§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In opening this discussion I should like to try to put this Bill in its proper place——
§ Mr. Morrison
—in the picture of town and country planning. It is evident from the mirth opposite that hon. Members do not see it in relation to its proper background. Some of the criticism that I have heard arises from an honest failure to appreciate the objectives of this limited but still ambitious thrust into very difficult territory. It is called the Town and Country Planning Bill and is another in the series of Bills which have borne that Title. The first Bill of that name, it is interesting to note, was introduced in 1931 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood). Political events not connected with the Bill prevented him from seeing it on to the Statute Book. The same Bill, however, was introduced by the succeeding Administration, and became law as the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932. That Act, of 58 Sections and six Schedules, remains the foundation of the code of town and country planning. It provides an elaborate machinery for the making of planning schemes whereby the activities of private owners are organised, so as to result in a pattern of land use which is in the public interest. This time last year this House, at my invitation, passed the Act of 1943, also a Town and Country Planning Bill when introduced, which, while founded upon the Act of 1932, made the application of the 1932 Act mandatory over the whole country and gave increased powers to planning authorities, central and local, which are strong enough not only to prevent undesirable development but also to encourage desirable development. These two Acts together constitute the planning code. 1592 Under them planning authorities are set up with certain statutory powers and duties, and they have made and are making plans. On their activities, and on those of my Ministry, depend the future lay-out and pattern of town and country. We shall have to overhaul in due course the planning machinery proper, in the light of experience, and, in particular, we shall have to deal with the question of compensation and betterment, which is such an important feature in the whole problem.
The Bill now before the House deals with a separate and limited, but a novel and formidable, problem. Hitherto, the planning code has provided for restrictions upon the use to which owners might put their land. Land might be zoned under the existing code for various purposes, such as residences at various densities, private and public open spaces, industry, shops, and so on. All these powers are now in the existing code and are being actively exercised by planning authorities. The machinery needs overhauling, and this will be the next step after this Bill, in the legislative programme. Meanwhile, the war has brought about the problem of the bombed city and the necessity for its reconstruction as soon as possible after the war. No one, I imagine, thinks that it would be good enough simply to rebuild things as they were. Everyone would like to see their reconstruction on a scale more gracious, with better buildings, safer streets, less crowding and better conditions generally for the health and happiness of the people. If this redevelopment on a new and better pattern in bombed cities is to take place, it is necessary that the land which has suffered very extensive war damage should be acquired by the local planning authority in order that it may be developed as a whole. In these devastated areas it is not possible to reconstruct properly unless the area is acquired together with the adjacent land necessary to make a good job of the project as a whole; also, it is necessary to acquire at the same time land which is needed to accommodate those whom the reconstruction may remove from the area.
There are three main features in the task of reconstructing an area of this kind which the House should bear in mind. First, a great deal of the land will be required for public purposes if the full life of the community is to regain its natural 1593 momentum as quickly as possible after the war. The public purposes are open spaces, roads, car-parks, school sites and public buildings of various kinds. Second, the existing plots of land in the sites, would not fit into that development, in accordance with the new and better plan. They may be small, oddly shaped or unsuitably arranged in relation to each other, and the existing plots could not conform to the attempt to achieve a better and safer street pattern. Third, the long growth of our urban communities has led to a proliferation of interests in the bombed land which has to be seen to be believed. For example, in one part of a central district of Portsmouth, measuring only 30 acres, there are over 500 interests of all kinds involved in the land. The conclusion is that the proper redevelopment of the bomb-damaged and obsolete areas can only be achieved if the interests are amalgamated in one ownership and then redistributed in accordance with the approved plan. It has long been conceded that there are certain purposes of planning which cannot be achieved without this process. It was recognised in Section 25 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, and in the Housing Act, 1936, with its plan for re-development areas to relieve overcrowding. The bomb has added a new and challenging case to this whole procedure.
So much is, I think, agreed, but the carrying out of the purposes which I have indicated demands legislation with the following objects in view. First, powers to acquire the land must be conferred, if necessary, by compulsion. Local authorities possess various powers to acquire land by agreement and by compulsion under various private and public Acts, but they have no powers adequate for this purpose. Second, the powers of acquisition must be expedited and simplified and brought into line with the novel purposes which they will have to serve. Third, there must be a direction as to the price to be paid for the land to prevent speculative values over pre-war values attaching to the land which is necessary. Fourth, there must be assistance from national funds to aid those cities which have been chosen by the enemy as his target. It is to these complicated and formidable tasks that the Bill is directed. There is one more that I have not yet mentioned, namely, the provision of powers to local planning authori- 1594 ties, not only to reconstruct bad development, but themselves to engage in creating good development. I think that this is a big enough mouthful for us to be getting on with to-day. The planning code and the powers of planning authorities rest for the moment on the Acts of 1932 and 1943.
This is a Bill to empower local authorities to acquire land for certain planning purposes, in the main for the reconstruction of bombed sites and, as opportunity allows, for the reconstruction of those urban areas which have suffered, not from the enemy, but from bad lay-out and from the tooth of time. A great part of the Bill is directed to the new procedure to enable this to be done in a quicker and simpler manner. Perhaps I may help the House to understand what is a technical and difficult matter. It has been objected against the proposed new code in the Bill that it provides variants of procedure. Why not, it is asked, find out one form of procedure and make it generally applicable to all these transactions? That is a very natural question, but the attitude of mind behind it has failed to grasp the immense variety presented by our bombed cities and towns. We have cases where the need of action is clear, and these are provided for in Clause 2, Sub-section (2) of the Bill. From that extreme we get a shading off by imperceptible degrees to areas where the damage is less total and where by a corollary there is still, among much damage, property still in beneficial occupation. The property may consist of small freehold houses bought through the building societies, or under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act through local authorities. It is in those areas where complete devastation is diluted by blocks of such houses and buildings that the local authorities would like to set about the matter at a quicker pace than their present powers allow. It is a great mistake, in my judgment, to believe that we can confer any boon upon local authorities by giving them powers which look well enough on paper, but which, in their daily contact with their citizens, they are reluctant to use. Our experience of slum clearance legislation convinced me of that long ago. Some authorities have made use of that legislation. Others have not done so because it was too rigid and too drastic for them to enforce against fellow citizens. We have tried here to present to the House a code which is flexible 1595 enough to meet the varied facts of the situation while allowing a speed of acquisition which local authorities think with their local knowledge, they would like to, and can, enforce.
To the question "Why not one procedure?" the short answer is that one procedure would either be too quick for some authorities to be willing to work it, in their circumstances, or too slow for the necessities of others. When we come to consider the new procedure which we should adopt, to make these powers speedily effective, we find that delays, in the present system, occur at two stages in compulsory acquisition. Those two stages are, first, the procedure for getting the order for compulsory purchase, and, if you have got the order, the second stage is the actual completion of the purchase. The Bill simplifies all this procedure. Let us take the first stage first, that of obtaining the order. If you look at that, you find that the delays occur through two causes. First is the process of referencing and, secondly, the necessity for public inquiry. As to referencing, the facts are that under the present law, before an authority can apply for a compulsory purchase order, it must compile a book of reference, showing the owner of each interest in the land affected. This is a very laborious task. It has, in certain cases, taken over two years to complete this book, and all this has to be done before the authority can even apply for its powers of compulsory purchase. I am indebted to the London County Council for an instance showing not only the time but the labour which is involved in this referencing process. They tell me that their experience is, over a wide range of cases, that referencing of owners requires six men for six acres for six weeks. Thus, to reference the owners in an area of 1,500 acres in six weeks, would entail a temporary staff of 1,500 men. It is hard to see where this staff can be found at the present time. The Bill recognises this difficulty. It recognises also that in the case both of war damaged and obsolete areas, this requirement has outlived its usefulness. By the First Schedule, the requirement is replaced by the duty to advertise the application in the "London Gazette" and locally. This must result in a vast saving of time and is justified by the purposes of the Bill.
1596 When we come to the second cause of delay, the stage of public inquiry, we ought, I think, to move with more caution than some critics of the Bill appear to consider necessary. I know that these inquiries are sometimes considered as a nuisance by local executives who are genuinely keen to get on with some project in which they heartily believe. They dislike both the publicity and the delay involved, but, in my judgment, we should remember the merits of these inquiries when we resolve upon their modification. The ordinary citizen of this country likes to know what his rulers are about.
§ Mr. Morrison
He likes to form his own opinion about the merits of a proposal, and he likes to be able to have his say in public before his friends and neighbours and before an independent person. Speed is not worth purchasing by any undue frustration of these desires. Indeed, it is doubtful whether, in fact, a sense of grievance arising from the mistaken notion that there is something hole-and-corner about what is taking place, makes for speed in the end. It is better, in the long run, to carry the people with you in the open. You may get a better scheme as a result—as I hope to get a better Bill from the discussions in Committee stage. This is an excellent Bill, but I do rely, quite seriously, upon useful contributions from Members of Parliament who are in contact with their constituents, and I invite their help during the Committee stage to make the Bill, good as it, still better.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
If we succeed in doing it, shall we be asked to vote against our own conclusions by the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think I should be disturbed by hypothetical considerations of that sort. Having said all that about public inquiries, I would add that it seems that, in this work of reconstruction, where larger areas are being acquired than were ever before undertaken by legislation, modifications of existing procedure with regard to public inquiries are both necessary and justifiable. What the Bill proposes in this regard is this. Under Clause 1, the authority applies for its area of extensive war damage, or several areas in the case 1597 of a large town, to be declared subject to compulsory purchase, together with adjacent land, whether blitzed or blighted or not, round about it, which is necessary to make a satisfactory unit of redevelopment. The land required for the so-called overspill, namely, the land required to rehouse the people who will be displaced by the proposal for redevelopment from the whole area, which was probably congested—as we regard modern standards—the whole demand for land, damaged area, adjacent land and land for overspill—can thus be considered as a whole together with the proposals for its reconstruction.
§ Mr. Morrison
I will try to find a satisfactory alternative. It is an ugly word but a convenient one. If there are any objections to the whole project, these are heard at one public inquiry, where the question is whether the project for redevelopment is right or wrong. Anyone can object on the ground that a better project would exclude his land. Once the order is made under Clause 1, the land covered by it can be acquired in rapid and progressive stages without further public inquiry. That is the procedure laid down for the typical, mixed bombed area. An exception is made for those clear cases where the need for acquisition is demonstrable, whatever may be the proposed form of reconstruction. Under Clause 2 (2) a compulsory purchase Order can be made without a previous declaration under Clause 1, and without a public inquiry.
§ Captain Strickland (Coventry)
Would the Minister state whether that also applies to Crown lands which come within an area where a local authority desires to acquire land?
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
Can the Minister also say whether a local authority can, by this machinery, acquire land adjacent to, but outside, its own area?
§ Mr. Morrison
The reply to the first question is that the Bill does not refer specifically to Crown lands but that an arrangement has been made with the Crown Lands Commissioners whereby they will fall in with any project of that 1598 sort, where an area requires redevelopment in accordance with the proposals of the planning authority. In reply to the second question, the Bill means that in a proper case, the local planning authority can acquire land for overspill outside, its own area, if it proves its case. There is a third variant introduced—and this is the end of them—in that the Bill provides for a middle course between the extremely rapid procedure of Clause 2 (2) and the process of declaration, and it enables local authorities to carry on contemporaneously an application for the area to be declared and an application for the compulsory purchase orders within it, so that when the area is declared under Clause 1, the necessary stages towards the order for compulsory purchase have already been completed. That is in paragraph 6 of the First Schedule.
Now I come to the second stage, where delays occur. That is the stage after the order for compulsory purchase has been made and confirmed and between that point of time and the time when the land is finally vested in the local planning authority. These provisions are, as a matter of drafting, very complicated in appearance, because they must be grafted on to the Lands Clauses Act, 1845. It has been the universal practice for nearly a century to follow the precedent of that Act, and its operation has been worked out in a great body of case law. Words are given precise and definite meanings of a technical sort, and to try to frame an entirely new code would involve an enormous volume of work. Nevertheless, expedition at this stage is also necessary, and it has been secured by the Fifth and Sixth Schedules. When the compulsory purchase order has been con-finned it must be advertised locally, with an invitation to claim compensation and to furnish particulars. The order is then registered as a local land charge and the registration operates as a notice to treat en bloc. Twenty-one days are left for challenge in the courts and then the order becomes operative. The authority may then give notice of entry on the land, leaving the question of compensation to be duly settled thereafter.
At the same time the older form of completion is retained as an alternative. The notice to treat in this case is served individually. That is for use in appropriate cases. For example, liability for com- 1599 pensation for disturbance is assessed as at the date of the notice to treat, and in the case of smaller and less urgent purchases the authority might well prefer to choose that date as near as possible to the time when they are to enter. Thus the procedure has been speeded up at both stages, and the resultant new method not only is quick where speed is essential but is flexible, with variants at both stages of the process making it readily adaptable to the variations in the actual physical problem with which it is designed to deal.
It is to be remembered—and I ask the House to pay attention to this—that what counts is smooth working in practice and not a delusive simplicity in the print of the Bill. These details of procedure can well be considered in Committee. But I would like the House to have at this stage my general justification, for it is not an apology, for a method which must increase the difficulties of hon. Members but will ease the labours of those who have to put the legislation into practice. This power to acquire the bombed areas which is conferred by the first two Clauses of the Bill form part of the Government's reconstruction programme for the period immediately succeeding the Armistice. They are limited in general, and with exceptions, to a period of five years after the passing of the Act. I think it will be the desire of everyone that as soon as we can we shall set about healing the wounds which the enemy has inflicted upon our towns and cities, and it is right that a sense of urgency should be imported into the Statute. At the same time private enterprise has its own great part to play, and from that point of view people should know as soon as is practicable whether their property is to be acquired or not. The problem of the blighted areas or, as they are defined in the Clause——Areas of bad lay-out and obsolete developmentis familiar to every one of us. [An HON. MEMBER: "Due to private enterprise."] Not always. These areas are similar to the bombed areas in that they need redevelopment as a whole, but there is this important difference: The bombed land is dead and needs resuscitation; the blighted land is still alive, though squalid, and in need of attention as soon as we can get to it. Provision is therefore made for the acquisition of these areas and the land 1600 necessary for the resultant overspill which may be necessary.
I understand that some of my hon. Friends fear that the provision for overspill may involve the consumption of agricultural land which otherwise would not take place. I think otherwise. There is a long-term problem here. Nothing can be worse for the preservation of the countryside than the process, which has gone on too long, of cities dying at the centre and spreading further and further on to green land outside. It is rather like the Mad Hatter's tea party, at which if you spilt the tea in one place, you moved on to a clean place round the corner of the table. It is similar to the dust bowls which have devastated large areas of the earth's surface as a result of people working on an area, exploiting it and then moving on to another area, leaving the first one a desert. There is no ultimate policy for the preservation of the countryside from building except that of making the interiors of our cities healthier and happier places to dwell in.
Perforce owing to the war the problem has a longer range. We shall need all the homes we have for some years after the war, and instead of pulling down houses we shall be in general striving might and main to build more. We recognise the need for dealing, in a land acquisition Bill of this sort, with the powers of local authorities which are at present defective. Therefore, they are given power to acquire the land by compulsory purchase if need be as and when they feel able to redevelop it and a public inquiry is enjoined in each disputed case. In other respects the new, expedited and flexible procedure is applied to blight as to blitz. It is eminently desirable, in my view, that these new powers of acquisition shall not be exercised piecemeal and in isolation from each other. The safeguard against this is good town planning over the whole area of a town, the parts which are to be acquired as well as those which are not. Working to such a good plan and applying the planning powers as they exist at the moment, and as we hope to improve them, as well as those of acquisition, steady progress can be made in the improvement of the whole urban community.
Additional powers to acquire land are given by this Bill and this is the land which they cover: bomb damaged land 1601 and the land necessary to make a reconstruction programme round about, and also the land necessary for the overspill; blighted land and the land necessary for providing alternative accommodation for persons displaced therefrom; and also the land necessary—and this is important—for the highways which are required for both these reconstruction proposals. There is one further category of land to acquire which powers are for the first time conferred by the Bill. It is mentioned in Clause 10. The purposes for which this provision exists are these, to give a few examples.
§ Mr. Denville (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "overspill?"
§ Mr. Morrison
What is meant is the land outside the area which is being reconstructed which it is necessary to take in order to supply accommodation for people who are displaced from the area which is -being reconstructed. It is additional land which local authorities can acquire as mentioned in Clauses 1 and 9. The purposes for which the power in Clause 10 is given are these. The Clause is headedPower to purchase land for certain planning purposes: authorisation under normal procedure.The purposes are: First, to secure balanced development, that is to say, the industrial or commercial development of a town which lacks facilities of that kind. The House will remember that the Corporation of Kingston-upon-Hull recently promoted a Bill seeking this power for themselves, and I said at the time that what Hull required in this direction was also required by all the bombed cities which have suffered and resisted so gallantly. This applies to all planning authorities. Further, this Clause may be used to provide for alternative sites where redevelopment should not take place on the old sites but should, in the public interest, take place somewhere else. For example, in the case of a hospital which has been bombed it might not be the best thing for it to come back to the old site, but a hospital will be needed in the area and power is given to acquire land on which to erect the hospital if it does not come back to the original spot. Generally, the Clause can be used to enable the planning authorities to smooth out the wrinkles due to planning, reconstruction 1602 and the war. As this land will normally be acquired in relatively small parcels, the non-expedited procedure is imposed by the Second Schedule.
§ Sir I. Albery
May I ask one question before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point? Under all this procedure would it not be possible for a town or an authority to acquire the whole of the land in its area?
§ Mr. Morrison
They have to make out a case for everything, and all this is subject to Ministerial consent. The Minister is responsible to Parliament, and any consent of that sort which was given by him would be subject to the scrutiny of the House and to proper safeguards.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)
Referring to the example given by the right hon. Gentleman of the substitution of a new site of a hospital for the old site, may I ask what is the meaning of the words in Clause 10, Sub-section (1, b) "or of any other operation" which follow the words "the making good of war damage"?
§ Mr. Morrison
I must ask the hon. and learned Member to leave that point to the Committee stage. I think I know the answer, but I would not like to give him an inaccurate one, and I have a lot to get through in presenting the Bill to the House. Next I want to come to the disposal of the land once it is in the hands of the local planning authorities, a question which is dealt with, in the main, in Clauses 15 and 16. There will be some land which a local authority will require for its own purposes—its housing programme, roads, open spaces, schools, public buildings and so on. Much, however, will be required for other developments which will be carried out, in the main, by private enterprise, for in this work of reconstruction we must enlist the whole energies of both public and private enterprise.
§ Commander Agnew (Camborne)
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of roads does he include railroads and also railway stations?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir, those are the property of statutory undertakings. The Bill assumes that, in the main, this development will be carried out by private enterprise, shops, banks and so on, and 1603 it provides that the authority may dispose of land acquired normally by lease. I would draw attention to one thing in the Bill. In Clause 15, Sub-section (6), there is an important point which hon. Members may wish to have drawn to their attention with regard to this question of disposal. Sub-section (6) says:The powers conferred by this Section on a local planning authority in respect of the disposal of land thereunder, and on the Minister in respect of consent to such disposal, shall be so exercised as to secure so far as may be practicable to persons who were living, or carrying on business or other activities, on land which the authority have acquired for the purposes of this Part of the Act, who desire to obtain accommodation on such land, and who are willing to comply with any requirements of the authority as to the development and use of such land, an opportunity to obtain accommodation thereon on terms settled with due regard to the price at which any such land has been acquired from them.That, generally, enables a local authority to dispose of land, once it has got it, without being forced to sell it to the highest bidder. It can do so without risk of surcharge; it can have regard to the desire of those previously living on the land to come back and live on it again, and it can, in charging them rent, have equitable regard to the price paid for the land.
Further to these methods of disposing of the land, Clause 16 contains a power enabling the local planning authority to dispose of its land in a new way. Although, as I have said, it may be anticipated that the main burden of rebuilding will be borne by private enterprise, it cannot be assumed that, in the disturbed conditions of the immediate reconstruction period, private enterprise will find its way quickly enough to meet certain public needs of that period. A reserve power is, therefore, provided in this Clause for the local planning authority itself to carry out development in order to crank things up and give a lead. It may be the starting, for example, of a shopping centre in the right place, or factory premises necessary to a proper location of industry in the area. A quick start with this problem is essential. If things hang fire, not only do the public go short of facilities, but the finances of redevelopment may be seriously prejudiced. There is no reason why these properties should be less remunerative to 1604 the planning authority than private properties to private enterprise.
One particular object which I have much at heart can come into being by such means. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service also has this matter much at heart—the provision of "flatted factories." Let me explain what they are. Most of the great industries of this country started at some time with someone in a backyard with a lathe, a few other tools and an idea. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Duke of Westminster."] I think the original one certainly had a very bright idea. I should greatly like to encourage the man with the idea by putting him in good surroundings in order that he may develop it, because we shall need all the ideas available in the years to come. What we want is a well-designed structure of a few storeys where a man can rent space, for a modest sum, equipped with water and electricity. This will give him a chance and prevent the backyard growing into the workshop and factory with the consequent jumble pf property which we have seen in the past. I think this enterprise should be started early, and I seek power for the national planning authority to enable the necessary steps to be taken.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, has he not limited his power to give such consent to the planning authority to cases in which he is satisfied that nobody else is going to do it?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is so. If my hon. Friend will reflect, he will see that it is precisely the sort of development which, perhaps, would not occur rapidly through private enterprise, but can be done as a matter of conscious development by the initiative of the public authority. I pass to another point with which I do not propose to deal at great length because it is a complex one and not, perhaps, of the same general interest.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether, if some organisation came forward and said it intended to establish what are called "flatted factories," that would be any objection to such a project by the local authority?
§ Mr. Morrison
That is a hypothetical question. It would depend upon the reality of such a statement. If, indeed, 1605 somebody were prepared to come along and put up these things and conform to the planning authority's scheme there would be no objection. But if it were merely an attempt to stop the local authority from going on, that would be another matter. The House will see that, throughout the Bill there are provisions regarding statutory undertakings which will have a most important part to play in the common task of reconstruction. For the quick provision of services in the new areas there is the possibility that land of statutory undertakers may be compulsorily acquired for some overriding need. There is the necessity for undertakers to conform to a planning control. All these matters raise difficult problems. These are dealt with in the Bill and, I believe, are dealt with to the general satisfaction of both the statutory undertakers and the local planning authority, which is no mean achievement. The main point to which I would refer on this matter is that statutory undertakers are the children of Parliament and provision is made for them to come to their parent both for new powers, and for protection by means of the Provisional Order Procedure. In this connection I would remind the House of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said recently about proposals for modifying procedure with a view to expedition.
I come now to the contentious, but very important, topic of money, which I divide into two parts. The first part concerns how much local authorities should pay for the land which they acquire under these extended powers of compulsory acquisition. The second concerns the question how much, and to what extent and in what manner, the Exchequer should be called upon to contribute to their expense in acquiring it. I should preface my remarks by pointing out that, throughout the Bill, where the compulsory acquisition of land is authorised, so also is it made legal for the local planning authority to acquire land by agreement. If the owner is not willing to sell he must be forced to sell, but what then? The House will recollect that the Government in 1941, when people were afraid that speculation in land values above the 1939 levels would defeat the object of planning, made a statement on this subject following a Report of the Uthwatt Committee which said that they 1606 recommended a general principle that compensation ultimately payable in respect of public acquisition of land, or of the public control of land, should not exceed sums based on the standard of pre-war values. By "pre-war value" was meant the value at 31st March, 1939. The Government accepted the principle of the following recommendation:The Committee recommend that the compensation payable in public acquisition or control of land should not exceed sums based on the standard of values at 3rst March, 1939. The Government accept this principle, and legislation to give effect to it will be introduced in due course. The detailed application of the principle requires consideration. Adjustments may be needed to meet particular cases, and the principle must be open to review if circumstances arise which makes its application inequitable. It is contemplated that the principle will remain in force for a limited period during which long-term policy for the reconstruction of town and country after the war is being settled.We are dealing with the problem of what the local authority should pay for the land in the case of compulsory purchase. I do not intend at this stage to spend too much time on this for we shall hear a good deal about it on Committee, and the Financial Resolution on the Paper is purposely drawn wide, so that if anyone has a better solution than that proposed by the Government, he can put it on the Paper and let us all have a look at it, and consider its effect. We can then make up our minds which of the various proposals does, in fact, work more justly than those proposed in Clauses 45 and 46 in the Bill. Whether complete, absolute and abstract justice can ever be achieved in this matter is open to doubt. To every solution that can be advanced, some objection can be raised. Let us have the views of the House in the form of Amendments. The Government have given the most careful consideration to these difficult matters and the conclusions to which they have come, and which they submit to the House, are embodied in the Bill.
The value of a piece of land in money is determined in the open market by what John Doe is prepared to pay for it, and Richard Roe is prepared to sell it for. It is an ordinary transaction between two bargainers, one willing to buy and the other willing to sell.
§ Mr. Morrison
But when you come to compulsory purchase, the transaction is artificial, because Richard Roe is not willing to sell. He has to be compelled to do so by a Bill such as this. Therefore, we call in, in these cases, the great profession of valuers to our aid, and they, practising the mysteries of their profession, arrive at the price which is computed by law under Rule n in the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919, which says:The value of land shall be taken to be the amount which the land, if sold in the open market by a willing seller, might be expected to realise.When you remember that the seller, in this case, is not really willing to sell, it is not surprising that valuers frequently differ widely in computing the proper sum, and that the arbitrator is brought in to decide where lies the golden mean. The point is that valuers have to refer to an open market and a willing seller. By an open market, I mean a normal series of transactions. The war has, temporarily, depressed values in areas such as those on the South East coast and raised the values of others through purely temporary causes, which will cease to have effect within a short time after the armistice. Such transactions as have taken place during this disturbed period do not afford an open market and where people have sold land for what it would fetch, it is doubtful how far, in justice, they can be considered willing sellers. What we propose to do, for five years only, since valuers must do their job and refer to an open market, is to direct them back to the most recent date when there was an undisturbed market in land, namely, the 31st March, 1939. Therefore, Clause 45 says that the value of land shall be ascertained by reference to prices current at 31st March, 1939.
This, incidentally, is the formula agreed to by Parliament in Section 10 of the War Damage Act, 1943, under which many thousands of valuations have already been made, and there are great administrative conveniences in adhering to it, and great complications for the War Damage Commission in departing from it, especially when we remember that we are here dealing so largely with war damaged land. In two cases, so far, we have evidence that this rough justice might work harshly, where there seems to be strong evidence that a rise in value since 1939 has taken place, which 1608 is not due to the war but to social tendencies of a more permanent character. One is the case of the smaller houses and the other is that of agricultural land. To the owner-occupier in each case we ask for power to pay if he is dispossessed an additional sum calculated by reference to 1939 prices at what is called a prescribed percentage. The dwelling houses concerned are described as those with a rateable value not exceeding £100 in London and £75 in the provinces. These are the limits laid down in the Rent Restriction Act. This limit covers the whole or by far the majority of the homes of the people, and the object is, if the rise in price of these houses persists, to enable an award of such a sum as would roughly enable owner-occupiers to get a similar house. A like object lies behind a similar provision in the case of the owner-occupier of agricultural land.
I come to the last chapter of this long story—assistance from the Exchequer for this great operation. The financial provisions deal with the issue of immediate urgency, namely, the areas of extensive war damage, but, as has already been said, the area for reconstruction will not be rigidly restricted in any way, should the proper needs of replanning require the designation of a wider space; and any overspill area for the reinstatement of those displaced is also included. What are the financial problems facing the local authorities of war damaged towns? I suggest there are four main problems. First, although this is a matter not strictly part of reconstruction, they may already be suffering a temporary loss of rates revenue serious enough to threaten a breakdown of essential services. This is a misfortune which they share in common with towns whose loss arises not from war damage but from evacuation. Relief is afforded by the Ministry of Health's wartime assistance scheme, and its continuation may be expected for as long as is necessary. Secondly, the amount of capital required for the purchase of the areas affected—many of them town centres in which the cream of site values will be found—will run to very large figures. The amount involved cannot be accurately estimated, but the Financial Memorandum to the Bill conjectures that the sum may be of the order of £575,000,000 in respeot of expenditure on acquisition and clearance. In order to 1609 assist local authorities provision is made, in Clause 38 of the Bill, to give them access to the Local Loans Fund.
The third and fourth problems arise respectively in the short and long terms, but they are closely related. In both cases the question is "Will the annual income arising on the reconstruction scheme balance the annual outgoings in the form of loan charges?" Let us examine the two cases separately. The short term problem may extend for perhaps ten years, during which the immense task of physical reconstruction will be proceeding. There is a gap, a "dead period," during which inevitably receipts will lag behind outgoings, although towards the end of the period the amount of the annual deficit may, it is hoped, taper off and even cease. The general nature, although not the particular incidence, of the problem is forseeable, and a relief for it is wanted in some dependable form and knowledge that it is far a reasonable period ahead. The long term problem is of a different kind. When the buildings are up, when life has been restored to the town, the testing time for the ultimate success of the scheme will begin. The improvements effected may enable values to be reestablished at such a level that profits will mature. On the other hand it is not impossible—I do not gainsay it—that the requirements of a proper layout or other circumstances may prevent the scheme from becoming self-supporting even in the long run. But all this is to enter the realm of guesswork.
How does the Bill provide for these two problems? To take the short-term problem first—the proposals, I suggest, march with the need. During the first two years after the purchase of land, when in the average case no or very little income may be coming in, the local authority will be relieved of all loan charges whatsoever—in other words during these years they would pay nothing in respect of the land which they have acquired—and this extends to overspill areas as well as to reconstruction areas. Next, for the ensuing eight years the relief is continued in so far as the land acquired is "incapable of being brought into use for any substantial purpose." Further this relief is "in special, circumstances" to be extended for a further five years. Accordingly both the extent and the terms of the relief are nicely 1610 adjusted to the circumstances of the individual case, and where special circumstances justify it the relief is available up to a maximum period of fifteen years. This strikes me as a practical and workmanlike way of dealing with the short term problem. Indeed the interpretation of what is "short term" may be deemed to be generous; and in regard to the administrative application of what should be considered "use for any substantial purpose," specific provision is made for consultation with the associations of local authorities before rules are made. It is, therefore, submitted that these grants satisfy the tests mentioned above, and afford relief in the short term period in dependable form.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point may I ask whether I am correct in understanding him to say it is within the framework that an extension of time may cover the full loan charge beyond two years?
§ Mr. Morrison
Certainly, Sir. If my hon. Friend will look at the Bill he will see that grants can be made in respect of any part of the loan charges incurred by the authority purchasing the land. If in fact a project for redevelopment properly is not bearing fruit that power is extended right to the end of the ten years, and in special circumstances to another five years. I think that is generous provision.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, except in so far as returns are coming in to the local authority. If they are getting returns it is quite right they should stand that themselves.
I pass to the long-term problem. Let me say by way of preface that I hope Members and the local authorities concerned will look upon a reconstruction as a great opportunity as well as a weighty responsibility. It is an opportunity for the building of finer and worthier town centres and other war damaged areas. Nor need we preclude the probability of a satisfactory financial outcome if the opportunity is taken. Providing that during the first few years we nurse these towns back to convalescence, which we propose to do, financial recovery should, we hope, then set in. Accordingly, the Bill provides that in the long term period 1611 quinquennial reviews should be made in order to judge what has been the financial effect of the redevelopment. If the reviews show that a net profit has accrued,the Minister … after considering any representations made by the authority may certify the amount thereofand to that extent the grants previously made become repayable. I have seen criticisms on this point and it should be emphasised that the question of repayment only arises if a profit has been made on the scheme itself. Only the financial effect of the scheme, not the whole finances of the local authority, are taken under review.
But I shall doubtless be asked to consider also the case where not only no profit accrues but a loss continues into the long-term period. It will be pointed out that the Bill says nothing specific about that contingency. The reason is not far to seek. As I have already said, we are here in the realm of guesswork; and you cannot prescribe in terms, and with financial commitments attached, for the incalculable. Let us see what in fact the local authority associations desire in this particular regard. They desire that the matter shouldbe subject to review in the light of the current financial results.That is a very reasonable request. No definite or impracticable commitment is sought. The associations merely ask that the door should be left open for review at the proper time. The Bill does not differ from this. Clause 8 makes provision for a quinquennial review. This review can have regard to losses as well as gains, and could be made the basis for appropriate action in the case of losses, should our successors at that time decide that circumstances call for further financial assistance.
So much in regard to financial assistance far war damaged areas. The Bill makes no provision for financial assistance for authorities who acquire land in obsolete areas. The House may wish me to say a few words about this. The Government feel that first things should come first. In the early years after the war, when there is bound to be a shortage of labour and materials, the national effort should be concentrated on restoration and on new accommodation—new houses, factories and other essential needs. In 1612 this programme war damaged towns will rightly have prior claims. No effort should be spared in reconstructing devastated areas—with which, as I have said, will be associated any obsolete areas which form a proper part of the new layout. But to deal in general with the other overcrowded and obsolete areas in this period would mean an unwise distraction from the supremely urgent task of restoration, and to pull down rather than to build would moreover add to the lack of accommodation at a time when none of it can easily be spared. It is for that reason that no commitment is entered into in respect of finance for blighted areas but the acquisition powers are in the Bill.
I would indicate one or two details in the provision for financial assistance to bombed areas. The assistance is towards the cost of purchasing and clearing the land. Clearing the land includes, by Clause 49, "preparing land to the prescribed extent for development, including the construction of any prescribed works in the course of so preparing it." "Loan charges" cover both interest and sinking fund. Clause 5, Sub-section (4) provides that if a local planning authority finances the operation out of its own money, this is treated as a notional borrowing, and the grant towards loan charges is payable just as if, in fact, they had borrowed it. These provisions are not ungenerous.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the financial provisions may I ask him this? He has drawn the Financial Resolution widely in the matter of compensation to allow of the possibility of some discussion. He has drawn the Financial Resolution on assistance very narrowly so that it is impossible during the Debate within the Resolution to extend a period beyond the two years. As that is one of the requests of the local authorities, would the right hon. Gentleman consider a wider Resolution on this point?
§ Mr. Morrison
I will certainly consider it. In fact the Bill continues financial assistance over two years in so far as the land is not revenue producing. I do not think there is very much in that point, but if hon. Members feel that some Amendment in the Financial Resolution would help the Debate, in so far as I can meet them I shall be very pleased to do so.
1613 I have discharged my task of exposition to the best of my ability and I have attempted to make the main plan and purpose of the Bill clear. The Bill confers great powers on local authorities and I hope that they, with my Department and the public, will work in harmony and with zeal for the accomplishment of the task which lies before us all. As to future progress, I propose, if I get the Second Reading, to enter into consultations afresh with the local authorities between now and the Committee stage. I shall debar nothing from these consultations, and I feel sure that these consultations will be more fruitful at this stage if they are held in the light of the discussion which is to take place here to-day and to-morrow. This is a matter which concerns not only a Government Department and the Executive, and local authorities; it concerns vitally the general public, whom these bodies exist to serve. Parliament is the guardian of the general public. As a result, I hope that, with mutual good will, we can agree upon Amendments, which will improve the Bill and yet be agreeable to this House. Besides, I shall, on the Committee stage, look with sympathy, as I have said, and with impartiality, on Amendments put down by hon. Members on all sides of the House.
This has been a difficult Bill to get to this stage. The ownership of land is a topic which, in the past, has aroused much controversy in the political arena. Ministers, as well as Members, have their own views. But my right hon. Friends and I have had before us the urgency of this work of reconstruction, and have agreed to present the proposals in the Bill to this House. We regard the reconstruction of our bombed cities as an epilogue to the national emergency which brought us together. May I ask for an equal degree of objectivity and mutual forbearance from the House, in order that this great work may be set on foot by this present Parliament?
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
My right hon. Friend knows me too well to expect me to shower bouquets upon him now. On the statement made by the Leader of the House, with regard to the Money Resolution, I should like to say a few words. I am glad that the Government have decided not to proceed with the Money Resolution at present. In my view, it is drawn not so widely as to meet 1614 the discussions which will be undertaken shortly with the local authorities, but so narrowly as to confine it to one particular aspect only of the Bill. If the discussions were to take place—and we have the right hon. Friend's undertaking that they will be as wide as the local authority representatives think necessary—I should hope that, in the light of the Debate to-day and to-morrow and the following discussions with the local authorities, the Government will be prepared to come back to the House with, if necessary, a revised Money Resolution and with even far-reaching Amendments, which have come out of the discussions. My right hon. Friend thinks that this is just the right moment for the discussions. I may refer to that a little later in my speech. I myself think that it is rather late in the day.
My right hon. Friend has reminded the House that I was responsible for introducing the first Town and Country Planning Bill, in 1931. It was in the days of a minority Labour Government. Therefore, I appreciate some of the difficulties which are facing the present National Government. I could not, as a Member of a minority Government, have hoped to obtain a Town and Country Planning Bill after my own heart, and when, as my right hon. Friend says, for reasons unconnected with the war, that Bill was dropped in 1931, and re-introduced in 1932, it was not the same kind of Bill. Members who were in the House at the time will recollect that it had taken on a much more true-blue Tory colour. That is inevitable when one is viewing questions of real property. That issue is the deepest issue perhaps between my hon. Friends and hon. Members on the opposite side of the House: it is where we definitely part company. Hon. Members opposite hold a political philosophy which, on this side of the House, we do not share. You cannot satisfactorily, in our view, deal with the problem of town and country planning unless you face up squarely to the issue of nationalisation versus private ownership. That, indeed, was clear to the Uthwatt Committee, for in their final Report, dealing with unification of private pooling schemes, they said, in paragraph 45:The logical answer to the proposals for pooling ownerships is thus that they are theoretically sound in endeavouring by means of unification to eliminate the compensation 1615 requirements arising from shifts of value, but that as shifts are on a national scale so the pooling of ownership must result in a single pool comprising the whole of the land of the country. In a word, the only feasible system of pooling is nationalisation, which is the very result pooling is designed to avoid.In paragraph 47, the Uthwatt Report contains these words:If we were to regard the problem provided by our terms of reference as an academic exercise without regard to administrative or other consequences, immediate transfer to public ownership of all land would present the logical solution; but we have no doubt that land nationalisation is not practicable as an immediate measure and we reject it on that ground alone.The Committee state their reasons. The first, and overpowering, reason quotes almost the words of the Prime Minister, that land nationalisationwould arouse keen political controversy.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
Will the right hon. Gentleman mention the other two objections, because they are very relevant?
§ Mr. Greenwood
They are not relevant to my argument. [Interruption.] I am not called upon to read the whole of the Report. I am entitled to make my speech in my own way. I am simply pointing out that the major reason in the minds of the Uthwatt Committee was that a solution on those lines would arouse very keen and bitter political controversy. I have said before that I have no objection to keen political controversy. I do not believe that we are going to get the best out of any post-war plans unless there is freedom of expression in this House, on all sides. I can understand that His Majesty's Government, being composed as it is, could do nothing less than produce a Measure of this kind. The Bill and the White Paper both shirk that issue, because in a National Government it is incapable of solution. Therefore, from our point of view, we cannot get a satisfactory Bill. It may be amended more in accordance with our desires, but this Bill can never completely satisfy my hon. Friends and myself.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to put the probem in its national setting. The great issue with which we are faced is as to whether, in future, our national development is to be directed to the governing principle of public wellbeing or left to the more or less undirected 1616 impulses of private ambitions for gain or power. I believe, and my hon. Friends believe, That the land of the nation ought to be a national asset, and not an aggregation of private interests, often conflicting, as they are. I am not going to devote time to discussing the advantages or disadvantages of public ownership. I merely affirm that our only standard, on this side of the House, in judging a plan for dealing with national development is that it must be based upon the national ownership of land. In recent years the need for directing our national life towards the fullest utilisation of the British soil and what is under it was widely recognised. The war has not removed that problem. It is still as urgent and as vital as ever it was. All that the war has done, in my view, is to make the solution of this problem of the utilisation of our resources more urgent and insistent. Consequently, the major question is not to deal with the blitz situation, although that is an immediate problem, but to use the destruction that we suffered at the hands of the enemy as an incentive to attack the wider problem. All we have before us to-day is virtually a blitz Bill. It has some of the trimmings, some of the frills, but the heart of the Bill is the blitz problem. I am not saying that that is not a big problem: all I am saying is that it is a simple problem compared with the major problem which we are going to have to face. My suggestion is that, unless you put it into the picture of general national development, you will fail in your object.
We have had the final Uthwatt Report for nearly two years. We have now got the White Paper on the Control of Land Use and we have got the Bill, both published simultaneously. I want to make my protest about the proceeding which has been adopted in relation to this, before the Second Reading Debate. We cannot fully debate the Government's White Paper to-day, because of the Bill. If I could have persuaded the Leader of the House last Thursday to agree to a discussion on the White Paper, Mr. Speaker would, quite rightly, have ruled that the Debate, if we had it, could not anticipate the discussion of this Bill to-day, and to that extent my purpose in asking for a full Debate would have been defeated.
I think that, in throwing at the House the White Paper and the Bill simul- 1617 taneously, it has treated the House very unfairly. Why has there been this new procedure? We have, during the time I have sat on this side of the House, for the last 2½ years, built up a procedure which I think has been acceptable on all sides. We have had a discussion on a White Paper, or on some Report, before legislative action has been taken by Parliament, and that seems to me admirably to meet the circumstances of a war-time Parliament and a Coalition Government. We did it with the Beveridge Report, to be followed by legisation. The national health service White Paper came out with a promise of subsequent legislation. We had an Education White Paper, followed by a Bill now going through its final stages in another place. On the rural water supplies White Paper we had a Debate, followed subsequently by a narrow, emergency Bill dealing with the immediate situation.
If that procedure has been worked out and applied on half a dozen occasions, I cannot, for the life of me, see why the Government have treated the House in this fashion on this occasion, because we are dealing with one of the problems which is bound to arouse hostility on both sides of the House. We have been robbed to-day of an opportunity of discussing the White Paper, and have had forced upon our attention a Bill to be accepted or rejected. It is idle to say, as it is said, I understand, that the White Paper on the Control of Land Use deals with the long-distance problem and the Bill with the much more immediate problem. I believe the immediate Bill will produce a long-distance problem for us, because we are going to try to handle this thing out of relation to the wider issues. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is silly."]
My next point is the treatment which the local authorities have received in these discussions. Two years is a long time, almost as long a time, I believe, as for an elephant to bring its young to birth, and yet, in spite of that long time, there has been discussion only of the most cursory kind, as I regard it, with the representatives of the local authorities. It is a cardinal principle, which I think must be admitted by all, that, prior to legislation, there should be full and intimate discussion with those who will be charged with carrying out the law when it is on the Statute Book. In this case there has been 1618 some discussion. I believe I am right in saying that, in the earlier stages, there was a meeting with the Minister, and that, more recently, there has been a meeting with the Minister, and in between, I believe, about four meetings with representatives of my right hon. Friend's staff. I do not, however, regard that as adequate consideration and discussion with the local authorities, and I hope that the discussions which have been promised to-day will be what has often been described as a process of "getting down to it," and that there will be intimate discussions between my right hon. Friend and the representatives of local authorities. I do not think that, in this matter, he ought to leave too much to the officers of his Department.
It is clear, of course, that the whole range of the problem cannot be discussed. I think myself that there has not only been a little discourtesy to the local authorities but that there has been a short-sighted attitude. The only way we can deal with matters of this kind is by gaining the good will of those who have to administer and carry out the proposals. I am certain that if, in the 1929–31 Parliament, I had treated the local authorities as they have been treated on this occasion, I should not have been able to get through either the Rural Housing Act or the Housing Act. I did not put through the Town and Country Planning Bill, but I had all the preliminary discussions on it with the local authorities I suggest that the right method for the Minister is to live with these people and have them by his side, because they know all the snags and know what they want.
I object very much to what the Minister said when talking about inquiries, his remark that we must go into them with more and more caution. My right hon. Friend spoke as the arch-priest of excessive caution, and took unto himself a superiority which I do not think squares with the facts. He talks about this longer procedure and so on, and says it will ease the labours of those who have to carry his proposals into effect, but that does not appear to be the case, because, as Members will know, here is a document of a kind which I have never seen in my experience, and I have a longish experience in local government of one form and another. I never have seen the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils' Association, the Urban District Councils' Association, the Non- 1619 County Boroughs' Association, the Rural District Councils' Association, the London County Council and the Corporation of the City of London all in the same bed at the same time. Their view is that they want to simplify this matter. Their burdens are not going to be eased by the promises of my right hon. Friend. On the contrary, their view is that this new procedure, so far from simplifying matters, does, in some regard and in some parts of the Bill, add a fifth wheel to the coach. I would hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will think again. I am sorry that the discussions are to take place on the basis of the Bill now before the House, and I think they should take place on the basis of this document sent out by organisations of local authorities. If my right hon. Friend will listen to their argument, I think that, when we come to the Bill again, he may be' able to produce a better Bill for us.
I want for a moment or two to pursue the question of the narrowness of this Bill. We need a Measure or Measures to deal with national development and with the problems of our land as soon as possible. It is imperative. All we have is a Bill of bits and pieces. My right hon. Friend thinks they are big bits and pieces, but, whether big or little, they are bits and pieces and cover what is really only part of the problem. When decisions are taken on this Bill, this House will have tied its own hands in trying to solve the far bigger and wider problem of development. We shall not merely, for a particular area of ground, have decided its policy, but we shall have prejudiced the larger policy on national development, and that is why I cannot believe that this backwards-way procedure is the best in these circumstances.
We are not so certain yet that this Bill will get on the Statute Book, and it may be, therefore, that the general plan will not be forthcoming before the end of the European war, in which case this country will be in a sorry plight, with the local authorities hamstrung and harassed and discouraged, faced with grave problems far beyond their local resources, and without any guidance from a national plan. That, I think, would be calamitous. I hope my right hon. Friend takes my view on this matter—that redevelopment and development cannot be separ- 1620 ated really from restoration, and I think that, in the long run, he will agree with me that it would be folly to put back something rather like what Hitler has succeeded in destroying. It is shortsighted in the last degree, when Hitler has already done the work of demolition for us and is still continuing to do it, and when national pride in our heritage and hopes for our future are increasing, not to take advantage of this opportunity.
Local authorities are entitled to know where they stand. Part of the case they make against the Government is that they do not know where they stand and cannot proceed on the basis and with the vision with which they want to proceed, until they know far more of what is in the Government's mind. After local authorities have been encouraged by many Ministers in the list year or two to produce their general plans for the Government to consider, those general plans should be considered as a whole, covering blitzed areas, blighted areas, "areas of bad lay-out and obsolete development" and imaginative plans for full development.
The Bill throws very heavy financial responsibilities on the local authorities. I do not believe that the blitzed areas and their restoration ought to be a problem for the local authorities. A district bombed by enemy action is as much a war loss as a cruiser or a merchant ship sunk at sea, or a crashed aeroplane or, indeed, any other physical loss we sustain during the war, and it would, therefore, seem to me that war damage, whether you call it blitz or blight, should be regarded as a charge to be properly added to the cost of the war, an addition which would mean little to the nation as a whole, but, if borne by the local authorities, would be an intolerable burden. The assistance given to blitzed areas is too small to enable them to carry that burden. I do not believe that the more favoured, financially, local authorities in the country would object to the nation as a whole taking all responsibility of paying for the restoration of these damaged areas. Of course one has got to ask, Are they to be put back, more or less as they were, or to be restored as they ought to be according to the ideas of the middle of the 20th century? My answer to that is that they should be developed as well as they can possibly be developed.
1621 I believe that the taxpayers of this country would not grumble if, Phœnixlike, out of the ashes of Coventry and a dozen other towns there arose a memorial to which all the nation had subscribed—a memorial to nobler towns, bearing honour to those people who suffered most heavily from war action. As regards the other areas, the areas of bad lay-out and obsolete development, we deal with a problem which is neither that of the present Government nor that of the present local authorities. It is rather an old problem. Here the Government ought actively to encourage local authorities to undo the evils of bad lay-out and so forth and ought, in my view, to make some contribution to the cost. The evil of permitting bad lay-out to continue rests on the community and on Parliament and so on, and the removal of obsolete development would be an investment of great value to the nation as a whole. I would, of course, assume that in the redevelopment of these areas the local authorities would have to bear a substantial portion of the cost and to that I believe they would agree, because there is some return in amenities and in rateable value, and some return in human dignity if they got a town looking something like a town worth living in.
I could deal with many points in the Bill but I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the Debate and I will not, therefore, raise them. There is one particular problem I would like to mention, one concerning the relations between national and local finance. During the discussions on the Education Bill I suggested that the time had now come, seeing that new burdens were being cast upon local authorities, for a general review, in consultation with the local authorities' associations, of relations between State and local finance. With this Bill coming on, which will impose enormous financial burdens upon local authorities, it is indeed high time that such discussions should be begun, and without delay.
My last word is this. If the Government would withdraw the Bill, I would be very pleased. I believe that the Bill has been drafted far too hastily even to carry out what is intended. I do not think that it meets the wishes of a substantial proportion of the Members of this House. It certainly does not meet the wishes of 1622 the local authorities who, after all, will be charged with the responsibility of administering it. If my right hon. Friend looks forward to the Bill becoming a monument to him when it is on the Statute Book, I can assure him that he will have to amend his Bill, amend his ways and seek the friendly collaboration of the local authorities.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I hope very much that the Government will not listen to the concluding words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and will not act on his request that the Bill should be withdrawn. I want to start by making an appeal to the House. I do not expect that my words will be so winged that they will fly so far as to the darkest and dustiest corners of this Chamber. In so far as there is any mention in the Bill of private enterprise, I do not believe that it could be acceptable to the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland)——
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
—wherever he may be to-day. In so far as there is any mention in the Bill of public control, I do not think it would be acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). I regard this Bill as a test of the capacity of the nation to turn from the defeat of an external enemy to cope with the giant evils in our midst—the evils of squalor, disease and want. The leaders of all parties in the House of Commons produced this Bill. The White Paper associated with the Bill says:The Government has made prolonged and detailed search for a solution which might prove broadly acceptable.Here in this Bill is a solution of the problems of urban life which cry out to-day for urgent treatment. What are these problems? They are the appalling devastation of war, the squalor of the slums——
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Oh yes it does—the ravages of time on ancient and uncared for buildings, the unsightliness and inconvenience of ribbon development, the congestion of traffic and the mounting toll of road accidents, the 1623 lowered standard of health in congested areas, the non-provision of churches, schools and public buildings to raise communities to high standards of civic consciousness. I believe that the country wants to see these evils corrected, and the Government have produced a Bill——
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
—which will see that they are corrected. The very reputation of Parliament is at stake if once Government and people are united in the aim and if this House seeks to deflect the aim on behalf of vested interests and established practices no longer founded in the national will or in public esteem. Therefore, it is of paramount importance not only to our present selves in this House, but to our successors in a future Parliament, that this Bill should be given a Second Reading and that we should enable the Minister to pursue his technical discussions with local authorities prior to the Committee stage. I think that I can speak on behalf of my hon. Friends sitting beside me—Members of the Tory Reform Committee—in saying that we shall do our utmost to give support to the Government and to see that the Measure is carried through as early as possible.
I would like to make clear my attitude and that of my hon. Friends on some of the complaints and suggestions that have so far come up from local authorities. I hope that the Minister will set his face—and I think from what he said to-day it is clear that he means to do it—against any attempt to secure a uniform procedure for compulsory acquisition. It seems to me that the varying procedures embodied in Clauses 2, 3, 9 and 10 have the virtues of experimentation and empiricism. After all, local authorities are not the only entities to be considered. There are also the people with whom they have to deal. Simplification and expeditiousness may suit local authorities very well, but in all probability they will be harsh, arbitrary and unjust to individuals. On the other hand, variety, complexity and exact definition may displease local authorities; it may even befuddle us in this House—I for one find Clause 46, Sub-section (3), for example, quite unintelligible reading—but, nevertheless, it 1624 will be of great benefit, as the Minister said, to members of the legal profession acting on behalf of their dispossessed and about-to-be compensated clients. What we have to do is to find the happy mean and ensure that the approach is practical. It seems to me that the Minister has done this in the Bill and is to be congratulated on that account.
There is complaint of too much advance publicity. But surely what is proposed in the Bill is very much better than the old method in which there was not only the fullest publicity but endless delay. The Minister has rightly shortened the procedure but retained the necessary elements of publicity. As he said, the public must be told what is happening. It is their land, their houses, their churches, their community which are involved. After all, some local authorities may not be above a little quiet nepotism. Under general conditions of secret planning that is an evil which is likely to swell to considerable proportions. It does seem important, therefore, that we should retain the local public inquiry and the procedure set out in Clause 1, recognising that celerity is not the only principle involved.
I think that local authorities are on firmer ground when they ask for powers to acquire land for all their statutory purposes. Particularly is this important in the case of open spaces, churches and civic buildings. I would like to ask the Minister why it is that they are denied these powers, and I trust that the Bill will be amended in due course to ensure that local authorities are not constrained to develop land in such a way that direct financial return must and will accrue. It is very often the case that what are needed for the health, enjoyment and uplift of the population are land and buildings yielding little or no financial return. With regard to the financial conditions which must accompany these necessary extra powers, they obviously entail questions of difficulty, but I think the House should be generous in the matter and legislate for Treasury guarantee of loan interest on unproductive land and buildings up to fifteen years, or until redevelopment of the whole area is completed, whichever period proves to be the shorter.
I now come to the contentious question of the March, 1939, values. These are taken as the standard for compensation, 1625 and I would say at once that I welcome the proposals in the Bill and am glad that the Government have rejected the Uthwatt principle. The arguments have been well put by the Minister, and the House does not require a restatement of them, but I want to say a word or two about the two classes singled out for special treatment. I agree to the "prescribed percentage" and to the method of its determination, but I want it to apply to owner-occupiers, whatever their size and whether they are residential or commercial. After all, why not? The classes that ought to be encouraged are those who have made, or are going to make, these cities their permanent abode, and have taken and will continue to take a pride and interest in civic affairs. It does not matter if they are rich or poor, commercial, industrial or retired, professional or private, so long as they are not speculators or in-and-out men. It seems to me that the determining principle in Clause 46 ought to be attachment to the place, and local patriotism on the part of the individual and his family, and not the character of the residence or any particular income qualification.
Now if the owner-occupied Clause is to, be widened without including the speculator, I think that the agricultural class—which is the other exception—ought to be narrowed in order to exclude the speculator, because he is there now as the Clause stands. During the war speculators have bought up land outside towns hoping that development would take place their way. The open fields which they have bought are now being grazed—they have done nothing to improve them—and the owner, as I understand it, comes within the definition of Section 2 of the Rating and Valuation Act of 1928. I hope that we shall secure an Amendment to Clause 46 to enable the prescribed percentage to be withheld from those who bought land after 17th July, 1941, when the Government announced their policy on the pegging of land values, and withheld also from those who may very well have carried out improvements ordered by the war agricultural executive committee but have not done so out of their own resources.
It seems to me that there are two omissions from the Bill. In the Education Bill nothing was said about the content of education or the curricula in schools. For 1626 all we know in this House the nation's children may be going to be taught some very strange things. For all we can learn from this Bill, local authorities may be going to plan in very strange ways; the Minister may be going to issue directions or withhold assents upon some strong personal or departmental predilection or bias. He has told us a little to-day about the "flatted factories" but we ought to know many other things—for example, whether he or his Department have a secret passion for multi-storey flats, or a powerful aversion to garden cities; what his views are on the optimum size of towns and, in general, in what way he sees the new England taking shape. The other omission concerns the inter-relation of overspill areas—to use an ugly term until a better one has been invented. I think the Minister ought to take power in the Bill to coordinate the requirements of local authorities for land for new satellite towns. Jupiter keeps his moons properly organised, and at a safe distance from one another; the earth does the same thing with her moon; the planets derive their wisdom and authority from the sun, but I do not see the Minister's beams reflected in the Bill in this particular regard, and I hope he will take powers to co-ordinate these requirements.
There is one assurance I would like to exact from my right hon. Friend. Enormous new powers and responsibilities have been thrust on local authorities in recent years, and they will be considerably increased as the result of this Bill. Many of the local authorities are inexperienced and quite new to planning. I think there should be formed a pool of architects, surveyors, town planners, university lecturers in architecture, engineers and so on who would be available to local authorities, at a fee, to spend time with them and advise them on the complex problems with which they will be faced and in general, give them advice on current day-to-day business connected with planning. If that pool is already in existence, I hope the Minister will tell us something about its organisation and methods.
In conclusion, may I say this? This Bill has been described as doing rough justice to all concerned. If we are to have slogans, I prefer "rough justice" to "safety first." Security in England is a very different thing from security for England. If I thought that our troops 1627 were coming back from overseas to pursue an inanimate existence in this country for the rest of their lives I would despair of my country. Our returning heroes must make their homes and not receive them on a plate as guilt-offerings from a safe and protected people which in this war we assuredly have not been. Our men will not return—they will not want to return—to an absolutely secure society. I cannot think of a more degrading and stultifying welcome for us to give them, even if it lay in our power to do so. Rough justice! That has been the lot and the life not only of our Forces but of the whole country for five years—rough in our methods against the enemy, justice in the cause for which we fight——
§ Mr. Gallacher
Will the Noble Lord excuse me for a moment? Is he not aware of the fact that some of the lads now fighting will come back to guaranteed security but, unless something drastic is done, some will come back to guaranteed poverty, without a home of any kind?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Hence this Measure. If the hon. Gentleman would help in its passage, he could be quite certain that the end he has in view would be brought about. This Bill rightly translates the nation's present mood into the governance of our affairs five, ten, and fifteen years from now. It is a provocative, enterprising, adventurous and satisfying Measure. The temper of it is suited to the temper of our people which, if I have any means of gauging it rightly, wants to see a notable advance made in internal public policy. I congratulate the Government on having introduced this Bill, and I urge the House to launch it upon a turbulent and successful career.
§ Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
The Noble Lord appeals to the House to give our men and women serving in the Armed Forces rough justice. I am all in favour of the justice, but because the men in the Armed Forces have proved themselves to be men, and the womenfolk have proved that they are not without moral courage, it does not mean that this House can imagine that they will continue a fight in order that they can win rough justice. Some of us who took part in the 1918 campaign foresaw rough justice to those who had served us 1628 so well, and I am certain that the then Prime Minister and many Members of his Cabinet, including the then Member for Oxford City—the hon. Member opposite was not a Member in those days, of course, and he knows I am not making an attack upon him. I believe it was Sir Eric Geddes.
§ Mr. Muff
I am very glad of the correction because I do not like making mistakes if I can avoid them. The then Government promised flowery justice; they made promises galore—or rather, in great quantities, which is a little better English, but not much. I want to ask the House to discount the peroration made by' the Noble Lord. This Bill would not be opposed by such a combination of public authorities if it were not for the fact that they have serious misgivings as to what will happen when it becomes law. We dare not, as a House of Commons, once more disillusion those who are serving us in the Armed Forces. [Interruption.] I think the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University——
§ Mr. Muff
I will not have a competition about learnedness. I will get on with my speech. We cannot afford to have another four years of disillusionment, such as that which occurred between 1918 and 1922 and laid the psychological basis of much from which our people suffered for many years afterwards. I agree with the noble Lord when he repudiates the doctrine of safety first, enunciated by his party in 1922.
§ Mr. Muff
I agree, Sir, so I will leave the past and come to the present, with hope for the future. The Minister or, rather, the Treasury have promised a guarantee for the paying for two years of 1629 loan charges to those authorities which have acquired land. They have then made so many complications that it will mean an indefinite period before most of those authorities can take advantage of this Bill. If I were a fairly wealthy man I would be ready to go to the Treasury and make a firm offer for the amount of money they would have to pay to help those authorities. I am hopeful that when the Bill goes into Committee the period of two years will 132 considerably extended, and that Amendments will be accepted which will simplify considerably the acquisition of land. I hope that we shall not have to knock at the door and play the old game of "passing the buck," which will lead to discouragement and make our people think that they are being ruled by bureaucracy. I also hope that the Clause dealing with the March, 1939, ceiling will be amended, so that if the value of the land has declined, the public shall have the benefit of any such decline, and not any vested private interest.
The Noble Lord rather foreshadowed that this Bill would have a turbulent passage. I am sorry for the Minister; I have a great regard for him, because I remember rough passages which he has already had in his career. I was hoping that after the protracted gestation period, and the deferment of the confinement for about seven weeks, the infant the House would welcome to-day would have been well developed and that we should have been prepared to take it into our arms and nourish it. [Interruption.] I agree that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) does not look like a wet nurse, but that is by the way. I hope this Bill, which is capable of amendment, will be amended and that the Front Bench will help us to amend it without bringing in questions of confidence. We must help those in the Armed Forces and those in the blitzed areas, which should have priority over the blighted areas. The Parliamentary Secretary could have been the putative father of a much better Bill—the Kingston-upon-Hull Development Bill, which this House rejected. But the Parliamentary Secretary is hard boiled, so I will ask the Minister to look at that Bill again, to realise the simplicity of its proposals for the acquisition of land and to say, "Here is a capital Bill, drafted by men who know simple English. We will base our Bill upon its provisions." I ask 1630 the Minister to expunge the legal aphorisms from the Bill now before the House and to make it a Bill which will work. If he does so, I shall rejoice with the Noble Lord in saying that this House must act as trustees for the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
It was not to be expected that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Town and Country Planning would be able to introduce into this House a Bill which was likely to meet with the enthusiastic support of all parties. It would not be possible for any Minister to introduce a Bill, dealing with the use and control of land, which would meet with the unqualified support of every section of the House. Therefore, we have to deal with this Bill on the footing that it is not a Bill which completely meets the desires of any of the constituent parties of the National Government. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), at the beginning of his speech, made it plain that no Bill which dealt with the future control of land on any footing except that of national ownership would meet with the approval of himself and his party. I submit to hon. Members on the other side of the House that that is really the worst possible line of approach which we should adopt toward this Bill. This Bill deals with great, difficult, involved and practical problems. We ought to approach it from the standpoint of whether it deals with those problems in a practical fashion. If it does, and if it provides some solution by which the difficult problems involved in reconstruction can be adequately dealt with, then it ought to pass its Second Reading with the general support of all sections of the House. The hon. Member who spoke last suggested that in some way the Bill fell short of the promises which have been made to those who will be returning to civil life from the Armed Forces. I waited with patience for him to develop that argument and point out in what directions he considered that my right hon. Friend's proposals will not be a fulfilment of the promise of better conditions which has been held out to the returning soldier.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Perhaps I was misled by the hon. Member's original observations, because he went on to point out that the Bill treated the local authorities in a fashion which he considered was not quite fair. It seemed to me that the two things were not by any means connected with one another. But in view of the explanation which he has now given, I appreciate his difficulties and I will endeavour to deal with them.
The Bill must necessarily be complicated and difficult, because the problems with which it deals are complex and difficult too. I should like to invite attention to certain aspects of it which, if they are properly understood, ought, I think, to satisfy the House that the Bill approaches these problems in an effective fashion. The problem of reconstruction of "blitzed" and obsolescent areas falls into two parts which are separate and ought to be kept separate. The right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) complained that this was really a blitz Bill. In one sense that is true; but that is nothing against the Bill. If it makes effective proposals for dealing with blitzed areas, it is not a ground for criticising it because it deals with other matters as well. Does the Bill make satisfactory proposals for dealing with blitzed areas, or areas of "extensive war damage," as they are called in the Bill?
The difficulty of an area with extensive war damage seems to be that you have in one area both war damage and obsolescence. The two things exist side by side in almost every damaged area. If the Bill proposed that war damage and obsolescence, where they existed together in the same area, were to be dealt with in different ways, there might be some force in that criticism. But, as I understand the Bill, that is not the case. It will be open to a local authority which has extensive war damage within its area to deal with that damage and with adjoining or intermixed obsolescent areas—that is to say, with the obsolescence which exists mixed with extensive war damage—to deal with the whole area by a single procedure and under a single scheme. If that is the case, it is not a criticism of the Bill to say it is a blitz Bill. It is a 1632 good deal more than a blitz Bill if you give local authorities precisely the power they require to tackle those problems which will come first, that is to say the reconstruction of a war damaged area with a blitzed area comprised in it, to redevelop those areas first and to deal with other areas at a later stage. Is there anything wrong with that?
In the period which will immediately follow the close of hostilities there will be a great shortage of building materials and of building trade labour, until the Minister of Labour has made progress with his scheme for recruiting the building industry. During that period the demolition of obsolescent property, in so far as it is not involved with the re-development of a war damaged area, will really hot be a matter which the local authorities will be able to undertake. In the first place the shortage of accommodation will be acute, and even that accommodation which is not up to the standard that we all desire to see will have to be used, and there will be no justification for demolishing it until we can provide alternative accommodation. Therefore, whether we like it or not, the problem of dealing with obsolescent areas is one which has necessarily to be postponed until conditions arise in which it can be dealt with more effectively.
That is precisely what the Bill proposes. Where an area requires redevelopment merely upon the ground of obsolescence, the conditions under which the local authority is to proceed will not be the same as those which are applicable to the immediate problem of the blitzed area. That really is a most reasonable and practical line of approach to this problem of the obsolescent area. The Bill goes a little further than that. As I understand it, the "ceiling" standard of 1939 values which is applied to the re-development of the areas of extensive war damage intermixed with obsolescence is not to be applied to where obsolescence exists alone. It seems to me that there is a very good reason for that. In five years' time the standard of values all over the country may be very different from those that exist to-day, and even more different from those that existed in 1939. If the re-development of obsolescent areas is not to proceed for five or six years, with the best will in the world to make good the promises to which the hon. 1633 Member for Hull (Mr. Muff) referred, it really would not be practical business to say that we are to go back to 1939 and to the basis of the values that existed then. With all the skill and resource of the valuers' profession, I doubt whether it would be practical politics to say to a valuer, "You have not to value this property as it exists now, you have to go back ten years and decide what its value was in 1939." I hope, when the House have had an opportunity to consider the aspects of this problem of valuation and also the immediate problem of re-development that is involved in the Bill, they will see that the approach that my right hon. Friend is making, complicated though it is, is really the most practical approach, having in mind that this is an immediate, practical problem which we have to solve without reference to our preconceived nostrums of any kind.
Let me say a word about the opposition that has come from local authorities. The local authorities not unnaturally look first at the financial proposals of the Bill. I do not blame them for that. They are the people who will ultimately have to pay, and it is natural that they should look first to the financial provisions and ask whether they are satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said the repair of war damage ought to be a national charge. Does the Bill fall short of that standard? What is proposed is that the cost of reconstruction represented by the loan charges on the capital expenditure involved shall be borne by the State first of all for a period of two years. But two years is not the "ceiling." After two years it becomes a question of the circumstances in each individual case whether the capital charges go on being met by a public grant or fall upon the local authorities. What is there unreasonable about that? Local authorities are going to be put in possession of very valuable property. Why is it unreasonable to say that the profits should be used for the purpose of defraying the original cost and that it should not fall on the central Exchequer? My right hon. Friend is not going to take a narrow view. All that the is going to do is to relate the assistance which will be forthcoming from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the actual loss which will fall on the local authorities in the form of loan charges. When that is appreciated, the opposition which has developed 1634 to this part of the Bill may be substantially reduced.
There may be certain reconstruction areas where, by reason of the form which reconstruction takes, the area will never be a profitable area to the local authority at all. There may be areas large parts of which ought to be properly laid out as open spaces or devoted to the provision of wider roads or something of that nature. I would invite my right hon. Friend to consider whether, in the event of a local authority replanning its war damaged area on those lines, and in that way subjecting itself to a permanent loss in respect of its re-developed areas, that loss ought not permanently to be borne by the Exchequer. A case of that sort stands upon quite a different footing from the ordinary re-development scheme. That is a state of things which can very well arise in certain parts of the country, notably in the East End of London. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield to this extent, that in dealing with a scheme of that nature the permanent loss which may arise from good planning ought not to be borne by the local authority.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman realise that in London for the last 70 years in the whole of the land acquired by the London County Council and its predecessors, there was a profit on only one transaction and a loss on all the rest?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I realise that, and that is why I drew attention to it. I said that in London there will be areas where that state of things may arise, and if those areas are extensive, the permanent loss which arises from re-development ought not to fall on the local authorities concerned.
This Bill, after it has passed through Committee, ought to be capable of dealing with those problems which will arise immediately the war is over. If the House should not accept it, it may well be that the war will come to an end before another Bill has been brought forward and has passed through all its stages into law. Although my right hon. Friend has been criticised for the circumstances in which this Bill was brought in, the House should recollect that he is dealing with a problem which is an urgent problem. He would have deserved criticism if we had debated 1635 the White Paper first, because the White Paper does not really deal with the matters with which this Bill is primarily concerned. I am inclined to agree with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, that a little more consultation with the local authorities at an earlier stage would have sweetened the passage of this Bill and would, perhaps, have relieved Members of the obligation of reading a long but exceedingly well drawn document. But I do not blame my right hon. Friend for the circumstances in which this Bill has been introduced. I recognise that it deals with something that is urgent and vital. If the opposition which at one time looked like developing to the Bill in this House had actually developed, it would have involved the local authorities, who are, after all, responsible in this matter, in what might well have proved to be a grave disappointement and a serious disaster. For these reasons, I would invite Members on both sides to give this Bill an unchallenged Second Reading. When the Committee stage is reached, let us recognise that in its main outlines this Bill provides a solution for a difficult problem, and see whether we cannot find the means of meeting the criticism, some of it justified, which the Bill seems likely to encounter in the course of its Second Reading Debate.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
I shall endeavour to be as short as I can, and I hope the House will not count the first two or three minutes against me, because, in them, I have one or two personal remarks to make which I hope will be forgiven. One is that I have some small personal interest in this matter, not quite direct, but still, I think, not so indirect that it ought not to be avowed. The second thing I ought to begin by saying out of courtesy to the House, is an apology for not having been present throughout the Debate, but that has not been, I beg Members to believe, my fault. And then I should like to refer to the speeches which I have heard. I have some sympathy with the peroration of the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who begged us to get away from the slogan of "securrity"; rather he begged us to get away from the slogan of "safety first"; I would remind him and his friends that they are going to find it difficult to get 1636 away from that slogan unless they also get away from the slogan of "security." He wound up his speech with a peroration about what the soldiers fighting at the front would reasonably expect to come back to when the war is over.
I would, with all the seriousness I can command, invite the House not much longer to use that particular piece of common form. I always thought that the worst of all the insults to the women of my country was when at the end of the last war the vote was given them—which I thought on the whole probably a mistake—certainly on a mistake—upon the then alleged ground that they had behaved so well in the war—as if they were to be rewarded for not having betrayed their parents and their children, their husbands and their lovers, while they were away fighting. That seemed to me a most scandalous kind of line to take. Similarly it seems to me quite a gratuitous form of deceit to tell people that they are to be permanently treated indefinitely better for the rest of their lives, because they fought for their country. The world is not so arranged that it is possible to keep such promises. Nor would any country be worth belonging to in which such promises were necessary. It is not in the hope of such reward that men fight for their country, and it seems to me a quite unnecessary muddying of the waters of our Debate that we should continually have it said by whoever has the courage or the impudence to get in first, "You must accept my view of this particular Bill, because otherwise you will not be doing what is due to the men who are fighting for you." I hope that that particular kind of peroration may fairly soon be dropped, I wish to draw particular attention to what seem to me to be the two main features of this Bill, and here I would ask the indulgence of the House to waste one more minute in personal explanation. I do not pretend that I have understood this Bill as fully as, I hope, I have understood other, earlier Bills upon the Second Reading of which I have ventured to address the House. It is not an easy Bill to understand. My hon. and learned Friend who spoke before me may be right in saying that it is particularly well drawn, but, if so, the subject is one which makes elucidation impossible. We have not had very much time in which to study 1637 the Bill. We have now the advantage of a Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench, and I do not know if he could tell us how long it took the Cabinet to understand this Bill sufficiently to give it, so to speak, a pre-Second Reading. It is certain that we have not been given nearly as long as they were. Therefore, I hope that those of us who may betray incomprehension in the course of our remarks may perhaps have forgiveness. There seems to me to be an element of extreme paradox about this Bill. I will not disguise from the House that I am not very much in love with the word "planning," and certainly not in love with the use that has been made of it during the last two years. Most planners are, curiously, also evolutionists. That is to say, in half of any given sentence uttered by a planner he is assuming that everything can be arranged by previous deliberation on his part; and in the other half of the same sentence he is assuming that everything is settled by something that is called evolution, an inevitable concatenation. I believe that most of the planners have been wrong in the application of both these points.
If we are to try to increase the proportion of human life which can be consciously controlled by the organs of the community, I ask, Mr. Speaker, what are the first factors for which Government must be responsible. I ask the question the more confidently because I intend to answer it. I think that whatever disadvantages this generation has, in the year 1944, on this question, we have an inestimable advantage. We cannot doubt what our fathers or our grandfathers, however much our intellectual superiors, may have doubted, what are the two primary requisites of Government, the two first responsibilities of Government: they are defence, and the maintenance of the currency. A man is permitted to hope if his Government will preserve the physical configuration of the territory of his State, so that it is not blown to bits from above, or invaded horizontally, or in other ways interfered with, if in that sense there is defence; and if on top of that the currency declines in value only gradually—because all currencies do decline in value, and do not decline precipitately and melodramatically—then the organs of Government, and also private persons and associations, may hope to be able to plan. If these two 1638 prerequisites are not provided by the Government, there cannot be any planning at all, except the mere day-to-day planning of individuals scratching about to get the best living they can out of the soil immediately under their feet, or out of their neighbours. These are the two primary responsibilities of Government. When we debated the other day the White Paper an employment, we talked about primary responsibilities. I do not know how many primary responsibilities there may be, but in our generation I do not doubt that of all the primary responsibilities these are the two first. [Interruption.] I am sorry to have missed the wit of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
We were wondering how the hon. gentleman was going to deal with the flying bomb.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I could tell the Noble Lord about that too, but I do not suppose it would be in Order on the Second Reading of this Bill. If these are the two primary requisites, we are in the paradoxical situation that the Government have failed in these two duties. I do not say that it is their fault, I am not saying it is not the fault of each one of us or of the general public, but the fact is that our territory has been more invaded and knocked about and our currency has been more devalued in the course of the last five years than, so far as I know, ever before in history; and at this juncture His Majesty's Government come before us with a Bill to put these matters as right as may be.
I would invite the attention of the House to the method which they propose, because it seems to me that there are two main things in this Bill: one is the distinction between blitz and blight, with which I do not propose to deal; and the other is what I am coming to, which comes, I think, in Clauses 42 and 43. The Government say, "We have failed in our first responsibility, about defence. We have failed in our second responsibility, about maintaining the value of the pound sterling. So now we are going to provide a Bill to remedy the resultant damage. How are we going to do it? We are going to begin by putting the first charge upon those people who happen to own real property where the bomb fell"—because those people are to have their real property taken away from them 1639 and the compensation which they are to be given is to be not more than the value, in terms of sterling, that might have been obtained in March, 1939. I am prepared to admit, if His Majesty's Government will argue it, and if the House will accept it, I am prepared to acquiesce, that, in all the social and political circumstances, that is necessary, and that, anyway, you can never get true justice in these matters. The most you can expect is so to rearrange things as to give the next generation a chance to get started. You cannot expect much more from Governments than that they shall not grind the faces of those whose faces have already been ground, and for all I would say to the contrary, it must be admitted that the owners of real property upon which bombs happened to fall are, all of them, undeserving chaps, that almost all of them have large incomes from other sourcse, that most of them are very patriotic and that, in all the circumstances, the best thing you can say is that the first part of the knock shall be taken by them. If that is the argument, let that argument be stated.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sure my hon. Friend remembers, in developing this argument, that one of things said against the Bill is that it is unduly favourable to the owners of the old properties.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Certainly, I do, and the Lord preserve me from my friends. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I never had much hope, but it is pious and proper to pray. I quite understand that. It is one of the oldest of tricks, which my hon. and learned Friend, with whom I have been boys together for some 30 years now, ought to know; it has been a commonplace of the last 30 years, that trick of multiplying by three the argument on one side, and then saying to the chap on the other side: "Let's boil the two things in together, and divide by two." That is not a good way, in my judgment, of arriving at truth.
I do not want too much to repeat myself. I will, as shortly as I can, once again make clear what seems to be the point. It is required (a) to reconstitute the physical condition of this country; (b) the bits that most want reconstituting are the bits upon which bombs have fallen; (c) it is assumed that the people who own the real property upon which 1640 the bombs have fallen shall be the one section of the community whose values shall not be readjusted to the fall in the value of the £ which, like the falling of the bombs, is the responsibility of His Majesty's Government. I say that that is a gross piece of injustice. I have swallowed many gross pieces of injustice in my time and I shall swallow many more. For myself, I do not desire justice; mercy is good enough for me. What I do say is, that if a great public authority—perhaps we may without excessive jingoism, describe ourselves as the greatest public authority in human history—is to commit a public injustice like that, it ought to be aware of what it is doing, and to assert it, and it ought to be clear about what it is doing, and that the sufferers who acquiesce in the injustice without grumbling ought to receive credit for so doing.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
But I wanted to pursue him because what he has really been saying is that the Bill is not sufficiently wide in its terms. I want to say to the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) that he did very little justice to the local authorities in saying that their chief—he did not say their only—preoccupation was a question of money. They make it clear in this very respectable list of practically all the local authorities in this country that their chief objection to the Bill is that the procedure laid down cannot fail to cause delay after the war. They say that local authorities have to reconstruct their areas at an enormous cost and that no ordinary administrative machine can cope with the work, if public acquisition of land on the scale needed is to be carried out by cumbrous and complicated methods. It is to those methods, which are the essence of the Bill, that the local authorities object.
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
When the hon. Member says that the local authorities object, I take it that he is referring to that memorandum of the Association of Municipal Corporations? Is it not a fact that the memorandum was drawn up almost entirely by a small caucus of one or two authorities?
My hon. and gallant Friend is quite justified, no doubt, in his own mind in levelling this accusation against this body of representative authorities of the United Kingdom, representing all the chief local authorities and in saying that, in his view——
§ Earl Winterton
May I interrupt the hon. Member on that point, which is of great importance? Is it not a fact that hundreds of local authorities have never been consulted at all? In my constituency and in the whole of Sussex not a single local authority has been consulted. How can the hon. Member say that this trade union, run by a few Socialists, is representative of all the local authorities?
I am very interested to learn on the authority of the Noble Lord that the City of London has now become Socialist. The City of London is represented on this Association. I am afraid I cannot accept the Noble Lord's statement that the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils' Association, the Urban District Councils' Association, the Non-County Boroughs' Association, the Rural District Councils' Association, the London County Council and the Corporation of London are all run by a small junta of Socialists and that this is an entirely unrepresentative document. Is that really the opinion of hon. Members opposite?
Then the local authorities had better get into touch with hon. Members and give them a little instruction in the way local government is run. They obviously do not know the very serious and difficult task that local authorities have in front of them. It is because of their extremely serious and difficult task that local authorities—they are the administrative bodies who have to carry out the work of the Bill, if it is to be carried out at all—are protesting that, in their judgment, the work is not capable of being carried out in the way laid down in the Bill. The House should take that point very seriously indeed into consideration. I do not believe that the Bill ought to go through. I do not think it is big enough in its conception. It does not cope with the very great national tasks which are before the country.
1642 I am against the Bill. It is one of a series of very bad improvisations in planning. I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last in objecting to the word "planning," which is frequently used to cover very obscure thinking instead of elucidating thinking. The Bill is bad. It is one of a series of bad improvisations. It is not comprehensive enough. In the Government's planning proposals we have had a dab of rural housing, a dab of rural water supply, a little of town planning—an interim Bill, I think it was called—and a little of something on employment, very inferior and not very good. We have had White Papers galore, but we have had no one big master plan. There has been nothing big enough to cope with the emergency which faces the country, and particularly the local authorities who have to carry out these plans in detail. I suspect, and I regret to have to say it, that the idea in the minds of some people, perhaps of some other junta who have been concerned in framing this Bill, has been to get back to the good-bad old clays when the private profiteer in land had his own way, and to leave things pretty much as they are at the present time—or as they were five years ago.
I do not think that the Government are going to get away with it. They have not the right approach in the Bill. The Government have never had the right approach to planning since the war began. In the very early days, a Minister, a man of great eminence, who distinguished himself very much in building up that very great organisation called the British Broadcasting Corporation, Lord Reith, was engaged in a pretty hopeless task when it came to planning. I wish the Prime Minister were here at this moment, as I would like to remind him of the admirable speech he made when he was in opposition and was criticising the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence in the Chamberlain Government, saying that he was a Minister with one secretary and one typist. Does the House know that when the Reconstruction Minister began, he had only that staff? He had no Treasury support, and could not ask for money, and at one time his staff had so little to do that they actually went to other bodies, and started what they called the 1940 Committee for the purpose of getting private money to do the public planning which was the Government's business. When Lord Reith was engaged on actually 1643 doing this particular work one day he received a telephone message and was told that his job had been terminated.
The next unfortunate incident was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was a Member of the Government charged with these duties of reconstruction. He did take the supremely valuable step of asking Sir William Beveridge to produce a report, but that finished him with the Government, I believe, because the Government did not want any big planning project, although they were not able to suppress Sir William Beveridge's Report. I regret that my right hon. Friend parted company with the Government not long after that. Therefore, I regret to say that I cannot take the Government interest in big planning proposals seriously. It is true they have planned the war and that after a large number of failures in the beginning, especially in the East, they are now doing it very well indeed. As a Coalition Government, that is what they were appointed by this House to do. But, in my judgment, they have failed in every approach they have made to the bigger planning which is necessary for the time of peace. We want very big ideas in staff planning for the peace. I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) that we do not want to talk sob-stuff about the soldier coming back. The soldier does not want to have sob-stuff talked about him either. The soldier wants justice. He wants those of us who are in the House of Commons, especially those who have some knowledge of Service conditions, to do the right and proper thing for the country as a whole. What the country as a whole requires is to have real plans made and not go back to the bad old days.
In his opening speech my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield asked the Government to withdraw the Bill. I hope they will. It is a bad Bill and it is a small Bill. It will need a bigger-minded Bill and a much more comprehensive Bill to do the work. If we pass the Bill, even if we amend it very considerably, it will be an obstacle in the way, and not an advantage. It is supposed to deal with blitzing and blighting. I have recently made a very careful personal inspection of a large part of my 1644 own constituency and some part of adjoining constituencies in Islington. I do not know how it is possible to separate blitzing and blighting. I do not know how it is possible to define the money which is to be spent on the blitzed area and the money which is to be spent on the blighted area, and that is not sufficiently defined in the Bill. The Bill is really one which will make difficulties. It will, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said, create a long-term period of difficulty.
May I refer, in conclusion, to the larger aspect of this matter? We, as one of the four main nations in the world—the U.S.S.R., the United States, China and ourselves, the British Empire, the British Commonwealth of Nations—are the people on whom the supreme responsibility will fall of making our ideals practical realities in the post-war world, with regard to the prevention of wars and the raising of standards of life in the world in general. How are we to do those things unless we have our own life properly planned, and how can we plan our life properly, unless we have some instrument at our disposal, some big planning Measure, which will enable us to make the necessary demarcation between the land to be used for industry, the land to be used for agriculture and the land for the planning of cities?
I think that we need something very much bigger-minded and very much more far-seeing than this trumpery Measure. In fact, I do not think that we can get very good results by debating this Bill at all. It will, no doubt, be said if it comes to a vote—if the Government do not take the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield and withdraw this Measure, or if there is a large vote against it, or a very considerable number of abstentions from voting in the Division—that it might lead to the resignation of the Government and the fall of the Coalition. The fall of the Coalition cannot be very long postponed. We are now within sight of the end of the war and it is quite certain that when we are a little nearer to the end, a demand for the return to healthy party Government will be overwhelming in the country. It would not matter very much if the vote on this Bill did lead to the fall of the Coalition. When we formed this particular Government it was at the time of Dunkirk, or just before Dunkirk, a 1645 time of crisis and great danger. It might be a very good thing indeed at the present time to have a change of Government, so that we could really get down to the question of post-war planning and planning for peace with new eyes and new vision, and without the pre-occupations of those who have been concerned with this war up to the present time, many of whom, Ministers and Members of this House alike, have lost touch with the people of the country. They do not know what the people are thinking, or what they are feeling. They do not even know the extremely horrible conditions of housing under which many people are living, otherwise it would have been quite impossible for the Minister in introducing this Bill earlier to-day to have spoken in the way he did about the Measure, the blitzing and the derelict areas.
How soon the Coalition comes to an end does not seem to me to matter very much now, but that it is desirable it should come to an end very soon is, I think, shown by this Bill itself. With this Bill the re-planning of the destinies of this country on the large scale necessary cannot be taken in hand. We are not going to try to re-plan in order to have sob votes or make sob appeals to the men and women concerned in the Fighting Services, but because we, in this country, do want to take the occasion at the end of this war to make a great change in the planning of our cities and the location of industry. Where, in this Bill, is there one Clause which will help in the re-planning of the location of industry? Where is there one Clause that will help with the depressed areas where there was no industry before the war and will not be after the war unless there is some kind of re-planning on a bolder scale? Unless there is a big planning Measure really worthy of the national ideals of this country, we are not going to be able to get on with the staff work and the reconstruction in peace.
I urge the Government very strongly indeed to consider what my right hon. Friend said to-day, and to which I add any support I am able to give. To withdraw this Bill would, at any rate, enable the Coalition Government to go on for a short time until we come to a stage more convenient for a dissolution and an election. But if the Government will not do that and insist on a good many 1646 of us—for that is what it will come to—voting against this Bill, then I hope they will realise it is their responsibility for having produced a Measure which is entirely insufficient for the great national occasion which stands before us.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
On a point of Order. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you are going to call any of the Amendments standing on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have not thought about that yet. To-morrow I will give an indication of what I am going to call.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I support this Bill, but I do wish, along with other Members who have spoken, that it were a little easier to understand. I am not one of those who attribute the obscurity of Bills to the incompetence of the Parliamentary draftsmen. The Parliamentary draftsmen have a good deal to put up with at the hands of Government Departments and of this House, and they do their difficult task, on the whole, extremely well. I wonder, however, whether the Explanatory Memorandum which precedes the Bill could not have been a little more explanatory. The memorandum states, as did my right hon. Friend in introducing the Bill, that it provides a simplified procedure for acquiring land. Personally, I find the provisions anything but simple, and the complications of Clauses 1 to 14 are very great. I do not ask for the delusive simplicity which my right hon. Friend the Minister rightly refused to provide, but I make the suggestion that in order to explain the proposed procedure for acquisition we should have a chart showing graphically, like a sort of genealogical table, the different stages from the moment when the local planning authority applies for the order up to the moment when the land is vested in them. There are some 15 different stages of that process, and the understanding of them would be greatly simplified if we could have them shown diagrammatically. It is too late to have this in the so-called Explanatory Memorandum, but I want to ask my right hon. Friend, or the hon. Member who is to reply, whether he would place in the Vote Office such a diagram in time for the Committee stage. I also make the suggestion that in future Bills we should have a diagram or chart in the 1647 Explanatory Memorandum itself. I hope this suggestion will not give the Parliamentary draftsman a fit, but I would remind him that his predecessor recovered from the fit which he had in 1875, when the Explanatory Memorandum itself was re-introduced, on the recommendation of a Select Committee of this House. I ask that my suggestion should have careful consideration.
Now I come to an entirely different matter. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, said that a great many buildings would have to be erected under it, but he said little or nothing about the destruction of old buildings. The Bill ought to say something about the destruction of old buildings. My right hon. Friend rightly referred to the necessity of making our cities pleasanter places. It is quite clear that large-scale demolitions will be necessary, and the sooner the slum property on the land which is to be acquired under this Bill is cleared away the better. But in our enthusiasm to build a better Britain do not let us sweep away the traditional Britain carelessly. An England which consists of factory-built and other new houses, complete with every modern convenience, may make a brave new England, but it will not make the new England we want or an England which is likely to attract visitors from overseas. It is within the knowledge of every hon. Member of this House, that every county in England contains squares, terraces, streets and individual buildings and groups of buildings, chiefly of the Georgian period, which are not only beautiful, but are so much an integral part of the town in which they stand that every effort ought to be made to avert their destruction. These buildings were in most oases not only erected but designed by local builders, without the assistance of an architect, and it should be as much a matter of local pride to preserve them as it is to preserve a beautiful church or an historic castle. Moreover, many of them are in otherwise unattractive towns, oases in the deserts of dull, utilitarian bricks and mortar. That is all the more reason to try and preserve them.
Yet there are many such buildings of the 18th and early 19th centuries which, not having the magic name of Wren attached to them, are still not accorded 1648 by municipalities the respect given to older buildings which have inferior claims to preservation. I could give many examples of ruthless and unnecessary destruction, causing irreparable damage to a town's amenities. I will not give any examples as I do not want to take up a lot of time. But I will pass round, if I may, a few photographs showing what has been done which ought not to have been done. Of course it is absurd to suggest that a building is only beautiful if it is old, or that fine architecture is only a thing of the past. But beautiful modern buildings should not, if it can be avoided, be put up at the cost of destroying beautiful old ones. After all, new pictures are usually painted on new canvas and not on the top of old pictures.
Many of these buildings which should be preserved, if possible, are in areas likely to be acquired by local authorities under this Bill. I therefore make some brief suggestions. I suggest that this Bill should require, and not merely permit as existing Statutes do, local authorities to make lists of all buildings, whether occupied or not, which are, in the words of one of the Planning Acts,of historic, architectural, traditional, artistic, or archaeological importance or interest.They should make these lists of buildings which are on the land they acquire under this Bill or which they already own. It is very desirable to entrust the responsibility for this to local authorities, for two reasons. The first is that local authorities ought to be encouraged to take a pride in their inheritance. Many already do so. Fine examples have been set by the municipal authorities of Dagenham, Ilford, Leytonstone, Brighton, Chichester, Cheltenham, my own Borough of Twickenham, and many others. The second reason for entrusting the task to the local authorities is that there are buildings of local historic interest which would perhaps escape the eye of a Government recorder. But the Minister ought to have power to add to the list prepared by the local authorities. There are many local authorities with limited resources who cannot, perhaps, afford the services of an architect, who would be very glad of the help of the Government. There are also some local authorities not in that category, who have a very good reputation for preserving the beautiful, but who sometimes slip up, and who, I think, would appreciate a Government check.
1649 Secondly, local authorities should be required to advertise any proposal to destroy or alter a building in the list, so that no final decision may be taken behind closed doors, without the knowledge of the inhabitants, and without providing an opportunity for suggestions for obviating the destruction. While it is true that many local authorities have earned bouquets for preserving old buildings, the main credit is sometimes due to public opinion, which has prevailed on the local council to alter previous decisions. Lastly, if any objection is raised to the destruction or alteration of a building on the list, the Bill should provide for the approval of the Minister to be sought before it is destroyed or altered.
The preparation of these lists will take time, and it is not easy at this moment to get the necessary staff. I therefore make this further suggestion, that pending the preparation of these lists, all buildings constructed before a certain date should enjoy the protection which the list will eventually give. The date which I tentatively put forward is 1850, because that is the date to which I understand the Historical 'Monuments Commission is seeking to extend its powers. The selection of a date temporarily should of course not prevent newer buildings being added to the list when it is prepared.
In spite of the destruction during the last 100 years by Englishmen, and in the last four years by the enemy, of much that is beautiful in this country, England still has a splendid heritage of 27th, 18th and early 19th century architecture. I beg the Government and the House to incorporate in this Bill some provisions for preserving that inheritance.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I add just a few words to what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) has said? Very rightly, he has claimed that this country has a noble heritage of fine buildings—so it has—of which we are inestimably proud. But, unfortunately, we have also a heritage of slumdom, of which we ought to be ashamed, a heritage of slumdom which has caused disease and suffering untold—more suffering, more pain, more disease than even the attacks of the enemy. Before I come to this Bill might I refer to a very interesting speech that we had from the Senior Member for Cambridge University 1650 (Mr. Pickthorn), who very often treats us delightfully to a philosophic discussion? He put the question to himself as to what were the main objects of government, and he answered it himself, and said there were two. The first one was defence. Might I agree with him, while widening the defence which I feel the Government must always undertake? Not only should it undertake the defence of the country as a whole against an external enemy, it should also undertake the defence of the people against internal enemies, a defence against the exploitation of any person, a defence against poverty, against privilege being exercised by the few against the many, a defence against disease and against suffering. Approaching the matter in that way the hon. Member for Cambridge University saw in this Bill the defect of picking and choosing. I see the same defect in perhaps another way.
Before I come to that, may I congratulate the Minister upon the wonderful defence which he made of this Bill? One has often, in this House, witnessed a good man struggling with adversity. We have had an excellent example to-day. He says himself that this is a Measure to deal with one particular section, namely, the bombed areas. I agree that the Bill, incidentally, deals with what are called 'blighted areas, but the two are, obviously, in his mind, and in the minds of the framers of this Bill, linked together. He urges the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill because the problems presented by those areas are the most urgent. That is really his main argument. In a sense he apologised for the Bill, and said "I agree that this has to be followed by a much broader Measure, but there is not time to do that now: we must deal with this extremely urgent problem." Whenever any speaker has talked about the urgency of the problem, cheers have come from that side. Is the problem of the bombed areas really most urgent? Those areas have suffered grievously. Today they are largely empty. The bombs have levelled the buildings, and the people have moved. Great masses of people in this country are now in areas where they are adding to the needs of the production Departments. New factories have been erected, new industries are there; and same places are not only over-populated at the moment, but it is to be feared that when the war ends the people there will 1651 be under-employed. I should have thought that the most urgent problem of all would be, what is to happen to those areas, how the people are being housed there, and what the Government propose to do about them.
All the time the Government are approaching these matters by piecemeal legislation, bit by bit. Never was the country more certain of its national entity than it has been since this war started. It wants to consider everything nationally. The only people who, apparently, still want to consider it in the old-fashioned way, parochially, are the Government. We have had instance after instance this Session. There was education. They talked nationally, but they threw the burden upon the local parishes. They talked nationally about the provision of water for everybody, but they threw the burden on the parishes. So they" do here. They pick upon certain areas, and say "If you do certain things, within the definition provided by this Bill, certain things will happen; if you do not, you must wait and see what we are going to do." Cannot we really consider this vast problem as a whole?
What I am so much afraid of all the time is that a little patchwork done here this year will prevent the great national plan ever being brought into existence. We have had so much experience of that. May I take education as an illustration? There is not a part of the country now that does not realise how badly the people have been served in the past. They are anxious for new education centres; they will probably draw up plans for better education centres, and submit them to the Ministry of Education. Where conditions have been thoroughly bad, and nothing has been done, it is easy to draw up a plan. They will all agree that it is necessary for them to be passed through, but where they have done their best in the past, and have put up a building in the last 20 years, they will be told, "You must build around that now, and do the best you can; it is too expensive to destroy it." In regard to these matters, the policy is to plan parochially, for selected areas only, and the very fact that people are working on these plans now will prevent a broader, bigger, more generous scheme being brought in later on.
1652 What is the real remedy? It is perfectly obvious. It is the Conservative majority in this Douse and in the Cabinet who have had their way. [interruption.] Oh, yes, obviously. It is not a measure that any of us on this side would have brought in. [An HON. MEMBER: "Labour Ministers agreed to it."] Certainly, they are consenting parties; and I hope that they will have to answer for it some day. One thing that causes me more anxiety than anything else is the possibility that the people of this country, acting as a democracy, may lose faith in their leaders. Men who have made an appeal to the people of the country on a certain principle, and have been returned to this House as defenders of that principle, then stand at that Box and deny that principle. It is likely to arouse cynicism—as it already has done—and cynicism may arouse discontent.
§ Mr. Davies
Of course there is, and we are fighting for a principle. But that is no reason why we should abandon the very principles that we stood for on platforms when we asked for the votes of the people.
§ Mr. Davies
All of us, I hope; everyone who was returned to this House of Commons. The Uthwatt Report, in my view, certainly did not go far enough. That was because that Committee found themselves, in the main, limited by their terms of reference. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) pointed out, they came to the conclusion that the logical, proper remedy to apply was nationalisation—and remember that they were men who had not taken a prominent part in any political controversy; and at least one of them would be the last man in the world that I should have thought would have said anything in favour of nationalisation, having been a valuer of all these big estates. But they say, "We dare not do it now: the matter is urgent; it will arouse political controversy." [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not what they said."] That is the main reason; that is undoubtedly the dominating reason. Are 1653 those political considerations to be the ones that shall weigh in the balance of what is right and proper for the people? Apparently they weigh more strongly as to what happens regarding the future. This Bill again preserves, except in certain instances, the sanctity of private property in land.
§ Mr. Davies
I agree. The interests of the few are to be protected, whatever may happen, and in only a few cases are we to give the people authority to acquire the land, and then only just sufficient for the particular purpose of a particular area. I cannot help contrasting this Bill with the attitude of all the hon. Members of this House in May and June, 1940. In May and June, 1940, the Deputy Prime Minister brought in a Bill, which passed through all its stages in a few moments, transferring to the Government of this country full power over all persons and over all property.
§ Mr. Davies
Certainly; when we were in danger all was being thrown in, but, let the danger pass, and the hon. Member would say, "Give back to us the private property of the few." You fight for the land, but it does not belong to you; you offer your lives for the land, but it does not belong to you. But when the war is over the attitude of hon. Members is not what it was in 1940, when they said, "All is at stake, take everything." To-day the situation has changed, thanks to the courage of our men and of our Allies, and the attitude of hon. Members changes also.
§ Mr. Davies
The Government say, "Let us throw this burden on the local authorities." All we are going to do is advance them a sum of money, free of interest, certain for two years, possibly for another eight, possibly for another five, and pay for the charges of buying the land and acquiring it. As for the rest—"do what you can." All the time, this Government are throwing more and more burdens upon the local authorities without any care as to whether they can stand the burden or not. It has been done with 1654 regard to education. More than half is thrown on the local authorities—and it is called a national system. It has been done with regard to water; six-sevenths of the cost is to fall on the local authorities arid one-seventh upon the Treasury. This is another instance of shirking the real issue—the issue which the country was so anxious about, which is that, after the war, we shall all try to regard ourselves as one nation, helping one another, wherever help is needed.
I am surprised at this Bill. It is about the only Bill of its kind that I have ever seen backed by so many distinguished names. The Prime Minister himself is supporting it, the Deputy Prime Minister is supporting it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Air are supporting it, and then come the others. Why? It was necessary to add these names because of statements that have been made in the past with regard to what is going to be done, and also, perhaps, because of a little recollection as to the attitude they used to adopt years ago. There used to be a song, sung to an American tune, one of the most lusty singers of which was the Prime Minister, and one rather mild tenor voice piping behind him was that of the Secretary of State for Air. The main point of that song was "God gave the land to the people." To-day, we are only giving it to those areas that happen to be bombed or blighted. Why cannot we deal with the land as a vast problem and nationalise it all? How are we to tackle agriculture in this way? The landlord cannot do it; he cannot possibly afford it. I was full of sympathy with him in the old days. After all, our agricultural landlords were always pretty content with 4 per cent. gross, 2 per cent. net. They restored half to the land in improvements, in better housing and better buildings, but taxation has been such for the last 40 years that they have been unable to do it. Are we to ask them to-day, out of their income, to put agriculture on its feet, provide proper houses and buildings, and do the drainage that is required in order to produce the food for the nation? They cannot do it.
The owner-occupier already mortgaged to the bank—how can he do it? There is only one authority that can do it and that is the nation as a whole. We passed a Bill the other day with regard to milk, making stricter regulations concerning the 1655 purity of milk, and now the officers are to be the officers of the Ministry of Agriculture. What is the good of officers if the building and amenities are such that you cannot produce clean milk? It is just sheer nonsense. I terminate my speech with the remark that I regard this Bill as unworthy of a great people in their greatest period of history, and I hope the Government will withdraw it. If they do not, I, at any rate, shall be voting against the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Tree (Harborough)
I have neither the eloquence nor the desire to follow my hon. and learned Friend in the very wide realm which he has just covered in his speech. Rather do I want to bring the House back to reality and in order that it may study the Second Reading of the Bill which we are considering to-day. Just as a Coalition is a compromise, based on the need for a common policy to meet a particular set of circumstances, either international or national, so is the Bill that we are discussing to-day a compromise, and we have heard, in two successive speeches, one by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) on the one side, and one by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) on the other, two perfectly good descriptions of their respective points of view. In other words, the Left want nothing short of complete nationalisation, while, on the Right, many hon. Members dislike planning and abhor the word "compulsion," The question therefore arises, as it always does in a compromise of this kind, whether so much of principle becomes emasculated that, to all intents and purposes, what is attempted becomes incapable of fulfilment. Are we, by attempting to satisfy all shades of opinion on both sides of the House, going to produce something in the nature of a sanitary inspector to do the jab that requires a first-class architect?
Under the provisions of the Bill, are we to be able to rebuild with the least possible delay, consonant only with one consideration of fair play, the blitzed towns and cities of this country, not in the old way, without any form or shape or plan, but in a manner that will gain the applause of future generations, perhaps 100 years from now? Is it going to enable us to tear away those horrible eyesores which are known in this Bill as blighted areas but which we, for 20 years, have got to know 1656 as Depressed Areas? Finally, are its powers wide enough for starting on the necessary plans so that towns or cities designated as other areas may proceed with their interim plans?
It is with a view to considering whether these things could be done under the Bill that I have examined it from every angle, and I have considered it, too, from the point of view of the landowner, because I happen to be one myself. If I emphasise this, I do so because many unfair things have been said about landowners in the past, and particularly in connection with this Bill; they have been accused of trying to hold up the passage of this and other similar Bills and of thinking primarily of their own pockets rather than of the ultimate good of the whole. Talk of this kind should be repudiated, if by landowners are meant those people who live on and enjoy their own lands and estates, and if we are not discussing speculators in land values. If hon. Members opposite will take the trouble to inquire, they will find it very rare for local authorities to have trouble with the first category of landowners about whom I have been talking.
§ Mr. Stokes
Am I right in interpreting the hon. Member as distinguishing between the landowners of the countryside and the landlords of the towns?
§ Mr. Tree
I was talking about the landowners and the speculators in the areas ripe for development around the big towns and cities. In many cases it may be very hard for a landowner who has lived perhaps for many years, or his family for centuries, on an estate that becomes ripe for development, but I think that it will be found that in nine cases out of 10 he bows to circumstances and comes to a pretty fair agreement with the local authority. But in most instances, long before his property has become ripe for development, it has been bought by the land speculator. In many instances he lets it out to the poorest type of tenant farmer and waits for the right moment to make an advantageous deal. We have all of us known cases of that kind and the particular type of land speculator that it produces. Therefore, speaking myself as a landowner, I welcome this Bill. I welcome the placing of development into the hands of the local authorities, the manner in which the financial side of it is 1657 to operate, and further, I am in agreement with the main proposals in it and I believe it to be a perfectly workable Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) did bring up two specific points which we believe would improve the Bill and I will mention them very briefly again. They are the two points in connection with compensation to be paid to owners of land capable of improvement. The first one relates to a man owning residential property below the rateable value under the Rent Restrictions Acts and occupied by him and his family. It is felt—and I think rightly felt—that if someone's home is expropriated he should be compensated not on the 1939 level, but on something like its present-day value, We all realise that the cost of building and so on has very greatly increased after five years of war, but a hard and fast rule of this kind would produce a good many anomalies. We believe that these anomalies would be reduced to a minimum if, instead of doing what is suggested under the Bill, preferential treatment were accorded to all owner-occupiers irrespective of the size of the property and including commercial as well as residential property, provided the need of alternative accommodation was proved. If anyone whose home was expropriated could show need for alternative accommodation for himself and his family, he should receive a price equal to the cost of similar accommodation. This would have the added inducement that it would exclude giving the speculator any further increase in price.
The second class of owner who, under the Bill, will receive more preferential treatment, is the owner of agricultural land and buildings, subject to certain conditions as to their occupation. This Clause could be substantially improved if it was confined to that class of owner who has spent money on improving his farm or his buildings. A perfectly good parallel is given in the case of the farmer-tenant, who, on leaving his farm at the expiration of his lease, is compensated by the owner of the land for the amount that he has spent on it during his tenancy. I do not see why any additional payment should be made to a land speculator who, having bought his land with the object of selling it in a very short time, lets it to a grazier, 1658 spends nothing on improvements and will get under this Bill something for nothing. Therefore—and my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset brought this up also in his speech—a definite date should be fixed. Lord Reith, when he was Minister for Planning, in another place, on 17th July, 1941, issued a warning as to prices that should be paid, and why should it not be possible to fix a date, and after that time allow no further compensation to be paid?
In conclusion I believe that the majority of this House are anxious to see the main provisions of this Bill carried out. They are aware that for a long time past there has been a crying need for legislation of this kind. In almost every instance they have come across in their own constituencies a local authority which has been unable to get on with its plans for the future because of lack of knowledge as to the intentions of the Government. I would therefore appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to swallow their objections to this Bill, to realise that it is very largely an interim Measure—the best that can be reached at the present time—and to get on with the study of the Bill in its Committee stage in order that it may be passed into legislation at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I would like to deal with one or two of the points which have just been put by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree). Let me say at once that I was glad to see some signs of progress in his concluding remarks, when, so far as I understood him, he seemed to join with me in deprecating that anybody should be able to get something for nothing out of the ownership of land. If that is the declared policy of the Tory Reformers I feel a little bit better to-day for having heard it.
§ Mr. Stokes
Earlier in his speech the hon. Gentleman remarked that he examined the Bill from one point of view and one point of view only, and that was 1659 to decide whether or not the Bill would enable us to get on. By that, I suppose he meant get on with reconstruction and development on the lines which have been so often discussed in this House and elsewhere before. I do not propose to go into a detailed analysis of the Bill, but we on this side of the House do not think this Bill is anything like good enough, and I am satisfied to base my judgment regarding that particular aspect of the Bill on the two greatest living authorities I know on the subject of town planning—Lord Latham, who sits in another place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who sits below me. They are unalterably opposed to the Bill.
§ Viscountess Astor
What about Lord Astor, the only mayor who has a complete plan for a blitzed town?
§ Mr. Stokes
I understood that Lord Astor is shortly joining the Communist Party on this very issue. At any rate the Noble Lady will be able to speak for her family in due course. May I say this also to the hon. Member for Harborough that in the remarks I am going to make—and I propose to make some vicious ones—I am not blaming the landlords. I agree with the remark made years ago by the Prime Minister on this subject, that he did not blame the landlords, but blamed the law. It is the law which is bad. It is no use blaming the landlords for taking advantage of the law, and anybody who sets up to say that they are not going to take advantage of the law when they get the opportunity seems to me to be claiming for them an odour of sanctity which they will find it extremely difficult to maintain. Therefore, I am not complaining about the landlords, but about the power which their ownership of land gives them, and I will develop that argument a little more fully later on.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), with his usual eloquence, said that one of the things of which he was terrified was that the people of this country should lose faith in their leaders—in their Government, in other words—and in that I join him. I want to remind my right hon. Friend the Minister, of the broken pledges on this subject. Time and time again, we have had promises from Ministers that, to all intents and purposes, 1660 what is termed the 31st March, 1939, ceiling should be the maximum price at which land should be bought up. I want to quote now an answer which the Minister gave me in this House on that very subject. On 2nd December last, I asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning:In view of the recommendation contained in the Uthwatt Report regarding the land values ceiling at 31st March, 1939, why it is not possible to consider to-day's values as well; and whether he will issue instructions that purchases, if any, should not be made above the 1943 or 1939 ceiling, whichever is the lower.To which my right hon. Friend replied:The adoption of the recommendation referred to would not entail purchases at prices above the market value at the time of purchase. The second part of the Question, therefore, does not arise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd December, 1943; Vol. 395, c. 505–506.]If my right hon. Friend will tell me that no Member of the Government—the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Deputy Prime Minister or himself—ever gave people to understand that the intention, during all that period of discussion, was that the 1939 ceiling should be the maximum and not the minimum, I will give way for him to deny it now. No, he will not deny it, of course, because he cannot, and it is, absolutely, a broken pledge. No doubt a great deal more will be said about that point from these Benches in the course of the Debate.
I think I am right in saying that a great number, if not all on this side of the House, consider that the effect of this Bill will be—if I can put it that way—to re-entrench the landlords in a still stronger position than they were before in what the Prime Minister described as "the mother of all monopolies." Everyone knows that we are up against the monopolies. If I had any doubt about whether that was not going to be the effect of the Bill, my opinion would be reaffirmed by the attitude which hon. Members are taking towards the Bill. I have high authority for saying that, because the Property-Owners Association made this remark, "Well, we have been working very hard." Of course, the Property-Owners' Association have been very much behind the scene in all the discussions. Had I been fortunate enough, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye——
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I deny that I have received any representations from the Property-Owners' Association.
§ Mr. Stokes
But the right hon. Gentleman does not deny the remark that they have been working very hard.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not know anything about them to that extent, but I wish to resist the imputation, if my hon. Friend intended it, that I have been influenced in my presentation of this problem by representations from the Property-Owners' Association.
§ Mr. Stokes
I was not imputing anything personal to the Minister. I was saying that responsible persons, known to himself and myself as the Property-Owners' Association, made the remark, "We have been working very hard."
§ Mr. Stokes
Certainly, I am not complaining, I am merely saying that the satisfaction with which the Property Owners' Association and the hon. Gentlemen opposite accept this Bill, only shows how completely satisfied they are that their interests will be safeguarded. I can leave it at that.
Unfortunately I did not hear the whole speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). I wish he were here now. I did not like to get up at the time but I would have liked to have followed him. I want to say one or two things now about what he said. He declaimed that the Government had two responsibilities: one to maintain the country from attack—in other words to defend the existing state of things so far as they were physically concerned; the second, to maintain the value of money. He said that they had signally failed to do so in the past five years, and then went on to declaim that they seemed to have chosen one set of persons above all others on whom the unfortunate incidents arising out of the war should most heavily bear, namely, the property-owners. I fail to understand what he means. As I see it, if you are a property-owner in a blitzed city, you get compensated for the loss of your improvement. That, surely, is accepted. The only thing we are arguing about in this Bill is how much they are to be paid for the land, and the hon. Member for Harborough will agree with 1662 me when I ask, Why should they be paid for something whose value they never created?
That is what this Bill is about. It has nothing whatever to do with the compensation for blitzed buildings—that is under a different provision altogether—and why the hon. Member for Cambridge University, who is usually so correct in his approach to these matters, should confuse the House—even if not wilfully—by saying that the property-owners have been badly treated, I fail to understand.
On this question of the value of money, I have heard it argued—though I do not think I heard it here to-day—that one of the reasons why it would be a good thing to accept the 1939 valuation as a ceiling was that money had depreciated in value since 1939. We did not hear very much about that on the Education Bill. Is it proposed that when that Bill comes into operation all grants will be 33⅓ per cent. higher? It would be extremely interesting if that turned out to be the case, but it seems to be an entirely fallacious argument. When I put it to the Chancellor he turned it down flat. He said, "We all rise and fall together." But not the property owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Does anyone want to interrupt, because I like to be interrupted? What I want to say to the hon. Member for Cambridge University is this: He put his finger on the spot when he talked about amounts which have to be paid in order to compensate landowners. But what he did not say was that 1939 prices were already disgracefully high. I want to deal with that point, because it is à propos of the Amendment which stands in my name, and that of other Members, on the Order Paper to-day, and which I understand you, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, decided not to call. It is the pith of my whole argument on this particular matter.
Since the beginning of the war there has been wild speculation in land values. Some of my hon. Friends who come from Scotland can tell how land agents in this country telegraphed to Scotland to buy vast tracts of the Highlands, without having seen the places, at double and treble the value of the land. Take my constituency and the borough of Ipswich. What has been happening there? I will give two glaring examples of land speculation in 1939. What happens when war 1663 breaks out? People rush to buy land, because it is the safest place in which to put their money. Here is the case of a small farm on the outskirts of Ipswich, the rental value of which was £26 8s. 1d. in 1939. This farm was purchased for £3,600. The Minister would not dare to get up and say that here was an enthusiastic farmer who was out to invest £3,600 in a farm which, apparently, gave such a small return. Next door there was another farm, the net rental value of which was £126, for which £10,000 was paid. [HON. MEMBERS: "When"?] In the middle of 1939. Is any hon. Member opposite going to say that the land value On 31st March, 1939, was 20 times £126 and that on 3oth October, or whenever it was, it was £10,000? Of course he will not. When Ipswich wants to develop it will have to pay through the nose for the land which it requires. All along the line this Bill fails miserably because it fails to deal with the question of land values. It sets out to keep the property owners quiet. If there were not a Coalition Government now every Member of the Labour Party would be opposing the Bill. If we accept the Bill we shall compromise ourselves hopelessly for the future. I join with other Members of the party in asking the Government to take it back. We do not want to force anybody into an impossible position, but we shall not let the Bill go through as it is. When the Minister says it is his intention to accept reasonable Amendments on the Committee stage my mind goes back to the Education Bill. Are we to have a Vote of Confidence every time we pass an Amendment? We did not succeed in getting one really fundamental Amendment to the Education Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, we did not.
§ Mr. Stokes
We did not get a single Amendment through on the Education Bill, in any way comparable in its fundamental character, to what will be required to put this Bill right. I do not want to detain the House for long; Members know my views on this matter, and on money matters [HON. MEMBERS: "And tanks."] No, I do not think I can get tanks into this discussion to-day. But on this money issue we are in the ridiculous position that the country will be asked 1664 to pay interest on their own credit, not on the credit of the bankers. Why should it be required to do that? If the Government will not agree to letting local authorities have money interest free why not let the municipalities issue their own money? I see no objection to that. It might keep property owners on their property, because they could not spend their money elsewhere than in their own localities. In all seriousness, something ought to be done about this land in a very radical way. As others have said before me, people have gone out to fight for the land, and when they come back they will find they have not got it. They will not be satisfied with that. In my view, and in the view of a great many of us, something ought to be done to hand back the land to the people. I agree there are different ways of doing it. Some are in favour of confiscation. Personally, I think that is an injustice which the British public will not put up with. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members are laughing. I think it is unjust to confiscate, although do not let us forget that the land was confiscated from the people in the first place.
§ Mr. Stokes
If the Noble Lady will only read her history she will find out that God made the land for the people, land which she and her kith and kin have "pinched" from the people——
§ Mr. Stokes
The Noble Lady may have her own way, but perhaps she will let me get on with my speech.
§ Mr. Stokes
I like interruptions when they are of a constructive and inspiring nature, not when they are couched in such terms as to need a heavy shake of a physical nature in reply, which would be altogether out of place in this Assembly.
The second alternative is nationalisation. I know a great many people on this side of the House think that they agree with nationalisation. I have always made it clear since I have been in politics that I do not—I am talking about nationalisation of the land, and not of essential industries. I think it would be most unfair to the community and to posterity, 1665 because the value of the land of this country, free of all developments, is £10,000,000,000 and if we are to borrow that sum on our own credit you will have to pay £500,000,000 a year interest. I do not see why people should be asked to do that. So I put nationalisation out of it for a second and most important reason, that to nationalise the land relieves the robbers, because that is what I call the landlords, of the obligation of making the best of their land.
My third alternative is the subject-matter of the Amendment on the Paper in my name. I want to put a tax on the value of all land whether it is used or not, and so put a penalty on idleness. I know that hon. Members will say they have all helped to create the value of the land. That is true. They have all helped in so far as they have done any work at all. But those who have not, have not contributed to its value. Value attaches to the land by the work of the community and of no one else—the work of all the community. Why should the community be made to buy back the value which it has created itself? We make roads out of London, and millions of pounds of land values arise, and go straight into the pockets of the landlords. If the community wants to spread outwards, you have to pay a rack rent to the landlords before you can get on with the job. The community are constantly placed in the position of creating obstacles for themselves, by their improvements, and have to buy at enhanced values before they can take the next step. I appeal to the Government to take the Bill back and to bring in a decent Bill, with a thorough-going scheme for the taxation of land values in it as well, and then we shall be satisfied.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) made a very eloquent plea to the Government to produce their master plan for the nation as a whole, but it seems to me that such a plan would fill a very large volume. I can see no objection whatsoever to the Government producing that volume chapter by chapter, as I believe they are doing, and this Bill is one of those chapters. The purpose of this Bill, which, I take it, is to enable local authorities to acquire expeditiously land which they require for the rapid rebuilding of their areas which have suffered war damage, together with 1666 that land adjacent to it which suffers from bad or obsolete lay-out and should be developed in conformity with it, is one to which I cannot conceive that anyone can take serious objection. Therefore, it seems to me that in principle the Bill should be given a Second Reading. But it is a Measure of such complexity and is so technical in character, and the time that has been given to us to study it has been so utterly inadequate, that my right hon. Friend, even after the very excellent résumé which he has given of it, must expect to be asked for further explanations. He must expect to satisfy hon. Members further before they give their assent to the Second Reading. There is no doubt that the Bill expedites procedure, and speeds up the process of land acquisition, but that, it seems to me, can be of very little value unless at the same time we speed up the physical re-development of the land so acquired. That is a matter on which naturally the Bill is silent, but in some respects it may operate to the opposite effect.
Under Clause 1, the Minister, from the commencement of the Act and for a period of five years thereafter, can issue an Order that any area of land coming within the terms of the Bill shall be subject to compulsory purchase, and during that period he can authorise a local authority to purchase compulsorily the land within its area so designated. Once the local planning authority has purchased, it can only dispose of the land by leasehold unless it first receives the consent of the Minister, and that, from all the indications in the Bill, will only be granted under very exceptional circumstances. I will refer to that point later; the point I wish to make now is that over the period of five years land which comes under the head of extensive war damage, and areas adjacent to it, may to a considerable extent be frozen in so far as development is concerned. No owner is going to proceed to rebuild or re-develop his property, or even maintain it, unless he is assured that the Minister will not designate the area in which the property lies as one which will be subject to compulsory purchase. The matter does not end there, for the same fear will apply to areas of over-spill, so that over a very wide area development may be held up at a time when it is essential that industrialists, merchants and traders should be modernising their premises so as to obtain 1667 the most efficient production and distribution. The end of the five-year period does not end the period of uncertainty. If a local authority does not actually purchase within the period the Minister can in terms of Clause 2, Sub-section (4) extend the period of compulsory purchase to eternity. It seems to me, therefore, that there should be some machinery under which an owner who wishes to develop may be assured that he can do so with reasonable security. That is a matter which my right hon. Friend mentioned but he did not develop it.
The procedure under Clause 1 is reasonable. It is reasonably expeditious, and the public inquiry which the Minister must hold if objections are lodged is a reasonable check on the local authority, who, after all, are not always the last word in wisdom, and it also provides a safeguard for the individual. But when I come to Clause 2 (2) I seem to find that a certain suspicion is thrown on the intentions of the Government. If they intend to use the power in that Clause other than in exceptional circumstances those who, like me, pin their faith on the procedure laid down in Clause 1 may very well be deceived. I should be disinclined to support the Second Reading if I thought it was the Government's intention to make a general use of Clause 2 (2). I would ask for an assurance on that point and for further explanation of the purposes to which it is to be put, for at the moment it throws doubt on the honesty of the intentions set forth in Clause 1. I very much welcome the provision of Clause 1 (4), which requires the local authority to present a statement to the Minister as to the manner in which it intends to use and lay out the land which it desires to be subject to compulsory purchase. I hope that statement will enable my right hon. Friend not only to apply a spur to those local authorities who are behind the times but also to check these local authorities with whom the planners have run away. I sometimes wonder, when I look at the extraordinary plans they produce, whether they have entirely forgotten the purpose for which most towns and cities exist—trade and industry. When I look at some of them I see the banks of rivers laid out in broad boulevards when, as a matter of fact, they will have to be devoted to 1668 warehouses, quays and docks if industry is to continue.
I also find, or so it appears to me, that in some of these plans they have altogether forgotten the small man. The planners all seem to be concerned with providing large shops, large offices, and large warehouses. They seem to have neglected to remember that a very large proportion of the industrial activity of the country is carried on by small men in small shops, small offices and small workshops. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that the small man is guarded, that ample provision is made for him, and that the local authorities do not cater only for large and wealthy concerns. In that connection I was glad that my right hon. Friend mentioned flatted factories.
I have no doubt that many hon. Members will speak either for or against compensation being paid on the 1939 value. I am prepared to accept that as a rough form of justice. I am not one who views with any favour, but rather regards with contempt, persons who speculate in land for the sole purpose of holding the public to ransom. These people are financial sharks. They are not landowners at all in the true sense of that word, and we should endeavour to keep the two separate in our minds, because they are oceans apart. The 1939 value was introduced to prevent speculators from robbing the public. A speculator of this nature is a very obvious person and I should have thought could have been got at otherwise, for the 1939 value may quite well inflict hardship and injustice on others. Let us take the example of a developer who purchased an area of land in 1938 and who, to enable him to proceed with his development, raised a mortgage on that land. He went ahead with the preparation of his plans for development but was prevented from going on by the war. If such a person is to receive only the 1939 value he will to a certain extent be robbed. He will be robbed of the interest he has paid on his mortgage, which normally he would have recovered. He will be deprived of the interest on his capital, which again normally he would have recovered, and he will receive nothing for the outlay he has made on his plans. So far as I can see, Clause 45 allows only for the physical development which has taken place since 1939. I am certain that it is not the intention of the 1669 Government to inflict loss on persons of this nature, but there is nothing in the Bill that allows for adequate compensation being paid in these circumstances. I would ask that that point should receive the consideration of my right hon. Friend.
That leads me somewhat naturally to Clause 25, Sub-section (5). It is laid down there that the local planning authority, or such other authority as is mentioned in the Bill, may make a reasonable allowance, such as it thinks fit, to persons who have been displaced from their homes or their business premises in regard both to the cost of removal and the loss suffered by the disturbance to their businesses. I suggest that in equity that Clause is far too one-sided. It should be obligatory on the local authority to recompense such persons, and they ought to have a right of appeal against an arbitrary decision of the local authority as to the amount of damage due to them. As the Bill stands, such persons have no rights and are entirely in the hands of the local authority. That is a situation that should be remedied. I have spoken already of the small man. He should be protected in every possible way, and to that end Clause 15, Sub-section (6), to which the Minister referred, requires to be strengthened. The Clause deals only with people who actually own the land, as far as I read it. It should be extended to include people who have been in business on these old sites and who desire to continue on them, unless there are the strongest possible objections to that course. Otherwise, goodwill, which may have been built up over generations, will he taken from them.
I made a reference earlier to the policy under which the local planning authority becomes the owner of the land within the ambit of this Bill. I appreciate greatly the advantages of leasehold from the local authority point of view. I know well the expense to which local authorities have been put when they have been required to buy back land they previously owned for purposes of further development, such as the widening of roads. I wonder, if we are to go ahead with a tax on betterment, whether that would not do away with some of the disadvantages of freehold from that point of view. I would suggest that leasehold has disadvantages also. It has disadvantages in relation to development; because people 1670 do not pull down their buildings and rebuild when they are getting towards the end of the period of their lease, whereas if they had the freehold they would do so. I suggest that there should be given consideration to the question of whether there should not be a further extension of freehold than that indicated in the Bill. In many circumstances it would be advantageous.
I have listened to-day, and I expect we will listen to-morrow, to a good deal of criticism of the financial provisions. To my mind they are reasonable, adequate and sufficiently flexible. Of course, they will not meet with the approval of certain local authorities who desire completely to re-develop their towns or areas at the expense of the general taxpayer. That is not an expenditure which the taxpayer should be called upon to pay. Generally, I welcome this Bill as showing the determination of the Government to hasten the redevelopment of the devastated areas. I have little to complain of in regard to principle, but a Measure of this size and complexity must inevitably raise cases of hardship and inequity. It is for the House to see that these cases are met to the greatest possible extent and to endeavour to see that all are fairly treated. In detail, the Bill calls for a much closer scrutiny than we have been able to give it. It may be that it will call also for considerable amendment. In the belief that my right hon. Friend recognises these facts and that he will act, as he has suggested, with sympathy, I propose to support the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
As I understand that the Amendment in the name of myself and my hon. Friends to the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) is not to be called I would like to make my observations on the Second Reading of the Bill. I would like to begin where the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) began his speech. He regarded the Bill as the first of a series of Bills which the Government are to bring forward to complete the master plan. I do not see anything in the Bill or in the White Paper to support that idea. Indeed, I think it is clear from paragraph 40 of the White Paper that the Government regard the Bill and the White Paper as all that is necessary to secure adequate planning in the future. Therefore, those 1671 of us who consider the Bill to be inadequate should take this opportunity of saying what things we would like to see inserted in the Bill. It is an unfortunate procedure to introduce both the Bill and the White Paper at the same time, because it makes it possible for the Government to play one off against the other. Once we have dealt with the Bill, the matters contained in it cannot be raised again, and in this Debate we cannot raise matters which are in the White Paper. Unless we are careful we shall be caught between the two procedures. It is all the more important that we should take this early opportunity of dealing as broadly as we can with the whole question. The problem that the Government must face at the moment is much greater than war damage. The necessity for town planning existed prior to the war, and, indeed, in paragraph ix of the Uthwatt Report, attention is called to that fact. Any plan which is regarded from the point of view merely of war damage is bound to be unsatisfactory. I want briefly to go through some of the things which I consider make up the problem. First, there is density of population. I do not think that the main trouble is that our country is populated too densely. The majority of the large towns have sufficient land within their boundaries to house adequately the existing population, if it is properly used. A large city like Birmingham has an average density of 20 persons to the acre. Properly used, the land could give a satisfactory house for all the people living in Birmingham. That represents the average situation for all our big cities.
Secondly, we have the phenomenon that many houses are inadequate to-day. That goes very much further than the blight to which the Minister referred. One can see that the idea of what an ordinary house should be has altered very much in the last few years. Most of the houses built before the last war may be found inadequate within a very few years after this war finishes. Thirdly, there is a very great lack of open spaces. Our system has been to build up a city without any provision for open spaces. Fourthly, our towns have not been planned in communities. Much of what we have called town planning in the past has been to work in exactly the opposite 1672 way. Large estates have been built at one density with people of more or less one income group and type, in a sort of dormitory suburb, which is not a community at all, and this is of course the result of the unfortunate idea of density-zoning, which is one of the tendencies which we must reverse after the war.
I shall not at any length elaborate the problem, because it is well known to all those who have lived or passed through our big cities. It is so obvious that it strikes one immediately, but it is quite capable of solution. I do not think anyone can doubt that we have the knowledge and the skill to solve the technical problems. If I say that, on a conservative estimate, probably at least 50 per cent. of the houses in Britain will be rebuilt within the next 50 years in some way or other, it means that within the next 50 years we shall go through a process of rebuilding the majority of our large cities. If we have a master plan we shall be able to rebuild them so as to get rid of the defects which exist at the present time. The challenge of the present situation is that the war has put a stop to the bad development which was going on before the war and that we now have a chance of starting again on right lines. To do that it is essential to have a master plan, but that cannot be left for five or ten years. It must be made within the very shortest possible time.
I would like to refer hon. Members to the Uthwatt Report on this matter because the Report stresses it very considerably. In paragraph 7 it says:The many problems involved"—that is, in real planning—may not be capable of solution by a system of patchwork mending of existing codes of law or piecemeal adaptations of existing procedure.That supports my contention that a master plan is essential. I am not trying to minimise the size of the job. It is a fairly difficult job, so it is very right that every obstacle should be removed from the planners and the public. Planning is not a thing which should be done only by an expert in the office but it should be done also by the democratic method of first giving the whole people the proposals and letting them think them out and express their views, and then giving them an opportunity of taking their part in the plan 1673 ning. That is something which cannot be done in five minutes. It will take two or three years, but every difficulty must be removed. One difficulty which exists is that in planning over a large area you have to consider not only the suitability of each piece of land to the purpose to which you wish to put it, but also its price. The planner has to put a certain population in a certain area with a certain number of essential services and industries, and arrange them to the best of his ability, but he has also to-day to consider the ownership of the land. That is a very big obstacle indeed, and unless we remove it and give the planner and the public power to decide without considering ownership or value, we shall impede our plans very much.
In passing, I would point out that the Bill does not provide for the acquisition by compulsory purchase of land for the use of open spaces. Surely one of the biggest faults in our planning before the war, whether it was in the building which took place during the last century or the so-called planning of this century, was the complete lack of open spaces. Unless we have power to devote land to open spaces it will be good-bye to any master plan, for instance, such as the county of London plan, which is modest and is by no means revolutionary.
Does the Bill do any of those necessary things? First of all, does it introduce a master plan? No, it does not. It has nothing to say on that matter. Indeed, the White Paper, which is the other part of the Government's proposals, says specifically in the last paragraph that it rejects the idea of a master plan. That is sufficient to condemn the whole Bill and the Government in the eyes of any person who is really interested in town planning. Secondly, does the Bill allow the planner or the public to decide the use of land only on its suitability? The answer is that it does nothing of the sort. In the first place, it is not comprehensive. It provides for the acquisition of land for certain limited purposes—war damage, obsolete development, overspill and other limited purposes—and it leaves out this very important matter of open spaces. The Bill does not allow the planner to look over London and to say: "Here is the land I want for certain purposes." He is restricted to planning only for certain purposes. And, again, if the planner has 1674 to choose between two pieces of land which he can use, he has to take into account the value of that land and the price he has to pay. I am not going to say a great deal about the injustice, as I think it, of the 1939 ceiling, which has now turned into the 1939 floor, in spite of the pledges which have been given. I think it is quite clear that if the local authority, or the local government servant working for the local authority, is to think in terms of "who owns the land?" and "What is the price of it?" that is good-bye to the real freedom which the planner wants. The Government's White Paper suggests that this will be all right because betterment and compensation are to balance each other. I do not believe that can happen, and again I bring the Uthwatt Report to support me in that contention. The Uthwatt Committee examined this question and did not believe that there is a method of balancing compensation with betterment. In paragraph 27 they say:No scheme has, however, yet been devised under which in actual practice, compensation and betterment can be equated in this way.I think that evidence of the Uthwatt Committee speaks for itself. As far as the Bill is concerned, that is what we are talking about now. The local authority has to bear the cost after two years, or after eight years in certain circumstances, or finally, in the last resort, after 15 years. That makes it quite clear and conclusive that if the cost of the land has to be taken into consideration the freedom of the planner to decide entirely on suitability 's gone for ever.
The Bill therefore fails to do those things which are necessary for real planning, and the only solution, that is, the comprehensive use of land, and real freedom of choice, does lie in the public ownership of land. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said in his speech, the Uthwatt Committee maintains that that is the logical thing to do. I do not need to remind the House of that quotation which comes from the Uthwatt Report. I think we can say it is the logical thing to do, considering this matter as an isolated and detailed matter. The second thing is that you can ignore the problem of betterment, shifting value, or floating values only if you have all the land under one ownership. That is really the whole point of 1675 the Uthwatt proposals, that if land is under one ownership the question of determining shifting value and so forth does not arise. I do not want to weary the House with too many quotations, but it is important that these matters should be put before the House. Seeing that this paragraph has not been quoted up to now I would like to quote it. Paragraph 38 (d) says:It is only if all the land in the country were in the ownership of a single person or body that the necessity for paying compensation and collecting betterment on account of shifts in value due to planning would disappear altogether.That is an unanswerable argument for the public ownership of all land. There is a general case for this matter, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield referred. We are not making that case at the moment. We are discussing mire detailed matters. Apart from that case—the general case—for the national ownership of land, there is this detailed case which I do not think has yet been answered.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Gentleman did attach some importance to the quotation he has just read from the Uthwatt Report. I have just looked it up myself. It, of course, refers to the time when compensation and betterment were dealt with by local authorities, and not nationally. Under the proposals put forward in the White Paper, they would be dealt with nationally.
§ Mr. Lawson
I agree that that is the context of the quotation, but the fact that up to the present time, no scheme for the collection of betterment has been devised, which has really worked, tends to show that any such scheme would be likely to fail in the future. Indeed, the Uthwatt Committee having considered this matter, made proposals which are entirely different, which shows that, in their view, the policy of setting off betterment against compensation is not one which would work. I think that deals adequately with that point.
The Uthwatt Committee, in spite of coming to the logical conclusion that the public ownership of the land is the only solution, rejected it for three reasons. The main and first reason, as has already been stated, is that it would arouse keen political controversy, but it is just as easy, I 1676 think, to fight the main issue as to fight this side issue. Secondly, they put forward as a reason for rejecting it that it would lead to complicated administration. I think those who have the task of carrying out the proposals of this Bill—the local authorities—are agreed that the proposals in the Bill are complicated too, so if it is a matter of choosing between one complication and another, I really do not think that that objection is a very strong one. The last remaining reason why the Uthwatt Committee reject on practical grounds the suggestion of public ownership of land is that it would entail financial operations that might be out of the question.
I want to turn the attention of the House to the financial operations that might be necessary in the public ownership of land. The Uthwatt Report in paragraph 32 does have something interesting to say about the principles which underlie the compensation for land when it passes into public use, or when its use is restricted. Broadly speaking, they lay down these principles, that if land is taken into public use it is subject to compensation, but in the case of rights in land which it is deemed necessary in the public interest should be extinguished, unless there is some specific provision to the contrary, there is no claim there for compensation. I think we can put it in another way. The present position is that when a private right is no longer in the public interest, it may be extinguished without compensation, so long as something is done to prevent any real hardship to the person who enjoyed that right. That is the sense of the paragraph in the Uthwatt Report to which I have referred. I want to extend this principle to the two rights which ownership of land conveys to the individual.
The first is the right of the use of land, and the second is the right to enjoy an income from land. I think I have said sufficient to show that my view is that the right of an individual to use his land exactly as he wants is so contrary to planning that it should now be extinguished. The community must take to itself the right to decide how land may be used—that is positive planning. I come to the second point, of the right to draw income from land. I am sorry that the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) is not here.
1677 [HON. MEMBERS: "Here he is."] He spoke largely on the question of justice. I wish to look at this problem, of the right to receive income because of ownership, from the point of view of justice, in a society which is rapidly moving towards a planned economy. I am assuming for the purpose of this argument that we have a planned distribution of income——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams): The planned distribution of income would be outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lawson
I have made my point on that, and hon. Members will know what is in my mind, although I cannot develop that point. In a society which really accepts the idea of a master plan, whether in the development of our land or in the development of other things, there are two factors to be taken into consideration. First, is the person owning the land in need of the income? In a planned society, the need of an individual must entitle the individual to income. Secondly, is the person owning the land doing any constructive work for society, which would entitle him to income? A person who is contributing something to society, in the way of management of land for instance, is entitled to income. But I do not think that, on a basis of justice in any planned society, it can be said that those owning land and doing nothing for it, should be entitled to income from it. I maintain that we can have a compromise between the two proposals to which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) referred: a cross between compensation—[An HON. MEMBER: "Expropriation."] No, compensation, what the hon. Member called nationalisation—compensation of 100 per cent., in the form of Government bonds, of the value and confiscation. The compromise that I propose is this: A person who has a relatively small income from the ownership of land would receive no diminution of income when the land passed to the public, but a person who has a large income could, quite fairly, be given a small fraction of his previous ownership. [An HON. MEMBER "Where would the borderline be?"] The borderline would be——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This is where the hon. Member is trying to get past my Ruling. The question of distribution of 1678 income does not come within the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Lawson
I do not wish to make a general case on distribution of income, but to apply it to the Bill, which provides for the purchase of land by the community from individuals. I think it is open to me to state the way in which the purchase should be made. The method should be a life pension of 100 per cent. for the person who had a small interests in land, and, for the person who had a large interest, a small proportion of that interest, in the form of a life pension. That would get round the third difficulty, which the Uthwatt Committee foresaw, of financial considerations that were on a very large scale. That is a proposal which I put to the House. It is essentially a practical one and a fair one, to which I and my hon. Friends attach some importance.
Again, I would like to refer to the findings of the Uthwatt Committee. They review the work that Ministers and Governments have done in the past, with regard to town planning. Referring to the Minister, they say, in paragraph 13, that his function has been largely to secure fair play to the owners of property. If you want to sum up the attitude of the party opposite on the whole question of town planning, it is to secure what the Uthwatt Committee call "fair play to the owners of property." I should like to put it another way. They wish to put the rights of property before the rights of man, the rights of an individual in the community.
§ Mr. Lawson
The Conservative Party. That is what underlies the whole Conservative approach to town planning. On that basis, there never can be a satisfactory Bill. This matter is one on which coming generations will judge us very carefully. If we look back to a previous generation, we can see, to some extent, the sort of society they had, by the way they built their towns. Town planning is something permanent. Therefore, what we do now, will reflect on our society. Shall we be judged as we judge a previous generation? I have two prints in my hand—they are very small indeed, and I am sorry they are not larger. One shows a plan, which Sir Christopher Wren pro- 1679 duced, for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. The other shows how the city of London was actually rebuilt. We judge that generation, and say that they failed in a glorious opportunity. If we fail to take the opportunity which the present war has given us, we shall, very rightly, be judged to be men of no vision, as the men who did not carry out Wren's plan are judged. Therefore, I and my hon. Friends will most certainly vote against this Bill.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
I want to congratulate the Minister on the very clear way in which he described a most complicated Measure, though I am not sure that everybody here will agree with every part of that Measure. But everybody will agree that very seldom do we hear a Measure explained so carefully that everybody can understand it. I think there are two other points on which everybody in the House will agree. The first is that the Minister should not have waited any longer before presenting the Bill to the House, and the second is that it would be quite impossible for any Minister to bring in a Bill on this subject with which every hon. and right hon. Member would agree, certainly the first time he presented it. I assume that many Members will speak on the difficulties of the local authorities, and will raise the problems of the private owner and the question of the financial arrangements. I will not deal with any of those points. But I will attempt to call attention, very briefly, to the planning difficulties which this Bill may encounter.
The Bill describes how local authorities can get control of their land. It divides the land into several categories. This can hardly fail to cause many authorities to do much of their planning piecemeal. That is a great disadvantage. All experienced planners agree that it is important that they should not only know what they have to do in the way of planning, but also that they should know at the inception the area upon which they are going to have at their disposal. For that reason, I feel it very desirable for the Minister to ask all local authorities to think of this problem in the widest way they can, and not only as one of blitzed or blighted areas, to see what their requirements of land amount to but also what will be required to 1680 enable them to carry out their projects They should submit the whole of these, both the area of land needed and their proposed development of it, to the Minister at the one time, because, if they do not do that, the Minister's official planners will have great difficulty in making their comments and recommendations. Planners, with full information before them, can face their problems and analyse them thoroughly. There has not always been enough emphasis in the past that developments upon blitzed land might not in the future be more satisfactorily placed on blighted land and vice versa, but local authorities cannot do much about such improved arrangements until they submit their plans to the Minister and the Minister has approved the total amount of land for all purposes over which they are to have control. Until the whole series of processes required to get the land allowed by the Minister has been gone through satisfactorily, it is impossible for the local authorities' planners appropriately to prepare for all they have to provide for.
Next as to the question—Have we actually got the planners themselves capable of doing the planning? That is, I think, a very serious question. This country has not seriously been a "town-planning-minded" country for a very long time. We have had a town-planning institute for some years and have trained a number of people, but the scale of the task to-day is so tremendous that I am sure—and I have inquired of a number of my informed friends and they agree—that we have not enough experts trained in town planning to do all the work required satisfactorily and speedily enough to get our reconstruction going at the great rate that we shall need. It would be unfortunate, too, if an attempt were made to give all local authority planning work to a few well known highly trained specialists. A few men, experienced, have been called upon by a great many authorities to do a vast amount of this work. It stands to reason that, as there are only 24 hours in a day, and planners, like anyone else, can only do a certain amount in a limited time, if too many authorities employ the same men they are either seriously overworked and cannot give their best or have to leave the work to assistants who, unfortunately, can only make a second-rate arrangement, instead of a 1681 really first-rate job that all would desire. I think all will agree that our planning must be not only imaginative—and not the heavy drab developments we have so often seen in our towns and cities in the past—but that this chance must produce a plan which is scientifically accurate and has an artistic quality about it. The importance of these matters cannot be overrated.
How can we get this? There are many trained architects who have had no experience in town planning, but it would be an easy matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister, in consultation and association with the Minister of Education and the several learned bodies interested, to start a few special post-graduate town planning courses—I think even a short period such as six months would be enough—to turn many of our practising architects into expert town planners. If this is not done, I fear we shall not get the work of the high quality that we ought to have.
§ Mr. John Wilmot
Would my hon. Friend say how that can be done under the various procedures envisaged by this Bill?
§ Mr. Bossom
I believe that the way to do this successfully is to require each local authority to state its full requirements of land of all classes at once, and to make a thorough plan of each area all combined into one complete lay-out. The Minister said to-day that he would be willing to consider any constructive Amendments, and, with that in view, I am emboldened to make this suggestion that he should consider an Amendment if placed on the Paper which would require the whole of the land of an authority's area to be considered as a whole. The Minister may not think it desirable to grant full powers over all such land of the several categories right away, but there are not going to be either the men or the materials ready to carry out the necessary reconstruction work right away. Nor are there going to be all the financial arrangement ready right away, but if the Department could approve such entire lay-outs dealing with the full amount of land, and then, by stages, as it is fitting to do so, grant the local authorities the right to carry on with acquiring control and doing their work, I am sure there would be much 1682 more likelihood of a satisfactory arrangement than we may otherwise get. Many hon. Members may think that these matters are unimportant and that the financial arrangement is the one thing that matters. But we must not forget that the actual arrangement of the land, its planned lay-out as agreed upon new, will decide the face of our country for the next 100 years, and that it is literally a case of "now or never." We must do our utmost to get the right lay-out now, for once settled it can never be changed. It is not likely that there will ever be another case of the Germans corning over and being allowed to knock our towns down another time.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson
Will my hon. Friend not agree that, to get the sort of planning that he requires, the planner must consider the whole of the land in any town, or in the country, and not confine himself to the amount of land which the local authority wishes to acquire?
§ Mr. Bossom
I did not say that. In my opinion it is not desirable for the Minister to make a general plan, to cover all arrangements, but it is desirable for the Minister to give a lead as to how the work should be done—where industry is to be carried on, where open spaces should be provided, and hospitals, schools and housing work generally located as a matter of principle, but it is not up to the Minister to plan completely the country. I do not believe anyone wants one man to decide in every way how England is to be fashioned; we want to get the benefit of a variety of ideas, the benefit of all our informed people. Each separate authority should state its own requirements and desires, but these should be co-ordinated by the Minister—not determined by him. I feel that we should face this situation with a very broad and open mind. I hope the Minister, when taking note of constructive and practical Amendments that are put down, will accept all that may be helpful. May I repeat that I am pleased the Minister has brought in his Bill, and I hope he will Make it into a great monument in the progress of our nation?
§ The Parliamentary -Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)
I think it would be convenient that I should speak now, not, 1683 of course, to limit the length of the Debate, which goes on for another day, but in order to answer some of the questions raised, and perhaps to correct a few misconceptions. I think I have listened to every speech made in the course of the Debate, and I do not think I have ever left the House for more than two and a half minutes. I shall do my best to answer some of the points various Members have raised, but if I deal with certain general aspects, and answer some of the points raised by two or more Members together, perhaps without naming them, I do not think that I shall be held to be guilty of any discourtesy.
In all the speeches that have been made there have been two points of agreement. The first is that this Bill is a difficult Bill to master, and is long and complex. The second point is that it deals with problems of vital importance on which every Member of the House hopes that a wise solution will be reached. If we are agreed on these two points, the first question that arises in our minds is this: Is the complexity necessary, or can the Bill be greatly simplified? Have the Government produced a long and complicated Measure from pure cussedness, or is its difficulty due to the difficulty of the subject matter, and is its complexity explained by the need for dealing with several distinct problems by provisions which are apt and suited to each? If, as I shall try to show to the House, and as my right hon. Friend and I will try to show on the Committee stage, this last is the true explanation, it may be found that the complexity of the legal provision for all cases means simplicity of working in each. If I may venture to draw a parallel from Bradshaw's Railway Guide, hon. and right hon. Members will find that a long, difficult and dull document to read through, but in time of peace it enables you to plan your journey quickly, with accuracy and precision.
The matters with which this Bill deals have been summarised by my right hon. Friend, in a speech to which tribute has been paid in every quarter of the House. I am not going to repeat all the purposes of the Bill. Let me mention these however. The Bill enables areas requiring redevelopment to be acquired as a whole, secondly, it immensely expedites the process of acquisition, and, thirdly, it regu- 1684 lates the price. Since I believe that all hon. and right hon. Members realise that these objects are desirable objects, I would ask the House to treat this matter, as I am confident they will, with a proper sense of responsibility. We really must be practical. If this Bill is a workable Measure, it is quite useless for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to say that they would have preferred a perfectly different type of Bill if to their knowledge the different kind of Bill which they would have preferred could not live for five minutes in this House.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
The Minister says we cannot have a Land Bill because the Tory Party disapproves of it.
§ Mr. Strauss
That is true of a Bill of which the Tories disapprove, and it is equally true that we cannot have a Land Bill of which the Labour Party disapproves. This Bill was approved by the War Cabinet—the leaders of the Labour Party, the leader of the Liberal Party and the leaders of the Conservative Party. I agree that it has not got the approval of the leader of the Common Wealth Party. If it had, it would have carried no conviction whatever in any section of the country.
The Uthwatt Report deals with the question of acquiring areas needing reconstruction as a whole, in paragraph 145 in the final Report, which hon. Members will find on page 61. The Town and Country Planning Act of 1932, in Section 25 (1, b) recognised the principle of purchase, in order to secure satisfactory development, but did not contemplate the purchase of whole areas. Moreover, it only contemplated such acquisition in pursuance of an operative scheme. The Housing Act of 1936, in Section 34, enabled whole areas to be acquired, provided that the need arose from over-crowding, but until this Measure was introduced to-day, never has there been any existing machinery for acquiring, in the interests of good planning, whole areas which needed reconstruction. Every enthusiastic planner who has studied the subject of planning—and I would mention my astonishment at the number of speeches that have been made by people who, admittedly, have not even read the Bill—knows that that in itself is a very great advance.
§ Mr. John Wilmot
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member but this is an important point. Can he give some idea what he means by "whole area"? Does he mean all London, the damage in one area, or a whole borough?
§ Mr. Strauss
The hon. Member who has interrupted me, and for whose intervention I am grateful, raises a very important point. I refer to the powers in Clause 1 of the Bill. I am very sorry that in speakng to-day I have not the advantage of following my hon. Friend, which would have given me the greatest pleasure, just as to follow me may give him same pleasure. What I mean by acquiring an area that can be acquired as a whole is explained in Clause 1 of the Bill to which I may have occasion later to refer. I said that until this Bill was introduced there was no existing machinery for acquiring areas as a whole which needed reconstruction. The Uthwatt Final Report, in paragraphs 160 to 182, which hon. Members will find on pages 65 to 73, recommended that that defect in the law should be remedied, and the Bill, in its general outline, follows the principles of the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee to which I have referred.
If I may repeat what my right hon. Friend the Minister said to-day, we must distinguish two quite separate subjects—the authorisation of purchase, and the carrying out of the purchase. On the authorisation of purchase, I want to say a few words. I would apologise first to all hon. and right hon. Members in the House, who share my love of good English, for the really horrible terminology which necessarily occurs in some of these provisions of the Bill. It is really difficult to avoid this terminology because it is in constant use by local authorities and others concerned. I do not like "overspill" and I do not like "flatted factories" or "referencing" but all these terms occur, and I shall probably be wearying the House if, in the interest of good English, I avoid a terminology which I agree is not elegant. The maim difficulty on the first stage, the authorisation of purchase, has been the difficulty and length of time involved in referencing, that is to say, in compiling the book of reference of all owners, lessees and occupiers and of their individual holdings which is scheduled to the instrument by which authorisation is sought, 1686 and secondly, in serving notice of the proposal on each of them separately. This could cause a delay of two years or more. Under the procedure of the First Schedule, which is the procedure operative for the main provisions of the Bill, all that is swept away and replaced by full and speedy advertisement.
Now as to the carrying out of the purchase. Here we provide a new procedure which will be found in the Sixth Schedule. The order itself operates as a notice to treat. Shortly after that the planning authority may serve on occupiers notice of entry, and on the expiration of that notice the land is vested in the acquiring authority. All compensation questions can be settled subsequently without delaying the reconstruction programme. All these provisions for completion have, for the reasons given by my right hon. Friend, had to be grafted on to the Lands Clauses Acts under which such an immense body of case law exists that had we attempted to have a new code and sweep all that aside, instead of producing a simpler Measure it would have produced a more complicated Measure and, instead of producing a Measure under which all persons concerned can ascertain their legal rights and obligations, it would have produced a novel Measure under which, unfit the courts had adjudicated, many matters would have remained uncertain for an indefinite period.
There are great differences of circumstances in the areas with which we are now concerned. There are the completely devastated areas—I do not think I am offending against security in revealing that Coventry, Plymouth, Portsmouth and other cities have suffered blitz damage. These facts are now well-known, and there are areas that are completely devastated. I think it was the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) who suggested that the rebuilding of blitzed areas should have no priority whatever, but I am glad to say nobody else took that very strange view. The very curious speech which he made seemed to me, if I may say so, a mixture of Jeremiah and Mrs. Gummidge. Other areas are slightly damaged in some cases and they have this important quality, that most properties in them are still in beneficial occupation. As a result of these differences the problems can be handled at different rates according to circum- 1687 stances, but at some stage they become very urgent and therefore, at the moment at which they become urgent, new and expedited procedures become available. In the case of blighted areas, the urgency is mainly at the second stage, the stage of quick completion when it is once decided to go ahead with the reconstruction of the blighted area. May I express my agreement with the extremely able exposition of the situation by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson)? He is quite right in saying that in areas of mixed blight and blitz—if hon. Members will excuse the phraseology—the whole of the area can be acquired under the Clause 1 and Clause 2 procedure.
I now come to the question of the public local inquiry. Complaint has been made—not I think in this House to-day but in a Memorandum by the local authorities—that a public local inquiry is generally unnecessary and merely delays matters. They quote, to support their argument, a recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee in its final Report, paragraph 166:that there should be no public inquiry in any case unless the Central Planning Authority or the appropriate Minister should, having regard to all the circumstances, think it desirable.Considering the way in which in this Bill we have faithfully followed many of the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee, I am going to treat the Uthwatt Committee with great respect as I always do, but, on this particular point of whether we should have local inquiries or not, I believe the House of Commons is an infinitely better judge than the Uthwatt Committee.
§ Mr. Strauss
Or, as my Noble Friend says, any committee. I agree with him. It is absolutely essential to avoid unfairness or the appearance of high-handed action. Experience under the slum clearance provisions of the various Housing Acts, which had to be frequently amended because of this very difficulty, shows that local authorities simply will not operate provisions which an important section of their public thinks are unfair. I am absolutely convinced myself that reconstruction proposals can be carried out with much greater ease if they are backed by a convinced public opinion. After all, 1688 people have a great deal of local patriotism. Are they not entitled to have some idea of what the local authority proposes to do with the land it is acquiring? Is there any Member in this House who really desires that a local authority shall be in general empowered to acquire land, without disclosing publicly to anybody any of its intentions, merely by approaching the Minister and getting his consent? I believe that such a proposal would be regarded with abhorrence by the people of this country, and I do not believe it would be passed by this House. I believe it would be opposed by hon. Members in every quarter.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Since the hon. Gentleman has made reference to the arguments of the local authorities, is he not also of the opinion that all those organisations of every form of local government in this country which have condemned this Bill in their statement are not also equally capable of understanding or realising what public opinion wants and needs in this country?
§ Mr. Strauss
No, I do not think that an association—I shall mention that document later, I am not going to run away from the argument—or all the associations of local authorities are so directly in touch with public opinion as hon. Members of this House.
§ Mr. Strauss
In some cases. We need not get hot and bothered about this. I have expressed my views and the hon. Member is entitled to differ from them. I say that the people of this country and Members of this House are in favour of some publicity by means of a local inquiry, and that normally a local authority should not be empowered to acquire land without giving any indication of what it proposes to do with it.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am tempted to agree with my Noble Friend, but I do not wish to engender more heat than is necessary. I should like hon. and right hon. Members in this House to consider the interests of the wide community which may be affected by these proposals for acquisition. I say that in general a public inquiry is 1689 justified from no less than three points of view. First of all, it is desired by the public. Some people speak as though the only people who appear at local inquiries to raise any objection to the scheme of the local authority are the owners. I think the owners have every right to appear and to criticise a scheme, but they are not the only people who appear—amenity societies appear, civic societies appear, and I say that constructive suggestions for a good scheme for the area do, in fact, arise at local inquiries. That is the experience of the Ministry of Health, our predecessors in the administration of the Planning Act, and it is our belief.
Secondly, I believe that it is eminently desirable to have these public inquiries from the point of view of the planning authority itself. I do not wish to encourage the Naboth's vineyard mentality, merely because some local authority thinks it would like a bit of land and has not thought out in the least what it is going to do with it. In that case there is no ground whatever why it should have that land. The local planning authority will, in fact, produce a better plan if it has to give some indication of that plan to its own public at a local inquiry.
Thirdly, it is desirable from the point of view of the Minister. Even the document mentioned by the hon. Member opposite suggests that the Minister should have power to hold a local inquiry in exceptional cases. Who has to decide whether the cases arc exceptional? What I am quite certain of is this: If, as the Uthwatt Committee recommended, he is to have discretion to order a local inquiry in every case, then I say that any Minister of Town and Country Planning, no matter to what party he belongs, will in fact in every difficult and disputed case order such a local inquiry. The Government took the view that it would be better to set out in the terms of the Statute that a local inquiry shall be the normal course so that the House should know exactly what was intended. If important projects were carried into effect without public inquiry, indignation would be aroused and obstruction would be provoked, quite out of proportion to any possible saving of time. It is, therefore, desirable that the objections anybody may have should be aired at a public inquiry.
Now I pass to another part of the Bill, dealing with re-development after acquisi- 1690 tion. I will mention only two of the Clauses which have beer; referred to in speeches or interjections. I think the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot) referred to Clause 16, Sub-section (3), of the Bill which states:The Minister shall not give his consent for the purposes of the last preceding Subsection as respects any operation if it appears to him that a person other than the local planning authority is able and willing to carry it out at such time and in such mariner as may be requisite for meeting the purpose for which it is neededThe hon. Member indicated that he might be tempted to criticise that Clause as leaving the local authority with too limited a class of case in which it could itself do the development. That is, of course, a Clause that will be fully discussed in Committee, but it may be well to remind the House that on this matter we are following fairly closely, and more generously from the hon. Member's point of view, the recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee. That Committee's recommendation on the subject will be found in Paragraph 150, on page 62 of their final Report, which says:It may be that the necessary development or re-development is one upon which private enterprise is unwilling to engage.Now I come to the operative words, to which I would like to draw the attention of the House:We therefore recommend that the authority should have compulsory powers to purchase land for positive development or re-development by the authority themselves, but only where this is essential to accelerate the carrying out of the planning scheme.I merely draw the attention of Members to that because the limitation in the Clause is, in different words, the limitation which is the recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee. The other matter in connection with these re-development Clauses was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in his able speech. It was in connection with the provision in Clause 15, Sub-section (5), which limits the disposal in ordinary cases to the grant of leases. That, again, is in accordance with the Uthwatt Committee's recommendation, which will be found in Paragraph 147. It is right that this matter should be fully discussed, but the reason for the preference for leases is that when once you get good planning you do not have the difficulties all over 1691 again years afterwards. The Uthwatt Committee says, in Paragraph 147:We recommend, therefore, that once any interest in land has passed into public ownership it should be disposed of by way of lease only and not by way of sale, and that the authority should have the power to impose such covenants in the lease as planning requirements make desirable, breach of such covenants to be enforceable by re-entry.I have said that in order to cover the points that were raised in one form or another by a number of hon. Members.
Now I should like to turn to some of the points which were raised in individual speeches, and to come, first of all, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). He welcomed the fact that the Financial Resolution would not come up for debate to-morrow, and I think that course has commended itself to the general good sense of the House. But I think the right hon. Gentleman can hardly have realised the implications of his admission that no Bill could be approved by the Labour Party unless it provided for nationalisation of land. If I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman in any way I apologise, but my note of what he said says, "Judgment of the plan must be based on public ownership." However, if the right hon. Gentleman did not say that, I will pass on to those Members who undoubtedly did say it. I do not want to argue to-day whether universal public ownership is right or wrong. If hon. Members in any quarter believe in it, nobody is asking them to give up their beliefs and, equally, nobody is asking those who do not believe in it to give up their beliefs. But to demand that a Bill, produced by a Coalition Government, should involve nationalisation of the land is to demand that no Bill should be produced by the Coalition Government at all. Do not let any Member run away with the idea that there is any escape from that proposition.
One hon. Member was foolish enough to refer to this Bill as a Conservative Measure. Indeed it is not. It may be that if the House proves incapable of accepting a Measure on which all Members of the Government are agreed, and wants to delay the matter until there is a party Measure, a party Measure there may eventually be and I think some may discover how little different such a Measure would be from a good deal which is in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said 1692 that the heart of this Bill is in the blitz problem. So it is, and we are not ashamed of that. First things first, in the opinion of the Government. Most important of the complaints which I wish to answer—because there is no foundation for it—was the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the associations of local authorities, or the local authorities themselves—I am not clear which—had been treated with discourtesy by my right hon. Friend or by myself or by the Department. There is no foundation whatever for that complaint. It is true that my right hon. Friend and I, and our expert advisers, have frequently gone, not to the associations of local authorities, but to the local authorities of the blitzed areas themselves. My right hon. Friend has visited all the main blitzed cities in the country, and I have visited some of them and I do not believe there is anybody in the House who disapproves of that procedure.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that these visits to blitzed areas are a satisfactory alternative to consultations with the local authorities on the Measure?
§ Mr. Strauss
Certainly not, but they are desirable in conjunction with consultation. In 1931 the local authorities did not see any of the provisions of the Bill in draft. I am informed that when the right hon. Gentleman was at the Ministry of Health in 1931 there was no consultation whatever with the Associations on the draft Bill. They were consulted at an earlier stage. I will not say which procedure was the better but I think there has been no discourtesy whatever. If there is anything that the hon. Member believes to have been discourteous, that is the last thing that was intended and it is the first thing we shall seek to remedy.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am not suggesting discourtesy. But does the hon. Gentleman suggest that there has been adequate consultation with local authorities?
§ Mr. Strauss
It is very difficult to say. It is a matter of opinion. There are cases, I think, where it is desirable on some points to get the views of the House of Commons before negotiating with too many outside bodies. [Interruption.] I am only answering for my Department. The hon. Gentleman can say, if he likes, that I am wrong. I say it is a matter of opinion. I believe that on the whole 1693 the good sense of the House will say that we were wise on this very difficult and complex subject to get the views of the House of Commons. I hope I am a good House of Commons man, and I believe that success in this great endeavour to which we have set our hands, and in which all parties wish us to succeed, is more likely if we consult the House of Commons early and enjoy the collaboration of Members in every quarter.
§ Mr. John Wilmot
The hon. Gentleman contradicted my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) but has now confirmed what my right hon. Friend said. There was not full consultation with local authorities, possibly for the reason the hon. Gentleman has given, but he will be aware that a very large number of important local authorities, as well as their associations, are complaining that they were not consulted in the final stages of the Bill.
§ Mr. Stokes
Were the only consultations with local authorities these fleeting visits of the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend?
§ Mr. Strauss
I thought I had made it clear that that is not so. We had those consultations with individual local authorities and we had meetings with associations of local authorities. Whether or not those meetings were adequate is a matter on which opinion may legitimately differ. I do not believe that any lack of courtesy was practised and I assure the House that no lack of courtesy was intended. I also tell the House as a matter of fact that the local authorities associations were consulted on the Bill at least as much as, and rather more than, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield consulted them in 1931.
I now come to my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). He welcomed the fact, rightly in my opinion, that the Bill avoided a uniform procedure for quite different classes of cases, and generally he gave a welcome to the Bill. Since the point has been mentioned in various quarters, I think that the difficulty about the acquisition of open spaces has in fact been exaggerated, because open spaces can clearly be provided in the areas that are acquired under the Bill. But there may be, in our opinion, something in the technical point that, apart altogether 1694 from blitz and blight, there may be a lacuna in the powers to acquire an open space as such. If that proves to be the case, it can be dealt with by an appropriate Amendment to Clause 10, and such an Amendment will be considered.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. Gentleman unaware that whenever we carry an Amendment against the Government, the Prime Minister demands a Vote of Confidence, so that it cannot be done?
§ Mr. Strauss
I should have thought that, if the Government were defeated, it was a matter of great importance to discover whether they do or do not enjoy the confidence of the House. But it does not happen very often. My Noble Friend also said, rightly, that of course a great deal depended, when we consider whether the Bill will produce the sort of Britain that we want, on how the local authorities in fact plan.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield has arrived, would the hon. Gentleman care to repeat his allegations?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am afraid I am not responsible for the right hon. Gentleman's absence but we are good enough friends for him to take the trouble to read my speech to-morrow. If it is any comfort to the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin-well), if I can get through in time, I shall be happy to repeat my remarks in the right hon. Gentleman's presence.
I now come to the speech of the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff). He talked about the serious misgivings of local authorities. We hope to show that those serious misgivings are unfounded. He then talked about the risk of disillusionment of the gallant Forces who are fighting for this country. One of the ways to avoid the risk of disillusionment is to be sober in the promises that you make.
§ Mr. Strauss
I agree, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, who has not visited my constituency lately, will 1695 find that I have ever held out any promise to my constituents, or in the House, in which I did not believe. The hon. Member for East Hull hoped that the Bill would get into Committee. That view coincides with the view of His Majesty's Government. We shall make no complaint of getting the Second Reading. But he made one statement of considerable inaccuracy. He remarked, rightly, that the provisions of the Bill were complicated, and he said we ought to take the Hull Development Bill as a model. I do not want to disappoint him or to make him unhappy by removing his illusion, but the Hull Development Bill did not contain any new procedure whatever for designating the area to be acquired or for expediting the acquisition. So, had we followed the procedure of that Bill, we should have been subjected to a far more formidable attack. We have given by general legislation something better than Hull asked for. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford made an analysis of the position with which I completely agree. I noted that he strongly supported the Measure. I noted also that he was President of the Non-County Boroughs Association who have added their names to the Motion for the rejection, if one can call it such. I do not wish to comment on the authorship of this document, but I rather think that fewer hands had anything to do with it than some Members imagine. My hon. Friend the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), who made an amusing speech, criticised the provisions of Clause 45 and 46, which deal with compensation.
§ Earl Winterton
I wonder why none of these hon. Members is present to listen to the reply. Why is the old rule broken, and people who make speeches go away without waiting for the reply?
§ Mr. Strauss
I am certain there is a reason in this case. As regards Clauses 45 and 46, which deal with the price payable on the acquisition of land, I want to make it clear that it applies to the compulsory acquisition of all land for five years. These Clauses do not admit anywhere that there has been a fall in the value of the pound in relation to land. I also want to make it clear, on behalf of the Government, that the wish is that Clauses 45 and 46 shall achieve justice. 1696 Justice is desirable not only for its own sake but because, if there is not justice, planning will be prejudiced. Therefore, justice is the aim of these Clauses. I do not believe, as my right hon. Friend said in his speech, that absolute justice is attainable. I believe the problem is such that complete fairness in every case is probably more than the wisdom of this House can achieve, but justice is our object. Amendments designed to show how the provisions of the Bill can be improved will, of course, be properly considered and discussed, but I ought to warn the House that the subject is not an easy one. Hon. Members may have what appears to be a bright idea, but when it is put on paper they will find that it is not as simple as they thought. The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) made a violent attack on the Bill and said he suspected that it had been drafted by a junta of property owners. That seems to me to be a serious attack on the Deputy Prime Minister and others of his party and I will leave that to be settled through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Strauss
Oh, no. The hon. Member is far too intelligent to have thought that. He is not doing himself justice. The hon. Member for North Islington also said that no very good results would come from debating this Bill. Taking that view, he proceeded not to debate it. I now come to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). He raised an important point with regard to the gems of our architecture. My right hon. Friend and I could not sympathise more than we do with the point of view put by my hon. Friend. It would be a scandal if this country, with all the improvements in planning machinery, continued to tolerate the destruction of our architectural glories, which are as great as any in the world. I protested against their destruction as long ago as 1937, and I have done so fairly steadily ever since. As regards the computation of lists, we ask the planning authorities to compute such lists, and there is an immense amount of information in the Ancient Monuments Department—which is a slightly misleading name—of the Ministry of Works and in a body, on whose Council I serve, called the National Buildings Record which, at the moment, has an exhibition 1697 at the National Gallery. I am not certain how far the objects which my hon. Friend has in mind can be further strengthened by Amendments to this Measure, but if he will use his ingenuity to put down Amendments they will be carefully considered.
§ Mr. John Wilmot
Will the hon. Gentleman consider altering the Financial Memorandum so that some financial provision can be made for this?
§ Mr. Strauss
I do not want to be diverted from dealing with the points raised in the Debate. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said, quite wrongly, that my right hon. Friend had apologised for the Bill. The Government do not apologise for the Bill. They put it forward as a real contribution to our post-war reconstruction. They do not apologise for the Bill at all and they will welcome every genuine effort to improve it.
§ Mr. Strauss
No. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that the Bill was all wrong because it did not nationalise the land. I have already dealt with that point, but I noted with interest that the hon. and learned Member was returned unopposed to this House as a Liberal, and I did not know that it was part of the Liberal policy to nationalise the land. If the hon. and learned Member has changed his mind since he reached the House, he cannot expect all of us to do likewise.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Surely it is part of the programme of the Liberal Party to nationalise rents, at any rate. In 1909–10 they tried to do their best to deal with the fundamental problem of the land.
§ Mr. Strauss
I will not suggest what has happened to the Liberal Party since, except that its leader backs this Bill. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) used an argument which has already been dealt with. He talked about our soldiers fighting for the land. What an absurd confusion of terms. Of course, they are fighting for the country, but does any Member believe that our soldiers demand as a right, as a return for fighting for their country, that this House shall adopt a Measure which has been defeated 1698 by the electorate every time it has been submitted to them at a general election? I have not time to deal with the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok, except to reassure him that the position of the small man will not be overlooked. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) raised a serious and important point about the shortage of good planners. One of the results of that shortage is the importance of my own Ministry organising a first-rate Department to advise the local authorities in order that we may have a worthy reconstruction.
In conclusion, I want to say this. There is not a Member of the House who does not think that, if he had the handling of this Bill, he could draft something better. I hope, however, that the House will not throw away a Bill which, for the first time, does what planners have always wanted to have done, namely, to enable a reconstruction area to be acquired as a whole. Many Members have said that this Bill was piecemeal. Do not let them confuse planning and acquisition. Under the Act which we passed last year the whole of the land of this country is being planned. This Bill deals with acquisition. The whole land must be planned, but the right areas must be acquired and the areas which it is most necessary to acquire must be acquired first. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Ordered: "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.