§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH had the following Notice on the Paper: In view of the danger of inflation of land values, and of delay in proceeding with the replanning and reconstruction of towns damaged by enemy action, to call attention to the recommendation of the Expert 628 Committee on Compensation and Betterment dated 25th April, 1941, to the effect that the compensation ultimately payable in respect of public acquisition of land, or of the public control of land, should not exceed sums based on the standard of value at 31st March, 1939; to call attention to the acceptance on 17th July, 1941, of that recommendation by Lord Reith, Minister of Works and Buildings, on behalf of the Government, and to the specific pledge of the introduction of legislation in due course by which that acceptance was accompanied; and to move, That in the opinion of this House it is essential that His Majesty's Government should introduce at an early date legislation covering as a minimum (1) power for local authorities to acquire compulsorily such areas as may be required for the purpose of essential replanning and reconstruction at prices related to pre-war values as recommended by the Uthwatt Report and as promised by the Government; (2) the prescribing of a simple and very speedy procedure on the lines suggested in the Uthwatt Report for the obtaining and exercise of such compulsory powers with right of entry in advance of settlement of claims to compensation.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the rather formidable-looking Motion standing in my name has been on the Paper now for some considerable time. It has taken its final shape as a result partly of the debate which took place in your Lordships' House on September 22, on the Motion of my noble friend opposite, Lord Latham, and partly as a result of a speech made by the Minister of Town and Country Planning a few weeks ago to an audience composed very largely of members of local authorities. The legislation which is asked for in this Motion is designed more particularly to help local authorities in the very difficult task with which they find themselves faced as regards reconstruction. I should like to tell your Lordships quite briefly, in plain language, what the Motion means, because I am afraid it is rather involved; but before I do that I wish to make clear something that the Motion does not contain, because there may be some misunderstanding, and I wish to remove, as far as possible, all reason for controversy.
§ My Motion does not cover the elaborate and perhaps controversial scheme of the Uthwatt Report in connexion with the global acquisition of development 629 rights. The Uthwatt Reports—there are two of them, the Interim Report and the Final Report—are very comprehensive documents and it is therefore difficult to refer to the Uthwatt Report without possibly creating some confusion, but in fact the Motion on the Paper deals specifically with three points and gives two reasons why it is urgent that the Government should take the action proposed. The first of the three points is what is briefly known as the 1939 ceiling. Your Lordships will remember that when Mr. Justice Uthwatt's Committee were appointed they were asked to report as a matter of urgency what should be done to prevent land speculation, and they did report within a space of weeks, and within another space of weeks the Government accepted the recommendation that in order to prevent speculation in land, land acquired for public authorities or for public control for reconstruction should be acquired as a maximum at the price ruling in March, 1939.
§ Partly owing to the delay and partly for other reasons, I think, there may be some headaches in the application of that principle of the 1939 ceiling. But the Government have accepted the principle and I hope they are going to apply it. The headaches in its application are, I suppose, a matter for the Government. What we had hoped was that, if there were headaches, they would be headaches for the land speculator, and we all hope so still. Whatever headaches there are I am quite sure they will be represented to your Lordships as the headaches of the widows and the orphans, because the land speculators have a habit of hiding behind the widow and the orphan. It is very dangerous to make a concession sometimes for that reason, because it will be found that it is the speculative gentleman who will reap the benefit. However, I hope the Government will say that they stick to the principle of the March, 1939, ceiling. We shall await with interest the method of its application.
§ The two other points in the Motion relate to the acquisition of land by, or on behalf of, local authorities. Many of the local authorities, particularly in the "blitzed" cities, are faced with great opportunities of reconstruction, and they all feel, I think without exception, that they must be armed with greater powers than they now have, both to acquire land en bloc and to 630 have a speedier procedure. I quite agree that at first sight a proposal that there should be power of entry in advance of settlement of claim for compensation appears rather drastic, but all those who have had experience of the acquisition of land by local authorities will know that, unless interminable delays are to take place, something of the kind is necessary. If the Government had passed this legislation eighteen months ago perhaps it would never have been necessary to be so drastic. The pledge was given thirty months ago, and one would have thought that that might have happened, but if we are now to wait eighteen months even after the passage of this legislation before the local authorities can get possession of the land, then indeed reconstruction will be long, and I believe fatally, delayed. The pledge has been given that there shall be this speedy procedure. Naturally we shall expect safeguards in it to avoid injustice, but speedy procedure is essential, and I hope to hear from the noble Lord who is to reply to-day that legislation is to be introduced.
§ There is nothing in this Motion, I think, that was not in the mind, at all events, of my noble friend Lord Latham in connexion with his Motion on September 22, and I need not cover the ground further on that score. On that day we listened, with the respect we always accord to him, to the noble Lord who replied for the Government—who gave us an oration, I should have said, in praise of procrastination. He did it very well. We always enjoy listening to the noble Lord. I have some reason to hope he may be a little happier to-day. I trust so at all events. I think he will be able to tell us something about the racehorse starting down the course to-day. So far we have only dealt with, and everything that is proposed in this Motion only concerns, local planning. I have given my noble friend private notice that I intend to ask him how the Government, assuming they are going to do what is suggested to-day, are going to fit that into the framework of national planning.
§ I am one of those who approach national planning from the point of view of housing. Many of your Lordships are perhaps more interested from the point of view of amenities—another very important matter—the protection of the coastline, the protection of beauty spots and so 631 on, all very important aspects of planning. But to my mind they are transcended by the importance of housing, because the real fact is that without national planning no effective policy of housing is possible. Housing is one of the most non-controversial things in Party politics to-day, and it is a matter of great regret to me that so many people who are keen about housing do not yet realize the fundamental fact that without planning this housing policy is quite unrealizable. I need not labour the point of the non-controversial nature of a practical housing policy for immediate application. If there is one thing that the men composing our Armies abroad are thinking about it is the homes to which they are going to return after the war, and any Government which lets down those hopes more than is necessary —because they will be let down, as the prospect of immediate housing after the war is now remote—will meet with very grave condemnation. We all welcome the Prime Minister's new slogan, which he gave us yesterday, "Food, work and homes." Nothing could be better. Food and work depend upon efficient planning in industry, and so do the homes. National planning, I submit to your Lordships, is necessary for all three.
§ Let me remind your Lordships of the position between the wars, because some people seem to think that they have nothing to do but go back to what we were doing before the war and all will be well. We were then building a great number of houses. Something like four million houses were built between the wars; two-thirds, I may remind your Lordships in passing, by private enterprise, and about one-third, a very necessary contribution, by local authorities. If national planning had been in operation at the end of the last war the result would have been infinitely better than it was. Just consider the results of the inter-war building effort. In 1918 our towns were already too big and too congested. By 1932 they were devastatingly bigger and even more congested. Traffic was approaching a state of deadlock in 1939, and nobody can contemplate the renewal of unlimited motoring on the roads and in our towns without grave forebodings as to the consequences both in loss of life and in industrial inefficiency, because these delays are very serious from the point of view of national 632 efficiency. Ribbon development—a most wasteful form of development—was, it is fair to say, only stopped by the war. Millions of people had been turned into strap-hangers at enormous cost to them in time and in money.
§ Worst of all—this is the feature which appalls me more than anything else—was the way the towns were divorced from the countryside. There is a horrible word which was coined, I think, by the Barlow Commission, "conurbation." It is a horrible word, but it pictures the most hateful feature of the towns. It must be a matter of regret to all who love the majesty and might of London and its grandeur that there should be this urbanization of its population. The evacuation at the beginning of the war threw a lurid light on the effects of urbanization on our population. No population can stand more than a certain percentage being crammed into conurbations. Unless we can do something to check this the future is black indeed. Every nation must have a healthy rural population, and that is why we need a healthy agriculture. That is the other side of the medal. Unless the towns can always have contact with the country and with the revitalizing and revivifying influences of the country, then indeed we are heading for disaster. I conclude on that score that to get houses where we want them, and of the kind we want, we simply must check the growth of the great urban conglomerations.
That leads me to the second question I want to put to my noble friend. Do the Government accept the unanimous conclusions of the Barlow Report on this subject? These conclusions are quite concise, and I will read them in abbreviated form to your Lordships. Unanimously the Commission accept the following conclusions. They say that national action directed by a Central Authority is necessary with three objectives:
(a) Continued and further redevelopment of congested urban areas, where necessary.
(b) Decentralization or dispersal, both of industries and industrial population, from such areas.
(c) Encouragement of a reasonable balance of industrial development, so far as possible, throughout the various divisions or regions of Great Britain, coupled with appropriate diversification of industry in each division or region throughout the country.
The Barlow Commission add:
The continued drift of the industrial population to London and the Home Counties constitutes a social, economic and strategical problem which demands immediate attention.
The Central Authority, whether advisory or executive, should … examine forthwith and formulate the policy or plan to be adopted in relation to decentralization or dispersal from congested urban areas…
What we want to know is whether the Government accept these conclusions, and if so what is their policy in order to give effect to them?
§ In that case I would also like to know, in relation to the control of the location of industry, what are the relative roles in this matter of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Planning, because I have seen in the Press references to surveys of the Special Areas being made by the Board of Trade. The approach to national planning of industry by way of the Special Areas is in my submission wrong. The only hope is to regard the development of our whole industry from the national point of view, and to endeavour to promote the greatest efficiency from the top and not in relation to the Special Areas. My noble friend Viscount Ridley, who speaks with greater authority on this matter than I do, will, I hope, have more to say about that. It must surely be the policy to develop our greatest natural national asset, which is coal, and I understand that with the great development of plastics, if national industrial policy can be regarded from that point of view, there is great hope of bringing that great asset once more into its proper place. I know there is great apprehension amongst industrialists on the score of planning, though I believe it to be ill-founded. I see no reason why it should be necessary to dictate to industry where it should go. I believe the policy of barring the congested areas would lead in time to the results which we desire.
§ I would like to make one reference to the speech which I have already mentioned of the Minister of Town and Country Planning because he said something which interested me. He said among other things that there was bound to be some delay before the planning machine left the ground and became airborne. That is interesting, because when the Minister without Portfolio moved the Second Reading of the Bill creating the Minister of Town and Country Planning 634 he said it was going to mount him on a racehorse. We know that the racehorse showed some disinclination to face the starting gate and has never made great speed down the course. If the Ministry of Planning is now to become an aircraft I should like to ask what role the Minister is casting himself for in the aeroplane. Is he going to be the pilot or is he only going to be a passenger? So far the evidence is that he is only a passenger. If the Minister is going to be a passenger in the aircraft piloted by somebody from the Board of Trade I do not think he will ever get off the ground. In those circumstances I think he would do better to stick to his racehorse. Perhaps my noble friend will enlighten us on that point. If the Minister of Town and Country Planning is only going to be a passenger in an aeroplane, what was the good of appointing him at all? Why not leave things as they were? I mention that as an argument in favour of national planning. This matter has to be treated nationally.
§ I wish to mention to your Lordships another essay in planning which illustrates the same point; that is the great London County Council plan for London. Now this plan, in my opinion, has many very admirable features; in fact, I think it is a very fine achievement to have produced it at all. The proposal for the ring roads is very fine. The conception of the industrial and cultural precincts is magnificent. The whole treatment of the river front is inspiring. But the plan has been offered for criticism, and the only criticism I wish to make is on the subject of densities. I shall not elaborate the subject because it is, perhaps, not too much to hope that we may one day have a debate upon it even in your Lordships' House. I hope that my noble friend and his advisers will reconsider the question of densities. There are three densities per acre at which the population is to be housed—100 to the acre, 136 to the acre, and 200 to the acre. At 100 to the acre, broadly speaking, it is to be fifty-fifty houses and flats; at 136 to the acre it is to be, broadly speaking, 33 per cent. houses and 66 per cent. flats; at 200 to the acre it is to be 100 per cent. flats. That is the apotheosis of the flat, and I do not think it is practicable. I do not believe that you will ever get 100 per cent. of your population to live in flats.
§ There are three attributes that I think we want in our homes of the future— children, gardens and privacy. None of 635 them are notable attributes of the flat. I am not saying that you can do without flats altogether; of course you cannot. Flats are, in my opinion, a necessary evil, but they ought to be kept within bounds. I am horrified to see that the whole of the Central and West Central area, including some of the parts of Kensington, is zoned for development at 200 to the acre, or more at the discretion of the County Council, and it is anticipated that the whole of that development will be in the form of eight-or ten-storey flats. To be fair to this plan, perhaps the authors do not mean that to be carried out in its entirety for there is a reference to the Campden Hill part of the area, which is to be zoned in this way, in which it is described as having a mellow beauty of its own which might be spoiled by injudicious planning. That is to be found in another part of the Report. As I am sure your Lordships will understand, I am offering my tribute of praise to the London plan, subject to further reconsideration, I hope, on this one point. And the point I want to make to-day is that the plan should be related to national planning, because surely it is quite a waste of time for the London County Council to try to settle the future population of their area except within the framework of national planning, and some overruling plan as to where industry is to go and as to where industry is to be allowed to spread and multiply in that area.
§ Yet a further point in connexion with national planning which must receive great consideration is finance. In my opinion in finance we have the crux of planning and the clue to its successful carrying out. Many things in planning are just as much national as local—roads, densities, "blitzed" areas. Nobody can say that there is not national responsibility for all of those, and in every case, I believe, local authorities will need financial help. Planning, if it is carried out from a national point of view, may mean the transfer of land values, and local authorities cannot face up to that by themselves. My hope is that the Government will, in due course, come to the conclusion that some rather large scheme of purchase with Exchequer funds is called for. I think it is a national matter, and that national funds should be applied to the solution of this problem. I would like to see this land made available prob- 636 ably at lower prices for the benefit of local authorities. It would not represent a total loss, for quite clearly there would be a large saving in the housing subsidies which would have to be paid if land could be made available at a lower cost. The cost of housing people at proper rents would be met in that way instead of by direct housing subsidies.
§ That raises another point which is also very important—the ownership of this publicly-owned land. I hope that the Government are thinking in whom that ownership ought to be vested. I do not think, and I speak, I hope, not impolitely, that either the Treasury or the local authorities, on their past records, are very satisfactory land owners. What you want is the point of view of good estate management, and that is a very long-term point of view. All your Lordships will recollect the criticism which was incurred by the Treasury under the Ribbon Development Act, when they were inclined to formulate their policy so as to force quick development of the frontage, a thing which most of us thought was wrong. Some of the local authorities, admirable as they are in many ways, have been known to sell land surplus to requirements, and buy it back at a very much increased price for road widening some years later. The question is where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding? The solution may not be easy, but I think that some form of trusteeship might well be devised to try to ensure really good estate management.
§ This is my final word. We must never forget that good planning, that is good estate management, pays. Critics have said that the London plan is ridiculous because it will cost thousands of millions of pounds. So it may, and over fifty years it will still be a good investment. Quite apart from the cash return—and I believe a cash return will come—there would be the immense intangible benefits which would result from successful planning. The waste of human efficiency in our present arrangements is frightful. Your Lordships are familiar with the waste of time and of everything else involved in the muddled arrangements from which we suffer. Thousands of millions of pounds are going to be spent, whether we like it or not, and it seems to me folly to spend them other than in a way which will provide a satisfactory return. We 637 all welcomed the great slogan of the Prime Minister yesterday, as I have already said, and I think we can all feel greater certainty than ever that this is the Government which will go down in history as having led us to victory under the inspiring leadership of the Prime Minister. But my last word to the Government is this: it will take all the Prime Minister's unique drive and initiative if in the field of reconstruction, after all this delay, they are not to go down in history as "the Government which missed the bus." I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is essential that His Majesty's Government should introduce at an early date legislation covering as a minimum (1) power for local authorities to acquire compulsorily such areas as may be required for the purpose of essential replanning and reconstruction at prices related to pre-war values as recommended by the Uthwatt Report and as promised by the Government; (2) the prescribing of a simple and very speedy procedure on the lines suggested in the Uthwatt Report for the obtaining and exercise of such compulsory powers with right of entry in advance of settlement of claims to compensation.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
My Lords, I want to support the point of view which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has put forward. The two matters which he has taken from the Uthwatt Report can by themselves, I think, immediately be put into operation, without any need to discuss or to settle the larger and more controversial questions to which he has referred. Many of your Lordships will have knowledge and experience of the work done by local authorities in attempting to plan, and of the impossibility which they find of coming to any definite conclusion until they know whether or not they can obtain land for certain purposes and the sort of expenditure to which they will be committed. In peace-time there was a good deal of experience of the system necessary for developments which went ahead slowly far the provision of houses, schools, and so on. There was a system of compulsory purchase for specific objects, but it led to endless delays and difficulties in any concerted effort to attack the problem which then had to be faced, and it is generally felt by most local 638 authorities that the problems with which they will be faced after the war are going to be very much greater and will require a much more effective piece of machinery.
The question of the quickness or otherwise of the procedure for the acquisition of land by local authorities seems to me to be largely a legal matter, which would have to be determined on the basis of the need of the authorities for the land, while at the same time the rights of the owners of the land (whether they be citizens or companies or corporations of some kind) to express their opinions and at least state their case are safeguarded. It must be clearly implied in any such legislation that those rights remain, but the machinery must operate in as quick and effective a manner as possible. In general, I have not found much criticism of the proposal for the stabilization of land values as at 1939. It is felt, I think, that, at any rate for the time being, that is a fairly effective, rough-and-ready method of doing justice which would meet the objections of those who might cavil, and I think quite rightly, at the more complicated and obscure procedure outlined in the remainder of the Uthwatt Report. As to the question of whether or not it is desirable or necessary that the special considerations asked for in this Motion should be applied only in the case of excessive damage in bombed cities, or whether they could be universally applied to all local authorities who wish to carry out general development, I do not quite know the answer, but it seems to me that, once the principle is established, this is a system which would work, whether it is for the specific purpose of quickly re-planning a bombed town or whether it is for the purpose of developing an area in a normal way.
In connexion with this question of rebuilding, the noble Lord has extended his speech rather beyond the Motion on the Paper, and has given a very complete review of many aspects of what we call planning. He has referred to the problems raised by the Barlow Report, and to considerations relating to the national planning of industry. It is unfortunately true that not only is there a great opportunity for replanning, due to the damage which has been done by bombs in our cities, but there is also a great necessity for the replanning of industry, due to the development which has happened during the war for meeting 639 war needs. A great many changes have taken place in the location and organization of industry in this country, due to the necessity of making certain products for war requirements. It is unfortunately true that, in meeting this necessity, no real consideration has been given to the local problems involved, or understanding shown of the necessity to see that industry in various parts of the country is properly adjusted. We can accept that as a fact and as having been necessary, but we must also, I think, accept the necessity that the Government must see that such conditions are put right afterwards.
This is very pertinent to the question of planning by local authorities, because even in regard to housing it is quite impossible for any local authority to decide how many houses to build and where to build them until they are satisfied, to some extent at any rate, as to where people are going to work and whether or not they are going to find continuous employment in that district. Similarly, with regard to transport, roads, education, health and so on, these considerations apply, and it seems to me that this question of the national planning of industry is at the bottom of all activities connected with rebuilding. I do not quite agree with the distinction which is made between saying that the planning of industry should be based on the Special Areas and saying that it should be based on the country as a whole, because to my mind the problem is identical in its nature whether it is approached in the one way or the other. I take the view that when looking forward we must accept the principle that the object should be that work should be in some way guided to those parts of the country where the people live. Whether it is approached as a problem concerning the Special Areas or as a problem affecting the whole country, it seems to me that the operation will be very much the same.
There is a danger, I think, that too much talk and thought about planning may lead to delay in action, while too little, on the other hand, may lead to doing something wrong. It is in practice extremely difficult to find the right level between the two and to choose the right method of approach to the problem. When the question of the national planning of the location of industry is con- 640 sidered, there are, in addition to the question of population, to which I have referred, such matters to be considered as natural resources, transport, communication, imports and exports, and the types of manufacture to be concentrated on in the various trades. Those factors seem to me to demand consideration for each trade as applied to the country as a whole, and with proper notice taken of international arrangements. Nevertheless, in each trade, whatever is decided as to the method of manufacture or the objects of any process which may be carried out, there is no escape from the conclusion that the place where the work is done, and the way in which the work is done, do have in the end a tremendous effect on the lives of the people who live there. For that reason I do not see how any national consideration of the planning of industry can depart from the view that the local considerations must in the end be the guide as to exactly how the problem is to be solved.
The housing question is an extremely good example. There are a number of places in some of the older coal-mining areas which have extremely bad housing, which requires rebuilding. Under the present law a rural district council can only build under the Slum Clearance and Overcrowding Act in its own particular area, though it seems to be pretty clear that in such an area there is no more work. It is not possible according to that Act to make any local adjustments, and to try to concentrate population in local centres where it is possible in fact to hope that varieties of industrial employment can be provided. Things of that sort show that there is a need for a close contact between those responsible for administration by local authorities, and those who are or who will be responsible for thinking where industrial activities should be guided to.
On the question of the Barlow Report the conclusions which the noble Lord has quoted are, I think, pretty clear as to policy, but the actual recommendations made in that Report were rather more obscure. There was a general intention that the method of control of the location of industry should be by a definite prohibition of certain areas, rather than by specific instructions that any industry should start in any other area, but there 641 was some hesitation about the recommendation on that point. In fact, the Report mainly concerned itself with a scheme for preventing the further growth of the London industrial area. One can say that more areas than one would have to be included, and it is widely held that some such system of negative prohibition is in fact that which it may be hoped can over a period of time become effective. I believe that if it is worked in a reasonable and practical way it is one which industry would accept. And in saying that I believe that the machinery by which it should be worked will have a very great deal to do with the success of any such experiment. Whatever Government Department it may be that is responsible for the carrying out of policy in this direction it seems to me essential that the working part of the machinery should be effectively centralized, and the Department should be advised and guided by well-informed people having connexions with local industry, so that there may be a real contact between the machinery and the people who will be affected by it.
Without wishing to suggest that we must plan everything before we can do anything, I do suggest that the first thing to be thought of is how and where people are to work, and then you can plan how they are to live and be educated and looked after, and so on. I say most emphatically that, although one cannot expect at this stage of the war, or indeed probably at any stage of the war, that any actual work can be done in the shape of erection of buildings or whatever is required, I do think that it is more than time that the problem should be considered. Not only should the Government decide how they are going to face up to it, but they should begin to do so, and it should also be widely known that that is being done. I believe that there is anxiety among people of all classes as to what is going to be the future of employment, where they may expect to find homes and work. In order that they should be assured on these points, it is not enough to make a general statement, but there should be some sort of demonstration of the fact that the problem is being seriously considered. I repeat, I do not for a moment suggest that one may hope that any actual work in the way of building and so on can be done now, but I do believe that that psychological side 642 of it is of the very greatest importance. I want to support the noble Lord's Motion.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion which was submitted to your Lordships' House in a most impressive speech by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Under the latitud-inarian procedure of your Lordships' House the mover of the Motion was able to traverse many fields of related policy, including consideration of certain aspects of the County of London plan. I should like to express my appreciation of the kindly references which he made to that plan. I shall not follow him into a discussion of the vexed and complicated question of densities. Already there is outside your Lordships' House a pretty vociferous public debate going on, and I would not, here at all events, wish to intervene in that debate. There are many matters other than and including density which will fall to be considered by the London County Council in connexion with the County of London plan, and Lord Balfour can rest assured that his views and the views of others on density will receive appropriate consideration.
The Motion before your Lordships' House deals substantially with the two points on which I submitted a Motion here on September 22, and I propose to confine myself to the need for speedy action on the part of the Government, not only in connexion with implementing their declarations as to the 1939 ceiling and as to the acquisition of reconstruction areas as units, but also with regard to other amendments of the law which are essential if the procedure of acquisition by local authorities is to be simplified and made more expeditious. It is, I think, fair to say that not only did the Government declare through their accredited Minister at the time that they accepted the 1939 ceiling and also the principle that reconstruction areas could be acquired as a whole, but they declared through the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, that local planning authorities must have their powers strengthened now. "Now" relates to July 17, 1941. Apart from the Interim Development Act, which deals only with interim procedure, there has been no strengthening of the powers of the local planning authorities. The object of the Motion before your Lordships' House is, I gather, to press again that this procrastination, 643 so beloved of my noble friend Lord Snell, shall be put an end to, and that local authorities shall be given the powers they were promised by the Government 28 months ago.
I was interested and gratified at the reference by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh to the problem of housing. I doubt whether it is recognized generally in this country what a very grave and serious situation will face the country as regards housing after the war. It is so grave as almost to forbid thinking about. For over four years there has been no building of dwellings, for over four years there has practically been no maintenance and repair work done, for at least three years there has been serious overcrowding of many dwellings in cities, in urban areas, and indeed in some rural districts as well. Nothing so destroys a dwelling as overcrowding. If you put two families into a dwelling designed to accommodate one, you have started on the road to making that dwelling a slum. Accordingly we shall be faced with the accumulated arrears flowing from the absence of building new accommodation, the failure to maintain and repair, and the existing and increasing deterioration resulting from overcrowding of hundreds of thousands of dwellings throughout the country. The problem that will face the country is one which is properly described as immense.
There will be no real hope of building a hundred thousand dwellings in the first year after the war, as contemplated by the Minister of Health, unless planning and housing authorities are given now the powers that will enable them to prepare, so that the moment the word "Go" is uttered, they can set the machine in motion. If on the footing that, under the pressure of returning population to the cities, under the pressure of the increasing number of families, although not necessarily an increasing number of children, local authorities are left to provide any sort of housing accommodation without plan, without careful consideration, then their efforts will defeat proper planning for the next generation. These are the considerations which lead local authorities up and down the country to deplore the failure of the Government to implement its undertakings. Those of us who listened to the reply of my noble friend Lord Snell on September 22 were somewhat disturbed 644 by its nature. Our misgivings were in no sense allayed or diminished when we had an opportunity of carefully reading in the Official Report what he had said, because from that it was seen that the Government did not properly consider the implications of their declarations made two years ago. We admit the difficulty which my noble friend Lord Snell mentioned as to the landowner whose land is required for public services being at a disadvantage compared with the landowner whose land is not required, but surely that was in the mind of the Government when the declaration was made. I cannot believe that the Government were so unwise as to permit this declaration to be made without being fully seized of what it meant.
Lord Snell went on to say that property has been acquired under the necessity of war-time activity at scarcity values. That is undoubtedly the case, but every day that passes without this power being given increases the risk of this acquisition at scarcity value levels. People in the rural districts, who know the situation, inform me that the amount of speculation going on in rural land is entitled to the description of "scandalous." Every day that passes without the Government implementing this declaration, makes the situation worse and increases the difficulties. My noble friend Lord Snell went on to say that, after all, local authorities know they can go ahead with their planning, and that they know also that the prices which will prevail will not be above the 1939 ceiling. No self-respecting responsible local authority can go on and enter into commitments on the faith of that Ministerial declaration, which has no force of law and no force of protection for them. It is the case, as those concerned with planning know only too well, that local authorities are prevented from getting ahead with their planning because of the uncertainty with regard to what their powers will be. My noble friend Lord Snell went on to say, furthermore, that local authorities can proceed with the preparatory work for reconstruction with full confidence that legislation will be introduced which will enable them to enter into possession of such land as may be required by them for the purpose of reconstruction. There again, I submit to your Lordships, no local authority can proceed to acquire land on that basis. Many local authorities, not unnaturally, 645 are reluctant to publish their plans because of the uncertainty which exists both as to the price they will have to pay for land and as to the powers they will have of getting possession.
It is not only that we press the Government to pass into legislation the two acceptances of principle of July, 1941, but also that they should simplify by legislation the existing procedure of acquisition and compensation. For instance, as the Motion says, the local authorities ask that they should be empowered to enter into possession before the question of compensation is finally settled. That may seem, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh said, a rather thorough-going proposal. It is; but it is because the local authorities have to face a thorough-going situation. Those of us who have, in peace-time, been concerned with planning and the acquisition of property, know that it takes from one month to twenty-four months before a local authority can get possession under existing legislation. That largely results from the circumstance that before possession can be obtained settlement has to be made for compensation among what may amount to a multitude of owners even in respect of a relatively-speaking small site in a big city or in a built-up urban area. Under war-time conditions, if the Government need a property they requisition and enter into possession before (a) they stipulate the rent they will pay, or (b) if they propose to acquire, the price they will pay. Whilst I would not suggest as a normal procedure that what is necessary in wartime can be found to be desirable in peacetime, I do suggest that the problems facing the country in connexion with planning are such as warrant that kind of power being given to local authorities as regards acquisition and entering into possession.
There is also the recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee that the existing powers of acquisition should be largely extended. They are at present, as my noble friend Lord Ridley said, limited to specific and declared purposes, and that limitation is very restrictive upon local authorities who may not have a particular purpose in mind at any particular moment in respect of a site which is adjoining a site that they must acquire, and therefore they cannot acquire that adjoining site though they know that it 646 would be desirable to have it if there is to be wise long-term planning of the area in question. Accordingly, the Uthwatt Committee recommended that local authorities should be given power to purchase for general planning purposes; that they should be given power to acquire in advance of requirements (which they cannot now do unless they have special powers of private legislation); that they should be given the power to acquire land for reinstatement of displaced industry or displaced other buildings, displacement flowing from the necessity of planning; and that they should also be empowered to acquire for the purposes of recoupment —that is to say, to acquire more land than may be essential to the carrying out of particular projects in order that by developing adjacent land some contribution by way of recoupment to the cost may be secured.
Moreover, the Uthwatt Committee also recommended that there should be a simplification of the methods of assessing compensation. Let us not imagine that the mere enactment that local authorities can acquire land at a price based on the standard of March, 1939, is going to solve all the problems of compensation or all the problems of proper and fair price which the public should pay for land. It would be most unwise to assume that such an abundant benefit would flow from any such enactment. The Uthwatt Committee were sensible of that and made recommendations designed to simplify the procedure of assessment of compensation, and also the assessment of compensation for what is technically known as injurious affection—namely, injury which it is established or is assumed is done to the property owner because the local authority has carried out a scheme of redevelopment or of replanning. Those recommendations, it seems to me, involve no highly controversial issues from the discussion of which the Government seem to have forbidden themselves, but are proposals for improving the machinery essential for planning.
It is now fourteen months since the Final Report of the Uthwatt Committee was published. There have been seven Ministers up to the moment concerned with planning. Only abundant charity prevents one making reference to seven maids and seven mops, but there have been seven Ministers who have all in turn (some of them, maybe, out of 647 turn), made wise and sometimes encouraging declarations, but nothing more except the Interim Development Act. There are many things that local authorities can do but they really cannot live on declarations. They cannot discharge their duties merely by reading or listening to Ministerial declarations. They must be given the powers that are necessary for their purposes.
And I would, in conclusion, say that not only is it essential for the local authorities to have these powers, it is essential for industry that they should have them, and I was gratified to hear Lord Ridley's remarks in that connexion. Immediately hostilities cease, it may be immediately they cease in Europe, there will be an avalanche of applications from private owners of dwellings, blocks of flats, shops, and factories, all of them wanting to know what they can do in regard to their own premises which may have been destroyed or damaged, which they may need to enlarge, which they may need to improve, and they will ask the local authorities what they can do. Well, unless we know ourselves what they are to be permitted to do, we shall be unable to answer those questions. Every planning authority will be overwhelmed with such applications and it will be necessary, if those applications are to be dealt with without considerable delay, that local authorities should know some months in advance what their own powers of planning and of planning control will be, otherwise you will be putting a barrier in the way of the resumption of normal peace-time activities.
Not unnaturally it will be the desire of every one of us to get back as soon as possible on to the road and into the ways of peace. That will express itself in urgency, in impatience at any frustration or obstruction. In my view, unless planning powers are conferred in advance, and local authorities, private individuals, industrialists and business men, know in advance what they can do, the pressure will be so great that no regulation will be possible and we shall have worse consequences after this war than we suffered after the last. There will be patchwork development, there will be higgledypiggledy development, there will be uncontrolled development—each being permitted to do as he pleases. If that occurs it will 648 be a great reproach upon us and it will make any effective planning quite impossible for over a generation.
I hope that to-day the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government can give us something more comforting than an essay upon the values of delay. I hope, for instance, he is now able to give us the information which I will not say he promised but which he indicated he might be able to give with regard to the Scott Report. The noble Lord will remember that in his speech on September 22 he said:A draft Government statement on the Scott Report is now under immediate consideration and the Government will be ready to make a statement about that matter, I hope, within the next two or three weeks.Six weeks have gone by. So far as I know there has been no Government statement. I hope that my noble friend Lord Snell can make that statement to-day. If he cannot I am bound to say it is another condemnation of the Government. It is an indication that the Government do not yet realize the urgency of this matter and the importance which local authorities attach to it. Though it was, of course, encouraging to hear the Prime Minister yesterday refer to food, work and homes, the problems of food, work and homes are not solved by declarations even when they be made by our great Prime Minister. They can only be solved by preparation, by planning, and as regards homes the most important thing the Government can do is to give immediately adequate powers to local authorities to get on with that planning.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, we have listened to a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who is without doubt the acknowledged authority on these matters, unless perhaps my noble friend Lord Snell can claim prior place. I am sure we were all touched by his answer to the question of the Walrus. The answer was "He shed a bitter tear." I speak on the assumption that Lord Snell will wipe away that tear. The speech of the Prime Minister yesterday took the bottom out of the speeches that anybody proposed to make on this subject excepting the mover of the Motion, Lord Balfour, who made a speech so good that I was going to say it was the best ever heard in this world or the next, but perhaps I had better say in this House or in 649 another place. We have had surprising unanimity so far when we find a Conservative Peer moving a Motion urging the solution of this problem of how to combine progress with an ordered way of solving the problem of the land on which the homes of the people must stand, supported by another Conservative Peer, supported by the Leader of the London County Council who, although he is non-Party in this matter, is believed to have Socialist tendencies, and supported by all of us on these Benches, including my noble friend the Marquess of Crewe, who unfortunately is laid by with a cold but who begged me yesterday to say on his behalf how heartily he supports the Motion moved by Lord Balfour.
This unanimity only shows how far we have gone towards solving this tremendous problem, the magnitude of which, as Lord Latham said, one can hardly exaggerate. Like so many of your Lordships, I have been through two wars and I remember vividly what we thought then. The one thing we wanted was to get back to our homes, and if we had not got a home we wanted to have one built. So it is to-day. Therefore it is a good thing that in this House we should devote a non-Party sitting to discussing how we can get on with the job. I am assuming from what the Prime Minister said yesterday that the Government will accept in principle this Motion, that they will say—possibly without committing themselves to the particular terms of the Uthwatt Report—that they now boldly proclaim that they will give authority to local councils to go ahead with the acquisition of land for the purpose of housing. I presume they will add that a Central Planning Authority shall be set up at once so that local authorities may consult with that authority and may make arrangements to acquire land at a price which will not exceed £x settled by arbitration on the lines of the Uthwatt Report. If that be so none will be more gratified than those who sit on these Benches and none will more heartily support the Government in that matter.
If I am right in my assumption perhaps I may be permitted to say a few things about the Central Planning Authority. I think that my noble friend Lord Addison, who in days past had more to do with such matters than any other Minister, will be with me when I say that it would be a 650 mistake to allow local authorities to go ahead and do everything they like in their own way. Opposed as I am to centralization, I am sure that in this matter there must be a central authority. I speak especially for two great local authorities, Portsmouth and Southampton, who, like other local authorities, are anxious to get ahead and wish to make all their plans. But I do not think even such enlightened local authorities should be allowed to have it all their own way.
There are three things the Central Planning Authority must insist on. One of them by noble friend Lord Crewe begged me especially to stress. He said, "Through all my fifty years of public life I have seen, not only in my capacity as a politician but as a country dweller in the neighbourhood of big towns, that there is a danger that local authorities, however well meaning, will be tempted to cover the whole area they acquire compulsorily with buildings irrespective of certain elementary duties which they ought to bear in mind. One thing which does not sound so important for the moment, but which becomes of vital importance as time goes on, is the provision of open spaces in the plan and the maintenance of open spaces that already exist." If I may dwell on that point for one moment it is to say that the need for open spaces and playgrounds is known to be more urgent than it was before. In the debate in your Lordships' House yesterday it was the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, I think, who pointed out the terrible state of children evacuated from the big towns. A fact which I have learnt from the Women's Voluntary Services is that all the cases of children so extremely ill-cared for that they shocked the people amongst whom they came in the rural areas were from the congested areas with no open spaces. Light and air while the children are playing about have an extraordinary effect upon children. If you take a view of the whole of this country—so the Women's Voluntary Services expert told me—and wish to find where the greatest numbers of what are called verminous children are to be found, without exception you will find them in those areas, marked on certain maps which we know of, where there are practically no open spaces. Therefore, I believe that that is a matter with which a Central Planning Authority should insist upon dealing.
651 The second point which I would ask my noble friend Lord Snell to bear in mind, and perhaps to bring to the notice of others, relates to what I think is the greatest essential of all—water. Over and over again in the past, developments have taken place which have only had the result of driving more and more people from the country into the towns—the very thing you want to avoid. And why has this occurred? Looking over this Uthwatt Report, which I have here, I see hardly a reference to it, but I think that what happens is this. The local authority of a town proceeds to develop its water supply in order to supply the urban area which it has created, and in so doing it robs the surrounding country of water. The result is the exact opposite of what it was hoped to achieve. You house a number of people in your urban area, and you deliberately attract others into it whom you had hoped would stay outside. By the very fact that you rob the surrounding country of water by your scheme of developing the water supply, deepening wells and so forth, you draw people from this desiccated area into your town. I have no doubt that my noble friend on the Front Bench could quote many instances. I can give him some. That is the second point which I ask Lord Snell to make a note of with a view to some action being taken.
Water experts have told me that enough water falls on this country to provide for the needs of a population six times as large as the present population, at a very moderate expense. A water power expert from Sweden, who knows about these things, said it seemed to him most extraordinary that here in England we have vast areas which are almost deprived of water, so that it is called a drought when there has been no rain for 27 days—that, I think, is the period. Then people all over the country can be seen going about in carts and carrying pails to fetch water, to their infinite discomfort and very likely to the jeopardy of their health; yet all the time, as the Swedish expert pointed out, by the expenditure of a very small amount, you could make a water grid for the whole country in the same way that you have made a water grid in connexion with the development of electrical power. A water grid such as this would serve the whole country, and would give people living in the country a much better chance than they have now. Will my noble 652 friend Lord Snell lay before the appropriate authority this plea, that in planning water will not be forgotten, so that something which is now obviously wrong may soon be put right.
The third point is one on which I again consulted a great expert. It is a point of enormous importance. If we are to provide these homes, to which reference has been made, and which the Prime Minister dramatically promised in his speech yesterday, we must somehow ensure that building materials shall not rise in price when the war ends and the demand becomes insistent and, as Lord Latham I think said, gigantic. The controls which are exercised over food, materials and other things now must be maintained at all hazards, and measures must be taken by the Government, not only by way of control, but also, I think, by the deliberate importation—even at the risk of people going a little hungry—of building materials, so that homes can be provided at a cost in materials which will make many things possible which would otherwise be impossible. The controversy about whether you should have State enterprise or private enterprise for housing has now, like so many controversies, vanished in the stress of war. I think that everybody is agreed that we want both forms of enterprise. We all see the vast importance of builders, small as well as big, coming in to help. You cannot leave it to the State to decree the building of houses. I was told only yesterday by a great man— whose name I will give to my noble friend, because it carries considerable weight— that if the building trade as a whole were assured by the Government that prices would be stabilized so far as it would be possible to stabilize them, hardly any housing problem would arise. It would be found, he said, that the building trade had got their plans made for complete co-operation with the local authorities throughout the country. In the presence of danger there is no doubt that there will be complete co-operation.
There is one final point which I know that one or two of my friends here have in mind. In this Motion there is a reference to the danger of inflation of values. "Quite," say some of my friends, "that is a danger, but what about the standard of value of 1939? What about the inflation of the pound? Will that not make all these owners shy off and say 653 'You cannot expect us to acquiesce in arrangements by which we may be bought up at a price which we never thought was fair?'" I believe there is a complete answer to that. We have the declaration of the Government, including the striking declaration of the Prime Minister himself, that every possible step will be taken to see that there is no inflation. I will go further, and say that we have it in our power ourselves to see that there is not if we say unanimously "We will not throw our money away," and if we take all the steps that the pundits tell us are necessary in order to avoid inflation. In that case inflation will not come about, and in any event we all stand together. There is no risk in saying that it is a question of an arbitrated value based on 1939, because the whole principle which the Government have adopted is that it shall be based on an arbitration taking everything into consideration. On the whole, therefore, I think that it is a sound plan, and my noble friends and I cordially support the noble Lord's Motion. I would beg the noble Lord, however, to bear in mind the three particular points which I have ventured to bring before the House, in the hope that they will make easier still the rehabilitation of the countryside and the building of houses for the people.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, the interesting debate to which we have had the pleasure of listening ranges over a very large area, and there is hardly anything that we cannot discuss on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Accordingly, anyone who wishes to compress his remarks within a reasonable time is bound to limit what he says to particular points. I should like, however, to begin by saying that I agree completely and whole-heartedly with what my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has said with reference to the necessity of planning, and how important it is when for so many years since 1066 we have gone on almost without any planning at all, that after the present war the rebuilding and reconstruction of the country should be in accordance with sound planning. I should also like to say that I am whole-heartedly in agreement with my noble friend Lord Latham that probably the most important thing to be done when the war comes to an end is to deal with the vital question of 654 housing, and to put our people into decent houses in which they can live without overcrowding.
My only object to-day, however, is to point out certain dangers into which I think the Government may easily run in connexion with the Uthwatt Report. I admire, although I do not entirely agree with, the analogy of the racehorse used by Lord Balfour of Burleigh—the racehorse on a prepared race-track without, as I understand it, any hurdles. For my part, if I were to describe the position of the Government it would be rather as that of a seaman conducting a ship in stormy weather through seas which were infested with both visible and submerged reefs. I can imagine no problem much more difficult and complex than that which the Government have to solve in connexion with the legislation necessary for the purposes referred to in the Barlow, the Scott and the Uthwatt Reports. I think that perhaps, although I hope that I shall not be accused of vanity, people who have spent their lives in the law, like the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and myself, are better able to appreciate the enormous complexity of the problems that these Reports involve than those happy laymen who have not spent their time reading law books, writing opinions and listening to and fighting cases. That may be my excuse, at any rate, for occupying your Lordships' time—not, I hope, for a very long period—in dealing with the matters of which I am going to speak.
I want to refer to the position and to stand up for the rights of the ordinary citizens of this country. Other people who know more about it than I do, have dealt with the position taken up by local authorities, by the Government (whose position will be explained as well as possible by my noble friend Lord Snell), and by those who are thinking particularly of how the planner can get his plans put into operation as soon and as quickly as possible. I wish to say in the first place that I do not think that any very great complaint is to be made against the Government up to the present time, in the midst of a great war, in regard to preparing the legislation which will soon be put before us; but I do wish to point out that I do not think that the country as a whole realizes what the Uthwatt Report means in reference to the machinery which is going to take away from hundreds of 655 thousands of people in the end the property which they now own. Speaking on behalf of the ordinary citizens of this country, I do hope—and I believe it is probable—that the Government will introduce some safeguards for them which are not at present to be found in the Uthwatt Report.
First of all, let us see how it is done. You begin by the acquiring authority drawing up an order in the required form, describing the land to which the order is intended to apply by reference to a map. That map will be described as an "acquisition map." What do your Lordships expect will be done with it? It is going to be lodged with the Minister, who is being asked to approve the map, and it has not necessarily to be the subject of any local inquiry. The Uthwatt Report suggests that no local inquiry should take place. It is not to be served on, or notified to, the tens of thousands of persons whose houses are going to be taken away. It is, however, going to be advertised locally. The Minister can then approve the map, if he does not think fit to order a special inquiry. He need not, apparently, consult anybody locally. The fee simple in all the land specified then vests in the acquiring authority at the date specified in the order. From first to last the people whose houses are being taken away from them, for a compensation to be ultimately ascertained and paid, may never have heard that there is any such step contemplated by the local authority or acquiring authority at all. To carry still further this extraordinary method, notice of the approval of the order by the Minister and of its effects will then again be advertised locally, and individual notice will be served in so far as can be done from the intormation in the possession of the acquiring authority and, where necessary, by posting notices on the site.
Let me say a word about local advertisement. Do people really suppose that ordinary citizens throughout the land necessarily read the local paper for the purpose of seeing whether their property is going to be taken away from them? I am sure there are many of your Lordships who never see, or never attentively study, the local advertisements in the local newspaper. I live in London mostly and I have a humble property in Sussex. I do not ever see the local newspaper in which the acquiring authority 656 would advertise the intention to act upon the acquisition map and the order put before the Minister. For all I know, the whole thing would be carried through without my being aware of it in the least. But, after all, we are not considering here for the most part the position of persons with some means who may have a couple of properties in different parts of the country. I am thinking of the poor people with cottages or with houses in narrow streets all over the country, and I absolutely deny that those people would know, according to the machinery in the Uthwatt Report, unless amended, that their property was going to be taken away from them. Still less would people know who own individual cottages, perhaps two or three miles from the centre of the nearest town, which may all be included in some planning resolution.
I confess I think the machinery suggested ought to be very largely improved. When I came to the Bar a great many years ago there was a lot of acquisition of land going on. It was done, as some of your Lordships will remember, under the Lands Clauses Act, 1845. It was not very unreasonable, but it was rather slow and a little expensive, because the compensation had generally to be ascertained by a jury. That took a good deal of time, because you had to muster your jury together. Great improvements have been made gradually, and in the end by the Act having the somewhat cumbrous title of Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919. I think it is a very fair Act. It is fair to the person whose property is taken, and it provides for reasonable compensation with a minimum of delay. But I am not going to say that that Act is not capable of improvement. It is.
What I urge the Government to ensure is that, if it is intended to take large areas of property for the purposes of planning, such purposes as Lord Balfour of Burleigh visualises in his Motion, every person who can be reached whose property is going to be taken should have some notice that that is to be done. It is mainly a matter of a certain number of 2½d. stamps and a printed piece of paper. With regard to the plan itself, it is only necessary that the local advertisement should be supplemented by posters saying that the plan is to be seen in the town hall or some other place in the neighbourhood, or the nearest village, so that everybody can see 657 what land it is proposed to take over. These things will not cause delay, and the additional expense they will occasion is absolutely trivial compared with the vital importance that an Englishman's or a Scotsman's home should not be taken away from him without his knowing that that is going to be done, and his having some chance of making known to the Government authority or in some other way that what is proposed is quite unreasonable and is perfectly unnecessary in the interests of the State.
I quite agree that ultimately the Minister must decide. I do not agree that he should decide in vacuo so to speak, after the plan has been made out by some no doubt well-intentioned servant of the acquiring authority, even though the Minister may have the assistance of a staff of Government servants who know nothing about the locality and who have had no opportunity really of judging as to the vital necessity of the proposed plan which comes from some local body in the provinces of England or Scotland. We have had lots of opportunities for seeing in London how far plans meet with general approval. There was one that we saw put forward by the most eminent architects in the land, which many of us saw at Burlington House a year ago or some months ago, and it was an excellent plan, but it met, as far as I know, with almost universal disapproval. The London County Council have put forward another, which I think has received very general approval, but as to which the County Council know perfectly well there are points which are full of materials for objection and criticism. I know from the statement they sent out that they do not in the least suggest that their plan should not be the subject of further consideration when criticism has been publicly expressed. That is a reasonable way of going to work. That has come quite naturally. They thought it a fair way to deal with the matter. But according to the Uthwatt Report, unless it is supplemented, there will be no opportunity whatever in the neighbourhood of discussing the validity and the propriety of a particular plan. And, as I say, as things stand it goes to the Minister without his having any opportunity of knowing the objection of the persons who are interested, because many of them will not ever have heard of it.
658 It will be said that notice to everybody is often impossible. Any reasonable man knows that. I am not going to suggest that plans should be held up because there are some people whom you cannot reach by personal notice and a 2½d. stamp. That is not my idea. My idea is that you should send notice to everybody you can reach. You should send notice even if it is to one of the one million or two million people in services abroad, who can yet be reached, as I know very well, by writing a letter addressed in London to the proper military authority, who sees that the letter is sent on. What I am afraid of is this —because it is perfectly possible—that a poor old woman who does not read the newspapers or an infant who is too young to read them and perhaps has trustees looking after him, or a serving soldier or someone who is engaged in maritime pursuits, may find that a house has been taken over by the acquiring authority, that it has become the property of the acquiring authority, or that it has been pulled down and there is just a vacant site, without the owner ever having heard a single word of the authority's intention to take the property. You will say that that will not happen very often. I agree, but it should never happen at all if you can help it. That it is a thing that will happen in a number of cases you will see from an examination of the Uthwatt Report, unless indeed it is supplemented in some way by the sort of regulations which I would suggest. You will see that on page 68 of the Report, paragraph 168.
The only thing which I should add to complete my story of these people who may come and find their houses have been taken away is that the Uthwatt Committee propose that after the Minister has approved the acquisition map, notice of the approval and of the effect of the order should be given to persons having interests in the properties affected, by public advertisement and by separate service, so far as it can be done, from information in the possession of the acquiring authority. There is nothing in that suggestion to show that the acquiring authority has got to obtain the information. They can shut their eyes as to whom the property belongs. Why should they find out? They are not interested to do so at that stage at all.
It seems to me to be a wide and disastrous departure from the practice of our Legislature for hundreds of years that 659 when that notice is given—and it is the only notice which the Uthwatt Report requires—the thing is already done, the property is gone, because the map has been approved. You may say what you like, but it does seem to me very extraordinary that this vast number of people may have their property taken away from them without their having any opportunity of objecting, without the assent of the House of Commons or of this House, and without any precaution against the planner having made the most disastrous mistakes, such as may very easily be made in such a case, and the Minister having acted without any local information whatsoever.
May I ask the noble and learned Viscount, when he talks about property, is he only referring to land or to buildings on the land as well?
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
Both. I am much obliged to my noble friend for having asked the question. This applies to all land, whether there are buildings on it or not, to developed or undeveloped land. The main point that is material to the present moment is this. When the "blitzed" areas are being reconstructed, the Report justly says that the adjoining district must necessarily be the subject of reconstruction at the same time, because you cannot merely take the bits that have been knocked down—you have to take all the adjoining houses as well. If you look at paragraph 145 on page 61 of the Uthwatt Report you will see this recommendation in black letters:We therefore recommend that for the purpose of securing necessary redevelopment, the planning authorities should be given the power to purchase the whole of such areas"—that is, all the adjoining areas. These houses will have to be pulled down for the purpose of reconstruction of the whole area. The Hun has knocked some of them down, the rest of them will be knocked down in the interests of the community by the acquiring authority.
The injustice of that, unless it is supplemented by other clauses which can easily be devised, is rendered still more monstrous if you consider the clause which, without any mitigation, without any provision for the safety of the citizen, enables the acquiring authority to walk into the houses which are not yet pulled down, whether they have paid or ascertained the compensation payable in 660 respect of these houses or not. I need not refer your Lordships to the clause in question, because two or three of your Lordships have already referred to it. You say it is necessary. It may be necessary, but just consider the result of it Consider the man who has, after years of hard work, acquired £1,000 and built himself a little house somewhere, perhaps with the assistance of a building society. He is told that that house is going to be or has been taken over by the acquiring authority, and that they have not had time yet to fix the compensation, but hope it will be fixed in the course of the next year. That may be the only property— that and the sticks of furniture inside the house—which he has got. People of that sort sometimes have a lodger, and with the assistance of the lodger and his rent and of such work as they are still able to do, they can carry on. If you go and say you are going to turn them out, and their compensation is to be ascertained months or possibly years later—I do not know; it depends on how big the scheme is—you may just as well tell them to go and starve.
That is not the way anybody can govern this country. It is absolutely impossible, it is incredible. Yet there is nothing in the Uthwatt Report—and, I say it with regret, nothing in what any of your Lordships have said, except something that fell from my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh—to point out that up to this time you have never been able to take a man's property without paying him for it, with the one qualification I shall mention in a moment. It is absolutely essential that you should pay the person whom you understand to be the owner of the property, and whom you are treating as such, compensation in the meantime in the nature of subsistence allowance or rent, or whatever you choose to call it, until the moment when you have ascertained the compensation and there is a capital sum which can be paid. Unless you do that the confusion, the agitation, and the indignation in the country will be such that you simply will not be able to go on with your scheme. I cannot understand those—I am not saying this of your Lordships generally, but of some people—who think so little of the poor people with small dwellings, small properties, all over the country, who are to be treated as if you can take over their property, which is probably the only property they have got, without 661 ascertaining compensation, and leaving it over for I do not know how long before compensation is ascertained and paid.
It is quite true that you cannot always find the true owners. Then you have to deal with that in some such way as the law has always treated the question of recovering property when you cannot ascertain the owner. You have to get from some authority that you set up means to effect substituted service on these people. I am not saying what exact machinery should be followed; I am saying that something of that sort can be done if you start with a perfectly general rule that you must tell everybody whose property you are to take that you are going to take it, provided you can ascertain to whom it belongs. With regard to the rest, you might easily draft a clause which will enable you to effect substituted service by advertisement or otherwise on the people who are concerned.
I hope I have not said anything on those two points which is unnecessary or a waste of time. I am anxious for expedition. None of the things; I suggest is going to slow up the procedure in these respects at all. I am only pointing out that you must strain every nerve to prevent its being said that in this country the Englishman's home, which should be his castle, can be taken away from him lock, stock and barrel (which is a confusion of metaphors) without first allowing him to know that there is any idea of doing it. There should be machinery for letting the people in the district know what is going to be done to their village and to the adjoining property. Every effort should be made to let owners have notice of an intention to deal with their property, and every step possible should be taken to prevent the terrible injustice resulting from walking into a man's property without being able at that time to pay him compensation and without taking any step to alleviate the terrible consequences in the meantime.
Those are the two things I chiefly wanted to refer to, but there is something I should like to say with regard to the Barlow Report, to which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh and another noble Lord have referred. I want to remind your Lordships of this. The Barlow Report, which I hope is going to be adopted, suggests the setting up, as you know, of a Central Authority national in 662 scope and character. Lord Balfour referred to some of the things which it was going to do but he did not refer to those which I regard as of great importance. In sub-paragraph 7 of paragraph 428 you will find this at page 203:The Central Authority should have the right to inspect all existing and future planning schemes under current town and country planning legislation, whether regional or local, and to consider, where necessary, in co-operation with the Government Departments concerned the modification or correlation of existing or future plans in the national interest.This is absolutely vital in relation to the question of distribution of industrial properties (the location of industry, I think, is the common phrase). I hope that will be done. It will take a little time, but it is necessary in order that you may be sure that the scheme is going to be in the end a good one and is not, in some respects, likely to do as much harm to industry as it does good to the ordinary population.
Those are the things which I thought it not unreasonable to put before your Lordships and I conclude, as I began, by saying that I am all in favour, now that the Government have had an opportunity of considering the really stormy seas on which they are to voyage, of their giving us a chart and telling us how we are to conduct our steps and proceedings in the future. But in saying that I do very much hope that they will pay the utmost attention to the necessity of treating the populations who will be affected with the greatest care and consideration for their interests, and I express the hope that if that is done this Motion will have achieved a very useful result.
THE LORD BISHOP OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will give me your indulgence in addressing your Lordships' House for the first time. At this late hour I will promise to be brief, but I feel it would be a great pity if no word were said from the Bench of Bishops here in support of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and expressing our sense of the urgency of the whole matter. It may not have escaped your Lordships' minds that the debate in this House yesterday, and the one to-day, are really two parts of one and the same question. If, as you agreed yesterday, no country has a greater asset than its youth, as the noble Lord said in 663 his introductory speech, then the homes of our youths are of first importance. I could enlarge on that but I do not want to do so at this hour. I am afraid it is only too true, as the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said with some knowledge of country parishes, that the condition of overcrowding is really practically the beginning of slums and is, as he suggested, invading the country also. Of great importance, too, is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, about the access of the youth of the country to playing fields and country spaces. One has a picture, living as I do outside London and constantly coming in and out of it, of what might be a new planned area in the future, but I must not enlarge on that now.
I also rose at the request of two right reverend Prelates who cannot be here to-day, the Bishop of Winchester and, still more, the Bishop of London, both of whom are very much concerned in the future of the building of churches, particularly in the "blitzed" areas. The Bishop of Winchester is especially concerned because of some recent experiences in a place familiar to your Lordships, while the Bishop of London is Chairman of a Committee which is acting on behalf of all the churches in dealing with the various Ministries regarding the whole situation arising out of war damage. I think we all agree that the whole material, moral and spiritual improvement of our people is of such importance that there should be introduced in the new planned areas sites that will be available for churches and chapels.
I am speaking not only on behalf of the Church of England but on behalf of all the Churches. And here comes in a practical difficulty. I ventured privately to speak to the noble Lord who is to answer in this debate, and I think I can put quite shortly the point I made to him. A local authority can, as the law now stands, acquire land by compulsory purchase only for its own needs, and the provision of churches and chapels cannot be described as for a local authority's own needs. A large authority in the South of England, very familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has, I believe, raised this very point as to whether they should not be allowed to buy land or should not be given the authority to buy land in order that a church might be 664 built in their area. They have been informed they cannot be given this authority. That particular situation will be further complicated if the Uthwatt Report leads, as I hope it will speedily, to legislation, because of the fact that on page 62, paragraph 147, it is stated:We recommend, therefore, that once any interest in land has passed into public ownership it should be disposed of by way of lease only and not by way of sale. …I am sure that is a good provision, but it is no good saying to a religious communion that they may have land for a certain time.
In the case of the Church of England it would not be possible to build a consecrated church because you can only consecrate a church on freehold land. I believe the same is true of the Roman Catholic Church. On wider grounds, you cannot expect people to put up a fine building with the knowledge that they may lose the land before long. It is not common sense. What would Help would be to include in any legislation that comes out of the consideration of this matter, power to local authorities to buy sites for churches or power to sell land for the erection of churches or chapels. Obviously there would have to be some provision for pre-emption. I understand from the Bishop of London that the Ministry of Works have been most sympathetic, but he asked me to call your Lordships' attention to the matter. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Snell, deals with the many questions which have been put to him he will be able to give a word of assurance that will help us to do our very best to get churches and chapels on the right sites and so make a vital contribution to the welfare of the whole community.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I am sure we have all listened with great pleasure to the speech which has just been made by the right reverend Prelate. May I venture to hope that we shall often hear him dealing in your Lordships' House with similar questions in the future? As regards the particular problem which he has brought to your Lordships' notice, I would only venture to say that the National Council of Social Service was invited to deal with much the same problem some years ago when it was seen that community centres must be established outside some of the largely populated cities. It was found unfortunately 665 that in these detached satellite towns, as I think they may be called, it was difficult to establish the social element because the houses were used entirely by people who went into the city for their employment and had no community interest whatever in the new housing areas. I think it was universally acknowledged that one great drawback was that there was no proper provision for churches, chapels and other buildings which would form the centre of community and social life.
May I say with what delight I listened to the brilliant speech with which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh opened this debate? I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Mottistone draw particular attention to its very clear, well-informed and convincing nature. May I add, by the way, with regard to Lord Mottistone's speech, that I always listen with delight to that evergreen statesman whose wonderful vitality, mental vivacity and clarity of speech always fill me with unbounded admiration? He drew particular attention to the fact that this issue is apparently in your Lordships' House a non-Party issue. So it is, as far as the problem we are here debating to-day is concerned, but I am afraid there would not be the same degree of unanimity if we went in detail into the problems raised by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham. We are not to-day discussing the Uthwatt Report in all its provisions and implications, but it must be clearly understood, so far as public opinion in the rural areas can be gauged, that the Uthwatt scheme for the acquisition of so-called development values is regarded as being in the nature of a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. Where purely rural areas are concerned, and they represent nine-tenths of the whole surface of the country, it is difficult to see what these development values are likely to be. It does on the face of it appear to be an immense machine in order to solve a problem which has mainly to do with a very much narrower area.
I really rose to draw your Lordships' attention to the feeling of at any rate one important local authority in this country— I refer to the Gloucestershire County Council—about the dilatory action, or lack of action, on the part of the Ministry of Planning. Gloucestershire, I am glad to be able to say, is regarded, and probably justly regarded, as a 666 great pioneer in the matter of planning. In fact our very excellent planning officer, Mr. Gordon Payne, has been travelling in various counties by invitation of their county councils explaining what Gloucestershire is doing. I would only say in passing that the problem in Gloucestershire is accentuated by the fact that the Forest of Dean coal-mining industry is on the verge of disappearance. In a few years there will be no colliery industry in the Forest of Dean and that industry will have to be replaced as rapidly as possible by work of a different character for those who will be thrown out of employment. That is the main inducing factor as far as the Gloucestershire County Council is concerned in getting on as rapidly as possible with a planning programme. Another point to be taken into account is the recognized extreme scenic beauty of the county —it is acknowledged that it has a variety of scenic beauty probably not excelled in any other county in England and Wales —and there is also the fact that the Minister of Planning is a resident within the county and Parliamentary representative for one of its Divisions.
At an ad hoc meeting of the Gloucestershire County Council, which was very fully attended, on September 29, the following resolution was unanimously passed:That in order to facilitate and accelerate the planning activities of local authorities His Majesty's Government be respectfully requested to formulate and make known as soon as is practicable the essential features of the national planning scheme and also to introduce without delay legislation to check speculation in land values to the detriment of the public interest.Bearing in mind the large schemes which are being put forward by the planning committee of the Gloucestershire County Council, to which I will make a short reference presently, the greatest handicap to them is the fact that they do not know exactly what is the general national plan of the Ministry of Planning, and, naturally, they do not want to formulate a plan in regard to roads and houses, or water supply, or a central hospital, or higher standard central schools—all of which are matters now under their consideration— without being certain that their proposals would fit into the national plan. Therefore, they ask the Government as soon as possible to formulate and make known the essential features of a national plan so that they may not put forward proposals which are in any way repugnant to the Government plan.
667 Now I wish particularly to refer to this question of housing, and I shall do so quite shortly. Rightly or wrongly, it seems to be the expectation and hope of the Ministry of Health that entirely new centres of community life will be established in what are presently purely rural areas. In that connexion there is contemplated—I do not express any personal opinion about it—the establishment in my own county of a future town of something like 10,000 inhabitants in a purely rural area on the borders of Worcestershire, and another smaller centre of community life to the north of Bristol, not far from the Wiltshire border. Furthermore, we are told that there are going to be two great through traffic roads. We are not quite sure whether the cost of them is going to fall to some extent on the local ratepayers, or whether it is going to fall entirely on the taxpayers. One of these two great roads—both of them, I may say, are really quite necessary—will run from near Tewkesbury in the north of the county, by-passing Gloucester and Cheltenham, to Bristol. The other traffic road will, I believe, pass near my home from South Wales to Birmingham or to London. I only mention these things because they are to-day actual proposals upon which we have got to express a definite opinion, but we cannot do it if we do not know to what extent the Government policy and the county policy are in accord.
The only other matter which I wish to ask about before I sit down is the matter of what are called ceiling prices. I raise this question particularly because I wish again to urge—and not for the first time in this House—that it is most essential, at an early date, to pass through Parliament an Act—I think that a single clause Bill would be effective for the purpose— to prevent pure speculation in land that is either wanted for the farming community or may be wanted hereafter for development purposes. I do not know whether your Lordships noticed it, but there was a very interesting letter in The Times newspaper about ten days ago from Sir William Dampier, a very eminent economist of Cambridge University. He drew attention to the fact that money after all is a mere token, and to the question whether the value of any property or land at the 31st March, 1939, expressed in terms of 668 pounds, shillings and pence, was the fair value to give hereafter for that land; whether, in fact, the purchasing value of the money at that time ought not to be compared with the purchasing value of the price when eventually it comes to be paid. My only comment in passing upon that is this. We all know that money varies in value and that land, like most other commodities, varies in monetary value from time to time, but I cannot help thinking that it will be an extra incentive to the speculator to speculate if any such alteration is made.
However that may be, there is speculation going on in land to-day, particularly in agricultural land, on a considerable scale, and that speculation ought surely to be checked, and checked as soon as possible. It is not only affecting the local authorities in their difficulties of acquiring land, and of making up their minds presently to acquire land that may be wanted for development hereafter, but it is operating also to the detriment of experienced farmers. When estates are broken up—as happened after the last war—farmers, many of them excellent and experienced farmers who, of course, know their own farms much better than other farms which they might acquire hereafter, are naturally reluctant—apart from the fact that the speculator is operating at almost all farm sales to acquire farms, at what are nowadays relatively high values, if they are likely to cease to be used for agricultural purposes hereafter, under some scheme of development which may be put in hand by the local authority.
These are only a few of the difficulties that are arising in practice. I felt bound to draw attention to them in this debate in the House to-day, because they are in fact the sort of problems which a very active county council is up against at the present time through these two factors, the, factor that speculation is rife and at present unchecked, and the factor of their entire ignorance as to whether their proposals will fit in with the Government plan. Finally, I only wish to ask how are you going eventually to arrive at values based on those of the 31st March, 1939? Surely it is going to be an extraordinarily difficult and complicated process, particularly as in many cases mortgages have been executed on these properties—possibly to the extent of two thirds 669 or more of the amount paid for the land? It looks like a fearful tangle to unravel, and how it will come to be unravelled I cannot imagine. I should imagine that there will be a good deal of difference of opinion as to the fairness of it when the process come to be put into operation.
§ House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by Viscount MAUGHAM.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat clown has spoken on behalf of, and as representing, what he describes as a. progressive county council. I should like to follow him as representing a progressive county borough council. The three Parties in the City of Plymouth did me the great honour yesterday of re-electing me for the fifth time as Lord Mayor. They did that, so far as I was able to ascertain from their speeches, not only for such work as I may have been able to do in the City of Plymouth, but because of the agitation which I have been trying to conduct on behalf of the bombed cities, and in fact of all cities that want the Government to implement their pledges. My noble friend Lord Mottistone referred to Lord Latham as being either a Socialist or non-Party. I started life as a Conservative, but in the last few months I have been going rapidly through Liberalism and Radicalism to Socialism, and there are times when the speeches which I near on this question make me feel that it may be only the Communist Party which will deal with it !
We are a little tired of being urged to go ahead and prepare blue-prints. What is the use of having blue-prints if we cannot get possession of the land? I consulted some of our officers the other day, the men who will have to carry out the replanning of Plymouth—the engineer and others. This is the sort of time-table which was put before me. It will be twelve months before sites can be acquired and reallocated, and another six to nine months before the roads and public services can be laid down, and then a further twelve months will be required for construction. That means that it will be two-and-a-half to three years before we can get our shopping centres re-erected. What is the use of talking about advertisements in the local Press and points of that sort? I should despair of this country if the demobilized soldiers were satisfied with that sort of pace !
670 My noble friend Lord Latham referred to the very acute housing shortage which exists. It was my privilege to be with Lord Addison at the Ministry of Health after the last war. We were forced, by the urge for housing and rehousing, to sanction the erection of houses before there was proper planning. One has only to travel round this country to see the permanent devastation which has resulted from housing being carried out without proper planning and control—permanent damage, which can never be put right. Are we going to be wise enough to avoid that happening again? The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, referred to the hardships of the person whose house might be taken if the Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh were carried. I wish that I could take the noble and learned Viscount to some of our cities, and show him the "blitzed" and blighted portions of those cities. Where they have been "blitzed" there are no houses at all, and where they have been blighted the houses ought to be pulled down. Our experience—and I think that I gave your Lordships this illustration the last time I took part in a discussion in this House—is that before the war it was fifteen months after the Plymouth Council had passed a resolution to deal with slum clearance before they could enter into the first house. We cannot deal with these important problems at that sort of pace. The noble and learned Viscount referred to widows and orphans. If the sort of pace which he seems to visualize were to persist, there would be widows and orphans, but they would be the widows and orphans of Ministers and of Members of these two Houses !
It fills me with despair when I hear speeches of that sort made, so completely removed from reality. One day last summer we had an important conference in Plymouth with the representative of the noble Lord, Lord Portal. It was agreed by everybody that with all the operatives which the Ministry could lend us, together with all the labour which we could provide, there was eighteen months' solid work ahead of us in repairing houses which had been damaged. That night we were bombed again. I shall probably not be in order in indicating the number of houses which have been wiped out, seriously damaged or in need of repair, but it runs into thousands. What is the 671 good of talking to us about these old fashioned procedures? When one listens to speeches like that, one is listening to someone who is completely removed from reality. I do hope that in this House and in another place we shall become more realistic.
The noble Lord, Lord Snell, is going to reply for the Government to-day. I hope that he is not going to be satisfied with indicating that the Government promise to do something; I hope that he is going to be able to tell us when they intend to introduce the Bill. All this began in February, 1941, when the noble Lord, Lord Reith, gave us two promises. He gave us another in July, 1941. Lord Portal gave us another promise on April 21, 1942, and the present Minister has given us promises on March 17, 1943, June 24, July 15, September 21, and October 7, and I believe another one since then. This is the most promising Government that I have ever seen ! But we want not promises but performances. We cannot get ahead with promises.
There has been some talk about land values and the ceiling of March, 1939. I think it just as well to record the fact that the 1939 values represent a period of prosperity. Those figures were high, and they have been kept high in the cities because of the scarcity of vacant sites. When we are dealing with the future, I think we shall be dealing with a condition when probably we shall be able to have higher buildings, because there will not be the same infringement of rights of light, and because more land may be available. The Government should take those facts into consideration when fixing the ceiling of values. When the Government have spoken about 1939, however, they have qualified it by certain provisos. It is no use urging local authorities to buy land unless they know on what terms they will have to buy, and what these provisos are. In Plymouth, our rate income has been reduced by something like 20 per cent. We can acquire land only if we get a grant and we want to know on what terms we are going to get that grant. It is no use telling us to start preparing plans; it is no use our telling the shopkeepers to employ an architect unless we can tell them in what part of the town the shopping centre will be, and whether the narrow and crowded streets will be straightened and widened.
672 I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Mottistone that local authorities are not as reactionary as he seemed to indicate. If the Government give us the necessary power and money, we certainly visualize having plenty of open spaces, but that is contingent on what the Government do. Local authorities are very anxious to go ahead. There are three great measures, apart from smaller Bills, which the country is eagerly expecting: a measure dealing with education, a measure dealing with town and country planning, and a measure dealing with social security. As an old House of Commons man, I look at the days which are available, I look at the days which have to be allotted to Supply, and I wonder whether the Government are going to be able to carry out their promises.
I will only say that if they do not do so there really will be a very strong feeling in the country—and quite rightly. The Association of Municipal Corporations recently set up a Special Committee representing bombed cities. That Special Committee passed a resolution urging the Government to bring in legislation immediately on the lines of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. That is a most influential body, representing all our great local authorities. It is no good giving us another pledge. The only security we can have is an Act on the Statute Book. We shall only be able to take action after that Act has been passed. I hope very much that the noble Lord, Lord Snell, when he replies, will not merely tell us again what the Government hope to do, but will be able to give us a solid date on which they mean to introduce this Bill.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I have had an opportunity recently of finding out what various people interested in the provision of houses all over the country think about the present position, and it is only because I have had that rather good opportunity that I venture to address your Lordships now. Everywhere it is realized how very urgent this question of the provision of new houses is going to be the moment hostilities cease. There is a very strong feeling that legislation should be introduced now, and that all kinds of preparations should be made as soon as possible, in order that the actual construction of new houses may start the moment that hostilities end.
673 I want also to mention a subject which has not been referred to to-day—private enterprise. I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to what was said by the Minister of Health as recently as October 8 when addressing a conference of the National Housing and Town Planning Council. He said:If we—private enterprise, local authorities and the Ministry of Health—all go forward together I have no doubt that we shall deliver the goods.By "delivering the goods" the Minister at that moment was referring to the provision of the necessary three to four million houses which will be wanted after the war. It is not sufficiently realized by owners of house property or by landowners in various parts of the country that they are expected to play a big part in this. We have heard a great deal about the acquisition of land by local authorities and the preparation of schemes by local authorities; yet it was the private person who between the two wars supplied two-thirds of the houses that were built in this country, and you can depend upon it he will have to do it again. You will not get three or four million houses built by local authorities; you will have to depend to a great extent on private enterprise.
I suggest to the Government that private enterprise should be encouraged to prepare schemes if necessary, but anyhow to submit some kind of a. plan to the Central Planning Authority, or whoever may be the right person, in order that they may be amended and welded together with plans submitted by local authorities, to make one complete picture. The capacity of private enterprise in providing houses can be enormous. It depends on the amount of encouragement which it gets from the Government It is not even realized at the moment that private enterprise will be permitted to take part. If it receives some encouragement to submit plans for new houses that capacity will be increased enormously. I am not going to detain your Lordships, but I wanted to impress upon the Government that this is a moment of tremendous importance, and I have received the impression from all over the country in the last few weeks that this is the moment for the Government to come out with some definite declaration. Everybody is waiting for it, everybody is ready for it, and I believe that if such a declaration of policy were made within the next few weeks, the Gov- 674 ernment would receive the co-operation of people in this matter which they would not have received in normal times of peace. Nobody likes the complete Uthwatt Report, but something on those lines is required, any everybody is waiting to see what the Government are going to give us.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government wishes to speak in a short time, and I will not detain the House for more than three minutes. But I would ask the Government to pay attention to the very cogent speech made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, and thereby avoid inflicting an altogether unmerited injustice upon the small property owner. Despite what I fear I can only characterize as the somewhat petulant outburst of the latest convert to the Communist Party, I think that if the very quick procedure advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is put into effect without some safeguards undoubtedly what the noble and learned Viscount has described will come to pass. I have on many occasions had to go through the valuation roll in my own county, and I have often noticed what a very large proportion of the small property owners live outwith the county and in many cases outwith Scotland. Many of them do not belong to the local property owners' association and have sometimes no local factor or manager. Unless some steps are taken to warn them, it is quite certain that in many cases they will not know that their property is going to be taken over.
Although certain members of His Majesty's Government, including Mr. Herbert Morrison, seem to hope that we shall adopt in this country the very form of totalitarian government against which we are supposed to be fighting, it is my belief that that does not represent the views of most people in the country. The small man at the present time seems to be ground between the millstones of Government bureaucracy and great corporations, big business and trade unions, and I think that unless some steps are taken to safeguard his interest and to ensure that adequate personal notice is served on each small owner of property before his property is acquired, grave injustice will be done. Such a procedure would not 675 hold up the operation of any plan at all. Very short notice need be given, but unless that is done I am quite sure that many of these small people will be put in a position which will be most unfortunate and which will not redound to the credit of the Government.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, I believe that your Lordships will agree with me that we have been dealing with a subject of first-class importance which has produced some first-rate speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has given continuous attention for a long period of time to at least one aspect of the great question he has raised, and he may be sure that his criticisms and demands will not be ignored or undervalued, either by the Government or by myself. I promise that all the criticisms which have been made and all the suggestions and complaints we have heard will be considered with the closest attention. Perhaps I might be permitted, first of all, to answer one or two direct questions. First of all, there was a question asked by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Guildford, respecting sites for churches and chapels in "blitzed" areas. I believe that a deputation has already been received by the appropriate Minister, and that the question is being considered and a decision will be reached upon it almost immediately. My noble friend Lord Mottistone asked for special attention to be given to the problems of water. That also will be considered. Personally, I have had a special affection for water all my life ! On the other hand, I have to regret to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh that my knowledge of racehorses is not adequate to enable me to reply effectively to his observations.
This generous spirit of mine is, I believe, all on one side in this matter. We express our complete sympathy with the desires of the noble Lord and others who have spoken, but they respond with a tardy and very halting recognition of anything that has been done. The fact is that Ministers have to live in an ungrateful world. In regard to Government avowals on this matter, they have repeatedly and with emphasis assured Parliament and the nation that they accept the main principles of the Beveridge Report, and that the pledges they have given in relation to the recommendations 676 of the Uthwatt Committee will be fulfilled. Lord Astor, in a noble impatience, asked, "When are they going to be fulfilled?"
§ LORD SNELL
I very much sympathize with the questioner, but I cannot fix dates to events, and I can only say there will be no delay that can possibly be avoided. My noble friends, Lord Astor, Lord Latham, and Lord Balfour of Burleigh, are no believers in a postponed felicity, so they say, in effect, that Heaven can wait, but the time to be happy is now. I regret very much indeed that I am not able to satisfy their hunger for immediate and unlimited benefits, but I can say that the prospects are good—better perhaps than they believe—and that at no distant date we shall all be able to sit by the fleshpots of achievement and be satisfied. In regard to the Motion, it seems to be directed to two main points— the recommendation of the Uthwatt Report on the 1939 ceiling, and the need for early legislation empowering local authorities to acquire land for replanning and reconstruction on the lines suggested by the Uthwatt Committee. The speeches in support of the Motion have gone even wider than that comprehensive document. The Motion demands to know whether national planning is still the policy of His Majesty's Government. Then the question of decentralization of population and industry in relation to the Barlow Report has been raised, and also the question of finance.
Certain pledges have been given by the Government, and I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Latham has so little faith in Ministerial statements. He said that the statements which have been made have no force of law, and that no local authority could proceed on that basis. He was supported in that by my noble friend Lord Astor. A Government statement has been made—not a statement by a Minister, but a statement by the Government as a whole— which contained certain declarations and promises, and it is for Parliament to see that the Government keep their pledges even if they do not wish to do so themselves. With regard to the Scott Report, as to which my noble friend Lord Latham asked a question, I am able to say that an announcement respecting it will be available very early in the next Session.
677 The 1939 ceiling was accepted in principle on July 17, 1941. Lord Reith, speaking then on behalf of the Government, said:The Government accept this principle, and legislation to give effect to it will be introduced in due course. The detailed application of the principle requires consideration. Adjustments may be needed to meet particular cases, and the principle must be open to review if circumstances arise which make its application inequitable.That undertaking has been frequently reaffirmed, but the terms of the Government's statement in accepting this principle recognized from the outset that there might be difficulties to be overcome in its derailed application. In this matter no one problem can be taken in isolation from the rest. There must be a coherent whole, and that partly accounts for the delay in the application of any particular principle. One of the problems involves finding the means to secure that the future mass development is not prejudiced by speculation and by profiteering. That is not a very easy problem to solve. The Government, however, hope to be in a position before long to make proposals which will meet certain difficulties which have become apparent during the consideration of this matter. My noble friend Lord Latham asked for speedy action on the part of the Government in regard to the 1939 ceiling and the amendments needed. In regard to that I will see that the criticism is very carefully considered. In this matter your Lordships should remember that my noble friend Lord Maugham admitted the complexity and difficulty of the subject and even made the generous avowal that no complaint against the Government can be made up to now. That voice of approval aroused in me appropriate emotions of gratitude.
§ LORD SNELL
But I will promise that the criticisms which he made on what, if he will allow me to say so, was the legal aspect, shall be carefully considered. The Government have been reluctant to act, before they knew where they could and where they ought to go. Everybody knows what is desirable. The Government can promise only what they decide is practicable and this wise caution is resented. I know no task more difficult than to have to confront impatient enthusiasts with difficult realities. I have become a kind of shock absorber for the 678 Government in these matters, and whenever my duties on this Bench have ended I think I shall seek employment as counsel for the defence anywhere. But there exists at the present time a readiness, even an eagerness, to accept dreams for facts, and those who put realities before ambitions and desires and fancies are very seldom applauded; yet in my experience the way of caution is often the surest way to success. Those who set out on a journey in a fog not infrequently return to the place from which they started.
In regard to the powers of acquisition and procedure, the Government have also accepted the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee that the planning authorities should be able to acquire the whole of any reconstruction area, which should be developed as a whole, and that the procedure should be simple and speedy. Lord Latham, in his speech on the 22nd September, I think indicated that a Bill was already in print to give local authorities power to acquire land in reconstruction areas, but that referred only to "blitzed" areas to' which alone the Interim Uthwatt Report referred. The Final Report related to other areas needing reconstruction. Consideration has been necessary of the wider application of the powers of acquisition that are required. In fact in the intervening period a substantial amount of work has been done in adapting earlier drafts to the enlarged needs as they are now seen. I repeat that the problem cannot be dealt with in sections. It is necessary to consider the problem as a whole, so that a coherent body of legislation will result, and when once the Government know precisely what we want to do and when we can do it, it will then be a simple matter to select special objectives, to include the new aims, and to let some old ones lapse.
I repeat now what I was instructed to say on Lord Latham's Motion, that these intricate questions require the closest attention of the Government. For example, the question of whether in order to assist the development of reconstruction areas the State itself should undertake purchase is one that must be considered before the form of legislation can be decided. The Government recognize—I ask my noble friends to take notice of this—that the powers to acquire land in reconstruction areas must be available before the end of the war. It is therefore a question of balance of this urgency as 679 against the desirability of linking up with the wider issues of the plan. The Government will keep a careful watch on this matter, and it circumstances arise which would throw the balance in favour of immediate legislation, that course will be taken. Lord Balfour of Burleigh approached this problem partly, indeed mainly, from the standpoint of the necessity of local authorities acquiring land as quickly as possible so that the housing programme could be carried into effect without delay. The Government recognize that these powers must be available, but action on housing needs is not necessarily waiting on the powers to which the Motion refers; nor indeed on any planning legislation. Local authorities are at present reviewing their housing needs. They are concentrating upon such immediate work and as soon as they are authorized to do so they are proceeding with the acquisition of sites. The new powers to which the Motion refers will doubtless be of service to housing. I am not denying that, but that service will be greatly increased if they form part of a comprehensive system.
In regard to national planning, the Government accept the principle of national planning without qualification. The House was So assured by the Lord Chancellor on the 19th November last, when he said:I am not perhaps saying anything very new, but I am none the less stating what is important when I conclude by assuring your Lordships that that assumption"—(the assumption that national planning is intended to be a reality and a permanent feature of the administration)—is the assumption on which Government policy is based.The reason why the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was established was that it was intended to be the first step towards national planning. National planning does not, however, imply the imposition upon the people of a common plan applicable without variation to every district. Our country is happily made up of a variety of local conditions. There is difference of soil, of climate, of building tradition and of local culture, and this variety should be preserved. My noble friend Viscount Ridley, in what I thought an able and very balanced speech, acknowledged the difficulty and complexity of the problem and did not him- 680 self appear to have reached definite conclusions upon how it should be met.
In regard to the Barlow Report I am asked directly, do the Government accept the conclusion to the Report? Again it is not practicable for the Government to give an unqualified "Yes" in answer to that question. The proposals of the Report relate in great part to machinery as well as to the fundamental questions of policy, and the specific machinery suggested requires careful consideration and, it may be, qualification. The conclusions of the Barlow Commission were based upon pre-war conditions and they have necessarily been greatly modified by the changes due to the war, but steps have been taken to study afresh the situation. For example, industrial surveys have been put in hand and information on the social aspects has been collected. The Commission recommended that the objectives of national action should be, broadly speaking, continued redevelopment of congested urban areas, the decentralization of industry and population from crowded urban areas, the encouragement of a reasonable balance of industrial development and diversification throughout the country. The Commission also drew attention to the problem of the drift of industries and population to London and the Home Counties. Again the Government promised—as, reported in the Official Report of February 11, 1942—that this question would be reviewed and the suggestions would be studied.
My noble friend Lord Balfour made a considerable and I think a worthy point about the depopulation of the rural areas and the inflow into the towns. He spoke of the misery of the strap-hanger. These problems are not a British phenomena alone. There has been a movement of population in this sense over wider areas. The fact is that in the past we have failed to make our villages attractive. Young people, rightly or wrongly, yearn for light and life and movement, and the permanent black-out of our villages is something more than they can stand. I will not venture to be dogmatic with regard to remedies, but I agree with my noble friend that proper housing and development of social amenities are among the most important remedies. The complaint nowadays is that parents will not reproduce the population. There is a kind of 681 law of accommodation to circumstances which operates in the world. Parents were once scolded almost by everybody for producing large families and they now refrain from producing sufficient to keep the race strong. Families cannot be reared in the huts into which so many of our rural workers are thrust. In these places we are expected to breed an imperial people. Sometime; they are so overcrowded that children tumble over each other like puppies in a kennel, and as they grow older they are almost expelled in order to make room for younger children. I am not speaking from theory here, but of what I know and have known.
The Government desire that local plans should be made freely. In particular the Government would seek to secure that fresh development will be planned with due regard to the use that could be made of existing capital equipment and existing public services. They would wish to avoid the diversion of productively acquired land to other purposes if less productive land is available. The Government are in full sympathy with the desire of the Barlow Commission to bring about a better distribution of industry and population and their policy is to achieve this aim formulated in the light of new information that is now being assembled.
My noble friend asked what is the Government's attitude towards the financial aspect of these problems. The Government have accepted the view that the successful application of a policy of reconstruction is greatly dependent upon financial questions. For example, the Minister without Portfolio said on December 1, 1942:We shall be prepared to discuss with local authorities the extent to which, and the manner in which, assistance can be afforded by the taxpayer towards specific purposes forming part of the new plans in association with the assistance which is already given for such purposes as housing, schools or roads.State purchase and leasing to local authorities will be closely studied as a method of assisting local authorities to bear the financial responsibility of an energetic and effective programme of town reconstruction.
I must not promise too much, because promises even more than your sins, in time find you out, but I am glad to be able to give a general and I hope sympathetic reply to the Motion which the noble Lord, 682 Lord Balfour, introduced. If I may strengthen what I have said by a quotation from the speech of the Prime Minister it will perhaps help both your Lordships and the subject under discussion. Speaking at the Mansion House yesterday, the Prime Minister said:I regard it as a definite part of the duty and responsibility of this National Government to have its plans perfected in a vast and practical scheme to make sure that in the years immediately following the war food, work and homes are found for all. … These plans must be prepared, and they must come into action, just like, when war breaks out, general mobilization is declared. They must come into action as soon as the victory is won.Well now, I cannot go beyond any promise of the Prime Minister. That is a promise which the nation will understand will be honoured.
I can only say, in conclusion, if the pace is disappointing let critics remember that the pathway which we must tread has not been blazed. There is no ready-made infallible compass to guide us in this matter, and we can only follow the light of a few fixed stars. But for the most part we have to proceed by the slow process of trial and experiment. A Judge of the Supreme Court of America, Mr. Justice Ruttledge, said recently: "Democracy is a perpetual compromise." That we have to remember. There are those who are impatient to advance beyond knowledge, and their enthusiasm prompts them to criticize those who have the responsibility of decision. But you will remember that the Hebrews, in their journey through the wilderness, deprived my noble friends of any claim to originality in that respect. "And the whole congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron." We are not asking our noble friend to wait forty years, nor even forty months up to the present time. I have done my best to go as far as I can to satisfy my noble friends in respect of what they have asked, and, as a final attempt to win their approval, I have to say that the Government accept in principle the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has moved.
My Lords, I only wish to intervene for a few moments before my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh replies, in order to refer particularly to the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, in the earlier part of his statement, when he said that the Government had to face up to realities. My noble friend Viscount Astor has surely 683 pointed to one reality—the conditions in Plymouth as they exist to-day, the blotted-out condition which exists likewise in Coventry, and the conditions which exist in this town of London. Surely, if those are the conditions with which we are confronted, the noble Lord's speech to-day carries very little comfort either to the local authorities concerned, or to the unfortunate people who have been the subject of the "blitzing."
But there is another reality which the Government have to face. It is referred to in this Motion, and to-day a great deal has been said about it. I refer to the valuation of property to be taken over on the basis of the standard of value in 1939. Here I rather differ from my noble friend Lord Astor. I do not do so because I am against the principle, but because I do not think that it is a practicable idea. During recent years, as a result of the "blitz", there have been many dislocations of population. In addition, there have been many alterations and displacements of our industrial population in the country. There have also been established many centres for Government action. As a result of this, and especially of the loss of housing accommodation, a great deal of house property has been, and is, changing hands at very enhanced values.
If this were a purely speculative condition, I would be heartily in accord with what is suggested—namely, that we should go back to the 1939 value. But it is not speculative; it is due to a real need which has grown up. This need has forced people to buy houses at enhanced rates, and these houses have, from time to time, changed hands again because of the change of location of the individuals who have bought them. Again, many individuals in the wage-earning classes— if I may so call them—in this country are very much better off to-day than they were in 1939. A great many more are employed, and a great many are employed at very much higher wages. Consequently when their dwellings have been destroyed they have had no difficulty in paying higher rates for the dwellings that they have moved into. And so it has gone on. What will be the final effect of this? People will have bought dwellings, perhaps at prices amounting to two or three times the value of them in 1939, and then suddenly the Government, or the 684 local authority, will say to them: "We are going to take over these dwellings from you; we are going to pay you probably a half or a third of what you paid, and there is no redress available to you at all." I ask the Government to face up to that reality, because it is indeed a reality. The longer you wait, the longer you are without a policy, the greater that particular difficulty will grow.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer before I sit down. It is suggested—the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, spoke on this point—that compensation is not necessarily paid before entry. Now there are masses of people in this country who, unless compensation is paid to them before entry, will not be able to find other suitable accommodation. I suggest to the noble Lord who replied for the Government that that is another matter which is a reality and which ought to be taken into consideration by the Government in dealing with this very serious matter.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord for his kindly reply. I do not intend to take up more than a few moments of your Lordships' time, but I should like to refer very briefly to the remarks which fell from my noble and learned friend Lord Maugham, because I think the point of view which he put before your Lordships is a little exaggerated, if he will allow me to say so. He read a paragraph from the Uthwatt Report to your Lordships, but he did not read quite the whole of it. The recommendation to which he referred is contained in paragraph 168:(d) On the Central Planning Authority or the Minister approving the acquisition map, notice of the approval and of the effect of the Order approving it should be given to persons having interests in the properties affected by public advertisement and by separate service so far as can be done from information in the possession of the acquiring authority, and where necessary by posting notices on the sites.I am afraid that the noble and learned Viscount has a very poor opinion of local authorities.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, I do not know why my noble friend objects to that. I read the whole of it, down to the end.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, there is another part which the 685 noble and learned Viscount did not read, and I am coming to it in a moment. He seems to have a very poor opinion of local authorities, because he seems to think that they are going deliberately to disregard people to whom they can get access by not serving notices on them. The part which he did not read comes later in the following paragraph:The effect of the Order approving the acquisition map should, put broadly, be that the fee simple absolute in the various properties should by reason of the Order, if the Older so provides, or, in other cases, by due notice given by the acquiring authority pursuant to some provision in the Order, vest in the acquiring authority as at the date specified in the Order"—and this is what the noble and learned Viscount did not read—or at the date specified in the notice, as the case may be.I imagine that in the ordinary case the notice will be subsequent to the Order.
I prophesied to your Lordships that we should hear of the widow. The widow was introduced into your Lordships' House in the guise of the mother of the noble and learned Viscount's maritime friend, who may go away for a year; but if a person is absent from his property for a year great public improvements cannot be held up because he cannot have notice served on him. My interpretation of the proposal of the Uthwatt Committee is simply that it is made in order to avoid delays due to the case where the property owner cannot be found. At any rate, I am certain that as long as the noble and learned Viscount is in your Lordships' House, your Lordships will never allow a Bill to go through which does not contain a provision to meet such an elementary requirement of justice as that.
I have to thank your Lordships for the many speeches which have been made in support of the Motion. I was a little apprehensive when my noble friend on the Front Bench began by saying that at no distant date we might sit by the flesh- 686 pots of achievement. If that was all we were going to be given, I was not going to be very pleased; but as he was good enough in the end to accept the Motion, although he said "in principle".—and I do not know what that means—I am grateful to him for his consideration.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, I rather resent the suggestion that my account of the Report was in any way inaccurate, but, as my noble friend took the precaution of borrowing my copy, I will say no more. This is perhaps not the appropriate time to deal with the question.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.