HC Deb 26 October 1944 vol 404 cc442-70

1. Where in ascertaining the value of any such interest, or the amount of any such damage, as is mentioned in Sub-section (1) of the Section (Assessment of Compensation) of this Act regard is to be had to rent payable in respect of a tenancy created after the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine (whether the tenancy is vested in the person claiming the compensation or not) the said rent shall be taken to he the lesser of the two following amounts, that is to say,—

  1. (a) the rent in fact payable in respect of the tenancy; or
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  3. (b) the maximum rent which would have been obtainable from a willing tenant if the tenancy had been created on the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, for the like term and subject to the like covenants and conditions.

2. Where the value of any such interest, or the amount of any such damage, as aforesaid is increased by reason of the possibility of redeveloping the land in which the interest subsists, or the land affected by severance or injuriously affected, as the case may be, in combination with other land, the amount of the increase shall be disregarded in so far as that possibility is attributable to circumstances, other than the effluxion of time, occurring since the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine.

3. In ascertaining the value of any such interest as aforesaid, or the amount of any such damage as aforesaid, a dwelling-house to which the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Acts, 1920 to 1925, applied at the time of service of the notice to treat shall not be treated as a dwelling-house to which those enactments then applied unless they applied thereto at the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, "That the Schedule be read a Second time."

I hope that the Committee will agree that it is enough to say that this Schedule is no different from the Seventh Schedule in the Bill as introduced—we have all had an opportunity of, considering that—and it applies the Rule as to the assessment of compensation in certain special cases. I think that in these circumstances that will be sufficient to commend it to the Committee for a Second Reading.

Sir J. Mellor

May I ask my hon. and learned Friend how the first paragraph of the Schedule will work out? I am not at all clear about it, and would be grateful if he would give a short explanation as to how it will work.

The Solicitor-General

I am not clear what is troubling my hon. Friend on this point, and I would like to know what he has in his mind.

Sir J. Mellor

It provides that compensation is to be based upon the lesser of two amounts. Will that, in all cases, tend to increase the amount of compensation, or will it, in some cases, tend to reduce it?

The Solicitor-General

I am still a little puzzled about what my hon. Friend requires. The alternatives are: the rent in fact payable in respect of the tenancy; or the maximum rent which would have been obtainable from a willing tenant if the tenancy had been created on the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, for the like term and subject to the like covenants and conditions. And you have to take the lesser of these amounts. The first one—the actual rent—is quite easy. The second is an adaptation of the old rating principle, that you take what is known as the hypothetical rent. That seems a reasonable thing, and taking one or the other, you choose the lesser, and that is the point in the new Schedule.

Sir J. Mellor

By choosing the lesser, will that tend to increase or diminish the amount of compensation in all cases or in some? It is that about which I am not clear. I want to appreciate what is the consequence of introducing a notional situation as distinct from the actual one.

The Solicitor-General

The point in introducing the notional is that, if the rent which is in fact payable in respect of the tenancy is greater than the hypothetical tenant's rent, then in accordance with the principle which has always been applied in these rating and valuation matters, you go to the fair hypothetical rent, which is fixed according to well-known precedents, and you take that, although it is the lesser. If my hon. Friend was appealing against the rating valuation of his buildings, the fact that a large rent was being paid for those buildings owing to some special circumstances or through some special arrangement, it would not prevent him going into comparisons and finding out what was the proper rent the hypothetical tenant should pay. We are simply applying the same principle here, and I suggest that it is a reasonable way of dealing with the matter.

Sir J. Mellor

I really did not understand why my hon. and learned Friend should put in an alternative. Why take the lesser of the actual or the notional? Why not take the one or the other in this case?

The Solicitor-General

Perhaps I may put it to my hon. Friend once again. When you are valuing you try to get, within human limitations, at the true value. It may be that the actual rent is your true value. It may be an artificial value. If it is an artificial value, you take the problem on what the hypothetical tenant would pay at the critical time. Then, if that is the lesser, that would be the true value which you should choose, and therefore you take it and work upon it. My hon. Friend would be very annoyed if it was a question of the rating of his properties, and if a special rent was being paid for a special reason and he was not allowed to go back to the hypothetical tenant. He would then say that this is the rent. We say the same here.

Sir J. Mellor

I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend.

Question put, and agreed to.

Schedule added to the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended on recommittal, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

4.9 P.m.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

Now that we have reached the end of our consideration of the Bill, it is appropriate to say a few words on the fate of the Bill during its long and hazardous course through this House. The Bill presents to-day a very different picture from that of the Bill originally introduced. It has been amended in many ways—I wish I could say improved but that does not altogether apply. The Bill still contains many of the defects which were criticised on the Second Reading. It is still a Bill which contemplates piecemeal and not comprehensive planning. It still encourages local authorities to regard planning as being merely the reinstatement of certain areas, particularly areas of extensive war damage, and it certainly gives a financial inducement not to have regard to the other areas equally in need of redevelopment.

I do not wish to enlarge on this, because it forms the subject of a good deal of what I said on Second Reading and on the occasion of the revised financial Clauses, but it is important that it should be said that this Bill is still unsatisfactory from the point-of-view of giving local authorities powers to develop their areas comprehensively.

As regards the general powers provided in the Bill, there is an improvement today, because the Bill enables local authorities to acquire open spaces, which it did not do before. However, there is still the unsatisfactory new Clause 17 which deals with the disposal of land by local authorities, and I should hazard the guess that that will be looked at again in another place, and the Clause which gives local authorities power to carry out development is still not satisfactory. There are still too many restrictions upon local authorities carrying out development which is essential if we are to have good planning.

As to the procedure, I readily admit that in a number of respects the procedure is better than it was when the Bill was originally introduced, particularly as regards the question of the public inquiry, which will be held now only at the discretion of the Minister. However, a good many new provisions have been made during the passage of this Bill which give to those who are desirous of obstructing town planning—and I regret to say there will be many such people—greater opportunities of carrying out that obstruction. Owing to pressure of work in this House, it has not been possible to work this out in detail, but I should guess that the Amendments in Committee and on the Report stage have added some four or five months to the time which will be required for a local authority to carry out its normal acquisition of land, particularly in areas of extensive war damage. In one fell swoop my right hon. Friend gave away at least two months—the period in which it is necessary to advertise before the scheme is actually approved by the local authorities. And in other ways he has given away odd days here and there, with the result that all the time improvements made in Committee were more than given away on the Report stage, and the Bill to-day is a slower Bill—I say this quite seriously—and will make the acquisition of land for re-development in areas of extensive war damage much slower than when the Bill was introduced.

In regard to finance, there have been some improvements but the financial assistance is still inadequate. There is still no financial assistance given to local authorities to enable them to carry out the re-development of their areas of bad lay-out and obsolete development, or to deal with general planning. All that has to be done solely at a cost to the local authority itself, and since it is almost axiomatic that the areas most in need of redevelopment on account of bad lay-out and obsolete development happen to be the areas which are the poorest, it means that this burden will be heaviest where it can least be afforded, and there is a very great danger that we shall not get re-development owing to the poverty of the local authorities concerned. The question of terms of compensation for acquisition of land is still so fresh in the minds of the House that I do not think I need enlarge on it, except to say that the concessions made by the Government will impose an added burden on the local authorities, and thereby on the general body of ratepayers, and make their task more difficult. However, I am prepared to admit that I think this House was in the mood to be, if anything, generous to the bona fide owner-occupier of land if displaced as a result of the operations of the local authorities, and therefore I do not personally grudge the Amendments which have been made to the Bill.

Summing up, I would say that this is undoubtedly an incomplete Bill. It fails to deal with one of the vital problems of planning, the question of compensation in respect of injurious affection of the landlord—that is still left very much in the air—and the question of betterment. It is an incomplete machine for carrying out the re-planning of areas in need of development, but it is a step. By itself it is a very short step and a very poor step, but as part of the series of Measures to permit of large-scale comprehensive planning, it is on the whole an acceptable step. I hope that in its passage through another place it will not be too badly mutilated, but improved in some of the directions which I have indicated.

I think I ought to offer my congratulations to my right hon. Friend for the way in which he has handled this Measure throughout its stages. I have not always agreed with him, and on at least one occasion I have been very cross with him, but I feel that, on the whole, the House will wish to congratulate him on the even temper in which he has dealt with rather trying conditions at times, and the very able way, if I may say so, in which he has dealt with rather difficult problems, at very short notice at times. I hope that when the local authorities get this Measure, they will take the fullest advantage of it, with all its imperfections, and will not regard these imperfections as reasons for not doing all they can with the instrument at hand.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I regret the tone of almost unrelieved gloom in which the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) has given his valedictory message on this Bill. I would ask him to cheer up.

Mr. Silkin

It is only my manner. I did not intend to cast such gloom.

Mr. Molson

I am very glad that it was not really gloom in the heart, but only apparent gloom. The nature of Parliamentary discussion is always such that it is not possible for us to find that after a Bill has been considerably amended in Committee it is in all respects improved from our own point of view. I am sure that the hon. Member for Peckham will realise that there have been at any rate two points of view about this Bill, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has, I think, shown both reason and moderation in trying to meet all legitimate points made from both sides while, at the same time, remaining inflexible upon the real purpose of the Bill, which was to provide an instrument which would enable local authorities to carry out the urgent task of re-building and reconstruction in the devastated towns.

I hope that the modifications made in Committee will, on the whole, make the Bill a more workable one. I would say to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have been critical of the increased compensation given in a number of cases, that it is not likely in the long run to prove advantageous to the best interests of planning if the compensation paid is not sufficient to make the local authorities willing, with a clear conscience, to carry out extensive purchases. But I did feel that when the Bill was introduced the Government were amply justified in standing firm on the 1939 prices. As the Minister pointed out yesterday, in the original recommendations made by the Uthwatt Committee it was proposed that the 1939 prices should be the ceiling, and, as "The Economist" pointed out, that meant that the local authorities would have the best of both worlds. If the value of land had gone up they could elect to acquire it at 1939 prices and if it had gone down in value they could elect to buy it at the market price. When the Government wisely, I think, decided that such a policy would be inequitable and unreasonable it meant that they were no longer under any obligation to accept the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee with regard to values as opposed to prices.

I feel that property as such has been dealt with as fairly and as reasonably as possible under the compensation Clauses. Anything less would have resulted in grave injustices as between one landowner and another. In some cases it would have resulted in excessive and unreasonable prices being paid by the local authority to acquire land. As regards additional compensation which is given to the occupier as such, that seems to be entirely justifiable on the grounds that the Minister himself has put forward, namely, that the occupier is deprived of a roof over his head. I therefore congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government upon the line they have taken during this Debate, and I hope and believe that this Measure will prove effective for the purposes for which it is intended.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)

I hope I may begin with two personal sentences to the Minister. One is a customary one but is none the less genuinely meant for being customary, namely, to offer congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend upon the Parliamentary skill which he has displayed and also upon the graciousness with which he has exercised that sufferance which he has told us is the Ministerial badge and which, indeed, always ought to be the Ministerial badge. They have the fun of being Ministers, and we ought to be allowed the fun of operating "slings and arrows" even from behind as much as we like. The second thing I want to say to him is that if by chance I am not here for the end of his speech I hope he will not attribute it to any discourtesy; it will be merely due to force majeure.

I wish particularly to refer to the compensation part of this Bill, not that I am not as much interested in the other parts as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin)—I hope I am, though less knowledgeable than he is—I hope I am as much desirous as he is of planning in the limited sense of this Bill, although I am prejudiced against planning with a big "P" and in the general and theoretical sense. I wish to say something about the compensation Clauses particularly for this reason: I do not ask the House to believe me in the two historical parallels I am going to draw from them, because I am not quite sure that I am right about them, I have not looked them up and I speak from recollection; but I think I am right in saying that in the 15th century when the first attempt was made to impose Income Tax the House swallowed it only upon the condition that it should not be made a precedent. I have not found that that has saved me from paying Income Tax upon my modest earnings.

I think it happened again at the time of the Napoleonic wars. I believe the House then decided that the Inland Revenue records should not be preserved and that a recent historian has been able to write the history of that taxation only because, by a mistake, the second or carbon copies were kept. I venture to tell the House this to remind it of the extreme danger of accepting Ministerial assurances that legislation is merely pro hac vice, "for this turn only," with no effect upon the future, and that it is not to be drawn into a precedent.

I think the danger in the compensation part of this Bill is that it may alter for all time the meaning of the word "compensation" in our law, and the meaning of the word "property," especially real property, in our law. The Minister assured us that that was not his intention, but it was clearly the intention of some of his supporters on the other side of the House, and, indeed, of some of his supporters on this side of the House; one of whom told us that during the last five years all rewards and appointments had been the result of service and not of property or position, He did not tell us what the service had been which had gained him a place in this House, but I gather that it had not been service either as a gunner or as a lexicographer; because he hoped that these compensation Clauses would be a spike in the coffin of one sort of ownership. Well, it is not coffins you spike; it is guns. What you do to coffins, outside Aberdeen, is to knock nails into them. I fully understand some hon. Gentlemen opposite wishing to see, as a by-product of the rebuilding of our cities, the "coffining" of some sorts of property.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Pickthorn

My right hon. Friend opposite cheers me, so I will permit myself to give what I hope is a not impertinent warning. The electorate may not be very astute, but in the long run it has a considerable sense of fairness, and when it looks back upon this period the main question it will ask itself may prove to be this: Which party tried the most and which party least tried to make political profit out of the war? If the electorate does come to ask itself that question, then the cheering from the Front Bench opposite of the suggestion that the rebuilding of our cities should be used to alter the nature of property in this country may not, in the long run, prove to have been very prudent. The essence of real property—and I say it with the utmost trepidation, in view of the four legal luminaries who shine at me and, unlike the moon, shine even from the wrong side—is that the specific nature of our law, in contrast to other systems of law, is that we divide property into real and personal, which nobody else does. The whole essence of real property, upon which, incidentally, all our liberties have been founded, as I think I could show, Mr. Speaker, if you thought this was the proper time, has been that it was the property which gave character to the thing and not the person. Therefore, actions for its possession or recovery were real actions, and so on. But here we are introducing the personal element into real property. It is all very well for the Attorney-General to shake his head. I like to see the Front Bench shake its head, or heads, because it shows that something must have got into them or it. But it is not really effective argumentation just to shake.

The essence of real property was that it was the property that mattered. We are saying that that is not to be so. We are saying that if Nos. 40 and 42 Acacia Road, Peckham, get blown to blazes and No. 40 was occupied by its owner while No. 42 was not, then No. 40 was worth £1,000 and No. 42 was worth £1,300—unless I have it the wrong way round. That is changing the nature of property and the nature of the meaning of compensation. It has been suggested once or twice ungenerously in this House, and with extremes of ungenerosity and illogicality in the Press, that those who take the kind of view which I take on this subject are concerned to preserve their own property or the property of their likes. There is very little property in which I have any personal interest, but there is some of a kind which might be affected by the Bill, and no doubt much greater amounts of the endowments of my college and university. But I beg hon. Members to believe, that after all the sell-criticism of which I am capable, I do not think that affects my opinion in the least.

Suppose the Government said, "Having made the best calculation we can about this, we have decided that it is going to cost £100,000,000." I am taking purely meaningless figures. "If we compensated in the dictionary sense, that is to say gave a counter-balance, an equivalent, a requital or a recompense, we think, in view of all the things we have to do—education, social services, getting back on to a peace basis and all that—the population of the country cannot face that amount, so we are going to calculate as if it were to be the whole amount and then are going to give 80 per cent., or even 50 per cent., or even 30 or even 20 per cent." I should have very bitterly regretted it, but I should not have been heartbroken. But when the Government does what it does in the Bill, alters the meaning of the word "property," and of the word "compensation," and lands itself in a long series of illogical shifts to try to justify that, we have damaged the nature and meaning of property for all eternity, and genuinely astute Members on the other side ought to regret that because it will not benefit them in the long run. Certainly Members on this side should bitterly regret it if that should be the result, and I see no easy way out of it.

I could go through the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of my right hon. and learned Friend and of the Attorney-General and demonstrate, I think, almost mathematically that they have been landed in illogicalities. To compensate is to give something of the same weight as one is compensating for. Any watchmaker will tell you that: It is no use saying "There are no scales, so I cannot give the same weight." That does not get us out of the duty to find something of the same weight. The Government have to find some other method, more particularly when it is they who have chucked all the scales out of the window. It is the Government that have created this situation, and the fact that the customary scales of a normally acting private enterprise market are not there makes more difficult but in no way lessens the duty of the Government to give something which is of the same weight as that which they, or the local authorities, are taking away, and that inescapable duty the Government, in my judgment, have shirked.

When they shirked it people started saying that there would be hardships here and hardships there, and the Government had to look round for a way of limiting the hardships. They do not call it a way of limiting hardships, because they were more intelligent than the hon. and learned Gentleman, naturally—with their combined wisdom they are more intelligent than any of us. So it is not criticising the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) when I say they are more intelligent than he. He said "Barclay's Bank do not need the money," as if this were a question of handling out doles to people who are in need because of some act of God. It is not. It is compensation that we are talking about. Seeing that there would be hardships, they looked round and said, "Which are the smaller men?" and they produced this method which they cannot logically defend, because if the 30 per cent. is in respect of occupancy why does an occupant not get it unless he is the owner? I hope I have made this sufficiently plain and I hope the House will believe that our basis of criticism and our fear have nothing to do with more or less money. They have nothing to do with the poor widow against the rich banker. My right hon. and learned Friend talked about getting rid of unfair compensation "for this period." How is he going to draw the line when the period ends and the "unfair" competition that he has got rid of begins to be fair again? It is going to be a difficult thing, even if he is still in his present office in six years' time. What we are afraid of is that by accepting this argument we have altered the meaning of "compensation" and thereby altered the meaning of "real property." For that reason we must regard it with some suspicion and regret and we must do everything in our power to make sure that its effects are as short and temporary as possible.

4.39 P.m.

Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)

I am afraid I cannot join with those who finish the long discussions that we have had on this Bill by damning it with faint praise. I listened with interest to a large amount of the discussion and I used what persuasive powers I have to try to amend it, and now on the Third Reading I have to ask myself whether it is a Bill which I can now support and, with regret, I have to tell the House that I feel, in spite of all that has been said about it, that it is one which this House should not now pass. It is not an honest Bill. Its Title is "Town and Country Planning Bill" and I am sure that is a misnomer. In fact, it is a Bill for the re-development of blitzed and blighted areas. It is not a Town Planning Bill in any true sense of the word. For instance, it does not work to a master plan. It is only piecemeal planning. It is piecemeal legislation, and the planning which can take place under it is in a physical sense piecemeal. For instance, local authorities have no promise of anything wider than that the whole of the planning they will be able to do must be on a piecemeal basis. They will be unable to plan the areas which the Bill enables them to purchase by fitting them in with any wider scheme. They will still be forced in planning any particular plot of land to consider what is the cost of the individual plot. They will not be able to average the price of the land over the whole area of the city as a real planning Bill should make possible.

Therefore, under this Bill we shall be perpetuating the bad development which puts blocks of flats on to an expensive site in a more crowded way than they should be, and pushes the housing estates to the outskirts of the city where the land is cheaper. The Bill is just a continuation of the planning policy which we had in the year before the war. I believe that when the time comes for real planning Measures to be put through, on both national and local scales, a great deal of the development that has taken place under this Bill will have to be scrapped. The Bill is starting development in a wrong direction at a time when development has been stopped. That will have various effects. Members of councils and officials will get, as it were, a vested interest in particular schemes that have been conceived under this Bill. Therefore, when the time comes for more comprehensive lanning powers to be taken they will, having got a vested interest in a lesser scheme, not wish to change. This will take place at a time when, I am sure, the public generally is more aware of the principles of good planning and what can be done than at any other time that I remember.

Another result of this piecemeal planning will be that when we come to plan on a wider scale it will be much more difficult and expensive to embody the development that has already taken place. In this Bill areas developed as shopping centres or factory areas will be rebuilt on more or less the old pattern in many cases, and it will be difficult and expensive to alter this, when, in 15 or 20 years' time, big alterations are needed, as they are in our cities. The crux of the matter is that development and building are now at a standstill. That gives us a tremendous opportunity to say that when it starts again, as it must in the next two years, it will proceed in the right direction. As development starts it will get a momentum, and if it gets a momentum in the wrong direction a large force will have to be applied to it to reduce the speed of the building programme, to bring it to a standstill and to start again in the right direction. We are, therefore, laying up for ourselves in the future the expenditure of a great deal of effort which will be unnecessary if we start on the right lines now.

This is a Bill that contains a great many anomalies—anomalies, for instance, of compensation. I do not believe that the compensation proposals give real justice to anyone. On the global figures they do a great injustice to the community as a whole. Injustice is done to individual owners of property, but in the main the community will be paying too much for the land it buys. On the other hand, there are cases where some individuals will be getting too little. That is because the basis of the compensation is a wrong and illogical one. It is one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) referred at some length during the passage of the Bill. It is impossible to produce a scheme of compensation for the acquisition of property by the public which is based on the idea that it is the property that has rights and that it is not the indi- vidual who really enjoys the rights. As long as we try to base our compensation on the principle that the rights of property are the realities rather than the rights of the individual, we shall have all these anomalies.

Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)

I have been trying very hard to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I became completely fogged when he suggested that we should differentiate between the rights of property and the rights of individuals.

Mr. Lawson

If the hon. and gallant Member will read the speech which I made on Second Reading, or which my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple made on the compensation Clauses, he will see in some detail what I mean. While not wishing to weary the House, I will develop it briefly. The argument about compensation in this Bill has been on the following lines. Here is some person with small means. The proposal to apply certain rates of compensation to the person who has put the whole of his livelihood into half-a-dozen houses will cause a grave injustice. If a certain scale of compensation is necessary to prevent that injustice, it is argued that exactly the same scale must be applied to a person who owns a much greater amount of property. To my mind that does not follow. The basis of compensation should not be an exact valuation of the land or the house, but such compensation as is necessary to prevent hardship to the individual—in other words, a means test. That is the principle on which I stand. The hon. and gallant Member may not like it, but I think it is just and sound. This is not a question on which I am hoping to convert the hon. and gallant Member, but it is one on which I hope the people of this country will soon have an opportunity of deciding.

This Bill is also illogical because the provisions have been defended for the wrong reasons. Certain proposals, such as the 30 per cent. increase, have been inserted in the Bill. Let us be honest and say that that is political compromise between ideas which cannot be reconciled. There is no particular reason why that increase should have been 30 per cent. The Clause cannot be defended on its merits but only as a compromise necessary to keep the present Government in being. I do not think, therefore, that the Bill is likely to last. That may be one of the good things about it. When the Coalition is ended, whichever side is in will put through a planning Measure more in keeping with its own ideas.

Lastly, it may be asked, would I rather see no Bill at all than the present Bill? I think I would. There are some occasions when "Half a loaf is better than no bread" is a wrong maxim to follow, and I am sure that this is one of them. The Bill uses a tremendous opportunity for going forward in the right direction for starting in the wrong direction, and I say therefore that we should not pass it. That may mean planning being held up for a year or two, causing inconvenience and loss to individuals and to the nation, but the merit of a Planning Bill is not tested by what is likely to happen five years from now but by what the country will be like 50 years from now. I am sure that if we do not pass the Bill but wait until really comprehensive planning is undertaken, we can use the present opportunity for making very great changes for the better in the cities and in the countryside. If we pass the Bill, we shall go on perpetuating the old bad ways. Therefore, if I can get another hon. Member to act as Teller with me, I propose to divide the House against the Bill.

4.53 P.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I am glad that there was at least one point upon which I agreed with the hon. Member who has just spoken. It was when he prophesied that the Bill, in its present form, would probably not last for ever. I agree with him that it is pretty certain, for reasons which I will later advance, that substantial changes will take place in the Bill. When the hon. Member told us of the system of compensation which he supports, he did so in much the same words as his leader, and it amounted to this, that nobody should have more than £1,000 a year. We understand now exactly where we are. That, turned into plain language, means that the hon. Member and his party would expropriate all wealth over £30,000—

Mr. H. Lawson

Why not?

Mr. Stewart

It is well we know where we stand—in the possession of private or public firms, co-operative societies and the like. So long as that is the position, we know where Common Wealth stands.

Mr. Speaker

Common Wealth is not mentioned in the Bill.

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir, and for that we are thankful. Like hon. Members opposite, I was one of those who felt unable to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, for the reason, as I then thought, that the financial arrangements in the Bill were inadequate. The Minister undertook, as the result of strong representations made to him, to have consultations with the local authorities, and he did so. As a result of those talks a good deal of better sense was imported into the Measure, and my right hon. Friend was able to return to the House with a Bill which the local authorities regarded as much more workable and which the House has accepted as a much better arrangement. For that, my right hon. Friend deserves credit and the thanks of the House. I have never felt happy about the 1939 basis.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

Has the hon. Member ever felt happy in his life?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, quite often.

Mr. Kirkwood

I do not believe it.

Mr. Stewart

I felt very happy on the occasion when the hon. Member paid me a great compliment. I remember that I felt great joy and gratitude for his presence on that occasion.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

. And that is not in the Bill, either.

Mr. Stewart

I have never felt happy about the 1939 basis of compensation and I was very interested to see that Mr. Trustram Eve, who knows far more about these matters than many of us, has apparently come to the same conclusion in his letter in "The Times" to-day. His criticism is rather alone the lines—

Mr. MacLaren

It is not the same man. There is a whole family of them.

Mr. Stewart

I said the gentleman's name exactly as it is in the Press and I said that he knows more about it than many of us and has come to the same conclusion as I have. That is what makes me think that when the Bill is applied in practice, it will be found to create so many anomalies and inequalities that very substantial alterations will have to be made. But it was ap- parent from a very early stage that the 1939 basis was unalterable and that it was no good fighting for any other basis. That being so, I thought it right yesterday to support the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in the Amendment which he moved. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I do not want to delay the House by developing my reasons now, but perhaps I might answer that question. The Bill as it now stands links compensation with an unworkable system based upon a means test. I have been in this House for 12 years, and all that time, hon. Members opposite have condemned the means test, and have persuaded many of us that it is a thoroughly bad thing.

Mr. Kirkwood

As it applies to the workers.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart) appears to be discussing the subject of an Amendment which was not passed in the Committee, and therefore is not in Order now.

Mr. Stewart

I had not intended to do so, Mr. Speaker, but I referred to the fact that the Bill includes a payment based upon what amounts to a means test, and I was saying that I do not like it. I was asked why, and there is a very obvious answer. A person is to be paid something extra on account of special difficulties and disabilities. I do not like that system, and that is why I took the action I did yesterday. I am certain that it was proper action to take.

I am afraid that the system will not work and that when the Bill is put into operation, on that point great inequalities and great anomalies will present themselves. This House, or another House, will be obliged to make changes, many of them in directions advocated by hon. Members here. However, the opinion of the majority must prevail. One must accept majority opinion. That is how the democratic system works. One's only course is to wish the Bill success, and give it support in the Lobby. I do so with some regret, because I feel we are endeavouring to perform a great task, a most necessary task, in a manner that is not suited to it, and not worthy of the endeavour to which we should lay our hands. With those regrets, and accepting democracy as it works, I am bound to support the Bill.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)

I would like to congratulate the Government on having stood firm in spite of great pressure put upon them from a certain quarter to give way on a matter which would undoubtedly have wrecked the Bill, and made it impossible for us on these Benches to support it. Having stood firm, I think they can be congratulated on bringing to the Statute Book a Bill which, if not perfect, if only, so to speak, a piecemeal Measure, is at least one which will do something to stop the worst aspects of land speculation. The beginnings of that speculation have already shown themselves in our blitzed and blighted areas.

The Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), who I am sorry to see is not in his place, said, I understand, that he regretted this Bill, as introducing a dangerous principle which he hoped would not be extended. He hoped it was the end. For me it is the beginning. I hope that the principle which is in this Bill, and which was stated originally in the Uthwatt Report, will be continued in other spheres. For instance, there is speculation in land going on now in agricultural areas. Land is changing hands at almost fictitious prices, which do not represent in the least degree the true agricultural value of that land. I know there is considerable feeling among tenant farmers and agriculturists that tenants may be disturbed, that fictitious prices will be asked, and that there will be a general upsetting of the agricultural industry through overloading people with debt. It is feared that they will not have sufficient working capital because they have to buy their land at these prices, and that what happened after the last war will again take place.

This is not the end; this is the beginning. I can see that it was necessary to deal first with this specific case of the blitzed and blighted areas, rather than cover the whole ground in one big comprehensive Measure. Probably that would be difficult to carry out. But I say that the Government must not weary in well-doing, having taken this step forward. I happen always to have held the old Radical doctrine that the public value of land created by the activities of the community, in increasing site values, should not be appropriated to any private person. [Interruption.] That is an entirely different matter. My hon. Friend must not lead me astray into discussing the whole question of land purchase. But it is the fact that this Bill will prevent speculation in the site value of a certain type of land. Here we have in this Bill steps taken to prevent, in the case of bombed sites, persons from acquiring those site values and holding them for the purpose of making money out of them. In so far as the Government have done this, I think they have deserved well of the nation.

The question of compensation is an extremely difficult one, but I take the view which has been referred to in the Debate in various speeches, that the average citizen of this country does not expect the Government to compensate him 100 per cent, for all his losses. We have only to think of the large numbers of small businesses that have been ruined, homes broken up, lives wrecked, to remember that the inequality of compensation in this Bill is a very small matter indeed. It is very difficult to make compensation absolutely even, but I feel that the best has been done on the whole. Though I looked on it with some suspicion at first, I think that this extra 30 per cent. which has now been given to owner-occupiers will meet very special cases of hardship. Therefore, provided that the Government continue to deal with the other problems as they arise in connection with site values of land, along the lines I have indicated, I wish them well. I hope this Bill will speedily find its way to the Statute Book.

5.8 p.m.

Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)

I do not propose to take up the time of the House for more than a moment or two. My sole reason for rising at all is because I want to take the opportunity of putting my own personal view on record, humble as it may be, that I strongly dislike this Bill. I do not think it is a fair Bill, and I do not think it is a just Bill, and I do not think that, in their heart of hearts, the Government think it is either. There has been far too much satisfaction and complacent smug smiles on the faces on the opposite side of the House for my taste. It is quite obvious the Bill has pleased them all through and that alone gives me a feeling that far too many concessions have been given to their point of view, and on the whole far too little to the point of view expressed on this side. At the same time I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Minister has had a most difficult task, and although I have differed from him on many points, I have nothing but admiration for the tact and skill with which he has handled his job. I would like to pay a tribute to him, in view of the fact that I found myself in fundamental disagreement with so many of his contentions.

This Bill, the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) said, is a compromise to keep the Coalition Government in power. I do not say I subscribe entirely to that statement, but to a very large extent it is true. One side has had to make substantial concessions to the spirit of coalition, and compromise, and this side has made far and away more substantial concessions than the other side. That, to some extent, has been the story of this Coalition Government in the last two or three years. I want to make an appeal to the Government that they should not test the loyalty of ordinary back bench Members on either side too far. Compromise in coalition is a general agreement to give and take. It is not a case of all give or all take, of one side seeing how far they can press the other side back and put them into such a position because out of loyalty and other considerations they feel that they ought not to oppose the principle of coalition in wartime, and break it up. Many of us on this side have been pushed very nearly too far, and the way we have been pressed has not been fair to Members on this side of the House. Neither is it fair to property-owners.

It is not a fair Bill; it is not a just Bill. There is gross discrimination in it between one class of property-owner and another. I hope that it is not going to be a precedent, but I have a great misgiving that it may be so. I have been watching this Bill, not only because it interests me as a subject of vital importance, but because in time we shall have a Scottish Bill on somewhat similar lines, not only for the blitzed areas, but to deal with the major question of the compulsory acquisition of land. I feel that the same principle will be applied in framing the Bill to the great detriment of many Scottish property-owners. I did not vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, because I did not like it; and I had great pleasure in voting against the Government on an Amendment, because I did not like it. I sit down hoping that the Government will not again test the loyalty of Members too far.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)

I understand that the Douse has undergone growing pains because of this Bill. I and my hon. Friends have accepted my right hon. Friend's new Amendments, but we think they have gone rather too far. Hon. Members opposite do not share that view. We have been faced with this situation of the blitzed cities, quite apart from the question of the acquisition of land. That is a problem that we have to face. We are living in changing times. In so far as I take the view that the change is in our direction, I welcome it; but if hon. Members opposite take the view that the times are not changing in their direction, they still have to face the fact. It would be a terrible thing if we had to face the situation that will arise without some Measure of this kind on the Statute Book. I do not say that this is a Bill to my liking, but the House of Commons has done the right thing by the country in having disposed of the Bill, at this stage, on the Floor of the House of Commons. It is true that it may come back to us with Lords Amendments. That would not surprise me in the least, because my hon. Friends opposite have got a lot of—we would call them comrades—friends in another place, who no doubt will continue this great fight. This Bill is a compromise Bill. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his resiliency in facing the facts of the situation. We have given way since the introduction of the Bill. I am not saying that I like it. We have been driven very hard by my right hon. Friend in having to accept the new Clauses, which are most distasteful. I am now taking my gruelling from my right hon. Friend. The Bill is worse than I thought it would be, but it ought not to be possible for hon. Gentlemen opposite to squeal at this stage that they do not like the Bill. Let us be proud that we have got a Bill which may be used to the benefit of the people of this country, particularly in the blitzed areas.

I am not dealing with the larger problem—I think that the Government have mishandled that problem. As I said earlier, I think they have put the cart before the horse. But at least we have a Bill. Unsatisfactory as it may be to some of us, it is something. I hope that before the Session is ended we shall have on the Statute Book a Measure, unsatisfactory to some of us, but which at least will be something on which the local authorities may stand to proceed with their work. It will cast heavy burdens on them, which, sooner or later, this House will have to look at. I raised the same point on the Third Reading of the Education Bill. We are now casting heavy burdens on the local authorities, without having considered this major question of the relations between State and local finance. The local authorities will accept this burden, but it would be ungrateful of this House to demur at this stage from helping this Measure on to the Statute Book. With very many intellectual reservations, I accept this Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way he has handled it.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

My hon. Friend the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) just now made reference to the electorate, and what they might think. I would really be satisfied to let the electorate judge for themselves, on the way their property has come through. My hon. Friend the Senior Burgess recently raised the question of how he stood with regard to a previous Member for Cambridge University, Sir Isaac Newton. I understand that Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity. It seems to me that some of the Members for Cambridge University have been tied solidly to the earth ever since. The present Senior Member certainly seems to take a rigid and old-time view of what property is entitled to. It seems to me that we should understand better that real property is human life and the human spirit, and that we ought to pay a good deal more attention to that than to bricks and mortar. At the same time, compensation must be paid in a proper manner where circumstances permit.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleague on the way they have conducted this Measure. It would have been a lamentable thing, as my right hon. Friend has said, if we had not passed this Bill, or if we had passed it without the compensation Clauses. I am glad that the House insisted on keeping those Clauses in it; and, after a good deal of negotiation, we have succeeded, in an atmosphere of good will and give-and-take, in a sensible House of Commons way, in arriving at a conclusion which, while it may not satisfy anybody completely, will give us a Measure to enable a step forward to be taken in town planning in the blitzed areas. I hope that the Measure will go on the Statute Book, and that it will prove successful.

5.19 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)

I rise only to add to the remarks of my hon. Friend that, strange as it may seem, those of us who have criticised this Measure, from almost the first word in the first line, to the last word in the last line, feel that my right hon. Friend the Minister has handled the situation not only in a masterly way, but also in a spirit of good will and give-and-take. He certainly has my loyalty and my friendship. Those of us who do not like the Bill and who feel that the compensation Clauses will have to be amended later, because they will not be workable, will do everything they can—I speak for myself, and I am sure I can speak for my hon. Friends—to work them. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend for the very courteous way in which he has handled the Bill. May I ask him to be good enough to supplement one undertaking, which I think he has forgotten, under Clause 46? He gave a certain undertaking, which I am sure he will implement, when he said that he would be prepared to include a provision to that effect on the Report stage, which so far has not appeared.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

So that my hon. and gallant Friend shall not pursue the matter, may I say that it is in the printed Bill as it goes to another place?

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

That only goes to show that I was right when I was sure my right hon. Friend would implement his undertaking. I am sorry if I have wasted time by bringing that matter to the notice of the House again, and I conclude with the remark that I shall certainly vote for the Third Reading.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)

This Bill is a very complicated Bill. Its complications have not been made easier by the highly involved and complicated language in which it has been drafted. I would not like to say that there are any hon. Members of this House who do not understand this Bill; but I am quite sure there are a great many people outside this House who do not understand it at all. In this matter, and I think that I am expressing the opinion of both sides of the House, I invite my right hon. Friend to consider, if we have more town and country planning Bills, whether it would not be possible to express them in language of a simpler and clearer character. I have the greatest respect for the skill of the Parliamentary draftsmen, but I think that it might have been possible for this Bill to be expressed in less involved terms.

What is really wrong with this Bill is that it attempts to provide too much. In a Bill of this nature dealing with a highly complicated matter, it is desirable that there should be some flexibility in the terms of the Bill. I think that, in this Bill, the need for flexibility of that nature has not been fully appreciated. We had an example yesterday when the Committee was discussing the question of speculation. There were at least three Amendments on the Order Paper which would have dealt with that matter in a satisfactory way.

Mr. Morrison indicated dissent.

Mr. Hutchinson

Well, the Minister may not be prepared to assent to that but, at any rate, there are many hon. Members in the House who considered that either of those Amendments would have dealt with speculation in a satisfactory way. In dealing with what is, after all, not a very complicated matter, the Government were so impressed with the supposed difficulties of the position, that they came to the conclusion that they ought not to do anything at all. I am afraid that I was unconvinced and still adhere to the opinion which I expressed yesterday that, had a little more elasticity been allowed in the Bill, it would have been possible to have dealt with that matter in a way more acceptable to the House.

May I say one word more on the difficult question of compensation? I am bound to say that, when I first saw the Bill, like many of my hon. Friends, I felt far from satisfied that the compensation Clauses were going to do justice. My mis- givings have been, to a very large extent, removed by the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at a very late stage last night. I do not propose to repeat that statement, but I commend it to some of my hon. Friends who feel that we have dealt in this Bill in an unfair way with the compensation question. I invite them to study that statement and to ask themselves whether it does not go a very long way to relieve some of the doubts which they have entertained throughout.

Having said that, I join in the congratulations to the Minister on the manner in which he has handled and explained this Bill. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to him, particularly for the patience and lucidity with which he has dealt with all its involved provisions.

5.26 p.m.

The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

I rise, for only a brief period, now that the Bill is about to leave us for another place, to express my thanks for the kind expressions used by hon. Members in respect to myself and my colleagues who sit on this Bench with me. It has been a difficult Bill and one in which it has been difficult to get agreement; how difficult is well instanced by the last instance quoted by my hon. Friend who preceded me. He had an Amendment down to deal with the speculation question. My hon. Friend thought that the other two Amendments were nonsense, and the other hon. Members responsible for the other two Amendments thought that his would not work, and was equally nonsense. The Attorney-General thought they were all nonsense, and the House, in general, agreed with him. That is merely an indication of the type of difficulty which has arisen from time to time during the passage of this Measure, and, even if it fails to satisfy the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) and the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), it is something to have got a Bill of this size and scope through and to have placed such a powerful instrument in the hands of those who will have to work it.

I must say a word or two about the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham, and I hark back, in these remarks, to a period that seems now to be separated from us by a vast gulf and abyss of time, when we were reading this Bill for the Second time. Since then, the hon. Member for Peckham has retained a firm grip on the two fallacies with which he first approached this Measure, the first being that, in order to plan comprehensively, you must acquire comprehensively. You can plan comprehensively without acquiring at all, but there are certain planning purposes which you cannot effect without acquisition, and it is to this particular objective of planning that the acquisition powers in this Bill are directed. The second fallacy which, if I may say so, underlies the hon. Member's approach to these matters is in the idea that you make for speed in working, by wiping away, so far as one can, the safeguards which have hitherto protected the citizen from the arbitrary exercise of governmental or municipal authority. I do not believe that to be true of our people. The hon. Member—I do not want to reopen the controversy—said that this was a slower Bill than when it entered the House. I venture to deny that emphatically. I am sure that the safeguards which we have inserted can all be operated by local authorities expeditiously and can run concurrently. They can make up their minds, and it will be found that the fairness of the Measure will make it easier for them to enforce. The truth of the matter, in one word, is this. The people of this country will not tolerate Fascism in the central government, and neither will them tolerate its municipal counterpart—Bumbledon.

I should like to express my thanks, and I know the House will expect me to do so, to my hon. Friends in all pants of the House and behind me, who have helped us so much with our arduous discussions. I should like also to express my thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary. It is, I think, the first big Bill which he has helped to conduct, and I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that his performance on this occasion will lead us in the future to expect, on every occasion, an example of able, lucid and good tempered exposition and argument. To my hon. and right hon. Friends the Law Officers I would say a word. They have many other duties but they have been consistent in their assistance and attendance. Once during the proceedings we were described as "a battery of lawyers on the front bench" and my hon. Friend the Senior Burgess of Cambridge University (Mr. Pick-thorn) improved on the use of that expression and called us "a minefield of lawyers." That must have been because he ran into us at some moment inadvertently, but though we are not a minefield, I hope we have shared, however, one characteristic of a minefield, which is, that it does not detonate unless it is trodden upon.

Those are the observations that I would offer on this occasion. I have really said so much already that I do not want to say any more on the principles of the Bill. I think, myself, that it is a powerful and an apt instrument for its purpose. I hope that the local authorities will use it, and will not be deterred from making use of its powers by any feeling about the imperfections to which my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham referred. I hope that they will remember that those imperfections reside mostly in the imagination of my hon. Friend. I am not saying that the Bill is perfect, but I think it is a good instrument. Through all the difficulties we have encountered in dealing with this complicated and controversial matter, I have had, in front of me, the powerful motive of trying to see that those cities of ours which have endured so gallantly and suffered so much shall be enabled to rise again more gracious, more beautiful, and more healthy than they were in the past.

5.33 P.m.

Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)

I would not have ventured to intervene at this stage had not the Minister spoiled his peroration by what he said before it. Nothing could have been more unfortunate than to have besmirched the discussions that we have had upon this Bill by light-hearted charges of Fascism. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is very important, and hon. Members who take seriously the letters which we receive from those who are away will know how near these subjects are to the hearts of these men. There is nobody on this side of the House who would tolerate for one moment an extension of governmental authority that was not absolutely necessary in the interests of good government, and we are as jealous as anybody of the personal liberties and rights of our citizens. In enumerating the unfavourable influences which come to bear on these things, the Minister might have remembered the landlords who, over and over again in our history, have used land monopoly to hold up this country to ransom. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Let us not forget that we have not found any compensation for those who have had to leave their businesses, their homes and their families, and go to this terrible war. In limiting the compensation, which must be paid in order to rebuild and re-develop our cities to those who will suffer the real hardship of losing the roofs over their heads, or the tools of their trade, and in resisting attempts to make an impossible charge upon people who have fought the war, in order to reimburse property-owners, my hon. Friends have done no more than what the people of this country expect. I sincerely hope that the time is not very far distant when the people of this country will express, in no uncertain manner, their determination that the land of Britain shall belong to the British.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.