HL Deb 22 July 1952 vol 178 cc104-16

3.27 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 1 [Definition of town development]:

LORD LLOYD moved, in subsection (1) to omit "any public services and other incidentals needed)" and to insert all appropriate public services, facilities for public worship, recreation and amenity, and other requirements). The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the Committee stage of this Bill I gave an undertaking that I would try to do something to meet the point made by my noble friends Lord Hampton, Lord Silkin, and others to cover the question of playing fields in these town developments. This Amendment is an attempt on the part of Her Majesty's Government to meet, so far as we can, the noble Lords' wishes. If Lord Silkin will look at the Marshalled List he will see that our Amendment contains the words: all appropriate public services, facilities for public worship, recreation and amenity, and other requirements, which would cover playing fields, and amenity and other requirements. I do not know whether it will endear the words to the noble Lord if I say that they come from the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944: that may be a recommendation from his point of view. I am afraid that the Amendment does not, perhaps, go quite as far as he would wish, but I think it is an earnest of the Government's intention to deal with the matter of playing fields, and I think it does cover the point. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 12, leave out from ("with") to ("the") and insert the said new words.—(Lord Lloyd.)


My Lords, it certainly does not endear to me the words to which the noble Lord has referred that they should have appeared in the 1944 Act. If he had said the Act of 1947 he would have been speaking much more favourably, so far as I am concerned. I am not wedded to any particular form of words. I did not believe that the mere insertion of the words "playing fields" in the Amendment which I supported on the Committee stage was necessarily the best way of achieving the purpose we had in mind. If I am assured that the words "recreation and amenity" will enable the Minister to make a contribution towards the provision of playing fields—if that is the assurance—I can but express my gratitude to the noble Lord for giving the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, myself and others what we have asked for. But he has actually given us more than we have asked for, and it would be very churlish indeed for us to refuse even more than we asked for in our original Amendment. It is a matter of interpretation, but on the understanding that this Amendment does cover playing fields—and I must accept it from the noble Lord that it does—I am happy to accept this Amendment, and I shall not move the first Amendment standing in my name.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the way our object has been met. I think it covers the points that were at issue between us, and I am very grateful.


My Lords, as one who pressed the noble Lord, as he thought at the time, rather unmercifully, I too should like to thank him. The only reason we did it was that we knew the noble Lord was sympathetic to our cause, and we wanted him to give us a practical expression of his sympathy, so that he could have all the credit for doing it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Provision for participation under order of the Minister]:

LORD LLOYD moved, in subsection (1) to leave out all words from the beginning of the subsection down to and including "by that authority" and to insert If an authority eligible to participate wish to take some action which could lawfully be taken by that authority by agreement between them and the council of a receiving district (with the authorisation of the Minister under subsection (1) of the last preceding section or otherwise), and the Minister, on application being made to him by that authority, is satisfied that such action—

  1. (a) is required for the purposes of town development within the meaning of this Act, but
  2. (b) is prevented or hampered by inability or unwillingness of the council of the receiving district to concur in providing by agreement for its being taken."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, complained rather bitterly about the drafting of the Bill and, in particular, about the drafting in the early part of Clause 9. This Amendment is an endeavour to clarify Clause 9. I do not think I need say anything more about it. I hope that it is now intelligible to the noble Lord. I think it says exactly what Clause 9 said before, but says it a bit more clearly. I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied by this attempt to improve the drafting. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 41, leave out from the beginning to ("he") in line 3 on page 9, and insert the said new words.—(Lord Lloyd.)


My Lords, this is certainly very much clearer. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having introduced this Amendment, which will be of great assistance to local authorities all over the country who would otherwise have had to operate a measure which no one could possibly have understood.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on the last drafting Amendment which I moved. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 9, line 9, leave out ("as aforesaid") and insert ("by such an agreement").—(Lord Lloyd.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, this Amendment also is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 9, line 14, leave out ("as aforesaid") and insert ("by such an agreement").—(Lord Lloyd.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 18:

Repeal of s. 19 (5) of Town and Country Planning Act, 1944

18. Subsection (5) of section nineteen of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944 (which provides that the consent of the Minister to a sale by a local authority under that section of the freehold in any land, or to a lease by them thereunder of any land for a term of more than ninety-nine years, shall not be given unless he is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances) is hereby repealed.

3.34 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved to omit Clause 18. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the deletion of Clause 18. I regard this as a very important Amendment although, quite frankly, I have very little hopes of its being willingly accepted. As it stands, Clause 18 provides that, before a local authority is permitted to dispose of land which it has acquired, the Minister must be satisfied, if it wishes to dispose of it by way of a lease for a longer period than ninety-nine years, that there are exceptional circumstances; or, if it wishes to dispose of the land by way of freehold, that in the normal case disposal should be only for a term of ninety-nine years or less.

It will be necessary for me to trouble the House for some little time in order to explain the background of this provision. Its origin was in the Uthwatt Report. I am sure the noble Lord is familiar with every word of the Uthwatt Report. This was a Committee which was set up by the Coalition Government to consider the problems of compensation and betterment. It was stated to be an Expert Committee. It was presided over by Mr. Justice Uthwatt (as he then was), and the three other members of it were Mr. James Barr, a Vice-President of the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, Mr. Gerald Eve, whose name is familiar in surveying circles, a Past President of the Chartered Surveyors' Institution, and Mr. Raymond Evershed, who is now a Lord Justice. This Committee, which was certainly impartial as well as expert, came to this conclusion: In our view, it is essential to secure that land should not again be divided up among owners of small freeholds"— that is, land acquired by a local authority. We recommend, therefore, that once any interest in land has passed into public ownership it should be disposed of by way of lease only and not by way of sale, and that the authority should have the power to impose such covenants in the lease as planning requirements make desirable, which, of course, it would have. It was on the basis of that Report that Mr. W. S. Morrison, in his Town and Country Planning Bill of 1944, introduced the provision which it is now sought to repeal. It went through both Houses without any difficulty. It was accepted by all Parties. That same provision was re-enacted in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, and a similar provision was inserted in the New Towns Act. 1946.

I should like to remind the House of the circumstances in which this provision applied. It applied only to acquisitions made by local authorities under Sections 38 and 40 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—that is, of course, a re-enactment from similar provisions in the 1944 Act—and those provisions are simply these: that, where land is designated in a development scheme by a local authority for compulsory purchase, then the local authority may acquire it compulsorily when it is essential for the purposes of large-scale development. Section 40 has a similar provision, but permits a local authority to acquire such land by agreement. So that this provision which the Bill seeks to repeal applies only to a limited set of circumstances. It applies to cases, by and large, where land has been set aside for development in a development plan by a local authority; and in those circumstances where the land has been acquired by the local authority, the provision is that, once having acquired it, they should dispose of it only by way of lease, and not by way of freehold or lease extending over ninety-nine years without the consent of the Minister, whose consent shall not be given unless the circumstances are exceptional.

I want to state one more authority for this proposition. In 1945, the then Minister of Town and Country Planning set up a Committee to advise him on the disposal of land in just this type of case. It was called the Central Advisory Committee on Estate Management and Development. Again, it consisted of some of the most eminent surveyors in the country, and they again reinforced the recommendations of the Uthwatt Committee, that land should not be disposed of except by way of lease unless there were exceptional circumstances. Indeed, their advice was that the lease should not extend to more than seventy-five years, but in his wisdom Mr. Morrison decided that he would keep it to ninety-nine years. That provision was continued in the 1947 Act and in the New Towns Act. So we have an enormous weight of authority for this provision in relation to the disposal of land.

What were the considerations which induced all these eminent authorities to come to that conclusion? One factor was this. Where a local authority acquire land compulsorily, it seems to me quite wrong, quite opposed to all equity, that they should be then in a position to sell it. The noble Lord in the course of his Second Reading speech, or possibly in Committee, made the point that this provision did not obtain in the Housing Act—that local authorities who bought land for housing purposes were enabled to sell their land freehold. Of course, there the conditions. are quite different. Under the Housing Act they buy land for housing purposes and they develop. There may be pieces of surplus land which at the end of the development the local authority no longer require, and there is no point in them keeping that land or even granting only a long lease. Therefore, there is every reason why they should be allowed to dispose of such land by way of freehold. It is no longer necessary for the purpose of their housing estate. A local authority may buy a certain amount of land for street widening. They may acquire more than they need and, having carried out the street widen- ing, if they so desire, thane is no reason why they should not dispose of it outright.

But land acquired under Sections 38 and 40 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, is acquired for the purposes of large-scale development. What we are considering is not pieces of surplus land that are no longer required by local authorities for the purpose of development. Such land I should regard, if you like, as exceptional, once the development is complete. If there are odd pieces of land left over. I should not be concerned with them. But I am concerned with the land which has been acquired compulsorily or semi-compulsorily for the purpose of development, and my proposal is that such land should be retained by the local authority. It seems to me, and it has seemed to those very eminent surveyors who have advised the Government at various times, that there is an unanswerable case, on the ground of good management, and effective control, for retaining the leasehold interest in the land. No large land owner in an urban area would normally dispose of his land by means of freehold, unless he were anxious to get out altogether and to cease concerning himself with that particular land. Any land owner who is concerned with his land and is seeking to redevelop it would undoubtedly retain control of that land by way of the grant of long, leases. That is a hat my Amendment seeks to provide.

I would remind your Lordships of the case of the Birmingham Corporation, who many years ago acquired land in the centre of their City and let it on long lease. Those leases are now about to fall in, and the Birmingham Corporation are going to reap the benefit of the improved value of the land. It is right that they should, because those values have been created by the citizens of Birmingham and not at all by the lessees of the land. Land which is let on long lease would undoubtedly increase in value as time went on, and it would he right that that increased value should go to the people of the area who have borne the cost of the redevelopment. Redevelopment is going to be very expensive. There is no profit in redevelopment. It would be right that those people who are to bear the cost of the redevelopment should get the benefit of the increased value which that redevelopment will create. It also enables the local authority to get possession of their land as a whole. Presumably, they would grant their leases for a period which would ensure that they terminated at the same time. Therefore, at the end of the period of years for which the leases have been granted, they would once more be able to enter into possession of the whole of that land at the same time. So far as I know, nobody objected to these provisions at the time when they went through both Houses.

I think the case is perhaps even stronger in regard to the New Towns Act. Here the proposal is that the development corporations should buy up substantially the whole of the land of the area and develop it as a whole. I am perfectly certain that if the noble Lord were carrying out this venture of building a new town on his own responsibility, he would never sell one yard of that land to freehold; he would want to retain possession of the whole of the land, and every estate developer would do the same. Take the case of any large landowner in the big cities. One developer that I know very well—namely, the Dulwich College Estates—never dispose of any of their land freehold. All their land is dealt with by way of leasehold. The Church Commissioners do the same. They never sell land freehold, except compulsorily—never willingly. They always grant leaseholds. The same applies to every large landowner in the country. I therefore say that what is good enough for the large landowner all over the country should be good enough for the local authorities.

It does not follow that the Minister would not have a discretion, even as the law stands, to give permission if he were satisfied that the case was exceptional. He has complete discretion, and although in the past this discretion has been very sparingly used—I think the noble Lord said that it had been used only in the case of land required for religious purposes—there is nothing to prevent such land from being disposed of in other cases at the discretion of the Minister. The noble Lord shakes his head, but in the past I have had to exercise that discretion, which was completely unfettered. I was advised that so long as I was satis- filed that the case was exceptional I could give authority for the disposal of the land. It is purely a question of administration. But it is important to have those words in the legislation, so that the Minister shall always have in mind that the case must be exceptional before any of the land acquired compulsorily by local authorities is disposed of in that way. That is the case for the deletion of this clause. I believe it is an unanswerable case. I believe it has been sanctified by a number of important committees, by the best opinion in the country and by three Acts of Parliament, and I am very sorry indeed to see this very valuable provision disappearing from our legislation. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Leave out Clause 18—(Lord silkin.)

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, on the Second Reading of this Bill I tried to explain why we wanted this clause in the Bill. I also took the opportunity of announcing our intention of extending our amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act to the New Towns Act as well. I think the noble Lord has explained what the clause does fairly clearly. Let me put it this way. The clause first of all provides that any local authority which wishes to sell land must first ask the Minister's consent. I do not think any one would quarrel with that. We are all agreed on that, I believe, and, therefore, so far we are on common ground. The whole question, as the noble Lord has said, centres here upon the fact that these Town and Country Planning Acts of 1944 and 1947 and the New Towns Act went further than that and said that not only must a local authority ask the Minister's consent, but the Minister could give his consent only in exceptional circumstances. And here is where first I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lord. Of course the noble Lord has this advantage over me: he has been Minister of Town and Country Planning, and I, I am afraid, have not. But I am advised—and this is quite definitely my advice—that it is not quite fair to say that the Minister has complete discretion, and that these words do not really limit his powers. That is not the opinion I have received. I am informed that successive Ministers have found, in practice, that these words completely limit their powers. In fact, I am advised that the only occasions on which any Minister has found himself able to exercise his discretion has been in the sale of land to religious bodies. Therefore, I must, I am afraid, disagree with the noble Lord.

I must say that, so far as these particular cases are concerned, there has been virtually a complete embargo on the disposal of land or buildings by local authorities, quite regardless of the circumstances and despite the fact that very often the disposal of a freehold has not been detrimental to the public interest, and its retention has not been in any way particularly advantageous to the local authority. Practical experience has shown that there has been a great deal of criticism from local authorities about this provision. The noble Lord cited some eminent authorities in support of his view. He referred to the Uthwatt Report and to another very important Committee. But in answer to that I must say that both those Committees sat about 1944 or 1945, and that was before we had had any practical experience. This clause of ours is based on experience of what the local authorities have in practice found they wanted to do.

That has been the position. And, of course, quite clearly, that is the position which the noble Lord, by his Amendment, wishes to perpetuate. I do not think he likes the sale of land or houses by local authorities in any circumstances. I must say that I am not quite clear, so far as houses are concerned, whether he limits that to a time when there is a shortage of houses or whether it is an absolute article of faith with him that local authority houses under these Acts should never be disposed of. I cannot really determine which it is. But whether it is an absolute article of fail with the noble Lord or not, his Amendment would make it impossible for the Minister to consent to the sale of any property, even if, so far as houses are concerned, instead of a shortage there were an absolute glut of them. No matter what the circumstances, the Minister would be absolutely tied by the words which the noble Lord wishes to retain.


I must correct the noble Lord for I think he is under a misapprehension here. The provision in the 1947 Act relates only to acquisitions made under Section 38 and Section 40 of that Act. That is a limited class of land. It does not relate at all to housing land, which is covered by different provisions.


I ant very sorry I think I must have failed to make myself clear. I said that this does not relate to the Housing Act of 1936. Of course it does not. It relates to the 1947 Act and the New Towns Act. I said, I think: "under these Acts which we are discussing now." Of course the noble Lord is entitled to his opinion. All I want to do this afternoon is to emphasise that there are two points of view about this question. What is more, I think I am right in saying that there are two points of view even in the noble Lord's own Party, to judge from the speech which Mr. Aneurin Bevan made during the Second Reading debate on the Town Development Bill in another place on February 25. Mr. Bevan, of course, had responsibility for the housing policy of the late Government, and he takes a view which is diametrically opposed to that taken by the noble Lord. This is what he says.[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 496; Cols. 762–3]: There is one feature of the Bill of which, to be quite frank, I approve very much, and that is the extended power to sell land outright in the new towns and development towns, and on housing estates. I do not consider that we ought, where we can prevent it, to perpetuate all the evils of leasehold, and I see no reason why a local authority should be a leaseholder any mere than a private person. I do not believe in the leasehold system. I believe in the freehold system, and when I was at the Ministry of Health I made my views known to the local authorities. I informed the local authorities on several occasions that where they wished to dispose of land freehold I would approve the sale. I did not agree with the argument that the maintenance of leasehold was necessary for good town and country planning development purposes. Mr. Bevan ended his remarks by saying: Therefore, I heartily support the proposal that the Town and Country Planning Act should be amended so as to give powers that I obtained from the House for housing purposes. I do not quote these words in any contentious spirit, but merely to show that there is great dichotomy of opinion on this particular matter. I must frankly say that, although it is rare for me to find myself in agreement with Mr. Bevan, on this particular occasion, even at the risk of being branded as a "Bevanite," I must agree with him.


He is a fellow-countryman of yours.


Yes, he is a fellow-countryman of mine. Whilst this expression of Mr. Bevan's view does throw light on the anomalies that exist between Housing Acts for which Mr. Bevan was responsible and those Acts for which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was responsible, we are still in the dark as to whether it is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, or the view of Mr. Bevan which is the official view of the Opposition on this matter. Quite apart from that, can we not look at this matter rationally for a moment? The implication of Section 19 (5) of the Town and Country Planning Act, as I read it, is that there is something wrong in allowing people to own freehold land or buildings, and, therefore, that you must make an absolute rule to prevent it. I do not feel that you can say that there is something wrong about it. That is a proposition which we on these Benches could never accept. Our view is that there is nothing wrong in people owning their land or houses, provided that it does not conflict with the public interest that they should do so.

The noble Lord made a certain amount of play about the attitude of large landholders. He said that no large landholder would ever think of selling his land but would always keep it so that he could dispose of the lease. He may be right. All I say is that no large landholder would consent to be tied by a provision of this kind which forbids him in any circumstances to sell his land. We do not believe that there is anything morally or intrinsically wrong about disposing of freeholds. In some cases—in fact there have been such cases—the sale has been perfectly justifiable. On the other hand, there have been other cases when, frankly, a sale would have been extremely undesirable. Surely the whole issue depends on the circumstances of the case.

I think the noble Lord is being a little too rigid about this. It is not a thing one can make a general rule about. And when it comes to the circumstances in any area, surely the local authority are the people to whose views we must pay the closest attention? They are in close touch with the local circumstances, and the last thing we want to do is to impose any sort of doctrinaire rule on them, such as the noble Lord wishes to impose. We are not asking for a great deal. We are not saying, as the noble Lord seems to suggest, that we are going to compel local authorities to sell land or houses. The initiative lies with the local authorities. All we seek is that, when local authorities wish to dispose of land or houses, and when the Minister has heard the case and thinks it is reasonable for them to do so, he should have the discretion to allow them to sell. As things stand at the moment, whilst the previous Acts purport to give the Minister this discretion, they really give him no discretion at all. We believe that the Minister should have the same discretion as he has in the Housing Act, 1936, and trust there is no justification for the present anomaly between that Act and the two Acts we are now discussing. I do not think it is a great deal to ask. For these reasons, I regret that I cannot accept the noble Lord's Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 17), Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.