HC Deb 18 October 1944 vol 403 cc2423-9

1.25 p.m.

Mr. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 16, line 5, at end, insert: Provided that a local planning authority shall not be authorised under this Sub-section to acquire land to meet a requirement falling within paragraph (a). (c) or (d) thereof if the Minister is satisfied that the nature of the requirement and other circumstances are not such as to render it expedient in the public interest that the land used for meeting the requirement should have been acquired by a local planning authority, that a person other than a local planning authority is able and willing to meet the requirement at such time and in such manner as may be requisite, and that land is available therefor on reasonable terms. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) during the Committee stage moved an Amendment to ensure that these powers under Clause 10 would be used when the requirements could be met only by owners, and we undertook to reconsider the drafting to make it plain that compulsory purchase is not to be authorised when the purpose in question can be properly carried out by a private person and the land is avail- able without compulsory purchase. This Amendment is designed to give expression to that undertaking. It precludes compulsory purchase under Clause 10, other than for a public open space or for a playing field, which is of course reserved, in cases where the nature of the project does not make acquisition by the local planning authority necessary. Of course, if you have a case where the development requires a substantial area of land with a multiplicity of ownerships, unified purchase is probably the best course and would be resorted to. In other cases if some person other than the local planning authority is able and willing to carry out the development when and how required, and he already has the land or is able to obtain it on reasonable terms, then we think that purpose should be achieved without resort to compulsory purchase. I want the House to understand that this Amendment leaves the authority with ample reserve powers. It can acquire all the necessary land and make it available for suitable development in cases in which such a course is necessary in the public interest.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

I would like to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend for inserting this Amendment in the Bill. I think it will be very beneficial from every point of view.

1.27 p.m.

Mr. Silkin

I must again express my profound disappointment that this Amendment has been put down by the Minister. Once more he is completely altering the sense of the provision in the Bill which had met with general satisfaction. The Amendment whittles the powers of local authorities. At the very best it slows down procedure and involves an inquiry as to whether some person may be willing, or may profess to be willing, to carry out a development which the local authority regards as necessary. I would draw the attention of the House to the work which it is suggested somebody other than the local authority might be willing to carry out: … development of a class which is needed for the proper planning of the area of the authority. Is it suggested that some other person may be willing—

Mr. Morrison

And able—

Mr. Silkin

—may be willing or able to carry out such a development whether it is in its existing state or as intended, that is, in the manner in which the local authority wants it developed in order to secure a proper balance between the development of that class and other classes? Is it really conceivable that anyone would be able or anxious to carry out such a development? I know the answer to that is, that if such a person does not come along, the local authority goes on with it, but, I submit, what is the use of suggesting to private persons that they may conceivably carry out such a type of development? Paragraphs (c) and (d) are equally unlikely for anyone other than a local authority to carry out. I submit that the sole result of putting in such a provision—of which local authorities have had no notice and of which nobody has had notice for it was only put on the Paper this morning -will be to cause delay and confusion. Once more I want to repeat that the cumulative result of the Amendments which the Minister has to-day put down is to delay and complicate the procedure. I had occasion, when the Financial Resolution was before the House, to compliment my right hon. Friend on what he had done. Now, however, I am afraid I must withdraw all those compliments. My right hon. Friend is getting back to a Bill which is as bad as, if not worse than, the Bill which was originally introduced. Every one of the Amendments put down by my right hon. Friend to-day is a reactionary one, and this one is equally reactionary. I beg the House not to accept it, and I beg my right hon. Friend to look at it again to see whether he will not return to the frame of mind which he was in at the beginning of the Committee stage.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

Once again it seems that the fears of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) are entirely ill-founded. His argument seemed to be that there was no case in which private enterprise could carry out the matters dealt with in paragraphs (a), (c) or (d). The hon. Member talked about delay. If all the development of our country is to be left to local authorities one thing that will happen is that there will be delay. I see no reason why, if a man is ready to come along and develop in conformity with a plan approved by the planning authority, he should not be allowed to get on with the job. I see no reason why the Bill should not take advantage of both public and private enterprise in dealing with the problem. The hon. Member seems to be concerned whether anyone else might carry out part of the functions which local authorities according to him wish to acquire, namely, a complete monopoly. I welcome the fact that the Minister has put down this Amendment, although I do not think it is as well drafted as the original Amendment proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), which seemed to be very much clearer. I would ask the Minister to consider whether the words "should have been," should not, in fact, read "and be"?

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

I must confess that I think this is an improvement on the proposed Amendment, which was full of so many "shall nots," "will nots," and "cannots," that any Philadelphia lawyer would not know what to decide after he had read it. This gives discretion to the Minister, but I think it is a pity it is going into the Bill because it will handicap greatly the consideration of these things. It may not handicap an eventual decision, but if the Minister has to look into every corner and under every bed before he can make a decision he will be prevented from getting on with the job as speedily as he otherwise might do. But on the whole I think this is an improvement, and if I had to choose between one and the other I would choose this one.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)

In the event of a local authority developing an area it will be remembered that there is a proposal in the background for a levy of something like 80 per cent. to be imposed on the increased value attaching to the land as a result of the improvement. I have no objection to development by private persons; many Members know that I have fought them in the past because they have not done it. I want to know whether there is to be a differentiation in Government policy. In the event of a private individual developing land will he be subject to the levy that will be imposed upon the increased site value as a result of the de- velopment, or will he be immune from the levy, as against the local planning authority, which will be subject to it? I am wondering whether the Amendment is not rather subtle, and whether the Minister sees any subtlety in it. It seems to me that he does not know the trickery that goes on in these Debates. I am wondering whether this is preparatory to getting private developers so to develop land that they will be immune from the levy coming on the increased value of the site as a result of the development.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)

There is a positive danger here of a person other than the local authority invading that local authority's area. I presume that local authorities will be left to meet all that is most costly, plus this fact: they must build houses of a standard approved by the Department of Health in Scotland and the Ministry of Health in England. It has happened in the past in Scotland that private developers have built houses of considerably lower standards. An outstanding example was in Edinburgh, where the local authority developed a site and handed it over to a contractor to provide houses to his own specification, plans of which he did not submit to the Department of Health because he was receiving no direct subsidy for the houses. The subsidy came in an indirect way, by the provision of roads and services. I want to know whether the private developer will be compelled in any such development to submit his plans for approval in the same way as the local authority must submit plans of their houses for approval as to standard. I, personally, think that planning belongs to an authority which has control, but if we can have an assurance that the standard of houses will not be lower than the official standard I think we shall be reassured.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

I want to intervene for only a few minutes. In answer to the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay), this Bill has no application to Scotland and I must be a little careful in replying to him in detail. In so far as what he said has application to England and Wales I can assure him that the point does not come within these Subsections at all. No private developer will be immune from any of these controls. I must not be tempted by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. McLaren) to discuss what would be wildly out of Order, namely, the proposals in the Government White Paper. I am sure that when that matter comes before the House it will not be beyond the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman to see that his point is properly covered.

The main purpose of my intervention is to reply to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), that this Amendment in any way took him by surprise. It is the simple and literal fulfilment of an undertaking I gave to the House in Committee on 4th October. To place the matter absolutely beyond question, I will, with the permission of the House, read what I said on that occasion: My hon. and gallant Friend has drawn attention to the fact that the words as they stand in the Bill may be too wide. On the other hand, in our opinion, his words are too narrow. I think I could undertake that the wording will be reconsidered with a view to making it plain that compulsory purchase is not to be authorised where the purpose in question can be properly carried out by a private person and the land would be available to him without compulsory purchase. We shall reconsider the words but with not so much limitation as my hon. and gallant Friend proposes."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 4th October, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 1075.] I then invited my hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw his Amendment. That is the undertaking I gave, and the House cannot possibly be taken by surprise at the Government fulfilling that undertaking. I must say, in fairness to the hon. Member for Peckham, that he then reserved his position and thus left it open to him to oppose the Amendment at a later stage.

Amendment agreed to.