HC Deb 05 August 1947 vol 441 cc1369-74

Lords Amendment: In page 92, line 6, at the end, insert: or, (c) that the land together with any land contiguous or adjacent to such land was on the seventh day of January, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, or would have been but for circumstances arising out of the emergency which was the occasion of the passing of the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act, 1939, in the course of development as a residential commercial or industrial estate and that the proposed development is or would be immediately practicable but for such circumstances as aforesaid and that there is a demand for such development.

Mr. Buchanan

I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment was carried in another place, although the Government did not seek to press their disagreement with it to a vote because there had been already, on the same principle, a Division on the English Bill, and it was felt to be of no use to have another Division on the principle in this case. The noble Lord who moved this Amendment explained that it was intended to widen the definition in the Bill of what is described as "dead ripe land." This Amendment proposes to extend the definition in the Bill to make it applicable to land in the course of development and land that, but for the war, would have been in the course of development. It also extends it by saying that the proposed development of the land is or would be immediately practicable but for the war and circumstances arising out of the war.

We debated this point in the Committee upstairs, as we did most of the matters of these Amendments. I read the discussions on the English Bill, so that I know that there constantly arose in them the issue that some things were not discussed because of the operation of the timetable. I think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will agree that, on this main issue that we are now discussing, we had our doubts upstairs in the Scottish Grand Committee. There is no issue on which we have so much doubt as we have on this issue of dead ripe land, its definition, and where it was to be said to begin and where it was to be said to end.

7.15 p.m.

Let me make an admission. I do it with some temerity, because the longer I am at this office, and the longer I have to deal with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the more I find that the less one admits, and the less one puts things straightforwardly, telling what is in one's thoughts, the less difficulty one gets into. When we tell people things, they pick them up and use them against us, and that makes one fearful of telling the truth. In our discussions upstairs I made this admission which I am going to make here. Always in the field of definition in legislation we have the difficulty of what is on the one side or the other of the borderline. We always have some marginal cases and some difficult cases which come near the borderline. So I do not deny that here, as in every other case where there is a definition, difficulties will arise.

When I have said so much let me say what is our definition. We have defined dead ripe land as being excluded land the owner of which applied to the planning authority for permission to develop, having taken such steps as would lead the local planning people and the local authority to think he was going to develop it. That is what we have excluded. He must have taken certain definite steps. If he fails to do that, we cannot bring him within the category. We do recognise—and I say this frankly—that there must be a number of borderline cases, cases which make it difficult.

So I will say a word or two on how we deal with what we would term the difficult case. Here I say I know I bring myself into conflict—quite honestly in conflict—with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side. I know that on what I am going to propound they will make a claim on the £300 million. I know that the consistent line of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite has been to take as many people out of this claim on the £300 million as they could, in order to leave the £300 million to go to as few people as possible, to benefit them the more. I recognise that I shall find myself in disagreement with them.

What do we do with persons on the borderline? We lay it down here that in the case of what we call, for the sake of the nearest word, "near ripe land"—and this was announced even in the English Bill—we propose to be covered by a scheme covering land held on 7th January, 1947, which, taking all into account, it was reasonable to expect would in five years be developed—or which any person who would take it in the same period would develop—for reasonable purposes of, say, building houses for their own occupation or factories for their own use. To say that that class is a special category in the claim on the £300 million, for almost if not equal treatment, means that the development charge would be cancelled out by the amount that they would get out of the £300 million. I have said this because in my view we can go no further.

I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite will say to me: "Ah, but there is this class of dead ripe land. Where a person has a big estate which he meant to develop it is a hardship on him not to be allowed this concession." I made the last part of my announcement because I thought it went some way to meet that point of view. As from the date I have mentioned, the person concerned must have taken certain steps, and if he has failed to take those steps, he does not come within the scheme. I think I have explained the position of the Government. We have debated this matter at length before, and I have now gone over it again. On this matter I feel that the Government must uphold the view they expressed in Standing Committee, which is the view I have just stated.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I think it is as well that the House should remind itself of the purpose of Clause 77. Although the Joint Under-Secretary referred to the Clause, it was left rather to the imaginations and the long memories of hon. Members, who parted with this Clause many weeks ago now. The purpose of Clause 77 is to deal with what the Government describe not as "dead ripe land"—a phrase used just now by the Joint Under-Secretary—but as "Land ripe for development before the appointed day." The phrase "dead ripe land" is an invention of the Joint Under-Secretary.

Mr. Buchanan

Well, it is much the same. We in Glasgow and the West use that phrase. I was forgetting that the hon. Member comes from another part of Scotland.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I am not concerned with whether in the East or the West they refer to "dead ripe land" or merely to "ripe land." It does not seem to matter very much. The purpose of the Clause is the same: first to exclude land which comes within the category of ripe land or dead ripe land from the right to claim on the global sum under Part V of the Bill; and secondly, to exempt it from liability to pay a development charge under Part VI of the Bill. There is a very definite and narrow definition of ripeness in the Bill which is, broadly speaking, that there must be a building contract in force, or that there must have been an application for permission to build. This Amendment seeks to widen that definition to a small extent, not to a large extent, so as to include land which, on 7th January, 1947, the day upon which the corresponding English Bill was introduced, was … in the coarse of development as a, residential commercial or industrial estate … That is to say, that on 7th January last it was in the course of development; or, alternatively, it would have been in the course of such development were it not for the war. That is all this Amendment seeks to do.

It is perfectly true that in Standing Committee we discussed Claue 77, as it is now numbered, at some length; and it is also true that we hammered out the definition of building land which is ripe or dead ripe; but we did not, I think, apply ourselves specifically to an Amendment in these terms, or have a discussion on land which was actually in the course of development at 7th January last as a residential, commercial or industrial estate. As the Joint Under-Secretary said, any definition gives rise to borderline cases. We all recognise that. And we recognise his difficulty in drawing a line when dealing with something as hard to define as "land ripe for development." But he says, too, that where land is excluded from this definition and from this Clause two things will happen. First, the owner will have a claim on the £300 million. The hon. Member says that we on this side of the House have consistently, during the proceedings of this Bill, tried to narrow the classes of persons eligible for a claim on the £300 million so that those people fortunate enough to participate might have a larger share. I do not think I am misinterpreting him when I say that. What we have said consistently throughout these proceedings is that this £300 million is a quite inadequate sum, and we have never attempted to hide that view. The more people we can leave out the more compensation there will be to share among those who have, as we say, a just claim on the global sum.

Now, at this late stage, we have had what I believe to be the first mention, during the passage of this Bill, of another category of land, which the Joint Under-Secretary referred to as "near ripe land." That may be another Glaswegian expression; land is perhaps either dead ripe or near ripe in Glasgow.

Mr. Buchanan

I assure the hon. Member that this expression is not an invention of mine. For perhaps the only time during this Bill I was quoting an official brief; a thing I rarely do. The expression "near ripe" appears in that brief which, if the hon. Member likes, I will give to him.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I am not disputing that there is such a thing as "near ripe land." I had the advantage of serving on the Standing Committee which considered the English Bill, and I know that this category of "near ripe land" was invented not by the Joint Under-Secretary, but by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. Now, I confess that all the way through the latter stages of our proceedings in the Standing Committee which considered the Scottish Bill, I expected that either the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Joint Under-Secretary would introduce this new category of land which had been imported by the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I stand open to correction, but I think I am right in saying that this is the first time in our proceedings on the Scottish Bill that there has been any mention of "near ripe land." If we are to have this new category of "near ripe land," the owners of which will be able to take a privileged position at the head of the queue of those people lining up for a share in the inadequate global sum, then we ought to have been told about it earlier.

I do not upon that ground alone express my sorrow that the Government should resist this Amendment. It seems to me that when setting out to define a category of land which is called "Land ripe for development"—to use the words in the rubric to the Clause—one must be thorough about it and include all land which is, in fact, ripe. I do not think the Joint Under-Secretary has convinced the House, in advancing his reasons for rejecting the Amendment, that land upon which development actually started on 7th January, 1947, could today be described in any other terms except as land which is ripe for development. Until he has made a case for rejecting the Amendment, we cannot agree to the proposal for rejection.