HC Deb 19 April 1948 vol 449 cc1510-37

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill as amended, be now considered."

7.1 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now" and, at the end of the Question, to add, "upon this day six months."

I believe that there are considerable matters of principle attaching to this Bill. First, I feel that the House should ask itself whether a university should be given powers of compulsory acquisition or not; second, I feel that we should ask ourselves whether, if these powers are granted, they should be on the same terms as those enjoyed by the central Government or by local authorities; third, I think we should ask ourselves whether the University of Sheffield really needs these powers today when there is such a shortage of living accommodation.

On the first point whether the University of Sheffield should be given the powers sought by this Bill, I do not believe that powers of compulsory acquisition should be delegated by Parliament to bodies other than local authorities, which are properly elected bodies. I do not say that these powers will be used unnecessarily or unfairly, but they may be so exercised. The University of Sheffield is not a statutory body. It was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1905, and I believe there are only two precedents for a university being given powers of compulsory purchase. One was in respect of the University of Aberdeen and the other in respect of the University of Edinburgh. These powers were granted about 5o years ago when they were given limited powers of compulsory purchase. I do not believe there is any precedent for compulsory purchase as far as a university is concerned other than these two cases. If Parliament grants these powers to a university which, I repeat, is not an elected body, why should not any university apply for similar powers? Why should not a voluntary hospital, or a school, or a college, or the Salvation Army, or societies like the Council for the Preservation of Rural England apply to Parliament for such powers?

It may be said during the Debate that education authorities now have powers to acquire land compulsorily. That is true, but education authorities were given those powers in the Education Act, 1944, when they were specifically mentioned. We have had two Acts of Parliament in which universities could have been included, in which they could have been given these rights in the same way as local authorities. Those Acts are the Education Act, 1944, which received the unanimous approval of this House, and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Yet in both these cases the only bodies giving these powers were Government Departments and local or public authorities.

On the second point, whether it is right that the university, if given these powers, should be given the same rights of purchase as local authorities or the Government, I would say this: there is no precedent whatever for compulsory purchase on such financial terms as are provided in this Bill. I believe that if a university, which serves only a limited part of the community, wishes to acquire land for extension, it should be prepared to pay a fair price for the land, houses or buildings it wishes to acquire. In this case those who are seeking to occupy land and buildings will be depriving people not only of their business accommodation, but also of their living accommodation. Suppose the University of Sheffield is given powers tonight to acquire land compulsorily, what will happen to the people who are deprived of their living accommodation? They will have to find other accommodation, and in these days, when so many people are waiting for houses, it is almost impossible to obtain alternative accommodation. If people are not to be paid a fair and reasonable price for the property which they are now occupying, then it will be even more difficult for them to find alternative accommodation. I suggest that even if the University of Sheffield is given powers for compulsory purchase, Clause 3 (3) should be struck out. The Clause says: The provisions of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act 1919 and of Part V of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 and any Act or Acts amending or applying those provisions shall apply in relation to the acquisition of land by the university as they apply in relation to the acquisition of land by a government department or a local or public authority. I see no reason why any university should be put in as favourable a position as the Government, or a Government Department, or a local or public authority. I do not believe there is any secret about the fact that when this Bill was considered by the Select Committee there was a Division on whether this Clause should or should not remain in the Bill. The voting was a tie, 2–2, and the Clause was allowed to remain in the Bill on the Chairman's casting vote.

What would be the effect if Clause 3 (3) were excluded from the Bill? It would mean that the university would still be able compulsorily to acquire land, but would have to pay a fair price, which would be negotiated as between a willing buyer and a willing seller. I have nothing whatever against the University of Sheffield. I believe it is doing excellent work, that it is now overcrowded, and that it must have more space. But when plans were brought before the Committee upstairs it is significant that no architect was brought along by the university as an expert witness; there was no statement, on behalf of the university, that an attempt had been made to draw up an alternative scheme or to find alternative land.

I submit that although it may perhaps be desirable for the university to have land adjoining their existing buildings, it is not absolutely necessary that they should. In fact, they have produced no alternative scheme. Another question to which I should like an answer, if there is to be a reply on behalf of the Government, is: when will the university be able to build these extensions? When will they be able to get on with this great scheme? I suggest that we should be wrong to give the university powers at this time, when there are so many people waiting for houses, and when, as in this instance, living accommodation is to be demolished for the university extensions. I know that it will be said that those who occupy these premises are to be given five years of grace. I cannot believe that the university will be able to get on with this scheme within five years. I submit that period of grace is not long enough.

Finally, I would ask why has no local inquiry been held in Sheffield? Why were those who wished to object, and who could not afford to come before Parliament—because it is expensive to appear before a Private Bill Committee —not given a local inquiry to state their case in a less expensive manner? If you, Mr. Speaker, were affected by this Bill, and you realised that your property or living accommodation was to be taken away from you compulsorily; if you knew that there were nearly 30,000 people on the waiting list for houses; and if you knew that, in addition, the university was hoping to acquire this land from you on specially favourable terms, so that you had no possible hope of finding alternative accommodation with the money paid to you for compulsory purchase, would you not yourself feel that you were being injured and treated cavalierly by Parliament, and would you not do your best to oppose it? That is the principle which I feel is involved in this Bill. I feel that if the university really want the land, it is only a difference of a few thousand pounds between the university and the man who at present holds the land. I hope that the House will consider our request that the Bill should be considered this day six months.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I should like to make it clear to the House, before I go any further, that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and I have nothing whatever against the University of Sheffield. Indeed, if this Bill had been sponsored by the University of Cambridge at which we were both undergraduates, we should have opposed the Measure, as we are doing now. Before proceeding with the details of my argument, I wish to refer to the difficulty of obtaining the Minutes of what took place in Committee. I understand that is a matter for the Parliamentary Agents sponsoring the Bill, and, on making inquiries of them, I was informed that there were no further copies of the Minutes available. I feel that Parliament is being treated rather peremptorily, if there were not sufficient copies printed of the Minutes dealing with such an important matter as to enable hon. Members interested to study at their leisure the details given to the Committee, and so be in a position to arrive at a reasonable opinion. However, I am glad to say that I have been able to borrow a copy of the Minutes, and thus to make myself acquainted with the details.

Parliament has rightly decided in recent years to limit compulsory powers to the central 'Government or to local authorities and statutory bodies. Local authorities have full powers to act on behalf of the education committees in the compulsory acquisition of land for schools and other educational purposes. This matter was fully discussed during the passage of the Education Act, 1944, when it was rightly decided not to extend to universities the power to acquire land compulsorily, for the simple reason that universities were not in the same category as education committees, responsible as they are, for the education of the whole of the community. It is, therefore, an anomalous position that an individual university should be seeking to acquire the compulsory powers for which it asks in the Bill.

I would like to refer to the present position as set out both in the statement prepared by the sponsors of the Bill and the objections put forward by the petitioner. The university makes the point that it is entitled to make the request. Of course, it is entitled to make the request, but I feel that Parliament is equally entitled to refuse the request if it should so desire. I do not feel that we should be bamboozled into acceding to a request just because it has been made. Do not let us be readily over-ridden on our impartial view of this matter by the fact that it is a university which is making the request. The university, according to its own wording, feels that it is entitled to make the request. The petitioner, on the other hand, makes two very sound points which are not dealt with at all by the university. First, it is pointed out in the Petition against the Bill, in paragraph 9, that the university already owns, within the vicinity of the land of the petitioner, land and properties which have not yet been developed or fully developed. They have, therefore, land which they can use at the present time, but they do not choose to do so for a variety of reasons. Secondly, in paragraph 9, they point out that, if the university does not at present require the properties for current occupation, there can be no justification for conferring on the university the powers of compulsory acquisition.

Surely, at a time when property of all kinds is so short, there is no justification for a university acquiring property, if it does not intend at the present time to make full use of it. No justification for compulsory acquisition of the property has been put forward on the ground of present need. In fact, I think that it is fair to say that there is no hindrance to the university to proceed with their plans without this Bill. If, indeed, it is going to be a hindrance if they are denied the Bill, why did they not in Committee bring forward their architect as an expert witness with whom the matter could have been thoroughly threshed out? The architect who prepared the scheme was carefully kept away from the cross-examination of the Committee. He was not given the chance to say why it was so essential for the university to have these powers, and I suggest that the reason was that he would have been arguing a very weak case, and that if his mind were applied to the matter, he could prepare an alternative scheme which would not necessitate the granting of compulsory powers to the university.

It may be said that there has been only one objection—only one property owner has petitioned the House with this end in view. That, of course, is because of the great expense of making these petitions. I understand that it is a fact that the petitioner is willing to negotiate for a fair price. The powers given to the university in the Bill would enable them to acquire the property in question at a distinctly unfair price. There is, I believe, only a difference of a few thousand pounds between the price which the University of Sheffield would be prepared to pay, and the price which the present landlord is willing to receive. Yet, because of this small difference, this Bill has been brought before Parliament. Parliamentary time has been expended, and great expense has been incurred, when the university, by a more concilatory attitude, might have made the Bill quite unnecessary.

I suggest that we in this House should look at the position of the small tenant—the poor tenant of neighbouring properties also covered by this Bill, who cannot afford to undertake the cost of obtaining counsel or preparing Petitions and going through all the formalities that attend opposition to a Private Bill. The matter could have been so easily overcome by the provision of a local inquiry, whereby any objector might have appeared and, at little or no expense, outlined his points of view. Instead, the university has apparently ridden roughshod over local objections and come to Parliament confident that it would get powers of compulsory acquisition.

It is significant that the Committee which considered this Bill had a 50–50 vote. In these days that is indeed very significant. If it is permissible to say so, I think it is unfortunate that the casting vote should have been cast for the Bill. Surely, a casting vote should be cast in such a way as to leave the matter open for further discussion and consideration. The casting vote should not be used to steam-roller a Measure of this character through Parliament. I see that we have with us no less a person than the Minister of Defence on the Front Bench opposite. As he represents a Sheffield constituency, doubtless he will rally to the aid of the Bill. I suggest to him that tonight he should abandon his defences and let the Amendment to defer this Bill go through.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

I have listened with very great care to the case put forward by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), and I regret to say that the conclusion which I have drawn from the two speeches is that this is really a matter only of £ s. d. In each case the speech was wound up on the theme that it is surely wrong to take Parliamentary time on a matter of a few thousand pounds. It is not the promoters of the Bill who are to be blamed in that respect—it is the hon. Member and others who are supporting the one petition.

Let me make the case as I understand it. Everyone knows that the University of Sheffield, in order to meet the every day and developing needs for university education, must expand. I think that is agreed on both sides of the House. I think it could be said also that a reasonable body of men, the Board of Governors responsible for the University of Sheffield—Sheffield people with Sheffield interests at heart—would do everything possible to get the fullest measure of agreement, settlement and conciliation with their own people. That is borne out by the fact that, while there are 53 houses involved, a petition has come only from one owner of four houses. I am entitled to deduce therefore, that the other owners—not tenants —are satisfied that they will get a fair and square deal from the Board of Governors of the University of Sheffield.

There is another point I wish to make. It is rather late in the day, if I may say so with respect, for this Bill to be opposed. It has had its Second Reading, it has been considered in Committee upstairs and we are now on the Report stage.

The point is made that the University of Sheffield, not being a statutory body, but being a body incorporated by Royal Charter, ought not to have compulsory powers. Surely that is really an academic point? I suggest that the university comes within the definitions of the 1919 Act. The University of Sheffield is not trading for profit; it is carrying on as a public undertaking. As I think has been already mentioned, docks, harbours, catchment boards and all sorts of other bodies have power to acquire land for their purposes. Why a university, which is developing under a most distinguished Board of Governors, should be denied those powers, or why the attempt to deny them those powers should be made, passes my comprehension. Those representing the university did everything possible, short of coming up to the maximum which apparently is wanted by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, to meet the objections; they have said that no one is to be displaced within less than five years unless alternative accommodation is found for them.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

But did they offer to try to find alternative accommodation?

Mr. Burden

The hon. Member knows that they cannot find the accommodation.

Mr. Taylor


Mr. Burden

But the local authority can, and the local authority of Sheffield is as much interested in the development of the university as any other body in Sheffield. I am certain that they would do all within their power to help the development of the university by finding that alternative accommodation.

Mr. Taylor

They have not said so.

Mr. Burden

We are not arguing that question, because the real point is s. d. —a few thousand pounds. I hope therefore that the House will not accept the Amendment. In conclusion, I would say that there are young men and women in Sheffield who are looking forward with anxiety and with hope to the development of the university. The university has set a great movement on foot in order to raise funds for itself. It is a grand scheme, finely conceived, and it will be a crying shame if this grand project of Sheffield is to be held up and defeated just because one man wants a few thousand pounds.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)

I rise to support the opposition to the Motion which was proposed by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and seconded by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll). It is customary in this House to confess a personal interest—indeed, it is obligatory to do so. I do not know whether I ought to confess an interest of my constituents, but this university is one of the eight great universities I have the honour to represent. The task of this House in considering private legislation is not easy, but there will be general assent to these propositions. If there is a great matter of principle obvious on the face of the Bill, this House is quite entitled to oppose that Bill on Second Reading, because if the grounds of opposition appear clearly on the face of the proposed Statute there can be nothing improper in that. If, on the other hand, the ground of opposition is not of universal application but it is desired to contest the particular application of some proposition, as here, this House is rightly slow to interfere with the view taken by the Committee which considered the evidence.

I accept from my hon. Friends that on one point at any rate there was a very close division. That sometimes happens, but nevertheless that does not mean that the Committee, which heard the evidence, is not in a better position to judge of the particular matters than those Members of this House who were not Members of the Committee. My hon. Friends who oppose the Report stage of this Bill have ventured on certain universal propositions which, as I hope to convince the House, must be wrong. The first proposition is that it can never be right for a university to acquire land compulsorily. I suggest that that proposition must be wrong. It may be unusual for a university to need such powers and it may be right that Parliament in its wisdom should not give universities general powers to acquire land compulsorily, but should require the university to prove to the satisfaction of the House the necessity in each particular case.

Both my hon. Friends the Member for Eastbourne and the Member for Altrincham, unwittingly I know, slightly misled the House in saying that under the Education Act universities were deliberately excluded, and that that shows that it was the intention of Parliament that universities should never be given the right to come to the House with such a Measure as this. With all respect it shows nothing of the kind. What the Act of 1944 did was to enable local education authorities to acquire land compulsorily without coming to this House at all. From that power universities were very properly excluded. It is perfectly right that universities needing to acquire land should have to satisfy this House on every occasion that they have a good case. The University of Sheffield accept that, and I accept it. I ask the House emphatically to reject the proposition that no university in any circumstances must come to this House to seek to acquire land compulsorily. If universities were so excluded they would be almost the only exclusion of those who perform important public functions.

There are, of course, precedents for this. There are the two precedents which were cited to the Committee and which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne in opening. They are the Edinburgh University and the Aberdeen University Acts. I could if I wished quote another fairly recent precedent which is in point, but it may be convenient simply to rely on those which were mentioned to the Committee. It is perfectly true that the grant of compulsory powers on those two occasions, on the Committee being satisfied—as this Committee is satisfied—that there was a good case for the particular university to acquire the land, did not carry with it the same implications regarding price as the carrying of this Bill will have.

Why was that? The Acts enabled the land to be acquired compulsorily under the code for the compulsory acquisition of land applicable at the time and that is precisely what is being proposed today. My hon. Friends said that they could find no precedent for universities being allowed compulsorily to acquire land under these particular statutes at this particular price. I say—and I hope some hon. and learned Member either now or when he comes to speak will correct me if I am wrong—that I can think of no precedent where any body has been allowed to acquire land compulsorily and has not been allowed to do it under the code applicable at the time to the compulsory purchase of land. That code is either fair or it is unfair. If it is unfair it is obviously the duty of Parliament to amend it, but, if it is fair, it is surely not the duty of Parliament to say that some particular body, on whom rightly is confers the power of compulsory acquisition, should be debarred from the ordinary consequences of acquiring land compulsorily under that code.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne talked about Parliament in its wisdom not delegating the powers of compulsory acquisition. It is not delegating any powers now. It is by Act of Parliament empowering a particular body, on being satisfied that there is a good case for it, to acquire particular parcels of land. My two hon. Friends have spoken as though, if this Bill were defeated, only this one piece of land would be affected. That, of course, by no means follows.

Before I come to the question of what is the code that is applicable if there is a case for compulsory acquisition, let me say that the need is much more likely to arise in these modern universities, which need great expansion, than in an ancient university where an expansion by a similar proportion of its former size is not contemplated. I shall not weary the House with the figures of the increase that is contemplated in the University of Sheffield. It is an increase the necessity for which is not contested in any quarter of the House, and I am sure there is nobody here who would wish to injure that great university.

I assume, then, that the majority of hon. Members of this House agree with me in my first proposition that it is impossible to say that no university should, in any circumstances, be entitled by Act of Parliament to acquire land compulsorily. If that is so, we come to the question of price. The price, if Clause 3 (3) were deleted, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne, would be governed by the Land Clauses (Consolidation) Act, 1845. The modern statute dealing with that matter is the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, which has been applied to compulsory acquisition generally since that date. The Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, Part V, and particularly Sections 51 and 52, amends the 1919 Act. The two together constitute the modern code.

There is nothing improper in that modern code being applied. Indeed, it would be without precedent if it were not applied. The university needs not only to expand but to expand in a particular place. Something was said about the university not thinking it necessary to call an architect as a witness but choosing to establish their point without doing so. I was not present at the meetings of the Committee and cannot say whether the authority thereby took any risks or not. One does not always call an architect if one can satisfy a tribunal without doing so.

If any comment had to be made about the absence of witnesses I should have thought that the most noticeable absence was that of the objector. Counsel, in the exercise of his discretion, did not think fit to call the petitioner as a witness. If any comment is to be made on the non-calling of a witness as much can be made of the non-calling of the petitioner as of the non-calling of an architect by the promoters.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

In this case the objector was ill. He is a very old man and he has been ill for some time.

Mr. Strauss

I am extremely sorry if I have made any point which is not fair. The objector was ably represented by counsel. There are means of obtaining evidence even from a man who is ill. I am sure it would not have been beyond the ingenuity of counsel to have the evidence of the objector, had he desired it. It would have been easy to obtain. The petitioner is the only objector, though all owners, lessees and occupiers affected were given full notice of the proposals in the Bill. Counsel for the petitioner made full use of his opportunity. He asked, first, that the Bill should be rejected altogether. That claim failed. I am sure the committee will think it right that it should fail. His second claim was that this property should be excluded. On that he was defeated. His third proposition was that Clause 3 (3) should be excluded. I have given reasons why I suggest that that claim was wrong.

On the fourth submission of counsel for the petitioner. the petitioner succeeded in getting something quite substantial. The fourth request was that no notice to treat should be served before 1952. On that point the petitioner got more from the Committee than he asked. If hon. Members will turn to Clause 16 they will find that the petitioner has been given an even longer period than that for which he asked. The Committee desired to avoid hardship. Something was said by my hon. Friend about the time when the Bill would be operated. I invite the House to look at Clause 5 which defines the period for compulsory purchase so that the threat cannot forever hang over the heads of these people. The powers have to be exercised within the limits of Clause 5. Particular protection is then granted to the petitioner under Clause 16.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

It does not say that they can start work.

Mr. Strauss

Of course, it does not say that, but that is not a reason for rejecting the Bill. Something has been said about the bodies that benefit by the code set out in the existing statutes. They are Government Departments, local authorities, including local education authorities, and bodies not trading for profit and authorised by Act of Parliament to carry on public undertakings. If the universities had been created by Act of Parliament instead of, as is more usual, by Royal Charter, automatically the provisions set out in Clause 3 (3) would have applied. In 1947, statutory undertakers were added to these categories. There has been no objection to the Bill on Second Reading and no Amendment of the Bill is now before the House. The whole purpose of the hearings before the Committee upstairs is that the details should be gone into and that evidence should be heard.

No case has been put forward on this occasion in support of the two general propositions of my hon. Friends. It must be proper in some cases that the university should apply for compulsory powers. It is in accordance with all precedents that compulsory powers, when granted, carry with them the implication that the compensation will be that given by the law of the land which is applicable, at the date when the powers are granted, to the compulsory acquisition of land. For these reasons, and because the needs of the university are undisputed and indisputable, I ask for the support of the House.

7.47 P.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

There is very little left for me to add to the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss). The speeches that were made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and by his seconder have been demolished. I do not know why they brought up the Education Act, 1944 If there is one thing on which we agree, it is that we do not want the universities to come under the Ministry of Education. This matter has no relevance to the Education Act. The other point was that it is customary to carry on the acquisition of land under the code existing at the time; this Bill incorporates the present code.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) said: "Do not be bamboozled simply because it concerns a university." The great point about the Bill is that it relates to a university, the red brick universities. Oxford and Cambridge are not going to expand on any scale. It will be universities like Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Bristol. Some of them will expand 100 per cent. as the Barlow Report clearly envisaged. The only way to do it is by looking ahead upon a properly planned system. The Bill asks for the same power to be given to universities as is possessed by docks, harbours, railways and other statutory bodies. Are universities to be excluded from statutory undertakings? My hon. and learned Friend has stated the case for making a specific reference each time. The seconder said that the universities should not have these powers.

"Why not any university?" says my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne. Why not? A university is a very important body. Local education authorities have powers to acquire land for educational purposes. When I was Parliamentary Secretary the only time I remember having any trouble was when the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said that we were paying too much.

However, in the case of the universities we ought to give these powers. The Bill is very carefully drafted and the case is very strong, and particularly strong in Sheffield. The universities which are sometimes called "red-brick universities" really need radical reconstruction and expansion just as the technical and technological colleges of this country need expansion, but they happen to come under the Ministry of Education or local education authorities. I am not moved at all by the general arguments and I am not particularly moved by the technical town planning and legal arguments. I cannot, therefore, see why this objection has been raised today, except that it is possible that those who were opposed to the 1919 and 1947 Acts think that this is a convenient occasion on which to raise the matter of compensation again. It cannot of course make any difference—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it is very hard to go back on this legislation which was passed by different types of Governments—Coalition Governments, Labour Governments and Conservative Governments — and has proved necessary on the whole for town planning—

Mr. C. S. Taylor

The universities are not statutory bodies.

Mr. Lindsay

It is the glory of the universities that they have a Royal Charter; it is only an accident that they do not come under the general law, and it is a glory that they are independent. I am sure that my hon. Friend rejoices in that fact; it is one of the great tenets of his party. It is because of the peculiar situation that they have a Royal Charter and do not come under the general law that they have to be included specifically in this Bill. Therefore, I very much hope that the objection will be rebutted.

7.53 P.m.

Sir John Graham Kerr (Scottish Universities)

I have listened with the greatest interest to the arguments put forward by the mover and seconder of the Amendment. I thought that many of their arguments were very weighty and I was rather prejudiced in their favour because I have a great distrust of powers for the compulsory acquisition of land. Yet, in spite of my being so influenced, I cannot by any possibility support the Amendment. This Bill is after all a great emergency Measure. One of the results of a great war like the one through which we have recently passed, is that the stream of young persons wishing to enter universities to equip themselves to play their part as efficient citizens is dammed up and they accumulate until at last, when the gates of peace are opened, the flood rushes to the various universities.

To any of us university representatives, the very biggest work which we have had to do has been to consider the hundreds of appeals by young persons who wanted to get into the universities and go on to equip themselves as citizens. Certainly to me it has been one of the most depressing features of all my work to feel how ineffective I was in relieving their anxieties and getting them into the universities. Why were we so ineffective? Because the accommodation of the various universities was suited to the ordinary stream of entrants in peace-time but was absolutely hopelessly insufficient for this great flood of would-be entrants.

The Government have shown well how they appreciate the need to do something to let these young citizens go on with their training. They have applied great pressure to universities to admit as many as can be accommodated and they have made great grants of money in order to provide the additional accommodation required. On those grounds—without going into any of the details of the matter and without trying to support or contradict any of the arguments that have been adduced—I feel that the great national need at the moment simply sweeps away all matters of detail and doubt. I therefore hope that the House will pass this Bill at once.

7.58 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Harry Morris (Sheffield, Central)

May I add a small voice in support of the University of Sheffield? I declare at once that I have an interest in this matter. I am a member of the Court of Governors of Sheffield University, but I also have to say that I have an even greater interest in that I represent the constituency in which it is sought to acquire a good deal of the property for which the corporation seeks power. I think I may claim, just as much as hon. Members opposite, to have a very jealous interest in the affairs of my constituency. I claim, too, rather an advantage over hon. Members opposite, and most hon. Members on this side, in that I happen to live in Sheffield and know this constituency very well.

It does not appear to be gainsaid now —it appears to be quite unanimous, if I have heard the discussion aright—that the University of Sheffield has made out a case for the acquisition of land. It is agreed that the needs of Sheffield University are tremendous today. Anyone who knows the buildings which are now occupied by Sheffield University must know very well that it is impossible for the university to extend within the limits of those buildings. Before the war, the university used to have about 700 students; now it has about 1,700 students, and it has embarked on an ambitious scheme for the development of the university until it can take in about 3,000 students.

My knowledge of the locality helps me in this respect. I know well the property in which the objector to the Bill is concerned. It is quite impossible for the university to extend at all unless it takes in this property. It must extend that way, and that extends into my constituency. The university has by negotiation been able to make arrangements with certain property owners, including the owners of a picture palace. I can imagine that the proprietors of the picture palace are so imbued with the development of education in Sheffield that they think the university has a paramount need over the need for pictures in that area. Apparently the university has also been able to conduct negotiations, and reach agreement, with most of the surrounding occupiers and owners of land, and there is only one substantial objector. I say "substantial" because however small the property may be, the objection is a substantial one. I would have had a good deal of hesitation in supporting this Bill if it had been possible for the university td step in at once and turn this man out without having to provide reasonable alternative accommodation for him.

The question uppermost in my mind in considering this matter was what sort of safeguard has been afforded to the individual who has objected? Surely Clause 16 provides a reasonable safeguard for him? The university is not entitled to take possession of this piece of property before 1st July, 1953, unless, before that date, suitable alternative accommodation is available for the owner of the land and his tenants. The Clause goes on: Any question whether such accommodation is available shall unless otherwise agreed be determined by the county court judge for Sheffield I should have thought that was an adequate safeguard. It is a much better safeguard than is given to day to those in county courts who are ordered to give up possessions of houses and properties. In my respectful submission, no entry under five years, unless reasonable alternative accommodation is provided, is an adequate safeguard to this objector. The gentleman is one of my constituents, and I should be the last to agree to any proposals which did not afford him an adequate safeguard.

It comes down to this: if the university has a case for the acquisition of this land, the only possible dispute is on the terms of that acquisition. Why should the University of Sheffield be in any worse position than a dock or harbour board or suppliers of electricity, gas, or water? If it had been the Corporation of Sheffield which had come along with powers to acquire land for the purpose of an educational authority, there could have been no objection to the acquisition of such land on these terms. It may be a good argument to say that the University of Sheffield ought to be in no better position than the Corporation and the education authority of Sheffield, but is there any reason for saying it should be worse off than the Corporation of Sheffield?

I understand that the university has launched its scheme with at least the approval, if not the active co-operation, of the Government, and in those circumstances the university is right in saying, "We should acquire our land on the same terms as those on which a local authority and other statutory undertakings can acquire it." It seems to me not a valid objection to say, "You cannot, because you are not a statutory undertaking. You possess your authority from a Royal Charter." For those reasons, having seriously in mind the substantial objection made by the objector, I hope the House will now say that the grounds for the objection have been removed.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I am glad that after a longish run of hon. Members opposed to this Amendment, I have this opportunity of supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor). Unlike the four or five hon. Members who have preceded me, I have not the advantage they have, albeit the temporary advantage, of being a university Member. I have, however, some little practical experience of the principles and procedure of the compulsory acquisition of land, and I would like to detain the House for a moment or two on the principles here involved.

This Debate has really considered two points: first, whether the University of Sheffield should have this power of compulsory acquisition and, secondly, if so, upon what terms and principles of compensation. It is quite right that the House should be applying itself to this question. The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) suggested that it was rather late in the day. for the House of Commons to have regard to this matter, but surely it is not to go forth from this House that Parliament regards its function as discharged if it can improve any Measure until that Measure is finally upon the Statute Book? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Strauss) suggested that those who were supporting the Amendment put forward the point of view that the universities should not be allowed to have compulsory powers of acquisition. That, of course, is not so.

There is a clear distinction between general powers of cumpulsory acquisition under public Acts which Parliament has decreed in its wisdom should be given only to Government Departments, local authorities and statutory undertakers on the one hand, and a private Act of Parliament promoted by a private interest in which special compulsory powers of acquisition are given for a particular purpose. Nobody would dispute that a university can legitimately have powers under a private Act of Parliament.

The distinction to be drawn is this. Those categories which have powers under public general Acts of Parliament are bodies either with elective responsibility or with functions important for the general body of the public on a wide scale. Private Acts of Parliament arise where there is no elective responsibility, and a narrow or less important interest is served. In such cases it is clear that Parliament must scrutinise the powers very jealously both because of those facts and, in this particular case, because of the question of alternative accommodation for persons displaced. There is some liability on local authorities under the existing Town Planning Acts to find alternative accommodation for people displaced in certain circumstances on account of compulsory acquisition by those local authorities.

Of course, in the case of a university, it is obvious that there can be no corresponding liability, because the university has no power to offer accommodation to any displaced person. All that has happened here is that there is a suspension put upon the operation of the compulsory acquisition in this case. If, however, the objector in question still has no alternative accommodation within that time, the powers of acquisition can and will be proceeded with against him. Therefore, there is inevitably an element of hardship in this case. I agree that it has been tempered by the concession made by the Committee upstairs; but there is still an element of hardship, and that is why it is necessary to look all the more closely at the principles of compensation here involved.

The hon. Member for the Park Division has poured great scorn on this question of £ s. d. I do not know why. Surely he would not suggest that money is not of some importance to an individual citizen? It would be a most exceptional citizen who attaches no importance to the question of compensation. It is very easy to mock at these things when one's own pocket is not involved, but I invite the hon. Member to put himself into the position of people whose property is compulsorily acquired.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

Are we to understand that the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) is that in cases where a special Act of Parliament like this gives power for compulsory acquisition of land, the basis of compensation should be different from that which applies in the case of the ordinary code of compensation?

Mr. Burden

Before the hon. Member deals with that point, will he deal with this? I have not poured scorn on the compensation as such, but on the small amount involved between the two parties.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The difference between the two parties is, in fact, substantial. It is not unusual for the difference between the parties to be considerable, and it is for an arbitrator to decide between them. I am coming to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) when I deal with the point raised so challengingly by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Combined English Universities. My hon. and learned Friend seems to attach considerable importance to the somewhat flyblown precedents of Edinburgh and Aberdeen in the last century. My hon. and learned Friend sought to meet the point, that these powers were given under a different principle of compensation, by saying that compulsory acquisition in those cases was carried out in accordance with the existing code applied at that time. But this, of course, is to miss a very important development in the history of the principles of compensation for compulsory acquisition. At the time of the two precedents in question, the whole of the code of compensation was governed by the Land Clauses Act, and other ancillary Statutes. That was a common code applicable to local authorities and Government Departments on the one hand, and to promoters of private Bills for compulsory acquisition on the other hand. My hon. and learned Friend is out of date by 30 years, because of the change in 1919.

After the Report of the Leslie Scott Committee in 1917 the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act of 1919 was passed, bringing in new rules for the assessment of compensation in respect of compulsory acquisition of land. The point forgotten or ignored by my hon. and learned Friend is that the 1919 Act has regard to local authorities and Government Departments, but not to the other category, of which we are speaking now. The whole situation was revolutionised in 1919, and there can be no merit in the argument my hon. and learned Friend put forward because there are now two codes, one in respect of Government Departments and local authorities governed by the 1919 Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the private promotors' code, which he conveniently ignored.

Mr. H. Strauss

Will my hon. Friend mention some precedents, later than 1919, in which powers of compulsory acquisition have been granted, but in which the 1919 code has not been applied?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Powers of compulsory acquisition given for specific purposes under Private Acts of Parliament do not necessarily follow the same code of compensation as acquisitions by local authorities, which are assessed under the rules of the 1919 Act.

Mr. Strauss

Can my hon. Friend give precedents?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have not come here armed with precedents under various private Acts of Parliament. My hon. and learned Friend must know that that is the law as it exists. There has been this whittling down in the principle of assessing compensation. The old principles of the 1845 Act were based on the value of the land to the owner at the time of service of notice to treat, taking into account the probable use to which it might be put, and in addition to that there was a 10 per cent. allowance for the fact that there was compulsory acquisition. The 1919 Act substituted the test of market value to a willing seller, and abolished the 10 per cent. allowance in respect of acquisition by local authorities and Government Departments. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act further whittled it down by assessing compensation only for existing restricted use, but still in respect of local authorities, Government Departments and statutory undertakings.

In this case, the objector has the disadvantage that he has not any statutory right to alternative accommodation. He has to go into an inflationary market in order to re-accommodate himself and it is proposed that he shall do that on the basis of compensation assessed on a doubly restricted principle. We say no. By Section 52 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, provision is made to eliminate the effect of the special value attributable to vacant possession as far as the purchaser is concerned. What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander, and in our view this objector has the right to the most favourable treatment in regard to compensation which it is possible to give him. We say he should not be exposed to the restricted principles of compensation of the 1947 and 1919 Acts, but should be assessed on the old principle prior to the 1919 Act, which governed acquisition in those days under the Land Clauses Consolidation Act. In those circumstances, I think that the House, favourable as it is to the claims—and just claims—of universities as we all must be, should have regard to the principles here involved—and should support the Amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne.

8.19 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

We have had four excellent speeches in support of this Bill by the hon. Member and the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay and Mr. H. Strauss), my hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division (Mr. Burden) and the hon. and gallant Member for the Central Division of Sheffield (Lt.-Col. H. Morris). Having listened carefully to what they have said, it appears to me that they have established an overwhelming case for the House to resist the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor). There is really nothing more I need add, except that it was felt it would be appropriate for someone from this Box to indicate to the House, supposing a Division were taken, that the Government wholeheartedly support this Bill.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The Government also supported the death penalty.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

This university serves students who come from a wide area, covering several counties. Its history goes back over 40 years, and it has steadily expanded down the years. Today its students number, I understand, about 1,700, and it is hoped, when this expansion takes effect to cater for something over 3,000. One point which has not been made tonight is that this university is providing technicians and professional men of the very kind we need. Its faculty of engineering, its faculty of mining and its medical faculty do a great work. It seems to me, therefore, that it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if the House tonight agreed with the hon. Member for Eastbourne and refused to pass this Measure.

The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) seemed to think we should reject it because the compensation to be paid is insufficient. I found his argument very difficult to follow. Surely, if under the terms of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, which was passed by a Conservative Government, certain terms of compensation were laid down, the House can assume that the terms would not be unjust to those whose land was compusorily taken under it. I think that we can rest assured, in view of the fact that a Select Committee has sat on this matter, that changes to cover this particular owner, which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Central Division of Sheffield mentioned, have been inserted in the Bill, and that every effort has been made to see that justice is done. We hope, therefore, that the House will agree to pass this Measure.

It struck me as rather strange that the hon. Member for Hertford seemed to think that a university was in some way in a category different from other educational institutions. Local authorities are able, so far as their education activities are concerned, to acquire land compulsorily. I see no reason why, when a local authority can do it, the same provision should not be extended to a university, because a university is carrying out exactly the same sort of work as is a local authority when it is extending its buildings for educational purposes. If a gas company and other statutory undertakings are allowed, and very properly, to take advantage of the legislation on the Statute Book for the compulsory acquisition of land, it seem to me to be a strange doctrine to say that the same right should not be accorded to universities when they come to this House for like powers.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Surely, the right hon. Gentleman ought to make his rather surprising observation quite clear to the House. Is he suggesting an amendment of the public general Acts which give powers of compulsory purchase so as to include universities? Or is he advancing the equally surprising doctrine that if a Private Bill for compulsory acquïsition comes before the House from a university, it is the duty of the House to pass it without discussion?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Not necessarily without discussion, but we have to remember the history of this Measure. It came to this House and received its Second Reading. It was sent upstairs and a Select Committee went into it, with the utmost thoroughness, and found that the Preamble to the Bill was substantiated. That being so, I think we must take cognisance of the findings of the Select Committee. We have to remember that the money for the expansion of these universities is largely found by the taxpayer through the University Grants Committee. Over three years ago that Committee suggested to the Treasury that legislation should be passed empowering universities to acquire land in the same way as other public authorities and statutory undertakers. Sometime general legislation of that kind may be passed, but that moment has not yet arrived, and a university promoting a Private Bill has every right, so it seems to us, to ask the House to give it power to secure land and to acquire it under the Acts which are on the Statute Book.

I, for one, would all the more accord the university that right because I know that much of the money that will have to be found will come out of the pockets of the taxpayers. I see no difference whatever between giving these powers to a local authority, where the money comes partly out of the pockets of the ratepayers and partly out of the pockets of the taxpayers, and giving the same right under the same legislation to universities, knowing full well that the majority of the money for that expansion will come, through the University Grants Committee, out of the Exchequer. I hope, therefore, that the House will accede to the request for this Bill.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I think it proper to explain the line we now propose to take from this Bench. The right hon. Gentleman has asked the House to approve of the proposals in this Bill, which is not unnatural seeing that any widening of the sphere of compulsory purchase appeals to the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman said that opinions are divided in this House, but he made reference only to speeches which supported his own point of view. Opinion was also divided on the Committee, and the Chairman, I understand —I am subject to correction—voted twice. I have always understood hitherto that it was the function of most chairmen —I am not au courant with what should happen on this occasion—to give his casting vote for the status quo. I take exception to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman calls in aid a vote on the Committee in which the chairman had two votes.

Another ironical fact was that the right hon. Gentleman called in aid speeches made by university Members. He was proud and pleased to shelter behind the speeches which were made possible by university votes. While it is very charitable of His Majesty's Government to pay such regard to the universities at a time when they are almost completely losing the support of university voters, let them beware of what will happen when they no longer have the protection of university Members behind which to shelter.

I think that the House as a whole will agree that this was an entirely proper subject to raise in the High Court of Parliament. It affects individual freedom, and in a world of diminishing freedom it is right and proper that the individual should go to Members of Parliament when his own rights are threatened. The older universities have not found it necessary to go outside the sphere of friendly arbitration when acquiring property. We believe this could be settled by agreement. We wish every success to the University of Sheffield, which has a great part to play in the cultural development of this country in the future. I am sure that the university desires its progress to be attended by the universal support of the citizens residing in Sheffield as well as by Parliament.

I would suggest to the promoters of this Bill, in view of the strong feelings expressed and the safety of individual liberty all over the world, that between now and the Third Reading of this Bill they look again at Clause 3 and decide whether they are not in a position to offer more generous compensation to the individual in this case than they can, if this Bill becomes law, claim by law. If they do that I am certain that their project for this university will go forward with greater harmony. In the light of these observations we do not propose to divide at this time—

The Minister of Defence (Mr. A. V. Alexander)

I should like to be clear, as the hon. Member has spoken for the Front Bench of the Conservative Party, whether his last remark meant that his party is in favour—definitely in favour—of more generous treatment being afforded to landowners for land acquired for educational purposes than are afforded by the Act of 1919 to the ordinary local education authorities. Is that the position?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I refuse to be drawn into a general statement. The right hon. Gentleman will remember only too well in Debates not many months ago on compulsory service his own refusal to be drawn into a series of general observations—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. Member is now making a second speech. He can only do that by leave of the House.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

By leave of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am about to answer, if I have not the leave of the House I cannot answer. All I do say is—[Interruption.] is it not granted? —[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Then I cannot answer.

8.33 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

We have no intention whatever of being either transfixed on an imaginary dilemma by the Minister of Defence, or of shirking the issue. The Sheffield proposal we are now supporting has been slightly damaged by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who said it had the support of the Government—a very damaging thing nowadays, as he knows very well, and as the Home Secretary can confirm. We simply say, as was said just now, that we do not propose to delay the further progress of this Measure. My hon. Friend's own suggestion was that it would be very reasonable, in view of the discussion, for the promoters of the Bill to consider whether they could not come to agreement with Sheffield University. That was merely a counsel that two people should get together. I do not think there is any objection that could reasonably be taken in any part of the House to such counsel, and when my hon. Friend had further pointed out from the Front Bench that it was not our intention to divide against this Measure, I think it was a little ungracious of hon. Members on the other side of the House to refuse him the opportunity of making his position clear which he had been challenged to do by the Minister of Defence. It is on that ground that I venture to intervene in the Debate.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.