HC Deb 20 October 1954 vol 531 cc1249-73

Amendment made: In page 93, line 14, column 3, after "subsection (2)," insert: in section one hundred and thirteen, subsection (4)."—[The Lord Advocate.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

5.11 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Perhaps it is only fitting, now that the Report stage has been completed—a stage during which attention has been focused upon details—that I should say a word or two on the general purposes of the Bill, because elaborate and careful consideration of details often tends to blind one to the general objects which lie behind what is intended. The House will recollect that the Bill is consequential upon the Town and Country Planning Act, 1953, which abolished the development charge system, suspended payment of the £300 million fund set up under the 1947 Act and prepared the ground for the practical solution of the difficulties which the development charge had created in the passing of property from one person to another.

Despite complication in detail, the Bill, in its general framework, is simple enough. It draws a sharp distinction between the past and the future. The past is dealt with in Parts I and V. The purpose and scheme of the Bill is to maintain the position of the 1947 Act, under which rights to receive compensation for loss of development value from the £300 million fund belonged to those persons who established claims against the fund. That was the position under the 1947 Act, which is maintained under Parts I and V of the present Bill in relation to the past. For the future the situation is quite different.

The future is dealt with in Parts II and III and, to some extent, in Parts IV and VI. Very broadly, those parts provide that development value which is represented by the established claim, or by the unexpended balance of that claim if some has already been paid away, is no longer to belong to the individual but is to attach to the land. That is the general scheme which this Bill puts forward, to try to solve the difficulty with which the country is faced in trying to give effect to the 1947 Act's scheme. The general policy is fairly simple, but perhaps I might say a word or two about the complexity of the provisions of the Bill.

I have never sought to conceal from anyone—and I do not think that any hon. Member on either side of the House, has sought to dispute it—that this is a complicated Bill, both to read and to understand. The considerable number of Amendments which have been considered have not made the task of understanding it any easier. It would have been easy enough for us to content ourselves with a short Bill containing a broad statement of principle on the lines I have indicated and relegating all detail to subordinate legislation, either by the Central Land Board, or a Government Department. But we did not consider that the public would be content with that method of treating this subject, or that hon. and right hon. Members would approve that treatment had we attempted it.

If this House is to retain proper control over the administration of the affairs of the country, we regard it as essential that subordinate or delegated legislation should be reduced to the minimum. That is why, in this Bill, we did not confine ourselves to the easy task of stating a few general principles and leaving the rest to be worked out in detail by a subordinate authority. Inevitably, if we took the course of writing into the Bill all the detailed provisions necessary to carry out those general principles, the Bill would become complicated because claims for compensation can arise in a whole variety of ways. The acts and events which give rise to those claims may affect more than one interest in any particular parcel of land and may affect the different interests to different extents. We have tried to provide for all these possible contingencies in the various Clauses and the Amendments.

It may be that some of the situations which the Clauses envisage appear very unlikely to occur, or at least unlikely to occur often, but the existence of these provisions in the Bill shows our anxiety to cover all possible contingencies and to provide as fairly as we can an equitable settlement between all the people affected by this legislation. If it does anything, it demonstrates that the Government are determined that Parliament is to decide how this problem shall be solved, instead of delegating to some other body the practical working out of the wide generalisations which would otherwise have been set down in the Bill.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

We now approach the last stage of one of the most complicated Bills to come before this House since the passing of the original Act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, as a justification for bringing forward this Bill, that it is right that Parliament should deal with all the details of the distribution of compensation to different people. Our objection to the Bill is not to what is in it, but to what is not in it; in other words, because it is a lopsided approach to a double question; because the only thing dealt with is the question of being fair to the people receiving compensation and no steps are taken to be fair to the community paying the £300 million, or what is to be paid out of that sum.

However, once the principle of the Bill is accepted, that it is to deal only with one side of the matter, we have no objection to it being dealt with in a just and fair manner. I, and I think most of my hon. Friends, have great sympathy with the decision of the Government not to pay out the £300 million. While that was proposed in an effort to be generous when we were taking away from people their development rights, it is true, as the Government have argued, that if the money had been paid out before frustration took place, it would have proved a big liability on the country to provide for something which might never have occurred. Therefore, the principle adopted by the Government, of postponing any payment from the £300 million until such time as development is frustrated, is reasonable and fair. Inasmuch as it is also an economy, and is not making any gift to the landlords which they do not need to have, we are in accord with that decision.

In the details of the Bill an attempt is made to work out all the conceivable circumstances under which distribution of compensation might have to take place. The Government have attempted the task of foreseeing every conceivable compli- cation which might arise. That is an almost impossible task, and I disagree entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his justification for including these details in an Act of Parliament.

Recently, I was a member of a committee which went into the whole question of subordinate legislation. Were we to accept the conclusions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or to consider that his justification for this Bill is correct, then it would mean that every Bill which came before the House would be cluttered up with complicated rules and regulations which could not be altered except by an Act of Parliament. The devices and the rules included in this Bill are matters which should have been dealt with by delegated legislation. If the guesses of the draftsmen of this Bill are wrong, nothing can be done until another Act of Parliament is passed. This House is in no position to pass Acts of Parliament continually to deal with trifles of that kind.

What is being asked is that if the money is to be paid when frustrated development is proved, all shall be done to see that it is divided fairly between the people entitled to it. That is the simple principle. But the complications and the multitude of circumstances which can only be guessed at now—and which may be wrongly guessed at—are clearly the type of thing for which regulations or delegated legislation should be provided. If power had been taken to proceed by order, then the orders might have come before the House and circumstances have been dealt with as they arose. I think that the Government were ill-advised to try to put all these details into an Act of Parliament. It is contrary to all the experience of Parliament in recent years, and to the principles enunciated by the committees which have considered this matter.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has put up a valid defence for what has been done, but I am sure that after his experience during the Committee stage—which was the part in which we were permitted to share—and on Report, he must wish that this Bill had been framed on general principles and the details left to be dealt with by regulation. I wish to protest against the suggestion that there is any justification for the details contained in this Bill being brought before us in such a manner.

I do not think that we can take any exception to the manner in which it is proposed in this Bill to divide the compensation fairly. We have done our best to improve the Measure and to safeguard the public authority. The Government have conceded a number of points which we regard as valuable and they have promised to look into other matters when the Bill goes to another place, where alterations will be made to meet the desires of this House. For that we thank them.

I wish to congratulate the Government on the heroic efforts they have made to understand their own Bill, and their still more heroic efforts to make us understand it. This Bill has been an experience from which the Government should learn. They introduced it at a time in the Session when any sensible person must have known that it was incapable of being dealt with thoroughly and effectively. Even at this late stage it is not yet finished with. This Bill will be like Princes Street, in Edinburgh—it will be a wonderful thing when it is finished. But Princes Street has been altered all my lifetime and it will continue to be altered during the lifetime of children now being born. This Bill will never be finished, and it would have been sensible if the Government had provided themselves with sufficient flexibility to make orders to deal with unforeseen contingencies.

I consider that this Bill will not prove satisfactory. Unforeseen matters will arise for which provision has not been made by the Government. However, this will not be the last word on town and country planning. The Government have made a promise to solve the other part of the problem. But having made that promise in good faith, they may not have the opportunity to do so. I have no doubt that the task will be left to their successors, and I can only hope that their successors may have better luck than the Government have had with this Measure.

5.28 p.m.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Although it would perhaps be presumptuous for an hon. Member on these back benches to express appreciation of something said from the other side fo the House, I am sure that the whole House will welcome the moderate way in which the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has followed my right hon. and learned Friend in this Third Reading debate, which concludes what has been a very long innings for us all.

Town and country planning is a matter upon which all hon. Members ought to agree. We all want the same thing, at any rate so far as Scotland is concerned. We all wish to see the future of the Scottish countryside safeguarded so far as we are able to safeguard it, and I welcome any movement towards an agreement on the part of both parties in this House on the question of town and country planning. Evidently I think very much as the right hon. Gentleman thinks, that parts of this Bill are good—I would say are very good—and that parts are very bad. I will explain that a little further and, in doing so, it may be that I shall move a little way towards the centre of the Floor on this matter.

First, the parts which are good. It is necessary to consider the Bill in the context of the one which preceded it. It is impossible to look in isolation at the Town and Country Planning Bill of 1954. One must also consider its predecessor of 1953, because the one completes the work of the other. Taking the two together, the features which are good about the system which has emerged from the introduction of this legislation are, first, that the enterprise and initiative of the developer has been released from the deterrent of development charges without any relaxation of the controls imposed in the public interest by the development plan procedure.

The second good feature is the fact that, by and large, there has been no interference with the planning provisions of the 1947 Act. The development plans are in course of preparation. There has been no fundamental interruption of that work. Planning authorities have been able to go ahead preparing their plans. There has been no alteration of any kind in the planning procedure under the 1947 Act which many of us on these benches—although it was initiated by hon. Gentlemen opposite—welcomed at the time and have continued to welcome.

Thirdly, the Bill is good because, as the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire suggested, the Exchequer has been saved a considerable sum of money because the pay-out of the £300 million has been stopped.

Now I come to the bad. First, it is unfortunate that the Bill has created two values for land, or rather that it recognises, and in some circumstances enforces, two separate values for land. There is the market value between private purchasers who want to acquire land, and then there is the very much lower value of the existing use, with or without the Part V claim. There is the value which the State pays if it is required to compensate an owner for onerous planning restrictions or for the compulsory acquisition of his land, the lower value of existing use plus a claim under Part V of the 1947 Act with the one-seventh supplement.

I doubt whether the public conscience will long tolerate a dual value of that kind. We are already seeing the public conscience being awakened to the kind of injustices which may arise owing to this system of two-tier valuation. There has been the outcry, which was understandable, in the case of the unfortunate Mr. Pilgrim, of Romford, who took his own life because he had acquired land for £500 which was taken from him by a local authority under compulsory powers and he was paid the sum of only £65. That unfortunate man was left to face not only the loss of his land, but the fact that he had to continue to pay mortgage repayments of £4 12s. 6d. a month, or something like that, for 10 years, because he had raised money on the security of his bungalow so that he could buy the adjoining land.

That is an injustice about which, thank goodness, the Government which I have the honour to represent in my part of Scotland intend to take action. The Government intend to take action in England and I have no doubt from what was said yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that they intend to take action in Scotland. I hope that they do.

If I am right in thinking that the public conscience will not long tolerate this dual basis of valuation, in future we must anticipate that the irregularities will be ironed out according to the political con- viction of the Government of the day. On the one hand, it might be, and I hope that it would be, if any ironing out is to be done, by recognising that compensation for compulsory acquisition or the refusal of planning permission ought to be made at full market value.

That, of course, would add to the cost of planning but it would do justice to individuals and, incidentally, it would conform to the Declaration of Human Rights to which this country subscribed in 1948 and which said that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of his property. Alternatively, if we have another kind of Government, the differences might be ironed out by some new form of enacting betterment which will have the effect of so skimming off the cream as to deprive owners of all but the existing use value of their land.

The second bad feature is the doctrine of what is called "good neighbourliness." One intention of the Bill is to pay compensation, of course on the basis of 1947 prices which we have accepted, albeit with some reluctance, on this side of the House, if a planning restriction goes beyond the conception of what Uthwatt called the duties of neighbourliness. In pursuit of this intention the Bill excludes from compensation matters which go far beyond the obligation of neighbourliness.

Many hon. Members rightly have asked that a statement should not be made unless examples can be given. I give three examples. Clause 23 says that there shall be no compensation for conditions imposed relating to the number or disposition of buildings on land. In other words, if the owner of land wishes to develop it by the erection of houses, and the normal kind of development would be 14 houses to the acre, a planning authority can say that, if the land is to be developed at all, it must be developed with houses at a density not exceeding four per acre. There will be no compensation. That is said to accord with the duties of neighbourliness.

A second example is that there is no compensation for refusal of planning permission on the ground that the development is premature. Suppose an owner of land wishes to develop it and he looks at the development plan and finds that the kind of development which he wants to make can be carried out in the area. Then he looks at some other figure on the plan, consults the reference sheet and finds that the land can be developed in the second, or even the third, five-year plan but not immediately. That rules out all compensation. His land is sterilised for five or perhaps 10 years with no compensation, and that is said to accord with the duties of neighbourliness.

Thirdly, there is no compensation for change of use. That rules out claims for compensation in all cases of built-up areas, because when one applies for planning permission in a built-up area one is, almost always, applying for permission to change the use of the property. Where a property is already developed and the owner wants to redevelop it in some other way, he is excluded from compensation if there is a change in the use of the land and he is refused permission to do it. That is said to accord with the duties of neighbourliness. It seems to me that that phrase has been stretched to the uttermost extent, even beyond the point of what is reasonable or fair.

The House must recognise that during the Committee stage many improvements were made, and, in particular, the Committee learned with approval that a planning authority can change its plan at any time and it does not have to wait for the next five-year period. Secondly, we learned that in all these matters of the exclusion of compensation under Clauses 23 and 24 there is a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State under Section 14 of the principal Act.

The third way in which I think this Bill falls far short of what is ideal is—and here I will be as brief as I can—that it changes the character of the claims which have been agreed under Part V of the 1947 Act. Hitherto, they have attached to individuals; they have been in the nature of personal property which could be traded or given away. In future, under the terms of this Bill, they are to be attached to the land. They have undergone a change of character. That being the case, it is clearly desirable that all land which has a development value should come within the scheme and not be ruled out because of some accident on the part of the previous owner or some failure to make a claim under Part V of the parent Act.

Nowhere in the Bill is provision made for those who for one reason or another failed to make a claim or whose predecessors failed to make a claim to submit a claim under Part V of the principal Act. I have always been in agreement with Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, a former distinguished chairman of the Central Land Board, who said, in this connection: The right to claim for development value"— at 1947— should be reopened, or the same result obtained by other means. Surely the right to a certainty in 1954 should not depend on a failure to have entered for the sweepstake in 1947. Let me say this, in conclusion. I think that the Bill has been improved very much during the stages through which it has passed, and I should like if I may to say this. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not mind me saying it. In fact, I think he will approve. I want to say how much we owe to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), for the indefatigable way in which he has piloted this very complicated and difficult Measure through Committee and through the House. He has shown great patience, great forbearance and willingness to be helpful, and I am sure that the improvements which have been made are due in large measure to the help that he has given to the Committee and the House in this regard.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I am more confused than ever. First of all, the Lord Advocate told us that this was a Measure of a very simple nature, but its provisions are complicated and it is a complicated subject. The framework of a turbine generator is very simple; it has a terrible mechanism inside. Now we are told by the hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) that this Bill, although it is very complicated, has made the land problem much easier. Yesterday, when I raised with the Joint Under-Secretary of State a case in my constituency, his advice to me was, "Do not buy land that comes under planning." But now we are getting from the hon. Member for North Angus the information that it makes the buying of land much easier. We were told yesterday that it makes the buying of land more complicated.

Commander Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me by saying that I said that no one should buy land at any time. What I said was that those who are buying land should inquire what the position is before they buy.

Mr. Bence

But that is just what certain people in my constituency did. They made inquiries from the county council, which was the planning authority, and they were told that the land they proposed to buy was scheduled for building houses. At least one workman in my constituency went ahead and bought this land. Now he and others who bought it have been told that they cannot build. I do not know whether this worker in my constituency is a tool maker, but I am a tool maker and I certainly shall not buy any land, following the advice of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, because the use of the land might be changed.

That is what happened in my constituency. These people bought this land for building houses, which was its use value last March. The planning authority had given permission for them to be built, but the National Coal Board would not give the clearance certificate and so the houses cannot be built. These working people have got this piece of land but the builders cannot build on it. When I raised the matter the only advice I got was that they should not have bought. But how are the people to get land? What is to be done for them when the use value of the land, which was house building, is changed and houses cannot be built on it? I understand that they will not get compensation for this change in use value.

I was told yesterday that these people were unfortunate, and that they had made a bad bargain. Yet they had taken every precaution in buying the land which now they cannot use. There is no compensation for them. The Coal Board cannot compensate them because there is no fund from which it can take the compensation. The planning authority who gave them permission to build the houses, which now cannot be built because they cannot get a clearance certificate, cannot pay the compensation either. From where are these people to get compensation?

I remember years ago coming across a word which I did not understand. I looked for the definition of the word in the Oxford Dictionary. The definition gave four other words and I was not quite sure of them. So I had to look them up to find out what they meant. The same position applies here. There have been explanations from the Lord Advocate, and then my hon. Friends have given us their explanations of the Lord Advocate's explanation. They are all different. That is how we seem to be working on this Bill. Everybody is seeking explanations not only of the original Bill but explanations of the explanations.

It is no use talking about this being a simple Measure. I am sorry for anybody who sets about buying a piece of land and then has to put in a claim for compensation. I know, speaking for myself, that in the future I shall steer clear of any financial dealing or investments in land, particularly when this sort of thing arises. The lawyers will make a fortune out of this Bill. I say that they are entitled to it if they can sort it out. If a couple of lawyers can sit down, study this Bill and be absolutely certain of anything in it then, in my opinion, they are geniuses. I am used to complicated machines, but I have never seen anything like this, and I have found some of the explanations in HANSARD more complicated than the actual phrases of the Bill.

My reason for intervening in the debate is to point out that a new formula has been discovered for the compensation of an owner of land who had been prevented from developing it. If it was assumed that he would receive £800 in compensation under the old formula, but actually received only £730, we are told that he would be losing £70. But he never had the £70 nor the £800; he was merely expecting to get it. Now, the Government are saying that, if the expected profit was £800, but owing to certain circumstances, it amounts to only £730, they will make up the difference.

When we brought into being the social security scheme, we established a formula whereby the old-age pensioners and the ex-Service men might expect a reasonable standard of life in the welfare State, but that formula was not right. Now, if we can alter a formula for the benefit of landlords because what they are to receive does not come up to their expectations, why cannot we also alter the for- mula in the case of the old-age pensioners, the limbless ex-Service men and all the sick and injured, whose expectations of what they would get are not now being realised? The Government could bring in a Bill tomorrow to substitute a new formula in that case.

This is the new arithmetic of the Government Front Bench. They divide something up into seven-sevenths, and, if anybody complains that they are not getting enough, they make it eight-sevenths to make sure that they get what they want. I was absolutely disgusted when I heard the explanations of this business. It is absolutely fantastic that, because the expectation of profit out of land—the value of which has been created by the community—is not realised—because an owner who expected to get £800 is to receive only £730, so that he is said to be losing £70—we should compensate him and give him another £70.

Commander Galbraith

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will look up in the Oxford Dictionary the definition of compensation and compare it with that of profit, and then be good enough to tell us if the two coincide.

Mr. Bence

What I have discovered does coincide is this. The Treasury is prepared to pay out compensation equally on what the planning authority assumes would be the profit that would have been obtained from something could it have been sold. There is a difference in principle between what is reasonable here and what we are doing where the ordinary working people are concerned.

Some time ago, hon. Gentlemen on the other side, some of them ex-Army officers from the First World War, spoke of certain officers who had had expectations for years, but nothing had been done towards their fulfilment. In this case, as soon as the matter is brought to light, something is done about it. I know very well that if the right people lose their profits in certain ways, there are certain people who will see that they get compensation, but, when it comes to other sections of the community, it is not so easy to get that compensation, and that is what I am complaining about.

I am sorry to have included it in this debate, because I have said from the beginning that I do not know what happens under the Bill, because I do not understand the Bill. It is a mystery to me, but I can understand now why, when people are buying houses, solicitors charge 100 guineas for the transfers of the deeds, and so on, if this is the sort of thing with which they have to deal. I have complained many times, when I have moved from place to place, of the 80 guinea fee which had to be paid every time, but if this is the sort of thing with which the lawyers have to deal, then I can understand it.

I cannot compliment right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench on the explanations they have given us. I know that they have attempted to explain the Bill, but I have had to worry some of my hon. Friends for explanations of their explanations, and some of my hon. Friends have not been too sure, either. I think that the Ministers on the Front Bench should have spent six months on this Bill in order to make themselves really acquainted with it. I cannot compliment them on the way they have explained it, because, to my simple mind, there have been no explanations at all.

I am not at all thankful for this Measure, and, as long as I am a Member of this House, if any constituents of mine asked me to get in touch with a Government Department on any problem connected with this Bill, they will be very disappointed with the services which I shall be able to render, because that task is hopeless.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. Lawson

I appreciate that this Bill really completes the work that was begun with the 1953 Town and Country Planning Act. I do not wish to deal at length with that point; I merely wish to say that it seems to me that the Bill gives to the owner of private land the right to exact a development value which in most cases he ought not to be entitled to receive. This is an opinion which most of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side would accept.

My reason for intervening is to bring out from this side of the House the difficulties to which the hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) referred. The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill brought into existence two values, and he went on to discuss the difficulties that would arise from the existence of these two values Eventually, his suggestion was that these two values should merge and become one; that is to say, eventually the value would be the market value. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern on the question of bringing into existence in this Bill these two values, and my fear is that what is suggested by the hon. Member will, in fact, become the actual position. It is my fear; it is his hope.

It seems to me that it will be immensely difficult for public authorities to go on obtaining land, as they are entitled to do under this Bill, because of the pressure of public opinion. We have already had one example in the Pilgrim case, and it seems to me that in the future there will be very many cases of a like sort, though not such extreme cases. The situation will be very difficult and very dangerous.

In a given neighbourhood, land will come to be recognised as having a certain market value, which is, however, variable. In most cases that value expresses none of the effort that has gone into the land but is merely the price which the owner of the land can exact from those who wish to buy it, and the more desperate the need the bigger the price that can be exacted. In practice, that is what is meant by "market value" in land.

The Bill once more permits the private owner of land to sell it at whatsoever price he can obtain for it. He is freed in large part from the restrictions that were imposed upon him in 1947 by the Town and Country Planning Act of that year. He is no longer compelled to sell his land at existing use value but is permitted to make as much on it as he can. That point has been underlined by hon. Members who have spoken from the Government benches. It means that public authorities will come more and more under exceedingly great pressure in trying to buy land at existing use value plus the established claim and plus the one-seventh which has been added to the claim. They will be under pressure to buy at market value. When compulsory buying is carried out, the items that go to make up the valuation will be extremely variable. We are not dealing with the restricted use value in 1947–48 but with an existing use value which is not fixed but is variable. It is almost as variable as market value.

It will be immensely difficult for a public authority seeking to acquire land to establish what is the existing use value, and there will be great arguments that the existing use value should be much more. How those arguments are to be settled I do not know. We have it here that the first element in the new theoretical price, existing use value, is something which cannot be fixed or tied down but must carry with it a large element of the feeling that "the land is worth as much as I can get for it."

Similar to that is the development claim, which represents the valuation placed upon possible development in 1947. The Bill says that it is a fixed claim, but from the discussion, particularly yesterday, we understand that while the claim for development value is fixed at 1947 prices and according to the estimate made in 1947, it is admitted that the development value, or development possibilities and what one is entitled to obtain for those possibilities, may be extremely variable. For example, the development value in 1947 must of necessity have been fixed according to certain purposes, such as house building, or factory building, or recreational purposes. According to the purpose for which the development value was fixed, so did the valuation change. Although the Bill lays down that the claim was fixed, development values, in the eyes of the people who own land, will be extremely variable.

Any public authority purchasing land compulsorily in the future will be under great pressure on this question also of the claim and the worth of the claim, estimated in terms of what the owner can get in development value at the present time. The second element cannot be held to be fixed but varies immensely and must vary more as time passes. The only element which is fixed is the one-seventh which is added, and which does very considerable injustice to the people themselves.

It will be increasingly difficult, although I do not say it will be impossible, and it will give rise to immense feelings of anger and bitterness, for public authorities to try to implement the terms of the Bill. The pressure will be such that they will be compelled bit by bit to move towards that approximation which the hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) has described. They will be compelled to move towards market value, which means "as much as we can get for it." We are returning to the position that existed prior to the 1947 Act. This is most regrettable, It is a glaring example of concern not for the community interest but for the speculative interest of private landowners. I regret exceedingly that the Bill is of this character.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Ministers seem to have taken the Delphic oracle as their exemplar, except for the difference that when the oracle was asked for an answer it generally gave one, while Ministers, when asked to explain this complex Bill, have sat mute—mute of malice—and did not give answers to the questions.

The Bill is open to grave objections upon, among others, five grounds which I shall mention at once. The first is that its aims are narrow and partisan when they should be broad and national. The second is that its form and layout are difficult and complex. The third is that its language is obscure and unintelligible. The fourth is that the time allowed in Committee for consideration was insufficient, and even the time allowed yesterday and today is insufficient to enable us to consider all the complexities of the Bill. The fifth is that the Motion for Recommittal which was sprung on the House at the last moment yesterday did not give Members adequate notice or opportunity of knowing what they had to consider.

These and other points were made in Committee. Amendments which were put forward for the first time yesterday and today by the Government in their vain attempt to improve this bad Bill were fully and fairly argued on this side of the House, without undue prolixity; but Ministers, in the main, sat mute of malice and failed to give adequate answers to the points which were made.

The Government are culpable in these and other matters because they had before them, in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, a model of what such a Bill should be. That Act was a model because, unlike the present Bill, its aims were broad and national and not partisan. Its form was clear, its language was intelligible, and adequate time was left by the then Government—the Labour Government of 1947—for the full and careful consideration of that Bill.

The result was that that Measure was designed and expressed in a way which could be understood by all concerned and could be, and was, administered by local authorities with success. It made clear provision for granting permission to develop land and for controlling the use of land. It conferred the necessary powers on public authorities to acquire and to develop land. It amended the law relating to compensation in a workable way. It provided for payment out of a central fund in respect of depreciation occasioned by planning authorities. All this it did with clarity and effectiveness. I am tracing—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is tracing, but really the Bill he is tracing is not now before the House.

Mr. Hughes

I am well aware of that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but surely I am entitled to show the ineffectiveness of this Bill by comparing it with its predecessor in this class of legislation. To prove what I have said, it would be necessary, if it were in order—I am afraid it is not—to pay more respect to this House than the Government have done. It would be necessary for me to point to the fact that the time allowed for the consideration of this Bill in Committee—and I am in order in saying that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—was unquestionably and absurdly insufficient. The comparable English Bill, which was a smaller Measure, was given thrice the time for consideration in Committee.

On 5th May, when the Government threatened to curtail the time for consideration of the Bill in Committee, less than half of its Clauses had been considered. The House is well aware that the shorter English Bill was given 15 days for consideration in Committee, while this Bill received only six days. I submit that that is entirely wrong in the case of a Bill of this sort which may involve questions of life and death for the people whose land is acquired and who may be inadequately compensated for its acquisition.

My hon. Friend has just referred to the case of Mr. Pilgrim, who committed suicide owing to the way in which he was treated under legislation which permitted the compulsory acquisition of his land. There are other cases—

Mr. Woodburn

May I interrupt my hon. and learned Friend? I think he has got the facts of that case wrong. Mr. Pilgrim was robbed by a private enterpriser who overcharged him for his land.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that case arises under the present Bill.

Mr. Hughes

As my right hon. Friend has said, Mr. Pilgrim's case was that of a private citizen who was robbed by another private citizen, as a result of which he was driven to suicide.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have already said that that case does not arise under this Bill.

Mr. Hughes

With the very greatest respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it arises in this way. I submit that this kind of legislation which gives power for the compulsory acquisition of land and compensation therefor may involve questions of life and death for the people whose land is so acquired. It may well be that there may be a man who invests his life's savings in a small piece of land, and then that land is compulsorily acquired under this or some similar legislation. As a result, the man may become so distraught that he is driven to take extreme measures, and even to take his life. Therefore, I beg the House to realise that it should consider legislation of this kind with the utmost care in order to avoid tragedies of that or any other kind which may result. My submission is that the manner in which this Bill has been treated by the Government and the denial of debate which has occurred—

Mr. Willis

Go on. Do not spoil your peroration.

Mr. Hughes

May I interrupt my flow, Mr. Speaker, in order to say how glad we are to see you back in the Chair? I know that you were here at Question time today, but I was not present myself and therefore had no opportunity of saying this to you then, either in the form of a supplementary question or otherwise. May I say, Sir, how glad we are to see you back, and that we hope your health is such as to enable you to continue to preside over our deliberations?

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I must ask him to stick to the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Hughes

There is one further point that I wish to stress in relation to the fund out of which compensation is to be paid. The 1947 Act provided such a fund. That has been changed, and this Bill proposes to set up a different system which, in my submission, will not work. No adequate opportunity for considering the financial provisions of the Bill has been provided. I regret that, and I fear that when the Bill becomes an Act it will not operate in the way in which it should operate.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

When the Lord Advocate made his farewell speech on this Bill, he said that he had never sought to conceal its complications and complexities. He never said a truer word, because every speech he made on the Bill revealed its complexities. I must confess that the explanations which he gave, and which his right hon. and gallant Friend gave, rather underlined the complexities of the Bill, and certainly did not in many cases help us properly to understand its details.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made quite a plea for this kind of legislation being dealt with in this way. He said that it was right that Parliament should discuss and decide on as many of its details as possible and should not resort to the use of delegated legislation. I rather think that I am with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in that and that I am inclined to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). But there follows from that an obvious corollary. If we are to deal with complicated legislation and are to try to envisage all the possible contingencies and circumstances that may arise affecting the provisions of the Bill and its working, then it means that Parliament must have time in which properly to consider the Bill; otherwise it is a farce.

It is no good talking about the principle of Parliament deciding the details and then denying Parliament the time properly to consider those details. We have only to consider what has happened in the last two days. We have made considerable changes in this Bill—some of them improvements. We have demonstrated weaknesses in it and the Government have promised that, in another place, they will take the necessary strengthening action. But a considerable part of this Bill was never properly considered in Committee at all, and the fact is that this important and far-reaching Measure—which in time may well involve the disbursement of millions of pounds, and which contains a very valuable principle of planning—was rushed through at a time when its important merits could not possibly have due consideration. As it now stands the Bill is incomplete. Considerable amendments have still to be made and we shall probably be hearing a little more about it in this House. I regret very much that the Government took that attitude at that time.

I shall not say very much about the complexities of the Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State complained of someone using Latin which he did not understand. I must confess that at times the only parts of the Bill which I did understand were those in Latin. It was probably just as well that the Joint Under-Secretary who is concerned with education in Scotland stayed away, because we entered the realms of algebra and arithmetic and the behaviour, under certain circumstances, of two minuses. The whole thing underlined the necessity of that proper Committee work which we were denied.

The Bill deals with a problem arising from the Government's decision to suspend the development charge. That takes us back to the original purpose of the 1947 Act. The development charge was the recognition of the fact that in the past the great barrier to proper planning was its cost. In the development charge, the buying out by the State of development values, we thought we had a way by which we could surmount this barrier to real planning. Planning is not a matter just of the countryside. There are also the centres of so many of our towns. For local authorities planning was a financial barrier which they could not surmount.

What have we now done? Having suspended the payment of the £300 million, we have said that, development having been frustrated, the development loss shall be assessed, and compensation paid, by the State. That is dealt with in Clause 29, and it is something we cannot get away from. It is the State which shall pay compensation, so the State must decide. In essence, the State will now place itself over the local authority and decide whether or not a certain development decision by a local authority shall stand. It is my view that by Clause 29 we have once again got this financial obstacle to the actual exercise of its planning powers by the local authority. There is, of course, the further obstacle and danger to the local authority as a developer itself, a point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson).

I am very glad that the Government decided to accept in principle the Amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). That, in some way, does assure us that proper consideration will be given by the Government in their decision whether to support the local authority, amend the local authority's decision or alter it altogether. But I do not want once again in Scotland to see this financial barrier standing between us and proper planning. We listen to talk about the glories and beauties of Scotland—its countryside. We see there the hand of God. Then we look at our cities and towns where man has been at work and where the hand of God is touched by the work of man. What a difference. I do not want to see this financial barrier again being used by a Secretary of State to neglect proper planning considerations because he is weighed down by the cost of compensation unless a certain development, which is the wrong development, is allowed.

The success of this Bill will depend not only on its dealing justly with those who have claims for compensation, but on whether it impedes or assists development of the right kind in the right place. I sincerely hope that in working Clauses 29 and 30 and the other relevant parts the Secretary of State will bear that in mind.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I must add my protest to the protests of my hon Friends on this side of the House with regard to the conduct of the Bill. There can be no doubt that it has been hurried through the House much too quickly, and as a result it is a most insufficiently inconsidered Bill. The Government had a year in which to consider the Measure before actually presenting it to the House, yet in Committee they moved batches and batches of Amendments. Then on Report they came along with new Clauses and further Amendments. It is true to say that the great bulk of the Amendments have been framed by the Government. That indicates that the Bill was never properly thought out by the Government, and already we have been promised another great wad of Amendments when the Bill goes to another place. That really is not the way to treat a complicated Measure which vitally affects every citizen and every local authority.

This Bill contains a very dangerous principle. Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) says, it increases the power of the Secretary of State over local authorities in regard to planning. In my view, however, it does something which is even more dangerous. It enables the Secretary of State to give varying financial rewards to people who want to develop, by the waiving of part of the payment which they might be called upon to make in respect of compensation which they have received. It gives the Secretary of State power to treat different individuals differently.

That seems to me to be quite a wrong thing to do. It is quite wrong that the Secretary of State, a political figure taking part in elections, subject to all the pressures of this House and responsible to a political party and to the State, should have it in his power to give varying financial awards to different people. That is a most dangerous practice, and I should have thought that the Government would have had second thoughts about incorporating it in this Bill.

I wish also to say a word or two about the principles of the Bill. We are told that the main Act of 1947 was not working very well. Of course, it had not been in operation so very long, and I think we might have given it rather longer before passing judgment on whether or not it was working well. But because it did not work well, we are reversing a process that was started by that Act of regaining for the community some of the value which the community itself created. That Act endeavoured to treat the people of this country with justice. It endeavoured to secure for the people of this country the values which they themselves were creating. This Bill reverses that process and says that the values that are created by the community as a result of community effort shall be the rewards of private people—and quite a small number of private individuals.

I noticed my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) sitting here with a copy of "Our Noble Families," and I should like him to tell us how they acquired the land. These people are now to get the rewards of communal endeavour, in addition to the present ownership of the land itself. That seems to me to be quite wrong. It is a retrograde step—a step, of course, which is in accordance with other steps taken by the present Government to reward various vested interests which have supported them politically. This rewarding of landowners is a matter of political expediency. The Government have already rewarded other sections of the community. Now it is the turn of the landowners.

This Bill, as has already been indicated, is exceedingly complex. Most of us who have sat through the proceedings on the Bill and have tried to understand it still have not got a very clear picture of what it means. In fact, while listening to the Government speakers, I was convinced that they did not know what this Bill means, and by the number of notes which had to pass between the Front Bench and the Officials' Box and the meticulous care with which they were read, I am convinced that that is true.

This Bill creates a lot of work for a lot of people—legal gentlemen, planning officers, clerks and so on—and it seems to me to be quite wrong, since this country can only be saved by increasing its productivity, that we should take from the productive field people to do this type of work. I suggest seriously to the Government that if they really wish to avoid all this complex legislation, which requires for its enactment the labours of thousands of people all over the country, the best thing to do would be to nationalise the land and give it to the people to whom it really belongs.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.