HC Deb 02 July 1935 vol 303 cc1783-7

7.46 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 12, line 10, to leave out from "or," to "and," in line 12, and to insert: which is the property of public undertakers, having been acquired by them for the purposes of their undertaking. This is in the nature of a drafting Amendment and is consequential on the proposal to insert in the definition Clause a definition of "public undertakers." I think it is right that I should explain at this stage, in order to save time later, that the words "public undertakers" instead of "statutory undertakers" are used because in Scotland most gas undertakers, in so far as they are not public authorities do not have statutory powers. They are public utility companies which are not operated under Statute, but under agreements with local authorities. Accordingly, the words "statutory undertakers" which have been inserted in a number of places in the Bill would not meet the case of Scotland as regards these undertakers.


Will this Amendment take away the protection of the larger burgh authorities, such as Glasgow and other public undertakers, which are at present protected under statutory rights?


If the hon. Gentleman will look at the definition Clause, he will see that statutory undertakers are protected.

Amendment agreed to.

7.48 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 12, line 12, after "undertaking," to insert: or of any land the dwelling-houses or other premises on which are not to be demolished as soon as existing contracts permit. This Clause deals with exceptions to the powers of the local authority to acquire land compulsorily. As the Lord Advocate has explained, there is now to be excepted, quite properly, the property of public undertakers which has been acquired for the purposes of that undertaking. I seek to have exempted also any land the dwelling-houses or other premises on which are not to be demolished as soon as existing contracts permit. This Amendment is directed against the compulsory acquisition of property which the local authority does not mean to get rid of for the purposes of re-development within a reasonable time. Unfortunately, there have already been instances in which local authorities have compulsorily acquired tenements which they have continued to keep and from which they have been drawing rent, while the proprietor has been expropriated. The local authority should not have power in connection with the re-development of an area to acquire property which they do not mean to demolish. I do not mean that they should demolish it at once, because sometimes there is a lease running which entitles the lessee to hold the property for a pertain period. If, however, the local authority is given power compulsorily to acquire property they ought only to acquire it if they intend immediately to demolish it for the purposes of re-development. It would be unconscionable if they had power to acquire property and to hold it in their hands while the proprietor looks on at the authority drawing the rent which otherwise he would have drawn. That would be all the more poignant because I am certain that under this Bill the compensation for expropriation which is to be given would not in any way meet the needs of the original proprietor. In these circumstances, I think that the Government should be ready and willing to exclude from these powers of compulsory purchase any properties which the municipal authority does not need for its purpose within a proper and reasonable time.

7.53 p.m.


The first point about which my right hon. Friend is concerned is the possibility of purchase by a local authority of houses which they do not propose immediately to demolish. He says that the power of compulsory purchase should only be used in cases where it is necessary for re-development. That point has not been overlooked. I would ask the House to turn to Clause 18 (1) where a, novel provision for assessing compensation is laid down. It says: In assessing compensation the arbiter may take into account and embody in his award any undertaking given by the local authority with respect to the time within which, and the manner in which, the re-development or any part thereof is to be carried out, and the terms of any undertaking so embodied in the award shall be binding on and enforceable against the authority. The meaning of that provision is that where a local authority propose to buy compulsorily in one year, and it is made clear that it is not going to do anything with the property until four, five or six years' time, the arbiter must take into account the fact that the property would still be in existence for a number of years, and he must not assess it on its present value, but take into account that it may rise in value, and so on. In short, the owner must not be dispossessed and given a value which the local authority would make use of. This provision is, we believe, a sufficient safeguard to the first point made by my right hon. Friend.

The other point of my right hon. Friend is a substantial one and requires a substantial answer. His proposition is that a local authority should only acquire houses in a re-development area if they intend completely to demolish them. That, I fear, would not meet all the situations that might be figured. For instance, it might be necessary for the purposes of the really good planning and reconstruction of an area to lower the height of a building. One knows of instances where the building would not be in the least offensive from a planning point of view if it were a three-storied building instead of a six-storied building, but if that is done it is not demolition, but only reconstruction. There is the rarer case in which it might be possible quite properly to raise the height of a building. That, again, would be alteration and not demolition. There is also the case where a building might be required to be partly destroyed for the purpose of reconstructing a street.

While I fully appreciate the object which my right hon. Friend has, I do not think his proposal is practicable. We must give the local authorities elastic powers, but I venture to say what I said to my Noble Friend on the last Amendment, that, after careful discussion and consideration of the probable form of a re-development area, the House may take it that, wherever possible, where there is a good building in a re-development area, the continued existence of which is of no serious harm to the re-development, it should be excluded from the area. That procedure has already been adopted in some of the improvement areas that have been scheduled under the 1930 Act. I think, in fact, the tendency will be that, unless there is some strong reason such as I have indicated, and other reasons, for the inclusion in the re-development area of a perfectly good structure, a local authority will exclude it. I do not want to say that categorically, because it may not always be so, but it is one of the elements that have to be kept in mind in considering this matter. In view of the considerations which I have put forward, I hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to withdraw the Amendment, because I think that we have substantially met the serious point to which he called attention.


I believe the authority is not obliged to give the undertaking mentioned in Sub-section (1) of the Clause.


No, but it is a very definite guide to the arbiter. I would be prepared to consider whether the language could not be made more definite.

8.0 p.m.

Duchess of ATHOLL

Would it be possible, in view of what my hon. Friend has said as to the possibility of a good building being left standing in a re-development area, for him to ask his right hon. Friend to consider, between now and the time when the Bill appears in another place, whether he could not insert some words that would show that it would be possible for such a building to be left? He referred us to the 1930 Act. I have not looked it up, but my recollection is that that Act makes it clear that that is a difference between an improvement area and a clearance area, that in a clearance area everything is cleared, but in an improvement area something may be left standing. A great deal of anxiety would be allayed if the Government could introduce some words dealing with this point.


In view of my hon. Friend's explanation, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.2 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 12, line 23, after "person," to insert: or excambed for other land which the local authority have power to acquire either with or without paying or receiving money for equality of exchange. This is a technical and in one sense a drafting Amendment. Clause 16 provides for the acquisition by a local authority of land in a re-development area, and in Sub-section (4) it is provided that any land purchased by a local authority under this Section for the provision of houses for the working classes shall be deemed to have been acquired by them under Part III of the Act of 1925. Section 45 of that Act of 1925 gives the local authority power, with regard to land bought for the provision of working-class houses, to develop the land or to sell, feu, lease, or excamb the land. I ought to explain, for the benefit of those hon. and right hon. Members who have not the good fortune to come from the other side of the Border, that that is in Scotland the legal term for the exchanging of land. Under Sub-section (5) of this Clause as it stands, with regard to land purchased other than for the provision of houses for the working classes, the power which is given is to sell, feu, or lease. There is no reason why they should also not have power to excamb, because an exchange might in certain circumstances be of very great use.

Amendment agreed to.