HC Deb 24 March 1959 vol 602 cc1277-89
Mr. Brooke

I beg to move, in page 77, line 48, at the end to insert: and in paragraph (c) of the proviso to that subsection, after the word 'authority' there shall be inserted the words 'or statutory undertakers'". This, and the next four Amendments, are all consequential on Amendments which have already been made to the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 78, line 1, leave out "and".

In line 5, at end insert: and in subsection (5), after the word 'authority' in paragraph (d), there shall be inserted the words 'or statutory undertakers', for the words 'or authority' there shall be substituted the words 'authority or statutory undertakers', and for the words 'and authorities' there shall be substituted the words 'authorities and undertakers'".—[Mr. H. Brooke.]

In page 78, line 13, after "and", insert: in paragraph (c) of the proviso to that subsection, after the word 'authority', in the first place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words 'or statutory undertakers' and after the word 'authority', in the second place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words 'or, as the case may he, those statutory undertakers';".

In page 78, line 18, at end insert: and in subsection (5), after the word 'authority' in paragraph (d), there shall be inserted the words 'or statutory undertakers', for the words or authority' there shall be substituted the words 'authority or statutory undertakers', and for the words 'and authorities' there shall be substituted the words 'authorities and undertakers'".—[Mr. N. Macpherson.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, signified.]

10.54 p.m.

Mr. N. Macpherson

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

After 25 sittings of the Standing Committee on the Bill and two full days on it in this Chamber I propose to be brief. The main purpose of the Bill is to restore, in assessing compensation for public acquisition of land, the system which gives the seller the same compensation as he would have obtained had his land been sold in the private market. I should like, at this stage, at once to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) for having raised this matter last year.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government said on Second Reading, the Bill is the second stage in dealing with the problems left by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. It may not have been the intention of that Act that the owner of land taken by a public authority should get a lower price than he would have got in a private sale. In practice, however, it was its effect that land continued to change hands in the private market at a figure above its existing use value, in spite of the fact that the purchaser had still to pay a development charge to the Government before he could use the land for the purpose for which he had bought it.

The first steps in undoing the practical difficulties and injustices resulting from the 1947 Act were taken in 1953 and 1954 when the private market in land was set entirely free from the system of development charges. At that time it was still reasonable to retain compensation for public acquisition on the basis of existing use value, with the addition of development value as established in 1948. Five years have now elapsed and there has been the further development of a two-price system, and the difference between these two price levels has now become such that the maintenance of the system does not do justice to the owner of the land acquired by public authorities.

In the discussions which have taken place on the Bill, both upstairs and in the Chamber yesterday and today, we have concentrated largely on the mechanics of arriving at market value. We believed that directions should be written into the Bill so as to ensure that market value is in future assessed on a reasonably precise basis in the circumstances of the present day—that is to say, in a world where land use, and, therefore, the market in land, are greatly affected by the generally accepted system of planning control under the Town and Country Planning Acts—Acts which are now generally accepted sometimes gladly and sometimes with resignation.

The basic rules are still the rules established by the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act so long ago as 1919. What the Bill does is to supplement these rules with enough, but no more than enough, guidance about their operation in a planned world where the valuers have to know the uses to which it would be permissible to put any piece of land, and thus the kind of demand for the land that would exist in the private market if those uses were permitted. Indeed, if there were no such guidance there would be no real basis for appeal. What we have attempted to secure is a fair deal for both the public buyer and the private seller in the assessment of market value.

Another important aspect of the Bill is the provision which it makes for dealing with the difficult problem of planning blight. Clause 32 seeks to protect resident owner-occupiers of property which has become unsaleable at a reasonable price because some public authority has made known its intention of purchasing the property at some later date. The scope of the Clause has been extended and, while certain aspects remain restricted to certain owner-occupiers, the Government have undertaken to look at this aspect further, because we are all anxious to safeguard the position of the small man whose livelihood or means of survival may be at stake.

Even without further extension of Clause 32, I am sure that much good will result from the more ample provision now made in Clause 37 for advance purchase, with the appropriate grant aid to local authorities, where, in their discretion, the authorities think it reasonable to buy property in advance of their actual requirements and thus help people not covered by Clause 32 out of any difficulty resulting from planning blight.

A special form of blight settles on a house when it is declared unfit, especially if it is owned by the family who live in it. Under the present law such a family may, for the best of public purposes, be deprived of its home and receive only nominal compensation. The various aspects of this problem were discussed in the course of our proceedings, together with the planning and valuation situation which lies behind it. I am glad that there was a welcome on both sides yesterday for the Government Amendment to ensure that owner-occupiers receive at least a minimum compensation in all cases and never a purely nominal payment.

While this has been, and is, essentially a Great Britain Bill, there have been a few points, though not many, peculiar to Scotland. During Committee and other proceedings, we have heard a good deal about Scotland and her land tenure system from Scottish Members, who made up for their lack of numbers by their industry and vigour. Our discussions have clearly shown that the compensation provisions rest on the same bases of planning and valuation principle in both countries and that it has been perfectly proper, and, indeed, desirable, to debate them in common session with English Members.

The Bill is, however, an intricate Bill and I was happy to have had the opportunty yesterday of expressing our definite intention to ask Parliament to re-enact it in Scottish form as soon as possible. We hope that this can be achieved soon after the Bill becomes law. As was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on Second Reading, there is a precedent for re-enactment. The precedent is the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) (Scotland) Act, 1947. The desirability of re-enactment in any particular case is not in any way a confession that it was wrong to have had a Great Britain Bill in the first place. My right hon. Friend was the first Scottish Member to speak on Second Reading and he indicated then the reasons why he considered it right to have a Great Britain Bill.

Despite the vigorous and, at times, prolonged efforts of Scottish Members of the Opposition to demonstrate their disagreement, we are still of opinion that it was right to have the Great Britain Bill. My right hon. Friend also undertook, however to consider re-enactment and we now have definitely decided to re-enact at the first opportunity. I trust, therefore, that before long we shall have on the Statute Book two Acts of great importance which clear up the town and country planning legislation in a very satisfactory way.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

For anyone who finds himself, as I do, rather fortuitously, on the Front Bench after many years in the past, and, I hope, a good many years in the future, on the back benches, it must always be one of the most satisfying parts of the experience to feel that one is keeping some of one's less fortunate hon. Friends from taking part in the debate. That, however, is not a feeling which I have tonight.

The one thing on which I can agree with the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is that we had a wide-ranging debate upstairs. We spent a great deal of time discussing the Bill. If the Scottish Members learnt as much about English jargon as we learnt about Scottish jargon, there may have been some profit in it. We had some far-reaching, imaginative discussions. We had the Minister of Housing and Local Government brooding in almost perpetual vigil over a hypothetical sewerage farm. We even discussed the development value of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) as a Privy Councillor. Of all the happy metaphors that arose, however, that left by the right hon. Gentleman tonight will linger longest in my memory. I refer to the picture of the right hon. Gentleman probing the repercussions of blight floating on a fag end.

After that, there is little that I can say in favour of the Bill. The Joint Under-Secretary nobly tried to reconcile it with the 1954 Act. Of course, the two cannot be reconciled. One of the few good things that the Bill does is that it dismantles "Macmillan's folly." It is a rather gloomy thought, but to dismantle the 1954 Bill has taken even longer than it took to erect it, and we thought that that took long enough. The truth is that the Prime Minister was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, and he made a major blunder in his attempt to dismantle the 1947 machinery. We warned him that it would lead to difficulties for people outside and to grave political difficulties within his party. It did that. We had the humiliating experience of the right hon. Gentleman being left alone and deserted one Friday by his own party, and now, as a result, here we are with the attempt to answer the problem.

Another thing about the Bill is that it is very wide in scope. We have had a great deal of talk about the owner-occupier, but the Parliamentary Secretary rather let the cat out of the bag a bit too soon, because it was early in our proceedings when he told us that as a general rule the owner-occupier does receive the market value from the acquiring local authority. So, from that moment, a lot of the appeal to the little man went by the board. It was the old, old story. We soon found that the Bill was really not designed to help the little man, or the owner-occupier. That was merely a stalking horse, behind which the paying out of more taxpayers' and ratepayers' money to big property owners was the real object of the Bill.

This was done under the guise of restoring something which is called "market value". The more one has looked at" market value, "the clearer it has become that" market value has no meaning at all. It is a complete myth. It is a kind of complicated and highly abstract game, embodying a great deal of crystal gazing, the result of which would bear no relation to what the ordinary person thinks is meant by "market value."

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were supplementing the 1919 rules. That was an understatement, because what they are doing is departing in a major point from those rules, by introducing for the first time since 1919 the conception of extra compensation for compulsory purchase because the purchase is compulsory, and that is something we have never had before. It is not a grant out of goodness of heart, to some particular hardship case. It is to be made to everyone who is to be affected by Clause 15 of the Bill.

Clause 15 is the most vicious part of the Bill, because it says that when the acquiring authority and the property owner have reached an agreement, or when a price has been fixed by arbitration on the basis of the facts as they are at the time when the transaction is completed, when the property and the land has passed, years afterwards there may be a change in the situation, owing to the facts and conditions having changed. If the land is to be used for a different purpose, the whole transaction is to be opened again, and the property owner is to be brought back into the picture and handed out extra compensation.

Why? Because he has lost more than before? Of course not. The loss he has incurred is precisely the same two or three years later as it was at the time when the original compensation was fixed. The only justification for doing it is that the new use to which the land is being put by the public authority is more remunerative than the old use. In other words, the private property owner is to be given the right to share in the profits from the development undertaken by the public authority.

That puts in its right context the whole attitude of the Government. as shown in all these discussions, to the question of development by public authorities. There is a deep resentment against the idea that local councils and other bodies should develop land for the common good. There is a feeling that it is something to be discouraged and obstructed, a feeling that, on the whole, the local authorities will act in a way that is unfair and wrong, and that the situation has got to be watched carefully. As I say, although the Government never dare say that they thought the local authorities were acting in bad faith, in fact that is the only justification for this—that they were engaged in a cheap swindle, although the Government would not accept that that was the real reason behind it.

On the other hand, there are those who hold that the local authorities are developing land for the common good, on behalf of the ratepayers and taxpayers who are just as poor as property owners and have as much right to be treated fairly and honestly, and therefore it is just as wrong to make ratepayers and taxpayers pay more compensation than is necessary for the loss incurred by the property owners, as it is to do the opposite.

Our real objection is that all along there has been this confusion, and the Government have not been able to make up their mind what they are trying to do, whether they are trying to ensure that the loss incurred by the property owner is fully compensated, or whether they are trying, on the other hand, to see that he gets a share in the profits that will ensue from the activities of the community.

After all, the effect of the principle that is enshrined in the Bill—that when market value is calculated one of the things that have to be assumed is that planning permission would be given for the development by the acquiring authority as much as for any other development—is immediately to raise the compensation which is given based not on the use to which the owner might have put the land and not on the loss which he has suffered, but on the fact that the community is to get some gain out of what is done on the land, and, therefore, the private property owner has to be given a share of what ought to be the gain of the community as a whole.

That leads me to the next comment, which I do not want to develop because we discussed it on Second Reading, that the Bill does not, except in a minor way. face the whole problem of betterment—the problem that a great deal of the improvement in the value of a piece of land that will come from development will not be created by the work of the landowner nor from anything done on that piece of land, but is possible only because of what is being done by the community as a whole.

A great deal of the value that will arise from the planning permission, in many cases, is not intrinsic or inherent in that particular permission, but arises because other pieces of land have got permission and because the local authority is throwing out roads and drains. including my right hon. Friend's hypothetical sewerage farm and all the other essentials of hypothetical development which can become complicated and difficult when one is trying to build a picture in order to get an idea of the basis of valuation.

I would like to say again what was said on Second Reading. I quite agree that it may seem incongruous, having said what we have said, that we shall not vote against the Bill. My reason for not voting against is perfectly simple and clear. There are certain Clauses which we welcome, but the main reason why I personally would not vote against the Bill is that if I did so I would not be voting for the 1947 solution of these problems, which, on the whole, I still think was a wise and prudent solution; we are voting for the preservation of the 1954 attempt to solve the problems which we are all agreed, on both sides of the House, was a most crushing failure. Therefore, because it would be foolish to blind oneself to the fact that something has to be done about the 1954 Act, the wisest thing is to let the Bill pass with all its faults and injustices, because it will provide something a little better and a little fairer than that Measure.

We can only regret that owing to the follies of the 1954 Act and of the Prime Minister so much of our time, of the time of the House and of the work done by lawyers and surveyors outside the House, has been wasted during the past five years.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

As my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was kind enough to suggest that I may, to some extent, have been responsible for 25 sittings upstairs in Committee and three on the Floor of the House, I hope that I shall not be considered impertinent if, on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, I offer a measure of appreciation and congratulation to my right hon. Friend the Minister and his hon. Friends for the way in which they have managed to steer the Bill through its long course, hampered throughout by the fact that a very large number of those who have contributed to it have quite clearly missed most of the point which they were supposed to he discussing.

I do not want to leave out of the compliments with which we end these debates the Opposition Front Bench. I think that the acrobatics of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have perhaps been the cause of very considerable admiration, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has time and again had to assure the Committee that his party is really devoted to fair compensation, and sometimes even to market value, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Indeed, we have almost heard the suction of the mud as the hon. and learned Gentleman has pulled his back benchers out of the mire into which they had dug themselves.

We admire that, but the only effect has been to show the superior Parliamentary skill and understanding of my right hon. and hon. Friends who, we have no doubt, will be back after the General Election with more progressive legislation.

11. 18 p.m.

Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley

I had not intended to speak on Third Reading, and I can promise the House that I shall not do so at any length. I have been provoked into rising by two references made by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) in Committee as well as by what he called dismantling "Macmillan's folly."

Legislation is a continuous process. The 1953 Act stopped the development charges and the simultaneous and inflationary pay-outs of the £300 million compensation. Something had to be done then to provide a proper system of compensation for land which was compulsorily acquired.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who was then the Minister of Housing and Local Government introduced the 1954 Bill which provided compensation for land which was compulsorily acquired at existing use value plus what had been set up under the machinery of the 1947 Act. the unexpended balances of the claims under Part VI of that Act for the development value of land acquired compulsorily.

That, I think, was the only possible solution at that time. I have always felt that it would have been wrong if my right hon. Friend had proceeded straight to market value. I do not think that he could have done that in the circumstances which applied in 1954. and I am quite sure that had he attempted to do so the Opposition would have been the first to protest.

We have passed from that, and the evidence that a new system was required was seen when my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) introduced his Private Member's Bill on the subject in February of last year. It became apparent that there was widespread demand throughout the country for a return to fair market values where land and houses were being compulsorily acquired against the owner's wishes and in many cases to his great disadvantage.

It was then right that my right hon. Friend should have undertaken legislation, even though it cannot have been easy for him to do so in—I will not say "the last two months"—the last year of office. To embark on legislation of this kind in those circumstances was a courageous thing for him to do. We should recognise that. I gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the splendid, untiring and courteous way in which my right hon. Friend attended all our proceedings over the 25 sittings in Committee upstairs.

I very much welcomed the announcement made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that there is to be separate enactment of the Scottish provisions of the Bill. No one could fail to have sympathy with Scottish legal practitioners who have to extract the Scottish provisions from a United Kingdom Bill which is not only of great length but is also of considerable complexity, and those hon. Members who sit for Scottish constituencies must have been pleased, on Second Reading, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave an undertaking on behalf of the Government that consideration would be given to the possibility of re-enacting the Scottish provisions of the Bill when it reached the Statute Book. My right hon. Friend has been as good as his word, and I warmly welcome the fact that quite soon there will be a Scottish Bill dealing with the purely Scottish applications of this Bill.

I hope that that may soon be followed —of course not in this Parliament—by what Scotland and, I believe, the remainder of Great Britain needs—a consolidation Measure for all the town and country planning legislation which we have placed on the Statute Book in the years since the war.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Brooke

I do not intend to defend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister against the gibes of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). The Prime Minister is well able to look after himself. Indeed, at a time of day when we thought that we might have become rather more non-political the hon. Member tempts me to remark that there were times when I found it difficult to square the attitude of the Opposition on Second Reading, when they at any rate paid lip service to the principle of market value, with the determined efforts which they made in Committee to try to ensure that the owner of the land did not receive market value when it came to the point. At this hour, however, I do not want to stress our differences.

There is, indeed, little more to say. But I believe that the whole House wishes me to express thanks to that body of civil servants in many different Government Departments and to Parliamentary counsel, all of whom devoted long hours of work and their great skill to the shaping of the Bill under Government direction. They work with equal loyalty for all Governments, and Parliament could not do its job without them.

I fully recognise—and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) need not have reminded me of the fact from time to time, as he did—that a Minister is greatly advantaged in dealing with these complicated matters by having the work of Government Departments behind him. Nevertheless, I trust that the hon. and learned Member will accept it from me when I say, in all sincerity, that a number of us on this side of the House have watched with respect the care with which, on behalf of his party, he has examined the Clauses of the Bill, the skill with which he has drafted Amendments, and the knowledge with which he has expounded them. We might think his efforts misguided, but there should unquestionably be an Opposition at work on a Bill of this kind, and the hon. and learned Member has played his part in the Parliamentary achievement of taking it through the House of Commons.

I express my thanks to those Members of the Standing Committee who took an active interest in the Bill, particularly my two hon. Friends who have spoken in this short debate. Naturally, my mind goes back to that somewhat awkward Friday when it fell to me to deal with a Private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), some long time ago. A great deal of water has passed under the bridges and a great deal of value has floated down the streams since then. Though none of us claims that this legislation is necessarily perfect, I am convinced that it brings us a great deal nearer to doing justice than did the state of legislation which that Private Member's Bill criticised and sought to remedy.

I have also to thank my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretary and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and my right hon. and learned Friend the their help I could not possibly have piloted the Bill through. I think that everybody was impressed by their knowledge and patience through long hours of debate.

As Minister for Welsh Affairs, I now realise that I have an advantage over the Secretary of State for Scotland. In Wales, everybody at any rate speaks English nowadays and it must be perfectly clear to all hon. Members who have taken part in the proceedings on this Bill that Scotsmen who have anything to do with property emphatically do not. You, Mr. Speaker, have listened to these long hours of debate on a subject with which you yourself have reason to be very closely acquainted. In the light of the Bill, I think that you must have been conscious that it is now proved, whatever the text books say, that Parliament is bilingual.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

I shall not repeat what I said on Second Reading. I stated why we did not divide against the Bill, and our reasons for not dividing against the Third Reading are the same. We feel that the Bill has not been altogether improved in Committee, and I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that, having not divided against the Bill, we have in fact in Committee attacked the principle of open market value. This is obviously a matter upon which people will take different views. What we have been trying to do has been to secure fairness between the two parties to a compulsory sale.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, quite sincerely and in the spirit in which he spoke, for the very kind words which he was good enough to use about me. I hope that he will allow me to say that in Committee we had a very great deal of help from my hon. Friends. By the end of the Bill, I think I am beginning to understand a little, but not much, about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.