HC Deb 15 May 1950 vol 475 cc955-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]

7.57 p.m.

Mr. Braine (Essex, Billericay)

I apologise for detaining the House, but I wish to raise a matter which closely concerns the rights and the feelings of many thousands of freeholders who live in the area designated for the new town of Basildon, which covers the small townships of Laindon, and Pitsea and a scattered rural area called Basildon. I must make it plain at the outset that I am not opposed to the principle of new towns as such. I recognise that it is necessary in these days to decentralise large, sprawling urban communities.

The Basildon project, to which the former Minister of Town and Country Planning gave his blessing somewhat reluctantly, is unique among new towns for three reasons. Firstly, the area designated is very much larger than any other new town. It is larger than two other new towns put together. It comprises some 7,800 acres against 2,340 acres for Hatfield, 2,350 for Peterlee, 5,920 for Crawley, and just over 6,000 for Harlow. Secondly, Basildon has a much larger population already resident in the area. It has 25,000 or more people living there as against 160 in Harlow, 200 in Peterlee and 8,000 in Crawley and Hatfield. The figures are interesting, because the previous Minister always assumed that there were only some 17,000 people in the area. Goodness knows, that was large enough. I have had a careful check made, and I am satisfied that there are some 25,750 people living in the designated area.

It is interesting to note, in passing, that I asked the present Minister a Question on 9th May as to how many freeholders there were in the area. I wanted to know so that I could find out how many people were likely to be affected by the scheme, adversely or otherwise. He replied that he did not know, and that the information was not worth the trouble of finding out. I hardly expected him to know when his Ministry did not know the total number of people living in the area whom they were proposing to disturb by this project.

The third reason why this new town is unique among new towns is that a very high proportion indeed of the people already living in the area live rent free on their own freehold land. I quite agree that the area as a whole is in need of development, that there are miles and miles of unmade roads and that there are some sub-standard and unsightly properties; but it is also true that if a new town is to be planted down in this area in exactly the same way as other new towns are being put down elsewhere in the country, it cannot avoid hurting a very large number of people, causing grave hardship and even acute distress and leaving behind it a trail of bitterness and resentment.

These freeholders—I have spent the last four years cultivating their acquaintance; that is one of the reasons why I am here—are, almost without exception, people of slender means owning comparatively small plots of land. In many cases their homes are the result of the labour of their own hands. These people came from the East End of London and from metropolitan Essex in the 'twenties, and they built their own homes during the week-ends. In all cases their property represents a lifetime of abstainence and thrift, qualities which are not exactly encouraged today but without which the State would very quickly fall into decay. Large numbers of these people are pensioners who, if dispossessed, would find it impossible to obtain for themselves another freehold house elsewhere and would find it quite impossible to pay an economic rent. One has only to see the fantastically high rents charged for new houses now being erected in other new towns to see what an enormous financial burden would be placed on the community if large numbers of these people were re-housed, as they would have to be if they were dispossessed.

The point I want to make at the outset of my remarks is that, whatever their means, these people possess something of infinite value to themselves. They possess their homes, and freeholds, their pride and self-reliance. Few, if any, of them wish to live in a council house subsidised by their neighbours. All of them are proud to own their own plot of English soil.

When the new town was first mooted there was no great objection to it in the area. Many people felt that it was a good thing, that it would speed the development of the area as a whole and that nobody would lose his home or his land except in cases where it was obviously necessary to acquire land to lay down new roads and to carry out other works. When the full implications of the new town began to dawn upon them there was a great public outcry. It was to allay the growing anxiety in the area that the late Minister of Town and Country Planning, Mr. Silkin, came down to Laindon. To use his own words, he "invited himself to address a public meeting." This is what he said: I have heard that there was a feeling of uneasiness, very natural and understandable"— How natural and understandable I shall show in a minute— among the people of Laindon and Pitsea, and I felt that a great responsibility rested upon me. I have no desire whatever to inflict injury or harm on anybody in the course of carrying out the proposals I have in mind. There may be some misunderstanding, and I may be able to deal with certain matters and put your minds at ease. By a very happy coincidence I was present at that meeting, and I can testify that the Minister said nothing at all to dispel the misunderstanding and doubt which existed in the area. On the contrary, he made it crystal clear that it was the intention of the Government to vest all freeholds in the area ultimately in the local authority. He left the district seething with fear and discontent, and since that date the Ministry's spokesmen, far from clearing the matter up, have added fuel to the fire and added to the doubt and uncertainty.

For example, at a public inquiry which was held in October, 1948, to hear objections to the scheme a Mr. Phillips, who was the Minister's representative, gave certain categorical assurances. I have here a copy of the report of the inquiry, on page 52 of which Mr. Phillips is reported as saying that where property was not required by the development corporation and it fitted into the development plan the owner would be left with the freehold. That was fair enough, and a number of people who heard that statement heaved a great sigh of relief. Mr. Phillips went further and told one man that if he owned land which the corporation did not want to acquire and if the land was in an area in which the development corporation for the new town did not want to build houses, he would be free to build his own house, and Mr. Phillips added that the man could possess the freehold.

These observations at the public inquiry had the effect of allaying to some extent the uneasiness which prevailed in the area until after the Minister had signed the Order designating some 7,800 acres of the urban districts of Billericay and Laindon for the purpose of establishing a new town. As a result of the Order the Basildon New Town Corporation came into being, and in June of last year Sir Lancelot Kaye, a distinguished architect, was appointed its first chairman. But this gentleman does not really know much about the people in Basildon as I shall presently show.

In June, 1949, at a public meeting in Pitsea, Sir Lancelot dropped a bomb when he said that it was the Government's intention to vest all freeholds in the area in the local authority. As might be expected—particularly after the reassurances that had been given at the public inquiry—this produced the most violent reaction. Sir Lancelot was told in unmistakable fashion by one man, "We might just as well have Hitler here." Another man jumped up and asked him if this was justice after fighting for his stake in the country for the last six years. I believe that the intensity of the local feeling, which it is difficult for me to convey to the House, was expressed most eloquently by the wife of a labourer who spoke at the public inquiry. This is what she said: We have a tiny bungalow and just a small piece of land, and we have struggled for 15 years to get that. We do not feel anybody has a right to take it from us. It is our life. It is ours. I do not care; nobody has got the moral right to take what we have had such a struggle to get. Nobody is going to take it from us without a fight. Since Sir Lancelot Kaye's bombshell the General Election has taken place, and to clear the air I put down two Questions to the Minister on 18th April. He was kind enough to answer the first, but to the second—which was whether he would leave in possession of their freehold rights all freeholders whose land and buildings will remain unaffected by the development of Basildon—he gave no reply. It is no answer to say, as the Minister said then, and as his predecessor had said on a number of occasions, that nobody need worry, the development corporation may not want to acquire their property for 10 to 15 years. There is no more difference between that and a burglar knocking on a door and telling the owner that he will not rob him today but in six months' time.

As a result of all this, a blight has settled on all property in the area. One man I know wished to sell his house last year in order to raise the necessary funds to emigrate to Australia. Six different buyers, one after the other, called off the deal because they found that no building society would advance money to them. The development corporation have not touched his house, they may never acquire it, but the legitimate aspirations of this man have been thwarted and his capital, the result of a lifetime of thrift, has been reduced. I would go further and say that the development corporation are now beginning to use pressure to get the land they require. The shadow of the compulsory purchase order hangs over the whole area.

I have in mind the case of a freeholder who, with his father and a brother, owns a number of plots of land which they use profitably as a smallholding. The father and the brother live in houses on the site. The man I have in mind submitted plans for a small dwelling-house three years ago to the local housing authority, the Billericay Urban District Council. The plans were passed and in due time he could have expected a licence to be issued. Now the development corporation want his land. Gone are my friend's hopes of acquiring the house of his dreams in the place where he wants it and, what is perhaps even more important, gone is the livelihood of the family. No price is suggested, it is left to the district valuer. No explanation is given as to how the land will fit in with the development scheme. How can it be? No master plan has yet been issued by the development corporation and, to the best of my knowledge, no master plan is in sight of being issued.

I would hazard a guess as to why that land is required. I have another friend, also a freeholder, who had the temerity to ask the development corporation why they wanted his land. This is the reply he received in a letter from the Chief Solicitor to the Basildon Development Corporation: With further reference to your letter, … the reason for the Corporation wishing to purchase the above plot of land from yourself is that they have obtained authority from the Minister of Town and Country Planning to acquire the land to enable them to co-operate with the local planning authority in carrying out a constructive planning policy by offering leases of plots of land in Retention Areas on which disappointed applicants for permission to build elsewhere age prepared to erect their houses. It is a rather long-winded sentence, but the intention is quite clear. At the end of the letter is the following sentence: I shall be glad, therefore, if you will consider this letter and let me know your decision as soon as possible as, otherwise, I am afraid it must be assumed you are an unwilling seller and the Corporation will have to consider whether they should exercise their compulsory powers of purchase. In other words, "If you do not sell, we can jolly well make you. You can build a house, but you can only build it on our terms and on land we are prepared to lease to you." The representative of the Minister gave assurances at the public inquiry which were not worth the paper they were written on.

I would like to speak frankly about this. These people are being robbed. The difference between now and 12 months ago is that a large number now know they are being robbed and they cry out for justice. Ill betide the Government that ignores their plea. I am not asking the Minister to introduce fresh legislation—that would be out of order—but I am asking him to recognise the special nature of the problem and to use his existing powers to ease it.

Of course, I am well aware that the Minister will say, "But these people will be compensated." What sort of compensation are they likely to get? They will get what the district valuer thinks is the market price. What, may I inquire, is the market price in an area where the development corporation are the only buyers? And in any case, am I not right in suggesting that no one will get a price sufficient to buy another property elsewhere with vacant possession since the development corporation can acquire properties under the Planning Acts at less than vacant possession value? The point was made clearly in the first report of the Hemel Hempstead Development Corporation which said, on page 64. The Corporation is limited to paying no more than the compensation payable on a compulsory purchase in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which excludes some part of the current premium commanded for houses with vacant possession. Save in quite exceptional circumstances, therefore, the Corporation cannot buy by agreement houses so offered. No acceptable method of overcoming this difficulty has been found. I suggest this hardly makes for a fair deal between a willing seller and a willing buyer. It is rather comparable to the man from the Ministry standing with a lifebelt on the bank of a fast flowing river and offering it to a drowning man in midstream on terms which he can hardly refuse.

There are certain things that the Minister can do without amending legislation. He could revoke the Order designating the area as a new town on the ground that it will be impossible to establish a new town there without causing grave hardship, discomfort and injustice to the people already living there. Such a solution would possibly please a good many people in the area, but it would not please all. I have said nothing about those people who hope to find homes in the area from outside, and far be it from me to suggest that there should be no new town.

I suggest therefore that the Minister should take a course which harms no one. First, he could direct the development corporation to serve no compulsory purchase orders and not to use the threat of that until after the master plan has been completed and published when, of course, all interested parties can see where they stand. Second, he could give a categoric assurance that freeholders whose properties are left unaffected by the master plan will be left in possession of their freehold rights. I do not think that is unreasonable and it would be an easy thing for the Minister to do. Third, I suggest he could use his powers under Section 5 (1) of the New Towns Act, 1946, to treat the area as an exceptional case and to direct the development corporation not to acquire land where freeholders themselves desire to build and in respect of which they have already submitted their plans to the local housing authority. He could also give to those who are dispossessed the opportunity, if they wish to take it, to acquire freehold land elsewhere in the area at an equivalent valuation.

I am sorry not to see the Minister in his place. I intimated to him that I should be raising this matter, and as he came to my constituency on Saturday and visited the Basildon Development Corporation, I had hopes that he would be here to reply. No doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to him my appeal to his humanity to remove the cloud of doubt and uncertainty which overhangs my constituency.

The population to which I am referring is exactly half the population which is expected ultimately to be established in the new town. Necessary as new towns may be, if they are founded upon injustice they can never hope to develop that civic spirit which should sustain their communities. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey to the Minister certain words which Henry Thoreau once used: Whatever the human law may be, neither an individual nor a nation can ever commit the least act of injustice against the obscurest individual without having to pay the penalty for it.

8.22 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Lindgren)

I have seldom listened in this House to a speech which was so far from the actual facts as that to which we have just listened. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) has a heavy responsibility as a Member of Parliament, and I would ask him not to inflame people's fears or to try to create political capital out of their doubts. Rather his function, I would suggest, is to see that those folk get justice.

Why is there a new town at Basildon? That area is an example of Tory landlordism at its worst. There are thousands upon thousands of people who are condemned to live in houses, shacks and caravans, without roads, sewers, water or light. Is that the type of housing or the conditions under which people ought to live? Why was Basildon taken over by the Ministry? It is because the Essex County Council and the Billericay Urban District Council realised there was such an unholy mess in the area. It was the one place which provided every reason for having a plan.

Mr. Braine

I hesitate to break in on what is, obviously, going to be a clever debating speech, but the Parliamentary Secretary will recollect that the Billericay Urban District Council, the Essex County Council and all the others who pressed the Minister to establish a new town, did so before the full implications of the 1947 Act were fully understood.

Mr. Lindgren

They did so before certain Conservative elements started to arouse in the area passions which were not necessary. The fact is that this is an area in which a very fine piece of social work is to be done. Between the wars these little plots of land were bought by individuals. All sorts of shacks were erected. Many of the people who built them have had to run away because they could not afford even the charge for some of the roads which have been laid. It is an area in which whole stretches of land are unused. The land utilisation of the area was only very slight and, therefore, to put right the ill effects of the lack of planning between the wars, a town is to be built at the request of the local authorities of the area.

It has been said that there will be hardship and distress, and that uneasiness exists; we have heard talk of Hitler and of robbing. But I have a long experience of public life and I say this for Government service, whether it be national or local government: the ordinary individual stands a far better chance of fair and humane treatment at the hands of a local authority or a Government than from a private landlord.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Tell that to the dentists.

Mr. Lindgren

We are trying to put right ills other than those of the mouth.

If a new town is to be built, the area must be used to the best advantage. Furthermore, which is the proper body to hold the freeholds of land within a town—the individuals, or the community as a whole? There may be a cleavage between the two sides of the House upon this, but I hold the view, as do the Government, that the land belongs to the people, and that the collective owning and use of the land is a matter for the people themselves.

Mr. Braine

In that case the Government should pay fair compensation.

Mr. Lindgren

Fair compensation is paid. To suggest otherwise is very unkind to folk who have only a very small plot of land or who have, perhaps, very meagre resources; although the plot is small and the shack upon it mean, it is nevertheless theirs and they derive pride of ownership from it.

Section 5 (2) of the New Towns Act requires that where land is purchased and alternative accommodation is offered, that alternative must be offered on terms settled with due regard to the price at which any such land had been acquired from them. I can assure hon. Members that these conditions will be reasonable and that in making the new town we shall not be arbitrary and we shall not take away people's land before it is needed. The land will be acquired as and when it is required for development. No undue disturbance will be caused to any individual, but it is equally true that we can give no undertaking whatever—and, indeed, it would be impossible if we are to provide the new town as it ought to be provided—that the freeholders will have their freeholds left with them.

The development of the new town will mean that the vast majority of the freeholds will have to go, because it will be impossible to develop, shall we say, in the Laindon area, which I know very well, on the basis of the existing freeholders retaining their own plots. It simply means——

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

Is the bon. Gentleman advocating the nationalisation of the land here and now? Is that what he is saying?

Mr. Lindgren

No, Sir, and I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman was in his place when his bon. Friend was speaking. I have given 25 years of my life to the development of garden cities——

Mr. Braine

I raised this matter in order to ventilate the feeling, which is very widespread in the area and has already resulted in the removal of almost every Labour councillor from the Billericay Council. I feel very deeply about this, and I see no reason at all why the hon. Gentleman should consistently cast gibes across the Floor of the House. I want to know the answers to my questions. Do I understand, from what he has just said, that no freeholder whose land and property is left unaffected by the master plan can have a guarantee that his freehold will not ultimately be taken away from him?

Mr. Lindgren

In reply to that interjection, I do accuse, not the hon. Gentleman himself, but some of his friends in the area, who, for political purposes, have been trying to aggravate the reasonable doubts of the people there rather than settling them with the statement that, in fact, they will be fairly treated. There will be no fears set at rest on the basis of allowing the existing freeholders to remain, because, in fact, that could not happen. It would be impossible to create the new town and allow the freeholders to remain.

Mr. Braine

Does the hon. Gentleman realise what he is saying? He says that the freehold rights of many thousands of people are going to be taken away. Is that, in fact, what the Minister intends?

Mr. Lindgren

It is perfectly true, and it has been known for some time. In fact, we could not make a reasonable town in the area unless that was done. Many of these plots are small and ill-shaped; they have on them little shacks and the roads are only cart tracks. If we are to have roads, sewers and all the services which the new town will require, these freeholds must be disturbed. So far as the freeholders are concerned, they will be given an opportunity of being rehoused in the area and, as the Act itself says, the conditions under which they take over their new leases and houses will have relation to the prices which they were paid for their freeholds.

The hon. Member's more definite question concerns those freeholders whose plots may be left undisturbed as the result of the development, and, as I understood his question, it was whether or not these freeholders whose plots, perhaps by a piece of luck, are left undisturbed by the development scheme, will be allowed to retain their freeholds. The answer is that, as the whole area is required for development, their freeholds will be taken and leases given to them. It is equally true that the creation of a new town will make a very considerable addition to the value of land in the area and, if the community itself creates the value, the community surely has the right to take the results of the increased value which it has itself created.

My brief answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the area under discussion is the one area in this country that I know of at least, where in fact one can find all the ills arising from the lack of planning in the years between the wars. This step is being taken at the request of the local authorities, because of the mess which was created by haphazard development. The local authorities have not the resources with which to correct the mistakes of the past. So many mistakes have been made and the area was in such a bad condition that the local authorities concerned, the Essex County Council and the Billericay Urban District Council, appealed to the Government for help in putting right the wrongs of the past. Therefore, the nation has to come to the aid of Billericay, and put its resources behind it in order to put right these ills of the past.

That being so, if we are going to create a new town, it must be on the basis of the community—who are providing the resources for the redevelopment—taking, the overall ownership, and acquiring also the increased values that arise from the land's development. No portion of land will be taken until it is required for development, and those people who are disturbed through their land being taken over, will be reasonably and fairly dealt with by the corporation regarding their re-establishment. I am certain, having seen the area and knowing it fairly well, that as the town begins to develop, those people who are disturbed will appreciate the value of the new town being created in the area. It may be 10, 15, or 20 years before some freeholds are interfered with, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to co-operate with us to see that——

Mr. Braine

I cannot co-operate in robbery.

Mr. Lindgren

It would be a little more to the credit of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had they stopped these poor people being robbed in the past, because this is an area of land exploitation at its worst.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

While I agree in the main with all that the Parliamentary Secretary has said, did I understand him to say that where a man had a little plot of land and had built a house upon that land, and even where that house and that land would not disarrange or harm the general build-up of the district, the Government would still take the freehold of it away from him?

Mr. Lindgren

It is quite plain, and there is no need to get excited about it as do hon. Members opposite. It is perfectly true that, in the past, when a community developed an area and increased its value, the owner of any land or property in the area had the benefit of that increased value. In this area we shall increase the value by creating a town, and, therefore, the value of land and buildings in the area is bound to rise—a town will be built in place of what is at the moment little more than a collection of shacks and huts.

Mr. Braine

That is absolute nonsense. In the interest of accuracy I must point out that the description of the area by the Parliamentary Secretary is not at all accurate. There are two townships of quite decent development, and but for the war, and the fact that in 1945 there was a change of Government, the area would have developed in accordance with proper town planning requirements.

Mr. Lindgren

We are not going to get far if exaggerated statements are made from either side, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to deny that in the Laindon area, in particular, it would be absolutely impossible for town planning to take place without disturbing existing development.

Mr. Braine

It would not be; that could well be tackled by infilling and allowing people who wish to build their own homes on their own plots to do so, but that is quite outside the orbit of this discussion.

Mr. Lindgren

It is certainly outside the orbit of the discussion upon which, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman wishes to lay particular emphasis, but the general picture is that, apart from certain existing road developments, there are thousands of caravans, huts, shacks, and poorly built bungalows without roads, water, sewerage, or lighting. It is necessary to take the whole of this area in order to make a reasonable town out of it.

This is the development of an area for the purpose of bringing in people who cannot be found accommodation in East Ham, West Ham, the Leytons and the East side of London. Therefore, this is not only the redevelopment of an area which has been badly planned in the past but is, in addition, the creation of a new town for the provision of housing for the people of the eastern boroughs of London. That will be done in the course of the next 15 to 20 years and, as I have said earlier, it will be done humanly, it will be done reasonably and it will be done fairly. No one will be unnecessarily disturbed and no one will be exploited.

But, it is equally true one cannot have a question of individual ownership of land if one is to have a new town created at the expense of the community. This area will become a leasehold area but a leasehold from the community, the community owning the land. This is something vitally different, very much different, from leasehold property areas such as were known in the past, where individual landowners held the land and charged excessive lease rents to individual owners of properties and took their properties at the end of the lease.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

We have listened to a rather remarkable speech from the Parliamentary Secretary and one which will have raised more doubts in the minds of Members of this House and of people outside than it has possibly allayed.

I wonder if I may detain the House for a moment by fixing a few of these remarkable statements. In the first place, the Parliamentary Secretary justified the general principle of acquiring freeholds in new towns on the grounds that it was Socialist theory and policy that ownership of the land should be in the hands of the community. If that is so of a new town, then that must be a principle which is applicable to the country at large. Therefore, we have quite plainly, despite all that has passed and all that has been said in recent months, a re-affirmation of the fact that nationalisation of the land is and remains——

Mr. Lindgren

I am sure the hon. Gentleman, even at this hour, does not want deliberately to put into my mouth language I did not use.

Mr. Braine

The Minister said it.

Mr. Lindgren

I said, and I repeat, that for the purpose of creating a new town it is necessary to have single ownership of the land of the area. We believe that, for the purpose of creating a new town, it is necessary to have single ownership of the land, and we believe that single ownership should be in the hands of the community.

Mr. Powell

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I shall come presently to the argument, which he used at a later stage of his speech, that the acquisition of freehold in a new town was necessary for the purpose of planning the new town. I understood him to say, and it is on record whether I am right or wrong, that it was a principle of more general application. However, I pass from that.

The hon. Gentleman further stated that if there ever was a site in the country which was specially suitable for the building of a new town it was the area in my hon. Friend's constituency, by reason of the mad planning of that area. That is quite a new light on the reasons for the choice of sites for new towns. We now learn from the Parliamentary Secretary that the building of a new town is not an instrument for planned decentralisation of population into areas which are suitable for the growth of a prosperous community, but is merely an instrument for replanning an area of previous bad planning. I do not know whether that represents the view of the Government, but it is certainly a strange new doctrine if that is so, and it will certainly result in many of our new towns being put into very queer positions. I think I may say that no one on this side of the House has any objection—in fact, very much the contrary—to the continuous replanning of areas of bad development, but we do not regard the building of new towns as the proper means of doing that; nor, for reasons which I will come to in a moment, do we regard the acquisition of the freehold in those areas as a necessary condition.

My hon. Friend made a reasonable and temperate request of the Minister, and that was that a definite forecast of the future should be given which would set at rest the minds of persons owning freeholds in the area designated for the new town. He asked, in particular, that where the master plan for the new town, when approved, showed that there would be no alteration in the present layout, the freehold should remain undisturbed and that it should be understood as from now on that it would not be disturbed.

In his reply the Parliamentary Secretary divided the freeholds in the new town area into two categories—the category of freeholds in areas which would have to be replanned, that is, where there would have to be a complete replanning of the present layout, and, on the other hand, freeholds of which the present planning would not have to be disturbed. He justified the action of acquiring the freehold on different grounds in the two cases. In the first case he said it was necessary, in order to replan that part of the area, that the freeholds should be acquired. It would be out of order for me to argue against that on the ground that it is possible to purchase freeholds and redispose of them, since the New Towns Act as it stands on the Statute Book does not permit of that method being used. Nevertheless, there is force in my hon. Friend's contention that a great deal of replanning can be carried out without disturbance of freeholds provided that the planners have that as one of their objects in view among others. It is not necessary to sweep the board clean over a great part of the area of a new town so that its standard of planning may be brought up to the requisite.

Leaving that category on one side, I come to the category with which my hon. Friend was principally concerned; that is, the freeholders whose freeholds it is not necessary to disturb for planning purposes. It seemed to me that the Parliamentary Secretary was a little confused in dealing with those. He said, in the first place, that they would only be disturbed as and when their land was required for development or re-development. That immediately puts them back in the first category. We are talking about freeholds where development can proceed along the present lines, where replanning is not required.

The Parliamentary Secretary then fell back upon a second argument, and this was possibly the most disturbing and dangerous point in his speech. He said, "We are going to acquire those freeholds because they will appreciate as a result of the building of the new town. We are, therefore, going to acquire them so that that appreciation shall be in the bands of the community and not of individuals." This is an extraordinary justification for the acquisition of freeholds in the area of a new town.

About three years ago the House spent a great many sittings upon a Town and Country Planning Bill, which, in turn, was based on immense research and thought by hon. Members of all parties and which was designed to deal with precisely this question of how the planning of development could proceed, on the one hand without injuring individuals and on the other hand without placing in their hands undeserved increments of value. The result of all that was the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947—and hitherto the Socialist Party has not expressed itself as dissatisfied with the result.

If that Act is not adequate to secure that objective, let the Government amend it; but do not let them say, "In the new towns, where we have the people in our power, we will use the New Towns Act to secure that objective." It seems to me that there is real justification for the reconsideration of this matter. Presumably, there will be a master plan for all these new towns. Presumably, in a few years' time we should know what will be the shape of things to come. We ought to be able clearly to pick out those areas of existing development which it is not necessary to disturb. What my hon. Friend asks, and it seems to me that it is a request which should be answered not only temperately but also sympathetically, is that in those areas the present freeholders should be assured that they will remain undisturbed in perpetuity.

8.52 p.m.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I was disturbed to hear the Minister say that he supported nationalisation of the land. That is what he said in so many words, and he then said—"in the new towns."

Mr. Lindgren

If this is to be used as an occasion for attributing statements to me which I have not made, then perhaps I may once more say, in order that it may be thrice on the record, that there must be single ownership if one is to develop a new town and that we believe the single ownership should be in the hands of the community. I have been speaking on an Adjournment Debate initiated in regard to the development of new towns, not on the question of nationalisation.

Mr. Braine

Perhaps I may correct the Parliamentary Secretary and say that he has been speaking on the subject of safeguarding freeholders' rights in new towns—a subject to which he has very carefully avoided making any reference.

Brigadier Clarke

I was about to say that after we had challenged him on the nationalisation of the land the Minister corrected himself and said he was referring to new cities. I am interested in an old city and exactly the same thing is going on there. Without having gone to the country on the nationalisation of the land, the Government are nevertheless rapidly acquiring land at every turn. The sooner the country knows that the better. The Minister let the cat out of the bag a few minutes ago, and he has been correcting himself ever since. The fact remains that, at every opportunity, land is being acquired from the owners, and is being taken away from them whether they are agreeable or not.

The owners of a shop, which has been in my constituency for years, want to rebuild but are not allowed to do so. The land has been acquired from them and they do not want to build on land which they do not own. They have been told, however, that they must build on it or go somewhere else. That is only nationalisation coming in small driblets. I am glad the Minister has given us the opportunity of observing this fact because I am perfectly certain that that is the direction in which we are going. Just before the last election, the Secretary of State for War said that the Socialists would not nationalise the land for the time being; they were not going to throw any spanners in the works for the time being—those were his words. I say that spanners are being thrown into the works day and night, and before we have gone much further we shall find that our land has been nationalised.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I have listened very carefully to all this discussion, and I must say that I have been very much interested in it. After all is said and done I think the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine), who initiated it, will have done a piece of good work, for I think the whole question is worth ventilating. There are two considerations which have to be balanced. I agree entirely with the Parliamentary Secretary that, in the matter of social progress, as the value attaching to land increases as the district in which it lies is developed, the increased value ought to go to the people who created it.

None the less it seems to me that in a new town—or any other district at all—where public bodies have to make a decision whether or not to take over a large area of land in a district they ought to bear in mind this other consideration. Many people like to have a house of their own. They particularly value that. They attempt, when they buy or build a house, to get it on a freehold site, so that the whole property may not only belong to them for life, but to their families after them. When circumstances and progress make it necessary to take over a large tract of land in a district where there are freeholds the corporation—or whatever body it may be—that is to take over the land ought to find some way or means whereby the small family, probably not very well off, but owning its own home and trying to develop its way of life in its own home, and probably sacrificing a great deal to purchase or to maintain its freehold, may be left in possession of its freehold.

The question which the public authority ought to ask itself is: Is it essential to buy all the land round about? Is it possible to leave in the possession of their owners and in the occupation of their owners plots of land with houses on them, whether small individual plots or larger ones on which stand several houses? Do those plots of land interfere with the master plan of development? Can the master plan be modified for the sake of preserving those small freeholds? It seems to me that these questions ought to be considered and answered sympathetically—sympathetically to the little people living in the little houses, especially if those houses are of a sufficiently good quality to satisfy modern housing standards. It seems to me there should be no compulsion in the taking over of the ownership of such little plots, especially if they do not interfere in the general plan of development of the district along the lines of social progress.

I can see the point, of course. I can see the objection of the possibility that the owner of a house on such a plot of land may want not to keep possession for himself or for his family, but, in the future, to sell the property. He may feel that the development of the district has added to the value of his property and he may want to sell it for that reason. The feeling, of course, is that that particular owner ought not to get the increased value of his property because he has not created it himself. That is one point and one objection that arises.

Could we not allow a family which has achieved its ideal and got a house, and lived in it for years, remain there and pass it on to sons and daughters afterwards, while, at the same time, making provision whereby if they want to leave and sell the house they can obtain only the original value at the time the master plan was made, and not any increased value due to the extension of modern social amenities? I think that is possible. At any rate, let it be examined; let us attempt it; if we can do that it will harm no one, but will help family life.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)

The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) has very powerfully reinforced the most thoughtful arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine). I would not have intervened had the Parliamentary Secretary, in replying, not rather ridden off the arguments put to him and used certain words, which I think I took down rightly, imploring my hon. Friend not to arouse passions where they are not already aroused, and then added that he himself had given 25 years of his life to a revolt against Tory landlordism. If that is not arousing passions, what is? Let me say at once that I am delighted to see him looking so well and so young, despite the 25 years of his life that he has given in this cause. As he is one of my very revered constituents, I should be horrified if I felt that he was ageing prematurely.

The arguments advanced from both sides of the House can be settled apart from any prejudice. The issue is purely factual: Can planning take place when the land or part of it is owned privately, or must it all be owned by one central body? It is perfectly clear—and the Parliamentary Secretary knows it well enough in Welwyn Garden City—that there can be privately-owned land and good planning at the same time, which, as I understand it, is all my hon. Friend asked for. He points out what we all know very well, that in nine cases out of 10, a house and the land on which it is built which are owned by a family are much better looked after than when they are rented, when the family do not feel they have a continuing interest in either the land or the house.

I am not talking, and nor was the hon. Member for Wallsend about large blocks of land and retaining any increased value for the owners. Families, very often in quite humble circumstances, plan to build on small plots of land their own houses of their own design, or of a good design which will fit in with the master plan. Such people should in my view, and in the view of all my hon. Friends, receive the utmost encouragement. Home ownership, which we think should be encouraged, will greatly increase the total value of the new town by the extra care which is put into not only the building but also the maintenance of the site and the house.

I ask the Minister to read what he has said in the morning and to see if there is not something, and a great deal, I honestly suggest, in our deeply held view on this side of the House that home ownership offers a family of ordinary and humble means, and of great means too if it comes to that, something which is well worth all the extra encouragement that any Government of any complexion can give.

9.6 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I would like to take part in this discussion because I am a Member of the House who feels that the creation of new towns in the neighbourhood of London is a disastrous error. I entirely share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) in this matter. There are abundant places in this island where new towns could be created without the disadvantages and difficulties with which we are faced. It would be out of order, if I pointed to the technical unwisdom alone of placing nine million people in the most dangerous part of this island.

I do not favour the socialisation of the land as the Parliamentary Secretary does, and I beg to draw his attention to the violence and vehemence of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay). The hon. Member has been for many years a profound supporter of the nationalisation of the mines and the nationalisation of anything that he has not got, but when it comes to the nationalisation of a house and a plot of ground, as I hope he has for himself and family, we know very well how deep Socialism is—it is a skin and a very dirty and ugly skin at that.

When we touch the realities of the thing, we realise that the hon. Member for Wallsend is really with the Opposition in this matter. He recognises and feels very deeply that the ownership of a small plot of land and the house that stands on it, and the right to give it to one's children when one dies, is something which is of the very essence of the value of life, and that the suggestions made by the Parliamentary Secretary are of no value to him. The hon. Member does not want a shilly-shally, empty, valueless existence of that character in this green and pleasant land.

Mr. McKay

I think that the non-Gentleman has gained a wrong impression of what my remarks were intended to imply. I am in favour of all what the Parliamentary Secretary has said and all that the Government are doing, but I hope that, so far as they can, they will try to do the best possible for the holder of a little plot of land.

Sir W. Darling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We hear him speak, particularly in this House, with vigour and great effect. I never heard him speak with greater sincerity than he has spoken tonight, and in spite of his attempt to make up again to the Parliamentary Secretary, I preferred his first thoughts, and I preferred the first thoughts, for my purpose, of the Parliamentary Secretary. The Parliamentary Secretary is well aware that he has gone too far tonight. I do not know if he is going to edit HANSARD, because what he said first will be better reading than any edited part. He said, with one of those intense, impressive actions he can cultivate so well, that the policy of His Majesty's Government was to provide the land for the people. That may be very proper, but his words are poor comfort to the people of Wallsend and the new town and the people of Basildon.

We suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a deep-seated passion to own something, to own a house, to own a small piece of land and to have the right to pass it on. That deeply rooted instinct in men and women, not only in this country but all over the world, runs counter to the proposals of His Majesty's Government. My hon. Friend has suggested that it is possible in a free society to have a variegated pattern for the use of land, some owned by the community, some owned by the freeholder and some by the leaseholder.

Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Parliamentary Secretary, who has more than his share of the gifts, to devise a system whereby we shall have great, free, beautiful cities in which a variegated pattern of ownership is permitted, where so much of the land is owned, perhaps the greater part of it, by the community, but where there is also the free opportunity for the individual to develop in his own way his own tastes, as in the case of Welwyn Garden City, in consonance with the master plan of the whole community.

I beg the Parliamentary Secretary not to take back to his Minister and to his counsellors this hard and fast view that new cities should be built to one stereotyped pattern, cities not of hope but of hell, cities with no variation, restricted cities with no varieties of human character and inclination but of sterile design. My hon. Friend is pleading for freedom and the right for people to make, within the consonance of the community plan, something better for themselves. Surely that is not out of touch with Socialism. Surely it is not incompatible with the planning of new cities.

I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary takes away with him tonight a little of that freedom and liberty to those who have been faced with this challenge of the new towns. Surely those on the fringe of development which will not take place for 15, 20 or 40 years should not be disturbed. Even under Socialism and the National Health Service, we do not live as long as that once we own a house. Can we have an assurance that the properties not required for the plan itself can be assured at any rate a lifetime's use for the owners, which would satisfy the House and would not be incompatible with humanity for good planning? I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to give the House that assurance.

9.12 p.m.

Mr. Awbery (Bristol, Central)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) wants people to be able to purchase a piece of ground, to build a house upon it and to hand it down to posterity.

Sir W. Darling

I merely share the views of the hon. Member's Friend, the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay).

Mr. Awbery

That was the hon. Member's argument, but that is not the position he upholds today. At the present time a man purchases a piece of ground on which to build a house which is leased for 77 or 99 years, at the end of which period, under the leasehold system, he has to hand the house back to the landlord in a good and habitable condition. He then has to make a bargain with the landlord to remain in the house he has occupied for nearly 100 years. [An HON. MEMBER: "For another 99 years? "] It is usually for 99 years in my part of the country.

Sir W. Darling

What about freeholds, which is the subject of this Debate?

Mr. Awbery

I am talking about the system the hon. Member upholds.

Sir W. Darling

I was speaking only on the subject of this Debate, which deals with freeholders in the constituency of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Awbery

The hon. Member wants a man to be able to obtain a plot of ground, to build a house on it and to pass it down to posterity. I am pointing out that this is not allowed under the system he supports.

In South Wales, particularly in the town I represent, we have cases of people who have occupied houses for 30 and 40 years, and their parents before them, having to hand them back to the landlord. We have cases where companies have purchased the leasehold and compelled the householder to carry out certain unnecessary repairs in order to force him to purchase the land.

Colonel Heath (Bexley)

On a point of Order. Are we discussing leasehold property or freehold property?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

We are talking on the Adjournment, and as long as we do not propose legislation, we can talk about anything we like.

Mr. Awbery

The hon. Gentleman raised the question in regard to the new towns. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, raised another issue, and I am answering him as far as the leaseholders are concerned.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Vane (Westmorland)

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery) was not fair to my hon. Friend, who did in fact, mention the word "leasehold" once when describing the different sizes and variegated patterns of the life he wanted to see in the new towns instead of the stereotyped pattern, which is the intention of hon. Members opposite. I am not at all sure that they want to see an entirely leasehold pattern which the hon. Gentleman has just tried to describe. The circumstances in which a person lives in a house and pays money in the form of rack rent—I use that in technical sense, not with the meaning which hon. Members like to read into it—are well known. We ought to be clear what we on this side of the House are advocating. It is the variegated pattern of life of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) was such a staunch upholder until he thought he was losing favour with the Front Bench opposite. I am sure that everyone, unless completely submerged in prejudice, agrees with every word the hon. Gentleman said.

On the question of leasehold, surely there is something to be said for it if the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to uphold it as the one and only system of land tenure in a new town. A reasonable person would say there was room both for leasehold and freehold. I am sorry to go into this subject in such detail, but the hon. Member for Bristol, Central, is not very clear about the fundamental difference between the two, despite the fact that he has been asking Questions once every two or three weeks for over a year.

We say that in the interests of continual planning through generations some part of the land should be held under the leasehold system. The same principle has operated in London, and buildings here are still held under the leasehold system. To occupy land under leasehold system means paying merely a small ground rent, which is so much of the regular rental value on the property, which consists of the ground and the substantial building upon it. I would commend to the hon. Member a study of what the surveyor calls the valuation tables, and if he can understand arithmetic, he will see that a great deal of what he has said was the sheerest "bunkum." I support everything my hon. Friend has said.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

I was amazed at the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Awbery). He appeared to me to be abusing the very system that has been adopted as the basis of the development in the new towns. Those of us who took an interest in the New Towns Bill and also in the Licensing Bill, when under discussion upstairs, recognised fully the evil of a closed shop of leasehold tenure into which we were being driven. That is why we criticised the system freely at the time. All these things should be known to the hon. Member for Bristol Central. He should know that within a short distance of the constituency which he represents it is possible to buy freehold land with a freehold house upon it, so that it is absolute nonsense to pretend that in his part of England it is impossible to buy freehold land. I am quite sure that he will wish to withdraw that remark when he thinks more about it. There is no monopoly of land in that part of England any more than any other part of it.

I endorse what has been said about the possibility of developing freehold land which is held by private individuals on lines just as sound as it can be developed if it were held by the State as the single landholder. It is also true that the better planned parts of London were so planned when they were entirely in the ownership of private individuals. Equally it is true in the more striking case of Edinburgh, some parts of which make Edinburgh one of the best designed cities in Europe if not in the whole world. In that city, that exquisite planning on the part of private individuals is now proving to be one of the greatest dollar earners in the country. We have the same demonstration in other cities in England where good planning has been carried out.

How much better has that planning been, with its variety and scope for the individual expression of design, than the squalid uniformity of central planning and central design allowing for nothing in variety and spirit of design on the part of those who wish to live in the houses. We have only to think of the grim glamour of Aldershot compared with the beauty of Shrewsbury and some of the cities in the West of England to realise that it is complete and absolute nonsense to say that no planning is possible as long as land remains within the free ownership of one person. It is possible so to impose rules, orders or restrictions on land where they are necessary, much as I detest them where they are unnecessary, to ensure that planning can be properly carried out in the interests of the community as a whole. If that were not the case there would not be a high road in England or a street in any city. Of course, the whole argument falls to the ground.

Rather than embitter the minds and hearts of all those who own land I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that he was warned by the leaders of the Socialist Party at the time of the General Election not to say anything about the nationalisation of the land. Why? The answer was made quite clear in print. Nobody must say anything about nationalisation of the land because it was extremely unpopular with the farmers, and the Socialist Party wanted to get the farmers' vote.

Instead of putting bitterness and fear into the hearts of all those who own land, why should not hon. Gentlemen opposite try to get their co-operation in planning the future of this country? Why try to smack them in the face every time this matter is mentioned? Why try to go on subtly underground, planning the nationalisation of the land, while pretending that you are not going to do it? That is not honest. It is not only in the new towns that we have to face this question: "Can we plan properly and lay out all the buildings so long as the land is in the hands of private individuals, or must it be in the hands of the State before we can begin to plan?" We have to think not only in terms of the new towns and cities but also of the land itself.

It makes one shudder to think what His Majesty's Government, if they were composed as they are today, would do when they carried out their proposals to nationalise the marginal land of this country, which is what they threatened to do had they been returned to power with a sufficient majority to carry it out. I do not think that I am misleading the House in saying that.

I wonder what they would do. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us. What have they in mind as regards marginal land? I wonder what they have said among themselves about the treatment of marginal land if they nationalised it. Would they allow anybody to build a cottage? Would they allow a retired farm worker, assisted by his pension and the earnings he has saved, to build his own cottage—near the place where he has worked, on the soil which he has farmed and every inch of which he knows, by the trees which he planted—and bring up his children in the great tradition in the same way as people might wish to do who are just outside the verge of the territory described as "marginal land" and are not under State ownership? Is it likely that State ownership of land in that sense would be popular compared with the free ownership of land where a man can develop his own home in the way he wants to outside the marginal land? We can imagine the feelings of the two classes of people.

The Parliamentary Secretary has done an evil service to his party tonight, but, by heaven, I think he has done a great thing in the cause of free ownership and of the free individual in this country by the words he has used. He has driven away quite a cloud of doubts from the minds of those who were really not quite sure that State ownership was such a serious matter in the minds of His Majesty's Government. He has made it quite clear that it is and that His Majesty's Government, given a free hand and without a strong Conservative Opposition, would impose State ownership on land as widely as they could. He made that clear and I am grateful to him for I think it will help this country a lot now that the clouds of doubt are dispelled.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven Minutes past Nine o'clock.