§ Considered in Committee [Progress, loth April].
§ [Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS in the Chair]
§ CLAUSE 4.—(Land affected by Government war work or damaged by Government war use.)
Amendment proposed: In page 2, line 44, at the end, to insert:
Provided that nothing in this Act shall authorize—
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday emphasised the importance of the issue which is raised in this Amendment, and I think the Committee are grateful to him for having addressed us so early on this all-important subject. This Amendment is undoubtedly one of the most important which has been moved, because it deals with a matter which has aroused great apprehensions in the public mind and has given rise to expressions of public opinion which reveal a determination on the part of the public that the area of land devoted to public uses should not be curtailed. I do not think the strength of that opinion had been realised when the Bill was drafted, and it is a good thing that on second thoughts it has been recognised that such a feeling exists in the country. Perhaps it may seem rather odd that there should be so much feeling. We might have thought that a people who had 2011 put up with the atrocities of ribbon development for so many years and had seen much of the country-disfigured might not be so particular about a matter of this kind, but there is a very great feeling about it and it is not confined to the leaders and members of organisations who are interested in ensuring the preservation of the countryside but is an immense popular feeling. Some hon. Members may recall the enthusiasm which used to be aroused many years ago by the songs of Sir Harry Lauder. One of those songs dealt with the speculations of a Scottish soldier on why a soldier should fight so keenly for his country when, in spite of all his efforts, he did not get much of it for himself. But, all the same, there is that very strong feeling in the country, and this Amendment is the result of it.
Having listened carefully to what the Chancellor said yesterday I feel that there is good reason why such strong feeling should have been aroused. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Chancellor should have laid it down that it shall be the duty of the Commission to hear and consider any representations from any society concerned with the preservation of the countryside or the preservation of rights of way. But we must ask ourselves whether this is a suitable subject to be dealt with in this way. One of the matters which gives us great concern at the moment is how Parliament is going to carry on its functions and deal with all the business which will be coming up in the future and it is clear to me that devices such as this Commission will have to be employed; but that raises the question of what are the issues with which they should deal, and to my mind the disposal of common land, in view of the strong feeling which exists in the country and the fact that it will not be possible to go back upon decisions which have been taken, ought to be decided by Parliament itself.
If I understand aright the argument of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor he said this Amendment was going too far and would take common land, rights of way and other kindred questions out of the Bill altogether. But there are only two ways in which they can be dealt with. They can be taken out of the Bill altogether, or they can be dealt with precisely in the way in which it is proposed to deal with them in this 2012 Amendment, that is by the decision of Parliament, and I think that is the proper way. I have given some little thought to this matter and as at present advised I feel that if my hon. and learned Friend who has moved the Amendment chooses to take it to a Division, I shall be obliged to follow him into the Lobby. I find that the efforts of the Chancellor have not allayed the anxiety which has been felt. I still receive letters about it. I had one from my county authority pointing out that whereas everybody is anxious that every step should be taken to conserve expenditure this is not one of the matters in which the financial interest should be regarded as paramount.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White). Listening to the Debate yesterday it struck me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not really dealing with the Amendment which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson) had moved. Let me quote the words which he used when speaking on the Amendment:Its effect would be that however slight the interference with public amenity by any particular war work and however valuable and extensive the war work in question might be, it would be essential, so far as the Bill is concerned, that the land should be restored to its previous use."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1895.]But that is not the Amendment. The Amendment makes it clear that in the case of common lands and open spaces Parliament and Parliament alone should determine whether or not they should be taken from the people. There is nothing new in this. Let me quote from Section 19 of the Development and Road Improvements Fund Act, 1909, which dealt with the question of common land in connection with road frontages and other purposes:Where an Order made by the Development Commissioners under Part I or Part II of this Act authorises the acquisition of any land forming part of any common, open space or allotment, the Order, so far as it relates to the acquisition of such land, shall be provisional only, and shall not have effect unless and until it is confirmed by Parliament, except where the Order provides for giving in exchange for such land other land, not being less in area, certified by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to be equally advantageous to the persons, if any, entitled to commonable or other rights, and to the public.2013 The first part of that Section is word for word the same as the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend, and if the Chancellor were to say that the Amendment is not acceptable because it does not repeat the whole of the provisions of that Section rq—in other words if we were to put in the exception providing for giving in exchange other land not being less in area—I for one, and I feel sure my hon. and learned Friend, would be perfectly willing to move the Amendment in that amended form. The Forestry Act, 1919, used exactly the same words.
I am not going through the long chain of Acts—they were touched on yesterday —but in all of them you had the protection given that Parliament and not a Minister, Parliament and not a local authority, Parliament and not a public commission, should decide what common land should or should not be taken. In this war more common land has been used for war purposes, I believe, than ever before in the history of this country. This is a grave menace to the public open spaces of this country. Parliament should watch whether that land goes back to the common holders and the people of this country, or remains in the hands of Government Departments. We shall later be considering what Government Departments are going to have this extra right. One is the Department that is the agent for all other Departments for the obtaining of land. We should be very careful lest we give these Departments the unrestricted right of taking commons, except by going to the Commission. In one part of his speech—I hope I shall be allowed to follow him very gently on this part—the Chancellor talked as if he were going to make some concession later on. I am not going into that in detail, but he gave the case away when he said "I am going to see that factories are not taken under Clause 8." In fact, there was only one factory. It is not the question of the one factory that we are determining to-day, but the question of the large amount of common land which is occupied by Service buildings or by airfields, or which is used for other war purposes. A good example of the use of common land is given in the Second Report—published a fortnight ago—of the Select Committee on National Expenditure dealing with the release of requisi- 2014 tioned land and buildings. Paragraph 21 says:An airfield with hangars has been constructed on boo acres of farm land and 260 acres of common land in the 'green belt.' The airfield was required to fly off aircraft of a larger type than those hitherto produced by the firm concerned and the site is stated to be ideal for this purpose; £250,000 has been spent on the buildings. Your Committee were informed that the sole assurance given was to the Ministry of Agriculture and the County Council concerned to the effect that the Department would require this site for war purposes only.The Committee later give their conclusions on this case. In paragraph 33, they say:Your Committee consider that this case is an illustration of how existing legislation fails to protect common land.Here is an opportunity of doing what the Select Committee on National Expenditure have recommended to the House should be done: that is, to bring common land used for war work into line with common land used for other purposes. They point out that there is a flaw in the machinery. No concession that the Chancellor gave, or even hinted at, would deal with this case, or with many other similar cases. He said that he was going to deal later with structures that were not substantial or not permanent. But there are cases which will be in the minds of the Committee. There are, I believe, many airfields on common land at present in this country. On Blackheath Common there is a lorry park. Is that going to be retained, so that Londoners lose that part of the common? In Ashdown Forest there is a wireless station. The Chancellor talked 'about some of these erections on common land being, in. his view, not eyesores.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Anderson)
I said "works," not "erections."
§ Mr. Turton
On Marlborough Common there is a hospital. Is that going to remain? Are those who enjoy Marlborough Common to be deprived of all that land, without Parliament intervening? On Dartford Heath there is a large camp and sewage farm. Is that going to be taken, without Parliament knowing anything about it? At Huyton there is a public playing field, with defence works in the middle of the cricket pitch. What is going to happen there? It seems to me that this is a matter which Parliament alone can decide.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
On a point of Order. For the first time since tile war began, a great many matters which are covered by security have been mentioned in a speech. Will this be published in HANSARD? This is the first occasion on which the hatter has arisen.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I think that, at the present stage of the war, it is possible for this discussion to be printed.
§ Mr. Turton
If I have offended, I am sorry; but I think the Committee should know these things, and I do not think that what I say will give a great deal of comfort to our German foes. One danger is inherent in this Bill, unless this Amendment is accepted. It will be possible for the Minister to take over this common land, and to sell it to some other person. For that reason, primarily, it is wrong that the machinery of this Bill should be used for common land. There is alternative machinery—the proper machinery of this House: that of Provisional Order and Private Bills. That enables the whole question to be gone into. It may be that, when this House considers the particular case of the common land, it may say, "We think that the Department shall have this land if they give in exchange other land that is suitable." To my mind, the way for that exchange to be made is by the machinery of the Private Bill Committee or the Provisional Order procedure of this House. That is a far better way than by some mandatory Clauses in this Bill. In some cases the substituted land will not be sufficient recompense: in some cases there will not be a possible recompense; but this Amendment gives, I think, the very minimum that the people of Britain should ask for commons. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer adheres to that obstinacy which he cloaks with a very sweet, and apparently reasonable, amiability, I for one, and I hope other hon. Members, will follow my hon, and learned Friend into the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. Creech Jones (Shipley)
I want to identify myself and most Members of my Party with the case which has been presented in the discussion on this Amendment. I do not want to repeat all the arguments which have been advanced, but only to say that we are profoundly disturbed at the proposals of the Govern- 2016 ment in regard to common land. We are completely dissatisfied with the rather limited concessions which the Chancellor announced yesterday, and which are to be embodied in the Bill, and I would plead with him, in view of the general unanimity of the Committee, and of the very considerable body outside which has been well mobilised—because the history of commons is in the minds of large numbers of people—to satisfy the Committee now, and concede what is asked for in the Amendment. In announcing his concessions yesterday, he gave no indication that the Government were prepared to offer compensatory land. I would identify myself completely with what the hon. Member said about the vital importance, in view of the history of common lands, of the Committee satisfying itself that in these transfers of property at least the public interest has been properly safeguarded. I hope, without repeating all the arguments which have been so eloquently put, that he will consider meeting the Committee on this Amendment.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Peake)
I have no wish whatever to foreclose this Debate on the first Amendment we have had dealing with this vital question of commons and open spaces. At the same time, as there is evidence of misapprehension of what the Amendment proposes and what the Government propose in regard to the safeguarding of commons and open spaces, I think it would be as well if I intervened now: Then, if hon. Members are not satisfied with what I say, and want to press the matter further, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a further statement.
This Amendment, taken by itself, raises a rather narrow issue. It does not suggest that commons and open spaces should be free from compulsory acquisition where valuable war works have been erected upon them. What it suggests is that the procedure for acquisition in those cases should be different from the ordinary procedure laid down in Part II of the Bill. Several hon. Members have gone a little wider than that, and have suggested that there should be no power of any sort or kind for any open spaces. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) said last night that, unless there was an 2017 absolute promise of substituted land, he would support a proposal for excluding commons from the Bill.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
What I said was that if the Chancellor accepted the Amendment giving control to Parliament, well and good. If he refused to accept the Amendment the only alternative which would induce me to refrain from voting in favour of the Amendment was the substitution of an equal area of land, but I preferred the Amendment.
§ Mr. Peake
I perceived that clearly from my hon. Friend. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) in his speech last night said:… it would be much more satisfactory from every point of view that these open spaces should be withdrawn from the ambit of the Bill altogether; or else that the safeguard which this Amendment proposes, namely, that they should be acquired only with the approval of Parliament, should be included in the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th April, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1893.]My hon. and learned Friend had on the Paper an Amendment, which he has Dow taken off, to exclude commons and open spaces from the ambit of the Bill, but in withdrawing his earlier Amendment and substituting this Amendment for a different procedure in the case of commons and open spaces he seems clearly to recognise that examples still exist where it may be right and proper for common land to be acquired. As everybody knows, there is a case at High Wycombe where a very valuable factory has been erected on common land. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) referred to a case where a hospital has been erected on common land, and no one suggests that this valuable building should automatically pass back to the lord of the manor or the commoners. I think there is scope for agreement, therefore, that it may be necessary for a common or an open space to be acquired where valuable war works have been put upon it. It is something to have secured a measure of agreement upon that matter. But the Amendment proposes a procedure different from the proposal in the Bill. It proposes that where a common or open space may fall to be acquired, or where any easement under or over a common or open space falls to be acquired, or where a footpath is being stopped up, the procedure should 2018 be what is known as the Provisional Order Bill procedure in the House of Commons. Clearly, that means there would be two concurrent procedures—one for the stopping up of footpaths and another for the acquisition of land. Take the case where there is a valuable war work upon private land and over that private land there runs a footpath. In such a case as that, the proposal for the acquisition of the land would have to go to the Commission established under the Bill, and the proposal for stopping up the footpath would have to be carried through by means of the Provisional Order procedure in the, House of Commons.
Now I come to the question of easements. One of the greatest war works concerned is that of the oil pipe lines running through various parts of England to convey oil in the event of the failure of transport. Those pipe lines pass in some cases under common land and in other cases under private land. If this Amendment were adopted, so far as acquiring the easement under the private land is concerned the question would go before the Commission, but so far as acquiring the easement under the common is concerned there would have to be the Provisional Order Bill procedure. Can anybody really suggest that it would be satisfactory to have two quite separate procedures for dealing with precisely the same subject matter?
§ Sir H. Williams
Does my right hon. Friend suggest that these cases cannot be met by the Amendment before us? If not, it will be possible for the Government to table Amendments to the Amendment which we are considering.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
Where the Amendment proposes that this can be done by a Provisional Order Bill, can we not get a more simplified arrangement?
§ Mr. Peake
All sorts of alternatives can be suggested, but I think it only fair that I should discuss the Amendment which is before the Committee. Hon. Members have had more than two months to consider this matter; the Bill was published early in January. Under our modern procedure, amendments of this nature can be put down before the Second Reading, and if my hon. Friends have any suggestions they can put them down and we can then discuss them.
§ Sir H. Williams
The Government will have to put down alternative suggestions; otherwise, they will not get this Clause in its present form.
§ Mr. Turton
Would the right hon. Gentleman be fair? This Amendment has been on the Paper for over a month. If the right hon. Gentleman objects to the Amendment, the proper form is for the Chancellor to put down an Amendment.
§ Mr. Peake
My hon. Friend is making himself a little ridiculous, I think. He expects the Government to amend back bench Members' Amendments. The short answer is that we prefer to draft our own Amendments and put them down in our own way.
Let me explain to the Committee what the Government propose to do as regards safeguarding commons and open spaces. In the first place, we have deleted the proposal—to which exception was taken on the Second Reading—in Clause 6 of the Bill which provided for the purchase of the land on account of its depreciated value. That proposal has disappeared. In the second place, as regards proposals for purchase under Clause 5 of the Bill, we have put down an Amendment to Clause II which provides that the Commission will be under an obligation, in every case, to report against the acquisition of a common or open space unless the war works put upon it are of a substantial and permanent nature. That means that all these things to which the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon has referred, such as lorry parks and works of that character, will disappear. Hon. Members may be quite certain that 98 or 99 per cent. of all the common land occupied at present by Government Departments will be restored as common land. The cases where common land may be acquired will be very exceptional. They will be cases where the Government war works are of a substantial and permanent character. If hon. Members will look at Clause II of the Bill they will see an Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend which 2020 makes that perfectly clear. [Interruption.] I really must finish my argument without constant interruption from my hon. Friend. I shall have something to say to him later. My hon. Friend has not put down an Amendment to take commons and open spaces out of the purview of the Bill. He is supporting an Amendment to provide for a different procedure in the case of commons and open spaces. Which are the objects which my hon. Friend wishes to take clean out of the purview of the Bill? Which are the classes of land to which my hon. Friend wishes to give a specially privileged position under the Bill? The two classes of land in which he is specially interested are race courses and civil aerodromes. [Interruption.]
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I do hope this Amendment will be kept fairly strictly to commons; otherwise, we cannot possibly get on with the other Clauses.
§ Mr. Peake
I bow absolutely to your ruling, Mr. Williams, and submit very humbly to it. I would like to make it clear that there is no possibility of a common being acquired under Clause 8, Sub-section (5), of the Bill.
If I may, I now wish to deal with the question raised last night by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft—that of substituted land. My hon. Friend says, with great justice, that in all cases of recent legisation for compulsory acquisition of land there is always inserted a proviso that if common land is acquired for public purposes a similar area of other land shall be substituted therefor, to be added to the common or open space. That is perfectly true. That is a common feature of our legislation dealing with the compulsory acquisition of land except, so far as I remember, acquisition under the Defence Act of 1842. That being the case, hon. Members wish to know why a similar provision was not inserted into this Bill. If it is found that it is necessary to take part of a common because it has war works of a substantial character and value upon it, why not undertake to put an equal area of new land into the common? I think the reason why an unlimited obligation of that character cannot be undertaken is this. In the case where an area of land falls to be acquired on account of the valuable nature of the war works erected upon it, such as the factory at High Wycombe to which I have referred, 2021 it would mean an absolute obligation to purchase adjoining land of an equal area —perhaps good agricultural land.
On a point of Order. May I point out that what my right hon. Friend is saying has nothing to do with this Amendment? He is speaking on an Amendment which appears later on the Paper. This Amendment deals purely with the question of procedure—whether common land should be acquired by order of the Minister or only with the approval of this House.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The right hon. Gentleman must not refer to a later Clause. I will watch him very carefully and see whether he does so or not.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member for Lowestoft and, I think, other hon. Members as well, have referred to the fact that they propose to vote for this Amendment unless ah unqualified assurance is given that substitute land, equal in extent and area, will in every case be provided. Am I not therefore in order, Mr. Williams, in addressing myself to this question of substitute land?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am in rather a difficulty. It will be remembered that, last night, in dealing with this matter, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a fairly wide account of the Government's provisions, but I was anxious to save the discussions on separate points of the Bill; that seems to be the main use of the Committee stage. For that reason, although the right hon. Gentleman who is in possession of the Committee wishes to put the reasons why he thinks the Amendment should not be carried, I think it is possibly justifiable, but I will say that I hope he will deal with that Amendment and not bring in other Amendments, even if they are related to it, so that there may be a free discussion later when we come to them. I do not want any hon. Member to be cut out of the discussion of a proper Amendment, and I hope I may have the assistance of the Committee and hon. Members of all parties.
§ Mr. Marshall
On a point of Order. Some of us want to know what the Government propose to do if they do not concede this Amendment, and the fact that they would be prepared, in certain circumstances, to substitute other land for 2022 that taken away would naturally influence our minds. We should like to know exactly what their views are.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I think that is why I would not give a very definite Ruling. I did think that the Committee ought to have some knowledge of what else the Government propose, but, of course, the Committee has another way of obtaining that knowledge, and that is by reading the other Amendments to the Bill.
§ Mr. Peake
I think I can deal with this question very briefly and generally. In the case of a purchase by a local authority of land which they wish to use for a new sewage works or housing 'scheme, the authority is dealing with a clean slate. They can choose either common land or other land, and it is a quite fair and reasonable thing that if they take common land, there should be an obligation to add land in substitution for the common. Under this Bill we are dealing with faits acconiplis. The situation exists. The factory is on the common and something has got to be done about it to relieve the position. An absolute obligation to add substitute land would merely shift the area of compulsory purchase elsewhere, and it might mean that agricultural land, possibly good agricultural land, adjacent to the common, would then become subject to compulsory purchase and that would simply be shifting the burden. I am rather surprised at my hon. Friends behind me supporting a proposal that the burden of compulsory purchase should be shifted elsewhere, and that persons whose property is not in danger of compulsory acquisition, as the Bill stands at present, should support a procedure which will make a great deal of land which is not in jeopardy subject to the possibility of compulsory acquisition under the Bill.
So far as substitute land is concerned, we have put a Clause on the Order Paper giving the Government Department enabling powers to purchase land by agreement. [Interruption.] Yes, by agreement; that is the point. It would not be right to provide compulsory powers, but we have given an enabling power and we have also agreed that, amongst the various matters which the Commission will have to consider—and the Commission will be the operative force under this Bill—we are prepared to 2023 add words to the matters which the Commissioners will consider, with a view to providing that one of the things they will have to consider will be the offer of substitute land which a Government Department may make where part of a common falls to be acquired.
If I might return to the merits of the Amendment as it stands, and the more narrow issue, I would say that I have pointed out that it would mean concurrent procedures, at the same time but of different character, for settling the same set of issues. You have a factory partly on private land, and partly on a common. It is desired. to acquire the site, in order either to control the use or preserve the value of the money which has been spent for the taxpayers. In the case of half a factory, you will have to go through the procedure under the Bill and go to the Commission; in the case of the other half, the Provisional Order procedure will have to be adopted. There are plenty of instances where the area of requisitioned land is partly common and partly other land, and there are innumerable cases of private land which is the subject of requisition, and which has public footpaths, bridle paths or roads running across it. If my hon. Friend will read his Amendment, he will see that, where these footpaths are concerned, the Provisional Order Bill procedure would have to be adopted, and it seems to me to be quite absurd to have two sets of procedure. You cannot have concurrent procedures dealing with the same set of facts, one before the Commission and another before the Private Bill Committee in this House of Commons—and, of course, in another place—dealing with precisely the same set of facts and conditions. I do suggest that that would lead to chaos and confusion. I suggest that the right body to deal with all these matters is a Commission which inspires the confidence of the House of Commons and of the country, and we intend that such a Commission shall be established.
I think I have said enough to show that this is not a course which we can contemplate. We want to get sensible decisions in all these cases, but a Select Committee may take a view different from the Commission which will be dealing with a whole series of these cases. The Commission. as a result of its experience, 2024 will become expert in dealing with matters of this kind. They will establish a body of precedents as they go along, and it seems to me most unreasonable to suggest that, in respect of individual schemes, part of the plan of acquisition shall be dealt with by the Commission and another part by the Private Bill Committee of this House. I therefore suggest that hon. Members should consider carefully the very real steps which we have taken to safeguard the position of commons and open spaces in the Bill, and should realise that this particular Amendment is quite unworkable.
§ Mr. Furness (Sunderland)
I understood the Financial Secretary to begin his speech with a statement that he was going to try to satisfy the Committee by certain explanations, and that, if that did not go down, we should later on get the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So far as I am concerned, I tried to follow these matters, but I found the Financial Secretary singularly unconvincing. The right hon. Gentleman made a rather unfair attack, I think, upon the hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton). I understand that the Financial Secretary is one of that hon. Member's constituents, and all I can say, as I also am one of his constituents, is that, if he has dissatisfied one of his voters, he has probably pleased another.
I am amazed at the argument which Ministers constantly put to the House, that a matter is so complicated and detailed that it has to be settled by expert men and not by hon. Members. After all, I suppose we shall, next week, or very shortly, be taking measures which will result in people having to pay away a great part of their annual income. We pass laws under which people may be condemned to death, we approve treaties and deal with matters of the highest importance to millions of people, and we govern one of the great countries of the world. Yet, so it is said, we are not sensible, experienced or level-headed enough to decide questions about roads, footpaths and so on, and I really think it is high time that the House declared that, whatever our politics, we are an assembly of representative men and women, understanding the districts from which we come, and that, though we may differ on politics, we are, on the whole, agreed on matters of practical common sense, and that, if anybody should say 2025 that this House or the next House, could not be trusted, if a hospital had been put up on one square yard of public land, not to demand that it should be pulled down, then the sooner the House ceases to exist the better. This House should keep all matters which affect the Whole country in its own hands, and not trust them to these tribunals, very often made up of the same stage army of expert men, though men of undoubted ability.
The Financial Secretary also said that it would be inconvenient if certain pieces of land fell under one procedure before the Tribunal and certain others under another procedure in this House. In business, if you are a small man, working on your own, without any clerical staff, matters of procedure coming before, say, the local town council might be very burdensome, but here we have a representative of a great Government Department, supported by able, experienced and very numerous public servants, highly trained and skilled and with all the machinery and paraphernalia of Government, who is saying that, with all this assistance, they would find it burdensome and oppressive if they had to present a case to the House. I look forward with a great deal of pleasure to voting in the opposite Lobby from the Financial Secretary.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I hope that the Government will not make it necessary for us to go into the Division Lobby, towards which my hon. Friend opposite is looking with so much pleasure. In all quarters of the Committee there is a desire that the Government shall accept, in principle, the suggestion of the Amendment. They could, if they desired, make any necessary amendment of this Amendment on the Report stage; there are, possibly, other points which could be met there. Unless some suitable alteration is proposed by the Government, difficulties may arise in certain cases of footpaths and easements. It would be perfectly practicable to find a way of getting over any difficulty and avoiding special Orders of confirmation by the House simply in respect of a footpath or a few yards of land. No one wishes to see that.
It ought to be possible to provide against these contingencies, but it is of essential importance that the House should recognise in the structure of the Bill that the commons of England are inalienable, 2026 except in very important and unusual circumstances. It is very difficult to realise how deep is the feeling of ordinary people in respect of old common rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) spoke very eloquently last night about the sins of this House in the past in allowing the commons to he taken away. We are united above all our differences in the desire to preserve this priceless heritage. Therefore, the hon. and learned-Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) has done a very great service in putting down this Amendment.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke about the intentions of the Government and a series of proposals with which we cannot deal in detail now, but those are the second thoughts of the Government. They are not in this Bill. It has been necessary to put in these proposals to safeguard public rights, as Amendments, after the whole structure of the Bill had been carefully thought out and planned. It is because there was no provision of this kind in the structure of the Bill that my hon. and learned Friend put down the Amendment, and it is because the matter is of such importance that many of us on all sides of the Committee earnestly desire that the Government should be willing to accept the principle, a principle upon which, I believe, we are all united.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
I think the Committee is aware of the fable of the wind and the sun. We have had the rude wind—I am not using the word in any offensive sense——of the Financial Secretary, and I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come out with the sunshine of his smile and meet the wishes of the Committee. I am not going to make a long speech because that is really the gist of what I wished to say. But there are two further points I should like to make. The first is that either this only affects a very small number of cases or it affects a substantial number of cases. If it only affects a very small number of cases, why not have this procedure, even if it is unusual or difficult, in these few cases? If in fact it affects not a very small number of cases but a substantial number then the House is all the more determined that the procedure in the Bill should not be carried out.
My second point is this: The main argument of the Financial Secretary as I 2027 understand it is that this might involve two different types of procedure, one of the Commission set up by the Bill and the other of the House of Commons set up by the Amendment, and that this would in some cases constitute concurrent jurisdiction. The real fact is that the criteria in respect to private and public rights are very different. It may be especially suitable when you are a landowner or some other person interested in the land that your case should come before the Commission, because if you cannot get the restoration that you want you may be satisfied with compensation. It is' only right that some judicial body should make that decision. But where the issue is the use of a common or a right of way, that is not a private but a public matter in respect of which this House is a more suitable tribunal to come to for a decision. The argument that if this Amendment is carried there might be two aspects of the same case does not in the least disturb me. It is inherent in the facts that the private matter should if necessary be decided on grounds of compensation and that the public matter should come before this House.
But of course the Amendment is not the only way of solving it. Those who support the Amendment on all sides of the Committee do not ask, I imagine, that this particular Amendment shall be meticulously carried. We ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accept the substance of it. I am sure we should be willing if the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to substitute some other Amendment which concedes the principle, and it is really that which I ask him to promise to do. I do not want to say anything discourteous or threatening to the Government, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer with his wide experience must realise the very considerable feeling there is among those present, and even if he could secure a majority by calling to his aid the unseen legions who are not present here in the Chamber I am sure that his knowledge of the House would not permit him to take that course. I hope he will give an assurance that the principles we are seeking to carry out shall in some shape or form be embodied in some proposals that the Government are prepared to make or to accept.
§ Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)
I am bound to say that I found the speech of the Financial Secretary very 2028 unconvincing. In one part of it he clearly showed the essentiality of the Amendment when he said that a Select Committee of the House might very well take a different view from the Commission. If that is so, is it not essential that in public matters, such as those just alluded to with regard to common rights, this House should have the last ward? If there is any difference of opinion, it should be this House that should come to a decision. I am bound to say, as I have said throughout, that I think the Government have mismanaged the matter and that the Bill ought to have been withdrawn and re-drafted. It is very unsatisfactory for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to put down long Amendments to be considered after Amendments have been previously put on the Paper by Members of the House. It would have been a far cleaner job and more satisfactory and have been in the interests of more rapid business if the Bill had been withdrawn and redrafted.
§ Sir W. Davison
I am sorry, but talking of common lands, I thought that I might say something by the way. Be that as it may, many of the open spaces in this country have been acquired by local authorities and are used as recreation grounds and places for public amusement. In all such cases local authorities should not be subject to the decision of any Commission and it should be a matter for Parliament to decide, if these open spaces which they have acquired for the recreation of their citizens are to be taken away from them. Local authorities all through the country and also the boroughs of London feel very strongly that if any of these open spaces which have been acquired by them for the recreation of their citizens should be taken away, it should only be by decision of Parliament and not by decision of any Commission. They ask that as far as they are concerned Parliament should decide if it is essential that any particular open space which they have acquired should be taken away from them. Parliament should decide whether it was in the national interest and desirable that any such open space should be 2029 taken away. The Government would be well advised to respond to the appeal which has been made to them from all quarters of the House not indeed to accept this Amendment in its present wording, but to agree to insert words to the effect that where it is proposed to acquire a common or open space or land which has been purchased by a local authority for the benefit of its citizens and of the public Parliament should decide the matter.
§ Sir H. Williams
I would support the appeal which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should meet the obvious desire of the Committee. I am not very good on history of more than a hundred years back, but I think it was about 1770 that Buckingham Palace was first acquired. The then Queen, the wife of George III, said to the then Prime Minister that she would like to have St. James's Park incorporated in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. She said that it would not cost much. "No," said the Prime Minister, "only two Crowns, the Crown of England and the Crown of Scotland." That is the kind of thing which is raised by this issue. St. James's Park is involved in this issue. Somebody's conception has been constructed there. I do not know that I can name it, that monstrous, hideous thing which somebody designed, looking like nothing on earth and incapable of being destroyed. I do not know what it is; it is awful. It is on some ground to which the public used to have access; you could not be ordered away by a policeman. It was ground to which the public had access and some incompetent creature designed the most hideous thing the world had ever known. The Bill must apply to this.
§ Sir H. Williams
Then the difference is even greater. There is nothing that the great mass of the people resent more than to be ordered off ground they are used to entering. Railings have been pulled down in Hyde Park, and if you are not careful they will pull down some of your buildings. A great civil servant once explained to a Prime Minister how much better the Civil Service could run the job. The Prime Minister said, "I agree but if you run it for six months you will 2030 all be on lamp-posts because you do not know how to carry the public with you." This Bill is based on principles of a lot of bureaucrats who do not know how to appreciate the position of the public. We do not know when Hyde Park is to be properly liberated. They have made an incredible mess of it, although it was right to do so in the circumstances which prevailed. It is no good the Chancellor of the Exchequer looking cross. I am trying to lead him out of his difficulty. He is in an awful mess at the moment, and does not yet know it. If the Government adopt this procedure, it is going to be very complicated. If they adopt what is in the Amendment, hardly anything will ever come before Parliament. That is the real answer. They will not dare to bring these things before Parliament if there is opposition, and accordingly the Commission will be much more careful if this Amendment is accepted.
It is a very fortunate thing that there is only one institution in this country of which a lot of people are afraid—it is this House in its corporate capacity. Individually, we are insulted in many ways, but when we get busy in our corporate capacity, even War Cabinets change their decisions. The real trouble about Cabinet decisions is that Members of Cabinets think they are sacred; they are not sacred. I have seen them altered dozens of times and have occasionally helped a little in the process and I am helping now. The decision the Cabinet has made on this, will be altered before this Bill becomes law. I suggest to the Chancellor that if he wants to get his Bill with reasonable expedition, the sooner he makes the concession the better. It is a most awful waste of time for Ministers to go on fighting a losing battle. After all there are 30 Members of the Committee who intend to speak, as far as I can make out, and the Debate may go on into the chilly late hours. It is a long time since we had one of those delightful institutions, breakfast in the small hours. I thought in modern times that it was only the War Cabinet which did that, but it is time we imitated these great men. I really would beg the Chancellor to realise that he has not a supporter in the Chamber at this moment, except the people who for the moment decorate the Front Bench and they have to vote, 2031 otherwise they get the sack. We are not in that position and I would beg him to make a concession in time and save the good feelings of our delightful friend the Patronage Secretary because he carries all the burden of this when Ministers are recalcitrant, and let him go happy tonight, because if we go on, he will be miserable.
§ Mr. Marshall (Sheffield, Brightside)
I have listened to this Debate and it seems to me that as we go along the feeling gets stronger for this Amendment. I can state my position very briefly. These common possessions are so precious to the people of this country that only Parliament should have the right to vary those possessions by taking something away from them. I would not allow any commission to have the function of taking away the common lands of the people of this country. I listened to the Chancellor yesterday and his speech, though couched in very precise and logical terms, left me cold. It left the position where the Commission could recommend the acquisition of the common lands of this country and, according to the other Clauses of the Bill, common lands could be acquired and then re-sold to a private individual. That would be an intolerable thing.
It is quite true that the Chancellor grouped together all the very little concessions he had made in the Bill—such as the right of anybody interested in common lands to appear before the Commission and state their case—and the Financial Secretary to-day has indicated that they are prepared to put something down that will enable the Treasury to purchase land by agreement by way of substitution, but that is not enough. My position is that when this tidying-up process is over, the total acreage of the common lands and open spaces of this country should not be less as a consequence of this process. That is my stand and I think there is a tremendous feeling in the country behind that attitude. The Chancellor said he had sympathy with the Amendment. No one doubts it. He said there was no difference in principle between himself and the mover of the Amendment, that it was only a difference in method. In my estimation there is a vital difference in principle between the attitude of the Chancellor and of those who want this Amendment carried.
2032 The Chancellor has a clear way out, and I add my appeal to those already made that he should accept the Amendment and allow Parliament to decide on this great and important issue of the common lands of this country, and that where acquisition has to take place owing to the existence of very valuable war buildings on common lands, he shall then provide other lands in substitution. That is the minimum we can demand. I do not think the Chancellor understands the strength of feeling behind this agitation, not only in this Committee but all over the country. As a matter of fact the people of this country since the end of the last war have been enjoying the open spaces here in ever-increasing numbers. Where you had one rambling club you now have 40, and this is going on year by year at an ever-increasing rate. It is one of the most promising aspects of the young men of our generation and I can quite imagine the feelings of despair in their minds if they feel that Parliament has authorised a Commission to take away these very precious rights.
One has only to think about how the common lands were created. Many of them, of course, are remnants left to the public after the old enclosure Acts—one of the most infamous crimes ever perpetrated against the British public. Others have been bequests to the public by all sorts of well-disposed people. Others have been acquired almost by the blood and sweat of the public. I can give an illustration. Only last Saturday I presided over a great gathering in the Peak of Derbyshire when the crown of one of the most beautiful hills of that area was presented to the ramblers of the district. When I say that £500 had been raised by the rambling community around Sheffield to purchase that, the Committee can understand how precious these rights are. As I say, the Chancellor has an easy way out and I am not impressed by the statement of all these difficulties I say that no Commission should be invested with the right to decide this matter; Parliament is the only body that can do it. It would be one of the worst possible tragedies if the people of this country found that this special heritage of theirs was decreased by the processes of this Bill. Then indeed it would be the case that their great possessions had been sold for a mess of pottage.
Mr. Keelinģ (Twickenham)
I had hoped that by this time the Chancellor would have yielded to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), and by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), whose speeches were both very weighty in their respective ways. However, as he has not, I am bound to point out that both his speech yesterday and the speech of the Financial Secretary to-day succeeded, of course quite unintentionally, in confusing the Committee about the purpose and scope and effect of this Amendment. The Chancellor yesterday said that the Amendment takes commons out of the Bill. It does nothing of the sort. The Financial Secretary to-day dwelt largely with the quite minor issue of footpaths and rights of way—a matter on which I am perfectly sure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) would be quite willing to meet him.
The short point of this Amendment is that what Parliament gave only Parliament should take away. Let me recapitulate very briefly what are the statutory rights of the public in this matter. The Commons Acts of 1876 and 1899 provide for the regulation of commons, and many schemes prepared under these Acts have given the public rights of access to them. The Law of Property Act, 1923, gives the public the right of air and exercise over all metropolitan and urban commons, and over rural commons with the agreement of the owner. No less than 120,000 acres of rural commons have voluntarily been brought under the Act for the benefit of the public. There are many other commons and open spaces and National Trust lands which have been thrown open to the public under special Acts. I submit that what Parliament gave to the public should only be taken away if Parliament is satisfied in each case that it is necessary.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday and the Financial Secretary to-day justified their proposal to give power to the Government to take away these commons on the ground that whereas in ordinary circumstances an authority seeking to acquire a common has a freedom of choice, and need not necessarily take that land, in this Bill we are dealing with commons which have already got war works upon them. I fail to see either the 2034 relevance of that distinction or how it can console the members of the public who will be deprived by this Bill of their rights. I can quite understand, and many hon. Members have admitted, that there may be cases in which it is absolutely necessary for a common to be acquired. For instance, there are runways on commons which may have to be acquired, either for use in the next war or for the use of the defence Forces brought into being as a result of the San Francisco Conference. This Amendment merely provides that in such case the assent of Parliament must be sought. The Chancellor yesterday gave no argument at all against this proposal.
I am wondering whether, the Chancellor of the Exchequer being a Scot and the Secretary of State for Air—the principal violator of commons—being also a Scot, they have the faintest conception of what commons mean to an Englishman. I understand that there is no such thing as a common in Scotland. If that be so, it may well be that these two right hon. Gentlemen have not understood the weight of public opinion in this country. In England these common lands are the breathing spaces, the play and exercise grounds for townsmen. Some of them have rare birds and flowers upon them. Some are used by commoners in the old sense. I submit that Parliament, having given the public rights over commons, would be false to its trust if it gave the Minister the power to take these rights away. I do hope the Chancellor will now yield to what I am quite sure is the unanimous wish of the Committee.
§ Major Sir Georģe Davies (Yeovil)
I will detain the Committee only a short time because the real arguments on this have been stated. We all listened to a strong man struggling with adversity while the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was trying to give us completely unconvincing reasons, because he was batting on a bad wicket. I would like to recall the argument put forward in a nutshell by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) because that really is the point. There is all the difference in the world between whether the property under consideration is common public property or whether it is personal property. We are here not only as guardians of the public purse but as guardians of the rights of Englishmen in a much wider sense. I say Englishmen because, as was pointed 2035 out, this does not affect the people North of the Tweed. But the issue is there and in this matter we are gravely dissatisfied and apprehensive—
§ Sir G. Davies
Over this Measure we have three main apprehensions: first the composition of the Commission; second, the powers of the Commission; and third, this question of public rights in common lands. I urge the Chancellor to appreciate the feeling which there is in all parts of the Committee and in the country on this matter. It is not a question of the wording of this Amendment. It is seldom that the Government are prepared to accept the words of a back bencher's Amendment, however excellent they may be, but generally the ordinary Member's words do give the meat of what he wants. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to incorporate into the final form of this Bill words which will safeguard, to the satisfaction of Members of this House and the rights of the people, the common enjoyment of that which in the past has been their heritage.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
I find myself in the unique position to-day of agreeing with the unanimous view of the Committee. Almost needless to say, such an event has never occurred to me before, and that ought to convey to the Chancellor the absolute necessity for meeting the views which have been expressed on this matter. We have had only one argument addressed by the Financial Secretary against the terms of this Amendment. I wondered, as I heard him, whether it was a Home Office or a Treasury argument, and it occurred to me that the explanation might be that having recently moved to the Treasury, the old repressive Home Office mentality was still with him; that he had not quite shaken it off. The right hon. Gentleman argued that this Amendment would m-valve us in what he called "concurrent proceedings." He used those words with such emphasis as to convey that, in concurrent proceedings, there was something formidable, possibly something dangerous, and something into which this Committee ought to look very carefully 2036 before making a decision. But the House has, again and again, provided alternative and current procedures for practically everything under the sun. In Bill after Bill, we have provided concurrent proceedings for almost anything, and I cannot think how many agreements I have signed with the Chancellor which provided that a man should get either this or that, but which usually added the words, "whichever is the better." For example, when we gave the Minister of Labour power to diminish and, if possible, avoid labour disputes we also gave him power to apply alternative proceedings, either to compel the employer to provide machinery to deal with such disputes or to enable the disputes to go to arbitration. I have not come across, in my experience, any Government factory part of which has been built on public land and part of which has been built on private land, although I do not deny that there may be such cases.
§ Mr. Brown
I still maintain that that would be the exception rather than the rule, and if it is not so it is easy to demolish me by giving me the facts. Tell me what proportion of these works have been built on public land and private land or both. If you do not know what the answer is then you should not have the temerity to correct me. After all, I share ignorance which is common to us both, and I cannot be reproached on that ground. There is either a vast number of these cases or there is not. If there is no large number then the inconvenience this Amendment will cause to the Government will be small; if there is a large number then the largeness of that number shows the necessity for the control of the situation. I imagine that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) would have been happy if the Financial Secretary had indicated the difficulty about way-leaves, that there were certain practical difficulties in the wording of the Amendment, that they did not think it would meet the case in the best way, but that the Government would accept its broad principle and try to work out an approved formula to meet the will of the Committee. The Chancellor has no conception, as yet, that this difficulty is one of the least with which he will be faced in getting this Bill through.
2037 In the time I have been in this House I have been concerned with the treatment of holiday camps, in which I have a special interest, and I am going to raise that matter on another stage of this Bill. What the Committee ought to know about is the way in which the Defence (Compensation) Act, 1939, has been operating. That Bill was rushed through in a very short time, with no adequate discussion, and the amount of vile injustice which has been done under that Act, and for which there is no remedy, ought to be an everlasting warning against passing, holes bolus, Bills which confer powers over which the House cannot exercise any control. My earnest advice to the Chancellor—and however much he wrongs me I wish him well—is to accept the spirit of this Amendment, and offer to produce an appropriate formula at a later stage.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have listened very attentively to all the speeches which have been made this afternoon, and I have no doubt that the Committee will listen as attentively to what I have to say now on this matter. I am not going to take up a pedantic attitude, because I realise very well the strength of feeling that there is in regard to the preservation of our great open spaces, which mean so much to the people of this land. May I say, incidentally, that although it may be a fact that there are no commons in Scotland that is a matter, not of substance, but only of terminology? Those who have been privileged to spend any considerable period in that delectable country will know that it is rich in open spaces.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am glad to think that I am already beginning to get some support. Although I fully recognise how genuine are the apprehensions which have been expressed, I cannot help feeling that a great deal of the concern which has been evinced by Members refers back to the period when the public conscience in these matters was much less sensitive than it is to-day, and when many deplorable things were done. I do not believe that under this Bill, as it stands, the commons or open spaces of this country would be exposed to any serious threat. In fact, 2038 I think I can claim, on behalf of the Government, that by this Bill, as it stands, and in the Amendments which have been put down in the name of the Government, we have given very ample evidence of our solicitude in this matter. I am absolutely sure that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary was right when he said that in the vast proportion of cases where war works have been carried out on common lands those lands will be delivered back in due season, and restored to a proper condition. There are, however, quite a number of cases where there are war works which it would not be in the public interest to destroy. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) put the dilemma in saying that either the works are extensive, in which case the grounds for accepting this Amendment must be very strong, or that they are not extensive, in which case no matter of great consequence turns on our decision to-day. I believe that the number of cases in which there are extensive and substantial permanent war works on common land is very limited, but there are many instances of land which would be covered by this Amendment, which includes pathways, rights of way, easements of all kinds—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)
If the Government find it difficult to accept my Amendment because it deals with easements, rights of way, and so on, I would be quite prepared to exclude them from the Amendment.
§ Sir J. Anderson
My hon. and learned Friend need not have intervened, because I was about to say that I had no doubt that in so far as this Amendment incidentally covers rights of way, easements and so on those who have supported it would be ready to consider some modification, although it might not be altogether easy to devise the appropriate restrictive words which would have to be incorporated in the Amendment.
I was also about to give some indication of the kind of work on common land which it would be clearly in the public interest to preserve. My mind naturally turns to a case with which, in an earlier state of existence, I was very familiar, namely, the deep shelter, the underground structure, to which access is provided by quite small visible works on the surface. I am sorry to say that I think 2039 it would be imprudent at this stage to get rid finally of all such structures. Equally, I am satisfied that it would be possible to preserve them without any material impairment of the rights and privileges of the public. That is the sort of case to which this provision would apply. I only mention it by way of illustration.
Now I come to the substance of the Amendment which, as has been pointed out, is essentially procedural. Yesterday I spoke somewhat hastily, because I believed it was the desire of the Committee to get on to some other business, and I said that the effect of the Amendment would be to take these commons outside the Bill altogether. What I ought to have said was that the effect would be to take them outside the scheme of the Bill, to make them subject to an entirely different sort of scheme, to deal with them not as war works on which the Government have already entered and expended public money, but in exactly the sort of way which would be appropriate if it were a question of acquiring common land for a public purpose ab initio. That is what I meant when I said the effect would be to take them outside the Bill. If I had said that the effect would he to take them outside the scheme of the Bill, I would have been quite right.
Let me try to put to the Committee in a few words the difficulty that I feel about this purely procedural change, a change which does not, according to the speeches that have been made, challenge in any way the propriety of acquiring permanently war works on common land. What I have in mind is this. The preservation of amenities, the prevention of eyesores, of works which disfigure the landscape of this country, is not a matter which is by any means limited to the case of commons. In this Bill we have been at great pains to try to secure that the main safeguard which we provide in the Bill in the existence of the Commission should be effective to preserve the amenities of the countryside everywhere on common lands or on privately owned land. Incidentally, I was rather interested and a little puzzled to see how sharp was the distinction which my hon. Friends sought to draw between safeguards that they would accept as adequate in the case of privately owned lands and safeguards 2040 they would think necessary in the case of common lands. It is rather an interesting phenomenon. In my view, if the Commission is a body which can be entrusted —as I am determined, so far as it rests with me, it shall be—with the task of safeguarding the general interest all over the country, I do not quite see the reason for making this one exception. It seems to me to be rather a reflection on the Commission we are going to set up.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
Surely, in the last resort one can deal with an individual interest by compensation, but one cannot deal with a public interest by compensation.
§ Sir J. Anderson
But the Commission have the right to say "No" altogether, to say that the land shall not be acquired and that it shall revert to its former user. I was going to make this point in regard both to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). Both of them spoke as if the question at issue in this Amendment were whether the matter should in a particular case be kept within the province of Parliament or taken outside the province of Parliament. But all action to which this Bill relates will be action initiated by a Government Department, for which a Minister of the Crown is responsible, in regard to which a Minister can be challenged at any time on the Floor of the House; and we really have had ample evidence of the facility with which, when it is thought that some interest such as this is threatened, Ministers can be held to account. I do not think that is an issue which really arises here. Ministers can always be challenged, and indeed, in regard to a very important class of case which this Bill does not touch—the case of defence works—that is the only effective remedy which the public has. I beg hon. Members who are concerned about this matter not to argue as if that remedy were something quite valueless.
Mr. Coleģate (The Wrekin)
My right hon. Friend now says that the decisions can be challenged. Surely the decisions of the Commission are final and the challenge to which he has referred will be too late.
My right hon. Friend is dealing in this Bill, as regards commons, 2041 with statutory rights. Does not his argument about the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament mean that he would like to abolish the statutory rights altogether?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Not at all. I am dealing with the question of administration in regard to a decision to purchase. Surely my hon. Friend does not suggest that, because the Government might be in a position to get a favourable decision from the Commission in a particular case, this House would not be entitled to challenge the propriety of the Minister's action if it were thought fit to do so. Of course, they would. [Interruption.] I am sorry hon. Members argue that the facilities normally available in the House are so inadequate.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Surely, it is part of my right hon. Friend's case that the War Works Commission should be independent and semi-judicial. In those circumstances how is it open to hon. Members to challenge something which it does?
§ Mr. W. J. Brown
And if it were in order for an hon. Member to challenge the decision of an outside statutory body, what practical prospects of effectively so doing are available in the House? I have had a notice of Motion on the Order Paper with over 100 signatures for the last two months and still I cannot get a Debate on the subject.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is not for me to answer the point put by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), but in regard to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), I think I am right in saying that when a Minister had been responsible for action which hon. Members were free to challenge in the House, the fact that the Minister could get a decision from the tribunal in his favour would not necessarily be conclusive that he should act in accordance with that decision. Questions could still be put to him. [Interruption.] Hon. Members would not challenge the decision of the tribunal, but the action of the Minister. I am anxious to be fair with the Committee. I do not desire that there should be arbitrary action by Government Departments in regard to these matters. I do not adopt that sort of attitude.
I have listened very attentively to all the critical speeches that have been made and I am doing my best to address my- 2042 self to the arguments that have been put forward. I hope I shall be allowed to do so. Hon. Members who have intervened have done so for the purpose of arguing and not of getting enlightenment. I pass to another point. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary devoted some time to explaining the complications that would he likely to arise in practice if, under this Bill, one procedure were set up for dealing with works on privately-owned lands and an entirely different procedure were set up for dealing with works on common land, or I am afraid I must add—because that was his argument—works affecting roadways, rights of way, easements and so forth. I think hon. Members who criticised my right hon. Friend failed altogether to do justice to his argument. It is not a question merely of concurrent remedies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby said, although I think he meant alternative remedies.
§ Sir J. Anderson
It is not merely a question of alternative remedies but of overlapping remedies. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, because there is quite a numbers of cases in which works are partly on private land and partly on public land. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who referred to certain works at Wisley. Those works are a very good illustration, because in that case the factory buildings are on private land, but there are runways involved, and the runways connected with the buildings are on common land. Obviously that is a matter which ought to be dealt with as a whole, and I do not see how under the Amendment it would be possible to deal with a transaction of that kind, involving acquisition of the factory buildings and the runways which are an essential part of the works, without getting into extreme complications, if the adjudication had to be by the Commission set up under the Bill in the case of the buildings and by the Provisional Order Procedure in the case of the runways on the common land. Therefore, it is quite clear to me that, both because this Amendment covers other matters besides works on common land in the ordinary sense of the term and because of the practical complication of works 2043 which are partly on common land and partly on privately owned land, it would be quite impossible to accept the Amendment as it stands.
I take the view, for the reasons which I have given, that the procedure through the Commission should be an effective safeguard for all purposes, and I am bound to say that I would regret abandoning that procedure in favour of a different procedure, whatever might be said in favour of the alternative procedure in proper cases, solely in regard to the special case of commons. What I suggest to the Committee is that we should not accept this Amendment, that we should proceed to consider in due course all the various Amendments which we have not been in a position to discuss on this Amendment and which are designed to safeguard interests in respect of common lands and open spaces, and that when we have covered the ground and are in a position to look at the matter again as a whole, we should consider before the Report stage how we can best deal with the whole situation. I am ready to give the Committee an assurance that I will myself with an open mind—I do not regard the position of the Ministry or the War Cabinet or even the Chancellor of the Exchequer as being seriously involved an this controversy—look at the whole thing again in that way and see what is the best we can do. I recognise the strength of the feeling that exists on this matter. I would like to give the fullest reassurance to hon. Members that the interests with which they are concerned and in regard to which they have spoken with so much vigour and sincerity are not going to be in any way threatened or put in jeopardy by the Bill.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir W. Davison
Will my right hon. Friend put down an Amendment, which we can consider on Report, to see whether it carries out what he has suggested?
§ Sir H. Williams
May I make this suggestion? If the Amendment is withdrawn, the Chancellor might move that further consideration of the Clause be postponed until we have finished Clause 13, which is the last in this part of the Bill. That would mean that we could deal with the matter on the Committee stage instead of leaving it as a running 2044 sore, between now and the Report stage, which is bound to be a long period of time. If often happens that consideration of a Clause is postponed in order that it may be dealt with later in Committee
§ Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)
I should like the Committee to realise what the Chancellor has done and what he has not done. He has, in effect, only promised that he will look at the matter again and, from some considerable experience, I know that a promise to look at a matter again does not carry the Committee very far. This House is not concerned with oil pipes which go under common land. We are not concerned with small entrances to deep shelters. What we are primarily concerned with is whether the common land of the country shall or shall not be diminished in area. I have no doubt that the Committee will be prepared to agree with the Government that you may possibly not be able to add additional land to a specific piece of common land but I am certain that, if the Chancellor will give a generous promise that as the result of this war common land shall not be decreased in area, he will cut away nine-tenths of the opposition to the Bill. He said himself that the amount of land involved in this is going to be very trivial, but he forgot that and, in trying to sway the Committee against the Amendment, he attempted to appeal to the lowest instincts and worst passions of hon. Members opposite by asking if they realise that quite a large amount of private land would be involved if substitutes were adopted. You cannot have it both ways. Either there is very little land involved or there is a great deal and, if a great deal was involved, the argument of hon. Members opposite might have some validity, but the Financial Secretary has destroyed his own argument and that of the Chancellor as well. I am prepared to go into the Lobby behind the right hon. Gentleman if he will give a promise that as the result of the Bill there shall be no diminution in the area of common land in the country.
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
I think the hon. Member is right in suggesting that the Chancellor has really made a very little concession because he is going into it again. He has had to give way to a certain extent because the Committee is unanimous. If we can adopt the suggestion of my hon. 2045 Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir H. Williams), and have the matter discussed again while we are in Committee, that will be the best way out.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I should like to add my plea in reference to the postponement of the Clause. This is not a matter merely for the House. The whole nation is concerned. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman realises what a passionate attachment there is to the common land of England. I remember the same battle in my early youth. Now the public realise more than ever the vital importance of open spaces and, with the growth of cities, there is an increased demand for facilities for games and recreation. They are not prepared to part with or to divert an inch of public land for other purposes without a terrific struggle. I believe we should be betraying our trust to the people if we were satisfied with the really unconvincing speech of the right hon. Gentle-roan. He laboured long and hard to convince the Committee. He regards himself as the custodian of the public purse and I appreciate his angle of approach, but here is a case of vital principle and I beg of him to give way to the pressure of Members who represent the feeling of the public outside.
I should like to support the plea that has been made but at the same time we must really try to dispose of the extraordinary bogy that has been raised of what some people call "current" and some "alternative" remedies, What we are asking for is a supplementary provision. If the Amendment were adopted, in one case out of 100, or perhaps 1000, the Commission would say that their solution had to be confirmed by a Provisional Order of the House of Commons. That is not an unusual thing. That kind of administration is going on all over the world. It is going on in financial transactions. You agree with your banker or your creditor or your debtor but, if foreign currency is concerned, you have to obtain the sanction of the Treasury. The House and the public would then have the assurance that not a single common right of any kind could be interfered with without the consent of the House of Commons. I ask the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary not to bring up that bogy, because it is purely a bogy. Experienced administrators of the type likely to preside over 2046 the Commission will have no difficulty in devising a simple procedure in which certain decisions will be stamped "subject to a Provisional Order being obtained."
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am afraid I entirely disagree with what has just fallen from my hon. Friend, but I rose to say merely that I have consulted with my friends and I am advised that postponement of further consideration of the Clause would not in any way prejudice the consideration of further Amendments and, from my point of view, I see some advantage in the course suggested, because I want the Committee to consider as a whole the picture that we present in the Bill as we propose to amend it as far as commons are concerned. If the Amendment is not pressed now I am perfectly ready to agree to postponement of consideration of the Clause but that would, of course, mean that other amendments to this Clause dealing with quite other matters will also have to stand over.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
It means that the Amendment is not withdrawn but that everything on Clause 4 is in suspense and the Government must move that consideration be postponed.
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The Amendment must, in' form, be withdrawn. That will not prejudice its being put down again but, in order to clear the decks, it must be withdrawn. It is not possible to postpone consideration of a Clause when an Amendment has been made to it.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
If it is withdrawn temporarily, does it follow that automatically it will be called when the matter comes up again?
§ The Chairman
It will be a matter for the Chair to decide whether it is called or not, but the Chair will naturally have regard to the obvious wish of the Committee and to what has been said to-day.
§ Sir W. Davison
Would not the best procedure be that further consideration of the Amendment 4 be adjourned?
§ The Chairman
That would not be in Order. The proper course is to postpone consideration of the whole Clause.
§ 5.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
The political storm which raged at the week-end 2047 has suddenly faded away, but hon. Members opposite apparently have been stimulated by the robust spirit of the Minister of Labour. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) yesterday said there was such a terrific feeling on this question because at one time 5,000,000 acres of common land were stolen from the people, but nobody suggested that that area should be given back. I want to put it to the Chancellor that the way to solve this question, which is a question of too little common land—
§ Mr. Gallacher
I will not pursue it, but will suggest to the Chancellor that the only sane way to solve this question, and the way in which Members on this side would decide it, is to make all the land common land.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson
I am, of course, bound to accept your Ruling, Major Milner, with regard to the Amendment, and in these circumstances I would ask for your further guidance. Is it clear that I would be in Order in putting down, during the period while this Clause is postponed, an Amendment, either in the same terms or in similar terms, dealing with the subject matter of the present Amendment?
§ The Chairman
The hon. and learned Member would be perfectly in Order in putting such an Amendment down.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I take it also that it will be open to me to put down an Amendment at any time during the period when the Clause is postponed. I am obliged to you, Major Milner, for the assistance you have given, and, in the circumstances, I gladly assent to the course suggested and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
That consideration of Clause 4 be postponed until after consideration of Clause 13."—[Sir J. Anderson.]