HC Deb 27 September 1944 vol 403 cc308-16

  1. (1) During the period between the passing of this Act and the end of the year nineteen hundred and forty-five the provisions of the next succeeding Sub-section shall have effect for enabling a local authority for the purposes of Part V of the principal Act to obtain possession of land for use as a site for structures to be made available under Section one of the Act,
  2. (2) A local authority for the said purposes may enter upon and take possession of land as to which the Minister is satisfied that it is required for use as aforesaid if authorization
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  4. in writing in that behalf has been given to them in accordance with the following requirements, that is to say—
    1. (a) the authority must have served, in manner mentioned in the next succeeding Sub-section, on every owner and occupier of any of the land in question a notice in writing stating that they have made or intend to make an application to the Minister for an authorisation under this Sub-section as respects land described in the notice, being land consisting of or comprising the land in question, and that representations which any of the persons required to be served desires to make must be made to the Minister in writing within fourteen days from the date of the service of the notice on him; and
    2. (b) the Minister must, before giving the authorisation, have considered any representations made to him as aforesaid by any of the persons aforesaid.
  5. (3) Such a notice as is mentioned in the last preceding Sub-section shall be deemed to be duly served—
    1. (a) on a person being an owner or occupier of any of the land in question if such a notice, addressed to him by name, is delivered to him or left at, or sent by post in a prepaid letter to, his usual or last known place of abode;
    2. (b) on a person being an owner or occupier of any premises comprised in the land in question which appear to the local authority to be separately occupied, if such a notice, addressed to "the owner and the occupier" of the premises (describing them), is delivered to some person on the premises, or, if there is no person on the premises to whom it can be delivered, is affixed to some conspicuous object on the premises;
    3. (c) on all persons being owners or occupiers (if any) of premises comprised in any part of the land in question which appears to the local authority to be unoccupied, if such a notice, addressed to "the owners and any occupiers" of that part of the land (describing it), is affixed to some conspicuous object on that part of the land.
  6. (4) Where a local authority have taken possession of land pursuant to an authorisation under this section they shall by virtue of this section have power to acquire the land compulsorily as if they had been authorised so to do by an order under section seventy-four of the principal Act, made, submitted and confirmed in accordance with the provisions of the First Schedule thereto, incorporating the enactments required to be incorporated in such an order with the modifications and adaptations appropriate to such an order, and the authority shall as soon as may be after taking possession of the land serve notice under section eighteen of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, of their intention to take the land and shall in all respects be liable as if such notice had been given on the date of their entering on the land, except that the power conferred by subsection (2) of section five of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, to withdraw such a notice shall not be exercisable.
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  8. (5) A power to enter on and take possession of land conferred by an authorisation given under this section may, save as hereinbefore in this section provided, be exercised without notice to or the consent of any person and without compliance with sections eighty-four to ninety of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, but subject to payment of the like compensation, and interest on the compensation agreed or awarded, as the local authority would have been required to pay if those provisions had been complied with.
  9. (6) While a local authority are in possession of land pursuant to an authorisation given under this section,—
    1. (a) the land may be used for the erection thereon of structures made available under section one of this Act, and all works required for that purpose may be executed thereon;
    2. (b) the land may be used for the provision of housing accommodation in such structures erected thereon, and the authority may make contracts for the occupation of the land and such structures erected thereon by the persons for whom housing accommodation is to be provided therein;
    3. (c) any right of way over the land, or other right relating thereto enjoyed by any person whether by virtue of an interest in the land or otherwise, shall, in so far as the exercise thereof would interfere with the use of the land as aforesaid or the execution of any such works as aforesaid, not be exercisable.
  10. (7) In this section the expression "owner" has the meaning assigned to it by section one hundred and eighty-eight of the principal Act.—[Mr. Willink.].
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Willink

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

I move this new Clause in fulfilment of a promise made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in his speech yesterday, with a view to enabling, during an early period after the passage of this Bill, the speedy acquisition of sites for bungalows. I am sorry to say that there is a technical fault in the Clause as drafted in that it does not apply to Scotland. There are two references in the New Clause to the principal Act—The Housing Act, 1936—and there are also two references to the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, which do not apply to Scotland. An Amendment to put this right will be moved by the Secretary of State for Scotland on the Report stage.

Mr. Silkin

Is the Minister statisfied that it applies to London?

Mr. Willink

Yes. The Clause is, inevitably, long but it has a simple purpose and effect. It is to avoid, so far as possible, the complications of procedure which arise in a particularly tiresome form where the land to be acquired belongs to a number of people, and where there may be a number of different interests. There is a precedent for that procedure. It is on the lines of a similar provision, as my right hon. Friend said yesterday, in the Unemployment (Relief Works) Act, 1920, which was passed at a time when very rapid acquisition of land was desirable. The Committee will observe that the first Sub-section of the New Clause limits the period when the Clause will operate to the time between the passing of the Act and the end of 1945. It applies to land of which possession is obtained under the Clause within that period, that is, 75 months from now. It was felt that that was the period during which we needed to be particularly certain that land was acquired so that it could be serviced for the reception of the bungalows without any unnecessary delay. Sub-section (2) gives local authorities power to take possession of land on an authorisation from the Minister of Health, subject to the requirement that the local authority serve on the owners and occupiers of the land a notice of their intention to apply for that authority, and the Minister, before granting the authorisation, considers any representations which those owners or occupiers may make. In Sub-section (3) there is provision for a simplified method of service of a notice. If there is no one on the land on whom the notice can be served it may be posted up on the land and it will be unnecessary to give a separate notice to each separate ownership, provided that the notice states that it applies to all the land. Without such simplification there is a long and difficult process of ascertaining the exact interests, and in bombed or cleared sites there will be cases where there will be no visible sign of the old boundaries so that the business might well become impossible. Sub-section (4) provides that where a local authority have taken possession of a site under the Clause they have power to buy compulsorily, the rest of the procedure being just the same as if the land were being acquired under a confirmed compulsory purchase order, including settling the price by arbitration in default of agreement. Sub-section (5) makes it unnecessary to comply with the provisions of Sections 84 to 90 of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, relating to deposit of security, and gives power to make compensation and interest thereon run from the date of entry. Subsection (6) gives the local authority power—and this is another accelerating provision—to prepare the land for development, to erect temporary structures and to let them as soon as they are in possession without waiting for the completion of the purchase. Sub-section (7) merely defines the term "owner" as having the same meaning as under the principal Act, namely, the Housing Act, 1936. In my discussions with local authorities, who are facing a great problem in this matter, I found that one of their most serious anxieties was with regard to the speedy acquisition of land. I have great sympathy with them, because it is for the local authorities and myself to see that the Production Departments and manufacturers are not in a position to say, "We have produced the bungalows and now you have not got the land." Therefore, I approached the representatives of the local authorities with great sympathy. The suggestion was made that requisitioning for the whole period was the right thing, but we came to the conclusion that that was not the right course. We thought the right course was to accelerate acquisition of the sites. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will agree that we have chosen the wise course in bringing forward this new Clause.

Mr. Oswald Lewis (Colchester)

I do not suppose anybody would do anything calculated to hinder the provision of these temporary houses, but I want to ask the Minister to consider whether the provision of 14 days' notice is really adequate for persons to offer an objection in the event of its being desired to take their land? It seems that the period suggested is extremely short. If there is a delay due to delivery of notice, because the owner lives in another part of the country, he may have no idea that it is proposed to use his land. He may have other interests to consult; he may want to get professional advice, which in these days takes some time, and he may want to discuss the matter with representatives of the local authority, which may also take a little time. I suggest to the Minister that it would be wiser to make the period four weeks which, in all the circumstances, would not, I think, be unreasonable.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)

I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend has just said. There may be men in the Services who are interested in this matter and who could not possibly receive a letter within 14 days. Some extension would be only fair and equitable. Perhaps 28 days might suffice. We are desirous of having no delay, but we ought to give as much notice as we can. Furthermore, a notice can be fixed on to a conspicuous object on the land. An absentee land-lord would not see it, nor might his agent see it. Why not give notice in the local Press? That I think would be a better way of letting owners know that their land was about to be taken. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will consider carefully what has been said.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

Further to the point which has just been raised, I wonder whether the Minister will consider a slight modification of Sub-section (3), to provide that paragraphs (b) and (c) should be brought into effect only after paragraph (a) has been tried. Surely, it should be the duty of the local authority, first to communicate by letter, if possible, and then if that is not possible to adopt the other method.

2.45 p.m.

It cannot be the intention of the Government that local authorities should use the method of affixing a notice to some conspicuous object on a piece of land when they could communicate with the owner. It is desirable that, wherever possible, the method adopted in (a) should be employed and (b) and (c) should only be used where (a) fails. There is also the case of a notice being served on any person on the premises. That person might not be in any way in communication with the owner, or he might be an ignorant person who did not know the nature or the importance of the notice, and by inadvertence it might never reach the person for whom it was intended. Both provisions are surely only to be used in the event of the failure of the first. It might be possible at some stage to incorporate that in the wording of the Bill.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Of course this Clause is very necessary in order to expedite the acquisition of land, and I think the Committee generally is glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken the necessary steps. I do not think he need be appealed to very much as far as Servicemen are concerned. The Serviceman would not be unduly pressed for time but as a rule he would have a legal agent and, while I agree that his affairs ought to be taken into serious consideration, I hope the Minister will not yield too easily on the point without making sure that the amount of land is so small that the owner has no legal agent. Then there is the point about notice if the owner cannot be found. Anyone in public life soon comes up against that problem. It is astonishing how much land belongs to absentee owners, who are very difficult to find until someone wants to build within the vicinity of the land. Then they suddenly turn up. It often turns out that the land is worth only a few shillings an acre, but it leaps to perhaps hundreds in double-quick time. I do not think there will be very much difficulty about finding owners if there is going to be some building, but, in view of the fact that sometimes they cannot be found, I think it is a necessary step to nail up a suitable notice.

Captain Duncan

I should like to make a small protest about the large number of additions to the Bill which did not appear, even yesterday, on the Order Paper, to give us time to consider our attitude. I quite realise that the 14 days has been taken from the 1919 Act and I can see the reason for it. We do not want to hold up the acquisition of land for this urgently-needed purpose longer than is necessary or fair, but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the representations that have been made from both sides. Another point that occurs to me is that Sub-section (6, c) gives the local authority the right to extinguish any right of way over land so acquired. That is all right for an ordinary footpath, but is it the intention underlying this power that local authorities and others should be given permission to build on commons or on public open spaces? I hope not. We have not very much open space in London and we are always after more. But if, in the dire emergency we are in, we are going to resort to putting up Portal houses for 10 years in our parks and open spaces, I should be against it. One might put up with temporary huts but to erect Portal houses for io years would be a retrograde step.

Captain Strickland (Coventry)

In Subsection (3, b) it is stated that a notice is deemed to be served on the owner or occupier provided it is handed to some person who is on the premises. Could we have an assurance that that does not mean some casual person who might be there? According to the actual wording it seems to me that it might include someone who is there to read the gas meter or any of a hundred and one other things. He might not have any right to be on the premises at all. I cannot think that that is ordinary commonsense to put into an Act of Parliament.

Mr. Willink

To some extent I share my hon. and gallant Friend's anxiety in regard to the phrase to which he has called attention, and I undertake that attention will be given to seeing that any one of 22 boys who are playing football on a blitzed site is not considered a suitable recipient of the notice. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kensington North (Captain Duncan) first that the Bill does not affect or weaken in any way the present law in regard to open spaces, which is somewhat complicated.

I can also tell him that I should be quite as reluctant as he to see any interference with urban open spaces. I have indicated that there might be exceptional cases and I could not give an absolute assurance with regard to every bit of land which comes under the definition of open space, but my general approach to the matter and the instructions that I give will be on the lines that he has mentioned. I apologise to the Committee for the shortness of time they have had to consider this proposition and the terms of the Amendment. It has been difficult to find our way through this question how most rapidly and most fairly to acquire urban land, which is really the question here, and for some time we were considering the possibility of requisitioning. I can assure the Committee, first, that this Clause has a precedent in the Act of 1920, except that in two respects the severity of the earlier provisions is modified. In the Act of 1920 the time for representations was limited to seven days. In similar circumstances I propose that it should be extended to 14, which is the normal period in relation to Compulsory Purchase Orders under the Housing Acts. It is not that the whole case has to be made and the matter finally dealt with within 14 days, but representations are to be made and objections registered within that period.

With regard to owners who may be serving abroad, I will certainly ask local authorities to be careful in such cases. The matter will, of course, come before my Department in every case and I will see that my hon. and gallant Friend's apprehensions, which have to be balanced with the needs of the situation, shall be borne in mind. I hope the Commitee will feel that this is the right way out of a difficult position. Our proposal is limited in time and is based upon what was considered right by Parliament in very similar circumstances after the last war.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.