§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD PORTAL
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill deals with the setting up of a Ministry of Works and Planning. I want noble Lords to know this is a first step, and a first step only, in carrying out the policy of the Government which was announced in this House by my predecessor on February 11 last. His Majesty does not need statutory authority to appoint a new Minister, but, when a new Minister is appointed, legislation is generally required for the transfer to the new Minister of functions previously exercised by some other Minister and for other purposes. The present Bill provides for the transfer of certain properties and functions to the Minister of Works and Planning, when he is appointed, and makes other provisions which are customary when a new Ministry is set up. I shall deal shortly with the various clauses.
I take first Clause 1. Subsection (1) provides that if His Majesty appoints a Minister of Works and Planning certain things shall be transferred to that Minister. The method of transfer is dealt with later in Clause 6. These things are set out in subsection (1). Those named in paragraphs (a) and (b) are the functions and properties of the Commissioners of Works and the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland. The Commissioners of Works have the general function of acquiring, constructing, owning, maintaining and furnishing all properties required for civil government purposes in Great Britain (except that Post Office properties are owned by the Postmaster-General and in part maintained by the Post Office itself). The Commissioners also have miscellaneous functions under various Acts of Parliament. A good example is the Ancient Monuments Acts, 445 under which they exercise a general supervision over ancient monuments in Great Britain. The Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland own and maintain certain properties in Northern Ireland used for Imperial Government purposes (for example, the Belfast Custom House). Since the establishment of the two Irish Governments, three officials of this department have held office as Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland.
Then, under paragraph (c), come the functions of the Minister of Health under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, except those under Section 32 of that Act. The 1932 Act covers all the main functions of the Minister of Health in connexion with planning. Section 32 is excluded from the transfer because this section concerns the responsibility of the Minister of Health for the supervision of local government finance and not his planning functions.
With regard to subsection (3) I would point out that my predecessor and I were also appointed First Commissioner of Works, so that the functions of the Commissioners of Works would continue to be performed. It will probably take a long time to transfer all those functions to the new Minister, because the Orders in Council effecting the transfer, which I shall mention later in dealing with Clause 6, will have to specify all the different Acts of Parliament containing them. To collect this information will be a long business, and not urgent once the main functions and properties have been transferred. Further, in addition to the functions already described, the Commissioners own properties used for British Embassies and Consulates in foreign countries and the houses and offices of United Kingdom High Commissioners in the Dominions. These cannot be transferred by an Act of the British Parliament (except, in the case of certain Dominions, at the request and with the consent of the Dominion Government concerned, which we cannot well seek in war-time). The Commissioners of Works must, therefore, remain in being until each of these properties has been separately conveyed to the new Minister according to the law of the country concerned.
This cannot be done quickly, particularly as many of the countries are in enemy hands. For these reasons, the Commissioners cannot be abolished for some time, and this subsection therefore 446 provides that, until they are abolished, the Minister of Works and Planning shall also be First Commissioner of Works. This means that it will not be necessary in future to appoint the Minister twice over, once as Minister and once as First Commissioner.
Clause 2 is in the customary form. Ministers on appointment take the oath of allegiance and the official oath. In Clause 3, subsection (1) empowers the Minister to appoint secretaries and other staff with the consent of the Treasury. This is the usual form. The expression "secretaries" includes Parliamentary Secretaries. Although in practice these are members of the Government appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, in theory they are appointed by the Minister. The subsection also provides for the payment of the Minister and staff.
Section 6 of the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, provides that if a Minister holds two offices he shall be paid only one salary—that belonging to the more highly-paid office. As I have already explained, the Minister of Works and Planning will also for some time be First Commissioner of Works, and subsection (2) of Clause 3 of this Bill therefore brings him within the operation of Section 6 of the 1937 Act. It does the same thing, by way of precaution, for the Parliamentary Secretaries of the new Ministry. Subsection (3) provides for the payment of the Minister's expenses.
The Succession to the Crown Act, 1707, makes it illegal for anyone appointed to any office of profit under the Crown created since October 25, 1705, to sit or vote in the House of Commons. Clause 4 of this Bill removes this disqualification so far as the Minister of Works and Planning and his Parliamentary Secretaries are concerned. The proviso ensures that not more than two of the Ministers (Minister and Parliamentary Secretaries) shall be able to sit in the House of Commons at one time.
Coming now to Clause 5, by subsection (1) the Minister is made a corporation sole, with a seal. This is a legal provision which enables the Department to own and deal in property, and ensures that the Minister of the day shall always be the owner of that property, without having to take conveyances of it from his predecessor. Subsections (2), (3) and (4) deal with purely legal points. They make 447 it easy for documents, regulations and orders for which the Ministry is responsible to be received in evidence by the Courts. Subsection (5) provides that no stamp duty is payable on deeds to which the Commissioners of Works are a party. In cases of sales of property by the Commissioners where duty would be payable by the purchaser and this exemption might lead to a loss to the Exchequer, care is taken, under Treasury instructions, to see that the price paid reflects the exemption.
In Clause 6, subsection (1) provides that the transfers of functions and property shall be made by Orders-in-Council. In this way it will be possible quickly to make the more important transfers, while the transfer of all the functions of the Commissioners of Works will, as already explained, involve a good deal of research and the amendment of a good many Acts of Parliament. In the same way, the Minister of Health has planning powers under various other Acts besides the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932; for example, the London Squares Preservation Act, 1931; the Green Belt (London and Home Counties) Act, 1938; the Allotments Act, 1925, and various County Council Acts. These powers will be transferred in due course by Orders in Council. The subsection provides that powers under the Defence Regulations (which are held both by the Minister of Works and Buildings and by the Commissioners of Works) shall be transferred, not by Order in Council under this Bill, but by Defence Regulation. This has the advantage that it still leaves it possible further to amend those Defence Regulations, if it is desired to do so. The powers in question include licensing of building, registration of building and civil engineering contractors, requisitioning of property and other less important matters.
Subsection (3) of Clause 6 provides that subsidiary matters in connexion with the transfers of powers shall be dealt with by Order in Council. These comprise: (a) such repeal or amendment as may be necessary of Acts of Parliament, regulations and other instruments; (b) the transfer of the Minister of Health's planning functions under other Acts than the 1932 Act (for example, the London Squares Preservation Act, 1931, and the other Acts which I have mentioned); (c) the transfer 448 of functions of one of the Commissioners of Works, as distinct from the Commissioners as a body. This is necessary because, under various Acts, the First Commissioner alone has certain functions (for example, the Chequers Estate Act, 1917, under which he is one of the administrative trustees of the Chequers Estate). In addition, there are also the matters referred to in paragraphs (d) and (e)—the carrying on of such matters as appeals already made to the Minister of Health under the Town and Country Planning Act, or of litigation to which the Commissioners of Works are a party, and the continuing in force of orders or directions already given by the Minister of Health or the Commissioners of Works.
Subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 6 provide for the abolition by Order in Council of the offices of the Commissioner of Works and the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland respectively, as soon as the transfers of their functions and properties are complete. Subsections (6) and (7) are in common form. Subsection (8) provides that any Order in Council repealing, modifying or adapting any enactment shall be laid before Parliament.
The last clause, Clause 7, provides that the Bill shall extend to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, to cover the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, and because the Commissioners of Works own certain properties in the Isle of Man used for coastguard purposes. The planning functions to be transferred do not extend either to Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man.
This Bill, my Lords, constitutes the first step only in carrying out the Government's policy. The objective of that policy is to secure the right use of the land of the country for all purposes. For this, existing planning powers are known to be inadequate, and it will be necessary to introduce legislation substantially amending, strengthening and extending the present law. Before this is done, I consider it essential to have the final Report of Mr. Justice Uthwatt's Committee, and the Report of Lord Justice Scott's Committee, which I am pleased to tell your Lordships' House are now near completion. In my speech in this House on April 21, I outlined my policy, and I do not propose to deal with this at length to-day. I will refer once again to the speech made by my noble friend 449 Lord Latham, with reference to delays in procedure. It is quite apparent to me that there will have to be a speeding up of procedure under the Town and Country Planning Act. I made it clear that in planning the use of land it will be the duty of my Ministry to see that the national policy laid down for agriculture, location of industry, and for transport and communications shall be observed.
In trying to overcome the difficulties caused by the existence of numerous planning authorities in the various areas, I think your Lordships will be interested to hear what is being done in Greater London. Lord Reith took the view that in planning the reconstruction of the London region a beginning should be made with the central areas, particularly in view of the fact that enemy bombing had been largely concentrated at the centre. Accordingly the Corporation of the City of London and the London County Council were invited by him to prepare provisional plans of redevelopment for the City and County respectively. Those provisional plans are now in an advanced stage of preparation, and I took the view, therefore, that the time had arrived when consideration should be given to the question of planning the area surrounding the County of London, which, in many ways, forms a composite whole with the City and County. I referred the matter to the Standing Conference on London Regional Planning, with the suggestion that a comprehensive plan for the whole of the region should be prepared by an eminent planner to be appointed by me; making clear that it would be for the planner to advise me on the precise area or region which it would be best to include in the plan, and that he would need the assistance of the local authorities, both county and district, in the region in regard to the supply of facts, figures and other information. I pointed out that the plan must be based on present facts, but must be sufficiently flexible to enable any necessary adjustments to be made as the war proceeds and post-war prospects emerge with greater clarity.
I am glad to say that at their meeting held on the 27th of last month the Standing Conference welcomed my proposal and suggested that the eminent planner might well be Professor Abercrombie, who was already preparing the re-development plan for the County of London as consultant to the London County Council. I intend 450 to adopt this suggestion, and to appoint Professor Abercrombie accordingly. He will enjoy the help of the Technical Committee of the Standing Conference and will work in consultation with the transport and other public utility services. I am convinced that these steps will have the approval of your Lordships' House, and will prove a valuable contribution to more efficient planning, which I know the House desires. This Bill starts us on our way. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª—(Lord Portal.)
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord the Minister of Works and Buildings for his workmanlike explanation of the clauses of this Bill. I have no observations myself to make upon the clauses, which, as we will have gathered, are of a somewhat technical character. He has also made it fully clear that this Bill does not embody the proposals of the Government with regard to planning. It is merely a Bill of a preliminary character necessary before the actual work of planning can be undertaken by the Government. As he has rightly said, it is impossible to introduce the main Bill until Reports have been received of the Committees presided over by Mr. Justice Uthwatt and Lord Justice Scott. I could for my own part have wished that we could have had the main Bill long before this. We have had many debates in this House on this subject, and from many quarters of the House complaints have been made at the very prolonged delay in introducing these proposals. But I recognize that it is far better to have the present Bill before us now than to wait for these provisions, as well as for the larger provisions, until after the Reports of those two Committees have been received, and there has been time to reflect upon them, and for the Government to draft the necessary legislation.
When the nation undertook its great movement for rearmament we recognized that we had first to obtain the machine tools for making the machines that would make the planes and the tanks, and in this matter of planning we are still in the phase of getting the machine tools to make the machines. This Bill proposes to establish the Ministry which will undertake the initiative in the whole movement, and which will frame and 451 introduce and carry through Parliament the legislation which will be necessary. Also it will help to organize the local authorities into the groupings which will be essential if the work is to be efficiently undertaken. I trust that when the legislation is introduced it will deal in a bold and thorough fashion with the whole of the problem of the land—how to secure that the land should be effectively put to the best use. The whole work of planning has been greatly trammelled by the complexities of our ancient system of land ownership. I trust that the Government will be courageous enough to frame their substantial legislation on very broad and comprehensive lines. The landed interests concerned may have a right to claim that these proposals should not be of a confiscatory character, but at the same time the nation has a right to claim that those interests shall not show any spirit of obstruction. I feel sure that the country is not in a mood to see its hopes for the future thwarted or blocked by financial interests.
The main work of preparing the actual plans will in fact be done by local authorities. There is some fear abroad in the country that some kind of national map will be made in London by Government officials, who are imagined to live in the quiet and seclusion of Whitehall, irrespective of the wishes and the legitimate interests and the local knowledge of our local governing bodies. I feel sure that that is not for a moment intended. The function of the Government will be merely to lay down the lines of general policy, and that will have to be done in large measure not by any one Minister but by a Committee of Ministers. For Agriculture, Health, Transport, the Board of Trade are all concerned. The Minister of Planning will be only one among several members of the Government, and he would not wish to claim, and could not be granted, any right of control or veto over the rest. Any other arrangement than this could only lead in my judgment to confusion and to friction.
At the same time it will be to the Minister of Planning that we shall have to look for initiative and for steps to secure that local action will be in conformity with the general scheme of national organization. It will be necessary also for him, as I have said, to 452 organize the local authorities into suitable groups. It is well known, and it was said in earlier debates, that our local areas do not conform to the requirements of modern conditions. They are mostly too small, and particularly for carrying out effectively the work of planning. But it is impossible to wait for a readjustment of boundaries before this work can be undertaken. A general readjustment of the local government areas of the country must give rise to a great deal of controversy and must involve much delay, and meanwhile we have to make the best we can of the organization that we have.
And here I find myself at variance with my noble friend Lord Latham in some observations that he made in his maiden speech in the debate on February 11. He said on that occasion:The noble Lord, the Minister of Works and Buildings, proposes to get over the difficulty of the numerous small town-planning units now in existence by the appointment of Committees.…Then he said:With all respect, I do not believe that town planning can be done by Joint Committees. I believe that town planning must be done by popular, democratically-elected local authorities, and if their boundaries are inappropriate, as they clearly are for existing conditions in this country—and will be even more inappropriate for the conditions which we hope may be brought into being—then the Government should have the courage to tackle the problem (complex, I agree) of the reorganization of local government units in this country.That seems to me to be wholly impracticable in present circumstances, and indeed the noble Lord at the end of his speech pointed out, as many others of us have pointed out here, the grave harm that would be done if at the end of the war the country was caught unprepared and without the necessary legislation on the Statute Book, the necessary schemes framed by the local authorities, and in general the work of reconstruction well organized in advance. He urged the Minister to do what he can to expedite the final Report or the next Report of the Uthwatt Committee, and not to delay for a moment in getting new and comprehensive legislation on the Statute Book. I submit to my noble friend that those two expressions of opinion directly contradict one another. It is quite impossible for the Government to take their courage in both hands and to reorganize the whole of the local government areas of the 453 country, and at the same time to expedite the conclusion of this matter and to see that plans are made well in advance of the end of the war.
The fact is that we cannot do for planning purposes with the areas we have; at the same time we cannot wait to remodel our local government areas in general; therefore we must make shift with the system of Joint Committees. Such a system does already exist to a very large extent over a great part of the country, and it is well understood by the local authorities. One of the first tasks of the new Ministry will no doubt be to arrange that they should, wherever necessary, be grouped into suitable planning areas. They will need technical advice for the proper completion of the work which they will be called upon to do. Town planning is a science. It is a highly technical business, as technical as the work of a borough engineer or a lighting engineer or anyone else concerned with public services, and I would urge the noble Lord to take steps to influence his colleagues to secure that the necessary qualified planning officers should be available for the local planning authorities. They cannot do without them. It is only, I believe, a question of about 500 men, some of whom are engaged in the military Forces, but not in combatant duties, and I would suggest to the noble Lord that he should take such measures as are necessary for securing that adequate technical advice should be available, otherwise the whole of the work will be in many districts postponed, or else, if it is done, may be badly done.
He has mentioned the plan that has been prepared by Sir Patrick Abercrombie and representatives of the London County Council for the larger London area where there are, I believe, over a hundred separate authorities with powers under the present Planning Act. Obviously they have to be brought into one coordinated body for the work to be well done. The matter has also been examined by a committee of architects of the Royal Academy under the chairmanship of Sir Edwin Lutyens, and I had the privilege a few days ago of seeing the very remarkable plans which, after two years' work, they have produced. I believe they will be exhibited to the public at the Royal Academy later in the year. They are most striking and will, I think, arouse public enthusiasm when they are seen. 454 These two plans, no doubt, so far as they are found to be acceptable, may be brought together, and I have no doubt that the Ministry of Planning, the London County Council, the City Corporation, and the other authorities will take steps to see that they are carried into effect so as to make London what it ought to be—a city really worthy of this nation, of the Commonwealth as a whole, and of the position of moral leadership which the country is now taking in the world.
This Bill constitutes the Minister at one and the same time Minister of Planning and Minister of Works. Some difficulties may arise from the duality. The Minister of Works has exceedingly important functions on a very large scale during the war. He is constructing buildings—temporary buildings—and I hope when the war is over he will also have the function of demolishing a very large number of them where they have been erected in unsuitable places. But here there may be a conflict of views between the noble Lord as Minister of Planning and the noble Lord as Minister of Works. I can imagine him, like Pooh-bah in The Mikado, saying in a particular case, "As Minister of Planning I know it is essential that this piece of land should be maintained as a public space, as part of the Green Belt around this town, but I regret to say that as Minister of Works I find it indispensable that it should be used for the purposes of Government buildings." No one will know which way the decisions will be given. Possibly the decisions will come, like the dreams in William Watson's poem, "through the horn or the ivory portal—he wist not which of the two." The House, I am sure, will give to this Bill, if not a cordial, at least an acquiescent welcome.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, as I understand the Bill submitted by my noble friend Lord Portal, it is procedural. It gives effect to a decision of the Government to make the present Minister of Works and Buildings also Minister of Planning, and to that extent discharges the claim which has been made by those interested in planning that there should be a central planning authority. On the passage of this Bill to the Statute Book, I take it, the Minister of Works and Planning will be the central planning authority. There are some of us who take the view—and have expressed it—that the 455 proper Ministry to discharge the functions of central control and co-ordination of planning is the Ministry of Health, but the Government have decided that this should not be the case, and accordingly this Bill is before your Lordships' House to give effect to a decision, inter alia to transfer the powers in the existing Town and Country Planning Act to the Ministry of Works and Buildings, other than Section 32. Your Lordships need not trouble very much about Section 32. That Section deals with the division between the local authority and the Government of any moneys that may be received from betterment. The history of betterment and the recovery of moneys from it is such that no one need be unduly anxious that any large sum of money will ever, under present legislation at all events, come in issue.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, indicated, as is the case, that it is a wrong conception to assume that in London or elsewhere there will be prepared a detailed national plan. The function of the Ministry now in course of being set up will be, I take it, in consultation with other Government Departments concerned, such as the Ministry of Health, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture, and in particular and especially the Ministry of Transport, to determine the main lines of policy upon which the land of this country will be best used and its beauty best preserved. It will then be the duty of the Ministry of Works and Planning, as the central planning authority, to see to it that the plans prepared by local government authorities conform to the policy thus laid down. I should have thought that one of the principal functions of the Ministry of Works and Planning would be not only to co-ordinate the plans of local authorities, but to co-ordinate the policies of the various Government Departments concerned in formulating these national policies. While none of us would wish to involve the noble Lord in any conflict of status with his eminent colleagues in the other Government Departments concerned, it seems to me it is the function of his Ministry, which is the Planning Ministry, to co-ordinate the policies which will ultimately determine the national plan. I hope that view may prevail, and that we may thus get a homogeneous plan accepted by all the Ministries concerned, and one which local 456 authorities can regard as being the national policy.
Everyone will welcome with satisfaction that the noble Lord has been able—and I congratulate him upon it—to secure that the outer London authorities will cooperate with him in the preparation of a plan for their areas and that the same consultant as has offered his services to the London County Council will be the person entrusted with this task by the Ministry. That is a first-class piece of coordination. But it would be unfortunate, if I may say so, for the Minister and for the good relationships between the London County Council and the out-county authorities if it should be thought that any influence at all has been used by the London County Council in this matter, or that the Minister has not acted quite freely without any suggestion from the London County Council. I make those observations because nothing could be more unfortunate than that the out-county authorities should think the London County Council were seeking, or were attempting, to plan their areas. The fact that there will be one man dealing with both the inner ring and the outer ring of London cannot but conduce to a proper solution of the problem of a plan for London.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, sought to convict me of a contradiction. I respectfully submit that he did not make out his case. It is correct that I stated in the debate on this matter on the nth February that from my experience planning could not be done by Joint Committees. I think that is the case. These Joint Committees are entirely voluntary. There are already 139 Joint Planning Committees in this country, and these Committees have no power at all to decide upon a town plan. Any one of the constituents of a Committee can make the plan inoperative by refusing to implement it. These voluntary Committees, in addition to having no statutory powers, have no power to levy a rate or otherwise to finance the schemes which they may collectively decide upon, and if there is to be co-ordinated and rapid planning of this country I can conceive of no kind of organization less capable of carrying it out. Joint Committees are more joint than otherwise, and I have served on many both in connexion with planning and other local government functions.
457 It is a fact that county councils themselves, apart from the London County Council, are not town-planning authorities; they are only town-planning authorities if a county district is willing to surrender to the county council its town planning powers. That is an anomalous position which can be remedied without a fundamental reconstruction of local government, although—and let us be quite candid about it—planning is not some-thing which is finished when the plan is decided upon. Planning is not something finished within a few years after it is decided upon. Planning, in fact, is a continuous process of local government, it is the keystone of local government, for you cannot plan a single acre without bringing into operation one local government service after another. If you put down a factory you must put down houses; when you put down houses you must build a school; you may have to build a hospital; you ought to provide an open space; you certainly must provide streets, and maybe a main road; you have to provide sewers; you have to see to the lighting of the streets and of the roads. You cannot move a yard in planning without bringing into operation all the local government services that exist and all that will exist. Accordingly, planning is a continuous process, and we all hope it will be so.
After all, nothing can survive if it is static, and in my submission, while it would perhaps be unwise to delay provision for the formulation of plans until there has been a thorough reorganization of local government units, there will never be an effective execution of planning until the whole structure of local government has been reorganized in this country. That structure is one which was laid down, if I may use the term, in the horse age; it is now inappropriate to a motor age; it is inappropriate to services which cannot be provided effectively for small units, and can only be effectually and efficiently and economically provided if they are services covering wide areas. When I invited the then Minister to urge his Government to have the courage to tackle the reorganization of local government I apprehend I was doing something which, sooner or later, some Government must tackle if local government in its fulness and its amplitude is to survive efficiently and effectively in this country.
458 I was gratified to hear, as no doubt your Lordships were, that we may soon expect the publication of the Reports of Mr. Justice Uthwatt and of Lord Justice Scott, and we may reiterate the hope (and may I say the expectation?) that within a reasonably short time of the publication of those Reports the Minister will introduce legislation to give effect to them and to arm his Ministry and the local authorities with the necessary weapons with which to carry on planning.
I would like the Minister to give some attention to another element of planning which, all other difficulties having been overcome, may nevertheless arrest it. It is the provision of building materials and of building labour. There is perhaps no field in which a stronger case can be made for the maintenance of control after the war than that in respect of building materials. We all know, and especially my noble friend Lord Addison, how many of the hopeful projects following the last war were defeated because of the absence of control. It is a matter of history, that Lord Addison, who was then a Minister, asked for powers to control building materials, both their user and their price. Those powers were never vouchsafed to him. The result was that in 1921 the cost of building reached indefensible heights, and shortly after that we had an economy campaign which delayed, interrupted and threw out of balance the whole of the projects for clearing the slums. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will, in his legislation, seek power not only to control the price of building materials but also the priority of user, and, further, will concern himself with the organization and the supply of those materials, the examination of substitutes and of new methods of building, the revision of specifications; in short, do everything necessary to ensure that the tools are there when local authorities and the Government wish to go on executively with planning.
That brings me to another aspect of this problem, and it is an important aspect, that of building labour. The history of the building industry from the point of view of those employed in it is not a happy one. It is in fact a very unhappy one. The workers will be an essential factor in any comprehensive planning of this country. I hope the noble Lord and his Department will push forward with the organizing of an adequate 459 labour force. That will include training men to become efficient operatives. It will also, I think, require that some reasonable assurance shall be given to those employed in the building trade that if substantial dilution takes place they will not be, as was the case after the last war, faced with unemployment within a comparatively short time. In short, it will be the function, and the duty in my submission, of the Minister to organize the building trade on a long-term basis in co-operation with the local authorities and other organizations.
There is yet another important aspect of this planning. It will be idle for local authorities to be so constituted that they can do the job, for them to be given the powers to enable them to do the job, for the Ministry to have power to supervise and co-ordinate, unless two things are settled in advance. To one I have already alluded, the organization of the building industry. The other is finance. It will profit little if London within the county, London outside the county, Hull, Coventry, Plymouth and other cities prepare plans, unless they know in advance how they will stand with regard to the finance of carrying out those plans. I am one of those who take the view that the cost of the planning cannot be left to the local authorities themselves. It is a charge which ought to be spread over the whole of the country. It will include replacement, restoration, reconstruction and re-planning.
It is true that under the war damage provisions local authorities, like other property owners, have been required to insure in respect of property which may be destroyed or damaged, but the recovery of the cost of any particular building which may be destroyed or damaged does not, and cannot, recoup the local authority for the loss that has flowed from that. There is first the loss of rateable value, and there are other consequential losses which cannot be dealt with and are not adequately met by any recovery under the war damage insurance scheme. Moreover, I think it would be unfair if a city which had been a target should find its burdens higher because of that than the city, or urban district, or rural district which had happily escaped attack. I submit therefore that the cost of reconstruction ought substantially to be borne by the State, and it may well be that the 460 best way of achieving that would be for the State to undertake to raise loans for local authorities for the purpose of enabling them to finance their reconstruction schemes. A good case can be made, I submit, for these loans being issued interest free and repayment free, but I would not exclude on grounds of financial responsibility local authorities being asked to make some small contribution. If financing were done centrally it would have two satisfactory results. It would prevent a scramble in the capital market between competing local authorities which, apart from being untidy, could not fail to have the result of pushing up the rate of interest to the detriment and damage of all.
§ LORD LATHAM
I accept my noble friend's correction. The second advantage would be that there would be a more central control of the implementation of schemes of planning, and it would give the nation power to regulate by reference to priority of need as between certain projects and certain other projects, and, it might well be, as between certain cities and certain other cities. I do not mean by that that I would welcome any proposal to give the Government substantial powers to impair the autonomy of local authorities. I am an unrepentant believer in the autonomy of local authorities and I shall contest any effort to impair it. On the other hand, we are bound to admit that we cannot have planning unless there be control. Planning means control. The finance of planning must be controlled. I ask the noble Lord, the Minister of Works and Planning, to pluck up his courage, to take such physical or other support as he can with him, and go to the Treasury and get a satisfactory, honest deal for those who will be engaged as local authorities in replanning after the war. It is important that that problem should be settled before peace comes to us, otherwise all the preparatory steps will be nugatory. Local authorities will be unable to take any actual steps until they are satisfied where the money is coming from.
There is one other point I would make about finance. It is the practice, as your Lordships know, that, save for road projects, grants made by the Central Government are not capital grants. They are 461 revenue grants calculated on a certain proportion of the interest charges and of the annual repayment of the loan. For some continuing services that form of grant may be the most proper form, but for replanning it is not. Most of the expenditure will be capital expenditure in the same way as is expenditure on substantial road improvements. In the case of the latter the Ministry of Transport make a capital grant, say, of 60 or 65 per cent., or, if it is a trunk road project, of 100 per cent. I would ask the noble Lord, the Minister, to request Treasury consideration whether grants for replanning, which must be substantial, should not in this case also take the form of capital grants. In conclusion, may I say that we have all been inspired by the Atlantic Charter and the recently concluded Russian Treaty? If we are to have effective planning of this country we want a charter and a treaty for ourselves between ourselves. We must work that out in comprehensive detail. We must secure all the necessary powers so that we can implement the principles of that charter for ourselves so soon as the "Cease fire" shall have sounded.
My Lords, as has been stated, this is a machinery Bill which has been, in principle, largely approved already, and the chief interest in it lies in what may follow from it. It is obviously impossible to ask the Minister what his intentions are in regard to any detail. But I am wondering if he can say anything at all, either to-day or at some other time, about his future relationships with the present planning authorities. Up to the present, the Minister of Health, more or less in a judicial capacity, has considered local objections to schemes. He has never considered any scheme with regard to the question of how it will fit in with national interests because there has never been a national plan for him to compare it with. Now, I understand, there is going to be a National Planning Board, and, presumably, their recommendations will be put into effect either through the present planning authorities or through some other method whereby Government schemes will be superimposed, as it were, on the present planning schemes. It seems to me that it is rather unsettling for the present planning authorities to have had this possibility hanging over their heads for 462 so long as has been the case, and that they may be failing to do their duty from sheer lack of understanding of how responsibilities are going to be divided in the future. I feel that this request for information is a reasonable request to make, and if we could have some elucidation on this point I am sure it would be most useful.
I would like to take this opportunity of saying how much I hope that, whatever form this new central body may take, it will produce some positive ideas of its own, and will not merely become yet another instrument for telling private enterprise what it cannot do. Frequently, in spite of so much rather grandiose talk, there have been cases where the consent of one, if not of two Ministers has had to be secured before some old lady living in the country could even put up a hen house. I have known other cases where houses have been kept half constructed while some authority has been making up its mind whether the owners should be allowed to complete the building. I know that these things should not happen, but they do happen, and I believe that the explanation of why these things happen is also the explanation of why a good deal else has gone wrong with planning up to the present. There have been too many authorities; too many powers and too little purpose behind these powers.
We have heard, and we still hear, a great deal about obstacles to planning. We have been told that it is impossible to plan when land is divided between so many owners. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said so, and I have no doubt that, as he says so, it must be true. Nevertheless, I cannot call to mind any particular plan—at least in a rural area—with any degree of public support behind it which has really been held up because of the private ownership of land. Of course, there are, we all agree, a number of obstacles that have to be got over before you can put through a planning scheme, and it is perfectly true that the number of private owners which have to be dealt with is one of them. Another great obstacle lies in the complication of legislation with which we have had hitherto to deal. Yet another, and I think the most formidable obstacle of the lot, is that it has been practically impossible to discover from Government Departments what their intentions are. That applies particularly to the Ministry of 463 Transport. Indeed, it has often been found that, after persuading owners to agree to a certain project, a Ministry may completely defeat the object of the plan by some subsequent action.
I think it is true that many authorities would have done more than they have done if they had had more money at their disposal. Even so, very considerable schemes have been carried out—for example, the Green Belt Scheme and our Downlands Preservation Scheme in Sussex. Experience has shown in planning matters that where there is a will there has usually been a way found to put the will into effect. I understand that the Minister himself is going to suggest either to the local authorities or to Parliament certain aims and objects for which they should be working. I think that that is an admirable innovation, and one which has been badly needed in the past. I would like, with respect, to express the hope that he will be able to put forward these suggestions in a plain and intelligible manner. I know that there are very often a number of objections to being clear and intelligible, but I do feel that in a country like this you cannot be too authoritarian. You have got to have a degree of popular support for whatever project you want to carry through, and I do not see how people can support, or feel any great enthusiasm for, a scheme or project which they cannot understand.
If I may, I will give an example. I understand that one proposal the Minister may have to consider is a proposal to reserve certain areas of land for agriculture. I think that is an excellent idea, but I hope that he will be able to say what areas he suggests should be reserved, and state the kind of restrictions that should be placed on those areas, rather than that he will approach the problem by producing some highly complicated formula by which it is hoped that these results may be indirectly secured. I am quite sure that the first method would raise a great deal of controversy, though I do not think that that, in itself, is entirely a bad thing. While the other method Would probably avoid the controversy, nobody would really have the least idea where they stood, and I think it is quite likely that the result aimed at would not be achieved.
Similarly with regard to the "location of industry." That is a matter on which 464 one hears a great deal of enthusiasm expressed, though, by itself, the phrase does not mean very much. What we want to know in rural areas is whether the Government think that there are national reasons for the inclusion or exclusion of industries from any particular part that has hitherto not been industrialized. Then we do want to know what are the plans of the Ministry of Transport for the construction of new roads. I believe that, provided the local authorities and the local populations know these things, the existing planning authorities can and will do a good deal to put them into effect. They should be given a great deal of latitude as to how they are put into effect. It seems to me that flexibility is required, not so much in the plans themselves as in the machinery for giving effect to the plans.
I know that requests of this kind may sound simple, and yet there may be many difficulties attached to them. There is always the question of compensation. Moreover, if you reserve an area for a particular purpose you incur a certain responsibility for making the area a financial success. I also know that when, in the past, Ministers have made definite statements about their intentions, speculators have frequently taken advantage of that information. It is to be hoped that, with the new procedure resulting from the first Uthwatt Report, that will be impossible in future. I believe that all these difficulties can be overcome, however, if the people at large are really behind the scheme. If, on the other hand, we rely on bureaucratic methods and place the different authorities and the people in general under "high power" experts giving orders through elaborate machinery, I do not think that this new movement will come to much. My plea is that in the orgy of discussion on planning machinery which we are now likely to have we shall not forget the necessity for making clear the objectives that we are trying to reach.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies I should like to make one observation on behalf of my friends. We were thoroughly alarmed—at least I was—by what we were told by the noble Lord as to the number of Departments, if I understood him aright, which were considering this, that or the other branch of planning. I understood that a report was coming from somebody 465 on electricity, that somebody else was considering roads, that somebody else was considering railways, and so on—quite a catalogue. I shall, of course, read the noble Lord's speech carefully in the Official Report. I also gathered that the different Departments were going to send the results of their meditations to the Paymaster-General. What is to happen then? I confess that it gave me a vista of delay and indecision which was perfectly appalling. I thought that you were going to establish with complete unanimity a Ministry of Planning. If it is going to be planning by compartments, big or little, and left to the energy or lack of energy of somebody else, the scheme does not inspire us with much hope. I hope that the noble Lord's statement will read better than it sounded, because frankly I was very alarmed by the vision which the noble Lord conjured up. If further consideration of the subject confirms our uneasiness, we shall wish to raise the matter later in this House.
§ LORD PORTAL
My Lords, I should like first of all to answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Addison. I think that he has gone back to the first debate; we have had two to-day, in both of which I have spoken. Perhaps I may be allowed to explain the position. If you are to have a post-war plan for railways and transport, it must come from the Department of which my noble friend Lord Leathers is the head. If you are to have a plan for electricity, it must come from the Department concerned, and so on. The noble Lord is quite right up to a point. Those plans are being formulated, and are being sent to a Ministerial Committee over which the Paymaster-General presides; and that is necessary in order to co-ordinate those plans and to see that their timing is correct. Somebody must co-ordinate those plans, and that is what the Government are trying to do now. The plans are well advanced, and they must be considered together, when they are ready; because plans for transport, plans for electricity and so on must all be linked up into one plan, and, unless there is someone to co-ordinate them, I do not see how that could be done.
The question of how they are getting on is one which we have already debated in 466 this House to-day. There is no need to be alarmed lest these things are not going on as they should; they are making good progress. I think that each Department is alive to the situation, but the work must be done by the Departments concerned, because they contain the technical people who can deal with the matter. I should hate to have amateurs coming into a Department which I represented and trying to deal, say, with the future of transport or of electricity. If the noble Lord thinks that the work is not going forward rapidly enough I am sure that he will not hesitate to bring the matter before this House. It will probably be realized that the debate to-day ranged widely from its starting point; it was very interesting, but it covered ground which was not in the Motion at all. That is something which is to be expected by anyone who has the privilege of replying to a debate in your Lordships' House, and it is something which I am trying to learn.
Coming to the debate on my second speech, I should like to thank the noble Viscount opposite for his remarks, of which I have duly taken note, and also to thank my noble friend Lord Latham for what he said. There were a few points which he made which are very important. One was the question of control after the war, to which I did allude in my first speech, and which I think is all-important. He referred to the control of materials, and to the question of labour. I said in this House some time ago that if you want a big building industry, with a balanced programme and priorities, you must do away with the system of casual labour which has existed in the building trade. That, I think, was the point which the noble Lord wished to make, and I entirely agree with him. It is being done in the mining industry, and it will have to be done in the building industry. The questions asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, will all receive attention, but time will not allow me to deal with them now. A note has been taken of all of them, and we shall see that they are looked after.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned.