HC Deb 26 October 1966 vol 734 cc1184-98
Mr. Allason

I beg to move, Amendment No. 12, in page 8, line 24, to leave out from 'is' to the end of line 3 on page 9 and to insert urgently necessary to enable the Commission compulsorily to acquire a specified area of land which is required for a material development (which is in the public interest) and is being unreasonably withheld from such development, the appropriate Minister or Ministers as the confirming authority may by an order made before the end of that period give an authorisation for a compulsory purchase order in relation to the said land subject to the provisions of Schedule 3 of the Acquisition of Land Act".

Clause 8 introduces the simplified procedure for compulsory purchase orders. The Minister introduces a general order which authorises acquisitions generally or in a specific case—and this could depend on the locality, the type of development and the use. In the White Paper, Cmnd. 2771, this simplified procedure was introduced in a rather different way. Paragraph 20 reads: The Bill will also enable the Ministers by Order to invoke temporarily and, if necessary, for certain parts of the country only, a more rapid compulsory purchase procedure in which there will be some modification of the requirements relating to the service of notice and the holding of inquiries into objections.

11.45 p.m.

That is a rather substantial understatement having regard to the modified procedure in Schedule 2. Under Schedule 2 the Minister is not required to hold an inquiry at all, or even to order a private hearing to hear objections. Indeed, the Minister is not even required to consider objections whatever. All he needs to do is to issue his order confirming the compulsory purchase order. In consequence of this, the owner of the land has no opportunity whatever to object to his land being taken from him. He knows that he will be wasting his time in putting in representations because they will not be considered. His land is confiscated without any redress at all.

This is the situation which can arise under the operation of this Clause and Schedule 2. I find that many people simply refuse to credit that this could be so. Yet this is precisely what is being enacted, unless our Amendment is accepted. The effect of the Amendment is to restrict the simplified procedure to a specified area of land which is required for a material development (which is in the public interest) and is being unreasonably withheld from such development.

In those circumstances, the Minister may authorise a simplified compulsory purchase order procedure, which is already in existence in the Third Schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946. That was a temporary Measure, introduced immediately after the war for very urgent compulsory purchase of land in order to get things moving quickly.

We all agree that it is necessary to have something moving fairly quickly. But under the procedure in the Third Schedule to the 1946 Act no dwelling house shall be involved. This is of great importance. Yet under the procedure laid down in Clause 8 a dwelling house may be included, and someone may well find that when his land is taken from him it will include his dwelling house. He will have no right of objection, and at the end of a short period he may be evicted from his house. This is a most intolerable arrangement. By adopting the procedure contained in Schedule 3 to the 1946 Act we shall exclude dwelling houses but in respect of other land there is required the publication of a proposal to take the land and the service of notices on the owner and occupier. Thereafter, although there is no procedure for holding an inquiry or a private hearing, the Minister is required to consider representations. He would act in a judicial capacity and take account of the objections of the person whose land was to be taken.

This is not an attractive procedure to any of us who feel that it is necessary that the owner of land should be allowed to object before his land is taken from him. It is better that objections should be heard at a public inquiry. However, we agree that a public inquiry takes a long time and accept that there are certain special cases where it is necessary to have a simplified procedure. We believe that the procedure under the Acquisition of Land Act is perhaps acceptable.

The arguments in favour of Clause 8 have always been that it is needed for cases where land is unreasonably withheld. Our Amendment would ensure that this procedure would only take place where land was being unreasonably withheld. It would be improper to use the powers in this Clause in normal cases, in which someone had a valid objection and did not want to be hurried, but it would be allowable in cases of unreasonable withholding. The Amendment therefore meets the requirement for some form of objection to be allowed while at the same time it provides an expedited procedure.

The great merits of the Amendment are that no dwelling house would be involved, that the Minister would have to consider objections and that the disgraceful procedure under Schedule 2 would be avoided.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In terms of deliberate and calculated injustice, Clause 8 is the worst in the Bill and I am personally sorry that Mr. Speaker did not, in his wisdom, select the immediately preceding Amendment on the Order Paper which proposed straightforwardly to delete it. But the Amendment moved so well by my hon. Friend is aimed to, and would, remedy at least the greater part of the mischief that the Clause will do, and I wholeheartedly support it.

The right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite have very much underrated the hardship to individuals involved in compulsory purchase. Whether the objective of compulsory purchase is someone's home or the premises in which he earns his living, it is a matter of the severest hardship to have his property compulsorily taken from them even if, as very often is not the case, the compensation is adequate.

It is an appalling piece of injustice in time of peace to take away someone's home or the place where he earns his living without even giving that person the opportunity to be heard in his own defence. It can matter to someone about as much as anything can in life whether he is to retain the home in which he lives and probably has brought up his family, in a neighbourhood he likes and among relatives and friends and near where he works. Indeed, it is far more important to many people than many of the things which bring people before the criminal courts. Yet it would be regarded as a most appalling affront to our concept of justice to deny anybody brought before a criminal court the right to be heard in his own defence. What Clause 8 does is to take away from those individuals affected the right to be heard in defence of their homes, or the places where they earn their livelihoods, and that seems to be an absolutely monstrous provision in time of peace and without, so far at any rate, at this late stage, any proper cause shown.

The other appalling side to it is the denial of provision for proper notice. The words which the Amendment proposes to leave out include the words which bring in Schedule 2. Although it has been mentioned before, the House ought to be reminded of the notice provision contained in paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 2. Apart from the provision for notice by registered post, there is the astonishing provision that the notice of the intention of the Land Commission compulsorily to purchase someone's property can be either delivered to some person on the land, some person with no relationship necessarily with the owner of the land, or, if there is no person present on the land to whom it can be delivered, affixed to some conspicuous object on the land.

I can tell the House that when, during the general election campaign, at public meetings I mentioned this, I found that public audiences simply did not believe it. They did not believe that this Government could be capable of such an affront to one's ordinary concept of decency and justice. I had to adopt the practice of taking Schedule 2 of the Bill in my pocket—I could not take the whole Bill, because even at that stage, before it had swollen to its present weight, it was excessively bulky—to- read it, because ordinary audiences simply would not believe that this was what the present Government were proposing to do.

I do not want to labour this point, because it has been made before, but, as the House knows, the net effect is that it is possible for the notice to miscarry, particularly when people happen to be away on holiday. This will not be the case with the great landowners, who have effective estate agents or solicitors to represent them, but it could awfully easily happen to the little man, to the small man who goes away on holiday and has some notice affixed to a conspicuous object on his land, a notice which next day is blown away in a gale before it can be received, or handed to some passer by with no interest in the proceedings.

Even if notice is given, there should certainly be an opportunity to be heard and I hope that even at this late hour those whose duty it is to acquaint the public outside with what the House and the Government are doing will see that it is made clear to people, particularly owner-occupiers, that by this proposal by the Government someone's home might be taken away from him without his knowing that it is to happen and, even if he does know, without his having an opportunity to be heard in his own defence.

What is the justification for this? When the nation is at war and when for purposes of national defence private interests have to be subordinate to the defence of the realm, most people are prepared to accept very acute injustice, and in those years and under the Labour Government after the war some procedure of this kind was enacted, though it was properly dropped a very few years after the war. But in time of peace what need is there to arm the Land Commission with this power? What is the fantastic urgency which can justify the taking away of the right to be heard and the right to be informed of an individual who desires to defend his home?

If the Land Commission does its job properly, it will plan ahead. It will know, in due time, what land it requires for its purposes or otherwise, and it can therefore, if it is to acquire the land, compulsorily or otherwise, or thinks that it has to, perfectly well give time for proper inquiry.

12 m.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, given the plain injustice of the procedure to the individual, what are the overwhelming considerations of public interest and security which involve a justification for the withdrawal of the normal safeguards of the rights of the individual?

One knows that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are a little impatient of the individual's rights. We have spent the last 36 hours in seeing the accrued rights of trade unions taken away, without compensation, by Governmental action. We know that a Government that will do this to trade unions will have even less concern for landowners, great or small. This is a monstrous proposal and one for which I have never yet heard, inside or outside of this House, an effective justification. In my view it is a shameful provision and we should strike it from the Bill.

Mr. Willey

We have had a full discussion in Committee on Clause 8 and Schedule 2. The position one has to face is that there is a possibility, one hopes that it is a remote one, of housing being prejudiced if there were a reaction against the Measures which Parliament is approving. This is why the Clause is drafted in this flexible form. These powers will not be resorted to, but any sensible Government would have to have reserve powers.

This Amendment concedes this. It is providing an alternative. What one would be concerned about here is time; one cannot afford to lose time. It is not true that representations would not be considered. They would. The Minister would be under an obligation to do so. The right hon. Gentleman said that the inquiry would be at the discretion of the Minister, and this is so, but it is the inquiry which takes the time.

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have put up a proposition designed for the same purpose. They are saying that it has safeguards. This is the difficulty. We are concerned about expedition and we have to save time. My difficulty, and this is why I find the present proposals unacceptable, is that I cannot see that there would be any saving of time here. One would have a doubling of time, because the Minister, under this approach, would have to satisfy himself that this is necessary, so that he would probably have to go through a similar procedure as in a compulsory purchase. I cannot see that we would save time. There is another technical difficulty in this Amendment in that we are calling in Schedule 3 of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946 which is being repealed.

Mr. Rippon

I find that reply wholly unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said, that we would really desire that this Clause should be removed altogether, and any alternative proposals put forward are simply to attempt to mitigate the mischief which we perceive in this provision. I cannot understand how the Minister can come here and say that there is only a remote possibility that these powers might be necessary, but still any prudent Government ought to have them as reserve powers, because there may come a time when, in this remote case, we may want to save time.

Having listened to the powerful arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, I cannot understand how any responsible Minister could simply dismiss those arguments with the few casual phrases that the Minister has used.

The House of Commons has to face that we are being asked to allow a Government—it could be any Government or any Minister responsible—to take a man's home or his property without notice and without a hearing. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend that the public just do not believe us when we say what Clause 8 contains. They do not believe that any democratic Government in peacetime would take a power of this sort. I have no doubt that they misunderstood the whole purpose of the Bill, which, they think, is designed to make land cheaper and more readily available and to end the speculation on a grand scale.

This affects the rights of every freeholder. The Minister should take much more seriously the arguments which we have advanced, because one thing that I can assure him is that we shall oppose this provision, inside and outside this House, now and hereafter.

Mr. Farr

As the night goes on, the Minister's replies seem to become more short, more abrupt and less relevant to the arguments deployed from this side of the House. In the few remarks which he has just made, he said no less than four times that the purpose of this manoeuvre was to save time. He stressed that the Commission would endeavour to expedite proceedings by this telescoped procedure.

How can the Land Commission possibly be concerned with saving time when it needs up to six years to decide whether a notice of assessment of levy is to be issued later in the Bill? Time is of no concern to the Commission. It has years to waste. To give a frivolous reply like the Minister has just given is treating the House with the utmost contempt.

Mr. Allason

I would like to take up with the Minister some of the words he has used. He said that the provision of land might well be prejudiced if there was a reaction against the measures in the Bill and land did not come forward. If he looks at the wording of the Amendment, he will see that it is designed to cover the case where land which is required for material development, which is in the public interest, is being unreasonably withheld from such development. Surely, that is precisely the point the Minister was getting at. If there is unreasonable withholding, it is necessary to use the simplified procedure. But in what other circumstances should that procedure be used? The right hon. Gentleman is taking power to use it at all times.

The Minister then said that this was a reserve power which was not intended to be resorted to. Speaking from the Dispatch Box opposite, that is a dangerous remark for him to make. I seem to remember that Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act was not to be resorted to but was merely in the background.

We are told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Minister is obliged to consider an objection. In what part of Schedule 2 is that stated? Since the right hon. Gentleman made that statement, I have once again read Schedule 2, which I had already read this evening, and it just is not there. It is clearly in Schedule 3 of the Acquisition of Land Act, which has a definite obligation upon the Minister, but it is not in Schedule 2. As it is not there, perhaps the Minister will at least undertake to put it there in another place, if we have to have Schedule 2 at all.

The great merit of our Amendment is that it omits the possibility of somebody's home being taken under the simplified procedure. Surely this would meet with the approval of both sides of the House, that we should avoid doing this. This is an objection to Clause 8 as it exists, and which the Minister just has not dealt with at all. I do hope that he will think again about this.

Mr. Willey

I respond to the hon. Gentleman. I have said before, I have no great liking for legislation by reference, but in fact Schedule 2 attracts the First Schedule to the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, and there is provision for consideration of the objection. So that the provision is there. But I have no complaint to make against the hon. Gentleman, because I have objection to legislation by reference.

Mr. Graham Page

If he looks closely at Schedule 2 the right hon. Gentleman will see that he has excluded some of the paragraphs in the Schedule to the Acquisition of Land Act which put that obligation on him. I am sure that if he looks at it again he will see he has not that obligation.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 9, line 4, to leave out from "under" to the end of line 13 and to insert "this section shall not be made".

The effect of the Amendment would make Clause 8(4) and (5) read: Any statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. Thus we amend subsection (4), omit subsection (5) and slightly adapt the proviso to Clause 8, so as to make an order, which is made by the Minister under the Clause, one which has to be brought before the House and approved before it is made.

So the purpose of the Amendment is twofold: first, an order under Clause 8(1), that is, an order whereby the Minister allows this special procedure to be adopted in any particular case, should be by means of a draft brought before the House; secondly, the Amendment would omit the extension of the Clause for a further five-year period.

On that second point, the extension for five years, frankly I cannot see the purpose of the Clause at all and this abominable procedure under Clause 8, but if it is to last for five years, then let us be shot of it at the end of five years. The Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, had a similar provision, that the special procedure under that Act should last for a period of five years. It was not renewed at the end of the five years. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman took that as a precedent, but why should the Land Commission, if it requires these powers for five years—and we have debated this already on the previous Amendment—require them longer than that? When local authorities and other authorities with compulsory purchase powers have been able to get along without this special procedure, why should we extend it for the Land Commission any time beyond the five years?

12.15 a.m.

Clause 8 can be said to have some precedent in the Acquisition of Land Act, 1946, but the draftsman of the Bill has neatly left out all the protection to the public that was given even in 1946. The great difference between the Clause and the 1946 provision is that the 1946 one was made immediately after the war in a state of emergency. That cannot be said about the Clause. Also, the 1946 provision did not apply to dwelling-houses. It gave power only to responsible bodies—local authorities, elected bodies; the Ministry of Transport and the Board of Trade—and did not give the special procedure to an appointed body; and it imposed a specific obligation on the Minister to hear representations.

So in passing the Bill we ought to restrict this to five years and not contemplate extending it further. If it has to be extended, the Minister of that day—and if the Act is still on the Statute Book—had better bring in a new Bill. I have already said that immediately the Conservatives are returned to power we shall repeal this abominable Bill.

I turn to the form in which the Order shall be brought before the House. In order to allow the special procedure in any particular case the Minister must make an Order by Statutory Instrument. As the Bill stands, he has only to lay the Statutory Instrument before Parliament and leave it to an individual Member to pray against it. My Amendment would require him to lay a draft before he made the Order. The difference from a practical point of view between a Statutory Instrument which can be annulled and one which is brought before the House in draft before it is made is that in the former case we are restricted by Standing Orders to 11.30 p.m. and very often Instruments of that sort have been crowded out of the Order Paper and never debated in the 40 days allowed. An Order of this nature under the Bill might be so crowded out although of vital importance to the citizen. A draft Order needing an affirmative Resolution does not come under Standing Orders and the debate does not have to finish at 11.30 p.m., and so one is certain of having it debated in the House. The House should be informed of and have an opportunity to debate such an Order as this which will allow the Commission to take a man's property by this special procedure without notice or inquiry.

The Amendment has two prongs: to cut out any extension of the five-year period, and to bring any Order under the Clause before the House by means of a draft before the actual Order is made.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)


Hon. Members


Mr. Cooke

I am sorry that the House is groaning at this late hour, but I want to ask the Minister a question. If he can answer it, it may help us in our deliberations. What estimate can he make of the number of times in a year that the procedure in the Clause would be used? If the special procedure is likely to be used a good deal, the House may become clogged up with Orders. If it is likely to be only a rare and special occasion, surely we can accept the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), because it will be no inconvenience to the House to debate each Order, and there can be no possible objection to my hon. Friend's Amendment.

Mr. Willey

On the second point, this is a matter which I said I would consider. I proposed that, and put it before the Committee. I have considered it, but I think that the range is too wide to justify the affirmative Resolution procedure.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has really raised the point on this. One has got—and that is why I shall be moving subsequent Amendments on the affirmative procedure—to bring them within the accepted categories of regulations for the affirmative procedure.

Mr. Graham Page

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, he said that he has considered it. Has he asked the Council on Tribunals about it? We have not had the assistance of that Council's advice throughout the Committee stage, and I wondered if he had consulted the Council since the Committee stage.

Mr. Willey

I have not consulted the Council.

Mr. Page

Why not?

Mr. Willey

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Land Commission Bill has been considered by the Council.

On the second point, about the extension of the five years, that again is a matter which the Government have to decide. If there is even a remote possibility, it should be left as it is in the Bill.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not think that that is a satisfactory answer, and I do not follow what the right hon. Gentleman meant when he said that the range is too wide. Does he mean by that that it is intended to resort to this procedure frequently and that there will be too many affirmative Orders? My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) asked the right hon. Gentleman specifically how often he thought the procedure was likely to be invoked. He did not answer the question directly, but, by saying that the range is too wide, he created the impression that the procedure would be resorted to quite a lot. That is in flagrant contradiction to what the right hon. Gentleman told the House on the immediately preceding Amendment. He said then that it was a procedure which was unlikely to be used but that any sensible Government would have it in reserve. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman meant that when he said it. But when, on the next Amendment, he says that the range is too wide to make it subject to the affirmative procedure, he casts a doubt on the sincerity and accuracy of his remarks on the previous Amendment.

Will he explain what he means when he says that the range is too wide, and answer my hon. Friend's question about how many affirmative Orders would be involved?

Mr. Willey

I have already said that it is unlikely that the procedure will be invoked. When I dealt with the range, I did so under subsection (3). When considering whether it is appropriate to adopt the affirmative or the negative procedure, one has to look at the range and character of the matters which would be affected by the regulations.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean by that that he does not regard the invoking of this procedure as a highly important matter?

Hon. Members

Answer !

Mr. Willey

I have answered it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has read the note which has been passed to him from the box, perhaps he can answer the question.

Mr. Rossi

One cannot let the Minister get away with this. It is one of the most terrifying provisions contained in the Bill. It is a pure and utter totalitarian power, and it is no good the Minister saying to the House and to the country that it is a power which he is asking for but does not intend to use.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said, that is exactly what the Prime Minister said about Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act. He said, "This is a reserve power. I do not intend to use it". Now we have the Minister saying, "Here is a power which I am asking Parliament to give me whereby I can seize anybody's home at any time without a public inquiry or anything of that kind. I want this power, but I do not intend to use it". Why does not the Minister come to the House and to the country frankly and honestly? This is a Measure for the nationalisation of the land, purely and simply. Why does he not say that? Why does he tell the House that it is very convenient administratively to have this in the Bill, but we do not really want to use it? This is not the truth of the matter. The truth of the matter is that the Government want the power, and they intend to use it.

This is a most disgraceful situation. If this is their policy, if this is what they want, if what they want is nationalisation of the land, they should say so honestly. Let them have the courage of their convictions, and not hide behind this smokescreen of gentle words. They do not convince anybody at all.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I do not want to prolong this discussion unduly.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. The hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak. He can speak again only with the leave of the House.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I was about to say, "By leave of the House may I ask my little question again?".

The Minister appears to have told the House that this procedure will be used but very seldom. Does he stick to that? Will it be used but very seldom? Can he explain lo me why, if it is to be used but very seldom, the House cannot be sure that it can debate it? We have all experienced the other procedure by which things are crowded out.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Gentleman is talking about having a chance to debate something. We had a tirade from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) about this. He spoke about having to conclude the debate on a Prayer by half-past eleven. It was the hon. Gentleman's Government who limited it to that hour. I vividly remember the hon. Gentleman keeping us here night after night when we had a majority of only three. I remember Members being brought from hospital and taken through the Division Lobby. If there is a limitation, let us not forget where the blame lies.

Mr. Robert Cooke

That is not the question which I am trying to ask. The Minister said that this special procedure was in some way out of the range of those procedures which should be dealt with affirmatively, that somehow there was some special reason for allowing it to go through the House without being discussed. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why this comes out of the range of those orders which are bound to be discussed by the House? I cannot understand it.

Amendment negatived.