HC Deb 03 December 1951 vol 494 cc2160-74

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Mineral Development Charge Setoff Regulations, 1951, dated 27th September, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th October, 1951, in the last Parliament, be approved.—[Mr. Marples.]

10.0 p.m.

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

These Regulations for which approval is now being sought are necessary to give effect to the second part of the Mineral Workings Act which was placed upon the Statute Book in the last Session. Without these Regulations that part of the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, which is general in its effect, would be meaningless. The operative words of the Act without these Regulations merely refer to such minerals as may be prescribed or determined by … the Regulations. Therefore, until these Regulations are approved by this House and in another place the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, is incomplete and ineffective.

The necessity and the urgency of passing the Mineral Workings Act in the last Session was that the three-year moratorium upon the application of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, to minerals came to an end on 1st July this year. Therefore, had the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, not been passed, and if that Act had not been followed by these Regulations, then development values arising from the existence of workable minerals would have come under the general and ordinary provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. It was to place them in a special position that the Act was passed and these Regulations are now before the House. It will be observed that five months have already passed since the moratorium to which I have referred came to an end.

The reason I detain the House on these Regulations is this. Should it be the fact that in the near future a more or less fundamental change were to be made in the principles of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, or at any rate that part of it which relates to compensation and development charge, then both the Mineral Workings Act itself and these Regulations would be superfluous. It might, therefore, be assumed that the fact that the House is being asked tonight to approve these Regulations, which were made in September under the previous Government, was an indication that in the immediate future no drastic alteration of the basis of the 1947 Act was intended.

So far as minerals are concerned, it has long been the view of hon. Members on this side of the House that such a drastic change should take place. I think that view was very concisely put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) in the debate on the Second Reading of the Mineral Workings Bill, when he said: … we on this side of the House have never approved of minerals being brought within the scope of these financial provisions at all. We thought at the time—and we still think—that an Act designed to deal primarily with the development of land for building was not suited to deal with the problem of minerals, and we warned the Government that difficulties would arise from their decision to include minerals in the financial provisions of the Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 680.] We are, therefore, as those words remind the Committee, committed as a party to the view that the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, as it stands, is an unsuitable instrument for dealing with development values relating to minerals. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and the Minister are seized of the urgency of early action about the 1947 Act, if action is to be effective at all. For one reason, the Treasury scheme which is affected by these Regulations, a part of which is governed by what is written into these Regulations, must, if it is to be effective within the time-table of the 1947 Act, be presented to the House presumably before the end of the current Session.

In the second place, any policy in regard not only to house building but also to development by building in general, is so profoundly affected by the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, that the two factors are really two aspects of one matter of policy. Finally, as every day goes by, more payments of development charge are being made under the 1947 Act. If a new course is to be entered upon, therefore, difficulties inherent in the transitional provisions which would be necessary are piling up day by day and week by week.

Fortunately, the Regulations which we have before the House provide that payment shall not be made, so that in themselves they do not necessarily make the. task of initiating a different policy more difficult but, of course, there are still development charges falling to be paid in relation to mineral-bearing land which is not covered by the current Regulations. I think it is fair to assume, therefore, that the Government must be very well aware of the urgency of a decision on the principle of the 1947 Act.

My main purpose in rising tonight is to secure from my hon. Friend the most explicit assurance that he can give that the presentation of these Regulations for acceptance is not, as I know is suspected in quarters not so much inside as outside the House, evidence that a revision of the 1947 Act is to be deferred to the Greek Kalends but is merely an automatic and mechanical step which will in no way prejudice the later Measure which we hope to see before very long.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

It will be helpful if the Parliamentary Secretary can give an approximate estimate—no doubt it would be approximate—of how much of the global fund of £300 million will go to the owners of mineral interests dealt with under these Regulations. The sum of £40 million has been mentioned, I think in another place, in the debate on the Committee stage of the 1951 Bill; but with great respect—and I think hon. Members on all sides might agree on this—I should have thought that for all the development values in mining other than coal in this country at present—gravel and salt and china clay and ironstone and all the rest—£40 million was probably a very small figure indeed and a very moderate estimate.

Nevertheless, under these Regulations the owners of mineral interests will get 20s. in the £ on their claims, and that is a tremendous slice out of the global fund. As is well known, they are not the first preferential claimants on the fund, because we already have the near-ripe builders, with their preferential claim, and the single-plot owners, neither of whose total claims, I should think, will be as much as that of the owners of mineral interests. But the aggregate of the claims of this class of owners of development value is adding up to a very substantial figure indeed.

I want to ask how much of this £300 million global fund is to be left to be divided between the unpreferred claimants for the loss of development value? I draw attention to the point that when the £300 million figure was decided upon by the House as the appropriate amount of the global fund for payment to those who were losing development value, it was argued to be a fair figure, and I am not saying tonight that it was either too high a figure or too low a figure; but the House accepted that figure without knowing, as I understand it, that there was to be this series of substantial preferential claims permitted upon it.

Now it seems to me that the whole basis of the thing is being altered. I wonder why it is—I recognise that this is not a matter upon which there is direct controversy between the different sides of the House—but I wonder why it is that owners of mineral interests are allowed to do so well as they are to do. They do not have to be working the mines; they do not have to be operating the excavation of minerals; they have only to own land which is subject to a short mining lease; and the effect of these Regulations is that in such a case the owner can recover the whole of his development value on a claim upon the global £300 million.

We have got, I think, as is generally recognised in all quarters of the House, a very tangled, complicated and difficult piece of legislation. I ought to have given notice of this inquiry to the Parliamentary Secretary. I shall readily understand it if an answer is not immediately available. It would be useful, however, I think, if he could, every now and again, in the law of town and country planning, come down to earth and let us know what is really happening. In connection with these particular Regulations the inquiry to which I should like to have an answer, and for which answer I should be grateful, is: How much out of the £300 million is to be required to set off against the claims of these owners of mineral interests for the loss of development value? How much of that global sum is to be required, and how deeply and seriously are going to be affected the rights to claims of other classes of owners of development value?

I think that it is entirely wrong that this House, after careful consideration of a whole variety of matters, having decided upon a global sum like £300 million as being the value of the compensation that should be paid for the loss of development rights, should then have to see the whole basis of the calculation frittered away by a series of preferential claims.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North and Mearns)

Those of us who, in the last Parliament but one, fought for many long weeks and many long months against the principles contained in Parts VI and VII of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, will welcome the belated conversion of the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) to the point of view which we have consistently advocated during the past few years. We said when we occupied those benches, and I have no doubt that we shall say it again now we occupy these, that to fix a global sum of £300 million in this case, without any real or apparent justification ever being offered to this House, or to the Standing Committee which considered the 1947 Bill at great length, was not a proceeding that commended itself to us or to others in the country.

Mr. Irvine

As the hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to congratulate himself on what he regarded as my conversion in this matter, perhaps he will allow me to make it plain that I have not now, and never had, any objection to the fixing of the global sum in that manner. My objection is that, having decided on the quantum of that global sum, the whole basis of policy should be changed by a series of preferential claims by a particular class of owner.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made his position even clearer than it was, because if the global sum could by any conceivable stretch of the imagination be recognised as being sufficient to give full and just compensation to all claimants, there would be no need to give a preferential place in the queue of claimants upon that sum. It is only because we say that the sum of £300 million is demonstrably inadequate for all the claimants for loss of development rights, that we think it is wrong in principle that preferential places in the queue of claimants should be given to any class of person.

I cannot and would not object to these Regulations, which in the circumstances of the last Parliament were agreed by both parties, but which in the circumstances of this Parliament must be recognised to be of a transitional character only, because we on these benches cannot accept the position that the financial provisions of the 1947 Act are sacrosanct. We are pledged to amend them, we are determined that they shall be amended, and we are anxious that they shall be amended in this Parliament.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is now talking about other legislation which would be out of order in this discussion. He must confine himself to the Regulations before us.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, and I recognise that what you say is perfectly correct, and was, of course, justified. All I want to say is that so long as it is recognised that these Regulations now before the House are of a temporary character only, then I am sure we can accept them in the spirit in which we accepted them in the last Parliament.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes on these very technical Regulations at this hour. I should like to say a word or two, first in regard to what has fallen from the lips of the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine). He has spent a little time in seeking to estimate what proportion of the £300 million fund will be earmarked for preferential claims. I agree with him that it is a difficult and, maybe, an unrewarding process of speculation, because there is not sufficient data to enable one to arrive at any scientific assessment.

I agree with him that it will be a large sum, and every amount of preferential payment, be it for mineral undertakers or be it for builders, will operate to the detriment of other claimants, so long as there is a fixed sum of £300 million. The hon. Member speculated as to how the figure of £300 million had come to be assessed. I can give him the answer briefly—it was by hazard—by guess; there was no scientific basis for it at all, and at the time that figure was fixed there were, of course, no preferential payments. They arrived on the scene during the Committee stage of the Town and Country Planning Act.

I am on record as having made this criticism at that time, and subsequently in 1948, when the Development Charges Exemptions Regulations were adopted, and when I pointed out that the system of preferential payments did involve a slice by an ever-increasing class from the fixed cake of compensation, and that the inevitable result was that by that time there was not much left for others.

Minerals are a very good illustration of the unwisdom of that approach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—the more fortunate part of Wolverhampton—said, minerals should never have been dealt with in that Act at all. If minerals had not been dealt with in that Act then, of course, payments would not fall to be deducted from the £300 million fund. As a matter of fact, what has happened as a result of these compensation Regulations is that on the whole minerals are going to pay very little by way of development charge, but they will, by their exemption, prejudice others. Therefore, what I and many of my hon. Friends have always contended is that minerals should never have been included in this sum, and that basically the whole principle of the development charge as established in the 1947 Act was wrong.

I should like to reinforce what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), as to the effect of these Regulations on the future of the development charge position. I, of course, entirely sympathise with the position of Ministers who find time running against them in a complicated matter such as this, and it is fortunate that the mineral Regulations matter the less because in the ordinary way—though there are exceptions to this—payments other than by way of a set-off will not be made until 20 years from 1953. So the mineral position is less difficult than the position regarding other aspects of development charges.

I should like to remind the Parliamentary Secretary that while the time aspect in regard to minerals is not urgent, in regard to every other aspect—I hope I am keeping within the bounds of order—time is running very rapidly indeed, because of the date fixed by section 65 of the 1947 Act. I hope my hon. Friend will keep this in mind and also the desirability of these two things—the seeking of a new solution in respect of minerals and the speeding up of the radical amendment of the development charge legislation under the principal Act.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that those matters will be borne in mind, and I also hope that it will be borne in mind that criticism of the parent Act, under which these Regulations are laid, is out of order. We have to deal with the Regulations and not with the parent Act.

10.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

In view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I am relieved of a great deal of embarrassment in answering hon. Members on both sides of the House who raised this matter. Perhaps I may be allowed to say, however, that my right hon. Friend has under careful and anxious consideration the operations of the Town and Country Planning Act and, flowing from it, the operations of the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, and that he is well aware that some speedy action must be taken.

Mr. Lindgren

This is rather an important statement. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Mineral Workings Act. Does he mean the mineral working under certain sections of that Act other than iron-ore workings?

Mr. Marples

I was speaking of the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, as it flowed from the Town and Country Planning Act. My right hon. Friend, as is well-known, not only in this House but to the country as a whole, committed himself to a review of the working of the Town and Country Planning Act and the development charge.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Member will appreciate that this is very important. He is emphatic in saying the Mineral Workings Act, 1951. I appreciate that this is a very complicated business and that the hon. Gentleman has only just had the honour of going into office. But the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, covers iron-ore workings in the Midlands area and was intended to cover iron-ore workings of other areas as well. The question is: Are the Government going to tamper with the provisions of the 1951 Act so far as it affects iron-ore working? If they do it will be very serious. If they do not mean to do that then, in fairness to the people working this mineral, the hon. Member should make the position plain and show that he was referring to minerals other than iron ore as affected by the 1951 Act.

Mr. Marples

The only thing that is under review is the question of compensation for mineral working. The House is only concerned at the moment with the compensation from the £300 million under the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, and the Town and Country Panning Act, 1947. I want to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), and my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North and Mearns (Mr. ThorntonKemsley), that my right hon. Friend has under anxious and careful consideration the question of compensation under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

I want now to answer a point put by the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine). As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford pointed out, it is extremely difficult to see how the division of the £300 million will take place, for this reason: that it was difficult to see how it was arrived at in the first place. Having said that it was difficult to arrive at in the first place, obviously it is difficult to know how it is to be apportioned. Therefore, I think that as his party passed the Act and made the basis for the £300 million he has no complaint against this Government.

Mr. Irvine

I agree that the apportionment would be very difficult to determine, but the difficulty is far less in the case of these minerals than it is in the case of other development values because the owners are to get 20s. in the £. I would have hoped that it would have been possible to give me an approximate estimate of that amount.

Mr. Marples

I would have tried to give the hon. Member an answer had he given me notice of the question. In this case most of the negotiations took place when the party opposite were in power and I might, for the convenience of the House summarise the history of these particular Regulations. In 1947 under the Town and Country Planning Act, in the distribution of the £300 million compensation there was a promise of special treatment, what is, unfortunately, called the near-ripe treatment, to mineral undertakers as regards their holding of mineral bearing land.

The next step was on 2nd June, 1949, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement which defined more clearly the principles which would be applied to redeem that promise. Those principles were two-fold. The first principle, broadly speaking, was that for the purpose of winning and working minerals a mineral undertaker—and here I might interpose that an undertaker is a person actually working the minerals—claiming in respect of land held by him on 1st July, 1948, would get special treatment. He was to receive from the £300 million fund a payment equal to the development value for winning and working minerals in his interest in the land. That was the first principle.

The second principle was that the Central Land Board would discuss with the interested parties any question arising out of the decision, and, in particular, whether the development charges could be set off against the payment from the £300 million in those cases. These discussions took place and, in April, 1951, when the Opposition were in power, a White Paper, Com- mand 8217, was issued, and a memorandum of the draft Regulations proposed.

I should like to say a word about those discussions. First, the Federation of British Industries, and the Country Landowners' Association, negotiated for three years with the then Government. That was a long and arduous task, but it was accomplished successfully in almost every respect, except where the Federation of British Industries could not agree with the Central Land Board, who confines the concession to mineral undertakers owning the freehold or leasehold interest as at July, 1948. But the Federation wanted the concession to apply to mineral undertakers who had the option to purchase, or to take a lease, and, with that one exception, I think that complete harmony prevailed.

The principal purpose of these Regulations is to enable mineral owners and undertakers to continue working without paying a development charge, and without worrying whether their payment from the £300 million will be enough to cover the charge. My hon. Friends would agree, I am sure, that at the moment, until some amendment is made to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, these Regulations must, in principle, go forward. It is hopeless to resist such Regulations unless there is something to put in their place. The matter is not controversial between the parties, and there is the necessity, because of the Town and Country Planning Act, that the Regulations be passed.

I would say to my hon. Friends that the Minister is very carefully considering that Act, and is very well aware of the difficulties which have been voiced so ably tonight; and specially aware that speed is really essential in this problem. I hope, therefore, that the House will give us these Regulations tonight.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

I must first say that I completely relieve the Parliamentary Secretary of any responsibility for these Regulations, or for the source from which they spring. He is correct in telling the House that they arise from the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the provisions under the 1951 Act which were necessary in order to deal with the promise given, not only to mineral owners, but to all types of landowners who were working what has come to be known as near-ripe land. So far as mineral undertakers are concerned, they are not being dealt with in any way preferentially to builders, or any other persons in the ownership of land.

The necessity for these Regulations, which are not the responsibility of the present Government, but of we on this side of the House, and our predecessors who had been carrying on negotiations of a very difficult and technical nature, is as the Parliamentary Secretary has stated. I join with him in saying that the discussions between the parties worked out amicably on the principles as decided by the then Government following the 1947 Act. The attitude, we found, was that this was a decision of the Government, however much it might be at variance with individual views, and an effort would be made to operate that decision of the Government in a fair manner.

That was the attitude of the parties toward their constituent members. They did that exceptionally well. I think it is equally true that they would be the first to admit that the Ministry of, first, Town and Country Planning and, later, Local Government and Planning, were equally responsive in the way of fair treatment in relation to the principles which had been laid down. Therefore, we accept full responsibility for the Regulations, and I ask the House to accept them.

I wish to point out to hon. Members opposite, who rather tried to put their hon. Friend in a difficult position, that the Regulations take this section of mineral workings right outside Parts VI and VII of the 1951 Act, and, if the Regulations were not passed, the point of view of hon. Members opposite would be very much prejudiced.

Mr. Speaker called to order certain hon. Members for going outside the scope of the debate and referring to future legislation. I do not propose to do that, but I must make one point as the hon. Gentleman has intimated to the House that the Government have under consideration the amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act and, in fact, of the fundamental compensation and betterment basis of the Act. As he has indicated that to the House, I should like to say that the Opposition are prepared to accept that challenge to planning in this country as an Opposition would be expected to accept it. We stand by the 1947 Act, and in so far as its principles are concerned, any amendment to it will be resisted.

But these Regulations fulfil a promise given to these undertakers and to the House in 1948 and 1949, and, therefore, I ask the House to give them their approval.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I ought to say that I believe I have some indirect personal interests in mineral workings. I wish to mention only two points. The first is whether it is perfectly clear that the Government have not got under serious consideration, and do not propose to make, any change in the part of the Mineral Workings Act relating to ironstone restoration in the Midlands and the Ironstone Restoration Fund.

I gathered that that was what the Parliamentary Secretary said finally, but the matter is one that concerns not only industrial interests but also, to a large and serious extent, the local authorities in that part of the world, including those in my own division, which is probably more affected by these matters than any other in the country.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will interrupt me, as I now invite him to do, to say quite clearly that no change is proposed in the part of the Mineral Workings Act dealing with ironstone restoration.

Mr. Marples

I believe that under the rules of order I have a right to reply to the debate, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman will first complete his speech I will reply to him afterwards.

Mr. Mitchison

I am much obliged. The second point is that I feel that there is a grievous doubt as to whether these Regulations ought to be necessary, not because in the present state of affairs they are not right and reasonable Regulations, negotiated and agreed under the present Government, but for this reason.

We have been told—quite correctly, so far as my experience goes—by three hon. Members opposite that they have consistently objected to the application of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, to minerals and mineral rights. We have been told that they have been considering this matter during all their very long period in Opposition.

Mr. Walker-Smith

When the hon. and learned Member says the "Town and Country Planning Act," surely he means the financial provisions of that Act. There was no reference by myself or any of my hon. Friends to the planning control part of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Mr. Mitchison

This is a mere splitting of words. What I said they objected to was the application of the Town and Country Planning Act to minerals. The hon. Member rises to define, no doubt correctly, the matter out of which that objection arises. I find no difficulty in that, but what I do object to is that. having had those objections for at least three years and having had ample time to consider the matter, the Government get the House to rise early and take an unusually long vacation.

They say that they have the matter under "anxious and urgent consideration" and they come here to introduce Regulations which would be wholly unnecessary if they put before the House the legislation which they appear to be hatching and to have hatched for three or four years. If ever there was a case of introducing unnecessary Regulations instead of keeping the House sitting to put through the legislation this is it, for they have had plenty of time to consider just that case.

Mr. Marples

I think I am right in saying that as the mover of the Motion I have the right to reply, but, if not, then I would ask the House for leave to speak again—

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Nobody wishes to prevent the hon. Member from speaking, but he made a speech in the middle of the debate and, therefore, he has spoken twice, once in formally moving the Motion and once in debate. But we have no objection to his speaking.

Mr. Marples

While I am always anxious to be courteous, especially to the right hon. Gentleman, in asking leave of the House to speak again, I would like to ask for your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) raised points with me, I was informed that as the mover of the Motion I would have a right to reply.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I have not had time to look this up, but I am of the opinion that nodding does not mean a speech. Therefore, the hon. Member has the right to reply to the debate.

Mr. Marples

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

May I reply to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering? So far as we are concerned, our main concern is with the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. So far as we are concerned the Mineral Workings Act, 1951, will not be interfered with except only in so far as it is affected by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Our main concern is with that Act and we would like to reassure the hon. and learned Member on that point. With that re-assurance I hope that the House will agree to pass the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Mineral Development Charge Setoff Regulations, 1951, dated 27th September 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th October 1951, in the last Parliament, be approved.