HC Deb 30 May 1945 vol 411 cc257-62

Amendment proposed: In page 3, line 24, leave out from the first "the", to the end of line 26, and insert: works should be available as war potential." [Mr. Turton.]

4.13 p.m.

Mr. Peake

As I was observing when we were interrupted, paragraph (c) may cover cases not only of war potential but cases of what I might call ultimate war potential in the distant future, and it may go even wider than that. My hon. Friends may say that in the case of factories, of course, you could make a case for their acquisition under paragraph (a) of the Clause. Well, that would depend on what the extent of the Government contribution had been to the cost of the factories. There might be cases where the Government contribution was not substantial enough to justify the Commission approving a purchase under paragraph (a), but paragraph (c), I think, goes even further. There are the cases of the deep shelters, for example, which may have little or no value in that value is not related to expenditure. They may have no commercial value of any kind. The Government may not wish to own them themselves or to use them themselves, but they may wish that their use may be controlled and that they should not be destroyed. There may also be cases of airfields where the runways are not in themselves of very much value in relation to the land but, at the same time, the Government wish to control the use in the interests of a proper development of civil aviation, or something of that kind. I hope, therefore, my hon. Friend will see that his words, which I admit are the words I used on the Committee Stage, are not appropriate to an Act of Parliament and are, in fact, too narrow for the purposes which we have in mind.

4.15 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I quite appreciate the intention of the Government with regard to paragraph (c). I think there is no doubt that the object of retaining factories, runways, or whatever it might be, as war potential for future use, is a very admirable one, but I think it is a very limited one indeed and there can be comparatively few occasions when such use is likely to be required. In the majority of such cases the Government have other powers than the power given in paragraph (c). For instance, I believe it is desired to ensure that runways shall be retained to function as runways. That result can be secured in other ways than by paragraph (c). The Clause is much wider than that, and goes far beyond the scope of anything which seems to be required. The right to determine the use to which these works shall be put refers not only to works such as we have been discussing, but to works in a very much wider sphere, and it is difficult to see where the powers given under this paragraph would end. It is also difficult to see how the Government could put this paragraph into practical, effect. They have the power of acquisition of land—and one has to bear in mind that the whole of this Clause deals with the acquisition of land—and if they are to retain the land which they have acquired for themselves on the ground that it is right that they should determine the use of the works, then, obviously, they would do it, because they would have the right to use the works themselves.

The only practical time when paragraph (c) would be invoked is when the Government want to dispose of land for which it is first necessary to acquire the land, and then, having disposed of the land, to ensure that it is used only for certain specific purposes. If they are going to adopt that course I cannot see how it will be practicable. They are going to put upon the land—I see no other way of doing it—a covenant to ensure that that land shall not be used at any future time for any other purpose than the one they have described, for instance, the manufacture of radio equipment. A manufacturer interested for the moment in radio equipment might be prepared to take a lease of land, subject to that condition, but I cannot conceive his investing capital in the acquisition of land which is subject to such a limited right of user as that. The possibility of recovering his outlay on purchase is practically gone, because he could only sell to a competitor in his own market. I cannot see that there would be any value whatsoever to the Government in achieving the object which they have in mind by the use of this paragraph. On the other hand, the Clause is so wide and the powers may be used for unforeseeable and unexpected purposes, that there is grave danger in it, and I hope my right hon. Friend will reconsider it with a view to limiting the extravagance of the powers in some appropriate way, perhaps in another place.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (Newbury)

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that this Clause is unnecessarily restrictive. In my constituency, along the Bath Road, there are many small garages which have been taken over, wholly or partly, by the Government for use in connection with work at nearby factories. These garages may be taken over altogether under this Clause, and I am sure that that is not the intention. My right hon. Friend talked about runways and underground shelters which it would be necessary to take over. Surely that is the object of the Amendment. Small roadside garages are not potential war works, and why should the Government have the right to determine what use they should be put to when they are not potential war works?

Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)

I would like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in his attempt to limit paragraph (c) of this Clause. I recognise that the actual words used in the Amendment are probably not appropriate, that the words "war potential" are too vague, but I would like to impress upon the Government that the existing words of the Clause are very wide, and may be used in an unforeseeable manner. I would also like to impress upon the Government this fact, that there is a good deal of public anxiety and feeling on the width of this particular paragraph, particularly among small men, who are not very well versed in legislation, and, in any case, this Bill is a very difficult one to understand. It is those people we want to protect, if we possibly can, against the over-wide powers which we think are contained in this paragraph. The Government, in paragraphs (a) and (b), have already almost as wide powers as they need, I think. Quite possibly, there will be exceptional cases for which paragraph (c) is necessary, but surely, for these few examples, it should be possible to define more clearly the exact purposes and conditions under which this paragraph should be used. I hope my right hon. Friend will have another look at this Clause and, if he cannot accept the Amendment, will see whether it can be amended in another place.

Mr. Peake

As my hon. and gallant Friend has just admitted, the words which it is proposed to introduce into the Clause are too narrow and too vague—

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

On a point of Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman allowed to address the House without first asking its leave?

Sir J. Anderson

I have listened carefully to the arguments which have been advanced by my hon. Friends in support of the Amendment, and I cannot help feeling that since they have been content to pass the provisions of paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Clause they are now rather straining at a gnat, having swallowed a camel. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) was quite right when he said that the provisions of 5 (1, c) will, in fact, apply only to a comparatively limited category but it is an important category. I think the House should realise that from the first introduction of this Bill there have been three clearly recognised and distinguished categories of case in which the Government desired to obtain power to acquire land. First, to realise its value; second, to be able to continue to use the land themselves; and, third, to be able to control the use. If this Amendment were carried the purposes of my hon. Friends would not, in practice, be realised. The only consequence might be—because we do not intend to use the provisions of 5 (1, c) except where the public interest justifies it—to compel the Government to have recourse to 5 (1, b) and thus to hold and use continuously all the property in question.

Take the ordinary case of a shadow factory. It may be very difficult to establish that the factory has, and will continue to have, war potential, but nevertheless, a limited number of factories of a particular type might be thought to fall in the third category, to be factories which the Government would not wish to run continuously, but which they would not wish to dispose of outright, which they would allow to be used for non-martial purposes, retaining in some form or another power to resume possession if the public interest, at some future date, required it. That is one of the classes of case in which the right to control use might be of value in the public interest. My hon. Friends have had to admit that the actual words of the Amendment would not be satisfactory—

Mr. Turton

I altered the words in the Debate.

Sir J. Anderson

One can use words in conversation and Debate which are not apt in a legal instrument or an Act of Parliament. I used some words myself some time ago which found their way into a Clause, and later I had to say that I thought they must come out. The words my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) used even for the purposes of Debate were too narrow, and they will not do in the Clause. A suggestion has been made—and I want to be reasonable in dealing with thesematters—that perhaps we might consider doing something in another place. In present circumstances, I do not think it would be prudent to encourage a hope of that kind. I do not particularly want to see this Bill again when it goes from here, and I am not going to lend myself to a suggested arrangement by which the Bill should undergo changes elsewhere and then come back here for further consideration. I think my hon. Friends have been unnecessarily alarmed. I am sure there is no question of small roadside garages being acquired under this provision in order that the Government may control their use against some future contingency.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown

Why not put in some words to guarantee it?

Sir J. Anderson

I am not going to put in words to guard against any risk that some Government at some future date will apply the provisions of this Measure in a wholly unreasonable way. We have got on very well in the discussions on the Bill, and I suggest that after the explanations that have been given by my right hon. Friend and by me my hon. Friends might well be content to allow the matter to rest where it is.

Amendment negatived.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

I gather that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) does not wish to press his Amendment in page 3, line 30.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)

I do not propose to press this Amendment, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put down an Amendment to be taken later which meets my objections and those of my hon. Friends.