HC Deb 06 July 1961 vol 643 cc1857-61
Mr. Pavitt

I beg to move, in page 6, line 40, after "required" to insert: by any public or local authority". I feel that I am rather tempting Providence to come up a third time, having had two Amendments accepted for the first time since I became a Member. Though the voice is that of a Sassenach, the words are those of Scotland. I have pleasure in trying to persuade the Solicitor-General to accept the Amendment, the purpose of which is obvious.

The Temporary Chairman

It is suggested that with this Amendment we might discuss that in page 6, line 40, after "development," to insert by any public or local authority".

Mr. van Straubenzee

On a point of order. You said, Mr. Thomas, that you thought it would be as well to discuss the two Amendments together. Actually there are another two Amendments to page 6, line 40, one of which is in my name, which fall within that heading. I am assuming that you are calling my Amendment.

The Temporary Chairman

I am so sorry that the hon. Gentleman's assumption is not well founded. It is the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) which goes along with the one that has just been moved.

Sir E. Boyle

We are now on the Amendment to Clause 5, in page 6, line 40, after "required", to insert by any public or local authority". As I understand the Amendment, it is to make it perfectly clear that the land in Windsor Forest can be taken for development only by a local or public authority. As now amended, the Clause would still enable the Bracknell New Town Corporation, having cleared the land, to permit it to be developed otherwise than by a local or public authority, as it is only natural it should be able to do. On that understanding, the Government are quite prepared to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Mitchison

I may not have followed quite properly, Mr. Thomas, but I understand that you have put the Question on the first Amendment in page 6, line 40. Is there not the last Amendment to the Clause in the same page and line on the Order Paper? I am not sure, but I thought that the Government were also accepting that Amendment.

The Temporary Chairman

I think that for purposes of discussion they were taken together, but I do not know whether the Government intend to accept it.

Mr. Mitchison

Is this a matter for which the Government have no policy?

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I take the slight rebuke in your voice, Mr. Thomas, but I am in the difficulty that, although I know that I have no right to question why the Amendment which I put down to the Clause was not selected, the Clause is of the very greatest importance. I wish to ask my sight hon. and learned Friend a question or two, largely on subsection (3). I mentioned the matter on Second Reading.

In the area that I represent, Clause 5 is the culmination of a very long struggle—that is why I am so particularly interested in the Bill even at half-past one in the morning—between the requirement for the extension of Bracknell New Town, on the one hand, and the attitude previously taken up by the Crown Estate Commissioners on the other. They, very briefly, have asserted up to now that the land was inalienable and that however pressing, as undoubtedly pressing it is, is the requirement for extending the new town they could not co-operate.

I must say perfectly frankly—and I will cut my remarks extremely short in deference to hon. Members at this hour—having examined the legal arguments and having seen an able critique of them, I doubt very much whether they stand up. I have got ready, but now shall not need to use, evidence in the form of a statutory declaration where land which the Crown Commissioners have up to now asserted was inalienable, always had been and absolutely, under an Act of 1730, could not be sold was, in fact, offered for sale before the First World War. That, I think, shows that the claim here is very doubtful.

What bothers me is the way in which subsection (3) is hedged around. There are three requirements if the Crown Estate Commissioners are to be required to sell their land. The fact has been referred to that the ordinary powers of compulsory purchase do not apply to this body of land owners. Not only must there be … a certificate of the Minister of Housing and Local Government … that the land required … is in the public interest … which is reasonable, but there are three additional requirements. The subsection states that the land must be … suitably replaced … by other land … In other words, it has to be a transfer in specie. If they are to make their land available, there has got to be other land available. There is no such requirement that any other landlord could impose and I see no reason why it should be so in this case. The subsection also states … other land (not less in area). … So that it must not be less in area. It might be that the respective values of the land being exchanged just did not match up and there may be endless trouble in the future if we cannot find land that is … (not less in area). … Thirdly, the subsection states that the other land must be adjacent. These are three very stringent limitations.

This is the first time—and I say this deliberately—that the Commissioners have been forced to make their land available for sale for certain specific social purposes, and I speak a shade bitterly about this because I frankly think that the Commissioner's actions up to now in my area have not been in the public interest in this respect. That is why I have felt it proper to sit for five hours without an opportunity to gain refreshment—even to assist the Revenue—in order to see this Clause under discussion.

Bearing in mind their regard for the public interest up to now in their policy of sale, why are we hedging around their ability to sell with these limitations? What endless opportunity it gives for prevarication and discussion. "There is no suitable land adjoining," they could argue. "It is not the same or more in area," they could say. I must add that it is with regret that I have seen these severe limitations imposed. That is why, even at this late hour, I have thought it right to delay the Committee.

Sir E. Boyle

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubensee) has had an opportunity of expressing his views on this subject and of course I fully realise the importance of Clause 5 to my hon. Friend, and this subsection in particular. The purpose of this subsection is to enable suitable arrangements to be made between the Crown Estate Commissioners and the Minister of Housing for an extension of Bracknell new town.

For some part of my political life I had responsibility for compulsory purchase orders, and I had impressed upon me the importance of reading all the evidence before allowing compulsory purchase orders to be made. It is not often that one hears complaints about such orders, because so many conditions have to be complied with. Similarly, there are many conditions before something of that kind could happen in this case.

This subsection authorises the sale, in certain circumstances—I agree laid down very precisely—of land which forms part of the Windsor Estate. In order that such a disposal should take place, two things are necessary. First, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government must certify that the land is required for development in the public interest. My hon. Friend takes no exception to that. Secondly, as my hon. Friend has said, the Commissioners must be satisfied that such land can be replaced in the Windsor Estate by other land equal in area which is adjacent. Upon such disposal, any land so added to the Windsor Estate will become part of Windsor Forest.

This is the agreement reached, and I am bound to say that I do not think it unreasonable. While I understand the importance of this matter to my hon. Friend, all I can say is that I hope that he and those whom he represents will recognise that considerable trouble has been taken over the matter. It seems to me that Clause 5 is not an unreasonable solution to a genuinely difficult problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.