§ The following Amendment stood on the Order Paper in the name of Sir RICHARD WELLS.
§ In page 20, line 43, leave out "and (5)," and insert "(5) and (6)."
§ Sir Richard Wells (Bedford)
I do not want to take up the Minister's time, and, if he is willing to accept this Amendment, I do not think I need say very much about it.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I beg to move, in page 20, line 43, to leave out "and."
This Amendment should be read with the first and third Amendments in my name and that of other hon. Members on the next page, namely, in page 20, line 43, after "5)," insert "and (11)"; and in page 21, line 6, to end insert:(11) The consent of the Minister to a disposal or appropriation by a local planning authority under this section of land upon which listed buildings are situated shall not be given unless either(a) the conditions or limitations of the appropriation or disposal will, in the opinion of the Minister, secure the preservation of such buildings; or1180(b) after causing to be published in such manner as appears to him to be requisite a notice specifying any listed buildings not intended to be so preserved and after considering any representations which may be made to him with respect thereto within six weeks of such publication the Minister is satisfied that the retention of such buildings is impossible if the area is to be satisfactorily replanned.These three Amendments seek to restrain a local authority from demolishing beautiful or historic buildings unless satisfactory replanning of the area cannot be achieved without demolition. Parliament has already on many occasions shown concern for beautiful and historic buildings. There are Acts of Parliament, the earliest of which was passed in 1882, dealing with what are somewhat quaintly called ancient monuments. There is also Section 38 of the Housing Act of 1930, re-enacted as Section 142 of the Housing Act of 1936, which requires local authorities, in taking any action under that Act, to have regard to the beauty of the landscape or countryside, the other amenities of the locality, and the desirability of preserving existing work of architectural, historic or artistic interest. It goes on to say that the local authority must comply with such directions, if any, in that behalf as may be given by the Minister.
§ Mr. Keeling
No, I am quoting from Section 142 of the Housing Act of 1936. That is a very valuable precedent for us, and I am told that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) when Minister of Health made use of the last part of the Section I have quoted and forbade a local authority to destroy a certain historic building which it had proposed to destroy in connection with a housing scheme. However, in spite of the interest which the House has shown in the preservation of beautiful buildings, there is no existing legislation which makes any provision for ascertaining what particular buildings should be regarded as worthy of preservation, and I am afraid that as matters now stand the practice too often is to demolish the building first and then to have a discussion as to whether it should have been preserved. One of the good things achieved in this war is that lists have been drawn up of buildings of historic and architectural 1181 importance. I think it is the very first time that this has been done on a comprehensive scale, and my Amendment refers to these lists.
If hon. Members will look at the foot of page 1366 of the Order Paper, they will see that in the Amendment to Clause 49 we define what we mean by listed buildings. These lists were in the County of London prepared by the L.C.C., and elsewhere by panels of architects sponsored by the Ministry of Works. Together the lists form a catalogue of buildings which merit preservation. The primary purpose of drawing up those lists three or four years ago was that if the buildings recorded in them should be hit by enemy bombs, they would be safeguarded from the risk of demolition by uninstructed Civil Defence Squads. Now that, as we hope, the danger of enemy damage is passing, surely it is appropriate to try and preserve these buildings from the hazards of peace. These lists are admittedly imperfect; they can be improved, and indeed they are constantly being revised. Moreover, my Amendment provides that fresh lists can be substituted for the existing lists after consultation between the Minister and the local planning authority. Attempts at preservation in the past have been shipwrecked on the rock of compensation, but this particular obstacle is absent here because local authorities, who are trustees of the public, cannot reasonably expect compensation for not destroying something which has been authoritatively pronounced worthy in the public interest of being preserved. I do not see how that can be contested. Most local authorities may, indeed, be expected to show legitimate pride in the listed buildings in their possession, and to compare with satisfaction their own plenty with their neighbour's poverty or vice versa. This Amendment merely seeks to make statutory a practice which is already followed in effect, though not in form, by enlightened authorities. This country has suffered a grievous loss of assets both at home and abroad, and this is not a time to allow any assets which still remain to us to be carelessly lost. It is the buildings referred to in this Amendment which enshrine much of our history; it is these buildings which give many of our towns their particular character and charm; and it is these buildings which people from overseas come to see. To 1182 seek their preservation may prove to be not only good planning but also good business.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I would like strongly to support the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) in such a convincing manner. This Amendment, while ensuring that the utmost care would be taken to preserve ancient and historic monuments, and buildings of beauty and enduring worth, will not interfere in any way with the main objects of this Bill. I think it is important that we should not just trust to the good sense of the local authority in every case without having some safeguard of this kind. In most cases, especially with the major authorities, great care would be taken not to destroy buildings of this character, but here and there there have been cases in recent years where the authority has entirely disregarded the opinion not only of experts but of many who love the records of the past. Buildings of beauty and great historical interest have been swept away, and nothing could be done afterwards to replace the loss.
I wish we could have had here our esteemed colleague the late Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah). I remember earnestly listening to a passionate appeal he once made in connection with an ancient historic building in a great city in Scotland, which was destroyed owing to a lack of interest by the local authority. If that sort of thing could happen in a great city it is much more likely to happen in the areas of smaller authorities, unless there is a safeguard. There is, further, in particular, the danger of neglecting the preservation of beautiful Georgian buildings. In the 18th century Gothic and medieval buildings were swept away as barbarous survivals of antiquity. Those buildings, to-day, we should count of priceless worth. Again, in the 19th century, with equal disdain for the past, beautiful Georgian buildings and 17th century buildings were swept away which, to-day, we should be only too glad to see in existence. I therefore hope that the Minister will see his way to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)
As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) would expect, I support this 1183 proposal most whole-heartedly and I sincerely hope that effective means will be found to prevent the further destruction of monuments of the beauty of the past. But I am a little worried about the proposal to have a sort of public inquiry. Any procedure to be inserted into this Bill which leads to unnecessary delay is to be deplored.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Well, it is something like a public inquiry; it is listening to representations made within a fairly long period and so on, and might lead to a sort of inquiry. I should have thought that the same object might have been achieved if the Minister were given complete discretion in the exercise of the powers which this Amendment, very properly and very necessarily, confers upon him. In considering it, I hope the Minister will think of that point. Necessary and important as it is—and I agree with all that was said by the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey)—to arrest the widespread destruction of these monuments it is no less necessary to get on with providing houses for the living. It would be difficult to defend procedure, and we should lose public sympathy for our growing consciousness of beauty and antiquity, if we did anything which held up provision of the necessary houses. I think the hon. Member's purpose would be served if the Minister were required to put on notice that a building of artistic merit or historical value was imperilled and he was given full discretion to come to a decision in the light of advice which he could seek of his own volition.
I hope the impression has not been created by this discussion that public and local authorities have been the principal offenders in the destruction of ancient monuments. Unfortunately, the private developer has been a far greater criminal in this matter than the public developer and I would like the hon. Member for Twickenham to turn his inventive genius, in his enthusiasm for this cause, in the direction of devising some means by which we can prevent the profiteer and the jerrybuilder from spreading the spoliation for which he has been responsible in the past.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I would like to support strongly the closing words of my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot) in that local authorities are not primarily responsible for the destruction which has been caused, but I am a little disturbed by his alarm at possible delay. The Amendment combines a certain measure of idealism with a great deal of common sense and I cannot see anything in it which will bring about any undue delay. We have suffered a great deal of destruction, and we do not want to add to it further by ourselves destroying such buildings as the German air force happens to have left. I think it would be a disaster in a reconstruction Bill, such as this, if we were to be guilty of destruction and I hope we shall avail ourselves not only of the lists which councils have—I have seen the comprehensive and able list of the London County Council—but also the list of the National Buildings Record. That list was started just before the war and I believe that it contains already 500,000 photographs and drawings. I agree that good local authorities will not destroy, but legislation is not to protect us from the many good people but from the few bad people, and that is the reason for this Amendment.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), and those who have supported him, for responding to the invitation, almost a challenge, which I held out on the Second Reading. I suggested that he should use his great ingenuity to devise an improvement in this Bill which would meet a desire which is very near to the hearts of my right hon. Friend and myself, and is shared in all quarters of the Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend not only on the all-Party support which he has secured for his Amendment, but also on the influential body of support which appeared in signatures to a letter in "The Times" from the R.I.B.A., the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Georgian Group, the National Buildings Record, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and, last but not least, the Town Planning Institute. The Government share the view of those who have spoken that some provision to 1185 achieve the aim of the Amendment should be included in the present Measure. I am going to invite my hon. Friend to withdraw his series of Amendments in order that we can consider the wording and the most appropriate place in which to insert such provisions in this Bill. Before we reach the next stage, so far as is possible in the time, I propose to keep in touch with my hon. Friend.
There is something in the point, raised by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot), about provisions which might lead to unnecessary delay. I am not sure that the provisions for advertising are quite appropriate, and I feel even more strongly that his definition will not do. There is no list at the moment in existence which can very well receive statutory recognition, although it is right that use should be made of these lists, which are being constantly improved. I think that instead of having Amendments of this nature scattered about the Bill it might be more convenient if they were grouped in a single Clause. Having said that, I want strongly to reinforce the general view which has been expressed in all quarters of the Committee. The planning authorities that really understand the nature of the beauty of the English town will consider not only individual buildings but such important things as streets—to give an example, the high streets of Lewes, or Fareham or Burford, or many others I could mention. Having given an assurance that the most appropriate way of achieving the object will be considered between now and the Report stage, I would invite my hon. Friend and his supporters to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes
I wholeheartedly agree with the desirability of preserving so many of our ancient monuments, and I welcome the addition to the list made by the Parliamentary Secretary when suggesting the preservation of streets. But while extending all this support I would like, to ask him to consider that in devising legislation to secure this protection he will not fall into the pit of listing categories. There are, for instance, scattered round the country, and in great number in our smaller towns, many 16th and 17th century buildings. I do not think it follows that just because they are buildings of that period they ought necessarily to be preserved. We must have a fair 1186 selection of them but they should be looked at from the point of view not only of the individual building but of the country as a whole. We want a variety of buildings but we do not necessarily want to keep them all.
The second limitation that I would suggest is that this protection should, in no circumstances, be an absolute one. I do not like to revive the embers of old controversies, but there was an occasion when, not in an official capacity, the hon. Gentleman was convinced that Rennie's bridge should not be interfered with. In fact, it has been replaced by a modern bridge which, to most of us at any rate, is equally pleasing and is infinitely superior for the purpose for which Rennie erected his construction, that is, the purpose of carrying traffic across the Thames.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I must warn the Committee that we cannot discuss any individual monument.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was not arguing its merits or demerits, but only using it as exemplifying the dangers which would arise if, in every case antiquity, when established, was to give an absolute right to prevent interference.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Ruling of the Chair prevents me from expressing my own opinion about that monument. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, in considering the proper terms in which this protection should be afforded, will bear these two considerations in mind.
§ Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)
I welcome very much the assurance that the Parliamentary Secretary has given that he will insert words which will have the same effect as the Amendment. But there is one point that I should like to put to him. He said he could not accept the principle of advertising. Very often those who have most knowledge about ancient buildings and monuments are local antiquarian societies and bodies of that kind, and if advertising is not to take place cases may occur of which these bodies do not know, though one or two individuals may happen to be aware of the historic interest of 1187 a certain building. I think it would be a very good thing that the hon. Gentleman should keep the idea of local publicity well in mind, and not leave the matter to some list which has been drawn up and deposited with the Minister.
§ Mr. Keeling
On the question of streets, I naturally do not complain of any proposal to extend the scope of the lists, but actually some of the existing lists do include streets. I have here a list drawn up by the Office of Works panel architect for Aylesbury which includes three or four squares and twenty streets. The list prepared by the London County Council also includes streets, some of them not far from the Palace of Westminster. I thank my hon. Friend for his sympathetic reception of these Amendments. I note that they will not quite do in this form. I may mention, though not by way of reproach, that in reply to what my hon. Friend called his challenge during the Debate on the Second Reading, we sent them to his Department at least a month ago in case they cared to suggest any improvement, but we had no reply. On the understanding that my hon. Friend will consult me before putting his new Amendment down for the Report stage, I ask leave to withdraw these Amendments.
§ Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Keeling
I beg to move, in page 20, line 46, to leave out "used to the best advantage" and to insert "best use."
The words "to the best advantage" might be taken to suggest that a good money return is to be the only consideration. The financial interests of the ratepayers ought, of course, to be taken into account, but they are not the sole consideration, and my Amendment seeks to exclude any interpretation that they are to be the sole consideration.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
This is a drafting Amendment. In the opinion of the Government it is an improvement and we accept it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Silkin
I beg to move, in page 21, line 20, after "disposal," to insert:other than a lease for not exceeding seven years at a rack rent.The purpose of the Amendment, as I understand it, is that local authorities shall 1188 be able to dispose of land on short tenancies without necessarily coming to the Minister. Under the Clause as it stands every disposition of land has to get the Minister's consent. I am sure it was not intended that the local authority should come to him before letting a house on a weekly tenancy. I do not think the actual words really meet the case but, if the hon. Gentleman will accept the principle, no doubt he will put it into better language.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not think this would be right. The Amendment would put it into the power of a local authority to let for seven years, which is a considerable period, for purposes which might conflict with the general plan which the Minister has in mind. It may be very right and proper that there should be certain short lettings for a purpose not inconsistent with the planning but under the Clause the Minister could in a proper case give consent in general terms for leases up to seven years. I think we had better leave it as it stands.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir John Mellor (Tamworth)
I beg to move, in page 21, line 35, to leave out "so far as may be practicable."
It might be convenient if this could be discussed together with a later Amendment to leave out "an" and to insert "a preferential."
§ Sir J. Mellor
That puts me in rather a difficulty as I link the two together, but I move the first. The purpose of Sub-section (6) in my view is unduly limited by the inclusion of the words "so far as may be practicable." In those circumstances I think they would be best left out, but as I am unable to move the second Amendment, which I think is really necessary—
§ The Deputy - Chairman
I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman. The second Amendment, as I understand it, is more or less consequential so that we could discuss them together, but it will not be selected. If he wishes he can make his point on it.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The purpose of the two Amendments read together is to ensure that persons who have lived or carried on business on land which the authority 1189 has acquired shall have a preferential opportunity to obtain accommodation thereon. As the Sub-section stands, planning authorities are directed to exercise their power to dispose of the land in this way only so far as may be practicable, and it says nothing at all about a preferential right for such people. If one examines closely the terms of the Sub-section, there can really be no objection to the Amendments, because the authority will only be required so to exercise their power of disposal in favour of these persons if they are willing to comply with any requirements of the authority as to the development and use of such land; and it is further provided that they shall be permitted to obtain land on terms settled with due regard to the price at which such land has been acquired from them.
It is quite simple under these provisions for the planning authority to require such persons to enter into any restrictive covenants or covenants of other kinds that the authority considers necessary to the proper development and use of the land. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will wish that people whose land has been acquired shall be given the first opportunity of obtaining it, subject to ensuring that they shall make proper use of it consistent with the intentions of the planning authority.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
I feel a difficulty about omitting these words. In some cases there will be more people in the area—say, a blighted area, which may be blighted because it is congested—than it would be possible to accommodate in the area as redeveloped. One of the objects of the redevelopment may be to have a smaller number of people accommodated and to have an open space, and those for whom there is no room will, if they desire, be accommodated in the overspill area or arrangements must be made for them elsewhere. That is why we put in these words, and it is essential that they should be there. If the words were cut out, it would put an absolute duty on the authority to secure that persons who were previously living in the area were given a preferential opportunity of going back. It might give rise to the old problem of getting a quart into a pint pot, and we cannot put a statutory obliga- 1190 tion on anybody to perform that difficult task. There is no difference in intention between us, but my hon. Friend may not have thought of that. It would produce an insuperable difficulty if these words were left out.
§ Sir J. Mellor
If we left these words out and substituted somewhere in the Subsection words implying a preferential right which did not place any absolute obligation on the authority, it would ensure that people whose property has not been acquired would not be given opportunities in front of those whose property has been acquired.
§ The Attorney-General
I should have thought the word "preferential" was pure surplusage, because the words "so far as may be practicable" mean that those whose property has been acquired would have a preferential opportunity.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir R. Wells
I beg to move, in page 21, line 38, after "Act," to insert:or (b) owners of such land and interested directly or indirectly in the profits of business or other activities previously carried on there by their tenants and.The purpose of the Amendment is to clarify the words in the Bill, which refers topersons who were living, or carrying on business or other activities, on land which the authority have acquired for the purposes of this Part of this Act.The words I am moving would follow these words. It is well known that there are many owners of property who are directly interested in the business of their tenants, and some tenants may be agents of certain businesses. It would be a hardship if a tenant said he did not want to carry on the business, for the owner would then lose something of great value. There are many multiple shops and licensed premises, etc., and so forth that might be directly affected. If the Minister could explain what is meant by "living or carrying on business" it might settle the point. If it does not, an important point with regard to property owners and tenants will not be covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I hope that my hon. Friend will not persevere with the Amendment, although I understand the 1191 point at the back of it. It would extend rather too widely the protection which the Sub-section gives to those residing or carrying on business in the district. It would be very difficult to say that this protection should go to people who are interested directly or indirectly in the profits of business or other activities previously carried on in the area. It may be that people who are financially interested in businesses which, are moved would thereby become entitled to some share in the compensation which is appropriate because of the action of the planning authority. That is one thing, but it is quite another thing to impose upon the planning authority, in addition to any claims for compensation that might arise, the duty of finding the land and a place for the people who are so remotely connected as to be merely financially interested in the business. In the case which my hon. Friend puts it is, of course, the tenant to whom this Clause gives the protection, that is, the person who is living in or carrying on business in the area and whose livelihood or way of life and place in the area are very desirable because he has connections there, and so on. All these things are the interests of the tenant. For more remote interests I would urge my hon. Friend to trust the good administration by the local authorities which have a wide experience of the problems which he has in mind. I think that this Sub-section properly administered will give, as far as it can be given, reasonable protection to all legitimate interests.
§ Sir R. Wells
May I ask the Minister whether he would consider cases of hardship and put in words to cover them on the Report stage?
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot hold out any hope of that on the Report stage. It would be impossible to carry out a purpose expressed as widely as it is in my hon. Friend's Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. H. Lawson
I beg to move, in page 21, line 43, to leave out Sub-section (7).
The object of the Amendment is to remove from this Clause a power which the Minister has to direct a local authority 1192 to dispose of land in certain circumstances. That is a bad provision for three reasons. First, it appears to me to be unnecessary because under the Clause the local authority has ample powers to dispose of land if it so wishes, and if it wants to make use of that power it has to get the permission of the Minister. That rules out any idea that a local authority will be saddled with the ownership of land which it wants to dispose of in a reasonable way. I cannot, therefore, see why this provision has been put in, for it serves no useful purpose. Second, I object, unless a strong case is made out for it, to the central Government having power to direct a local authority to do anything like this. I agree that there are circumstances in which the central Government must have power to be able to give specific orders to a local authority, but I cannot see that that would apply in this case. It takes away power from local authorities, and I think that we ought, wherever possible, to give as much power to them as is necessary.
My third reason is one with which hon. Members who put their names to the Amendment may not agree. I am one who desires to see as much public ownership of land as possible, and I can imagine the case of a local authority with a majority of Socialist members taking that view, and at the same time, a Minister who took the opposite view and wanted to see as much land as possible in private ownership. A Minister in these circumstances could compel a local authority which desired the public ownership of land to dispose of the land. Because I want to see as much public ownership of land as possible I ask for this provision to be cut out of the Bill.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I desire to support the Amendment, but I do not want to associate myself with the personal aspect as definitely as the hon. Member who moved it did. He states, "I want," but I am here to speak for 600 local authorities and not for myself. I represent the Association of Urban District Councils of England and Wales. I am not sure whether this Sub-section would not suit Lord Haw-Haw when he is giving his news from Germany, for it might lead him to say, "They are imitating us now in the House of Commons, and if they are doing that to-day, what will they do to-morrow?" This Subsection is very mandatory and gives the 1193 Minister a good deal of power. The hon. Member said that a local authority might have a Socialist majority which desires to retain the land, but there are urban and rural district councils which have Tory majorities which also desire to hold the land that they own. The Sub-section says:If it appears to the Minister that it is expedient as mentioned in Sub-section (2) of this Section that a local planning authority should dispose of land under this Section to any person in any manner, he may direct the authority to dispose of it accordingly.That is to say, the Minister may direct. He possesses the power to say to these urban district councils, on whose authority I am speaking this afternoon—by their instruction, if you like—" You may want that land. You may feel that you require it for the future; but I have looked at this matter. I have decided that you must part with it, and you can do so to a society or to an individual member." I think the Minister's draftsmen forgot where they were, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has only looked at it himself for the first time.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The Minister says, under his breath, that he wishes he had. He may not have looked at it from the same standpoint as our association. They have looked at it, and they say that two heads are better than one. I ask him to look at it from the standpoint of the local authorities and to delete Sub-section (7) entirely.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I respond to the invitation of the hon. Member, and will endeavour to contribute what my head can, so that our two heads may wag more harmoniously together. I believe that will be possible when the true purport becomes known of this Sub-section that he is seeking to delete. There is a point of principle here which I would like the Committee to consider. Parliament, in its wisdom, created, some months ago, a Minister of Town and Country Planning—quite a new organ in the State—and charged him with certain duties, to see that continuity, and so on, was followed, in a policy designed to secure the best use of land in this country. Such a Minister, to carry out such a responsibility—I speak not for myself alone, but for my successors as well, of whatever party they 1194 may be—must be armed with sufficient powers to carry out the duties which Parliament has laid upon him. One of these powers is to be able to control the disposition of land by authorities and that may turn out, in the broad case, to be a very vital matter to good planning. What is intended here is to use it as a reserve power.
Let me put frankly to the hon. Member and to the Committee in general, the sort of consideration that might arise. The hon. Member has referred to the differences which might occur as to the disposal of land between people of different parties, where a majority party may want to take a course which would be unjust to a minority. It may not only be one political party acting against another, but, as in areas of this country where, alas, even now, strong religious animosities are apt to sway communities, refusal of disposal of land may be based on religious grounds, and not on planning grounds. The Minister in charge of this matter ought to have the power in such a case to see that the minority is not sacrificed to a local majority, and that justice is done. It is for that reason that this reserve power is, I consider, essential. It is not a power that any Minister would use, if he were wise, in a harsh or oppressive way. He would desire to give the local planning authority the widest possible scope for discharging its function, but he must have in reserve this power, should the planning machinery in any part of the country break down, to put things straight.
There is another point I would like to clear out of the way in connection with a question which was introduced by both hon. Gentlemen. They spoke of the difficulty which arises from the use of the word "disposal." There is no question of this power being used to defeat the objects which they have in mind, namely the widest possible public ownership of land. If they look at Sub-section (8) they will see that "disposal" there means, not the sale of the freehold only, but disposal by way of lease, and in every way you like, except gift and mortgage. I do not think anyone would suggest that local authorities should be allowed to give land away or to mortgage it. There is no point of politics in it at all—I mean politics in the sense of "anti-" or "pro-" land nationalisation or public ownership.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I think I got in all the political parties. I did not mention only a Socialist majority but also Tory majorities in a local council. I did not intend to bring any direct party politics into it.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not accusing the hon. Member of doing so. I am saying that the word "disposal" is not limited to parting with the freehold. It means parting with land in any other way, and any argument founded on the supposition that this is directed against what hon. Member's want, is quite unfounded. There is this to be said; I know that local authorities have expressed apprehension about this matter. In our discussions, I offered to incorporate as Amendments any safeguards they thought were reasonable against harsh or oppressive powers being used by a Minister. The negotiations have gone on the lines that the Minister, before giving his decision directing local authorities to dispose of land, should have to hear them in the matter, and that their case should be put before the Minister so that he would act with full knowledge of their motives and desires. That is very reasonable. There is also the question of the price or rent which might be charged. These negotiations are not yet completed, but if suitable accommodation can be arrived at, so that the power remains which is essential for the central Ministry to have in reserve, and yet safeguards against its oppressive or harsh use can be devised, we shall incorporate Amendments to that effect at a later stage.
§ Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)
The Minister has made out a good case from the Ministerial point of view for the existence of this power but we have to admit that the local authorities are hot at all happy that we should have this power. The Minister talked about the necessity of it, for deciding in cases of disputes based either on religious or political grounds, but that seems somewhat irrelevant. I should have thought the Minister would be well advised not to seek to take any part in religious or political controversies, and to keep out of them. This question is one concerning the disposal of land in the best interests of the people of the locality. We have committed to local authorities in Act after Act great powers and great discretion, and we ought not now to take dis- 1196 cretionary powers from them in the case of this new type of legislation. After all the time that local authorities may give in acquiring land and in complying with all kinds of regulations the Minister proposes to take power to tell them to dispose of it in the manner which he says is right. He said he was negotiating with representatives of local authorities and I hope he can give the Committee an assurance that the views of local authorities will be fairly considered and their apprehensions allayed and that he will bring up the matter at a later stage in our proceedings.
§ Earl Winterton
I very much hope that the Minister will not agree to the proposals put forward by my hon. Friends. A good many of us were strong supporters of the Bill. I supported the Bill on the Second Reading against some of my hon. Friends and I attach the utmost importance to the matter in question. Let me explain to the Committee why that is. The hon. Member who has just spoken has drawn a false analogy between the Bill and previous Bills, and I was rather surprised to hear his argument, coming from a member of the Tory Party. My hon. Friend suggested that because local authorities, in much smaller respects, had been given wide powers of discretion, when it is proposed to give them immense powers, greater than they have ever possessed before in the history of this country, they should be allowed to exercise that authority without there being any discretion by the Minister whatever. Many of us attach great importance to the Minister having discretion in this matter.
My own experience has been—and I think that the whole Committee will agree with me on this—that when a Minister is in office in this country it never matters whether he is Socialist, Liberal or Tory; he never allows his political prejudices to influence his administration. Let me give an example, however, of what might quite easily occur. I ventured to say during the Second Reading Debate, and I repeat it here to-day, that I have in my constituency something like 10,000 or 15,000 people of small means who own their own houses, and under this Bill their interests must be considered of equal importance with the interests of local authorities. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) very fairly and properly 1197 has put the views of urban authorities, so I am entitled to put the views of the small owners of property who may come into conflict with them.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
It is not a qustion of property but of land that local authorities own now. The Noble Lord is desirous that it should be taken from the local authorities and given to some private persons.
§ Earl Winterton
If the hon. Member would be a little more patient, and would hear my argument, I think I could convince him that he and I are not so far apart as he seems to think.
These two Sub-sections, taken in conjunction with each other, mean that if a local authority should withhold its consent to the sale of land, save for the erection of houses, to private enterprise—although I do not care what form it takes—the Minister has the right to give his permission for the land to be so disposed of. Let me give an example of the way in which it might occur. I have spoken of the small householders in my constituency. The interesting thing is that thousands and thousands more people every year now own their houses, and it is no longer true that house property is owned only by a few hundred individuals; it is owned by millions of people. A local authority might have a large area of land on which they wanted to build eventually, but, for some reason, they find themselves not in a position to build on a particular piece of it. There might be a local association of small property owners, possibly with some form of insurance society behind them, and these people might come forward and say to the local authority: "We are prepared to build houses on this land and are quite prepared to enter into any condition and to comply with your general plan. We are prepared to put up the type of house that you want." The local authority may reply: "This is all very fine and large, but we were elected to support the principles of the Socialist Party, who believe in the public ownership of land, and for that reason we are not prepared to sell to these people and allow them to have this land."
In that case I say with absolute conviction that any Minister of Town and Country Planning, even if he was the leader of the Socialist Party—such would 1198 be the fairness of administration which always prevails in this country—would say "I am not concerned with the political aspect. As Minister I am not concerned whether it is a Socialist or private enterprise proposal. All I am concerned with is whether houses are to be built. I think the local authority has made a mistake, that these private people are prepared to build houses and I am prepared to support them." So, as the Minister truly said, far from introducing a political element it avoids the chance of any political or religious element coming into the question, and carries out the true intention of the Bill, that is to see that the land is properly planned and developed.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I must confess that I did not think the Minister made out a good case for the retention of this power. I think the motive that underlies it has been clearly expressed by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. The power given by this Clause is an extraordinarily arbitrary and unlimited power, and even if it is passed by the Committee I think Members on all sides will agree that the power ought to be limited and not entirely arbitrary. The Minister, in his philosophical attitude towards life, referred to political and religious differences, and he suggested that the Minister might be protecting a religious or political minority. But he might, under this Clause, be protecting a particular private enterprise. He could use his discretion in that way if he wished. The right hon. Gentleman has illustrates how that might come about. A local firm of builders might wish to put up houses.
§ Earl Winterton
I never said anything of the sort. I said a local association of property-owners might be prepared to build small houses where the local authority was not, and that any Minister who did his duty would say "I am not concerned with public or private enterprise, but these people are prepared to build, so I shall be prepared to support them."
A small association of property owners is not normally the kind of association concerned with such building. There is no reason why the Noble Lord should not organise one; it might be a very good thing, but I do not know of one at the moment. The people who 1199 put up houses, speculative builders, are people who sometimes put up good houses and sometimes bad houses. Some of the houses are extraordinarily bad and the profits of putting up these houses are very great indeed. I was initiated in this some time ago. I suppose that profits in these cases are at least 33⅓ per cent, sometimes 50 per cent., when the house is off-loaded on to the private investor who wants to have a house of his own, and who has to pay through the nose for it. I do not want it to be left to the discretion or indiscretion of any Minister to have the power to let loose a rapacious builder in a locality simply because some other scheme has not been put forward.
It seems to me that in the ultimate case there may be need for the Minister to have power, but there is not the need for the arbitrary, unlimited, dictatorial power which the Minister could exercise under this Clause. I, therefore, hope that the Committee will insist on this being taken hack, and I hope it will be taken back finally and definitely, or at least considerably amended before it passes into what might become an instrument of very serious exploitation. It would be a disaster if one of the effects of a town planning Act was to have a large amount of unregulated building, going on because a Minister without imagination did not realise what very bad building the speculative builder frequently does put up.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I approach this with a definite prejudice in favour of the local authority as opposed to the central Government, but I think the least reflection must lead one to support the Minister in this particular case. I do not think that the examples given by the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member behind him are the best examples by which to understand this. I was thinking of this sort of problem: In the case of great public corporations such as the Highland electricity undertaking or bodies of that kind, great public services set up by Act of Parliament, one can quite understand the local authority, for some reason or other, declining to lease part of their ground for a service of first-class national importance such as a railway, electricity, gas or water. The Minister of Town and Country Planning, appointed by this Committee, acting for this Committee, must, surely, in a case like that, 1200 have a reserve power to be used in an exceptional case. I should not have thought there is very much danger, because, if a local authority had a good case it would inform its local Members of Parliament, and the whole issue would be raised here, but to refuse these powers—the right, which is what it amounts to, to plan this country in a national sense—seems to me to stultify the whole purpose of this Bill. Therefore, on this particular point I am bound to agree with the Minister that these reserve powers must be kept.
§ Mr. John Wilmot
I am afraid the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has rather put the cat among the pigeons in this matter. I agree with the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) that for the reasons he gave and the reasons the Minister gave, this Clause is necessary, but we ought to be quite sure of its intention. Its intention is to prevent the local authority from harshly excluding from the right to carry on a church or club or something, and to give the Minister overriding powers in cases of necessity. But I am sure that the intention of the Minister in putting this Clause in the Bill was not to take the sort of action which the noble Lord mentioned; it is not intended that the Minister should force a local authority to employ a particular builder as against another particular builder. I hope that the Minister will make it quite clear that it is not for that purpose he wants this Clause in the Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage (Louth)
I want to ask one question. Like others, I have had representations from local authorities. Has the Minister power to hold a public inquiry into these cases? A good many points of difference in the past have been removed by public inquiry, and where no public inquiry can be held there is, naturally, dissatisfaction. When the local authority is in contact with the Minister that local authority, having been elected by the local electors, deserves to be heard in its own defence, and in such a way that the electors of that locality can make what representations they wish. I should like to see provision made for the holding of a local inquiry where there is opposition. I suggest that might be done.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
A great number of hypothetical cases have been put forward, but the local 1201 authority in which I am interested, the Corporation of Birmingham, have asked me to put forward the fact as they see it, which is that the Minister already has his say in the matter. The corporation are acquiring land, sometimes by compulsion, sometimes by other methods, and they have had to satisfy the Minister already on the propriety and justification of their proposals. Having done that with the Minister's consent and spent public money, they feel that the matter should rest at that stage, and that they should be left to judge. They have spent ratepayers money and been in touch with the Minister who has agreed that they acquire the land, and they therefore feel that after that stage they are the best authority to settle what is best in accordance with their planning and the scheme they put forward. The local authorities feel strongly that having done all they are asked to do, they should not be asked to face this extra risk of having their plans upset at a later date.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I find myself, on this occasion, in full support of the Minister. My reasons are a little different from the reasons which have been given in some quarters, and I disagree with some of the criticisms of this Clause. It seems to me that those who are enthusiastic for national planning, for public ownership and matters of that kind are being, to say the least, a little inconsistent if they desire the Minister and Parliament to part with this power to any number of local authorities, and to part with it without any chance of any say as to how that power over land is to be exercised by local authorities. If this Clause goes consider this position where there are two local authorities adjoining each other. Let us suppose that one of these authorities has a Socialist majority or, if you like, a Conservative majority. That authority has acquired land under this Bill compulsorily, more and than it is using at the moment or is likely to require for many years to come, if ever, because of changes of population and things of that sort. Let us suppose that adjoining there is another local authority which wants land and has not got the land it needs within the area of its authority. Is it not right that provision should be retained in the Bill, so that the Minister can say to the first local authority, "You must dispose of your 1202 land to the other authority so that we can get planning on a national scale, with national control at the centre"?
Let us develop the argument for retaining the Clause in its present form. People have been a little suspicious about what the Minister may or may not do under this Clause. It seems to me we have, in this matter, to leave the power with the Minister—I am not always in favour of that but I am on this occasion—and trust him to exercise it properly, without fear or favour. I hope the Minister will not alter or water down the provisions of this Clause.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I hope that the Minister will give more consideration to this Sub-section than he has given up to now. I am inclined to agree that the Minister should have power to compel persons to use land for national purposes, but I am not satisfied that every Minister, in any circumstances, would use that power wisely. I have had a rather bitter experience, as a member of a local authority, of having to fight a Ministry for a very long time in order to retain 180 acres of land, for which our authority had paid. The Minister of Health at the time was endeavouring to compel us to sell that land privately.[An HON. MEMBER: "For what purpose?"]For no purpose at all; just to dispose of it. We had purchased the land for a specific purpose, for use as a sewage farm. Later on we induced the London County Council to take our sewage into their system, under an agreed arrangement. The result was that the land which we had previously used for sewage was no longer needed for that purpose. In the following year we were becoming the actual owners of the land. Then we had a letter, much to our surprise, informing us that, as the land was no longer needed for the purposes for which it was acquired, we should dispose of it by sale. We declined to dispose of the land, by sale or by any other way. We had a rather long and bitter dispute with the Ministry of Health as to whether they had power to compel us to dispose of the land. We did not dispose of it by sale at all. We disposed of part of it by lease, and we retained the rest of it for a sports ground—and a very fine sports ground it made—until the war, when it was taken over by the military authorities. Such a thing might occur 1203 again, and if the Minister is taking the absolute power he is seeking here, that power may be used in a way that is not for the public good.
I do not like the Sub-section as it stands. On the other hand, I quite see that the Minister may have to intervene in a dispute between two local authorities, to compel an authority to sell land, for the public good, to another authority, or even to a public corporation. I have quite recently, as a member of the Metropolitan Water Board, had such an experience myself. We required land for reservoirs, and had the greatest difficulty in getting the land; although we got it in the end. We may require, for a similar purpose, land that is owned by a local authority. The local authority may refuse to sell, lease, or exchange it, and in such circumstances I think it would be better for the Minister to have this power. The local authority of which I am a member required land for road widening at a point where the road was definitely dangerous. The Forestry Commissioners owned the land which we required; it was at the top of Forest Road, going on to Woodford. On the other side of the road there is a reservoir; and, of course, we could not remove that. We came to an agreement with the Forestry Commissioners not to purchase, but to exchange, land. I understand that it is the policy of the Forestry Commissioners that in no circumstances will they sell or lease forest land, but that they will exchange it for other land contiguous to the forest. Something like that may be provided for in this Bill.
The Minister referred to the Sub-section following that which it is proposed to leave out. I thought he rather over-stressed the point that the word "dispose" does not necessarily mean "sell," and may mean exchanging or leasing the land, or disposing of it in any other way. If the word "sale" were taken out in the following Sub-section, I think that that would meet the requirements of the local authorities, and that it would be an improvement. Why should the local authorities sell land if they do not want to do so, when the same object can be attained by exchanging or leasing the land? My authority has leased the land of which I spoke for factories, and the rent that we get from the factories actually pays for the sports ground. That, I think, 1204 is a good way of using public land. In its present form, the Sub-section is unacceptable to all local authorities, and I was rather surprised that the Minister did not indicate his willingness to make any concession. He said that negotiations had been, and were still, going on, but I would like him to make some concession to the unanimous view of all local authorities, whether they are Tory or Socialist or whatever they may be. I am not afraid of this power, as a politician, because I am an optimist, and I am quite certain that in the next Government, and in all succeeding Governments, the Minister will be a Socialist. I have full confidence that his inclination will be for public ownership of all land. But, apart from that, I do not think that a Minister, whoever he may be, should be able to settle everything on a political basis. This Sub-section will not satisfy the local authorities, and the Minister should make a concession to their unanimous demand.
Viscount Hincbingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) in thinking that this is a very necessary power, and that it ought to be retained in the Bill. May I direct the attention of the hon. Member opposite to the fact that this Sub-section has regard to the wording of Sub-section (2), which says thatthe authority may dispose of any such land to such person in such manner and subject to such conditions as may appear to them to be expedient in order to secure the use to the best advantage of that or other land.My Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) gave an example of how this might work where a local authority was dominated by members of the Party opposite. May I give an example of how it might work in the reverse case, if the local authority was dominated by members of another Party? It seems quite possible that we might have a joint planning authority, rather separate from the local authority, which was preparing plans for the whole area, and that the local authority concerned, being dominated by members of another party, was only too anxious to dispose of land to certain interests which they knew about in the town, who were prepared to build, rather cheaply and hurriedly, an enormous housing estate, for example, on a piece of perfectly good land. Would it not be a good thing for 1205 the Minister to step in in those circumstances and say, "No, it is quite improper," and that this land should be let temporarily to a local farmer for grazing purposes until the plans of the joint planning authority were ready, and until a change of circumstances occurred in the municipality and the whole building project could be put through on properly-planned lines. It seems to me that this Sub-section relates to the interests of proper planning, and I think hon. Members opposite might agree with it.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
This is not a queston of retaining land; Sub-section (7) says that they must dispose of the land, not own the land.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Under Subsection (8) they can arrange to lease it temporarily, I understand, while some other arrangement is being made, in order that the land may subsequently be properly planned.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Some amazing arguments have been put forward by the land-grabbers on the other side in order to retain the land, but the most amazing I have heard are those that are now being put forward in order to grab back that land which they have lost. Arguments have been put in this House, and particularly by the Minister, that can only be described as being something in the nature of political abortion, something that would finish entirely any suggestion of democracy in this country. I am certain that never in the history of this Parliament has there been an argument like that which the Minister has put forward to-day. Members opposite see only one thing. Here is a chance to grab back land which has been obtained by the public authority. The Minister said that not only political difficulties, but religious differences, might enter into the matter. A religious majority may, in the Minister's opinion, be dealing unfairly with a religious minority. His idea is that a local authority may be composed, in the majority, of Anglicans, and they have a piece of land. In the course of reconstruction, they decide to build an English church. If a minority of Nonconformists want to build a Nonconformist church, and there is a Nonconformist Minister, they will go to the Nonconformist Minister, and he will say, "The Anglican majority are dealing unfairly with the 1206 Nonconformist minority." It is perfectly disgusting. Or if there is a Nonconformist majority, an Anglican Minister will force them to build an Anglican church. Let us take it the other way. If there is a Tory majority in power—
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If there is a Tory majority, composed of Members such as the Noble Lord, and any jerry builder comes along and wants a piece of land that the local authority themselves should use, they will immediately say to the Tory builders, "Go ahead; you can have the land." Do you think the Minister will interfere with that sort of thing? No. If there were a Socialist majority and they were doing a bit of planning, and the Socialist majority decided that, in a piece of land which they owned, a good central feature on that land would be a co-operative stores, then all the old gang in this country would be out after the Minister to get him to intervene and to get some private building or industry on that land. Does any hon. Member mean to suggest that that is the sort of thing which we should have beginning to operate in this country? The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) said that Parliament should have directed general planning, but the Minister and Parliament have the right to direct that general planning. This has nothing to do with general planning. This has to do with local authorities which have in their possession certain pieces of land, and the private landowners, and the disreputable and un-scrupulous representatives of private landowners, will do everything in their power to try and get that land back out of the hands of the local authorities. To suggest that the Minister should interfere in these majorities and minorities on local authorities is entirely out of the question, and should not be tolerated for a moment.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I am bound to say that, as I listened to the Debate, I have been astonished to hear some of the arguments put forward and to note the speakers from whom they came. The most vigorous attack on the State having anything to do with planning came from the representative of the Communist Party, and constituted the most remarkable thing in the Debate. It is, of course, a fact that a Minister can make a mistake. It is equally a fact that a local authority 1207 can make a mistake. The question is, if there is to be, as there may be, under this Bill, in many areas what is virtually a land monopoly in the hands of the local authority, whether this House desires that the ultimate control should be with the local authority or with the Minister responsible to this House. That is the question, and it is a very simple question.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Does the Minister argue that, where there are a majority and a minority in a local authority, and a decision has been arrived at by majority decision, the Minister should have the right to intervene and give a decision in favour of the minority against the majority?
§ Mr. Strauss
I think I stated the matter quite fairly, and I do not withdraw one word I said. If the hon. Member objects to a Minister of Town and Country Planning with powers—
§ Mr. Strauss
—he should have opposed the Bill which set up the Ministry and created the Minister with the following duties:To secure consistency and continuity in the framing and execution of a national policy with respect to the use and development of land throughout England and Wales.I say that, if the Minister is to perform his function, it is absolutely essential to him that he shall have some such power as is given by this Sub-section.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
May I ask if it is not true that this Sub-section goes beyond the user, and directs not merely the user of the land, but the ownership?
§ Mr. Strauss
I think we shall get on faster if I am allowed to develop my own speech. I shall not try to evade arguments but will try to deal with all these points.
I divide my argument into two parts. First, is power of this sort necessary, and, secondly, is any appropriate safeguard needed beyond what is already in the Bill? On the first point, I say that, if you want a Minister of Town and Country Planning with any real power at all, the final power in the matter must Test with him. To give a land monopoly in an area to the local authority, and for the Minister to have no positive control whatever in the disposal of land, is to make 1208 the Minister incapable of performing the functions which Parliament has conferred upon him. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett), speaking with knowledge of the Birmingham Corporation, said that, in his opinion, these powers were unnecessary. I think my hon. Friend is wrong. Let me show him how the Clause works. A local authority, by the powers which it has acquired under this Act, obtains the whole area. It is perfectly true, that it has given certain ideas on how it proposes to lay out and develop it. Nevertheless, when it comes to the disposal of the land they must obtain the leave of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and they cannot, in fact, dispose of it without his leave.
Let me give a possible example of a local authority which puts up a series of proposals which the Minister cannot approve, or even a negligent authority which does not put up proposals at all. Are we, in such a case, to be absolutely defeated and incapable of producing any development in their area at all? Certainly not. But let me say at once that I hope we shall continue to work in the closest possible co-operation with local authorities. This power is essential, and, indeed, no self-respecting Minister could begin to work without it, because his office would become a sham. At the same time, while he could not carry on without these powers, the powers are intended to be reserve powers only. I think it was the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) who raised the question why we should ever want to direct a sale. I should say that the cases in which we should want to direct a sale would be very rare, but I can think of one example—if the Established Church wanted to consecrate a piece of land. I think there are cases, affecting religious bodies, where a sale would be the right step. I do not wish to say anything further as to the necessity for such a Clause.
We now pass to the question whether there ought to be any safeguards. I do not think there is any danger, if the Clause is left as it is, but conversations, as I think my right hon. Friend said, are proceeding with the local authorities to see whether we can agree on some safeguards in this Clause which will give us everything we require and relieve them of fears, even though we think those fears are unreasonable.
1209 Now I want to turn to a matter suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) who asked about an inquiry. I think our conversations with the association of authorities may well be on those lines. We should retain absolutely the power that we have got in this Clause, but say that before the Minister makes a direction, he shall give the local authority, to whom he contemplates giving such a direction, a right of hearing. I think there is also a possibility of a safeguard, regarding any disposal of land which may be ordered, and that is providing arbitration on the price at which such a disposal should take place. I think these are safeguards, and that if we proceed with the local authorities on these lines and can agree on them, it will not in any way defeat our object, but it will relieve their anxiety which we do not believe is well grounded. To hon. Members who said that we do not need these powers at all, I say that they are absolutely essential. If any hon. Member opposes this view, let him at least abandon the pretence that he still believes in central planning.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I think the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the Committee has put across a piece of oratorical bluff. What has been the basis of the statement he has just made? It is a basis that is absolutely false and cannot be justified in the history of the relationship between local authorities and any Government, to my knowledge. It is this—that the local authorities are, or may be, indifferent or reactionary so far as the needs of planning and rebuilding their areas are concerned, and that the Government, through the hon. Gentleman and the Minister, may be more progressive than the local authorities. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that it is the local authorities which have been the drive and urge for social betterment in this country, and not the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Merthyr Tydfil."]I did not get up to discuss conditions, in my own constituency, but it comes most unhappily from an hon. Member representing Croydon that he should, by implication, accuse Merthyr Tydfil of being a reactionary authority.
§ Mr. Davies
I do know this—that, in the history of Merthyr Tydfil, a great deal of time has been taken up by the authority in trying to get one Government Department after another to show a little wisdom, to show a little energy and vision, so far as replanning our old industrial areas are concerned. The hon. Gentleman cannot persuade this side of the Committee that we have now a most progressive Minister who needs this power in order to whip up the reactionary local authorities in this country. That is the assumption; if it is not, the Minister has no case whatever. The hon. Gentleman told us that there were conversations going on with representatives of local authorities on this particular matter, but these conversations have been going on for several weeks and it is rather surprising that no agreement has been come to yet. I am forced to the conclusion that the Government want this arbitrary power—a power which it will use in a most suspicious fashion—and I am not prepared to concede it, either to the Minister or the Government. The hon. Gentleman told us that the Government might agree that the question of the price of the land to be taken away from the local authority might be submitted to arbitration.
Why not agree that the whole question of whether the land should be taken from the local authority, be submitted to arbitration? Why suggest that it is only the price that is in question? The local authority is interested in the land, and the local authority is the best body to know how to develop the land within its own area.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
May I interrupt the hon. Member? I think he may be under a misapprehension on one point. He has mentioned frequently the taking away of the land from the local authority. I want to make certain he has the position right in his mind. If this power were exercised, it would generally mean directing the local authority to grant a lease, but the local authority would then remain the landlord.
§ Mr. Davies
It does not say so. I am forced to the conclusion that this Clause has been forced upon the Government by the most reactionary section in this Committee, and I am surprised that the 1211 Government have given in to this pressure. It is a Clause which has been inspired by the landlord spirit in this Committee, and I am sure that the local authorities of this country will agree with what has been said from this side of the Committee, that they are not prepared to accept quietly this intrusion upon their right and the crippling of their power in rebuilding so many parts of the country.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am satisfied that some such power as is conveyed in this Subsection is necessary. It would be necessary even if there were a Labour Minister not subjected to the kind of pressure which my hon. Friend alleges in the case of the present Minister. It is necessary in the interests of good planning, and I do not understand how it will be possible to carry out effective planning unless some such power is given. But I equally feel that local authorities are entitled to have satisfactory safeguards that the Minister will not be the judge in his own court. This Sub-section will come into operation only where there is, shall we say, a bona fide difference between the ideas of the local authorities and those of the Minister, and the Sub-section provides that, in such a case, the Minister shall decide and be the judge. I feel that there ought to be some safeguard, if only to enable the local authorities to feel that they are not being unjustly treated, I, personally, would be content if Parliament were the final court of appeal. Obviously, there will be very few cases where the Minister will have to decide, but if every case where it is necessary for the Minister to direct a local authority to dispose of land were laid on the Table of this House, we should then be able to hear all the arguments. Subject to such a safeguard I feel the Minister must be given the power set out.
§ Sir H. Williams
I have listened very carefully to the last two speeches. I agree somewhat with the last one, but not very much with the first. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) is very concerned with Merthyr Tydfil. Merthyr Tydfil indulged in extravagance, while existing on the charity of the rest of the country.
§ The Chairman
That expression is not permissible and I must call upon the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) to withdraw it.
§ Sir H. Williams
The last time I went to Merthyr Tydfil the cinemas were full, the shops were full, 70 per cent, of the people were unemployed, ruined by the reluctance—
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. May I point out that I have sympathy with my hon. Friend? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. He has been blackguarded, and it is as well that hon. Members should know that if one side uses hard language, the other side is entitled to do so also.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am not quite clear whether I am the goose or the gander. Under the law as it stands, local authorities, unless they have special powers, are not entitled to retain surplus land; There are three or four classes of landlord in this country. Local authorities are one class, the Crown is another, there is the type of people called landlords—I am not one except to the extent of three-quarters of an acre—and there are larger corporations, such as the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Which are the worst landlords? The worst landlords are always either the State or municipalities, for a very simple reason. They have a statutory duty to get all they can out of it. Take the City of Westminster in which we are situated—
§ The Chairman
That question really does not arise. I must ask the hon. Member not to pursue it further.
§ Sir H. Williams
With great respect, the question at issue in this Clause is, whether it is, on general grounds, desirable that a Minister shall say to a local authority, "You have got to sell your land." That is what this Sub-section means. That implies either a lease or a sale. Surely, under that head, we are entitled to consider the respective merits of the other interests, in other words, to consider whether a town council is a better landlord than a private individual.
1213 I have not the slightest doubt that I would much rather be the tenant of a private individual than of a local authority. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting behind me are so beset with prejudice that they will not examine the facts. The local authority, as I have said, are under the statutory duty to exact the last farthing from anybody. They are not entitled to be considerate landlords. Their duty is to get all they can. I was going to use the analogy between the State and the local authority; there is only a difference of degree. The local authority is a localised expression of the State. Is the State a good landlord? Nobody would say so who walks up Regent Street. There are two landlords in Westminster—one a Duke and one the Crown. No one has ever seen a more oppressive landlord than the landlord of Regent Street—the worst landlord in the history of this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is capitalism."]No, not capitalism; State Socialism.
§ Mr. H. Lawson
In spite of the: arguments used that the Sub-section as it stands is too wide and open to many objections, on the other hand, a case may have been made out for these powers on a very much restricted scale and with safeguards. As conversations are taking place between the Minister and local authorities, I suggest that the most convenient course is for the Government to accept the Amendment to strike out the Sub-section and at a later stage bring the matter before the House again.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
I regret that I cannot support the Clause because under Sub-section (5) we find a very definite ruling that the Minister will part with the freehold of the land only in most exceptional circumstances. I would ask the Minister why he takes up that point of view. I consider that more progress would be likely if every tenant was able to hold the freehold of his own home. It is far better for a country to have a vast number of small, individual owners than tenants of either the big landlord or, still worse, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) pointed out, of the State. I can see no excuse 1214 whatever for the land having to be delivered just as the planning authorities want it to be. They have it their own way on every possible occasion. Why should they not sell the freehold to the occupiers of houses; why must those occupiers always be their tenants? I think that there must be something behind this. What are to be the terms of the lease which my right hon. Friend is going to grant? What kind of burdens and restrictions may be put into that lease? There may be all kinds of provisos and restrictions which would not be there if they sold the freehold to the occupants of the houses. Therefore, I suggest that my right hon. and learned Friend should eliminate the word "exceptional" on the Report stage or at some later period, if possible. It may be argued against parting with the freehold that, by only granting a lease, it enables the Minister, when the land wants redeveloping, to get immediate possession, because the leases are to be of the same duration. But in the Bill provisions are clearly laid down under which, if the area wants redeveloping at a later time, he has powers once more to acquire land for redeveloping, so that I cannot see that there is much argument there. It is said that to sell the lease is as good as selling the freehold. It is no such thing. I would invite the attention of the hon. Member who said he was in favour of every occupier being the owner of his own house. It is not the same thing to sell a lease. If you sell the freehold, the occupier of the freehold has a sense of pride and a feeling that he has a stake in the country. You would get a healthier community as a whole, and such free-holders have a spirit of independence, which I wish my hon. Friends above the Gangway would try to encourage in the community at large.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. A. MacLaren (Burslem)
Does that imply that our people, who have been in the majority landless, have no spirit of independence?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
It means no such thing, but it means that if a man owns a freehold house he is an individual with a stake in the country and has a feeling of independence. Hon. Members above the Gangway must one day decide whether they wish to see the individuals of this country raised, or the whole lot of us really to be serfs in a State machine.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
The hon. and gallant Member has made a most extraordinary statement. Does he think that a man has no self-respect and independence if he is living in a hired house?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
The Noble Lady is stretching a point. I said no such thing, but I do say that a man who owns his own little home has a stake in the country and gets a feeling of independence more than a man who is a tenant.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)
I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to one issue on this Clause. I had an Amendment on the Paper dealing with the Clause from a commercial and industrial point of view, and under the Clause as drafted the planning authority is able to dispose of the land or let the land only with the consent of the Minister. Here, I fall in with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) who drew attention to the word "exceptional." That word presupposes that these conditions would not be afforded except in very rare cases. The granting of a long lease for educational or cultural reasons was rather explained by the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that there might be an exceptional case, but he did not mention anything with regard to the case of an industrial or commercial enterprise.
In modern days the laying down of a plant involves very heavy capital expenditure. A 99 years' lease may be all right when a plant starts, tout after some years, when you get towards the middle of the lease, the question of further development might be very restricted if there were only a limited number of years remaining on the lease. I would have liked the Minister to give power to the planning authority to grant leases of this nature to commercial or industrial concerns and that the word "exceptional" should not apply in this Sub-section. I can foresee that, if development on a long lease system is not permitted, you will not get these great modern plants put down adjoining a city, as they must do, as the labour has to come from the city. I hope that the Minister, when he considers action, will not interpret the word "exceptional" so narrowly as to prevent a longer lease than 99 years being granted.
§ Mr. Messer
When the Parliamentary Secretary was replying to the Debate on Sub-section (7), he gave an undertaking that local authorities would be heard and that, indeed, he was prepared to see that arbitration took place in regard to the price, because no mention is made in that Subsection or in the Clause as to the possible direction of disposal bearing with it responsibility for the recognition of the price that should be established. I was pleased to see that, but there is a matter which is rather important. I cannot quite see why the Minister wants power of direction of disposal to any particular person. I can see that, if we are to have national planning, the Minister must have some authority. There will be local authorities acting inconsistently with each other in the general interests of planning unless there is some over-riding authority which can determine the user but, having determined it, I see no reason why the Minister should take power to direct the disposal to a particular person. I would be glad if the Minister would give that his attention, because it is one of the matters about which the local authorities themselves are rather anxious.
There is another aspect of this question to which attention should be directed. A local authority will acquire land not for the purpose of planning, but it will appropriate some of that land for such a purpose. For the first time a local authority will be in the hands of the Minister as to the direction of the disposal of land which primarily was not acquired under the Town and Country Planning Act but for other purposes and in the planning a change has take place. If the Minister comes along and directs that that land should be used in a particular way, it is then for the local authority to say that it would be in its interest if that land were to be used for the original purpose. I think it is rather important that this precedent has been established—that land which is acquired by a public authority can be directed away from it. I agree that where the Minister can show that it is in the interests of planning that it should be done he has a case, but then all the interested parties should be heard in addition to the local authority concerned, and to that extent I hope he will give this particular Sub-section fresh consideration with these points in mind.
§ Mr. Hammersley
I would like to support what was said by the hon. and gal- 1217 lant Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Lieut.-Colonel Guest) in respect of commercial undertakings where, by nature of the fact that machinery and plant which are required in the development of modern production are of such a character, they should have some definite security of tenure, and that 99 years is inadequate. However, I would also like to draw the attention of the Minister to another case affected by this Clause and that is the case of the general retailer. I have been consulted by people speaking on behalf of the general body of retailers in the country who are particularly affected by this Clause which provides for the disposal by the local authority of land which they have taken over in process of their planning. Now a retailer quite naturally has set up his shop in a particular district, and it is necessary for him, as it may not be necessary for a person who owns a house, to be re-accommodated in the area in which he formerly carried on his business.
I put this to the Minister for his consideration. Suppose there is an owner of a piece of land on which he has built a retail shop and developed a good business. The land in the neighbourhood is blitzed and the whole area is taken over by the competent authority and becomes a planned area and subsequently is disposed of by the local authority. Now that particular individual has his piece of land taken over from him on the basis of the 1939 valuation. He may not, in fact, have anything done to his piece of property, but when it is returned to him by the local authority, he may have to pay rental on the basis of a capitalisation of 1945 values. The Minister may say that that particular point is covered by Subsection (6), the last words of which say the local authority must have…due regard to the price at which any such land has been acquired from them.I would put it to the Minister that there is a necessity to safeguard the retailer who, by reason of his business in that vicinity, should be assured that he does not suffer any real hardship which does not arise out of planning but may arise through planning taking over the land and his subsequently having a lease given to him in accordance with this Clause.
I would like to reinforce another point which was made, namely, that when a retailer gets a lease he is really entitled 1218 to have a lease of a piece of land which bears some similarity to the piece of land taken from him. It is not quite good enough that he should be given land in the same area, there should be some regard to the particular situation. The Committee will readily appreciate that it would be a great hardship to be given a piece of land which would put a person who was previously the owner of a shop in a front street in a back street. I hope that when the Minister replies to this Clause, he will have regard to those important considerations, which I am sure must appeal to all Members of the Committee. I understand that certain Amendments down in my name, some of which have not been called, will be favourably considered, though not in the form in which they have been put, and I would like to remind the Minister that those Amendments have been put down by me at the behest of the representatives of retail traders and because I thought, with a very limited knowledge of the subject, that they were fair and reasonable.
§ Mr. Lewis
I regret very much that the Minister has thought it necessary to include in this Clause provisions which would appear to be deliberately designed to discourage people from owning their own homes. I have always found it hard to understand why some of my hon. Friends opposite who have spent their lives in endeavouring to secure for manual workers a higher standard of living and a brighter future, should so consistently seek to deny to those workers the right to own their own homes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]Yes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite untrue."]I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) that it is a most laudable ambition for any man to own his own home.
Let me put a case, which might arise under this Clause, for the consideration of hon. Members opposite in particular. Suppose we have to consider a number of houses erected by a building society, the occupiers of which have gradually paid off the charges and ultimately have owned their own homes. Suppose those houses have been destroyed by enemy action. The local authority, under this Clause, eventually offers to the occupier-owners similar accommodation, but on 1219 lease. I do not imagine that the Minister would consider that these were exceptional circumstances within the meaning of Sub-section (5) of this Clause and would, therefore, be obliged to refuse a request by a local authority that they might sell those houses to the occupiers. That seems to be most unreasonable, and I hope that the Minister will seriously consider between now and the next stage of the Bill whether Sub-section (5) might not be varied in order to prevent such a thing occurring.
§ Commander Bower (Cleveland)
I also want to suggest to the Minister that if he is not prepared to withdraw Sub-section (5) altogether he might substantially amend it in order to meet the points which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis). One can understand the attitude of hon. Members opposite. I think their policy was wisely described by the Prime Minister some years ago when he said of Mr. George Lansbury—
§ The Chairman
The question of what was said by the Prime Minister is getting away from this Clause.
§ Commander Bower
I shall be only too delighted to leave it, Major Milner, if discussion is to be kept within the strict terms of the Clause. May I be allowed to say that our point of view on this side of this House varies very much, indeed, fundamentally, from that of Members opposite. After all, nobody is yet in a position to claim that State or municipal ownership is the only form of ownership which has any virtue in it. We are not prepared to admit that all private landowners are necessarily as black as soot, nor are we prepared to admit that all planning, however bad, is necessarily virtuous. If the Minister is tied, as this Sub-section seeks to tie him, in rapidly changing conditions, it seems to me that the country may find itself in a difficult position as regards town planning in a few years' time. Who can foresee what will happen under these changing conditions? Here the Minister will be prevented, save in the most exceptional circumstances, from granting a freehold. That, I suggest, is going too far. Every argument advanced by the Parliamentary Secretary in favour of the Minister retaining powers under Sub-section (7) can be used against the provisions of Sub- 1220 section (5). I would, therefore, ask the Minister to consider this matter seriously indeed, because many of us feel strongly. Unfortunately, because certain Amendments were not called, we are bound to raise this question on the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." We do not wish to vote against that Motion, but I can assure the Minister that we shall bring the matter to a Division unless a good argument can be put forward for retaining the Sub-section or a substantial amendment of it is made.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I have no desire to truncate the discussion, but the time is getting on and I hope I may be allowed to explain some of the points which have been raised so that we can proceed. We have a great deal yet to do. In answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Colonel Guest), in a case of an exceptional character it would be possible to treat it under the words of the Bill as they stand. The hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) asked me why it was proposed to take power to direct the disposal of land to a particular person. I explained earlier that that was a reserve power in case there was victimisation of any person belonging to a religious or political minority which common justice and the desire of the House would wish to see remedied. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley), I want to point out that Sub-section (6) gives as much protection to the retailers for whom he was concerned as we have found it practicable to give, and I think it enables local authorities to act in a just and friendly manner towards those who are dispossessed.
I would ask the Committee to understand and appreciate that what as proposed in this Sub-section, to which exception has been taken, does not raise the general question of freehold as against leasehold. What we have to consider is whether it is wise and prudent, now we are proposing to put a certain amount of land into public ownership by the local authorities, with the aid of assistance from central funds, that that land should be easily and readily disposable as freehold property, without any restrictions. The main reasons why I want the Committee to consent to this Clause are these: It is a fact that we have to look ahead here beyond present circumstances in which we 1221 find ourselves. There is no doubt that ownership by a planning authority of their freehold does give it control over the future of its area for planning purposes, which would not be easy if it were immediately split up again into a number of individual freeholds. I have to look ahead to my successor, say 99 years hence, when conditions will have entirely changed, and a new plan may be required to be made. If land is split up into numerous interests, with which we are finding it so difficult and expensive to deal, the same problem would occur.
I ask my hon. Friend on this side of the Committee to remember how much of the beauty of our towns, and of London in particular, we owe to the leasehold system and control of vast blocks of buildings by a single landlord. The beauty of our London squares, such of them as remain, is derived from the fact that they were in the ownership of a single person, that they were leased for a period appropriate to the life of the building. Social and political causes, to which I do not want to refer in any detail, have resulted in the splitting of these squares into a number of small freeholds. Who can say that the good planning of our London squares has benefited from that process? It has not. Many of the disfigurements about which many of us lament are due to the fact that the controlling hand has been removed. We know that but for the exercise by great landlords in the past of qualities of taste and culture, protecting their property against commercialism and insisting on a standard of dignity and duty, we should not be the possessors today of places like Bath, our London squares and many other beauty spots that still exist.
Nor should hon. Members in any part of the Committee fear that a properly administered leasehold system is contrary to the proper life of the community and its business activity. A great deal of the commercial activity of the country is carried on on the leasehold system. No doubt it can be abused. You can get a building lease falling in at the end of 99 years and the ground landlord continuing to let what are out-moded and crumbling premises, maybe at an extortionate rent, but, given the control that I am asking for for myself and my successors, I hope the leasehold system will be efficiently and well administered, and I 1222 see no reason why leases should not be granted proportionate to the proper life of the building so that when they fall in, the matter can be considered again and replanned. Properly administered, the leasehold system will make for unified control for planning in the future, and it can assist private enterprise as efficiently as any other system of tenure.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower
Are we to take it that the average tenant will have the security of a very long lease, because it says it is the maximum? How do we know not that it will not be 21 years or even less?
§ Mr. Morrison
If my hon. and gallant Friend looks at the condition of commercial or industrial premises built, say, in 1845, how fit axe they for their use today? No doubt in an exceptional case there might be a longer life, but that case, would have to be proved.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The Minister said one thing with which I most strongly agree. He said this was a planning Bill, but he proceeded to say many things which indicated that he viewed it to some extent also as a Bill for promoting public ownership. There is a very sharp distinction between the two, which should be borne in mind throughout this Committee stage. I cannot see why this restriction should be put on disposal by way of freehold or the grant of a long lease, because the planning authorities surely can be relied upon to exercise a sensible discretion as to how they dispose of the property acquired having regard to their planning scheme, the period during which the buildings can be expected to survive in good condition, and so on. Indeed, in Sub-section (2) it is provided that they may dispose of such land subject to such conditions as may appear to them to be expedient in order to secure the use of the land to the best advantage. That is the responsibility of the planning authority and, even if they dispose of the freehold, or grant leases exceeding 99 years, they can easily secure compliance with any conditions they consider necessary by the imposition of restrictive covenants. Surely there is no need for the planning authority to lose control at all. They have their plan and they can, in disposing of the freehold or granting long leases, secure that the plan is perpetuated. I hope my right hon. Friend will 1223 think again about this, because I am certain that he does not mean to convert the Bill from a planning Bill into becoming one for the promotion of public ownership, although some of the remarks which fell from him gave that impression. I strongly object to the Clause so long as it contains Sub-section (5) intact, and I really feel that we ought to divide against it unless the Minister is prepared to undertake that he will modify the provisions Of this Sub-section in order to conform with his real intention, as I believe it to be, in the course of the next stage of the Bill.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
There seems to me to be an inconsistency in the Clause that ought to be put right. The Subsection that we have just been considering gives the Minister power to order the disposal by sale of any land that he thinks fit, but when we consider the case of a local authority which for some reason or other wants to sell the land, it will not be able to get permission to do so unless it can show that it is an exceptional case. There is no definition of an exceptional case, as far as I know. If there are two cases of the same sort, is either of them exceptional? What number must there be of the same sort to cease to be exceptional? I see no reason for the limitation upon the Minister's power. I see no reason why he should not have an unfettered discretion to give his consent to any application by a local authority for permission to sell. That is the issue—hot whether leaseholds are better than freeholds but whether, if a local authority wants to sell, the Minister can give his decision without the local authority having to prove that it is an exceptional case. I suppose if a local authority want to sell, and it is not an exceptional case, and the Minister thinks they should have power to sell, if the Clause remains in its present form he will have to give a direction under Sub-section (7) ordering them to sell. On technical grounds the Clause seems to me to be a little inconsistent.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
The Clause as it stands contains a great many words which could be cut out without altering the sense of it very much. There is, however, one word whose removal would alter the meaning to a considerable extent but would strengthen and improve it and give 1224 effect to some of our wishes on this side. I think if the word "exceptional" in Sub-section (5) were omitted it would strengthen the Bill and enable it to do what a great many of us will want to do, namely, encourage as far as possible the right of a man to own his own home freehold. Of course I agree with what the Minister said, that leasehold is a good form for certain types of property, but I do not think he met the case at all, which was that, however good leasehold might be, equally good is freehold and it ought to be encouraged. Therefore I ask him to consider the omission of the one word "exceptional," when the Clause would have my full support.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I feel that we are under an obligation to the right hon. Gentleman for his statesmanlike and wise speech. I always believed that he would be a good Minister in this Department, and I feel that his understanding of planning is such that this Bill will be wisely administered. I was amazed at the speech of the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), for parts of Edinburgh are fine examples of good planning.
§ Mr. Erskine-Hill
The beauties of Edinburgh were created entirely by private enterprise and the ownerships are all freehold.
§ Sir P. Harris
Many parts of Edinburgh are good examples of good planning, but other parts are bad examples of development because of the absence of planning. I agree that where there is a big landlord, as with the Bedford estate, developing a whole area, we get fine examples of planning which have been the admiration of the world. On the other hand, where there are a great number of small landlords there are piecemeal developments of the worst form and slums. If this Bill is to fulfill its purpose the one thing we want to avoid is little bits of land here and there being sold to isolated individuals. That would mean all the atrocities which this Bill gives us the opportunity to prevent. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be led astray by the 1922 Committee, which is so militant on this Clause, but that he will keep it in its present form.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
I agree with the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green 1225 (Sir P. Harris) that we all admire the present Minister, but we are legislating for the future when the Minister may not be such an excellent planner. We must, therefore, take care about the words we put into a Statute which may last for longer than 99 years. I would like to support what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) and others about Subsection (5). It seems to me unnecessary and inadvisable to limit the Minister's discretion to dispose of freehold land that has been bought. In Sub-section (4) the consent of the Minister is requisite to any appropriation of land by a planning authority, and he has complete discretion. The disposal of land has also to go to him. It therefore seems wrong that he should so limit his discretion to deal with it as the local authority or, indeed himself may think fit. It is a pity that he should refuse the discretion to which we think he is entitled. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether Sub-section (5) is really necessary or advisable. My right hon. Friend said that he has to look forward for 99 years, but this Bill will perhaps last longer than that.
For the whole of that period the land will be subject to the local planning authority, and the ill-development which he fears cannot happen, because the use of the land will be controlled. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division (Lieut.-Colonel Guest) pointed out that there are many cases of commercial and perhaps retail businesses where it is desirable that the freehold rather than the leasehold should be held, and I am not certain that "exceptional circumstances" can be held by the courts to absolve the Minister from selling in cases where it is agreed that the sale should take place. What are "exceptional circumstances"? I hope that the Minister will look at these words again, and, if he will not get rid of the Subsection, will see whether they cannot be altered to meet the general sense of the Committee. As an individual, I support the ordinary Conservative principle of Tory democracy. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not agree with that. They believe in Socialist control and the public ownership of everything. I do not, and I do not like this sort of legislation in which we are handing over enormous areas of land—
§ Captain Duncan
We will deal with the price later on. We are handing over enormous areas of land for permanent ownership, not by the State, but by local authorities. I believe that it is in the interests of the individual, the man in the street, and generally speaking in the interest of the State, that there should be a property-owning democracy and not a nation of tenants.
§ Sir William Wayland (Canterbury)
I am surprised to see the Liberal Party, especially the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) supporting leaseholds. Not very many years ago his party was a protagonist against all leaseholds, whether private or public, and I cannot see why the party should now support leaseholds. It is just as bad for a public body to have leaseholds as for a private person. I am a great believer in all leaseholds being done away with and only freeholds remaining. Why should we again create leaseholds under this Bill? I cannot see where the advantage will be or why the Minister should deprive public authorities of freedom to sell the land which they are to be forced to acquire. As the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) truly remarked, small cottages, especially in the North and Midlands, which are mainly owned by the working-class or people with small incomes, are freehold to-day, but to-morrow will become leasehold if they are in areas which have been blitzed and which have to be purchased by the public authorities. I hope that the Minister will agree to a modification of the Clause so that public bodies shall be free to grant freeholds when they consider it necessary.
Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.