HC Deb 01 August 1947 vol 441 cc804-13

Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 3, at end, insert: or, in the case of land being agricultural land within the meaning of the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928, within seven years from that date;

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, to leave out "seven," and to insert "four."

In dealing with Lords Amendments in a Bill of this kind one has to keep in mind several documents at the same time, and perhaps I would be in order if I refreshed the mind of the House on the subject matter of this Amendment. This Clause deals with development plans, and a feature of these plans, which is referred to in Subsection (4), is the power to designate land as subject to compulsory purchase. This was the subject of controversy in earlier stages of the Bill, when we took the general view that designation was apt to be a blight on the land, that the threat of ultimate compulsory purchase would prevent its due development, and, in the case of agricultural land in particular, would inhibit long-range plans for improvement of the land and its fertility, which are essential if the agricultural industry is to prosper.

11.30 a.m.

In the Bill as it left us there was a safeguard in the proviso in Subsection (4), which stated that the Minister shall not approve designation of land for compulsory purchase if he is satisfied that the acquisition of the land is not likely to take place within 10 years of the approval of the plan. This Amendment deals with agricultural land, and in another place they have said that in the case of agricultural land, the period should be reduced from 10 years to seven. We seek to improve upon that improvement. I acknowledge that it is an improvement, but we still think that the period of seven years of suspension for agricultural land is too long.

This is an argument difficult to condense, but, in general, as is well known to the House, agricultural operations must be mapped out for years ahead. There is the rotation of crops to be considered, what land is to be pastured, not next year but five years hence, and that brings in its train complicated plans for the provision of drainage, and, in the case of livestock, for the buildings necessary to house them, for water supplies, and for a host of other ancillary operations to the proper use of agricultural land for food production. That is, in brief, the contention which I put before the House that this seven years, although it is a shorter period, and, therefore, better than 10, is to long a period for agricultural land to be suspended, as it were, from full agricultural planning.

It is always difficult to agree on the precise period. We on this side of the House do not wish to be unreasonable in saying that there should not be some period during which the land should be designated pending the plan being perfected; but I urge on the House in these difficult days, when food supply is one of our main preoccupations, when we are anxious to import as little food from other places as we can and to supplement our rations from our own soil to the greatest possible extent, that in those circumstances, we should regard our agricultural land as very precious to the whole nation, and we should be very chary to do anything which would check its proper development for agricultural purposes. It is with that object in mind that I and my hon. Friends have put down this Amendment.

Mr. Silkin

The Lords Amendment which is before the House represents a compromise. It was arrived at after a good deal of discussion and conference and, I think, was accepted by all Members of another place as a reasonable compromise in the circumstances. I do not say that everyone was satisfied, but it is in the nature of compromises that most people are not entirely satisfied. Seven years, it was thought, was the minimum period that would be of value in carrying out the purposes of designation. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that the purpose of designation was one which was accepted. It is to put on notice to the owner of land that his land will probably be required for public purposes within a certain period, and the Minister has to be satisfied that there is a reasonable probability that it will be so required within that period.

The object of the Amendment to the Lords Amendment is to reduce the period of designation to four years, and I submit that it is quite impossible to carry out effective planning if local authorities are enabled to look only four years ahead. It is fortunate that there will not be a great deal of agricultural land that will be the subject of designation, but where it is the subject of designation, it will be important and may involve fairly long-term projects, and if local authorities were limited to four years, the result would be that they could not carry out their planning effectively.

I see all the points which the right hon. Gentleman made about the value of agriculture and the importance of preserving agricultural land, and I think that the Minister, whoever 'he may be, could be safely entrusted to use the powers in the Bill wisely to ensure that not more agricultural land is acquired or is designated than is absolutely necessary; but when it is, I put it to the House that local authorities ought to be able to look ahead for a longer period than four years. I think that seven years is the minimum, and the Government have gone a long way to meet the views of the agricultural industry. For those reasons, I regret that I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)

The Minister has said that local authorities ought to be able to look ahead for at least seven years; and perhaps it is desirable that we should explain from this side of the House why we think the period should be four years and not seven. The House will recollect that development plans have to be revised in quinquennial periods. A plan lasts for five years and then a review is held, and it is revised as necessary. We think that in the case of agricultural land the local authorities should be able to look ahead for five years, and say, "If we desire this land within five years we will designate, or if it is desired for a public purpose or for purposes of enforcing a plan we will take it." We say that if they have not taken it as they approach the end of the five-year period, the owner should have the right to extricate himself from the difficulty in which he is placed—and it is a very real difficulty—by this act of designation.

The Minister said in effect—I am not using his exact words—that only in very rare cases would agricultural land be designated. That seems to me to be a most surprising statement, and I hope sincerely that it is correct. I have envisaged all along that local authorities will go pretty quickly about designating agricultural land because, after all, it is the only vacant land open to them to designate for public acquisition. It is unlikely that they will designate land which is already developed, and I should have thought that the most fruitful source of designation by local authorities, either on their own behalf or on behalf of Government Departments or statutory undertakers, would be land which is already uncovered by buildings and used for agricultural purposes.

We ought not to overlook the human aspect of this project. It really is a great difficulty which we are placing on individuals. First of all, there is the difficulty of the owner-occupier. He sees that his land is designated, and so he says, "I must find another farm." He can afford only one farm, and he is in occupation of that; and yet he has this threat hanging over him that within a space of seven years, in the present case, it is likely to be acquired for public purposes. He is unable to take steps to find another property; at any rate he is unable to make an offer for another property, unless he is a very rich man and can afford two farms, until he is certain that his farm will in fact be taken.

All this time—for a period of seven years—this uncertainty is hanging over him. It is not only hanging over the farmer but hanging over all those whose ways of life are dependent on the farmer. It is hanging over his foreman, cattlemen and farm servants who are all dependent on him, and who may have been working for him for years, living upon the farm, wondering, as he is wondering, what their future is to be. If the objection were only on personal grounds we might not feel so strongly, although we feel that it should be strongly pressed, but it is on national grounds, against the gloomy background not only of world food shortage but of the need in these islands to look inwards and to make the most of our natural resources that we feel strongly; for this House is bound, in these days of economic crisis, to look to the farmer and to the importance of not doing anything that can be avoided to injure the national industry of agriculture.

Many of these men whose land will be designated for public acquisition will want to launch out into new ways, improved methods, different methods, perhaps, under the stress of the need that will be placed upon all of them in the coming years to do all that they can to produce as much food as possible from their own soil. They may want to turn a mixed farm into a dairy farm to produce more milk. It will not be worth while for them to start altering the farm buildings, building perhaps a milk parlour, and making all the alterations that are necessary. These points have been brought to the notice of the House before, and I think that the House is fully seized of the importance of the question, but I suggest from these two points of view—from the personal point of view of hardship to individuals and from the national point of view of the sovereign importance of agriculture at the present time—that this Amendment should be supported.

Mr. C. Williams

I felt rather inclined to sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman when, in his remarks on this Amendment, he laid down quite fairly and clearly the fact that this was the result of a compromise in another place. He said, of course, that it was a compromise in the circumstances. Well, the circumstances of one week ago are not the circumstances of today, as we know very well, and that changes the whole position so far as compromise is concerned. The change of position in the last few days emphasises what the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) and the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) have been urging—that it may well be that very quickly there may come from the Government an enormous demand on the agricultural industry. I have no doubt that agriculturists will stand up to it and do their best, but in view of the very great change that has come about in the last few days, and in view of the fact that the Minister is coming nearer to the position some of us take up, I should have thought that it would have been wise of the Government at the present time, with the things which they have to do in the immediate future, to say to the agriculture industry, "We wish to encourage you." I should like to emphasise particularly not only the case of the farmer and the owner as some of the people affected today by the uncertainty as to the future, but also the young men who are now coming into industry and whom we shall want in industry. When the hon. Member for West Aberdeen mentioned the cattlemen, I notice a smile spread over the Law Officer's face and he generally does not smile without reason.

11.45 a.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir H. Shawcross)

I understood that the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) was referring to cattle, and it did strike me as a little amusing to think of the cattle labouring under a burden of apprehension as to what would happen to them.

Mr. Williams

The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not know the difference between cattlemen and cattle, but in spite of his interruption, I will continue my sentence. I gave way quite readily to him because he was labouring under one of his many delusions. [Interruption.] I am glad to have support for that from the other side of the House. I want to emphasise the fact that as far as we are concerned we are representative of the whole of the industry and we suggest it is necessary to encourage the owners and the farmers and to do everything to draw men permanently to that industry. From that point of view, I should have thought that this Government, which calls itself a Labour Government—it is only so in name—would have some interest in the workers.

Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)

Many times while this Bill has been going through its various processes in this House the Minister has told us that he has sympathy for our point of view, but added that we could rely on the common sense of the Minister. Of course, we do not doubt, as far as this Minister is concerned, that that is so, but we do not know what Ministers there are going to be in the future, and, in so far as decisions having to be taken are concerned, everybody is not agreed on what is common sense and what is not. I do not think the Minister really expects the industry of agriculture to rely merely on the assertion that they should be happy with a common- sense decision being taken. I am sure they would much sooner have something in the Bill, and for that reason I would urge the Minister to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I am glad that at long last the right hon. Gentleman has recognised what I argued on the Second Reading, namely, that the effect of designation when subject to compulsory purchase would be to throw a blight upon the agricultural industry within the area so designated. Now that he has recognised it—and it is an important fact—the only question that lies before us is as to the period during which this blight can hang over agricultural land. The blight will deter all long-term and short-term improvement and might prevent the proper and best use of the land. The right hon. Gentleman's argument for resisting our Amendment to reduce the period to four years can really be stated in one sentence. He says that to reduce the period to four years would be to limit unduly the local authorities' power, and that local authorities could then only look four years ahead. With the greatest respect I suggest to him that that argument is entirely fallacious.

This Amendment does not in the least prevent the local planning authority from making a long-term plan. What it does ensure is that whatever may be the plan for the whole of this area, we cannot impose this blight upon a particular part of the plan by designating it as subject to compulsory purchase for more than four years. That is all. If the right hon. Gentleman will agree with that, the fact of not being included in the area subject to compulsory purchase and designated as such does not, in fact, in any way free the land and exclude it from designation and the liability to compulsory purchase. The development plan is subject to quin-quennial review and it may be varied and amended from time to time. Within that five-year period the local planning authority can make its plan and can say, "That is what we are going to do in four years. We are going to designate this area." If, however, after two years they want more land, more speedily they have ample powers under this Measure to designate that fresh land. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that this is the case, and if that be the case, it is quite erroneous to argue that the powers of local authorities will be in any way limited by this provision. They are not. The local authorities at any time can get the Minister's assent when adding to the Order to designate, and, of course, there is this further safeguard that this Amendment does seek to ensure that the blighting effect of designation on the subject of compulsory purchases shall only be imposed for the shortest possible period.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, bearing in mind the quinquennial review and the powers of amendment with regard to area designation, the planning powers and the powers of local authorities will not be handicapped in the slightest

sense by the acceptance of this Amendment. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman will be doing something to tree farmers and cattlemen, but not of course cattle, from the fear of dispossession hanging over them for another three years. I hope the right hon. Gentleman in the circumstances will see that his arguments as put forward are entirely fallacious, and he will, on second thoughts, accept this Amendment.

Question put, "That the word 'seven' stand part of the Lords Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 215: Noes, 46.

Division No. 347] AYES. [11.53 a.m.
Adams, Richard (Balham) Ewart, R Mathers, G.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Fernyhough, E. Mayhew, C. P.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Field, Captain W J Medland, H. M
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Foot, M. M. Mellish, R. J
Alpass, J. H. Forman, J. C Messer, F.
Anderson, A. (Motherwell) Foster, W (Wigan) Middleton, Mrs. L
Attewell, H. C. Ganley, Mrs C S Mitchison, G. R.
Austin, H. Lewis Gilzean, A. Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)
Awbery, S. S Glanville, J E (Consett) Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)
Ayles, W. H Goodrich, H. E Moyle, A.
Balfour, A. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield) Murray, J D
Barstow, P. G Greenwood, A W J (Heywood) Nally, W.
Barton, C Grenfell, D. R Naylor, T E
Battley, J. R Grey, C. F Nichol, Mrs. M E. (Bradford, N.)
Bechervaise, A E Grierson, E Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Benson. G Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley) Noel-Buxton, Lady
Berry, H. Griffiths, W D. (Moss Side) Ordfield, W H
Beswick, F Gunter, R. J Orbach, M
Bing, G. H. C Haire, John E (Wycombe) Paget, R.
Blenkinsop, A Hall, W G. Paling, Will T (Dewsbury)
Blyton, W. R Hamilton, Lieut.-Col R Parker, J
Boardman, H Harrison, J Parkin, B. T.
Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W. Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Paton, J. (Norwich)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Herbison, Miss M Pearson, A.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Hicks G. Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Holman, P Popplewell, E
Bramall, E A. Hubbard, T Porter, E (Warrington)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr) Porter, G. (Leeds)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.) Price, M Philips
Brown, George (Belper) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Pritt, D. N
Brown, T. J (Ince) Irving, W. J. Proctor W. T
Bruce, Major D W T Janner, B. Pryde, D. J
Burden, T. W. Jay, D. P. T. Rankin, J
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Jeger, G. (Winchester) Rees-Williams, D. R
Chamberlain, R. A Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools) Reeves, J.
Champion, A. J. Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Reid, T (Swindon)
Chetwynd, G. R Keenan, W Rhodes, H
Coldrick, W Kenyon, C Ridealgh, Mrs [...]
Collick, P. Kinley, J Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
Collindridge, F. Kirby, B. V Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
Colman, Miss G. M Lavers, S. Rogers, G. H. R.
Corvedale, Viscount Les, F. (Hulme) Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
Cove, W. G. Leslie, J. R Sargood, R
Daines, P. Levy, B. W Scollan, T
Davies, Clement (Mentgomery) Lindgren, G. S Scott-Elliot, W
Davies, Edward (Burslem) Lipton, Lt.-Col M Segal, Dr. S.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield) Longden, F Shackleton, E. A. A
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lyne, A W Sharp, Granville
Davies, Haydn (St. Pattern, S. W.) McAdam, W. Shawcross, Rt Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)
Deer, G. McEntee, V. La I Shurmer, P.
Diamond J. McGhee, H G. Silkin, Rt. Hon. L.
Dodds, N. N. McKay, J. (Wallsend) Silverman, J. (Erdington)
Driberg, T. E. N. Mackay, R W G. (Hull, N. W) Skeffington-Lodge, T. C
Dugdale, J. (W Bromwich) McLeavy, F. Skinnard, F. W.
Dumpleton, C. W MacMillan, M K. (Western Isles) Smith H N (Nottingham, S)
Dye, S. Mallalieu, J P W Smith, S. H (Hull, S W.)
Edelman, M Mann, Mrs J Snow. Capt. J W
Edwards, John (Blackburn) Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.) Solley, L. J.
Edwards, N (Caerphilly) Manning, Mrs L. (Epping) Soskice, Maj. Sir F
Evans, John (Ogmore) Marshall, F. (Brightside) Sparks, J A
Stephen, O Tiffany, S. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Swingler, S. Tolley, L. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Sylvester, G O Viant, S. P. Williams, J. (Kelvingrove)
Symonds, A. L Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield) Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.) Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Webb, M. (Bradford, C.) Woods, G. S.
Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet) Wells, P. L. (Faversham) Yates, V. F.
Thomas, D. E. (Aberdaro) Wells, W. T. (Walsall) Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Thomas, Ivor (Keighley) West, D. G. Zilliacus, K.
Thomas, George (Cardiff) White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.) Whiteley, Rt. Hon W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton) Wilkins, W. A. Mr Simmons and Mr. Hannan
Thurtle, Ernest Willey, F T. (Sunderland)
Amory, D. Heathcoat Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. Strauss, H. G (English Universities)
Bennett, Sir P Headlam, Lieut.-Cal. Rt. Hon. Sir C Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C (Wells) Lindsay, M. (Solihull) Sutcliffe, H.
Boothby, R. Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Teeling, William
Bossom, A. C. Lucas, Major Sir J. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight) Touche, G. C.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. Maitland, Comdr. J. W. Vane, W. M. F.
Canon, E. Manningham-Buller, R. E Walker-Smith, D.
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G. Molson, A H. E. Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O E Morrison, Rt. Hon. W S. (Clrencester) Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Digby, S. W Nield, B. (Chester) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Dower, Lt -Col A V G. (Penrith) Noble, Comdr. A H. P Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Drayson, G. B Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Duthie, W. S Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C (Hillhead) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fraser, H C P. (Stone) Savory, Prof. D. L. Mr. Drewe and Major Conant
Gage, C

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: in page 9, line 7, at end, insert: