HC Deb 01 August 1947 vol 441 cc813-20

(1) Where any land is designated by a development plan as subject to compulsory acquisition, then if at the expiration of twelve years from the date on which the plan, or the amendment of the plan, by virtue of which the land was first so designated came into operation, any of that land has not been acquired by a Minister, local authority or statutory undertakers who could be authorised to acquire it compulsorily under the provisions of this Act, any owner of the land may, within the time and in the manner prescribed by regulations under this Act, serve on the local planning authority a notice requiring his interest in the land to be so acquired.

(2) Where any such notice is served as aforesaid, then unless within six months after the service of the notice either—

  1. (a) notice to treat in respect of the interest to which the notice relates has been served by any such Minister, authority or undertakers as aforesaid; or
  2. (b) an offer has been made to the owner of the said interest by any such Minister, local authority or undertakers to acquire it on terms that the price payable therefor shall be equal to (and shall be determined, in default of agreement, in like manner as) the compensation which would be payable in respect of that interest if it were acquired compulsorily.
the development plan shall have effect, after the expiration of the said six months, as if the land were not designated as subject to compulsory acquisition.

(3) The power conferred by Subsection (2) of Section five of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, to withdraw a notice to treat shall not be exercisable in the case of a notice to treat which is served as mentioned in paragraph (a) of the last foregoing Subsection.

(4) Where any land is designated by a development plan as subject to compulsory acquisition by the appropriate local authority (not being land comprised in an area defined by the plan as an area of comprehensive development) then if permission is granted under Part III of this Act for any development of the land so designated, or any part thereof, and that development is carried out in accordance with the permission so granted, the development plan shall have effect as if the land to which the permission relates were not designated as subject to compulsory acquisition:

Provided that where any such permission as aforesaid is granted for a limited period only, the provisions of this Subsection shall cease to have effect in relation to the land at the expiration of that period.

(5) In relation to land being agricultural land within the meaning of the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928, Subsection (1) of this Section shall have effect as if for the words "twelve years" there were substituted the words "eight years."

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

12 noon.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 28, at the end, to insert: and thereafter the land shall not be so designated again until after the end of five years from the expiry of the said six months. This Amendment concerns the subject that we were discussing earlier, the designation of land for compulsory purchase under a development plan. I have acknowledged the improvement effected by the Amendments moved in another place, and I am sure that this Lords Amendment is also intended as an amelioration of the lot of the owner whose land is designated for compulsory purchase. What it does for him in effect is to give him a remedy if his land is designated but is not acquired within 12 years after such designation. If that period of 12 years elapses without the designated land having been acquired he can demand that it should be acquired and, if it is not, at the end of six months it is automatically free from designation altogether under the proposed new Clause. The intention of that is obvious and beneficial, but I am moving my Amendment in order to make sure that the purpose of the Government in agreeing to this new Clause is not rendered nugatory in this way.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) drew the attention of the House to the machinery which exists in the Bill for the amendment of development plans. One feature of that power of amendment is that it can add land not previously designated for compulsory purposes to land which is already in that category. The short point which my Amendment seeks to secure is that if it is desired to make this new Clause a real safeguard for the man whom it affects, then it is necessary to provide against an authority which has designated the land, and against whom the 12 years and six months have run—the land thus being free from designation—amending its development plan in order to redesignate the land on the following day, to take an extreme case. If that were done it is clear that the machinery for freeing the land which is laid down in the new Clause would be quite worthless. No doubt some control could be exercised by the Minister, but we consider that it is better to have the posi- tion of that land stated in the Bill. The Amendment proposes that if land has been designated and has not been acquired within 12 years and at the end of that period the owner invokes the procedure of this new Clause and the land is free from designation when six months have elapsed, then there shall be a period of grace of at least five years during which the land shall not be redesignated.

I submit to the House that this is an eminently reasonable suggestion. Hon. Members will remember that the 12 years have run and that the local authority has had the power to acquire the land for 12 whole years. It has not done so at the end of that period, its attention is drawn to the fact that the land is designated by the owner's application, six months go by and nothing is done. The land having once been free, who can say that there could be a case for such an authority amending its plan and redesignating the land? There can be no case for it, and I conceive that the Minister will tell us that if he himself were exercising the power of Minister—although we have to look 12 years hence and it is impossible to prognostigate who will be in his place then—he would be very reluctant to approve the redesignation of the land in circumstances such as those which I have described. Something similar was said by his colleague, when this point was raised on a similar Bill applying to Scotland, but I think his reluctance should be so great as to make him agree that, if land has run on in this way for 12 years, and if all the appropriate steps which he himself is indicating have been taken, then there should be a period of at least five years of grace for that particular land. Otherwise, if the power of amendment of development plans makes the power to reimpose designation a perpetual one, then, although this provision seeks to lift the shadow, the shadow will be there unless my Amendment is accepted.

Mr. Silkin

The right hon. Gentleman has made the best of what I think is a bad job. I presume that he is seeking to protect the owner of land, but is he really protecting him by, this provision? Is it of any value to an owner to have five years' grace and to feel at the end of that period that he may once more—in the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller)—have his land blighted for a further period of 12½ years? If that were the intention of the local authority he is no better off in having this five years' grace than if the land were designated afresh immediately. The five years would me merely five years of agony and anxiety, and all the arguments that are put forward indicating the evil of designation would apply almost to the same extent because the owner would merely be waiting five years until his land was designated afresh. Therefore, I submit to the House that even from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman's own argument this Amendment does not meet the case. If he were really logical he ought to say that this land ought never to be designated again. One can understand that, but five years' grace is of no value at all. It is not even better than nothing.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to imagine that redesignation can take place merely at the whim of the Minister. He says that he does not know who will be sitting in my place in 12½ years' time, but, of course, he knows who will not be sitting there. It is unlikely to be either the right hon. Gentleman or myself. It is quite true that we do not know, but is redesignation really going to depend upon the kind of Minister? I would remind the House that in order to redesignate this land the local authority would have to make a fresh plan, they would have once more to hold a public inquiry, at which the owner would no doubt be represented, they would have to satisfy the Minister that the land was reasonably required to be purchased within 10 years, and any Minister knowing that they had had 12½ years already in which to purchase it but had failed to do so would need a great deal of satisfaction before making the Order. Unless the right hon. Gentleman assumes bad faith on the part both of the local authority and of the Minister, I feel that he can rest assured that nobody would wish to redesignate the land merely for the sake of being awkward. There may, of course, be circumstances in which redesignation is really necessary in spite of the fact that the land has not been acquired within the 12½ years. I can conceive such circumstances although I hope that they will be very rare. The very fact that the land had been designated in the plan once would be an indication that it was neces- sary. It is true that the authority would have been dilatory, or there might have been changes in their priorities or other circumstances which prevents them purchasing the land, but its acquisition might, still be urgently necessary in the public interest. Local authorities ought not to be prevented from acquiring land or held up for five years in such a case, rare as it might be.

I believe that the owner is amply protected by the fact that a local authority wishing to redesignate—which would be a very unpopular course—would have to go through the whole procedure of a new plan, a public inquiry, advertisements and satisfying the Minister. I can imagine no local authority doing such a thing except under dire necessity, but if that dire necessity did arise, they ought not to have to wait five years. In these circumstances I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not press his Amendment.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Molson

The argument used by the right hon. Gentleman against the proposed Amendment is almost identical with that which he advanced in the Committee when hon. Members on this side of the House originally asked that there should be the kind of safeguard which is provided in the Lords Amendment and which the right hon. Gentleman is now accepting. The argument at that time was forcible, but whatever force there was in it was against the acceptance of the additional Clause which the right hon. Gentleman is now accepting. If it were, in fact, the case, that there was no serious danger of the blight of designation hanging indefinitely over land, there would not be any need, as in various stages of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman has said there was, to apply the provision for re-designation or for giving to the owner of land the right to call upon the local authority for compulsory acquisition.

Since the right hon. Gentleman is accepting the proposed new Clause in order to meet the criticism that was made that the blight of designation could be extended over land indefinitely without the owner of the land having any power to call upon the local authority to acquire it compulsorily, and since the right hon. Gentleman now agrees that the Clause is desirable for that purpose, it surely must also be desirable that it should not be pos- sible for the local authority if it wishes to do so to evade the right of the owner to call upon the local authority compulsorily to acquire by just neglecting to do so, and then applying for re-designation afterwards. All that the further Amendment seeks to do is to make fully operative the new Clause which the right hon. Gentleman is accepting, and which he regards as necessary for the legitimate defence of the landowner.

Mr. C. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman said in his reply that if we had wished to be logical we should have put down an Amendment to secure that the land should never be designated again. That would not really be practicable, for the reason that there would then be certain portions of land after 12½ years that could not be designated in the future. That is not our purpose. The real purpose of the Amendment is that we should not apply a sort of "Cat-and-Mouse" Act to the owner and occupier of the land. At the end of the 12½ years it would be possible to begin the whole designation process right over again, in exactly the same way as letting a man out of prison and then sending him back next morning. It would handicap the development of the land to treat it in that way.

Let me give a simple and clear illustration. Suppose there is a co-operative society, with a farm very near to a town, developing that farm to serve the society's shops. For 12½ years they have been uncertain how far they could develop but, at the end of that time, if our Amendment is not accepted that land is able to be designated again almost at once. Surely, it would be better to give the society a period of grace during which the land could not be designated again? I would not say that the land must never be re-designated. Surely, we might say to the co-operative society, "You have five years' grace in which you can go on and make your developments." I could extend this illustration to other sections of the community. On occasions such as this the Minister has been rather hard. I appeal to him to believe that we are trying to be fair to the man as well as to make the Bill work, and not to leave in the Bill something which is reminiscent of the "Cat-and-Mouse" Act.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment negatived.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, in line 52, to leave out "eight" and to insert "five."

If hon. Members look at the new Clause proposed by the other place they will see that whereas 12 years is the limit for land, eight years is to be substituted for 12, by Subsection (5), in the case of agricultural land, which then comes within the operation of Subsection (1) four years earlier than ordinary land. We are suggesting by the Amendment that the term of eight years should be reduced to five. No doubt you would consider it in Order, Mr. Speaker, if I repeated the arguments in favour of agriculture which I put before the House a moment ago, but I will not abuse the House in that way. I will content myself with suggesting that as agricultural land plays such a vital part in our economy, the remedy for the owner of agricultural land which has a designation shadow upon it should be accelerated in the way which I suggest. He should be able to call the powers of the Clause into force if the land has not been used for five years.

Mr. Silkin

I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would not seriously press this Amendment. The House has now agreed that the appropriate period of compulsory purchase in respect of agricultural land is eight years. What is now suggested is that at the end of five years the owner should be in a position to serve a notice requiring the local authority to buy, presumably at six months' notice. The Amendment would nullify the provision to which the House has already agreed and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not press it.

Amendment to the Lords Amendment negatived.