§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to call attention to Cmd. Paper 6537 on the Control of Land Use; and to move to resolve, That the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of our big towns do constitute a primary object of policy of His Majesty's Government. The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the last one hundred years or rather more the population of civilized countries has shown a tendency to mass itself into large urban aggregations. London achieved a population of 1,000,000 in 1801, and since then there have grown up not only in this country but in Europe and in the United States of America a number of large urban aggregations which have absorbed to themselves an undue proportion of the population of their respective countries. The figures I shall mention—there are not many of them—are the Registrar-General's estimate of 1937; they are in the Barlow Report from which I am quoting. In 1937 there were seven million-mark aggregations in this country. Greater London is, of course, a phenomenon by itself, but in addition there are Greater Birmingham, Greater Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Merseyside (which is one aggregation), Tyneside, and West Yorkshire. These great urban aggregations during the last one hundred years have shown a tendency to increase in population at double or more than double the mean rate of increase of the population of the country.
§ The phenomenon is one which is more marked in Western countries than it is in the East. There are great aggregations 173 in China, Japan, and India, but it is with our own industrial population and our own aggregations that we are concerned. It is that feature which causes me alarm in looking at the future. The position has now got to the stage where two-fifths of the whole of our population are in the seven million-mark aggregations. The seriousness of that can be realized when we compare it with the figure in the United States. In the United States only one-fifth of the population is in the million-mark aggregation. From another angle there is an equally striking figure. A little more than one hundred years ago in this country 80 per cent. of the population lived in the country or in small villages. By 1937 the position was more than reversed. Instead of 80 per cent. being in the country, only 17 per cent. lived anywhere: except in the towns. That is not the same thing as the million-mark aggregation, and I am not contending that it is contrary to civilization to have moderate-sized towns; but I do go so far as to say that aggregations over one million lead to conditions which are not compatible with, what I understand as the best type of civilization. London is a splendid place to live in for those who can get out of it. I regard the crowding of the pop nation more and more into the big cities; as a thing which we must view with alarm and which, if we cannot check it, will threaten not only the efficiency of our industry but the healthy and happy homes of our people.
§ It is from the point of view of the efficiency of industry and the health and happiness of cur population that I approach this whole subject of planning. I would lice to try and state quite briefly what I conceive to be the objectives of town and country planning. My first objective would be a serious endeavour to check, and ultimately to reverse, this tendency of aggregation in these huge urban conglomerations. The next objective of planning would be—and I think it has already been accepted by the Government—a reasonable industrial balance. When I say I think it has been accepted by the Government I mean that there are several references to industrial balance and the acceptance of the principles of the Barlow Report, perhaps not in those words, but acceptance of the principle in the White Paper on full employment which was laid before your Lordships' House and 174 another place. I am not quite happy about that because my view about industrial balance is that it should not be confined to the special areas, but that industrial balance is important elsewhere just as much as in the special areas. I would have liked to see an expression of Government policy with regard to industrial balance not only in relation to special areas but with regard to the allocation of industry throughout the country as a whole. Lastly, as an objective of town and country planning not least important is of course the preservation of our agriculture, and the preservation of the amenities of the countryside and the coastline and so on.
§ I do not think there is anything very contentious about what I have said in regard to the big cities and the other objects of town and country planning. It is a commonplace of conversation that our big cities are too big and that the increasing urbanization of our population is a real social danger. I believe the position to be so serious that I would like to see the Government express their intention of directing their policy to the end of checking those aggregations. Before passing to the Government's proposals I would like to emphasize that so far as I am concerned planning is never an end in itself. I do not care a fig for planning except in so far as I get the results that I want, and the major result which I seek to get is healthy, happy homes for the people and the efficiency of our industry. I know that some of my friends are apprehensive about planning because they think it means bureaucracy, that it means regulating their lives and not giving them freedom to do what they want. The kind of planning I want to see would be just that framework within which initiative and enterprise would get a chance to operate and without which I believe things will go from bad to worse.
I turn to the Government's proposals. We have before us the White Paper on the Control of Land Use and we have also seen the Town and Country Planning Bill which is at present under consideration in another place. The first point which gives me satisfaction is that in the White Paper the Government express their acceptance of the analysis of the problem of floating and shifting value in the Uthwatt Report. The White Paper says:
…the peculiar value of the Report lies in its masterly analysis of the abstruse pro-
blems lying at the root of any effective system of town and country planning.
§ And again, when we come to the question of betterment in the White Paper, the Government accept as substantially correct the Uthwatt Committee's analysis of the problem with which their Report deals. That is satisfactory because it indicates, as indeed their proposals indicate, that they realize that contrary to superficial appearance it is not always fair when you buy a thing to pay its market value. Those of us who were concerned with the Coal Bill remember that it was not altogether easy to understand that when you had a few million tons of coal easily accessible it was not necessarily fair that the Government should pay quite the full value which at first sight we thought the owner was entitled to get. I think some of us did understand after the full .examination of the question that there were overriding circumstances which did limit the price that it was fair for the Government to pay. Now this land question has a certain analogy with the coal question. I can conceive that it is extremely vexatious to an owner of land just on the fringe of a big town who feels that he is sure of getting a market for his land. It may not be what is called "dead ripe development" but he has a fairly sure market at so much and it is difficult for him to understand that the Government should come along and say, when they are going to take over either the whole of the land or put restrictions on it, that they should not pay the full market value for the floating and the shifting value.
§ The virtue of the Uthwatt Committee's analysis and the benefit of the public discussion which has followed lie I think in the fact that there is now very general understanding in the country that market value in the aggregate would greatly exceed the price which the Government can be expected to pay if they are to deal with the thing in a wholesale manner. The Government have decided not altogether to accept the recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee for the complete acquisition of the development rights, but instead they propose to impose a restriction on change of user—that is to say, anybody who wants to develop his land will have to get consent and he will be paid compensation if he is prevented from developing land which had a development 176 value in March, 1939. I am not going to attempt to describe the Government's scheme in full. I leave that to my noble friend who is going to follow me if he wishes to expound the whole scheme. I am certainly not competent to do it. I desire only to call attention to those points which are relevant to my argument. Put briefly, there is to be a universal requirement of consent to development. There is to be a payment of compensation in appropriate cases and there is to be a collection of betterment.
§ Finally, the other main feature of the scheme is that the local authorities are to have large powers of purchase of the freehold of areas which they will require for redevelopment for what are known as "blitzed" areas or as obsolescent areas. The Government proposals fail, in my submission, because they have not laid down the principle on which their planning is going to be based from the national point of view. I would like to see the principle laid down that the big cities are too large and that that tendency is to be reversed. That does not mean that I am suggesting that you can either prohibit new industry in the big towns or direct industry where it has to go, but it would mean that, once you had established and agreed that principle, national policy would be directed to setting up tendencies which would work in the direction we wish to see.
I think that it is an indication of the failure of the Government to produce a policy that in the conclusion of this Report there is this sentence:
The Government believe that a national and positive policy for the right use of land can best be evolved by a continuous process of collaboration between local and central authorities and the individual citizen.
You cannot evolve a policy by collaboration. You can evolve an application of policy, an execution of policy by collaboration, but before you can expect your citizens to collaborate with the local authorities and the Government you must tell them what you want them to collaborate in. Then I think the other failure of this policy is in its financial proposals. The suggestion is made and the principle is laid down that payment of compensation and the collection of betterment over what is described as a reasonable period of years will be equated. I have no objec-
tion whatever to the principle that over a period of years the betterment collected should be sufficient to pay the compensation which is to be paid out, but the question is, Over what period of years? I do not know whether my noble friend will be able to give arty clue to the answer to the question, What is meant by a reasonable period of years? but a very great deal depends on that.
§ We are dealing here with a policy which is going to affect us not for five years, or fifteen or twenty-five years, not for ninety-nine years, hut for nine hundred and ninety-nine years. The war with its destruction in the "blitzed" areas has given us a chance to make a new start in the orientation of our housing policy, has given us a chance to get away from this terrible peripheral development of our big towns, but unless we make a conscious effort things will go on as before. Local authorities have enough land for two years building, but unless we consciously make an effort and direct our attention to a long-term policy thugs will go on as before and in my submission will go from bad to worse. It is almost impossible to avoid the inference on looking at the White Paper that this five years period will have an influence or the amount of compensation which is going to be paid.
§ The great objection I have to this White Paper is that it does not settle the question of compensation. There is to be a Commission which I cannot help thinking will be just a department in the Treasury, a bookkeeping Commission which will pay the compensation and collect the betterment. But nothing is to be settled for five years. There is to be an expert Committee appointed before the end of five years which will assemble and review the material on which to base recommendations to the Government for determining the compensation. During those five years local authorities will be sending in their schemes, and all the time it will be possible to make some kind of estimate of the amount of compensation which will be necessary to pay to carry them out. During the same time some idea will be gained of what betterment will be collected, and I find it impossible to resist the conclusion that these gentlemen sitting in We Treasury will keep a very sharp eye en the betterment with a view to settling how much they can spare for compensation. We all know that the great difficulty of the local authorities 178 before the war was that they could not plan properly and boldly because they felt that they could not foot the bill for compensation. I think that if this scheme is put into effect local authorities will find it just as difficult to plan because they will find they cannot find the money for compensation. The Treasury will give them a limit and they will have to make that go as far as they can. If it does not go far enough, so much the worse for planning.
§ Again, the betterment is to be 80 per cent. I do not propose to argue that. I accept the principle that betterment is to he collected and I accept the suggestion that the betterment is to be collected on a change of use. That is still left over for definition. The meaning of the term will have to be accurately defined, and it will he very difficult to define. But when the owner changes substantially the use or scale of use he will have to pay betterment. In any case it will be only 8o per cent. and also a great deal of betterment will escape. There can be no possible doubt of that. In the case of land acquired for open spaces there will he no betterment but a good deal of compensation. I feel that the chances of the betterment collected being sufficient to allow for compensation on a scale commensurate with reasonable planning are very poor indeed. If there was a suggestion that the Treasury is going to take a long view and be prepared to advance £50,000,000 or £100,000,000 on account of the betterment, that might give one some hope of a long view. But I see no sign of that in the White Paper and it is not what one would expect the Treasury to do as a gesture if they had not promised to do it in advance.
§ I think every one of your Lordships will remember my noble friend saying a fortnight or so after he was appointed Minister of Reconstruction that quite clearly we had to settle the land question. I am not blaming my noble friend—I have great sympathy with his difficulties—but the fact remains that in November he came here and said, "I can see quite clearly we have to settle the land question." This White Paper was produced in June. It is a coincidence that it took the Government seven months to prepare this White Paper. A seven months' infant is sometimes absolutely sound and lusty and com- 179 plete with all its limbs. This seven months' babe is lacking in its most vital part. It lacks the one part it ought to have, that is the settlement of the compensation question. I do not want to be more critical than I can help, and I have already spoken longer than I had intended to speak, but I want to make some practical suggestions.
§ My suggestions are in two parts. The first concerns development rights and the second land which has to be bought for public purposes. With regard to development rights I say "Settle, and settle now." I believe this uncertainty is bad for everybody, bad for landowners and bad for local authorities, because none of them know where they stand. The Uthwatt Report says if a fair price is given, fair to the owners and fair to the Government, it would be something between one third and one half of the market value in 1939. I would not niggle. I believe that the attitude of the Treasury ought to be that of a far-sighted trustee, with I venture to say ample funds at his disposal, and that they ought to take the long view. I am aware that there are competing claims. We saw yesterday that there would be a few hundred millions for Social Services. We know there are immense claims, but what claim can take priority of providing for housing policy and providing for efficient industry? I venture to say that is the first charge on the property and national wealth of this country. I believe that the landowners would feel it was not unreasonable to settle for 5o per cent. of the development value estimated in 1939. I am not arguing about the merits of the 1939 price—that is another matter—but assuming the 1939 price to be taken then I say 5o per cent. is a proper provision.
§ LORD ADDISON
May I interrupt the noble Lord? I think he said 5o per cent. of the betterment. Does he not mean 5o per cent. of the compensation ascertained on that basis?
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am obliged to the noble Lord. Of course "betterment" is the wrong term. It should be 5o per cent. of the development value. The difficulty of the Treasury is that it cannot be expected to buy too big a pig in a poke. Consequently I think there is a way in which we could ease that difficulty and make it easier for the Treasury to take a long view. That is in 180 the purchase of the land which is necessary for development. This is a matter on which there are likely to be very acute Party differences. It is evident that in the Town and Country Planning Bill and in the White Paper there has been something in the nature of a compromise between acute Party differences. There is a clause in the Town and Country Planning Bill which provides that a local authority is not to be allowed to develop the land which it owns for shop and commercial purposes unless private enterprise is unwilling to do so. I cannot conceive that the noble Lords opposite, and their Party, can have accepted that with any pleasure, because they believe in development by the local authority. Nor do I believe that the people of a conservative frame of mind can have very gladly accepted a provision whereby local authorities are to become owners of the whole of the freeholds of their "blitzed" and, possibly, blighted areas. Consequently there is obviously an element of compromise there.
I would like to sublimate—if that is a proper word to use—that compromise into a rather different form. I think we ought to take a much more long-term view of betterment in this land which is to be acquired for public purposes. Everybody knows that unified ownership is necessary for redevelopment of some of the "blitzed" areas. You cannot redevelop with dozens of individual owners. You must have single ownership. I would prefer to see that land owned not by the local authorities but by some body much higher up: Perhaps I may say by a Land Commission. It is unfortunate that my noble friend the Minister has already taken that expression as a title for this took-keeping department of the Treasury, but if the Minister will allow me to use the same expression—for it is one which fits the proposal I make—I would like to do so. As I say, therefore, I would like to see a Land Commission in existence to own this land which must be bought for public purposes. I would like to see them own it and administer it on good, sound, estate management lines.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
A Land-holding Commission, that is it. I am obliged to my noble and learned friend. Where necessary this Commission 181 would let land to local authorities on a 99-year lease. I would make this proviso where a local authority has to develop land in cities, for purposes of horsing. That land, I suggest, ought to be let to them at a rent commensurate with user. That is to say there should be a low rent for land to be used for houses. A lease of 99 years would give the local authorities all the freedom they would want and they would be greatly eased by the fact that the rent of land for housing and open spaces would be related to the user. Low rent for land for housing is essential. It is fair that the Exchequer, representing the nation, should take a hand in that because both open spaces and housing have a very strong national benefit as well as a local one. At the same time, bearing in mind that we are looking not to a 99-year future but to a 999-year future, an ultimate betterment would accrue to the Exchequer, and I think that the Exchequer could then take a much wider and bigger point of view upon the equation of compensation and betterment. They could allow the period during which they are to equate to be very much longer than I feel is their intention at the present time.
This, as I have said, is a matter of Party differences I believe Conservatives would dislike a band-holding Commission because they would think it was some-thing like nation; lization. I do not think it is so, from our point of view, if I may say so speaking as a Conservative. I would sooner have a land-holding commission than local authorities as large landowners. From the point of view of noble Lords opposite, I think it must be recognized that land nationalization, at the moment, is out of the question and this Land Commission would be just as much a public ownership as ownership by the local authority; and if it does have this supreme merit of enabling the Treasury to take a bigger and longer view I think that would be a compromise of principle which all of us might very well afford to make.
I have detained your Lordships longer than I had intended to do, and still I fear that I nave dealt all too inadequately with a most complicated and difficult subject. It is difficult in dealing with such a subject to know how much detail to take and how much to pass over. I can hardly hope that I have made myself absolutely clear to all your Lordships. 182 The importance of this matter lies in the vital necessity of the housing problem. We must have a settlement. I have made a suggestion of 5o per cent. Possibly the Minister will think that a counsel of perfection, but I beg him, attached as he may be to his proposals, to take into his consideration the suggestions which I have ventured to make. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of our big towns do constitute a primary object of policy of His Majesty's Government.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
§ THE MINISTER OF RECONSTRUCTION (LORD WOOLTON)
My Lords, I am anxious to meet the convenience of the House on a subject that is full of difficulties, and my first intention was to wait until the end before I ventured to address you. I came to that conclusion because I would have you know that as far as we are concerned, as a Government, our intention is to get debate, to get Parliamentary discussion, on this Paper, and I thought that there was no reason for a Government speaker at this stage. The Government have spoken, in some people's opinion no doubt inadequately and unsatisfactorily, but at any rate these are the conclusions which we thought that it was wise to put before Parliament. On those grounds I felt that perhaps it would be better if I did not intervene in this debate until the end. I altered my mind for this quite simple reason. I think we have got something to say. There has been a tendency among some of my friends in this House to suggest that the Government have no firm policy at all on these questions of planning, and therefore I thought that it would be convenient for the conduct of the debate, and I hope gratifying to the noble Lord to whom I am personally greatly indebted for the speech which he has made, if I told him here and now that I accept the Resolution which he has moved. I accept it on behalf of the Government and after consultation with the responsible Minister, the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
That preliminary statement may help to clear away any doubts in your Lordships' minds as to where we stand. I shall not surprise you if I say that I do not accept the whole of the noble Lord's arguments. I do not regard this Paper 183 as an immature child, though I am bound to say that there was much labour in bringing it to birth. In accepting the noble Lord's Resolution, I do so in a broad spirit. I am certain that he would be the first to admit that there are places in this country where considerable areas of land have been most wisely developed, but I agree with him entirely that there are very many areas where planned redevelopment is most urgently required, and in that sense I find myself in agreement with a great deal that he has said.
He observed that when I first came into this Ministry, in a moment of unguarded enthusiasm I declared the faith that was in me. I said then that I regarded the question of land use as being basic in reconstruction. I still regard it as being basic in reconstruction. I have had much more experience since then of the difficulties which arise when people of widely divergent political views, which they hold with deep conviction, try to arrive at a working principle. I am not apologizing for this Paper, but I do say that for very many years the Parties have been completely divided on this subject of the use of land and of land tenure, and yet we have, during the seven months to which the noble Lord referred, at any rate come to some common agreement; and it is agreement that we want for the future, and not divergence of opinion. Let us therefore take this agreement at which we have arrived. In the fullness of time different Parties in the State, when they come into office, will doubtless be able considerably to improve on the work which we have done, but do not let us be contemptuous of the basis of agreement on this subject. Let us use it to the full.
I shall not detain your Lordships much longer. I hope that this debate will enlighten the Government. On a subject of this nature, it seems to me to be reasonable and proper that a Government of all Parties should go to Parliament, to this House and to another place, and should say: "We have done our best to arrive at some solution of this problem. We know that that solution will be unacceptable to many people who are on the extremes of Party politics. We ask you, Have we something here on which we can proceed to frame legislation and submit it to you with the hope of getting it passed?" That is what we are doing in this White Paper.
184 I gather that with much of the White Paper the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, is in agreement. He expressed certain views to-day on which I think he would find it very difficult to get unanimity in the Party to which he belongs. We shall, I hope, find out in the course of this debate—and I am glad to see that it is going to last for two clays—what weight we may place on the views which he has expressed. How far are you prepared to urge the Chancellor to go in making financial arrangements for the future? That is a proper subject for Parliamentary debate, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the very practical propositions which he has put before your Lordships. I hope that you will discuss them.
I want to say this about the whole subject of town and country planning. The noble Lord said how urgent it was that we should come to a conclusion now. I most heartily agree. If I may draw your Lordships' attention to the White Paper, you will find in paragraph I of the Introduction what I hope is a quite clear indication of the Government's recognition that in the future we want something better than haphazard growth of our towns, our roads, our open spaces and our industrial development. I hope that those of your Lordships who are particularly interested in agriculture will find in this Paper expressions with which you will agree on the subject of agricultural land; because it certainly has been in the minds of those of us who framed this Paper that by the means which we propose here we should secure the proper use of agricultural land in the future, and above all that we should avoid in the future the constant encroachment of towns upon good agricultural land.
There is a little difficulty, I think, in the language of some of our publications on the subject of industrial development. I went to some trouble in the White Paper on Employment to see that it was made quite clear that we believed in securing a properly balanced population so far as industrial development is concerned. We hung that, it is true, on the issue of the Special Areas, but Special Areas are not things which were created in the past and which will never happen again; they might quite easily happen again if we do not maintain this proper balance of the population, so that if economic circumstances cause one par- 185 ticular industry to fail there is some other industry in the neighbourhood to occupy the population. While we bung that statement on the Special Areas, I should like to assure your Lordships, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that we accept the principle in general. That, I hope, is a quite clear statement which may give some comfort.
There is often a wide distance between the acceptance of principles and putting them into practice, and there is nothing easier than to make statements of general principle but not to get down to the issue of practice. I should like to convince your Lordships that His Majesty's Government are trying to get some practical Platform on which we can operate. Just look at what we have done. Forgive me for saying "Look at what we have done during the war and during the time when people's minds, the minds of Government, and particularly the minds of those in the inner circle of Government, were really very concerned with war issues." It was at that time that they started a Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Let that be to their credit. It was a clear indication that they realized that there was a problem here, and that they ware setting up machinery, to deal with it I do not want to detain your Lordships but if you will be good enough to look at the Introduction to this White Paper you will see in paragraph 3 and paragraph 4 clear statements of our intentions. In paragraph 5 you will see that we propose a new Bill. That Bill is in another place, and I hope it will come to your Lordships early, so that we shall have time to give it proper discussion in this House. It deals with the redevelopment of both devastated and obsolescent areas.
The noble Lord spoke about housing. His Majesty's Government at the present time are concerned with many social issues. We gave to the country our proposals on social security on Monday, and to-night at half-past five we shall publish, and you will find in the Vote Office, the second part of these proposals, dealing with industrial injury. But I believe that there is no ping of so much importance to the well are of the country in the immediate future as this problem of housing. I believe that as soon as we have the labour we must make it into a great military operation to secure that we 186 get the maximum possible number of houses. We have to build in a hurry in this country, but there is no reason why, because we are in a hurry, we should build without planning. We worked in a great hurry a few weeks ago to get into Normandy, but for how long before our troops went into Normandy was every detail of that operation planned? There is the justification for planning in the military sphere—a great victory. There is the same justification for planning for housing, planning ahead, knowing where the sites are going to be, knowing where the materials are coming from. And I hope that it is on that basis that we shall conduct our policy.
Then I gather from what the noble Lord has said that he would like us to have a master plan. There I think—do I misinterpret him?
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH assented.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I am glad I misinterpreted him; I apologize for doing it. I do not want a master plan inflicted on this country. I do not want a plan that is produced in St. James's Square, or wherever the Ministry of Town and Country Planning may be, by someone deciding that that is the way in which the whole of this country is going to be laid out. That is not the British way of doing it. I believe we shall secure a better result by harnessing all the forces of all the local authorities and letting them evolve their plans. But it does not follow that because they are going to evolve their plans they can do as they like. They must have neighbourly interests one with another. I believe that where the master plan comes in is not in detail but in conception; that what we require is central initiative on the general policy on which we should proceed, but that the details must be worked out by local authorities. The local authorities themselves are being encouraged in initiative, encouraged in inventiveness, encouraged to get something which is peculiarly suitable for their own domestic life, but all those plans should then be submitted to the judgment of the Minister who is responsible to Parliament. I have made those observations because I hope to convince your Lordships that the Government are looking to this problem of planning in a practical way —not opposing it, but trying to work it 187 into the administrative system of the country, which has not failed yet in strength.
Now I come to the detailed proposals, but I do not propose to speak of them at any length; the noble Lord has already done so. If you will look at the White Paper there you will find quite clearly laid out the proposal that the local authorities should have the power to purchase land that requires to be redeveloped, land that has become obsolescent, in order that there might be built up in that area a scheme of proper housing, with all the ancillaries that go with social life. You will find there the statement—a very important statement of principle—that it is right for the community to have some voice as to the nature of the development that shall take place, and that if the community decides that development shall not take place along the lines that are proposed then it is proper that it should say so and should be entitled to prohibit it. But if it does prohibit it to the disadvantage of the person who owns the land, then it is proper that he should receive compensation. If, on the other hand, it results to the advantage of the person who owns the land then it is proper that some of that advantage should accrue to the State.
But it has been found in practice that where compensation had to be dealt with in circumscribed areas and localities planning was delayed. Therefore it is proposed that there shall be some central fund into which betterment should be paid and from which compensation should be drawn. Those are the principles; I commend them to you as principles of equity. As to how much the compensation should be and when it should be paid, that is a subject very proper for Parliamentary debate, and His Majesty's Government will be glad to be informed of your Lordships' views. They have put before you certain proposals. I hope you will be able to improve them. I hope that I have not detained your Lordships unduly.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I am quite sure that the House generally will have appreciated the decision of the Minister to speak at this stage in the debate because it is much more useful, from his point of view, that those of us 188 who have any remarks to make should make them in the light of the Government's observations, and at the same time it makes our task somewhat easier than it otherwise might have been. I am glad that the noble Lord drew attention to the considerable measure of compromise which is represented in this White Paper and to the considerable amount of agreement between those of different political allegiance which it clearly embodies. To that extent he and his colleagues are to be congratulated, and I do congratulate them, on the result of their endeavours. But I do not think he persuaded himself, and he certainly did not seem to persuade us, that it was a settlement of the land question. I hope it will enable us to get rid of some very difficult matters affecting compensation and betterment, but when we have dealt with them we have not secured the adequate use of the land. I may be permitted, although it may be somewhat outside the scope of this Paper, to draw attention to a matter which is always first in my own mind—namely, What is this going to do to secure the better use of the bulk of the land of the country which is not happily, as yet, covered over with houses? I mean the agricultural land. When all is done and said, this Paper gives me the impression that those who drew it up did not know much about agriculture.
§ LORD ADDISON
It gives me that impression. I am glad to hear that it is an incorrect impression, if it is. At any rate, it makes no reference to the subject. From start to finish there is nothing in this Paper which suggests a helpful procedure for making a more adequate provision for the full use of the bulk of the land of this country. The noble Lord must excuse me if I remind him of what is, to me, a very unfortunate and significant omission, that nothing in the Paper envisages the adequate use of our land. We have had before us in this Session a succession of Bills for better water supplies for rural areas and so on, all of which need to be extended enormously if you are going to get adequate use of the land in the country districts.
Now, having relieved myself by that characteristic observation, I shall turn 189 more closely to the Paper itself. I am delighted to see the measure of agreement it represents. We shall wait with anxiety to see what is proposed in the Town and Country Planning Bill when it finally emerges from is stage of discussion. This scheme does not help you to acquire land. It says, that heal authorities will be entitled to acquire land for such and such purposes and, of course, housing is outstanding in it, urgency, but it does not get us any further with regard to acquiring land for housing, even acquiring land for putting up these metal huts of Lord Portal, still less acquiring land and seeing that the houses put up ire properly planned. The noble Lord is well aware that it is the proper planning of the land which is of first-class importance if we are not to repeat the errors of the past. In the Town and Country Planning Bill we may expect these powers to be included. They are not, anyhow as far as I can see, amplified or even dealt with in this Paper, except that it says that local authorities and others are to have powers to acquire.
I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of this Paper which set out with a unique clearness, so far as I am concerned, the unfortunate results of the bad use of land and the necessity for making a proper use of it. They are set out with really conspicuous clarity in the opening paragraphs of this Paper. I am sure we shall remember these paragraphs, and I should not wonder if we re Mild the noble Lord from time to rime of them because they are of great value and immense importance. What was the reason for the Uthwatt Committee and the Scott Committee being appointed, and for this and many other similar inquiries? It is the present system of land ownership. That is what is the matter. I am not going to be offensive, I am not going to say anything to annoy the noble Lord, I am merely trying to face the truth. I had a case reported to me by my noble friend Lord Latham only this morning where some trivial piece of ground was sought to be redeveloped and acquired, and in order to do that there were, on that quite small piece of ground, hundreds of different rights and claims to be dealt with and determined before it could be delivered. If this clearance of rights to compensation which are to be ascertained by the Committee to be appointed will once and for 190 all enable owners to be dealt with collectively and difficulties got rid of, I do not mind myself how generously they are paid as long as we get rid of the difficulties, and as long as we can get on to the business of making proper use of the land.
It is no good concealing the fact—and I do not say it with any Party feeling at all—that our difficulties arise from the existing system. It is this which has led to this imbroglio of difficulties. These difficulties will continue inevitably as long as the system continues. The Paper proposes that where land is developed by permission of the planned scheme, and thereby its value becomes enhanced, 80 per cent. of that enhanced value shall be collected. Where, as a result of planning, land which the owner thought and can prove had some prospective development value in 1939 has been deprived of that value, he is to be compensated for the loss. We do not object to that; it is quite fair. The noble Lord said that if all the claims of different people in a district were added together they would make a much larger sum than would fairly be claimable because in the course of development some parts would be developed and others would be left. The noble Lord says "All right, let us get rid of it by paying 5o per cent. of the claim so ascertained." I think there is a good deal to be said for that, but how it will be received by some of his friends I do not know. For my part if we could get rid of the subject by paying 50 per cent. I would be glad to do it. Quite frankly, speaking for myself I think it would be worth while even if 5o per cent. was more than the value, because we should at last be able to get the land used for its proper purpose without the continual disturbance arising from all manner of claims which have to be dealt with at hearings. That postpones effective action.
Now I come to what I think is a fatal fault. If noble Lords turn to page 11, they will read this in paragraph 29:There is the further important consideration that in so far as a refusal of permission to develop in one place is matched by a grant of permission in some other place, the payments received in betterment should, over a reasonable period of years and over the country as a whole, provide a fund adequate to pay fair compensation.In other words, what is contemplated is that the betterments that will arise out of the permissions and out of the develop- 191 ment will provide a fund to pay compensation to owners deprived of development values which they proved that they possessed in 1939; that these betterment moneys as they come in will help to pay, or will balance, the compensation that has to be paid. I say that that is an arithmetical impossibility over any period of time. What you want to do is to pay fair compensation for the expectations of value which you have extinguished, but by this plan in effect you say: "We will not pay these people fairly for what we have taken from them in this public acquisition and which they can show they legitimately possessed in 1939, unless receipts from betterment are sufficient." We accept that it ought to be paid, that they are entitled to be paid. Then let us get them paid and be done with it. Betterment is not going to balance over a period of five years or ten years or fifteen years or, it may be, a hundred years.
The point is this, that the State can afford to wait for betterment to develop whilst the individual cannot do so. I well remember as one of those largely responsible for the proposals which led to the establishment of the Forestry Commission twenty-six years ago, having to meet the objection that it would not pay. One can well believe it does not pay an individual owner. But if he does not reap the harvest of timber in his own lifetime his grandson may do so if he is lucky. It does not matter to the State that forestry will not yield its betterment until after eighty years, because the State can afford to wait. To expect that you are going to marry prospective and ultimate betterment to the compensation which you ought in fairness to pay to people for values which they possessed in 1939 and you now acquire is an arithmetical absurdity. The two things just do not fit. What I am pointing out is that it will be a fatal mistake if we try to make them fit.
What is going to happen? If you are proceeding on the basis of balancing betterment and compensation, the Secretary to the Treasury will have to give his consent when it is proposed by a local authority or anybody else to acquire land for a given purpose and say that the compensation to be paid shall be so much. He will say: "Yes, but I am not going to have a revenue this year from my betterment fund which will enable me to pay that compensation." 192 Of course he will not. He certainly will not, and the result will be that the Treasury will put a spoke in the wheel. The Treasury will be having to consent to these schemes of development and they will have in their mind, as an important element in deciding whether they will consent or not, whether the betterment will enable them to pay the compensation which ought fairly to be paid. You are going to put into the hands of the Treasury, who knows nothing whatever about the local needs or necessities of the scheme, an incentive to refuse their consent because they have not got within sight the money from betterment that will enable them to pay.
I sincerely hope that as a result of the discussions which the noble Lord has invited the vicious implication of paragraph 29 will be dropped entirely. We ought not to try and make a balance in any particular year or in any particular term of years between the compensation to be paid and the betterment to be acquired. The betterment will of necessity arise over a long period of time, but will not be payable in cash in a particular year so as to enable you to pay what ought to be paid on the 1939 rights to be acquired. The criticism I make is that this drawing up of a balance of betterment receipts with the compensation that ought to be paid is not the proper method for dealing with the matter because in fact the two things have no necessary relation to one another. You could not in fact balance the two because one is not realizable for many years after the other and in fairness it should be paid at once.
I wish now to make one other point with regard to the case set up by the noble Lord, which I think is an improvement. I say that with bated breath because I expect anything we say from this side of the House is suspect; at least I start out with that assumption. I must say I am not surprised but rather glad that the noble Lord recognized the necessity of vesting this land in a Commission instead of in a multiplicity of authorities. I think that is right. We are confronted here with a proposal that there should be a Commission which should receive betterment payments, which should pay compensation, but should have no interest whatever in what is going on. That is 193 surely wrong. The Land Commission being responsible for the finance of the whole thing should necessarily have the title of the land transferred to them and lease it to the local authorities for as many years as you like in accordance with any approved plan. If you are going to have this land dealt with as is suggested by trying to balance compensation from little parcels of land in Northumberland with betterment from Little Pedlington in Cornwall it is nonsense. The idea that these different sets of land in thousands of separate ownerships can be so dealt with by a central Commission is an impracticable proposal
I gladly welcome the suggestion of the noble Lord that land so dealt with and so under the responsibility of the Commission should be vested in the Commission and that the Commission should release it to the authorities concerned. Whether the local authorities will like that I do not know, but I think it is a much better way of dealing with it than the proposals in the White Paper. The proposal for centralization of finance is excellent in its general principle, but I think it will be quite impracticable in working as set out in the White Paper. In any case I think that if we had a system of land being vested in a Commission we should gradually get an experienced staff of State management which would be able to apply a good deal of experience to the development of the whole country such as would not be possible if there were separate authorities.
My main criticisms are with regard to balancing compensation and betterment, the method of payment of compensation, the ownership of land and the responsibilities of the Land Commission, but I am sure the noble Lord will not think that in making those criticisms I am inspired by any hostility. I am thinking of something which will really work and enable local authorities to get on with planning and with the development of the land. So long as this period of uncertainty continues it is impossible to expect effective and prompt action by local authorities. They are held up now all over the country and if this state of uncertainty can be resolved I am sure it will be to the public advantage, We are indebted to the noble Lord for getting this White Paper to us as soon as he has done. He has done better than I expected.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, the House will I am sure be interested and perhaps surprised when I remind them of the terms of the Motion which we are supposed to be debating. The Motion is to resolve:That the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of our big towns do constitute a primary object of policy of His Majesty's Government.That would be a very interesting topic for your Lordships to debate some day, but it is certainly not the one that has been under discussion this afternoon. The noble Lord who moved the Motion raised in his introductory remarks the question whether towns above a population of a million are socially improper or not, and he said that his main argument proceeded from that as the starting point. Whether they are too big or not is a fascinating subject which might be debated on another occasion. Possible they may be too big, but if some of our big towns were remodelled, as for instance the London County Council proposes in the case of London and the Birmingham plan in regard to Birmingham, and if they were provided with adequate swift internal communication, they might prove not too big. However I will not pursue that because that would be in order. On the precedent set for me by the three noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships it is the White Paper containing the Government policy—in which this particular topic is not alluded to—that is the matter we are considering to-day.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I do call attention to the White Paper in the Notice I put on the Order Paper, and I did talk quite a lot about the White Paper.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I agree, and that is the precedent I propose to follow, that being the topic of the mover of the Motion dealing with another matter. I am sure that since the Minister himself and the Leader of the Opposition discussed the White Paper I shall not be checked or called to order for doing the same. Therefore, respectfully bowing to the Resolution, I will proceed to discuss the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, suggested an alternative and about that I would first make some observations because I do not find myself in agreement with the alternative. He suggested that a Commission should be set up which 195 should purchase all the land in question and then lease it out to the local authorities. He did not say whether it was to be leased out to the authorities simpliciter for them to do what they liked with it, or leased subject to certain conditions and obligations, but I gather that the latter was meant. The object of having a central Commission is to impose upon local authorities various restrictions or to give them inducement to alter the distribution of the population and perhaps the location of industry, but let us imagine this Commission in being, charged with these duties.
It would have to hold land and determine on what conditions it should be administered and developed in every town throughout this country. It would have to decide the future fate and development of every industry. It is possible for a central Commission to own minerals, as in the case of the coal mines, because there you are dealing with one industry and with restricted areas, and it is possible that one body can negotiate successfully with the various mineowners actually conducting the working of the coal industry, but this is an entirely different proposition. It appears to me that it is essential that the task of planning should be decentralized, otherwise you will have difficulties impossible to overcome. I do not think that the great corporations governing our towns would for a moment tolerate that the whole of their futures should be placed in the hands of this Commission. The London County Council, the Manchester City Council, the Councils of Liverpool and Birmingham and other towns not so big would not consent to legislation which would take out of their hands the whole future of their great populations. That would be entrusted not even to a Ministry but to possibly some small Commission of chosen individuals, and the peoples of London and those provincial cities would not be able to express their desires and their hopes directly through their own representatives on their local councils. They would have to move their members of Parliament to persuade the House of Commons to influence the Minister to control the Commission in order to carry out any particular policy.
It seems to me, I confess, an impossible proposal. On the contrary, so far from 196 desiring to supersede the local authorities in dealing with these matters of vital importance, I for my part would suggest that the Government should go further than they have done in this White Paper in extending the powers of the local authorities. First it is necessary to secure that the areas of the authorities are the right areas. We all know that our local government system which comes down to us from an earlier state of society, has not been sufficiently modified to keep pace with the requirements that arise by reason of the technical developments of the modern world, and that most of our local governing authorities are too small. We cannot, at this juncture, swiftly remodel the whole of our local government area system, least of all could that be achieved in war-time. Consequently we have to put up with makeshifts in the shape of joint committees and ad hoc bodies consisting, perhaps, in cases of great cities, of the bodies controlling surrounding areas federated with it. That is a practical idea, and one that has been adopted as the policy of the Government.
In the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act which was passed last year, it was provided that these enlarged amalgamated or federated local authorities should be constituted. We have not heard, so far as I am aware, from the Minister in charge of town and country planning, how far that has been in fact accomplished. Perhaps in the course of this debate or on some future occasion, the Government may be able to tell the House and the country how far the local authorities have been constituted over the areas that are essential for the proper execution of a planning policy. When this has been done—and it is in process of being done—then, to my mind, much larger powers than have hitherto been granted should be granted to local authorities for acquiring land and dealing with the problems of development which are now facing them.
Not long ago I had the honour to be Chairman of a Committee in Oxford, where I am now living, the duty of which was to make proposals for the future planning of that city. It was appointed by the Oxford Preservation Trust and with the co-operation of the Chairmen of the Town Planning Committee of the City of Oxford and of the Oxfordshire County Council. In that capacity I had to make inquiries as to the extent to which the 197 site of the City of Oxford is owned already by the municipality, or by Colleges, by the University, or by the Oxford Preservation Trust, or bodies of that kind. I found that more than half of the whole area is so owned either by the municipality itself or by other bodies exercising what may be called social control. This led me to inquire into the position with regard to other cities. I found that Leeds owned more than a quarter of its own area, Liverpool about one-third of its own area, and Huddersfield almost two-fifths of its own area Where great corporations do own a large area of their towns it is obviously going to be an immense advantage. It greatly facilitates the proper laying out of streets and roads, the location of sites for open spaces and parks, housing sites .and other purposes.
The suggestion which I would venture to make is one which I have adumbrated previously in debates in this House. It is that what is needed is not an elaborate Bill like the one now before the other House, a Bill of legal verbiage and difficult distinctions between one area and another, but a Statute giving in a few clauses quite simple and general powers to the larger local authorities, the county councils, the county borough councils, to purchase land for whatever public purpose they think necessary, by compulsion if necessary and unavoidable, and at prices fixed in a manner determined by the Statute. It will be all to the good for these great corporations to become—as the ones I have mentioned have become already to some extent—historically some of them have been so for centuries—the landlords of their own cities. Their ownership of land and their administration of it I am sure will be very closely watched by the townspeople and interested parties, and if any abuses occurred they would he brought to light, and remedied. There would no doubt be a power of appeal, as there always is in such cases, to a central national authority should any suspicion arise of misapplication of powers. In that way you would be able to bring to bear conscious social action for the administration of these great matters which is to be desired in place of the whims and chances of private ownership or on the other hand the centralized control of a National Commission endeavouring to deal with this matter by single action.
This would be a bold act of statesmanship which would take the whole subject 198 out of the sphere of particular departments, where it now is. Those departments have got lost among the departmental trees and they cannot see the wood as a whole. What I have suggested would, I claim, be a natural development in this twentieth century of our great system of local government and an immense simplification. It would also be the best solution of this intricate problem of betterment and compensation over a very large part of the field, not universally, but in very many cases. It would, in fact, by-pass altogether the intricate maze of technical legalisms which now make up the complicatea clauses of the Bill which is before the other House. It would not deal with the question of undeveloped land outside the municipal boroughs, and in that respect I still think that the proposals of the Uthwatt Report are very fine proposals. Although they may give rise to certain difficulties, I think it is a pity that these difficulties were not dealt with and overcome rather than that so much of that fine piece of work should have been set aside.
The Government have provided an alternative. They have not suggested merely the negation of the Uthwatt recommendations without an endeavour to suggest some other course. Paragraphs 36 to [...] of the Paper deal with compensation and betterment proposals and suggest that there should be created a National Compensation and Betterment Fund. That seems to me a good proposal and one which, in principle, should receive very careful consideration. But I agree with the criticism that has been so cogently made by my noble friend Lord Addison as to the plan that the Commission should not only take in the betterment revenue and pay out the compensation expenditure, but should see that there is a balance between the two. As I say, I agree with my noble friend. I do not see why tie, two should necessarily balance. It would mean that no local authority is to be able in any case to carry out improvement in its town, except to the extent that it likely to get betterment from those whose property has been increased in value. Towns are continually carrying out improvements in the public interest, however, where there is no prospect at all of a betterment revenue recouping the expenditure, and they do that with the com- 199 plete approval of the public opinion of their localities.
There is a further if minor point to which the noble Lord did not refer, but which should be mentioned. While the compensation payable is the full amount of the assessment, the betterment is only 8o per cent. of the added value given. If it is assumed that the added value on the one hand is to be countered by the revenue on the other, this difference between 80 per cent. and 100 per cent. would in any case throw the fund into a deficit of 20 per cent. all through. Perhaps, however, that is not the proposal which is actually intended. In any case it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, is right in saying that the matter should not be placed in the hands of the so-called Land Commision to decide how much good planning can be paid for, local authorities being restricted to that amount.
As to the title of that Commission, I agree with the criticism that it is not a Land Commission and ought not to be so called. It is a Land Financial Commission. Indeed, the White Paper specifically declares that while additional functions may be put upon it, those functions are not to relate to planning policy, so that it seems improper to describe it simply as a Land Commission. How the Commission will work in practice it is impossible for us at present to form an opinion upon; the White Paper does not give us sufficient information. What is to be the financial relationship between the Commission and the local authorities is nowhere explained. A leading article in The Times when this White Paper appeared, which described it as "a meagre and unsatisfying document," said:A first impression is that the compromise of which it is necessarily the product has been bought at the cost of no little obscurity. On many questions there are no data at all; and on the central question of the relations between the local planning authorities and the central Land Commission there is no word to be found.Yet from the point of view of the local authorities that is absolutely vital. I was hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would elucidate this point. With his disarming amiability he proceeded with his speech, however, but did not greatly assist us in the understanding or 200 interpretation of the White Paper; and his earlier intervention in the debate, while quite welcome, has not, I am afraid, greatly helped the House to discuss the White Paper which is now in fact before us.
As for the Bill itself, it is not now before this House but before the House of Commons, and I shall not discuss any of its provisions; but I would remind your Lordships that it has been received with great disfavour by the local authorities of the country. The local authority associations—the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils' Association, the bodies representing urban district councils, rural district councils and non-county boroughs—with the London County Council and the Corporation of the City of London, have all combined (a very rare circumstance) and presented a common front. They sent to the Government a joint statement in which they say that with regard to many of the provisions of the Bill relating to matters of fundamental importance the local authorities feel "the keenest and most profound disappointment." These are bodies accustomed to speak with a great sense of responsibility. They are somewhat conservative minded. They certainly weigh their words very carefully, and when they speak of "the keenest and most profound disappointment" it should give us pause.
In the House of Commons the Bill received a storm of criticism, and indeed it appeared that the Government, in trying to produce a White Paper which should avoid making enemies, had almost failed to enlist a friend. The consideration of the Bill has been suspended, and we learn that the Minister, Mr. W. S. Morrison, has held four conferences with the local authorities and has published a first list of proposed modifications. These, with one exception, are of minor importance, the exception being that the local authorities are to be given compulsory powers in relation to open spaces and playing fields. The local authorities have not yet replied. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, who has taken such a leading part in this movement, may be able to tell us what their attitude is. In the meantime everything seems to be doubtful; only one thing is certain—namely, that we are to be subjected to yet further delay.
The Government have divided the whole subject into two parts, and I think 201 that they have been in error in so doing. They discuss in the White Paper the more urgent matters, which are in paragraphs headed (a) and (b), and both are included in the Bill. They then propose to deal separately and at greater leisure with all the other frequently major proposals. We can understand how this division has come about if we look at the history of this matter hi recent years. There has been the destruction of our towns owing to air attacks, and that has constituted an immediate and urgent problem, the problem of rebuilding. A great deal of public interest has been aroused, and that public interest has enabled the Government to override a great many of the obstructions which always face progress in this matter. The Government have taken advantage of this situation and have said: "Let us make use of whatever agreement there is owing to this very urgent national situation arising out of the war."
In the Bill, therefore, they define the areas of "extensive war damage," and they deal with that as the main substance of the Bill, and then add on to it extensions elsewhere dealing with so-called "obsolescent areas" and so forth. The consequence is that the Bill is one of great elaboration and immense complexity. When we consider these historical facts we see how that has arisen, but the consequence is what can only be called a piece of bad legislation. If we forget the historical origins of the Bill and look at the problem in itself, and proceed by saying "Let us deal with the planning question as a whole; the major part of it is in towns which have not suffered air raid damage," then by dealing with the greater problem as a whole the lesser problem of the destroyed areas would be included in the greater. Some special provisions would have to be made on the financial side, because the Treasury has to make special grants where the re-planning is the consequence of war damage. The towns are dealt with on the same principle as the private citizen whose property has been damaged in the war, the nation coming to his aid to make good loss which has been suffered in the national cause. That should be done also in the matter of war damage in the towns. But in general it would be far better, if the Government find that they are bogged with this Bill in the House of Commons, for them to with- 202 draw it and to proceed on other lines, much more simple and brief and able to be passed through Parliament much more expeditiously, not setting out to deal separately with the war damaged and the other areas but including the former in the larger whole.
In the meantime the end of the war may be only a few weeks or months off, and nothing is ready. The legislation is not passed; the local authorities are not able to know what they can do; the plans are not in their final form; we do not know, in fact, where the houses are going to be, although the Government say that everybody knows just where the houses ought to be built. In fact that is not known, because the plans have not been adequately prepared.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, but we have stated time and again that the sites are available for 250,000 houses, and it will require a great deal of effort to get those built in the first year after the war.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
That confirms what I say—25o,00o houses, when everybody knows that the number needed runs into millions.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, it takes 'a long time to make plans, and it is necessary to consider the location of industry. If you do not consider the location of industry, how do you know whether houses will be needed at all in this town or in that, or whether this town is to grow or the population is to be transferred elsewhere? The Government have been warned again and again, and repeatedly in this House, that possibly the end of the war will come as a sudden development. This is the sixteenth debate on this subject that we have had since November, 1940. Every three months for four years this House of Lords has been doing what it can to stir up the Government, but without success. As an old English writer once said, "It was no more use talking to them than to the east wind." I think it was Lord Reith, the one Minister who really did have a sense of urgency, who said that the Government certainly would not be caught by the peace. Well, it seems extremely probable that that is 203 exactly what will happen, and then we shall repeat the old mistake, and the Government and the local authorities will be forced by public opinion to build with the utmost expedition where they can. They will do so where they can build most quickly and most cheaply. Then once more our countryside will be spoilt, the hopes of the finer England which we had entertained will be betrayed and, in the words of one of the leaders of the planning movement, we shall find that we have sold our birthright for a mess of cottages.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I hope it will not be felt that I am speaking out of order if I keep strictly to the terms of the Resolution; a Bishop is by nature an orderly creature. I am very glad that the noble Lord has introduced this subject to the House. There is no one here more qualified to do it than the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who has given so much time and so much trouble to this whole problem of housing. He approaches the subject not as one who is interested in planning for the sake of planning, but because it is necessary to have good and wise planning if you are to have a reasonable policy for building houses. I approach the subject from the same point of view, and I was very glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said in the most emphatic way that nothing is so important for the future of the country as this problem of housing. There was a time when I think our cities rejoiced in the large number of people they possessed and in their extent, but during the last quarter of a century we have been recognizing increasingly that an extremely large city does not always make for good and healthy housing.
The Barlow Report brought this before us in a very striking and emphatic way, but the conclusions of the Barlow Report have been intensified by the experiences of the war. The first evacuation of children brought before large numbers of people the fact that conditions in certain parts of our great cities were profoundly unsatisfactory, and the bombing of our towns from the air shows how dangerous it is for the security of the nation when we have an enormous population and a large number of industries collected in one place. And if that danger is a serious one 204 now, in the years to come it may be very much more serious when there have been, as I fear there will be, further developments of the machines for enemy air attack. But, quite apart from the events of the war, the deterioration of houses in the last five years has raised a very serious problem of rebuilding. When the Barlow Report was signed there were many who felt that its conclusions were admirable, but that it would he quite impossible to undertake the great task of reorganizing and rebuilding our cities. Since then, however, the whole position has changed. Whether we like it or not, huge schemes of rebuilding must be undertaken in our cities.
It is now, I suppose, fair to say publicly that in some of our cities the central parts remind von more than anything else of the ruins of Pompeii. Building on a very large scale will have to be undertaken, and the movement of population which seemed to be impracticable before the war has taken place on a large scale. The result is that the majority of our cities are now considering very seriously the plans for the rebuilding of the cities and the housing of people who have been for the time moved away.
There are three lines of policy which might be adopted. First of all, there is the attempt to rebuild the old congested districts, making here and there an additional open space or some minor improvement, but on the whole the old crowded districts would be rebuilt again. I quite recognize that in some cases it will he necessary to rebuild in some way or another a part of those districts. But it will mean the housing of people in large tenement buildings. The modern tenement, of course, is very different from the old citadel of gloom which was once regarded as a model dwelling place for the working classes, but even now the tenement is unpopular. From one inquiry, made by the Housing Advisory Committee of Women, it was found that only 14 per cent. desired to live in tenements. In the inquiry made by the Edinburgh Advisory Housing Committee it was found that only 10 per cent. desired to live in tenements. The Committee of Housing Managers of Suburbs found that only 4 per cent. wished to live in tenements. And so, though it may be necessary to build a certain number of tenements—I quite recognize that it is necessary to build some tenements, and the 205 tenements which will be built now will be a great improvement on the tenements of the past—the great majority of our people do not wish to live in tenements, and they do not wish to live in them for the simple reason that family life is extremely difficult in these overcrowded warrens.
The second policy, which is very popular in certain directions, is to build more estates on the outskirts of our great towns and to move far as possible the industries in those directions. We tried that very largely after the last war, but that policy is open to very serious objections. There is the difficulty of traffic: it means more transport difficulties. There is the difficulty also that you are destroying by this policy those green belts which we hoped to see surrounding our towns. The divorce between the man who dwells in the centre of the town and the country becomes more pronounced than ever. It will be harder for the dweller in the more congested parts to reach the country even for a few hours. And I think, the most serious of all the difficulties is this. If you allow new rousing estates and suburbs to be built on the outskirts of towns you are once again destroying all sense of community life. I think this is what I notice most of all in the great suburbs round our towns: there is no sense of community there is no common centre. In this way, of course, the people in the Middle Ages had a great advantage over us to-day. No doubt we are often misled by the extremely attractive pictures sometimes shown to us depicting the town within its walls, surrounding the church and the civic hall, all looking extremely picturesque. We forget that the main street was probably the main sewer and that the houses were crowded, damp and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, in the Middle Ages, there was a community sense a community centre. If we allow people to dwell in these inchoate districts without any common centre there will be no real interest in civic life, there will be no common cultural life. That policy will be a policy of despair.
So we are driven back on the third policy which at one time seemed to be simply an idealistic policy—namely, the creation of a large number of new towns in different parts of the country. There is a possibility of doing this to-day which did not exist in the past. Many great 206 industries, on account of the war, have been established in the country. Many of these munition factories, we hope, may be brought to an end as soon as possible, but some of them can be converted into industries for use in peace-time, and round these industries there might spring up flourishing, populous towns. Of course we cannot move the people from our towns into the country by coercion. That would be the Hitlerite method which would be repugnant to all our national instincts and sentiments, but we can persuade industry to move to suitable places in the country and where industries go there the population will, sooner or later, follow. I hope that the Government will act on the suggestions in the Barlow Report that where you get a huge centre of industry, where the people are almost dangerously congested, a licence should be necessary for any new industry in that area and should only be given when it is clearly necessary that that industry should start in that place. That, by itself, will not be enough. Encouragements of various sorts and kinds should be given to industries to move to those localities where they are most of all required.
We are all very anxious about the depressed areas—reference has been made to them by the noble Lord who replied for the Government—and we are anxious about the future of the North-Eastern area. At the moment that area is flourishing. The heavy industries are hard at work, but when the war comes to an end there is a grave doubt as to the future of a district of that kind unless other industries are introduced into it. In a very interesting report issued some months ago by the Northern Industrial Group, consisting of a number of industrialists, it was urged very strongly that into the North-Eastern area there should be introduced a much greater variety of industries making highly developed products suitable for export as well as for the home market like engineering, chemicals, and synthetics as well as all sorts of light industries making such things as wireless, household goods, semi-luxuries and necessities of all kinds. In that Report they go on to say that definite action must he taken by the Government to overcome the reluctance of business people to establish in the north-east and that action should be taken encouraging them to do so in various ways, holding out inducements for these industries to move there.
207 There will have to be called into existence, quite apart from the older districts to which I have been referring, new towns. I know the objection is sometimes raised that if you have these new towns in various parts of the country you are ruining the countryside. If these towns are planned, and if they are established in connexion with a reasonably thought-out plan, they will do infinitely less harm to the countryside than the indiscriminate sprawl which has been taking place during the last few years, ruining the countryside in every direction. That is the kind of haphazard growth which the noble Lord, speaking for the Government, wishes to replace with something better. I agree with what has been said by the noble Lord who introduced this matter. The difficulty is that we have not yet had from the Government a definite enough lead as to the way in which this planning is to be carried out. The Government have done a great deal in the way of preparing for housing after the war. Perhaps we are much more advanced in that way than we were towards the end of the last war. I am not ignoring what has been done, but I am afraid that there may spring up haphazard schemes all over the country which will stand in the way of a comprehensive policy unless a very clear and definite lead about planning is given by the Government. I am also certain that schemes for housing on a large scale are being held up by vagueness and uncertainty about the compensation proposals.
I would say, with the noble Lord who spoke first, "Let us settle, and settle now, even if it means paying a larger sum for compensation." This is really a most critical period. We have to make decisions which will not only influence the next few years but will influence the nation for many generations to come. We have an opportunity of planning and building such as we have never had before. If we make mistakes now, if we refuse through timidity, hesitation, and delay to seize this opportunity, we shall be laying up quite terrific problems for those who come after us. On the other hand, if we make wise decisions and can carry them out promptly, we shall be building for the future cities in which it will be a joy to live and houses which will be homes in which the people can live healthily and happily.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, indicated that the debate has rambled over a very wide field. I propose in the few remarks I shall make to deal with what my noble friend has described as the "decentralization, decongestion, and redevelopment of our big towns." That obviously involves control of the use of land. As I understand it, the object of the White Paper and the object of this debate is to try and crystallize public opinion. The noble Lord who spoke for the Government indicated that that was his desire. A previous speaker has reminded us that we have debated this subject sixteen times. I do not know whether I have made sixteen speeches, but I have a recollection of having taken part in discussions such as this on numerous occasions during the last few years. To-day, as before, I do not claim to speak as an expert. I do not claim to speak on behalf of any association, whether municipal corporation or anything else, but I want to share with your Lordships the practical experience I have had during the last five years as Lord Mayor of a city which was unplanned, overcrowded, "blitzed," and which has been early in the field with proposals for replanning.
One of our difficulties is that we are expected to deal with this in a piecemeal manner. The proposals of the Government go forward piecemeal and too often we are expected to take vital steps and commit public money on a very large scale on promises only. What I venture to suggest to this House is that we need statutory certainty before we can embark on and implement our schemes of reconstruction and replanning. I would like to explain to your Lordships some of the problems which we in Plymouth are up against and I would commend to your Lordships, if any of you have an hour or half an hour to spare, the exhibition which by the courtesy of the Institute of Civil Engineers is in Great George Street. To anybody interested in replanning I think half an hour or an hour spent there will prove of great value.
Plymouth used to be a very much overcrowded town. Before 1938 our density of population was I think 36 compared to 15, or almost twice as much as that of other county boroughs. If we deal with that problem of decongestion it results in overspill. The land which we have, if we plan properly, is unable 209 to accommodate all the, people who are displaced. Then we also have the problem of the allocation of industry. The Admiralty are extending the dockyards and that means that an area of something like 240 acres, which before was covered with dwellings and shops producing a great deal in rate income, is now going to be derated industry as part of the dockyard. That again faces us with a problem of loss A population and loss of income. The question of agriculture has been mentioned and if any of your Lordships can see the exhibition I have mentioned I would commend in particular an exhibit that has been provided by the Ministry of Agriculture. We were wise enough to ask an authority, Dr. Stamp, to make a survey of the land in and about Plymouth. It was most interesting to see that either within the city boundary itself or just outside the land is suitable for horticulture, vegetable and fruit growing, dairying, hill sheep and so on, and our plan proposes that some of this agricultural land should be preserved and reserved for agriculture. We think it is a good thing to have rural communities and town people living together, but we can only earn that out if we receive financial help.
In dealing with this problem one has to realize that agricultural land in order to be conducted profitably must form an economic unit. You cannot take away the best or an undue amount and cover it with houses and expect a farmer to be able to farm profitably the remainder. We found in our survey that in a little valley vegetables ripen a fortnight earlier than in other districts. I believe I am right in saying that that particular valley had been earmarked for a housing estate. I hope we shall save it for what nature obviously intended it should be. But if we do that, that again provides us with a problem of overspill—if, that is to say, we preserve green belts and open spaces and do not attempt to cover every blade of grass with a brick as used to be done in the old days. Then we are very anxious to preserve the amenities. It is possible now within ten minutes of the dockyard to find beautiful country scenery, lanes, walks and combes and valleys. We an anxious to preserve that scenery, but that can only be done if we get adequate help. That is planning, but planning of that sort requires adequate assistance from the Government. The "Blitz" has compelled us to plan im- 210 mediately. Whereas in towns which have not been bombed planning may be carried out in a generation, we are obliged to make commitments now, at once.
When I refer to overspill, I hope noble Lords will realize that the overspill of a relatively small provincial city produces an entirely different problem from the sort of thing which happens in London, where even the movement of tens of thousands of people represents only a small percentage of the total population. I will give the figures for Plymouth in a moment, but noble Lords will see with what a very serious problem we are faced. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh referred to the desirability of checking the undue growth of large cities. I agree with him entirely. At the same time we have got to see that cities which want to plan properly are not reduced unduly in their size through the problem of the overspill. One can divide cities and areas into three categories. There are those which were evacuation areas and for different reasons lost their population but were not "blitzed." When the war is over their populations will return. Their loss has been a temporary loss. There are other localities which are reception areas. They have received a large influx of people, many of them have received an influx of munition workers and visitors. I could point to many areas which have enjoyed eras of prosperity such as they never contemplated in the past.
There is another great category in which Plymouth comes. We were a "blitzed" city and an evacuation area. As a result of that we have borne the brunt of the battle and we are bankrupt, and the aid which we require is of an entirely different magnitude from the aid which can be claimed by a town that has not had its property destroyed or that which obviously could be claimed by cities or areas that have been reception areas. Before the war the product of a penny rate in Plymouth was £7,800, it is now £5,800—an enormous loss. We are only able to carry on because we receive a subsidy from the Treasury equal to 25 per cent. of our pre-war rate income and that is given by way of a loan. By next March we shall owe the Treasury £300,000 and we cannot begin to balance our municipal budget until we have rebuilt shops and dwellings, so that we have before us a very bleak era so far as finance is con- 211 cerned. What do I mean when I talk of overspill? Before the war our population was 220,000. In the spring of 1941 after the "Blitz" it dropped from 220,000 to 119,000. Our population to-day is roughly 146,000. If we carry out the Abercrombie Watson plan which has been received all over the world as a good and proper and ideal plan, our future population will be limited to a maximum of 180,00o as compared with 220,000 pre-war. The implications of that are obvious. It is impossible to expect a population so reduced in size and with its reduced rateable value to bear the burden of replanning as we want to do it and as I am sure your Lordships and the whole country would wish us to do it. And we are not unique. There are other cities—Hull, Dover, Great Yarmouth, Bristol, Portsmouth—in exactly the same predicament as we are, anxious to go ahead, ready with plans but unable to go forward unless they get more help from the Government and from Parliament than is at present envisaged.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
I was just coming to that. We want more financial help and we also wish to preserve those values and that population which I have described as overspill which has moved from us. That means that there should be an amalgamation so that the people who earn their money in Plymouth but live outside continue to be citizens and ratepayers and that the values which move from Plymouth to the adjoining districts are preserved within the area as a whole. That is what I mean by the help we require. Like other speakers I have perhaps drifted a little from the wording of the Resolution, but the contribution which I think I can make to your Lordships' deliberations comes from these difficulties which those who have to deal with practical problems have to face. Our dilemma is that what we want to do and what we believe you wish us to do we cannot do unless we get substantial assistance. Previous speakers have referred to the way in which in the last century, in the Victorian era, during the period of laissez faire, we had this enormous growth of cities which later on developed into slums. Your Lordships know the way in which after the last war much of the beauty of the land was destroyed 212 by our attempts to house without having adequate planning control. Here is a last opportunity to preserve what still remains of the beauties of this relatively small country. I trust your Lordships will assist the other House in giving us who are responsible for planning those powers which we require if we are to do what I am convinced the public as a whole wishes us to do.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I want to express sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for his statement that the Government do attach supreme importance to the question of housing and planning. Anything we can do in the way of planning we must do as a means to an end and not an end in itself. In spite of what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said about the position of housing, I consider this White Paper a genuine effort at least to advance a pretty good step on the road to getting houses built. Therefore I think the White Paper should be welcomed. The people most directly affected by the proposals in the White Paper are the owners of land and the owners of property. They are asked to make the greatest contribution, and without their contribution the whole of the scheme would be valueless. If the noble Lord, Lord Addison, were in his place I would like to cross swords with him in reference to his statement that the present critical situation has arisen because of the action of owners of property. Surely the situation is entirely due to matters over which property owners have had no control whatsoever. I would like on another occasion when there is more time to take up that statement of the noble Lord and deny it. As it is, I would only say that in the past property owners have done very much more than local authorities in the way of securing houses for people to live in.
If the proposals in the White Paper were submitted in normal times I think that quite possibly the owners of land and owners of property might be fully justified in raising the very gravest objections to what might be described as interference with their genuine business and their freedom. These, however, are not normal times, but most exceptional times, and it is for that reason that property owners and land owners should, and I believe in general do, recognize the fact that some degree of control is necessary over the use of their land in the national interest. We are assured and we believe 213 that this control will go some distance to help to get houses built. If that is so, let us have that control and let us get the houses built; but the proposals which have been already severely criticized by almost every .speaker this afternoon will not only fail to hasten the building of houses but w.11 be, from the property owners point of view, a very definite stumbling block to development.
I am very impressed and I hope the Government will be impressed with the degree of agreement expressed to-day from all sides of the House against the proposals in the White Paper for betterment and compensation, mainly compensation. A case has been put forward—I. will not say has been made out —which is clamed to justify some part of betterment being paid to the State. It is suggested that 8o per cent. should go to the State and that the remaining 20 per cent. should go to the owners as an incentive to development. That 20 per cent. will not act as an incentive to the owner to develop his land or ,et it developed. It will be quite inadequate for hat purpose. The owner will have considerable expense to incur in preparing a scheme of development and getting it submitted to the Minister and it is extremely doubtful if the 20 per cent. will even pay his expenses. Any consideration of increase in value due to his own efforts has not been mentioned in the discussion. I hope the Government will find some means of altering the proportion. My suggestion is that 50–5o might be a fairer proportion, and that it would bring in more money to the State than the present figures which are likely to result in the discouragement of individual development.
I do not wish to repeat at length what has been said by other speakers on the subject of compensation, but I wish to support the statement that the proposals are much too vague and nebulous. If I may cite the part of the world in which I am lucky enough to live, I would say there are many thousands of acres there capable of development and of supplying much needed housing. That land has not been bought speculatively for that purpose. Much of it has been in the hands of the families of the present owners for over a hundred years. Without doubt there is a certain amount of potential building value attached to that 214 land and that has been the case for a long time. In the proposals concerning betterment and compensation outlined in the White Paper there is no incentive whatever to any of these owners to develop their land or to get rid of it for development. First of all they must provide a scheme of development. If that scheme is permitted they will be allowed 20 per cent. of the increased building value. But, if the scheme is rejected, that land will lose all its development value straight away, and the compensation they will be paid is some nebulous sum which may, or may not, be there at the end of five years. Such a proposal, I think, is not economic.
Lord Addison has referred to it to-day as a mathematical impossibility, and I suggest that any owner of such land who wanted to develop it, and prepared it for development now, would be extremely foolish. I do not think that the matter of five years delay in compensation has been previously mentioned to-day. Almost impossible complications would arise if this really came about. Deaths occur and there are changes of ownerships. No estate, however small, could he settled up, and a simple change of ownership would lead to complications which would be endless. That five years delay in compensation in my belief would never work. I do hope that the Government will give very serious consideration to the proposals on betterment and compensation that have been made to-day. I believe that, with those, highly important alterations, the White Paper might prove a sound basis for meeting what will undoubtedly be a very critical situation. As such it would be deserving of your Lordships' support—but only with those alterations.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Latham, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate he now adjourned.—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.