HC Deb 15 May 1939 vol 347 cc1081-8

7.50 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, in page 14, line 8, to leave out from "nineteen," to the end of the Clause, and to insert: (2) Where possession of any land is taken under the foregoing provisions of this Section then, notwithstanding that the case is one in which the land is not to be acquired by way of absolute purchase, the amount of compensation to be paid, shall in default of agreement, be determined by an official arbitrator appointed under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, who shall conform to the rules prescribed by that Act subject to such modifications as may be necessary to render them applicable to such cases. This Clause, as explained in the marginal note, is to simplify the procedure for obtaining possession of land taken under the Defence Acts. Under these Acts land can be taken compulsorily either for out-and-out purchase or for lease. The Amendment will accomplish a further simplification in procedure. When the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919, was passed the old 1842 procedure for the assessment of compensation was abolished in the case of absolute purchase, and compensation has since then been assessed by an official arbitrator. I do not know why, when Parliament made that alteration, it restricted the change in procedure to cases of out-and-out purchase and did not extend it to cases in which land is taken for a limited period under what is, in effect, a compulsory lease. There is, I think, no doubt that the 1842 procedure makes no provision for the assessment of costs of the party who may be claiming compensation, and the general view of those who have had experience in its different aspects of the assessment for compensation by the official arbitrator will agree that it is a more practical, a more efficient and a fairer method of assessing compensation. Therefore, in simplifying the procedure for the purposes of this Bill we have thought it desirable to introduce that procedure in cases where the land is required for temporary periods, just as in the 1919 Act it was substituted for cases where there is out-and-out purchase.

Sir Joseph Nall

Will the Attorney-General explain the last line? Who is to determine such modifications of the rules as may be thought to be desirable? Who is to decide whether they are necessary? Will it be the arbitrator or will this be done by rules laid down under the Bill prescribed by some authority who, presumably, may alter them?

The Attorney-General

The point is that the Act applies to out-and-out purchase and, therefore, some necessary modifications as to the form of the rules is necessary to apply them to cases of compulsory lease.

Sir J. Nall

Who is to prescribe the modifications?

The Attorney-General

I think this is sufficient. They are such modifications as may be necessary for the purpose of making this change.

Sir J. Nall

I put the point because the inference is that if the rules in fact do not fit the case, it seems that the arbitrator is to use his commonsense and do as he likes.

The Attorney-General

If you have rules which are sufficient for the purpose of assessing compensation for out-and-out purchase, it is obviously necessary to have modifications in the case of a compulsory lease. But I will look into the point and bear it in mind.

Mr. Macquisten

Is the arbitrator the man who will decide the modifications?

The Attorney-General


7.58 p.m.

Mr. MacLaren

Some of my hon. Friends and I have Amendments down which, I understand, are not to be called. It is interesting to note that the Government have broken away from the old Acts which have governed the acquisition of land to the more recent Act of 1919. Questions have been asked about rules and regulations, and I presume that the same rules and regulations will apply to land taken for a term of years as to out-and-out purchase. But the Amendments which we have on the Order Paper are a distinct challenge to doing anything at all. The cardinal principle running through my mind is that as we are conscripting men to defend the land we should equally conscript the land.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton-Brown)

The hon. Member is now getting rather beyond the scope of the Clause which, after all, is the simplification of the procedure.

7.59 p.m.

Mr. MacLaren

It is something more than that if I may say so. It is an attempt to make sure that we are getting the land much more quickly than we did under the old procedure, and I say that with all its expedition the Clause is much too slow for me. There is a quicker way of doing it. It is true that under the 1919 Act the Government can enter into property and take possession and deal with the question of valuation afterwards. I am not going to raise any complaint on that ground, but I want to make it plain that there is a much quicker way of doing it. I would commend to the Government the procedure of Herr Hitler. When he branched out on big military development in Germany, he had to pass a land requisitioning Act. He wanted to make roads to help his military development, to build new barracks, and to transform the cities, so that people could be removed expeditiously from the centres of the cities to safe places outside. This meant that he would have to buy up large tracts of land running right from the centres of the cities out into the country. He was faced with the same problem as the Government now have to meet. He could not get land here, there or anywhere else, without being met with some demand for the assessment of values and the crediting of values to A, B and C as interested parties in the site. Hitler simply drew a blue pencil through the lot and took possession of the entire land of Germany.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member appears to be speaking on the Clause itself. The Committee are now discussing an Amendment to the Clause, and the hon. Member must confine his remarks to the Amendment.

Mr. MacLaren

Surely, it is in order for me to advise the Government on a quicker way of doing this than the way in which they are trying to do it. I am telling the Government how it has been done elsewhere. The Government are of opinion that after they have got these powers, the impedimenta of legal procedure and valuation will be out of the way. The trouble will be put in a corner somewhere, where the valuer will fight with the landlord and come to an agreement regarding some assessment. The Government will say, "That is all right; we have got the land; what more do you want?" The bill will have to be met afterwards; payments will have to be made. I want only to say this. Compensation will always be paid when it is a question of real property, but no arbitrator is called in to decide the value of a man's body when he is conscripted to defend that property. The difference is obvious. I do not suppose that, however much I talk in the Committee, I shall ever convince hon. Members that they ought forthwith to conscript land outright if they are going to call for a great sacrifice in the defence of that land. The Government adopt procedures of compensation. Under these arrangements they are not doing it openly and there will be no hue and cry from the public; but none the less, the owners of the land will get a toll out of this Amendment as it stands. I oppose the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

8.4 p.m.

Sir Francis Fremantle

I want to raise a point on this Clause on behalf of the British Waterworks Association, representing both private and municipal undertakers throughout the country, who feel it necessary, while not wishing in any way to oppose or hinder the Government's scheme under this Bill, to point out very strongly the danger there is to water supplies in the acquisition of land that may be part of a catchment area for drinking water supplies for the purpose of placing camps on it. Those hon. Members who have been through campaigns know the immense amount of disease that has been spread by the pollution of water supplies. In this country, it would be a serious danger if a camp were put on one of the water catchment areas without proper precautions being taken. The people who understand what is dangerous and what is not dangerous in this respect are the water undertakers, because it is their work to see that the water is not polluted in any way and to deliver pure water to the consumers. I am requested by the association to ask very definitely what provision is to be made that, before this land is taken for camping use, there shall be proper consultation with the water undertakings who have to draw water from that particular part, and whether proper notice will be given to them? This is not a matter of their own amour propre, but of the safety of the troops themselves and water consumers generally. I hope the Minister will give some kind of assurance that there will be proper consultation with the water undertakers before the land is taken for use as camp sites.

8.7 p.m.

The Attorney-General

It would be quite impossible to single out one group of undertakers and undertakings which perform a public service and give them some special assurance, but of course, in all cases where land is being used in connection with public health or the public service, those considerations naturally will be borne in mind, and nothing will be done to interfere with the public purposes which are being served by the land in question. I do not think there is any danger such as my hon. Friend apprehends. In the case of camps, the Defence Departments will be just as anxious as the water undertakings that not only the public but the troops concerned should get a proper water supply. While I cannot give my hon. Friend any specific assurance as to consultation with any particular body, I can assure him that considerations of the kind he has mentioned will be borne in mind, and that there will be an opportunity for representations to be made in the event of a statutory water undertaking or any other body feeling that in the case of land which is being used for public purposes, those public purposes may be injured if the land is turned to use for camping purposes.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. Stokes

I wish to put briefly four reasons why the Clause should not stand part of the Bill. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) has stated, what we are, in effect, doing to the young men of this country is to conscript them at a shilling a day and then ask them to buy the land before they can defend it. Secondly, they are to be asked, in effect, to come forward and sacrifice their lives in order that the landlords of the country may continue to draw not less than £500,000,000 a year in rent. It seems to me to be outrageous that the landlords should be paid anything more under this Clause or any other Clause passed by the Committee. Thirdly, I would endeavour to prevent the War Office from following the iniquities of the Air Ministry by paying fabulous sums for land which has hitherto been regarded as completely valueless, and for the guidance of the Secretary of State for War, I would point out that the Air Ministry already has paid over £1,000,000 for 5,600 acres of land hitherto considered valueless. Fourthly, the Committee may not have realised that in war-time the landlords in fact are the only people who stand to gain—

The Chairman

The first three arguments of the hon. Member have not been in order, and I do not think his fourth is. I would point out to him that the Clause deals with a simplification of procedure for obtaining possession of land taken under the Defence Acts.

Mr. Stokes

I wish to make the procedure simpler still by removing Subsection (2) and amending Sub-section (1). If I should be completely out of order in continuing my remarks on the lines on which I have been speaking, I will merely reiterate that I think it is outrageous that young men should be conscripted at a shilling a day and then should have to pay the landlords in order to be able to defend their land.

8.13 p.m.

Mrs. Hardie

I also wish to protest against this Clause, even as amended. I think the same method should be applied in the case of land as is applied to the young militia men. Land which is required should be taken, and hardship committees should be set up to which those suffering hardship could go, and could be given a little allowance if they were not very well off. I think it is outrageous to pass a Clause in this form. Everyone who has land, irrespective of his means, should be prepared to hand that land to the Government to use in the necessary way. I wish to join in the protest against this Clause being passed.