HC Deb 30 May 1945 vol 411 cc290-300
The Attorney-General

I beg to move, in page 47, line 23, after "to," insert: registered land within the meaning of the Land Registration Act, 1925, there shall be substituted a reference to registered land to which the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891, applies, and for any reference to. This Amendment and the three following Amendments merely co-ordinate the provisions of this Bill with the existing legislation in Northern Ireland.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 47, line 41, leave out "fourteen days," and insert "two months."

In line 18, after "shall," insert: except for the purposes of proceedings commenced not later than two years after the execution thereof.

In line 27, at end, insert: (9) For any reference to a justices' licence for the sale of intoxicating liquor granted in accordance with the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, there shall be substituted a reference to a licence for the sale of intoxicating liquor taken out under Part II of the Finance (1909–1910) Act, 1910, and for any reference to section ten of the Finance Act, 1942, there shall be substituted a reference to section three of the Finance Act (Northern Ireland), 1936, as extended by section two of the Finance Act (Northern Ireland), 1942. (10) References to land subject to be en closed under the enclosure Acts, 1845 to 1882, to fuel or field garden allotments and to drainage boards shall be omitted. (11) For any reference to the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, 1943, there shall be substituted a reference to the Planning (Interim Development) Act (Northern Ireland), 1944."—[The Attorney-General.]

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

6.14 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

When the Government introduced this Bill they fully realised that it was complicated and highly technical, that it raised many points of principle, and that a variety of interests, public as well as private, were affected by it. Therefore, it was no surprise to the Government that a large number of Amendments should have appeared on the Order Paper and have been keenly debated. While, at certain points, it did seem as if proceedings on the Bill were rather halting, I myself, and I think I can speak for my right hon. Friends on this Bench, never at any time felt that there was any intention in any quarter to obstruct the proceedings. As a result of deliberations in Committee and on Report, a number of Amendments have been made. I hope that my hon. Friends who have felt that they were under a special obligation to exercise continuous vigilance while the Bill went through its process of examination in Committee will feel that, in the result, their efforts have been adequately rewarded.

I would like, for my part, to say—and this is my honest belief—that the Bill in its present form is a better Bill than the one that we introduced some months ago. I know there is other business before the House and I do not want to take up time, but I should just like to say that I am very sensible of the consideration that has been shown to the Government in all quarters while we have been discussing these difficult and technical matters, and I, personally, am grateful to my hon. Friends for the consideration that they have shown to me and my right hon. Friends on this Bench.

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Turton

When this Bill was introduced, I and a number of my hon. Friends felt strongly that the Bill went far beyond the purposes of what was required, and I remember at that stage defining those purposes under three headings—that the Government should be allowed to obtain land for defence purposes as speedily as possible, that, in order to secure full employment, there should be an accelerated procedure for obtaining factories, and, lastly, that the land of Britain should be restored wherever possible where it had been ravaged or damaged by war. The Debates on this Bill have secured those objects, and have taken away a lot of the infringements of the rights of private individuals and commoners and safeguards of the interests of the reinstatement of Britain after the war. I should like, on my part, to pay my tribute to the work that the Chancellor and the Financial Secretary have done in steering this Bill through the House. I think it has been as difficult a Bill to steer as any put in the hands of Ministers in recent years, and they have only got it through by their skill in Parliamentary Debate and by the conciliatory attitude which they have adopted towards those of us who have tried to improve the Bill within the objects which we had in mind.

I should like to say how pleased I am that we have got this restoration of Britain implanted in the Bill now in two Clauses—Clause 29 and 52—and I hope that the Government will circularise Government Departments to insist that this land is restored, wherever possible. It is far better to have the land restored by a Government Department than to pay out compensation to other persons, because, for all we know, when compensation is paid, it might not get right into the land, whereas, if the Government carry out the work of restoration that, we know, will be done.

The whole merit of this Bill will depend on the Commission and on who the Government select for the Commission. In our view, it is more likely that the Commission will be a good one now that it is no longer to be appointed by the Treasury, but will be a Commission appointed by His Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister. I appeal to the Government to select men on the Commission who have both knowledge and affection for rural England. I think it is very important that these men should not merely be lawyers. It is not the lawyer type that we want, though, no doubt, legal qualities are very valuable. It is men who have got real affection and knowledge of rural England who will be required to determine these problems that will come between Government Departments and the individual, and I have great hopes that, if we get a strong and wise Commission, we will, by this Bill, have secured that Britain is changed over from war to peace in a condition in which the right of private enterprise will be respected, and in which Britain, a battered but resisting bastion against Europe, will come to a peaceful, happier and more fruitful stage after the war.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

I have had the opportunity on several occasions of listening in to the Debates on the Committee stage of this Bill, and there is no question about it that the Chancellor, having a responsibility for seeing to it that the best possible use was made of the works that have been built out of the exigencies and necessities of war, has had a tough time of it putting this Bill through. The right hon. Gentleman has said that there was no intention to make obstruction. That may be so, but the one thing that has been made as clear as anything is that, in the process of carrying through what should be quite a simple Bill, the one thing that stands out most is that the landowners of this country are not prepared to give up an inch of land without the most tenacious fight—no, not a blade of grass. The hon. Member who has just spoken has made a fight all the way for the landowners. He says, "Of course, the Government have the right to get land for war purposes." Such condescension. We have got a Government representing the people of this country. We have got millions of soldiers fighting to defend this country. The Government, presumably, are representing the people, but the landowners can get up and say, "We will allow the Government to take a small piece of land here or there for war purposes." What a situation.

The Chancellor comes to us on the Report stage and says that it is a complicated and highly technical Bill, when it is the simplest question that ever could be presented to the people. Here are war works on land, and, in order to dispose of them, it is necessary that there should be control of the land on which they are built and control of the land adjacent to the factories, so that there can be entry and egress. It is a simple proposition, but it has got to be made complicated and highly technical because of the land system that operates in this country. The hon. Member who represents the landowners wants to get the land back to the landlords, he wants to retain the private ownership of land. But millions of men, fighting and battling to save this country from the slavery of Fascism, are not going to stand for a few parasitic individuals claiming to own the land, when they themselves come back and are crowded into the smallest possible space because of the inability of the Government to obtain areas of land for the purpose of developing the country.

I say to the Government, and to the Government that will follow this Government in a very short period, that there should be no need whatever for a complicated and highly technical Bill. I am certain that, if there was a popular publication of the discussions that have gone on in the Committee stage of this Bill, the Tories would be swept out of this House with such a flood that they would never dare to show themselves again. Take the people crowded into the cities—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

I have been trying very hard to see exactly where these things come into the Bill. It is a rather narrow Bill, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, and I do not think that the Third Reading is the occasion to raise questions of nationalisation or housing.

Mr. Gallacher

I just wanted to say to the Government, and to the Government which will succeed it, that there should be no need whatever for what the Chancellor calls a complicated and highly technical Bill on such a simple question. All the Government have to do, speaking in the name of 45,000,000 people, is to say, "We are going to take that land because it is necessary in the interest of the people and in order to rebuild Britain."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but that is exactly what is not in the Bill, and, on Third Reading, we are only allowed to talk about what is in the Bill. That is why I asked the hon. Gentleman to leave that line alone.

Mr. Gallacher

What is in the Bill is a complicated and very highly technical way of dealing with the land on which war works are built or adjacent land. Why should it be necessary to have a complicated and highly technical Bill for that? All you have got to say is that the land on which the works are built and the land adjacent, which is necessary for the works, is going to be taken over, and that, if anybody can come along and prove that they have any right to that land, you will listen to them. The Chancellor and the Tory Government—it was a Tory-dominated Government even before the pilgrims came home—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry, but this matter of returning pilgrims is not in the Bill.

Mr. Gallacher

The Chancellor and the Government were in the position of having to avoid exposing the landowners of this country and exposing the fact that they have no right to the land whatever, and that is why they have got to make the Bill complicated. The Chancellor is perfectly well aware of the fact that large numbers of people affected by the Bill could never have proved their right to the land. The Government should have said that it was necessary, for realising the value of the works or because the land was necessary for the development of the works to take it over. Then the hon. Member who speaks for the landowners would have had the right to come along and try to prove that he had a right to that land. But no, when dealing with a matter of this kind it is necessary to have a complicated and highly technical Bill. Put the onus on proving their claim on the owners, and you will not have to pay compensation to any of them.

6.30 p.m.

Colonel Clarke

I have been in the Chamber during the proceedings on this Bill as much as the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I have been here all through, not only when matters that concern the private landlord were being discussed but also when the discussions affected equally the public landlord, the National Trust, those who enjoy common rights, the municipal owners of land, catchment area authorities and so on. Their battle has occupied just as much time as that of any private landlord. In addition, the House was most crowded when the Clauses which concern open spaces and footpaths were considered, far more so than was the case when the matter concerned the private landlord. At the beginning of the Second Reading Debate, I was one of those associated with moving the rejection of the Bill because I felt that it was difficult to see how it could be re-drafted and brought in again. That action was not taken and in the course of time we have really attained the objective for which we hoped.

I wish to thank the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries on the Front Bench who listened to the arguments we brought forward, and, in many cases, saw the force of them and agreed to alter the Bill in many ways. I would also like to pay a tribute to a private Member—the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton)—who has been the spirit of the reformation we have achieved in this Bill. We did not want in any way to interfere with factories which might affect employment, and at the same time we did not want to risk the Government losing valuable capital which had been put into war works. We were out to see that there should be no retention of commons and open spaces and that they should be handed back as soon as possible to those who should enjoy them, with the least possible damage accruing as a result of the war. Lastly, there was the limited and very precious agricultural land of England which should be reduced as little as might be through the effects of the war. I support the plea made by my hon. Friend that, as far as possible, land which has been damaged during the war, land which has been used for tanks and artillery and cut up by obstacles to tanks and so on, should be restored by the Government. They have the money, the machines and the services and I believe they have, in prisoner-of-war labour, a great pool of labour which might be used, and I hope that it will be used. That is all I have to say, and I congratulate the Minister upon having got the Bill through.

6.34 p.m.

Sir G. Jeffreys

As one of those who, it the outset, seconded the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill, I would like to say how much this Bill has been improved in Committee, and how much we recognise the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary have met many of our objections, and, indeed, have adopted bodily a good many of our Amendments. It is hardly too much to say that the parents of this Bill would not recognise the Bill if they were to look at it now, as compared with what it was when it was brought into the House, so much has it been altered and so much, in our estimation, has it been improved. There is only one point on which I agree with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), and that is, that the Bill is, and was, unduly complicated. I believe that a Bill could have been brought on which would have been equally effective and very much less complicated. That is a matter largely of drafting, and it is a pity that it was not drafted in a more simple manner.

In all the Amendments which I and my hon. Friends have moved and supported in the course of these proceedings, we have never lost sight of the desirability of saving public money. That is not an unimportant point. I would say with reference to what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton(Mr. Turton) have said, with regard to the undertaking by Government Departments of the restoration and rehabilitation of land, that that is not only desirable in itself because the Government have the power to do it more effectively than any private owners or groups of private owners, but if that course is adopted it will save public money.

Mr. Gallacher

The hon. and gallant Member's colleague who spoke a short time ago spoke for private enterprise in England. Are we to take it from the hon. and gallant Member that he is opposing him and proposing that the Government can do the job better than private enterprise?

Sir G. Jeffreys

I do not know that it is really necessary for me to answer the hon. Member. I was making my point in my own way and I hope that I may be allowed to do so. I suggest, in particular, that where there are some great works, or a series of works which take up, as in the case of some of the biggest airfields and their surroundings, a large amount of the land and property of a variety of owners, some of them big and some of them small—I have personal knowledge of a very formidable tank obstacle extending for many miles over the properties of many persons, large owners and small owners—where it is a question of restoring the land damaged by such works, it is obvious that one authority, and that preferably a Government Department, could command the labour, machinery and the means generally of doing the work, not excluding the priorities which would be granted to Government Departments.

Mr. Gallacher

What about the coalmines?

Sir G. Jeffreys

I said nothing about coalmines.

Mr. Gallacher

It is the same principle.

Sir G. Jeffreys

It is obvious that, in a case of that kind, a Government Department could do the work not only quicker, but probably more economically than if it were left to a number of private owners. Some private owners would probably be very small men without the means to do it at all. If they were paid a lump sum, some parts of the land would never be filled in at all. Other parts might be filled in by those who had more means with which to do it. Therefore, in those cases the Government would get value for their money if they carried out the work themselves, particularly with the aid of prisoners of war.

Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Do I understand that it is possible on the Third Reading of a Bill for an hon. Member to deal with omissions from the Bill?

Mr. Speaker

It is clear that an hon. Member can only talk of what is in the Bill and not on what he would like to have seen in the Bill, and, therefore, omissions from the Bill are out of Order.

Sir G. Jeffreys

I was not referring to omissions from the Bill but to what is in the Bill, in Clause 39. I was supporting the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, and by another hon. Member also, that the provisions of that particular Clause ought to be taken advantage of in all possible cases by the Government, and that, if they were taken advantage of, not only would the work be likely to be more effectively done, but public money would be likely to be saved.

Mr. Gallacher

Good old private enterprise.

Sir G. Jeffreys

I have nothing further to add. I have apparently given some satisfaction in my views to the hon. Member opposite. This Bill has been enormously improved in its course through Committee and many of us have cause to be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the way in which he has met our objections and adopted our Amendments, and the Bill is now a very much better Bill than when it was first introduced.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. G. Hutchinson

When this Bill was first introduced it aroused serious misgivings in the minds of local authorities and in the minds of other persons who were the owners or responsible for the administration of public open spaces, commons and places of that nature. I believe that all those misgivings ought now to be dispelled. The Bill now provides adequate protection. It will ensure that those open spaces and commons which have been diverted to other purposes during the war will be returned to their original use and will again be made available for public enjoyment. It is right that we should express to my right hon. Friend the thanks of those who are interested in these places for the manner in which he has dealt with the matter in this Bill.

There is only one other observation which I desire to make. I would remind my right hon. Friend that in the case of many of these open spaces and, in particular, in the case of the rural commons and the metropolitan commons which have been taken over for war purposes, there are really no means at the disposal of those who are responsible for these commons to rehabilitate them for use as public open spaces. My right hon. Friend has taken certain powers in this Bill and I hope that he will exercise those powers and do for those who are responsible for the management of these places that which they have not the funds to do for themselves.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.