, after the town planning and the creation of this green zone, the development of that city or of its satellites will go in some other direction, and many years may elapse before the land which has been subjected to this assessment, and upon which this charge has been imposed, will actually come in for building. Possibly it never may, and you may get this situation, that land still being used for agricultural purposes, and still worth £25 an acre for those purposes, would at the end of 20 years, have upon it a charge of £100 for betterment plus £100 of accumulated interest. It may be said that that is an extreme case, but sometimes it is easier to make one's criticisms clear by taking extreme cases. I think, myself, that it is not extreme, and that it is very likely that you will find land charged for betterment with a figure actually higher than its value in the market; and that may apply to land which has no immediate prospect of being used for building at all.
What is the position of the mortgagee on that land? Most land in the country now is subject to mortgage. A few years ago, Parliament passed the Agricultural Credits Act, Part I of which set up an Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, which has advanced a good many millions on mortgages on agricultural land. Unless I read the Bill wrongly, these new betterment charges will take precedence of mortgages—
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir G. COURTHOPE
I thought that they would in law, but I spoke subject to correction. In that case you would have this ridiculous situation, that land worth £25 an acre for agricultural purposes, with a mortgage of, say, £15 an acre from a State-aided institution, the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation, would be burdened with a charge of £100, taking priority over that mortgage, in respect of accumulated interest on a betterment charge, and the realisation of the land for building would not take 238 place because the development has switched off into another direction. What is going to happen there? You cannot, because you desire to plan the land, light-heartedly upset the whole mortgage system of the country. I hope the Minister will look into that question, which I believe to be a serious one, and deal with it later in the Debate and that he will regard the whole of this question of betterment and compensation not merely from the point of view of what they can justify but from the point of view of a perfectly proper desire to secure the cordial co-operation of all sections of the public who will be affected by the Bill, and, in order to do so, convince them that it gives them a square deal in every case.
There are one or two other points which, I think, are likely to cause alarm. Certainly local authorities, as they study the Bill, are feeling increasing trepidation as to the very wide over-riding powers that the Minister takes. I would again remind the right hon. Gentleman that, just as the good will of the public is necessary for the good working of a Measure of this kind, so above all things is the good will and confidence of the local authorities who will primarily have to work it. Do not insist on ministerial powers so drastic that they alienate the local authorities. The Minister said we all desire to preserve what beauties capitalism has left us. I do not want to get into controversy on this question, but I should like to repeat a sentence that I heard recently on the subject of the preservation of rural amenities in the countryside. It was this:The great landowners of England made England beautiful. Democracy is failing to keep it so.I do not want to argue how much more true my sentence is than the Minister's, but we will agree that, whether capitalism has left a little beauty or whether the great landowners of the past created the beauty which democracy is now spoiling, we all want to keep what we have got, and, in order to keep what we have got as far as possible, I should like to support the appeal made by the last speaker that in Committee there should be an extension of the Second Schedule and the inclusion in it of certain matters which, it is quite true, town 239 planning authorities have the power to deal with now, but which in all too many cases they do not deal with because their attention is not drawn to them and because there is no obligation to include them in their schemes. One is playing fields, and I should like to add to that an obligation to consider in the schemes sites for places of worship and schools. There have been quite a number of big building developments since the War in which not only playing fields but sites for places of worship and schools have been entirely overlooked. I think all parties will agree that those matters ought to be dealt with in any comprehensive scheme of town or country planning.
I should like to say one final word with regard to trees. I agree entirely that local authorities, and everyone else who has the power to do so, should be encouraged to preserve trees where possible and where they add to the natural beauty and amenities. I want to take the opportunity to say that, through ignorance of the habits of trees, many local authorities are destroying the very trees that they are attempting to preserve. If you go along the main roads in any county you will find many places where roads have been reconstructed and widened and the local authorities, with a worthy desire to preserve the trees—I do not know whether county council or Ministry of Transport—are proposing to include them between the metalled road and the raised footpath and are building up a level of earth two or three, sometimes even four feet round their trunks. No tree will stand it except the willow. It is quite easy in cases of that kind to preserve the trees but you must keep the earth away from the trunk. I say this now, though it is perhaps quite inappropriate to the Second Reading, in the faint hope that what I am saying may reach the ears of some road surveyors who, through ignorance of the habits and requirements of trees, are actually destroying them.
§ Mr. EDE
I should like to join with others who have spoken in congratulating my right hon. Friend on the introduction of this Measure, which is long overdue. I cannot help feeling that in touching the interests of the land, he is, in a matter 240 where all men praise him, encountering the opposition which one must always expect when dealing with this matter. I could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), and the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, have made out a pretty conclusive case that, while private ownership of the land remains, the public control of its development is likely to be very seriously retarded. I certainly think that in all probability their two speeches will become classics for quotation on platforms where nationalisation of land in the public interest is being advocated.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman, in his closing observations, dealt with one or two aspects of town and country planning which are at present of very practical interest. Those who are connected with local authorities and have local authorities from outside coming into their districts to lay out new towns will, I am sure, cordially agree with what he said with regard to the necessity for including in these schemes sites for schools and places of worship. It is very essential in the interests of the new town itself that these matters should be taken into consideration before people are brought down to the new area. One had the amazing experience in Essex of the London County Council erecting thousands of houses without giving the local education authorities any opportunity to provide schools, with the result that, I believe, sometimes for as long as nine or 12 months—so I was informed by the Director of Education—children were running about out of school with no provision made for them.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also dealt with trees, and I very cordially agree with what he said. After all, this kind of Measure has been urgently needed on two or three previous occasions in our history for precisely the same reason that it is urgent to-day. In the course of centuries one comes across certain periods of time in which the ownership of great tracts of land has changed hands. We had such a time at the dissolution of the monasteries. One had a similar experience at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's mind and mine must have been moving on precisely the same lines with regard to this matter, because 241 I wanted to quote, as proof of the necessity for foresight with regard to trees particularly, some words that Cobbett wrote when he was jeering at the Barings for having become the landed gentry of Hampshire out of the profits they had made through the Napoleonic Wars. This is what he said:Sir Thomas, who has supplanted the Duke of Bedford, was to our right while Alexander, who has supplanted Lord Northington, was on our left. The latter has enclosed, as a sort of outwork to his park, a pretty little down called Northington Down in which he has planted here and there a clump of trees. But Mr. Baring, not reflecting that woods are not like funds, to be made at a heat, has planted his trees too large, so that they are covered with moss, are dying at the top and are literally growing downwards instead of upwards. In short, this inclosure and plantation have totally destroyed the beauty of this part of the estate. The down, which was before very beautiful and formed a sort of glacis up to the park pales, is now a marred, ragged, ugly looking thing. The dying trees, which have been planted, long enough for you not to perceive that they have been planted, excite the idea of sterility in the soil. They do injustice to it, for, as a down, it was excellent. Everything that has been clone here is to the injury of the estate and discovers a most shocking want of taste in the projector.The condition of affairs when that was written, rather more than 100 years ago, is very much the condition of affairs that we have to-day, certainly in the counties near London. One result of the War has been that great quantities of land have changed hands and have passed into the possession of people who, no matter what their other merits may be, certainly have none of the traditions that the people from whom they bought it had. I had an amusing experience the other day in a village school. The headmistress had warned the children that the vice-chairman of the county council was likely to be present after the play interval and, as the girls marched by me as I stood at the desk, I thought there must be a dip in the floor, because every girl seemed to lose three or four inches. When I looked over the top of the desk, I found that every girl was curtseying to me as she went by. I recollected one of my sisters having her ears boxed by my father for having curtseyed to someone, to the great disgust of his democratic soul, so I asked that this should be discontinued. "Oh," said the headmistress, "I told them you were the vice-chairman of the county council, and they must have 242 connected you with the people who used to live in the park, because, since they have gone, they have not curtseyed to the newcomers, who made their money in clothes in the East End during the War."
In great parts of the country land is now in the hands of people who have none of the feelings of responsibility with regard to its proper use that the people who acquired it after the Napoleonic Wars have managed to get in the course of the 100 years that have elapsed since. Therefore, I welcome the Measure for as much as it gives us. I should have liked to see it rather stronger but I am bound to say I think, taking everything into consideration, the Minister has given us as much as is possible in the circumstances in which he is placed. I am not at all sure that the epigram which the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) quoted was quite true. I believe that democracy desires to see this country beautiful. One only has to go to one of the ugliest counties to see the desire of democracy for beauty. If you take the county of Durham, which has been so very badly spoilt by industrial development, you find there the desire of democracy for beauty in planning exemplified in the wonderful groups of cottages which the mine workers themselves have erected under the Durham Aged Miners' Homes schemes. The streets of the towns and boroughs of county Durham are a standing memorial to the iniquities of the industrial system of the 19th century, and these little groups of miners' cottages are wonderful examples of the way in which the desire for beauty has remained in the minds of democracy, no matter how bad have been the surroundings in which that democracy has been brought up. I hope that the Minister is going to take steps to see that in the new towns which are being developed, now that industry is changing its venue, the iniquities which are exemplified in county Durham are not allowed to he perpetuated in the south of England and in other parts which are as yet unspoilt.
I speak with some feeling, because I took the trouble during the last week-end to investigate the circumstances in which the slums in my constituency were created. In 1801, the town of South Shields, as it was then, had 11,011 people. It consisted of two small townships, one 243 called South Shields and the other Westoe. South Shields had an area of 91 acres only and upon it 8,108 people were congregated in 1801. That number steadily increased until 1851, when upon those 91 acres, 9,625 people had their homes. It is true that in those days the measurement of land in sea-board towns was, apparently, made from high-water. They have extended the area of that part of the borough by reckoning the area from low-water. But this is not Siam, and not many people live between high-water and low-water, and I do not think the additional acreage which they get now is of very great use from the town planning point of view. In the other township, with 1,748 acres, there were 2,903 people in 1801, and they increased until, in 1851, they numbered 19,349, and in 1891 they had reached the enormous total of 72,445. In 90 years the population of that town had grown from 11,011 to 78,391, everyone of whom was housed upon an area of 1,839 acres, a great part of which was river, dock or railway. The result is that one has there an example of how town planning ought not to be carried out. The town, during some of the decades, increased more rapidly than any other town in the United Kingdom, and the result has been to give us to-day an appalling mass of unrelieved slums which are a benefit to nobody but the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who are the chief ground landlords. I see that my hon. Friend the First Ecclesiastical Commissioner is here, and I hope that the borough will receive from him his very earnest help in carrying out the schemes which they will have to carry out under this particular Measure.
For some reason or other the early inhabitants of the borough appear to have been very proud of this scheme, for the main streets of the borough, the worst and narrowest streets, are named after the first mayors, and when one sees their names at the street corners one cannot help being reminded of the visit which Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith paid to Westminster Abbey. In Poet's Corner, the doctor pointed to the names of the poets whose memorials were recorded, and said, "It may be that our names will be written up there." Going home, they passed under Temple Bar, on which were displayed the names of some 244 malefactors with a description of their crimes, and Goldsmith, pointing to them said, "It may be that our names will be written up there." I cannot help thinking that it was in some such spirit as that that the names of the earlier mayors were inscribed upon street corners in South Shields. I rejoice that the only place in which my name is inscribed—[An HON. MEMBER: "In heaven!"]—Not yet. It is upon something which is very near to heaven for the people who have dwelt in those slums. It is on the foundation stone of one of the Aged Miners' Homes which stand as a perpetual witness of their desire for something better.
The Minister mentioned in his speech that the Surrey County Council had promoted a Measure in this Session of Parliament which aims at giving the local authorities of the county control of all land. There is one point in the Bill upon which I would like his detailed attention. It is with regard to the phrase which was alluded to by the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon). In the course of his speech he drew attention to the phrase:and of protecting rural amenities.Is the Minister quite sure that the word "rural" in that connection will not have rather a limiting effect upon the Bill? Unfortunately, the word "rural" in local government has a very distinct significance. It means a rural district. That is to say, it includes some of the slum districts in County Durham because they happen to be in a technically rural area. In every great town—apparently it is not true of Manchester: I was in Manchester only once, and it was too wet for me to see anything—but in every other great town in which I have been, no matter how bad the conditions might be, there is always some little spot left that represents the old village or some old country condition which remains in the midst of a good deal of the modern spoliation. It is very desirable that the local authorities should be able to protect those amenities and arrange for their preservation. I hope that special attention will be given to this phrase, because certain local government lawyers have advised me that the word "rural" would not have the effect of enabling the provisions of this Bill to be applied to such districts.
There is one such small spot in my constituency. It is a group of large 245 houses round a small green, the one last relic of what the old bishops probably thought was the most beautiful part of the township which has yielded them so much revenue. The large houses round it are now either to be let or for sale, and in most cases will probably disappear, and unless there are very adequate powers for dealing with the rural nature of that particular district, that last vestige of departed glory and beauty will probably disappear also. This Bill enables us, in a time of great social change, to take, for the first time in the history of our country, really a comprehensive view of the duty of the community to arrange for the well-ordered housing of the people. I hope that it will not be used—although there is a temptation to use town planning schemes for that purpose—to exclude people from the more beautiful parts of the country, and that it will not be used to give us a mere collection of straight roads like the great military roads of France. I think that there is a great deal in what Mr. Gilbert Chesterton said:The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.The fact that we have become a more temperate people is not a reason why roads should be so straightened out as to have an un-English ugliness. I hope that the Measure will be used to enable future generations to live in towns, where they will carry on industries which will probably be far more highly specialised and segregated than anything we have seen hitherto, in circumstances which will preserve for them in their daily life something of the beauty and the inspiration that come from beauty that was lost far too often to the great industrial populations which built up the enormous wealth of this country during the 19th century.
Sir HILTON YOUNG
This is a Bill, in the first place, for town planning, and also, as we have heard this afternoon, for the preservation of rural amenities. Eighteen months ago this House passed, without a division, and with the agreement of all parties, the first Bill for the protection of rural amenities, and it repeated that action earlier this Session. The House appears therefore, to be entitled to an explanation of the relation between the present 246 Bill and the other Bill which it has already twice passed, and which is still before the House. The principle of the former Rural Amenities Bill, to which the House has twice given a Second Reading, was the preservation of rural amenities by giving to local authorities general powers to plan development ahead, and the principle was for the first time embodied in that Bill. The principle of the present Bill, as explained to us to-day by the Minister of Health, is the same. As I understand it, it adopts that general machinery for the preservation of rural amenities. The present Bill, therefore, runs upon the same lines as the first Rural Amenities Bill, and both as regards its object and as regards the manner in which it sets out to achieve that object, it covers the same ground, and proposes to cover it in the same way.
In those circumstances, of course, no practical object can be served by maintaining the first Bill. It is, therefore, the intention of its promoters to withdraw the Bill in order to assist the passage of the Government Measure. But I think that the promoters of the first Bill, and particularly the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the similar institution in Wales, who gave so much time and so much trouble to its preparation, may lay the flattering unction to their souls that, by the production of the first Bill, and by the extremely favourable reception which it had from the House, they have made straight the path for the Government Measure. It has achieved certain very useful objects. It has attracted public attention to a great national need. It has ventilated opinion as to the best means of securing that need, and, I think one may also say, after listening to the Minister of Health, that it has helped to encourage the Government to tackle this very important question, and has made the path smoother for them.
To-day the original Bill disappears in favour of the second Measure, but it has to be confessed that there is a certain amount of disappointment on the part of the promoters of the original Bill at the scope of the Government Measure. The original Bill set out to secure the protection of rural amenities by a general scheme of regional planning, just as the Government's Bill does, but it went further, picking out those headings of re- 247 form which were most in need of action and trying to lay down specific powers in special Clauses, by which the responsible authorities could be able to deal with the most crying needs. We very much regret not to see some of these special strengthening Clauses in the Government Measure. I would mention in particular the Clause dealing with advertisements. We should very much have liked to see the advertisements Regulation definitely included in the Second Schedule of the Bill as one of the matters that might be dealt with in the scheme. It may be said that there is general power to include such matter in a scheme, but I think that is doubtful. The Clause in the original Bill was adopted from a model town planning Clause, but, us the Minister of Health is aware, there is considerable doubt, particularly in the minds of the opponents of action under that Clause, as to whether the Clause may not be ultra vires. Therefore, we should very much have liked to have this matter put beyond dispute by a special provision in the Schedule. I mention that as an instance of our regret that the Bill has not been strengthened by including a number of these specific Clauses from our own Bill.
Let me deal with another subject which has already received some attention in our Debate to-day. I refer to the preservation of woodlands. I have very grave fears that this most crying need will not receive adequate attention under the machinery provided in the Bill. The truth is that in this matter the country is going very rapidly from bad to worse. Our woodlands are being destroyed so fast that I prophesy that, in the course of another generation, the beauties of our native English woodlands will be almost extinct, even in the South of England. I further prophesy that within the course of the next 50 years this House will be passing drastic legislation for the preservation of our woodlands, and will be creating new crimes for the needless destruction of fine trees and new duties to plant trees where other trees have been cut down. That action will certainly be taken in the course of the next half-century. How very much better to take it in time and at once, on the first occasion when we are dealing with this matter, and thus save the situation as regards the preservation of this greatest 248 of our natural beauties before it be too late.
I should like to refer to one further Clause the omission of which is to be regretted. It was mentioned by an hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway opposite. It is a Clause which in the old Bill gave power to create a national advisory council for the whole of the country to act not merely as an adviser, but as a stimulator of the Ministry of Health in the exercising of the powers conferred by this Bill. I believe that such an organisation would be of the greatest possible benefit as a living and informed conscience for the Ministry for remedial action. If I might carry the suggestion a step further I would point out that there are already in existence bodies which might very well be of practical use for this purpose—the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the similar body for Wales, which are representative bodies including representatives of the voluntary associations interested in such matters. In these respects the Bill is undoubtedly capable of being strengthened by the adoption of Clauses from the old Bill, and it will be our hope that the Minister will see his way to accept some of those Clauses in the Committee stage. As regards the general scope of the Measure, it is aimed upon the same target as our original Bill was aimed upon, and fired from the same weapon, and we therefore wish it Godspeed and a clear passage for its further progress.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Westwood)
I do not propose to direct my remarks to many of the Clauses in the Bill. I propose to deal only with two points, the development of town planning in Scotland, for which this Bill is intended to be a stimulus and still further to assist in the development of town planting and, secondly, to direct the attention of the House to Clause 43 (Application to Scotland), and to try to explain exactly what that Clause means. Between the date of the passing of the Housing, Town Planning, &c., Act, 1909, and the outbreak of War in 1914 steady, if somewhat slow, progress was being made with the formulation of proposals to prepare town planning schemes in Scotland. It was not until March, 1912, that the first application was made to the Department for authority to pre- 249 pare a town planning scheme, but by the time War broke out eight local authorities had been authorised to prepare a total of 17 schemes covering an aggregate acreage of 15,300, while a number of other local authorities were taking active steps to proceed with schemes.
Town planning in Scotland, as in England, received a very severe setback on the outbreak of War, but during the past two or three years there has been evidence of a quickening of interest and activity in town planning, despite the distraction caused by the transference of town planning administration to county councils and large burghs by the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929. Up-to-date four schemes covering an aggregate area of 4,936 acres have been finally approved by the Department, while two draft schemes have been prepared and adopted by local authorities and are expected to be submitted in the near future for the Department's approval. One of these is in Aberdeen and district, which embraces the outskirts of the city of Aberdeen and the adjoining parts of the counties of Aberdeen and Kincardine. The other is the Glasgow (western area) scheme, which covers an area west of the city extending to 3,786 acres. In addition, resolutions to prepare 28 schemes have been passed under the Act of 1919 and the Consolidation Act, 1925. In several instances these cover in whole or in part areas already referred to, that were the subject of authorisations by the Department.
Let me say a few words about regional planning. For practically the whole of the industrial belt of Scotland, from the Heads of Ayr to the East Veuk of Fife, regional planning has been adopted. There are already three such schemes—Ayr County, the Clyde Valley and Fife County—in course of preparation. The preparation of these schemes is undertaken by joint advisory committees, assisted by technical committees, representative of the local authorities concerned.
With regard to the Application to Scotland Clause, my right hon. Friend has issued Command Paper 3830, which, I assume, has been read particularly by Scottish Members, which explains that the Application to Scotland Clause is in rather novel form, and differs substantially from that hitherto in common use. 250 The Scottish Application Clause in United Kingdom Bills has generally taken the form that the Act is to apply to Scotland subject to certain specified modifications. These modifications include the substitution of the corresponding Scottish Department or Scottish expression for the English Department or English expression, and the direction that a certain provision is not to apply to Scotland, and that a certain further provision is to apply. The result of an application Clause in that form is that the local authority or other body administering the Act in Scotland have to read the provisions of the earlier part of the Act, subject always to the various modifications contained in the Scottish Clause, and this gives rise to trouble and sometimes difficulties in connection with the administration in Scotland. Where the Scottish Clause is long and complicated, as, for example, in the case of the Housing, Etc., Act, 1923—Clause 23 of that Act, with its application to Scotland, covers, I think, four or five pages—the administration of the Act in Scotland becomes a little more complicated than otherwise it ought to be, and the difficulties of the local authorities or other bodies are correspondingly increased.
Clause 43 of the present Bill and the Seventh Schedule provide that the Act is to apply to Scotland with the substitution of the words specified in the Schedule for the words specified in the Bill as applying to England. The substitution is of the actual words instead of, as previously, only in general terms. The Clause directs the Clerk of the Parliaments to certify a copy of the Act as it applies to Scotland as if it were a separate Act which had received the Royal Assent on the same day as the Act itself, the copy being deposited with the Rolls of Parliament. The Act as so certified is to take effect as a, separate Act and may be cited as the Town and County Planning (Scotland) Act, 1931. There are other points of procedure with which I will not detain the House. It is hoped that this new departure will make matters easier for the local authorities administering town planning in Scotland. They will, to all intents and purposes, have a separate Scottish Act. Parliament will, in effect, have passed two Acts of Parliament when passing this Measure with the Scottish 251 Application Clause, and will thereby give us a separate Act dealing with Scotland. This will form a useful precedent for subsequent legislation in both cases where the Application to Scotland Clause would otherwise be long and complicated.
I trust that I have explained, in the short time at my disposal, exactly how it is proposed to apply this Bill to Scotland. Our native land is naturally bonnie beyond compare. Where it is hideous and ugly and lacks beauty, it is so because of the hand of man, and what man has done in creating ugliness he can undo. We believe that we can make man's work harmonise with Scotland's natural beauty, and towards attaining that end we have faith in our local authorities. I believe that we shall have their wholehearted support and co-operation in making a success of this Bill, and which in its application to Scotland I particularly commend to my Scottish colleagues in the House.
§ Sir THOMAS INSKIP
I regret very much that I did not hear the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Westwood), but I am sure that we all welcome the explanation he has given of the Bill as applied to Scotland. He will forgive me if I do not address myself to the matters which he has raised. I desire to raise two points, which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will consider if only with a view to the Committee stage of the Bill. The first point is one of great importance, and it is as to the position and rights of local authorities in relation to the Minister of Health. It arises under Clause 7. Under the law as it is now, that is under the 1925 Act, the Minister has power to approve any schemesubject to such modifications or conditions as he may think fit to impose.But it is not compulsory upon the local authorities to accept the modifications or conditions. They may say that they do not like the modifications and conditions imposed by the Minister. The Minister then may hold a public local inquiry, and if he is satisfied, as a result of the inquiry, that the refusal of the local authority to accept his proposed modifications and conditions is unreasonable he may go over their heads and approve 252 the scheme with the modifications and conditions which he imposes. It is very necessary that the Minister shall have power to prevent a recalcitrant and unreasonable authority from defeating the object of the Town Planning Act, but the advantages of the scheme under the Act of 1925 are that the local authority have an opportunity of considering the modifications and conditions suggested by the Minister and there is also the additional advantage of a local public inquiry, so that the responsible local authority have an opportunity of reviewing the position in the light of anything which the Minister has suggested. Altogether it seems to be a system which is well balanced, as it preserves the rights of the local authority and gives the Minister adequate powers to prevent a local authority from acting unreasonably or impeding the progress of a scheme. But let hon. Members notice what is done in Clause 7 of the Bill. It says thatThe Minister may approve any scheme either with or without modifications.Those words are very wide. It has been said in certain litigation in connection with slum clearance schemes that the phrase empowers the Minister to do practically anything he likes, and that when a scheme comes forward he may introduce any modifications he desires. This Clause gives the Minister power to approve a scheme. The scheme then is complete, and the only opportunity for anyone to object to it is the opportunity provided in the First Schedule of the Bill, which empowers any person, after a scheme has been approved by the Minister, within six weeks to object to it, not on its merits but on the ground that it is not a scheme within the Bill or that it is not a scheme which has complied with all the requirements under the Bill. Those rights are important as far as they go, but they are objections which can be taken to the scheme purely as a scheme which is outside the four corners of the law.
The point to which I desire to call attention is this. For some reason, at present unknown to me, and which has not been explained by the Minister of Health, the Bill proposes to take away the necessity for a local public inquiry as a preliminary to the approval of the Minister of a scheme put forward by a local authority, with modifications or con- 253 ditions. I think it is desirable that a local authority, subject always to the overriding power of the Minister, should have the power to prepare their own scheme and to consider the suggestions of the Minister, and, subject to their not acting unreasonably, that the Minister should not have power to go over their head without any of the publicity attendant upon a local public inquiry. I regard this as of some importance, because the provisions of the First Schedule are a little drastic. They deprive the public, every member of it, of the ordinary rights which any member of the public now enjoys, that is to say, that it requires the legal objections to he taken within the short period of six weeks, and these objections are strictly limited to the legal objections which I have mentioned, that it is not a scheme within the four corners of the Bill. I am not objecting to the First Schedule. Probably it tends to diminish litigation and to make it possible for a scheme to come forward at the earliest possible moment, but the fact that the drastic proposals of the First Schedule will be the law in the future make it the more incumbent that there shall be full publicity if the Minister intends to take the scheme of a local authority and really re-make it and then approve of it. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will realise that this is not an objection put forward in any antagonism to the Bill, but with a view of retaining the general initiative of local authorities, subject always to the power of the Minister to order an inquiry to lead them to a better frame of mind.
The only other point to which I desire to draw attention is one also relating to the powers of the Minister. The provision to which I object introduces a novel principle. In Clause 18 there is a provision for the exclusion or limitation of compensation in certain cases. The Minister expounded this Clause, but when we come to Sub-section (5) we have this extraordinary provision, that in considering whether he ought to make a declaration limiting or excluding compensation in certain cases, the Minister shall have regard to:the interests of any person who would be affected by the provision, and the degree of hardship which would be inflicted on that person by the making of a declaration with respect to the provision.Talk about having respect to persons! 254 This Sub-section seems to be absolutely vicious; and it is a jurisdiction which, I think, the Minister will find it difficult to exercise. Before the right hon. Gentleman makes a direction he has actually to consider individual interests of any person affected by the provision; he has to consider the "degree of hardship," which, I suppose, means that he has to inquire whether the person affected is wealthy or poor, whether his circumstances are such as to make it incumbent that he should get some compensation, or whether he is a person who may be left without any compensation. I cannot imagine how the Minister of Health is to exercise a discretion of that sort. It may be said that he is subject always to the authority of this House, but it will be too late then. If the Minister is to have the power which Clause 18 gives him of declaring that there shall be no compensation in certain cases, it should be declared without respect to individuals and irrespective of their personal circumstances. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give the House an assurance that this provision will be reconsidered, and that the Minister's discretion shall not be an individual one as regards persons, but shall be a discretion exercised with regard to the whole circumstances as affecting the scheme and the neighbourhood. I have made these two criticisms on two Clauses of the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary is assured already of the general support of hon. Members on this side of the House to the principle of the Measure. We desire to co-operate with the Government in making the Bill one which will be acceptable not only to the House but to the local authorities affected by it.
§ 7.0 p.m.
I have listened with pleasure to the expression from all parts of the House that this is a Bill which is necessary and which is long overdue. During the past few years we have been placing too much emphasis on the building of houses, the price of houses, their size and their design, the building of houses with a parlour and with a bath, but we have not taken sufficient care to plan out the sites upon which these houses should be built; and there is an overwhelming case for taking a long view in this matter. We have a programme for the building of 1,000,000 houses a year and, 255 therefore, it is all the more necessary that some definite plan should be laid down as to where these houses are to be built. Town planning can be properly undertaken only when we consider the developments which have been going on since the War. We think of the village green, the scene of our childhood days, and to-day we see on some of them great townships of 200,000, 300,000 and 400,000 people. We are wondering to-day that things are as good as they are, and that the amenities are so well preserved in the absence of a Bill like this. It is very pleasing to notice that powers are taken in this Bill authorising the localities to co-operate with the Crown with regard to Crown lands, and to make a better scheme of things possible. Much has been said about rural amenities. We want general amenities not only in rural England, but in the great towns as well. I was looking in this House at a picture, dated 1534, of Southwark and Westminster, and I wondered how different the map of London would be now if there had been some town planning scheme.
Our transport problem is affected by a Bill like this. Not only have schools and churches to be provided for every community, but we want town halls, baths, hospitals, post offices, and, for some time to come, we shall require Employment Exchanges, police stations and railway stations. All these need to be provided for, if the needs of a community are to be properly served, and if we are to preserve the amenities as they should be preserved during the development of house building in this country Hitherto the Ministry have been content with restriction and control and closing orders, but I am glad that they are now extending their operations and taking powers for slum clearance and town planning. Too much cannot be said in favour of taking powers to preserve open spaces. When we look at some of the big towns as they are to-day, there can be little doubt that but for the fact there have been commons, parks and rivers here and there these towns to-day would be one mass of hideous brick buildings with very little open spaces at all. If the proper development of housing in this country is to go on, it is necessary that the local 256 authorities should have the powers they need in this respect.
This Bill is also very Welcome because it gives a local authority the power to plan in advance for building houses. In house building the price of land enters very largely into the cost. If we think of the village which we knew as boys and which is now a great township, we can realise how much would have been saved in the price of a house if the local authority had exercised powers such as are provided under this Bill of acquiring the necessary building land. If we think of the price of agricultural land, perhaps £5 an acre, and of the £150 an acre that is probably paid for it as building land, we can see how local authorities can do much to bring down the price of houses and provide better accommodation for the people of this country by the provisions of this Bill. Even when we speak about £5 an acre and £150 an acre, that is not the whole of the story. There are quite normal cases in towns to-day where as much as £25 or £30 a foot has to be paid for a piece of land upon which to build a house or business premises. That is why this Bill is greatly required, and why it is certain to serve a very useful purpose. It should have the whole-hearted support of this House, and it should be tried out to the fullest possible extent. Side by side with all the efforts of the Ministry and of the local authorities in housebuilding, as a complement to the housebuilding programme, we should at long last go in for scientific town and country planning, so that we can preserve England with those beautiful characteristics which she has so long enjoyed.
§ Captain R. HENDERSON
We can congratulate the Minister on the generally sympathetic reception which this Bill has received. Any town planning Bill would receive a sympathetic reception to-day, because it is generally recognised that there is a great need for one. But I hope the Members of the House, in considering this Bill, will not concentrate their criticisms too much upon individual Clauses, and thereby lose sight of the objects of the Bill as a whole. If we consider for one moment what any town planning Bill must do, we shall then get a better point of view of this or any other town planning Bill. I take it that the object of any 257 good town planning Bill is to provide in advance skeleton schemes all over the country, which will be filled in as and when development comes to pass. The whole object of a good town planning Bill must be on no account to restrict or to interfere with development, but just to guide and direct it. If we take into consideration at the same time what are the main objects of any good town planning scheme, we may say that the provision of ample open spaces, of adequate roads, and of good building schemes embodies what is roughly looked for in a good town planning scheme. When we compare this Bill, taking it as a whole, with its predecessors, the great difference we find in it is the enormously increased power it gives to the Minister of Health. It is no exaggeration to say that this Bill might be briefly summarised as making the Minister of Health the town planning authority of the country and the local authorities merely subordinates under him to carry out his wishes.
The hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Sir T. Inskip) drew attention to Clause 7, as also did the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). There is one point of view which has not been mentioned in connection with this Clause. Under this Clause the Minister, without having the local inquiry provided for in other Bills, can take any scheme put forward by a town planning authority, alter it, amend it, and finally put his own scheme in place of it. Unless we are very careful, this will lead to a dreadful monotony in all these schemes throughout the country. You will have one group of men working in the Ministry having all these plans put before them, and the inevitable result will be a sameness throughout the length and breadth of the land in the type of scheme sanctioned, because it will all be done by the Ministry of Health. Is that a good thing? I suggest that there must be safeguards in order to see that we do not lose the local colour throughout the country, the local type of building, the local type of town planning. There is an immense variety up and down the country to-day of houses, of lay-out, and of what I might call local colour. If we are to have every town planning scheme put through the same standardising mill of one group of officials at the Ministry of Health, there will be a very grave risk 258 that we may lose local colour. It is a point worth mentioning in order that we may guard against it.
If I might refer to the contentious Clause 17, dealing with the question of betterment, I wish at the outset, without traversing ground already covered, to question the equity of taking 100 per cent. increment duty. The agricultural value of a piece of land is the average value. You let a farm at a certain agricultural rent, and the value of that farm is the average price taken all over that farm. Bits of it may be worth more than others. You take the farm as a whole and you strike an average value of that farm per acre. If a farm comes under development schemes and a small portion is taken for building, in all equity, if you take a portion away from the whole, it is by no means unreasonable that the owner of that farm should get a rather higher price for the small bit than he would get for the whole. That is the basis of the whole thing. The hon. Lady disagrees with me, but I would point out that under this Bill there is only an agricultural value, and that anything above that is betterment. The whole of the betterment under this Bill is removed. The result is that, as the Bill is drafted—and I am reinforced in my opinion by consultation with legal authorities before I ventured to bring this matter to the notice of the hon. Lady—there is only agricultural land, and anything above that is betterment, which will be taken away and will have to be handed over to the local authority.
This will give rise to one or two contingencies which have possibly not been thought of. The result, in the first instance, will be that no one will wish to sell land because, as there is no profit, there will be no inducement to put land in the market for building. Therefore, in order to provide this inducement, there is this 5 per cent. accumulated interest as a spur to induce land to come into the market. I could give instances, which have been worked out by experts, in which very rapidly the land will not only lose the whole of the agricultural value owing to the accumulation of this 5 per cent., but it will have a minus value. The natural result will be that every piece of agricultural land that comes into a development scheme and has an annual fine levied on it in the shape of this 259 accumulated interest, must be held until a higher price can be obtained than the fine put on the land; it will have to be held until at least the liability on the land can be met. I am putting the case not too strongly. Therefore, far from inducing owners to sell, the Bill will necessarily compel them to hold up land for a much longer period in order to escape the liability which will be accumulated on the land. I very much question whether the Minister is going to get any assistance from the Bill in bringing land into the market.
But there are several other contingent troubles which will arise. Agricultural land is mentioned in the Bill and in the Schedule "as defined in the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act." Woods, therefore, will not be agricultural land. But woods for amenities will become liable to the annual fine of accumulated interest. It follows that the very things we wish to preserve will be among the first things to be destroyed. There is another thing which I think cannot possibly have been considered. The unfortunate allotment holder will be completely wiped out in any zone that is scheduled for development. Otherwise he will incur this annual fine on his allotment. I have worked out one or two cases in Midland towns, and I have found that at the very lowest it will amount to something between £6 and £12 per acre per annum. The proposal, therefore, will extinguish allotments.
Market gardeners, too, will have to clear out of these zones, because they cannot possibly stand up to the annual fine of accumulated interest. At a moderate computation it will amount to £6 to £12 per annum. The figures that I am quoting have been confirmed by a leading firm of experts in the country. Taking the very moderate price of 1s. per yard, which is a common price around the leading towns of the Midlands, it works out at £9 per acre per annum, with agricultural value at £52. These are contingencies which were not expected when the Bill was drafted, but they are very important and have a far reaching effect. The same remark applies to any agricultural cottages which may happen to be in a zone scheduled for development. The accumulated fines per annum will fall on them as well as on 260 the land because they are not agricultural land as defined in the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1929.
One further point was mentioned by a previous speaker. We assume that this betterment has been paid or permitted to accumulate for a considerable number of years and that then the betterment ceases to exist. I will give an extremely common case that will occur in practically all town planning. To-day one of the most urgent requirements of the country is by-pass roads to take through traffic around the towns instead of through them. I ask the Minister to visualise the case that will occur when development has taken place on the outskirts of a growing town. A by-pass road is made and it takes the whole of the development right across to another side of the town. What will happen to the unfortunate individuals who have been steadily paying betterment under a scheme, when it is seen that the betterment will never be realised? You will have this fund accumulating in perpetuity. You will, therefore, have pieces of land which will have accumulated such enormous fines that it will be quite impossible to utilise them for building, and no one will dare touch them for agriculture or market gardens because the cost will be prohibitive. No market gardener will attempt to take land on which he will have to pay £9 to £12 per year for accumulations. These contingencies have been brought to my notice by a firm of eminent experts whom I consulted.
There is another point. This accumulation of interest will fall on all recreation grounds. That cannot have been contemplated. Agricultural land as defined does not include open spaces kept for sport. Therefore this accumulation of interest will fall on all football grounds, golf courses and tennis grounds. Let me draw attention to Clause 18. Clause 17 lays down how compensation is to be paid by local authorities. In Clause 18 you get the over-riding authority of the Minister of Health again. He is given power to over-ride local authorities and to state that in certain circumstances compensation shall not be paid. It is obvious that these provisions are included with a view to checking what is commonly known as ribbon development. But unless great care is taken very great hardship will be caused, especially to the 261 large number of men who have used building societies to buy or build their own houses. No one abhors ribbon development more than I do. It is not artistic. But it is very hard that a working man should be prohibited from getting compensation because the piece of land that he has purchased with a view to building on it is prohibited under ribboning. A town planning Bill should guide and assist, but should not on any account restrict building at the present time. There is still a very grave shortage of houses. The most hideous little bungalow that ever destroyed a pretty view, ugly as it may be, may mean all that is summoned up in the word "home" to some working man. Although we would like to see the artistic point of view taken into consideration, the fact that under this Clause the Minister can prohibit compensation may cause very grievous hardship to very many small men.
I assure the Minister that in common with every other Member of the House I wish the Bill well. The Bill is complex and there will be many criticisms offered in Committee. On the other hand, the Bill has many very good points, and, in my humble opinion, will greatly facilitate the getting of what is so urgently needed, namely, the town planning of the whole country. There are several counties which have been working away at the task, and one or two have very nearly completed the task. The work is very often done by a small committee of enthusiastic persons, assisted by a society such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which has done so much good work. But they come up against a local authority which takes no interest and does not care. Under the Bill we shall be able to piece up the planning all over the country. Although there may be individual criticisms of many Clauses, still the objects of the Bill are bound to commend themselves to the House as a whole. I hope the Minister will see that I am merely pointing out certain weaknesses in the hope that if my interpretation of the Bill is correct these weaknesses may be put right in Committee. I trust that the House will allow me to take this opportunity, both on behalf of myself and on behalf of the great association that I represent, to offer my thanks to the Minister of Health for his great courtesy in asking me to be 262 present at the deliberations previous to the drafting of this Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
It is seldom that one listens to such a speech from the benches opposite as that which we have just heard. I have seldom heard a greater plea for the nationalisation of land. As the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Captain Henderson) went from point to point, he clearly showed that under our present system of private ownership it is a question of impeding progress, all the way through, even down to the man in the bungalow. I compliment the hon. and gallant Member on a speech which I am sure many hon. Members on this side will be able to quote in support of their arguments for the nationalisation of land. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) introduced the subject of wide roads, and I am glad that that has been done, because I remember raising the question a good many years ago and advocating that the spaces along these roads should be planted with fruit trees instead of ordinary trees. There are many reasons why we should plant fruit trees. If we are going to have a traffic system such as is developing to-day, it will call not only for wider roads, but also for a wider space between the lines of traffic, and I suggest that spaces in the centre and at the sides of these new roads should be utilised for the growing of fruit.
The first thing that will be said by those people who have high walls round their orchards will be that from the moral point of view it is impossible to expect the youth of the country to respect the apples growing on these trees. But I submit that that is no reason why the roads should not be beautified in this way. I have noticed in the making of these new roads the effect upon the trees if the breathing part of the tree is interfered with. I have been watching the construction of a by-pass road some 12 miles out of London in Surrey. The road was made about 18 months ago, and when speaking to the gentleman who was in charge of the work for the county, I commented on the fact that 24 elm trees which had been planted at a certain point were not flourishing like other trees in the locality, and I suggested that the reason was that they had been using a low grade of tar on the road and that the acid in the tar was killing the trees. It 263 was found on examination that acids had got at the roots of the trees. In a hilly county like Surrey this also passes down to the streams and does injury to fish. I hope that something may be put in the Bill to ensure that in the construction of new roads there should be at the edge of the tarred part a trap—which need not be very costly—to catch this stuff and prevent the destruction of trees and plant life and other forms of injury.
Then we come to the question of good agricultural land and the use to which it is put. To me it has always been a tragedy to see good cropping land being covered with houses while other land, unsuitable for agriculture but more healthy for housing is left untouched. There is some land where there is only soil to the depth of two and a-half inches or three inches on the rock, but it is better to have houses built on the rock than on deep soil. They are always dry and are easier to ventilate. All over the British Isles you find land where you have not to go very deep until you come to the stone. I hope that some consideration may be given to this fact in connection with these planning proposals. Every day I come past a place beyond Morden Station where the Landon County Council are carrying out a new scheme. It is beautiful land. My journey past it represents a twopenny omnibus fare, and I have made a calculation that, since the tube railway was brought out to Morden, these twopenny omnibus runs mean millions as far as the life of the houses now being built in that area is concerned.
Reference has also been made to the restriction of that kind of expansion which takes the form of joining town to town. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston suggested that we were too late to deal with that matter, but I do not think that we are too late. If we are to preserve certain things which ought to be preserved in the interests of health, let us fix a certain number to be the population within a certain circle and then before there are any more houses built for habitation insist that there should be an intervening belt, two miles or four miles wide, of agricultural land. If we set about this matter as sane people, we could prevent the attaching of street to street and town to town until all becomes one mass. Reference has also been made 264 to-day to the hope that an artistic element will be introduced by the application of this Measure, and some hon. Members seem to try to imply that an architect employed by the State could not have the same ideas as an architect employed by private enterprise. One has only to look around the towns of Scotland and England to see what private enterprise has done in this respect. We see weary, dreary long streets, each house the same, each door the same, each window the same. The mind which is created by the very fact of that environment is shown by the fact that they all have the same kind of curtains on the windows. Talk about monotony! One has only to walk down a street of that kind to see the monotony of private enterprise.
To have agricultural belts surrounding these populations, in the way I have suggested, would mean another thing in relation to our industrial needs and development. Take Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leith, Newcastle and then come on to London, and what do we find happening? Owing to the changes which are so rapidly occurring, places which were once thought to be suitable for the development of business are now found to be not suitable and one reason is because of the question of transport. If the proposals which I have been suggesting were put into operation, none of these places would be closed up for transport purposes as they have been. There would be an open way. Reference has been made, for example, to the difficulty of getting to the docks in London. People may say that we could not afford to make the great roadway which has been suggested, but we are paying more for not having the roadway than we would pay for having it. That view is sometimes called the long view, but I do not think it is either the long view or the short view; it is simply the commonsense view. It stands to reason that if by making the road we can do things better and cheaper then the proper thing to do is to make the road.
I come now to the statement of an hon. Member opposite to the effect that the landlords in the past have made beauty and that democracy is failing to keep it. I have already spoken about some of the streets which we have in our large towns under the landlord system and I wish now 265 to refer specially to Scotland, in relation to the rural beauties which we are told have been maintained, or obtained by the landlords. I knew of one landlord, a fine looking young man who married an English lady of wealth and brought her to live on his estate in Scotland. His bride's feelings were hurt when she looked out of the window of the house and saw certain works from which all her husband's money had been made. He spent no end of money in putting up a mound and growing shrubs upon it to obliterate the view of the source of his wealth. But the preservation of beauty did not mean much to that mind. What about the beauty so far as the housing of his workers was concerned? What about the destruction of trees by the fumes from his works, and the damage done by the foul-smelling refuse put into the clean streams?
We are told that the landlords have preserved beauty. The only beauties I have ever known a landlord to preserve were his barbed wire fences, with pieces of seats of trousers hanging on to them, as evidence that some man had tried to exercise the natural freedom to catch a hare or a rabbit. The hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. Train) I am sure will bear out the statement that when you leave the city of Glasgow and enter the industrial belt of Lanarkshire, you cannot go far without seeing great heaps of rubbish from coal mines or steelworks, and, in between all these hummocks of muck you have the great beauties which the landlord is said to have preserved. It is easy to see that anyone who made that statement never had occasion to travel through the areas where the landlords have destroyed everything in order to make profits.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston referring to certain Clauses of the Bill which were likely to raise contention, said that betterment only existed because of one fact—the presence of population. He is right there and the whole fight on this Bill is going to centre on the question of the value created by the presence of industrial population. Industrial population by its presence and industry creates this value and when it seeks to get out and to enjoy some of the beauties about which we have been told, all the wealth which it has created travels 266 with it in the form of the increased value of land in the areas where it seeks to live. We are told that it is a great wrong to take this, but we are not taking anything from anybody. We want to give the people what they have created, and that is the value in the land which is now going to the landlord. Every road we make means that a landlord somewhere is getting some more into his filthy clutches. That is the only way in which I can describe it.
Last Sunday I was out looking at a house in a new by-pass road. We were told that that road was to relieve the traffic in the little township, and what has happened? I can see that four years from now in that area the by-pass will become that which will require to be relieved, and the values that have been created there are tremendous. The words I used about the landlords' clutches are mild compared with the increased charges that are being made for building in that direction. It was admitted to-day by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that if there were no people there, the land would have no value. It is only because of the juxtaposition of this great mass of people desiring to have something better in the shape of houses to live in that the value has gone up, and they have been fined by the landlords for being present in greater numbers. The greater the population in a city becomes, the more power the landlords have, under the present laws, to do them in.
In Glasgow every time a decent man seeks to improve the lot of his wife and children and goes out of it, he is met first of all by the fact that he is one of those who created a certain value where he wants to live. It is his, and he should have it, but under the present system the landlord says, "No; because you have increased the value, this value belongs to me." If any city has paid through the nose for its housing development, it is the City of Glasgow. Take a piece of land that previously had old rotten rails around it, and a "Land for sale" sign upon it, with dead dogs and cats and tin cans on it, land which was not rated or being used, but was awaiting the time of pressure when the landlord would get his price for it. The last Tory Government were so kind to that benevolent gentleman that they de-rated him.
267 I cannot understand why there should be any objection to this Clause that deals with these values, and I cannot see how any reasonable man can say there is anything wrong in it. Even from an individualist point of view, that which you create you claim for yourself. This Bill asks that that which is created by the community shall belong to the community. If a thing does not belong to anybody, it has to come back to those to whom it belongs—100 per cent. every time. This may be legalised theft, but it is none the less theft, and it is absolute theft of the industry of the people of all these communities. If you take the City of Glasgow and the wealth that has flowed down the great Clyde Valley from coal, steel, and iron, you find to-day that land in the centre of that city is not sold by the acre, but by the square inch. How has that value come to that inch? It is because of the presence of the people and of their industry, and we in the City of Glasgow ought to have had all the values that we created and that has been put on to us in every improvement that we have sought to make in that city.
Let me remind the House that Scotland has always been in advance of England in this matter. The work of the late Alexander Ure in relation to valuation was such that it has become classical, and it is a great pity that those in this House who talk so lightly about values created by the presence and industry of the people do not get a little more reading like Sir Alexander Ure.
In conclusion, let me say that the whole of the Bill can be taken as good, but the Opposition are complimenting us, and I wonder why. I am very suspicious about the compliments that I have heard paid to-day. It has yet to be explained why these compliments have come. So far as private interests are concerned, they are not paying any compliments without in some way presenting at the same time a snag, and I am quite sure from the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite that when the Committee stage comes you can depend upon it that all his power—and it is no small power from the legal point of view—will be used to bring this Bill, if possible, right down to that point where the Clauses that they are contending against will not be worth being printed. I do 268 not make any bones about speaking the truth about the situation. It may be called the polite Parliamentary method, but I think it is none the less deceitful, if I may say so. I think these compliments are a method of trying to get things so grafted into the minds of those on these benches that when we reach the Committee stage they will get their way. I hope that in Committee the Government will put that stiffness into their backs that no Opposition can take away one jot or tittle of the value of, the provisions of the Bill.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) into his interesting and hoary-headed fallacies. It is a pity that those who make such speeches about land values do not devote one-tenth of the time given to such speeches to learning something of the subject. The hon. Member's speech reminded me of the extraordinary change of public sentiment in regard to this question of land values and the development and exploitation of the land. The hon. Member himself, of course, has not changed—he remains where he was many years ago—but, on the whole, public opinion has changed in the most remarkable way. I am old enough to remember the great days of the Liberal land campaign, when the predecessors of those hon. Members who sit below me and who have been taking so passionate an interest in this subject to-day, were stumping the country and seeking ninny a valuable vote by descriptions of the wicked landlord, of how he was withholding the land from use chiefly for the purpose of fox covers and pheasant preserves, and of how people were unable to obtain access to the land. We were told then that God made the land for the people.
Marquess of HARTINGTON
We were told that all that was necessary was to break up what was called the land monopoly, that the pheasant preserves would then become flourishing allotments, and that the grouse moors would become garden cities. That was the line in those days. Now the attack on the landlords goes on, but the ground has shifted. The landlord is not now a wicked, red-faced pheasant-shooting squire; he is a rapacious vandal, laying 269 desecrating hands on the fair face of England; and the man who proposes to part with some of his land in order that people may build houses or factories upon it or to provide public services, such as gas, electricity, and water, is denounced as a vandal. It is a most astonishing change. There was this tremendous attack upon the withholding of land from cultivation, but the very things that were so denounced a few years ago as among the abominations of fox covers and so forth are now held up as a priceless national heritage.
That is all very well. I suppose that there is no one, certainly not myself, who does not deplore the spoliation and the destruction of rural England, but if we really want to go back to the delightful old England which apparently is the dream of some hon. Members opposite, the England of the 18th century, with its picturesque towns and old-fashioned market places, this Bill is not really going to meet the case at all. We shall have to go very much further than this. We shall have to prohibit the manufacture and the importation of motor cars, we shall have to strangle all the babies born for the next good many years, we shall have to teach our population that it is not good to live in well-built, brick houses, and that it is far better to live 10 in a room in insanitary hovels. We have a very long way to go before we can stop development of the kind that is going on to-day.
This Bill, I believe, will fail altogether. When you have a vast, growing population, with ever increasing demands for living in decent conditions—and it is only right that there should be such demands—especially when internal-combustion engines are available to carry the population from place to place, it is impossible to restrict your towns to the kind of 18th century towns which some hon. Members, particularly those opposite, seem to have in their minds. It is a curious circumstance that during the last few years this destruction of rural England has been going on more quickly than at any time in our past history. The desecration of the countryside, the erection of rows of houses along the roads, the increase of petrol pumps and other monstrosities have been almost exactly in proportion to the growth of town 270 planning conferences and the amount of time and money which has been devoted to town planning schemes. It is a curious thing that, in spite of the immense pains that have been taken and the enormous powers that local authorities have, no progress, practically speaking, has been made up to date. It is very deplorable, and it is almost inevitable, that this Bill will fail in its object, because it, will fail to resist the tendency of the population to spread itself over the country. The motorist speeding past in his car may deplore the building of houses along each side of the road, but it is not very unreasonable of the population to have the desire to live where they can get home by omnibus on a wet night without being soaked to the skin. Hon. Members opposite once had a slogan, "Make England walk." It is not possible, but, even if it were possible, even if by passing Acts of Parliament you could stop the ever-increasing exploitation of agricultural land, and stop the encroachment of the town on to the country, I believe that this Bill would fail in its objects unless a very much greater measure of education were brought about among the local authorities.
The Bill has not a great deal in it that is new. It contains one new principle, but for the most part it is a compilation of previous Acts; it only consolidates powers which are already in existence. Those powers, whether they have or have not been used in the past, have so far signally failed in their object, not only because of the impossibility of resisting modern tendencies, but because of the lack of interest of local authorities in carrying them out. The local authorities are the very last people who have any real interest in preserving rural amenities, or who have any real knowledge of what rural amenities mean; and they have nothing approaching taste. How often has one seen the average town council's idea of preserving rural amenities! Rustic fencing made of cast iron and painted with aluminium is a common example. It can be seen in a great many places. It would be invidious to mention names of corporations which have committed particular atrocities throughout the length and breadth of England. Many places which are in the ownership of local authorties have been 271 converted into hideous concrete slopes. From the South Coast to the Lake District the country is being desecrated by concrete roads, waterworks, and every conceivable kind of thing. Throughout England local authorities are far greater vandals than private individuals. I am not denying the atrocities of individuals, which are bad enough, but the mass vandalism of public authorities is something very much worse. One finds it hard to imagine the atrocities which are being carried on day by day by public authorities of every kind.
Reference has been made in this Debate to the cutting down of trees. Who cuts down most trees? No one cuts trees down so light-heartedly or readily as local authorities. The Minister talked about rubbish dumps. My own constituency is suffering from a gigantic rubbish dump belonging to the Sheffield Corporation. I have appealed again and again to the Minister to deal with it, but the constant reply has been that it is a perfectly lovely sanitary dump, and he has refused to take any action. The local authorities have the powers to deal with this question, but they have generally neither cared nor tried to use them, and, whenever they have used them, they have used them extremely badly. Advertisements have been referred to. There is not a county council which cannot quite easily get complete powers to control wayside advertisements, but they do not try to do it. In the vast majority of cases it is almost impossible to get the county councils to deal with the matter. Mention has been made of petrol pumps. No petrol pump can be erected without the sanction of a local authority. The powers are there, but the local authorities do not use them.
The House is mistaken in thinking that by giving these extended powers to local authorities we shall bring about our object. I am painfully familiar with the modern phrases which are used on this subject. Our old friend "coordination" is a little out of date. We use other phrases now, such as "forward outlook," and "bold" and comprehensive policy." "Intelligent integration" is about the latest of these catch phrases which is used to commend a policy about the soundness of which you are not quite sure. I am only too 272 familiar with these phrases, but, if this Bill operates—and I do not think it can—it will only mean one thing when we get down to brass tacks. It will mean that a man who proposes to do something, whether it be to build houses for people to live in, or factories for them to work in, or services to lighten their labour, will find that he has to spend more money and to take more counsel's opinion before he can cut the first sod. I speak with some feeling, because I have had to spend a good deal of my own money to correct the absurdities of some of these town planning schemes.
A local authority thinks it will be progressive, and goes to some town planning expert, who comes back with a lovely map all painted in colours. That is all very nice and pretty, but, in point of fact, you cannot very often carry on commercial exploitation where the town planning expert thinks it ought to be carried on. You can only make a coal mine or a brickworks, or whatever it may be, where Providence has chosen to put the mineral. You cannot put it where the town planning expert thinks it ought to be. In the end, after a good deal of time and money has been spent, you get leave to make an exception where commercial exploitation can be carried on, and you have to make places where the people can conveniently live and work. You cannot make people live in a particular area because the town planning expert has coloured it on the map as a residential area. There are various amenities on which people insist before they will live in a particular place. In the end the schemes may become inoperative, and they are certain to be inoperative unless you can bring about a greater measure of interest in these matters.
There was one method of town planning in the past which was really efficient and effective. It only applied to that comparatively small proportion of England where you had large-scale private ownership. In those particular areas it brought about a considerable measure of town planning. The last Government in their wisdom passed legislation which made it almost impossible to enforce restrictive covenants, and a much greater blow was then struck against the preservation of a decent standard 273 of building than can be put right by such Bills as this. When we have destroyed that type of decent, well-considered and careful development, it is inevitable that we shall have to fail back on the public authorities, but it is extremely unlikely that they will ever do their duty as efficiently and effectively as the private landlord. The private landlord system was efficient and effective, because it was on the solid basis of enlightened self-interest, and because it was carried out, not by a theoretical expert, but by a man who really knew what he was about. That has gone, and I suppose there is nothing to do except to fall back on the next best.
I referred to the one new principle in the Bill; that is, the question of betterment. I regard the principle that local authorities will be able to levy 100 per cent. instead of 50 per cent., as in the past, as thoroughly vicious. I could give a large number of examples where that provision would operate most unjustly and unfairly. It will mean raising a theoretical tax in many cases, and putting the landlord to the expense of fighting the authorities if he does not agree with their valuation. Very often it may turn out not to be betterment, but very severe depreciation. I have one particular case in mind. A considerable plot of land was rightly regarded by the owner as fit and ripe for commercial exploitation. The local authority in its wisdom decided that it would be an abomination to exploit that land commercially, and they decided to acquire it. They acquired it compulsorily under the powers they had in order to preserve it as an open space. After some time, they found out, what the owner knew at the start, that it was after all suitable for commercial development, and economic law and common sense had to have their way in the long run, and the land had to be turned to economic purposes. Ultimately, the local authority disposed of the site, and it is being developed now, many years later, for commercial purposes. Suppose that corporation had had the power to levy on the neighbouring owners or on the owner of the land a betterment tax in return for that land being kept as an open space—against the best interests of the localities, as they have had to admit—instead of allowing it to be developed, it is 274 obvious that it would have been grossly and flagrantly unjust.
I have a considerable number of examples of precisely that kind of thing, where corporations, carried away perhaps by some passing fancy, have again and again made serious mistakes. It is at least fair that the cost of these mistakes should fall on the general body of the ratepayers and that the council should not have power to call upon individual owners to pay for them. I am not complaining generally about the Bill. It is a Socialist Measure. The Socialists have got their little hour, and it is only reasonable to expect them to make use of the opportunities which have come to them; but I confess to a feeling of very bitter disappointment with the speeches from the Conservative Front Bench this afternoon. I was not one of those who turned nasty in our hour of defeat, I have never said one word to embarrass my party or its leaders, but now, on the eve of victory, it is fair that I should be allowed to say that I did hope there was one lesson the leaders of my party had learned, and that was that playing about with this kind of half-baked, pale-pink, Socialism brings no good either to themselves or to the country. It is fair to say to them, also, that if when they come in to power, as I hope and believe they will very soon, they go on as they did last time, playing about with this kind of tomfoolery, then they will get very much more serious opposition from behind them than they met with last time.
§ Mr. PHILIP OLIVER
, The Noble Lord who has just spoken mentioned the passionate interest which my party took in the land question in the past, and compared it rather unfavourably with the apparent lack of passionate interest which we have shown this afternoon. The interest of my party in this matter remains as it was, I hope equally passionate. Unfortunately, there are other matters in which we also have to take an interest more or less passionate, and on this eve either of victory or defeat—and perhaps I know more about that than he does—and in the midst of all the alarums and excursions of this week, it is pleasant that some of us, at any rate, can tarry for a space in the green pastures of the Town and Country Planning Bill. The Noble Lord criticised strongly the action of certain 275 local authorities. Of course, there are good local authorities and there are bad local authorities. I represent, for a time at any rate, a city which has had a great record as the forerunner of regional fawn planning. Just as there are good local authorities and bad local authorities so also there are good landlords and bad landlords, and I am perfectly prepared to say a, tribute to certain of the landlords who were the forerunners of town planning in this country. Town planning, in its origins, goes back to the democracies of Greece, to the Emperors of France and to some of the landlords of England, especially those landlords who were responsible for the squares and the terraces of parts of London. It is because there are bad local authorities and bad landlords that this more or less Socialistic legislation is required.
In the case of a Measure which is very largely agreed, in spite of some criticisms which it has received, this Second Reading Debate must, I suppose, concern itself very largely with matters of detail, though of important detail. In Committee a large number of technical matters will have to be gone into, but I wish now to make a few suggestions on three matters of what I regard as important detail. In Clause 11, which deals withProvisions in schemes with respect to buildings and building operations.we find particulars of various matters which may be prescribed, such as the space about the buildings, the limitation of the number of buildings, and so on; but I wish specially to refer to paragraph (d) in Sub-section (1), which gives the power ofImposing restrictions upon the manner in which buildings may be used, including, in the case of dwelling-houses, their use as dwellings for more than one family.Sub-section (2) makes those provisions apply to existing buildings. In Subsection (7) of Clause 12 any use of a building, including a dwelling-house, contrary to the provisions of that Section, may bring a penalty of £50, with a further penalty of £20 a day for every day it is used in that manner after conviction. These provisions occupy only some two or three lines of the Bill, but they are very severe and extremely re- 276 pressive. In a Measure dealing with town planning, those provisions introduce a considerable change in the law of the land by what I may describe as a back door. I suppose that authorities are to be given power to schedule certain houses as houses in which only one family may live as a method of preventing overcrowding.
We all desire to prevent overcrowding, but why is there overcrowding? No two families share a house of their own free choice; they would not share it if they could live separately. They live together because, in the first place, there is nowhere else for them to go; and, in the second place, because rents are so high that they, cannot afford a house to themselves. Their poverty makes them consent; they do not do it of their own free will. If we pass these provisions we shall, no doubt, consider that we have done something to solve the problem of overcrowding, whereas in truth we shall have done nothing at all. All we shall have done will be to prohibit two families living in one house. We shall not have attacked the root sources of the evil, only have given a sop to our conscience, and left, over the weightier matters. The problem of over-crowding will not be solved by such restrictions upon private liberty; it can only be solved by providing a sufficient number of houses at a reasonable rent.
Not only will this not be a proper solution, but it may work out very hardly in practice, because I presume that a town planning authority will not pick out with meticulous care a house here and a house there but will schedule a whole street or a whole area, and say, "These are dwelling houses in which no more than one family must dwell." New housing estates are springing up around all our big cities, and many of the houses have three bedrooms. A young married couple take one of these three bedroom houses because it is the only accommodation they can get, and in innumerable instances they take in another married couple. Two married couples in a three-bedroom house is perfectly right and proper, and the letting-off of part of the house relieves the occupiers of a portion of the rent; but under this Bill such a house may be scheduled as one in which only one family must reside; and if the occupiers persist in retaining the second 277 married couple they will be in danger of incurring this tremendous penalty. I suggest to the Minister that this is a matter over which great care will have to be exercised, and I feel that such restrictions should not be enforced until the medical officer of the area has given his certificate that there is a sufficient number of houses to let, at suitable rents to accommodate all the people in the area.
My second point is in regard to Clause 22 which deals with the compulsory acquisition of land comprised in a scheme. Here I should like to congratulate the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary on this Clause, which is an absolutely necessary provision if local authorities are to have the power compulsorily to acquire land in small plots of a convenient size. It is absolutely essential for the local authorities to have those powers. I can give a remarkable instance of the necessity for such powers in a district in the very heart of Manchester adjoining the Manchester Royal Exchange. That area is covered with innumerable old buildings around small squares and little alley ways, and it has remained in that condition for over 100 years. It remains in that state, because it was originally a residential district. Anyone looking at the map and seeing the various plots under different ownership will realise that they are most fantastic and interlaced with each other, and it is impossible to develop that area without compulsory powers for the acquisition of the land unless a system of land value taxation forces that land into the market. An attempt was made before the War to obtain powers to acquire the whole of that area in order that it might be re-planned. A Bill with this object in view came before this House and passed, but it failed to pass in another place, and ever since then this district has remained in exactly the same condition, and I do not see how it can be dealt with effectively except under such powers as will be given to the corporation and the local authority under Clause 22 of this Bill. For that reason, I should like to congratulate the Minister on that part of the Bill.
My only criticism is that what is proposed seems to be a very difficult and costly process, and I should like to suggest that, along with this provision 278 there should be included a proviso that the amount paid for compensation should be payable by bonds to be secured on the site. Those bonds should be negotiable and interest-bearing, and they should be redeemable at the option of the local authority. That is a scheme which exists in certain parts of the Continent. It is not something which I am putting forward on my own responsibility but it forms one of the numerous proposals which appear in one of the numerous books which have been issued on this subject. My suggestion would at any rate enable this matter of re-planning to be carried through as well as the necessary reconstruction without incurring very heavy costs. My proposal would do no harm to anybody; it is perfectly sensible, and I trust that the Government will accept it.
Clause 27, which is very contentious, gives power to charge owners of property with expenditure in connection with public improvements. I want to deal with the exceptions provided for in this Clause. There is an exception in the case of agricultural land which I think ought to very much extended. Agricultural land is defined as having the same meaning as in the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928, which includes allotments, so that allotments will not be submitted to the crushing charge of improvements. I want to point out, however, that that definition specifically excludes all playing fields, pleasure gardens and such like. It would be very undesirable to have playing fields and pleasure gardens burdened with a heavy improvement charge, because it would mean that those bodies who own playing fields and pleasure grounds would not be able to retain them and the green fields would go, and bricks and mortar would take their place. I am sure that that is not in the interests of proper town planning. It seems to me that there is a very easy way out of the difficulty. Certain lands might be scheduled as private open spaces, and that would cover the kind of land of which I am thinking. Such land could be scheduled as an open space. Although it is private land, it is in the public interest that it should not be built upon. I suggest that no improvement charge should be levied on any land which is scheduled as a private open space.
279 An important question to-day is the making of arterial roads. When those roads are made, they are subject to ribbon development, and I think everybody inveighs against that. It is quite obvious that the imposition of an improvement charge will accelerate urban development by forcing that land into use, and it is the ribbon development which we want to check if possible. A. development of that kind is undesirable because of the noise and the hurry of the modern arterial road which is a very unpleasant thing for people who have to live near it. The traffic on arterial roads is a danger to children, and there is a singular lack of dignity about ribbon development. I think arterial roads ought to run through an open space, and the development ought not to take place on those roads which, after all, will become more and more crowded with heavy traffic. The development in such cases ought to take place at the back of the arterial roads with an intervening space between the development area and the arterial roads. That object can only be achieved if it is possible to relieve such land from the improvement charges which at the present time axe levied upon it. I ask those responsible for this Measure to make the exceptions to the improvement charge on land as wide as possible in order that, in the true interests of real town planning, we may save as much as possible of the green places of the earth from being encroached upon by bricks and mortar.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I wish to support this Bill very strongly. At last the subject of town planning has received the attention of the Government of the day. We must not, however, plume ourselves with the idea that in taking up town planning we are taking up something new. Town planning is very old in this country. The City of St. Andrews was town-planned six or seven hundred years ago. Most Members of this House know Seven Dials. That was supposed to be a very wonderful scheme of town planning in the reign of Charles II. The new town of Edinburgh was town-planned; and perhaps the most interesting instance of all was the famous town plan of Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Wren made a plan which would have produced the finest city in the 280 world. It was not accepted by the citizens of London, because of the expense and because they wanted to get their houses up again and get back to business; but it may interest the House to know that that town plan was not wasted, because it was afterwards seen by William Penn, and, when he built the city of Philadelphia, he built it with Wren's town plan of London in his mind.
I want to call attention to a matter that has been a source of trouble to me as a citizen of London and of this country, namely, what are called, to use a not very classical but useful expression, skyscrapers. If the Government have not a policy about skyscrapers, the sooner they have one the better, because they will need to face this matter and have a definite policy in regard to it. The community must be protected from the hideous skyscrapers which are now being erected, not only in London, but in provincial cities as well. The last time I was in Glasgow I was horrified to see one of the central parts of that city spoiled by a gigantic skyscraper. We see arising round us in London these huge erections and, if this Bill does not provide for dealing with them, it ought to be amended so that it does enable the Government to deal with them. Skyscrapers began in New York, on Manhattan Island. All the business men of New York wanted offices on Manhattan Island—
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I am speaking of Manhattan Island in New York. As the result of the desire of business men to have their business premises there, the skyscrapers on Manhattan Island arose. Presently it was found that the value of the land increased, that larger sums of money were obtained by the owners of the land, and the skyscraper became an institution in New York. It has extended to other parts of America, and is to be found in the large cities of Canada. We do not want London, or, at least, I do not, and I hope that Members of this House do not, to become a city of skyscrapers. We have some particularly uninteresting specimens now. There are those two horrible buildings in Park Lane, which look like two huge pork factories. We have that dreadful erection at London 281 Bridge, the insurance building, spoiling the whole of the symmetry of the district, and ruining the appearance of the City in order to put profits into the pockets of particular individuals.
In New York, the skyscraper has had the same effect as it will have in London if it is not dealt with—it has produced the most serious congestion problem. If all the people in the buildings abutting on Broadway, New York, were to come down and try to get into Broadway, they could not; Broadway could not contain them. It has been estimated in America that, if all the vehicular traffic were taken out of a street 100 feet broad, lined with houses eight storeys high, there would not be room in that street for the people who are employed and live in the adjoining buildings. If that is the result of the growth of these horrible structures, I hope that they will not be permitted in London.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
If that cannot be dealt with, the Bill must be altered so that it can be dealt with. [Interruption.] The hon. Member's interjections are not helpful. Perhaps he may have an opportunity of giving the House the benefit of his ripe experience, but, in the meantime, perhaps he will allow me to address the House.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I do not want your information. I was saying, when I was so inaptly interrupted by the hon. Member, who has not yet favoured the House by addressing it, but who, I hope, will do so, that the result of the erection of these huge buildings was to create a serious traffic problem. In New York, in order to deal with the increased traffic, they have erected elevated railways, they have made subways, they have electrified suburban lines, and have done everything they possibly could to relieve the traffic; but all their work has been in vain, because, as the traffic has been eased, the skyscraper has gone up; and when I tell the House that the great stunt in New York is "The sky is the limit," it will understand that it is very difficult for those who are responsible for the traffic to provide facilities in sufficient quantity. Another objection to these 282 skyscrapers is their hideous ugliness. Anyone who is in the habit of looking at some of the illustrated papers will see from time to time illustrations of New York from the sky, illustrations of New York from beyond the entrance to the Harbour, and so forth, which certainly present a city with a rather fine line; but the people of New York never see that view. The people of New York are moving about in canyons—narrow lanes about which soar these gigantic buildings. They are very cold. One of the reasons for not introducing them into London is that by their height they would make our streets so cold; it is quite possible that the atmosphere of London might be materially altered. Of course, it may be asked, how is it possible to interfere? The only way that suggests itself of neutralising the effect of these buildings is by having larger spaces round about them, so that, the higher the building, the wider would be the vacant space around it. In that way, and by being careful to ensure that, when roads are made and houses are built, the traffic shall fit the buildings and the buildings fit the traffic, it may be possible to do something in this country to meet the erection of loftier buildings. I hope the House will forgive me for having touched upon a topic which I think deserves attention, and which I have been anxious to bring forward in the House for some time.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
In considering a Bill, I like to begin at the beginning, and, amidst the congratulations which have been showered upon the Minister of Health, I should like to join in saying a word about the Title of the Bill. "Town and Country Planning Bill" is, I think, an ingenious way out of a rather difficult situation. Everyone knows quite well that the old expression "Town Planning Bill," when it came to country planning in rural districts, created an entirely wrong impression, and frightened a great many people. I remember having a great argument with a man in the country who owns a pretty house, next door to which a tin-roofed villa had been built. When I said that I was in favour of that rural district starting upon a town planning scheme, he thought that all it meant was that tin-roofed villas would be put up on the other side of the road. Undoubtedly, that phrase 283 militated to a great extent against the extension of planning schemes in rural areas.
There arose the question, when the new Bill was coming in, what it should be called, and I think "Town and Country Planning Bill" is quite an original and pleasant title. After all, in these days of journalism it is an advantage that it can easily be taken for a weekly periodical, like "Land and Water," "Hearth and Home," "Horse and Hounds," or anything like that. I can understand that the Minister, when he gets into quarters where his title of Minister of Health does not bring him in much kudos, can always say, "I am the editor of Town and Country." But, on the other hand, it will be a pity if the expression, "Town and Country" in any way conveys the impression that town and country are divided by a hard and fast line. I think enough has been said to show that, at all events, Members of the House do not think that that is so and that nowadays the problems of what used to be known as town and what used to be known as country dovetail together. I think that by a combination of the old words rural and urban one ought to coin the word "rurban" because, after all, planning affects not merely buildings and land. It essentially affects people, and there is undoubtedly a great "rurban" population—people who do their work and earn their livelihood and have their interest in a town but for planning purposes come under the scope of the county, and anything at all that indicates that there is a hard and fast dividing line between the affairs of town and the affairs of country in planning matters is to be deplored.
I want to consider this as a planning Bill. That may sound a very obvious thing to say, and it would be a very obvious thing to say but for this sort of unnatural excrescence which makes itself apparent in the much discussed Clauses 19 and 27. I do not refer to the actual question of betterment—betterment I consider is certainly essentially a planning matter—but that extraordinary provision about the 5 per cent, that is going to be charged for an indefinite period on what might he called unenjoyed betterment. That I consider not to be a planning matter at all. It has been put in pos- 284 sibly to satisfy people like the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), whose predatory instincts get the better of their common sense, and what ought to be their elementary ideas of justice, when it conies to a question of land. The hon. Member has the advantage that he is going to be called after me. There is no getting away from the fact that that is in no sense a planning provision. It is obviously put in for a subsidiary purpose, and it is not germane at all to the planning question proper.
A lot of people are very fond of seeing an immense array of powers, and they are always calling for more powers to be given. To a great extent, I agree with my Noble Friend below me that a great deal more might be done in using the powers that already exist instead of calling for more. Everyone who has had any experience of planning matters will agree that, whether the powers are extensive or not, and whether the local authorities are more foolish than the individual owners or whether the individual owners are more foolish than the local authorities, does not matter. In order to get a proper planning scheme really working you must have co-operation of interests, and you must have general public opinion—not merely what is said to be public opinion when it is merely the opinion of a few sections—behind the planning scheme. My experience, certainly with regard to country planning, has been that one of the advantages of a planning scheme is not that it has an immense array of powers behind it—after all the powers that exist now are very extensive—but that the existence of a planning scheme provides a sort of fixed point round which the various parties interested can get together and discuss things before they are done. A great number of the ugly things that are done in the countryside at present are not done of malice aforethought. They are done in a hurry by people who do not think, by people who think they are doing their best, but in point of fact are not. If you can only, by means of a planning scheme, call some halt and make some momentary delay in a thing being done, and discuss it, you will get a more satisfactory result.
I know an instance in Oxfordshire where a typical rural planning scheme is in operation—a combination of a little country town and an adjacent rural dis- 285 trict. The joint planning committee called in the assistance of a well-known architect, who voluntarily and without payment used to advise generally on plans submitted to the regional planning committee. Over a period between the first resolution and the preliminary stages he advised on a 100 plans. He recommended various alterations in about 80, and in practically every instance they were perfectly willingly accepted by the people who put up the plans. In those 80 cases things were eventually done better which, without the delaying influence of the planning scheme, would undoubtedly have been done worse. It is on account of that point of public opinion that I welcome the fact that the district councils are still retained as the authorities who have the right of initiating planning schemes. I know certain people think district councils are rather outworn bodies and would like to have seen them removed from the list of those who might initiate planning schemes, but I would not. After all, there are means by which they can delegate their powers to the county council, or the Minister can intervene in cases where they are obviously not doing their duty. The fact that district councils can initiate schemes, and will in a great number of cases initiate them, will have a great effect in carrying local public opinion along with the planning schemes, thereby facilitating their passage and making them a great deal better.
In anything that I see in the Bill I ask myself, "Does it make for better planning?" and as a corollary to that, "Does it in any way tend to encourage that co-operation of reasonable interests which is one of the most valuable assets of the planning machine?" That is exactly where I quarrel with these offending Clauses 19 (2) and 29 (5). I do not quarrel with the principle of betterment, but with this 5 per cent. of unenjoyed benefit mounting up I most definitely quarrel, because I think it is above everything a blot on an otherwise good Bill. It is reasonable to say that people will pay more for a house if they can look out across an open space, and it may be reasonable to say that a certain amount of betterment shall be paid by the owner. But go back to the first situation, where the land is agricultural and there are cows grazing and sheep in the fields. Are we to imagine that the cows are so aesthetic 286 that they are going to give more milk when they gaze out on an open space? Are we to believe that the sheep are going to lamb more prolifically because they are in proximity to a main sewer? After all, we are asked to believe that the people who live in the houses do not mind having to pay a higher principal amount, and at the same time we are asked literally to believe that in some way the cows and sheep have produced more to the extent of 5 per cent. of that principal amount. I suggest it is palpably ridiculous. It brings the whole of this Bill down to the arena of the battlefield of violently conflicting interests, when above everything—and I take the words of the Minister of Health—co-operation and coordination of interests are most desirable.
With regard to the other restrictions, I do not wish to say anything, but I should like to say a few words with regard to the point which the hon. and learned Member for Fareham (Sir T. Inskip) mentioned with regard to the power of the Minister to walk in if he does not like the way a scheme is going, and completely alter the scheme in accordance with his own ideas. I mention that fact because this sort of thing is creeping into a good many of the Bills of this Government. I think that when the right hon. Gentleman put that provision into his Bill he must have taken counsel with his friend the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, because there is a very similar provision in a Bill which that right hon. Gentleman is now piloting upstairs. The tendency for Ministers, so to speak, to act as a signal and, when a train has been started by someone on one line, be in the position to switch the points over and turn the train in an entirely different direction is a most dangerous one, whatever Government happens to be in office.
The point about restricting building where it seems likely that undue expense will be incurred to public services is a sound one. It is particularly sound with regard to country planning. In country districts you get houses dotted indiscriminately all over the countryside. It may he very well for a. time, but when groups of houses grow up round individual houses, you get a situation in which those groups of houses immediately begin to call loudly 287 for public services, and the expense of getting them there is not only heavy upon the community but upon the inhabitants of the houses also. This brings me to the last point I wish to make with regard to country planning. Quite frankly, country planning is the aspect of planning which interests me most. There is a vast amount of land in the country districts in England where it is merely a question as to whether a planning scheme is proper or whether it is not. In a great many cases the immediate urgency of the problem is not very great, and in some cases even, you might find it difficult to say that it was land likely to be developed. But the mere fact that a great deal of damage has not been done already makes it all the more essential that a planning scheme should be put into operation. After all, the great thing about planning schemes is that they should get ahead of problems. But there it is. It is not land in respect of which the Minister is likely to put his powers into force, and to walk down and say it must be planned in default of action by local authorities. It is not land in which he is likely to exercise his powers in that direction. The whole question as to whether a planning scheme is run for that particular area or not will depend not merely upon the local authority—they probably will not move by themselves—but upon the combination of the local authority and a certain number of individuals in the neighbourhood keenly interested in a planning scheme being instituted for the general benefit.
If you can encourage co-operation in this Bill, and remove those unfair and grotesque provisions, like the two particular provisions with which I have dealt, you will encourage that very factor which makes for planning schemes in those particular districts. The moment you introduce something which is outside the planning arena, which is violently conflicting, and which is unfair and antagonises the land-owning interests in this country, you deal a blow at planning schemes in those districts, and it may be a question of another 20 years of untold damage being done before you get a planning scheme in districts where, with reasonable co-operation, you might 288 get one to-morrow. There is, I believe, somewhere in this country a tombstone which is to the memory of a man, and on it are words which call for God's mercy on a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the chief of sinners. If the Minister of Health manages to produce a good Bill, I do not say that he will perhaps aspire to the Fellowship of the Society of Antiquaries, but he will, at all events, earn the gratitude of those various societies which aim at rural amenities in this country, and will also earn the gratitude of the members of commercial and other interests with which reasonable town planning is bound up. If he persists in putting in provisions like the two particular provisions to which I have alluded, and, instead of co-operation, throws the torch of conflict into the arena, I have no hesitation in saying that I, and, I think, thousands of others interested in town planning in this country, will class him, and, for that matter, the Parliamentary Secretary, amongst the chief of sinners.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Before I say anything about the Bill, I think it is incumbent upon me to apologise for my interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser). I did it with the very best of intentions. I thought that he was labouring under a misunderstanding, because in Clause 11 it is stipulated that the size of the buildings shall be regulated. However, I have made my peace with him. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wells (Major Muirhead) is of opinion that the Minister of Health wished to make a concession, and that therefore he included, what he was pleased to term, an excrescence in the Bill called the Betterment Clause.
§ Major MUIRHEAD
I hope it is quite clear that it is not betterment to which I object, but the 5 per cent. on the land.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The 5 per cent. is not subject to review at the moment. There is one interesting feature which shows that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has got a little mixed with regard to the real spirit of that Clause. In a very poetic and touching manner he described the cows and sheep producing more food and milk, because they were within the proximity of a public sewer or something of the kind. As a matter of fact—and 289 I think he should know—it is not the cows and the sheep which are called upon to pay the ground rent for improvement. Therefore, the cattle which he has introduced into the picture have nothing to do with the Bill or the Clause. I think that the Minister has endeavoured, by rather a roundabout way, to try to get back to the value created by the improvements round about the site. This is not the Bill which I would like to see launched, but I am anxious for town planning, and to see something in the nature of sanity at last being introduced into English public life. I have, therefore, to take the best I can get. The other day I was at Brighton. I had to take a car to St. Leonards. Honestly, one could not look upon the beautiful downs and the magnificence of them and look at the structural horrors along the coast without feeling that some Mussolini is required in this country. Wherever you go you see these pathetic bungalows dotted up and down the land. I would deal with the matter in another way, but here is the Bill, and we must accept what we can get.
One of the most interesting speeches delivered in the Debate was that of the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). I always take my hat off to him, because he is one of the most thorough-going critics in this House. He shows great power of analysis, and I must congratulate him on his very thorough examination of the Bill to-day. I should, however, like to say that for the Budget campaign which will come on shortly he has supplied us with an infinite variety of ammunition. He stated specifically that the value of land was due entirely to the contiguity of the community.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I will resume my seat if the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) can tell me how it is created by any other means. If he thinks that I am wrong, I will resume my seat if he can show me how the value of land is created in any other way.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The only objection that I took to the hon. Member's quotation from the observations of my right hon. Friend was that he said "entirely." I do not recollect that my right hon. Friend said "entirely."
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I will put it this way. He said "mainly," and I would invite my right hon. Friend at some other time to prove that the value is created in any other way. That was a good concession to get from the ex-Minister of Health. Now let me come to a more pointed part of his criticism. He said that the contentious Clause 19, Subsection (2) raised a vital point, and he asked what would happen in the case of a landowner whose land is not included in a scheme. Is he to be exempt from the overshadowing threat of the final taking over of the land and the recurring increase of interest? The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know whether those landowners who are excluded from any scheme are to enjoy a condition under which they shall not be constantly under this charge of interest. I commend that little point of criticism to the Minister of Health. I hope that he will take the hint thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman, and, where there happens to be a hiatus, see that all landowners are included, and that no landowners shall be outside a scheme and enjoy that exemption as against any other landowners who may be in a scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman argued the case that in America landowners, or property owners as he called them, go to the local authorities and ask the local authorities to assist them in carrying out improvements. From that, he argued that the landowners in this country would be discouraged from entering into some improvement with the local authorities if they were subjected to the constant threat of this interest charge. It is interesting to note that in New York, Pittsburg and numerous other towns in the United States that I could mention—it has been my duty to go through the valuations of the various towns—the property owners did go to the local authorities and asked for special improvements to be carried out and said that they would assist in the improvements; but they did it for the reason that the sites they held were valued by the local authorities and the constant weight of the site taxes, the land taxes on the value of the sites, was such a penalty to them that they invariably were driven to put their sites to the best possible use rather than subject themselves to having to pay the tax on the site value. 291 I will take the famous instance of the Sun Insurance building in New York, which was burnt down. A valuation was made of the site, a tax was imposed, and they were threatened with a lien on the site if they did not pay the land tax, whereupon they turned men into working night and day shifts, pushing the building up with all speed, so that they could get something out of the site, and all because of the heavy tax falling upon it. I make this reply to the right hon. Member for Edgbaston, that the landowner will hold land out of use and wait for a rise in its price if there is no penalty upon him for doing so. Immediately a penalty occurs, the landowner becomes agitated, takes a look round, and adopts means in order to get out of the way of the penalties.
The idea that is running through the minds of many opponents of the Bill is that it could have been a town planning Bill if the Government had not brought in any question of betterment, either of 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. Let me take the case of the City of London. Here is a city which is not equal to the traffic which is pouring through its streets today. Sir Henry Maybury has stated before a responsible Commission that within the next 10 years, if not sooner, the traffic of London will have doubled in density. What does that mean? It means that the streets of London are not competent for the next 10 years for the development of traffic. Is there any hon. Member of this House who would suggest replanning the City of London and paying the price that would have to be paid for removing the holders of land on either side of the streets. It would literally bankrupt the Exchequer to attempt it now. I am trying to show in a dramatic way what would have happened under this Bill if the Government had not taken the precaution of seeing that the betterment shall come back in some way or other to the community.
Let us suppose that the Bill bad been launched as a purely town planning Bill, without any proviso that any improvement accruing by virtue of the planning scheme shall come back to the State. What would have happened? There is not a landowner in this House and there is not a real estate authority either in 292 the House or outside it but who knows that if the Bill had been launched with a compensation Clause, even under the Land Clauses Act, it would not have prevented but it would have inspired speculation in land all over the country, because they would have known that the State was launching a great scheme of town and country planning. Unless there had been this proviso that the betterment is not to go into the pockets of the private landowners, the town planning schemes would never have come into operation. This provision will expedite town planning schemes. It is not something inharmonious or incongruous in the make-up of the Bill, but it is the most necessary part of the Bill.
A technical point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), and it was a very pood point. He asked what the Minister of Health would do in attempting to impose a 5 per cent, interest charge on land as yet not used but in a scheme, if the land was charged with a mortgage. That point is quite easy to meet. All mortgages created to date have been created in ignorance of the fact that this Bill was to be introduced, and, therefore, the fact that the Government is charging the owners of land with betterment will preclude any mortgagee trying to raise a mortgage on betterment value in the Bill. This rather bewildering and technical question is easily met, because land values which will accrue as a result of town planning will not be subject to a mortgage charge; no landowner will dare to raise a mortgage upon it.
There was one little incident in the Debate which interested me and that was when the Noble Lord the Member for West Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) criticised his own Front Bench. Insurrection seems to be breaking out again on the Tory benches. I remember sitting in the Public Gallery in 1909 and 1910, when the Leader of the Liberal party was telling the public that he was going to attack the landlords, and I remember that one or two Conservatives who were then in the House were rather inclined to endorse the idea of the Budget of that day. But the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) and another hon. Member rose like savage men and were prepared to round upon their Front Bench because they 293 thought they were going to make concessions. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire, true to the traditions of his race, becomes touchy and jumpy when he thinks that we are coming near to the Ark of the Covenant. He said that the ideas we have in this House were old fashioned and out of date. The Ten Commandments are much older than the ideas which some of us on these benches hold—
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The Ten Commandments are old, but they are still true. The Noble Lord went on to say that he was disappointed with his own Front Bench to-day because they were inclined to play with semi-Socialist measures, and in one of those slips which allows the truth to escape from lips which speak on behalf of vested interests, he said that the minerals were placed in the land by Providence. The Noble Lord should have been a little more careful in his rage. I dare say that he will inherit the vast acres of his father, and it is because he thinks that a Bill like this will possibly take away land values that the Noble Lord has been transformed into a critic of his own Front Bench. The Bill has embedded in it a Clause which purports to apply the Bill to Scotland. It is appropriate to remind the House that Scotland in 1906 demanded a much more radical form of town planning than the Bill suggests even now. In those days we thought that we could clear the slums of Glasgow by taking the people out of the heart of slumdom by tramways—and there are the finest slums in Europe in Glasgow—into the country districts in and around Glasgow. We were ambitious then, and we thought that we were going to get garden cities. What was the result? No sooner did the tramcar show its snout in the countryside that there sprang up huge posters saying "valuable sites for building." We found then that we could not plan or rehouse the people so long as the road was blocked with monopolies and private interests.
I could have wished that this Bill had been brought in after the Budget, when we are to have some measure of land valuation. [Interruption.] Make no mistake about that, it is coming. But 294 the Bill has been introduced now. It may meet with rough handling in the House of Lords, but I welcome it if for nothing else than it is at least expressing the feelings of the country at large that this beautiful country of ours is being spoilt by ramifications of ugliness, north, south, east and west. It is a confession that we have done wrong in the past, and as this remedy lies to our hand now I welcome it. In the Bill there is not merely a desire to give the country a new and better idea of the aesthetic values of England but it has within it a secret which will destroy the power which has held England as her perquisite and which has become more powerful and wealthy with every step that the community has attempted to make to improve the conditions of the people. There is in this Bill the seed of the destruction of those forces which have held us from doing much to improve the beauty of England. God speed to the Government in this Measure. I hope we shall see the day when this Bill will be in full operation backed by projects which I know are coming in after the 28th of this month.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) a brother Scot, on his excellent speech on this Bill. There seems to be competition between England and Scotland as to which has the better slums. Yesterday we heard that Kensington has the finest slums in Europe. To-day we are told that Glasgow has the finest slums in Europe. I do not agree with either. The hon. Member for Burslem referred to the period of 1906 when we had men in Glasgow who took a great interest in housing, slum clearance and improvement. Sad to say some of those men lost their seats because they could not show a profit to the ratepayers. They could only show 1¼ per cent. and the Lord Provost who attempted to get back into the council was beaten because of the loss of the ratepayers' money. Today the houses that were built near Glasgow are costing the ratepayers £13 10s. per year for 40 years. I think the town planning part of this Bill is pretty hopeless. Nobody would think of town planning London, but we are giving them authority under this Bill to town plan London. They cannot even build a bridge over the Thames at Charing Cross. Look at the 295 trouble we have had since I came into this House over that bridge, and yet we are going to hand over the town planning of this great city to this same county council.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
The hon. Member has just dropped a remark about planning. What I said was that a town-planning scheme without a Clause safeguarding the public in taking back the betterment would be futile. The hon. Member has referred to the Charing Cross Bridge. That is a very good example, and he could not have given a better. That bridge was to cost the country £16,000,000, of which £11,150,000 was to go to the landowners.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I was greatly struck with the speech of the Minister of Health in introducing this Bill. As one who has attended a great many town-planning conferences, and who has sat on town-planning committees for the last 20 years, I thought that we were now getting something of some use to the country. The right hon. Gentleman used some very fine language, and talked about vision being wide enough and on a more comprehensive scale, and of large regional town-planning schemes being filled in by the various local authorities. I looked at the Bill again in case I had misread it, but I did not find anything that was a great improvement on any of the previous Bills we have had. In Clause 7 the Minister takes power to do the whole job himself. I agree with the previous speaker that there never was a subject on which we needed a Mussolini more in this country that town planning.
I remember my experiences on regional committees. We tried to set them up in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and other places. The county councils had engineers, and the large boroughs had engineers. Some of these engineers were sanitary inspectors who seem to have got their jobs through being great favourites in small villages, or from playing football, and having a corresponding 296 position in sanitary engineering. Clad with a little authority, they came to these conferences knowing as much about town planning as a hen knows about bank holidays. We say we are going to run a sewer here and the other party say, "No, you are not. It is our land." The result is that round about Glasgow there are streets where there are three or four water pipes and two or three sewers. In one case which happened before I left the county council there was a building scheme, and they could have cut a hole in the sewer and connected it up at a very small cost, but because they said they would not do it, but would take the sewer through another place, they went on with a scheme costing £10,000 or £12,000.
That is what happened to a local authority, and, if the Minister is going to take this job in hand, with the best advice he can get, then good luck to him, because there is nothing needed more in this country than town and country planning. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) gave us a very interesting historical and geographical sketch of many towns all over the world. He referred to Edinburgh as having been town-planned hundreds of years ago. We know the kind of sanitation they had when it was town-planned. There were no sewers then, and slops were thrown into the streets. To-day, when we are town planning, what is the first thing we have to look for? We ought to town-plan by the watersheds of the country. You go to the watershed and you have an outlet for the sewage and can build sewage purification works. Having got the contour of your land, you find where the water supply is coming from, and then you have something to build round for the public health of the people. To work in small areas and depend on small authorities is just so much waste paper, as all town planning schemes have been in the past.
The Clause dealing with the betterment of land appears to me to be something that is going to stand in the way of this Bill going through. If you are to have taxation of land values, then bring in a Bill by all means, but do not mix up the town planning of the country with it. What happened in 1909 when Mr. John Burns brought in a town planning Bill and mixed it up with Form 4? It 297 stopped all the building in the country, and that is why there are so many houses having to be built to-day, because there was no building from 1909 until the period of the War.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Robert Young)
The last speaker was followed with attention, and I hope the House will listen to the hon. Member's speech in the same way.
§ Mr. TRAIN
Apparently, I am rather annoying to hon. Members. I do not wish to make myself a nuisance, but I am the only Member from Scotland who has spoken for Glasgow in this Debate. I should like to say one word about the Memorandum which has been handed to us in connection with the application of the Bill to Scotland. The Memorandum says:in approving any scheme, or exercising or performing any other powers or duties under this Act the Department shall have regard to the powers and jurisdiction of the dean of guild court in burghs.We have a dean of guild court in Glasgow. We have built about 30,000 houses under the various housing Acts, and the dean of guild court will not look at the plans. They are a statutory body something like that which you set up for town and country planning. There are eight liners, four from the merchant house, and four from the trade house, with the lord dean of guild sitting under Act of Parliament to see that every man keeps his line on the street; but when it comes to a Measure like housing, where we are allowed 11-inch hollow walls, they say they will not look at it. There may be two feet walls if you like, but not an asphalt damp course. There are 30,000 people in Glasgow today living in houses that the Lord Dean of Guild Court will not look at. They say they will have nothing to do with these jerry houses. The jerry builder in 298 the old days got a bad name, but "he was nothing to the houses that are being built to-day." I want to know how we can reconcile the position of the Dean of Guild Courts in the large burghs with regard to housing, and the Government giving them powers under this Bill to say what has to be done in connection with town and country planning.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
The last two speakers have maintained the reputation of Scotland for humour, but they have also disturbed the harmony that characterised the earlier part of the Debate. I am glad. I think it is unfortunate when the House of Commons falls into a mood of enthusiasm and of almost religious fervour and is prepared to herald any measure as being an indication of our proximate approach to the millennium. The method followed by Ministers is becoming characteristic. First of all they paint, at considerable length and with a considerable display of imagination, all the evils from which mankind suffers. They then devote themselves to painting another picture of what a heavenly place the world might really be; and they conclude by saying, "Here is the Bill." I am afraid that I have not the temperament which accepts that kind of hopefulness at its face value, and I feel that as a Member of the House of Commons I am entitled to know a little more about proposals before I give them whole-hearted support.
Here is a Bill of 44 Clauses and seven Schedules. It is thrown down upon the Table of the House without a word of introductory explanation. One would have thought it a matter of common courtesy, and certainly it would have been following the usual precedent, had the Minister vouchsafed a Memorandum to the House explaining to us exactly what this Bill sets out to do, and exactly in what respects it differs from the legislation with which already we have been favoured. You have a very large number of enactments upon the Statute Book, dealing with nuisances and public health, and with ancient monuments and town planning and housing, rural and urban, and here you have another Measure which professes to consolidate previous enactments. Yet not a Circular, not a White Paper, not a word of explanation to the House to enable it to understand a Measure of such complica- 299 tions and such intricacies. I do protest against this manner of treating the House of Commons.
This Bill professes to be in part an innovating and in part a consolidating Bill. But what does it consolidate? I very much sympathise with the hon. Member opposite who said yesterday that it was not what was wrong with the machinery that deprived this country of houses; it was the deficiency of spirit with which the machinery was put into operation. I have a very strong suspicion that we are cluttered up with Acts of Parliament and that nothing happens as a result of them. You may do almost anything in this country. Certainly any official who is the modern possessor of the vested interest of the day might do anything. But the citizen counts for nothing. What you want to do is not to waste the time of the House of Commons and of Parliament by constantly introducing new Measures which you are told will put everything to rights, but to put into effect those powers which you already have. If this be a Consolidation Bill let us be told what it consolidates.
There is a very strange Clause in the Bill which says that any scheme produced by a local authority may contain such provisions as are necessary for suspending the operation of any statutory enactments and of any orders, by-laws or regulations, under whatever authority made, which contain provisions similar to or inconsistent with any provisions of the scheme. What does that mean? That we spend our time in this House deliberating upon Acts of Parliament, examining them in all their aspects and implications; that we put them through five stages of analysis, from First Reading to Third Reading, and that then a local authority is constituted which may make a scheme to suspend any enactment that it finds it convenient to suspend. Is this to be the modern way of legislating for democracy? I took the trouble to look up the terms of reference to one of the innumerable committees appointed by the Government. It was appointed in the early stages of this Parliament as a result of a book written by the Lord Chief Justice. The committee was appointed by the Lord Chancellor, after consultation with the Prime Minis- 300 ter and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "to consider the powers exercised by or under the direction of Ministers of the Crown by way of delegated legislation and judicial or quasi-judicial decision, and to report what safeguards are desirable or necessary to secure the constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament and the supremacy of the law." What was the grievance into which that committee was to inquire? The grievance was that Ministers were, day after day and in Act of Parliament after Act of Parliament, taking power to make administrative law by order.
This Bill carries the proposal a stage further. It is no longer Ministers who are to override Parliament or to make orders under Acts of Parliament, but local authorities who are to override Parliament. Whereas we may pass an Ancient Monuments Act which professes to deal adequately with an aesthetic erection, that Bill can be estopped because some local authority has some opinions upon beauty or historicity which do not happen to coincide with the opinion of the very expert commissioners appointed under the Act. That is the first protest I would like to make. I agree that this is not the first occasion upon which a Clause such as this has appeared in a Bill, but here it is extended, and if democracy counts for anything it will not allow it without some kind of indignation being expressed against such a Clause in an Act of Parliament.
So much for the consolidation. It is a very convenient method of consolidating when you do not bother to enumerate the Acts which you are consolidating, but simply set them aside. What about the innovating part of this Bill? In 1925 we had the last Town Planning Act which also professed to consolidate. It was a very clearly drawn Act. It gave distinct guidance to local authorities as to what they were expected to do. Wherever an area was being developed, or was suitable for development, the local authority might make a scheme to secure proper sanitation and amenities either for inhabitants who were actually there, or for those who were about to become inhabitants of the area. The whole object of that Measure was the health of the people, and, if an area 301 was congested, there were slum clearance provisions whereby houses could be pulled down. The whole field was covered. You could adopt a scheme with regard to an area suitable for building, and you could pull down houses if too many people were living there under unsatisfactory conditions. It was apparent, however, that what had been done for the towns should also be done for the country, because the people were being told to go out into the country, and it was necessary to secure that they could live there under healthy conditions. The people were driven out into the country, but this Bill, it seems to me, treats people like cows. You drive them out into the country and then the Minister waves a red flag and "shoos" them back again, because, he says, the countryside is wanted not for the housing of the people but in order to satisfy cranks and those who believe in beauty.
There is not a single provision in the Bill, as far as I can see, which will put anybody in a house, although there are plenty of provisions which will take people out of the accommodation which they already possess. I invite the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to explain to the House who is going to get employment as a result of the Bill? Who is going to get better housing conditions as a result of the Bill? Under the Act of 1925 a local authority had to plan with reference to reality. It had to say, "Here is a need. We will supply it." But according to the Minister of Health we are now to think 250 years ahead. Every acre of England is to be marked out, and when some poor unfortunate man, endeavouring to escape from the Employment Exchange, comes along and builds a hut from which to sell teas, the Minister says, "No. I have regard, not to human necessity but to beauty." The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary becomes a sort of sylvan nymph, under these provisions, and every tree under which she gambols is to be scheduled and nobody may knock it down. You interfere with people for the sake of interference. You go to the man who has put up a little wayside hutment, and is doing a little trade there and, having examined it with a microscope, you say, "This hutment is not built of the right materials; you must pull it down."
302 This Bill shows a complete disregard for the necessities of modern civilisation, which is an expanding, a spontaneous civilisation. People are spreading out and doing things on the spur of the moment, but this Bill is trying to put them into a strait jacket. There is, as I say, in this Bill interference for the sake of interference. If there is any object in the interference the Minister has not even troubled to explain it to the House. As a Liberal, I am in favour of interfering with the liberty of the subject only in so far as the subject is interfering with the liberty of the community. I do not see the object of having Acts of Parliament which enable you to meddle with everybody's affairs on every possible occasion, when there is no reason or justification for doing so. I do not see the object of this Bill. I do not see that it does anything new, except create new annoyances. Almost every Bill produced by the present Government—although the Conservative party throw their hats in the air welcoming these proposals—seems to have the object of finding out what somebody is doing and telling him that he must not do it.
You fix the price of commodities such as coal; you fix quotas for coal. You try to get more money for the miners by that means, and then you introduce a Consumers' Council Bill to stop them getting the extra money. You introduce an Agricultural Marketing Bill, and all these other Bills in order to stop people getting employment and leading normal lives. I am all in favour of them whenever any justification can be shown for them, but the Minister has offered no justification whatever for this Bill. We are told by the philosophic historians that the progress from barbarism to civilisation is progress from status to contract. The Minister is pushing us back from contract to statute, and this Government is seeking to build up that most impossible of all civilisations, a statutory civilisation.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
I think of all the speeches to which we have listened during this Debate, that which contained the clearest philosophy, that which gave us the deepest thought on this side of the House, was the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Western Derbyshire 303 (Marquess of Hartington). In that speech we had the pure undiluted philosophy of Conservatism put before the House with no uncertain voice, and the Noble Lord certainly was an expositor who would outdo in clarity, any exposition which we have ever heard from the Front Bench opposite. While I enjoyed the Noble Lord's speech, I confess I also enjoyed very much the speech of the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) who, if I am not mistaken, claimed that his speech was the pure milk of Liberalism. It was a kind of protest against the chains and fetters which a Socialist Government were endeavouring to fix upon the free-souled people of England. The only trouble was that, with all respect to him, I did not think that the hon. Member dealt very much with the Bill, and I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to the Minister from all parts of the House on the production of this Measure.
Anyone who looks round the towns and the countryside must know full well how urgent is the need for such a Measure. It is a Measure which adds greatly to the scope of those enactments dealing with housing and the development of housing at present on the Statute Book. I am very glad that this Bill adds to the scope of existing legislation in the sphere of the development and planning of housing in our great towns because considerable programmes of housing and of slum clearance are being undertaken in our great cities, and there is a grave danger that through lack of any general vision or general plan these efforts may be sporadic and may have no kind of unity.
I think that is particularly so in a great city like London. In London you have even two separate authorities for slum clearance, namely, the 19 borough councils and the London County Council, and all of these authorities in their sphere are setting to work to clear certain areas, to pull down the slums, and for the most part to build blocks of five-storey flats in their place. These schemes, as they are undertaken at present, are bound to be patchwork schemes, and what is terribly needed in the riverside districts of London, in the East End and in other places too, is a kind of compre- 304 hensive slum clearance and planning which is going to take in the whole of a vast area and which is going to be undertaken with the vision of the whole. There are wonderful schemes of slum clearance which could be undertaken under a town planning arrangement the whole way along the eastern riverside of London, right from the Tower Bridge down to Barking, and if anything is going to be done effectively with those districts, it will have to be done in a planned and co-ordinated manner.
But important as it is to develop the internal parts of our great cities on some great and comprehensive plan, it is also important so to regulate the outward growth, the spillings-over of population, from London in the publicly-owned schemes, on the Dagenham and Becontree estates for example, and also in the private enterprise schemes which surround them. I am very glad that under Clause 7 the Minister has taken to himself real powers of initiation, because it is one thing for a local authority to undertake a town planning scheme, and it is another thing for that town planning scheme to be a really sound and satisfactory one; and I should like to see in the hands of the Minister a power which would prevent an authority from perpetrating the extraordinary blunders and mistakes that, for example, the London County Council have perpetrated in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Muggeridge) on the Dagenham and Becontree housing estates.
That is a town planning scheme of quite the wrong kind, a scheme where you simply dump the people down, build houses for them, and leave them to fend for themselves. I should like to see the Minister, in this kind of town planning scheme, insisting that before the mass of the population comes—perhaps 100,000 souls—there should be provided, to start with, all the public buildings which are necessary for the life of the district—in Dagenham there are practically none—contributions to the various places of worship which are necessary for the people who reside there; and, of course, provision for schools for the children of the people who have to go out there. All these things are absolutely lacking in the present schemes as they are undertaken by the London County Council, and they should be put in, and I hope the Minister 305 will use the powers that he has under Clause 7 to see that local authorities provide better town planning schemes.
If it is important for the urban population, this Bill is even more necessary in the rural districts, particularly those rural districts around London which are rapidly becoming urbanised. In my constituency in South-East Essex there is a whole tract of country which is being very rapidly developed, and very unsatisfactorily developed I regret to say, by private enterprise. Wherever you go, townships are springing up, altogether without plan and without arrangement, houses being dotted about in fields, with no proper means of access to them, with houses strung along the existing roads, and jerry-building to an extent that one would have imagined was inconceivable nowadays. All these things are creating a very real and a very vital social problem.
I am inclined to think that one can tell the effect of this isolation and ill planning actually in the social life of the people who live in these places. I believe that when you get these new towns growing up, when they extend about a mile along a road or when they are dotted about along unmade roads, so that people cannot move from their houses when the weather is bad and the unmade roads are muddy, it has a most deadening and horrible effect on the ordinary social life of the people; and in allowing these places to grow up, we are creating a very grave social problem which we shall have to face. All these houses will have to be pulled down whenever any really serious scheme of development comes along. All of them are ill planned and ill placed, and they will have to go. It is the greatest tragedy to see being enacted in the outer parts of London and in those counties round about London all those crimes which were perpetrated 50, 60 and 70 years ago in London and which we are paying such a lot to remove to-day. We are piling up trouble for ourselves, and the Act of 1925 does not, in my view, give sufficient power for dealing with this evil. It is perfectly true that the worst atrocities were committed in Essex and that part of London before the Act of 1925 was on the Statute Book, but even so that Act is not nearly sufficient, and I welcome very much the provision in 306 the present Bill which will deal, and I think deal effectively, with the great evil of strung-out, ribbon development along the roads, and also will deal with a matter connected with it, namely, speculation in values of properties and strips of land along the new arterial roads.
The construction of these arterial roads is in many cases by no means satisfactory. If you want to see the way not to make an arterial road, the wrong way to go about it, take a trip to Southend along the new Southend arterial road. I think it is about the worst piece of work, in construction, in design, and in general idea, that could possibly be found. It is just the way not to make arterial roads, and I am glad the Bill deals with that point. I am very sorry that there is not a Clause preserving in some way the vanishing woodlands of the country. Along in the eastern parts of Essex, where the elm trees are still the glory of the countryside, in every winter when the gales come along down the trees come like ninepins, and nobody ever plants another tree in their place. It is only a matter of time when that part of the country will be denuded altogether of elm trees. With the country divided up into small estates, and with larger estates gone, it is not possible or practicable for private individuals to plant the countryside in any kind of ordered way. I hope that during the Committee stage of this Bill the hon. Lady will be able to put in a Clause which will deal with the preservation, and in certain cases with the panting and replacing, of trees as through weather and time they are lost to the countryside.
There is another question which I should like to ask. In some of the districts in East London we are very much concerned with huge unsightly refuse dumps which surround London in a kind of ring. I noticed a remark by the Noble Lord the Member for West Derby. He was very unfair in his criticisms of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because he said that she had done nothing about certain dumps which were in his constituency. A committee of Members from all sides of the House, who were interested in this question, put their views before my hon. Friend, and we found that she was exceedingly helpful. The dumping and tipping of crude refuse 307 along the whole of the riverside on the Essex border from London to Southend is a thing of the past, but, although crude refuse cannot be tipped, and although it has to be covered up decently now, there are places in districts where there is a growing population which are unsuited for the deposit of refuse. As the law stands, a local authority cannot completely prevent a contractor from dumping refuse in its territory. It can regulate—that is a great improvement—but it cannot prevent it. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether under this Bill it will be possible, in the same way that you can sterilise districts and prevent the building of houses in certain districts, to prevent the tipping of refuse in any form in certain districts. If not, will the hon. Lady consider strengthening the Bill to meet it?
This Bill is very urgently needed. We seem in our country to have lost the art of spontaneously creating beautiful things. The doctrine of laissez faire, if it is carried out to-day, does not produce beautiful medieval towns. In the last century it produced the horrible slum. In this century it is producing mile upon mile of dreary suburbia, which is very nearly as bad. The only possible method of approach towards this problem is the method of conscious planning contained in the Bill. We are coming nowadays to employ conscious planning in a great many things with which we deal in this House. The development of our towns and countryside should certainly be a matter for conscious planning. If we do that patiently, we shall be able to make our great cities worthy and fine places in which to live. If we do that now under the powers which are given in this Bill, we shall be able to save the mature beauty of our countryside for the generation which is coming.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
In the few moments which I propose to detain the House, I want only to refer to one aspect of the Bill which, although it has been touched upon by various speakers, has not been adequately or fully dealt with. It is an aspect which the Minister of Health, in commending the Bill to the House, never referred to. Hon. Members will have noticed with some surprise that the Minister, in introducing this very complicated Measure, addressed hardly any of his remarks until the end of the speech 308 to the Bill itself. The main part of his speech was devoted to neutral ground, namely, to the desirability of improving both rural and town amenities by planning carefully in advance—a policy and principle about which, of course, there is agreement on all sides of the House, and to which the party to which I belong has made valuable contributions in the legislation that is on the Statute Book.
When he came to deal with the Bill, he skated over the difficulties and never referred to many of the most contentious Clauses at all. Above all, he never told us why, in no less than 10 or 12 Clauses of the Bill, it is necessary, although the Bill empowers not only local authorities but combinations of local authorities to set up joint committees to deal with regional planning, to have the Minister himself always behind the local authorities to pull the strings and, when he does not like anything the local authorities do, to ordain that what they have done shall he revoked or amended and that another scheme shall be substituted. In one Clause such a scheme is even to be deemed to be made by the local authority although made by the Minister. Why, if this is to he a Bill to get the local authorities to proceed with town and country planning, is it necessary to disguise the fact that it is really a Bill to make the Minister not only the Minister for Health, but an autocrat and a Mussolini, such as the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) desired. It is interesting to note that at a time when many Members opposite think that democracy is supreme the hon. Member who is one of the exponents of it, says that if you want real slum clearance and country planning you want above all a Mussolini. The Bill practically puts the Minister of Health in that position.
The hon. Member for Burslem said another thing which brings me to a point in the Bill to Which I want to call attention. The hon. Member said that the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) was wrong in thinking that it would be necessarily a great injustice to make landowners who are within the area of town planning subject to a 100 per cent. increment duty, and leave landowners in other parts of the country free from any such claim for increment. The hon. Member pointed out that under the 309 Bill it is quite possible to include the whole country in schemes so that all the landowners in the country shall be subjected to the same provision. That is true, because in Clause 29 hon. Members will find:If the Minister is satisfied after the holding of a local inquiry that a responsible authority have failed to enforce effectively the observance of a scheme which has come into operation or any provisions thereof, or to execute any works which under the scheme or this Act the authority are required to execute, the Minister may by order, which shall be enforceable by mandamus, require the authority to do all things necessary for remedying their default and for carryingit into effect. Under the same Clause, if a local authority does not proceed as far as the Minister thinks right in introducing these town planning schemes, he can instruct the local authority to produce schemes covering any area which he likes. The powers of the Minister are practically unfettered to require the execution of any scheme which he thinks is required. It is clear that the whole country can easily be covered by schemes. The hon. Member for Burslem was right in saying that it is not necessary to wait for any Finance Bill proposals which the Government may put forward, as under this Bill the Minister is in such an autocratic position that he can do practically whatever he likes, the local authorities being mere puppets while he pulls the strings.
It is very remarkable that although this is a Bill on which the Conservative Opposition do not propose to divide there has been criticism of practically every Clause of it from both sides of the House. Some hon. Members have objection to one Clause and some to another, and they have not been merely Committee points, but points of great substance, most of them raising questions of principle. Hon. Members opposite, as is natural, think many of the Clauses do not go far enough. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha), in a most dashing and admirably-phrased speech, condemned the whole Bill root and branch, and if the Liberal party thought as he does about this Socialist legislation we should not be surprised if a Motion for the rejection of the Measure came from their benches. Every part of the Bill has been condemned from some quarter 310 of the House, and yet because of the general underlying principle of it we do not propose to divide on Second Reading. I can only say that when the Bill does get into Committee there is scarcely a Clause which will not have to be drastically amended if it is to get through the Committee stage, though, like many other Bills which the Government have brought in, it may never reach the statute Book. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) wishes to address the House, and therefore, although there are other points with which I should like to deal, I must now leave the Measure to the tender mercies of the House, and they have not been very tender as far as I have been able to follow the Debate.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving me a few minutes in which to sum up the position on this side of the House, and I shall only be a very short time about it, because the Bill has already been exhaustively discussed. I am inclined to agree with a good deal of what my hon. Friend has just said. The principle of the Bill has received the practically unanimous approval of the House, but there has been a considerable amount of criticism of the Clauses from all sides. No better example of that criticism is to be found than in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). He has great powers of Parliamentary debate, and he used them to the full this evening, to the great delight of the House. I notice that he used them on a very appropriate occasion. He denounced the Bill when he knew, with that sagacity which has always characterised him, that the rest of the House was in favour of the proposal. If he had known there would be serious opposition from any quarter of the House, and particularly from this side, perhaps his criticisms would have been more tempered, but on this occasion he felt at full liberty to say what he liked without fear of getting into difficulty with any of his colleagues who might differ from him.
The Debate has suffered largely from the fact that no explanatory Memorandum on the Bill has been issued. I thank the Minister of Health for the copy of 311 the Bill which he sent to me showing how these proposals were varied and were new. That has not been the fortunate position of the great majority of the Members of the House, and it is unfortunate that great bodies outside have had to approach the Bill under conditions of that kind. It has been brought to my notice from a very large number of associations who are naturally interested in these proposals that they have been unable to give adequate consideration to this Measure owing to the fact that the Bill was only quite recently introduced, and that the Easter vacation has made it impossible for them to offer any suggestions. Therefore, our proceedings, to some extent, are affected by the position in which we find ourselves.
Notwithstanding some of the statements which have been made in all parts of the House, I think the general opinion is that this Bill at any rate, after careful examination, and no doubt after considerable revision in Committee, is an advance in the direction which we all desire. A very large number of hon. Members have stated, and the Minister of Health has stated, that, to a very large extent, we have to rectify the mistakes of our ancestors. I confess that whatever responsibility I share in this matter I am prepared to bear. We have not only to rectify the mistakes of our ancestors, but our own mistakes as well. There is no doubt that, while certain people in past generations made great mistakes, we ourselves, day after day in connection with our housing operations, have committed errors and taken many courses which many of us would be glad to recall and rectify. Quite a million houses have been erected which I am sure it would have been much better if they had been erected on some recognised plan. I recall a housing estate which when I was Parliamentary Secretary I had the honour of opening, and the authorities in charge on that particular occasion did me the honour of calling the road[...] Kingsley Road. Relations of mine will not allow me to go down that road at this particular time because they think it is hardly safe, and so far as beauty is concerned the name with which it is associated is hardly appropriate. Therefore, we must not only complain of the 312 faults of our ancestors, but we must look at what we have been doing ourselves within the last few years.
There is one criticism which we might well direct, not only to people who have gone before us, but to what has happened during the last 20 or 30 years, and that is that the development which we ourselves have planned in one particular area has very often conflicted with rather than completed the development of another area. There is no more striking illustration of that than in some of the districts in or about London. I think that all of us are in full sympathy with what has been said by the Minister of Health, not only in regard to the necessity of planning the towns, but even more in regard to the countryside. There is no doubt that there is a considerable public reaction to-day against the barbarity that is perpetrated in so many parts of one of the most beautiful countries in the world. At the present moment, so far as I can see in going up and down the country, we are doing our very best to spoil it at the present time with smoke, and dust, and noise, and litter, and unsightly advertisement hoardings, petrol stations, overhead electric wires, river pollution, and rubbish tips; and to these, unfortunately, we must add bad designs, unsuitable building materials, and sporadic, unplanned development.
So far as the general principle of this Bill is concerned, I think we can say that we are in entire agreement with its objects. I also want to say, because of some observations which have been offered this evening, that I hardly share the view that this Measure will be a particularly expensive Measure to the national finances. I think that proper planning is a real national economy, and that the preparation of town planning schemes in advance is not, after all, a very great extravagance. Having said that, however, I venture to address this criticism to the Ministry of Health, and it is a criticism that I have not heard mentioned to-night. I suppose that, if there is one thing that can be said about the present legislation in relation to town and country planning and its operation, it is as to the extreme length of the procedure and the time that has been taken 313 really to bring about any effective scheme. To look at the date when, under our present law, a town planning scheme is proposed, and then to have regard to the date when it is actually put into operation, must bring great disappointment to anyone who is interested in schemes of this kind.
We have heard nothing, and I suppose that nothing is claimed on the part of this Bill, to the effect that it does anything to simplify or quicken procedure. Two grave complaints that can be levelled against our present position in this relation are as to the considerable delay and as to the complexity of the procedure. Many so-called preliminary resolutions have been passed, but, unfortunately, if we look at the whole country, comparatively few schemes have been finally approved by the Minister; and, if one wanted critically to examine at this stage the provisions of the Bill in this connection, one would rather come to the conclusion that this Bill adds even some more stages to the procedure, rather than simplifies it. It may be that the Ministry will be able to say that by some of its provisions it will in fact shorten the procedure, and I hope that that may be so, but I noticed at any rate that that was not claimed in the opening statement of the Minister to-night.
The great criticism levelled against the proposals during this discussion has been that, perhaps of necessity, they involve a very considerable addition to the powers of the Minister, and, if one makes a summary of the additional powers and duties which are being entrusted to the Minister under this Bill as it will complete the law in connection with town and country planning, I do not think it is any exaggeration—perhaps there is no way out of it—to say that, in fact, the Minister of Health is made the supreme authority so far as town and country planning in this country is concerned. Look at what has already been given him. He can revoke the resolution of a local authority to prepare a scheme. He can vary the resolutions that may be passed by local authorities themselves. The scheme must meet with his approval. He is practically put in control of all interim development orders, the development orders themselves, supplemental schemes and the final approval under the Act. He is made a court of appeal as to the 314 power to permit building operations pending the coming into operation of a general development order and again he is put practically in control in the case of historic buildings. I share the anxiety that has been expressed by the late Attorney-General. For the first time it is suggested that he should be permitted to vary the proposals of local authorities and, again without referring to the local authorities themselves and without holding any public inquiry, he can vary an order or he can make an order on his own responsibility. That matter will have to be most closely scrutinised in Committee. Again without expressing any hostility to the proposal certain suggestions in connection with betterment and compensation will have to be reconsidered.
Undoubtedly, if you are going to make a success, as we all desire to do, of these proposals you will not do it by dragooning the owners of property. [An HON. MEMBER: "By hanging them!'] That is the new method but it has not yet been adopted by the Government of the day. You have, if you can, to get people to go with you in connection with schemes of this kind. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some further explanation in relation to Clause 19, and particularly that provision which permits interest to be charged in the circumstances set out in the Clause. The most severe criticism of these proposals has been directed against that provision. I should like her to explain a matter which has certainly disturbed me. Will the charges which will be accumulating against the owners of the land take priority over any mortgages that may be created in respect of a property? The most serious position would arise, particularly in connection with agricultural land, if some prior charge were created which would displace a mortgage. The thing will not bear a moment's examination. The whole position, as far as the mortgagees of agricultural land are concerned, would become absolutely impossible. Therefore, I hope that we shall have some assurance that the position will be made perfectly clear and definite when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
I also share the disappointment which has been expressed in all parts of the House that nothing further is being done 315 to promote the garden city movement. The representatives of that very important movement have waited upon the Minister of Health, and have urged upon him two or three important steps which, they think, are necessary to promote their movement much more rapidly and speedily than is being done at the present time. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the representative of the Government in the House of Lords only a day or two ago said that the Government would also encourage the decentralisation of industry by taking factories out of closely populated areas where town planning can ensure that they do not interfere with the amenities of those living there, and that legislation dealing with this matter will shortly be introduced. I hope that that undertaking will be carried out.
While we have this Bill before us—and we have a good many Bills and Acts of Parliament dealing with subjects of this kind which have had the general approval of the House—quite naturally, we find pessimists amongst us to-day. After all, the success of these Measures is not, on the whole, promoted by the Acts of Parliament themselves. Success very largely depends upon the active interest of the local authorities, and particularly upon the force of enlightened public opinion. I hope that when we come to consider this Measure in Committee both the Government and all those who sit upon the Committee will have regard to the fact that we have to get the local authorities to act with us and to obtain the co-operation of the owners of land in this country, and, above all, that we have still to maintain—and, I hope, further increase—public opinion, which, I am glad to think, is becoming increasingly in favour of proposals of this kind. If that can be achieved, and material amendment is made in Committee, we can look forward to these proposals as being another step forward in the direction all of us in all parts of the House desire to go.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
My right hon. Friend has every reason to thank the House for the general reception which the Bill has received. The Debate upon the Bill has continued for many hours, and if I do not reply to all hon. Members, I hope that 316 they will excuse me on account of the fact that in 20 minutes it is not possible to deal properly with all the points which have been raised. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Rule is suspended!"] Not on this Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Eleven o'Clock Rule is suspended on this Bill, but whether a Motion for the Adjournment is Government business or not, I am not quite sure.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I will deal with the speech made by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain). It was a very fine speech. He expressed the opinion that we ought to have proceeded by legislation by reference rather than by re-enactment.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. My point is that the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"]—complained very much that we had not proceeded in that way. At any rate, I understood him to say that he would have preferred a Bill which proceeded by way of legislation by reference.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I have a strong personal preference for legislation by reference. I should have preferred—[Interruption]. May I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker, to see that I shall not be interrupted. If I am to be subjected to these constant interruptions from the opposite benches, I cannot continue to speak.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am afraid that my attention was diverted at that particular moment. I am sure that hon. Members will allow the hon. Lady to proceed without interruption.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
We have proceeded in this way for two reasons. In the first place, the House has a strong objection to legislation by reference, and in the second place it is obviously more convenient to the local authorities to have one Act in their hands. The second point that was raised by the right hon. Member for Edgbaston arose on a little difference as to the meaning of words. He said that a certain phrase would mean that the payment of compensation would take place at different dates to different persons. The reason why the words "come into operation" are used is to be found in. the First Schedule of the Bill. In the First Schedule it is provided under the arrangement for dealing with objections that there must be an interval of six weeks, and under the last part of the Schedule a scheme is not to become operative until the objections have been disposed of. The words "come into operation" are exactly the same as the words "become operative" in the First Schedule. It is only a matter of language, and if in Committee anyone cares to suggest better words we shall be only too glad to accept them.
A Clause on which another important point was raised was Clause 7. Here one sees that it might perhaps have been better to bring in a Bill by way of reference rather than by re-enactment. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in the main dealt with the same point.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
Does the Parliamentary Secretary suggest that the proposal in Clause 7, Sub-section (3), with regard to variations—
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I have not come to that point yet. I am dealing with objections to Sub-section (1) of Clause 7, which reproduces in effect Section 2, Subsection (2) of the Act of 1925, which is that:A town planning scheme …. shall not have effect unless it is approved by order of the Minister, and the Minister may refuse to approve any such scheme except with such modifications and subject to such conditions as he thinks fit to impose.Sub-section (1) of this Clause is substantially the same as Sub-section (2) of the Section 2 of the Act of 1925, with the exception of the holding of a local inquiry. The Bill says that the Minister 318 may refuse to approve a scheme except with such modifications as he suggests. The two are, however, practically the same. The omission of the holding of a local inquiry is for the purpose of expediting the operation of the Bill. If there is an important scheme involved the Minister will, of course, hold a public inquiry but the imposition of a public inquiry has a rather delaying tendency. Sub-section (3) deals with the variation of a scheme. The Minister has already power to revoke a scheme but he has not power under the Act of 1925 to interfere with a scheme already in operation. Changes may take place, circumstances may alter, and what has been approved by the Minister five years ago may become extremely objectionable. We ask for this power. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) objected to Clause 10. I will refer him to Section 5 of the Act of 1925, which is nearly the same thing. In regard to Sub-section (4) of Clause 8 the right hon. Member for Edgbaston asked whether it would be within the power of the Minister to force a local authority to make a larger contribution. The answer is no. He can refuse to approve a scheme if he concludes that anyone has been unfairly treated. In regard to Clause 19, upon which a great deal has been said, there is no land which changes so quickly in value as land which is ripe for development. Agricultural land may double or treble in value if a railway comes and it may increase largely in value by reason of the developments of a local authority. In this connection betterment is a future and contingent advantage and would fall into the hands of the owners of property. But if for any reason he did not want to sell no advantage would actually accrue. The representatives of rural interests protested very strongly that the payment should be deferred. But if two men were so affected, it is clear that the one who sold at once would be at a disadvantage compared to the man whose payments were deferred. It therefore seemed rather better to place the two owners on the same footing by saying that the man who held on to the property should pay interest.
§ Captain R. HENDERSON
The sole proviso was that the betterment tax should be paid when the betterment was realised. The subsequent proviso that 319 interest should accumulate for art indefinite number of years was a thing that they by no means asked for.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
No, but that was in order that the man who sold at once should not be worse off than the man who held up. With regard to Government Departments, the case is somewhat different. The War Office cannot be placed very well under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and the local authorities. I come now to some minor but extremely interesting points. The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir H. Young) and other hon. Members raised the question of advertisements and dumps and asked whether they would be dealt with. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) raised the very interesting point of whether rural districts which had no amenities at all would be covered. It is meant that that should be so. If there are any better words which can be suggested we shall be glad to consider them. Advertisements and dumps are matters which can be dealt with by the scheme. Advertisements are actually dealt with under the very similar provision of the 1925 Act.
With regard to garden cities, it has been said that the Government has not been very helpful. The hon. Member for Withington thought that there should be some inquiry. I have asked my right hon. Friend, who thinks it an excellent suggestion and will be glad to put it into effect, whether independently or as an Amendment to the Bill I am not quite sure. I should like to explore in Committee the question as to whether woodlands would be covered by the word "amenities." I think it would he so, but I am not quite clear whether all woodlands can be brought in under the wording. We will look into that matter. Then great objection has been taken to Clause 29. It is in substance Sections 13 and 14 of the 1925 Act, a little expanded and improved but substantially reproducing those Sections. It is another of the numerous examples where hon. Members, in attacking the Socialist Government for Socialist legislation, have in fact been attacking the most conservative of all Conservative Governments. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston and the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) have done this. The right hon. Member for 320 West Woolwich went perilously near attacking himself when he talked about the bureaucratic power given to the Ministry. He went right over the line in saying that the Minister might approve or might modify the scheme, for that was the identical provision in the 1925 Act. We have extended slightly the powers of the Ministry for approval or variation. But the greater part of these bureaucratic powers were placed in the Act of 1925 with the help and defence and on the responsibility of the right hon. Members for Edgbaston and West Woolwich. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston has not attacked those powers. He has a better memory than the Member for West Woolwich. Circumstances alter cases. What appears to be powers that are thoroughly good and virtuous to a Minister anxious of his own virtue and conscious that all he does is in the interests of the country, appear in quite a different aspect when he is on the other side of the House. As a matter of fact, objections of this kind are common form. Every Minister in office exalts his office; every ex-Minister when out of office feels that an attack on bureaucracy is the really patriotic thing to do. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench attack the power of Ministers; every Minister on the Treasury Bench, being in closer touch with the detailed problems, tends to exalt his office. We shall have plenty of time in Committee to draw a parallel line by line, between the Clauses of the Bill and the former Act. I thank the House for the serious and kind consideration it has given to the Bill.
§ 11.0 p.m.
Mr. FRANK OWEN
There is one point I wish to mention before the Debate closes. It is not contained in the text of the Bill but is hidden away in a Schedule where some of the back handers always are concealed. It will be found in Schedule 3, Part II, page 49. It is a piece of the Bill which purports to reenact Section 72 of the Town Planning Act of 1999 and deals with the taking over of common land. In the Act of 1909 and in every subsequent development or small holding or allotments Act, the principle has always been maintained that wherever a piece of common land was detached from a common for any purpose whatever an equivalent piece of land was somewhere else attached, 321 where a boundary was being readjusted or anything of that kind. In this Schedule it says that land can be detached without giving other land in exchange if in the opinion of the Minister, it is unnecessary either in the interests of the persons, if any, entitled to rights of the common or other rights, or of the public. In Clause 33 of the Bill it says that if there is any kind of dispute, power is given to the Minister or an agreed referee to arbitrate. It is only when we come to deal with common land that the whole power is left in the discretion of the Minister. What may happen is that when the Minister wants to take some land for a certain purpose there will be collusion between the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture. There is no reference to any agreed referee. The whole thing rests upon the word of the Minister. Because common land is cheap for building it is extremely likely that these pieces of land which are detached, will be detached without any equivalent land being anywhere else attached. From the point of view of health these common lands are priceless and I would like the Minister to give some kind of assurance that this point will be looked into. It has been put to me by the Secretary of the Commons Preservation Society, which does extremely valuable work and they are very much concerned lest the safeguard of the common lands of this country should be weakened under this Measure.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I shall certainly give the hon. Member an assurance that we will look into this matter and deal with it later.