§ 2.44 P.m.
§ Order of the Day for resuming the debate on the Motion for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, before we start the debate this afternoon there is one question of procedure about which I should like to consult your Lordships. As you know, we shall proceed next week to the discussion of the Bill in Committee and to that stage next Tuesday and Wednesday are to be devoted. I do not know yet—I do not think anybody knows—whether those two days will be too long or too short. It may yet be that further Amendments will be put down for consideration, but it is of the utmost importance that this House should complete the Committee stage next week. I would therefore like to suggest very definitely to your Lordships that we might meet at twelve o'clock on the Tuesday, that is, the first day of the Committee stage. That would give us an opportunity of seeing how we get on. Supposing we are behind our time at the end of Tuesday's sitting, we would meet on Wednesday at 12 o'clock so as to be certain that we should be given sufficient time to complete our business, but that will be unnecessary if we make good progress on the first day. It is, as I say, essential that we should get through the Committee stage next week and I put forward that suggestion for the consideration of your Lordships.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends let me say that we shall be glad to co-operate with the noble Viscount in that matter.
In resuming the discussion on this Bill. I would like to say how much I appreciated the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the noble Lord, the Minister of Re- 775 construction, in commending this Bill to the House; but I noticed that he avoided one thing—the Title of the Bill. If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that it is styled "Town and Country Planning Bill". Well, whatever the Bill is, it is not that—that is quite clear. The Bill is one which deals with the replanning and purchase of ground necessary for replanning of areas that have been bombed by the enemy and have suffered war damage and for certain ancillary purposes, one of which is styled the re-location of industry. If your Lordships are interested in the phraseology in which the Parliamentary draftsman takes glory, I would recommend you to read the second paragraph on page 2 of the Bill. I have added it up and I find it runs to seventeen lines without a full-stop except at the end. In that paragraph you will see one of the ancillary purposes of the Bill described; it pretends to define the re-location of industry. I will not bore your Lordships by reading it, but I commend it to your attention as an illustration of Parliamentary clarity.
However, the point I am making is that the Bill is confined to enabling local authorities to acquire land in the areas where there is war damage, and there are various limitations attached even to that. But whatever the Bill does it does not enable any authority to do any planning anywhere else. The only people who can derive any benefit out of this legislation are those who, unfortunately, have been the object of the enemy's missiles. Nobody else, however urgent the need, will be able to proceed more rapidly than hitherto when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. We know, for example, how urgent it is that there should be a better distribution of industry in many areas and there have been some exceedingly powerful and interesting speeches made in your Lordships' House on that subject during the past two years. If the area, say, is fortunate enough to have been well bombed, it will be possible to do something about it, but if it is an area which has been spared the enemy's missiles, then, however urgent may be the need, so far as this Bill is concerned the people in that area are no further on. We know, too, as has been revealed during the course of the war, how urgent it is in many districts that slum areas 776 should be cleaned up, that there should be a better system of communication and roads in many of our towns—in fact, all the things that are so urgently required and are generally styled "planning" in one form or another. This Bill does not touch any of them, so that whatever may be its virtues—and there are some considerable virtues in it, I fully admit that —none of them accords with its title. It is not a Town and Country Planning Bill.
I shall come back to why it is not in a few minutes. Before I do so may I direct your Lordships' attention—not from the point of view of criticism but from the point of view of legality—to one or two of the limitations which are imposed upon authorities even in areas that have been bombed? There is first the power to acquire land where an area has suffered extensive war damage. I am happy to say that there is a sort of definition in the Bill of "extensive war damage", and I can imagine the delightful passages of arms there may be in the Law Courts in due course as to what is and what is not "extensive war damage." But still I hope we can confidently expect that we shall have sensible Ministers and sensible local authorities, so that authorities will not be estopped from proceeding to make use of the Bill by troubles about the definition. Nevertheless, if you look at the various pitfalls—verbal pitfalls—of which the courts might take advantage they are quite numerous. I see, for example, that where land is required for the re-location of population or industry as the result of extensive war damage there are no fewer than six qualifications to be complied with before an authority can establish its case for making use of the Bill for that purpose. It is limited by those definitions; but still I hope that they will be sensibly interpreted.
Then there is another limitation to which we shall have to call attention on the Committee stage. I think it is very important. The orders subjecting to purchase land required by local authorities for replanning purposes in areas extensively war damaged (I apologize for using the phrase again) must be made within five years; but if your Lordships will look at Clause 2 (2) (b) you will find that the application for the order must have been made before the expiration of two years. That was the result of a strange change of mind by the Minister in charge of the Bill 777 in the House of Commons. The order authorizing the purchase must be submitted to the Minister before the expiration of two years from the date appointed. Now, my Lords, just think. The war ends whenever you like. Let us assume that it does happily end when the Prime Minister thought it might—by the early summer of next year. What then? Take the case of London, Coventry, Plymouth or any area which has been extensively war damaged. Where are they now? They are not anywhere. They are groping about exactly as they were two years ago when Lord Reith made an eloquent speech from the Cross Bench there urging the vital importance of authorities being able to define the areas, to know what their powers were going to be for the acquisition of land and how they could replan the desolated areas, and all the rest of it. They are in exactly that position now. Everyone of us has had, I should think, some first-hand experience about planning, and we know that when the surveyors, the architects and the other experts are "turned loose" on these jobs it takes a considerable time.
My noble friend Lord Latham once told us in the House of a small property in one part of London—quite a small property—where there were no less than eight hundred different interests to be bought out, in that one property. We are all well aware that that is the kind of thing that will happen. Just imagine this being projected into a city: thousands and thousands of different interests will be required to be dealt with. I am quite sure that no local authority will have got it all collected together and sorted out and put into the form of an order, and all the rest of it, to present to the Minister in two years; or at all events, if you limit it to two years, it will mean than you will shut out of operation a very large number of places which ought to be dealt with, because the greater the damage the more time will be required to get your order into proper shape, so that any city which has been extensively damaged is gravely prejudiced. The worse the damage has been the less able will they be to make use of this Bill as it stands at present. I hope that the noble Lord will be in an expansive frame of mind when we get into Committee and perhaps we may persuade him to introduce a little more elasticity into this provision. As it stands it is a 778 grave handicap to authorities that have been extensively damaged.
I would like to turn to one other limitation of the Bill as its stands, and that concerns finance. Clearly in an area which has been greatly damaged the cost of the acquisition will accordingly be increased and the grants which are to be made available to authorities are set out in Clause 5 on pages 9 and 10. Your Lordships will see that the grant is to be an amount "equal to the loan charges which the authority are liable to pay for the period of two years beginning with the date on which the moneys were borrowed." That is a very good way of doing it. It means that in the early days there will, of course, be no revenue derivable from the land which has been purchased, and therefore they will be assisted with loan charges. That is right; but it is only for two years. However, it does go on to provide that, if the Minister is satisfied that there is a special case, the period may be prolonged even up to eight years. We all know that every authority will be looking at what the cost is going to be. That is quite right. It is not going to be the needs of the borrower or the district so far as that is concerned or what is the right way of replanning the place. The first fence to be jumped will be these negotiations with the Treasury about the cost.
Some of your Lordships have had a good deal of experience of negotiations of this kind. They take a little time as a rule, and the Treasury is often a very strict keeper of the purse in respect of these matters. But I do not believe (and I do not think anybody will believe if he looks at the desolation which has been wrought) that there will be many local authorities which will be prepared to face up to this financial task on their own. I think it will be outside the possibility of a large number of authorities. Therefore I would suggest that the Government should turn their mind back to the procedure suggested in their own Paper on the use of land. In the Paper on the use of land, upon which we had a discussion some time ago, there was a suggestion that there should be a Land Commission (I forget the precise title at the moment) which should advance money for the purchase of land, and so on. It seems to me that the only way you can enable the poorer authorities to get their towns restored is for the land to be 779 purchased on their behalf, as is suggested in this Paper on the use of land, by a Government authority—a Land Commission or whatever you like to call it—and let that authority lease it to the local authorities or to anybody else for the purposes prescribed in the scheme. In that way you will enable such land as is required for purposes in accordance with the provisions of the Bill to be acquired without undue delay, and you will also enable the authorities whose areas have suffered most destruction to get on with their work.
I must confess that I am very disappointed that after two years of deliberation the Government have not got any further than this. If I may do so without being regarded as impertinent I entirely acquit the noble Lord on the Front Bench (Lord Woolton) of blame. Seeing the short time he has been in his office, I think he has done better than a good many of us would have expected and I would like very respectfully to offer him my congratulations. He has at all events got us this Bill. That is something. But I would point out that it is two years or more since this House pleaded with the Government, and the Government said they were going to get on with planning, not merely in regard to areas that had been bombed, but in regard to other urgent needs of the country. And after that long period this is all we have got.
Some of your Lordships who have read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, yesterday will have noticed that he went out of his way to reassure somebody or other about the rights of property. In my opinion it was a well-stated reassurance but it seems to me that those who represent private property are exceedingly well able to look after themselves, judging by the records of the last two years. To put it plainly, there is not any doubt that in regard to questions arising out of the purchase of land required for what is called planning, land interests have been the obstacle to progress. That is true and we all know it. I therefore do not apologize for saying it. I confess that if I really were to let myself go on this subject I might be tempted to transgress the rules of order of this House, if we have any.
I ask your Lordships to recall what has been happening throughout the whole country, how men have been taken by 780 the hundred thousand from their callings, how they have given up their businesses, and indeed everything else willingly and quite rightly. They have not haggled for two years, or been in a position to haggle for two years, as to how much their compensation was to be and on what value it was to be based. To be quite frank, I think it is a shameful record if we compare what has been happening in the disputes regarding the conditions of acquiring land for replanning during the last two years with what the ordinary citizens have willingly surrendered for the defence of their country. It is a subject in regard to which we ought to be ashamed and I make no apology whatever for saying so. I think the record in this respect of those concerned is completely discreditable. After all, when we went out and exhorted people to put their money into war savings and to do this and do that, we never met with any request from them that the pound should be of the same value so many years hence as it was when they invested it. Yet that is the demand which is put forward with regard to the purchase of land. It has not been put forward in respect to any other commodity and I hope we shall repudiate any such demand in regard to land
Everybody wants to do the fair thing. For my part I and my friends are perfectly willing to go to the thirty per cent.; in fact, as far as I am concerned I would agree to more if we could get rid of this matter and finish with it. My qualification is "if we could finish with it." I think that those who may fairly be described as championing the interests of land should pull themselves together and recognize that, while their claim might in ordinary circumstances be just so far as rightful compensation is concerned, it is not such as ought to be allowed to stand in the way of the public interest. Their attitude is responsible for this Bill being the partial affair that it is. But such as it is we will make the best of it. We recognize its limitations, and I repeat that after two years of meditation we might have had something more worthy of the occasion.
§ 3.9 p.m.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I am unable to join with the noble Lord who has just spoken in his whole-hearted attack upon this Bill. I 781 think the Bill has its merits. It does help the town and country authorities in certain directions in the acquisition of the land they require and I think it also may enable the speed in acquiring land to be considerably, accelerated. But when I have said that I cannot pretend that I am an enthusiastic supporter of this Bill. This Bill has never beer, either in the other House or in the country, the centre of a mutual admiration society and here, as elsewhere, I have no doubt the defects of the Bill will be very plainly pointed out. My main disappointment about the Bill is the one that has already been mentioned, that it is not really a Town and Country Planning Bill. It deals simply with certain towns which have been "blitzed" or, as I believe the word is, blighted, but the rest of the country which is not in that unfortunate position is unable to benefit from the clauses of this Bill.
Many of us for a long time have been hoping that there would be a Town and Country Planning Bill which would set up some kind of central authority, not to dictate to the local authorities, but to direct and guide them and to see that this country used to the very best advantage the limited amount of land which it has at its disposal. We had hoped for something of that kind, but there is nothing of that kind in the Bill. It is a Bill very limited in its scope and it does not give us the comprehensive scheme of planning which many of us had expected. Here, I should like to make a criticism of the form of the Bill. I do not know what other noble Lords feel on this matter but I have read this Bill through and I find it most extraordinarily difficult to understand. I have no doubt the lawyers in your Lordships' House will be able to understand it though, even among them I think, we shall find some difference of interpretation of some of the clauses. But plain people like myself, and possibly even plainer people outside, will find it quite impossible to understand the Bill which so vitally affects their lives and their happiness. I cannot understand—there may be some reason for it—why Bills in Parliament have to be drafted in such a way that they are comprehensible only to experts and are impossible for the man in the street to understand. It is quite possible that the noble Lord who is in charge of the Bill sympathizes with these sentiments.
782 The most serious criticism I want to make on the Bill is this; it is the same criticism as, I understand, was made yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that the towns which have been "blitzed" have not got power of extending their boundaries. I suppose most of us recognize that many towns are terribly overcrowded and replanning on a very large scale is required. As a result of the "blitzing" many of the overcrowded districts have been almost completely destroyed and whether we like it or not there has to be replanning. If houses are to be built simply on the existing sites you will get the same overcrowding. If there is to be—I dislike the word—"decanting" or moving of population away elsewhere, the borough authorities will have to buy land in districts which do not come under their jurisdiction. It will mean that they will lose rates which they would otherwise obtain and lose a large number of citizens who would have been in the original town.
Let me illustrate this by the case of Hull. I think it is now permissible to say that Hull has been one of the most severely bombed cities in the country. Some figures were published the other day which showed that before the war there were 92,000 buildings in the city and now only 5,500 of them are undamaged. I do not mean to say that all the rest have been destroyed, but out of 92,000 only 5,500 have been undamaged by the repeated "blitzes." The people of the city of Hull have great schemes as to what they might do. They wish to move a large number of the people—some 50,000 to 60,000—away into the country and there build another town for them. Before the war in the city of Hull, instead of there being twelve to sixteen houses to the acre, the kind of proportion which is now recognized as more or less ideal, there were in parts of the town seventy-four houses to the acre and in other parts eighty-four houses to the acre. If the authorities of Hull are to carry out any satisfactory scheme of rebuilding, it is absolutely essential that they should move these people outside, hut they have no spare land immediately round the town and if they had it would be most undesirable that they should use it because it would simply increase the sprawl of the suburbs. They wish to 783 build elsewhere but, if they do, they will lose all the rates they would have obtained from the citizens and they will have to keep up in the city of Hull the public services with a much smaller income. If boundaries are changed so that this decanted population is brought within the boundaries of the city of Hull, very heavy compensation no doubt will have to be paid to the authority from which the land is taken, compensation for the value which has really been created by the people of Hull themselves.
The "blitzed" cities are not very many—about seven, I think—but they are feeling the position most acutely and the responsible authorities in them feel it impossible to carry out any comprehensive housing scheme unless they are allowed to include in their boundaries some of the new districts which they desire to acquire. I think the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will tell us that later on there may be some other Bill which may remedy this, but a decision is needed now. These authorities will be subjected to delay, and delay, and delay, through no fault of their own, unless they know what is to be their future position. I hope sincerely that in the Committee stage some alteration may be made in this respect.
Now I want to say a word on the highly debated question of compensation. I am not a financier and I cannot speak as an expert on this matter, but I think it would have been quite impossible to have had the Bill without any compensation clauses. The whole Bill would have been useless. On the other hand, to pay anything like the present market value of land would have been monstrous and would have made it quite impossible for any of these authorities to go forward with a comprehensive scheme. The cost would have been too great. Therefore I am one of those who feel that the present suggestion should be accepted as a compromise. It is recognized everywhere as vital at the present time that national unity should be preserved and it would be deplorable if there was a serious political division owing to a difference of opinion on these compensation clauses. Therefore, I hope these clauses will go through in the form in which they were accepted in another place. To sum up the matter, I accept the Bill as a step in the right direction—not a very long step—and I hope very much that 784 before long the Government will introduce some other Bill which will fill up the very serious gaps which are in the Bill now before us.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, in a debate of this character members of your Lordships' House are in a great difficulty because the Bill comes here after a very long and careful debate in which a very large number of experts expressed their views in another place and after the introduction of quite a number of Amendments in the Committee stage. A great many of the clauses in the Bill relate to matters where if there were an Amendment it would be a Privilege Amendment and, as we all know, no attention need be paid in the other place to such an Amendment, although Privilege might be waived and the Amendment accepted if it was thought fit in another place. In that state of things one can quite see that whoever is in charge of the Bill in your Lordships' House is in a position of great difficulty because the matter has been carefully considered and there is an obvious answer to Amendments which are suggested. My view is that the Amendments which I shall hope to support hereafter will be a waste of time unless one can enlist the sympathy and the charitable view of the Minister in charge of the Bill. If he is willing to submit the Amendments for consideration there is some hope of their being accepted, but it is, to my mind, perfectly plain that if the Minister in charge of the Bill is adamant in these matters it is really no good our proceeding with the Amendments.
Having said that, I want, in the first place, to say a few words on the question of the debate now proceeding in this House at the present moment, this debate on the Second Reading. I apologize for referring, as I shall, to certain Amendments, but on the question of Second Reading I do not think that anybody—at any rate nobody who has spoken so far—has suggested that the Bill should not be read a second time. The eloquent speech of my noble friend Lord Latham, exhausted, as I thought, the language of disparagement in regard to practically every detail of the Bill, but, nevertheless, he ended up by saying that he thought that it should be accepted on Second Reading. Lord Addison based his remarks on the Bill very largely on the conviction, which it appears he has held 785 for many years, that—putting it in my language—landlords are a class of pirates, and their interests ought not to be protected in any respect. Is that overstating your views Lord Addison?
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
If I have overstated the position which my noble friend takes up, I am very sorry, but that is the inference which I drew from some of his remarks. For instance, I am quite unable to understand what grounds he has for alleging that the two years which have elapsed in framing this Bill have been time entirely wasted, or spent, because of some improper views which landowners, rich and poor, of this country nave taken on the compensation clauses. That I believe to be absolutely without foundation, though I know perfectly well that my noble friend would not have said it unless he believed it to be true. I do not believe that he is accurate. From the very start when this matter was brought up— and I have heard it discussed again and again— I have not heard any body of opinion representing the landowners who have objected to the 1939 ceiling. They have pointed out that the ceiling as suggested in the Uthwatt Report was more generous than the ceiling suggested in this Bill when they saw it. That is very true, and it was pointed out with great force by Mr. Hore-Belisha in the exceedingly eloquent speech which he made in another place. But I have never heard anybody say that they wanted more than the fair value of the land. Nor have I heard them say that they wanted the present market price of the land, which, as we all know, in many parts of the country, particularly the "blitzed" areas, is artificial.
It is artificial for two reasons. In the first place the number of houses is not nearly sufficient, and therefore there is a dearth of them which has artificially sent up the market price of the land. That is a consequence of the "blitzing" and the damage which has been occasioned in this country. The other reason is that the circumstances of the war, and the lapse of time that has taken place since the war began—as your Lordships know we are now in the fifth year of hostilities—are circumstances which have resulted in a change in the value of money. 786 These two circumstances have led to the fact that market price is no longer any use. These are the things which, as I understand it, have led the people of this country who own land, however small in area—I am one of those who own only a very small portion, and I am absolutely disinterested in this matter—to accept, as I have found and according to my experience, the view that, substantially, the proper method was to take the 1939 value, with certain things of obvious justice which make this value unfair in certain circumstances. I am going to go back a little later to this question of what is the proper way in which to deal with that, but I wholly repudiate the notion that these people—whether they have bought a house with the aid of a building society, whether they are like a noble Lord who spoke yesterday, who possesses land which his ancestors have held for seven hundred years, or whether they belong to an intermediate class of landowners—are blood suckers. Perhaps that is a term which Lord Addison does not object to?
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
It is all nonsense in my belief. I do not believe that there is any ground for thinking anything of the sort, and when the noble Lord goes into an illustration by telling us of Service men who have gone abroad to fight and risk their lives, he is dragging in something which is absolutely irrelevant to the question.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
The position taken up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he opened this measure—and it is the position everybody takes up now who has good sense in the matter—is that there, should be fair compensation given for these properties which are being taken compulsorily. The only thing, so far as I know, that landowners are saying is: "Give us fair compensation, and not another penny. That is all we want." It is too bad that those who are landowners, from the working man who has got a house by saving with the assistance of a building society to the richer landowner, should be told that it is their fault that two years have elapsed, and that it is their improper desire to get more than 787 they should get which has been responsible for all the trouble which we are now in.
I have said all I want to say on that point. I would add, with regard to the Bill, that, as your Lordships are going to see in a minute, I do not think it is a perfect Bill. But I take the view which Viscount Astor takes, representing, as he does, the interests of that great city of Plymouth. He has not told us that this is the meanest Bill the country has ever seen. He welcomes it. He has pointed out some defects in it which I hope will be considered both here and in another place, which is a very different thing from talking about it in the tone which Lord Latham adopted, and, I must say, with great respect, in the tone which Lord Addison used. As I have said, I am quite disinterested in this matter. My desire would be that both sides, landowners and people who do not own a pennyworth of land, should get together and help each other in carrying through this great measure.
It is not a small measure, and I cannot understand the suggestion that it does little or nothing. The value of the houses which are going to be the subject of compulsory purchase in "blitzed" areas and the areas adjacent and contiguous thereto (not the others, which are perhaps just as numerous) is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanied the Bill in the House below to be £571,000,000. Anyone who says that £571,000,000 is a trifle, and that this Bill is dealing with trifles, must have a megalomaniac sense which I do not possess. I think that this Bill is of great importance. In my opinion it will lead to very great advantages, but I agree with the most reverend Prelate who has just spoken that it is an incomplete measure, and will have to be amended in several respects, if not here in Committee then by some other Bill. It is not a Bill which anyone should sneer at; it is a Bill to be accepted, and the more that the opposing views on this matter can be brought together and help to improve the Bill, so far as it is capable of improvement at this late date, the better.
I should like to say a word about the Amendments the necessity for which I wish particularly to emphasize. I think that one Amendment suggested by my 788 noble friend Lord Addison is of great importance. His point had already occurred to me, and I think to everybody else who has had anything to do with the Bill. It is that there are many poor local authorities in this country who will not be able to work the Bill. I have had to investigate, in connexion with the supply of water, the incomes which many of these poor local authorities possess, and I think that it is clear to anyone who knows the small amount which a penny rate produces in a good many of these areas that these poorer local authorities will not be able to work this measure at all. There ought therefore to be something a good deal more generous, either in this Bill or in another Bill, to enable them to take advantage of what is proposed by this Bill.
Next I want to say a word about fair compensation. I do not believe that on logical lines the 3o per cent. for the owner-occupier, with nothing extra for a man who is not an owner-occupier, can be justified. I think that it is illogical, and except from the standpoint of expediency it has no real justification. I do see, however, that there are grounds for saying that some of these people who are not owner-occupiers are not worthy of very much consideration, and that therefore, as a matter of rough justice, since it is obviously fair that something in addition to the 1939 ceiling should be given to people who are occupying their houses and are turned out, the others need not have this addition. I know, moreover, that with a Coalition Government it is necessary to be reasonable on these matters, and things which are in the nature of a compromise have to be accepted, even though they are not altogether fair.
There are some people, however, who are really in exactly the same position as owner-occupiers. The people whose interests I have particularly at heart are those who bought houses after the year 1939—say in the year 1942—at a price considerably greater than the 1939 price, and who bought them for occupation. Many of these people actually occupied their houses as long as they could, but were then sent away, either to fight abroad or to work for the Government in areas which were supposed to be free from bombing. Those people are in real essence owner-occupiers. They bought their, houses for occupation. In many 789 cases they lived in them for a year or so, but, because of events wholly beyond their own control, they have ceased to be occupiers at the date of the notice to treat. I put it to your Lordships that there is no distinction between a man in that position and an owner-occupier. My conclusion is that it would be quite easy to introduce an Amendment here (though I agree it would have to be a Privilege Amendment, because it adds to the charge on the rates) to the effect that people who bought for occupation after 1939, and who can establish that fact, shall be entitled to the extra 30 per cent. That is the sort of Amendment which I hope can be considered in this House and perhaps given effect to.
I would observe that the cases mentioned in the most cogent speech of my noble friend Lord Manvers yesterday were of this kind. They were cases of farmers who wanted to buy for occupation property which the noble Earl's family had possessed for hundreds of years. Some of these people, however, may not be occupying the property. If they occupy it they will get the 30 per cent., but if they are not occupying it the reason will be that they are not able for some reason to do so. The people whom he mentioned are not people who wanted to buy a farm and sell it at a profit. I am wholly in favour of getting rid of the land speculators, because they are making money out of the war; but I am thinking of people who are not speculators at all, but who bought for the sake of their wives and children, and who bought for occupation. They ought to have the benefit of this 30 per cent.
I should like to say a word on the subject of Clause 17 of the Bill, which defines the powers to be conferred on the local authorities in relation to the land acquired. For some reason which I do not in the least understand the Government seem to have taken the view that all these properties which are compulsorily acquired are properties which should belong to the local authorities who bought them, and that apart from some very exceptional case all that the local authorities should do is to lease them for a period not exceeding 99 years. I have beer too long in the law not to know the difference between a lease for 99 years and a freehold, and I have been too long in the law not to appreciate what my noble friend Lord Astor said yesterday—namely, 790 that many of the large people whom we want to build and set up businesses in the "blitzed" areas will shrink from accepting a 99-year lease, which puts them under the control in many respects of a landlord, and will want a freehold. That is the traditional right of our people in the case of ordinary houses in England; it puts them in a position where their land is, so to speak, their castle. The lessee is in quite a different position.
I would say, agreeing fully with what my noble friend Lord Astor said with regard to people who are going to erect houses in Plymouth, that the Minister will find great difficulty if he insists on maintaining his view, and if generally speaking these people are not to get freeholds, and the local authorities of the country are to be turned into landlords of vast areas acquired at such prodigious figures, when you add them all together. What experience have many local authorities got in managing land as the landlords of great leasehold estates? These landowners of England, of whom some noble Lords on the other side think so poorly, have all sorts of experience, and they know how to deal with land. They have dealt with land in towns, particularly in London, by leases, and they understand the business; but who is to say that the local authorities do, and who can realize the repercussions and reactions that are going to take place over a series of years if you have whole streets owned by the local authorities? And who can say that a difficulty may not arise in relation to the army of people who will be required to look after this property, and to the chance of an insidious form of corruption affecting some of the employees of these bodies?
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
I will not go into that for the moment. It is just possible that I know as much about it as the noble Lord.
§ LORD LATHAM
Is the noble and learned Viscount aware that the London County Council is the landlord of 100,000 dwellings at the present time, and is one of the largest landlords in London? There is no corruption there.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
If the noble Lord had listened to what I said he would realize that I was very largely with smaller local authorities that I was deal- 791 ing. I think it possible that the London County Council have some experience and that they are fairly good landlords. But I have not got any axe to grind in this matter. When I was at the Bar, I am afraid some years ago now, I acted as counsel for the London County Council for a series of years, and I have the greatest kindness in my heart for a valuable client who afforded me considerable compensation for my efforts. Therefore I should be the last to attack the London County Council. But I really was not thinking of the London County Council when I made the remarks I did; I was thinking of other cases, with which, as a member of the Bar, I have come into touch, and of some rather distressing stories about the way in which the local authorities have exercised their powers. In regard to them, I repeat what I said.
There is a clause in this Bill which suggests that landowners cannot be trusted to look after their own houses. It is a curious thing because, after all, all the best private houses in England have been built by private enterprise; why you should think that local authorities can do any better I do not know. Anyone who has seen the town halls erected all over England will not be very greatly impressed by their powers or regard them as the sort of people who ought to cover England with buildings. Although I want to be on terms with my noble friend Lord Latham, I yet cannot help observing that the most beautiful square in London, if not in England—Berkeley Square—was built in the reign of William and Mary, and it has been destroyed in recent years, but before the reign of my noble friend Lord Latham, with, as I understand, the consent of the London County Council.
§ LORD LATHAM
May I interpose? The London County Council had no powers, and when they invited the Minister in connexion with another square to give them powers they were refused.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
I suspect my noble friend is right, but that was not my view. Under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 they had power, and I do not know who advised them that they had not. The noble Lord has probably taken very good advice, but that was my impression. Anyhow, some- 792 body or other did make a mess of Berkeley Square.
May I say something with regard to Clause 41, that is, the clause with regard to houses of great value because of their past history or associations—the sort of houses acquired by the National Trust. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will give some consideration to this. A great many of these houses are in settlement, that is to say, they are in possession of a man who is a tenant for life, who cannot use capital for the purpose of repair, and who is trying to keep up a noble house for the benefit of his children. If you are going to put him into the position that unless he, the tenant for life, repairs the house, it will be taken away from him, you are going to do something which is completely unjust, unless you also give him power to repair the house out of capital. It is rather a technical point but a very practical one, because I know very well that since the war began the position of people who are tenants for life under settlements has been going from bad to worse. The Income Tax charges on them are very great, and they have to keep up great estates and fine houses with practically nothing to do it on. Although it may he fair enough to say to an absent owner, if there are any, "You must repair or have your beautiful house taken away from you," it is absolutely and completely unjust to say it to a man who only has the income from the estate to live upon, and the greater part of that income is taken away by the State.
I agree with some of the Amendments suggested by the most reverend Prelate who has just spoken. But I will not weary your Lordships further. The Bill is, I think, a very useful measure, though I freely admit that it is not a very perfect example of fairness and justice, or even of drafting. I agree with what has been said as regards the drafting. Something may be done by amendment. There is a strong reason, I think, why the noble Lord in charge of the Bill should look upon Amendments with a fairly lenient eye, because I do not believe that this Bill can be worked except with the approval and consent of the vast majority of the people of this country, including that much-abused class, the owners of land.
§ 3.49 p.m.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I think this is one of the oddest debates I have ever taken part in in your Lordships' House. My noble friend the Minister of Reconstruction asked your Lordships yesterday to give the Bill a Second Reading in a speech, as I thought, of very great sincerity and charm. I think every one of your Lordships will agree with me, and I have no doubt that we shall give the noble Lord his Second Reading. But since then we have had half a dozen speeches from noble Lords yesterday, and we have had three or four more to-day, and I thought the position was going to be that we should have two speeches only in favour of the Bill, one from tie noble Lord the Minister of Reconstruction and the other from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who is, I understand, going to reply. Fortunately we have been saved from that extraordinary position by my noble and learned friend who has just spoken and who has, I think, enrolled himself as a supporter of the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, says the Bill is a small mercy. I call that damning the Bill with faint praise. However that may be, I am quite sure my noble friend is going to get his Second Reading.
I listened with interest to my noble friend's speech to see at what point he would come to the question of national planning, because it is the question of national planning which really affects the Government's housing policy, in which your Lordships are so greatly interested. Like the most reverend Prelate I, too, have read the Bill. I am rather proud of having read the Bill. I have read it, and have not perceived anything in it at all about national planning, so I was not surprised when my noble friend got five-sixths of the way through his speech without referring to national planning. My noble friend opposite said he did not refer to the title of the Bill. He did as a matter of fact. He used rather a queer phrase; he said "the spaciousness of the title of the Bill tends to overlay the urgency of its need." I do not really know what that means, but I suppose it is a reference to town and country planning and national planning.
My noble friend, with, I thought, rather a guilty look in my direction, then called our attention to two clauses in the Bill which he said supported his conten- 794 tion that it had something to do with national planning. These were Clauses 17 and 28, so when I got home I resumed my study of the Bill, and I turned anxiously to Clause 17; I had read it but I had not seen anything about national planning in it. When I looked at Clause 17 I found that it was called "Disposal or appropriation by local planning authority of land held by them for purposes of this Part." Then there follow three pages of what I can only call jargon. There are a good many references to other Acts, and there is some reference to "features of special architectural or historic interest": but if it has a connexion with national planning it is a very remote one. Then I turned, with diminished hopes, to Clause 28, the other one to which my noble friend referred me, and there I found a clause called "Duty of local planning authority to furnish information to the Minister." Well, of course, that finally extinguished my hopes, because my feeling always was that the initiative is still with the local authority—and so I think it is.
We have had some comment on the title of the Bill. Of course there is no right at all to call it a "Town and Country Planning Bill." This Bill is properly named "The Great Cities Extension Bill" or, if you prefer, "A Bill for the Intensification of the Suburban Sprawl." That is what it really ought to be called, standing by itself. I do not know if all your Lordships realize why national planning really is important in relation to this country's housing policy, which is the aspect of it which most concerns me. I want to try to illustrate that to your Lordships by reference to the problem of Greater London. I believe I am right in saying that the population of Greater London increased between the years 1931 and 1939 at a greater rate than the population of England and Wales as a whole increased. The increase in the ten years from 1921 to 1931 was 800,000. The increase in the eight years from 1931 to 1939 was 900,000. That makes it, if you convert it to a ten-year period, 1,225,000. Now, on the very modest supposition that the increase will go on at the same rate, and not at a greater one—because populations always tend to increase at an ever-increasing speed—we should have an additional 1,600,000 people in the next ten years, and an additional 2,400,000 people in the ten years after that. That 795 will be an addition of 4,000,000 people to the Greater London area in the next twenty years. That is the prospect which in sober earnest faces us in this country, and I wonder what is going to become of our housing problem if that anticipation is realized.
I turn to the White Paper. This is a quotation from my noble friend's own White Paper:The Uthwatt Committee was appointed in January, 1941, 'to make an objective analysis of the subject of the payment of compensation and recovery of betterment in respect of public control of the use of land' and 'to advise … what steps should be taken … to prevent the work of reconstruction … being prejudiced.' The Committee issued an Interim Report in April, 1941 (Cmd. 6291) and a Final Report in August, 1942 (Cmd. 6386). This Final Report contains a great many detailed recommendations for amending the existing law relating to the assessment of compensation, but the peculiar value of the Report lies in its masterly analysis of the abstruse problems lying at the root of any effective system of town and country planning. The Government are greatly indebted to the Committee for this notable contribution.Then over the page the noble Lord says:The Government accept as substantially correct the Uthwatt Committee's analysis of the problems with which their Report deals.What was that analysis which the Government accept? That analysis in a sentence was the proof that unless the conflicts between land values and planning requirements, between public and private interests, are got rid of, planning will be frustrated from the start.
In view of that what is the good of this Bill as a contribution to the housing problem? It is as long ago as 1941 (not two years ago, as the noble Lord opposite said, but four years ago next February) that we were told that the Government accepted national planning as an object of policy. Without national planning your housing policy is going to be stultified, because we all know what kind of houses we want; we all know that the industrial efficiency of this country is bound up with this question; it is bound up with the proper housing of the industrial population. We are not worried about the man who wants a flat. We know there will be plenty of flats. What we are worried about is the man who wants a house with a little bit of garden where he can bring up a family of children. That is the sort of house which you will not get unless you have national planning.
796 This Bill is putting the housing engine back on the old rails. Let me refer to what the noble Lord said in his White Paper about housing. It was a very good statement about the suburban sprawl, about the journeys that have to be made and the awful waste of time and energy—proving in fact that the whole tendency of the housing problem between the two wars, the magnificent effort of putting up four million houses, was largely stultified by putting them in the wrong places. The noble Lord knows what I am talking about and I think he agrees with it. I must remind your Lordships that it is only a month since your Lordships' House accepted the Motion which I put before it asking that decongestion, decentralization and redevelopment of the great cities should be an object of policy. This Bill may decongest and it may redevelop but it does not decentralize and it cannot decentralize unless you have an effective central planning machinery. I ask the noble and learned Viscount to tell us when he replies what is the planning machinery which is going to give effect to the Government's acceptance of that Motion. I said, and I believe everybody agrees except my noble friend opposite, Lord Samuel, that the big towns are too big and the noble Lord was good enough in his reply to throw in a sentence of rather modified agreement with what I said. I do not think there was one of your Lordships (always with the exception of the noble Lord opposite) who did not agree. What is the standing machinery of national planning which is going to give effect to that declared policy of the Government? It is not in this Bill and I think it is lamentable that after three years during which the Government have promised us national planning this is the pass to which we have come.
I would like to say just a word about the question of 1939 prices. I want to say to my noble friend opposite that I do not think he was fair just now when he said that the whole of the delay was attributable to—I will put it more moderately than my noble and learned friend below me (Viscount Maugham)—the rapacity of the landowners. I think to be quite fair the difficulty in resolving the age-old land problem is due to a rooted difference of political ideology. There are people on this side of the House who dislike nationalization and public ownership of land just as much as the 797 noble Lord and his friends like it, and I am quite certain that the noble Lord was not quite fair in attributing the whole of the hold up to my noble friends on this side of the House. I think I can offer same evidence of that. It struck me as remarkable that in the debate a month ago on my Motion, which intimately concerned the whole question of compensation and betterment, not one single noble Lord in your Lordships' House took exception to the 1939 value, not one.
Having said that I must say, to be fair, that I think my noble and learned friend below me (Viscount Maugham) is not quite right in saying market value has not been claimed. Whether it was so expressed in terms or not, I am confident that the effect of Mr. Hore-Belisha's Amendment in another place would have been and in fact was to claim market value. My noble and learned friend below me pointed out that in a case of scarcity absolute current market value not a fair reflection of value for compensation. I think that is so and that was recognized by the fact that the Amendment was defeated. I view that decision with great satisfaction because I do not think it is reasonable, where so many houses have been blown up and where there is such a scarcity, that absolute market value translated into the exorbitant terms which are being paid for rehousing just now should be regarded as a fair standard of value for compensation. But the fact that that was claimed and defeated in another place by no means justifies the accusation of my noble fiend opposite. I would put it no higher than this. I think the fact that it was never referred to in this House, and I do not think will be claimed in this House, is evidence that there are a great many people in your Lordships' House who are a great deal wiser than a great many people in another place.
I do not think I should be in order in pressing on your Lordships the solution which I gave a month ago, that was, a Land Commission. I know it is quite hopeless to expect my noble friend to accept an Amendment of that kind in this Therefore I shall say no more about it, but I remain convinced that it is the real solution. I do not like giving the local authorities these enormous blocks of freehold. I do not know quite who is the best person to administer them, but I do not think it is the local authority. I think 798 the scheme that I propounded of national purchase and leasing to local authorities has very great merits and ought to be further examined.
Before I sit down I want to ask the noble Lord one question to which he will perhaps give me a reply when we come to the Committee stage. Clause 10 gives the local authority power to purchase land for what I think is called balanced development. The question I want to ask is how widely that can be interpreted. For instance would it be within the powers conferred by that clause to purchase land for university development? Would it be within the powers conferred to purchase land for a single village hall or community centre? I am not asking my noble friend to reply now but perhaps he would give the matter consideration. I think that is the sort of object which ought to come within the clause.
Some Amendments are going to be moved and the noble Leader of the House has suggested in order to make time for this that we should sit, if necessary, at an early hour next week. I have no doubt your Lordships will willingly agree to that suggestion, but I would like to enter a plea that we shall have our Amendments given really full, careful and open-minded consideration. There are Amendments, notably that to be moved by my noble friend opposite, which really ought to be included in this Bill because not only is this Bill not a Bill for national planning but it is also a Bill which, where the local authority has the initiative to make a good plan, does not give it the powers to do so. There are half a dozen local authorities who are in the same position as Plymouth and there is no reason in the world that anybody outside a Government Department can see why the powers asked for by this Amendment should not be included in the Bill. I have no doubt we shall be told there are people in Government Departments who see lots of reasons, but I tell you in advance that they are bad reasons. I want an assurance from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that we shall be given open-minded consideration of the Amendments. The fact that we have to get this Bill through at a certain date is, after all, less important than that we should get some remnants of a decent Bill. I hope, therefore, that we shall not be tied down too 799 closely even if we have to sit at these extraordinary hours for us from twelve to five. If we have to do that I hope we shall not be tied down necessarily to too short a consideration of the Amendments which are going to be moved.
§ 4.9 P.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, as has already been said the Bill which we have before us now differs quite materially from the Bill that was introduced in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Latham, was inclined to think it was a good deal worse. I do not agree with him. It is certainly a different Bill but on the whole I think it is probably fairer to all concerned. I do not think the Bill does complete justice all round; in fact the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, did not claim that it did complete justice when he moved the Second Reading. His words were that it is a measure which came nearer to doing justice to all concerned than any other proposal. In a compromise Bill, which this is, I do not think we can get complete satisfaction for anybody. I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the people most seriously affected, upon whom the greatest burden is going to fall, are the owners, not only owners of large property, but many thousands of small owners. I want to tell the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that a very large number of people who are going to be affected by this Bill are the very people to whom he referred so sympathetically, men serving abroad and men called up for Government work. Many thousands of them are small owners and they are going to have an additional burden thrown on them by this Bill.
§ LORD ADDISON
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but would he tell us what is the additional burden?
§ LORD CHESHAM
To have their houses and property taken away without satisfactory compensation. It is a burden whether it is thrown on Service men or anybody else. I think, generally speaking, that the owners are prepared to face this additional burden, but they are only prepared to do it because it is very much in the national interest and is required at a tine which is most exceptional. In normal times I think they would be justified in resisting a great many of these proposals. The provisions in Part I of 800 the Bill, which I may call the procedure part, are capable of minor improvements. That is a matter for Committee and I am not going to deal with it to-day, but various minor Amendments will be submitted which I hope the Government will be prepared to consider. Lord Addison said that the local authorities were very limited as to where they could get land and the purposes for which they could get land, but under Clause 10 that limit is considerably broadened. Another point to which I would call attention is this. I know the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will correct me if I am wrong, but my impression is that this is only one of probably several Bills which will come along as outlined in the White Paper. This Bill deals with the most urgent and necessary things first. I never understood that the object of the Bill was to deal with other and wider matters of land acquisition.
Next I want to make one or two remarks on the very thorny question of compensation, and I want to do it from the owners' point of view. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, said, all that the owners want is reasonable and fair treatment. I would like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Latham, that it is not the object of owners to hold local authorities up to ransom or to get everything they can out of them. As owners we want to see houses built just as much as anybody else. We realize probably more than a great many other people that a very serious situation is going to arise after the war and that we must get houses built. As for saying, as I understood Lord Latham to say, that the Bill made matters worse because the provision of houses was going to cost more, that is an extremely bad argument. It is not the desire of property owners to extract money from the local authorities. All we want is fair treatment. Whether the money comes from the local authorities or is supplied by the Government is not a matter which touches this question of ownership. The owners probably think that the provisions in this Bill for dealing with speculators may not be quite strong enough. We cannot condemn sufficiently the man we call a speculator, the man who makes money by purchasing and selling land, very often at the expense of people who have suffered war damage and war calamity.
801 What the owner is entitled to expect was quite well summed up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place when he said, in a discussion on this Bill the other day, that the object of the Government was to maintain the existing principles of compensation. I happened to be there at the time and when he said that I was rather pleased. I thought "This is going to be reasonable." It is most unfortunate that that expression turned out to be a pious hope and that the object stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not been carried out. There is an invidious distinction between the owner-occupier and the owner of other houses. That has been referred to already and I am not going to elaborate the port. The explanations which have been given do not strike me as convincing. In fact they strike me as being an apology for failure to carry out the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not agree with the figure of 30 per cent. which can be claimed for the owner-occupier. It is an arbitrary figure based on guessing as to what may happen in the future, and I am advised that the prospect of that figure being anything like right is extremely remote. However, provision is made for adjustment of the figure. It can be adjusted by order of the Minster with the approval of Parliament, and I shall be very surprised if we do not find that considerable adjustment will be necessary.
Another explanation was made in another place which, frankly, left me staggered, because I was completely unable to understand it. Probably it is my fault, but I have reason to believe that other people also are unable to understand it. I refer to the explanation of the difference between the value for probate and Death Duties and the value for compensation when an owner's property is taken away from him. I could not understand the explanation given for having two entirely different sets of value of the same property. I do not know whether it will be possible to get a more lucid explanation, or whether we can get any assurance that the Government will endeavour to see that the difference between the two values is not too great. That was asked for in another place. This matter is not satisfactorily settled at all. The owner is not asking for market value, he is not asking for full compensation at enhanced prices.
802 I thought that a simile used by Lord Woolton in introducing the Motion for the Second Reading was not quite accurate. He said that investing in houses was the same as investing in National Savings or any other type of investment. I suggest that they are very different propositions. There are so many thousands of people who invest in houses not as a financial proposition at all but solely with a view to getting homes for themselves. The man who so invests in a house thinks that he is going to keep it. It is now being taken away from him, in many instances, and he wants to know where he is. When you buy National Savings you know what you are buying, and there is no chance, we hope, of their being taken away from you contrary to your own desire, as is happening in the case of houses and homes and property. But even if such a thing could happen full value would, no doubt, be paid for the savings, and that money could be re-invested. The compensation which it is proposed that the owner should receive under this Bill will not allow him to invest in the same type of property. Fairness and justice, I think, is what the owner is asking for. He has been encouraged for generations to buy houses. For generations his one ambition has been to invest his money in his own house, and, very often, in houses for other people. He is now told to hand over that house, or those houses, and I cannot say that he is satisfied with the compensation which is offered.
I am not going to press this matter further. It has been very fully debated in another place, and there have been numerous references to it here. But I would like to say that in this Bill there is a manifest injustice, and it is an injustice which is going to hit the small property owner, which is going to have a far worse effect on the small property owner than on the big property owner. All injustice operates in a similar way. The big men can, possibly, afford to get through, but the small ones will not be able to do so. But this is the result of compromise, and so we cannot expect much more. That compromise has been reached under a Coalition Government. I am going to say straight out now, and I am sure I shall not be contradicted by reasonable people, that had this Government been a Conservative Government acting on its own, in other words a free agent, I do 803 not believe for one moment that this injustice would have been allowed to stand. But this Government is a Coalition Government, and so concessions have to be made to the other contributing Parties. Moreover, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said yesterday, it is essential to keep the Coalition Government going until the war is over. But I want to stress the point that, had the Government been a Conservative Government, acting as a free agent, I do not believe that this injustice would have been allowed to stand.
I have tried to show your Lordships that owners are not content and satisfied, but that they have no choice other than to accept the provisions that are put forward in this Bill, in the exceptional circumstances now existing, and in the national interest. I want to add my voice to those which have been already raised in refuting the very unauthorized accusation made by Lord Addison to the effect that it is the property owners who have been holding up this Bill for two years. If he believes that I am sorry. I do not believe it for one moment. I can assure the noble Lord that it has nothing to do with me anyhow, and nothing to do with the people with whom, as he knows, I am connected. I do not believe that it is any body of property owners who have been holding up the Bill. No doubt the Minister of Reconstruction is the only man who can authoritatively give an answer bearing that out.
§ THE MINISTER OF RECONSTRUCTION (LORD WOOLTON)
I have already said it in this House on two occasions.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, but it does not make much difference. Now to get back to this matter of compensation. I would request the noble and learned Viscount who, I understand, is going to reply on behalf of the Government, to confirm, if he can, the statement made in another place that this standard of compensation will not be taken as a precedent and as a standard for other compensation, either under the War Damage Act or under legislation which might be produced as a result of the White Paper. I do not know if that assurance can be given, but I make the request. And I have one more request to make, but before doing so I would like to welcome the statement made by Lord Woolton with regard to private enterprise. He referred yesterday 804 to private enterprise as an important agency for carrying reconstruction into effect.
Now I want to ask that a rumour which is going about may be refuted today. This rumour is to the effect that the Ministry of Works have no intention of allowing any private builder to take any part in redevelopment as a result of the acquisition of land under this Bill. I cannot believe that that is true. But I have heard that story from a considerable number of people, and from people who most certainly should know better. If the rumour is allowed to gain currency, and there is no contradiction, it is going to do a tremendous lot of harm to the whole of the reconstruction proposals. I do hope that, in his reply to this debate, the noble and learned Viscount will be able to contradict that rumour and kill it for ever. It affects property owners as well as other people. Property owners have to make a very large contribution, and a generous contribution, under this Bill. They would do that much more unwillingly if they considered that the result of that contribution would be principally the handing over of development to the Ministry of Works or any other Government Department.
§ 4.29 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, the most reverend Prelate has spoken of the Bill in general. I do not wish to add anything to what he said, but I have been asked to draw attention to three points of limited interest but of some importance. I am only sorry that recent events have prevented me acquainting myself as thoroughly as I would wish with these points. The first point is this. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill referred yesterday to the housing estates which were developed a number of years ago, and, mentioning one of them, he said:The local authority had built it with some pride and the houses were good, but the population was miserable. There were no shops there; no cinemas, no industry, and there was no community centre …He contrasted with that the kind of areas which it is now desired to develop, but I do not think he gave any indication that the old, bad kind was going to be corrected or remedied, at least by this Bill. There is no question here of compulsory purchase, because the local authority already possesses, the land, and 805 on the terms on which it bought it, at a time when local authorities were less instructed than they are now, has covered it from end to end with houses. It is a fact that there are many areas of that kind, built some time ago, which to this day remain an undiluted block of houses, without any kind of community centre or community life, and therefore without any kind of soul, and where the population are in consequence really miserable.
You will understand that as things are, with this immense shortage of houses, nobody would suggest that local authorities should at this time pull down numbers of those houses in order to provide community centres; but in some of these areas air destruction has done that us. In some of these badly-planned areas there has been considerable destruction, thus presenting a golden opportunity for providing what these areas have never had. I understand that many local authorities say that in such conditions they either may not or ought not to use the land thus devastated for any purpose other than that of putting back houses, because there were houses there before. That does seem to me to be quite disastrous. It will be a disaster if this opportunity of properly planning these areas is not taken. I am given to understand that there is a financial consideration involved. If the local authority puts back houses where there were houses before, it gets a cost-of-works payment; but if in the interests of good planning it says "No, here in this badly-planned area we have a golden opportunity and will take it, and instead of putting back houses we will provide community centres, sites for churches, and the like," then it does not get a cost-of-works payment but a much reduced payment from the War Damage Commission. That means that everything is weighted against its taking this opportunity in "blitzed" areas of replanning districts which have been badly laid out. I am asked to call attention to that, because, if my facts are right and this Bill does nothing at all to help in the matter, I hope the Government will consider whether there is not some way in which they can see that that opportunity is not lost.
My second point is that this Bill does in many ways concern considerably the interests of the Church of England and of the other religious denominations of the 806 country. It will be to some extent a new situation if in the future religious denominations are to be entirely in the hands of local authorities as to whether they are to keep a site on which a church has stood or whether they are going to be allowed to acquire a site for a church. It is a position of some dfficulty. We did consider Clause 17 of this Bill, and, as we read it—I speak for other denominations as well as my own—we understood that with the consent of the Minister a local planning authority will be able to dispose of land which it has acquired to a relious denomination for the erection of a church, and that in doing so it will be able to sell the freehold of that land. That is necessary, for in the Church of England and in the Church of Rome no church can be consecrated unless it is a freehold. Thirdly, we understood that the local authority, in thus providing the site, will be allowed to sell it to the denomination on terms settled with due regard to the price at which the land was acquired by the local planning authority. That is to say the local authority, having bought the land for so much, is free to sell it for no more than that to the religious denomination.
We put these points before the Minister and we were assured that that was indeed the fact, but with one reservation, that that relates only to disposal to owners from whom land has been acquired by the local planning authority. If in a given area the local planning authority has bought one church site, it will sell another church site with due regard to the price paid for that land. But take an area in which, as it so happens, there was not a church, and therefore no church site has been sold to the local authority. How then can a site be obtained? Clause 17 (7) of this Bill, which has already been criticized as "jargon and nothing else," affects this matter deeply, but I do not understand how it affects it. It appears to say that the local authority may not dispose of land for a money consideration less than the best that can reasonably be obtained; but there is an immense number of "provideds" and "excepts" and "so however thats" which may remedy the situation.
So far as I can understand it, I take it to mean that if there is an area in which a Church never had a site, and they come to the local authority and say "We want 807 a site, and this is a good site for a church," the local authority will say "We shall be very glad to let you have it, but it happens to be at or near a corner site; cinemas and others are in the market for it, and you will have to compete with their price to get it." If that be the fact, it means that in such a case the Churches will inevitably riot be able to compete. They cannot compete with profit-making concerns—shops, cinemas and the rest. There may therefore be a real danger that the church will be pushed back into the back land, to the edge of the railway embankment and to other unreasonable places. Our forefathers had the wisdom to build their communities with the church in the centre, and the people around it. Do not we want to get back to something like that to-day? If I am right in saying that in such an area the local authority cannot sell a site to a Church without demanding the commercial price, then it means that there will be no churches in any places around which the community can gather.
The third and last point to which I wish to draw attention is that for the first time, I think, in the history of this country, churches are now going to be liable to compulsory purchase. Under this Bill a local authority, with the consent of the Minister, can buy the site of any church it likes, including, for instance, St. Paul's Cathedral. If the City of London thought it a good thing to redevelop the City without St. Paul's, I do not see how they could be stopped if the Minister agreed. I do not wish to question that principle, because in practice, in the kind of areas with which we are dealing, if a church happens to be in a position which prevents the development of a whole area, and it is not a notable church, the local authority ought to have the power to purchase it.
When it purchases it, however, two questions have to be considered. The first is the price which it is going to give. There I am fortified, if I understand the Bill aright, by the fact that the price given is to be that of equivalent reinstatement. That is to say, the local authority will have to put back an equivalent church somewhere else. That is satisfactory, but there is one further consideration which is not taken note of in the Bill. If a local authority does compulsorily buy the church it must submit to any requirement 808 which the denomination makes as to the use to which that building is subsequently going to be put. In many cases, for instance, the Church of England would demand that the church be demolished. It is unthinkable that there should be no such condition in the Bill; otherwise the local authority would have power compulsorily to take a church and to hand it over to a cinema, or a fun fair, or even to lower forms of public life. There must be some restriction to prevent the building which had been a consecrated building, around which the affections of Christian people had gathered, being turned over to some low, degrading use which would be repugnant to the nature of the building and to the feelings of the people. I am sure that will be agreed. But it is not in the Bill at present; and I shall beg leave to move an Amendment in the Committee stage to remedy that point.
§ 4.41 p.m.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, like a great many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I dislike this Bill intensely, and yet, like them, I am not going to put any obstacles in the way of its being read a second time. I do, as a matter of fact, dislike it so intensely as a miserable compromise that, had circumstances been different and happier, I think it more than likely that I should have been tempted to move its rejection on the Second Reading, and I have no doubt I should have received a considerable measure of support in your Lordships' House. However, circumstances are against me, and it cannot be done. My dislike of the Bill is due very largely to the reason that was first put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, and also by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh—namely, that it is not sufficiently comprehensive to cover the great subject with which it purports to deal. As a matter of fact, as we all realize, it is a political compromise and, like many compromises, it fails to satisfy anybody and it fails to achieve its real object. It, in fact, deals only with two sections of the great problem of planning in this country; one is the question of the areas of extensive war damage and the other is that of the blighted areas, as they are called, though, in fact, they are areas of obsolete or bad development.
Those two objects are part of the whole planning problem, but in themselves they 809 are not really related to each other at all. The areas damaged by enemy action are a war problem, a problem which we hope will not recur in the future; the problem of the obsolete areas or bad development is a constantly recurring problem, and will go on till the end of time. So long as progress goes on in this country and the standard of living continues to rise, so long will there be areas progressively becoming obsolete or revealing themselves as bad development. There are even today areas, very often developed by local authorities shortly after the last war, which might well be called obsolete, or even rank bad development, to-day. So I say these two problems are not really related and ought not to be in one Bill.
My own feeling is that if the, Government were going to deal with this problem they either ought to have had a comprehensive Bill which would cover the whole subject of town planning, which I think most of us thought was what we were going to get; or they ought to have restricted their Bill to the question of the war damaged areas and left the much wider question to be fought out at a time when we really could fight and settle it. I know that it would seem a very small part of the whole problem to deal only with the areas of war damage, and possibly certain contiguous areas which would be necessarily incorporated to ensure proper development; but I believe that the areas concerned are sufficiently large to keep the local authorities and the building trade pretty fully occupied for some considerable time. You would then have your breathing time to deal with the larger question, and really to deal with it comprehensively. Those are all the general remarks I wanted to make on the Bill.
The main thing I wish to discuss is the much debated question of compensation. I would like to make it clear that when I talk about compensation I am talking about compensation mainly for land, not buildings; because land is my interest, and land is what I represent, if one can be said to represent anything. And I am not interested in the actual sums paid in compensation. I am, however, interested in the principles underlying what the Government propose to do so far as compensation is concerned. But before I come to that I should like to bring this question of compensation more into its proper proportions. A great many people, 810 particularly perhaps noble Lords on the other side of the House, seem to think that compensation for land at too high a price is an absolute bar to proper development. Mr. James Barr, who was a member of the Uthwatt Committee, in his Minority Report said that on the average the cost of land amounted to only 5 per cent. of the total cost of building a house. That was rather borne out by a Parliamentary answer made on April 29 last by the Minister for Health, who said that in the period between the two wars, outside the London area, the cost of land represented 4.5 per cent. of the average rent of houses. It is not a very large proportion, and therefore whether you pay 1939 prices or 30 per cent. above, or 30 per cent. below, makes very little difference to the cost of the house to the person who is going to occupy it. So it seems to me that if one argues the question of the actual amount one is arguing something which has very little real significance. I am not talking about London areas, where prices, of course, are at a very great height; I am talking more of provincial areas.
The thing that I object to most in the compensation clauses is the differentiation made between the owner-occupier and the owner who does not occupy. Incidentally —and I am going to ask a question about this later—the owner-occupier is not very clearly defined. This differentiation is, I think, a most invidious one. It seems to stigmatize the owner who is not the occupier as one who should be penalized, as one who does not deserve so well of his country as the man who occupies; it seems to treat him as a man who is not performing any useful service, and I do not really know why he should be so penalized. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, when he introduced this Bill said that private enterprise has to play its part. This differentiation against the owner who is not the occupier is a distinct deterrent to private enterprise, and I think that that was rather borne out by something that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said in his speech. He said large numbers of firms have grave misgivings about the provisions in this Bill which compel them to have only leaseholds where formerly they had freeholds. They are not going to risk the ownership of land, and this differentiation is adding to the risks of ownership of land. It is not quite in conformity with what one knows of the noble 811 Lord, Lord Woolton, having heard it from his own lips that he is in favour of private enterprise, and he has asked us to be adventurers. He is sponsoring a Bill which, in part anyhow, goes completely contrary to that view. I would remind your Lordships that private enterprise has played a very great part indeed in providing houses for the people of this country. Roughly speaking, between the two wars about four million houses were built. Three million of those four million houses were put up by private enterprise, and a great many of those three million were put up by people who, by no conceivable definition, could be called owner-occupiers. They have deserved well of their country, and they are now going to be treated almost as though they were criminals.
When you come down to this question of compensation I am inclined to think that the motive behind this differentiation was partly because of the unfortunate small man, of whom my noble friend Lord Chesham has talked, and also because of a fear that the speculator would "get away with it." I believe that that fear was the predominant reason behind this differentiation. As the Minister for Town and Country Planning said in another place, it is rather difficult to define the speculator. You can recognize him but you cannot define him. I do not believe that the amount of speculation that has been going on is very great. It is true that it is extraordinarily difficult to say when a purchase ceases to be a normal purchase and when it becomes a speculation. I am not at all certain that any purchaser of land at any time in our history could not be characterized as a speculation. Buying land is not a cast-iron certainty like buying National War Bonds, in any case. It therefore has an element of speculation, however conservatively purchased. Where proper purchase ends and where speculation begins it is, I agree, very difficult to define; but this differentiation is not going to catch the real speculator.
The real speculator—the man you want to catch—is the man who has come along and who is trying to make money out of other people's misfortune. He is buying land, perhaps derelict through enemy action, and he is buying it at a knockout price; and you are going to come along as a Government and offer to him 812 March, 1939, prices which probably will be a great deal more than he actually paid for it. He is going to get away with it every time. I cannot see why it was not possible to take the March, 1939, price— and I would say incidentally (I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, is not here) that very soon after the Uthwatt Committee had reported the Central Landowners' Association accepted the provisions with regard to 1939 prices unreservedly and made that acceptance public—or, if the ownership had changed subsequently, the price at which it changed hands. Some people will have bought their land at a higher price than the March, 1939, price. They would very largely be small men who are looking forward to building themselves a house and retiring into it. Some people would have paid less and they very likely would be the speculators. There would be no injustice done. A man would get what he paid, but he would not get any more. He would not get away with a profit.
Whether it is administratively possible I do not know. Whether it was considered I do not know. All I do know is that unfortunately an Amendment of that nature would be too comprehensive even to be considered as a possibility at the present stage, and of course when the Bill returned to the other place they would inevitably claim Privilege because the Bill has got to become law before the end of the Session. But I should like to know whether that possibility was ever contemplated because it seems to me the fair way of dealing with it, and no one could have complained.
As to the owner-occupier the definition of "owner-occupier" is given in Clause 53, subsection (5), paragraphs (c) and (d) and it is (d) to which I would like to draw the attention of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. It says:if (i) the title under which the building or property is held at that time is such that he"—that is the owner—then has the right to enter into occupation thereof or will be in a position to obtain that right within five years from that time, and (ii) it was at that time his intention, subject to its being possible …and so on. I should like to ask him whether that means that if I am the owner of land which is held under a yearly tenancy, as is the case with all the agricultural land which I hold, I can then 813 claim to be an owner-occupier in that I can give any of the tenants a year's notice? I can assure him that if it were merely a question of saying that it is my intention I should certainly say it was my intention so to give notice, and I would enter into occupation in the sure and certain knowledge that the local authority were wanting the land and would take it off me before I could fulfil my intention. But I should like to know whether that is so with regard to the owner of land who lets it for a term of years—say, less than the period mentioned in the Bill.
There is in that clause another definition which I think wants clarifying. It comes a little earlier in subsection (3), paragraph (b). Subsection (3) deals with the 30 per cent. extra on agricultural land, and it says at the end:… en the assumption that that property had been at that date subject to a permanent restriction I to use as agricultural property within tic meaning of this section.I do not quite understand what "permanent restriction" means unless possibly it may mean that it has got to be planned as open space in perpetuity. If that is so it is at the moment rather a narrow definition of what is agricultural property.
I have only one other point, which has exercised my mind rather considerably, and that is on Clause 41, which deals with buildings of special architectural and historic interest. It prevents the owner of an historic house in which he is then living from making alterations without the consent of the local authority. I live in a house which I suppose may come within the definition of an historic building. It is a house of considerable character. A great deal of its character arises from the fact that successive owners through a period of two hundred years have altered it and I have proposals of my own for altering it. I cannot believe that the local authority have a greater wisdom in knowing what is best to be done with that house both in my interests and in the interests of the country than I myself have. I think it is a most dangerous provision that one class of the community, those who happen to live in historic houses, should he doomed to go to the local authority on bended knee to ask if they may, say, pull down one wing or add a 300111 or something of that sort. That is a most dangerous provision and 814 I think there will have to be an Amendment of some sort brought forward to it. I see no reason why that should in any way wreck the Bill or endanger its progress to the Statute Book.
I have not dealt with a number of minor points. As many noble Lords have said it is an extremely complicated Bill and one that it is very difficult to understand. I dare say there are a number of points of importance which I have not as yet been able to discover and there may be other Amendments which will have to be brought forward in the interest of the landowners and particularly the agricultural landowners. But I would repeat that I look on this Bill as a miserable and unhappy compromise which really does not deal with the big problem and does not deal with the small problems with which it purports to deal in any effective manner.
§ 5.2 p.m.
My Lords, Aristotle said, "Never argue about things that must be so." The Government have decided that this Bill must pass this Session, and so that must be so. However, before the Bill finally becomes law I would respectfully ask the Government to take two matters into consideration. I would ask them to reconsider the First Schedule of the Bill, which is concerned with the procedure for dealing with objections to compulsory purchase orders and for orders under the Bill. The effect of the First Schedule is materially to restrict the holding of public local inquiries and to hearing objections to such orders. I know that such local inquiries are often regarded as a waste of public time and money and as being of little use to anyone except, possibly, the legal profession. I beg your Lordships to take a rather broader view of the matter. This Bill will affect not only people in a large way of land ownership, but also thousands, perhaps many thousands, of people in a small way of land ownership. It is therefore essential that not only should justice be done but that justice should appear to be done.
The procedure laid down by the First Schedule does not, in my opinion, appear in practice to effect any saving of time. Moreover, I think the procedure is far too arbitrary. May I refer your Lordships to paragraph 3 of the First Schedule? It provides that: 815In so far as the Minister is satisfied …Those words are very simple and very innocuous, but they do in practice give the Minister enormous, unlimited power and discretion. They give him a power and discretion which even the Emperor Nero would have envied. You can imagine a Roman regulation to the effect that in so far as the Emperor is satisfied that the only objection to Christians being thrown to the lions is the fact that they are Christians, the Emperor may, in his absolute discretion, treat such objection as irrelevant. I think it is indeed an unlimited power which is given to the Minister.
the Minister may treat the objection as irrelevant for the purpose of his deciding as aforesaid.
- (a) that the objection relates to a matter which can be dealt with by an arbitrator by whom compensation is to be assessed, or
- (b) in the case of an objection to an order authorizing a compulsory purchase of land as to which an order under Section one of this Act is in force, that the objection is made on the ground that the purchase is unnecessary or inexpedient,
In my view the procedure laid down by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, is much fairer in practice and not likely to cause more delay than the procedure now proposed to be adopted in the First Schedule of the Bill. The procedure laid down by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932 provides in simple terms that all objections must be made in writing within a certain time and that if those objections are not made or are not withdrawn the Minister shall before confirming the order cause a local inquiry to be held for the purpose of hearing the objections. So much for that point. I am afraid that I am a voice crying in the wilderness in this matter, but it is just possible that the Government may take it into consideration before the Third Reading.
So far as compensation is concerned I feel that the Government have made, and all political Parties have made, a very real and genuine effort to arrive at a compromise which does some measure of justice to persons whose land is compulsorily acquired. But there is one case in which I am not satisfied that the application of the 1939 standard will do complete justice. In 1938 (not 1939) in certain coastal towns there was a good deal of evacuation and reasonable anticipation of war taking place. The result was that the 816 demand for properties in those areas declined and so did the value of the properties. Their value on March 31, 1939, was less than the value of corresponding properties in inland areas. It is laid down in terms by the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939, that a claimant for compensation shall not be entitled to take advantage of any increase in price arising from war circumstances. Now that is perfectly fair, but surely the converse is also fair—namely, that the State in awarding compensation shall not be entitled to take advantage of any decrease in prices which have arisen in consequence of the war or in reasonable anticipation of war taking place in the near future. I would respectfully ask that that matter should be taken into consideration because it does affect properties in some coastal areas. Those coastal areas have already suffered a great deal, and I am quite sure that it is not the intention of the Government that the people in those areas should suffer more, but that when their property is compulsorily acquired they should receive a proper price for it.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SIMON)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh in his interesting and forcible speech observed that the Second Reading debate had this curious feature, that everybody was agreed that the Bill should get the Second Reading but quite a large number of speakers felt that the Bill really was open to the most serious objections. It is true that that has been the character of the debate and I think that circumstance combined with the lateness of the hour probably justifies me in being very brief now, though I wish to do what is right and courteous to the noble Lords who have joined in the discussion. I agree entirely with what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Maugham that really the crucial matters for discussion in this Bill will arise in Committee and to the Committee stage we shall come next week when we shall be devoting our close attention to the questions that are being raised. I, therefore, with your Lordships' permission, do not propose now, before the question of the Second Reading is put, to discuss what are essentially Committee points, important as many of those points are.
I had prepared myself to say something, if it seemed useful at this time, 817 on the compensation clauses. I would be very unwilling to offer a few scrappy remarks about that—it will have to be examined with great seriousness—but there are one or two points of important detail which have been raised about which I think it would be in the public interest if I said something immediately. One point was raised in the speech of my noble friend Lord Chesham. He said there was a rumour that the building work which would be involved in the reconstruction and replanning was going to be reserved for a Department of Government, the Ministry of Works and Buildings, as distinguished from being open for the employment of private enterprise. I would like at once to give the most specific denial to that rumour. There may be cases, of course, in which it is perfectly proper for a local authority to use a particular channel as the means of the building it is about to make, but we shall need the full assistance of private enterprise, and private enterprise will be certainly allowed to take its full part in this tremendous reconstruction. I will not only say it will be allowed to do so, but I will repeat the language of my noble friend Lord Woolton, and say that private enterprise will be required to play its part in order that the work should be carried through. I think that will dispose of the anxiety expressed.
Then there is a quite disconnected point which it might be well for me to mention at once, in connexion with Clause 17 of the Bill, which I am free to admit is not the very simplest example of the useful employment of monosyllables. I think the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, should address his mind more to subsection (4) than to subsection (7) of that clause. He asked the question whether, when local authorities had land to dispose of or to allot, they would have to charge the highest price, if land was needed in a newly developed area for a church. Subsection (7) to which the right reverend Prelate invited attention, really deals with the case where the Minister finds it necessary to give orders to a local authority to dispose of its property. The subsection which I think is intended, at least, to cover the case which the right reverend Prelate has in mind is subsection (4). There, it will be noted, nothing is said about exaction of the full price.
818 It is a very short subsection so I will venture to read it:The consent of the Minister shall be requisite to any disposal or appropriation of land by a local planning authority under this section, and may be given as respects either a particular disposal or appropriation, or disposals or appropriations of any class, and either subject to or free from any conditions or limitations.I am told by those who advise us on technical points, that it has been deliberately drawn in that way because there may be cases where it is perfectly right for the Minister to approve of disposal of land in particular areas at less than the highest exactable price. If anything ought to be altered in the Bill to secure that result the matter would be reconsidered.
In the few minutes in which I will detain your Lordships I would rather address myself to a more general consideration of the matters raised in the speech of the noble Lords, Lord Latham and Lord Addison, and appearing also from time to time in other speeches. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, in his observations, described the Bill, I think, as a miserable Bill. One has to bear in mind, before one condemns a Bill wholesale in that way, various considerations. I would even point out to Lord Addison, if he were here—I know there are good reasons for his having to leave—that there may be a certain fallacy in making a peroration on the short title to the Bill. The short title to the Bill, whether aptly or inaptly chosen, is merely a label put on it so that you may conveniently look it up. The title of the Bill, which in the Committee stage it is suggested by the Lord Chairman should be postponed to the end of the proceedings, is the real title and in this case it is:An Act to make provision for the acquisition and development of land for planning purposes; for amending the law relating to town and country planning; for assessing by reference to 1939 prices compensation payable in connexion with the acquisition of land for public purposes, and as to the rate of interest thereon; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.It is perfectly open for anyone to say, if he likes, that considering the size of the problem involved in planning, this Bill occupies a very minor portion of the space but not much can be made by arguing about the short title.
There is a more serious argument to be considered in the same connexion. One 819 has to bear in mind some of the things which have happened. For instance, the Association of Municipal Corporations asked the Government, without waiting for more comprehensive legislation, to introduce a Bill for the acquisition of land in "blitzed" areas with the 1939 ceiling. That should not be overlooked.
§ LORD LATHAM
I was present at the deputation referred to by the noble and learned Viscount and I spoke. We asked for something substantially wider than he has stated.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I must accept what the noble Lord says because he was there, but I think there are two or three things to confirm the point I want to make. A request to a similar effect was made to the Minister by a deputation of Members of Parliament representing the "blitzed" towns in December, 1943. To them the urgency—at least the greatest urgency, it was not the only urgency—was that which is dealt with in this Bill. In the same way the mayors of several of the "blitzed" towns headed by my noble friend Viscount Astor made a similar request in a letter to The Times in October, 1943. In order to face this measure fairly and to form a fair judgment of the place it occupies, one must not forget, I venture to think, that it is admittedly an instalment. It was regarded as the instalment which ought to be tackled first in the discussion, if my memory serves me aright, on the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Bill, and it is the carrying out of the announcement made in the King's speech at the beginning of the Session.
Nothing is more easy than to say: "Why not do it all in a few simple clauses?" I was really surprised that my noble friend Viscount Samuel, in his very powerful speech, dismissed this, I agree, complicated measure and said that all that was wanted was a Bill with a few simple clauses. Why does not he introduce it and let us see what his few clauses look like? Legislation which is necessarily imposed on existing legislation—the Land Clauses Act and the whole system of landed property ownership—cannot, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, be dealt with in a few simple clauses. Anybody who thinks he can do it had better go to the trouble of getting a draftsman and telling him what he should write down and see what 820 it looks like and whether it is intelligible to any human being.
The trade of the draftsman, I always feel, must be one of the most difficult in the world. He never gets any thanks for anything, but whenever there is something which can be described by critics as confused or complicated he hears about it. I am not denying that legislation is sometimes complicated, but instances which I, at any rate, have had to consider—and others who have had the same experience will confirm this—have shown that a good many things which appear to be, and which indeed are, complicated are really put in for the purpose of preventing a mistake which the critics have never thought of and which otherwise would crop up after the Bill passed. I therefore suggest that the matter should not be looked at as though this were a very complicated, long-winded Bill of little importance and no substance, but on the contrary should be recognized as what it is, and what, I think, Lord Balfour of Burleigh said it was. He declared that whatever else might be said of it it was an immensely important measure.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I said that it was a Bill to extend big towns. I never said that it was an important measure.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I beg the noble Lord's pardon for misquoting him. But even big towns may have a certain importance; they certainly have in the minds of some people. It is really a fallacy to assume that in order to plan comprehensively you must acquire comprehensively. There are many most important plans which are not primarily concerned with acquiring any land at all. I remember giving illustrations in an earlier debate in this House. There are few changes more important to the countryside than those which have been brought about by county agricultural committees, and those committees have brought about the changes by directions, and in all sorts of other ways, while not acquiring a single acre of land. It is a fallacy to suppose that these two things must necessarily march together. I do agree that there are a great many cases in which you must have powers for the acquisition of land, but it is not correct to say that the carrying out of planning policy is co-extensive with the power of acquisition.
821 My noble friend Lord Addison, I see, has been kind enough to come back to the House. I am greatly obliged to him for returning, and I would venture to suggest one small correction in the speech which he made earlier. I think he was under the impression that the Government's White Paper on Land Use was a document which contained a proposal for a Land' Commission, a National Land Commission, which would buy or sell land as the case might be. Was he not for the moment confusing matters? That was the proposal, if I understood it rightly, put forward by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and a very large and important proposal it is. But, as I have understood it, the Government Paper on Land Use was not proposing that. It was proposing, it is quite true a Land Commission, but a Land Commission of a central sort which was to receive and pay out, setting betterment against compensation.
§ LORD ADDISON
May I say, if I may be allowed to intervene for a moment, that that is right? I was quite aware of that, and I was encouraged by the fact that the Land Commission set out in the White Paper was one which was to try to balance betterment and compensation. That to my mind was an impossible arithmetical proposition. But that is neither here nor there now. As I say I was encouraged by the fact that such a body was to be created and I wanted it to be used for this purpose.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am obliged to the noble Lord for his perfectly good-tempered intervention. I thought that he was confusing my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh's proposal with the one set out in the Government White Paper, but he has made himself quite clear now. But on this matter there is pretty considerable argument either way, and I think that if we had my noble friend Viscount Samuel here we should find that he took a rather different view.
There is one other observation I would wish to make on the general discussion. It turns particularly on what my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh said in his speech. He speaks a great deal of national planning, and his devotion to that, and his sincerity, are appreciated by all of us. What this Bill does, as I understand it, is this. It encourages, it permits, and, if need be, compels local 822 authorities to make plans and to submit them to the Minister, the national Minister, who sits in his Department in the capital. We must, I think, avoid getting into the condition where we speak of national planning as though it was to brought about by some heavenly body, without any connexion with local committees and the people who live on the part of the land that is going to be affected. I cannot help thinking that my noble friend is a little disposed to think that the replanning of our country is a thing that has got to start from the centre, that there is something which has to be brought out from the very centre of the country which is going to provide the national plan which other people are then going to work out. Is it going to work out that way? Is it not really necessary that, while adequate powers are provided, it should be the local authorities who make the plans, and who get the approval and encouragement and financial support of the central Government and administration to carry them out? That is my understanding of what this Bill does.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Will the noble Viscount forgive me for intervening? My reply, of course, would be that this Bill without going to the root of the matter—and I devoted a good deal of my speech to proving that the root of the matter is the compensation and betterment problem—greatly extending big cities as it will, will sabotage ultimately national planning. National planning need not be done from heaven, it could be done by the Government if they would set up the machinery to do it. They have paid lip service enough to it, but so far as I know they have not yet set up the necessary machinery to provide, for instance, for the overspill from the County of London plan. This must be a national matter. I ask the noble Viscount to say what the machinery is that is going to do it. It cannot be done by local authorities. It is a matter of national policy. I ask him to tell us how he is going to carry out the agreed obligation of decongesting, decentralizing and redeveloping big towns unless there is a national authority.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am speaking of the present Bill. I do not agree that the Bill is one which creates obstruction to national planning. If in- 823 deed that were the view of the House, the House would no doubt reject the Bill. But, as I have endeavoured to show, the Bill is intended as an instalment in the carryout of an immensely important and an immensely difficult process. I should have thought that even if we took such a thing as the Greater London Scheme, there was a great deal of that scheme which could be carried out and assisted under this Bill. I would agree that there may be such matters, for instance, as roads, some of which cannot be assisted by this Bill. But, on the whole, I would have thought that there was a great deal to be said for proceeding by instalments, as we have announced that we are proceeding, and that there was no part of the problem anything like so urgent as dealing with extensively "blitzed" areas, and if possible with the blighted areas.
I have contented myself with making these observations of a quite general kind, because really as one listened to the debate—and I have listened to every speech—one realized that there has not been on the general issue of the Bill a 824 contentious discussion. A very important series of questions has been raised with which we shall find ourselves dealing in Committee next week, and in my submission to the House we are justified in agreeing to the Second Reading of the Bill. If I may adopt the careful and moderate language of the most reverend Prelate, the Archbishop of York, I would say that the Bill should be welcomed as a step in the right direction.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.