HC Deb 05 June 1947 vol 438 cc513-24

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

I think that, in discussing the next Amendment—to page 64, line 31—the two following Amendments may also be discussed—in page 64, line 40, leave out paragraph (b); in page 65, line 4, leave out paragraph (c).

Sir T. Dugdale

I beg to move, in page 64, line 31, to leave out Paragraph (a).

We have now come to Clause 81, which, from our point of view on this side of the House, is one of the most objectionable Clauses of the whole Measure, because, under it, it is possible for the Minister to override the whole of the machinery set up under Part 11 of the Bill. In Committee we had an Amendment on the Order Paper to delete these three paragraphs in order that we might elicit from the Minister exactly what he had in mind regarding them, and how and when he proposed to use them, because Clause 81 (2) says: The Minister may acquire by compulsory purchase or hiring in accordance with the provisions of this Act in that behalf any land as to which he is satisfied that its acquisition by him is necessary in order to put to full and efficient use for agriculture land acquired by him under the last foregoing subsection. The last foregoing Subsection comprises paragraphs (a), (b) and (c).

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Marquand

I thought we might have heard more arguments than we have from the Opposition on the proposals they have made. Paragraph (a) gives the Minister power to acquire land where he feels that it would not be fully and efficiently used under private ownership because the fixed equipment required would be more than could reasonably be provided under private ownership. Examples of the sort of case in mind are the wide areas of neglected land which exist in certain parts of the country. This land is potentially very productive. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where"?] So far, I have spoken about three sentences. If hon. Members will wait, I will try to give them examples. There are examples where land which was not fully used for agricultural purposes before the war was brought into use during the war, and where it was necessary to bring the wide powers which the State possesses into use for that purpose. There was land where there were no houses for the workers and no roads on which to get the produce away, and, in many cases, where there was inadequate drainage. During the war, many of these areas were brought into full agricultural use by prisoner-of-war labour and by the Women's Land Army, and the State was able to provide capital, equipment and labour in a way which private enterprise had been unable to do.

The emphasis in this Clause is that private enterprise and the private owner could not "reasonably be expected." In other words, what is envisaged is a situation where there is land which could be fully and efficiently used to produce the nation's food, but where the owner is not in a position to capitalise that land or to provide equipment for its full exploitation. The best example which I can quote is that of Romney Marsh, which, I am told, comprises about 50,000 acres, and which, before the war, was used almost entirely for sheep grazing. Admittedly it is good sheep grazing land, but it is also highly productive land for crops. During the war the tillage area was increased from a few hundred acres to 16,000 acres, and the crops obtained have been some of the best in the country. There are only two or three small villages in the area and there are no houses to accommodate the labour at present required. It is estimated that if the same tillage area as was reached during the War years through the use of prisoner-of-war labour, the Women's Land Army, or by any other type of labour is to be maintained, houses for some 500 additional permanent workers will be required. In addition, there are few roads in the area, and concrete roads will have to be constructed if the land is to be used for tillage purposes.

It is getting late, and I need not expand this argument. Sufficient to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister is aware from practical experience during the war that there are considerable areas of land in this country which could be fully and efficiently used for the production of the nation's food, where a large capital provision is necessary, which we might not reasonably expect from private owners—and the emphasis is on the word "reasonably." If hon. Members opposite admit that there is any land capable of efficient use for agriculture on which private owners cannot reasonably be expected to do the work or provide the equipment, what do they propose other than this provision? If there is such land in existence and private owners cannot make the necessary provision, do they want the nation's interests to be sacrificed for the interests of private ownership? If they say there is no such land, why worry? If no such land exists and the circumstances to which I have referred do not obtain, nothing need be done and there is no need to worry at all. I would like to know which attitude hon. Members opposite take. Do they say that there is no such land, or do they say that although there is such land, and although the private owner cannot deal with it, they will, nevertheless, deny the right of the State to use that land?

May I pass to paragraph (b) which raises a similar point? It concerns the case where extensive capital equipment has already been provided, but the maintenance costs would be so high that private owners could not reasonably be expected to maintain the capital equipment in efficient order. There are some examples of this which occurred during the war when, under the exigencies of war, the necessity for extending the area of cultivation in order to acquire sufficient foodstuffs led to the widespread development by the Ministry of extensive drainage works, the construction of sea walls and that kind of thing which did not exist before, where land has been reclaimed and extensively developed for the use of the nation. If private owners are able to undertake this work there is nothing in the Bill to prevent them from doing so, but if they cannot reasonably be expected to undertake the work it would be a tragedy to let this land go out of cultivation, again in defence of some principle of private property.

Lastly, there is the case under paragraph (c), where the effect of the Amendment would be to deprive the Minister of powers of compulsory acquisition in cases where agricultural land has been severed with the result that the farms concerned are no longer economic units. This is a very simple case, and in this instance, perhaps, there will be no division in principle between us. There may well be a division in principle on paragraphs (a) and (b), but on paragraph (c) I think it is merely a matter of convenience. From time to time, agricultural land has to be taken over for non-agricultural purposes. It is regrettable, but it is necessary. For the construction of roads under town and country planning schemes and the like, agricultural land is taken over for nonagricultural purposes, and, as a result, farms are split up. Particularly when motorways are constructed, the problems of severance become very great indeed. Farms are split in such a way that you get pieces of them left on both sides of a road.

10.30 p.m.

The only satisfactory way to remedy this is to secure a redistribution of the land so that the farm lies together on one side of the road or railway as the case may be. This has happened voluntarily in some places, but in a far larger number of cases farmers have tried to carry on under the increased difficulties caused by such severance. Although cattle creeps or bridges can be provided in certain cases, they are costly and far from satisfactory. This paragraph gives the Minister power, when severance has occurred or is going to take place, to buy the severed portion of the farm. These severed portions may be sold to adjoining farmers so as to create economic units. This paragraph is simply one designed to take care of the actual geographical difficulties where farms are severed in this way. I think that no reasonable man, whatever his political principles, would disagree with this intention. The other two cases may be somewhat different in principle, but I can assure hon. Members that the Government have no intention of giving way on these paragraphs.

Mr. Baldwin

Let us be candid and say what we think about this Clause. It is a backdoor effort at nationalisation of the land.

Mr. Alpass

So much the better.

Mr. Baldwin

If that effort is to be made let us have it as a straight issue and fight it out in the proper way.

The Minister has stated that there is land in this country which could not be carried on economically by the private individual, and asks us to say what we want done. I make this challange to the Minister, that if he can find any land which the State can carry on economically, I can find men who will carry it on more economically. It is no argument to say that the private individual cannot put up the capital to provide the roads and houses, and so forth. If the proposition is that it should be done, and if the State is going to do it, then the private individual should be allowed a chance to do it. This is a matter of catching hold of the land and keeping out the private individual.

Mr. Marquand

I tried to emphasise that where private enterprise can reasonably be expected to do this, and can reasonably carry it out, no objection will be raised.

Mr. Baldwin

That is an indication that if a body of men wish to take over Romney Marsh, the Minister will be prepared to hand it over, and also to hand over other stretches of land. If that is a promise, I have nothing further to say. But if the Minister is going to take hold of this land and deny the private individual a chance, we object to this Clause.

Mr. Vane

No attempt has been made to answer the question put to the Paymaster-General by my hon. Friend as to why it is necessary to have this procedure, which completely cuts out all the safeguards which the Minister so frequently underlined in Part 11 of the Bill. First, we were given a long description which seemed to be something to do with the Western Desert until the Paymaster-General told us that it referred to Romney Marsh. But whether it was to do with the Western Desert or with the Romney Marsh, the amount of capital which can be successfully invested in any agricultural land is governed by the quality of that land and the economic state of the industry. If money is put up by the Government it is exactly the same as if the money were put up by a private person. Money put up by the Government has no special magic properties to make it different from money provided by anyone else. I felt that some such distinction was implied by the Paymaster-General's speech.

Mr. Marquand

I would like, if I may, to clear that up. I was not suggesting that such was the case. I was suggesting that there may be cases in which the amount of money required for the land or its equipment was so vast that to provide it would be beyond the reach of private owners.

Mr. Vane

I cannot accept that point of view because presumably when it comes to borrowing money, or having any security, if the land is in the hands of one person security is as good as if it is in the hands of another. If occasions have arisen, as the Paymaster-General said, where equipment on the land was so expensive that it is not economical that it should be maintained, probably it is in the national interest that that excess of equipment should be dismantled rather than that an absurd maintenance charge should be carried from year to year. Only some public corporation could possibly suffer a charge of that kind. I agree with the Paymaster-General that something can be said for sub-paragraph (c) where land has been severed and we might find odd scraps of land which might be uneconomical. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that it was his intention to dispose of the land to neighbouring farmers and that he was favourably disposed to selling any small scraps that come into his hands. If, as the Paymaster-General tried to explain, circumstances arise where an owner is not fulfilling his responsibility, surely, if the Minister is sincere about this, the correct thing to do is to have these two paragraphs taken out of the Bill and to proceed against the owner of the land under the elaborate procedure in Part II.

Mr. W. Roberts

There are tracts of land which it is uneconomic for private owners to cultivate properly. As one example, which has not been mentioned, I would give parts of the Fens which were only brought to cultivation between the wars in spite of many years of Conservative Government [HON. MEMBERS: "And Liberal"]. For the 20 odd years between the wars, at any rate. I was not going back further than that. The Fens were not cultivated because there were no roads and it did not seem to the owners there, in spite of the very high fertility of the land, worth while to make any roads. They had to be made by the State. On what terms they were finally handed over I do not know, but the expense was never fully carried by the owners. It was done by the Government as a war measure. There are probably other tracts of land which still can be improved in the same way. I am not, therefore, against Clause 81, but I would like to ask whether the Minister could not answer the other points which the last speaker made. There is no preparatory period of supervision of the management. There is no appeal to a tribunal. There is nothing whatever except the bare statement that if the Minister is of the opinion that this land ought to be purchased, it will be purchased compulsorily. That, I think, is a great weakness and one which may make it difficult for the Minister really to apply the paragraphs in many cases. Am I right in thinking that there are no safeguards?

Lord Willoughby de Eresby

As I see it, the whole of this Clause and of the paragraphs we seek to delete really turn on the word "reasonable." When some of us earlier in the day moved an Amendment which included the word "reasonable", it was turned down by the Solicitor-General on the ground that it was quite impossible for a layman to decide what was reasonable or was unreasonable. When it comes to a Minister's taking a decision, we are always to leave it in his hands to say what is reasonable. I rather agree with the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) that there are parts of the country where no one would object to the Minister's acquiring land to carry out some large scale reclamation of land that is derelict and not used at the moment. But I feel strongly that there ought to be some appeal against these compulsory purchases and decisions by the Minister that fixed equipment cannot reasonably be provided by landlords. This Clause is extremely wide, and, as some of my hon. Friends have already said, it really undermines a great deal of what we have been at pains to do in Part II, of the Bill.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)

The Paymaster-General made it clear that he was going to be deaf to all arguments that might be put forward from this side, and that this Amendment was to be firmly rejected. None the less, I think that this short discussion has been of some value in clarifying the situation. It has revealed, of course, the wide gulf that exists between the two sides of the House on this matter. That is, of course, a useful thing to do. I hope it will prove useful to some of the farming community who expressed such enthusiasm for the Measure when it was first printed. I remember one Gentleman—I am sorry to say, in Yorkshire—who described this Bill as the "Farmer's Bible."

Mr. T. Williams

A very wise man.

Lieut.-Commander, Braithwaite

I expressed the hope at the time that he had studied Holy Writ with greater care than he had studied this Bill. Now that we have reached this stage of it, as I predicted then, many protests are coming from the farming community, particularly in my constituency, and from those who have not studied this Measure as closely as some of us have had to do. I want to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin). Here is a Clause which skilfully circumnavigates the whole of Part II, so carefully considered before; and it would be quite possible here—by the back door, as my hon. Friend said—to carry out the nationalisation of the land. At that point in my hon. Friend's speech the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass), whose enthusiasm for that project is well known, cheered—to some extent embarrassing the Paymaster-General, who was carefully building up a soothing announcement that everything reasonable was to be done in this matter. I think that, to that extent, the discussion has been valuable. I am not quite clear where the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) eventually ended his tight-rope performance, expressing equal approval and disapproval, that being the function of the Liberal Party. But I hope that, whatever happens in the Lobby, when the big battalions come to vote us down, the farming community, who thought this Bill was a Bible, now realise that this volume is of a very different character, and that for "Bible" must be substituted Dante's "Inferno."

10.45 p.m.

Mr. J. H. Hare (Woodbridge)

There is one point on which I should like to detain the House for a moment, and that is on what the Paymaster-General said about the disposing of odd sections of land separated by the town and country planning schemes for new roads and measures of that sort. That, I think, is welcomed by my hon. Friends on this side of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) gave it a particular commendation. I think that in this Bill there is a contradiction of what the Paymaster-General said. Under Sub-section (2) the Minister may acquire extra land in order to fit in with those odd bits of land which he has had to acquire because of these new town planning schemes. That raises a most important matter. It invites the Minister to start speculating in land in order to make an economic unit. He is then encouraged to buy another piece of land, and that would be, in my opinion, entirely contrary to what the Paymaster-General has just said. I would be grateful if we can hear from the Minister of Agriculture something in confirmation of what the Paymaster said—that it is the intention of the Minister not to try to extend those odd pieces of land by buying other pieces of land to make it an economic unit, but try to dispose of it to private individuals who could deal with it far more economically than the Minister.

Captain Crookshank

The Minister may have gathered that we are not very enthusiastic about this Clause. We realise that the Paymaster-General is new to agriculture. He is more enthusiastic than the Minster himself would have been. I am certain that the Minister himself would

not have said all that his colleague has said about this—if he did not know so much about the back history of this, about the debates upstairs, about safeguards in relation to this Bill, which, as the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said, are so conspicuously absent from this Clause. I do not understand how the Minister, in view of all the past history and his general attitude, in which we have supported him so largely in these matters, should have allowed this Clause to get in, without any kind of appeal or safeguard, without anything at all, except the Minister's own view that it is not likely that this equipment, which is required, will be provided. I suppose it will be on the advice of somebody, not necessarily the county committee—but it does not say so. Is it just to be said an area, say Romney Marsh, "Well, we do not think, on the whole, that there is anybody wealthy enough, anybody enthusiastic enough to develop agriculture, to put themselves out to this extent"? Is that the test? There is no indication what is to be the test, except the Minister's satisfaction that it cannot reasonably be expected to be provided, and so on. The case has been put so well by my hon. Friends that I do not want to labour it further, but I should like to vote against the Clause. We cannot do that tonight; I do not think that we want to trouble the House with over many Divisions. We put down the Amendment to raise the matter on paras. (a), (b) and (c), and perhaps it would suffice if we took a Division on paragraph (a) as a token vote against this Clause, and let (b) and (c) go, not because we approve of them, but because we have more to do. By doing this, we shall have registered our protest.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 202; Noes, 75.

Division 240.] AYES. [10.51 p.m.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Bowden. Fig.-Offr. H. W. Collindridge, F.
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth) Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Collins, V. J.
Alpass, J. H. Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge) Colman, Miss G. M.
Anderson, F (Whitehaven) Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Comyns, Dr. L
Attewell, H. C. Brook, D. (Halifax) Cook, T. F.
Austin, H. Lewis Brown, T. J. (Ince) Corbet, Mrs F. K (Camb'well, N. W.)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs B. Buchanan, G. Corlett, Dr, J.
Baird, J. Burke, W. A. Davies, Clement (Montgomery)
Barton, C Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Davies, Ernest (Enfield)
Bechervaise, A. E Byers, Frank Davies, Harold (Leek)
Beswick, F. Cobb, F. A. Delargy, H J.
Boardman, H, Cocks, F. S. Diamond, J.
Dodds, N. N. McGhee, H. G Silverman, J (Erdington)
Driberg, T. E. N. McKay, J. (Wallsend) Simmons, C. J
Dumpleton. C. W. Mackay, R. W G (Hull, N.W.) Skinnard, F. W
Ede, Rt. Han J. C McLeavy, F Smith. Ellis (Stoke)
Edelman, M. Macpherson, T. (Romford) Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Edwards, John (Blackburn) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Smith, S. H (Hull, S.W)
Evans, John (Ogmore) Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Snow, Capt J W
Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Marquand, H. A. Sorensen, R. W.
Fairhurst, F. Mathers, G. Soskice, Maj. Sir P
Farthing, W. J. Mellish, R. J Sparks, J. A
Fernyhough, E. Middleton, Mrs. L. Stamford, W
Fletcher, E. G. M (Islington, E.) Mikardo, Ian Steele, T.
Foot, M. M. Mitchison, G. R. Swingler, S.
Fraser, T (Hamilton) Moody, A. S. Symonds, A. L
Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford) Morgan, Dr. H. B. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Ganley, Mrs. C. S Morley, R Taylor, R J. (Morpeth)
Gooch, E G. Morris, P (Swansea, W) Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Goodrich. H. E. Nally, W Thomas, D E. (Aberdare)
Greenwood, A W J (Heywood) Neal, H (Claycross) Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Grierson, E Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.) Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Griffiths, D (Rather Valley) Nicholls, H R. (Stratford) Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Griffiths, W. D (Moss Side) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P J. (Derby) Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)
Gunter, R. J Noel-Buxton, Lady Thurtle, Ernest
Guy, W. H Oliver, G H Titterington, M. F.
Hale, Leslie Paget, R. T Tolley, L
Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R Paling, Will T (Dewsbury) Turner-Samuels, M
Hannan, W (Marvhill) Palmer, A. M. F. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
Hardy, E. A. Pargiter, G. A. Vernon, Maj. W. F.
Harbison, Miss M. Parker, J. Viant, S. P.
Hewitson, Captain M Parkin, B. T Wadsworth, G
Hobson, C R. Paton, J. (Norwich) Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
Holman, P. Pearson, A Webb, M (Bradford, C.)
Holmes, H. E (Hemsworth) Peart, Mr. T. P. Welts, P L. (Faversham)
House, G Piratin, P. Wells, W T. (Walsall)
Hoy, J Poole, Major Cecil (Lichfield) While, H (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Hudson, J. H, (Ealing, W.) Popplewell, E Whiteley, Rt Hon W
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Porter, G. (Leeds) Wigg, Col. G. E
Hynd, H (Hacknev G.) Price, M. Philips Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A B
Irving, W. J Proctor, W T. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Janner, B Pursey. Cmdr. H Williams, D J. (Neath)
Jay, D. P T Ranger, J Williams, J L. (Kelvingrove)
Jeger, G (Winchester) Rees-Williams, D. R Williams, Rt Hon T. (Don Valley)
Jones, J. H. (Bolton) Reid, T (Swindon) Williams, W. R (Heston)
Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin) Robens, A. Willis, E
Keenan, W Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth) Wills, Mrs. E A.
Kenyon, C. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.) Wise, Major F J
Kinghorn, Sqn -Ldr E Robertson, J J. (Berwick) Woods, G. S
Kinley, J Rogers, G. H. R. Wyatt, W
Kirby, B. V Ross, William (Kilmarnock) Yates, V F
Lee F (Hulme) Royle, C. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Lee, Miss J (Cannock) Sargood, R. Younger, Hon Kenneth
Lewis, A W J. (Upton) Segal, Dr. S. Zilliacus, K
Lewis, T. (Southampton) Shackleton, E. A. A
Lipton, Lt -Col M Sharp, Granville TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Longden, F Shawcross, C. N (Widnes) Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Lyne, A W Shawcross, Rt. Hn Sir H. (St. Helens) Mr. Michael Stewart.
McAdam, W Shurmer, P.
Baldwin, A E Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter Neven-Spence, Sir B
Barlow, Sir J Fraser, H. C P (Stone) Nicholson, G.
Beamish, Maj. T V H Fyfe, Rt. Hon Sir D. P M Orr-Ewing, I L
Birch, Nigel Gage, C. Osborne, C.
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C (Wells) Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. Peto, Brig C. H. M
Bossom, A. C. Hare, Hon J. H. (Woodbridge) Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Bower, N. Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon Sir C Prior-Palmer, Brig. O
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Raikes, H. V.
Braithwaite Lt.-Comdr. J. G. Hope, Lord J. Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col W Howard, Hon A. Ropner, Col. L
Buchan-Hepburn, P G T Hurd, A Sanderson, Sir F.
Carson, E Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Challen, C Jeffreys, General Sir G Stanley, Rt. Hon. O
Channon, H Joynson Hicks, Hon. L. W Stoddart-Scott, Col M
Clarke, Col R. S. Lambert, Hon G. Studholme, H. G.
Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Conant, Maj. R. J. E MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Vane. W. M F
Cooper-Key, E M. Mackeson, Brig H. R. Ward, Hon G. R
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C Macpherson, N (Dumfries) Wheatley, Colonel M. J
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O E Maitland, Comdr. J. W. White, Sir D. (Fareham)
Crowder, Capt, John E. Marlowe, A A. H. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Darling, Sir W. Y. Marshall, S. H. (Sutton) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Dodds-Parker, A D Maude, J. C York, C.
Drayson, G B Molson, A. H. E.
Drewe, C Morrison, Maj. J. G (Salisbury) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Dugdale, Maj Sir T (Richmond) Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C E Major Ramsay and
Lieut.-Colonel Thorp.

Question put, and agreed to.