§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SIMON)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. It comes to us from the House of Commons with the unanimous support of that House, and I do not doubt that your Lordships will 991 consider it should be given a Second Reading here. Looking at the text of the Bill, I must say that it is couched in language which is really prescribed by previous legislation but which involves some technical phrases that do not make for easy reading. But the Bill itself, when that is allowed for, is a perfectly simple and straightforward measure. I hope to be able in a few minutes to explain the main purposes of the Bill, perhaps in less technical language, and to satisfy your Lordships that the proposals which it contains are useful, necessary, and urgent; indeed, essential for the promotion of a central planning policy. I may further observe by way of introduction that the main provisions of the Bill, or at any rate three of them, are recommended in the Uthwatt Report and in the Scott Report respectively, and therefore the Bill in enacting these clauses is proceeding along the lines which are indicated in those Reports.
If I may for a moment make the possibly wrong assumption that not all those who listen to me have studied the detail of this legislation, it would be I think convenient to put this particular measure in its proper setting. Planning under what is the main Act, the Act of 1932 (which itself, of course, traces back to the original Act of 1909) was conceived of as a function of local government. That was the conception. The planning authority under the main Act, the Act of 1932, is a local authority; in London the London County Council and the City Corporation, and outside London a county borough, an urban district council, a rural district council, sometimes a committee gathering together more than one of them. It was therefore essentially conceived of as a local function, a local planning, and it was planning from the local point of view put forward by a local authority. It was not in each case strictly circumscribed by the area of that local authority, because the plan might go outside the local authority's own boundary. For instance, the City of Birmingham could promote a plan which went into the county adjoining, but it was none the less an area of land either within the local authority or neighbouring upon it. That is the fundamental conception of planning as it existed on the Statute Book until quite recently.
992 The local authority, as your Lordships will remember, could pass a resolution. It had to be approved by the Minister of Health, but it was a resolution of the local authority, and the resolution was to the effect that the authority had decided to prepare a planning scheme, which is a very considerable undertaking. It would, of course, take time. It had to be produced in draft. The draft had to be deposited for a period of time so that those interested could object; the local objections had to be considered, and a local inquiry, I think, had to be held under an inspector of the Ministry of Health. All those steps had to be gone through to arrive at a final local planning scheme. The very important question at once arose, what was to happen between the time when the resolution was passed and the time when it was carried into effect, because obviously the action of individuals in the area during that interval might make grave difficulties for the fulfilment of the ultimate scheme. The change which Parliament has made, and which I think is the key to all this subsequent development, is this. It has made the big change of regarding planning as more closely connected with the Central Government, with what the Uthwatt Report calls a Central Planning Authority.
Lord Samuel, who I see has an Amendment on the Paper, will recall with gratification that a certain controversy arose as to what should be the nature of the central authority, whether it should be a Commission or whether it should be a Government Department, and this matter was very pleasantly and agreeably illustrated by an exchange of views between Lord Balfour of Burleigh and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, himself, all conducted according to the best traditions of this House. This has been resolved in his favour, and the Government should not be reproached because they examine the proposals of the Uthwatt and Scott Commissions very carefully. Having examined those proposals, they decided against the authority being a Commission as there proposed and in favour of creating a Minister and a Ministry of Town and Country Planning. There at least close consideration of these formidable documents has led to a conclusion warmly approved by my noble friend which slightly varies the proposals of the two Committees.
993 Therefore, having reached that most serious conclusion, Parliament, as your Lordships will recall, passed last February the Act which provided for a Minister of Town and Country Planning—I quote from the Act—… to be charged with the duty of securing consistency and continuity in the framing and execution of a national policy with respect to the use and development of land throughout England and Wales …There you have it. It is the substitution of the conception of a central authority and direction for the exercise of a local government function. That itself is a tremendous decision. It is in itself a decision of major policy which necessarily brings in its train a very large number of difficult problems of adjustment and reconciliation, and the present measure, as I will show in two or three sentences, is absolutely necessary in order to make good what Parliament has already decided to do, because, as your Lordships will observe although Parliament passed last February an Act which created a Minister of Town and Country Planning, the powers of the Minister at the moment are really the same powers as existed under the Act of 1932. Until you have put into the hands of the Minister appropriate powers you have not really effected the transformation that is desired. This Bill makes the necessary addition in order that the new programme may be set on the right road.
As I have said, that means that the old system, what we call merely local government planning, is going. It is only right as it passes from the scene that it should be recognized that under that system a very great deal of good work has been done. It is not being scrapped because it was a failure. I spoke of the resolution which might be carried by a local authority and that resolution itself as a controlling effect over future development in the area. I do not think it is generally realized that out of 37,000,000 acres in England and Wales some 27,000,000 acres have been subject to a resolution of the appropriate local authority with, the consequences that follow from that. The balance of 10,000,000 acres have not. The present Bill, though it is needed for the whole of the country, is perhaps doubly needed for the 10,000,000 acres that have not been affected by the provisions of the 1932 Act at all. I add for the purpose of information and candour that, while so large a 994 part of the country has been covered by these resolutions which have a certain valuable effect, the actual carrying through of the resolution to the point of making a scheme, holding an inquiry, meeting objections, getting the approval of the Central Government and finally putting it into effect, has not been nearly so widespread. The actual figure of the land of England and Wales covered by operative schemes is something like 5 per cent.
I said a resolution alone had a controlling effect and the effect of it was this. If an owner wished to build—to develop, as it is called—within an area covered by a resolution, the provision was that he might apply for permission to do so. If the local authority gave this permission and he built, then if in the end it turned out in view of the planning scheme that his building could not be allowed to remain, he got compensation in respect of what he had done under this permission. If, on the other hand, he chose to take the risk, he was still entitled for the time being to build. Such building, in the elegant language of this statutory literature, is called "interim development." He could perpetrate interim development, but he took a risk, and if he had to part with his building, so much the worse for him. That was the nature of the provision as to the resolution, and interim development was to that extent controlled. I regret that kind of language, though I recognize that the expression "developed land" is inherited from what used to be called "the Lloyd George Budget" of which I was a Ministerial supporter. I cannot but think there is a sense in which the best agricultural land turned to the best agricultural use may be regarded as very much developed indeed.
In using that language, it might almost suggest that land is blasted and sterilized unless it is applied to the business of supporting bricks and mortar. As long as we know what we mean, it does not matter that we use this term "interim development." It is not really more confusing than other terms. After all, there have been a great many people, and at any rate, until recently, some writers, who when they used the word "planning" did so to indicate any intellectual activity directed to changing or adding to existing arrangements, whether it took the form of devising new international currency or revising the composition of the 995 House of Lords—it was all "planning." In the sense in which we, and, I think, in which all skilled persons, use the word nowadays, it means planning with reference to the use of land.
Now I have come to the point where I can explain the necessity of this new Bill. Under the new Bill we shall get the necessary control and check over interim development, whether in the area that has never been the subject of a resolution or in the area which is already to that extent controlled. Therefore we propose that if a builder—any man who owns land and wants to develop it—makes what is called an "interim development application" to the "interim development authority," he may get permission, but even then if the Minister thinks it wrong the Minister may direct it to be revoked or modified. But in any case the whole of the country now, under this Bill, will be under the necessary measure of control. If your Lordships will look at Clause 1, you will see that this is done by a very ingenious process, though in fact it is the application of a piece of legislative imagination. The clause states:After the expiration of the period of three months beginning with the date of the commencement of this Act, all land which is not already the subject of a scheme in force under the principal Act or any enactment thereby repealed, or of a resolution in force under that Act to prepare or adopt such a scheme, shall be subject to a resolution to prepare a scheme under that Act, which shall be deemed to have been duly passed by the local authority for the district in which the land is situated and to have been approved by the Minister and to have taken effect accordingly at the expiration of that period.In other words, everybody, wherever his land may be situated, must proceed as though there was a resolution already passed in connexion with the area in which his land is situated. It is what you may call an imaginary resolution, but its effect and operation are real. That is exactly the provision which, in both the Uthwatt Report (in paragraph 136, I think) and the Scott Report (in paragraph 234, I think) was pointed to as necessary really to clear the way for the future development of a central planning system.
Clause 2 of the Bill refers to a provision in the existing law which has for long been regarded by those who have studied the subject as unfortunate. As the law stands at present, though it was desirable to get permission as I have described, 996 there was a general principle that if all a man wanted to do was to rebuild on a site which had previously carried a building he did not need anybody's leave to do so. He was regarded as building on a building site. There are really grave objections to so wide a latitude, especially now after aerial bombardment has done so much damage. It is by no means the case that, because a building has been razed to the ground in consequence of enemy action, the proprietor should be perfectly free without anybody's leave to build on the site again. Consequently in Clause 2 provision is made to ensure that that shall not be so. It will be necessary in that case also to apply for permission.
Clause 3 deals with temporary permissions for interim development. There have been many cases in which it would have been reasonable and desirable to permit some temporary erection or some erection for a limited time on the terms that it would be taken away at the end of that time, and that is much better than prohibiting any erection at all. That is in substance what the clause provides. Clause 4 deals with modification or revocation of permissions. Provision must be made for this because you may find that after some permission has been given, the working out of the scheme and the meeting of the objections made to it, have caused changes, and in the light of the changes a builder cannot be allowed to continue with the work. Therefore the permission previously given cannot stand as absolute. If the building has proceeded to some extent and the owner has incurred expenses, then, under Clause 7, he must have compensation for what is called "abortive expenditure." Otherwise the purpose of Clause 4 is to ensure that the public interest may be served rather than private interest. Clause 5 is merely a machinery clause. The other clauses speak for themselves.
I have tried, my Lords, to clothe this rather technical and forbidding document with a little more reality and life, than, perhaps, would be gathered from reading the clauses about "interim development applications," "interim authorities" and other things of that sort. But what I have stated is the object of the Bill as I understand it. The contents of this Bill cannot, and will not, I am sure, in substance be challenged. There will be, I feel certain, in this House as in the 997 other House, general agreement upon them. It is no good creating a Minister of Town and Country Planning if he has not got these powers. It is no use creating a Minister if he is not able to get these powers from the centre. Therefore I very warmly support the application which my colleague, Mr. Morrison, makes to Parliament that he should have these powers at once in order to be able to act upon them.
I am not going to expatiate on the very wide range of topics which is opened up in the Amendment which stands in the name of my noble friend Viscount Samuel. We shall listen to him, I am sure, with the attention which he always receives and always deserves. I would merely observe that really this business of the setting up of planning as a Central Government function is one of the most complicated, one of the most fundamental, and, some people would say, one of the most revolutionary, changes that has ever been proposed in modern times. It raises economic questions, social questions, commercial questions and human questions of very great complexity, all of which interact upon one another; and I really think that it is as well to remember that in the Uthwatt Report, as I understand it, it is realized that the final decision on some of these matters cannot be reached while we are in the midst of so much else which is of even more fundamental importance, because it is of more immediate consequence to the life of this nation. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will accept the assurance that the Government are not being dilatory or careless in this matter, but are putting the whole of their available energy into the study of these complicated questions with a view to bringing forward, as soon as circumstances permit, the proposals which will no doubt be necessary for the purpose of fulfilling the immense future tasks which are contemplated by planning conducted under the authority of a Minister of the Crown. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL had given Notice that he would move, after "That," to insert the words "this House, while welcoming the provisions of this Bill, regrets 998 the undue delay in presenting to Parliament measures for dealing with the powers of local planning authorities to acquire land, the question of compensation and betterment, the location of industry, the creation of National Parks, and other urgent matters included in recommendations of the Uthwatt, Scott and Barlow Reports and resolves that".
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I should like in the first place to draw attention to the fact that the Resolution which stands in my name, and which I now beg to move, is in no way hostile to the Second Reading of the Bill; indeed, it embodies and does not negative the Government Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, and, if your Lordships were to see fit unanimously to place my Resolution on the records of the House, you would at the same time pass the Second Reading of the Bill. This Bill, as far as it goes, is undoubtedly a useful measure. It contains two provisions in particular which are both useful and important. To one of them the noble and learned Lord Chancellor did not draw special attention, and that is Clause 8 of the Bill, which deals with the constitution of joint committees of local authorities for certain purposes. At present the local authorities do not even know what bodies are to have the duty of planning.
§ A large number of the most important areas concerned with urban planning are places in which there is some old-established county borough surrounded by a considerable area of suburban land in which building has been going on and in which more building is contemplated, and the areas of our local authorities notoriously are not adapted in many cases to existing conditions. While it is impossible at the present time to review and modify the local government areas of the whole country, it is urgently necessary for the immediate purposes of postwar planning that some joint bodies should be constituted, consisting of a county borough such as I have described and representatives of the adjoining county councils. These joint committees have already been constituted in some places, but in many they have not, and one of the first duties which should devolve on the Minister of Planning is to secure that there are these joint authorities wherever the circumstances require them. Hitherto he has had no power in the 999 matter, unless he has been requested to act by at least one of the authorities concerned. This Bill will give him the power to act on his own initiative, and I sincerely trust that very speedy action will be taken under Clause 8, so that all over the country it shall be known who are the people to do the planning, apart from the question of precisely what the planning is to prove to be.
§ Secondly, as the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has explained, this Bill—and it is perhaps its primary purpose—does secure that there shall be at all events approved resolutions everywhere. In that respect it makes no difference in three-quarters of the country where there are already approved resolutions, but in the remaining quarter it is essential that this step should be taken. However, an approved resolution is only the very first step in a very long process. It has to be followed by an operative scheme, which may take months or years to work out; and, when you get the operative scheme, then and then only can you begin the actual building on better lines. These preliminary processes do not of themselves ensure that there shall be any action. If you have the duty to get up at six o'clock on a winter's morning, you may have an approved resolution, and even an operative scheme, but it does not follow that any action will be taken in the particular case.
§ All that I can say about these two important provisions of the Bill is that they are necessary and useful, but that there is no reason why they should not have been introduced and passed two years ago. They arouse none of the controversial questions to which the Lord Chancellor has referred, and they raise none of the technicalities and difficulties mentioned in the Scott and Uthwatt Reports. They are obviously necessary changes, which have been advocated for a very long time past, and, taking up the Lord Chancellor's word, I declare that there has been dilatoriness on the part of the Government in introducing only now a measure which might have been passed long ago, and so permitted progress to have been made meanwhile.
§ The noble and learned Lord Chancellor has explained the somewhat unusual drafting of the Bill. Instead of saying that certain things shall in fact be done 1000 by Parliament, Parliament is to enact that certain things shall be deemed to have been done by local authorities who in fact have not done them. This is a form of fictional legislation which ought not to be carried too far. Although this is not a long Bill, I find that the word "deemed" is used ten times in it. If Parliament had occasion, for example, to say that conscription should apply from the age of 18 instead of from the age of 19, it is much better to say so in an Act of Parliament rather than to say that any person born in the year 1925 shall be deemed to have been born in the year 1924. One does not know to what extent this process of fictional legislation might be carried. Suppose some Socialist, revolutionary Government were to be formed, consisting of violent and ruthless men such as those whom we are accustomed to see on the Opposition Front Bench, and made even more bellicose and formidable by the inclusion of the Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms, Lord Snell, and suppose that the inevitable consequence should follow, and that there should be a speedy drop in the national revenue, leaving a large deficit in the Budget, what would be simpler than for my noble friends to introduce a simple one-clause Bill to say that, for the purposes of Death Duties, anyone who was alive on January 1 of a given year should be deemed to have died on December 31 of the previous year? Instantly there would be an increase of hundreds of millions of pounds in the national revenue for the year, and, if protests were made that this was very improper legislation, my noble friends would at once say that there was an exact precedent in the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act, 1943. However, whilst giving a warning against extending this principle too far, I do not suggest that at this stage, the Bill having passed the other House, we should require it to be redrafted. On the contrary, I would venture to suggest the addition of one further clause on the same lines, to the effect that "This Act shall be deemed to be lucid and easily intelligible."
§ It is not the positive provisions of this Bill to which I take exception, but rather its vast omissions and its limited scope. The Resolution which I have put upon the Paper deals in very general terms with the main omissions in the Bill. There 1001 is the question of the power of local authorities to acquire land. They cannot proceed at all with their planning schemes and with the rebuilding, for example, of the destroyed areas of our cities unless they know whether they are or are not to have broad and unrestricted powers to acquire land. The same consideration applies to the constitution of green belts and to many other important items of planning. The Government have already announced months ago that they accepted as a general principle that the powers of local authorities to acquire land for planning purposes should be widely extended, but there is no indication of any legislation being immediately forthcoming to that effect.
§ Then there is the fundamental question of compensation and betterment. No local authority can venture to embark upon an ambitious planning scheme unless it knows what will be the financial effort upon its ratepayers, and everyone is aware that the main reason why the previous Planning Acts have failed to achieve their purpose—as they have failed in the main, although much has been done under them—has been the uncertainty with regard to compensation and betterment. In order to deal with this matter, realizing that it was of prime importance, the Government long ago appointed an expert Committee to make recommendations on this head. After considering the matter for a long period, for it is highly technical and difficult, they presented a Report nine months ago which deals in a bold and carefully considered fashion with this very problem. These nine months have passed, and there is no indication whatever whether the Government accept or do not accept the recommendations, or whether they would accept them with modifications.
§ With regard to the location of industry, the Royal Commission on that matter, the Barlow Commission, reported before the war, or just at the time of the outbreak of war in 1939, and again the Government have not stated whether they propose to take any action and, if so, what, on the lines there proposed. With respect to National Parks, it is twenty years—
§ LORD ADDISON
More than twenty years.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
It is more than twenty years since my noble friend Lord Addison was Chairman of a Committee 1002 dealing with that matter, which presented a unanimous Report. And now throughout the country there has been general agreement that the creation of National Parks is necessary, and every year that is allowed to go on means more and more possible damage to the areas which would be constituted as parks for the benefit of the nation.
The local authorities, therefore, to-day are placed in an impossible position. They cannot proceed with the making of plans, and until they proceed with the making of plans of course the owners of property and architects cannot proceed with the preparation of the actual plans for building, to be put into operation immediately the war ends. I have a whole file of cuttings of resolutions and expressions of opinion in this sense. I will only trouble the House with two that have been passed within the last few days. The Scottish National Housing and Town Planning Council passed a resolution declaring that it was satisfied that no real progress could be made with planning in Scotland, which is essential for the country's welfare, until a national plan and policy, the purpose of which it described, had been adumbrated by the Government, and accordingly it urged upon the Government the imperative need for such a plan and policy being declared at the earliest possible moment.
On behalf of the architects, the President of the Royal Institute of Architects wrote in the Press a few days ago that all these preliminary matters, preparing for building after the war,turn upon the completion of the schemes of planning authorities and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which are held up pending the Government decision on land acquisition and control.And he points out that many architects are unemployed, and cannot receive orders for rebuilding after the war, for the property owners do not know on what conditions their buildings will be put up, and whether they will be on the same site or not. And The Times, which has given admirable expression to national opinion on this subject, in a leading article a few days ago said:A planning programme without the Uthwatt Scheme, or something like it, lacks the first element required to make it effective.It ends the article by saying:Everything awaits an announcement of the mind of the Government on the more 1003 crucial recommendations of the Uthwatt Report.Those are my justifications for laying this Motion before your Lordships' House. The whole country is seething with interest on this question of national planning. The whole country realizes that when the Armies are demobilized and when armament manufacture ends there will be hundreds of thousands or millions of people seeking employment; the building industry offers the readiest means of providing for them, and if the plans are not provided before the war ends there will be a state of confusion and a feeling of anger throughout the nation. Those plans cannot now be made because the Government cannot make up their minds on the fundamental issues that have to be decided beforehand. I do not suggest that they should be required to accept everything that these expert Committees have proposed, and certainly in regard to one particular recommendation, mentioned by the Lord Chancellor, they have, in my judgment, acted very wisely; but I do suggest that they ought to make up their minds one way or the other, and not allow the matter to drag on indefinitely. It reminds one of Pope's line about the Alexandrine metre in poetry:That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.There are, of course, advantages in a Coalition Government, and at the present time the Coalition Government is not only advantageous but indispensable; but the system of government has disadvantages which special measures have to be taken to overcome. When questions arise that give ground for differences of opinion between various schools of political thought, a Coalition Government is placed in a position of great difficulty, and on these questions raised by the Uthwatt Report, which touch very closely the property interests of landowners, it may be that within the Government there are grave dissensions as to the proper course to pursue. But that cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. Sooner or later the point must be tackled. We cannot say that during war-time, because there is some matter which some group or section regards as controversial, nothing whatever shall be done.
You cannot allow one section to rise and say "I object," and instantly the whole matter has to be put aside. The 1004 Government did not permit that in reference to the Catering Wages Bill, which was passed quite recently, and very wisely insisted that the small body of objectors should be overridden. To do otherwise would be to reduce this country to the position which we read of in history which was occupied by Poland in the eighteenth century, when any individual who was qualified as an elector had the right to exercise what was called the liberum veto, and thereby stop any legislation being passed by the legislative body. We cannot allow particular interests by a liberum veto to prevail in matters which are in the national interest. It is said that on the Uthwatt Committee proposals a compromise ought to be reached between the various interests concerned, but those proposals are themselves a compromise. The Uthwatt Committee said that they did not consider the nationalization of land, not because they thought it wrong on merits, but because they thought it was a controversial matter, and therefore they proposed a measure which they thought could properly be accepted by all parties. But if this compromise is now blocked, and if it is thought that that is done by property interests, I feel certain that there will be a great swing of central opinion in this country towards land nationalization, as being the only way out of the impasse, and that that proposal will become a leading issue at a General Election in the very near future.
This House has repeatedly pressed upon the Government the urgency of these questions. Soon after the destruction of the centre of so many of our cities during the German air-raids, in November, 1940—the country being then awake to the fact that that destruction was not only a calamity but gave a marvellous opportunity for future improvements—the Government appointed Lord Reith as Minister in order to prepare the ground for a national planning policy. In that month the matter came before the House for the first time. In January, 1941, we were informed of the appointment of the Uthwatt Committee, and the House cordially approved. In February, 1041, Lord Reith made an announcement which was received with the greatest interest here and throughout the country, that the Government adopted the principle of planning as national policy and declared that some Central Planning Authority 1005 would be required. In July, 1941, the then Lord Bishop of Winchester, now the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, brought forward a Motion on the planning question generally and urged early action. In October, 1941, I brought forward a Motion in similar terms, which was supported in various quarters of the House.
In February, 1942, Lord Reith made a statement that the Government proposed to appoint a Minister of Works and Planning instead of a Minister of Works. In April, 1942, Lord Portal was appointed as Minister and made a statement in the House. In June, 1942, the Ministry of Works and Planning was constituted. In September, 1942, the Uthwatt Committee reported. In December, 1942, the Government decided that there should be a Ministry of Town and Country Planning and, at the same time, made a change—not of fundamental moment—when Sir William Jowitt, who was Chairman of the Ministerial Committee, became, instead of Paymaster-General, Minister without Portfolio. In February, 1943, the new Ministry was established. Now in June, 1943, we have this very small Bill. On eleven occasions these questions have been before the House of Lords, and on many occasions also before the House of Commons. The only results have been changes in the machinery of government, and now this small, interim, preliminary Bill.
That is the reason I consider the Government are blameworthy for what can only be called dilatoriness. They cannot make up their mind on many of these questions, and allow months and years to go by before effective action is taken. When Mr. Morrison was appointed Minister of Town and Country Planning, Sir William Jowitt said in another place that he had been mounted on a racehorse. If the race is a steeplechase, it has taken him four months to reach the first jump. One trembles to think how many years it will take him to complete the course. I regret that the Archbishop of York is absent, and also my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, both of whom, I believe, would have supported me on this occasion. The Government have been warned again and again that if the war should end, and things with regard to town and country planning are left in the same position as now, there will be an 1006 outcry. Then my noble friends and I who have brought forward these matters will find ourselves in that most unpopular and disliked category of those who say, "I told you so." The only suggestion I can make, proceeding on the lines of the Bill now before the House, for remedying that situation if it occurs, is that when the substantial legislation is ultimately produced and passed in 1944 or 1945, that too should include an additional clause to say "This Act shall be deemed to have been passed in 1941." I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
§ After ("That") insert ("this House, while welcoming the provisions of this Bill, regrets the undue delay in presenting to Parliament measures for dealing with the powers of local planning authorities to acquire land, the question of compensation and betterment, the location of industry, the creation of National Parks, and other urgent matters included in recommendations of the Uthwatt, Scott and Barlow Reports and resolves that".—(Viscount Samuel.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lord, I am sure we have all listened with immense interest and much admiration to the speech which has just been made by my noble friend, but I confess it does not equal, in my mind, the increasing admiration I felt for the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, as I listened to his exposition of the Bill. I thought to myself if, in days past, I had ever been so unfortunate as to require assistance in the Courts of Justice, and if I could have afforded the necessary fee, how lucky I should have been if I had had the noble Viscount as my advocate. Nobody listening to him to-day would have thought what a little Bill this is. It is a very small Bill. It is, in fact, Ministerial conception—a mountain in labour for nearly two years, and it has produced this mouse. It is a mouse. It is even a little mouse.
I would ask your Lordships in support of the Amendment which the noble Viscount has moved, to relate the Bill for a few minutes to the needs of the situation and to Ministerial undertakings. As my noble friend has said, the one morsel in the Bill—I am not quite sure he is right about Clause 8—is that an authority shall be deemed to have passed a resolution. As the noble Viscount said, the authorities that matter or which, at all events, have been active, representing 75 per cent. of the country, have already passed resolutions. This clause therefore only 1007 relates to those who, after all these years, have not even passed a resolution. That is all. Now, as the result of this Bill, under Clause 1, they will be deemed to have passed a resolution. When that has been so deemed, what then? Nothing. It does not make the slightest difference to anything they will really do. It makes certain technical, legal differences to which the noble Viscount referred, but in fact it does not make the least difference to what will actually happen. It means that the most indolent and backward authorities will be deemed to have done something that they have, in fact, not done. That is all. There is one other small provision to which my noble friend did not refer, and that is that it shall not be necessary to compile a register. That is in subsection (2) of Clause 1. That is a very useful little piece of administrative economy which will save a lot of trouble. I am not sure about Clause 8, which the noble Viscount mentioned. Provision may be made by an order for setting up joint committees, but there is no obligation to set up joint committees, and it does not in the least follow that they will be set up.
Let us try and relate this little Bill to what has gone before. I am sure that, apart from the interim adjustments for which the rest of the Bill provides, what I have stated is really all there is in it. Backward authorities will be deemed to have passed a resolution. Any body will be spared the trouble of making a register and there will be adjustments with regard to interim arrangements. And that is all. The Uthwatt Committee, in view of the outstanding needs of the situation, presented an Interim Report, I think, in July, 1941. That is nearly two years ago. That Interim Report was presented because it was thought that the matters which required to be attended to were so exceedingly urgent. They clearly were so, because in view of the desolation that had been wrought in our cities it was obviously necessary that the local authorities and those charged with making some sort of a plan should have guidance as to what was to be done with regard, we will say, to the powers of acquisition of land, with regard to compensation and as to the rights and powers they were going to have. As the Uthwatt Committee recognized—and Motions in this House also gave expression 1008 to the same thing—it was impossible for anybody to proceed at all until these fundamental matters relating to land had been at all events set on some clear basis. And that applies to housing and to other matters.
With regard to the more controversial matters of the Uthwatt Report, relating to the acquisition of development rights and so on, there were other recommendations which the Interim Report of the Uthwatt Committee said it was absolutely vital should be settled one way or other before anybody could proceed to make a plan at all. One was, for example, the powers of compulsory acquisition after a resolution. That was a very valuable recommendation, and I shall refer in a minute to what a Minister said about it from the Bench opposite. But however the matter is settled, it must be settled some way or other. Either they are to have power to acquire land or they are not, but they are entitled to know, and until they do know they cannot do anything. That was in July, 1941. Then there are recommendations with regard to what is to be done in respect of the very obstructive building line claims for compensation arising out of the Ribbon Development Act and other Acts, all necessary and obviously essential before anybody can do anything about our desolated towns. That is why the Uthwatt Committee made these recommendations.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to various Ministerial statements and I will supplement them by one or two others that are related to the observations I have been making. In October, 1941, Lord Reith said that a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee, which I have been describing as essential, was in an advanced stage. That was on October 7, 1941. That is the Bill to define what the local authorities would be able to do. Soon two years will have passed since then. There were difficulties apparently, for in the New Year he had rather to abate his zeal and on February 11, 1942, he encouraged the House to hope that they would get a Bill before the following Christmas. That was taking a good time for the Government to make up their minds. Then Lord Portal came in and said we had better await a Bill until the Uthwatt Committee and the Scott Committee had made their final Reports. 1009 That was in April, 1942. In November, 1942, he said, with regard to the power of the local authorities to acquire land, that they should be given the power and added: "We accept this view and have in fact clauses already in draft so far as damaged areas are concerned." That was a Ministerial statement made on November 8, 1942, and the Minister went on to say that clauses were already in draft for enabling local authorities to have powers over land so that they could begin to plan.
Now, after eight months, we are presented with this little Bill. What it really amounts to is that the Ministers concerned, after the various inter-Departmental comings and goings to and fro for two years, not being able themselves to make up their minds about any of these things, which they have described as being essential, have at last decided that at least somebody else shall be deemed to have come to a resolution. That is as far as we have got. If I might, without I hope spoiling it too much, paraphrase Hamlet, I should say it is a striking illustration of how… the native hue of resolutionHas become sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,And enterprises of great pith and momentWith this regard their currents turn awry,And lose the name of action …We shall of course pass this little Bill but I am sure none of your Lordships, having done so, will seek to persuade yourselves that you have done anything that matters.
§ LORD SOULBURY
My Lords, in his speech to this House last November, the noble Viscount who has moved the Amendment to-day in such a witty and amusing fashion, recommended that the Government should have a little prodding and himself played the part of the prodder. I take that word to mean a person who, by the aid of a goad or some pointed instrument, endeavours to accelerate the pace of a slow moving animal, and such a practice when carried out with moderation and humanity is generally regarded as legitimate and indeed often necessary, but meets with disfavour when accompanied by impatience and excessive vigour. I am afraid I shall find it my duty to try to show to your Lordships that prodding, as carried out by the noble Viscount, is of the reprehensible 1010 kind, and indeed, if there was (and perhaps there should be) a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Governments, I should be constrained to bring the conduct of the noble Viscount to the attention of that body.
The Amendment on the Paper regrets the undue delay in presenting to Parliament a variety of measures—dealing with powers of local planning authorities to acquire land, the question of compensation and betterment, the location of industry—all, of course, contained in the three Reports therein mentioned. It is a very wide and comprehensive range of subjects, so wide that in themselves they go far to negative any allegation of undue delay in dealing with them. Various dates have been quoted during the debate. I will only mention three. Of the three Reports, the Barlow Report was published, I think, in January, 1940, the Scott Report in August, 1942, and the Uthwatt Report in the following month, September, 1942. Clearly the noble Viscount's complaint is not confined to alleging delay in dealing with the Barlow Report. In fact it is fairly obvious in view of certain war events since January, 1940, that the recommendation of the Barlow Report about location of industry must in any event be substantially modified. So I imagine the noble Viscount's main criticism would relate to the alleged period of inactivity following the publication of the Scott and Uthwatt Reports, a period of eight or nine months from September, 1942, to the present time.
How far is the noble Viscount's criticism really justified? It was pointed out by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that these Reports concurred in recommending the- setting up of a Central Planning Authority, but there were very considerable differences amongst the authorities as to what should be its constitution. The Barlow Majority Report recommended a Board with a Chairman who should be not a Minister but a man of Ministerial status. There was a dissentient report recommending a Ministry under a Cabinet Minister. The Scott Report preferred a non-Departmental Minister as Chairman of a Committee of Ministers with a Planning Commission. The Uthwatt Report wanted a Minister of National Development, free from Departmental claims. The merits or demerits 1011 of these proposals certainly required a good deal of careful consideration and, having accepted the principle of a Central Planning Authority, the Government very rightly and naturally gave a certain amount of time to consideration of the conflicting recommendations of these Committees. The noble Viscount, in his speech in November last, gave this matter of the status of the Central Planning Authority first priority. He himself recommended a Minister of Planning, that Minister to be a Minister of Cabinet rank. If he will allow me to say so, I am sure he was right, absolutely right, because, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey, later in the same debate, said, "If we are to be planned, let us be planned in the light." I think he must have had in mind the pathetic cry of Ajax:Destroy us, so it be but in daylight.What in fact happened? A very few weeks later, in December, 1942, the Government made its decision and announced the appointment of Mr. W. S. Morrison as the new Minister, an appointment which gave universal satisfaction. That involved legislation and in January, 1943, the Bill was introduced. It passed through all its stages, I think, in the first week of February. The appointment of a Minister of Cabinet rank was given first priority by the noble Viscount, and the Government followed his advice and not the advice of either of the three Committees. I should have thought that such prompt docility would have satisfied the most impetuous prodder and secured rather more humane and considerate treatment in the future. Not only did the object of the noble Viscount's prodding move quickly, but in spite of other inducements it moved in the very direction he desired it to go.
The noble Viscount laid down a second priority in that debate. He suggested that local authorities should beinformed at once what are to be their areas for planning, what joint committees are to be constituted, and what will be their powers and their finance.He added:For all purposes it is necessary that the Government should decide for or against the proposal of the Uthwatt Committee on the purchase of development rights and what powers local authorities are to have for land purchase.That is the content of the Amendment on 1012 the Paper to-day and it assumes that the Government, in order to escape the charge of undue delay or dilatoriness, should between the month of February, 1943, and the end of May, that is within sixteen weeks, have decided, and the new Minister should have prepared, drafted and presented to Parliament a Bill or series of Bills dealing with the matter set out in this Amendment. The noble Viscount in his anxiety to spur the Government on has overlooked, I suggest, the extremely important recommendation contained in both the Scott and Uthwatt Reports—namely, that there should be a Central Planning Authority with power to control development throughout the country of areas not covered by schemes or resolutions. That, I suggest, should have been the second priority, for the omission of that would be quite disastrous to any succeeding priority.
Happily, the patient animal he had been prodding was sufficiently sagacious to realize the importance of the second step and the wisdom of the recommendation in these two Reports. Though smarting under the pricks of the goad it saw a gap in the road, a nasty gap in the road which had escaped the notice of the prodder and which had to be filled in before progress, swift or slow, could possibly be made. In this case the beast was wiser than the man. Even if all these powers for positive action were on the Statute Book, the powers in this Bill would be absolutely necessary to safeguard the position whilst schemes are being brought into operation. Without this Bill, all the enactments suggested by the noble Viscount would rest on extremely unstable foundations. I am quite sure the noble Viscount appreciates that because he welcomes this Bill, and I imagine that if he were able to revise the speech he made on November 18 he would alter the order of priority. First he would put, as he did in his speech, a Central Planning Authority under a Minister as provided by the Act passed in February, then this Bill safeguarding the position and preventing schemes for reconstruction being compromised or prejudiced before they came into operation. If that is agreed, then the matters mentioned in this Amendment on the Paper would be the third priority, and the question is whether the Government, after having observed the first two priorities, can reasonably be charged with undue delay or negligence in presenting to Parliament 1013 the measures that are adequate to carry out the contents of this Amendment.
To make his case, the noble Viscount must convince us that in addition to the Act setting up the Ministry last February, and in addition to this Bill, there should be another Bill or series of Bills before Parliament now providing for the location of industry and the various other matters referred to in the Amendment. I have one or two observations to make on that. In the first place, what does the noble Viscount mean by the phrase "dealing with the location of industry"? Under this Bill, industry can be told where not to go and power is available to prevent land being taken by industry, but does the noble Viscount really think the time is ripe for a Bill to tell industry where to go and to direct it to any particular area? Negative powers such as those in this Bill are necessary now, but I suggest that we should wait until the future course and character of industry is very much clearer than it is at the present moment. And, of course, the future of agriculture is intimately linked with industry. As regards the power of local authorities to acquire land, as I think has already been pointed out, the Government have already announced their intention with regard to power to acquire land in areas needing reconstruction as a whole, for instance, war damaged areas. And, as I hope to show, the evidence of any local authority being held up for lack of measures—which the noble Viscount infers is the case—is not very strong. He mentioned National Parks. The problem, in that connexion, does not lie in the introduction of a Bill, but in determining in advance what are suitable areas, what provision for hostels should be made, questions of access, safeguarding measures, and so forth. Preliminary work can go on, and is going on now. Immediate legislation is neither necessary nor desirable until the preliminary work has been accomplished.
The noble Viscount referred to the Uthwatt Report and the question of compensation and betterment. This is obviously a subject which is fraught with great difficulties. It is a contentious and controversial subject, and conflicting views were expressed upon it in your Lordships' House when the matter was last debated. It was clear that the political Parties had not made up their minds, and the opinions 1014 expressed in debate cut right across normal Party alignments. I can well understand, I think any fair-minded man can understand, the Government taking a very considerable time in which to make up their minds on such a problem. It has been said elsewhere, and it is worth repeating, that it is not good planning to decide first and think afterwards. On such a very controversial and contentious matter we have the experience of the Liberal Party in regard to the taxation of land values and increment duty as a salutary warning against precipitate and impetuous action.
Again, before legislation is brought to Parliament the principles and policy must be thoroughly thought out by the Cabinet before they can possibly come to decisions. I do not think that the noble Viscount has allowed the Cabinet a very long time. In peace-time such proposals as these, involving, as the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has pointed out, fundamental changes in social policy, fundamental questions of finance, and a radical change in the outlook on property rights of the individual in relation to the needs of the State, would, and should, have occupied a Cabinet for a very long period. At the time of the greatest war in our history, when we are struggling to preserve everything that is worth living for, I think that a little more generous allowance might be made to the Government in the midst of their many and urgent preoccupations.
This Amendment goes further than asking for decisions. It requires measures to be already presented to Parliament. That means that the new Minister who only took office last February, in the sixteen weeks up to the date of this Amendment should have drafted and presented to Parliament in Bills detailed legislation carrying out all these proposals concerning exceptionally difficult and controversial matters. The noble Viscount, himself, has had a considerable experience of legislation, but I do not think he will tell us that even in the palmy days of the Liberal Party, a generation ago, they proceeded at such breakneck speed. Now, if all the measures suggested in the Amendment were before us in the shape of Bills, I think that many of us would be likely 1015 to come to the conclusion that the Government had taken a very light-hearted and irresponsible step, and we should expect the proposals to be of pretty poor quality, ill-conceived and ill-fashioned. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, might argue that the Government, though so far, admittedly, having observed the right priority in the Act of February and this Bill, have done "something that is of no use at all without the third priority contained in his Amendment.
He has told us that the local authorities are stopped from proceeding. A point that he made in his speech of November 18 was that they were stopped because they did not know what the financial results were to be of dealing with this matter. I wonder if that is quite accurate; if there is not an element of exaggeration in such a suggestion. We have been told now that before the war some 5 per cent, of the area of England and Wales was under some statutory schemes, and of the remainder, I think, some 70 per cent. was in the state of interim development. So it is not quite right to say that local authorities were deterred from planning by lack of knowledge of the financial results. Since the war the L.C.C., the Corporation of London and the local governing bodies of Plymouth, Norwich, Southampton, Hull and Merseyside have gone, and are going, ahead with schemes of rebuilding and reconstruction, and are not waiting for the Government to put on the Statute Book detailed terms of purchase or compensation.
There might be some force in the noble Viscount's argument if this Bill, which we are now discussing, were the Government's last word on the subject. But that is not so. Everyone knows that in another place on May 11 the new Minister said:This Bill is but the forerunner of several Bills that must inevitably follow if the really-new structure of town and country planning is to be erected.And:Later legislation will need to be introduced to state the will of Parliament with regard to more positive action to secure reconstruction.And his Parliamentary Secretary, in the same debate, said:There must be a Bill to deal with the public acquisition of land and it may be the next Bill which my right honourable friend will introduce.1016 In conclusion I would say this. Those statements which I have read out should, I think, do something to console the noble Viscount, and if he wishes to retain, as I am sure he does, his reputation for considerate prodding, he will not press this Amendment, but nourish the hope that by gentle and more persuasive admonition he may induce the Government to pursue the course he desires at a pace consistent not only with the enthusiastic aspirations of the planners but also with the modest interests of those for whom they plan.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT CRANBOENE) (Lord Cecil)
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debate to-day. Your Lordships hear too much of me on too many occasions and in fact the noble and learned Lord Chancellor who introduced this Bill in such a lucid and brilliant speech is going to answer at the end any detailed questions on the Bill which may be raised by your Lordships. In view, however, of the rather formidable general assault which has been delivered on the Government by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I think I must say a few words on the subject of his main attack, although I think that attack has been very largely demolished already by my noble friend Lord Soulbury, who has just spoken. I wish also to indicate the attitude of the Government towards the noble Viscount's Resolution. The noble Viscount has castigated the Government for undue delay, for dilly-dallying, and, as I understand it, almost for deliberate procrastination.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I did not say "deliberate."
At any rate for procrastination. If the noble Viscount will forgive me for saying so, this is not the first time since I have been in this House that I have heard a speech from him on similar lines. I have heard speeches of the same character from him on the conduct of the war, on Colonial policy, on the question of refugees, and on a number of other questions. As I think Lord Soulbury has already said, the noble Viscount is a natural born prodder. Like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, he runs at full speed shouting "Faster, faster," in the hope of encouraging the Government to speed up their efforts. I do not complain of that, 1017 for it is obviously one of the main functions of Parliament to keep Governments up to the mark, and, however much Governments may sometimes dislike it, they ought not to complain of it. Equally, however, it is the duty of the Government to proceed at that pace which in their view will lead to the formulation of properly considered conclusions and ensure that there shall be that wise evolution which has been the essence of our greatness in the past and which makes us a continuing power in the world.
It is really no use ignoring the difficulties surrounding the questions raised by the noble Viscount. They are tremendous. The whole of the problems raised in his Resolution—the location of industry, compensation and betterment, and all the other matters mentioned in the Barlow, Scott and Uthwatt Reports, are extremely complex and exceedingly controversial. I regret, if I may say so in passing, that the noble Viscount suggested that these questions were being held up by "propertied interests." I do not think that it is quite fair to introduce that element of old-fashioned Party bitterness into this question, which we ought to consider on a national basis. The problems are far more fundamental than that. Take such a question as the location of industry; that has nothing to do with propertied interests. These are fundamental questions which go down to the very roots of our national economy, and they are not questions to be decided in a moment, or even in a few months, especially in uncertain and changing times like the present.
It is perfectly true that the Government have had, to assist them in this matter, the extremely valuable Barlow, Scott and Uthwatt Reports. Those are not only monuments of industry but very important contributions to the study of these difficult questions. But, after all, it is the Government and not the members of those Commissions who have to take the final decision and assume the ultimate responsibility, and that does and must involve anxious consideration and the weighing of complex and frequently conflicting factors. I do assure the noble Viscount, if he needs the assurance, that these problems are not being neglected. I do not think that he really believes that they are. They represent the most urgent tasks before the Minister of Town and 1018 Country Planning, and he is undertaking them with energy. But it is not surprising that no detailed policy should yet have been announced, nor can I give any definite date when it can be announced. I do not want to mislead the noble Viscount. All I can say is that we are making as rapid progress as we can with an extremely complex and difficult question.
I do not propose to stand in a white-sheet over this question, any more than the Government did over the Beveridge Report. The debate which took place in your Lordships' House last week on the subject of a National Health Service should show how very difficult and complicated these great schemes are when they have to be applied in practice, and how reckless it would be to rush wildly ahead without due regard for the pitfalls and dangers involved. What we can do, should do, and are doing, is to prepare the ground and construct a firm jumping-off place for further measures which will be in the future—and I hope in the near future—submitted to Parliament. That is the purpose of the present Bill. I believe, and I think your Lordships believe, that it represents a valuable step forward; indeed, the noble Viscount himself has warmly welcomed it. I do not want to go into the details of the Bill, which have already been described very much better than I could do by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. But I should like briefly to make one observation.
The Minister of Town and Country Planning Act, which was passed in February last created a Minister who should be responsible for the uniformity and continuity of national planning policy. But, as my noble and learned friend said, his powers were limited in that Act to the powers under the Act of 1932, which were inadequate to enable him completely to fulfil his functions; and therefore this Bill had to be introduced to give him the necesary powers over the whole country. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has said that it is a very small Bill, with almost nothing in it. I do not agree. To give the Minister these powers over the whole country is not a small thing. It is indeed the essential precursor of further action by the Government. It seems to me that these two measures are the essential first steps in any national policy of planning. I understand the noble Viscount to say that these steps ought to have been taken two 1019 years ago. Inevitably there must be certain delays in modifying and amending legislation.
I think I am right in saying—it was a little before my day—that it was in 1909, in the days of a Liberal Government of which the noble Viscount himself was a most distinguished member, that the original Town Planning Bill was introduced. It was recognized at that time, or very soon afterwards, that it was not a perfect Bill, although it represented a good measure of progress. Yet the Liberal Government which remained in power for years after that, never introduced any amending legislation. I take it that that was because they were carefully feeling their way and seeing what steps could wisely be taken. The noble Viscount may say that there was a war on from 1914 onwards, and that it was therefore impossible to do anything. I should have great sympathy with that view. But there is a war on now too. We must not expect everything to be done in a moment.
In view of what I have said, it would clearly be quite impossible for the Government to accept the noble Viscount's Amendment, and I do not suppose that the House would wish to accept it either. May I beg the noble Viscount, in conclusion, not to be too impatient about these matters? While he will no doubt continue his prodding, as he has a perfect right to do, and as he may very well think he has the duty of doing, I hope that he will recognize the necessity for due consideration of these difficult issues by the Minister mainly concerned and by the Government, so that when the time comes for proposals to be submitted to the House they will be such as to make a wise and a lasting contribution to our national life.
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two in support of this Bill. The Bill has been attacked, not for what it is, but because it is not something entirely different, and it is said that it is hardly worth while passing it. I may be speaking from a somewhat parochial point of view as a member of a local authority, but I think that this is an important Bill, because, as I read it, in addition to the points brought out by my noble friend the Leader of the House, the Minister is by this Bill actively associating himself with the local schemes 1020 from the earliest stages, and not confining himself to settling disputes between interested parties at the appeal stage. Before the war, although practically every other form of local authority activity suffered from excess of Whitehall control, in town planning matters we were unable to-get any guidance or advice from the Minister, even if we asked him for it. The answer we got was always the same—namely, that the Minister could not prejudge issues on which he might afterwards have to give decisions in his judicial capacity.
Of course, I do not know whether that was the whole explanation, or whether it was just a convenient way of avoiding awkward questions. But the wording of this Bill quite clearly suggests that the Minister is now prepared to say whether any particular local scheme conforms to the national interests or not. I think the Lord Chancellor has said so practically in so many words. One of the main objects of this Bill is to safeguard national planning in the interim period. Of course we are not at all clear as to how the national plans are going to be formulated, but if this Bill means that henceforth the Minister of Town and Country Planning is going to interpret in terms of planning the policy and intentions of other Government Departments who are concerned with the use of land, I think it will be a very important and very beneficial change. I must confess I have been afraid lest one of the results of all this agitation for more planning should be that the various Departments will be encouraged not only to produce plans but their own special machinery for carrying them out. That is what the Ministry of Transport did when they introduced the Bill to control ribbon development, which, whatever else it may have done, has certainly added to the complexity of town-planning administration. If, say, the Board of Trade are going to locate industry by some means other than through these local planning schemes, or if the Ministry of Agriculture are going to reserve land for farming by some special measures of their own, I think we shall get into a state of complete confusion. I certainly believe that the greatest simplicity of administration is absolutely essential to successful town planning, and I think if this Bill means what I believe it to mean, it will make 1021 for that simplicity, because we shall have one Minister to deal with instead of many.
There is another direction in which I hope this principle in the Bill will be of service. Perhaps I can best illustrate it by an example. One of the things in the South of England that people want to know particularly before we can proceed with our planning is what training grounds, what artillery ranges, what aerodromes the Service Ministers will want to retain after the war. It is quite obvious we should want to know that before we can make satisfactory local schemes. I cannot think that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who lays such stress on the importance of the production of plans, will really expect the Service Ministers to produce a complete list of their requirements in that respect at this stage of the war. If we got anything now it would be of such a general character as to be of little use to the local authorities, because if the local authorities are going to reserve and restrict land they have to have a very definite idea of what land is going to be at their disposal. I think the Minister of Town and Country Planning could at this stage probably find out more about the long-term intentions of the Service Ministers than we could hope to do, and although he could probably not give us the whole information that we want, he could probably give us useful guidance, and such guidance might relieve us of the necessity of reserving land for agriculture or open spaces, and then finding that it is to be taken over as an artillery range.
There is a third point that I welcome about this Bill. Coupled with some remarks that the Minister made to the Press, I think it provides evidence that he is going to maintain continuity of town planning policy. In the various debates on town planning very little has been said about existing schemes, but the inference is that they are quite inadequate to modern ideas. Perhaps they are, but it must be remembered that this enthusiasm for national planning is a recent development, and in fact I understand that none of the schemes that have been submitted to Parliament—I think they cover 2,000,000 acres of land—had ever been challenged in either House of Parliament right up to the war. Anyhow, whether these schemes are good or bad, some very hard work has been put into them, and it would be very discouraging to the local 1022 authorities if they were to be completely scrapped. I think the Minister's references, in the remarks he made to the Press, to the local authorities continuing as the spearhead of the movement, will be very much welcomed. Equally it would be very upsetting to owners if the agreements that have been made with them under Section 34 of the Act of 1932 had to be altered. In Sussex we have made great use of these agreements. Some people may think that any form of planning to which an owner agrees must necessarily be wrong from the national point of view, but I am glad to see that the Minister is not among them, because he has made special provision in this case for the continuance of those agreements, subject to his consent, which in the circumstances is, I think, quite reasonable.
I admit that my enthusiasm for this Bill is due more to what I think it foreshadows than to what it contains, and I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that we should have some further statement soon about any contemplated reforms in town-planning machinery, because so much has been said and written about the size of these impending changes that we can hardly blame the local authorities for not being very enthusiastic at the present time. The Leader of the House accused Lord Samuel of being like the Red Queen. My recollection of the Red Queen is that she ran very fast, but to nowhere at all, and the noble Viscount's campaign will, I hope, be a little better than that and get somewhere. Anything we can do or say here to put the Minister of Town and Country Planning into the position of being able to maintain good order and discipline, not only among the private owners against whom we have heard some animadversions in this debate, but also against that privileged class of owner, the statutory undertaker, and the Government Departments themselves, will do something to safeguard planning interests.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I should be glad if the House will allow me at this stage to withdraw by Amendment. I will of course take account of what was said by the Leader of the House and by Lord Soulbury.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, it must be a certain relief to us all that the noble Viscount has announced his de- 1023 cision to withdraw his Amendment. While many of us share his burning enthusiasm for the acceleration of Government action in regard to the planning of a better Britain, we must realize the force of the arguments which have been adduced today not only by the Leader of the House but also by the noble Lord, Lord Soulbury, who addresses us with such an exceptional amount of experience, having filled with distinction so many important offices of State. I was sorry to hear the Leader of the Opposition describe this Bill in such a contemptuous way. As the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack so plainly pointed out, national planning is not merely a difficult but a very complicated and revolutionary process. That being so, it would surely be a profound mistake to show such undue haste that serious mistakes might be made which could only be rectified with considerable difficulty.
It seems to me that this Bill, if it does nothing else, serves a useful purpose in clearing the ground—cleaning the slate, so to speak—in such a way as to accelerate the further and more operative steps to be taken in the field of national planning. Lord Soulbury referred to one item of Lord Samuel's protest—namely, location of industry. For my part, living as I do in a district where the largest and most important industry is rapidly disappearing, and where considerable thought and enterprise are being bestowed on the possibility of setting up new industries—some of them suggested by war experience—I should deprecate any attempt to jostle, as it were, the decisions of the Government in regard to the location of industry under present conditions, and of course in the light of the Barlow Report. But I am bound to say, as regards National Parks, I should indeed like to see some further and early decision reached. Some twenty years ago, after having travelled in many parts of the world, and having revelled in the outstanding delights of well-ordered, well-managed National Parks in various countries, I was the first to initiate the campaign for the introduction of them in this country, and I was the first witness before the Commission presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Addison. Nothing has been done. The reason I particularly deprecate any undue delay in regard to National Parks is that so many scenically 1024 attractive areas, eminently fitted for this purpose, are already being rendered less fit by the ugly structures which are being erected on many of them to the detriment of their natural beauty.
I warmly welcome this Bill. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, referred to the two expressions which in connexion with national planning have offended me most, and I was glad to hear what he said about them—namely, "undeveloped" and "sterilized" as applied to potentially fertile agricultural land whose optimum value obviously is the production of food for the people. Another reason for not being in too much of a hurry is that successful planning is impossible without a clear objective. I am inclined to ask, and the more so when I see my own very efficient county council successfully at work on this planning business—what is our target? What, indeed, is our national objective in trying to bring into existence a brighter, better and happier Britain? If this is not clear, let us have sufficient time, and give the Government sufficient time for what they are claiming—namely, research, diagnosis, and reliable, unprejudiced investigation.
My only objection to delay is that, unfortunately, land speculation is going on apace at the present time and militating against the acquisition of land by those who can best use it in the national interest. I shall give only one illustration, which occurred in the West of England last week when a certain farm was put up for sale by auction. It was one of several farms at the same auction. There was there a little speculative syndicate which did most of the bidding while thoroughly well-deserving farmers were at the auction prepared to bid for this agricultural holding. I understand that that speculative syndicate has been going from one agricultural sale to another not in order to secure an agricultural holding to farm it, but in order to get what is described as a "horizontal profit" out of it and, if possible, to sell it at an enhanced price to the person who will put it to the best use. If the Government could see their way to introduce a one-clause Bill to stop this unholy speculation in land at the present time, I should feel very much happier, not only about the ultimate planning of Britain, but regarding the facility of the task which the Government will eventually take in hand.
1025 We have not only to build a new and better Britain, but to remove the blots on the old Britain and prevent their recurrence. Are we, even now, quite sure what these blots are? We have grown to be a very wealthy nation—I believe I am right in saying we are the second most wealthy nation in the world—but to some extent at the cost of the physical, mental and, above all, spiritual welfare of our people. Over-industrialization has marred the face of our once beautiful country and, to no small extent, the lives and outlook of our people, including amongst them the members of our lesser local authorities. One thing I want to acclaim in regard to this Bill, and that is the power giver, to the Central Planning Authority, if necessary, to override the decisions of local authorities if they make some profound mistakes which would be detrimental to the æsthetics of naturally beautiful country, or which would be incompatible with the national plan which no doubt will come to be laid down in due course by the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
Business—indeed I am sorry to say big business—is the economic life blood of our people, but it does tend to segregate rich and poor and to destroy those personal contacts in industry and commerce which count for so much in the welfare and contentment of a great democracy like ourselves. If I may say so, the juggernaut of big business threatens to crush the soul of the nation and leave behind it a sense of frustration and incapacity for self-help and self-development, and perhaps it is in regard to industry above everything else that a large measure of somewhat revolutionary planning will come to be put in hand. Therefore I for my part most warmly welcome a Central Planning Authority, and if nothing else resulted from the passage of this Bill I should say that for that reason it is well worth while. I do most earnestly trust—my noble friend Lord Gage incidentally referred to the matter just now—that Government Departments themselves will keep their hands as far as possible off land of exceptionally high fertility when they contemplate, for what are supposed to be urgent national purposes, the putting up of aerodromes and the like. The way that the really fertile land of this country is shrinking through such activities of Government Departments has become almost a scandal.
1026 I referred just now to the competence of the local authorities, particularly the lesser local authorities, to undertake this very responsible work, and I venture to hope that it may prove to be possible to make planning one of the accepted qualifications for seats on our local authorities. I am afraid that on many if not most of our local authorities the main qualification of those who seek office is the probability of their being active in keeping down the rates. I think that there has been in the past, imprudent and short-sighted expenditure of public money on what has proved to be a very poor public investment; but I am bound to say also that I believe that if we planned our Britain properly from industrial, social, sanitary and other desirable standpoints, we could by wise expenditure of the money of ratepayers, which some of them might be tempted to resent, carry out what would be a very good bargain and in the long run save a great deal of wasted money which is now being expended.
Subsection (3) of Clause 2 contains a provision which I am going earnestly to ask the Government if they can see their way to reconsider. It reverses the process which is provided for in Section 10 of the principal Act. The application of a developer is deemed to be refused after two months from his application if no action is taken by the development authority in the meantime. I do not object to that part of it. I think it is calculated to oil the wheels of the planning machinery; but no reason need be given for this implied refusal of the application. Such a procedure will surely tend to deter well-meaning development by many public-spirited landowners. Surely they are entitled, at least if they give notice that they so desire it, to learn from the planning authority the reasons for the refusal of their application. I venture to hope that if an Amendment along those lines is put down to the Bill the Government will be good enough to give it serious consideration. I for my part welcome this Bill, and I welcome it, as Lord Gage welcomed it, as a member of a local authority, one which, I am proud to say, according to the testimony of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, has done as much as any local authority throughout England and Wales to carry out the intended objects of this Bill.
My Lords, in view of the retreat of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, according to plan, it is unnecessary for me to address your Lordships at any great length, but there are two matters to which I should like to refer arising out of the noble and learned Viscount's speech in moving the Second Reading. One is that I was extremely glad to hear him say that the Government were proceeding with the very greatest caution in their path towards the achievement of the recommendations mentioned in the Uthwatt Report. Had I been speaking on that Report I could have given a great many reasons for that caution, but there is one reason that I can give which I think is pertinent to this discussion and it is that while there has been quite a lot of irresponsible welcome to and acceptance of this Report, some of it perhaps has been due to what I think was a rather one-sided broadcast which there has been no opportunity to challenge.
The considered opinion of the country is by no means yet formed. This is a very technical and complicated subject. To give your Lordships an example: The Society of Writers to the Signet in Edinburgh has the reputation of giving its best efforts to forward the policy of whatever Government may be in power, and that. Society would not have composed an extremely temperate but extremely weighty criticism of that Report had it not felt that the subject demanded it. Going round amongst my friends—and I have a great many among town clerks and solicitors in country practice and people of that kind—I find that they have had no time to read the Report as they are short of staff, overworked, and working very long hours. Some of them, too, are a great age. When you draw their attention to the Report and almost force them to read it, one half of them are like the man who saw the elephant for the first time and turned away saying, "I do not believe it." What they say is that the Government will never put this into force.
There is one provision in this Bill which, whether your Lordships accept it or not, will really prove inoperative and that is Clause 13, subsection (2). That says that this Bill will not apply to Scotland. I have discussed the Uthwatt Report with every friend I have who is qualified to talk about it seriously, and with many 1028 people who I believe to be in the confidence of the Government. They all say one thing, and that is that if it is shown, as some people believe it can be shown, that the principle of planning is incompatible with the principle of private property and private ownership of houses, then private ownership will have to go, and if it goes in England it will go in Scotland. I think that is absolutely true, and that is another reason for the Government proceeding with the greatest caution along this path. The noble and learned Viscount, I am sure, is as well aware as I am that Scotland is the great country of the private ownership of housing. In my own burgh, one-third of the families own their houses; in Inverurie I believe two-thirds of the families own their houses; in Peterhead perhaps one-third. And so I could go through the burghs, and the burghs are the backbone of Scotland. If the proposals of the Uthwatt Report are carried out in their entirety you will be forced, as I shall show on a more appropriate occasion, practically to confiscate these houses, which are the property not of wealthy people but of the fathers and mothers of the men of the 51st Division and others of that kind. That will be a very serious step. If I knew England as well as I know Scotland, I could probably mention similar localities in that country. The nation has not yet formed its opinion on the Uthwatt Report, and I believe that every opportunity should be given for those who in these days are terribly overworked to form their opinion. Then the Government will be able to move forward feeling that they have behind them, not those who just shout when they see a pleasant picture at the moment, but the real weighty opinion of the country.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I will not keep you more than a few minutes, but I want to say a few words from the point of view of the local authorities. This Bill is, of course, a first instalment. It is excellent as far as it goes, but it does not refer to such important matters as the acquisition of land, compensation and betterment, the location of industry, the provision of National Parks and other matters which occupy an important position in the Uthwatt Report. Until the Uthwatt Report has received the consideration of a 1029 Government Committee and the proposals in it are adopted, naturally no provision can be made in a Town and Country Planning Bill for such proposals. Local authorities, although they have been told to get out planning schemes, cannot at present get on with that work. I would like to give one instance of how local authorities are being held up. After the German Road Delegation made their report in 1937, the Ministry said they were favourably impressed by it and that the whole matter would be carefully considered. It is only now, after some five years, that Mr. Noel Baker, at Bourne-mouth on May 21, stated that plans were well advanced for the construction of ring roads and radial arteries. Until local authorities know these plans and how the great trunk roads with their bypasses are to run, it is not possible to plan housing schemes anywhere near the possible line of such roads. I hope and trust that the road planning schemes will be completed by the Ministry with ail possible dispatch and the planning authorities throughout the country informed as soon as possible.
The present Bill is an excellent Bill and personally I welcome it very much. It is a valuable piece of legislation. The planning authorities will now have full powers, instead of interim powers, and the procedure with regard to taking over land is made much easier. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack rather passed over Clause 5, but Clause 5 is extremely important. I do not understand the matter myself, but I am advised that it is important because it is only right that the interim powers of the planning authority should be as good and strong as those in the scheme. I think I can sum up by saying that county planning committees are pleased with this first instalment, but they wish to impress on die Government that they cannot go ahead with planning with any certainty of permanence until all these things I have mentioned, which are dealt with in the Uthwatt and other Reports, have been brought before Parliament and a decision come to with regard to them. All they can do at present, and are doing, is to zone certain areas for residential and county council housing schemes and other areas for industry.
As a member of a Scottish local authority, I must confess to your Lordships that I feel some diffidence in speaking on 1030 an English Bill. I suppose that, after this Bill becomes law, another will be passed to cover Scotland with its presumed peculiarities. At the risk of being lynched by that small but noisy body who call themselves Scottish Nationalists, I say that it is annoying to read the text of an excellent piece of legislation and to see at the end "This Act does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland," knowing, as one does, that a considerable time may elapse before a Bill on the same lines will be introduced for Scotland. May I express the hope that the Government in the United Kingdom will see that Scotland gets this Bill as soon as possible after this Bill for England has gone through Parliament?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I ask leave to say, at the conclusion of this debate, that the Government are grateful for the reception which has been given to this measure and for the assurance that it will be supported in your Lordships' House. I will not go back to the more controversial matters raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel's reasoned Amendment—a form of Amendment which, I think, is more familiar in another place than in your Lordships' House. It has always seemed to me to afford a double satisfaction because you can be entirely in favour of the measure and extremely critical at the same time. That was, I think, the position my noble friend took up. The debate has been an interesting debate, and I would like to refer to one or two matters introduced in the course of it. First, I would say that the noble Earl who has just spoken certainly has the same liberty as any other noble Lord, even though he comes from Scotland, to take part in this debate. Of course, the reason why this Bill is a Bill for England only is that the Minister of Town and Country Planning is a Minister for England and Wales. As my noble friend knows very well, these matters are dealt with in Scotland through a different Department in a different way, but I am, I believe, quite justified in saying to him and others interested that a separate Bill, almost identical in its nature, will be introduced for Scotland at an early date.
My noble friend Viscount Gage made, if I may say so, a very interesting contribution to the debate, and I would wish to assure him that I will see that proper 1031 attention is given to what were valuable criticisms. Certainly it would be a great pity if this legislation should increase the complication of affairs. My own sympathies go with his view that one important thing to secure is simplicity in administration as well as continuity in policy. My noble friend Viscount Bledisloe also made what appeared to me a very valuable contribution and I gratefully endorse, if I may, what he said. Perhaps I did not sufficiently bring out that really the change effected by this Bill is not merely that the central authority, the Minister in London, is given additional powers, but he is put in a position in which he will influence and provoke, and it may be in proper cases originate along regular national lines, the policy which we are considering, so that in course of time the backward authorities may come up to the level of that local body of which my noble friend is a member.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, thought I had made a speech more in favour of the Bill than it deserves. Indeed, I gathered that he thought there is very little indeed that could honestly be said on behalf of the Bill, but that I had made the most of it. That is very flattering. I did not quite understand the analogy when he said that he hoped if he were in a similar situation he would have the benefit of my assistance. If ever I have the opportunity, I should say that so far from there being very little to be said in his favour there was a great deal to be said in his favour. I would like to tell my noble friend Lord Saltoun that I will look at Clause 13 (2) in the light of what he has said. At the moment I will not make any observations upon Clause 5. It is rather a technical matter, and I gather that the noble Earl may desire to have it described in a little more detail in Committee. I hope that your Lordships are now prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.