§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCIOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, I am afraid that your Lordships will not think it a very desirable thing that I should introduce to you another Bill connected with the acquisition of land. But this circumstance may possibly be some consolation to your Lordships. It has often been a complaint by many leading members of this House that they have legislative satiety towards the end of the session, and are left in comparative barrenness during the earlier parts of it; 246 and they have suggested that Bills, instead of starting in another place, should originate with your Lordships. In deference to that opinion the Government has decided to introduce this Bill in your Lordships' House, and I hope that this fact may to some extent mitigate your unwillingness to deal with another measure relating to the acquisition of land.
The policy of the Government as regards the large amount of land acquired by different Departments during the war is to divest themselves of as much as they can of it as rapidly as possible. Most of this land was acquired under the Defence of the Realm Act, 1916, and in the course of the application and working of that measure certain doubts have arisen, in many cases as to the capacity of the Government making a good title to the land which they were selling. This Bill has been introduced so that these hesitations may be allayed and the work of dealing with and selling this land may go on as rapidly as possible. Consistent with the usual thorough examination which your Lordships give to Bills of this kind, it is a matter of some importance that this measure should be on the Statute Book as soon as possible, if your Lordships allow it, because of course the doubts that have arisen are delaying and will delay the rapid dealing with these properties to the manifest disturbance of the taxpayer. Moreover, some of these doubts may communicate themselves to transactions that have been completed already; so that there is a double reason for settling and appeasing these doubts and hesitations as soon as possible. It is rather difficult to give any more general description of the Bill than this, because most of the clauses are intricate and deal with different points. As the Bill originates in this House I think it will be for the convenience of your Lordships if I deal with the actual clauses rather more fully than I otherwise should. The exposition may be rather longer, but it may possibly assist your Lordships in coming to a decision more rapidly on the Committee stage.
Clause 1 deals with power to dispose of land free from restrictive covenants. When land was taken under the Defence of the Realm Act or in other ways and there was anything that was inconsistent with the existing restrictive covenants, compensation was paid. But a doubt has arisen, when land so taken is going to be 247 sold, whether these restrictive covenants would not arise again and therefore prevent the Government from giving a clean title to the purchasers. The effect of this clause is to remove any such doubt as to the revival of these restrictive covenants. Compensation, of course, would have to be given to those who are able to establish their title to any advantage under these restrictive covenants. It is further proposed that any sums already paid by way of compensation to the original owners shall be taken into account in assessing the amount of this additional payment.
Clause 2 deals with rights of pre-emption. Under Section 5 (3) of the Act of 1916, in selling land acquired under the Act, apart from land which has been covered with permanent buildings erected at the public expense, the Government are obliged to offer it first of all to the owner from which it was originally severed. But the matter goes much further than that, because they have also to offer it to all the owners of the adjoining land—a rather vague and indefinite phrase. The clause as drawn does not desire to take away this right of pre-emption either from the existing owners of the land or from those who become entitled thereto by descent, by will, or by settlement; but it does propose that the right shall be taken away from the adjoining owners and from anybody who has acquired it by purchase from the existing owner. On the face of it there does not seem to be any particular reason why this land should be offered to all the adjoining owners. It causes immense delay, because if the person does not accept the offer or does not reply some six weeks have to elapse before it is offered to somebody else. Your Lordships will easily see, therefore, that in the interests of the taxpayer it is urgent that these lands should be realised as rapidly as possible. The rights of preemption on the part of adjoining owners are proposed to be taken away by this particular clause. There is also a proviso which I think may be useful—that the person who has for the time being the right of being offered this land shall be able at any time to release that right, which will also conduce, no doubt, to the more rapid despatch of business.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But you have not given any reason why they should be deprived of the right. They have paid for it.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
They have not suffered in the same way as the original owner from whom the land had been severed.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I would suggest to the noble Marquess that that is a point for the Committee stage. Clause 3 is, I think, the most important in the Bill; it is certainly by far the most important clause as regards the taxpayer. It deals generally with the acquisition and possession of land acquired under the Defence of the Realm Acts. It is extremely important, as your Lordships will see, that the Government should have the power of disposing of those lands on which large buildings have been erected at the expense of the taxpayer, and I think it would be too much to the advantage of the landowner if, when the land goes back to him, he should get the benefit of all the large expenditure of the State and of the taxpayer upon these buildings. Again, in the alternative, the owner might require the State to go to the expense of reinstating the land in the condition in which it was before these buildings were put up, in which case, of course, it would be impossible to realise very much except the mere scrap value of the buildings, and the cost of reinstatement in many cases might be very great.
Under the Act of 1916 the Government can acquire this land permanently. It also has power under another section to sell that land again. But it appears that a doubt has arisen in the breasts of the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether the Government can acquire that land if it is only purchasing it for the purpose of re-sale—if, in fact, that is the object of those who are purchasing it. That doubt has been rather strengthened by the strong opinion expressed in the case of The Minister of Munitions v. Mackrill, which was decided by the Railway and Canal Commissioners on July 1 this year. If the Government have not that right it is quite clear that the taxpayers will lose a very large sum, estimated at some- 249 thing like £10,000,000 through the fact that the Government will not be able to realise the value of the buildings that have been put up on this land. Not only that, but there other transactions which might stand in some danger of being re-opened.
Clause 3 (1) as drawn would cover purchases of land of this nature on which buildings have been erected, and it also covers such purchases of adjoining land as may be essential for the use of these particular buildings. Moreover (but this is subject to the approval of the Railway and Canal Commission if they consider it expedient in the interests of the State) it may cover purchases of land for other purposes—for instance, in order to avoid cost of reinstatement which, as your Lordships know, in many cases exceeds the value of the land itself. There is a further provision in Clause 3 (1) as to acquiring buildings constructed, or partly constructed, at the expense of the State, or of any State which acted in alliance or in naval or military co-operation with His Majesty during the war. There were a certain number of air stations erected during the war in this way by the United States of America. They were erected at great expense, and it was always understood that they would be realised to the best advantage of that Government when the time came to dispose of them. If there is no power—as there would be no power but for this clause—it is obvious that it would be impossible to sell them to the best advantage, and the Government of the United States might feel that it had not been well treated in the matter.
Clause 3 (1), paragraphs (b) and (e), deal with the question of what is an occupying Department for the purpose of making use of the powers under the Act of 1916. Some property taken under the Defence of the Realm Act was occupied at different times by different Departments, and some of those Departments were Departments to which transfer was not authorised under Section (1) (4) of the Act of 1916. A doubt has therefore arisen as to what is the occupying Department under these circumstances; indeed, I understand that in some cases the Law Officers have advised that there is tic, such thing as an occupying Department. Paragraph (b) makes it clear that in the Act of 1916 the terms "Government Department in possession" and "occupying Department" mean the Department for the time 250 being actually in possession; and paragraph (e) towards the end of the clause makes it clear that Section (1) (4) of that Act is not intended to limit the power of the Government Department to transfer possession to another during the continuance of the war.
Clause 3 (1), paragraph (c), deals with cases where property has been taken under Defence of the Realm powers, and has been let by the Government Department—for instance, to some munition firm which is executing contracts for the Government. The Department has been recently advised that in cases of this kind it may be held to have given up possession of the land, and therefore that it has lost its powers, or anyhow has not got the powers, of acquiring under the Act of 1916. This doubt is cured by this particular clause. Again a doubt has arisen, which is dealt with in Clause 3 (1) (d), as to the power of the Ministry of Transport to authorise the retention of railway or canal property by a Government Department after the war under Section 13 (2) of the Act of 1916 except for the purpose for which it was originally taken. In some cases the same buildings were used for different purposes. This clause will also deal with cases, and secure title to the Government, where there has been an interregnum between the time when the particular land and building was used by the Government under the Defence of the Realm Act and the time when at the end of the war section 1 of the Acquisition of Land Act will apply, and will allow the occupying Department to retain possession of this particular land.
Clause 3 (2) meets a rather simpler case—that is to say, where buildings for war purposes have been erected on lands held by a Government Department under a pre-war lease. In this case I understand that under Clause 3 (1) the Government would have power to acquire the land for purpose of re-sale, but that it might not and probably would not have the alternative right of removing the buildings for purposes of re-instatement, which in some cases might be necessary because some of the land belongs to local authorities and therefore cannot be purchased. This right, therefore, seems absolutely necessary in order that the fullest advantage should ensure to the taxpayer from dealing with this land.
Clause 4 (1) (a) and (2) deal with a highly technical matter where difficulties 251 have arisen as to the interpretation of the Act of 1916. It deals with the question of railway sidings which have been constructed by the Government, many of which are to be sold, and many of which also are absolutely essential for getting the full value of the adjoining businesses which are to be sold and which require the use of those sidings for the carrying on of their businesses. In sonic cases these sidings, or the lines in these sidings, may run alongside or across a highway, and their retention can then be allowed by the Ministry of Transport; except that where the railway crosses the roadway on the level the crossing must not be used after the expiration of two years from the end of the war unless the local authority gives its consent. I think it is the view of sonic of the legal authorities that this means that that consent can only be exercised when two years have elapsed after the end of the war, and that it then must be exercised having regard to all the circumstances of the case. It is obvious if that is so that dealing with these sidings and these buildings and businesses must be held up for that time; because it is also held that., even if the consent was given within the two years, that consent would be ineffective, and might be rendered quite null and void by a subsequent act of dissent given when two years had elapsed. Subsection (1) tries to meet the above point by enacting that the local authority may give its consent at any time before the expiry of the two years; and subsection (2) provides that where the consent is considered to be unreasonably withheld there shall be an appeal to the Ministry of Transport, and the decision of the Minister of Transport shall be final.
Subsection (1) (b) deals with a rather simi ar class of difficulty. That is as regards the giving of the consent of the Railway and Canal Commissioners to the continued acquisition beyond the expiration of twelve months after the termination of the war of a public highway or footpath which has been closed under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. In this case it has also been held that this decision is a fiduciary one and can only be exercised when the twelve months have elapsed and having regard to all the circumstances of the case. This creates a difficulty, because in the sale of some of these properties, which are now covered with buildings, it is essential that this right of footpath shall not re-arise. If the land 252 is conveyed to the purchaser the power of the Government to keep a footpath closed must necessarily determine. I understand also that in that case the Government would have no locus standi to appear before the Railway and Canal Commissioners. It is essential, therefore, in order that this case may be dealt with, that it should be provided, as the clause does provide, that the Commissioners should be able to give their assent at any time before the expiry of the twelve months.
With regard to Clause 5, subsection (1), under Section 13 (2) (b) of the Acquisition of Land Art, 1916, as it is now enacted, the Crown may purchase compulsorily land belonging to a railway or dock undertaking if, before the commencement of the war, the land had at one time been used for the purpose of the undertaking but then had at some time ceased to be so used. Curiously enough it has not the power under the Act to acquire land which has never been used for the purpose of the undertaking. The amendment now proposed takes away from land which has never been used for the purpose of the undertaking that immunity which it hitherto had enjoyed, and it also takes away any immunity which may exist as to land acquired by agreement without any statutory power. But there is this reservation, that if the body concerned can show to the satisfaction of the appropriate Government Department that the land is necessary for the conduct of the undertaking, then the Government will not be allowed to acquire it. As to subsection (2), in some cases valuable buildings have been erected by the Government on land belonging to railway dock, and other companies. Under Section 13 (2) of the Acquisition of Land Act, 1916, this land must be given back to the authorities three months after the termination of the war. In that case, of course, all these buildings will enure to the particular authorities, and it is obvious that three months is a very short time within which to enter into negotiations with this object, especially as they know, without any result of the negotiation, that the land may come into their hands at the end of that time.
There is already a provision that this three months should be extended to three years by what is called the "appropriate Department," which in most cases would be the Ministry of Transport. That Ministry, however, is placed in rather a delicate position because, as the Ministry 253 of Transport, their interest might be supposed to be rather with the railway companies, and they feel that they would hardly be in a position, in the absence of the clause, to adjudicate quite strictly-between the necessities of the Exchequer and the advantage of the railway or transport company. Therefore it is at their suggestion, I understand, that a definite statutory obligation is proposed to be placed upon them, under which they are to consider, in dealing with this matter, the interests of the Exchequer and the best way, from a financial point of view, of dealing with the land. If that is so, that will remove them from the awkward position in which they are placed, and the taxpayer, let us hope, will be duly satisfied.
Clause 6 deals with the question of easements. The Act of 1916 includes casements among the rights over or in relation to the land, but it is not quite clear whether the use of these easements—for example, emptying drains in other land—should be held to be irking possession of the land, although the holding of the land itself includes this right. There are, of course, other easements besides the one I have named as to which the same question would arise, and it is extremely important that the Government should have power to exercise after the war the rights which have been mentioned. This is done by enacting that the exercise of the right shall be deemed to be possession. There being occupying Departments, the Government would be able to exercise to the full the right which the occupying Departments possess under the Act of 1916.
Clause 7 is very important in connection with the use of ranges both for the Regular Army and the Territorial Force. Of course, by-laws can be made under the Military Lands Act for regulating the use of land for military purposes, but the procedure under this Act entails a good deal of formality and, as a rule, it is some time before the actual Order can be made. Under Defence of the Realm Regulation No. 17 the necessity for observing all these formalities was dispensed with, and about two hundred different sets of by-laws have been made for ranges in military areas under the provisions of that Regulation. In time, when it has been decided which ranges are necessary for retention by the Army and the Territorial Force, these 254 by-laws under Regulation No. 17 will be replaced by by-laws enacted in the ordinary, regular, peace fashion, but meantime, as Regulation No. 17 expires at the end of the war, it is essential that these by-laws should be continued for the present. It is suggested that two years is not too long a time for which to continue them; nor is there, I think, anything very unreasonable in that, because under the Act the land can be retained for two years after the official expiration of the war. Therefore these rights over approaches, roads, and so on are really only a corollary to the right of retaining the land. If this clause is not enacted it would obviously be very difficult, and almost impossible in many cases, to use the ranges for the purpose for which they were constructed, and in some cases, as Shoeburyness, where experiments in firing and other exercises are continuous, the results would be extremely serious both from the military and financial points of view.
This concludes the sketch which I felt it necessary to give your Lordships of the meaning of these clauses. Many of them are rather disjointed and separated from each other but I think it is a legitimate legislative aspiration to allay doubt and make the law more certain, and I trust that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading in order that the work of disposing of this land, and making good titles in the interests of the taxpayer, may be concluded as rapidly as possible.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD SUMNER
My Lords, it is an ungracious task to have to offer any criticisms upon a Bill which is introduced to your Lordships with the two-fold recommendation that it is intended to occupy your Lordships' time when you are at leisure in the early part of the session and to provide some protection or assistance to the taxpayer. Had it not been that the noble Viscount had obviously anticipated that in Committee it may be necessary to scrutinise the measure with some care I should perhaps have hesitated to offer any observations the object of which is to draw his attention to some matters that may require to be discussed in Committee.
The noble Viscount's description of the Bill as a measure for the purpose of "quiet- 255 ing legal doubts" and "clearing up dubious titles" is a very partial and very rosy description of it. There may be passages in which there are really doubts upon the construction of the principal Act. I have not myself been able to discover from his sketch, as he called it, what they are, but it is perfectly certain that there are in the Bill several most important provisions which have nothing whatever to do with clearing up doubts but are directed to supplying the omissions which those who piloted the principal Act through Parliament in 1916 then made. I do not think, from what I know of the passage of that Act, that there are any omissions likely to have been made by oversight. The omissions were made because even in that time of stress the Legislature was not disposed to go further than it did.
There are two principal things that this Bill does which have nothing to do with clearing up legal doubts. One is the taking of new powers for acquisition which either the Government did not think of taking in 1916 or did not venture to ask Parliament to grant. The other is the taking of power in connect' on with realisation, to the prejudice of the particular landowner in question although it may be justified by saying that what you take from him will make it possible to take less from the general body of taxpayers. I will illustrate each one of these two propositions so as to justify what I say. Clause 3, subsection (1), reads as follows:—(1) It is hereby declared that—(a) the power of acquiring land or interest in land conferred by section three of the principal Act authorises, and shall be deemed always to have authorised, such acquisition for the purposes of re-sale, in eases when such re-sale is required with a view to the realisation to the best possible advantage of the value of buildings and works erected or constructed wholly or partly at the expense of the State…That was justified by some kind of pledge that was given to the Government of the United States, who might feel that we were not discharging the promise to enable them to realise their property to the best advantage if we did not pass some further enactment for their benefit amongst others.
This is a new power of acquisition of land in time of peace—not for any purpose of war, but to enable the Government to, dispose to greater financial advantage of 256 land and buildings which they have acquired in time of war. It calls upon persons who are owners of land, and I presume of adjacent land, to submit to having their property taken otherwise than by free contract and otherwise than by the exercise of their own free will, not in order that the war may be waged but in order that some property may be sold to greater advantage than would otherwise be the case. It is said that it is for the benefit of the taxpayer at large. It is exceedingly gratifying to find that even on a small scale some thought is being taken for the burdens of the taxpayer. But at whose expense is this thought being taken? It is simply at the expense of one particular owner whose land is to be acquired. He may not wish to part with it; and if it is to be acquired at a price which is unsatisfactory to him he loses, and he loses in order that we may gain. It is a process of which we have seen a good deal already. It is a process always easy, but very nearly always exercised at the expense of the owners of land; and in this matter it has nothing whatever to do with "quieting legal doubts" or enabling difficulties that have arisen in the bosoms of the Law Officers to be laid at rest. To claim a new power like this two years or more after the Armistice, and within, I hope, a short time of the conclusion of Peace by the exchange of Ratifications, is a somewhat extraordinary step to take after all the sacrifices that have been made already. I cannot help thinking that it may be not so much a desire to relieve the burdens of the taxpayer by reducing 6s. in the £ to 5s. 113/3⅔d. as a desire, which animates all spending Departments, to get their balance sheet into as favourable a shape as possible and show that they have made either a small profit or not such a bad loss after all. That is one illustration.
Under Section 1 of the principal Act certain powers were taken to acquire land without being bound by the restrictive covenants which applied to it and to dispose of the land so acquired. What is proposed in the present Bill is this. In order that the purchaser may not be obliged to buy the land fettered by restrictive covenants, from which the Government had been freed by Statute, the person who enjoys the benefit of the covenants shall be entitled to claim compensation in money for their extinction and thereon the land shall be sold without restrictive covenants. But what about those restric- 257 tive covenants for which money is no compensation? There are plenty of them. There are plenty of eases in which the Landowner is honestly attached to his land and does not desire to sell, and feels that money will not compensate him for having the restrictions which he enjoys removed. There are questions of amenities. Take a building scheme. The whole interest and attraction and a great part of the value of property covered with buildings in a great many cases depends on the maintenance of the restrictive covenants, and as soon as you have broken into the building scheme at all and discharged any part of the land from the restrictive covenants you, have virtually destroyed the amenities which it was the object of the covenants t preserve. If for the purpose of lodging troops you have taken houses in some plat of London which has been carefully laid out and built upon with a view of maintaining a certain standard of quiet or business, and you propose to destroy the mutual contract on those restrictive covenants, no money will compensate any one for that. The whole of the building scheme is at once imperilled, not to say destroyed. In order to facilitate the sale of land by the Government this Bill proposes, in cases like that—where no money compensation is any satisfaction and what you really require is an injunction to enforce the covenant—to deprive the landowner years after the passing of the principal Act of the protection which he has hitherto enjoyed and which he or the purchasers from him have been entitled to suppose they would continue to be able to enjoy. That is an instance, and I think rather a flagrant instance, of robbing Peter to pay Paid, and it does not become any the better by multiplying Paul by a great many hundreds of thousands.
Then take the case of Section 4, which it was suggested arose out the diabolical cunning, I suppose, of some solicitor who had suggested that a local authority must make up its mind at the statutory period of two years on the facts as they then existed and not be cajoled into giving its consent in advance. It is not a question of doubt, I should have thought, in the original Act. What is proposed here is that, if a local authority declines to consent to a public highway being subjected in permanence to a level crossing, instead of its being allowed as was the case under the principal Act to say, "We 258 will not have it. We judge for the benefit of the inhabitants, and there is an end of the matter," under subsection (2) of Section 4 of this Bill any person whatsoever, who considers that the consent of a local authority has been unreasonably withheld, may appeal. And to whom? To the Minister of Transport, whose decision shall be final and shall have effect as if it were a decision of the authority—that is to say, that instead of the elected representatives of the inhabitants being made the judges, and the judges without appeal, as they were under the principal Act, as to whether a particular highway ought or ought not to have a level crossing over it in permanence, now anybody, whether he is an inhabitant or not, whether he is interested or not, whether he is a busy body or an official, may appeal to the Minister of Transport, whose knowledge of or interest in the question seems to be somewhat doubtful. The only protection is that the Minister may require the appellant to deposit a. sum not exceeding £10 to cover the costs of the appeal, and no doubt thereafter must act fairly, and I dare say judicially. But, after all, the local authority may well say, "Why is the Minister of Transport to be made a judge or a ruler over us?"
That some clauses in this Bill may be very necessary and that others of them may be made very tolerable, I do not doubt; and I hope I should be the last person to seek to cast any difficulties in the way of the Government either in winding up and liquidating the chaos of what was done during the war or in relieving the burdens of the taxpayer. But I did not think it would be right, after examining the Bill with what care I could, to allow the discussion to proceed further without drawing your Lordships' attention to some of the very grave questions that arise upon the Bill. If I have dispelled the mirage which the noble Viscount raised over the sands of a very and Bill, which seemed to represent it merely as restoring peace where under the original Act there was no peace, I have done something. If I have drawn his attention to the necessity—and I venture to say it is a necessity—for advancing further and more detailed justification later on, I have done something also.
We have been told that there are cases in which this, that, or the other would be convenient. We ought to know to what 259 extent those cases occur, whether they are numerous or few, whether the interference proposed with private rights is grave or slight. We ought to know whether there is any large sum of money involved in some of these changes. The mere suggestion that somebody has estimated something at £10,000,000 carries very little conviction, because nowadays everybody handles millions as jugglers handle balls, and I think I remember that £800,000,000 was the monstrous estimate of some calculator or other in a case in which you did not pass a Bill some few months ago. I therefore trust that the noble Viscount will on a future occasion be armed with solid facts and will be put in a position to grapple with the legal answer to the question, Why is it that in time of peace—I will not say in time of profound peace, not perhaps even of technical peace, but still what we are beginning to consider as a time of peace—your Lordships are asked to pass a Bill for new acquisitions, and why is it that when for four years past landowners have been entitled to reckon that they would return to their normal rights in accordance with the Act of 1916 we are now asked to say, No, that must be changed; not only must the three months he prolonged, and things like that, but that they cannot be sure of some of the rights and protections for which they may very possibly have paid money quite recently, and which at any rate they were entitled to expect would be rightly restored.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, after the speech to which we have just listened from the noble and learned Lord I do not think there is very much that need be added from this quarter of the House. The noble and learned Lord made it clear that in his judgment—and I think that in so saving he commanded the general assent of your Lordships—a clear distinction must be made between those provisions in this Bill which are needed to clear up doubts as to the law and those provisions which really confer upon the Government new rights. As regards the first category, the noble and learned Lord had some doubts as to whether it was a very extensive one, but I think it quite possible that when we get into Committee on the Bill the noble Viscount will be able to show that there are a certain number of doubts which have to be cleared up. But besides that there are these 260 new powers. It does not follow that we should be unwilling to accept some of those; but we should require to scrutinise them very carefully.
Your Lordships will have noticed that I committed the indiscretion of interrupting my noble friend while he was speaking upon one provision. I only cite that by way of example. It is proposed that the pre-emptive right which the principal Act left to the owner from whom the land had been severed might pass by testamentary and other means to others, but if it was passed by sale it was to be extinguished. Subject to any explanation which the noble Viscount may be able to give, that upon the face of it is inequitable. Here is a man who has actually bought these pre-emptive rights and paid money for them. Why is he to be done out of his bargain? It seems to me that he is entitled to it just as much as anybody else. I suppose the noble Viscount will say he wishes to hit the sort of person who speculated on these pre-emptive rights. He may hit the speculative person, who is not always a disreputable person, but he may hit a perfectly honest and honourable purchaser who has obtained the preemptive rights with everything else and paid hard cash for them. That is only an example of the new right which he seeks to give.
I ought to say, in conclusion, how grateful we were to the noble Viscount for the very careful description which he gave of the Bill. This Bill differs from the principal Act in that it was not introduced with a Memorandum at the beginning. I do not criticise. The noble Viscount's speech was much more full than any Memorandum would have been; nevertheless, I think a Memorandum is a very useful addition to a Bill of this kind, which is highly technical and is not very easily understood by lay members of your Lordships' House without assistance. I only desire to add that no one will offer any opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill, but we hope that the noble Viscount will be armed with a concessionary spirit when we go into Committee.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I would like, if I may, to say a word or two in reply to the points raised in this discussion. I take note of the matter raised by the noble Marquess as to the acquisition of rights of pre-emption by a purchaser, and I will do 261 my best to comply with the desire of the noble and learned Lord as to giving information regarding the extent to which these rights may necessarily be exercised and the number of cases in which they are exercised. But I ask your Lordships not to think that the figure of £10,000,000 was a mere estimate or a round figure. That amount was arrived at after going carefully into the number of cases which have been dealt with.
The noble and learned Lord said that we needed this right of purchase for the purposes of re-sale, and the noble Marquess suggested that your Lordships would draw a distinction between new rights and clauses which made those rights more definite. The noble and learned Lord treated this as if it were entirely a new right, and said that in this case no doubts had arisen. I am afraid I cannot have made the position quite clear in my opening statement, because it certainly was on account of the doubts that had arisen 262 that this clause was put in. It is not intended to be a new right. On the contrary, various transactions have taken place on the basis that under the Act of 1916 the Government had the right to acquire this land for the purpose of re-sale, and transactions have taken place under that. Doubts hare arisen, and the Law Officers advised that doubts had been expressed in a case before the Railway and Canal Commissioners and that the Commissioners had some hesitation in considering whether or not the Government had powers. The Government thought they had the powers. They are not trying to acquire a new right, but are only trying to have the doubts which have been raised by their Law Officers in this particular case set at rest.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House
§ House adjourned at a quarter past live o'clock.