HL Deb 02 April 1946 vol 140 cc492-519

3.34 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. After the proceedings which have just taken place, when everybody has been complimenting the Minister of Education, and members of the official Opposition, speaking with great authority, have wondered whether we have gone quite far enough in that measure, this Bill may prove a slight contrast. If the other Bill was a case of "Roses, roses all the way," I do not suppose there will be many roses thrown at the Lord Chancellor by the Opposition for this Bill. Perhaps that why the Lord Chancellor is called upon to move it!

On this question of the acquisition by public authorities of private land, if the Tory Party and the Government did not take different views it would indeed be a most surprising thing. That there is room for two points of view I fully realize. On the one hand there is the fear that the individual may be steam-rollered by a lot of bureaucrats into being deprived of his land, and on the other hand there is the point of view that useful public development may in the future, as in the past, be held up by the reluctance of individuals to part with their land on reasonable terms. There are the two points of view, and each is a useful corrective of the other. I always give your Lordships warning as to whether a Bill is a controversial one or not, and with regard to this Bill I start by warning you that, like the curate's egg, it is controversial—highly controversial—in parts, but other parts I believe are good, useful sustenance.

The Bill in another place had a somewhat stormy Second Reading, it had a Committee stage marked by a very large number of Divisions on all sorts of topics, but when it got to the Third Reading it became quite harmonious again. It was almost like the proceedings which have just taken place here. There were many compliments to the Parliamentary Secretary for the way in which he had conducted the Bill and the Amendments he had accepted, and Mr. W. S. Morrison, who has a very considerable knowledge of this topic in that he was Minister of Town and Country Planning, said: Clause 1 is a very useful piece of codification and an expert piece of draftsmanship. No doubt it was well worth doing. My objection to the Bill, and that of my honourable friends, is centred entirely on Clause 2 and its relevant schedules. Therefore I need not, I think, spend very much time on Clause 1. As this matter is an exceedingly complicated one, however, I will endeavour, as briefly as I can, to explain to your Lordships what Clause I does. I heard my noble friend Lord Listowel, on the last Bill, talk about codification, and the desirability of codifying, and I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, who speaks with very great authority, express his pleasure that the last Bill was so well drafted that a highly intelligent lawyer could almost understand all its clauses.


It is very unusual.


I do not pretend that I could explain with precision all the clauses of this or any other Bill dealing with the acquisition of land, and I do hope that the time may come, and that I may live to see it, when we can really, having got over the feverish rush of legislation, get down to a stage when we can introduce some codification and clear up our Statute Book, and this would be one of the matters to which we might well devote our attention.

This matter really started, I think, in the fifties of the last century. The Local Government Act was passed in 1858, and that Act introduced the startling innovation of the Provisional Order. The Government of the day were determined to deal with the appalling housing conditions, and so they instituted the Provisional Order procedure, under which a local authority could acquire land. Of course, if they acquired the land there had to be a public inquiry. Then if the acquisition was still opposed, the Provisional Order procedure enabled the person opposing it to contest a Bill, and, if it became a contested Private Bill, to oppose the Bill in another place and then oppose it here. So that there was ample opportunity for the private landowner, always provided he had the necessary financial resources, to see that his land was not taken inadvisedly and improperly.


I think there was a jury then.


I think there was.


It was an expensive matter.


It was a most expensive matter. There was the further difficulty in practice, as your Lordships who have studied this matter know, that unless you had all your procedure ready before February, you could not take the thing at all. It was, therefore, very expensive and a great deal of delay was involved. In the early years of this century a new procedure was devised instead of the Provisional Order procedure: that is the Compulsory Purchase Order procedure. I think I am right in saying that the first Bill which contained Compulsory Purchase Order machinery was the Housing Act of 1909. Under that machinery the order could be approved, not by Parliament but by the Minister. Since then, that procedure has been developed over a good many fields. It is now applicable to housing, town planning, allotments, highways and education. Apart from particular topics and apart from two temporary Acts to which I will refer in a moment, it was still necessary to proceed by Provisional Order and not by Compulsory Purchase Order. For instance, if a local authority wanted to construct a sewage works or a hospital, and in a hundred other cases, they had to proceed by the Provisional Order procedure; Compulsory Purchase Order procedure was not available to them.

So it was that in 1920, after the first Great War, with the idea of relieving unemployment the Government of the day passed an Act—called, I think, the Unemployment (Relief Works) Act, 1920—authorizing the Compulsory Purchase. Order procedure in those cases. In 1930 the Labour Government of the day passed the Public Works Facilities Act of 1930, also extending the Compulsory Purchase Order procedure. At the time the Labour Government introduced that Act we received no bouquets at all; it was thought we were doing something very wicked and in order to get it through we made it a mere temporary Act. It is satisfactory to observe that that Act has been continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act regularly every year down to the present time. One of the clauses of this Bill repeals that Act as a temporary Act and puts it, with slight amendments and modifications, as a permanent Act on the Statute Book.

Clause 1 provides that where a local authority has compulsory powers of purchase under any Act, then that purchase shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the First Schedule to the Bill. The First Schedule to the Bill substantially re-enacts the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1933. The same principles that apply to local authorities are to apply to the Minister of Transport when he comes to operate under the various Acts which are specified in Clause 1 (1) (b) of the Bill. In three respects, and I think only in three respects, is the procedure of the Local Government Act of 1933 modified. In the first place, there can be leave to dispense with referencing at the earliest stage if the confirming authority so directs. Secondly, instead of a public inquiry of a rather formal nature there can be a local hearing. So that anyone who has an objection can come and make his case and it may be done in an informal rather than a formal way.Finally—this is a mere re-enactment of a provision of the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930—it allows possession to be taken after fourteen days' notice at any time after notice to treat has been served. Your Lordships will notice that with regard to three classes of land—that is to say, firstly, land which is the property of a local authority or a statutory undertaker, secondly, commons, open spaces, allotments or land held by the National Trust, and, thirdly, land on which buildings of archeological interest are situated—there are special protections contained in Part III of the First Schedule.

If I may go from the beginning to the end, Clause 9 of the Bill deals with a large number of Acts of Parliament which have in common the fact that they all of them confer powers of compulsory purchase, some under conditions and some without conditions. In some, for instance, the power is granted in default of being able to buy land by agreement at a reasonable price, but the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 left out the phrase "at a reasonable price" and said in default of being able to buy land by agreement. I take it that you can always buy land by agreement if you are prepared to concede a sufficient profit. They are all cases in which compulsory powers are conferred. The draftsmen have gone all through those Acts and have altered them so as to make the whole lot of them conform to the principles which we are now setting up, so that we may have a uniform code for the purchase of land. So much for Clause 1 and Clause 9.

Clause 2 is the trouble, because it gives emergency powers. We believe, and I think noble Lords on all sides of the House believe, that in the future we have to try to effect a planned economy; we have got to have conscious planning and conscious direction. If we were going to plan with supreme wisdom and if unexpected things were not going to upset our plans—if, in short, we had reached an era where the best laid plans of men were not "ganging agley" we should not want Clause 2 at all. But we do not claim to be the recipients of divine wisdom; we shall make a lot of mistakes, as everybody who tries to plan in this world will make a lot of mistakes, and when we find we have made a mistake we shall want some power to enable us quickly to correct it. "Footwork" is the phrase used in playing games—to get your feet in the right position. Most certainly any Government trying to plan for the future of this country will have to be very careful to get its footwork right.

We shall want this power, I have no doubt, to some extent in respect of housing. It is the fact, and I think we all know it, that of all the difficulties in housing at the present moment, speaking broadly, land is the least difficult feature. If only we had as many bricks as we have land and as much timber as we have land it would be much better. But although that is true globally, it is by no means true in every individual case, and particularly is it not true in certain rural areas. Then in areas where we may have prefabricated houses we must not, if there comes a chance of getting those houses, be held up by any difficulty whatever in regard to land. It applies, too, to the Board of Trade under the Distribution of Industry Act, which was passed in 1945. There again, where you are trying to get a manufacturer to go to a particular place everything depends on the speed and the certainty with which you can act. If he knows there are going to be many months of argument, discussion and disputation as to whether he is going to be able to go there or not, he will walk off and go somewhere else. Therefore it is essential that you should have these drastic powers which, in the event of an emergency, you can put into force. Also, the Minister of Transport, may sometimes want very quick powers in regard to roads. I concede this readily, that the less we have to resort to Clause 2 the greater the tribute to the efficacy and the efficiency of our planning. I hope that we shall not have to use Clause 2 very much; I hope we shall plan so well and so wisely as to be able to use only Clause r. This I do say, that if that is not the case, if we do find ourselves held up in some scheme or other, and we find it necessary quickly, and with promptitude, to take certain land, then the private interest must be sacrificed to the public good.

The differences, therefore, between Clause I and Clause 2 are as follows. Instead of getting a Compulsory Purchase Order as you do under Clause I, the local authority may apply to the Minister for an authorization in writing. At the same time as they apply they must publish in the local papers a notice saying that there will be fourteen days within which representations can be made. Notices can be served by delivery, by registered post or by posting up on the premises a notice addressed to the owner or occupier. An inquiry is not necessary, although the confirming authority may order one, and the local authority may then enter and use the land seven days after authorization. They must then serve notice to treat and must complete the purchase; that is to say, they cannot withdraw as you can under the Compulsory Purchase Order procedure if you find the compensation is going to be too heavy. Under this procedure, of course, you cannot withdraw. The Minister of Transport and the Board of Trade may also purchase under this clause.

Your Lordships will notice the conditions precedent to operating this clause. The clause says: …any authority…having power to authorize the compulsory purchase of land by a local authority for any purpose is satisfied—

  1. (a) that it is expedient that the local authority…should purchase any land for the said purpose, and
  2. 498
  3. (b) that it is urgently necessary in the public interest that the acquiring authority should be enabled to obtain possession of that land without delay."
Unless the Minister is able to certify that those two conditions are complied with, then the Clause 2 procedure does not apply at all. I would add this. I think this was the result of an Amendment in the Committee stage in another place. This procedure does not apply to any occupied dwelling-house. With regard to that you cannot use the Clause 2 procedure, you must use Clause 1.

I pass from the controversial clause and go to Clause 3, which I think is not controversial. It confers upon the Minister of Town and Country Planning a power to close certain rights of way and the like, other than vehicular rights of way. It takes the place of the other and rather cumbrous power which dates from the Highways Act of 1835, whereby you had to go to Quarter Sessions to get an Order, and now, following the power which have already been given under a Housing Act and the Town and Country Planning Act, it gives this power to the Minister of Town and Country Planning. He must hold a public inquiry if there is objection to the closing. Clause 4 provides for notification to the War Damage Commission. Obviously it may affect the question as to whether the compensation for a damaged building is to be a cost-of-works payment or a value payment. Clause 5 provides for inquiries, and Clause 8 is the Scottish application clause. On all these clauses your Lordships may desire, even at this stage, authoritative guidance, and therefore have fore-armed myself with the very able assistance of my noble friend Lord Pakenham who will reply to the debate. You have no doubt heard him many times, and he will be able to resolve all the difficulties and doubts you may have.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, as usual, I think, the House is grateful to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for his very clear description of this Bill. Perhaps in passing I might just make this comment, that I hope it will in no wise be taken as a precedent that after we have finished our sitting on a Thursday evening we are told that a Bill of this magnitude is going to be taken as one of the first Orders for the very next day's sitting of this House. I am making no very large complaint about that, but I feel in the normal course we should be given perhaps a little more time.

As the noble and learned Lord has said, this Bill divides itself mainly into two parts, of which I would take Clause 2 as one part and the rest of the Bill as the other, that being by and large completely uncontroversial. Indeed I think Clause 1 and its consequent Schedules do a good work of codification, and in fact in doing so re-enact what has been the common practice since 1933. Indeed, if your Lordships will excuse a personal experience, my first experience of trying to help codify a local government law was when Mr. Arthur Greenwood, then Minister of Health, set up a Committee for the purpose, I believe, in 1929. I was one of those whom he asked to serve and who consented to serve on that Committee. One of my colleagues was the present Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. I must say it was a somewhat dull and very lengthy task, but. I think worth while in the end. The Local Government Act of 1933 was in part the result of our labours, so I am all out for a codification, especially, if I may say so, when someone else does all the research work and the drafting work involved.

The procedure set out in the first part of this Bill has stood the test of time, but for myself I should have liked to see it varied in at least one respect. Where a public inquiry is held it is almost always an official of the Ministry concerned who is sent down to hold it and it is the invariable rule not to publish his report. No doubt the Minister involved, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, acts in accordance with that report, but of course he need not do so. It seems to me to rob the inquiry of something of its semi-judicial status which it should have if the inquiry is conducted by an official of the Ministry concerned, and especially if that Ministry is directly involved because it is giving a grant in aid and has been involved in the planning of the scheme. I am not making any form of attack upon these high officials who carry out this task. I have myself appeared before them but, as was quoted by Lord Justice Tucker in a report published this morning, it is as important that justice should appear to be done as that it should be done.

I remember well being once briefed by a local authority, who were going to acquire land for a main road, to appear on their behalf at the public inquiry. At the conference which took place beforehand, I asked whether the attitude of the inspector who was holding the inquiry was likely to be a nice, friendly attitude. They said: "Well, of course, we have worked out the whole of the plans with the Ministry's engineers. They are paying more than half of the cost, so we think that the hearing ought to be fairly friendly." I went to that inquiry thinking that the case was one from which even I was likely to emerge successfully—and so I did. But I think it is an ideal that we should keep before us that these inquiries should be conducted by an independent panel of inspectors, and I should like to see them acting under the instructions of the Lord Chancellor. Thus, I think, it would in every case appear more clearly that justice was being done. However, no blame, let me add, attaches to the Government on this score, and I am not suggesting that we should attempt to amend this Bill in that respect.

At any rate, under that procedure three things happen. It gives an opportunity to those interested to be heard, it affords an opportunity for local opinion to be ascertained, and it provides an opportunity for publicity to be given. But when one passes from Clause 1 to Clause 2, one notices that those three factors which I have just mentioned are conspicuous by their absence, because, as the Lord Chancellor has told us, Clause 2 gives exceptional powers to four Ministers. It gives exceptional powers to the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland in respect of any land to be acquired by a local authority. It gives exceptional powers to the President of the Board of Trade for purposes of the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, and to the Minister of Transport in respect of land needed for roads under subsection (1) (b) of Clause 1 of the Bill. Now under these exceptional powers, the public inquiry is entirely dispensed with. The owner of the land merely has fourteen days in which to write to the Minister concerned setting forth his objections, and there is no procedure whatever in the Bill for any reply being sent to the man who is making those objections. Other noble Lords, no doubt, may quote earlier legislation, but I am not, myself, going back, in my speech today to the long years of the last century, because I prefer to start with 1933. But I feel that during the course of the debate the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act of 1944 may probably be referred to. And it is quite true that as regards a period of a year, I think, until the end of 1945, a provision somewhat similar to this which is contained in Clause 2 was contained in that Act. I can well see that in view of the painfully slow mariner in which temporary houses are being provided, it may well occur to the Government of the day that they cannot provide in one year, as was planned by the Coalition Government, all these temporary houses. It may well need a further five years to do it. It looks as though they are not all going to be provided before a period such as that has elapsed.

But this clause goes much further than the provision of sites for temporary houses. First of all, it applies to sites for permanent houses, and I think that when we are considering giving wide powers like this we should ask what is the case for it. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has stated quite frankly that land is in more plentiful supply for houses than either bricks or timber, and, indeed, the Minister of Town and Country Planning told us, in January of this year, that the Minister of Health had then approved sites for 711,259 houses. Based on the present rate of construction, I do not quite know how many years building those sites will cover. We have not had any disclosure by the present Government as to what their target of house building is, but the Coalition Government had a target of 300,000 houses to be built over the first two years. Wisely, perhaps, from the point of view of prestige, but, I believe, quite wrongly if their aim is to get the maximum number of houses erected, the present Government have announced no target figure. I believe that there should be a target figure to aim at, even if people fall short of it, because it gives something for everybody to work to. It means that you do not have people working on a kind of limitless vision. When work is done in that way, the results are apt to be very limited. But at the present rate of progress in housing there will not be the slightest doubt, I am sure, in any quarter of this House, that sites are available for many, many months' building in the future. What time do you save really by adopting the course set out in the Third Schedule as against that set out in the First? [It is about a month and a half—about six weeks. That is the time which you save. The noble Lord, I see, dissents from that observation. I agree it mainly depends on how soon the Ministry can appoint an inspector and send him down to make an inquiry. But if the Ministries are prompt in sending their inspectors down there is no reason why the procedure under Schedule 1 should take more than two months from its initiation, even when the case is contested.

Then the noble and learned Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack—as many others say—says that although globally it is quite true there are plenty of houses some authorities are not getting sites for the houses. It is just as well to inquire how many are not. In November last, in answer to a question in another place, the figures were given. Twenty-nine out of all the county boroughs, all the boroughs, all the urban district councils all the rural district councils—had no housing sites. And of that twenty-nine, my Lords, twenty-five had made no attempt to get them; so those twenty-five could not possibly have been held up by procedural difficulties. So it seems to me a very thin excuse is given for having these exceptional powers for housing purposes at the present time. What about other purposes for which the sites may be needed by local authorities? Education? It is quite true that under the Education Act, which we have just passed with the Second Reading of a supplementary Bill, that a large number of new schools will be necessary, but we all know there is no prospect of starting to build new schools this year; and probably very little next. So there is ample time to acquire sites by the procedure under Clause I for schools.

Now I come to the next Minister who is entitled, or will be entitled, to operate under this Bill—the President of the Board of Trade. In this connexion, if I may use these words in this House, I consider there is a lot of rot being talked on the urgent necessity of new factories. With the immense number of men that it seems necessary still to keep in the Armed Forces of the Crown, with the huge number that are now in our Civil Service, we shall have our work cut out fully to man the land, the building and its ancillary industries, and fully to man the factories which we have already got. It is as well for the House to realize that we built an immense number of new factories just before the war, and during the early days of the war, and we have got a far bigger factory production potential in this country now than we had previously in the days of peace. So it seems to me that there is no great necessity for the provision of new factories, when you cannot even man the present productive enterprises of the country. And it does not seem to me, therefore, a matter in which you should give this extra short period of time to the President of the Board of Trade.

As for the Minister of Transport I carefully read what the Parliamentary Secretary to that Ministry had to say in another place, in favour of the inclusion of his Ministry within the purview of this Clause 2. He could only justify it on the ground that a road might be necessary to one of the Board of Trade's new factories. He did not claim the need for the accelerated procedure for any other purpose at all. Indeed, he hardly could—as anyone who has been at the Ministry of Transport, as I happen to have been, will well know.

With such slender reasons for asking for them, what are the new powers for which the Government ask in peacetime? In war, powers such as these are pretty obviously necessary. I remember perfectly well in the very early days of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, when we had the Supermarine works bombed—a direct hit on them, down at Southampton—we had quickly then to requisition churches and chapels and village halls, and even cinemas with their sloping floors, to get that vital production going. Why did we do that, and do it quickly? It was in order to retain our liberties and to be able to continue, and act in, and be governed in, the British way. And the British way, my Lords, is to allow the owner whose land you are taking, the occupier, who is going to be displaced, the right to be heard in public, to put forward his point of view. Now he is going to be deprived of this in every case where Schedule 3 is applied; and quite frankly, I do not like the idea of proceeding in this way in time of peace. I relish it less when I find it is exactly on all-fours with the way in which Hitler and the Nazi Government obtained the land to build their trunk roads in Germany. The sooner we get back in this country to our well-tried British ways the better it will be. This way is, in my view, much too much of a hole-in-the-corner method.

I would say that if you want, as the noble and learned Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack said he wanted, to get the footwork right, it is just as well to have careful inquiry and to find out what local opinion is, what all the grievances are, before you start walking off from the stance which you have taken. What will probably happen in the future? The local surveyor will select a site. He is not infallible; no one is. He will then report to the appropriate committee of his council, and may well advise them to apply for the quick procedure. He has every incentive to do so, because if that local authority gets the quick procedure authorized the surveyor's choice of site is unlikely ever to be publicly questioned. The application may come up to the Ministry concerned, where the tendency may well be not to allow the local authority to have any cause for blaming the Ministry for delay, and therefore to give them what they ask and to allow them to acquire by the quick procedure. If we are not careful, grave injustice may be done, and, in any event, many people will think that grave injustice has been done. Small men (because they are not excepted) in some cases are deprived of the buildings which are their very livelihood without themselves having had a say in the matter. It seems to me that it is using the power of the Crown very much in the same way as it was in the days of Naboth.

It is a sad thought that we seem to have won this war against the dictators only to get more dictatorial methods introduced at home than we ever contemplated in the days before the war started. But, when all that is said, as it properly should be said, and when all this is pointed out to the country, as it properly should be pointed out to the country, the fact remains that no one in this House will wish for a moment to impede either the provision of houses or the provision of work for our people. Nor do any of us on this side of the House wish to give either the Minister of Health or the President of the Board of Trade any shadow of reason for blaming their coming failures upon us. I believe that the one will fail in his housing because of not using the independent builders to the full and because there has been no proper planning and provision in respect of the raw materials for the trade; and I believe that the other, the President of the Board of Trade, will fail because of the unsettlement which the nationalization policy of the Government is causing throughout industry. Therefore, for very good reasons, we shall not oppose this Bill on Second Reading and shall not disturb the harmony of the proceedings—at any rate at: this stage.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill is not, of course, the main Bill with respect to land which this House and the country are awaiting. That will deal mainly with questions of compensation. This is a preliminary and limited Bill which, so far as it goes, seems to me to be a useful measure. In the last Parliament we had a great number of debates on town and country planning (I think there were thirteen of them altogether). On more than one occasion I ventured to urge that, instead of producing a series of small Bills touching upon land acquisition, so far as that was concerned the right course would be to pass a simple, comprehensive measure giving to our local authorities general powers, simple and comprehensive, for acquiring land for any purpose for which they had statutory functions. An appeal would be allowed in each case to the Ministry at the head of the Department concerned. That step has not been taken, but this Bill is undoubtedly a measure tending in that direction, although not: so completely as I personally should have desired. So far as it goes, 'however, I give it a cordial welcome.

There is no doubt that the delays and complexities with which local authorities are faced when they endeavour to obtain land for public purposes are sometimes almost heart-rending, due in no small degree to the intricacy of the law which is the result of the long evolution of over one hundred years of legislation, to which the Lord Chancellor has referred, and which in the course of that evolution has become ever more intricate and complex. This Bill does something to cut through these entanglements. Furthermore, there is another useful purpose served by this Bill, to which I think the Lord Chancellor did not refer, and that is that it deals in some degree with the application of the procedure by which local authorities are faced in having to communicate simultaneously with several different Whitehall Departments in this matter of land acquisition. They have to deal, for example, in questions of housing with the Ministry of Health, which is the principal Department concerned, and which exercises financial control, with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, which is vitally interested on a count of the planning of the whole area, and, if agricultural land is concerned, with the Ministry of Agriculture. Of course, it is quite necessary that all three of these Ministries should be consulted and should have a voice in the settlement of the matter, but under this Bill a very useful provision so far as housing is concerned is that the Ministry of Health is the one Department with which the local authority is brought into contact, and it is the business of the Ministry to clear up any point in which the other Ministries of Town and Country Planning and of Agriculture may be interested. That will certainly short-circuit the matter very greatly, and considerably improve the procedure from the point of view of the local authorities. If the matter is one in which the Board of Trade is the principal authority, or the Ministry of Transport, then it would be for the Minister at the head of that Department to clear up any point that arises in which other Ministries are concerned.

As the Lord Chancellor has said, this Bill had a somewhat controversial complexion when it was in the other House. At one stage it was divided upon, although I do not believe that the Liberal Party there gave any cause for trouble to the Minister in charge. After a number of Amendments it appeared on Third Reading in a less controversial form. Some of the reasons were given by the Lord Chancellor himself, although I confess to a considerable feeling of anxiety when I found him quoting, from the debates in the other House, not the words of a Minister making a Ministerial statement, but the words of Mr. W. S. Morrison. I was wondering whether I ought not to draw the attention of the Lord Chancellor to the fact that that was not strictly in accordance with the general usages of this House. However, I did not venture to do that.

The part of the Bill which was mainly controversial was Clause 2, to which the noble Lord who has just spoken was particularly referring. These points are, perhaps, rather for the Committee stage than for this stage, and we on these Benches would, I am sure, give careful consideration to any claim that is made that the rights of the individual owner are not sufficiently safeguarded by the Bill as it stands. But that is a point that may be debated on its merits. For the rest, the Bill as a whole proceeds in accordance with the main recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee, whose Report was supported in your Lordships' House, although I think it does not completely carry out all those recommendations. It was a great misfortune in our view that that Report was neglected and put aside by the late Government in the late Parliament, and many of its recommendations which have come forward now will certainly command our very sympathetic consideration. This Bill proceeds in that direction, and for my own part I would offer it cordial support.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, here again my object chiefly is to endeavour to help the passing of this measure in a quite easily intelligible form and as far as it appears to be unjust to remove the injustices in the Bill. I am a little uneasy when reference is made to my experience, because it takes me back over half a century and I begin to think I really should not be addressing your Lordships at all. But I remember in my early days at the Bar having one or two briefs—later I had more briefs—in connexion with this subject of compulsory purchase, and perhaps your Lordships will allow me to tell you, as perhaps it is not altogether without significance, of my experience in the first compensation case I had. I was appearing for a railway company in a case where land was being taken for the widening of the railway and I was, fortunately for my clients, being led by the most eminent leader on that topic in the whole of the Bar—namely, the late Mr. Balfour-Browne.

I sat there filled with admiration while he was addressing the jury (because the case came before a jury as was common under the Land Clauses Acts). There was an eminent gentleman on the other side and they both addressed the jury in impassioned speeches after two surveyors had given diametrically opposed views as to the value of the land. It was in those days usual and normal for surveyors to differ toto cœlo from each other. It is only a guess as to what land is really worth unless there is a market for a particular piece of land, in which case of course their views are much more certain than they otherwise would be. After they had finished, and the jury had withdrawn, I expressed in halting language to my leader the admiration I felt for his speech and the fact that the jury could not possibly neglect it. He slightly shrugged his shoulders and said, "Do you know what the jury are going to award as their verdict?" "No," I replied. "I will tell you," he said, and he wrote down on a piece of paper the compensation of the surveyors on the one side and on the other, added them together, divided by two and said, "That is what the jury will give." I said that must be wrong and this most experienced advocate said, "Well, they always do it." And sure enough in a quarter of an hour or so, looking very solemn, they gave the figure within a pound or two that Balfour-Browne had assured me they would give.

Well, of course, that was a hopeless method of dealing with a case, and as the years have gone by I have seen measure after measure passed in a much more reasonable and economic way. Therefore in this case I can wholly commend Clause 1 of the Bill and I am quite sure that it will work very well, with possibly some slight amendment, in the ambit it is intended to cover. Then comes Clause 2, which has been so much discussed in another place and with which my noble friend Lord Llewellin has dealt. Like him I agree that it does not and ought not to cover some of the small number of cases where compulsory purchase is necessary, and, when the noble Lord on the Woolsack says in this respect it is perfectly just, I hope it will be found that he was right. But of course it is true that the clause does interfere with the rights of private ownership in a way which has not been the case hitherto. I agree with the noble Lord on the Woolsack that the objections to it were very largely removed, in my view, by the provision in the Schedule which removes from the ambit of Clause 2 houses and parts of houses, because I think that to turn a man out of his house under Clause 2 without the advantage of an inquiry would be very regrettable. However, that has gone now and for my part—I am not quite sure whether my noble friend Lord Llewellin agrees or not—I think that Clause 2 in some form or other is necessary and desirable, because I do see that there are cases where speedy acquisition of land is of very great urgency in the particular circumstances at the present time.

I think it should be borne in mind that, after all, the clause is only a temporary one. It will last for five years, which is quite a long time, and in five years we all hope that a large number of houses will be built. On this side of the House we are all afraid the Government are not taking the best course possible for the construction of those houses. What can be done? I think that the Third Schedule is very valuable and it is important to note that under this Schedule before authorization is given under Clause 2 there must be publication in one or more local newspapers and representations can be made according to the published notice to the confirming authority in writing. I think that is a very important provision, but what I am not at all sure about is this—whether something inure could not be done to temper the wind to the lamb about to be shorn by empowering the Minister—and I 'am not quite sure whether it need be compulsory that those representations had been made by the person or persons whose lands are going to be taken—to send down an independent person to interview the objectors and to report to the Minister.

What is the real strength of the case against the clause that my noble friend Lord Llewellin has already mentioned? It is this, that the people whose houses are going to be taken on the ground of expedition under Clause 2, have no opportunity of seeing somebody in person and stating what their particular objections are. I do not believe that they would mind very much if they did not get a public hearing by the persons sent down to inquire so long as they could see some independent person who would listen in a kindly manner and with attention to their objections. Then I think most of their grievances at having their land compulsorily purchased would disappear. At any rate I do suggest that after the sympathetic way in which this Bill has been put before the House, the Government might consider whether some step of that sort might not be taken before the Minister gives his authorization in writing and before the acquiring authority has taken possession of the land. And for my part think something of that kind might well be done.

This, of course, is only the Second Reading, and there will be an opportunity hereafter of 'dealing with seine of the objections which may be made to particular points. I would only throw this suggestion out because the law in connexion with the question of compulsory acquisition of land is terribly complex. There are literally hundreds of authorities which deal with it, and there is in particular a point which I want the Government to consider before the Committee stage comes on, because it is almost impossible to deal with some of these matters before your Lordships sitting as a legislative body. The point that worries me is that of easements—easements of passage and of water. I cannot make out, in the time that I have been able to give to this matter, 'whether people having rights of that kind—and of course a right to have water supplied to your premises may be one on which the whole of the value of the land depends—have, under this Bill, any rights at all. I venture to think that the Government have not provided in the Bill as it stands any provision that such a person is to have notice of the intended compulsory purchase.

I might remind the noble Lord on the Woolsack that among the many cases that have dealt with this matter in the past, one of the best known is the decision of this House in Great Western Railway versus Swindon which is reported in 9 Appeal Cases. In that decision this House thought fit to overrule I do not know how many cases that had already been decided in regard to the question of rights under the Land Clauses Act—which was, of course, the usual Act under which these things took place in the old days—as to whether such persons had any rights of compensation for the taking away of their easements, whatever they might be, unless their land was also being taken away under a notice to treat. There are all sorts of complications there as to whether the easements in question, if they confer right to compensation, ought to be easements confined to those relating to land, such as a right of way over land, or whether they include also other kinds of easements, such as rights to obtain water, or sporting rights, or other of the numerous easements which may exist. Now I am far from expressing at the moment any opinion at all as to the effect of this Bill on casements, except to say that I cannot think that at present there is any provision for notice being given to people with easements that are going to be interfered with, and I do hope the matter will have the careful attention of the Government before the Committee stage comes before your Lordships. There were some other things I thought I might mention, but I believe I have said enough to show my general view, and I heartily support the Second Reading.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, listening to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, moving the Second Reading of this Bill, one could not help realizing how pleasant it is to have totalitarianism without tears, because that is in fact what, in a small but a quite possible and continuous way, may happen if Clause 2 of this Bill goes through as it stands and remains for five years, with the possibility of its being renewed for another five. I agree almost entirely with everything my noble friend Lord Llewellin said earlier this afternoon in relation to this Bill. I think it is always of the utmost importance, when you are gradually being anæsthetized to the tyranny of the State taking over things in little bits, bit after bit—when we are gradually becoming anaesthetized to that form of possible State tyranny—that every opportunity should be taken to protest against these chances arising. My noble friend Lord Llewellin said that there were twenty-nine cases where local authorities had not acquired housing sites, and of them twenty-five had made no move in the matter last November. If they have not moved and got it done under existing powers to-day, there is very little excuse for them. Therefore we are taking a semi-permanent steam hammer to crack an entirely temporary nutshell. In my own experience in Hampshire, local authorities in nearly every case have at least three years' land for carrying on building, if they have got the bricks and mortar and labour. Therefore, except in an infinitesimally small number of cases, it is not a question of the private owner being the obstruction. It always makes bad law to construct a huge legal machine, which can be used for other purposes, to overcome a very small percentage of difficulties.

Now the time limits of fourteen days allowed under Clause 2 and Schedule 3 are entirely insufficient. What small owner, who probably gets his living out of twenty acres and is going to have ten acres taken away from him under this procedure, can protest or have any hope that his case will go through? He has not the knowledge to consult a lawyer, and the time elapses before he has a chance to do so. Again, take the owner of land who is serving His Majesty, as there are still a great many to-day. How is he, whether in India, Egypt, Palestine or Greece, to get an adequate answer in twelve or fourteen days? Again, what is the ordinary man, who may be away for a week when the notice comes, to do? He has to consult his lawyer, who may have very considerable difficulties and doubts on the question of the acquisition of this piece of land. How is he going to manage in fourteen days to make an adequate protest, or hope to get an adequate answer? I do not think there is any member of this House who does not want to see housing progressing as quickly as possible or certainly who does not want to see rural housing being increased and used to the very utmost, but I cannot honestly see that Clause 2 of this Bill is going to get another rural house built a month earlier than it would otherwise be.

When it comes to factory sites, one has only to look to the war period to see the mistakes which can be made by too hasty acquisition of sites for that purpose. As the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, pointed out, there are already quite enough factory sites to occupy our people at the present time. If factories are to be moved to rural districts or from so-called special areas to undepressed areas, there is a great deal to be said for very long and careful consideration as to their siting. It is not a matter of months' but a matter of probably two or three years' careful consideration before you settle large industries elsewhere. There has never yet been, to my mind, a proper ecological survey for the siting of industry in relation to the right use of land. You may get a better procedure on that siting, and a certain general survey of town and country planning, but it has not really begun to cover the fundamental necessities of proper planning. While I can quite easily bless most of this Bill, and the codification of its procedure, I do not feel I can let it go by without expressing my personal, and I think many of your Lordships', profound misgivings about the effect of Clause 2 if it stands in its present form.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, you may remember in Tom Brown's Schooldays how the squire, Tom Brown's father, when Tom Brown went to school, was wondering whether to tell him to say his prayers, and how he came to the conclusion that it was not worth while to do that, "because," he said, "if he does not do it for his mother's sake he won't do it for mine." If you will not give this Bill a Second Reading for the Lord Chancellor's sake, I do not suppose you will find my charms any more seductive or irresistible! I am glad to find that, so far as I can see at present, this Bill is going to get a Second Reading by an overwhelming majority I feel a good deal more buoyant than I did an hour or so ago. The way lies open ahead.

I expected, of course, a very close scrutiny, such as we have had, of Clause 2. In the later part of my remarks I will consider the general argument presented against it both by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, who has just spoken, but before doing that I feel it would be proper to attempt to reply to a number of more detailed points raised in the course of the various speeches. There is no need, I am glad to think, to reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He has said his say—and a very helpful say it was—and he has left us. He can rightly feel that the can rest on his oars. Perhaps I may take up one or two comparatively small points which I feel I should not let pass without comment. I rather think the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, is under a misapprehension about Clause 1. I hesitate to mention this, because it may weaken his support for that clause, but as he has just spoken and said he is not going to oppose the Second Reading, I must point out that under Clause I there is no necessity to hold a public inquiry. I rather think that the noble Lord considers that under Clause 1 you necessarily have a public inquiry, and under Clause 2 you do not. The right to a public inquiry is foregone under Clause I, the clause that arouses no controversy. Under Clause 1 you must have a hearing of some kind. The noble Lord referred to publicity. It is a small point, but I feel I must clear that up with the House in case there is a misapprehension.


That public inquiry is going to be by the normal method, and the hearing if the Minister so directs.


If he so directs. There is not quite such a big difference between the two procedures. It is not that under Clause I you have a sort of fairy-godmother procedure, all open and above board, and a sort of wicked-uncle procedure under Clause 2, all skulking in corridors. Under Clause I the Minister has the right to hold a private inquiry, an inquiry where his representative sees the gentleman with the complaint.


May I interrupt to say that if the noble Lord would give us that in the Third Schedule, we should be very happy?


I am always anxious to oblige, but I must not overstep the limits. I come to another point, a factual point, or you may call it a disagreement of conjecture. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, suggests that the difference between the two procedures would not be more than a matter of six weeks. It is impossible to say what it will amount to in all cases, but having been into this, not only with my official advisers here, but with some of those who are in touch with local authorities in different parts of the country—and I speak as an old local authority man—I am assured that the difference is expected to be anything between three months and nine months. It is all very well to say," You have just got to hold your inquiry, and as long as you send your inspector down promptly he can hold it straight away", but in practice, as the noble Lord with his experience knows, with a limited number of inspectors it is very difficult to get these inquiries held. In the past the total procedure (which, I admit, will be rather speeded up even under Clause 1), has in a great many cases taken up to nine months and sometimes more. Without attempting to convince the noble Lord as I pass along, I would say that six weeks very much under-estimates the difference in speed between the two procedures. If he will accept a difference of three or four months, I will not try to make the difference higher, but I am afraid I must insist on a difference of that order.


You lose seven days on having to have a second publication and you lose seven days by giving a man twenty-one days' minimum notice instead of fourteen days'. So you have lost a fortnight on this Schedule. If you cannot appoint an inspector and get him on the job under a month, sending him down to the most urgent cases first, the powers of human ingenuity are not very strong.


I am assured that is the position, and it is based on what has proved to be the experience in the past. There is another slight difference which will save a certain amount of time. The procedure of referencing is a good deal speeded up in Clause 2 as compared with Clause I. To put the matter crudely, under Clause I, if you wish to buy a man's land compulsorily, in all ordinary cases you have to try and discover him. He may not be living there, and you have got to seek him out. Under Clause I, if you cannot find him, or if for some reason the Minister considers it is unnecessary, if you are a local authority you can get permission from the Minister to omit that formality of finding him and simply to put up a notice on a piece of land, but under Clause 2, if you are a local authority, you send your man along, and if the owner is out, or is not resident there, you post up your notice. So there is a gain under that heading which, I am assured, amounts to a good deal in the matter of time. I call the noble Lord's attention to that.

The noble Lord referred, as did the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, to the twenty-nine housing authorities of whom we were told that twenty-five were slackers. It may be a small point, but one must make these points as one goes along. We are not to suppose that all these twenty-nine authorities had all the land required, even at the present time; all we are told is that these twenty-nine had no land. We know that these twenty-nine authorities had no land at all, but many other authorities may well have had insufficient land. That is a small correction which must be made. I do not wish to quibble on this point, because we are all agreed in this House, I think, that the number of housing authorities who are seriously short of land at the present time is comparatively small. I am not trying to argue whether it is a very small percentage or a slightly larger one. I thought there might be some slight misunderstanding about the twenty-nine authorities, and I wanted to get that straight.

The noble Lord surprised me very much indeed when he turned to the question of factories. He, as an old President of the Board of Trade, knows a great deal more about the distribution of industry than I know, and perhaps am ever likely to know, but both he and the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, rather staggered me when they assumed that we had got all the factories we wanted. If you look all over the country and add them all up, it may or may not work out that way. The noble Lord, I should have thought, was well aware that unemployment is raising its head already in the old depressed areas, as we used to call them, and which are now called development areas. The noble Lord seemed to have the extraordinary idea that we are trying to move factories away from the old depressed areas. Of course, the object, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, knows, under the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, is to persuade employers to go into the old depressed areas, which would otherwise become cesspools as they were before the war. I do seriously ask the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, to take it from the Government that the question of inducing employers to put up factories in those areas is one that is causing us great concern at the present time. Obviously, when he turns that over in his mind he may regard the reasons why we require Clause 2 as rather stronger than when he was speaking to us just now.


Were not factories built there during the war?


But I think they have got to build a great many more. They have not the factories they require for giving full employment in those areas. That is the position and it is not, I think, open to argument. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, assumes—and I think the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, is also under this impression—that under Clause 2 there will never be an inquiry held by the Minister. I do not know whether Lord Llewellin did assume that, but I am pretty certain that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, did. May I call the attention of the House to Clause 5, where it is laid down that the Minister may, of course if he chooses, order an inquiry? Perhaps at a later stage we shall hear from Lord Maugham whether that meets the point that he raised.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who never lets us off without his parting shot, had a few words to say about the prospective failure of certain Ministers. We must wait and see. I have every confidence that they will succeed, but he has grave fears lest they may fail. Without entering on those wider topics now, I would just take him up on the suggestion that this is the procedure of Naboth's vineyard. I do not carry the procedure used on that occasion very clearly in my mind, but I do suggest to noble Lords opposite with great deference that if at times we are inclined to talk as though to indicate that the community is always right and the private owner always wrong, they at times—and perhaps this afternoon—are inclined to suggest that the State is always wrong. When we think it over, we are all agreed that the State is simply the sum of the individuals composing it. The majority have a greater claim on the community than the minority, but when all is said and done there are certain fundamental rights possessed by the minority, which must be balanced against those of the majority.

I only attempt to get the balance straight again because it has been tipped up a little in the other direction in the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I do not think I need do much more than thank the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, for his positively enthusiastic support. I was very pleased with that. He raised the question of easements. He is, of course, aware that non-vehicular rights of way are dealt with under Clause 3. This question of easements of water is one to which we will give very great consideration before the next stage of the Bill. If the noble and learned Viscount will not press that further to-day, we shall come down fortified to deal with the most searching questions under that head.


I must say I was not aware of my enthusiasm.


If I may say so, with the greatest respect, the noble Viscount exuded it from every pore.


Entirely unconscious.


My Lords, I do not know that I need reply further to the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, because although he made his points very cogently, some of them have been made in a slightly different form by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I do not wish to detain the House for more than a minute or two because the whole case has been developed so interestingly by the noble Lord on the Woolsack. I would just like to suggest that we must not over-estimate the constitutional issue which is here involved. It is not a question of whether or not we are going to confer on the State the power of compulsory acquisition of land because, as the noble Lord explained, that was conferred on the State as long ago as 1858. It is not a question of deciding whether or not we are going to allow that power to operate without a Parliamentary supervision because that has been so since the early years of the century. It is not a question of whether we are going to insist upon a public inquiry in all cases because, as I explained earlier, Clause 1, following the procedure of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, forgoes the public inquiry if the Minister thinks fit. It is simply this issue of whether or not there will be a hearing in all cases and whether the dispossessed owner will receive some oral hearing. I would say straight away that none of us here would regard it as a satisfactory routine procedure that one should forego a hearing of that kind—


You do under Clause 2.


None of us regard it as satisfactory that we should adopt that as a routine procedure. It is an emergency procedure, as the noble Viscount explained, and it is intended to be temporary. It is intended only to operate under very strict safeguards and within a strict field, as was explained by the noble Lord on the Woolsack. I have been very much struck since I have been here during the last few months at the power of noble Lords in all quarters of the House to put themselves in the shoes of the Government and, even when they cannot hold that power, do their best to play a constructive part in a national task. I would simply ask you once more to put yourselves in our position, because I know that every one here is equally keen on solving the housing problem. I need perhaps hardly beg you to give this Bill a Second Reading—because it is going to receive one I understand—but I would like to thank you for the reception this Bill has had this afternoon.


My Lords, may I offer my apologies for my temporary absence at the beginning of the noble Lord's speech in which I understand he made some reference to myself.


It was intended to be a very friendly reference and a very complimentary one.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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